Tag Archives: mindfulness

168 hours

Some weeks ago, I read Laura Vanderkam’s 168 hours. Actually, I borrowed 3 of her books from the library but read 168 hours first because it was written first. Which was a good decision, because the other two I borrowed (I Know How She Does It and What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast) are essentially the principles of 168 hours applied in subtly different contexts. I must confess I skipped the latter and returned it to the library unread.

I had mixed (but mostly positive) feelings about what she had to say. Essentially, the basic message of the book is that we aren’t as busy as we think we are and we have more time than we think we do (168 hours per week, to be precise). That’s a lot of time. Even if you work 50 hours a week and get 8 hours sleep a night, that’s still 62 hours a week to do other things. Which, regardless of how you look at it, is a lot of time. I guess many “busy” people will say “Oh but you still have to factor in your commute, cooking, cleaning, showering, down time (ie TV and internet in most cases), it’s amazing how it all fills up!” Yes, it is amazing, that’s part of Vanderkam’s point. We fritter away all this time and then complain that we have no time to do the things we “really want to” do.

She recommends keeping a time log for a week, recording every 15 or 30 minutes what you’re doing. I managed this for about 2 days. I found that, rather than make me to realise how much time I waste on Facebook (I don’t need a time log to tell me that!) it made me more productive as I was conscious of not wanting to write “checking FB” in my log. Which is one of Gretchen’s big things for habit change- the strategy of monitoring, whereby recording your actions has the effect of automatically improving your performance, even without any analysis or conscious attempt to change.

At first I started to think that what Vanderkam had to say was contradictory to the slow-living/mindfulness philosophy I’ve been working gradually into our lives lately. “Making the most” of an idle 5 or 15 minutes here or there seemed like a recipe for being overwrought. But much of her approach is very much in line with slow living. She says, in the introduction:

Like everything else, living intentionally becomes easier over time.

Another of the strategies the book advocates for creating time to do more enjoyable things and fewer chores is outsourcing. Vanderkam cites multiple examples of people (albeit mainly single men) who pay a cleaner, someone to do their laundry, their ironing and even their cooking. She suggests buying ready or partly-made meals. I have to admit she started to lose me here. We’ve had a cleaner before and while, in some respects, I do agree to paying someone to do the things I don’t want to do myself (she seems to assume money is no issue for most of us), I can’t pay someone to do all the things I don’t want to do all the time. For example, the most we would ever have a cleaner is once a week. Before they come I would tidy up and put things away, because I want them to clean the shower and mop the floors (jobs I hate), not tidy up (which I don’t have a huge problem doing). I think probably almost 50% of the benefit of having the cleaner comes from the tidying up you do before they come. Another 20% is the “Wow” factor when you walk into your spotless house. This lasts maybe half a day and then it’s all undone again. Chances are the vacuuming will need doing again before they come again next week. A maximally useful cleaner to me would probably come and clean for an hour every second day, then a bit longer once a fortnight or once a month. But what cleaner wants to do that? And who wants to be tidying up for a cleaner every other day?

Many of her other outsourcing suggestions conflict with our zero-waste/environmental aspirations. I don’t want to buy “partly made” (read processed) meals. I don’t really want to drive anywhere to drop off my washing and even if someone drives to me to pick it up, I still have to be home to give it to them. And they’ve used petrol to drive to my house. Taking Mr L’s shirts to the dry cleaners to be washed and ironed is nice from time to time, but they return then wrapped in plastic and then you have to remember to get him to take the hangers back…. So, I wasn’t sold on that.

What I did like was her suggestion that you make a “list of 100 dreams” (I got to about 20) of things you’d like to do. Then, instead of letting your week fill up with all the wishy washy, chore-like, non-specific busyness of life, you take a 2 or 3 of those dreams (she suggests one is physical exercise) and you schedule time for them.

