Monthly Archives: June 2013

Discover Why.

Uncover Your Why
{ via Aeipathy }

I’ve fallen off the (simplicity) wagon.

I will tell anyone who cares to listen how wonderful a simpler life can be, and I believe that to be completely true. But lately I’ve been making life far more complicated than it needs to be. And it shows.

My priorities are screwed up. My head is fuzzy. The spring in my step has gone.

I have looked for reasons not to play with my kids. I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the daily tasks of keeping a home and family. I’ve lost my creative spark.

I’ve lost clarity.

Our reasons are ours alone.

Our Why, our reasons, our priorities, are just that – ours. Each of us will have different motivations. And that’s why it’s so important to know, “Why am I doing this? What is my life really about?”

I want to give my energy, my time and my space to:

  • family
  • relationships
  • health
  • adventure and travel
  • creativity
  • contentment

And what I stand to gain by doing that is abundantly clear to me.

But I’ve lost focus, and for the longest time couldn’t work out why. But I think I’ve uncovered it.

I’ve fallen into the habit of working on life, that I have neglected to go and live.

I need to remind myself there is time for both.

If we didn’t have work, purpose, tasks, chores and responsibilities, would the weekends, down-time and holidays feel as sweet? No, I don’t think so.

There is a time and place for work, for creating a better life, for play and for rest. The important thing is to make the space and time for living, playing and resting. And then actually live, play and rest. Otherwise the work we put in to creating a simpler life is wasted.

To do this we need to uncover our own Why.

7 questions to uncover your Why.

Give these questions some real thought, and spend a little time writing your answers down.

Ask yourself:

  1. Who are the most important people in your life?
  2. What experiences are most important to you?
  3. Looking back at your life, what do you want to see? What do you want others to see?
  4. Imagine a perfect day. Describe your surroundings, your feelings, your attitude. What is in common with your current life?
  5. What about your current life doesn’t feature at all?
  6. If you had a simpler life, what positive things could you move towards?
  7. What negative things could you move away from?

These questions are for me as much as anyone, and I really hope they help us find some clarity when it’s most needed.

 

I’m currently reading Steven Pressfield’s War of Art (which is fantastic, by the way) and he tells us the thing we are most resisting is the thing we really should do. With that in mind, which of these questions do you really not want to answer? 

For me, it’s number three.

Facing Up to Sentimentality

{ via Tiny Buddha }

“Ordinary riches can be stolen, real riches cannot. In your soul are infinitely precious things that cannot be taken from you.”

— Oscar Wilde

I've been delivered some pretty firm e-smackdowns when writing about sentimental items before. I've upset a few people and lost a few readers. And I'm OK with that because not everyone has the same ideas about sentiment, emotion and stuff. And sometimes people aren't ready to think too deeply on their attachment to particular sentimental items. Both of those is perfectly OK.

I used to struggle to let go of artwork, birthday cards, ribbons, concert tickets, travel documents and gifts because I thought the memory of the person, the time, the place or the celebration was in that item. I worried that if I let it go, the memory would disappear and I would somehow care less.

But I've discovered (and continue to discover) that the memory is in us. Old photos or a memento from a trip can help us recall the memory, but the memory is still there. The question I ask of myself is,

“If I was living life more mindfully (ie. paying attention) would I need to have my memory jogged?”

I think the answer is probably yes, because life is busy and time passes quickly. But surely, if we paid more attention to the things happening in front of us, the people we love, the memories we're making, wouldn't our reliance on sentimental stuff lessen?

I'm not here to tell you to give away your grandmother's pearls or your child's first lock of hair. But I do have three questions for you to ask yourself when faced with the task of decluttering sentimental items.

Asking these questions means you are doing what's right for you and your life, rather than following a set of rules. It also means tackling the sentimental stuff takes longer and is more emotionally draining than decluttering, say, the kitchen drawers or wardrobes. So be patient with yourself. Take time. Don’t let go of certain things if you are really having trouble with it.

You know the best answers for your own life. Sometimes that means going with your gut. Sometimes it means being brave.

Before You Begin

Choose a very small area to start. Perhaps you could work through:

  • one storage box of keepsakes
  • a shelf of knick-knacks
  • a cupboard of old toys or clothes from your grown-up children

Everyone has (or used to have) a place in their home like this. Somewhere that tugs at the heart strings when you think of it.

So pick your spot, grab a garbage bag, a recycle bag and a donate box. And simply start.

Three Questions to Ask Yourself

For each item you pick up, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does this item mean something to me?

Often we keep things because we think we “should”. Or because it is representative of good times, fun holidays, our now-grown children, or people we love. But does the actual item, the thing you’re holding in your hand mean something to you?

If not (and you may be surprised by how many of these things do not mean anything on close inspection) then the decision to remove it from your home should be simple. Decide whether to donate it or throw it away.

