How to Keep Habits | The Parenting Diaries

I’ve been wondering recently, can I think of a new way to help me to keep my habits? I’ve decided to start by making it public, putting it out there and allowing you, readers, to ask me how I’m doing!

I realised that habits were helpful things and also a bit of a lifeline when I was ill with depression (I have a hormone condition which gives me episodes). When my brain was dead and fuzzy and I struggled to look human, wear earrings, work, talk or eat, I was still able to a) have a shower and b) go to my church.

This was because they were ingrained habits, that ran themselves. For instance, I’ve been going to Church every Sunday, for twenty years, so even when I felt like crap, I found myself trundling up the hill, which ultimately helped me with my mood and lifted the fog for a short while.

So I looked further into habits. I am a great fan of Gretchen Rubin, and she’s written a book on habit keeping and understanding your personality type and how best to keep habits going.

Better than Before – Gretchen Rubin

If you can lock in a habit for 21 days then you won’t need any self-control or discipline to keep it going. I wanted a range of daily, weekly, monthly and annual habits, that would help me work with my hormone condition and remain well. To have things I do, without work, that are good for my well-being and run themselves.

Steve Jobs and Barack Obama had a habit of wearing the same thing everyday as it was one less decision to make, and gave him headspace for more important things.

I’ve worked hard to identify the motivation behind my resolution to keep habits. This is covered in my post about my ‘Who I’m becoming’ life aims, which you can read here, if you’re interested to learn more.

My habit type, identified in Gretchen Rubin’s book is that I need external accountability to keep a habit. So I’m putting on here what my habits are, what ones I want to adopt and which ones I find impossible to keep (which are in pink)

Disclaimer – mum/women-type issues discussed below!

Daily Habits:

  • Glass of water when I wake up
  • No mobile for one hour
  • Make breakfast for Mike and Isaac (husband and son)
  • Half an hour of prayer and worship
  • Ok here goes the honesty…pelvic floor exercises on app (the one I find impossible to keep, even though they take, like, one minute!)
  • Habit I’d like to add to my day and struggle to do – short physical exercises for me and Isaac for PC muscles
  • Get up and dressed
  • Brush teeth (wish I could get discipline for brushing Isaac’s at this moment…)
  • Tidy kitchen, water plants, tidy lounge
  • Check my inboxes
  • Lunch with Isaac
  • Do some work/ have some me-time (might involve watching Hollyoaks) while Isaac naps
  • Go for a walk and see a human being in the afternoon
  • Dinner with Mike and Isaac
  • Clear up dinner (if it’s my week not cooking) straight after dinner. (Sometimes do this, sometimes not, always regret it the next morning when I haven’t done it…)
  • Clear up toys with Isaac (with the most wonderful ‘Tidy Up’ song (sometimes we manage this and sometimes we don’t…)
  • Put Isaac to bed and brush his teeth
  • Collapse. No not really. Well, a little bit.
  • Do something friend/ date night/ TV (doh) based. (Although I wish I could spend this time doing more enriching things like editing my photos, baking, painting my nails – how, how to do this when you’re knackered by this point? And when I do manage it, I feel so much better for it.)
  • Do mindfulness and Examen in living room (so as not to fall asleep so easily…)
  • No phone in the bedroom. I have an alarm clock. 5 – 10 minutes reading
  • I wish I could nail the habit to brush my teeth at this point – I confess I don’t always manage this…
  • Glass of water

Weekly Habits

  • Plan my week on Sunday night (sometimes manage this, always better when I do!)
  • Phone my mum
  • Phone my closest friends
  • Do housework and a wash (who am I kidding, this is most days…)
  • Water the plants
  • Change Isaac’s sheets
  • Do work on a Friday
  • Volunteer for Mind Charity Shop
  • I wish I could go to a weekly core group to share my faith with other Christians. Hopefully sometime soon.
  • Have date night with my hubby
  • Go through my budget
  • Go through my photos on my phone
  • Do Lifemin. Hit and miss.
  • Go to Church
  • Have some time for me.

