Tuesday, March 24, 2015

There's a word for that...

My word for 2015 is COMMITMENT - I got fed up with resolutions, I made too many, couldn't remember what they were and lost the list anyway.

Having one word is much easier.

Last year my word was CREATIVITY and I had a blast with it.   Not only did I sew, draw, knit, crochet and paint furniture, I also practised new ways to approach familiar situations and behaviours - looking for a better, more creative way to handle life's challenges.

This year using COMMITMENT as my guiding principle is helping to ground much of what I learned.

Last year I had so many creative projects on the go they colonised the bedrooms and it would take me hours to clear up my stuff to make room for visitors. So in January COMMITMENT saw me gathering my stuff and moving it all into one designated room.  My husband generously offered me his study and I created a lovely office space for him on the upstairs landing (nicer than it sounds, honest).  The spare bedroom is now ready for visitors at a moments notice, I have a perfect space to work in and everything has its rightful place.

February's COMMITMENT was to unfinished business.  All the half finished projects from last year got put on a list and I slowly worked my way through them.  Not just the pyjamas I hadn't finished sewing, or the blanket/quilt/baby hat I was still working on, I made a concerted effort to listen very consciously to the voice inside my head that nags me about stuff I have or haven't done, or berates me about situations or relationships that need attention.  Again, I wrote them down and slowly worked my way through them.... okay some didn't get addressed right away, but I am much clearer about them; I now know what I have to do and have set myself some deadlines.

March's COMMITMENT is to a fresh start. The house is clean, the cupboards sorted, the charity shop donated to.  With the longer days I go for a lovely morning run with the dog through woodlands and a water meadow.  Each time my heart is filled with such gratitude not only that I am surrounded by glorious countryside, but that my body is still able to move with relative ease and that I can start each day with health giving habits.

April's COMMITMENT will see the start of me Making Wednesdays Matter and establishing a more focussed approach to the things I want to achieve in 2015. We've a busy year ahead - loads of family weddings, a little granddaughter to delight in; projects in the house and at work that we want to get on with and I know that creating focus will help things to run smoothly.

I have no idea what the rest of the year will look like but I do know that using COMMITMENT as my lens I am learning to see things differently and create successful outcomes with much greater ease.

6 easy steps to Commitment

  • Make some noise. Write down what you would love to achieve this year and tell someone. There's something about saying it out loud and having someone witness it that helps the process. Your projects could all be fun but make at least one something you know is going to be a challenge but will make life easier in the long run.  Here are just some on my list:  sew a dressing gown, learn to knit fair isle and socks (not necessarily at the same time), put the decades of photos into albums, move the garden shed...
  • Be Self-Centred.  The first stage is to commit to yourself first - to make your own success and happiness matter too. This has to be something that is important to you and not done to please others or to keep the peace.   If you find yourself fighting the process - stop, go back and check if the outcomes are really what you want. 
  • Fire up your neurons.  We are natural problem solvers and asking yourself the right kind of question  activates the mind's own search engine.  Questions like 'what would commitment to this task look like?' will fire up those brain cells and you'll soon be coming up with creative solutions. 
  • Make a cup of tea.  The unconscious Creative Mind works in images and metaphor and is a powerful driver of your behaviour.   Help harness this resource by gathering images that help you see what the finished outcome will look like.  So gather up some magazines, make a cup of tea and leaf through the pictures - its all 'research'.  Whilst Pinterest is amazing - having a note book, vision board or even a box with a pile of ripped out pictures as physical reference helps to anchor the process and harness the power of your Creative Mind.
  • Beware the Kiss of Death.  Two things act as a Kiss of Death to Commitment: guilt that you're not achieving your goal and fear that you will lose your freedom if you do.  Make your goals realistic and achievable, keep checking in with yourself: are these ideas/goals/dreams important to you? If so keep asking yourself what commitment looks like - and give yourself time to listen in, the answers will come.  
  • Phone a friend.  Sometimes its good to talk things through when you get stuck. Its good to remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but of leadership - it communicates that you want to lead your life.  If you don't have someone to call on who wants you to achieve your goals  - put it on the list!  And give me a call :)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Making Matters

It was Monday morning, the house was finally empty and there I was buzzing with creative energy, fingers itching to get started on the many projects I have on the go.

So I cleaned the oven.

Then the floor.

The kitchen is now spotless and I feel better with my house in order, but the process taught me something; until I consciously value my own creativity, it will move further and further down the To Do list until it falls off the bottom.

So from 1st April I am dedicating Wednesdays to creativity.  There will most likely be other times in my week when I’m busy making, but this is my public statement of intent, a clear commitment to myself to place creativity firmly in the centre of my life.