 

2. What emotion does this item bring out?

If you've decided the item does mean something to you, then ask yourself what emotion you feel upon holding it.

Study that emotion for a moment.

What is it? Why do you feel it?

Would you still feel that emotion without the physical item? (If yes, then your decision has again been made. Decide to donate or throw away.)

Do you have multiple items that rouse the same emotion? What if you kept one or two that are truly meaningful, instead of keeping everything as a blanket reaction?

If there is no strong emotional attachment, then again, you can more easily decide to remove it from your home.

 

3. Would I display the item in my home?

We all keep things that we wouldn’t display in our home. And it’s not my intention to have you remove everything that you wouldn’t hang on the wall. But asking yourself this question forces you again to really examine why you’re holding on to the item and what the item itself means to you.

If you wouldn’t display it, then really examine your reasons for keeping it. (Remember, there is no right or wrong here. But the intention is to pare down and simplify these sentimental things.)

 

Once you’ve asked yourself these questions and decided whether to keep the item, donate it or throw it away – you can let go and be proud.

Let go of the guilt of removing it from your home.

Let go of the weight of the thing you are keeping.

Be proud that you are surrounding yourself and your loved ones with things that are truly meaningful.

 

If You’re Really Struggling…

If you’re really having difficulties letting go, you can box up the firm maybes, write the date on the box and 6 months later, if you haven’t missed or needed anything in the box, donate it, unopened.

(Avoid this if possible though – you are more likely to hold on to things unnecessarily if you know there is a second-chance rule.)

 

There is no easy way to declutter and simplify sentimental items, but these questions should help as you move through your storage. Also know that it does get easier. As you begin to feel lighter and happier in your newly simplified home, it will not be so difficult to let go of things.

And if you’re struggling, please let me know in the comments or via email. It’s hard, and I’ve been there!

 

Letting Go of Being Good

 

As I spat out a mouthful of snow, I realised my nose was bleeding.

“Are you alright? That was a crazy fall.”

Assuring the friendly skier I was OK, I managed to smile, limp to the end of the run and find my way to the bathroom. Where I promptly burst into hot, embarrassed tears. My face hurt, my hip hurt, my knee hurt and man, my pride hurt.

But let's backtrack a moment…

 

In 2004, Ben and I lived in Canada. We got jobs on a ski hill in Banff and were so excited. It was going to be awesome!

There was the small problem of never having seen snow before, and being completely incapable of skiing or snowboarding – a requirement of the job – but that was a mere trifle. No big deal. Until I realised snowboarding was hard and I sucked at it.

And instead of resolving to learn and improve my snowboarding skills over time, I slipped into envy, resentment and fear. Turns out I had a very low threshold for being bad at things.

“Those people, sliding around the mountain with their grace and ability. Pfft. They probably grew up on the mountain. It must be easy for them. I'll just sit here drinking my coffee. Who needs this anyway? Stupid sport with stupid boards and stupid skills.”

The Problem With Perfectionism

For as long as I could remember, in almost every aspect of my life, I'd worshipped perfection. I'd gone after it and expected nothing less of myself. Any results beneath excellent were unsatisfactory.

I expected mastery before I'd started my apprenticeship. I expected great results without putting in the work.

The problem is – you don't get good without practicing, experiencing, failing, doing, falling, sucking, learning and getting back up.

Letting Go of Being Good

No-one got good at snowboarding while sitting on their arse drinking coffee. Yet that's where you would find me on my break. Watching everyone else slide by, in control, with easy grace, smoothly shifting their knees and feet to get where they wanted to go.

I was envious and arrogant. I assumed it was easy for them. That for some reason it came naturally for other people. I conveniently ignored the fact that “these people” may have practiced for years or grown up on the mountains. Who knows? And really, who cares? I still wasn't learning anything by sitting around sulking.

So I got up. Strapped on my board. Promptly fell over. Got up again and started moving. Then I kept moving. Adjusted my stance. Worked out what worked and what didn't. (For the record, straightening your knees doesn't work. See bloodied nose above.)

Getting Good – Over Time

In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell tells us we need to spend 10,000 hours working at a skill or craft before we can master it. While I don't necessarily agree with the specifics of his theory, I can appreciate – as can my bloodied nose – that we need to give ourselves time.

Time to fail, to try new things, to learn each of the small parts of a particular skill, to assess our performance, to fall down, to get back up again. Time to complete our apprenticeship step by step.

Can you imagine how different we would feel if we stopped putting pressure on ourselves to become immediate masters? How free we would feel to experiment, to try, to fail, to start again?

Parenting: No-one knows how to be a parent straight away. Even if the instinctive response of caring for our young comes very naturally, the approaches to dealing with toddlers, preschoolers, tweens and teens? Notsomuch. Parenting is a learnt skill, and one that constantly changes.

