In weeks like this where work involves a fair amount of travel, I take comfort in dividing my week in half. There are 168 hours in a week, my week starts at 6am on a Monday morning, so the half way point is Thursday at 6pm. The first half of my week has been focussed on work. I have travelled to Plymouth and back and Bristol and back and worked full and productive days. Today I have a good day planned with useful meetings and some discussions with colleagues in the diary.
It’s been very full and very work-focussed though. That said, I have had dinner with a friend, I squeezed in one run, and have done quite a bot of Scouts volunteering, as well as getting some plans in place for family events and the pre-Christmas season. I have also had a good amount of down time watching Netflix (I am obsessed with Gilmore Girls!) and surfing social media. So, it has been far from all work.
It still does not feel quite as balanced as it could be though, so the halving the week is a great comfort. The reality is that I will do absolutely no work at all in the second half of the week, and thinking of my week like that really helps me see the balance. And even in this last half a day of this half of the week (yes my brain does work like this!), I am squeezing in a blog writing session, I have just had a lovely ten minutes thinking through the day and I will manage a run before work. I am also taking some time off to attend a school appointment, so there is family time in the day too.
Just reflecting on how much Scouting and me-time there has been already helps to energise me. here’s to the second half of the week.
You may have gathered that I am in a slump at the moment. I know it is the transition of the seasons from that gorgeous hot summer to the dark of the winter. I know it is the incredible busyness of September and October. I know it is the change in our family circumstance as one of the offspring leaves home. I know all of that. Knowing it makes it much easier and I had a sense of acceptance that this was just the mood of September and October.
I do feel I am coming through it. I have had to rest for medical reasons, so having to focus on sleeping has probably helped a lot. I have tried to spend a bit of time reflecting on what has gone well and a lot has gone very well and I have done a lot despite the energy slump.
One of the things that has helped a lot is social media. I know it is not trendy to see social media as a force for good, but I do. I am vigilant about what I follow and what I click on, generally I avoid news consumption on social media and I make sure I interact with people, so it becomes an important part of my social activity. It’s not my whole social activity, believe me, but it is a good part of it.
Yesterday it came up trumps in many ways. I directly declared I needed motivation to get to a yoga class and it came in spades, delivered with gusto and humour and of course everyone was right, I felt better for going, I also felt better for having some interaction with people and knowing that they were sympathetic of my sofa versus yoga battle. I could have asked some friends via text to nudge me, but that felt intrusive in their days. The friends on Facebook were obviously having some downtime too and were happy to reach out to me in that downtime. That is a lovely feeling.
Thank you to everyone who helped me out the door, I had a great evening and have had the best night’s sleep this week. And, hugely importantly I had to walk home from the class. Walking in the dark for the first time is always a psychological hurdle in the autumn I find. I leapt that hurdle and had a great evening, much of it down to social media. Thank you!
I fell in love with the work of Gretchen Rubin about a year ago and am a little obsessed with her Four Tendencies, which box people very neatly into a specific Tendencies depending on our response to expectations, both inner expectations – those we place on ourselves and outer expectations – those placed on us by others. There are four tendencies: Obliger, Questioner, Rebel and Upholder. If you would like to join my obsession, do take her quiz.
I am an Upholder, which means I respond well to both inner and outer expectations. I have no problem setting resolutions for myself and keeping to them, equally I will make sure whatever other people ask of me gets done. Each of the Tendencies has a downside though. In the case of an Upholder, it is something that Rubin calls ‘tightening’.
I am feeling that this morning. It is the start of a new month, which means that I will think about what I want to achieve this month. I am sure that by the weekend I will have found the thinking space to do this, but part of the tightening process is that it is no longer good enough to just think about the month ahead, it has to be at another level. I have woken up with the thought that I should have a plan of action for the month, neatly prioritised and ordered on a specific page of my journal. I should have a word of the month, illustrated with a word cloud. It is no longer enough to be living with a bit more intention and reflection, now I need to have everything written in a certain way? Good grief.
Last night I had a delayed train journey home from work and was just too tired to plan my month at work as I had planned, instead I rested. I know, that is totally sensible after a twelve hour day – just read some blogs or a novel. But now I have woken up feeling like a total failure because I have not prioritised my whole month. I have a to-do list for this week and next, all beautifully organised and prioritised, but this darned tightening means I still feel bad. because I don’t have a whole month’s plan. Again – good grief!
Word of the month has been decided though as I write this: loosening!
“I hope you have a quiet weekend planned” in an email from a close colleague late last week evoked a firm declaration that my weekend, and the few days annual leave I have taken, are indeed quiet. They need to be, I am recovering from an injury and a hectic few weeks at work.
Swiftly following the declaration was the plan for the weekend. It involves visiting three siblings and their combined six children, my parents in law, as well as two sets of very close family friends, all in a 250mile round car trip.
I wasn’t lying though, this is resting. I love heading back to where I grew up and catching up with people I love seeing, but whom daily life rarely gives me a window to see. Seeing so many people on one trip is especially brilliant.
We are staying with various delightful hosts who are feeding me and handing me drinks on a regular basis. The walks are frequent, but gentle and in brilliant autumn sunshine on the beach or around castles. I live a long way from the beach and although I live close to a castle it really is not as stunning as those in Pembrokeshire.
