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Journeying through January…

January is a good time to be gentle with ourselves. It’s a time when we are emerging out of ‘hibernation’ and yet are also faced with expectations to be all things new and all at once. That’s not reasonable nor practical nor altogether healthy for us if we’re honest with ourselves.

It’s a great idea to re-evaluate our lives and set new goals, however, the idea of being able to ‘hit the ground running’ on January 1st isn’t particularly helpful. I find that incremental changes over time are far more sustainable in the long run: ‘slow and steady wins the race’.

However, that’s not to say that it isn’t a particularly good time to use the idea of a new year and a new start to boost our motivation, but the way in which we do that doesn’t need to be in a flurry of activity.

So, feel free to pace yourself as you continue to journey through January.

For many of us, the first changes stem from perhaps going back home after spending time with family over Christmas, or saying goodbye to family if they have stayed with us. Others may not have to move or say goodbye or make any such changes, but the chances are that you will have to start tidying up and reorganising after the festive period. I don’t put any pressure on myself to do this in the first week of January as I like to gradually and gently say goodbye to that holiday feeling and savour the happy moments of it as I do. What’s the rush after all?

After that, we face the next challenge of remembering to get out of bed in the morning and go to work, while also remembering that it’s not socially acceptable to wear pyjamas all day or to take a nap in the afternoon – at least not in normal working life!

Our bodies are still adjusting to the changes in our sleep patterns, our diets and our activity levels. Which is why it’s a good idea like I said at the start of this post to be gentle with ourselves. Don’t expect that you will make and keep many drastic changes from ‘day 1’, that’s too much pressure. Maybe you thrive under that kind of pressure, and I suppose that’s ok, but if you don’t then don’t add to your anxiety by self-imposed and non-essential demands. Things take time, life takes time, so….take your time.

Perhaps it is a good idea to set ‘weekly goals’ in January rather than try to ‘attack’ a whole host of new year resolutions all at once. For example the first week could be simply going to work, with no other added expectations other than whatever else needs to be done to get you through your daily routine.

After that, perhaps the following week you will be more energised to begin to really ‘get going’ or to focus on another area of your routine such as addressing your sleep habits and your morning and evening routines. Your body will gradually adjust as you go at a gentle pace. Maybe in week three you can attend to the tidying up, the seeing people or the other things that you want to focus on.

As we are gentle with ourselves and accept that things take time and change is often most beneficial in the long term when it is gradual, consistent and sustained, then we will in good time find that boost of motivation to stride confidently into and through this new year.

Happy January – be gentle with yourself. x

january scrabble
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“Travelling Teaches You” (9).

backpack bag blur commuter
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Life as it happens to be

Travelling teaches you to plan ahead. Travelling also teaches you to leave your plans behind. 

There is so much to explore, and limited time, so we may find we gain the most from our experiences if we have in mind what we most want to see and do and focus on those. These lessons in planning and preparation can be useful and transferable into our ‘ordinary’ lives. We are so ‘wired up’ in the 21st Century to try to have multiple ‘tabs’ open in our lives, however, just as our computers and devices can only handle so much, so too we sometimes need a ‘re-boot’ or to close down some of the tabs we have so that we can enrich our experience of the fewer things we actually choose to do, and be more productive and efficient in making the most of our time in doing so. 

However, travelling…

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Retreat Reflections – Day 2 (Part 4) ~ Lunch, Rest & Flexible Planning.

2.25pm

Lunchtime is a helpful divider within the day. Being creative and freely exploring our creativity is often, as contradictory as it may seem, benefited by having boundaries. Even if you don’t have an ‘itinerary’ as such for your personal retreat to begin with, you can develop flexible plans as you move through your days. 

As to lunch, food and sustenance in general during a personal retreat it helps to do a bit of preparation beforehand, or to cook something you can eat over two or three meals, have something you can easily make, or buy some sandwiches from a shop and to keep your fridge stocked with what you will need. It’s helpful to minimise the time spent having to run errands because we necessarily will be compelled to engage and interact with the world in a way that may interrupt what we hope to experience on our retreat. 

Not only that, but if you’re like me, when you get absorbed in a creative project you can ‘forget’ to eat, or if there’s nothing readily available you might just ‘power through’ and your creative work might actually suffer because you are low on energy, tired, ‘hangry’ or lack concentration. So keep things ready so that you can grab a bite and continue with your project uninterrupted. 

