Resignation

As I face another day juggling working from home with childcare, without a clear end line in sight, I am reflecting on how time itself behaves differently in times of crisis and upheaval.

In some ways, time has slowed down. Days stretch ahead of me without the familiar forced transition points of childcare drop-offs, commutes and plans outside the home. I’ve been working from home three weeks but it feels like three months.

And in other ways time continues to race past me. The days blur into one another. Trying to get things done at work seems to be taking longer. I keep thinking I’m nearly there with something, only to have it drag out into another day, and another.

Part of me responded to the crisis by being productive – maybe too productive. Churning out ideas for disaster-mitigation at work, cooking, cleaning, limited large grocery shopping trips, exercise at home, schoolwork, volunteering, checking in on neighbours. It all crashed yesterday.

I hit a big snag on something at work. A rather big setback. And I’m still not able to resolve it. This would be frustrating under normal circumstances, but it is yet another situation outside of my control – a microcosm of the global situation as we lose control to a virus.

What can we do when something is beyond our control?

Resign ourselves to it.

This does not mean giving up entirely, or letting the powerlessness overwhelm us. But fighting only works for so long. Fighting against something outside of my control will take its toll. I realise that if I look the demon in the face and resign myself to it, I can let go of a lot of the tension between myself and my reality.

Once we have resigned ourselves to the uncontrollable, we can move forward to the next step.

Identify the need / problem.

My need in my work situation is to find income. The uncontrollable factor was some misquoted figures that led me to make certain decisions and recommendations that now seem mistaken, as apparently the figures were inflated.

I have been going down a rabbit hole of trying to right the wrongs that have happened, which inevitably leads to blaming/shifting blame, dread, or circular conversations with myself where I try to logic a way out of the problem that started in the past – obviously far beyond my control in this moment.

But actually, it’s far easier once I’ve resigned myself to the uncontrollable (the initial figures appear to be wrong and inflated) to identify the problem or need (I need to find other ways to reach the target I’ve set).

Now that I’ve left the uncontrollable behind and refocused on the problem before me, I can move forward to step three.

Create a new plan that is in my control.

Now I’m clear on the problem, I can be creative again in finding ways to solve it. Instead of rehashing past data and past decisions, most of which I cannot not change, I am back in control and able to think laterally.

Resigning to isolation

I write this blog because I need to read this blog. I hit a real low yesterday, and whilst it was triggered by mundane work stuff, I genuinely believe it was the culmination of, well, everything that is beyond my control right now.

When will we be able to end this isolation? Will anyone I know and love get this thing and not survive it? Will my husband and I have jobs on the other side of this?

It’s easy to spiral. But all those questions are largely beyond my control. So instead, I’m learning to resign myself to this new reality. I thought I had done so weeks ago, but I’ve realised I have still been holding on tight to a false sense of control.

And I can now refocus – what is the need? Marshall Rosenberg, a leader of Non-Violent Communication, has said that needs are never in conflict. Strategies to meet those needs might be, but the needs themselves do not create or necessitate conflict.

I have been in conflict with reality. So now, I’m trying to re-centre on what my needs are, so I can think of coronavirus-compatible ways to meet those needs.

Journal prompts

I can’t do __________ because of __________.

If _____________ was not fixed, then I could try or learn _______.

I need ________.

Some strategies that might help meet this need are _______.

Not another COVID-19 blog…

So if you’re like me, you are simultaneously sick and tired of talking about COVID-19 and disinterested in anything else. Here in a suburb of London, my life is unrecognisable because of it. So I thought I’d share some of the tricks I’m learning to make this weird time in my life more manageable.

Find a new routine

We know young kids benefit from routines, but bearing in mind they are just smaller people, it makes sense to apply the same logic to ourselves. Going to bed at the same time each day, waking up, eating meals at set times – it gives shape to the day and provides a welcome feeling of normality in an otherwise anything-but-normal time in our lives.

