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.
This post is probably not quite what you might expect it to be. Why? Because often when we are asked that question it is by ‘motivational speakers’ or writers who seek to spur you on to self-improvement. What you will read here will be a different approach to this age-old question.
“Are you living the life of your dreams?”
The answers you find may surprise you. I imagine that most people when faced with this question think of it in terms of the ever unmet horizon. ‘Dreams’ after all are those wondrous little fantasies that no one ever really gets to. Or are they?
I also think that many if not most of us fail to notice or to realise when we are living our dreams, because we live them in a real world with real issues and challenges. And so perhaps we fail to see just how wonderful our lives actually are.
To dream is to imagine that which is not quite within our reach.
Take a few minutes and try this with me. Think of your life right now. Take a deep breath in, and let it out slowly. Now, calm and relaxed think of the things in your life that you have that you once only dreamed of having. Not necessarily material things, but just everything you value as being part of your ‘dream life’.
Let me share some things with you.
A few years ago I dreamed of being healthy again. Of not having panic attacks every day or week or nightmares and of not merely just surviving each day.
Has this dream come true? Yes. Now is the time to pause and to notice and appreciate it.
When I was younger I dreamed of someday ‘traveling the world’. As an adult I have now been to a fair few countries, some of which I went to as a solo traveller. I’ve been to Italy, America, France, Germany, India, Oman, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Hungary, the Czech Republic, UK, Guernsey, among possibly a few others. I may not have travelled the world, and there is so much of this wide world that I’m yet to see, and parts of the world that I will never see, yet travel even on the small scale has been part of my life, and I could say I’ve been living my dreams.
I used to dream, as a little girl and as a teenager, of being a writer. Of living in a log cabin in the woods somewhere and writing beautifully. I dreamed of getting my books published and of being a famous author. As I have grown into the adult that I am, the practicalities of living in a log cabin don’t quite suit my sensibilities. That’s not to say that a quiet retreat in nature every now and then doesn’t draw me in…it does, and I have created such spaces for myself. I have had a couple of factual pieces published, but I’m not a famous author. Fame doesn’t draw me as I am writing for The One Who sees and knows me, and that is where all the appreciation and validation comes from. Yet writing is a huge part of my life. Blogging is a wonderful outlet for me and I continue to work slowly and steadily away at my novel and other pieces of fiction in my spare time. I write also to directly encourage other people – friends and family and in my university days I wrote letters as part of a human rights group to help free prisoners and those unfairly detained or treated. So, yes, I am in a sense living my dreams in this regard too. Perhaps in a humble fashion, yet I am still free to express my soul.
Do I appreciate this? If I take the time to.
What about the people in our lives? Perhaps our parents, our siblings, our childhood friends and new friends we’ve made along the way? Did you dream of getting married and now have a spouse and a family of your own? Do you really pause to notice these things, or do you take them for granted because they’re not perfect?
When asked if you are living your dreams aren’t you likely to shrug and say ‘not really?’. If so, could this be because you let the daily annoyances and nuisances of life cloud your vision from seeing all the dreams that have and are actually coming true?
Did you dream of being a grown up and having your own place and going out to dinner with your friends? This is a dream that I am living but one that I probably take for granted with it having become ‘normal’.
You will always have something that feels just that little bit ‘out of reach’ for you. Because our hearts are created for so much more than all this frail world has to offer us. We are created for Pure and Perfect Love and for Eternity, so there will always in this life be that yearning for that ‘something more’. Yet that is not to say that we can’t be content or satisfied. We live in a broken world, and yet dreams can still flourish here if we let them….and if we recognise them.
So take a moment today to pause, to reflect and to truly appreciate all the things about your life: the people, the relationships, the material blessings, the opportunities, the health and abilities you have that are in fact all elements of the ‘life of your dreams’. You are living your dreams in a real world, so don’t fail to wake up and realise and appreciate that as and when you can, even while you pursue those dreams yet to come. Someday they may come true so prepare yourself to appreciate them by simply appreciating all the blessings and ‘dreams come true’ that you have in your life today.
The start of a new year can bring with it fresh hope and vision.
Having dreams and vision for the future is an important if not essential part of life.
