Simplify

My doctor told me last week that ‘change management’ is no longer the term du jour; it’s now called ‘managing ambiguity’. The theory goes that the rate of change is now so rapid and changes in our modern life are so frequent, that each kind of rolls into the next creating this maelstrom of ambiguity rather than clearly defined changes that we can manage through specific techniques.

It certainly rings true for my life this year. And it made me feel a little bit better about the level of overwhelm I’ve been feeling lately. Not overwhelm on a day-to-day level, but more on a birds-eye, information overload level. Life is just taking up a lot of my emotional energy and I don’t have a lot left for anyone else. It’s caused me to make even more changes in an attempt to really simplify things and preserve as much emotional energy as possible.

Firstly, I have taken a break from wellbeing coaching. I love it and I’m good at it and I know there is a strong need for it in the world. But it requires a level of physical and emotional energy to hold space for clients that I just don’t have right now. I always want to show up for the people I’m working with and I can’t show up right now. That’s not a perfectionist, overachiever ‘I can’t give 150% so I won’t do it at all’ decision, either. It’s an ‘I’m struggling to even give 70%’ feeling and I know it’s the right decision for me right now.

Secondly, today I moved out of the office I’d been sharing at the local coworking space. I liked it there and I love my office buddies, but just being there at the moment was taking up too much mental and emotional energy. I was finding it difficult to concentrate on all but the most mindless of admin tasks, and with the amount of writing work I’ve been getting recently, I needed all my mental energy just to get those tasks done. While I enjoyed being in the space, I just feel the need to be at home in my own space with no other human drains on my energy while I’m working.

It’s an interesting feeling. I realise all this talk of energy might sound a little woo-woo. It’s the only way I can describe it. My bandwidth for interpersonal interactions at the moment is just really narrow and I can’t explain why. The important thing I’ve realised is that I don’t need to explain why. This is just what I need at the moment. So I’m listening to my body’s signals and going with it.

The third way I’m dealing with this ambiguity is to get really boring and repetitive with a number of aspects of my life so as to avoid decision fatigue. I already had a bit of an unofficial uniform but I’ve been wearing the same 4 – 5 outfits on high repeat lately. I’m getting back into eating really habitually. Unless Stuart cooks, I’m eating the same plain few meals over and over. Chicken and veg, pork and veg, boiled eggs, green smoothies, strawberries and yoghurt. Repeat. As little thinking as possible at the grocery story or in the kitchen.

I’m going to yoga more instead of the gym or even going jogging on my own. When I’m at yoga, not only am I getting meditation moments which means I don’t have to add meditation in as another thing on the to-do list at home, but I also get to just follow the instructions and not think. I like jogging and I like going to the gym, but they both take mental energy I don’t have right now in that I have to be self-directed. I want to move my body, but in a way that doesn’t require mental energy. So I just turn up, do what I’m told and allow my body to receive the beautiful stretching it so enjoys.

I’m reading more formulaic romance novels than usual. I have always had a few laying around but I’m churning through them at a very fast rate lately. It’s an escape for my mind and I don’t have to think too hard. There’s very little suspense or anxiety about the outcome of the plot.

I’ve also taken huge steps to disconnect from social media. This is probably the most drastic change. The more Facebook has been something I’ve had to use for ‘work’, the less I’ve felt like using it. Also, the more time away from it I have, the more I can look at some of the content that comes through my feed and see that my reading it does nothing but upset me, changes nothing for the better in the world and my not reading it also makes little difference to the causes I follow but has a huge benefit for my mental health overall. So, I’ve unfollowed and in some cases unliked a bunch of people—in particular some activists whose work I really admire but is in areas that are generally depressing to think about, e.g. domestic violence, disability rights, LGBTI, refugees—and anyone that triggers me.

I’ve also removed my phone from the bedroom and that led to me being much more aware of and intentional about using it when Stuart is around too. All in all I’ve broken the huge need for it to be with me all the time and I just feel far less urgency about the online world altogether. I’m just letting those little red numbers increase as the notifications add up, and I’m freaking loving it. I know there’s a bit of Obliger Rebellion in there but I don’t care! It feels GOOD and that is reason enough.

I’m also working on outsourcing what I can in my life, too, where finances allow. I’m investing in some software to help me with the transcribing work I’m doing, I’m getting a VA to help with some menial online admin tasks and I’m going to outsource my websites as soon as I can. I’m also going to get a cleaner at home as soon as I can, and get my eyebrows done more often too. It might sound strange, but my thinking about making the effort to pluck my own eyebrows right now is just too much. I just feel a strong need to take some things off my plate to free up space for the more important stuff. And I know that having groomed eyebrows is hardly a massively important, life-or-death kind of thing, but they’re a priority for me right now because it takes up mental energy so I might as well get them taken care of and remove those thoughts from my brain.

My laptop is getting fairly old and slow at the moment, and in many ways my brain feels like that too. The software and programming was built for a different time. I can keep up with the demands of the modern world, but the rainbow wheel of death is popping up more and more often, forcing me to shut down and reset a couple of times a day now. I can keep working but I just can’t do everything the world tells me I should be able to do because the operating system just can’t keep up. With the laptop, I know an upgrade is in order sometime this year. With my body and brain and life, I’m fast realizing that in fact the upgrade is in not listening to the messaging of the world telling me to keep up and let life become ever more complex. In fact, the antidote is to become more and more focused on simplicity.

How about you? Where can you detach, unfollow, disconnect and simplify in your life?

The New Harmony Agenda

When I started this blog in January 2014, I wrote a post called The Harmony Agenda, explaining what it meant to me and why I chose that name for the blog. It was mostly about choosing the agenda for my life, as opposed to following the paths and goals other people had set for me. The harmony part was about the way the many different facets of life (work, health, family, love, money, hobbies, etc) can come together to create a harmonious whole. It was also a play on words because at the time I was working as a music teacher so I liked that it alluded to that part of my life and the importance of music, and over the years my mind has extended upon the harmony metaphor in many ways that I never ended up writing about here. I plan to change that in the coming months, if only so that I have actually gotten those ideas out of my head and onto the page.

