In 2019 I had goals…

Any fans of the Gretchen Rubin Happier Podcast know Elizabeth and Gretchen reset every year with a list of goal. But instead of over-arching vague ideas, they get you to be specifoc. In 2019 I did it all: I set a word of the year, I set new goals 19 for 2019 and I started a Happiness Project. Habits were changed: more time was spent reading, blogging and cleaning. But despite that I am struggling to feel the sense of achievement I ought to. So I thought it was time to review what I had achieved.

CAREER GOALS

Writing goals: I plotted the first three chapters of my comedic novel and I blogged almost every week but did I complete my first draft of my novel? Reader, I think you may know by now I did not. I am 24 days off my first post on this blog: could I get it in on time for my Blogeversary?

Work Goals: Within months of starting the year, I started a new job. Thank you Universe for finding me flexible, interesting work. I have a lot to learn but I just found out I passed probation and I am a permanent staff member. There’s lots of training coming up in the New Year so this is one thing I can tick off my 19 for 2019.

Blog Goals: It was part way through the year before I started to get a hang of this blogging stuff. I have set up a Pinterest page and I am planning to develop in this area to make my content more. professional in future. This one will go to next year’s list.

A bit more time for me

HEALTH AND WELLBEING GOALS

Selfcare Goals: Are yoga and swimming part of my weekly life? No, they are not. Upholding these goals have been a very long term struggle. The few hours I have to do it, I do not get up and go. Lets be honest, this one will always have to be on my list but I am working on how to make it a habit.

Friendship Goals: I have completed some of my goals to see people more though scraping them in at the last minute by seeing Movies the last couple of weekends of the year. We are yet to have people for dinner but I know we had friends for brunch once, so that counts. I think I need to combine the exercise and friends goals probably to fit it all in.

Activity Goals: I didn’t manage to see three musicals but I did see two and the Tutankhamun exhibit so I am putting this down as a win. I know expensive activities can’t be everyday, but I am glad that the practice of Artist’s Dates is opening me up to a more creative life.

FAMILY LIFE

Education Goals: I am still stuck in the quagmire or applying for the right support for my son. This is a difficult one to have as a goal because I am at the mercy of other people. Despite not being through with this part of the process, I can say I have given this my all, dedicating a lot of time and often too much of my energy to a broken system. So, a win for me if not yet for him.

Relationship Goals: I can’t really tick off these goals but I can move them to the next list as aspirations. My husband’s work has been all-consuming but, just maybe, the light is coming at the end of the tunnel. I think we will see a lot more of each other in 2020.

BETTER HABITS

Phone time: Maybe because these goals were concrete and achievable. I have halved my time of social media. I have been better at saving my photos to the cloud though I need to share them more often with family members still.

A little less time online

Eat lunch at home: The past few months, I have been buying lunch out again but one plus of my new job is a I have a coffee machine at work which reduced my eating out costs. This one is to reestablish habits of earlier in the year.

So overall, I completed 10/19 goals and made some good new habits along the way. My housework goals were separate so I think I will give myself some extra points.

What I have learned is to be specific where I can to help me get that sense of achievement. I also need to review goals more frequently- some I had forgotten I had set! I must order them by priority so that I make time for crucial things like exercise or big things, like finishing the damn draft.

Seems like it’s finally time. Now I need more than goals, going to make my 2020 vision…!

Finding the right way to unwind…

So this was the year I stopped drinking and forgot to tell anyone

It struck me after a supremely stressful week that quite a few people around me suggested I treat myself to a large glass of wine. Not unusual advice. How many memes, tshirts and mugs are there about mothers needing wine or gin? But what they don’t know: this was the year I stopped drinking. Well, I had two drinks in total and may have a tipple or not at Christmas…

Giving up was not a big deal for me. I am lucky that I don’t have an issue with addiction though I have been around it. Saying no up was just a case of stopping when I didn’t fancy the side effects anymore. I know it was the right thing because earlier this week I had a two day hangover from having one small drink. Somehow though kind friends, who haven’t noticed my lifestyle change, thought I had really earned a drink this weekend after a tough week. But I am happy that I decided against it though I really needed to unwind.

You see, this time last year I had a few social occassions (this is rare, I have little opportunity and very few childcare options). Being the fun mum I am I took it way too far and drank too much on those nights out. I got migraine level hangovers (bad), flushed skin like hives (awful) and a debilitating bout of anxiety (the worst.) So, with actually very little soul-searching, I decided to stop drinking.

It bothered very few people. Afterall, I don’t go out that much anyway. A few older relatives were a little put out. I can’t decide if it’s because they were hopeful I was pregnant (ha) or they just felt judged. Most friends who do know though haven’t given a hoot. Apparently I am not alone, Millenials (I’m almost that young!) are also give up drinking or “Dragged down alcohol sales” as Business Insider put it in an article earlier this year.

According to them, this is a side effect of a surveillance culture because any indiscretion is immediately online. As I say, I don’t go out enough to really humiliate myself but I still realised this year I needed a change. For me, living with the consequences of a drink has been too much. Because the “hang-xiety” isn’t the only reason it takes me to a dark place. I think we often ignore the depressant factor in alcohol in order to enjoy being less inhibited. I am writing about a protagonist at the moment who is really not good at parties. Her awkwardness like many around her is only overcome by drinking copious glasses of wine. I mean, I may have given it up but I can still imagine myself in this position. But weighing it up, I can cope better this way.

This is not to say, of course, that anyone out there who uses wine to unwind is an alcoholic nor that anyone doesn’t have a right to use whatever they like in the name of self-care. Afterall, I have the book Hurrah for Gin in my kitchen to turn to after a hard day of motherhood. However, for me, this year has been giving self-care a bit of a makeover.