She’s also a big advocate for working mothers getting on with it and I like that. Lately I’ve become a little bored of the constant whine of the mummy blogger- “I’m so busy, I do everything for my kids, I’m burnt out, I’m so stressed, I’m anxious, I have no time for myself, I’m having a nervous breakdown”… these women stressing about housework and cooking and getting their kids to 100 different activities, all while working from home, where “work” seems to consist of posting articles on immaculately designed blogs about how to make these activities more efficient, more rewarding or more beautiful. So it’s actually quite refreshing to hear someone say “You can work a full time job and have children, but you might have to decide what it is in your and your kids lives that really matter and be a bit innovative with your routine in order to fit it all in. Oh and you’ll probably need to organise some childcare.” While the mummy blogger cries into her kombucha because she chose to be a SAHM (which I sometimes think ought to be renamed BAHM- Blog at Home Mum) but she actually finds it a bit unfulfilling at the end of the day. I’m being a bit harsh, they’re not all like that, but there are definitely a lot of martyrish overtones out there that wear a little thin after a while.

She sums up perfectly how I’d like to describe my attitude to being a working mother:

…Motherhood did not ruin my career, and my work has not detracted from how much I love being a mom, particularly the small moments the universe grants in abundance when you choose to pay attention.

All in all, this was quite a motivating book which encouraged me to look at how much time I have, how much time I waste, and re-think how I go about deciding what to do with my time. I also realised it’s actually nice to have a bit of time to do nothing, but it’s much nicer doing nothing when you do it intentionally. The book was easy to read and satisfying to finish. Thank you Laura!

Podcasts 101

I’ve recently got into podcasts. Despite my relatively new-found simple living enthusiasm, (and therefore new-found guilt over anything that vaguely resembles multitasking,) I really love listening to them when I’m walking the dog, or preparing something long and slightly tedious in the kitchen. Actually at the moment, everything in the kitchen seems long and very tedious but never mind…. I find them far more rewarding to listen to than reading a blog post, which I only ever seem to skim through. I’ve also discovered I really enjoy listening to them when I run. I recently did the Coatesville Classic Half Marathon and my “training” runs (such was they were) were less painful with some interesting subject matter to listen to, rather than just a somewhat clichéd playlist.

I’ve found three that I regularly follow so thought I’d give them a plug…

  1. Happier with Gretchen Rubin

No surprises here, Gretchen groupie that I am. I loved this podcast from the first episode. She hosts it with her sister, who she talks about in her books. They seem genuinely quite close, although they live on opposite sides of the US and have very different lives, careers and, seemingly, personalities. Their discussions are very much based around the themes of Gretchen’s books about happiness (obviously) and habits, so a lot of the content is familiar to me. Despite this, and what I find quite impressive, it doesn’t get boring. Each episode is divided into well-defined segments and those segments appear each episode. This may not seem like such a bit deal but several of the podcasts I’ve tried and given up on really fall down for their lack of structure. They pretty much consist of two people wittering on for an hour about a subject they consider themselves qualified to talk about, but really, it’s just like eavesdropping on a conversation you’re not able to join in, and most of the time, don’t really want to anyway. So, “Happier”, I’m hooked!

  1. The Slow Home Podcast with Brooke McAlary

I wasn’t too sure about this one when I started but it’s grown on me. Australian slow living enthusiast Brooke McAlary (who I’d never heard of before I found her blog and then podcast) hosts a weekly discussion that usually consists of an interview with a guest. The guests vary in their degree of interest, relevance (to me anyway) and notoriety- they have been as mundane as a self-proclaimed “normal” person, who was simply a narcissistic podcast listener who put herself forward to be interviewed under the misapprehension that other people might be interested in her “story”- groan…. and as well-known as (can you guess?) Gretchen Rubin and Bea Johnson. When I first started listening I was a little irritated by the casual colloquialism of the podcast- I thought it made it sound a bit amateurish. The 5-10 minute intro she does with her husband, which generally includes a bit of giggling and silly couple’s jokes as well as occasional interruptions from their kids only exacerbates that. But as I’ve stuck with it I’ve got used to the (?over-) familiar introductory chit-chat and besides, the real meat of the podcast is in the people she talks to and most of the interviews (narcissistic listener aside) have been really interesting. She actually does a pretty good job (not that I’m exactly qualified to say!) as an interviewer, and I think (without wanting to sound patronising) she’s really improved since I started listening. So for now I’ll keep it on my playlist!