I’m writing this at 9.50am on a Monday morning from my living room table, after having been for a long walk at my favourite park, listening to one of my favourite podcasts, stopping at the shops on the way home and putting a chook in the oven to roast. It will be ready when Stuart comes home for lunch, and then we can start the week with leftovers ready to go, which is part of my current agenda for getting my health back on track.

It’s the most productive morning I’ve had in a while, and also the most well I’ve felt in about a month too. On Saturday I posted on The Harmony Agenda Facebook page that I’ve been feeling fairly unwell for about a month, but went to get my blood work checked on Friday to find out what my thyroid and other hormones are doing, to rule that out. In the last month I’ve also had a cold virus that seemed to take forever to fully shake, and have been eating really poorly, and not exercising much. Anxiety has also been more and more present lately, and I have dramatically changed my social media habits to try to combat that, and the impact it was having on my sleep. I’ve also been pulling out of things I’d signed up for and cancelling things I’d promised to do in my Self-Care for Teachers business because I just don’t have the emotional or physical energy.

I’m feeling a strong urge to hibernate, retreat, go within and reset. So this morning is kind of the beginning of that. It’s also the first day of the new moon cycle, which I feel is a bit symbolic and a lovely new beginning.

I’m writing this before I’ve checked any social media for the morning, which is part of the new harmony agenda. I went to the Toowoomba Writer’s Fest on Saturday and the urge I’ve been feeling all year about how much I need and want to write more regularly just for myself and for The Harmony Agenda was reignited. Then somewhere over the weekend I heard mentioned on a podcast something called The #500words Project, where you write 500 words of any kind before you check social media in the morning.

I thought it sounded like a perfect idea, and a perfect time to start it given my recent change in social media habits anyway. So it feels like everything has come together for me quite well at the moment and it’s finally time to start the new harmony agenda for my life and actually share it with you.

Don’t waste the opportunity of a good crisis

My Mum said this to me the other day when we were talking and I was telling her how physically and emotionally exhausted and mixed up I’d been feeling lately, and how that was sparking some changes in my direction which were quite exciting. Clarity has been coming thick and fast. I wouldn’t really say I’ve been in complete crisis—it doesn’t feel nearly that dramatic or dangerous and I don’t want to belittle true crises—but the sentiment of using this low point as fuel really rings true.

So, in no particular order, the following are the different aspects of the new harmony agenda that I intend to cover as topics for The Harmony Agenda blog, and that are already pretty big parts of my life.

  • Extreme self-care
  • Creating
  • Curating, learning, teaching, sharing
  • Money, business, personal finance
  • Fun, Ease, Rest, Flow
  • Cycles, Rhythms and Rituals
  • Decluttering, clearing and healing
  • Collaborating, Connecting, Directing, Producing, Conducting cool and interesting and useful things
  • Work/Life Harmony and Melody
  • Connection with myself and with others, relationships and family, intra- and interpersonal dynamics
  • Giving back and dreaming for others (inspired by Naomi Arnold and her beautiful Dream for Others Podcast)

So expect more about all of these individual topics in the weeks to come. If I explained them all here and now the post would go forever and I’d not get any work done today. I’m planning to build a daily habit of writing so all will be explained in due course.

Now, I think I’ve earned my first Facebook fix of the day… 😉

Reflections on rest, renewal and renaming

Something I’ve been contemplating a lot lately is the way life works in cycles. The seasons of the year, the phases of the moon, the mostly cycle of my body. I am really connecting with and listening to these cycles, and the opportunities they provide for me. Within each of these cycles there is a time of high energy and action followed by a time that seems built for rest and reflection. One without the other is dangerous. Too much energy and action leads to burnout. Too much rest and reflection without any action leads to stagnation.

But life has larger cycles also. I am coming to the end of several of these cycles at the moment, I feel. Not only am I in the last year of my twenties, and possibly my last year of non-motherhood, but I’m also in my last few weeks of my teaching career. More on that later…

Another phase of life that just ended for me, officially, today, is my maiden name. Although we got married over 18 months ago, I only just officially changed my name this week (and only because my looming licence renewal notice prompted me to stop procrastinating!). This is significant I feel. It’s been a really big decision for me. I won’t go into all the feminist stuff that came up alongside (at least, I won’t go into it right now!) but it has also been a very large identity decision.

Before we got married, I thought I’d take his name and lose my maiden name altogether. But the day after we were married when I went to change my name on Facebook (Facebook official!) I felt sick. I couldn’t do it. So then for a while I thought I’d keep my maiden name. But that didn’t really feel right either.

It took me 6 full months to finally settle on double barrelling my surnames without a hyphen. So, I am Ellen Ronalds Keene.

Even though I’ve had that as my official Facebook name for more than a year now, and also as my name at work and at the hair dresser, I hadn’t actually legally changed it. Until today.

Do I feel different? I’m not sure. I certainly feel that procrastinating on the name change was initially vital — I had to figure out what I wanted, who I wanted to be. But lately it had felt more like resistance.

There’s a lovely metaphor I use in coaching sometimes about monkey bars. When you want to move forward on the monkey bars, you have to let go of one rung before you can grasp onto the next. For a moment, brief as it may be, you are hanging and swinging in the air with only one hand to support you. It’s fear of that transition phase that keeps you holding onto that earlier rung a little longer than you should. The longer you hold on, the more tired your arms get, and the greater your anxiety about having to let go.

That’s how I feel a bit about this name change. I know, logically it’s what I want. But a part of me has to grieve the loss of the old me. Not so much the single me, more the child/adolescent me who was far more carefree and blissfully ignorant about much of the world and its problems.

