Slow down or lean in?…I’m so confused

IMG_0888As you know, I’m a little bit addicted to personal and career development stuff at the moment,  I’m inhaling books, blogs and articles like oxygen.  I’ve become incredibly curious and interested.  I think it stems from trying to work out my own mind, which is always searching for answers  (not that I am entirely sure what the question is…which is why I keep on looking).

OK…so there are two pretty significant pieces of advice that have really hit home for me recently,  which I think I ought to be applying in my life… but the problem is, they seem to often be conflicting with each other and I can’t work out when to do which?

Firstly… there is the whole idea of sllloooowwing dooown (imagine me saying this in slow motion, not quite sure how to get that effect in writing..,..but you get the idea).  I totally believe that this hectic crazy world has us all hyped up to the max.  Social Media and internet bring everything to us at break neck speed and people expect responses immediately.   “Busy” has become the standard catch cry, and not only is it boring, but when was being busy in anyway cool?!  yet, time and time again I catch myself inadvertently busy boasting.  So hard not to be in a work meeting and comment on how busy things are, or to be the standard response when friends say “what’s happening?”… So I know this needs to change.  I need to cut out some commitments,  consider my priorities, learn to say NO thank you, No, No and No again…

Which brings me to my dilemma,  because ideal number 2,  is the whole concept of Leaning In.  As I mentioned before in my post about being curious… I have spent a large part of my life being fearful and hiding in my comfort zone  (for the record, my comfort zone is totally warm and cosy.  I have a lovely cup of tea in my hand, perhaps some chocolate caramel slice and sometimes my comfort zone even offers free massages…it’s a nice place and I really love staying there).    But I know that not pushing out of my comfort zone, means missing out on lots of life experiences.  That being curious and interested in the world ignites my passion and fire.    And when I get my whole feminist zing on…I’m all about leaning in baby…   no hiding at home living a quiet and small life.    I need to take my awesomeness to the world.   Promotion at work? more responsibilities?  Bring it on baby,  because it will open me up to new experiences and I’ll learn more.

But hold on a minute here.   How the hell I am supposed to slow down, at the same time as leaning in? I’m so excited and interested, and I’m on the look out for new challenges that light the fire in my belly…but I also have this niggling feeling in my belly that taking on more is simply going to overload me so I collapse in a heap on the floor.  That far from helping me to slow down and focus,  it will simply wind me up like an energizer bunny.

How can these two things work together?

OK…so I’m hearing the voices of all those guru’s out there that I keep reading..and I’m thinking their telling me that I need to search deep inside for my inner purpose and values.  These things will help guide me to make the decisions about where to lean in and where to lean out.   But there is so much more complexity in the realities of the every day. I’m started to get confused about the voices in my head,  I know what my goals and priorities are, but sometimes they overlap with each other.  I can’t tell the different between the voice that tells me to stay in my comfort zone through fear and the voice that is telling me to stay in my comfort zone because I need to give myself some space, to say “no” because it is ultimately what is best for me.

One recent example is when I thought I may need to go to New York for work, be inspired so I can then go on to inspire others…which is something I’ve been wanting for so long (totally on my vision board peeps)  but it was at a time when my husband was also away with his work which means it was possible…but going to require a lot of outside help and be exhausting for all of us.  So if I “lean in” and just make it happen..it clashes with my family values, wanting to spend more quiet afternoons at home with my family,  baking anzac biscuits and sitting in the sunshine with my tea.  I don’t want to palm the children off to friends, family and random others and  I don’t want to come home and be jet lagged and grumpy.

So who should I listen to?  Is that the voice of reason helping me to make wise choices that are going to keep me calm and grounded,   or is it fear keeping me in my little happy comfort zone?  Fear that my friends/family will think I’ve asked too much, fear that my kids will be upset with me, fear that my husband will be annoyed?  Or on the flip slide,  am I just being driven by fear that I will lose my status at work if I say I can’t go at this time?

I know there is no silver bullet easy answer here.   It is going to take trial and error,  wrong decisions and u-turns.   It reminds me very much of all the diet and exercise information there is out there.   Do I eat sugar or fat? carbs or no carbs?  It can be really confusing.  But at the end of the day,  if you spend enough time listening to your own body, continually reading and learning then experimenting…you’ll figure out what works best for you…and just for you.

So I have to patient with myself on this stuff too.   Nothing is ever that cut and dry.  The idea is just to keep practicing.  To make conscious decisions (even if they turn out to be the “wrong” ones),  rather than just floating through life like a stick in a stream…not even noticing when you get stuck on a rock.

