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Starting the week with a clean slate : the Sunday Surface Run.

Yesterday was a difficult day. I spent much of it feeling overwhelmed and ‘out of sorts’.

It was a day of rushing around trying to give my family what they needed – some time and attention here, some food and drink there, a past paper for this week’s impending Chemistry exam – you get the picture. But somehow I still felt like I wasn’t really meeting anyone’s needs.

Half way through the afternoon it dawned on me – a big part of the problem was my scattered mind. I really was trying to be present and attentive but kept being distracted by my internal dialogue ‘this place is a mess’, ‘I really need to be tidying up’, ‘I should be able to keep on top of things more’.

My sense of failure was made worse by the fact that I had slept later than usual. After feeling ill the day before I had turned off my alarm and so hadn’t got my usual head-start on the day, missing out much of my usual morning routine.

As the nature of the problem revealed itself so an opportunity arose, as my littlest lovely headed upstairs to ‘talk teddies’ with her big sister.

I set the timer for 15 minutes and embarked upon a Sunday surface run. A big fan of alliteration, I came up with this name a few weeks ago while I was rushing around on a Sunday afternoon trying to get the house in some state of order for the week ahead.

A surface run is just what the name implies –

clearing all surfaces (including the floor)
returning stray items to their proper home
straightening up the items that do live on those surfaces
wiping down said surfaces
preparing the floors for hoovering and sweeping
collecting any washing up to be done and depositing it tidily by the sink (don’t interrupt the run to do any washing up, it’s time will come!).
focusing energy and effort on the communal/family areas only (everywhere that isn’t someone’s bedroom), and…
it’s all about the run. Well, maybe don’t actually run, but do work fast. This is a quick tidy up, not a deep clean – we are aiming to get as much done as possible before the timer goes off, we are not aiming for perfection.

Once my 15 minutes was up I listened out for sounds of fun upstairs, and sensing all was well, headed into the kitchen to tackle that pile of washing up. Setting the timer for 5 minutes this time I worked flat out, super-speedy, trying not to break anything, of course.

After a little break to help set up various fun projects (new Star Wars computer game, an exercise class in the newly tidied lounge…)  I managed to get in 15 minutes of hoovering – the lounge first (couldn’t hold up the exercise class), the stairs and hallway – and a quick sweep of the kitchen floor – a job well done!

Suddenly I noticed it – the sense of calm and peace that had settled over the house, and then the lovely comments.. ‘the front room looks great Mum’, ‘it’s lovely in here, thanks for tidying up’.

Such a lovely feeling, refreshing the house and my mood, all in just over half an hour.

Then back to the really important stuff, spending time with the ones I love.

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To do, or not to do.

As a parent we can feel the pressure to be doing something all the time. There are so many things to get done that it can feel overwhelming.

But lately it has struck me how important what we don’t do, can be for our relationships. Maybe there are some things we should stop doing. Sometimes less really is more.

Let’s stop assuming the worst.

Give up on judging ourselves and others.

Ditch the criticism and the sarcasm.

Resist the urge to complain.

Quieten those angry yells.

Stop trying to control everything.

Overcome the temptation to have the last word.

Drop the defensive position.

And don’t despair.

Sometimes what you don’t do can be extremely powerful, it can strengthen relationships and make your home a happier place.

Sometimes it’s the things that we don’t do that can really make a difference.

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The power of words.

Words can be beautiful. Words can lift us up, brighten our day and inspire our lives.

But words can also be cruel. Words can limit and torment us, degrade and debilitate us.

Words can help and they can harm, but they do not have to define us forever.

We can change our words and our minds. We can change the stories we tell ourselves and the stories we choose to listen to from others.

Just because someone says something, does not make it true and that includes me and you.

There is the small matter of what exactly is truth? Many things are actually a matter of perspective, and if you change your perspective then that may alter the way that you perceive the events and environment around you. Even scientific truth evolves and changes as what was once deemed fact is proven wrong and our understanding of the universe expands.

What we choose to focus our attention on in any given moment is intensely personal and unique to us. We may feel that everyone else is surely thinking the same as us, that it must be obvious, irrefutable, undeniable fact but this is often not the case.

The stories we choose to tell and re-tell can help us make sense of particular moments but seen from a different angle, another’s viewpoint or with the benefit of hindsight and space for reflection, these same stories can be overturned and re-written.

There is power in the words that we use to describe our own situation and that of others. The words that we choose to describe our feelings, our relationships and the events of our lives will influence how we, and others, see them.