  1. Eliza Starting at 16

Ok so the ONLY reason I started following this one is because she’s (I’m really sorry) Gretchen Rubin’s daughter! Yep, and she’s 16, so I feel even more tragic. I didn’t sign up for this one straight away but I gave it a go and I’ve kind of been drawn in. Partly because it’s short but also because I’m actually quite impressed by how articulate and intelligent she appears to be, without sounding too precocious. Her venting over 16 year old “issues” in some ways reminds me of my own 16 year old angst (well to be perfectly honest, it resembles more the 16 year old I wish I had been). Occasionally she even hits the nail right on the head and articulates, very eloquently, grievances I still share. For instance, her vent about pop-music snobbery and how everyone’s too cool and too intellectual listening to alternative indie music to admit they find Top 40 cheese quite catchy. As soon as she said it I thought “Yes! That’s exactly how I felt all through uni and sometimes even now!!” Anyway, I’m pretty sure it’s not for everyone (the podcast, not just Top 40 music), but I like it.

And that’s it, I’ve tried and tossed about 10 others but I can’t be bothered moaning about those!

Trying to be mindful

After my recent (actually it was about 6 months ago- wow) foray into mindfulness I was kind of aware of the fact that it might be useful to practice some simple techniques on a regular basis (mindfulness aficionados would refer to this as a “daily formal practice”) for the whole thing to really benefit me when it counts. But, like most things I know I ought to do (or not do) regularly, it kind of got shoved in the “too hard” basket (which should really be re-named the “can’t be bothered basket”).

We are in Canada skiing at the moment, and getting myself down a ski slope is one such time when, you could say, “it counts”.

Skiing is not something I am naturally good at. For starters, I didn’t ski for the first time until I was 33 years old.

The other things that go against me are:

  • I am not very brave. Specifically, I don’t like going very fast (on skis, horses or mountain bikes), I don’t like falling off (skis, horses or mountain bikes) and I don’t like breaking bones (which I have only ever done in association with horses and mountain bikes…. so far)
  • I don’t have a great innate sense of balance (although luckily it turns out that this can be developed)
  • I am not naturally very coordinated
  • I tend to be put off by previous bad experiences (such as broken bones)

Sometimes I have these amazing skiing days when things just effortlessly come together. Each time this happens I try to identify what it is that’s going right. Somehow, my posture seems spot on, my weight is balanced, I’m relaxed and I gain confidence with every slope I comfortably negotiate.

Conversely, I sometimes have days, or at least runs, when it seems I’m doomed. I try to lean forward, remember what I’ve been taught previously, be brave and confident and relaaaaax…… easier said than done, right?

Well maybe not any more.

I didn’t have the best day yesterday, it wasn’t terrible but it ended with a long, difficult, icy, monotonous run home. Not my finest moment. (If only it were just a moment, it was actually over an hour of “moments”). At the top of that steep, white, icy descent, my brain went from thinking “Ok, let’s do this! Final run!” to “Oh my god it’s steep! It’s long! How long is it exactly? And how long will it take? My legs are tired! Will I be able to make it? How long till I can take a break? Is there a bail-out option? Why did I ever think this was a good idea?!?!?! HEEEEEELLP!!!!”

But this morning, when my thoughts started to rapid cycle, I took some deep breaths. In and out. Cold, pure, mountain air. I looked at the snow on the pine trees. I saw the icicles hanging from the tips of the branches. I noticed how the trees seemed to grow out of the rocks, from barely any soil. In the distance I took in the blue sky, the mountains, how the snow goes from a dense white blanket to a speckled mixture of green and white, to dense evergreen lower down- a gradual transition from white to almost black without any discernible borders. I made a point of thinking “Just take it as it comes. Not even one run at a time, but one turn at a time, one moment at a time. It is what it is.”

Did it make a difference? I don’t know. I was less anxious than yesterday. I didn’t ski brilliantly, but I didn’t ski terribly. I didn’t have any moments of complete and utter panic and despair. I still wimped out of a lot of stuff I should have been able to do.