During the week, I’ve tried this and it’s been really helpful. I wake up at the same time as usual, make breakfasts for myself and the kids, have my breakfast and coffee while watching one cycle of BBC Breakfast (making sure to turn it off when the stories start repeating). I log in at the same time for work, then break to do my PE with Joe “the Body Coach” Wickes on YouTube, work some more and get my son started on his school work at the table next to me. I am trying to eat lunch at the same time as usual and finish work on time. Then it’s dinner, baths, bedtime stories, kids asleep (at their usual time), and an hour or so of TV and conversation with my husband – much like our pre-Covid-19 lives.

Have a purpose (or several)

I’ve written previously about what psychologist Paul Donan has termed the “Pleasure Purpose Principal”, which basically says everyone needs pleasure and purpose for well-being. Different people have a different ideal mix – my husband responds well to more pleasure where I really thrive on purpose – but we all need a mix of both.

I would hypothesise that at this time, most of us could probably benefit from dialling up the purpose element, as we are in a very disempowering position, held hostage by an invisible virus. Anything we can do to counterbalance the disempowerment by feeling impactful and empowered is a great antidote. For me, I have become involved in my local mutual aid group, which partially means moderating the Facebook group and partially linking up requests with an amazing group of local people who have volunteered. I’m checking in with my elderly neighbour who is shielding. And I’m volunteering to do pro bono coaching for people struggling with this as part of a coaching collective that has formed during this crisis.

I’m also crafting my day job so I am doing specific, concrete things to help people. I work for an HIV charity, so I’ve been focused on providing reassuring information and support to our supporters, many of whom are living with HIV themselves and feeling frightened or unsettled, even if they aren’t amongst the list of people who are particularly vulnerable. But I’ve also found a sense of purpose supporting my colleagues – which is relevant for just about anyone, regardless of what sector we work in or what our companies do.

What would give your days a sense of purpose and impact right now? Maybe it’s spending more time with your kids. Maybe it’s your day job, working remotely. Maybe it’s volunteer work. Maybe it’s a creative project – to start writing that novel, paint your masterpiece, or work on that side hustle you had in mind. Don’t worry about other people and don’t judge them or yourself – focus on what will give you purpose.

Connect, connect, connect

I don’t know about you but this is reminding me that I actually really like people. I normally have to be careful about carving out time to be alone, and that’s still the case to an extent as I’m now constantly surrounded by my family. But I am also finding it helpful to be deliberate and intentional about connecting with people.

During the work week, I’m in pretty regular Zoom meetings, and have been making sure to have some chit chat in these calls. We have a workplace (i.e. Facebook for the office) that I’ve been interacting with everyday, to help replace the chats in the office kitchen.

Outside of work I’ve been busy with a WhatsApp group of two of my friends, checking in with another friend via WhatsApp, active on Facebook (which I usually eschew to a large extent), and connecting daily with the other Mutual Aid volunteers. I still skype my parents once a week. This all adds up and means I feel part of a community and connected with others.

A key part of the strategy for me has been little and often. WhatsApp and Facebook are not the same as a video call, and a video call is not the same as being together in person. So I’m trying to set up more zoom drinks and house party sessions with friends and family, which combined with the mutual aid group zoom meetings and my local Quaker Meeting via Zoom of a Sunday morning and all the WhatsApp and Facebook conversations means I have a rich and varied socially distanced social life.

How can you connect with others? Which people or communities are best to connect at more depth, like using zoom, and which are fine to WhatsApp with or interact on Facebook? Enjoy the variety – it’s horses for courses.

Interact with nature

I’m fortunate to have a garden, so during the work week I’ve made a point of taking a half hour lunch break sitting with my salad in the garden. But even without a garden or when the weather turns from the brilliant sunshine we enjoyed last week, there are ways to have nature in our lives.

You can crack the windows to allow fresh air into your home (even if it’s grey and raining). Light a natural candle or diffuse some essential oils to bring some natural smells into your space (more on this below). Enjoy plants in the home (more in this below as well). Even substitutes like natural white noises or a picture of natural settings have been shown to help people recover faster in hospitals.

On house plants: I’ve invested in more houseplants with some of the money I’m saving with our nonexistent childcare (our nursery has been brilliant and isn’t charging us during their closure, as well as the afterschool and breakfast club at my other child’s school). I’ve also replanted some of my spider plant’s babies so we have plants dotted all around the house. This helps clean the air and is subtly soothing. I also “splurged” a whopping £5 on flowers at Lidl when I did my grocery shop, so we have some beautiful cases of flowers. It doesn’t have to be much to feel quite different.

