Self reflection

self reflection
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I’ve written quite a bit about self care and self esteem.  Now I want to look at self reflection.

First of all, what is self reflection and why is it a good idea?  Self reflection is, in its simplest terms, looking at ourselves and our behaviours closely and with a sense of acceptance.  It means looking at who we are and what we have done, warts and all, without shying away from the difficult bits.  It’s a serious exercise that helps us learn more about ourselves and how we interact with the world.  By having this knowledge and understanding, we can work out whether or not we are doing what is best for ourselves and the people around us.  As with any journey, the first step to going anywhere is working out where you are starting from!

Self reflection can help us to learn what our strengths and weaknesses are.  We can identify patterns of thought and behaviour which are helping us or hindering us.  We can reflect on how other people see us, and work out whether what they see is accurate and how we wish to be seen.

It’s important to retain balance – don’t overlook the things you are unhappy with, but don’t beat yourself up either!  We all have good and bad sides, helpful behaviours and harmful behaviours.  We all make mistakes, but the biggest mistake would be failing to learn from one.

So how do you self reflect?  It’s up to you!  Here are some ideas:

  • Daily journalling or Morning Pages
  • Mindfulness
  • Expressing your feelings creatively – such as painting, drawing, or making music
  • Scheduling a set time to ask yourself questions about how you handled the events of your day
  • Using worksheets, prompts, or exercises such as this one or these
  • Read books, or watch films/TV shows and think about who you identify with (or would like to), and why

It’s up to you!  What will you discover?

 

 

 

 

Bullet journalling

bullet journal
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Bullet journalling has been around for a few years and is getting ever-more popular.  I don’t intend to give step-by-step instructions here, as there are already so many good “how to” guides on the internet (I have linked to some below).  Instead, I’m going to explain why I like the bullet journal (“BuJo”) system and why I think it can be helpful for busy or stressed people.

I have been bullet journalling for a year.  It started when I realised I was using a rolling To Do list app on my phone which usually had about 30 items on it and most of those repeated regularly.  I had already checked which things were really necessary, as discussed in a previous post The Tyranny of ‘To Do’s, and they (almost) all were.  As I ticked each item off, they simply shifted to the bottom of the list ready to be done again the next day/week/month.  It meant I wasn’t feeling like I was actually achieving much.  It also meant that each time I looked at the app I felt both slightly overwhelmed by all the items on it and frustrated that so many items were sitting there but could not be tackled yet.

I needed a new system.  Enter bullet journalling.

Bullet journalling appealed to me because it was simple, flexible, and I could use my pretty stationery.  The idea with bullet journalling is that you lay out your calendars, lists, to dos etc in a way that feels most helpful for you.  The indexing system means you end up with no blank pages, but you can always find what you are looking for immediately.  How many times have you picked up half a dozen diaries or planners in a shop, but rejected them because they didn’t have quite what you needed or you couldn’t get on with the layout?  Bullet journalling enables you to make up your own.

Even better, you only need any notebook and pen.  Many companies sell beautiful notebooks and will insist that you “need” dots/lines/certain paper/certain pens but you don’t.  Please don’t feel you must have specific (and expensive) supplies before you can begin.

Nor do you just use it as a diary.  You can use bullet journalling to track your habits (such as exercise), plan financially (keeping track of your spending or saving), event planning (such as a big party you need to organise), list ideas (such as knitting projects)…  A bullet journal can be anything you need or want it to be.

Bullet journalling is creative.  Not just in how you choose to create your system, but in any art you add to it.  You can find many examples online of people who produce artistic spreads if you’re looking for inspiration.  There are also plenty of bullet journalling discussion groups on social media if you need help or advice.

This system can be useful for busy people because it encourages planning out and getting through things efficiently and productively with the “rapid logging” system.  While you are free to spend lots of time making your bullet journal pretty, you don’t have to.  Setting up a monthly spread does take some time, but saves time and trouble later.  This is because you have already made decisions about how and when certain things will be done.  You can tackle each day’s list without worrying about other things that will be happening later.  This can also be really helpful if you are using pacing techniques to manage chronic illness.

The act of writing things down with pen and paper makes you more likely to really think about them.  You are less likely to do that when it is so quick and automatic to type something into an app.  Considering carefully what you are committing to is an act of self care.