But at the end of the day I thought “It was what it was. I’m better than I used to be. I wasn’t as good as I can be at times, but that’s ok.” I didn’t worry about wasted time or wasted money. I felt like I had spent the day doing what it felt right to do at the time.

And I have convinced myself that as well as lots more formal skiing practice, I need lots more formal mindfulness practice. Fortunately, unlike skiing, I can do that every single day. Without breaking any bones.

Reflections on 2015

And so we near the end of another year. That’s 2 (and a bit) years I’ve been (very sporadically) blogging!

My views on New Year’s Resolutions have varied from year to year but what I always enjoy is looking back on the year that was. The Facebook gimmick “Your Year in Review” has already appeared and people are beginning to share their yearly summaries. If this replaces the annual “Christmas newsletter” a lot of people send out, I think there’d be a sigh of relief from many reluctant recipients, but weirdly, I don’t actually mind getting those letters, I even like reading the details that really don’t concern me, about people I barely know.

(What always impresses me, though, is that people have enough self-confidence to send these things out, knowing how they are received by the majority of people, which is one reason it’s not something I do.)

So, 2015- what sticks in my mind?

More travel- this year we explored Marlborough at the top of the South Island and beautiful Martinborough at the bottom of the North, catching the ferry in between. I think we only managed 3 trips to our beloved Queenstown, once in March for Mr L’s off-road marathon, the Motatapu Classic, once in August to ski and then we’ll be back there next week for Christmas. I made several trips across the ditch- 2 to Melbourne for work and 2 to Sydney. We did a couple of local weekends away too- to Russell & Northland, Waitomo caves (twice) and just last weekend to Waiheke Island. Our list of places to visit and revisit seems to be ever-expanding, and if 2016 is to be our last year living here, we’d like to make some headway into that list!

Of course, our beautiful Baby L arrived in May and he has been a delight and a privilege to have completing our family. In many ways, seeing him change so fast has made both Mr L and myself all the more aware of the idiosyncrasies (amusing and not-so) of Master and Miss L, as we see them change and realise just how fleeting their stages of growth and development are.

This year has been a big year for me in terms of mindset, with determined forays into mindfulness (my favourite champion of this cause so far being Dan Harris) and happiness (I’ve become something of a Gretchen groupie). I feel that my/our Zero Waste dabblings (inspired largely by Bea Johnson) are, in many ways, an extension (or perhaps combination) of these two ways of thinking. I’ve become so much more aware of our impact on the earth and of the earth’s impact on us and I suppose you could say I’ve spent some time getting to know my inner hippie and seeing just how a simpler way of living, spending, thinking and doing frees up so much time for taking notice of what matters and what lasts.

On that note, as I look back through my calendar I’m surprise to see there aren’t a lot of scheduled events, for a year that has felt so full and formative. I think that’s because you don’t write down the little things- cherry picking with Master and Miss L in January, losing Miss L (ok only very briefly) on a plane in August, someone walking off with Baby L in the supermarket trolley (hmmm, maybe I need to start paying attention to my children more!), Master L astounding us one day by casually announcing he was going to write his name- and then doing it! Me falling off the side of a cliff while skiing, drinking beer in the middle of the afternoon in the Fork and Tap in Arrowtown (Miss L developing quite a taste for it too!), the feeling I had opening a box of macarons and a spa voucher as a “thank you” present from Mr L, playing Calon Lan to try and get Baby L back to sleep at 3am, getting both feet off the floor (not for long!) in crow pose…. And so on.

A few weeks ago we watched “Inside Out”. Since then, Mr L has talked about generating “core memories” for our kids. I agree, that’s important, but from a slighty more selfish point of view, I’m very happy to look after them in my own memory bank for now!

Here’s to 2015…. x

Branding

I never thought too hard about why I objected to branding when it came to kids’ stuff. I just found something about it instinctively inappropriate. I could never really understand people who declared: “Oh my child loves The Wiggles/Hi Five/Peppa Pig” (for the record I actually do quite like Peppa Pig but that’s another story.) I mean, as the parent surely you are the one who determines what your child is exposed to? I realise once they start school it’s a slightly different story, but I knew for a fact that MY child would NOT love “The Wiggles” because I find them intensely irritating and would therefore not let him watch them. (So far, so good). One of the mothers in my mothers group (she actually left after a couple of months but we stayed Facebook friends) declared that, at 6 months old, her daughter could say “Dora”. My first thought was “Yeah right!” and my second was “How tragic”.