For most of our lives we are taught and encouraged to consider the future, the ‘what next’ of our life. When you were an infant perhaps the people in your life talked about and imagined what you might become when you grew up. I remember when my friend who is a few years older than me had her first baby and she asked me to be his God-mother. I was fairly young myself at the time and hoped and prayed that in a few years time I would know how to be a good God-mother. We delighted in him as a baby, and then in his younger sister when she was born, enjoying the lovely baby and toddler stages that they were in.
Yet we also talked about their characteristics, their likes and dislikes and imagined what they would be like as they grew up. Would they be musical, artistic, good at sports, kind and caring, studious? Would they be like their mum or dad? We all in our hearts wonder ‘What will be?’ for ourselves as well as for others. Many parents have big dreams for their children, while others say that they just want their children to grow up to be happy and healthy and kind people regardless of what they do or who they ‘become’. In all likelihood when we were little ourselves the adults around us would have made similar comments as they wondered who we would turn out to look like and what our likes and dislikes would be.
By the time children can walk and talk and play, adults begin to ask them ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’. Sometimes the child will reply with a confident answer such as a doctor, an astronaut, a fire-fighter, a ballet dancer, pop-star or an artist, while others may not be so sure. Adults may then say something like ‘you’ve got a long time to think about that’ and so the child will go back to playing and having fun in the moment.
Most of us pass through stages of teenage angst when there are so many questions we ask of ourself and of our identity at a stage where we really begin to make decisions that may in fact shape the future direction of our lives at least in the short term.
We choose subjects to study at school and are asked what we hope these will lead to. We need to consider the practicalities of the next stages of our lives such as passing exams, going to university or college or starting an apprenticeship or job. We need to think more and more about the adults that we will be in society and questions about the future are almost constantly asked of us at that stage of life. ‘What do you want to do?’. There is an expectation that we will soon need to figure out what kind of contributing members of society we will be and we may have to put some previous dreams aside such as those of being an astronaut or a pop-star.
As we move through the next stages of life, for example making our way through university as one possible life choice, we are then faced with more exams followed by questions of what we will do next. Soon we will need to be thinking seriously about passing all of those exams, graduating and finding a job.
Inevitably we will need to think about other practical things such as getting a job, supporting ourselves and perhaps other people in our lives, paying bills, renting accommodation, getting a mortgage and the list goes on.
In our younger days we might dream of what we will do as a ‘grown up’. Perhaps these dreams will involve achieving certain goals, traveling, having a career, finding love, getting married, having a family of our own and so on. I imagine very few children and young people will be thinking so far ahead as to dream about their retirement and what life will be like then but maybe I’m wrong. We like to think about the years when we are ‘in our prime’ and able to do all the things we dream of doing. However, perhaps in retirement people come to appreciate the ‘here and now’ a bit more.
For some people I know, their early twenties were characterised with ‘achieving’ or being blessed with passing those milestones that many of us long for: finding love, getting married, going on adventures, achieving goals, starting a family.
My life hasn’t been so straight forward. I have dreamed of all of those things but finding someone and having a family of my own are still in the ‘someday’ or ‘maybe if’ realm of not yet. I have however done well in school, obtained two first class degrees, graduated, gone through the difficulties of finding a job and renting accommodation to now being in the stage of life where I am settled in a job I enjoy, with good friends, having travelled a bit, and with a home of my own. That’s a very short version and it certainly hasn’t been an easy or straightforward process but I’m glad to be where I am now. I watch my friends’ children grow up and I watch other friends getting married and starting families. And one thing I have learned is that people always seem to be thinking of the ‘what next’ and when they finally ‘arrive’ there it isn’t necessarily quite what they had imagined.
I have friends who when they were single longed for the ‘next’ stage of life. When they got married they found challenges that they had not expected and spoke of how they sometimes missed their more ‘carefree’ single days. Friends who longed for babies when they finally became parents then talked about how they were always tired and busy. So soon they take for granted the things they once only longed for, things that some of us still don’t know if they will be part of our lives, our ‘what next’.
Can you relate to any of this? Practically speaking, life keeps moving forwards and we all need to consider the ‘what next’. Yet, could it be that we do this in the wrong way or to our detriment? Some people have found their ‘sweet spot’ in lives where things have worked out just as they hoped or dreamed and they are enjoying ‘the good life’. For many of us it isn’t quite so straight forward.
So the question I’m asking of both you and I is that although we practically need to prepare for the next step and the next as we move through life, do we ‘live too much in the future’?
