Tag Archives | self-care

IF ONLY…

There are some phrases we would be better off not knowing, and one of them is: ‘If only…’ It almost always expresses regret about something in our past: ‘ If only I hadn’t eaten that chocolate cake’, or ‘If only I’d held my tongue in that conversation’, or ‘ If only they had noticed that I was struggling’.

Most of them give us reasons to beat ourselves up, and some of them give us reasons to resent other people. None of them are useful!

They are usually referring to things that have already happened, and we can’t change that. It’s a terrible waste of our energy to wish something in the past were different, and positively sinful to beat ourselves up about it!

The alternative is to use those thoughts as a means of doing something different in the future. We can use those phrases to help us to create a different story for ourselves from now on.

If I hear myself doing an ‘if only..’, I ask myself a couple of questions:

  1. Can I do anything to rectify it?
  2. How can I approach similar situations differently next time, so that it turns out in a better way?

Can I rectify it?

If I ate chocolate cake, it’s done! But if I was mean to somebody, or unfair, I may be able to apologise to them and acknowledge that I know I got it wrong.

If someone upset me and I’m holding a grudge, there’s not much I can do about being upset, although sometimes when we re-examine the situation, we have a different perspective on it, and realise that it wasn’t really that serious – we just took it that way at the time.

How can I approach similar situations differently next time, so that it turns out in a better way?

Here’s the useful bit!

If we think about alternative approaches we could use, we are doing two useful things:

  1. We are learning from our experience, instead of repeating the same errors, or beating ourselves up about it – and by the way, beating ourselves up about it means that we replay the experience and practise to do it again next time!
  2. We automatically play our improved version in our minds, and this is like rehearsing to do it more effectively next time we experience something similar, so we have some practice at the new improved way of handling it, and are more likely to use this version.

So next time you find yourself saying: ‘If only..’, use these two questions and stop it in its tracks!

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SOLITUDE

There is something lovely about being on your own. We often confuse being solitary or alone with being lonely, feeling deprived of company. The two do not necessarily follow: we feel lonely if we wish we did have company, but being alone is a choice to enjoy your own company.

And that choice allows the possibility of just doing and being whatever we feel like – it is a form of freedom. When no-one else is involved we have the opportunity to follow our own rhythms, to indulge our own fancies, to consider ourselves first.

We can eat and drink what we like, when we like. We can sing our hearts out, or have complete quiet. We can get up when we’re ready to, or lie in bed with a cup of tea and read a book. We can even have complete control of the TV remote!

In our busy world, it is good for us, once in a while, to have some solitary time. It allows us to replenish our energy, and that freedom to be completely ourselves,

So this year, see if you can find yourself a little solitary time. If you live with others, suggest they go out for the day, and bask in the freedom of solitude for a little while.

May 2019 be a great year for you!!

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CAN YOU LET YOURSELF HAVE A DAY OFF?

I’ve just spent ten days pushing myself to keep going and finally realised that I knew better – I needed to let myself have a day off. That made me reconsider what a day off really means.

In this case, I was feeling somewhat under the weather – just not well. I made some allowance for it, cutting down on my expectations of myself, but I wasn’t willing to ‘give in’ to it. The consequence was that I didn’t even meet the expectations I did have of myself, so got cross with myself, or did and felt unreasonably exhausted. And of course, my health didn’t improve at all.

So eventually I remembered that the answer is to remove all the expectations, even those we aren’t usually conscious of, like getting washed and dressed or answering the phone. I spent two days doing what I felt like when I felt like it, with no list of must do’s at all, and I feel so much better for it!

It’s the removal of expectations that makes it a real day off, because that frees you up to genuinely follow your own body and heart preferences. It doesn’t mean doing nothing – unless that is what you feel like – nor taking some of the tasks off the list. It means giving yourself free rein for a day.

Usually we fill our days with expectations of ourselves, which come from us, from our culture and from others, so can be quite a collection! We assess how successful our day was by measuring ourselves against these expectations – and frequently fail to come up to the mark!