The nieces and nephews are energetic and delightful, they’re all adoring of the auntie they rarely see and are mainly entertained by their teenage cousins.
Apart from chatting and catching up with everyone, there is plenty of time for sewing the cross stitch I have had lingering in the background for years, reading a chapter of a book and even a much-needed nap. I have had time to catch up on some blogs I read, listen to podcasts and even smarten up this blog too.
All in all, an energising few days of intentional rest, made possible by being in a different environment surrounded by family. Perfect. Not a perfect way to rest for everyone admittedly, but this extrovert traveller loves it.
One of my goals for this year was to be slower in life, to do things with more intention and more deliberately. A surprising manifestation of this has been in shopping. I am not a lover of shopping, I found it stressful – there is too much choice, too much expectation to be buying things to make life better. That never sat comfortably with me.
Somehow this year, I am enjoying shopping. I have not yet managed to totally overcome the impulse to just buy things mindlessly and then feeling guilty afterwards, but a few things have definitely helped.
A decision to be more ethical in my purchasing, specifically about environmental impact of what I buy has been a transformation in my mindset. The fashion industry is one of the major environmental culprits, guilty of mass-producing clothing in appalling working conditions, using and damaging a wealth of natural resources and all with the intention of forcing a complete change of wardrobe every month or so. It seems that a seasonal wardrobe is no longer enough, we now have transition wardrobes, party wardrobes, holiday wardrobes. I struggled hugely and refused to buy anything for ages and then overbought on impulse. I have found a form of clothes shopping I love – charity shops. Not just any charity shop, but a specific few close to home, which I visit in a specific ritual involving hanging out with a teenage son, him browsing for vinyl and DVDs and us both having a fortifying coffee before we even contemplate shopping. So, a new wardrobe and a shared hobby with a teen. Great result.
It is rather odd to realise that I look forward to clothes shopping, but I do. I changed work hours this year and changed them to make sure I could still go shopping. Ok, the coffee and hanging out with the teen are crucial parts, but still, there is also weekly shopping involved.
And it turns out that I have so much to say about shopping that this is going to be a two-part blog post – which is astounding me. Part two tomorrow.
It’s that time of the year when the days are feeling much shorter, we are losing the battle against the falling leaves, the weather forecasters are warning me how chilly it is out there this morning. Winter is close. The year is drawing ever closer to its end, it will be time to sum it all up very soon.
This year has been one of a lot of big changes in our family, but also some tiny changes. Tiny changes which became strong habits. Simply by keeping going.
The first is a gentle exercise programme. I say gentle because it started with a wearable gadget – in my case an Apple Watch. The aim is to close all the “circles”, which insist that I exercise for 30 minutes a day, burn a certain number of calories through activity and stand up at least once an hour. It was a relatively easy step to make it as easy as possible for myself and putting some actual exercise into place – a short run, a long walk, or some yoga are now a feature of most days.
The second is a healthy diet. Last year I got fed up with being obese, I wasn’t unhappy, I was just uncomfortable with sore knees and asthma difficulties. Slimming World was my route of choice, as it encourages small changes , encouraging a healthy diet based on fruit and veg, less saturated fat, a good balance of food types and regular meals. I am now a normal weight and have built up some healthy habits. We plan all our meals, we enjoy cooking new recipes. Cooking a meal from scratch is now as habitual as shoving a pizza in the oven. One very useful habit is not eating biscuits or cakes at meetings.
The final gentle habit is budgeting. A podcaster I listen to mentioned a programme called You Need A Budget (YNAB). It has been hugely useful in our household as we moved from being generally clueless and somewhat careless with our decisions on what to buy or not, to being much more in control of what we are saving for, what our financial aims are (they’re still very frivolous, but at least they’re actual aims) and when we might get there.
In that end of year review I need to remember the many tiny steps which have helped make this year a success overall. And not to beat myself up that they’re not dramatic, just small and effective. There’s a lot I have not achieved, but some crucial things that I have.
This could be the most repetitive theme of this blog, because it’s something I need to focus on. I am good at resting, when I really focus on it, I do not do it automatically. I automatically fill every evening with meetings and social events. I automatically agree to travel most days for work. I automatically try and squeeze as many activities as possible into a weekend. I automatically book a holiday for every period of leave I have from work. Booking in rest needs to be a deliberate break from the automatic impulse to fill out the diary.
Today is a day that was booked as rest. I had a very minor surgical procedure yesterday on my leg, so I need to rest it. Not stop totally, but definitely not do as much as normal. I am not in work, having taken a couple of days off. And yesterday, post-procedure I was very well-behaved. I slept lots, I watched TV, I caught up with some friends online. I rested.
I have woken up this morning having slept really well and my challenge now is that the leg does not hurt very much at all. Which means I am overcome with the impulse to crack on with normal life. There is a teeny tiny voice in my head though that is warning me that if I do that, I may not be quite so pain-free by tomorrow. And another teeny part of me that remembers the post-operative notes telling me not to stand too much and to keep the leg elevated. In other words – not quite normal activity just yet. Oh, yes and the nurse looked at me like I was possibly crazy when I asked her could I run on it. She said I can, but not for a few days. It’s the last part of that sentence that I need to remind myself of this morning.
To all those people whom I boss around when they’re poorly, insisting that they rest and take care of themselves, this is your time to preach that patience and the gospel of rest back to me please.