a little tool devoted to December

It is so easy to start feeling overwhelmed by tasks in the next month or so. Like last year, however, I am determined to keep my eye on the bigger picture and focus on what is truly important, meaningful and adds value. The rest…. – well, we will just have to wait and see.

The “control centre”, the tool that can help maintain focus, is very simple. The simple tools are always the best, right? Take a piece of paper and draw lines to divide it into 4 spaces. In the top left space you write “Important”, in the right “Not important”. Going down, write “Urgent” in the top space, “Not Urgent” in the bottom. (Here’s a pdf you can download/print if you wish.)

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Then take all the to-do items playing Ping-Pong between your temples, the ones scribbled in notebooks, on post-it-notes, the back of your hand and other random surfaces and plot them in the appropriate spaces.

Remember to add what’s really important. Like the activities that mean a lot to you and your family. Afternoons spent baking gingerbread reindeers or ambling through mossy forests smelling of pine and clear air, choosing this year’s special Christmas tree. Or meeting up with friends for that first glass of warm enchanted wine, attending a candlelit carol service sitting on benches that always, no matter your body mass index, makes you feel like you have a very bony bottom. All of those go on your sheet as well.

What I hope you will find, is that even though it may not feel like it at times, the stars will still shine at night, the roof stay on top of your house, your friends and family still love you even if you take shortcuts or simply delete or delay the stuff of your list that is either not important or not urgent or both. Update your list as you see fit, but always do the things first that matters the most and for the rest….. well, we will just have to wait and see.

To pause the merry-go-round

Do you know that feeling when you get stuck trying to sort out problems in your mind. You circle round and round and round until your head buzzes, all the while you frantically search for the sign reading “EXIT” or “This way out” and finding none. At some point, after deciding enough is enough, you may grant yourself a break from the endless merry-go-round or get momentarily distracted by some other aspect of life. It is often then and as if by magic, the answer pops into your head. Ahh, so that’s where the exit is.

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The sign was probably hanging there all along, but in our effort to sort things out, we miss it. We so often want to – and believe we should be able to – find all answers consciously, and so often it is exactly when we let go of the conscious thinking that the answer presents itself. It still comes from inside us, just not from the part of the brain that always wants to be in control and logic and rational.

Perhaps it would be really useful to hit the merry go round pause button much earlier on. May be easier said than done, but worth practising, I would say. What do you think?

To be repeated

I am one of those people pretty incapable of relaxing if there are things that need doing. Useful at times, but mostly a bit of a curse. Instead of making attempts to ignore that’s how I roll (as my you tube loving son would say) this Friday just gone we decided to attack a number of our traditional weekend chores with a vengeance. Washing, cleaning, folding, shopping and a quick run through some boring admin to ensure everything is {pretty much} under control. All with the aim of spending much of the bank holiday weekend from this position.IMG_1191

Intense burst of doing, doing, doing to free up time for being. HIGHLY recommendable. And definitely worth repeating.

How do you roll when it comes to doing and being? Is it working for you? If not, what could you do differently?

Evaporation of good intentions.

Perhaps it was the long awaited bursts of sunshine or the onset of a rather persistent tummy ache for my youngest cub or perhaps the re-introduction of going back to school routines that made all my good intentions about creating new habits evaporate into thin air. It didn’t take long, really. And although I know this from past experiences and past good intentions, it always seems, at the time of planning, so very implausible that it will happen again. But it does! Evaporation.

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Through my work I know this to be true for most of us. And I also have a pretty good idea why. Changing unwanted habits or creating new ones require more than just good intentions. On a recent NLP course Neuroscientist {Patricia Riddle} offered a very useful metaphor. To demonstrate what happens in our brains, she said something along the line of this: “when you want to change a habit, it equates making the choice to follow a narrow path through dense forest instead of cruising in your car down a six lane wide motorway”.

What the metaphor suggests is that first choosing, and subsequently converting, your narrow path in to a wide motorway takes perseverance and a lot of repetition. The question is, what you can do to make it easier for yourself. This is the bit that I forgot to put in place {cough cough…. again}!

My next move therefore is to consider what strategies or structures will support my motorway construction. One of them, I already know. A simple, highly visible, post-it note to remind me to follow the narrow path even when the long awaited sun distracts me from my agenda or most unwelcome stomach aches persist and scrambles carefully made plans.

An apple a day

I happen to live with someone who is EXTREMELY good at creating habits. And let me just straight away say, that it would be fairly easy to write a rather extensive post about how that ability and some of those habits can make me growl. Having said that, I cannot deny the evidence in favour of creating “healthy” habits for yourself and being a bit more of a “going with the flow” kind of person myself, I have recently started to wonder what difference it would make if I was to introduce or create more habits in my life.

