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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 

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Why I don’t want my children to be good for Santa…

So the countdown to Christmas begins! And unfortunately so does the talk of Santa – now don’t get me wrong, I am all for the giving part, the generosity and self-sacrifice, the spreading of joy, kindness and goodwill. These are wonderful sentiments and I embrace them all. But the guy in the red suit – just complicates things if you ask me!

Although I’ve never been an active promoter of Santa to my children, over the last few years I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the whole idea. The obvious concern is the dishonesty – I value my children’s trust and feel it is vitally important to our relationship that they can depend on me to be honest with them. It just feels wrong and disrespectful to go on colluding.

Like Robin Hood, the character of Santa Claus is based in legend and that part is fascinating. Awareness of such legendary figures, and the actions they may or may not have taken, creates a sense of shared history and culture. Sharing stories with our children opens up discussions and allows us to reflect on our own times and our own behaviour. Learning about the past through the stories that get handed down the generations help us to consider our future and the part we want to play in shaping that.

Recognising that elements of these stories have been fictionalised and expanded over the years doesn’t have to take away from the joy and magic that surrounds them. We don’t have to believe that stories are true in order to enjoy them so why so much fuss about any suggestion that Santa may not be real?

Most people are well aware that the modern representation of Santa has commercial origins. Perpetuating this myth serves the capitalist machine, encouraging consumerism and focussing on materialist gift giving to the detriment of other forms of generosity and service to others. It is a blatant and highly successful attempt to protect the interests of commercialism by ensuring that we all keep buying big. Encouraging the tradition of presents from Santa sets up unrealistic expectations and can stir up feelings of disappointment, resentment and competition – surely Santa would not be constrained by such mundane matters as budgets!

Then there is the idea of an unknown man coming down the chimney in the middle of the night, a frightening concept in itself. Combine this with the fact that their parents may seem totally unfazed by this possibility can be extremely confusing for children, particularly when they have probably warned them many times about the dangers of strangers.

But hang on, there is more. This is the time of the year when so many adults seem to consider it acceptable to go around asking children if they have been good, after all if they haven’t been then there will be no presents they tell us. Apart from just being generally patronising, uncharitable and pessimistic, why after all would we assume otherwise? More questions need to be asked, what does being good even mean and on whose moral authority are we defining this goodness?

It is not enough to assume that we all know what being good means, the values and personal traits that are held in high esteem vary across time and space, they are not fixed concepts but historically and culturally specific. When it comes to children being good, all too often this appears to be more about their ability to follow orders and the level of inconvenience they cause, rather than whether they are developing a genuine respect for themselves and others. There is a real danger that when superficial elements, saying please, thank you and sorry on demand, eating their dinner and being obedient, quiet and complying with the wishes of others, become highly prized then the appearance of being good actually becomes more important than the cultivation of character.

The Santa model of present distribution supports this by reinforcing a dynamic of control over our children. There is an imbalance of power where rewards and punishment, the instruments of this control, are distributed according to the judgement of the dominating power. The fear of punishment and the desire for material reward encourages a culture of dishonesty as children are fearful of admitting their mistakes in case these count against them.  Surely this is not a desirable dynamic for promoting healthy human relationships or a good way to encourage the development of independent, assertive, responsible and kind adults.

The inherent assumption within this model, the idea that rewards and punishment are necessary in order to get children to be good, is that they cannot be trusted. This unfortunate lack of trust and faith in children, the belief that they would be unable to develop in a socially responsible way without some kind of threat hanging over them, says much about our view of human nature. It is a patronising and disrespectful way to view another human being and ultimately dangerous for our civilisation and survival. As we become increasingly focussed on policing behaviour rather than building trusting relationships, we are at risk of permanently damaging the strong bonds between parents and children which are fundamental to a peaceful and progressive society.

I’m not so sure this is all harmless fun anymore, are you?

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Sandra Dodd, UK Summer 2016 – Words of Wisdom

Sandra Dodd is an unschooling advocate, an author and speaker, mother of three grown up children and all-round wise woman. She has a wonderfully extensive and inspiring website with lots of useful information about living more peacefully with our children and supporting them as they learn. She offers great insights into what can help and hinder the natural process of learning and provides daily inspiration through her newsletter ‘Just add light and stir’. Sign up at Sandra’s website and every day you’ll get interesting and encouraging nuggets of wisdom delivered to your inbox, they are quick to read and yet can be immensely powerful and thought-provoking.