Monthly Habits

  • See my Spiritual Director
  • See my best friend
  • Have a family day with Mike and Isaac

Quarterly Habits

  • Have a work retreat day. I sometimes manage this and sometimes don’t. My business and cash flow always benefits when I do!
  • Have my hormone injection
  • Have a mini-break with Mike and Isaac
  • Go to a Theme Park to scream my head off
  • Enjoy being outside in the Seasons – i.e. bluebells, the seaside, fireworks and winter illuminations
  • Go to a gig?
  • Take part or host an art exhibition to show and sell my art
  • Go to my hormone clinic
  • Go to training events to grow my knowledge

Yearly Habits

  • Go on a hot holiday just before the busy Christmas season
  • Celebrate mine, Mike and Isaac’s birthday
  • Go and see my Dad and my step mum in France
  • Go to Spring Harvest
  • Go to the Mind and Soul Conference
  • Have my ‘Thanks’ party in grey January

Here’s the point of this blog post…

The reason I’m writing this blog post in the first place is that try as I might, I can’t ingrain the habit of doing my daily pelvic floor exercises. I don’t know why, because they only take a short while.

My motivations for wanting to nail this habit are:

  • Jumping on bouncy castles
  • Jumping on trampolines
  • Going nuts in a ball pool
  • Dancing like no-one is watching
  • Not having a ‘problem’ when I get scared or surprised or fall down a step (or trip up, let’s be honest)
  • Not having a ‘big problem’ when I have a stinking cold and am coughing all the time

Here is me doing some of my favourite things that are a lot less carefree and more difficult these days…

Bouncy Castle Habit Motivation!
Bouncy Castle Habit Motivation!
Ball Pool Habit Motivation!

So, I’ve put it out there. Said what every mum and or woman is thinking, probably. I’d love encouragement, ideas, stories etc on how I can really nail this one elusive habit!

I hope you might find something useful in this post, too.

 

Parenting Diaries: the Quest for ‘Deep Work’…

I just don’t *do* busy.

So, I am a mother of Isaac, a delightful seven-month old noisy mini-me with lots of energy, I have my own business, Joy Factory, doing marketing consultation, design and selling my art, I do mental health advocacy, I’m a business mentor, I volunteer at my church…people often ask me how do I manage to do it all. I’m not sure, but I think it might be because I’m not ‘busy‘, but ‘focused’.

Gratuitous cute picture of my son, Isaac (and my lovely hub, Mike)
Gratuitous cute picture of my son, Isaac (and my lovely hub, Mike)

I don’t do that word. I’m not being pedantic – I just believe the power our own words can have over your life. So, to me…’busy‘ is not a good state. It could mean a badge of honour, a way to feel important or successful but in my eyes it means I’d be stressed, over-worked, people pleasing and had a bout of not saying no.

What is ‘deep work‘?

So what is ‘deep work‘, then? Instead of ‘busy‘, I use the words ‘purposeful‘, or ‘focused‘ but the other day I read an article that just summed up what I’m aiming for. ‘Deep work‘ is that time where you get your head down and manage to work on projects, activities etc that align and work towards your values and mission. Not getting caught in the trap of nervously watching emails come in or social media notifications (that make your heart flutter), or going off on tangents or answering the door or phone.

Just say
Just say “no” – get more done!

Just say “no”

So how do you manage to get some deep work done? By saying “no”. All the things we say “yes” to, we are saying “no” to something we were going to do.

And we can also say “no” to ourselves. As a creative and organised person, I can easily be drawn off on tangents and do a whole host of things where I was just trying to do one, as my mind makes galloping leaps. (e.g. some thoughts from this morning… “Right, I’m just going to take these cups to the kitchen so I can finish this blog post. Oh yes, I must hoover the hall. Ah yes, those seeds on the kitchen counter there, must plant those. Ooh, only got two eggs, need some more to cook that cake…right let’s go to Waitrose…”)

If I think about my aims for that day, hour, week or even year, it focuses my thoughts and actions. It’s so easy though, to get whirled along by life, people, marketing etc etc and not manage to carve out the time to consider what actually matters. It’s so easy to just shelve that time you put aside to evaluate a work project, back up the laptop (hello, that’s me) or just have a day retreat.

But, as it says in ‘Seven Habits of Effective People‘, the most important tasks to complete are those that are ‘Important, and not urgent‘. Not…”oh the photocopier is broken, the delivery’s not come, we need more post-its” etc…those fire-fighting ones that take up the whole day somehow.

'Deep Work' - free from distraction.
‘Deep Work’ – free from distraction.

Stocking a ‘Deep work’ toolkit

So, how do I do this already? How could I do this better? Here are some thoughts and ideas:

Get things done with Evernote - free up at least an hour a day.
Get things done with Evernote – free up at least an hour a day.