Who is Ellen Ronalds Keene? Well, she’s a woman, not a girl. She’s a professional, a business woman, a successful and wildly wealthy woman. She’s an author and speaker, a coach and a creator. She’s also a wife and, in my mind, a mother. She’s a mature, capable, intelligent, strong, decisive, discerning force of nature. She doesn’t take crap, she has exceptional boundaries, and she stands up for what is right. She’s in touch with her soul and her emotions and she’s giving and generous while being an expert practitioner in the art of extreme self-care. She’s brave, she explores new things and doesn’t let fear hold her back. She’s radiant and she lifts others into their own radiance too.

And yet, I don’t feel like those things yet. I so often still feel like a vulnerable little girl, an imposter and a wimp. But I’m learning and changing and growing and perhaps someday I will be the Ellen Ronalds Keene of my vision. For now, Ellen Ronalds Keene is just hatching out of her shell, trying to figure out who she is today, now that she officially has 2 last names (no hyphen!). It’s the beginning of a new phase, and an exciting one.

2016 is also the end of the first phase of my working life. My career as a high-school teacher is coming to an end. I have spent 24 of my 29 years on the planet at school. It’s time. I’m tired, very tired. I’m also becoming jaded and disillusioned which I don’t enjoy and I don’t believe is productive. Even apart from all that, I have spent 5 incredible years at my current school, which happens to be 100km away from my house. Environmentally, my conscience can’t and won’t keep allowing that because it makes my footprint far larger than it needs to be. Physically and emotionally, all that driving and the very long days also takes a toll. And cyclically, I’ve seen a whole cohort through their high school years at this school, and it just feels time to move on.

But with that comes a level of grief. I’m accepting of that and I’ve been contemplating it a lot in the last few weeks. Especially in the last week, as I have been recovering from a nasty virus. Even now, 11 days after initially falling ill, I am extremely fatigued. Tomorrow will be my first day back at work in a week and a half and I have to say, I’m nervous. My body is not yet 100% and I don’t like soldiering on, although I am feeling much more myself and I really do need to get back to work. But I know how my body recovers from viruses. I am going to be extremely careful in the next month, which also happens to be my last month in this job, to protect my energy as much as possible. I can’t afford to wear myself out any more than I already am and I certainly can’t afford to give myself post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome again.

This time of enforced rest and reflection has felt rather timely. Somebody told me recently that often we begin and end cycles the same way. I began my teaching career as a preservice teacher with a chronically sore throat and persistent fatigue. It seems apt that physically I am there again, at the end of my teaching career. And it confirms my decision to leave a profession that requires me operate in a system that is bad for my health. This is yet another opportunity to practice prioritising my health amidst a myriad of end-of-year pressures, many of which are increased because I have to tie up a number of extra loose ends as well.

It seems that this time of lower energy, need for rest and time for reflection is descending upon me at the end of this cycle and the beginning of the next. I had hoped to do so much on my website and business by the end of the year to really kick start 2017 with a bang. But I see now that isn’t going to happen. I intend to heed the warning signs my body is sending. The next cycle will begin when it begins and the time of high energy and action will return.

But for now, I allow myself to settle into this slower phase to allow my mind and heart and spirit to adjust to all the changes ahead: a new name, a new career, a new decade and hopefully in time a new season of life.

Grace and peace, darlings x

High vs. Pleasure

This article is in response to this amazing video with Mama Gena talking about all things femininity
So, on Monday, my therapist and I had a very interesting conversation. We were talking about extremes of emotion, and how some people go on roller-coasters and bungee jump in order to get a ‘high’. He asked me where I get my high. I was stumped for a moment. Actually, the truth is, I don’t really get high. It doesn’t interest me at all. I’ve been kind of perplexed by that and pondering it since.
I said at the time that a lot of the people I know who are adrenalin junkies seem to be pretty fucking miserable in their everyday lives and it’s like they desperately NEED the high to look forward to and to remind them they are alive and to feel ‘good’, except it isn’t any kind of good that I’m interested in. It’s not really happiness, it’s just a high.
To me there’s a huge difference. I said that I want to live a life without the huge ups and downs, but that is generally quite happy overall. I don’t want to NEED a high just to get me through the drudgery and misery that is my day-to-day. Fuck that. Seriously. Fuck that right off. That is not my idea of good feelings. That is not my idea of a good life.
Then today I watched this video with Marie Forleo and Regena Thomashauer about her new book ‘Pussy: a reclamation’ . I have ordered it and I cannot WAIT to read it.
In the interview (go watch it now before you read the rest of this article) they talk about the patriarchy and femininity and how our masculine society approaches life with this ‘no pain, no gain/harden up’ mentality and how that is super fucking bad for women because it keeps us in a state of stress and because we need the feminine values of slow, receiving and…pleasure!
And a light bulb went off in my mind. Not only was I already fist pumping along with this Mama Gena woman who I’ve only just discovered but apparently has been around for years and who is speaking out loud everything I think about our rat-race society.
But I realised WHY this whole conversation about getting a ‘high’ felt so off to me. It just holds NO appeal to me and I couldn’t articulate why, even though some other part of me was like ‘but isn’t that how I’m supposed to live, isn’t that what the world says is right?’ (which, by the way, my therapist was definitely not implying, it was just part of our conversation.)
The concept of getting a ‘high’ feels off to me because it’s purely adrenaline based. Adrenaline is produced by the adrenal glands and is a form of stress on the body. Stress on the body is not pleasure. Getting a ‘high’ from some thrill-seeking activity is the very opposite of pleasure for me. And PLEASURE is what I’m aiming for, not an adrenaline-fueled high.
And just to be clear, I’m not just talking about sexual pleasure (although there’s nothing wrong with that, but if adrenaline or cortisol are pumping through your system good luck getting anywhere near orgasm). I’m also not just talking about momentary pleasure that you feel when you eat a piece of chocolate or slip into a hot bath (although, I do love those moments). I’m talking about taking pleasure and feeling joy and absolutely revelling in the pleasure of the day-to-day. The beauty and peace and, dare I say it, sacredness of life. Just en-joy-ing the experience of where, what and who I am at this particular point in space and time.
Maybe this doesn’t make a lot of sense and I don’t particularly care! I’ve spent a lot of time the last 3 months really exploring my experience of the world, my understanding of the sacred, and wrestling with the very cynical, uber-critical inner demon-on-my-shoulder, mean girl and ego inside me who says that it’s all woo-woo rubbish and science is king (another subtle message that the masculine must be superior) and if you can’t see it, or even more important, argue it with perfect articulateness then you will be shot down by vitriol from male, anti-theist trolls. Except they’re not even trolls, some of them are friends. I see some of the stuff they post on Facebook and it makes me want to shrink and hide my feminine heart even more because I know if they knew I was exploring and thinking and valuing some of this stuff they’d be extremely blunt and frankly mean with their dismissal of it.
But I don’t want to hide. I don’t need their approval, and in fact they’re not even people that I actually see in real life anymore. And by some of the vitriolic stuff they post on Facebook, I’m not sure I’d want to have a conversation with them about any of this stuff anyway. Actually, I definitely wouldn’t want to do that.
So I unfollowed them. Not unfriended, because there are reasons I’m friends with them and I actually think they are pretty great humans in general. I don’t have a problem with men and masculinity. I want to make that super clear. It’s just a few men I know who are very publicly anti-theistic and critical. Since I want to remove that voice from my head and allow myself the space to explore and enjoy exploring what I want, when I want, that starts with removing that message from my Facebook feed.
All of this is just to say that I am choosing pleasure in my day to day life as a goal. I want to eliminate things in my life that cause me unnecessary stress and fuel my inner critic. These particular people on social media do that. And it felt really PLEASURABLE to consciously choose to unfollow them, and instead prioritise the inspiring, hopeful, sacred, wise, funny, kind and enjoyable social media posts instead.
Mama Gena said in this video: “When you hate on yourself, you can’t love a sister. It can only happen if you take that radical and revolutionary step of standing for your own pleasure, which leads to self-love.”
Yes. AMEN, sister. Let’s love each other and share that love around the world.
I stand for my own pleasure. It’s a small but revolutionary change in my approach to life. It requires me to shut down that voice in my mind, and that voice on social media, the one that hates on me. I choose love instead.
I invite you to do the same and together, we can make the world a better place.

