Posted in CBT, compassion, lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness

Monday Matters: The beginner’s guide to self-compassion

Photo credit: kaboompics.com for Unsplash

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post which explored different ways to practise self love and gave some ideas for bullet journal spreads you might like to try. Today’s writing is an extension of this them and focuses on self-compassion. I hope you find it both interesting and useful.

What is self-compassion?

Self-compassion is all about showing yourself warmth, love, kindness and understanding, especially during difficult times. It’s about accepting ourselves as we are, learning to be less self-critical and avoiding judgement. It’s about being mindful of our different emotional states and the situations we find ourselves, recognising that we all make mistakes, that no-one is perfect and that we all struggle at times so we’re not alone in our suffering.

Why should I practice self-compassion?

There has been a lot of recent research into the benefits of being self-compassionate and how it can work wonders on our wellbeing. Individuals who practise self-compassion have been shown to be much happier, more optimistic, grateful for what they have, and enjoy better relationships with their loved ones. They’ve also been shown to have lower stress levels as they avoid being judgemental towards themselves, others and situations, recognise and accept that we all find things hard at times and, through mindfulness, become more in tune with their thoughts and emotions. Self-compassionate people are also likely to have a higher level of resilience as they are easily able to bounce back from difficulties and can accept and learn from their mistakes.

Self-compassion is also a great antidote for perfectionist tendencies, which I, for one, have always struggled with, right from childhood and I’m sure many of my readers will have too.

How can I bring self-compassion to my life?

Today, I’m going to share with you some simple ways to bring self-compassion into your life so that you can start being easier on yourself and show yourself the love and kindness you would demonstrate to someone else you care about.

Notice and reframe your critical self-talk

I’ve spoken before about the negative ways in which we tend to talk to ourselves before in my blog post about self love. We can be so good at saying unkind and unhelpful things such as “I’m such an idiot”, “Other people are so much better than me”, “No-one likes me” and “I’m just no good at…” etc. And, as you can imagine, this critical inner voice can destroy our self confidence and lead to feelings of worthlessness and depression.

So how can we put the lid on this damaging talk? The very first step is to start noticing when you are being self-critical. Take the time to examine the situations in which you use negative self talk, the exact words you use and the tone of voice that you adopt. You could even try keeping a little notebook of examples to reflect on. Now consider how you could reframe things in a more positive way. Focus on being self-compassionate, non-judgemental, supportive and mindful of the situation. If you find this difficult, think about what a really compassionate friend would say to you. Changing how we talk to ourselves might be hard at first but it will get easier with time and practise so keep working on your skills and congratulate yourself on your efforts.

Write yourself a letter

This is a great exercise to do if you are going through a difficult time or are struggling to accept something which has caused you mental pain. Start your letter by outlining the situation that you find yourself in and how it has or is affecting you. Next, go on to identify your thoughts and feelings and what you were hoping for or needing to make things easier. Now offer a message of common humanity which will remind you that you are not alone and encourage you to feel connected to others e.g. ‘we all make mistakes’ or ‘everyone has times when they feel…’ etc. Finally, offer yourself some guidance and positive encouragement like you would to a friend who needs your support. Sign your letter with a loving message and add some stickers, washi tapes or little drawings of something nice if you would like to. When you have finished your letter, you can either read it out loud to yourself straight away or put it away somewhere special for when you need to show yourself some compassion.

Start a self-compassion journal

Keeping a journal is a great way to reflect on how you are feeling and what is happening for you right now. I like to spend about ten minutes each evening writing down my thoughts. What I chose to write about differs each day but might include:

  • what I have achieved today
  • what I learnt today
  • ways in which I am proud of myself
  • things I’m grateful for
  • anything I found challenging today and why
  • what I’m looking forward to tomorrow
  • anything I’m feeling apprehensive about

You can finish your writing by adding some kind, understanding and sympathetic words to yourself. For example, ‘most people would get annoyed in that situation and it’s okay that you lost your temper’ or ‘things were difficult today, but hopefully you’ll have a better day tomorrow’ etc.

