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In the midst of a pandemic – take time for your soul

‘Whether or not we belong to any religious or spiritual tradition, there is a renewed awareness of the need to take care not just of our physical health but our mental, emotional and spiritual health — to take care of our souls.’ – Arianna Huffington

I’ve struggled this week with mental, emotional and physical exhaustion from sleep deprivation. It’s the result of caring for my daughter all night while she was ill (she’s getting better now). I wouldn’t begrudge a second if it. And exhausting nevertheless.

Throw that on top of living in isolation in the midst of a global pandemic and you have an interesting cocktail. If you’ve ever been so tired that it feels like the fabric of your insides is somehow coming undone and your brain has shaken loose, that’s kind of how I felt.

I chose to put my superwoman tendencies to one side and ask for help. I asked for alone time. I took a walk for my daily exercise. I found a small corner at home to sit, read, pray, meditate and reflect. It wasn’t long and it didn’t need to be. Those precious moments were the difference between taking care of my soul needs and eventual burn out. It was a powerful lesson for me.

How are you taking care of your soul in these challenging times? What do you need more or less of to help you do that? Who could you turn to, or talk to? It’s not about big steps, it’s about small decisions, quiet voices, tiny changes – those are the ones that add up to seismic shifts.

Go well. x

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Superwoman, I am not

Busy, oh so busy

My life is always busy. I’m busy working, connecting, cleaning up, tidying up, learning, socialising, playing, creating, washing clothes, travelling, reading, organising, parenting (or being parented), buying food, cooking food, writing, and listening. There is always something or, more often, someone calling for my attention.

When I give and give and give without taking time out to rejuvenate, I crack. Every single time. You’d think I would learn, wouldn’t you? And I do, and I don’t.

Who says I’m not superwoman?

It’s easy to say I need space. I’m not very good at accepting I need it, and much worse at doing something about it. I’m supposed to be superwoman, aren’t I? The kind of gal who just gets on with it all, taking it all in my stride on my own day after day. I can do it all, be it all and own it all. Alone.

Do you know what? That’s total rubbish. I can’t push on through everything without the strain of the effort showing through. I can’t do it all alone. I’m not even meant to do life alone. The need for connection and belonging is hard wired into our souls. The cracks show up as extreme lack of patience, frustrated and exhausted tears, increasingly negative self-talk, physical exhaustion and a worryingly downward spiral of lack of self-esteem. Too many times I’ve ended up in a heap on the kitchen floor with nothing left to give.

I do at least now recognise the signs of impending doom. I no longer have to wait for Armageddon to be unleashed before listening to what my body and mind are already telling me (not always, but I’m getting better at noticing Armageddon’s approach). Now I often succeed at giving myself a small measure of compassion. I call time before someone else calls it for me. Usually.

Run away

And so it was I found myself at a lovely little beachside cafe yesterday afternoon. The cracks had been widening all through my short week, and escape was my only way out. Running away to the circus actually felt like a realistic option for a few fleeting moments. Oh, what a difference a couple of hours made: alone in the sun, with a cup of tea (herbal, don’t judge me) and the calming blue sea! It didn’t completely plaster over the cracks but the gaps sure weren’t as wide as before I listened and took the action I needed most: to stop.

Listen and answer the call

Little pleasures are often all you need to calm and soothe your soul. It doesn’t have to be big and grand. Simple and quick can be beautifully effective at restoring and rejuvenating you, even if you have to do the same thing again tomorrow or the next day. One day at a time.

What do you need most today? Will you listen?

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Perception is Everything

Striving for perfection

I am a perfectionist. I like to say I’m a recovering perfectionist. Or maybe an almost perfectionist – perfection is after all almost impossible to obtain. From the very moment my eyes open each morning I see the world with the eyes of someone striving for perfection.

Every single interaction I have, every choice or decision I make, and all the experiences I have are directly affected by how I perceive the world around me. As a perfectionist I perceive everything with a ridiculously critical eye. I am, almost always, harder and more critical of myself than anyone else. I zone in on tiny imperfections and fail to notice successes and achievements, or at least I notice them and quickly spot the things I could have done better until the achievement is in the shadow of my own perceived failures.