You can use your bullet journal for anything you need to.  While I have decided to keep mine just for my personal things, you can use yours for work as well.

The important thing is doing what helps you the most.  It might take you a while, and you might go through a few different systems before settling to one.  That’s okay, there is no absolute right or wrong.  As the creator of the bullet journal, Ryder Carroll, said, “Forget about what you see online.  It’s not about how it looks, it’s about how it feels and most importantly, how it works for you.”

 

Original bullet journal website with complete guides.

Slightly more quick and easy bullet journal starter guide.

A very user-friendly guide, with options to download help sheets.

 

Book: “The Little Book of Resilience” by Matthew Johnstone

Emma Thompson/Opis Counselling

I have written about some of Matt Johnstone’s books before, and The Little Book of Resilience: How To Bounce Back From Adversity and Lead a Fulfilling Life is similar to those in many ways.

Resilience is a vague concept.  It’s easy to say that resilience is the ability to recover from bad events, but hard to put into practice.  What exactly does resilience look like?  What can we actually do to increase resilience?

The book is divided into two parts.  The first part explains what resilience is and why we need it.  It provides examples of the kinds of life events which might cause us distress and why we feel how we do.  The second part gives practical suggestions of ways to care for yourself and approach problems to improve resilience.

As I have read elsewhere, when we feel at our lowest we tend to overestimate the threats and underestimate our resources.  This book discusses both.  It is worth building up and keeping aware of our resources before things happen, so they are easier to reach for when we need them.  It can also help to practice seeing things with curious, non-judgemental observation so we see threats more realistically when they arise.  Johnstone’s book explains how to do these things.  There is also a useful list of resources and helpful organisations in the back.  If we know what our immediate reactions to things are likely to be in advance, we are more ready to deal with them and remain in control in the moment.  A description of negative automatic thoughts and how to recognise them can be found here.

This isn’t a difficult book to read – it has short sentences and is filled throughout with the author’s charming illustrations.  If you want a really meaty, in-depth book of instructions then this isn’t for you.  Rather, this book is likely to be helpful and accessible when you feel overwhelmed and can’t think straight.  Its simple, clear guidance is gentle and uplifting, and won’t take more than an hour or so to read.

Picking up paintbrushes, and other things

creative
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I don’t think I have ever met anyone who isn’t creative in one way or another.  Yet I more often hear people say they aren’t creative than that they are.

Where does it come from, this denial of creativity?  Perhaps our ideas of what counts as “creative” are unnecessarily restricted and judgemental?  After all, it is creativity in action to put together a meal, plan a nice outfit, come up with stories about why someone is doing something… yet those things are rarely seen that way.  Does something have to appeal to others, or produce something that is openly admired, to be deemed “creative”?

Do we only consider something creative if it involves a certain level of skill?  Do people deny their own creativity because they fear their creations ‘aren’t good enough’?

As children, we made up games, painted, drew, danced, sang, thought up adventures…  We didn’t care what anyone thought, we just tried it and had fun.  Yet in adulthood that quite often stops.  Why do we hold back?

Creating something is a way of expressing yourself.  That in itself can be really scary.  But in my experience the scariest aspect is the fear that it won’t be ‘good enough’.  What does that mean?  Good enough for ourselves, or for others?  Who makes the rules about whether something is good or not, and what is their agenda?

It’s really common to give something up after one or two attempts.  You might convince yourself you’ll “never learn this!” or maybe someone told you to give up because you “aren’t very good” (ouch).  So I turn to Jake the Dog from Adventure Time for one of my favourite quotes: “Dude, sucking at something is the first step towards being sorta good at something.”

Only you can decide if you are satisfied by your creative efforts or not.  If you starting something new, the chances are you won’t be satisfied straight away.  Bear in mind Jake’s words.  Go ahead and be bad at something!  Better yet, actively try to be bad at it (within reason – don’t hurt anyone!).  Free yourself from visions of what the finished result will be and see what happens if you just plunge into the process.

Splash paint all over!  Clash colours!  Dance with the joy of a toddler!  Make a soufflé that collapses!  Write a terrible book!

Try Creative Self-Care for more ideas.

What would you create, if the end result didn’t matter?