Our words can shape our beliefs and our actions. They can be a force for good, kindness and compassion or they can restrict us, separate us and limit our capacity for change and for understanding.

Increasing our awareness of how the words that we use may be shaping our experience can open up opportunities, remove what we once viewed as obstacles and allow for shifts to occur, for alternative ideas to flow and for changes of heart.

If we can catch ourselves when we realise that the words we are using, the stories we are telling, are not helping us to move forward, to find peace and joy, to be kinder to ourselves and others, then we may be able to stop, to pause, reflect and re-frame. Recognising the many different ways this moment might be perceived may reveal many different choices and possibilities for our response.

There is an element of choice in the stories we tell ourselves and other people.

Make your story a good one.

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Learning to love the washing up

Mealtimes seem to come round so fast and some days (make that most days around here!) it just seems impossible to keep up with the washing up.  The idea that clear counters and a shiny sink make us feel better, and that piles of clutter and dirty crockery can play havoc with our peace of mind is convincing.

Given the apparent link between mental health and clearing up, let alone the implications for efficiency and productivity, I am keen to improve my skills and, perhaps more crucially, my attitude in this area.

Gradually I am learning to love the washing up. While once it seemed insurmountable, that all my efforts to reach the end were merely futile, I am now finding some sense of peace with the daily challenge. It turns out that, sometimes, washing up can actually be pleasant and enjoyable, maybe even an opportunity to get some other stuff done too…

So, some thoughts about the washing up…

Use a timer.

This was a revelation (thanks, Flylady). Using a timer to measure the how long it takes to complete household tasks may reveal that many jobs take a lot less time than we imagine, this was certainly the case for me. Most days ten minutes will pretty much get a meals washing up done, and even on the busiest days with visitors in the mix, ten minutes will certainly allow enough time to make significant progress, especially if there is more than one of you.

Setting the timer for a short amount of time can boost motivation. Beating the timer provides a fun challenge that can transform our attitude and shift our focus. Tasks become more manageable when we tackle them in short bursts of concentrated activity. Often it is the act of starting that can be the most challenging part. So once a task is underway we may find the inclination to get on and finish it, even when the timer has ended.

Share the time with loved ones.

Time spent washing up goes faster with company. If there are others willing to help, then it’s a great opportunity for a chat.  Just having company in the kitchen can make the job more fun. Inviting little ones to play nearby or suggesting a dance party transforms the atmosphere and makes the task more pleasant. Or maybe catch up on calls to loved ones further afield, just make sure that hands-free device stays nice and dry!

An opportunity for meditation.

Allowing ourselves to be fully present in the moment and feel the warm water on our hands can be relaxing and offer space and time for meditation. An opportunity to practise mindfulness, paying attention to each item we clean, or perhaps the perfect time to exercise those gratitude muscles and consider how much there is to be truly thankful for. Washing up can act as an oasis of calm and peace within an otherwise busy and stressful day. Those much needed moments of relaxation and serenity may be enhanced by burning candles, incense or fragranced oils. Making a conscious effort to consider our surroundings might offer insights into ways to improve the atmosphere and ambience.

Indulge in some creative thinking.

While our hands are busy, our minds may wander and washing up time can be great for mulling over any challenges and pondering any troubles, even conjuring up new blog post ideas (guess when this one came to mind!).  Maybe some space and time can allow us to consider issues from different perspectives and find creative solutions.

Catching up on some listening.

Washing up time can be an opportunity to catch up on our favourite podcasts (The Archers anyone?) or listen to an audiobook. One of my lovely daughters even uses the time to catch up on YouTube videos or shows on demand (again assuming there is a safe place to keep that device of choice well away from the water!).

The ideas that clearing up should form part of any activity, and that mealtimes are not over until the washing up is done, seem simple and sensible. Tackling the washing up sooner, rather than later, does make the job easier. But this is real life and sometimes chores have to wait while we get on with more important stuff. So as well as learning to love that washing up a bit more, I am also working on accepting that it will get done, it always gets done eventually, just maybe a little later. But at least I won’t be dreading it so much!

For some this is all so obvious, I salute you ‘born organised’ types (sorry, just another Flylady reference). But for me and I hope for some of you, these ideas can transform the way we see this one little job.

Have you had any great revelations about the washing up or do you have a top tip on how to make it easier? I would love to hear your thoughts.