Do we miss the fact that the stage we are in may have been one we had previously only hoped or dreamed of? Do we fail to realise that there is something inherently special about this time of our life right now even with the contrasts of light and shade? Do we always have to know or think about the next stage of our life? Do we enjoy and appreciate what is happening in this season? If like me you have had some notable tough times in life you know that sometimes life has you pressed hard up against a wall, so to speak, and you can’t think of the future. You can only do everything you can to get through the day, the moment. You’ll someday see the lessons in your trial, but in the midst of it you don’t even know if you’ll make it, and your dreams feel somehow crushed, an impossibility.
I’ve been there, I know how disappointing life can feel. And so I appreciate being out on the other side at last. Sure, I haven’t had all my dreams come true, but what about the here and now?
When you’ve been through some tough times and the future seemed uncertain as to whether or not you would even make it, when you eventually do weather those storms and the sun begins to shine you appreciate the ‘little things’.
That’s my challenge to you and I today. While we may have dreams and visions for the future, while we may be working on plans, let us also take the time to appreciate the good things in our life right now, things that we otherwise might just take for granted if our heads are always in the ‘not yet’ or in trying to figure out and make sense of the past.
We are all on a journey, it doesn’t stand still, so while we might have hope for the future let us also have appreciation of the Gift of the present.
I realise as I come to write my 44th post in my Winter Survival Guide, that I need to encourage you to dig a little deeper, because it is precisely that – my Winter Survival Guide to encourage you. What do I mean by this? What I mean is that I’m writing this guide to help both you and I and to encourage us to stay well, healthy, happy, hopeful, positive and to make the most of this Winter Season. And although many of my suggestions are really helpful for most people such as taking care of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, as I have elaborated upon these and various topics throughout my other 43 posts, they are based on my core values and reflections upon life, which I have spent years discovering, figuring out and seeking to live out.
And as much as many of them can be universally applied, maybe what would be more meaningful for you is for you to figure out what you want and need out of this season, and what you want to give to it too based on your life and circumstances.
Maybe some or many of the things that matter to me will also be reflected in your own ideas, or maybe you will have other things totally unique to you and can use my Guide as just that – a guide to prompt you into deeper self reflection and discovery. I also know from experience that what we want and the realities of what we are faced with don’t always line up so perhaps even though what you are seeking is a Peaceful season, you may have to prepare yourself differently to manage potential stresses and anxiety, which I also cover in earlier posts. So maybe you could ask yourself:
What do you want from this season, and what do you want to give, or what would you like to desire to give?
As you reflect upon these questions, think about where you are in your own life just now and what matters.
What could some of these things be? Here are some pointers to help you get started:
A time of rest and refreshing.
Time to deepen your faith and relationship with God.
A time to heal.
A time to focus on mental health and recovery, and on staying strong in your recovery.
Connections, time with family and friends.
Reconnecting with ‘auld acquaintances’.
New adventures and experiences.
The hustle and bustle of doing a lot of things.
Learning new skills.
Sharing your skills.
Productivity in a venture.
Charity, helping other people and encouraging others to do so.
Time to spend doing your hobbies.
Time for planning for 2020.
Time to play with your children (or pets 🙂 ).
What matters to you?
As I draw my Winter Survival Guide to a close (there will be 50 posts in total in this series, so don’t worry, there are still a few more to go 🙂 ), I hope you find each post encouraging, inspiring and helpful. However, I hope it also prompts you to take time to think about what matters to you as you approach the Season for yourself, and to discover ways to make the most of it as you also seek to stay healthy and happy and I pray also that we will all learn to walk in the Truth and Light as we go forwards from here. x
There is a beautiful line in Max Ehrmann’s prose poem, ‘Desiderata’ (things to be desired), that encourages us to enjoy our achievements as well as our plans.
The concept is so simple, and yet equally profound. We desire certain things in life, and we give our lives to pursuing, obtaining and experiencing them. And yet, once obtained we are so quick to move on to the next thing, just as butterfly or a honey bee might flit from flower to flower.
How many of us take the time to enjoy our achievements as well as our plans? We rarely seem to be satisfied, but perhaps we don’t give ourselves time to truly appreciate and be grateful for our lives as we hurry on to experience something bigger or better.
Perhaps you are reading this and inwardly agreeing to the sentiment behind this statement: “Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans”. It is a nice thought, an encouraging quote, but what will you and I actually do with it? And how can this Winter Survival Guide prompt us to use the time we have this season to do just that?