If we do allow ourselves a bit of space, because we’re feeling a bit ‘off’ in some way, or sometimes because we think we’ve earned it, that usually means that we take a few of the expectations off the list for the day. ‘I’ll leave the washing till tomorrow, or make that phone call later in the week, or finish that task another day.’ So we load our next few days a bit more, and still have the rest of our expectations of ourselves in the day we have alleviated.

I have known for a long time that a day without any expectations of myself at all, except to do just what I feel like doing, is as good as a holiday. It allows my mind and body to reset and refresh themselves. And yet I realise that, although I am kinder to myself than many, I rarely give myself permission to really take time out from the demands of everyday life.

So I won’t be waiting next time till I’m desperate for that relief. I’m going to write some days off into my diary, and teat them as a priority for my mental and physical health.

So what about you? Do you let yourself have real days off? And if you don’t, can you plan one in and experiment with it?

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JUST BEING HERE NOW

We spend so much of our lives doing stuff: work, chores, going places, watching things, talking with others. Even when we’re not busy doing, we’re usually busy in our heads: reviewing what’s already happened or thinking about what’s ahead of us.

And in all this occupation, we miss something important: this moment now. If we stop for a little while, we can appreciate our world, and be with ourselves more completely. I don’t mean some grand or difficult version of being present. I just mean that moment of noticing what’s happening around you, what’s going on with you, how you are in this moment.

For example, I am sitting in a courtyard with warm air around me. There are noises of people and movement and cars outside but they don’t feel intrusive – they just highlight the peacefulness of this spot. I am enjoying my morning cup of coffee and feel quite relaxed. And I feel comfortable with myself this morning. That’s it! It doesn’t have to be deep and meaningful – it is just a way of being present for a moment, before the mind rushes off somewhere else.

As we stop, we notice more of what’s around us in the world and can appreciate the buzzing of the bees, the light playing on the wall in front of us, the colour of a favourite cushion – whatever it may be – and take a little taste of delight. We can also assess our own state and if necessary, do something to improve it.

So why not take a moment now, to just be here, now, – and then another in an hour or so. It gives us an extra fillip to our everyday.

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USEFUL DISTRACTIONS

I used to think that distractions were a bad thing. If you were distracted, you weren’t paying attention to what was immediately in front of you. And that is true – that’s exactly what a distraction is: something that pulls you away from whatever you were attending to.

And sometimes that can be really useful:

  • If we’re caught up in feeling a bit under the weather in some way
  • If we’re feeling fed up
  • If we’re feeling agitated
  • If we’re feeling irritated
  • If we’ve got stuck with something and can’t see how to sort it out
  • If we’re feeling overwhelmed by what we have to do
  • If we’re berating ourselves for something we’ve done or not done

In all these situations, it’s easy to get caught up into a negative spiral. We all know that an insect bite can become all-consuming, that someone’s irritating behaviour can remind us of everything they’ve ever done to annoy us, and we can convince ourselves that we’re really stupid because of one wrong move.

When we pay attention to something, it takes centre stage and starts collecting more evidence that it should be there. It’s like a magnet for more of the same sort of thought or reaction. Now that’s great if it’s something positive, but when it is something that is not useful to us, we need to be able to distract ourselves – pull ourselves away from its magnetic charm.

Being distracted allows us to regain some perspective, sort ourselves out a bit, and then approach whatever it is differently.

If we’ve already thought of some useful distractions, we are more likely to use them before we get too caught up in the negative spiral.

They need to have a strong ‘pull’ to break us out of the trap, so just switching on the TV or radio probably won’t work. We want things that take over our attention and occupy our minds.

Some examples might be: listening to some music we love, linked to happy memories; or watching an enthralling movie; or going in the garden for an hour; or going on a bike ride. If you have a particular hobby or interest, a bit of time spent on that helps, and so will a short walk, where you literally move away, and consciously pay attention to your external surroundings.

You will have your own set of useful distractions, so make a note of them, and next time you realise you are getting caught into one of those negative spirals, distract yourself!!

