Monthly Archives: October 2013

Gradually, Then Suddenly.

What to do when you find yourself suddenly struggling.

 

“How did I get to this point?”

I asked myself this question repeatedly as I drove to my parents’ house in a state of utter exhaustion. My young daughter was strapped in the back seat, my pregnant belly pushing against the steering wheel, tears streaming down my face.

I was done. I had nothing left to give. How did I get here?

Gradually, then suddenly.

With eternal gratitude to Hemingway, three simple words so elegantly summarise how I ended up in a situation I didn’t want or expect.

“How did you go bankrupt?”

“Gradually, then suddenly.”

~ Ernest Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises)

It happened so gradually, almost imperceptibly. And then suddenly, unequivocally, shockingly, I snapped.

Looking back, I can see that I had willingly immersed myself in anxiety, perfectionism, comparisons, sleep-deprivation, a lack of mindfulness, poor health, and the idea that I deserved more from life.

Gradually, these things took their toll. Until suddenly I found myself in a very frightening place.

This gradual, then sudden decline is not reserved for dramatic breakdowns. It’s not reserved for high-achievers, or emotionally sensitive people.

We each face sudden declines. Moments where we realise what we’ve been neglecting, treating poorly, or taking for granted. It could be our:

  • Health – the moment we step on the scales, try to walk three flights of stairs, or look at a recent photo.
  • Addictions – the moment we realise we cannot cut ties to a substance, emotion, or person.
  • Debt – the moment we are brave enough to look at our credit card statement, answer the debt collector’s phone call, or realise we’re living beyond our means.
  • Clutter – the moment we realise how materialistic we’ve become, how much money has been spent on stuff, or how entitled our children are.
  • Time – the moment we realise we’ve watched more than sixty days worth of television in a year, the months are passing with little to show for it, or the reflection in the mirror is ten years older than we remember.
  • Relationships – the moment we realise we haven’t spoken to our best friend in months, seen our grandmother since Christmas, or played CandyLand with our kids.

Either we’ve stopped paying attention to what’s important, or we’ve decided that not knowing the truth of our situation is preferable to seeing the reality.

Unfortunately for us, there will come a moment when things snap back into focus. And that moment will build gradually and arrive suddenly, leaving us reeling.

Turn It Around by Embracing What Matters

Just like the decline, the ascent will be gradual.

When my husband picked me up from my parents’ house that evening three years ago, we drove home in silence. Our daughter was sleeping peacefully in the back seat and I felt relief. That night’s rest was the first uninterrupted sleep I’d had in years.

Over time, I have turned things around. I am happier, healthier, more engaged, and more content than I have ever been.

As I realised my life had been one big, precarious balancing act, I began to see what was and was not important.

Establish Priorities

I took the time to work out what truly mattered. Once I removed the expectations, the comparisons and the thought that I “deserved more from life” it was quite simple to see what my priorities were.

My husband and children, love, creativity, health, spirituality, joy and beauty. And importantly, making the time, space, and energy to experience each of these fully.

Your priorities are likely very different to mine. But ask yourself, “If I took away the expectations, comparisons, and entitlement, what would be most important to me? Where do my priorities lie?”

Embrace Mindfulness

Initially, embracing mindfulness and really engaging with my family, friends, and work was terrifying. What if I was lacking? What if I didn’t like what I saw? What if they didn’t like what they saw?

Over time I discovered there is so much more to experience in life by practicing mindfulness. Taking the time to engage in fierce and real conversations, to notice the exact shade of lavender in a sunset, to be completely in the moment. There is depth and joy right there.

Care for Your Self

I long neglected my own health—both physical and mental. But as I started my ascent I began to see huge benefits to time spent on myself.

Counselling, time spent alone, eating clean foods, drinking less alcohol, sleeping more, exercising regularly, rising early—these changes all assisted my ascent.

When you are unwell or in poor health, you can’t fully engage with those people and things that matter. Too much of your energy will go towards simply getting through the day. So ask yourself, “What is one thing I can change today that will help improve my health?”

Find Contentment

Learning to be content with my circumstance has helped me live a far more meaningful life. Finding contentment has brought peace and gratitude and happiness, where for years there had been none.

I no longer feel like I deserve more from life. I know I can work towards goals and dreams – and I do, every day – but I no longer feel entitled to them. It’s incredibly liberating.

If you can find contentment in where you are right now, the pressure, the anxiety, and the stress of needing to be more simply disappears, leaving you free to pursue your goals and dreams from a place of peace and acceptance.

Don’t Wait

Don’t wait until you hit the sudden decline. The beauty of it is that you can choose to turn it around today.

 

The full version of this post was published Tiny Buddha in July 2013. 

4 Reasons to Stop Unhealthy Comparisons

4 Reasons to Stop Unhealthy Comparisons

This is a post from guest contributor Mike Burns of The Other Side of Complexity.

If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume a few things are true about you:

  • You want to live and love well.
  • You want to avoid being “too busy” and “too tired”.
  • You want to spend your time on the right things.
  • You prioritize relationships over “stuff”.
  • You want to eliminate the unnecessary so you can’t focus on what’s most important.