The importance of self-compassion

This past week, I had a massive reminder of the importance of self-compassion.

I had a great morning, out and about doing errands. It was a beautiful day, I had the day off and I had a nice day planned. Then on the way home from the bank I made a mistake in traffic and narrowly avoided a collision. It was very scary. It was also stupid. It was something I would never do on purpose. It was the textbook definition of an accident, thankfully without an actual crash.

I am safe, but I was very shaken up and I was holding back tears all the way home, which thankfully wasn’t far at all. Do I regret it? Of course. Can any amount of wishing or hoping change it now? Nope. Sigh.

And here’s where things got really interesting for me. Once I got home I didn’t actually cry. I spent the next half hour or so mentally tearing strips off myself. I was mean. I was so cruel. I would never say anything like that to anybody else in a million years, let alone someone who was clearly in shock and needed a hug.

I pride myself on my driving. I’ve never had a fine or lost points or anything like that. The only collision I’ve ever been involved with was when I was parked and somebody ran into me, so I was not at fault. I consider myself a good, careful, safe driver. But today something in my brain clearly didn’t work like usual.

As a recovering perfectionist, mistakes like this are a field day for my super-ego or inner mean girl.

But thankfully I’ve learnt enough about myself, life and human psychology to know that beating myself up doesn’t help. I caught myself in the act of self-abuse and consciously redirected my thoughts towards self-compassion.

What would I say to a friend who had just made a silly, dangerous mistake and was clearly angry at themselves and in shock? I would comfort them. I would not tell them that what they did was ok — that’s not compassion that’s enabling. But I would tell them that THEY are ok, that they are human and that they are safe and loveable and enough.

So I said those things to myself. And it helped somewhat, but not entirely.

Then I realised what was still broiling underneath: shame.

Ding, ding, ding! That’s the sound of my brain figuring out something important.

Brene Brown is a shame researcher and in her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” she talks about silence being the biggest breeder of shame.

So I told somebody. It was the one thing I didn’t want to do. I don’t want people to think of me as a dangerous driver. I don’t want people to extrapolate that if I’m a dangerous driver I’m therefore also incompetent in other areas of life. I didn’t want anybody else to know about this embarrassing mistake.

I started with my husband and my best friend. Then I reached out in an online community I’m in where the culture is one of support and love, not judgment and criticism. And now I’m posting this here, on my blog, for all the world to see (although I don’t think the whole world is actually reading).

I want to be clear: I’m not looking for appeasement for my actions. I made a mistake, it could have had devastating consequences and it was wrong. I am sorry and I am owning that.

Owning my actions, speaking honestly about them and admitting that I was wrong…What I am doing is diffusing the shame and self-hatred I felt initially. I am practising self-compassion.

Because here’s the thing about mistakes, especially big bad ones: we think that if we punish ourselves enough we will learn the lesson, that we won’t make the mistake again. But that’s neither helpful or even necessarily true.

For a start, I did NOT do this on purpose. So punishing myself is not really going to help because it wasn’t the kind of mistake where I didn’t know better and now I do so  won’t do it again. It was an accident and I can’t guarantee I’ll never have another accident. I’ll do my absolute best, I will definitely be even more careful, but I’m a human and there are no guarantees of this kind in life.

But more importantly, pain isn’t the only way and definitely not the best way to learn a lesson. Staying in a place of shame and anger and self-hatred doesn’t actually do anything productive for me. We have this warped idea that has been conditioned into us that if we punish ourselves enough we can somehow “earn” atonement through our suffering. Then, someday, we will be able to feel good about ourselves again because we will have “earnt it”. Except, most of us make enough mistakes daily (little ones, for the most part) that keep us constantly in a cycle of mentally berating ourselves, that we never get to that far off time when we can allow ourselves to feel good enough again.

The only way to break that cycle is to decide not to perpetuate it, and choose self-compassion and self-forgiveness instead.