I’ve always consciously tried to avoid branded toys. We accidentally ended up with a Thomas engine, which Master L refers to as “Thomas” because it took us months to notice the names of the vehicles were written on the bottom and this green engine’s name is, apparently, Luke. So we got that wrong, but who cares? I’ve always avoided branded clothes, cartoon-character and action-hero pyjamas (which is quite difficult actually), I guess because I didn’t like the idea of “forcing” my child to become a fan of something specific, preferring him to form an interest in trucks/animals/planes in their own right.

And so various scenarios have popped up over the years which have reinforced my aversion to branding and allowed me to articulate some of my specific objections

  1. Cost- When shopping for Lego for my (now 10 year old) nephew, I was shocked to see that plain-old use-your-imagination-and-build-your-own-thing Lego was half the price of Harry Potter/Barbie/Star Wars Lego. Some of the parts for the Thomas and Friends train set cost $100!!! Crazy- $100 for a kid’s toy which you can’t even use in isolation!
  2. Duplication- Identifying something with a brand encourages buying more stuff and duplicating kids’ belongings. In the last couple of weeks I have started thinking about Christmas presents for my little nephews. I liked last year’s strategy of giving experiences rather than stuff, but circumstances have made that much harder this year. So I asked my sister-in-law what she might want for her kids (who have so many toys they literally don’t know what to do with them). She told me “Any of the Thomas and Friends wooden railway set, or any Postman Pat or Fireman Sam stuff.” Now, I don’t have a particular problem with Postman Pat, I actually quite like Fireman Sam (Mr L’s first language is Welsh and so we have the Welsh-language version Fireman Sam DVDs, which helps me justify letting Master L watch them considerably) and, as it happens, I can’t stand Thomas, but it wasn’t my opinion of the particular TV shows that influenced my reaction. Whatever happened to kids having “a fire engine” or “a train set” (which Master L does, in fact, have)? Why do kids now have to have the Thomas train set AND the Chuggington train set, or Postman Pat’s van AND Fireman Sam’s jeep?? My 10 year old nephew now has millions of Lego bits and pieces because he has about 20 different Star Wars Lego models. Sadly, I’m not sure if his brain or the Lego is adaptable enough to build something non-Star Wars with the millions of bricks he has, or if he has even thought to try.
  3. Fashion status- And apart from the cost and the needless duplication of plastic and metal bits and pieces which seems to be a way of life now in our throw-away society, the branding of kids’ toys promotes a sense of fashion status very early on. I know Master L, at almost 3, is too young to be aware of this, but I bet by the time he turns 4 and certainly by the time he turns 5, he will be aware that other kids have the Thomas train set and he has the generic version and that there will be status associated with that. Having said that, I know that as a 7 year old, I always felt slightly envious of kids who had Barbie dolls and all the Barbie paraphernalia that went with it. Even with my slightly less cool Sindy doll, I almost never got the “proper” Sindy clothes for her to wear, I had to make do with the £2 version from the town market. And my friend who had a plastic doll she used to call her Sindy doll would receive scornful comments at school such as “That’s not a proper Sindy doll” (including from me). I do recall a certain sense of missing out from not having the brand-named versions of most things, although on the rare occasion we were given something “proper” (like the My Little Ponies from my uncle), I realized pretty quickly they were actually fairly boring. I don’t want to be the clichéd, uncool, crochet-wearing mother who says “Just because everyone else has it doesn’t mean you have to have it too” but by the same token, I like the fact that I’m now not really a brand-name kind of person. I don’t buy designer (very often) and if I do, it’s because it’s the best one I can find and I can justify the expense rather than simply because a specific person has lent their name to it.

So, for now, we will continue to avoid Thomas and Postman Pat and I will no doubt read this post in a couple of years and smile at my idealism. Next week for his birthday, Master L will receive a mini soccer goal post set and some yellow diggers. All wrapped in Lightning McQueen wrapping paper.