The standards I set for myself and, too often, for others are not always reasonable. I become anxious at the very thought of failing, and the extreme anxiety often leaves me stuck in a world of procrastination. I get stuck in circles of my own over-thinking. It goes something like this: I want to do this, I must do this perfectly, I can’t do this perfectly, I can’t do this, I won’t do this. Guess what? I don’t do it.

It happens when I’m learning lines for shows. I think: I want to learn these lines, I must learn them perfectly. I start trying and find I can’t learn them instantly (oddly…!). Thoughts continue: I can’t do this, I won’t do this. I stop learning lines. I put it off for a couple of weeks. I get stressed I’ve not learned my lines.

It’s not fun to be in this thought loop, it isn’t joyful or healthy to be ultra critical of myself in every single minute of my waking day. Yet it’s been a part of me for as long as I can remember. I didn’t have a clue how to even begin tackling this in the past. How can you change your behaviour when you’ve never known anything else?

Check your filters

The truth is you may well have behaved very differently before in your life. It’s highly likely at some point someone said something to me that went a bit like: “you’ve got to get it right” or “keep trying until it’s perfect”. And immediately what happened was I started to see the world through a filter, a perfection filter, like a visor on a motorbike helmet, only this filter slightly distorted the way I saw the world and interacted in it. Over time other filters popped up as well, like “don’t bother people” (ooh, ‘don’t bother people, do it all on your own’ filter) or “you’ve got to work hard” (hello, ‘working hard’ filter). Until suddenly my visor was, and is, so covered in filters I can’t see out of it clearly, and all I see and experience is affected by those filters.

Your story may not be exactly the same, and some version of this will have happened to you. You only see reality through your own filters, not necessarily how things really are in reality.

These filters of ours aren’t all bad. On the contrary, striving for perfection has enabled me to work hard, to achieve amazing things (I notice how my “I must be humble” filter doesn’t like me saying that out loud), and to throw everything into all I do. And yet, it causes anxiety, slows my progress, even resulting in total lack of action, and it doesn’t have to be this way.

You always have a choice

I have a choice, and you do too. I can choose whether to keep looking at the world through my filter of perfectionism. Or I can choose to start noticing where it shows up and what happens when it does. I can notice when it stops me in my tracks. And when I do, I can choose to do what I’ve always done or try something different. I can choose to test out whether there might be another reality I can’t see yet.

How do you try on another idea of reality? Sounds a bit sci-fi, right? If I notice my perfectionist filter is causing me to be super critical of something I’ve done, I’ll ask someone I trust for feedback. More often than not they will find positives I hadn’t even noticed, and I start to see that there is another version of reality I hadn’t seen before. Or I just get into action anyway – noticing the perfectionist filter is often enough to give me breathing space to take action, to move beyond it to a place where I can see maybe I had a distorted view.

Notice it, and take action

So today, if you find yourself putting something off, or thinking there’s no point in trying to change/do anything differently, start to notice what filters you might be looking through. Don’t try to take them off, just notice them, and ask yourself how can you test out whether there might be another version of reality. And take action.

Go well, and have fun.

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Stories from the Plateau

Learning doesn’t guarantee success. You can pour hours into attempting to learn something new and still never reach a pinnacle of success of a kind that our world’s media suggests is your right if you work hard. The truth is, putting in the hard graft is no guarantee that you’ll arrive at a positive result. And yet, there is one certainty about learning, if you don’t bother trying to learn anything, you won’t have any possibility of succeeding at all.

I’m right in the thick of learning lines for a musical theatre show with my wonderful community musical theatre group. We do it because it’s fun to hang out together and sing (often) great songs, and attempt a bit of acting and dancing. And did I mention we just like to mess about in each other’s company? If I have anything like an extended family, it’s these guys that are it. It’s fun (usually) and it’s hard work to achieve anything remotely close to a solid performance that people will actually enjoy experiencing when they rock up to watch the show. It’s not about the audience, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling that the audience have gone home with a spring in their step and smile on their faces – and that we’ve been the cause.

