A WONDERFULLY LAZY SATURDAY IN DECEMBER

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When I look back to the early weeks and months of this year I remember a lot of time for relaxation. I remember long afternoons spent reading books in the fading light, and early nights savouring the kind of rest and relaxation that seems to be only in memory.

I think I’ve been so caught up in the doing of things, and the thinking of doing of things, that I’ve missed the opportunity to enjoy time spent not doing much at all.

Though while I say not doing much, I guess I mean not doing much that’s productive. Not doing those things that you do because they get you a step closer to where you want to be, or those things that you do just so they don’t sit on your to-be-done list for another day. Instead, time to do all of the other things, that don’t have purpose or reason, except for the joy of experiencing them.

So I decided to gift myself a lazy Saturday in December to do all of the non-productive things that I like, and it was wonderful.

I slept in in the morning, waking up after the sun was high in the sky for the first time in what felt like an age. I spent time in the kitchen, considerately preparing myself a hearty plate of scrambled eggs and mushrooms on toast, and enjoyed a quiet moment with a cup of green tea while the morning crept away.

I watched five back-to-back episodes of Criminal Minds to catch up on the latest season, giving myself a moment to appreciate the open, personal dialogue between two of the show’s male characters. It was refreshing to see them share in emotion instead of burying it down, and that can only be a good example.

I knit on three different projects, breaking one needle and breaking into three balls of yarn.

I enjoyed the homely smell of a potato in the oven while it baked its way to perfection, before devouring it with a good slather of butter, piled high with cheese.

I put off doing the dishes because I’m an adult, and I can choose to do that if I want to, and instead curled up under a blanket with a nice cup of tea and a homemade chocolate chip muffin.

I spent time in the afternoon learning from a good book while waiting for Sam to get home, before sharing a pizza for dinner and letting the evening slip by with good conversation and our favourite TV.

What a refreshing way to spend a day, and evidence enough that I really ought to do myself a favour, and do it all again sometime.

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WHY I NEED TO STOP SAYING I’M STRESSED OUT

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There have been a lot of times this year that I’ve been stressed. It’s been a year of upheaval and I’ve had to stretch myself thin to be able to do everything that was needed of me. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve answered the question ‘How was your day?’ with ‘Stressful’, and I’ve felt the symptoms of stress in my forehead and shoulders pretty consistently.

I guess it was only natural, then, for stress to become part of my language. When you do something often enough, it becomes habit, so when something doesn’t go quite according to plan, or I’m experiencing something taxing, my immediate response is to say, to myself or out loud, ‘This is stressing me out’.

The problem, though? It’s not.

For a good while now, I’ve not actually felt stressed. I’ve not had that accelerated heart rate, the constant tension headaches, the aching back and the perpetual tiredness. In fact, I’ve felt quite calm, but the language of stress has remained where the symptoms have not.

I’ve become very conscious of this over the past couple of weeks. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the meditation I’ve been practising, or the fact that I’m making an effort to be more intuitive about the way that I feel and how I respond to those feelings. Whatever has caused it, I’m grateful for the awareness.

What I want to address most about this automatic habit, is its negative framing. My experiences of stress have been negative. It has inhibited my ability to do certain things, my productivity levels are really low during times of stress, and it’s when I find it hardest to be aware of things in balance. Now, I don’t want to be associating with those negative things, just because it has become habit.

Instead, I want to retrain my brain to come out of this negative cycle, and into something more positive. If the thought of stress comes into my head, I give myself pause and allow myself the time to consider it. I think about how I’m feeling in that moment, and whether or not a thought of stress has any merit. If it does, I’ll take further action to investigate. If not, I’ll cast the thought aside and focus on something else.

I’m hoping that, in doing this, thoughts of stress will become fewer as my brain learns that I’m not actually experiencing stress. That way, when I really am stressed, I’ll know it.

I’m interested to hear if you’ve had experiences with stress and how you’ve dealt with it, or if you’ve noticed a habit that has become subconscious like this. Please leave me a comment to let me know!