I’m happy spending time working away on my own, but I’ve extended the invitation to friends to come and join me in Making Wednesdays Matter.  They're welcome to come for the day and bring along their creative projects - or just pop in for a coffee,cake and a chat in a creative space.  All I ask is that they donate £2 to Women for Women International, so we can help other women help themselves.  

It was my mother-in-law who encouraged me to do it.  She has friends who have been meeting for years to sew, knit and chat.  Some even asking others for mending projects as an excuse to turn up! 

Now that I am clear about my intention, my mind is starting to prioritise which projects to finish first, what extra materials or preparation work I need before I start.  I find myself starting to look around and ear-mark things for Making Wednesdays.

A friend of mine describes this as the difference between the Intention and the Out-tension.  The Intention is always constant  the Out-tension is the focus and action it takes to stay true to the Intention.

My Intention is to value creativity in myself and others and there is a certain kind of tension needed to manifest this in my life, so the Out-tension is making Wednesdays a creative day, getting my projects organised, inviting others to join me.  

I always imagine the Out-tension like walking a tight rope - at first you need intense focus and concentration but after a while, even though you never lose focus on what you're doing, your confidence grows and your body relaxes into it more.

The deeper I move into my own creative self-expression the more I recognise what a vital foundation stone it is for relationship success.  (See my blog on the 5 Daily Habits for Relationship Success).

Finding an outlet for your own creative self-expression allows you to heal the relationship to a vulnerable part of yourself who, as a child, was possibly shamed or ridiculed for his/her creative effort.  And that vulnerable place is also a doorway to connection with others.   

My creative journey has inspired my husband to start his own, he now makes award-winning Sourdough Bread and is also rediscovering his love of painting.   

Giving yourself permission to enjoy whatever creative project you do without comparison to others or harsh self-criticism is infectious (see my blog on getting the family hooked) - it awakens the playful, creative side in others and then we all get to play together again!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Don't push the river uphill.

If the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome then, in my experience, when it comes to relationships most people are mad.

Again and again I hear people saying 'I really want my relationship to work'  'I really want things to be different' - yet do nothing to change the way they relate to the other person.  

The bottom line is you can talk until you are blue in the face but nothing will change unless you do. 

Trying to make a relationship work by getting the other person to change is like trying to push a river uphill.  Why bother?  It is a waste of energy and the moment you stop it reverts back to its old path.

Many women have come through my door heartbroken about the state of their relationship.  Although their circumstances may be very different, the pattern is always the same: communication has broken down, intimacy is gone, there's no fun, no spark and if it weren't for the children they'd be gone.
Most of time any attempt to talk to their partner results in the same response: denial.  Although it may show up in different forms here are the most common forms of denial:
The Fixer:  They like to be in charge and come up with the answers.  'If you got a job/took up a hobby/went for a weekend with your friends...you'd feel better about yourself'.  In other words 'you're the problem, our relationship is fine'.

The Ostrich: Confronted with a problem they suddenly get so busy that they're exhausted and too tired to talk during the week and will do miraculously tackle long forgotten jobs at the weekend - anything to avoid a conversation.  They believe if they keep their head in the sand long enough the problem/subject matter will go away.

The Rabbit:  Looks at you like a rabbit caught in the headlights and then says 'I don't know what you want me to say', leaving you speechless and ready to run them down. 

The Raging Bull:  Turns the tables straight away and starts pointing the finger at you and your inadequacies.  

The Teddy Bear:  Listens attentively, declares their love for you, cooks a lovely meal - saying how silly you are, that we've got an amazing life together and that you're not to think like that.  

Like I said, denial.

If either partner feels there is a relationship problem, there's a relationship problem for both partners and denial is the kiss of death.

I believe you can initiate conversation about a relationship 3 times and if the other person isn't responsive and actively engages in addressing the issue, then the best thing to do is stop talking and take action.  

When words are no longer getting through, you need to communicate clearly with your behaviour.  I don't mean emotional blackmail, or making empty threats just a clean, clear-cut demonstration of how you feel about things. 

Of course its scary.  Of course it takes courage to really address issues in a relationship, but its scarier to spend years pushing the river uphill only to find that when you stop you drown due to exhaustion.  

A relationship is a boat that rides the river of life and the woman is the captain; she is in touch with the emotional currents and intuitively reads the ebbs and flow, she feels the direction the relationship is taking.  If things are stagnant, it is time to develop skills to harness the power and potential of the river and lead your relationship through tricky waters and back into the flow.

Stop pushing the river uphill and use the energy to work on yourself first.  You may need to get the help and support to develop the confidence, courage and communication skills that allow you to take your true position as leader in the relationship,  the same skills you need to make your life work for you - whatever direction the river takes.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Spiritual Housekeeping

The house is in chaos! I need to clear the beds (yes, plural) of ironing because 1) people are coming to stay for Christmas and 2) the ironing mostly consists of the bedlinen they will be sleeping in.  

