Raising morale

It’s a simple statement: “morale is low” sounds like a factual observation about the feelings of a group of people.  But what makes morale high or low?

I have been reading a lot recently about what makes individuals happy, but I am far from clear on how to make groups of people happy.  Well, far from clear on what science says about it.  .

Morale is different from efficiency or efficacy, in my experience groups can be very effective in their work, yet still have a low morale.  Eventually, the two do start to align though and it feels it should be true that motivated, happy groups of workers are more effective.

In a particular volunteering role I am feeling responsible for changing morale which is apparently low and that is being presented to me as a huge problem, so it is feeling very daunting at the moment.  I can see some clear and simple solutions: pointing out the good results of the work, which is clearly successful; thanking people for their efforts, their time and their skills, which are many and abundant; checking that people are doing what fits their skills and also what they want to be doing, offering training and support where needed.

This all seems so simple though, that it cannot be the answer.  It makes me think that there is a huge moral responsibility of any head of any team to make sure her team feel good as well as do good.  That said, I know I cannot make someone feel a particular way, so it is feeling like a conundrum.

If anyone has any good books, blogs or podcasts about morale rather than effectiveness, point me in the right direction please!

beach during sunset
This picture makes me feel happy anyway! Photo by b. on Pexels.com



A garden for me

I love green, being surrounded by leaves calms me and makes me feel I am miles away from a city, not in the middle of suburbia.  One of my goals for this spring was to make a quiet place in the garden and we did that this weekend, creating a seating area at the bottom of the garden.

It’s not quiet because it is far from the house, but because it is surrounded by green, which makes it feel quiet.  About 10 years ago we planted a new hedge to disguise the fencing panels.  A decade on and we have a wild looking, huge beech hedge interwoven by a rampant jasmine plant and an even wilder field maple and something else hedge – I forget what the other tree was, but it is green, the birds love it and I feel as though I am in a wood when I am near it.

The cotoneaster hedge which was there when we moved in is less interesting maybe, but the dunnocks love it and it is huge and old and serves to stores old branches and twigs under, I have no idea what lives in that pile of branches, but hopefully someone has found it useful.

A couple of years ago we pulled up all the flowering plants in our two borders which we were so hopeless at weeding around and looking after and planted some fruit trees instead. And then promptly did not weed around them.   The husband did a grand job this weekend of weeding and mulching one of those borders, which looks beautiful now.

And he built the seat that is now installed at the bottom of the garden.  Which gives a whole new perspective of the remaining unkempt border. The poor cherry tree in the middle of it is surrounded by all sorts of plants which have resolutely refused to disappear.  From the top of the garden it looks a mess, from the bottom it looks like an interesting wild border, with bees buzzing, some flashes of colour and a sense of lushness. We have decided to let it be for another year and see what happens.

Creating my perfect garden has involved clearing the path through it, so I can carry a coffee without getting caught on a bramble, and putting even more seats into it, so I can sit and drink the coffee anywhere.  It’s not a gardener’s garden, it’s a sitter’s garden, perfect for taking a break and sitting in the green.  Perfect for me.

wild and interesting




Grasping the habits

I have set up various habits, or daily rituals if you will, in order to create some routine, but also some comfort.  There is nothing  wrong in my life, but I expect there will be one day.   There always is.  I am a huge optimist in life.  “Things will turn out ok” is my permanent view.  I’m not daft though, things will go wrong,  Hugely wrong.  I can’t stop that from happening, no one can.

I decided to start putting into place the things that people recommend for good mental health before I need them.  Exercise, healthy food, reducing some of the bad habits – in my case, automatically reaching for a glass of wine after a bad day – a series of hobbies which improve my skills, get me out and about and meeting people – and a habit of mindfulness practice, gentle journaling and gratitude listing.

Today I am testing it all out as we hit a bump in the road of life.  Only a tiny wee one and it will be resolved quickly and we will work to make sure no permanent harm is done.

The interesting thing is that I made myself go through the rituals in the midst of dealing with the problem and they did help.  I think it’s about finding some perspective outside the problem.   External perspective in the gratitude list – where every day you write down three things you are grateful for, they have to be different every day, so coffee only features once a month – makes sure I realise that there was good in the day, a lot of it actually.   Writing this makes it more external and much less dramatic.

Having a bit more awareness of how the brain works helped me see that a lot of the drama was about a fight or flight reaction and it takes a long while for cortisol and adrenalin to leave the body and that the brain cannot distinguish between real danger and perceived danger – it is all scary.  I was also very aware that I am reacting to a situation through memories of past situations. Knowing that even when we’re in a negative situation, we are not reacting to just that situation, but everything else in our memories too, helped me put it into perspective.