And later, gratitude. Gratitude that I am safe, gratitude that I have learned a valuable lesson, and gratitude that I am able to choose the path of self-compassion and self-forgiveness instead of self-flagellation.

Will you join me on the journey?

Gratitude + forgiveness = happiness

How to keep that New Year’s Resolution with 2 words and 3 steps

Happy New Year! I hope you were able to welcome 2016 in a way that was enjoyable for you. Me? I opted out of the party scene this year and was happily asleep!

Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions? I spend a lovely chunk of my New Year’s Eve writing some reflections on 2015 and I began my planning, goals, core desired feelings and creation list for the new year. My lists are not done yet but as usual, I hope for more happiness and self-care in 2016.

“Happiness is a consequence of personal effort.”

One of my favourite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert, said that. She would know; she went on a world-wide personal quest to heal her depression and find happiness. She wrote about it in a little book that you may have heard of called Eat, Pray, Love. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

What I like about this quote is that it cuts through a lot of the crap about happiness that is floating around, spoken and unspoken, in our lives. For example, “I’ll be happy when” or “If only” and “It shouldn’t be this hard, it should just happen.” The thing about all of those messages that is wrong is that they ignore personal responsibility. Sure, you might be happier when or if, and sometimes it does just happen. But most happiness experts will tell you that that kind of thinking is keeping you unhappy, and that if you want to be consistently happy, or at least happier, you have to make an effort.

I’ve been mulling this idea over and I realise that it’s the same with self-care. It’s a consequence of personal effort. It doesn’t just happen, and it isn’t a do-it-once-and-it’s-over kind of task. Consistency is key. So is sustainability. And I believe that’s where a lot of people get stuck — their resolutions are dead in the water by Valentine’s Day, probably because their resolutions focused on a big, hairy audacious goal (which is a great start!) and ignored the consistency and sustainability factor of actually making that happen.

Do you want to avoid that pitfall and actually make more self-care happen for you in 2016?  Me too! And here are the three steps I’m using to help me keep that New Year’s Resolution:

  1. Less is more.

  2. No comparisons.

  3. Build your trust muscle.

Less is More

Small changes over the long term add up in incredible ways. Compound interest is a great example of this. If you want to make a big change in your life, break it down into the smallest part and just focus on that. Forget about the big goal, just focus on the smallest, easiest action and then do it sustainably and consistently. Small changes are easier to implement and are therefore more sustainable. A small change that you actually DO is way better than a big change that you make for 3 weeks but can’t sustain for the year, right? A bird in the hand, etc. Small changes are also much easier to be consistent with, which means the changes will become a habit. Habits are what make up our lives. Another one of my favourite authors, Gretchen Rubin, has a book about building habits that is high on my reading list this year: ‘Better Than Before‘. As a recovering perfectionist, I love the idea of not having to be the best, but just being better than you were before. So, do less but do it better!

No comparisons

Stop comparing yourself to people way further ahead on the journey. If you want to make a big change, it’s great to have role models and experts to follow and learn from. I love reading and listening to podcasts on my favourite topics, and I follow many different people who are further along the journey than I am in a bunch of areas: health, marriage, writing, happiness, business etc. But I often remind myself not to compare myself to where they are — that gap is way too big and it ignores all the effort and time (probably years!) that they have been working on getting to where they are. Comparing yourself to others further along the road is setting yourself up for failure: it is unsustainable and ruins consistency. It is unrealistic to expect yourself to be at their level in a short period of time. When you can’t sustainably meet the expectations, you’ll likely feel awful and lose your momentum, if not some self-esteem, and stop being consistent. Instead of comparing this year, I’m modelling others. Modelling means you incorporate into your life the actions and beliefs of the person who is where you want to be. It doesn’t mean you copy everything about them or their journey. You are not them, you are learning from them, and it’s important to recognise the difference.

Build your trust muscle

Trust in yourself, like happiness and self-care, is a consequence of personal effort. Trust in yourself is important when you want to make a change in your life, such as keeping a New Year’s resolution.  Trust in yourself is built when you follow through on small actions. I can certainly think of a number of areas in my life where I said I was going to do something and then didn’t follow through. If you don’t trust yourself, it’s likely that it’s because you have a lot of evidence to suggest that you don’t follow through on the things you say you are going to do, in one or many areas. In other words, you have evidence to suggest that you won’t be consistent with your actions. And I could be wrong, but perhaps that’s because the actions you are measuring are actually unsustainable over the long term. Are you noticing a pattern here? Sustainability and consistency are important for trust-building. The other steps of doing less but doing it better, and avoiding comparing yourself to others are also important in trust building. Focus on what you are doing, instead of worry about others, and building your trust muscle with the small stuff and the big stuff will take care of itself.

Bonus step: Know Yourself

There is actually one more step, and its importance will depend on your personality type. Which is kind of ironic because the bonus step is to know your personality type. Gretchen Rubin has a great system called The Four Tendencies, which is all about how different personality types respond to internal and external expectations. Knowing which is your tendency can help you with your resolutions, because it will help determine what is sustainable for you and how you can support yourself to be consistent. I am an Obliger and knowing this about myself has helped immensely. I highly recommend doing the quiz here to find out which type you are.

So that’s it. Less is more, no comparisons, build your trust muscle and know yourself. Focus on being consistent with sustainable actions and you will be well on your way to keeping your New Year’s Resolutions. Happy 2016!

 

Nine tips for self-care on a budget!

One of the reasons I hear most commonly for not being able to practice self-care is that old chestnut of ‘I don’t have the money’. Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. In fact, in my opinion, most self-care activities can be completely free. Plus, working within your budget is self-care of the financial kind. And while it’s lovely to splurge on yourself once in a while, in my experience spending money you don’t have kind of spoils the experience anyway. So I’m all for low-cost and free self-care activities.