I don’t think that is possible for a serial over thinker like me…although… right now, when my brain is about to explode with too much thinking, floating like a stick in a stream is perhaps exactly what I should be doing.

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Why not having a plan makes me anxious…

IMG_0772Hello Sunshine!!   I was so excited this weekend when the sun came out from behind the clouds and the sky was shiny blue.  My mood lifted instantly.   It feels like it has been a long winter here (actually I read somewhere that it has been the coldest winter in 15years), and my mood slumped along with the sunshine.    It is amazing the difference the warmth makes to your state of mind.

My husband has been away this weekend and I have to confess to being a little anxious as to what the the weekend would hold.  Actually  (lets just keep rolling out the confessions), I am always a bit anxious about what is going to happen at the weekend.  I realise this is perhaps a little strange, as the weekend is when I should be the most relaxed…right?   But it is not.   If I am leading into a weekend that is jam packed full of activities,  I feel much better.  Sure…it might be chaotic…but I know what I’m in for and I can plan around it.   It’s the unknown that gives me the heebie jeebies (side note:  can honestly say I am not sure I have ever had to actually write that down.  Had to look it up.  And, for your reference, the official definition is  “A feeling of minor fright, anxiety, nervousness, apprehension, the willies”- yes people,  the weekend gives me the willies.  Thank you Urban Dictionary)

Kelly Exeter from A life Less Frantic,  talks about creating “white space” in her life to help to stay calm.  A serial scheduler (much like myself),  she has been guilty of trying to schedule too much in her days which doesn’t allow for things to not go well (which inevitably will happen at some point).   So she purposefully schedules time in days when nothing is planned…white space… to give her some flexibility (apologies to Kelly if I am not articulating her theories correctly,  this is Claire’s interpretation, which admittedly could be a little warped).

ANYWAY,  as you may have guess, I’m a little uncomfortable with white space.

Every morning (give or take a day or two), I write a list of the things I need to do.  I prioritise them and then I schedule out most of my day.  There is no whitespace (don’t judge me too harshly,  it’s not all work stuff, I schedule in fun stuff too!) because what will I do with this white space if I haven’t thought about that already?  What if the kids just hang off me saying “I’m bored”?  if I haven’t scheduled out the chores maybe they won’t get done or I’ll forget something important?  What if we miss out on doing something because I didn’t organise it?

Writing this down sounds a little crazy,  but these are the things that go around in my head.   I’m not hugely spontaneous, I like a bit of time to make decisions.  But I realise this is probably not the best approach and it means that I don’t have room for life to just….well…happen.

So I’ve been trying a little harder recently,  to let myself move into a weekend without having too many things on the plan.   Sure, I still have a list of the chores I would like to complete at some point.  And I try to schedule at least one thing per day for the kids amusement and time for exercise.  But that is it.  And it has been a weird little experiment,  firstly because I do struggle with it so much (seriously what is wrong with me), but also because I am getting more and more examples of where having that space has worked out great.    The neighbours popping their heads over the fence and inviting the kids for a play “if they are not doing anything?”…actually,  they are not!   The sudden decision to stop at the coffee shop with the kids for some lunch, after our shopping.    Spending an afternoon lying in bed reading my book, while my daughter watched TV as she wasn’t feeling 100% after a cold… because we could, as nothing else was planned.

So this weekend, I didn’t have too much in plan and I was on my own, which was worrying me.  But then the sun came out.   I went outside and breathed the fresh air.   I randomly decided to prune/destroy our mop tree, which was out of control and we had been meaning to do for months.   My daughter was invited next door for a play.  My son went over the road to the playground to play with friends.  Then I suddenly stopped and realised I had an unexpected moment to myself!! Quick, sieze the day.

Poured myself a cuppa,  sat on the front deck and well….just sat…. it lasted all of about 10min,  but it was lovely…

Do you leave enough “white space” in your days to embrace unexpected moments in life when they happen?

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P.S…just for the record…I had an absolutely awful day, the day after I wrote this.   A volatile combination of tired cranky children and tired cranky mum.   It was an explosive end of a long week, and lets just say I won’t be winning any parenting awards for my mothering skills on that day.  But I am choosing to focus on the pockets of goodness,  the moments when I was doing OK AND the fact that I did pull myself together and redeem things before a VERY early night for everyone.   Every day is a new opportunity to learn!