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There is a part of me that objects to the whole notion. Perhaps it is the part that thinks there are already plenty of habits in our life as it is, like sending the kids to school every day, preparing and eating 3 meals a day, the brushing of teeth morning and night. Another part of me recognises that the cumulative effect of habits create the most profound results. That what we do moment by moment adds up over time. What we eat meal by meal, what we do with our bodies day by day or with our brains hour by hour.

So I am thinking it is time to test this. I am thinking 3 new “healthy” habits over the next 3 months. Nothing radical, nothing heroic, nothing that requires masses of will power. No, just small actions that I know will make a difference if I do them regularly. A bit like the old saying “an apple a day……”

How about you? What habits would you choose to create to build up positive incremental change in your life?

Choices

“Your life is a result of the choices you make. If you don’t like your life it is time to start making better choices”.

I spotted these words on a poster the other day and they capture quite well what is on my mind at the moment. Partly because the arrival of a new year inspires me to think about what I want to choose more of or less of in my life and partly because I am busy preparing the next Wheelbarrow seminar, which is very much focused around the theme choice.

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Growing up I was often amongst people who pretty much believed that life is“done” to you and that you have a limited say in the matter. I keep reminding myself that it isn’t so and now I find that encouraging myself, clients and others to make conscious choices has become such a highly treasured topic of mine and it is something I am especially keen to teach my children. How about you? Are you good at being aware of the choices you have and the choices you make?

New Year’s resolutions in a different light.

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Here we go again. New Year’s resolution time. For the next two months it will be impossible to book my regular once a week {or so cough, cough} pilates class or take a quiet stroll through a park not swarming with bodies clad in shimmering trainers and shop-smelling dri-fit sportswear doing push-ups boot camp style. Self-help books will be taking prime shelf positions and magazines will offer sensational weight loss in less than 6 days, while upholding a substantial daily chocolate and chips intake. Yes, it is all about a New Year and a New {and much improved} You.

Oh please, whatever you do, don’t buy into it. It has already been proven a million times over that the majority of New Year’s resolutions fail. And there are plenty of valid reasons; setting unrealistic goals, fading motivation as novelty wears off and the fact that we don’t have unlimited willpower. {some interesting new insights about how willpower works can be found here}.

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Now, don’t get me wrong. If you are keen to make some changes in your life, I’m all for it. After all I’m a Life coach – it is what I do for a living! I just object strongly to the notion that we need to be “improved” versions of ourselves. Let’s just agree to be ourselves, ok? I may want to lose 10 pounds in the New Year, but it does not require me to change who I am. Is a change of habits required, yes absolutely, but I don’t need to change ME. Likewise I may wish for more quality time with my children in the New Year. Does that require me to “improve” my personality? I think not.  A review of my values, a different way of prioritising and some planning would most likely do the job. Do you see what I am getting at? We are all good enough as we are. We may want to change something, but we don’t need improving.

With that firmly established {I expect nodding here}, let’s now have a look at what could be useful to think about when creating changes for yourself:

  1. Consider first how important your goal REALLY is to you? How would you rate it on a scale from 1-10? Is pursuing this goal worth the time, money and effort that it requires?
  2. If you have established that your goal is important to you and worth the time, money or effort, break it into manageable steps.  What do you want to commit to or achieve in week 1, week 2 or by March etc. Be as specific as possible and contemplate what is realistic for you?
  3. Ask yourself what will be different when you have achieved your goal? If your goal for example is to be more organised, the answer might be something like “the house would be a nicer place to be in” or “it saves me time”. Then ask yourself what that will do for you. Your answer could be “I will feel better” or “I will have less stress in my life”.  Next ask yourself what “feeling better” or “having less stress” will do for you. Keep going in this way. It clarifies what really is at stake and builds your motivation.
  4. Initially the novelty of having a goal may be enough to motivate you, but it is always very useful to plan some structures that will help you to keep going over time. Involving a friend, creating rituals or using a track sheet are all structures that will support you. Working with a coach is another. If you would like to learn more about how coaching can work for mums, the blog will soon be featuring a “coaching diary” written by Madeleine. Madeleine is a lovely client of mine, mum of two girls, who not only decided to get some support to create and accelerate important changes she wanted in her life, she also found it important to share her journey with other mums. Keep an eye out for Madeleine’s diary. It is very touching.
  5. When it comes to making change happen, remember that change is incremental. It builds up over time. So if you “slip”, don’t despair. Stop telling yourself that it has to be 100% or you have failed. Instead tell yourself that even 5% is better than 0%.

If you are somehow keen to make changes in your life in the New Year, but either feeling overwhelmed by an wide-ranging long list or simply unsure what specifically you want to change, I recommend having a look at this simple tool called the life balance wheel.

May we all have great fun and lots of success with our 2013 goals.

{This post will be featured on Surreymummy in January}