WHAT I LEARNED FROM SPENDING 24 HOURS OFFLINE

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Last weekend I shared my plans to take a day away from the internet. It was a bit of an impulse decision, but I was intrigued to see how spending some time offline would affect me. So, at 12pm on Saturday I put away my computer and switched off my phone, excited to see what would come to light.

The first thing to note, is that taking time away from those devices required some preparation. I knew I wanted to knit during my offline time, but all of my knitting patterns are saved to my Google Drive, accessed on my phone or laptop when I need them. I had to note down some of the instructions on paper, so I’d still be able to make progress.

I was also sure to inform some relevant people that I’d be offline, so they knew how to reach me in an emergency, and clarify that I wasn’t ignoring them if they didn’t hear from me. Thankfully, this didn’t turn out to be necessary, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

It’s worth noting here that the time I spent offline wasn’t how I would usually spend my time. I was in the middle of a kidney infection, and was feeling rather worse for wear, so I spent much more time in bed than I usually would, with some naps thrown in for good measure.

What I did find though, was that I was noticeably more focused on the tasks at hand. When I needed to nap, I did so straight away without the mindless scroll of Instagram that usually preludes that sort of thing. When I was knitting, I was entirely in the flow and enjoyed the process of having a one-track mind.

I also spent a lot of time reading. Granted, I was using my Kindle, but I wasn’t about to confiscate that for the experiment. I think I read almost half of my book, and again found myself more focused on that, without the distraction of my phone.

It’s interesting to note that I just picked up my phone here, lit up the screen and saw the notification that I already knew was there, and put it back down again. I can’t have checked the time, because I couldn’t tell you what it is now, and even if I needed to know it’s right here on my laptop as I type. I think this is a classic example of how my phone has become a habit, and one that I don’t need.

These impulses are something I’ve been actively aware of since switching my phone back on. I spend a lot of time looking at that screen, but not really taking in what’s on it, and I  can see how that can be detrimental.

However, I’ve also become acutely aware of just how much of a tool my technology can be. I tend not to have hard copies of things, so my knitting patterns, blog plans and menu are all digital. I use my phone for taking and editing photos, and for managing all of my finances. OK Google is a lifesaver, performing quick searches, setting my reminders and putting the timer on for dinner, and all of these things are reasons why I absolutely love technology.

One thing I’ve found to be quite apparent is that I didn’t miss social media, and I wasn’t desperate to get back onto it either. I think this has been a long time in the making, but before this experiment I’d found myself back into the habit of scrolling regularly, even when there was nothing new to see. Now I’m keen to use social media when I need to or want to, but to find other activities to fill that time in a more productive way.

In conclusion, getting offline was fun, and a little inconvenient, but it showed me where I want to work on my digital habits. I also think I might take a few hours every weekend where I switch off my phone, so I can really focus on being in the moment without the urge to look at the little screen.

WHY I’M TAKING A DAY AWAY FROM THE INTERNET

isaac-benhesed-260758Isaac Benhesed

As you’re reading this, I’ll be well into my 24 hours offline. It probably wasn’t a smart move to decide to do this right at the end of Blogtober, when my posting commitments are still a thing, but I wanted to, and so I’m making it work.

My interest was peaked by this idea while watching another instalment of The Davina Hour. I’ve really been enjoying these conversations, and I think I’ve taken something from each of them. Definitely recommend.

When listening to the conversation about technology addiction, there were a lot of things I couldn’t relate to so much, but I think that’s because I’ve already self-moderated quite considerably.

When I started working from home, and all of my lives combined through one phone and one laptop, I lost all boundaries. For a few months, work overtook everything, and it was only when I took a step back that I saw how it was impacting my personal wellbeing and my relationships.

I switched off notifications for anything work-related, so I wasn’t bothered at all hours of the day. That meant that if you sent me an email, I’d see it when I chose to check my inbox, not when you chose to send it to me. I also banned myself from looking at my phone right before I went to bed and when I woke up in the morning.

Getting this space was hugely beneficial, because suddenly I was doing everything on my time. I was showering and eating and even getting some knitting in, all before work made an appearance, and my sleeping habits improved, too.

I’ve been strict about this ever since, and feel that the boundaries I have are great, and work really well for me.

