Last night I was on the phone to my brother, planning a boat trip for our two families to enjoy together. It would be a 3 hour trip, with food, exploring an area we were both keen to see. But sadly 2020 struck again. Shortly after we finished our call, the UK government announced that due to the rise in covid cases, only 6 people can meet up from Monday. With 11 in our combined households we had to abandon our plans, grateful the announcement came before we booked the tickets.
So how can we navigate life in such uncertain times? Our instinct is to be in control of our surroundings, but 2020 has shown us how limited our sense of control is. Uncertainty increases anxiety, and makes us want to pull back from planning for the future. It can seem tempting to simply give up and live day by day worrying about what tomorrow will bring. But there is another way.
Preparing for the certainties in life, having a plan to follow and the anticipation of things ahead can all help reduce anxiety.
“Buy winter coats!” was the advice given to me one warm September day when my children were small . The shops were suddenly full of thick warm winter coats and although it didn’t seem likely on that particular day, we knew that winter was coming. My children had grown, and new coats were needed so it was something I could plan for and take action on. The alternative was to wait, as I had done previously, until the first unexpected frosty morning and panic shop amongst empty rails while feeling like a bad mother.
“Buy winter coats!” is now the mantra that runs through my mind as I see birthday cards a month before a friend’s special birthday, when new diaries are appearing on the shelves, when a new financial year starts and the clock starts ticking to submitting a tax return. Never again do I want to be looking for Christmas Crackers on Christmas eve!
Sometimes I act, sometimes I procrastinate. However, planning ahead, and being prepared, always gives me a sense of calm which is so much nicer than the anxiety caused by last minute panics.
During this pandemic I’ve found it even more beneficial to act on the things I can so the things I can’t don’t impact me as much.
And as for the boating trip… we’re planning to go in spring!
I love the process of setting out for a run. The night before I get out my clothes and start to plan my route in my head. I remember previous runs that I’ve enjoyed and look forward to the adventure ahead. I love running at the start of the day so as soon as I wake, trying not to disturb my husband too much, I get up and dressed and head out.
I set off with a warm up walk before breaking into a slow jog. This is the moment I’ve been looking forward to. I’m moving. As my feet start pounding the pavement my thoughts start drifting and I’m in my happy place.
And then it hits…
My breathing becomes laboured and my legs feel heavy. I wonder if I’ve forgotten how to run? Did I drink enough water the day before? How much sleep did I actually get last night? I look at the side roads and consider adjusting my route so I can head home early. Maybe I should just give up now? Not every run can be great…
But I keep going. Sometimes slower, sometimes walking, but I keep moving forward.
I’ve learnt that this is part of the process. My body is switching from an anaerobic status to an aerobic one. As I increase my demand for oxygen, my body switches gear and starts using different fuel sources. As I persevere, my breath falls into a new rhythm and I know this is going to be a good run after all, I just had to get through the pain of starting.
This is the same process we go through as we start a new habit, learn a new skill or develop a new understanding. Full of enthusiasm for the adventure ahead, we plan and we prepare, we imagine the end result and off we go! But the initial excitement wears off as things begin to get hard. We wonder if we can sustain it and before we know what’s happened the new habit has been forgotten, and we find ourselves back where we started.
Just like pushing past the start of a run, there are 4 things you can do to help you stay the course and establish new habits.
Whenever I set out running with no particular route in mind, it becomes really easy to take a short cut and head home early. However when I plan my route in advance I’m more likely to keep going. As it gets tough I can talk myself into just going to the next planned corner and then seeing how I feel. As you build changes into your life, plan when and how you’re going to do them. Anticipate in advance where you’re going to find it hard and how you’re going to deal with it. That way you’ve already got a strategy in place for when feelings aren’t enough to keep you motivated.
Build up Speed.
Real change is a marathon and not a sprint, so set out slowly and allow yourself time to settle into your new routine. Doing something for 5 minutes a day, or 20 minutes three times a week, will bring about more sustainable change than dedicating full days to it and then becoming tired and overwhelmed. As the changes start to become second nature you’ll notice your pace pick up.
Often when we set new goals it’s tempting to keep them a secret. We wait until we’ve mastered it so we can do a big reveal, or rather we don’t want any of our potential failures to be revealed. So we hide. However, when you’re the only one who knows the goal, you believe your own excuses about why you need to abandon it. Enlist the help and support of one or two others, so have people who will cheer you on and hold you accountable. The simply act of telling my husband in advance when I plan to run makes me more compelled to follow through. It also means I have someone to share my small successes with along the way!
Never Miss Twice.