On Desert Island Discs the other day the Archbishop of Canterbury revealed that he prays when doing the ironing.   I usually just listen to the Archers but I often use the time to ruminate, to sort stuff out in my head, to think things through.  

The very act of taking a mangled pile of laundry and creating neatly folded order is so therapeutic - not to mention a good long term investment.  If I've ironed those sheets and I have put them in their proper piles in the airing cupboard I don't have to then wrestle with them all, ruining all my neat piles until I find the right size for the right bed - so making beds also becomes an easy job.  

And the only thing nicer than a bed made with crisp, ironed bedlinen is getting into a bed made with crisp, ironed bedlinen.   I love making up the beds for the kids' visits and even though they're all adults now, I hope that as they snuggle down to sleep they feel their mother's loving embrace in the comfort of a well made bed!  

Tell me I'm not alone in this!

So Christmas is coming and I've got gifts to wrap, ginger biscuits to bake, the house to decorate and ironing to do.  All jobs that will help infuse the house with a feeling of welcome, love and of being Home.  

That is my prayer.

Warm wishes, dear reader, for a joy-filled Christmas and peaceful 2015.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Burnout Recovery Programme

If you've ever looked around at your life and asked yourself 'is this it?' -  or you feel like you've spent years climbing a challenging mountain only to get to the top and discover it's the wrong mountain, then it's pretty likely you've hit Burnout.

Burnout starts out innocently enough as a coping strategy to handle stress and challenges by pulling back, shutting down, numbing out: a little drink at the end of the day, a few hours on facebook to chill out, escaping worries with a visit to the shops...until one day you wake up to realise that despite the people and achievements in your life, you are not happy.  You feel weary, weighed down and exhausted.  Burnt out.

It can creep up on you so quietly you don't even realise it.  It isn't exclusive to age or gender, income or background.  You can live with it for years believing it's normal to feel so flat -  and at the same time judging yourself for being a miserable, ungrateful wretch.

It takes huge reserves of energy to keep going when you're in Burnout.   First it takes effort to keep all those negative feelings and thoughts at bay, then you have to work even harder to find a way to enjoy life.

You're not living you're dying of exhuastion!

Burnout saps your energy, eats away at your confidence, damages your well-being and makes you question your relationships.  If left unattended it can plunge you into crisis - where you make rash decisions about your life, your relationships, your job and end up throwing away everything you've worked hard for in the mistaken belief that a new life/job/relationship will make things better.

How to recognise Burnout:

1. Emotional exhaustion and physical depletion: 
  • Writing endless to-do lists and only ever crossing off the jobs you've already done.
  • Spend hours browsing the internet, chatting on facebook etc and then go to bed feeling empty and dull.
  • You know what you need to do but lack the motivation, energy, enthusiasm or willingness to change.
  • Comfort yourself with shopping/eating/wine to take the edge of the dull pain of deep boredom that is your life.
  • Find yourself thinking (almost hoping) that perhaps your lack of enthusiasm for life is due to a serious hidden illness.
  • Starting new projects with great verve only to lose interest - all the time beating yourself up for not seeing things through.
  • You're run ragged, feeling stressed like you're trying to keep all the plates spinning. 
  • 'Living dangerously' makes you feel you're alive - regardless of who you hurt.
2.  Loss of Empathy
  • Whilst you might call it trying to maintain standards others accuse you of being a perfectionist.
  • Find it hard to be around people, easily irritated and intolerant of other's behaviour.
  • Feel driven and competitive - at the expense of relationships.
  • Keep yourself distant from others and withdraw from social activity.
  • Even though you may want to help, you feel empty, like you've nothing more to give.
3.  Loss of Confidence and Competence.
  • You keep having accidents - dropping things, forgetting appointments, losing important objects.
  • You find yourself withdrawing from the people who matter the most to you.
  • You've lost the confidence to speak up and communicate how you feel.
  • There is an inner voice constantly criticising yourself and/or others.
  • No matter how hard you work/how much you help others - you don't believe you're any good.
The lack of self-worth and self-compassion that accompanies Burnout can mess with your head, convincing you that since you've made a mess of things, you deserve to suffer.  

Read on for the 
Burnout Recovery Programme!

1. Rest
The first stage of recovery from Burnout is recognising the symptoms and giving yourself permission to rest.  Research has shown that if we don't allow ourselves to rest from the pressures of everyday life, our bodies can't process stress effectively and we put ourselves at risk from heart disease or other illnesses.

2. Play.
'The opposite of play is not work, the opposite of play is depression'.  Burnout addicts think play is
childish, but play really means giving yourself permission to do things for the sheer enjoyment of it.  Walking, gardening, cooking, tinkering in the shed, painting, knitting, dancing the tango: it doesn't matter what it is so long as it feeds the tender, vulnerable creative part of you.