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude

I have written about gratitude previously, when I did my ten-part series on the positive emotions.  Gratitude is more than saying “thanks”, it is a deep and meaningful appreciation for someone or something.  It helps us to acknowledge what we have and our good experiences, and to strengthen our relationships with others.  Time has an article on the various health benefits of developing your gratitude, and just a quick google search will bring up many more.

So, am I saying that being thankful for things will solve all your problems and make everything okay?  No, I’m not.  What fostering gratitude will do is help you develop your resilience.

Resilience is our ability to keep going when times are tough.  It’s what enables us to take life’s knockbacks and keep picking ourselves up again.  Developing resilience is a skill.  It is affected by our optimism, our tolerance of our emotions, our ability to reframe things mentally, and our gratitude.

Many people find gratitude the easiest one of those to start with, because it gives you a solid foundation based on where you are right now.  You might prefer to start elsewhere, and later blog posts will focus on other aspects of resilience.

You might be in a bad place, and asking yourself, “What have I got to be grateful for?!”.  You might find it hard to think of anything, but working hard on this can pay off.  Start simple when thinking about what you have.  You have access to a computer to read this right now.  You have air to breathe.  You have time to be here.

Try turning what seems to be a negative into something to be grateful for.  For example, you might be feeling overwhelmed with the amount of laundry you have to do – but you can be grateful for having so many clothes.  You might be grieving for a loved one, but can feel gratitude for having known and loved that person.

Some people find it helpful to write a gratitude journal.  Each day, write in your journal three different things you are grateful for.  They can be big or small, silly or serious – nobody’s opinion on your gratitude journal matters but yours!  You might want to keep it to yourself, or share it with a loved one.  Make it work for you.

Developing your gratitude can make it easier for you to see and connect with the good things in your life when it seems that things are going badly.  It can provide you with a solid foundation of resources and identity.  When we are feeling low, we tend to overestimate threats and underestimate our resources.  Developing our gratitude can help redress that balance.

What are you grateful for?

 

The Spoon Theory and Pacing

Spoons
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You may have heard people refer to themselves as “Spoonies”, or say they “have run out of spoons”.  So what does this mean?

“The Spoon Theory” was created by Christine Miserandino in 2003 in her essay of the same name.  Christine has lupus, which is an invisible illness that can cause a variety of debilitating symptoms.  Christine used spoons as a stand-in for units of energy.  They model how activities can be difficult and costly to people with chronic illness.  Each task cost a ‘spoon’, and someone with chronic illness starts with only a limited number per day.  There is no way to start with more, and trying to ‘buy’ extra ‘spoons’ can end up causing further problems.  This helped Christine’s friend to understand that people with chronic illness have to plan out their activities carefully.  Unexpected tasks might mean they cannot do other things due to having limited ‘spoons’.  The full essay is here.

The Spoon Theory can be a useful way of describing your experience to people around you.  It can also be helpful for self care.  Thinking about how many spoons you have each day (which may not be consistent), how many spoons will be needed for various tasks (which, again, may not be consistent) and planning out activities within those limits is known as “pacing”.

Pacing is a self-directed way of managing illness and fatigue that is personal to you.  It means getting to know your abilities and responses to certain stimuli.  This helps you to organise your time and activities.  It is all about balance – not cramming everything in first thing in the hope that you can rest later!

Perhaps one of the most tricky aspects to pacing is the self-discipline needed.  It is very easy to think, “I’ve only got this thing to do, I’ll just push through and rest later!” even if that will result in a much longer recovery time. You might also struggle with feelings of embarrassment if you need to stop an activity right in the middle, or fear letting people down.  I’ve written several times before about saying “no”.

Pacing isn’t an easy or quick thing to arrange, but it can be very helpful.  Long-term, pacing activities may be much better for your health than ‘soldiering on’.  Action for M.E. has produced a wonderful booklet that explains pacing, the evidence base for it and how to use it.  The booklet can be found online here.

Illnesses such as CFS/ME, fibromyalgia, EHS and lupus are very real, not just “in your head”.  This means counselling cannot ‘cure’ them.  However, these illnesses and their symptoms can cause, and also be made worse by, mental issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.  You may need to work through your grief or fear around your diagnosis, and get support in working out how to live your best life within these limits.  If you would like to make an appointment, please contact me.

