#mymindfulbujo April: Positive Changes Tracker

Every Spring I get a new burst of energy and a desire to live life to the full. The awakening earth, the buds on the trees, the warmth of the sun and the increase in light. All combine to increase our energy and make Spring a great time of year to take on new resolutions. If Winter is the time of reflection then Spring is the time of planning and ambition.

 

It wasn’t hard to decide on what positive changes I wanted to make this Spring. When I’ve been checking in with my body recently I’ve noticed that I feel sluggish and tired, my stomach is bloated and my skin is dull and full of blemishes. I don’t look or feel as healthy as I would like to and as I’ve been tracking my food and water consumption I have a good idea why that might be the case. This therefore seems like the ideal time to make some positive changes that will hopefully become long term habits.

 

7 fruit and vegetables a day

 

mymindfulbujo vegetables

My friends at Eat Real and Heal have been blogging about eating 10 a day recently. I know that I need to consume more nutritious foods to increase the collagen in my skin and improve my health more generally but most days I struggle to eat my 5 a day. 10 seems like a bit of a stretch currently so I’m going to set a target of 7 a day for now.

 

8 glasses of water

 

mymindfulbujo water

I definitely haven’t missed the message on water and yet I still struggle to get 8 glasses in me every day. I’ve just bought a new water bottle however that I find particularly easy to drink from. My daily allowance equates to around 3 bottles so I’m going to aim for 3 bottles a day. One before breakfast, one before lunch and one before bed.

 

No sugar 5 days a week

 

mymindfulbujo sugar

I’ve tried a no sugar diet before and felt brilliant. My skin looked vastly improved as well. I did  find it difficult to stay strictly no sugar all the time because sugar products are so integrated into our social conventions. Parties, coffee shops, friends houses. All offer sugary delights that I find hard to resist. This time I’m going to take it a little easier by allowing myself 2 days a week to indulge. It’s not perfect, but I’m looking for marginal gains here, not perfection.

 

No bread for breakfast

 

mymindfulbujo bread

I eat a lot of bread and I definitely think it’s contributing to my sluggishness and bloating. I don’t want to cut out bread completely but I do want to cut it down and see whether I notice any improvement that way. I often find myself eating a slice of toast for breakfast, so cutting out bread for breakfast has the double benefit of significantly reducing my bread consumption whilst nudging me into making healthier choices for breakfast that include some of my 7 a day.

 

So those are my positive changes but where does the bujo come in? I’m going to be tracking my progress on all of these actions in my bullet journal. This motivates me to keep to my resolutions whilst also giving me chance to reflect if I don’t keep my resolutions on a given day. My intention is to approach this with a sense of curiosity and openess so I can understand what might be holding me back and start again in a positive frame of mind the next day.

 

I’m also going to track how I feel about my skin, mood, energy and tummy over this period so I can reinforce any positive improvements I see against the changes I make. Noticing the good gives us additional encouragement to keep going with any changes that may feel to be hard work. Similarly, if I slip up and notice any negative effects, I can also track and see which behaviours they relate to.

 

It’s a fairly simple set-up for this month as I’m busy this week but it’s functional and practical.

 

mymindfulbujo april positive changes tracker

 

If you’d like to see more #mymindfulbujo challenges you can find links on my resources page.

 

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The Powerful Journey of Knowing Yourself

A lot of people say they feel more content and confident as they get older. There’s a sense of knowing who you are, being content with your own satisfaction in a situation and having a clearer picture of what you want and how you as an individual can make that happen. For the very fortunate, they achieve a sense of authenticity or self-awareness that allows them to understand who they are at the very core of their being. And perhaps most crucially, what brings them joy in life. It’s a happy person who is able to articulate what brings them joy and make a practice of inviting that into their life every day, or better still, making that their vocation.

 

I am most definitely still on this journey seeking my authentic self, but feel I have come a lot closer in recent years having introduced a number of deliberate practices into my life that have developed my self-awareness. I spent quite a few years adrift, not really knowing who I was or what I was good at. I relied on other people to tell me what my strengths were and what I should celebrate as my successes, which limited my ability to make myself happy. This is not to say that I wasn’t doing good work or enjoying myself during this time, but it felt somewhat hollow and I wasn’t sure why. Without really understanding myself or what I wanted, my actions lacked integrity and meaning.

 

It’s only in recent years as I’ve integrated more mindful practices into my life that I’ve started to build a better sense of who I am and with that knowledge comes the power to make positive changes for myself and for my family. To develop ways of living and loving that make us all happier.

 

  • I’m noticing and letting go of bad habits.
  • I know my strengths and limitations better and can allow for them.
  • I have a much better idea of what brings me joy and I’m working on how I can make this my vocation.
  • I find it easier to let go of the activities and situations that don’t bring me happiness so I can focus on more important things.
  • Understanding who I am and how I react allows me to respond to my family in a more loving and constructive way.