It is nice though, not to rush through lunch, but to use it as a time to rest, relax, maybe look at other sources for inspiration (I was listening to some music, and looking up retreat videos on YouTube – I didn’t quite find what I was looking for in terms of the retreat videos, but it was good just to move into a state of mind where I didn’t have to concentrate so much). 

Now that I’ve eaten, relaxed a bit, I find myself beginning to ponder my next steps. Yesterday I met my ‘writing goal’ of 3,500 words, and slightly exceeded it. This morning I was intentional to not set any writing goals, and focus more on slowing down and engaging more fully with myself and the process. I had some prayer time, and some quiet reflection.

Having had personal retreats before, I am aware that the final day, which in this case is tomorrow, requires a slight shift in gears. If you are on retreat somewhere away from home, then you will have to pack, tidy up and make your journey back home on the last day. If, like me, you are having your retreat in your own home by yourself, then you may find that you have a bit (or a lot!) of tidying up to do, and preparing for the day ahead if you happen to be going back to work, or ‘re-joining the world’ in some other way. 

I recommend valuing your purpose for your retreat and allowing yourself not to focus on tidying up unless you naturally keep everything neat and clean as you go along. It’s important to have a clean, neat retreat space, but if you’re like me you do have that, but you also have dishes piled up in the sink. Your focus is your time alone to reflect and work on your creative projects or self development, etc, and you will have to attend to the housework afterwards anyway, but don’t let it distract you or interrupt your creative flow, as quiet times can be hard to come by in our busy lives.

As to flexible planning, I’m aware that tomorrow I don’t want to use the whole day for tidying, so I want to set aside some time later today to do a bit of that. I also don’t want to do anything too ‘heavy’ in terms of writing, as what I am working on involves being engaged emotionally and mentally on a deep level. I like to keep the final stages of a personal retreat for something lighter, more care free, with times for prayer, thanksgiving, gratitude, reflecting on what I have learned and planning ways in which I can take forward some of these lessons into my day to day life where possible. As such, I have made a preliminary decision not to work on writing my novel tomorrow after morning time, so that I can ‘decompress’ and gently change gears.

Therefore, to avoid unfocused and unstructured time today, my plans are changing somewhat organically as day two progresses. I may not get time like this for a while, so I am reinstating my ‘goal setting’ with my novel writing this afternoon. This is what I love about a personal retreat in contrast with group activities which have their own unique positive aspects – when your time is your own you can work with the ebb and flow of your own creative processes, ongoing learning, and practical concerns, rather than having to adhere to a set timetable. 

So to make the most of the remaining time, and to have a lighter more carefree day tomorrow, I am going to work creatively within some parameters this afternoon, being flexible once again with those plans.

It’s 2.50pm now, and the sun is shining, but I have chosen to stay inside and focus, and set aside novel writing time from 3pm to 6.30pm. In that time I can take my time, linger over words and ideas, look up sources for inspiration, take short breaks, but that time is a gift that doesn’t come often. Knowing that, I will savour it, and whether I write much or little that is fine either way. 

At 7pm the coach will turn into a pumpkin! 🙂 Just kidding, by 7pm I will down tools with writing my novel for the rest of the retreat time, other than if I have anything I feel I want to do tomorrow morning, but that leaves me free the rest of the time to work on some less mentally and emotionally challenging projects and prepare for concluding the retreat time on a reflective and carefree note. 

food salad restaurant person
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Review your Goals

Well, we’ve made it to May, which means that summer is on its way, and hopefully so too are new opportunities and adventures, be they big or small.

The new year seems to be the most obvious time of the year for most people to reflect and take stock of where they are in life, and where they want to be, to set goals and make plans for the year ahead.

However, I think that each season, and even each new month provides an opportunity to invest in our personal growth and quality of life, by taking the time to reflect on whether the way we spend our time is aligned to our deepest values and purpose in life.

That might sound a little overwhelming, but the thing is, life can only be lived one day at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time. And so it brings a kind of comfort in knowing that the little things all add up to build the pattern of our lives in more significant ways.

By looking at each month as an opportunity to reflect and reprioritise, this makes the perhaps otherwise overwhelming task of accomplishing life goals, or living well, much more manageable, fun and achievable.

I don’t know about you, but I find using a planner a helpful, creative and engaging way of doing this. Personally, I use the ‘Tools 4 Wisdom’ planner, and although I don’t always manage to sit down at the start of each month to do so, when I am able, like this month of May, I enjoy adding colour, designs and drawings to the month, creating a colour scheme and a theme, and adding in the details of events, tasks and goals.