May all your washing up get done with the least of hassle and the most of fun, enjoy x

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Instead of resolutions : 5 tools to support sustainable change

The promise of a shiny new year brimmed full of possibilities, a time when so many of us reflect on our lives, consider our priorities and make plans for the future. I love the start of a new year, the opportunities for new beginnings and fresh starts. The changing of the calendar can encourage us to consider what we really want out of life, to ponder our mission and purpose and contemplate how we wish to be remembered.

New Year’s resolutions are not my thing but I do like to live intentionally. The choices and actions we make on a daily basis can add up to a life well lived. Many of us are faced with so many competing demands on our time and distractions that pull us this way and that, it can be hard to keep focused on what we really want to achieve. Resolutions in the form of grand declarations can be useful tools to help us move in the direction we wish to go, but they can also set us up for failure. Instead of resolutions I have been experimenting with ways to support better habits. Here are some of the tools I have been using to help me be more mindful of how I spend my every day.

Word of the year

Picking just one word to give an annual focus, to symbolise what is important in this season of your life can be so inspiring. It can remind you, reassure you and revive you on days when you feel lost, worried that your focus is waning and unsure of the direction in which you should be travelling. In the past I have used trust, kindness, presence, connection, breathe and most recently play. This year I am drawn to the word Blossom. I love the sound of the word and the images it conjures, the beauty of new life, the foundations laid for new fruit and for hope and optimism for the future.

Practising a monthly habit

Given that it can take anywhere from 21 days to 254 or more, to form new habits then having a short period of time, like a calendar month, to focus on a specific area where we would like to build new habits can provide a great boost. Focussing your energy in a short concentrated burst can lay the foundations to effectively transform our routines.

Each month of the year 2016 I chose one habit to implement more deliberately into my life, these included drinking more water, increasing my physical exercise through a 10,000 steps challenge and a read aloud challenge. Each month I experimented with different reminders and ways to incorporate each habit into my day. I found this practice incredibly helpful, both in terms of bolstering my enthusiasm in the short-term and maintaining my momentum for change in the longer term.

Tracking

By tracking new habits we create useful reminders and a visual celebration of our achievements. Using a checklist or tally chart to demonstrate how far we have come in consistently implementing our new habit can be a powerful motivator and helps to turn the whole process into an enjoyable game.

Mantras

Reciting mantras can be a quick way to transform our energy, pick up our activity levels and regain our focus. I love keeping things simple and the power of five, ‘just do it now’ and ‘you can do anything for 15 minutes’ are really simple ways of overcoming procrastination and just getting started when things seem overwhelming. Mantras also have a calming, meditative effect helping us to handle stressful situations and retain control over our emotions when we might be inclined to panic or lash out in anger.

Keeping a short daily to-do list

To-do lists have a tendency to spiral out of control, getting ever longer and exhausting even to read, let alone put into effective action. Rather than helping us to organise our time efficiently they can become debilitating and weaken our resolve to actually get things done. When our to-do lists become ridiculous and we live in fear of reading them, something needs to change.

Creating a catch-all reference list of all the items that we would like to get done, ideally broken down into appropriate categories – work, home improvements etc – is an important organisational step. We can refer to this at regular, specified intervals but it does not need to overwhelm us.

From this reference list we can identify the most important tasks (MITs) and focus our attention on achieving these. Limiting our daily to-do list to a maximum of five MITs makes it far more likely that we will actually complete them all, thereby promoting a sense of success rather than failure.

What tools have helped you to become more productive and intentional with your time and attention?  I would love to hear about them, please share in the comments below.

Wishing you all a wonderfully happy and fulfilled 2017, enjoy!

 

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Kindness Quotes : 1

nothing-can-make-our

Experimenting with Quozio, gorgeous!

And with shorter posts, exciting!

I just can’t resist a great quote. 

I love to get, and give, great book recommendations too. Here are three, just for you….

Gretchen Rubin ‘The Happiness Project’ – where I discovered this quote. I finished this book earlier in the year, half on audio-book and half in print. Recommended either way! 

Leo Tolstoy ‘War and Peace’, currently reading this one aloud with my lovely eldest daughter. This book is a long one but definitely worth it, there are moments of true genius, certainly enhanced by reading aloud.

Mandela ‘Long Walk to Freedom’, currently ‘buddy-reading’ with that same lovely daughter. We read a chapter at a time independently, passing the book back and forth, just another lovely way to share the experience of a good book. Mentioning here and now as Mandela described ‘War and Peace’ as his favourite book, ‘a profound influence’ that he returned to many times during his lifetime.     . 

Some little gifts from me to you. Enjoy x