3. Nurture
Old habits die hard so its important to learn to create a new way of relating to the world that makes space for your well-being, happiness and creativity.  Give yourself permission to slow down, kick back and re-boot your joie-de-vivre.

As the saying goes: Seek what gives makes your heart sing like a man with his head on fire seeks water!

PS. Reading this back I've realised I've been experiencing the symptoms myself!   I've decided its time to take my own advice and so I'm off on sabbatical to rest and play and nurture - just like I suggested. 

It already feels great to have given myself permission to change direction. 

I'll keep you posted! 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Crying Shame

I met someone the other day who last saw me when I was a little girl.

"Oh, I remember you," he said.  "You were always crying."

"I still am."  I replied.

I obviously showed a talent for it from an early age because I cry for a living now!

Don't get me wrong, I don't go round howling and sobbing, in fact I'd say most of the time I'm pretty chirpy, but these days I'm as comfortable with feeling tears of hurt as I am experiencing tears of laughter.  I've overcome the shame I used to feel as a child and the confusion and frustration I experienced being told to stop crying or that my feelings were wrong.  I've learnt to honour feelings of hurt, rejection and heartbreak and no longer feel shame or judge myself as weak or stupid if I feel vulnerable - I just see crying as point on my emotional spectrum.

With the right approach crying can help gather intelligence about a situation, it can feed back information about your circumstances and help you make better sense of your world.  Emotional intelligence isn't about controlling, naming or talking about emotions, it is the intelligence we gather from FEELING our emotions.

People often don't allow themselves to cry because being vulnerable brings up feelings of shame.  Many of us have been punished, teased or humiliated as children and make a solemn vow never to be be that vulnerable again.  As a result we either employ something like the Great British Stiff Upper Lip or we cry alone behind a locked door - and hate ourselves for it.

Crying, like love, is better when there's someone to share it with.  

Crying is an art and, like any new skill, can feel awkward at first.  The results can be a bit messy until you get the hang of it.  Now that I'm so good at crying I teach people how to do it.  Its actually very easy and can lead to something rather magical.  One of my clients calls it 'crying club', I think it is a source of creativity and like any creative art it needs practice and can be fun to do in a community of like minded people.  It also gives you membership to a laughter, creativity and friendship club.

This place inside, the crying place, can be a source of inspiration.  Poets, musicians and artists have used it to fuel their creativity.  Some don't want to heal their dark side for fear of losing their muse, but they have misunderstood the nature of their pain.

When we're out of practice and have a lot of 'cry' in us, we cry and all the other hurts try to escape at the same time, making the whole thing a little alarming.  However, with time and understanding you can get so good at it that there are few tears and little drama, just profound heartfelt emotion.

Being comfortable with your own vulnerability builds empathy and helps strengthen relationships.  Accepting your own emotions builds stronger bonds with others and understanding your feelings gives you the confidence to communicate better.

We don't realise that the strategies we use to hide our tears are so effective they block off the good feelings too; when we shut off our tears we deny our tears of laughter.

And that's a crying shame.

Family@Heart  starts September 2014.  Feeling your feelings and do it anyway!


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Three words to poison a relationship

Do you know which three words will strike terror in the heart of a man?

"Can we talk?"

The moment a man hears his beloved say these three words he mentally paints a target on his chest as he awaits the dreaded, deadly pointed finger of blame.

I am no saint.  I am guilty of the same crime.  I spent years not understanding why my husband wouldn't talk about things that weren't working.  He couldn't.  He was too busy hunkering down trying to avoid the missiles I kept launching at him.

Then there came a day when I said it differently.  Instead of 'Can we talk' I said "I need to talk to you, I don't think its going to come out right but I'm not saying it because I want to fight, but because I want to sort it out."

Not elegant, not articulate but he UNDERSTOOD.  He actually says that was the moment he was able to hear I was trying to work something out and he didn't need to defend himself any more.

So many women say to me "We just don't talk and when we do it always ends up in an argument." or 'He won't talk to me'.

Let me explain something.  He doesn't know how to talk to you.  And actually - you don't know how to talk to him either.  If your man can't communicate with you then you need to work on your communication skills.  

Women are born communicators.  We're naturals.  Its just that we forget how to speak a language men can understand.  We're trying to get them to speak Woman.  Speaking Man doesn't work for us either so, as the leaders of communication women need to work on the ideal language for relationship, Love.

It can start really simply.  Just a couple of words that are without blame and criticism.  A smattering of appreciation. A few sentences where you own your feelings and take responsibility for your own happiness.  You have to make it safe for him to open up - and you'll be amazed at the results.

I can hear you already.  "But, why do I have to be the one to do all the work?'

My answer is always the same.

Because, sister, you are the Leader of the Relationship.  If you can see something isn't working, then you are the one who can provide the solution.  Beside,  the skills you need to help your relationship are skills that will help every area of your life - so it ends up win win win!