And finally, there will be times when it doesn’t go to plan. There are runs never started, and runs where I have turned back early. There are habits I’ve missed, and changes I’ve forgotten, but go again. As James Clear says “If I miss a day, I try to get back on track as quickly as possible. My general rule is Never Miss Twice.”. Just because you missed it once doesn’t mean to say you have to give up completely. It just means you missed it once.
I thought I’d write this while stood in the queue waiting to get into the supermarket. Thankfully the sun is shining and I have no where else to be.
For those stumbling across this in the future I’m writing this on 9th April 2020. The coronavirus has caused a global pandemic and, here in the UK we’re in our 3rd week of lockdown.
I’ve spotted two different friends in the queue ahead but our greetings were called out from a safe distance. Aware that the whole queue can hear us, we keep our conversation short and general. How are you coping? How much school work are you getting your kids to do?
It might be Easter Holidays but many of us are still keeping the routine of little bits of school work to help everyone’s sanity.
And still we keep waiting…
Waiting to hear of a breakthrough.
Waiting to hear news of loved ones.
Waiting to know how long this will last.
Waiting to hear news of our Prime Minister, currently in ICU fighting his own personal battle against this virus.
But we’re British and we’re used to waiting and queueing. We have no problem keeping 2 metres apart while we wait.
Life has slowed down so much we’ve found time to question some of the things we were waiting for. Why did we wait to call that friend or speak to that neighbour? Why are we waiting to change our job, learn a new skill or follow a dream?
In the business of normal life we often don’t have the time or space to think about what we really want, let alone plan to achieve it. Our hopes and dreams are forced to wait.
But amid the horror of this crisis, we’ve been gifted the time to stop, pause and think.
Is there something you’ve been waiting for that you could start today?
Over the past few days I’ve had several conversations with people who are either in self-isolation already, or are preparing for it. For the introverts it seems like heaven, a couple of weeks of working from home and not having to go out! For the extroverts it’s their worst nightmare! Those with young children are wondering how they’ll manage to do everything, while others are wondering how they will fill their time.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are 5 ideas I hope will help you through this season.
1 – Get Moving! Whether you’re a gym addict or normally struggle to run for a bus, the chances are being at home for 2 weeks means you’re less like to move or raise your heart rate. So to thrive instead of simply surviving, be intentional about finding a way to exercise that works for you.
Prompts: You could follow along to an online workout, have a dance party to your childhood favourites, or do some simple exercises while waiting for the kettle to boil!
Kids At Home? Why not invent a Scavenger Hunt around the house, getting the kids to find things of beginning with different letters from each room? Or start a pillow fight?
Added Extra: Building some form of movement into each day during this period will help boost your mood as well as your health. Look for ways to start new habits that will continue long after this season.
2 – Learn Something New Once the novelty of an enforced change to routine wears off, boredom can quickly set in. So instead of binge watching another TV series why not learn something new? Your physical world may have got smaller but your world can still be growing bigger. Follow a line of curiosity and see where it leads. Discover something new each day or work on developing an existing skill.
Prompts: Listen to a discussion on the radio and learn to see each side of the debate. Go online and watch a tutorial for something you’ve always wanted to learn. Watch a documentary about a subject that interests you.
Kids at Home? Allow your children to take the lead and follow their lines of curiosity. Help them find out more about their current interests – you’ll be surprised how you learn along the way!
Added Extra: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are free online courses that anyone can sign up to. They give you access to teaching and training from many universities around the world and you can study at your own speed. You won’t necessarily gain a qualification at the end but what you learn can still enhance your career.
3 – Get Creative Humans are creative beings. From developing languages to creating tools and works of art, we have a rich history of being innovative and creating. Making time to get creative develops problem solving skills as well as being proven to reduce stress and anxiety.
Prompts: Take photos, draw pictures, follow a new recipe and bake something, invent a dance routine to your favourite song on the radio, or dig out your old instrument and learn a new tune.
Kids at Home? Use a variety of skills to put on a play! It could just be for fun in the moment or film it to share with family you can’t visit at the moment.
Added Extra: Find others that share your preferred type of creativity. Not only will they help you develop your skills, it could also start some great friendships.
4 – Plan Ahead With extra time on your hands this is a great time to get organised! Planning ahead reduces stress and can create an element of certainty in the middle of lots of unknowns. Thinking about future events also acts as a reminder that this situation is temporary!
Prompts: Decide what meals you’re having for the week, work out whose birthdays are coming up and plan how you’ll celebrate them, pick a room and plan how you want to redecorate it.
Kids at home? Plan a party together! Depending on the age of your children it might be later that day or when the isolation is over. Write invites, plan the food, create a playlist, pick your outfits and plan the entertainment.
Added Extra: Start planning for how you want life to be in 5 years time. What do you want for your family, career, friendships, hobbies, finances? Work out the steps you need to start taking to achieve those goals.