1. Review your year:
We could just sit in quietness and enjoy pondering our achievements, but can we appreciate and enjoy them in a more focused and practical way before moving on to the next thing or things in the year to come?
A good and simple starting point could be to set aside some time, to take a pen and a piece of paper and sketch out the important things you have done, experienced and learned in each of the months of 2019 (leaving room for the time you still have left of this calendar year).
It doesn’t matter from an outside perspective whether the things you have captured seem ‘significant’ or not, the thing that matters is that they are important to you, in your life’s journey, no matter how small or inconsequential you might think they would seem to someone else. That’s not what matters, what matters is the life you have lived this year and the lessons you have learned.
What could be some points to ponder as you consider each month in turn? Perhaps we could start with something like this:
What was the main thing I learned in that month?
Why was this important?
What do I consider I achieved (no matter how big or small, it could be as seemingly simple as sticking to a routine, surviving a challenge or showing kindness to someone)?
How have I grown from these experiences and what will I take forwards?
2. Enjoy your achievements:
As you reflect upon the specific achievements and experiences of each month of the year gone by, take time to ponder them, to be grateful for the lessons you have learned, how you have changed and grown as a person and to enjoy the fact that you are living life right now and learning new things now. Take it in, and celebrate it in a way that is personal to you, even if it is quietly, and even if it is ‘giving yourself a pat on the back’ for having got through a tough time – achievements aren’t all about gold stars and certificates.
Consider writing down and naming the ‘treasures’ that you have gleaned from this year’s experience of life before you move on to the next thing. A life well lived involves appreciating the life that we are living.
3. As well as your plans:
It is a time for looking forward as well as for reflecting and enjoying the moment. Maybe you can spend some time by yourself discovering what has really been meaningful and significant to you this year, understand what is valuable and begin to plan ahead as you reach towards your future achievements and make plans for how you will accomplish them.
A beautiful analogy of life is winter. The latter seasons of the year one might compare with the changing tones and mood of life as one ages. As with a carefree youth and young adulthood, the beginning of the year is often filled and overflowing with doing things, getting things done, making plans, achieving, going places, exploring, dreaming, figuring things out, seeing the world, and finding one’s passion. How many of us look upon January as a fresh new start, and begin dreaming of and planning for the wonderful adventures in the year ahead? However, as time moves on, and the year draws to a close, as things mature, and aspects of life fall away, the mood becomes somewhat more pensive, more reflective, a time for thinking, for evaluating, for finding meaning, for ‘taking stock’.
The winter months provide a perfect opportunity for ‘taking stock’ in a number of ways. It is a good time to consider how you have spent the past year, whether you used your time wisely, faced your challenges bravely, have grown in character, have shown love, lived out your purpose and made the world a little kinder than before. It is also a good time to ‘rest and be thankful’, and to think upon our individual journey through life, our faith, our personal beliefs and whether we have found the answers we have been searching for, whether indeed we have been asking the right questions of our short lives on earth in the first place (questions which yield answers of eternal significance), whether we have to ‘dig a bit deeper’, or whether we have been ‘frittering our time away’ and wasting the gifts, talent and time given to us. These deep things are definitely a reason to pause for thought.
However, on a much lighter and more practical note, this time of year is also a good opportunity for taking stock of the day to day things of our lives. Perhaps thinking about these practical things is more to your liking, so here are some suggestions of where you could start.
Take stock of what you have at home, what you need to let go of, and what you need to stock up on.
For example, do you have the things you need to see you through this season? Things such as medicines, cough and cold supplies, a stock of food in your pantry including all of those helpful non-perishable items, toiletries, first aid kits, warm clothes, and so forth?
Before going out and buying all of the things you need for winter time, have a look through what you have already got and make the best use of those items. As my Mum still tells me, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” (Wise words, thanks Mum! 🙂 x ).
Similarly, if you have more than you need, or have gone through the year not using what you have such as clothes, then consider donating some of these items to people who will get good use out of them. This is something that I keep meaning to do, but need to actually put into action this year. If I’m not using it, shouldn’t I give someone else the chance to?
Having taken stock of what we have, what we can let go of, and what we need, it’s a good time to ‘stock up’ for the winter – especially for those cold nights when you don’t feel like going out to get something from the shops, having something at hand comes in very useful!