On essential oils: if you have an oil diffuser, great, but if not, you can put a few drops of oil in a mug and add boiling water (note boiling not boiled). This diffuses surprisingly well. If you have a hot plate or a drip coffee maker with a warming plate where the carafe sits, you can place the mug in that for even longer lasting diffusion.

Get into your body

Our brains are on survival mode and dealing with a lot of bizarre shit right now. Getting into our bodies and switching off our brains can help immensely.

One way to do this is exercise, which is of course healthy to do anyway. Yoga with Adrienne or PE with Joe Wickes are both free on YouTube and require no special equipment. In the UK we’re allowed one exercise outdoors a day, so now’s a great time to get into running if you’re not already, or to cement a “run every day” routine.

But another way to get out of our heads and into our bodies is breath work and mindful meditation. I have completely fallen out of this practice, but recently trying a breathing mediation I realised I had been shallow breathing for days. The stress and uncertainty of this whole situation had meant I hadn’t been breathing as deeply and calmly into my lungs. Even a short session of mindful breathing left me feeling exponentially calmer.

A quick way to breathe mindfully: breathe in and out normally and naturally. Don’t force your breathing. Pay attention to the feeling and sensation of the in breath, where it switches from in breath to out breath, and the sensations of the out breath. When you notice you’ve been distracted by thoughts (more “when” than “if”), return to the sensations of the breath. That’s it. Do that for as long as you can.

Be kind to yourself

Lastly, be kind to yourself. This is stressful. We’re in unprecedented times. We’re balancing home schooling, parenting in challenging circumstances, and working our day jobs with kids (sometimes literally) underfoot. It’s a global situation – there is nowhere to go that isn’t affected, or won’t be soon. That’s a challenging situation to be in.

We may need to nap during the day, or take it easy when we get the chance. Despite best laid plans to do loads of online courses to better myself during this time, or read more books, or watch better television as opposed to rewatching episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (or now, Tiger King – oh my lawd!), I am often spent at the end of the day. I just want to switch off and scroll mindlessly through Facebook. During my lunch breaks out in the garden, I’ve found myself unable to do more than look at the signs of spring and listen to the birds. I’m feeling tearful less frequently than week 1, but am still choked up about once a day.

This is okay. Do what feels good. Pay attention to what does not feel good. We’ll get through this.

Weekly planning guide

I have somehow developed a Weekly planning guide that really works for me. It’s simple, quick, and yet holistic. In short, it’s much more than a list of tasks to do, and has been a boon and a comfort to me in difficult times recently.

It evolved from a need to get a lot done, but also from a need to make sure what I was doing mattered.

Because being busy isn’t the point of life. I’m not 100% sure there is any point in life beyond the meaning we give it, and I certainly didn’t want my life’s meaning to amount to a bunch of balled up to do lists, or my kids to remember me after I’m gone as merely an efficient taskmaster.

And there’s also how I wanted to feel whilst living my life. I’m the one who has to live it, so I better make sure it feels good to me. And what feels good can vary from week to week: sometimes I crave silence, stillness, peace, and other times I want fun and joy and excitement. Continue reading “Weekly planning guide”

Tips for coping when a loved one is depressed

Many of us will experience depression in our lifetimes. And it sucks. I’ve been there myself.

And many more of us will not only experience it ourselves, but will experience living with or loving someone who is anxious or depressed. I’ve been there, too.

So I wanted to write a blog, not about overcoming depression yourself, but to help you if you, like me, find yourself struggling to deal with the fallout from another person’s depression.

Because ultimately, the person dealing with depression will need to find their way out, and there are few things more frustrating than watching helplessly as someone you love suffers.

This frustration can lead you to try to help, to end their suffering as quickly as possible.

It can appear in your life as anger for their apparent unwillingness or inability to help themselves.

It can show up as added stress while you try to shoulder more and more of the burden of life to protect them, or simply because their depression makes being productive and helpful difficult for them.