Me, too.

I have found that there are LOTS of people JUST LIKE US who want to grow in these areas.

So, we read books and blogs in pursuit of motivation. We encounter multiple voices with tips, tricks and ideas. Many of them are actually REALLY good.

However, there’s a danger. If we’re not careful, we will begin to compare ourselves to other people in unhealthy ways.

You know what I mean…

You read about that family that has a dozen kids and only 100 possessions.

They make their own gluten-free food from their community garden, and eat on beautiful plates that they fashioned from salvaged materials and painted to perfection.

Their hearts are big and their carbon footprint is small. Their hair is always perfect and the kids look like elementary fashion models.

One of the parents effortlessly writes brilliant, 500-word posts on their blog twice a week and it provides full-time income for the family so they can spend their days playing with the kids and uploading images to Instagram.

You begin to wonder… “How do they do it?”… “Why doesn’t my life look like that?”

Obviously, I’m exaggerating. But you get the picture.

We read stories of other people’s lives and we feel like we could never compare. It can be frustrating.

In those moments, you have to remember this: You are the only one who lives your specific, unique life.

Don’t be unfair to yourself and compare yourself to people with different circumstances. Learn from them, but pursue your passions with your resources!

When you’re in the process of simplifying your life, you have to take some time to consider your expectations.

Seriously… What do you expect from yourself?

  • Is it realistic?
  • Is it even possible?
  • Is it in line with your passions and goals?
  • Is it actually someone else’s expectation that you have assumed for yourself?
  • Are you sabotaging your confidence with unattainable or unnecessary ideals?

Unhealthy comparisons hinder us from living the life we want to live. They limit our ability to be all that we could and should be in our relationships and work.

 

4 Reasons to Stop Unhealthy Comparisons:

1. Your circumstances are different!

I know… It’s pretty obvious, huh? But it needs to be said. We all need to be reminded that our circumstances don’t match the other person’s.

You have to consider your options, not someone else’s.

  • How much time do YOU have available?
  • What are YOUR passions?
  • What is the best choice for YOUR situation?
  • What makes the most sense for how YOUR friends and family respond?

When you choose to give yourself to something, other things go undone. You have to choose carefully what you leave undone. Some things just don’t matter as much as others.

2. There is always more to the story.

When you read or hear about other people, you’re only seeing small bits of their lives.

Every picture isn’t perfect. Every moment isn’t captured.

I’m not trying to be cynical or negative. I just want you to know that all of us are made out of the same stuff. We all have challenges and bad days. Realizing this can be freeing!

We all have limited capacity. There are only so many options to consider. Every decision means unchosen options. Every choice to do one thing, is a choice not to do something else.

So, every person you read about or look up to has to say “No” to something in order to say “Yes” to the thing you’re seeing on their blog.

3. You have to consider timing.

When you have kids in the house, things are different. I’m not making excuses. I’m just trying to be honest. It’s harder to keep the house clean. It’s harder to keep everything in its rightful place. It’s harder to maintain restful rhythms. It’s harder to be clutter-free. Not impossible…just harder.

There…I said it.

But harder doesn’t mean I have to surrender to complexity.

Regardless of our circumstances, we can all take steps to simplify our life and make it simpler than it used to be.

It may be that you have to have slightly lower expectations than you would normally have. You might not be able to only possess 100 items. You may not be able to live in a 300 square foot house.

You may have to say, “Yes, but later.” Right now, other things are more important.

4. You need to focus on YOUR opportunities!

You’re capable of more than you think you are. You have SO much opportunity before you.

When we spend all of our time and energy comparing ourselves to others, we have very little time and energy left to spend on what we SHOULD be doing.

We’re focusing on what we can’t control, rather than what we can.

Perhaps you’ve surrendered to the clutter. You just don’t think you can make progress. You’ve set the bar too low.

To you, I say, “You can do this.”

You may feel like you don’t have the time or energy or ability or confidence to tackle the clutter and live a focused life. Oh, yes you can!

Don’t be content to let your life pass by while you only make excuses. We all have them.

You have potential. You have the gift of this day. You can do something!

 

Are you maintaining unhealthy comparisons? How is it affecting you? What do you need to do to adjust so you can focus on YOUR opportunities?

 

Mike Burns writes about simplicity, family life and clutter-free living at the other side of complexity. He is also the author of three excellent simple living e-books. You can connect with him on Twitter (@mikemikeburns) and Facebook

Digital Sabbatical

So I have a secret to share.

With the upcoming release of Romper, I’m struggling a little under the pressure of trying to do too much.

And that isn’t really walking the simplicity walk, is it?

So rather than risk being a hypocrite, I have decided to take a 2-week digital break. I won’t be answering email, tweets or Facebook messages. In fact, I won’t be checking any of them until Monday 11th November.

But when I get back, I have something really, really exciting to share with you. (And it’s all about how you can get involved with Romper before it launches to the world).

So, in advance, I’m sorry if you need to talk to me. I promise, I will be back soon.

Brooke xx

PS. I have scheduled some excellent posts for the coming two weeks, so you probably won’t even know I’m gone!