I found a circuit breaker for my brain…

IMG_0571This month I’ve been on a slow down mission…and, I think I’m finally getting it. I haven’t managed to sit quietly meditating every day,  but I have done it every couple of days.  And I have been trying to move slower,  to say “no” to too many commitments, to sit with a cup of tea and read my book more often.  As my Headspace App tells me, calm in your mind is like a beautiful blue sky…sometimes it is covered with clouds (aka your thoughts), but the blue sky is always there underneath it…you just need to let the clouds pass.

However, as I slowed down, an interesting thing happened.   I got more stressed and anxious.   The clouds weren’t passing, they were brewing a storm.  What?  No?!?  The whole point of this was to feel calmer, not feel worse!

But the more I made space in my mind, the more the unsettled feelings started to bubble to the surface.   Which, of course, made me more anxious and frustrated.  Clearly,  moving fast and being  very task oriented was keeping me from really truly deeply thinking.  And I’m actually not sure now if I want to go there…

Not that there is anything particularly unnerving to be found ( I don’t think!?), but I suppose just acknowledgement that maybe I have taken on too much which is swiftly followed by a slight (ok overwhelming) panic that I’m not sure which piece of my puzzle isn’t fitting right or how to fix it (yep…there she is, Claire the Control Freak  comes out to play). And not surprisingly, yet again, I hit another wall.  Another melt down.  I’ll spare you the details (but I’ll give you a hint, the children were involved).

It just so happened, though, that I already had a plan in place to have a weekend away with some girlfriends.  I have to admit I wasn’t sure I was going to be good company. But the idea of having a break away from the every day seemed blissful.   And I was right… It was like a circuit breaker for the all the thoughts going around in my head.    Now, I was really able to slow down.  And when I slowed, instead of panic, the gaps were filled with laughter, music and just a quiet calm.

My sister bought me one of those mindfulness adult colouring in books for my birthday (I hear they are really hot right now,  good to know I’m totally on trend)…and I found myself on Sat afternoon sitting by the fire,  colouring the pages, with a glass of wine and good company.  And it felt awesome!

I think I kinda expected that the moment I started to slow down,  I would feel instantly amazeballs and on top of things (because clearly I am amazeballs, I just feel like I have lost that person a little bit in all the chaos).  However, maybe you need to be a little bit more patient (something I am not).  Maybe, it takes longer than you think for your mind to start to slow…and it gets a little worse before it gets better?

I know I still have a long way to go, but I finally feel like I am heading in the right direction.

And next week, I get to start Step 2 of my Ten Steps to Work Life Amazingness…Moving Daily…hmm…

Have a great week…beaming sunshine and happiness to you all… claire2

Headspace…you will not defeat me…

cropped-p10206502.jpgIf you haven’t already seen it,  there is this great little app called “headspace” which has step by step guided meditations (or as they say…”a gym membership for your mind”). It has little videos to help explain things and is a great app for getting started…plus you can download the first 10 session for free, sweet.  I’ve had the app for a while, and every now and again when I am feeling virtuous,  I have listened to one or two.

But in the spirit of my SLOW DOWN month (no idea what I’m talking about?  check out my previous blog here),  I decided to properly truly subscribe.  Not just for a month. Not for six months. But for a whole year.

Can you imagine how awesomely calm and in control I will be by the end of the year?

So, I’m prepped and ready to get in the zone. I only need 10mins.   Easy.  Right?  WRONG!  This is what actually has happened so far….

ATTEMPT 1:   My son has a friend over, and they are all happily playing a game.  I am folding the washing but when I remember about finding my 10min, I decide to seize this moment.  I sneak down to the bedroom and I lie down.  Actually this is lovely, can I have a nap instead?  No.  Focus Claire Focus.   I turn the app on, the voice is soothing, I am starting to relax.   I feel a tap on my shoulder.  “Can you take me home now, I don’t feel well”.   OK,  can’t really tell my sons friend he needs to wait.   Abandon ship today but we’ll be back.

ATTEMPT 2:  It is the next day, the kids are watching TV.   I once again tip toe away.   Just as I am “running a scan through my body to notice how I am feeling”,  I hear a hurde of elephants (aka children) coming down the corridor.  I decide not to move a muscle.  If I do not respond, surely they will go away.   “Mum” “mum”  “MUMMMMMM”.   Nothing from me,  I am relaxing here people can’t you see.   “What is wrong with her?” “Dunno?”.   My daughter starts hitting me on the head.  I am stoic..I am so zen.   I will not get annoyed.  “I think she might be dead”  hilarious laughter follows this comment..hmm  ” Wait. I KNOW!  she is doing one of those relaxation things,  we can’t disturb her”.  Smart boy!!! late but we got there.  “Mum, mum, mum, is that what you are doing? “.  OK…I give up…..eyes fly open (I think I freaked them)… “YES, YES that is what I am doing…and in future, please do not disturb me”.