 

Other than allowing for the natural passage of time, there are a number of things I have been doing to improve my self-awareness more deliberately.

 

Observation of thoughts and emotions

 

When we start to meditate, and incorporate mindful practices into our lives, we begin to observe the well-worn grooves in our brain. The little tracks that take us places without us even realising. We begin to question the definitiveness of these tracks. What are we auto-piloting? What lies beneath our reactions? How does our body respond? What is our reaction to stress? Is that the reaction we want? Can I travel a less worn path?

 

If you read my post on anger for instance, you can see that a mindful approach inserts a pause before we set off down our habitual reaction to the emotion ‘anger’. That pause gives us time to both create a different response in the immediate moment but also to observe how our body reacts and what our mind wants to do so that we are able to reflect on it later.

 

Self-reflection

 

Once we’ve observed how we think and react, the next stage is to understand why we think and react in this way. What happened in our early years? What were the formative experiences that shaped our thinking? How have our reactions served us since then in life? Which of our behaviours do we want to keep and which do we want to change?

 

This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do on your own so you may want to talk to someone else about this. Either a friend/partner or a professional. Lori Fitzgerald is awesome and works in my local area but she’s also available on skype and has lots of downloadable worksheets and programs that can help you on the path to self-discovery.

 

I’ve also found journaling to be incredibly useful for me in this process. Writing down my thoughts and feelings has been both a cathartic experience and a way to get to know myself better. When we’re thinking, we’re not necessarily conscious of our thoughts or questioning them, but when we write them down, we have the opportunity to explore them more objectively. Equally, tracking even the most mundane of activities in my journal has lead me to understand some of my behaviours more. Why do I not drink enough water? What is stopping me from being more active?

 

If you want some help getting started with a journal, there are lots of journal prompts on all manner of topics available on Pintrest and they can be a great way to start thinking about yourself in ways you haven’t yet considered. Here’s a good example.

 

Honest feedback

 

Sometimes we need honest feedback from an outsiders perspective to stretch our understanding further. At work, at home, with our friends, in our creative/physical endeavours; external coaching can be invaluable, but not always easy to hear. My own tendency is to be defensive when it comes to criticism so receiving honest feedback isn’t always easy. If you find this to be case too, then I’d recommend the following.

 

  1. Seek the opinion of someone you trust. You don’t have to rely solely on your line manager at work for example. It’s fine to approach someone, explain that you’d really value their opinion and ask how they would most like to do that. Starting with someone you trust means that you’re better able to be vulnerable and open to critique than you would otherwise be.
  2. Set the intention to listen and understand. If you’re asking for feedback as part of a process of self-awareness, you don’t have any agenda other than understanding yourself better so you can make positive changes. If you start to notice yourself feeling anxious, angry or defensive, then try to observe these feelings in the body. What does it feel like? Where do you feel it? Try not to react immediately to these emotions, but go back to your original intention to listen and understand.
  3. Write it down. Try writing down the feedback and your associated reactions afterwards so you can start to explore the feedback in a less emotionally charged state. Often when we have some time to reflect, we realise that there is some truth to negative feedback, even if it’s difficult to receive. Writing down our reactions also allows us to explore why we react that way. I feel like my defensiveness stems from the need to wear a protective cape of ‘perfection’. Hearing negative feedback feels like someone ripping holes in that protective cape and I feel vulnerable. It’s taken a long time to understand that I can be loved and valued without being perfect, but understanding it has been the first step.
  4. Gather feedback from more than one person. Once you start to feel more confident receiving feedback, try to gather as much honest feedback as possible from different people. There won’t be one definitive opinion of you and hearing from multiple people will allow you to develop a better understanding of yourself overall.

 

I’m still very much a beginner on this journey, but I already feel a much greater sense of contentment and wellbeing just in knowing myself that little bit better. Taking charge of your own happiness starts with understanding yourself and it’s a powerful journey. I’d love to hear more about yours.

 

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Feel Good Mamas walking sessions

I’ve come to notice that when I’m calm, balanced and feeling good mentally, the rest of the family seems to be in a good place too. Equally, if I’m down, or out of sorts, that’s generally when everyone else tends to get grumpy and difficult. Mother’s mental health matters, both for them and the whole family. Yet many women just keep on going with little help and support. The NHS suggests that 1 in 3 new mothers suffers from post-natal depression and over half don’t seek any help. Having been in that statistic myself, I can tell you that it’s hard. Really hard. In an age when few people live surrounded by extended family and close friends tend to be caught up with their own children, finding time and space to rest, rejuvenate and talk through your feelings can be difficult.