In Defence of an Ordinary Life

In Defence of an Ordinary Life

When my grandfather died six years ago, my dad gave the eulogy at his funeral. In a beautiful address, he shared details of Pop’s life – his upbringing, his faith and his family. Some of it I’d heard before but much of it was new to me.

My Dad then shared something with the friends and family gathered in the church. He said there was no fanfare about his Dad, no drama, no huge success story and no enormous wealth. Instead, he was a man who held his family close, loved a good story, and believed in the benefit of hard work. He was devoted to his wife and together they lived a life of goodness, simplicity, passion and faith. They were surrounded by friends who loved them, family who cherished them and a community who supported them.

“Dad lived an ordinary life. But he lived it in an extraordinary way.”

He had lived an ordinary life – family, work, friends – these were the cornerstones. But he was content. He was happy. He was kind. He was supportive. He was loving. He valued the simple things in life. And he was loved.

 

Ordinary is Not Boring or Weak.

We are so often told to go big, be bold, live larger, dream higher, be extraordinary… And that to be anything else is to be selling ourselves short.

But amidst the noise of advertising telling us we can break free of ordinariness if only we, “Buy that dress! Have that house! Take that holiday!” there is an argument for an ordinary life. A life of deep relationships and love, of giving to others, to your community. A life where you have the time and the energy to be fully present in the lives of your partner, your kids, your friends, your work.

There is value in a life lived quietly, full of contentment, love, play, friends and family.

 

What About Dreams? Goals? Aspirations?

Having dreams and goals – even extraordinary ones – isn’t counter to living an ordinary life.

Dreams are wonderful. Sparky and I dream of travelling with our kids, introducing them to the world, experiencing new people and places.

But before we can find happiness in living those dreams, we need to recognise that life is ordinary and to find happiness in that.

If you can’t find joy and contentment in your day-to-day, what makes you think you will be any happier living in the south of France? Or once you’ve run that marathon?

The day-to-day is just that – daily rhythms of work, family, friends, love, responsibility. And instead of constantly battling the ordinariness of those things, we can accept them and find happiness and contentment and joy in them. Because it is enough.

When we are content in our ordinary life, we free up so much energy to embrace opportunity, to be idle and to dream. And that’s when extraordinary things can happen – if you want them to.

What ordinary thing are you thankful for today? Let us know in the comments below – in fact, shout it from the rooftops! Because it is enough.

 

Don’t Save Your Stickers

Don't save your stickers for another day.

When I was a kid I thought getting stickers was just about the best thing ever.

So pretty. So brightly coloured. So…finite.

Once a sticker was peeled off the backing sheet, stuck on the page and admired for a moment, it was done.

No longer usable, the excitement always dissipated.

And if you tried to peel it off the page and re-stick it, you’re likely to peel the paper away too – leaving you with a ripped page and a useless sticker. (Trust me.)

Why Am I Telling You This?

I was a pretty cautious kid. I didn’t want to make mistakes, disappoint anyone, regret a decision. I distinctly remember crying at night for at least a week because I decided I didn’t want to do gymnastics class anymore and was terrified that mum and dad would be upset.

They totally weren’t.

So do you know what I did with the majority of my stickers?

I left them on their backing paper and tucked them away somewhere safe. Maybe in my desk drawer, or a dedicated sticker box.

Saved them for a special occasion. A project that was worth using them on.

And guess what?

I never used them.

When I was older and being forced by my mum choosing responsibly to tidy up and declutter my bedroom, I found these abandoned stickers and admired them once again.

But I thought the time to use them had passed. I was a grungy teenager. I was into Presidents of the United States of America, op-shopping and basketball. (An enigma is what I was.) Stickers had no place in my life.

The opportunity to experience the joy and beauty and creativity of using them had passed me by.

Don’t let this happen to you. Don’t discover too late, that you had something of joy and beauty at your fingertips, only to let it slip by, too afraid to “use it all up” or break it.

We’re Not Talking About Stickers Anymore, Are We?

If you keep one thing in mind this weekend – it’s this:

Don’t Save Your Stickers.

Use them. Whenever the mood strikes. With wild abandon if possible.

Enjoy the rush. Embrace the feeling of living in the moment.

It’s a well-covered cliche, but important enough to state again:

  • Use the “good” china. So what if it gets chipped? It’s being used. That’s what it’s for.
  • Drink your cheap wine from the wine glasses you received as a wedding gift – they’re just gathering dust otherwise.
  • That perfect-coloured lipstick? Put it on! You will look beautiful, even if you’re in your pyjamas.
  • Let your kids paint. Isn’t it there to be used?!
  • Wear that fancy perfume – even if it’s only to playgroup.
  • Jump in muddy puddles. And stop pretending you don’t enjoy it. Who cares about the laundry?! You’re the one who does it anyway.

Stop Saving Your Stickers, Folks.

Otherwise one day, you will rediscover them, only to realise the time to use them has passed.

Why not make ‘one day’, today?  

 

This post first appeared on July 13, 2012. The message is more important to me now than ever, so I wanted to share it again.