So over to you – what are the types of things you are taking stock of this winter season, whether practical or more in terms of your values and life journey? Do you have any hints and tips to share with the rest of us?
Travelling teaches youto 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.
Well, it’s the 1st of August already, friends. At this time of the year, having well and truly crossed the half-way point, someone is bound to say “I can’t believe it’s August already! Where has the time gone?” Can anyone relate? Maybe you’ve been the one to say it to others.
I often find that as the year draws on, as summer reaches its height and then begin to fade, and we face the inevitability of the approach of autumn and winter and the end of the year, that a subtle negativity can creep up on some people (or perhaps not so subtle!), and with it an underlying current of anxiety, stress and maybe a little fear.
The passing of the seasons reminds us of the passing of time, and inevitably life. And even if we are in the bloom of youth, and have much ahead of us to look forward to, there can be a tendency having reached the mid-point of the year to lament the things we haven’t done that we wanted to do, to feel directionless or that we have wasted time or drifted along, or to have a fear of the future, the passing of time and the need to ‘wake up’ a bit in our lives especially with regards to how we spend our time.
It can be easy to overlook our accomplishments, the fact that we have got up and shown up everyday (or most days), and have made it this far. Some people are naturally positive and don’t feel this way so much. However, if you are someone who struggles with having passed the mid-year point and need some encouragement, then read on my friend.
A simple shift in perspective can really help our outlooks for the better. Instead of seeing half the year as ‘gone’, look at this as the brand new start to a new month and new opportunities, and the chance to put your all into your life this month. We all approach life differently. I was chatting with a friend the other day who doesn’t like to plan things too much, but prefers spontaneity. We were talking in particular about using our time after work. I like to be ‘free’ within the structure of a plan. It helps me not to fritter away my time, and to focus and having spent time reflecting upon what is important to me in life, and aligns to my core values, then it’s a helpful way for me to ensure I do the things that are of most value to me. Eventually, this becomes part and parcel of the fabric of my life (such as the things I do in morning or evening ‘routines’), but for the things I find harder to ‘fit in’, I find that being intentional about them, even with a loosely structured plan, helps me. But perhaps you are more like my friend, and would find that constraining. However you approach things, use the 1st day of this brand new month to reflect on all the potentials and possibilities ahead of you, and strive to live deeply and more fully without dwelling anxiously on what you haven’t yet done.
Look out to the horizon, and dream big, then set sail and let your dreams take you there. Be blessed and stay hopeful. x
Think of the time you have to pursue your own interests and goals that you probably wouldn’t if you had a partner, spouse and / or children. Don’t lose today wishing for tomorrow, but instead embrace this season as one of opportunities for self development, personal growth and discovery and really putting your mind to getting to know yourself, and building up your skills, talents and abilities without so many competing demands on your time, for who knows if or when those demands and commitments may come and you may not have as much freedom to pursue your personal dreams and goals.
I’m sure you’ve said it at some point in your life: “The view from the top was amazing!”. But how did you know? You climbed that steep staircase, you took on that mountain, you put feet to your vision and you did something to get there.
At the top, you took a moment to steady yourself. You looked down from where you came, and then ….then you saw the view that took your breath away. The view that touched you and changed something within you. And that experience meant the person who descended those heights was different, more alive, than the same one who had only just embarked upon the journey.
You know what I mean, right? There was a time when that experience was a distant dream, an unreachable horizon, and then the dream became a vision, the vision a plan, and eventually the plan became action. You enjoyed the view that changed part of you for the better, because you took action…you did something about it, you took the first step.
And you did it again, you took on a new adventure, you pursued and reached that next goal, you wrote that next blog post….and all because you started somewhere.
Whatever it is that seems out of your reach and a distant dream….how does it compare to the dreams that you have turned into visions, plans and eventually accomplishments before?
You have accomplished so much in your life already, that you tend to forget. You become a little ‘short-sighted’ and uncertain about the road, or mountain ahead of you. But is that dream, really an impossible dream? Did the views that became part of your life’s journey and experience not begin with that first step?
What is that hope, dream, plan that you are thinking of today? Just take the first step. Start at the bottom, everyone has to start somewhere, and keep going, and once you reach the top, tell other people how incredible it is, inspire them, and keep believing, dreaming and achieving, helping others up on the way.