Some people prefer to use online methods, or combine these with art journaling or bullet journaling, there are so many ways to create a framework and a structure for reflection that works for you.

I find it helps me to have a positive outlook on the month, as otherwise it is so easy to simply ‘drift’, to wonder where the time is going, or to feel like each day is just slipping into the next and that you’re somehow not making the most of things. It is engaging too, creatively in that the very act of producing something authentic, putting pen to paper, means that you are putting in something of yourself, and appreciating through the creative process, the fact that each little detail is important, and allowing yourself to value each day.

Even the seemingly mundane or ‘ordinary’ days can be extraordinary in their own ways.

Perhaps a good way to move forwards is to bring to mind any goals you had at the start of the year, and reflect upon these and revise them if required. Life changes, and your plans may have to as well, however, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Then each month, choose one key life area, and maybe four or five smaller things that you want to work towards or accomplish. They don’t need to be ‘massive’ goals, like traveling the world or sky diving (perhaps those are ‘ordinary’ goals to you if you are the more adventurous type!), they can be simple yet authentic, and therefore beautiful in their own way – things like read one book, plan to spend time with a friend or family member, write a blog post, work on a particular creative project, make time for self care, etc.

Living purposefully gives us the opportunity to clear away some of the clutter in our lives and minds, to let go of what are unnecessary time stealers, and to perhaps live more simply, deeply and authentically, so that we feel more connected to ourselves, our core values and the people and pursuits in our lives that matter most to us.

Breaking things down and appreciating each small ‘chunk’ of time that we’ve been blessed with is good for our mental health too. Things feel less overwhelming, clearer and easier to prioritise. We can’t do it all, but we can try to spend more time focussing on what matters most, knowing that these little steps in the right direction all add up to a more fulfilling life.

We seem to be, in this generation, constantly ‘plugged in’, and always taking in stimuli from the world around us with unceasing suggestions of what we should be doing, thinking, eating, wearing, feeling, and so on. We also find ourselves caught up in the stream of images, stories, pictures and snapshots of other people’s lives, and that creates a risk of unhealthy comparison, ‘FOMO’ and even mental health struggles such as anxiety, fear, loneliness and depression if we feel that our lives are ‘not enough’ compared to those around us.

Yet, there is a beautiful paradox that reveals that when we disconnect from the noise, we are able to live in a deeper way that is more fully connected. We don’t need to pretend that the rest of the world isn’t there, or to stop engaging with it, but we do need to realise the importance of taking time to reengage with ourselves, our own lives, quietness, solitude and personal self reflection so that the time we spend on this earth is meaningful, authentic and much less wasteful.

I hope you take the time to enjoy something meaningful to you today. Perhaps that is in prayer, a walk in nature, journaling and reflecting, assessing your priorities, spending time with people you love, or maybe even sending out a random act of kindness to someone, even a stranger, who might need the authentic love and care of a fellow human being. Perhaps today, in taking time to connect with what is meaningful to you in your life, you might be inspired to write a blog post that will encourage another precious soul. Take care, think deeply, seek peace and pursue it, and be kind. xx

white graphing paper with hello may text
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gray cat near brown vase with sunflowers
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“Travelling Teaches You” (9).

Travelling teaches you to plan ahead. Travelling also teaches you to leave your plans behind. 

There is so much to explore, and limited time, so we may find we gain the most from our experiences if we have in mind what we most want to see and do and focus on those. These lessons in planning and preparation can be useful and transferable into our ‘ordinary’ lives. We are so ‘wired up’ in the 21st Century to try to have multiple ‘tabs’ open in our lives, however, just as our computers and devices can only handle so much, so too we sometimes need a ‘re-boot’ or to close down some of the tabs we have so that we can enrich our experience of the fewer things we actually choose to do, and be more productive and efficient in making the most of our time in doing so. 

However, travelling also teaches us to sometimes leave our plans behind, to go with the ebb and flow of experience, and to discover these new experiences organically rather than rigidly trying to set our own timetables, schedules or expectations of how we think things ‘ought’ to be. Sometimes we are enriched by being open to possibilities in the moment, to saying ‘yes’ when it is safe to do so, and to being truly present and alive in the here and now. 

We all have different and unique preferred styles of learning, experience and also in our approach to travel. These may shift and change, or we may lean more heavily towards one side more than another…yet it is good to be open to learning from both, and enhancing the depth, and quality of our experiences as we do so. What is your preferred way and approach to new experiences and travel opportunities in your life? (c). 

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(c) Photograph I took in Bellagio, Italy, August 2018.