 

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YOUR ENERGY BANK

We all have bank accounts for our finances, and most of us manage them with some care, because we know that being overdrawn is not good – in fact it costs us even more than we owe.

It is the perfect metaphor for our energy levels, because our energy is equally vital for our survival, yet most of us take very little care of our energy banks.

Our energy banks fluctuate more, but at the same time, they are easier to top up – we are not reliant on an external input once a month, and can have more control over both inputs and outgoings.

What do I mean? Well, the inputs to your energy bank are simply all those things that energise you, many of which you can actively bring into your life. And the outgoings are all those things that drain your energy, many of which you can exert some control over.

For example, you may find physical activity energising, or the company of good friends, or just having a rest. You may find certain aspects of your work draining, or certain relationships, or housework.

By the way, it is a little more complex than this: sometimes the same activity can be both draining and energising at the same time, so we need to assess whether the overall ‘balance’ is in the black or the red. And some activities may be draining one day, yet energising the next: for example, you may feel good doing some gardening one weekend, and exhausted by doing it the next weekend.

Our energy bank matters because it is what fuels us to live our lives well. When it’s well topped up, we achieve more, we are happier, and we are lovely to be around! When it’s in the red, everything becomes more difficult, and we damage our health by over stretching ourselves.

Obviously we can’t control everything that happens in our lives. There will always be the unexpected or unavoidable that lands in our laps and drains our energy bank – or tops it up!

However, we can learn to notice what’s going on with our energy bank, and deliberately choose to do something to top it up if it is running a bit low. By becoming consciously aware of it, we can ensure that we keep it as well-filled as possible.

So start by making a list of some of those things that usually give you an energy boost, and those that usually drain you – you know what they are, and you know which ones are within your control, because your physical and emotional reactions tell you. Then list those that can come into both categories, so you are aware of them.

And now find a couple of extra things you could put on the energy-giving list. They don’t have to be complicated: reading a chapter of an enjoyable book; phoning a friend; dancing to a favourite music track.

With this awareness, you can now take more care of your energy bank balance. You can plan in some energy-givers, particularly when you have to do something that drains you, and when you have time to do some extra topping up.

If you have a healthy energy bank account, the world is your oyster, life automatically gets better.

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AM I IN THE RIGHT MOOD?

I get conflicted sometimes between just getting something done, and waiting until I’m in the right mood to do it effectively. I’ve been ‘trained’ – haven’t we all? – to push myself to do things I think I ought to, even though I don’t feel like it, and then to feel bad if I don’t actually do it, because then I’m being lazy or procrastinating. Yet I know that pushing myself doesn’t work well for several reasons.

When I push myself to do something, there’s always a part of me that’s resisting it. So I use more energy than necessary, because I’m overcoming my own resistance as well as doing whatever it is. Even easy tasks seem to leave me worn out.

And somehow those tasks take longer, or get more complicated, or involve problems I wasn’t expecting: the computer starts going slow; the phone call doesn’t go as I had hoped; I can’t find a vital element I need; the bus is late; the person I need to talk to isn’t available.

When I look at it objectively, it’s obvious that pushing myself isn’t the most effective way to use my time and energy, so I’m experimenting with a different approach, and slowly retraining myself!

It all hinges on the mood we’re in. and the grand realisation is that our ‘bad’ moods are not static. They can change in a heartbeat. The only thing that keeps us in a bad mood is if we resist it being like it is. If we accept how it is and go along with it, it runs out of steam, because we naturally incline towards something more useful.

What’s more, we can help ourselves to change our mood. Firstly, we can just take a break. Often, sitting down for ten minutes with a cup of coffee is enough to get me going again. It allows the mood to shift itself.

Secondly, we can prompt ourselves. If I’m feeling fed up, what would cheer me up a bit? If I’m feeling irritable, what would soothe me? If I’m feeling low on energy, what would give me a little burst to get me going?