Here are my top tips for self-care on a budget:

  1. The internet! There are SO many amazing resources floating around the web and it doesn’t take much to gather a few free tools and add them to your own personal self-care tool kit. Want to do yoga? There are loads of free classes on YouTube! Want to listen to an inspirational or motivational speaker? Try TED Talks! Want some healthy recipes? There are a million and one to choose from! This can be especially good if you are interested in trying before you buy. A great example of this is Viki from MindBodyFood’s meditation tracks, which you can get a sample of here.
  2. Be intentional. Many of the activities you already do in a day are self-care. E.g. brushing your teeth, making a healthy dinner, going for a run, having a quiet cup of tea. When you are intentional about them instead of going through the motions while distracted by your worries or the TV, it makes a big difference!
  3. Make self-care a priority. Make some time every day that you devote to self-care over and above your normal day-to-day habits. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, even 5 or 10 minutes a day can make a difference. I’m sure there are things you say you would do if you had more time: give yourself the time!
  4. Work out what feels like self-care to you and what doesn’t. This is one of the first activities in my Self-Care Matters e-course: write down at least 3 activities that actually make you feel nourished and cared for. We are all different and it’s useful to really tune in to what you like and what feels good for you. Maybe green smoothies are your favourite, or having a bath. Maybe it’s having a lounge room dance party or going for a quiet walk. Maybe it’s getting up early, maybe it’s sleeping in…Write down the activities that work for you! Next, work out what feels like the opposite of self-care to you. After all, different strokes for different folks! Write down 3 activities that perhaps you think you should like, but actually don’t like, or that you have heard suggested as self-care but that sound to you more like a chore. If any of the items on your list are things you are currently forcing yourself to do in the name of looking after yourself (hello, brussel sprouts!), then STOP! Give yourself permission to drop that off your list!
  5. Use what you have. When it comes to looking after ourselves, it’s easy to feel like we need ‘just one more thing’ or ‘that special thing’ before we can truly practice self-care. In truth, this is often a mindset created by marketing in order to get us to buy something! Investing in quality tools and techniques can really help, but there are many ways to show yourself some tender loving care without needing to buy anything. Chances are you already have loads of resources at hand: pretty nail polish, fragrant soap, healthy food, the internet, a friend to talk to, some kind of writing implement (paper or digital) to write your journal in etc. Take an inventory of the resources you already have that you can use to nourish you and then actually USE them!
  6. DIY! Again, using the internet and the things that you already have, there are infinite possibilities for creating your own self-care experiences in the comfort of your own home. You can make your own face-masks out of avocado and honey, set up all your lotions and polishes and give yourself a mani-pedi, put on some nice music and do some gentle stretching on the lounge room floor, get an old exercise book and do some journalling, use the internet to create an entire home-based, video-led retreat for yourself…It can be as much or as little as you like, but there are almost always ways you can do-it-yourself!
  7. Recruit a friend to be your self-care buddy. You can pool your resources, scratch massage each others backs and be each other’s encouragement partner. Affirm each other and take turns really listening to each other. Sometimes just having someone hold the space for you and remind you that you are worthy of your own care is all it takes!
  8. Make a plan and start saving for that self-care activity that you really want. Do you want to reward yourself with a facial or a massage every few months? One strategy that I love is to save my $5 notes. It’s amazing how quickly they add up to $50 or even $100. I often use this strategy for when I want to ‘splurge’ but feel I don’t have the cash on hand. It’s interesting how saving $100 all at once feels difficult but I don’t really miss $5 here and there, and it starts to get exciting when you notice how much it’s adding up to. A friend of mine uses a similar strategy to save for spending money for her holiday every year. She simply puts all the coins in her wallet into a big money box about once a week and by the end of the year she finds she has around $800!
  9. Make a ‘self-care upgrades’ list of things that you’d LOVE to have or do but that you don’t have the money for right now. It might be investing in a coach, getting a monthly massage, going on a fancy holiday or simply treating yourself to that fancy shampoo. Make a list and then you can decide what order you will work towards them.

The bottom line is that you are worthy of your own love and care. It doesn’t have to cost any money at all unless you want it to!

Spring has sprung!

What a busy and exciting time September was, filled with many firsts for The Harmony Agenda. Of course it was the second annual Self-Care September and to go along with that I launched the first intake of my Self-Care Matters E-Course, which was initially meant to run for 30 days. But, as the month went on it became clear that the one-lesson-a-day-for-30-days format was not ideal. As such, I decided to stop the course after 21 days to re-think. The course was very well received and I had many people let me know how even in the short 3 weeks that they participated it had changed the way they thought about and practised self-care. As a first round, I think it has been a huge success and the valuable feedback I’ve gained will only make it better in the next round! The next incarnation of the course will begin in November and it will be a very different format — watch this space!
There were a number of other ‘firsts’ on the blog last month. I was featured as a guest blog on fellow Toowoomba coach Viki Thondley’s blog MindBodyFood which was very exciting! The Harmony Agenda also launched a guest post Friday Fitness column with Exercise Physiologist in residence, my husband Stuart! We plan to make this a regular part of the blog — once we coordinate our schedules!

September also held the first in the Choose Your Own Agenda Interview Series! Bek from West End Matcha shared how she and Adam, her partner in love, life and business, have spent the last 2 years travelling the world and prioritising their health and wellness. It’s a fantastic example of living life on your own terms, check it out here! I’m eagerly awaiting my first order of their organic green tea. Head to their website to find out about the benefits of matcha and order some for yourself!

October also sees me continuing on my decluttering projects. It’s such a cathartic process that many of us can benefit from. I encourage you to choose an area of your life (e.g. your wardrobe, your kitchen drawers, your email inbox) and declutter 25 items by the end of the month. It’s an often overlooked form of self-care and I hope you will find it as beneficial as I do.

Here’s to your health and happiness for the rest of October and beyond.

Lessons in decluttering

Clutter.

Tiny word, huge meaning. It is for me, anyway. I’ve talked about decluttering before but since then, I have to be honest, things didn’t really improve much. Especially after we bought out house and moved from a fairly large house with many rooms into a much cosier home, and then I also moved out of my teacher’s flat which meant that a whole other round of stuff got added to the mix. Two out of the three bedrooms in our house have been pretty choc-full of stuff ever since. And it’s really gotten me down. It’s a constant, mild annoyance and frustration that isn’t ever urgent enough to do something about but is always a drain and does sometimes cause real problems like not being able to find things and having to fill our bedroom with junk if we actually need to use the office or have guests stay in the spare bedroom.