It is all about finding what works for you, for me, escaping to books is great. I have on a number occassions this year camped out in my bedroom whilst my husband entertains my son. And it is an escape that sometimes you need. I have also done much more swimming. So reminding myself of this, after a stressful week, I have turned to these two things over alcohol to unwind.

All this is to say, handling anxiety is more important than if I feel awkward at parties or don’t have an easy way to unwind. So for me, I’ll pass on the continuous memes and the wine for now.

A season of new writing

Why Autumn is the best time for writing

I can feel it, Autumn crisping the air, so I dragged the covers out for our bed and, just like that…

This is my favourite time of year, “Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness” roll in and the Autumn announces itself. Best of all its time for comfort and covers to come into the house. The Hygge craze may be less popular but I think there is nothing better than feeling a bit cosy. Its time for making rituals of comfort, like more soft furnishings and lighting my driftwood candle. Best of all, it will soon be time for scarf weather.

Where will Autumn take you?
Licensed under Creative Commons

It may be the back-to-school sense in the air, but the beginning of September seems really inspiring to me. I know Gretchen Rubin writes in her books about habits, that September can feel like a new year. Perhaps particularly for parents, a chance to tackle goals with new vigour.

So, if your writing has slumped a little over Summer or if you have had to contend with a young’un or two in tow, how can Autumn inspire you?

Setting up your space to write is not always very easy. We are cramped for space in my home. But there is something about setting a scene that can help. This time of year, looking out of the window at a tree behind our house, to see it begin to change, causes me joy. Being mindful of my surroundings can really help me be creative. Even if it looks like I am staring out of the window, it helps to feel some sense of calm.

This may seem obvious by now, but I like to be comfortable. This Summer I have been changing in out of clothes, wearing shorts then cooling down and pulling back on cropped jeans, then a skirt to go to work. I mean, it’s just hard work. Out comes the Autumn uniform, sweaters and jeans, jeans and sweaters (with occasional dress for work). I think I am realising that anything can distract me, like being too hot. And irritable me does not do my best work.

Talking of new school year, it is a totally legitimate excuse to get new stationary. If you write in notebooks like me, this may mean a new selection. There may already be an owlish one waiting for use. I have a perfect excuse because as I continue my journey through The Artist’s Way Programme, Julia Cameron suggests having a creativity notebook to plot your creative goals.

The seasonal change between Summer and Autumn has become important to me in my writing. My protagonist is trying to hold on to a happy Summer, a happy family, but Autumn is coming quickly to disturb her and her family. It only occurred to me when someone else read my writing that throughout I characterise the woodland as a place for childhood. We are familiar with the idea of Autumn days representing our later life so I suppose these are the moments, the end of August and beginning of September, which inform my work-in-progress. Quite a philosophical time, really.

And while I write about my main character’s obsession with nature around her, I think it is the perfect time to add a bit of nature into your life. Collecting leaves and conkers, cooking apples and of course as many walks in the woods as you can manage. These are not just things for Instagram shots (though, friends, prepare for the spam) – they are also the most wonderful way of connecting to your inner creativity.

I am about to post more about “Artist’s Dates”, as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way but spending a few hours in nature, definitely counts as working on your writing. In fact, as Autumn eases on, I would call time in nature essential creative work.

Healing wounds

Can your imagination heal you?

Recently I have written posts about going through life’s ups and downs and saying to myself “USE THIS”. It’s my common mantra. Well in the last few weeks this has been put to the test. I am recovering from a (thankfully minor) operation and it is taking a while to heal.

In the spirit of getting better, I watched the documentary Heal, and I have been thinking a lot about the mind-body connection in healing. The documentary itself has information about a number of alternative healing methods, including faith healers and it is intriguing for the casual viewer. Although, I do worry that someone might come across it in a time of serious health crisis and focus on the “miracle” cures, without also taking their doctors’ advice. It’s important to note that one woman whose jouney we follow through psychological and spiritual healing did also complete her course of chemotherapy.

It is probably very easy for me to seem critical of these people who put their lives in the hands of healers. I doubt anyone could think about what they would do unless they were there. But it interested me to hear of stories where imagination has been used to heal. People visualised what their well body looked like; after a severe accident one man even imagined a completely whole spine. And yes, he walked again. These remarkable stories showed the power of these thoughts. Though they had to work hard at it, the person plays their visualisations repeatedly and to goes into a deep meditative state.

Guided Relaxation Meditainment

As well as apparently using our imagination for profound healing, there are ways that meditation can bring relief. I have enjoyed for many years a series which I believe is called “Meditainment” Guided Meditations. Despite the ridiculous portmanteau, I have found these meditations really helpful. They are a series of stories or guided visualisation which you follow and relax you. Many apps do this now such as Calm where Stephen Fry reads you a bedtime story. Using them can help you go to sleep or just take away anxious thoughts for a time.

If you are looking to feel better or just relax I would certainly recommend these meditations. It also reminds me of an episode of The Allusionist podcast 82: A Novel Remedy which is all about how reading can be great in convalescence. I have been thinking a lot about why we enjoy thrillers and murder mysteries, particularly of the cosy kind. This podcast provides some interesting answers and perhaps suggests these cosy reads are good for when you are recuperating.

Getting out an old favourite novel is quite tempting this week. As I identified in my post about re-reading, books you love can be very comforting. I have also been reading the excellent short stories in Light Box by KJ Orr and I find short stories when your mind is shot is quite a good option. And these stories are exquisite.

It is hard to say if the mind is the only thing that heals, I have had the NHS doctors and nurses and painkillers to thank too. It is clear that keeping a positive mindset as well as indulging my imagination in meditation and reading are probably a great way for me or anyone to heal.