It was not easy to spend some time journaling and meditating as that did not feel all that important.  I didn’t wake up feeling like writing this today.  It has all helped though, I feel much less dramatic in my head than usual and more able to see a way through a conundrum and somehow more confident in my decisions.

PS this is not a passive aggressive plea for attention, we are all fine and happy and ok, we just had one undesirable thing happen.  And I am taking the opportunity to use that as a test bed for some of my habits. Comments on good habits are very welcome, but there is no further information on the bump in the road, it’s not important anywhere apart from in my brain!

Get outside

The weather this weekend has been better than anticipated.  Which means some welcome time outside.

We hosted a sleepover for a bunch of teens in celebration of an offspring’s birthday.  This is a group of tech-savvy teens, usually to be found in front of a screen inside.  Yet they spent a large amount of time in the garden.  A lot of this was in the dark rather late in the evening and it was not all that warm, but the call of the outside was strong.  They were hanging out and chatting on the patio, just because they could.   It’s interesting that despite their social lives now being hugely screen-based and indoors, they are still drawn to being outside.  Not for a particular purpose, being outside is enough.

On a beautiful spring morning I paid a short visit to a Scout camp, well actually it was Beavers and Cubs, the children are aged between 5 and 10.   They were so calm and content to be outside.  Wandering around a field or hunting for sticks in the hedges was keeping them incredibly happy.

My own camping season hasn’t started yet, but I too find being outside is good for my soul. Getting a dog was one way to ensure we go out every day, and in the 5 years since he came to live with us, we have indeed been outside every day to walk him, apart from a couple of days of illness and some icy weather this past winter.    In fact, when the dog can’t walk, I still go for a stroll myself.  It’s not the walking that is the aim, it is being outside.

Now that the weather is better, we will try and eat outside as much as possible, and various people will be found sitting outside on the patio, not for any reason other than being outside is a good thing.   Our garden is not well-kept, but it is an important part of our home, full of green.  And chairs.

Chairs and chairs – the most important part of our garden


I forgot to switch off

I spend a good deal of energy trying to reduce our energy use as a family, I am regularly turning off lights, chargers, TVs, all that sort of thing.  Sometimes though I forget to switch off my own brain.  It’s not quite as easy as flicking a switch.  Ooh it riles me when I write that – it really is as easy as flicking a switch, why is that so difficult for my housemates?

Anyway, back to switching off the brain.  I finished a work day by continuing to work on a train journey and then switching to doing some volunteer work via emails and some thinking about a new project.

I didn’t stop when I got home and did some more thinking and emailing (apologies to those Scouts who I inundated with emails last night).  I headed to bed later than I should have, but I did go through the usual rituals and I did unpack my case, so I thought I was well settled.

Nevertheless, I started to wake early, possible about 04.30 and my brain was already back in the Scout emails I had been occupied with last night.  Not in a bad way, not worried or anxious, just back in that zone.  I gave up trying to sleep at 05.30 and have done the emails before I can even settle to this.  I don’t feel tired, I feel productive.  I will not at 2pm this afternoon.

I am guessing that settling down to watch an hour or so of TV last night may have helped.  It is these times that TV is perfect for moving my brain into a different space. It honestly did not occur to me to switch the TV on.

Or maybe I just need to accept that sometimes I just don’t sleep as well as I need to, and today will be hard, but it’s one tired day.  I will of course be fine.

Coffee consumption is go.  And I suspect will continue


I went to a yoga class last night for the first time in a long time.  I love going to yoga classes.  About 18 months ago I started to attend regularly, but have been a bit lax in attendance lately, mainly due to work commitments.

Last night’s class was a mix of yin and yang yoga.  Yin yoga is a recent discovery for me and I love it.  Oddly it is everything I used to dislike about yoga – trying to stay still with physical discomfort.  There is no way I would have enjoyed it a year ago, but yoga has taught me that everything passes, don’t fight your reality right now, instead accept it and relax. If you can manage that, it hurts a bit less.  I say hurt, it’s not pain, it is discomfort.  And it is discomfort caused by having bad posture and not moving and stretching enough during the day.  My body thanks me for living with the discomfort.  But doesn’t thank me until afterwards, there is no instant gratification.

All great lessons for life.

I enjoy being with other people in the classes and the teachers surprise you with new routines or postures, which adds a mental challenge.  I am determined to make the time to attend more often now and hopefully that will inspire me to get the mat out at home more often.



PS in a reflection of my gorgeous bank holiday weekend, I found myself sort of dreaming in shavasana (the final relaxing pose) that I was holding a champagne flute in my right hand. I needed that yoga.

Busy doing nothing

I spent a couple of hours yesterday on a Scout camp.  Just visiting and possibly not helping much in that I kept taking leaders away from their activities to chat to me.  It is of course a perfect weekend, weather-wise, to be outdoors learning new skills and making new friends.  Every young person looked relaxed and engaged in an amazing variety of activities.