5 – Support Your Network Although this is a season of being physically isolated, it is important you don’t become emotionally isolated. It takes extra effort to stay connected when you don’t see people in the office, at the school gate or at family gatherings but we’re stronger together. The people in your network need you to stay in touch as much as you need them.
Prompt: Thankfully modern technology means we’re the most connected generation of all time so use it to your full advantage! Where possible choose video calls over text messages. Laugh together and share what you’ve been up too. Remember to listen more than you speak, and find out how they’re doing!
Kids at home? It’s harder for children to stay in touch with their friends so they need you to help them. Arrange times for them to video call their friends or help them send ecards to their class friends.
Added Extra Take time to think about all those in your network that have really supported you and find a personal way to thank each of them.
I was absentmindedly watching the news, as an Australian couple captured my attention. Their property was one of many that have been destroyed by the recent bushfires, and yet there was something different about this story.
They’d had a little bit of rain, and theirs was a story of hope. In amongst the devastation, this couple were showing the journalist plants and bushes that were growing. They showed burnt seed pods and explained how some plants will only release their seeds in the intensity of the fires heat
It made me think about the tough seasons that we all go through. Those seasons where it can feel like life burns us. At the time everything can feel lost, and destroyed beyond repair, and yet those moments can be seeds of what we are to become.
For us it was the Credit Crunch of 2008. I remember that year so well as it coincided with the birth of our third child, and here we were, being plunged into a recession.
My husband was an Independent Financial Advisor and so we watched in horror as his industry, his income and his identity, were burnt by the wild fires of the Credit Crunch. It’s taken us many years to recover from that particular fire but we started to call it our “Diamond Years”. The years of intense pressure that would produce something of beauty.
Now as we start 2020, I’m very aware of a sense of “rain” on our lives. Things are starting to bud and bring forth new life in places that looked like they were burnt to a cinder. The visual example of the Australian bush seemed resonated with what I have seen, and continue to see in my own life. No matter how burnt we get, new life is possible!
As I write I’m so excited about what the future is bringing us. Some things will never be the same but they’re just providing the soil for other things to grow!
I’m done with Goal Setting! I know the theory. I’ve read the books. I’ve attended the training, but I quit! It simply doesn’t work for me, so this year I’m doing things differently!
Over the years I’ve tried and tried to set goals but I have two struggles, firstly defining my goal into something that’s “S.M.A.R.T.”, and secondly remembering what I’ve set! So I guess it’s no surprise that I stumble across notebooks from various years that all contain similar, still unachieved, goals. I still want to read more, have more control over my finances, live in a nicer house, see my friends more, have great relationships with my husband and kids, run a marathon…
So this year I’m taking a different approach! One of the books that challenged my thinking last year was James Clear’s Atomic Habits. In it he talks about the power of habits and simply improving by 1% every day.
I’m no longer worrying about defining what the end goal looks like, but simply stacking habits that will help me go in the right direction.
For example, my dream of running the marathon, is simply too big! I tried to break it down in to smaller stages but injuries and time pressures stopped me fulfilling it. So this year I’m focusing on exercising 3-4 times a week. If I simply keep showing up and improve by 1% who knows what I’ll achieve by the end of the year!
I have a dream of living in a beautiful home but we don’t currently have the resources to tackle it head on. So each year it’s waited as an unobtainable goal. However, if I can build a habit of making the most of what we do have, regularly improving spaces by 1%, who knows where the house will be by the end of the year.
Some things are values that I hold but struggle to define as a goal. It’s important to me to have great relationships with my husband and kids. How can be condensed down into a task that can be marked as completed? So instead I’m building the habit of spending weekly 1:1 time with each of them, ensuring we have fun and keeping the lines of communication wide open.
So if like me, you struggle with goal setting, maybe thinking about the habits you are building will help you move in the direction you want to travel?
Just before heading out for lunch, I was stood phone-in-hand, chatting with friends. I’m quite expressive as I talk, and although I don’t remember how it happened, I vividly remember it. Time seemed to slow down as I watched my phone slip out of my hand and somersault until it rested face down on the concrete floor!!
I fully expected to pick it up and find the screen shattered but amazingly it appeared to be fine. Feeling very relieved I put it in my pocket and we set off for lunch.
During the meal, I took out my phone to take a photo, and realised the extent of what had happened. While the outside was ok, the camera was now totally unresponsive. It didn’t matter how many times I switched it off and on again, it didn’t matter which app I tried, nothing responded. I couldn’t even get the torch to work!
Everything non-camera related worked fine, and I wasn’t due an upgrade for a year so I decided it was something I could live with. (Especially when I found out the cost of getting it repaired!) Other people can always take a photo I reasoned, and so I waited patiently for my next upgrade. It seemed such a simple thing but it had an unexpected impact for me.