This summer I was lucky enough to see Sandra Dodd speaking in Leeds. It was a real delight to be in a room with so many people that share a love of Sandra’s writing, and to meet the lovely lady herself. As always she was full of wise words and so much helpful information. Here are just a few of the key messages that Sandra discussed…

Be a safe sanctuary –

Make your home a place that is safe and fun for your children to relax and to learn. Sandra has so much great information on her website about creating an unschooling nest. A safe space where children will feel inspired, encouraged and supported as they explore and discover the world. Where they can be honest and open about their feelings, ask questions and be reassured that they will receive honest answers.

So much parenting advice promoted to new parents is aimed at how to get children to do what the parent wants, how to effectively control them and mould them and how to survive the struggles and hardship of parenting. The promotion of a reward and punishment approach to parenting is so widespread and yet so damaging and dangerous for our relationships and downright disrespectful to our children. Fortunately we have Sandra, a true beacon of hope promoting a kinder, more peaceful and joyful way of being with our families and with each other.

The principles of unschooling offer an alternative to punitive parenting techniques and promote a partnership approach, placing the priority on meeting children’s needs and embracing trust, joy, kindness and respect as foundations for building relationships. Within this context learning will flourish naturally as we explore, enjoy and investigate the world and all its beauty and complexity together.

Being nice to others makes one a nicer person –

Such a simple but profound idea that by being nicer and kinder to other people you become a nicer and kinder person. By practising patience and staying calm when we feel agitated, we increase the patience and sense of calm we genuinely feel and the ease with which we can access these positive states of mind. Looking for ways to bring more kindness and joy into our children’s (and our own lives!) will increase the levels of kindness and joy in our home.

By extending the respect we show our children to other relationships, particularly for our children with their other parent, we enhance all our lives. Working together and nurturing and caring for our children as a team provides the security and the model from which our children can build healthy and supportive relationships of their own. By considering the needs of others and being generous with our time and our love genuinely for their benefit and not in a false, resentful, scoring points manner we create a more caring and supportive family culture.

Remember that there is always a choice –

It can seem like there are so many things we have to do, or should do, in life that sometimes we are left feeling overwhelmed and powerless. But if we can see life as a series of choices – about the way we respond to others or to changes in our emotions, where we place our attention or the actions that we take – we feel more in control and can make conscious decisions to choose the better option. “It only takes a second to do better” but only if we make that choice to do so.

Sandra speaks so eloquently and beautifully about respecting our children and about living in partnership. She has generously shared her wisdom for many years online, in print and in person. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to hear her speak and hope she comes back to the UK again soon. I would highly recommend attending one of her talks – thought-provoking, engaging and funny too, don’t miss the opportunity if it arises!

 

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Word of the year 2016 : Play

For each of the last six years I have chosen a word of the year. This year has been my year of PLAY.

Choosing a word to define the year is lots of fun, it can really help to focus the mind on what is important and encourage us to consider where we want to focus our attention and our energy. It gives a theme to the year and can be a useful tool and reminder to cultivate new habits.

So for 2016 I chose the word PLAY. The obvious intention was to have more fun, to play and enjoy life. Spending quality time with the ones we love, making shared memories through shared moments and really enjoying our time together are important priorities that can easily get forgotten in the busyness of everyday life. Reminding myself of the importance of slowing down and enjoying the moment rather than rushing through tasks is something I return to again and again.

Play is so important for learning, through play we can discover more about each other and ourselves. It can be an important bonding experience and opportunity to relax and have fun. When we are enjoying activities we learn more easily, our brains can process large amounts of information and we retain more. Focusing on the importance of play for learning has been a great reminder to relax and trust (my first word of the year, back in 2011). It has encouraged me to think more creatively about how to present information and introduce new ideas to my children and reminded me of the importance of making things fun if I want them to be meaningful and memorable.

Our family started our home education journey some seven years ago and one of the first fun projects we embarked upon was the creation of joy lists. Thinking more about play this year has been a welcome reminder that we can re-visit these any time and follow our joy.