And it was that relaxed part that intrigued me.  I have written before about why I am involved in Scouting – learning skills that don’t fit neatly into a government-prescribed educational curriculum and being part of a community are important for me.  But what I noticed yesterday was the comfort with which the young people were doing nothing.  Not all of them, but in any activity, there is some waiting your turn.  At the shooting range a group of children were just sitting and watching whilst the rest of the group took their turn.  A couple of girls were “just chilling” whilst their peers finished cooking something over a fire.

Even if you’re not a parent, it will not have escaped you that our society finds it very difficult to just sit and be, not being entertained by a phone, or a tablet, or even an e-reader.  Just sitting and being.  Never mind our children – how many adults can now sit on a bus or in a café or in a waiting room and do nothing else, just sit there?  My challenge to myself is to not impulsively reach for my phone if my companion in a café nips to the loo.  I find it difficult.  And spend the time looking at everyone else who is alone staring at their phones. And some people who are not alone.

But yesterday those Scouts were happy to be just chatting in the sun.   I am sure they were much less calm and quiet once they piled back into the marquee to be fed their roast dinner by the amazing team of caterers.  I was safely at home staring at the phone by then.

Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow

I now have a muse in this blog writing.  I have just asked the husband if we are supposed to be running this morning; we try and run three times a week.  We spent yesterday at a wedding, so it was a late night and there may have been Guinness and gin involved in the day, so we feel a bit slow this morning.  And he got in one more run than me this week due to the vagaries of work travel , so he has got to his three runs.

So the answer to the query to this morning’s running obligation was an emphatic, “no we’re not.” I know we are supposed to be running, but the emphatic response was followed by, “I thought we should take advantage of the Bank Holiday and ask why do today what we could put off until tomorrow”.  That is possibly not the way to live the whole of life. But it is a great way to really relish the Bank Holiday weekend, we have a whole three days to fit in everything we usually do over two.

It is three days of sunshine in which to enjoy all the lovely things we do at weekends. Sounds like most of it will be at walking pace rather than running.  In itself that is a holiday from the usual pace of life and just what long weekends are all about.




Keeping it small

The photos that accompany these blogs are generally not mine, they are from the free photo stock on WordPress.  This is because I am not good at taking photos.  Technically the photos I take are not great , probably because I never really think to take them., so I get little practise.   I love photos and love it when people share their photos with me, but I don’t get around to taking them myself very often.  Sometimes I have a phase of taking lots of photos, and then I forget again.  I can go weeks without taking a single snap.

Every time I choose a photo to illustrate this, I regret my lack of photography and I have considered trying to take more photos as I go through my day.  In reality that is another challenge and this was about writing, not photographing, so I am trying to resist the temptation to turn this into a bigger task.  Keeping things simple does keep me happier.  My aim is to write a blog nearly every day.  That is what I am doing, so I am persuading myself to rest in that satisfaction for now.

I have a similar view of running, I don’t run very far or for very long, I still cannot get to 5k. But I run, I run three times a week, every week and six months ago I had never run before.  So that is an achievement and I feel proud of it.  The fact that I am not trying to do more is ok for me, I am getting some cardio vascular exercise, I am getting fresh air and that is all I need.

Keeping a habit easy to do feels like a key to keeping the good habits going.


Stretching out the mornings

I am a bit obsessed with an author called Laura Vanderkam, who writes about time management.  Her premise is that everyone has 168 hours per week and we have choices with what we do with the vast majority of those hours.  Her recommendation is to work with all 168 hours, not just 24 at a time.

Reading her books led me to examine how I use my time.  Vanderkam actually writes down how she uses her time every day, in half hour chunks, She has been doing so for three years constantly and it is a fascinating study, which she discusses in a recent podcast.  I would love to do this, but something makes me stop.  Not quite sure what though.

One thing that I have taken away is the realisation that the mornings are long.  We wake up early in this house, so a lot can happen before work. We have made chatting and walking the central point of our morning and not chores.  Deciding not to leave the house tidy and organised was a conscious decision. It has made time for hobbies, some quality time as a family and exercise.  And the dishes get loaded into the dishwasher when someone comes home. In fact, it is exactly the sort of chore we need in that transition time into evening from work. Along with laundry and the general tidying.  All a bit mindless, all perfectly doable in the low energy hours of the day.  Or, and this was a radical change in my head, most can be left until Saturday when everyone has more time to waste.  Yes, waste!

I am sure there are other changes I can make, I must get to actually tracking my time to see where those gaps could be.  I haven’t actually stretched out any time in the morning of course, but it feels like we do so much more.