And it seems to be a bit of a theme in my life. The spaces in which I work (music room, store room, desk filing cabinet) were a huge, clutter-filled mess when I arrived. The person I took over from left in rather a hurry, so much so that she hadn’t packed up any of her personal stuff and my desk was still full of her personal items (photo frames etc) for about 2 weeks after I started work! I have been slowly but surely decluttering the music room and music store room for 4 years now, but aside from the initial push to make the store room usable when I first arrived, there’s always been something else more urgent that needed to be done so it has been slow progress.

Similarly, my two personal email inboxes have been steadily filling up with newsletters and other things I’ve subscribed to for many years now. My main personal inbox (gmail) has over 1600 unread emails in it at the moment. My other almost-abandoned inbox (hotmail) had many more than that. I check the gmail very regularly and deal with anything urgent and important. The hotmail, not so much. But once a year I generally try to do a big declutter and get rid of about 1000 emails in each inbox before taking a break and not getting back to it.

Well, September has definitely been my month to declutter! I have been saying for a long time that I wanted to and in one way or another I’ve been forced to this month. It started at work, when we had to get painting and new carpeting done which meant everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) had to be moved out of the store room, music room and our staff room. This made for a huge week in the lead up to the school holidays and a massive last day of school where I clocked up 21,000 steps but it forced me to go through everything. I was able to throw a lot away and I know there will be more to do when we put everything back at the beginning of Term 4. Massive amount of work but such a great opportunity and I know that the external deadline was what made me really work hard at it.

The home front has been going in dribs and drabs over the last year. We made some small progress at home when we moved into the new house and got rid of some things and again when we had a  garage sale in June. But the office was still a big problem for me as it was barely usable and that had been a huuuuuge pain to me for a while. So these holidays, I made a concerted effort to really, finally and once and for all sort my side of it out. I’ll see if I can find some pictures to emphasise how much of a difference it’s made but I’m so glad I did it. It’s not totally completed but I have cleared both my desks and done a lot of filing and even more shredding! Buying a shredder was the best decision ever because a lot of paper stuff I was holding on to only because I didn’t want to throw it out because it posed an identity fraud risk. So I got a cross-shredder. I um-ed and ah-ed about it for, well, over a year actually because I didn’t want to add yet another item to our office appliance list, plus I didn’t want to spend the money. But in the end it really wasn’t expensive (only $60) and so worth it for the amount of benefit I feel I’ve gained through using it! I have also got yet another pile of books to donate to LifeLine and almost everything has a place now, which makes me feel so calm.

These holidays have actually been really great for decluttering at home as I have also made some progress decluttering the wardrobe in our bedroom and also the kitchen and bathroom cupboards. Unfortunately the spare bedroom is still a junk room but I plan to have that sorted by Christmas. I’m on a declutter roll now, so I’ll just keep chipping away at it piece by piece!

So then today came the final lesson. Don’t they say messages come in threes? Well, I’m hearing this message loud and clear about the importance of reducing clutter in my life. Today, for the first time in ages I logged into my hotmail account. There was some pop-up message saying something about ‘Welcome to Outlook’ that I clicked past without reading it properly. And there in my inbox was one lonely email from Microsoft, welcoming me to my ‘new inbox’.

New inbox indeed.

Everything else was gone. All of my folders along the sidebar that I’d had carefully organised with different categories: gone. Every single email in my inbox that was as yet unread and unsorted: gone. Ten years worth of digital history, completely wiped out.

I tried recovering deleted emails and importing emails from other inboxes and changing my account settings and everything else my searches were telling me. But the one message in all the forums and searches that came up over and over was that once I’d done the basic recovery tactics, if they didn’t work it was all pretty much gone forever.

To say that I was shocked, angry and upset is a bit of an understatement. I really was furious and I still am a bit annoyed at the inconvenience this is going to cause. But at the same time, I feel relief and a sense of freedom. This wasn’t an email address that I used regularly but it was my main address in my early adulthood so a lot of my digital history was there. It’s the address I used to sign up to a myriad of different accounts and services, got receipts sent to and had an awful lot of personal emails in. It’s a big loss. And yet, for several years now I’d been contemplating getting rid of this email address altogether but had known it would require a bit of work to sift through everything and change accounts etc, and it wasn’t urgent so that task just kept getting put off.

Until today, when the choice was taken out of my hands. Once I’d gotten over the shock of it and after I’d ranted and raved at my husband about how unfair it is  and completely stupid of Microsoft because they’ve lost my future email business (they have), I went for a long walk in the fragrant evening air and I felt….better. Free-er. Calmer. Lighter.

I’m actually kind of glad it happened! I can’t believe I’m saying that but…I kind of am! Now I can get down to the practical tasks of changing my email address in the important places and closing the account. I’ve lost a big chunk of digital past, but I feel that it’s making way for a new, better, brighter digital future.

And I feel that this will only spur my decluttering plans on for the rest of the year because reducing stuff also reduces stress and that is SO worth it.

Now it’s your turn: Can you find 25 things in your house to get rid of? You can either throw them away or donate if they are in good condition. And how is your email inbox looking? Can you declutter 25 items from there too? I promise you that you will feel lighter for it!