THE FEAR

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THE FEAR I am talking about today is that terror of getting something done in case you do something wrong, make a mistake, get into trouble…  It’s paralysing, and can occupy your thoughts to the exclusion of all else.

THE FEAR can be very difficult to get a handle on, especially as an adult.  I wondered why that might be.  A friend of mine said that as children, our fears of getting things wrong and into trouble tend to be focussed on a person – for example, a parent or a teacher.  However, as adults, those we can end up answerable to can seem a bit more faceless – HMRC, the police, government agencies.

I thought this was interesting, and it got me thinking about power dynamics.  Something about a faceless threat can seem so much scarier, perhaps because we can’t plan for how to deal with it or because it can have so much more power to impact our lives.  As children, losing our breaktime to a detention might feel devastating, but as adults we are more aware of how much bigger and scarier consequences and punishments can be.  We are also far more aware of the consequences of our actions – knowing that we could make a mistake or choose a path that leads to harm to others or ourselves.

Those “what ifs” are what are so paralysing.  “What if I get my tax return wrong?”  “What if my documentation isn’t correct?”  “What if they find an error when I’m audited?”

The trouble is, not facing and doing these things can also lead to bad consequences.  For example, a fine for a late submission, or even hurrying and ending up making a mistake you otherwise might not have.

My top tips for facing THE FEAR:

  1. Plan ahead.  Set aside a specific time to complete the task.  Not too far in the future, but not in the next 5 minutes either.
  2. Divide the task into smaller steps, and complete them in an order which makes the most sense to you.
  3. Perhaps the most difficult – ask for help.  It’s okay not to know or understand everything at once.  That’s why we have lawyers, accountants, electricians, plumbers…!  If money is an issue, check out free or low-cost sources of help such as ACAS (for work disputes), Shelter (for issues with housing, renting etc), MA (for money advice) or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (for all sorts of things).
  4. Plan a reward for yourself for afterwards, if you need extra motivation.

Getting the scary things done is an act of self care.  Self care isn’t just bubble baths and scented candles.  It is also completing the things we need to get done, rather than letting them hang over us and potentially causing worse problems.

As Susan Jeffers said, Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway!

Being alone and why it’s useful

alone
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Being alone has negative connotations – perhaps that the person is a “misery guts”, or is “unfriendly” or “isolated”.  However, I believe that time spent alone is necessary, useful, and valuable.

I’ve written before about coping with the demands of others and juggling responsibilities.  Being alone can give you time to recharge, decompress, and think about your own needs for a bit.  It’s easier to make plans and decisions if you’ve been left alone to think about them for a while, as you can escape other people’s agendas.  It might also help you be more productive. A friend of mine recently said the disruption to her office from the recent heavy snowfall meant she could get on with her work without interruption and was extremely productive!

The flip side of not being around other people and having their needs and demands placed upon you is that you don’t rely on them so much either.  Being alone and having to regulate your own emotions and needs can help you build strength and resilience.  That is why so many people recommend learning to love yourself before looking for love from others.  You will develop inner strength and the power to manage your own self-worth rather than needing someone else to do it for you.  You will learn to trust your own opinions and decisions rather than looking for reassurance and guidance from others.

Is there a movie you want to see but you friends don’t?  Or somewhere you want to eat, or travel?  Is lack of companionship holding you back from activities, and would it be so bad to go alone?  Why or why not?

Being alone can be a conscious choice for self care.  Remember, self care isn’t just about lighting and candle and having a nice bath!  It can also mean getting a stack of bills paid or having a medical appointment.

Happiness in your own company can also increase self-confidence and satisfaction.  Listening to our inner voice, agreeing with or challenging it appropriately, can help us feel more grounded and sure of ourselves.

So strike your best Greta Garbo pose and say, “I want to be alone!”.

 

JADE-ing and saying no

Stop JADE-ing
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I have written previously about saying “no”.  Actually resolving to say no is the first step, but what do you do when the other person won’t hear it?  You might be JADE-ing.

There are of course times when saying “no” isn’t appropriate – e.g. to a policeman, your boss, or to someone who is asking you to stop doing something that causes them harm.  This article is not about those times!

I have previously linked to this excellent article on how any why you might say no.  However, I’m sure we have all been in situations where, for example, “I’m sorry, I’m busy” doesn’t work.