Getting Things Done

My life is so much easier (and less stressful) now I use Evernote, with a ‘Getting Things Done‘ mentality. If this is new to you, then I promise implementing this system will open up at least an hour a day, and you’ll be less stressed and have more amazing ideas.

Mindfulness

It’s so important for me to take a moment or an extended amount of time out during the day, at the end of the day and periodically throughout the year to take stock, be grateful, critically review, play and make big plans. Otherwise stuff just happens to me I didn’t plan or want. I try to do just one thing at a time, and be fully present.

The power of habits, according to Gretchen Rubin.
The power of habits, according to Gretchen Rubin.

Build habits

Habit-building is something I’m doing more intentionally these days. I read the fab book, ‘Better than Before‘, by Gretchen Rubin. If you spend just twenty-one days working hard on a new habit, it will then run itself and you need no will power or self-control. I now have a strict routine each day, which includes a walk, mindfulness and even doing my Pelvic Floor exercises.

My hope is that if I got mentally ill again (heaven forbid) that these habits would continue. I realised that on even the very worst day of my life when I was depressed and anxious I still cleaned the shower screen because it’s an ingrained habit.

I hate to say it, but work ‘SMART’

I’m sure we all know this one; are our projects specific, measured, achievable, realistic and time-based? I have now made myself a checklist for my habits and also set myself some targets for the things I want to achieve, both personally, as a mother and in work.

I discovered through ‘Better than Before‘ that our success in keeping habits is determined by our personality type. I’m an ‘obliger‘, which means I can do things very easily for others, but not so much for myself. If I am accountable to someone, i.e. I say “please ask me about my pelvic floor practice, or have I been on the exercise bike, or have I had enough ‘me-time'”, I am far more likely to do these things.

Know yourself enough to say “no”

One amazing blessing that’s come from being depressed and anxious several times over the last few years has been the sharpening effect. When you’ve been through some of the worst days of your life and you come out of them, I’ve found that nothing really scares me anymore. I don’t have time to waste on toxic people, work I don’t want to do or things I don’t want to do. Life is short!

I think saying “no”, is hard because of the fear of upsetting someone or letting someone down and therefore how we will be seen by them. When you know yourself, and what you really want to do in life and what you care about, you can say “no”, politely though, with confidence. If the person is offended then a) that is their choice, their decision and their prerogative, and b) maybe I don’t need that person in my life.

Don’t chase people

So let’s say you make an invitation or offer (e.g. someone asks for a business card, you arrange to meet up with someone you don’t know very well, or you’re meeting up with someone who you are patching things up with). Then *don’t* chase it. Have some respect for yourself. Take a leaf out of ‘The Rules’. If your invitation or offer matters to the other person, they will get back to you. Then you don’t waste your time.

And lastly some random things (in no particular order of importance) I find helpful:

  • Post-its, my beloved label maker and my in-tray
  • Days off doing something I really enjoy, like Stealth!
  • Letting God into the problem
  • The Konmarie method: only keep in your life things that spark ‘joy’.
  • Google products
  • Just keeping on doing it, no matter who shows up or cares, if you believe in it then it’s worth doing
  • The Wisdom of Crowds and online forums
  • Just start, then ask for feedback, then do again (Agile project planning)

My last thought comes from my Bible study today. Time is the great leveler, we all have the same amount, we just spend it differently. I want to spend mine on the things that matter. Here’s the original article on ‘deep work’. Would love people’s thoughts and tips, please do comment.

Pregnancy and Parenting Diaries…puke, panic, perseverance and prayer.

Here is my story of my pregancy and first six months of parenting. It’s been a rollercoaster. I share this as a record for myself, to be honest about mental health illness and to shine the light on some awesome services.

So, I’ve been meaning to write this post for a very long time. Perhaps it will be like cheese or wine, it will have matured and improved with age?

Where to begin. Perhaps just under a year ago, in April 2016. I was entering my second trimester of a much prayed for and wanted pregnancy after four years of depressive and anxious episodes (due to a hormone imbalance condition) and I had weathered a dear friend disowning me, a stalker, difficult neighbours and lastly someone smashing into our car on our drive.