Choose Your Own Agenda with West End Matcha

Today on the blog I’m starting something new: the Choose Your Own Agenda Interview Series!
There are so many ways to live life, and although it’s easy to get stuck in a ‘this is how things are done so this is how I have to do it’ pattern of thinking, there are already many, many people choosing their own agenda for their lives. My purpose with the blog started as a way to simply document how I was creating my own harmony agenda. But over the nearly 2 years that I have had the blog, my own agenda has evolved, I’ve begun a side-business and I really want to expand The Harmony Agenda to inspire as many people as possible to choose the life they want. I have plans to make a podcast to this end also, but for now, I’m starting here and now with an interview series that seeks to show the many and varied ways other people are making their dreams reality.
Today’s interviewee is the beautiful Rebekah from West End Matcha. Bek is a dear friend of mine, a fellow teacher and Japanese-speaker, who has just spent the better part of the last two years (same time I’ve been blogging actually!) tripping around the world with her partner, Adam. They’ve just launched their Matcha business and are coming to the end of their travels (for now) so it’s a great time to find out how they’re choosing their own agenda.
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What is matcha and how is it different/why is it better than normal tea?

Well the main difference is that unlike regular green tea, which is made by steeping the tea leaves in hot water, matcha is the whole leaf that has been ground into a fine powder and is mixed into the water that you drink. So when you drink matcha, you are actually ingesting the whole leaf and all of the healthy goodness that it possesses. The health properties of green tea have been extensively researched and matcha, being a purer and more concentrated version of green tea is packed full of nutrients that have a positive effect on our bodies. Matcha has been linked to cancer prevention due to it’s high concentration of antioxidants which is 137 times that of regular green tea.  It’s high theanine content helps to alleviate stress and anxiety. It has also been found to help boost the body’s metabolism, clear the skin and lower blood sugar levels. The list of potential benefits goes on and on but you get the picture!

Matcha actually comes from the same plant family as green and black tea. However, how it is grown, harvested and processed is quite different. Unlike regular green tea, the growing conditions for matcha are quite specific, making it rare and more expensive. For example, matcha tea leaves are grown under shade for the last 20-30 days before harvest to boost the amount of chlorophyll and nutrients in the leaves. They are then hand picked, steamed briefly and air-dried before being deveined, de-stemmed and stone-ground into a fine powder.  Only a few places in Japan produce matcha and now it is in even more demand than ever.

Can you explain a bit about the Japanese tea making and drinking philosophy?

The Japanese have been producing and drinking matcha since the 12th century. It has always been associated with medication, meditation and ritual. A Japanese Zen Buddhist priest is said to have been the first in Japan to begin cultivating green tea for medicinal purposes. The samurai class began to drink it too and it was through them that the tea ceremony was born and dispersed throughout Japan.  In Japan, the traditional tea ceremony is an art form that people actually study. In Japanese it is called, “the way of tea” and there are many similarities between it and Japanese martial arts. The ceremony consists of a set of pre-defined movements and ultimately comes down to spiritual discipline and preparing tea from the heart.image1

When drinking matcha, whether you are participating in the ceremony or sitting at home, the purpose should be to feel present in the moment. It is about appreciating the simple things such as the feel and beauty of the cup, the taste of the tea and the company of friends. Matcha is pure and simple – so drinking it is exactly that, a moment of pure simplicity.

What drew you to the idea of selling matcha?

That’s a good question. I have loved matcha ever since I participated in my first tea ceremony on a school trip to Japan over ten years ago. I was fascinated by the ritual, the taste of the tea and the calmness I felt during the ceremony. Since then I have taken part in many tea ceremonies and those feelings come back every time.

I had always enjoyed the ceremony but never thought of matcha as something that could be enjoyed at home or used as an ingredient in food. For the last year, my partner, Adam and I have been living in Japan. We have always been into our health, but recently we have stepped it up a notch, really paying attention to our bodies and making healthy choices. One habit we were finding hard to kick, however, was coffee. We love our coffee!

One day, Adam confessed to me that he was buying a matcha latte on the way to work a couple of days a week instead of having a coffee. I became interested and we got ourselves a bag of matcha and a whisk to start drinking it at home. Before long, I had completely replaced my morning coffee for a morning matcha. But what was most surprising were the physical effects I was feeling. Recently, after I stopped taking my birth control pill, I had been experiencing hormonal acne which no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to control. After swapping my coffee for matcha it completely cleared up. I was also finding that my energy levels after drinking matcha lasted longer than coffee and there was no nasty side effects like a racing heart or that awful ‘mid-morning crash’. Matcha does contain caffeine, but only 34mg per gram compared to coffee which is usually 80mg.  In short, I was sold. Pretty soon I was adding it to smoothies, pancakes and even yoghurt. It was Adam that suggested we try selling it in Australia, what we didn’t realise was how trendy it was already becoming!

You and Adam have just spent the better part of 2 years travelling the world. To me this is the perfect example of ‘choosing your own agenda’. Can you tell me a little bit about how you made this happen?

Over the last few years my attitude towards life has gone through some dramatic changes. I had always been a pleaser, a stressor and to be honest, a bit of a complicator when it came to my health, relationships and work. I needed a change and so, at the end of 2013, Adam and I decided to leave our jobs and go on a two year trip around the world. This meant we had to do some major simplifying (and some major saving!). When we finally got our life down to two relatively small back packs, we were amazed at how little we really needed and how free and content we were with that. We set off on our adventure and after a year travelling through Europe, we finally settled in Japan which would be our home for over 12 months.

image3Instead of accumulating more ‘stuff’ and going back our old ways of thinking about the world, we continued to keep things simple and found real happiness living with less and looking after ourselves better. What we also found was that we had a new found confidence to create our own agendas for life. I used to make excuses and ‘I can’t do that!’, was a common phrase in my vocabulary. Now it has been replaced with ‘why not?’ and that has opened up the door to so many more exciting experiences and adventures, like this idea to sell matcha.

What’s on the agenda for you both in the next year? Where do you see yourselves this time next year?

In the next few months we are making the transition back to Australia. We are looking forward to settling back into the Brisbane area and catching up properly with all of our friends and family.

Our agenda for the next year is to keep things simple, look after ourselves and be the best people we can be. What we think that involves at the moment is growing our matcha business in the community of Brisbane/South East Queensland, whilst maintaining a healthy work life balance with our day jobs. Previously I probably would have said that it can’t be done. Now I just say, why not?

 

Why not indeed! You can check out West End Matcha here. I’ve already ordered my first bag of matcha, when are you ordering yours?