So it’s frustrating for you, and you also need care and attention. So this post is not about them. It’s for you. Continue reading “Tips for coping when a loved one is depressed”

The Overwhelm

We’ve all been there. Or at least I hope we’ve all been there so it isn’t just me.

You’ve got deadlines piling up at work faster than you can finish them regardless of the effort and hours you’re putting in…

There’s a seemingly never ending list of admin things to do at home that you never seem able to find time to do…

Despite your best efforts at timekeeping you find it’s the kids’ bedtimes what feels like five minutes after you get home (“where did the evening go?” you ask yourself as you’re trying to gently but firmly get your kid out of the bath, teeth brushed, and bedtime stories read so he isn’t too late along asleep)…

The Overwhelm.

I had a serious case of it last week. But I’m pleased to say that I think I broke the back of it, and this week is going much more smoothly – even with a couple of illnesses in the family scuppering plans for the week.

Here are some of the things that I’ve learned along the way that really helped me last week, and I hope will help you next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by it all.

Identify the main triggers

Whilst by its nature overwhelm is often the feeling of lots of things adding up, sometimes there are a few big triggers for feeling this way (as opposed to your run-of-the-mill busy-and-slightly-stressed feelings).

For me last week, I realised it was work, money, and home routines. Sure, other things contributed, but as I reflected on this (on my commute – no fancy break to reflect on this all so do it when you can!), I was sure that if I felt more in control of my spiralling workload and my money, and if I could ease the pre- and post-work hours at home, I’d feel everything else was much more manageable.

Which leads me to my next helper…

Identify the simple steps

A simple step is something really straightforward that doesn’t take a huge amount of time and you have and know everything you need to be able to do it.

So instead of, “finish X piece of work” for my work stress, it might be, “send this email to this person.” Simple, simple, simple.

I set myself five simple steps. Really simple steps.

One, for example, was to put my out of office on my emails so I could get my head down and do a key piece of work that needed focus and time. That was it – put out of office on – but it meant I knew exactly what to do immediately upon sitting down at my desk that morning.

The simplest steps (putting out of office on, diarising time to do certain pieces of work) made way for the bigger things (shortlist the 60-odd applications for a vacancy in my team at work, finish budget planning and forecasting).

The result? I actually got everything done that I really needed to do. Which ended up being a godsend this week when I had to take a day of sick leave myself and another day of leave to look after my toddler, who is home from nursery for two days following a tummy bug.

Celebrate successes

It’s easy to skip this, but I found it hugely helpful to take a minute on the train to celebrate what’s gone well, and particularly what I have done well.

Why does it matter?

Well, for starters, it chips away rather significantly at that feeling of overwhelm. Overwhelm shrinks away from the bright light of Accomplishment, so taking a minute to feel those accomplishments and let that light shine helped me feel I could handle everything still left to do.

Secondly, I was able to identify the things I did that worked well, to repeat with the next day’s battle with the to do list. So for example, realising how well it worked for me to turn off email and knock out big chunks of work, I can decide to do this again (judiciously) in the future.

Thirdly, celebrating success helps combat the dreaded imposter syndrome, which in turn reduces the unreasonable expectations we set for ourselves.

Think about it – quite often we set really high expectations for ourselves as a way to overcome the ways we feel not good enough.

So if I feel like not a good enough manager, I respond by trying to get Herculean amounts of work done to a high standard; then no one can know what a fraud I am.

Or if I’m not a “good enough” mother, I can fool others from realising this by signing my kid up for all kinds of activities and making sure he’s immaculately dressed for school with award-worthy homework completed every night.

But when I can see that I am good enough, just as I am, I can be far more compassionate to myself and reasonable in my expectations.

This week, that has meant telling a colleague quite honestly that I wouldn’t be able to look at something until next week. It meant postponing some work that I wanted to do sooner, but which actually could wait a week or two. The urge to overperform is still there, but I haven’t felt like I absolutely had to do everything immediately, as my performance is less linked to my worth.

Ride it out

The last thing I’d like to leave you with is this: ride it out.