I know that on one level it doesn’t matter if I put hard work in or not. Something unexpected could happen on the night that means I won’t recall the lines, or I’ll stumble on a word and the line will come up all crumpled up. Or someone will leave their mobile phone on and the resulting ringtone will throw me off kilter. And I also know that if I don’t do the work of trying to learn the lines, I definitely won’t know them, and the lack of confidence that results means I end up anxious, stressed out and worried that I’ll let myself and everyone around me down.

What I know is doing the work to learn the lines means I won’t worry so much, and I’ll have more mental capacity to try new stuff out, to have fun and to really be there with my friends in the cast and crew in this moment and this moment and this moment.

I also know that I will go through inevitable peaks and troughs as I try to learn the lines, music and choreography. There will be highs when it goes well or in the early days when there is lots of time. There will be days of crushing bleakness when it’s going badly and I can’t remember a single thing I’ve been trying to get to stick. And there will be days on the plateau where it’s sort of ticking along – made some progress and not really seeing any evidence of further momentum or development. The days where I’ve been working on specific things and they just won’t stick. It’s tempting to find these times frustrating and give up. And yet, if I keep doing the work, showing up and learning especially when it seems nothing is happening, eventually I’ll hit a breakthrough. The plateau is where I learn most about me. About my impatience, where I fight my perfectionist demons and where I have to trust that it’s worth carrying on taking steps when there’s no obvious sign of growth, or change.

So when you’re learning remember that the plateau is always there. You will always reach it. And it isn’t an easy place to be. Surround yourself with people who love you, do fun things and keep going. The plateau is like a tree in winter. Reserves are building, new growth is about to breakthrough, spring is around the corner. Don’t give up.

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The right regrets

I’d like to say that one day I woke up and a resolution hit me with crystal clear clarity, and that was not how it happened. It’s the sort of thing that gets talked about, isn’t it? How the light shone through the window and it all suddenly made sense! Yeh, lovely and that’s just not how it happened for me. In fact I’m the sort of person who thinks too much about everything. So nothing is ever going to hit me in the face like that. It just isn’t. Even if it did I would question it and ponder it because that’s how I do things.

Over a very long period of time I very slowly came to the realisation that I would rather come to the end of my days risking regretting trying stuff and failing, than risking regretting never trying at all. It seemed the failure of all failures would be to come to the end of my time and know I hadn’t made the effort to make a life for myself that was mine, and not the life that the media in all it’s forms try so hard to portray as “the ideal”. I don’t like that life and I don’t want that life. I want a life based on deep connections, on making a difference, trying new things and having a load of fun along the way.

It sounds so simple, and yet it can feel very hard. It takes effort to go out into the world and take action, it takes courage to go out of your comfort zone and it takes time to get used to putting yourself out on the edge of that comfort zone and start stretching. Frankly it’s easier to do nothing and ride the wave that comes your way without ever choosing whether you want to ride it or not.

You see your comfort zone is a bit like a rubber band. It’s very comfortable being loose and hanging about. And there’s a point when you start pulling at an elastic band where tension arises. That’s the edge, if you like, of your comfort zone. If you pull too hard it stretches and becomes taut and shakes with the effort of being stretched too much big too soon, and if you let go when it’s at full stretch… ping! The band goes flying off, lands in a heap and quickly resumes its old shape. Comfort zone restored. If you pull just enough, you can change the shape without sending it off into the outer hemisphere. And that point, that’s where the magic happens.

On the edge of your comfort zone is where change begins. It’s where you can start, slowly, to stretch your understanding of what might be possible for you. Maybe today that’s just asking for an espresso instead of your usual Americana, or visiting a vegan restaurant in place of a steak house, or asking a friend what exactly it is that they do in their job, or asking to watch how someone grooms a dog. You have to start somewhere.

What’s the smallest thing you could do today that will push you ever so slightly out of your normal comfort zone? Who could you speak to? What activity could you do? Where could you go? Do something, anything. And have fun.