My Happiness Project: Back on track with a good PMA!

I think I can!

At the beginning of 2014, I was full of conviction about improving myself, my life and having some goals. I spent most of January and February feeling pretty good really, pretty happy, acting on all the advice I had read. Pharell’s ‘Happy’ was topping the charts and filling my morning drives to work with a carefree, uplifting vibe.

But as the next couple of months played out I seem to have lost a little bit of that conviction and forgotten a few key rules and pieces of advice about attaining and holding on tight to happiness. I had been filled with ideas about all the things I would achieve and all the new crafts and hobbies I could take up come April when I began dropping one day of work and gaining a few precious hours of ‘me’ time.

It transpires that 5 hours a week just isn’t long enough to do a full weekly house clean, a couple of cooking projects, learn crochet, visit the cinema, go for a cycle, have a haircut, get a cervical smear, organise your wardrobe, organise the kids wardrobes, visit your local thrift shops, improve your photography, create some amazing artworks, de-clutter the house – oh, and lets not forget improve and boost your blog by writing more, reading more, commenting more and interacting more.

I guess I’m the kind of person who wants to achieve a helluva lot in five minutes! I now know that, realistically speaking, I can only tackle one thing at a time and its going to take many, many weeks to get to the point where I can look back through my Wish/ and To Do List and see the ticks actually appearing down the side.

Secondly, I have fallen foul of one of my worst bugbears – the tendency to comparison. I can find myself becoming so mired in comparing myself unfavourably to others that their lives (and blogs!) begin to make mine feel inadequate: not as beautiful, not as successful, not as organised, not as sociable… I completely lose sight of what I’ve got, who I am, the things I actually love about myself and my life. And it can be the start of a depressing downward spiral as the more I wallow in this feeling of uselessness and inadequacy, the less I get done and the worse I feel.

As Linford Christie once said “it’s all about PMA: Positive Mental Attitude”. I do love a mantra! My first mantra this year took in the joys and exhaustion of parenting little munchkins “The days are long but the years are short…”, but what I really need right now is a good PMA!

Another inspiring quote I read today (via a Bloglovin’ weekly feed) was this from Maya Angelou: “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them”. She’s hit the nail on the head of course – everything, from social anxiety to fear of failure and the demons that sit on your shoulder and tell you you’re not good enough – everything can be overcome without even lifting a finger because we all have the ability to decide how we choose to think and the things we choose to dwell on. [Before there is a backlash – I should add that I’m not talking about people who suffer with clinical Depression but those of us who are lucky enough to be able to achieve mental balance, whether it be through meditation or simple mindfulness practice).

I’ve often thought that the people who are the most successful are not actually the most beautiful, or necessarily the most intelligent or interesting ones, but the ones who exude an aura of self-confidence and self-belief. I’m not sure if this is the product of nature or nurture or whether it occurs more frequently in people of certain nationalities (I imagine Americans to be more this way inclined than us Brits – something to do with this race of people who have been brought up to believe that they can do anything if they put their minds to it – even become President [of the Western World!]).

Anyway, I guess my point in all this is that I’m back on track, I have a lot to be very happy about and proud of, and as far as self confidence goes – well, some of that comes with age (and not giving a s**t anymore!) and some of it might have to be faked. Well ‘Gotta fake it to make it’ – another great mantra! And I’ll leave you with this from Henry Ford:

henry ford quote

Other peoples’ blues

Half empty

Four mornings a week I find myself in the presence of a lovely lady who does me a great favour saving me both time and money through her selfless generosity. She is the first person who I see and speak to on these days. Unfortunately she is also the world’s biggest pessimist, gloom-monger and doom sayer. In fact I’d go so far as to suggest that her glass is way less than half empty.

This puts me in the unenviable position of starting off each working day, not with a cheerful, sunny or inspirational ‘thought for the day’ but rather a dire, doom-laden prospectus on the unravelling of society, the hopelessness of the way our country is going and the traffic gridlock our town will surely face when they start building the new Sainsburys in a few weeks time.

Sometimes I am tempted to stick my fingers in my ears and, as the choon says, sing “La La La”. However, this would be extremely rude, ungrateful and frankly, out of character (I was after all brought up with some manners!).

My main strategy is to try and turn the conversation to something less gloomy as soon as a suitable chance presents itself. This doesn’t always work and sometimes I just don’t have the energy (its mostly quite early in the morning). As I have lately been aiming to live mindfully, enjoy the moment more and always think positive thoughts wherever it is humanly possible to do so, I’m finding this quite challenging. The weather isn’t helping.

So what do you do to stop yourself from having all your good karma zapped into oblivion? Answers on a postcard [or there’s also a thing called a comment thread – see below ;-)]

Linking to PoCoLo over at Verily Victoria Vocalises:

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Time Management for Manic Mums (by Allison Mitchell): A review

time management for manic mums

So recently I thought – enough is enough, I’ve been trying to fit things in to my life which it just hasn’t felt like I have the time for, and yet every day I read other people’s blogs and wonder how on earth they manage to do so much, be so creative and juggle so many demands. OK, OK, of course I realise that people portray themselves with a little spin every now and again and we don’t always know the full story of where they find their little oasis of ‘me time’ (with small children – is it having the luxury of paid childcare without having to work too, or is it just children of a certain ‘manageable’ disposition? Is there such a thing?)…

Then I started thinking about being more accepting of my situation after reading this post by Judith over at Secrets of the Sandpit, and wondered if maybe I should get into meditation and ended up buying Mindfulness (for Dummies) (which is quite a shameful thing to admit to!). I haven’t got around to reading much of it yet, however at the same time as wondering about the benefits of cultivating a zen attitude to life (think the motherhood version of Kung Fu Panda and Yoda all rolled into one) , at the other end of the scale I realised that learning some ‘secrets’ of how to live a calmer more ordered life at a moment which could well be described as ‘time-poor’ would not be such a bad thing either, so I also invested in Time Management for Manic Mums by Allison Mitchell.