 

Feel Good Mamas came about after going on some walks with friends and discovering the value of walking side by side in nature. No agenda and few distractions. Just the joy of being outside and talking. Spending time in nature is proven to reduce the symptoms of depression and being able to talk with someone who understands is extremely helpful. I wanted to help Mum’s carve out some space to just enjoy being outside, chatting with others who understand. And throw in a little mindful support too.

 

I’m not going to set a rigid structure for the sessions, but it’s likely to flow something like this.

 

  • Meet at the specified location
  • Short meditation (c. 5 minutes) to help us get into the present moment
  • Circular walk and chat (around an hour)

 

These sessions are a chance for Mums to rest and chat without having to edit their conversation or be distracted, so this isn’t a session for children to attend (aside from tiny babies in slings). It doesn’t matter what age your children are; 6 months or 18 years. This is a chance for Mum’s to support each other in a fun, nurturing environment.

 

Dates, times and locations will be advertised on my facebook page, but if you have any questions, do get in touch via my contact page. I’d love for you to join us!

 

 

5 useful things to do while you’re waiting for your child to fall asleep

My eldest daughter has always been very sensitive and high needs. She still likes to have our loving presence while she’s going to sleep and we’re pretty happy to go along with that. That doesn’t mean that we’re not sometimes silently willing her to ‘go the f@ck to sleep’ while we’re sat on the floor thinking of the many things we have to do that evening! It’s frustrating, and dare I say it boring sometimes to be sat on the floor. That said, we know that she’s just a more balanced and easy to be around child when her cup is full and she feels loved.

 

PIN 5 useful things to do while your child is falling asleep

 

Inevitably, when we’re frustrated and impatient, our children pick up on that and are less likely to go to sleep. With that in mind, I have some suggestions for how you can relax into the process and create a greater sense of calm for you and them to hopefully make bedtime more enjoyable for everyone. Here are 5 useful things you can do while you’re waiting for your child to go to sleep.

 

Try a restorative yoga pose

It’s obviously not practical to be running through a series of yoga poses while your child is trying to fall asleep but you can set yourself up for a restful 15 minutes in a restorative yoga pose. I first came across restorative yoga from my yoga teacher Lara at All Woman and it’s been linked with a wealth of health benefits. I’m personally favouring a heart opening pose at the moment because I have tight muscles across my chest but there are lots more options. You can have a look here.

 

Do a body scan

Pains, aches and weird sensations are our body’s way of telling us that something isn’t right and maybe we need to do something differently. Perhaps visit the GP, perhaps stretch or do exercise or perhaps do some self-care (a bath, massage, treatment etc). Often in the fullness of the day we can become disconnected from our body and ignore or sweep under the carpet these bodily sensations resulting in long term health complications. Bedtime can be a great opportunity to lavish some mindful attention on the body. Slowly passing our mindful gaze over our whole self from our toes to our heads. Noticing how the body feels and re-connecting our mind and body so we can take better care of ourselves.

 

Bring mindful attention to the breath

Children have great empathy and will follow our lead in terms of emotional state. If you can calm your breath then you can help them to calm their breath and emotional state too. Try the 5-7-8 technique.

Breathe in for 5 seconds.

Hold for 7 seconds.

Breathe out slowly for 8 seconds.

This technique calms the nervous system and instils a sense of calm. Useful to quell any frustration you may be feeling and useful to help them fall asleep as well.


 
Pelvic floor exercises

Ladies, we never do this as frequently as we should. If you can create a nightly habit of doing your pelvic floor exercises at bedtime then that’s one set a day done.

 

Listen to a podcast or audio book

If all else fails, get yourself some discrete earphones and listen to something enjoyable. My husband has this small device for one ear that links via Bluetooth, which means there are no visible wires or attached devices for your child to covet and distract them from falling asleep. There’s a similar one here.

 

So, there you have it. 5 useful things to do while you’re laid on the bedroom floor. Sweet dreams!

 

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How to stay calm when you’re angry with your child

This week saw the mama bear in me roar when my daughter was hurt. The inability to soothe her pain in that moment and her sibling’s part in the matter made me feel extremely angry. I wanted to shout and reprimand and unleash my anger but I managed to catch myself just in time. Whilst my girls are small, their mindfulness practice is my mindfulness practice. What I model, they learn. So once I noticed the anger rising, I managed to pause. Just long enough to stop my instinctive response and think about what to do next.

 

There are many models of mindful tactics to use when working through difficult emotions and what they all aim to do is insert a pause between you feeling an emotion and then reacting. Often, this reaction happens so quickly that it feels like it becomes one with the emotion. We’ve acted on autopilot. And often what we autopilot is our learned behaviour from when we were children. This may be fine, or it may not be in line with how you intend to parent. Inserting a pause gives us just enough time to feel our emotion, appraise the situation and decide how to act next in a constructive way.

 

I use the CALM model because I find it easy to remember and just repeating the word sets a good intention for me in terms of how I want to respond to my anger. So here is how you can stay CALM when your angry buttons are pressed.