Oh and I might mention, Mike, my husband, being made redundant and searching and finding a new job, and moving church after 15 years…and being sick every single day. (puke)

So yeah, April 2016. Sadly I became low and anxious again. I was then ill on and off until two weeks before my son, Isaac was born, in August. I have to say, the mix of having come off all my hormone treatment and crazy pregnancy hormones, I experienced possibly the worst episode I have ever had and some of the very worst, most scary days of my life. However, over the years I have built up resilience and was able to cope to a certain level – still saw friends, still went to church, got up and dressed every day and made all my appointments. (panic)

Panic monster is coming to get you
Panic monster is coming to get you

Some things that happened in that third trimester and after the birth that weren’t particularly helpful or good:

I was referred to the mental health team and was diagnosed but could not access any therapy (which I desperately needed). I was stuck going around and around some MC Escher endless staircase where I was lead from psychiatrists to mental health services to doctors and back again.

Going round and round the mental health system...
Going round and round the mental health system…

I had appalling administration for my prenatal care (although the midwives themselves were awesome) like not being shown through my yellow folder, not followed through with the Jade team (mental health), sent to wrong hospitals, sent wrong dates, kept waiting for hours…I have forgotten a lot of it as it was so awful (although I suspect Mike remembers only too well.)

I got wrongly diagnosed with gestational diabetes (because I was highly anxious during the test) and had to prick my fingers and monitor my levels every day…not a great combo with obsessive anxiety and panic attacks. And Mike lost hundreds of pounds of consultancy pay having to come to loads of unnecessary appointments.

After being well for two weeks before Isaac’s birth (with the most bonkers nesting thing) and a brilliant hypnobirthing birth (genuinely no pain), sadly I got Postpartum Psychosis and ended up in a mother and baby unit called Coombewood for three months, on and off.

But it wasn’t all bad.

Me and Mike are out the other side of a very difficult, challenging time having grown stronger as individuals and as a couple. We are forming a Christian ministry around mental health that would never have materialised if it wasn’t for our experiences.

I have built resilience through some very testing times. I grew reliant on watching my negative talk, daily prayer, mindful activities like jigsaws, walks, seeing friends, making things and doing things I enjoy. And actually, the most mindful thing in the world is Isaac. Even at my worst, when I was at Coombewood, the love for him shone through the black fog of mental illness and I was able to care for him, even though every action was like wading through tar. (perseverance)

Gotta hang on...
Gotta hang on…

We had the most awesome, overwhelming, love-conquering support from family and friends. I am certain there were tens of dozens of folk praying and thinking of us every day. We were given home-cooked meals after Isaac was born. Friends came over with food, took Mike out to support him, phoned, texted, visited, sent thoughtful gifts. Great queues of people came to visit me at Coombewood.

I had some amazing times of prayer and grew in my faith, having to rely on God like never before. Even Isaac’s name is a blessing and promise. ‘Isaac Caleb’ means laughter warrior, and if you’ve met Isaac, I think you would agree he’s a little bit of a joyful and happy chappie! (prayer)

My laughter warrior, Isaac
My laughter warrior, Isaac

I am loving being a mum to Isaac. He is a total delight. He sleeps so well and is such a happy, smiley, chatty little boy. I have made some wonderful new friends, learnt to be even more mindful through adapting to Isaac’s time, not squeezing him into mine. I love reading to him, staring at him, chatting to him, showing him off and going on adventures together.

And lastly, but not least – the amazing Coombewood Mother and Baby unit. Mike and I simply don’t know what we would have done without the blessing of this place and the amazing staff there. Mike would have had to defer our course to care for me and Isaac. The nurses there taught us how to look after our little boy, while they looked after me. It always felt a safe and homely place to be, full of encouragement and hope.

The wonderful staff at Coombewood Mother and Baby Unit
The wonderful staff at Coombewood Mother and Baby Unit

I am aiming to crowdfund £500 (an amazing £220 raised so far) to help Coombewood to fit out their breastfeeding room. Well, it was the milk room and is now the place where mums breastfeed, but it has odd chairs, bleak walls and isn’t exactly made for relaxing breastfeeding at the moment. I want to give them money to kit out the room.

So…if you’ve been moved, or can identify with this story, or are grateful for the care Coombewood gave Isaac and me, then please do donate anything you can to help hit the target. After all, mental health illness affects one in four people (one in three women) so it’s likely you or someone you know has, is or will be affected.

If you want to, then go here. Thank you.

 

 

 

A Christian walked into ‘The Book of Mormon’. Was challenged, not offended…

Oh yay, the missionaries have landed in the Book of Mormon.
A Christian walked into the ‘Book of Mormon.’ Was challenged, not offended.