So when listening to talk of technology addiction, it didn’t really resonate. However, when they spoke about people’s reactions to a digital detox, I was kind of gobsmacked, with one participant claiming that the silence felt like misery.

I always thought that I would love to be without my phone for a day, so I figured I’d just give it a go.

It’s funny though, because I’m having to put thought and preparation into it, knowing that I’ll be without technology. We need to go food shopping, and our list is on Google Keep, so either I need to write it by hand (ugh) or start my detox post-shop. And then I’ve got something to go to tonight, but I’ve not been very well, so if I can’t make it I need to be able to let my friend know. So the detox has to be finished by then.

I’ve already recognised more vividly how much I rely on technology in the few hours since I made the decision to do this, so I’m really intrigued to see how it goes. I’ll be blogging about my experiences after, so I’ll let you know!

See you on the other side…

THE BIGGEST, AND SMALLEST, CHANGE IN MY PRODUCTIVITY

cathryn-lavery-67852Cathryn Lavery

I’ve been very conscious about my productivity lately. I’ve watched countless videos and read many articles with tips and tricks for making the most of your time and being as productive as you can be.

There’s an awful lot of advice out there, and while a lot of it is really useful, and has helped me to do more of what I love, there is one thing that has topped them all. It’s a small thought, but it makes a big difference.

The idea is this; if something will take less than two minutes, do it straight away.

You might have heard it before, or it might not seem like much, but I am telling you that it has changed.my.life.

I can’t explain how much time I’ve wasted by adding every single little item to my to-do list. Drawing a neat square box next to ‘put out the recycling’. Stop. Just put out the recycling!

I’ve been really mindful to incorporate this action into my day-to-day life. I spend a few minutes early in the morning doing all of those little tasks, and it feels incredible! I always feel so productive by 9am because I can mentally tick off a whole load of minor tasks, and they all feel like accomplishments.

It’s also given me more motivation to solve things, instead of letting them fester. Have you ever had a little task on your to-do list forever, which never gets done? I’ve definitely been in that position a lot of times, with things like clothing repairs and subscription cancellations. It always makes me feel bad when I see those unmarked to-do’s, or clothes left unworn because of a missing button. Now that I do those things straight away, my chest is never weighed down by the negativity of something looming, and that experience is wonderful.

I recently spent a few minutes cancelling some unused subscriptions. I’ve had a VIP Fabletics account for years now, and while I love their activewear, I don’t have the money , or the need, to be buying consistently. I’ve been manually skipping every month for the past two years, and I finally decided that enough was enough. A couple of minutes on chat, and my account has been changed and I’ll never have to waste time skipping again, or worry about the money coming out of my bank if I forget!

So, if you’re thinking about what you can do to be more productive, this is the one tip I would suggest you do first. If something takes less than two minutes, do it straight away.

WHY HAPPINESS TO ME IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SUCCESS

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Happiness is à la mode right now. Last year I saw Derren Brown talk about his book, titled Happiness. My first WI Conversation Club topic was ‘What is true happiness?’. Episode 5 of Davina McCall’s new TV Show, The Davina Hour, is all about happiness.

It seems that, as a society, we are more interested in happiness, understanding what it is and how we can achieve it, than I have known us to be before. I feel like I could talk forever about opinions of happiness. What brings it. What doesn’t. How the search for happiness has changed in the mainstream, and perhaps stayed the same elsewhere. But, at the end of the day, happiness is personal.

Happiness is what happiness is to you. There is no blueprint, no guide you can follow. Yes, I’m sure there’s research to prove one thing or another to be more meaningful, but no one can put together the perfect recipe for happiness for you, apart from you. And even then, it’s not a constant.

The things that make you happy will change over time. The way you experience happiness will change, and how frequently you experience it, too. Through our conversation, our WI group came to speculate on the difference between happiness and contentment. To some of us, happiness is nothing more than an emotion. A fleeting feeling that can come and go but is fierce and wonderful and powerful. Contentment, on the other hand, can be more of a constant. It is slower and calmer and more at peace, but it is a positive state of mind that allows happiness to be more accessible. If you are content, you are in a better position to deal with happiness, and unhappiness, when they come your way. You have a balance of middle ground to tether you to a satisfied state of being.