 

how-to-stay-calm-when-youre-angry

 

You can download a printable here how-to-stay-calm-when-youre-angry-printable

 

C – Catch your breath

 

Once you’ve recognised anger, the first thing to do is just focus on the breath momentarily. Give yourself some space to step away from any immediate reactions. If you can make the out breath longer than the in breath, this will also calm the nervous system and reduce the ‘flight or fight’ response you may be having.

It can be really helpful to explain what you’re doing as well if you’re with a small child. It can be something simple like “I’m feeling angry right now so I’m going to pause while I think about what to do next.”

 

A – Allow

 

Allow yourself to feel the emotion you’re having. We’re not trying to hide from the emotion or make it go away. Instead we’re trying to relate to it in a different way. For the moment, all you need to do is feel the emotion in your body. Where do you feel it? A tightness in your chest perhaps? Clenched hands? No need to try to change any of this, just allow it to be as it is. If it does change though, that’s ok too.

 

L – Listen

 

Listen to your thoughts with a sense of curiosity. Thoughts are not always accurate or true and you don’t have to act on them. Allow yourself to consider other options as well. In my case, I had thoughts such as ‘why is she always being mean to her sister? What is wrong with her?’ When I think about it a calmer state of mind I know that a lot of the time she’s actually really lovely to her sister. It’s also age appropriate to not know how to deal with big emotions in a reasonable way so there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with her. Reviewing our thoughts in this way gives us a better preparation for how we act next.

 

M – Move into action

 

We’ve spent the last 30-60 seconds inserting a pause so we don’t act automatically (this will get quicker with practice) and the next step is to proceed with intention. Only you will know how you hope to parent in this situation, but allow yourself to be guided by your greater intention (I hope to write a blog post about setting a parenting intention so I’ll come back and insert a link when I do). If you have familiar situations arising though, it may be worth preparing some phrases in advance so you can draw on them quickly when you are angry. For instance “I won’t let you hit your sister. I’m going to hold you while the angry feelings pass.”

 

It’s important to recognise that this new approach won’t work immediately. It will take some time to undo your unconscious habits and create new neural pathways through repeated practice. There are 4 stages of re-learning that you will likely go through.

 

  1. You’re caught in the auto-pilot response without even realising it. It’s only afterwards that you consider how you would have liked to respond differently.
  2. You feel angry and are aware of your automatic reaction happening but feel unable to stop it. This is really tough and you may feel like giving up at this stage. Keep going though because being able to observe your reaction is evidence that you’re already being more mindful. It will get better.
  3. You feel angry but you’re able to pause, avert the automatic reaction and take a different course. It may still feel difficult but you should feel good about responding with intention.
  4. You’re unlikely to feel angry about the behaviour and move easily into a calm, intentional response.

 

There will still likely be lots of times when you yell or shout or say things you wish you didn’t. Especially in the beginning. We’re only human after all. In these instances, we can still model a mindful and compassionate way to deal with mistakes that our children can learn from.

 

  1. Firstly, extend yourself some compassion and kindness. Your children love you. You are a good parent (otherwise you wouldn’t be reading about how to stay calm when you’re angry). We all make mistakes and that doesn’t make us bad people. If you’re feeling really low, like “I’m a terrible mother/father” then you may want to try a loving-kindness meditation.
  2. Explain the emotions you were feeling in language they can understand. This helps build emotional literacy so they can recognise their own emotions and have empathy for these emotions in others. For example “I felt really angry when you hit your sister. My heart was thumping and my body felt stiff. I felt like I wanted to shout.” Try to keep the language focused on you so they understand that your reaction was based on your emotions, not their actions. This teaches children that we have the resources to respond to our emotions in the manner we choose.
  3. Apologize in a positive way for your reaction. Humbleness is not a weakness and teaching children how to repair a mistake is a positive life skill. It might go something like “I’m sorry I shouted at you. I know that might have been scary. I’m learning how to respond more calmly when I’m angry but it may take a little time.” I know that when I’ve offered an apology to my daughter, she’s always accepted it with great grace and kindness. In fact, in the way I wish I responded to apologies as I’ve often been a bit begrudging in the past. Especially when I’ve been holding on to some hurt.

 

“Children make a lot of mistakes so these types of demonstrations are invaluable. Having an inner template of how to make amends can help children to avoid internalising a sense of failure, which can stop them from moving forward. If you are ultra-judgemental about your own mistakes and apologize profusely, or instead feel angrier and resentful, then this sends the message that mistakes are intolerable.” – Amber Hatch in Mindfulness for Parents

 

I hope this gives you some thoughts on how you can deal with anger calmly. I’m still re-learning my automatic reactions too but it gets better and better with time. If you have any comments or suggestions then I’d love to hear them.

 

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