What did I, a Christian of 15 years, think about ‘The Book of Mormon‘? Should I have been there in the first place? Am I going to burn in hell? *wink*

Not offended, but challenged.

A few years ago a colleague at the marketing organisation I worked at *helpfully* warned me to never go and see ‘The Book of Mormon‘. He thought I would be way too offended as a “religious person”. For one, I hate the term “religious” (mmm, maybe for another post?) And two, I don’t like people presuming things about me based on an assumption. I swore one day I would go and see it and decide for myself.

Yesterday, thanks to some theatre ticket funds from my lovely ma-in-law, I got to go.

I’ve seen and love ‘Team America‘ so I was ready to laugh a lot (a friend even said go to the loo first!)…but I was not expecting to be choked to tears.

Disclaimer…A few show spoilers follow and some working musings in how I can be a better real-er Christian, read on or not…your choice.

Too good to be true?

In the show, Mormon Elders Kevin and Arnold get sent on mission to Uganda. They have been set targets to baptise souls but they find a community disillusioned with God because of Aids and poverty; they even sing them a *lovely* song about it. Their village is terrorised by a war lord who is threatening to circumcise the women. They don’t see what God can do for them.

Kevin and Arnold greenly tell the villagers the story of their Mormon faith and the promised land of Saltlake City (in the form of song…of course.)

As they finish, the War Lord turns up and shoots someone dead as a warning. I jumped out of my seat. I was not expecting that. Next, the scene that got me. A lady from the village sits alone and sings about Saltlake City, a place she hopes the villagers could go to to escape their living hell.  She swears to listen to the Mormons to find out how she could go to this place.

Unexpected tears.

Why? Well, she’d bought into a promise that the Mormons themselves weren’t even sure about. She heard a promise of a real place where they could escape. What hit me between the eyes is what good is sharing my faith unless it is backed up by action? These young Mormons are not paying for a plane ticket for the whole community to America, are they?

What good is my story of my belief in Jesus unless it makes a difference? I am here, as a Christian, to be God’s hands and feet, to do what Jesus did – champion underdogs, fight for justice, heal people in His name, overturn the corruption of the rich and heartless and be servant-hearted. Not, be like Kevin, proudly singing of “doing something incredible”,  marking up baptisms on a chart and receiving medals!

Bad Sales

The villagers go on to be baptised, believing this is their ticket out of Uganda and to a better life. They’ve been sold a pack of lies, made up by Elder Arnold. The Mormons sing triumphantly that the villagers may be African, but they are Africa. Just like a creepy sales person who gets overly hyped up over a sale and then their aftercare is atrocious.

Can bad and pushy evangelism be like bad sales?
Can bad and pushy evangelism be like bad sales?

Then when everything unravels and the truth comes out, the villagers realise there is no ticket to Saltlake City. The senior Mormons order all the missionaries to leave and declare the mission a failure, despite the requests of Kevin and Arnold to stay and help the villagers rebuild their lives. What the hell does that say to the villagers about God? How often can Christians treat people they meet as projects until it gets real and real work and sacrifice is required? I’m not going to try to answer the huge “Why does God allow suffering” question as I don’t want to give some trite answer here but I will say Christians are meant to be here to put right what is wrong in the world and certainly in this story context to help those in dire need caused by war or climate change.

The challenge…why should anyone believe me?

The show ends drawing the conclusion that religion is insincere, full of convenient lies, hypocritical and irrelevant. In my work, I tell my clients to try and think of their target market’s objections and barriers. Here are some right here to faith. How do I live out my faith and show God’s love without people dismissing me the same way? It has to be about what I do. It doesn’t matter what people say but their actions.

Live out faith with acts, not words.
Live out faith with acts, not words.

In the Bible, James, Jesus’ brother, says and I paraphrase, “When people ask you why you’re joyful, tell them why”. To put it another way, in the context of this story,  “When you come to Uganda and build new schools, and people ask you why, tell them”. Not swan in like superstars, say some stuff, then leave.

I guess what I’m saying is that I can only share my faith with people I’ve lived alongside, heard their needs and tried to help. My business mission statement is, “Carry on being a game changer…changing people’s minds one person at a time.” People have their free choice and all I can do is *be* a witness, the best I can, where I am.

Well, that’s where I’ve got on this. Hope I haven’t offended anyone; these are purely my musings about what I can do. Please do comment below etc.