It’s not hard to change our mood – we do it all the time without thinking about it. So let’s get in the right mood, and then tackle that task with a bit of gusto – it works so much better in every way!

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IT’S NOT THE END OF THE WORLD!

I have needed my own reminders over the last couple of weeks! The double whammy of snow in March and a stinking cold took me to that place we all experience sometimes: it’s not fair, everything is awful, I’m always coming up against obstacles etc.…

I do know, however, that when I start using words like always, never, everything, nothing, I have lost perspective. My focus on feeling rough and hating cold weather had coloured my view of the world and of my experience in it. It’s as if we put on a lens that only highlights those particular colours and ignores everything else.

So I have had to apply my own teachings to myself. This means consciously adjusting that lens. Firstly, we need to widen the perspective beyond the immediate. In this instance, I am reminding myself that most of the time, I am healthy, and most of the time, it is not that cold.

Secondly, we need to consciously pay attention to those elements of the immediate that have been ignored by that restrictive lens. After all, I have a lovely warm home, and my milk and groceries are delivered, so I don’t have to go out in the cold very often. And although I’ve felt a bit ‘under the weather’, I’m not bed-ridden, and I’ve caught up on some good movies. And friends and family have shown concern and distracted me from my miserable state.

Finally, I came back to the realisation that it’s not the end of he world!

The snow has gone now, and spring is showing itself in crocuses and daffodils, just a few days later. The cough and cold are on their way out, and I’m feeling much better. It was only a temporary blip, and life is back on track.

We all lose perspective sometimes, but we don’t have to stay in that place – we can adjust the lens to something more useful. Most of the time, life is pretty good, isn’t it!

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WE ALL NEED A CUDDLE SOMETIMES!

I’d just picked up the paper and pen to write my blog when my cat, Smokey, came in. He looked at me and my occupied hands and knees, and then leapt up anyway, draping himself over the paper and pushing his head against the hand holding the pen. I gave in and cuddled him instead for five minutes!

Both my cats do this. They are very insistent when they want a cuddle, and obviously consider it to be far more important than anything else I’m doing. And I usually give in to their demand for two reasons.

Firstly, I like the reminder that it’s important to have some affection shown to you – more important than most other things. And I admire their clarity about seeing it as a right to ask for that when they feel they need it. Most of us have that feeling of needing some affection from time to time, but as grown-ups we’re less likely to voice it clearly.

Children know that hugs and cuddles make everything feel better, but we learn to stop asking for it – just that once or twice when we’re told it’s not the right moment, or to be a big girl or boy is enough to inhibit us. And hoping someone might realise what we want is not very productive – most of us can’t mind-read the needs of those we love.

The second reason I give in to the cats is that giving them a cuddle makes me feel good as well – in fact, sometimes I do wonder if they are doing it for me rather than just for themselves. I get the warmth of their body, the soothing effect of their purring, the reminder that affection is a silent and powerful exchange.

Wouldn’t it be great if we just stopped sometimes, in the middle of all our doing, and asked for a hug or a cuddle! We’d all benefit from that, wouldn’t we?

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HAVE ANOTHER GO

Happy New Year! I was thinking about resolutions – and the ‘re’ piece means again or back to. And for most of us, any resolutions are another attempt to make a change for the better, usually ones we’ve had a go at several times before. However, if we do what we’ve always done, we get what we’ve always got. So the most important thing about having another go is to make sure that we learn from previous failures, and do it in a different way.

Life is one long experiment for finding out what really works for us, and we’re stubborn creatures – if it didn’t work for us before, it’s unlikely to if we adopt the same approach again.

So do have another go, but do it differently!

  • Make the goals smaller, easier to achieve – we are more motivated to build on a success.
  • Do the steps towards it in a different order, or using a different motivation
  • Find a different way of measuring your progress
  • Find some way of encouraging yourself to keep going

If you look back, you will realise that most positive changes in your life have come about gradually – some of mine have taken years to become habitual!

So do have another go – this may be the time that makes the difference, and the experimentation can be fun!

 

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