Creative Work: Van Gogh wasn't born a master. Neither was Brian Wilson, Neil Young or Tim Winton. Before we'd ever heard of them, they'd tried, failed and studied. And they haven't (or didn't) stop learning. You can apply this to your writing, singing, poetry, painting or weaving. We all start at the beginning.

Running A Household: Moving out of home, getting married, starting a family – these are huge shifts in circumstance, and expecting ourselves to know how to do it all without any experience is simply setting ourselves up to fail. Give yourself grace and time.

Sports: Kelly Slater works hard at his mastery, and would have been wiped out as a learner just as much as you or I. He didn't become the best surfer in the world by giving up and heading in. You probably won't ever be the best runner, basketballer, swimmer or jujitsu-lady in the world, but giving yourself over to learning the craft over time means you will become as good as you can.

Living an Intentional Life: No-one can turn their life from hectic to calm overnight, and to expect such a dramatic change will lead to resentment, anger and the likelihood of slipping backwards. Instead, harness the power of small changes over time.

Pack Away Expectations

What if we put away our expectations? What if we said, “I will not be perfect at this. Ever. I might get good at it, but in the meantime, I'm probably going to suck.”

It's OK to strive for great things. It's wonderful to have goals and aspirations and dreams. But giving ourselves grace while we learn (and we are always learning) is one way to stop worshipping at the altar of perfection, and instead start experiencing life.

As for me and my snowboard?

By the end of the season, I was good. Blue-run good at least. Black-run…shaky. And moguls? Forget about it.

What I do remember is our last day on the mountain. I won the day off in a lottery and spent hours riding, laughing, falling down, still not being excellent. The last run of the day was sloppy – the May sunshine beating down – but it was excellent. I was controlled, aware, carving and I felt free and exhilarated.

Just think, I would never have had that moment – the moment I can still feel nearly 10 years on – had I given up. The bloodied noses, broken sunglasses, frustration and embarassment have faded, but the memory remains.

 

Do you allow yourself to be bad at things? Or do you expect greatness immediately?

 

Finding Mindful Moments in A Busy Life

Finding Mindful Moments in a Busy Life

Editor’s Note: This is a post from guest contributor Katy Tynan of Big Little Living.

 

I am not patient.

Most days I wake up with a long list of things to do – most of us do. I hurry up and get ready for work and then I sit in traffic. I write emails, meet deadlines, go to meetings and then hurry home to meet my son at the bus. My ability to pack a day full of stuff can be an asset. It helps me get my job done, and that pays the bills. But sometimes I get ahead of myself. Sometimes I worry so much about what’s next that I forget to look at what’s right now.

And then a moment of peace and stillness comes creeping into my busy life. It settles down on my busy-ness. It covers up my worry. It makes a little space to breathe.

These moments of calm come right in the middle of my busy, hurrying day. They come when I remember to breathe. They come when I remember, even in my office, that tonight the sun will set over the apple orchards. When I remember that right now as I sit in traffic, somewhere the waves are gently lapping at the shore.

If not for all the busy-ness, I’m not sure I would appreciate these moments of peace that slip in between the cracks. I imagine mindful people sitting quietly in the middle of empty, minimalist spaces with the sound of trickling water in the background. I never imagined I could find it in the middle of my busy days.

A lot of mindful moments come when I’m with my son. He sees the small things. He takes his time. And he draws my attention to things I wouldn’t ordinarily even notice.

Finding Mindful Moments in a Busy Life

He moves so fast and yet he sees so much because there is so very much to see. The world is full of tiny beauty; fragile, fascinating moments that exist whether we notice them or not.

“I realized then that a man who had lived only one day could easily live for a hundred years in prison. He would have enough memories to keep him from being bored.”

— Albert Camus

I thought I was going to teach him how to appreciate the world but he teaches me. On his hands and knees in puddles of mud, filled with the thrill of discovery, he discovers what matters. He sees the details and brings them up into the light.

Finding Mindful Moments in a Busy Life

He reminds me that sometimes it’s ok to be late to a meeting or miss a day of work because we need to stop and appreciate the world; that fun and beauty and discovery don’t necessarily happen on a schedule or in an orderly fashion.

“Life moves pretty fast and if you don’t take the time to stop and look around you might miss it.”

— Ferris Bueller

Finding Mindful Moments in a Busy Life

Sometimes I think about what it would be like to have nothing to do. How would life be if my days were empty and unscripted? Do I need the rush to appreciate the peace? Do I need the schedule in order to have the fun of skipping it for a day? Because I think the answer is yes, I am as grateful for the chaos and the schedule and the work as I am for the quiet moments in between.