Derren Brown brought up something similar. While I haven’t read his book (yet), I took a lot away from that talk, which I continue to draw upon to this day. He asked, “Is happiness perhaps just the absence of trauma?”. Do we feel happy when there is nothing to feel unhappy about? Can we feel happier through more distressing times if we develop a sense of stability in life?

The most powerful thing, for me, that Derren said was this. “Some people are focused on climbing the ladder, going for that promotion, that new car, that next success, and some people are frogs. They sit on a lily pad for a while, enjoying the sun, and then they get bored, so they jump to another lily pad to enjoy the sun there. They get bored and move on, and so on and so forth.”

I’ve never felt so perfectly well summed-up than in that moment when Derren Brown identified me as a frog. I’ve never been interested in climbing the ladder. I went to a grammar school in Kent where it was expected that everyone would go to university and get respectful jobs. I remember in year 9 I was told that my form tutor expected that I would go to Oxford or Cambridge. I wonder how she felt when I refused to apply to university at all. I remember being offered a promotion when I worked in retail, my own brand to manage, and how quickly and confidently I turned it down.

I’ve done many things in my short life, and I used to think that my inability to stick to one would hold me back. While it might mean that I’m not constantly on track for promotions and pay rises, it also means that I have experienced a lot of different things that have made me happy, brought me value and helped to shape me into the person that I am today.

I’m not interested in society’s expectations of me, my school’s expectations of me, my boss’ expectations of me. I’m not interested in the done thing, or following someone else’s path.

I’m much more concerned with doing whatever is right and fulfilling and valuable to me at that given time. If it makes you happy, keep doing it. If it doesn’t? Change it. Do something else, try something new. Be constantly searching and growing from those experiences, and learning what makes you truly happy. Because nobody can tell you that, but you.

4 YOUTUBERS WHO INSPIRE ME

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I’m a little late to the YouTube party if I’m being honest. It’s only really in the past couple of months that I’ve got into watching YouTube videos, but now that I have I just can’t get enough. It probably seems obvious to most that YouTube is a huge source of inspiration, and it’s helped me a lot lately, in exploring minimalism, dealing with my motivation struggles and encouraging me to try different things.

I’ve really only just got started, but I wanted to share a few of the YouTubers who’ve been top of my playlist, and whose videos I’ve found to be a treasure trove of great influence.

Madeleine Olivia

Maddie was the first person I discovered on YouTube, and I binge watched a huge chunk of her minimalism series in one weekend. One of the key things I learnt from her was to stop wearing clothes that aren’t comfortable, and that’s one valuable piece of advice. Thanks to that pearl of wisdom, I’ve replaced most of my underwired bras with cotton bralettes and the experience has been freeing! I’ve also ditched my standing-only jeans and shoes that rub, and I’m feeling much better for it.

Lavendaire

Aileen has been my go-to for productivity motivation. Her advice on habits and making the most of your time have been my favourites, and watching her channel has helped me to improve my routines and keep my commitment to them.  One of the most useful tips I picked up was to really plan your time. At first, I found myself a little stuck after creating a weekly planner, because I wasn’t sure what actions to log to fill those time gaps, but after putting a little effort in I’ve allocated time for writing, developing knitting patterns and prioritising self-care, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes to keep things organised.

Use Less

Signe is my number one for style inspiration, and will always be the one I look to for building a wardrobe of classic, timeless pieces that will remain staples throughout the year. I’m much more considered about my purchasing these days, and Signe’s channel is right up my alley. I love the way she puts together outfits, and I’m keen to develop an all-year wardrobe with quality pieces that will last.

Meghan Livingstone

I’m really inspired by Meghan’s natural lifestyle, and am constantly intrigued by her homemade beauty products, which are something that I’m really wanting to try for myself. I also found one of her videos to be the most simple, yet impactful, way to manage stress, during which she outlined three deep breathing exercises that have made the world of difference to me.

I’m really keen to continue to expand my YouTube viewing, so if you have any channels that you love, please do share them with me!