This one I made time for (it seemed more urgent than learning how to empty my mind somehow although, ironically, meditation is encouraged within this volume) and I have to say it took a bit of wading to get to the good stuff. The author spends a good few chapters asking us to examine our thought patterns in minute detail, even providing lists for us to fill in which confirm that, yes indeed, we are complete idiots who could not organise a piss up in a brewery. She also liberally sprinkles in random ‘Tip!’s which somehow seem a bit surplus to requirement (“Use the speed-dialling function on your phone”). Eventually though, she does provide some good guidance and solutions which include introducing a ‘Daily Diary’ and a ‘Destiny Diary’ into your life with a code for prioritising each item.

There is also a lot of talk of focusing on your goals and thinking positive, affirmative thoughts instead of negative ones. She argues that, whilst people often tend to believe that they are either ‘glass is half full’ or ‘glass is half empty’, anyone can train themselves to live in a more positive frame of mind and therefore, live a happier, more fulfilled life. I have to say that, if this is anything like remembering to do pelvic floor exercises, I’m not starting from the greatest position here with regards thought training – lets just say trampolining has been crossed off my to do list since giving birth…

Anyway I like her idea of making a 14-day meal plan with rolling menus and having a rolling schedule for annual or bi-annual stuff that gets easily forgotten or overlooked. I got a bit caught up in her advice which is clearly aimed at parents with older children but I like the fact that I can come back to this at a later date. I also agree that her idea of ‘living by lists’ is one I am pretty sympatico with – getting stuff out of your head and down on paper (whether it be ‘to do’s’, rants or just diarising [why am I uncomfortable with the way that last word sounds in my head?])¬† it always feels like a way of moving forwards unburdened by spaghetti brain.

I have to say I found her style at times to be somewhat patronising, it feels like the reader is being treated a bit like a dim kid who needs ‘cute’ metaphorical stories and anecdotes to fully understand what is, essentially, a simple case of writing lists and positive thinking. Focusing on goals, eliminating unneccessary time-wasting, overcoming procrastination and learning to delegate and make ‘use’ of other people’s time feature heavily.

On the whole I like the fact that reading this book has made me immediately sit down and create a list of things that need doing (or which I would like to do/accomplish/achieve) in 2014 – this is probably the right time to be getting one’s head in gear for forward planning a year in advance.

With that said I’m off to organise my Birthday celebration (in August!). So if nothing else thanks for the kick up the a**e Allison Mitchell!

Mindfulness and the Slow Movement #PoCoLo

tortoise+and+hare

I recently read a post by a blogger I haven’t come across before (found through the Britmums My Best Post of the Week linky) called Josie, who’s post on managing and coping with motherhood (primarily, I feel aimed towards a complete newbie who hasn’t yet had a chance to get their head round the life-altering change a baby brings) got me thinking about mindfulness and how to live more ‘in the moment’ in general.

Anyone who knows me well will tell you that I tend to be quite an anxious person and often find myself worrying about one thing or another. I get stressed out quite easily and having a child exacerbated this no end! Having two children has cranked it up to stress volume overload! I even began developing a ‘stress rash’ – a small area on my left arm which flares up into an angry, itchy, raised rash the day after a particularly stressful, angry or overwhelmingly negative experience. Its a classic example of the mind alone bringing¬† something that’s not really real into full physical existence.

In the last few weeks I’ve had two or three really stressful experiences and my arm has been flashing itchy red like a demented traffic light.

A few years ago I wrote my Masters dissertation on the subject of Information Overload – another experiential stress zone. I now remember that while I was researching this piece of work I stumbled across Carl Honore’s paen to something called the Slow Movement, “In Praise of Slow”. (I’ve just discovered he has a website www.carlhonore.com) He talks of the way in which our culture teaches us that speed is the key to everything – from fast cars to multi-tasking and earning a fast buck. I love the fact that he was inspired to write his book after reading a newspaper article encouraging parents to condense well-loved classic children’s stories into minute-long soundbites in order to get out of the nursery quicker and pick back up on all those must-do adult activities.

At first glance, the One-Minute Bedtime series sounds almost too good to be true. Rattle off six or seven “stories,” and still finish inside ten minutes – what could be better? Then, as I begin to wonder how quickly Amazon can ship me the full set, redemption comes in the shape of a counter-question. Have I gone completely insane?

I think this thought captures what so many of us think and feel on a daily basis. I want to be a good parent, but do I have the time? And then there’s “I want to be a good partner, but do I have the time?”. Life with small children can not only be a stressful experience in itself, but can also make you feel like everything else you do that doesn’t involve them has to be done at breakneck speed in order to make the most of this precious little time. Hence if I find myself with one day off while they’re both in paid childcare I must squeeze in a house-clean, cook two casseroles, fill out a passport application, do two loads of washing, write a blog post, have a cervical smear, etc, etc, ad infinitum – sod relaxation and escapism! And fitting in the needs of a relationship on top of this? Forgive me for the utter selfishness but if I find myself with ten spare minutes I’m going to want to pick up a good book/soak in a bubbly bath/research some fun activities that I like the look of and help me remember who I am and who I want to be.

I feel that sometimes I’m on the edge of a minor breakdown and something has to change. I need to slow down, live more in the moment, let go of this constant need to “keep up with the Joneses” (which is exacerbated no end by the cult of social media one-upmanship) and learn to live on less and value more of what I’ve got.

Linking up to #PoCoLo over at http://vevivos.com

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