Use affirmations

Another great way of showing yourself loving kindness it to write your own personal affirmations and practise saying them to yourself each day. I like to create a decorative spread of them in my bullet journal every few months – it is a great way of practising my brush lettering too. Here are some examples:

  • I am enough
  • I talk to myself with love and kindness
  • I’m proud of myself and my achievements
  • I accept my flaws because no one is perfect
  • I’m doing my best and that is enough

Engage in self-soothing activities

If you know you’ve had a difficult day, your week isn’t going quite as planned or you’re finding yourself in a negative mood, you can help to make yourself feel much better by engaging in some self soothing activities.

Here’s some examples of things I like to do:

  • take a walk in nature and use my senses to explore the immediate environment
  • get under the duvet and read a good book
  • do some drawing or colouring in
  • listen to a guided meditation
  • make a collage in my bullet journal of things I love
  • do some watercolour painting
  • mindfully eat a bar of my favourite chocolate
  • watch a funny film
  • paint my nails

If you would like to read more about using self soothing for emotional regulation, you can check out this blog post I wrote last year.

I hope today’s blog post has helped to develop your understanding of self-compassion and how important it is. Let me know which of the activities I suggested appeal to you the most and if you try some of them, be sure to share how you got on.

Posted in lifestyle, Mindfulness

Monday Matters: How to be a Great Listener

Photo credit: Wynand van Poortvliet for Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I met one of my friends for coffee and cake and then we had a stroll along the beach. It was a really windy day and I found it difficult to hear my friend talking because the huge gusts were blowing her voice away. We were also pretty distracted by plumes of sand which were in danger of going in our eyes. I had to make sure I was listening super carefully and paying close attention as she was talking about a rather delicate family situation that she had been dealing with and wanted to offload. It got me thinking about listening skills and how we teach children to be good listeners by facing the speaker, sitting still, not interrupting and being attentive. But it’s not just kids who need to work on their listening skills, some adults would benefit from a few pointers too. Today’s Monday Matters post is all about being a really effective listener something that I hope most, if not all of us, aspire to be, especially as it is often named as one of the most important qualities we look for in a friend or partner.

If you’ve ever sat in a café talking to a friend and have watched them check their phone repeatedly, start to gaze out of the window or pay more attention to the seemingly far more interesting conversation going on at the table to the left, you will know how frustrating or upsetting it is when you feel like you are not being listened to. Especially if you’ve sat nodding along and offering emotional support for the last ten minutes and now it’s your turn to share. Maybe you’ve read the above and are now thinking about a time when you’ve been the poor listener and have done some or all of the things listed above. Or, perhaps you can recall a time when you offered advice or an alternative point of view when, thinking back, really the speaker was simply needed to vent. Developing good listening skills isn’t easy and requires lots of practise but here are some ideas to help you:

Limit distractions

If you are face-to-face with the person, try to find a quiet space away from visual distractions. Put your phone away, or turn it on to silent so that you’re not tempted to look at it or respond to messages. Maintain eye contact for the majority of the time so that you’re not seeing the myriad of other things going on in the immediate environment which might otherwise attract your attention.

If you’re at home and on the phone, turn music or the TV off and make others aware that you are busy and not to be disturbed. If you have children, try to make sure they’re fully occupied with something and teach them about when it is vital that they do interrupt you (if they’ve had an accident and need your urgent assistance or the house is on fire) and when they should wait patiently until you’ve finished your call. A gentle reminder prior to picking up the phone is a good idea and be sure to praise your child for managing to entertain themselves or resist temptation to interrupt and explain why it was so helpful.

If you are at work and are in the middle of something, politely ask the person to wait until you are done or stop what you are doing and give them your full attention. This lets them know that you are interested in and value what they say.

Figure out their why and their what

Whilst you are listening, think about why they are talking to you and what the message is. Are they looking for a solution or some advice? Might they just be wanting to air their thoughts and feelings? Is the purpose just to let off steam or vent? Don’t offer a solution or your opinion unless you are asked.

If you are unsure what the person is getting at, then be sure to ask for clarification or pose questions which help you develop your understanding. For example, you might start with ‘So, what you’re saying is…’, ‘Can I just check…’ ‘Did you mean…’ etc.