At that point, it is tempting to start JADE-ing.

J – Justify

A – Argue

D – Defend

E – Explain

JADE-ing is when we come up with various reasons why we want to, need to, or choose to say “no”.

With friends who care about us, it’s not so much of a problem – we want to soften the “no”, to avoid hurting them or our relationship.  The problem arises when we are faced with someone who cannot or doesn’t want to accept our “no”, who hurts us with their demands.

In his book The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker says, “‘No’ is a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you… Declining to hear ‘no’ is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it.”

When faced with this situation, JADE-ing doesn’t help.  Giving reasons or explanations, defending your choice  or arguing with the person hands them more opportunities to not hear your “no”.  Offering up information as to why you are saying no enables them to provide ways round it.  It’s as though you are saying “yes, but…”, and asking them to find ways to make it happen.  It’s easy to think they will understand your point of view if you just explain it to them.  Unfortunately, that is only true if they are actually interested in your point of view – and they might not be.

JADE-ing can be exhausting, and doesn’t actually get you any further than just saying “no” does.  It can even make it worse, as someone without your best interests at heart might then turn the situation round and insist you are the one causing the problem.

JADE-ing is a habit we can so easily fall into.  We can even end up JADE-ing ourselves!  Saying “no” can be an act of self-care, but when we are used to putting the needs of others first that we end up working really hard to convince ourselves of that.  It’s okay to say, “because I feel like it”.

So how can you tell if you are JADE-ing?  You might feel confused, uncertain, scared, or attacked.  You might find yourself struggling to find the ‘right’ words, going round in circles or off the subject.  The other person might start making accusations, becoming aggressive or otherwise escalating their demands.

Stopping JADE-ing and saying “no” outright might cause some ruffled feathers for a while.  There may be various consequences, such as changes in or even endings of relationships.  Only you can decide if you are able to accept those consequences.  Where do you want it to end?  Can you stop JADE-ing?

Juggling

juggling
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We are all juggling various things.  Not  throwing various objects around, but keeping up with the many tasks, jobs and obligations we have every day.

At what point does it become too much, and what can you do?

Only you can decide what you can handle, but you can become so bogged down with things that you can’t even think straight.  At times like this, you might even end up compromising on the quality of what you are doing rather than the quantity.

This is not necessarily wrong – but if you find things are getting worse, it could be worth re-examining what you are doing any why.

I’ve written before about Saying No, but how do you know at what point to actually do it?

  • Are you compromising important aspects of health and self care, such as sleep and food, in order to get tasks done?
  • Is your mood dropping because you’re so overstretched?  Have you started snapping at loved ones?
  • Are you spending what should be down-time worrying about your list of tasks?
  • Have you totally given up the things which bring you pleasure and relaxation in favour of a list of jobs?

If you are saying yes to any of these, you might be juggling too much.

So what can you do?

For a start, look at the tasks you have and work out what actually needs doing and what doesn’t.  You can mentally group tasks into “necessary”, “not necessary but would be nice to have done” and “unnecessary”.  Be ruthless about it!  Much as we would all like to have a sparkling kitchen with alphabetised spice racks, sometimes it’s better overall to just settle for a clean space where we can find things reasonably easily!

Are your thoughts getting in the way?  Perhaps you believe things will collapse or people will think much less of you unless you Do All The Things.  This might not be a conscious belief, so it is worth examining carefully what you fear might happen if you stopped doing certain things.

Next, you could look at your tasks and check what you are really responsible for and what you are not.  So often the bulk of work in a household can fall to just one person, something which is being discussed more and more on social media lately.  Writing lists of what tasks fall to which person can be eye-opening!  Are you doing certain things just because that’s the way it has always been, despite lifestyles and working hours changing?  Do you cause yourself enormous disruption and difficulty to avoid someone else having to put up with a little discomfort?

Are you juggling more than you can manage because you find it difficult to ask for help?  It can be so hard to ask for help, as we might fear we are letting people down or damaging their view of us.  Only you can decide at what point the risks of asking for help are less than the risks of buckling under.  It’s also a good idea to be really specific.  It is easier for people to respond to a specific request than a general, “help me!”.

Which juggling ball will you put down today?