In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain described the ideal balance that every person has – as unique as a fingerprint – of perfect stimulation. Too much and we are overwhelmed. Too little and we are bored. We are all seeking that perfect state – some days we find it and other days we don’t. But every day is a new day to try again.

 

About Katy Tynan:
Katy is an author and leadership consultant from Boston, Massachusetts. She blogs on how to live a big, happy life at Big Little Living. You can also connect with Katy on Twitter.


The Beautiful Benefits of Being an Early Riser

The Beautiful Benefits to Being an Early Riser

I used to be Queen of the Snooze Button.

BEEP, BEEP… Slap.

Just five more minutes… I was up late last night.

BEEP, BEEP… Slap.

Roll over. Chastise myself.

BEEP, BEEP. Slap.

Oh well, damage done. May as well sleep in til my 'real wake-up time'.

 

Does that sound familiar to you? Do you want to wake earlier but find yourself hitting snooze every morning?

I have by no means perfected the art of rising early, but more mornings than not you will find me up and out of bed between 4:30 and 5:00am.

I don't say that to brag. In fact, the only reason I first began waking early was because I was losing my mind at the lack of alone time during my days and evenings. But the habit has stuck and the benefits are beautiful.

For example, I'm currently sitting on the lounge, hot coffee next to me, sun yet to peek over the horizon. And it's quiet. So lovely and quiet. Some mornings I sit outside and listen to the day unfold. Other times I spend 20 minutes sitting cross-legged on the lounge, emptying my mind. I may plan my day, read a book or work on a writing project.

Whatever I find myself doing in the early hours, I do it for me. And while I feel like a selfish jerk even writing those words, I know that I am a better parent, wife, daughter and friend if I get time to myself every day. Over time, it's become a non-negotiable.

It's not always easy to get up, especially now during winter, and if I'm short on sleep or feeling burnt out, I happily let sleep back in. It's all about sitting comfortably in my rhythm rather than forcing a routine on to myself, and it works for me. But the benefits make it worthwhile – which is often all I need to rememeber when I'm tempted to hit the snooze button.

Beautiful Benefits to Rising Early

Waking at sparrows means you can experience any number of beautiful things. You can:

  • watch the sun rise
  • enjoy the quiet, uninterrupted time
  • work on a project for an hour or two before the day has begun
  • work on a hobby
  • exercise in the morning air
  • listen to the birdsong
  • relish the fact that the day has started on your terms
  • meditate, pray or practice mindfulness
  • enjoy the simple pleasure of a tea or coffee
  • be up, dressed and ready for the day before the rest of the house wakes

 

Tips on Rising Early

1. Choose to adjust gradually, or do it suddenly.

Leo Babauta recently wrote a helpful guide on becoming an early riser. He suggests a gradual shift of 10-15 minutes every few days until you reach your ideal wake-up time. This means you're less likely to suffer from exhaustion or hitting the snooze button repeatedly.

This gradual approach may work perfectly for you. But when I started waking early I simply set my alarm for 4:30am and got up. If I was going to hit the snooze button and drag my feet, I'd do it at any time of the morning. So I just jumped right in.

2. Make yourself get out of bed.

I use my iPad as my alarm. Leaving it to charge overnight means it's on the other side of the room, so when the alarm goes off (quietly enough not to wake anyone else) I jump out of bed to turn it off as quickly as possible. Sometimes I get back into bed if I'm feeling particularly tired, but otherwise I move into my morning rhythm.

3. Go to bed earlier.

Lately I've slipped into a bad habit of going to bed a little later. Sparky and I have been enjoying some Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones once the kids are in bed, and the hour less sleep is showing – mostly under my eyes.

7-8 hours sleep is what I aim for, which means I need to be in bed by 9:30. Usually I am so tired that getting in to bed by then shouldn't be a problem, but I really look forward to the time I get to spend with Ben and it's so easy to get pulled later in to the evening.

Establish how much sleep you need to function well and work backwards. What's your bedtime goal? Then aim to meet it every night for a week and see how you feel.

4. Have a good reason to get up.

I get up for the quiet and I get up to write. Both of those things are important to me, so I am excited to wake up in the mornings. (Usually.)

If you need added motivation to get out of bed earlier, have something to look forward to or a particular reason for getting up. Be it exercise, a hot coffee on the back deck, reading a book uninterrupted, yoga, a warm shower… Whatever it is that sparks a little fire in your belly – make that your reason to get up early. Trust me, it helps on those chilly mornings.

 

Waking early has given me so much. Without the early starts I wouldn't have written my book and I would still be feeling resentful at the lack of alone time I get during the day. Instead, I took matters into my own hands, set the alarm and found a whole list of beautiful reasons to rise early. Now if I could just get our kids to sleep through the night…

 

Tell me, are you an early riser? Or do you prefer the night hours?