The wave of overwhelm can make you feel like you’re drowning, so it can help to remember that you aren’t drowning. You’ll be fine. This page in your life will eventually turn to the next page. There will be busy and overwhelming times again but there will also be calmer times. How you’re feeling right now is not permanent.

Identifying the triggers so you can take simple steps to address the root causes of your overwhelm, and then celebrating your successes and realising you don’t have anything to prove – you are enough, just as you are – will help you regain a little more sense of control, so you can ride out the storm until the sun starts to break through the cloud again.

Which it will.

Mindfulness off the cushion

The turning point for me in my mindfulness journey actually happened outside of traditional meditation.

I had managed to get into a fairly consistent meditation practice, and I felt amazingly light and clear-headed after each meditation, but it seemed like in no time at all, I became cluttered and frantic.

Then I discovered being mindful in my daily life off the cushion.

What does it look like? Quite simple, actually. It means doing one thing at a time. Being curious. Focus.

And in doing so, you can really get into the flow of whatever it is you are doing, immerse yourself in it. As a result, you tend to do a better, more thorough job of whatever you’re doing, from hanging shelves to listening to your partner talk about his or her day.

It’s simple, but not always easy.

This morning, for instance, I started with about four or five tabs open in my browser. One for this website, another for facebook, a third for instructions on how to do something, and a fourth for another website I’m working on.

Erm, could I possibly use all four pages at once? No.

To add to the visual clutter, as I started to sit down to write this blog, I started thinking about all the things I’m not doing that maybe I should be doing instead: I have an assignment due that I haven’t really started. I need to listen to some of my recorded coaching sessions as part of my reflective practice. The kitchen floor could use a good sweep, too, as I have crumbs stuck to my bare feet.

Doing one thing at a time can feel like a waste of time. The irony is, you probably will end up getting more done to a better standard than if you try to do everything at once.

How to make that change, though? It’s a hard habit to change. Here are some tips that can help.

1. Unleash your curiosity.

Being curious can be a built-in way to be mindful. Think of a child’s innate curiosity – what are those people doing? Why is the sky blue? Where is the aeroplane going? Why do we say ‘bless you’ when someone sneezes? What was that sound?

We tend to shed this wide-eyed curiosity after having been around the block a couple of times. But that doesn’t mean that inner child isn’t there ready to ask questions and explore the world.

I have found that the more I encourage myself to feel curious, the more curious I feel. It’s like a muscle. It means I’m more interested in other people as I’m naturally more curious about their lives and opinions. I’m more interested in processes at work (even the really boring sounding ones). I am more engaged in my coaching practice as I don’t assume anything about my clients and instead find myself stepping through the looking glass with them into deeper and deeper levels of understanding.

I genuinely think it makes me a better conversationalist (people find the interest in their lives flattering), a better worker (I’m asking vital questions and improving things more readily because I’m paying attention), and a better coach.

So really engage in whatever you’re doing. Explore it. Be curious. Immerse yourself in it. That’s mindfulness.

The issue with curiosity can come up when you’re curious about lots of different things at once, or there always seems to be something that can drag you from what you’re doing, until you find yourself flitting from one thing to the next, which segues nicely to…

2. Only do one thing at a time.

Because the human brain works sequentially, effective multitasking is a misnomer and a myth. You’re actually switching back and forth between one task at a time, and losing energy and time each time you switch.

multitasking

So if you’re on the phone at work and catch yourself replying to an email at the same time, you’re not really concentrating on what you’re typing and you’re not really paying complete attention to the person on the other end of the line.

But picture how it plays out when you approach it mindfully. Be on the phone, be a full part of that conversation. Put the phone down, and then start replying to the email. When I first tried it, work felt delightfully airy, light, calm.

What’s more, I found I did more, not less, and to a higher standard. Knowing that as well, and having better recall of the conversations, meetings, emails, and tasks I accomplished also boosted my confidence, as I felt I had more of a handle on what has been happening.

3. Be realistic.

One of the challenges to working or being mindful in day-to-day life is it is so tempting to pack in too much to do.

I have seen some of my own to do lists, which feels like setting myself up for failure:

Okay, I’ll brainstorm a blog while I wait for the bus with my son, then after I drop him at nursery I’ll do some coursework and balance my bank account on the train, and at work I’ll finish that report, have three meetings, write up the project brief for that other project, and maybe draft some questions for that research project. Oh, and reply to emails and anything else that comes up during the day...”