ATTEMPT 3:  I have once again snuck away, but this time, I pre-warned the kids…”going to do that relaxation thing pumpkins…so are you going to be Ok for 10min”  “Yep mum”.   2min later, I sense my daughter coming into the room.  She climbs onto the bed,  but she doesn’t say anything. I try to pretend she is not there.  She lies next to me for a little bit.  Then rolls over me.  Then pokes me in the arm.   Still saying nothing though.  Eventually she gets up, I think to leave, but no… now she is trying to brush my hair.  Sigh… maybe tomorrow will be better?

ATTEMPT 4 :  I decide to wait until the kids are at school (I know, why did I not think of this before?).   I lie down on the bed, and I am in the zone.  It seems to be working. I’m feeling a sense of calm.   Then my phone rings (and to be clear, I am listening to this on an app on my phone, with headphones in,  so the ringtone comes shattering through my conscious).

%$&%^$*#%&  ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!!!!    I AM NOT FEELING CALM.  WHEN WILL I START FEELING CALM!!?

Luckily for us all, I will not let this defeat me.  Stubborn determined Claire is out to play and I WILL do this.  I will succeed in spending 10min of my day just zoning out.   Universe, stop playing games with me….I got this…

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I don’t think my brain has an off button…

Slowdown

Rightio…here is goes…task number one on my list to awesomeness (see here if you missed that one)… SLOW DOWN

My life is always flying at such a frantic pace.   There is always something happening or something that needs to get done.   Productivity is my friend.   My husband is the same, so we are a bad combo.  We get twitchy when the weekend rolls around…instead of lying in bed, reading magazines and generally relaxing…you’ll find us up at 6am going to the gym or squeezing in a run.  Then we start frantically working through our never ending list of things to do, dragging the children through a whirlwind of shopping, chores and sporting activities.   By the end of the day we slump exhausted, maybe watch a family movie with the kids (quality time with children…tick),  slightly proud of our lack of laziness (after all it is a sin!) but cursing ourselves that we didn’t end up doing more… because the list, after all, is never ending.

Last weekend my husband suggested we randomly go down to a park near the lake.  Why?  I was confused, this wasn’t on the list, what would it accomplish?   “I dunno”  was his reply.  The kids complained (I think they were also confused about the change of plan) and whilst I was confused, I thought “why not”.  So we jumped in the car,  we wandered slightly aimlessly through the park and then the kids found a playground.  The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day and for the first time in a long time, I was able to just stop.  We lay on the path and watched the ducks, listened to a swan making (according to the children) an hilarious noise and spent time doing something that…well… wasn’t about ticking boxes. But internally I was struggling.

This is actually what my mind was doing….What are we going to do next?  It is nearing lunch time, where are we planning to eat?  This is lovely,  but perhaps we should have brought the dog because he needs walking and when are we going to find time for that.  Damn…just remembered I didn’t put the slow cook (ironic I know!) on this morning, now what are we going to have for dinner?

I acknowledge, that this is probably my biggest problem (hence why it is number one on my list).

Slowing down for me is about getting my brain to enjoy just being quiet sometimes, that being “productive” 100% of the time is actually not productive at all.   I have successfully meditated in the past.  Well..I learnt to enjoy rather than resent just sitting quietly for 10min…but the chatter in my brain never ceased.  When I first tried it, I hated it.  I literally sat there getting more and more annoyed about what a waste of time it was.  But the more I did it, the more I learnt to appreciate it…

My very very favouritist (yep..totally a word) time of the day,  is that moment when I switch off the light ready for sleep.  I snuggle into my husband and my whole mind and body finally relaxes.  My day is done, there is nothing more I can complete.  And I feel blissful in that moment.

When I was practicing quietening my mind each day,  some days I had that same blissful feeling at moments during the day. But it has been years since I have done any of that (it has fallen off that very long to do list!).

So this month is about bringing it back.   I am committing to spending at least 10min per day slowing down.  It doesn’t have to be an official “meditation”,  it can be relaxing with a cup of tea (but not reading at the same time),  it can be lying in the backyard and looking at the sky,  it can be sitting in the car just breathing,  waiting for the kids to finish school. I’ve tried a few times to do this, and failed after only a couple of days.

Am I capable of slowing down?  Can I really find those moments?  for more than just one day?

What do you claire2 do to slow down?  Anyone got any tips for me?