We can also be intentional about finding joy any time, so much of our daily routine can be played as games. The mundane everyday tasks of washing up and tidying seem so much more fun when you are ‘racing the timer’ – we love timers in our house and they can be so useful in beating procrastination and transforming feelings of resentment and irritation to a more productive and efficient state of mind.

Everyday tasks to keep our home clean and tidy, the repetitive actions of washing up, preparing meals and washing up again can seem like an interference and distraction from other important matters of life but when we can learn to enjoy them then they can actually be rejuvenating. They can be moments of meditation, relaxation and inspiration as our minds shift into different gears while our hands are busy. And, of course, if someone else joins in too, then they are moments of connection and bonding too.

Learning to love the stuff that must be done, or shifting our perspective and acknowledging that there may be alternatives, different ways to achieve our ends, makes life much more fun. Now when I start to feel overwhelmed I try to think about how to make my next task more enjoyable.

Expanding this notion even further is the idea of play projects. These offer the opportunity to explore ways to move towards our goals and dreams, preparing for the future by acting in the now and letting go of the need for perfectionism. A chance to try out something we have been longing to do but were too scared to commit ourselves can become a fun project where we can develop our skills and embrace the joy of learning through play. Who knows where that might lead?

So as another year fast approaches I would love to know what your word of the year has been and what you are considering for 2017. Best get my thinking cap on here and play around with some ideas.

 

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Why I never tell my children off…

It’s rude and disrespectful.

It’s not a nice way to speak to anyone.

It will not help them learn how to communicate well with others.

It’s not an effective tool to change behaviour.

Most importantly, I value my relationship with my children and I want them to feel safe and secure in their relationship with me. If they make a mistake I want them to be able to talk to me.  I want to be able to support them when they need it and for them to feel confident that I will help them look for ways to make things better… from clearing up spilled milk to supporting them as adults.

If our children are endangering themselves or others then, of course, we want to protect everyone, do what needs to be done to keep people safe. Shouting ‘No’ or ‘Stop!’ or intervening however best fits the situation, that may be just what is necessary to keep them alive in that moment. But most situations really aren’t emergencies even though sometimes it feels like it.

When children are overwhelmed by their emotions and not coping in a situation then telling them off is not what they need. If we imagine ourselves in a similar state of mind and consider what we might want from those we love, it is not likely to be a good telling off!

We might need to have some space, time, attention, food, quiet, information, a hug, someone just to empathise and maybe, when we are ready, someone who can support us to access different tools to manage the situation next time.

Often when our children make mistakes, make messes, argue with their siblings or express strong emotions then our own strong emotions are triggered too. We may feel stressed and angry, fearful and inadequate. We may lash out in frustration or so that others can see that we are dealing with the situation. But if we can get a handle on our own emotions then we are better able to be there for our children.

In many cases we may just need to provide information, explain why it may not be a good idea to pull the cat’s tail or whatever the situation happens to be. We can take steps ahead of time to prevent situations arising where we might feel the need to tell our children off.

We can set our children up for success rather than wait for opportunities to correct them. Talk to them before we go into certain situations, remind them of what might be expected of them, what may happen and why. Helping them feel more prepared by playing out possible scenarios with toys, or role-play, so they feel more confident and aware of what the expectations of others might be.

There may be some situations that our children are just not ready for, they find it too hard to sit still and quiet for long periods and so a trip to the cinema might need to wait for a later time when they are more able to deal with it.

In those moments when we feel that we have to intervene we just want something to stop. Someone may be making a noise that is irritating or behaving in ways to others that we do not feel is appropriate. In the short term telling them off can achieve this, the behaviour may cease or change. But at what cost?

By telling our children off, or anyone for that matter, we set up a power dynamic – in effect we are saying that what they want to do or how they feel is less important than what we want, that we are in charge and they must do what we say regardless of whether that feels right to them. This damages our relationships, severs meaningful connections and may show us to be unpredictable and untrustworthy. We may invite future conflict and power struggles as resentment builds about our treatment towards them.

By modelling how we would like ourselves and others to be treated, with compassion and dignity, with understanding and patience, then we are supporting our children not just in that moment but we are building strong foundations for their ongoing relationships with us and with others.  Isn’t that we really want?