By not having a camera I wasn’t able to record moments and save memories for future days. It also meant I had less to post on social media and no images to supplement a blog post. Over the months I stopped writing and I pulled back from social media.
Now less time on social media has to be a good thing doesn’t it? We’re often reminded of the evils of social media, the desire for “likes”, the insecurities that can develop, the unkind comments written, let alone how much time it can steal.
“The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing”
But recently I’ve had several reminders about the importance of adding our voices to the bigger conversation. We all have something we can share which can make someone smile, see things in a different way or simply bring hope. Whether it’s a funny story, a recipe, a picture of us having fun or words of wisdom regarding a situation.
So this year I’m deciding to show up and join in the conversation. So no this blog post doesn’t have the all important image to accompany it – but I hope you still enjoyed reading it and that many more will follow.
The idea behind this blog was to give me a place to sharpen my communication skills. To regularly practice putting words together to communicate an idea. To bring hope and encouragement to others as I reflect on my own life and the lessons I’ve learnt.
The discipline to produce 200 words, regardless of how I felt would, I believed, encourage me to keep a flow of creativity in my life. The reality was very different.
The pressure to write something profound, meaningful and shareable, meant I would hide in the busy-ness of life and not attempt that first sentence. The complexity of websites, coding and design, were confusing enough to make me avoid logging in and educating myself on all that was necessary. The thought of self-promotion and being social media worthy, made me want to log off all forms of technology. The podcasts on communication and writing I listened to, increased my desire for perfection so no first draft was written to avoid missing the mark.
But today is a new day.
It made me wonder how often I do this in other areas of life when there’s a goal or a dream I find too scary to start. How often do I hide and avoid, procrastinate and make excuses. And yet at the same time I regret, and wonder what could have been, had I been brave enough to simply start.
So today I’m hitting publish once again. It may be a weak start on a small dream, but it could turn into a significant start to a much bigger dream.
We moved into our current home over 10 years ago when our boys were very young. Within a few months, I fell pregnant with our daughter and so life here has always been busy. However, the one place of very little activity over the years, has been our garden.
The house has a large garden with deep flowerbeds and several trees. Previously the garden had been used to feed a family, with rhubarb, gooseberries, apples, blackberries, redcurrants growing. As well as fruit there had also been a vegetable patch which I once tried to resurrect, and a variety of herbs.
Under our neglectful care, the blackberries managed to thrive, taking over as much as they could despite our annual attempts to cut them back. The only other plants doing well seemed to have prickles too. Roses and an enormous Japonica bush, flourished much to our distress each time we caught ourselves on one of the thorns.
This summer I decided enough was enough, and the japonica, with its flame orange flowers, was going. It was a harder job than I had anticipated and took a variety of tools and many days to conquer. Its roots had gone down deep and were now entwined with tree roots. Every time we would leave it for a few days, the bare stems would start to sprout leaves again, mocking our attempts to curtail it.
Eventually we were victorious, and in the process removed many brambles, bulbs, tree roots, rose bushes, cherry tree sprouts and even a 30cm oak tree that had been hiding.
Our newly cleared bed was then filled with a variety of flowers, and prickle free plants, that we love. Butterflies and bumble bees are also enjoying the new attractions to be found.
There’s still more we want to do, and it has been incredibly hard work, but the transformation has been worth every sore muscle. So much so, it makes us wonder why we never did it before.
We all know the theory that anything worth having is worth working hard for, and yet, how often in life do we take the easy route? We rob ourselves of the life we want because we want to avoid the hard work it takes to create it.
As I sit and enjoy the tranquility of my garden, I hope it always serves as a reminder to me to work hard for my dreams.
For my 10th birthday I had a long white nightie, with little blue flowers on it, a matching full length dressing gown and matching slippers. It was from Marks & Spencers and I loved getting ready for bed and being able to put it on.
But getting ready for bed, and actually going to bed were two very different things. “Stop Procrastinating!” became my mum’s mantra, as I found excuse after excuse to stay up a bit longer, and not get on with the task of going to bed.
My taste in night attire has changed since then, but in many other ways I haven’t. Procrastination still plays a major role in my life as I find excuses not to do things. Not just things I should be doing but things I actually want to be doing.
Looking back some of those excuses seem so ridiculous… When I’m older… if I were younger… when I’m curvier… when I’m skinnier… when I’m married… when I have kids… when the kids are older…
I often failed to see how perfect a moment was to simply get started! If I hadn’t procrastinated then, where would things be now? If I’d simply started and had a go, how much progress would I have made?
So today I’m choosing to say yes, to stop procrastinating, and start doing some of things I’ve been putting off.
What about you? In 5 years time what will you be thankful that you started today?