The problem with being unrealistic about what we can achieve in a day is a) it requires that time doubles up because there is just too much to squeeze into 24 hours otherwise; b) we may start to panic the moment something comes up or we slip behind on my to do list because our ambitious list allows no give; and c) we can work bloody hard to accomplish a lot and still feel like failures.

So be realistic. Be gentle with yourself. Celebrate what you do get done.

4. Savour

Savouring is related to curiosity, and a powerful way to appreciate the here and now.

For instance, I found that by being really mindful and savouring my walks to the bus stop with my son in the mornings, what was once a harried, stressful race to tick off my list has become one of the calmest, happiest spots in my day. We talk and tell stories. I feel his little pudgy hand in mine and notice the softness of his skin. We comment on what’s in the window of the BHF charity shop on the high street.

He’s happier in the mornings. I feel like I get more time with him during the working week.

And you know what? We leave the house at the same time we used to and tend to catch the same bus.

I don’t think I was saving any time. I was just wasting the time we had together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to workforce

As I write this, I have just wrapped up my first week back at work after a year’s maternity leave with my second (and last) baby.

And it’s been great.

It’s been great seeing my colleagues and getting myself reacquainted with all the work that’s happening. It’s been great being myself again, and actually having time by myself on the train or on my lunch break. Even having some time to focus on work without also keeping an eye on the kids so the baby doesn’t eat a book (a real possibility) has felt like a luxury.

It’s also been great seeing my 5-year-old excited about going to the childminder’s after school and playing with other children, eating new foods, and then buzzing about his day as we walk home together. It’s been great seeing my one-year-old bonding with other babies and the staff at his nursery, and then coming to pick him up and give him loads of kisses and cuddles, all the sweeter for the time we spent apart.

And I’ve thought, “This is how a return to work should be.”

But it is a million miles away from my first return to work, which was a disaster that marked the beginning of one of my unhappiest periods of work life.

So what’s made the difference? There’s some luck involved, but there’s also a few things I can’t help but think have made the difference between miserably job hunting after work and looking forward to Monday. Continue reading “Returning to workforce”

When the world is getting you down

I have seen a lot of people suffering lately.

The rise in ultra-conservative politics. Deep division in our societies over what feel like key issues. Hurtful actions and language towards women. People rising to positions of power that fill some people with a sense of fear, injustice, or powerlessness.

We consume the news like an addict, looking for relief from the very thing that troubles us.

So I wanted to write a post in the hopes it provides some balm, some inspiration, for responsible self-care. Continue reading “When the world is getting you down”

Eco-friendly tip: reuse peanut butter jars

While a lot of this site is about coaching, self-coaching, mindset, and perspective, sometimes it helps to get a really practical tip or a nutritious recipe. So here’s one of the super practical tips I’ve discovered: reusing old jars. Continue reading “Eco-friendly tip: reuse peanut butter jars”

Don’t underestimate the power of small things

This photo is of two postcard-sized paintings I painted and framed recently. They now live over the bookshelf right next to my favourite armchair.

In the past week, I have also completely overhauled my website (with professional-quality photos, which my talented husband shot for me as I had no photos of myself without the kids). I did some research around my coaching business, wrote some content for this blog, mowed the back garden, gathered another bag of stuff to take to the charity shop and a bag of clothing scraps to recycle, and sorted some clothes to/from the loft as my boys change their clothing size. Alongside all of these tasks, I also managed to have time to read for pleasure (George Eliot’s Middlemarch) and for learning (Paul Gilbert’s The Compassionate Mind), go for coffee with my husband, take my son to a park for a playdate after school, and go for a run.

This isn’t a list designed to brag (though reading it back I’m afraid that’s how it comes across…sorry about that). It is to demonstrate the amazing power of small things.

I have learned this simple truth time and time again before forgetting and then rediscovering it. But there’s a reason “Little and often” is one of the mantras I repeat to myself: little things, done every day, make a huge difference. Continue reading “Don’t underestimate the power of small things”