Use non-verbal cues to help you

Look out for non-verbal cues which give you ideas about how the person is feeling and what they might be thinking. Check out their body language, facial expression and gestures. Are they smiling and relaxed or do they look tense and uptight? Think about how you can non-verbally show how attentive you are too. A smile, a nod, a look of concern – whatever feels appropriate based on what is being said (a good reason why it’s important to figure out the person’s why and what).

Reflect back on what you hear

Part of your job as an active listener is to make sure you fully grasp what the speaker is saying. A good way to do this is by paraphrasing what has been said. This is where you restate the information that has been presented to you but in different words, basically reflecting back a summary of the same content e.g. “In other words…”, “I gather that…” etc. In combination with this, you can also check that you understand the feelings and emotions involved, for example, “It sounds like you’re feeling pretty angry about…” or ‘”So, you were frustrated when…” This lets the speaker know that you understand the main messages in what they are saying and also shows that you are empathetic towards them.

Allow for silences

Silence can feel unnerving and the temptation is to quickly fill any gaps between talking. But the person may just be pausing to reflect on what they’ve said or thinking about how they can add to what they are saying so try not to interrupt. If they have finished, a moment’s silence allows you to consider what has been said and compose any questions you may have in a way that indicates how closely you were paying attention and that you are interested in what they are sharing with you.

Follow up on the conversation afterwards

There’s no better way to show how well you were listening and how much you care than bringing up the topic of conversation again at a later date. How you initiate thinks obviously depends on what was said but you might enquire if there are any updates, if they are feeling any better, how an event went or how a situation ended up resolving itself. The person will generally be touched that you remembered and made the effort to follow up on things.

Final thoughts

I hope my ideas have given you food for thought and that you might use one or two of my suggestions to help you become a better listener. We all have room for improvement and I include myself in this. No one can claim to be the perfect listener but we all have a desire to be heard so I think it’s really important to take the time to evaluate our skills and try to make some small changes. Let me know what you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses in terms of listening or, if you would prefer, use the comments space as your chance to air what you find particularly annoying when you’re the one doing the talking. Maybe your little rant will strike a cord with another reader and give them something to think about!

Posted in lifestyle, meditation, Mindfulness, Planning and journaling, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 5 easy ways to focus on being grateful

Photo credit: Gabrielle Henderson for Unsplash

Research shows that practising gratitude is great for your mental and physical health. Being thankful helps you be more optimistic, accepting and happy. It can even reduce some of the physical symptoms of illness and reduce our stress levels. In today’s Monday Matters post I’m going to share some easy ways in which you can incorporate a daily focus on being grateful for what you have.

What is gratitude?

Gratitude is all about being aware of the good things you have in your life and taking the time to express your appreciation for them. It’s about finding the positives and developing a glass half full attitude. It’s choosing to focus on abundance and how much you have to be grateful for, rather than a feeling of lack or complaint. It’s also about acknowledging the role others play in helping us and being thankful for everything they do.

Gratitude helps us to see what is there instead of what isn’t

Make gratitude meditation part of your daily practise

There are lots of short guided meditations available on YouTube or apps like Calm and Headspace which are really helpful if you are just getting started with meditation – just look for those which focus specifically on gratitude. These are great for developing a relaxed state by focusing on your breathing before inviting you to consider what you are grateful for.

If you are more experienced with meditation, you might create a script that you can follow (this could be written in your bullet journal or typed out and placed next to your bed as a visual reminder). For example:

  • Get yourself into a comfortable position where you are relaxed but purposeful
  • Sit nice and tall like a mountain but keep your shoulders relaxed
  • Close your eyes and breathe
  • Take a moment to focus on your breathing
  • Now change the focus to your body and think about what you have to be grateful for
  • Widen the lens and bring to mind some of the things that you have which make your life easier or bring you great joy
  • Now focus on the people in your life and what they offer you. Silently thank them and feel the love spread through your body.
  • Think for a moment about how all of this gratitude makes you feel. Enjoy the sensations it creates in your body.
  • Finish your practise with some slow and steady breaths before making small movements and when you are ready, open your eyes.

It’s up to you when you want to practise but I find it nice to do first thing in the morning as it sets an intention of being grateful for the rest of the day.

Use affirmations

Writing some personalised gratitude affirmations that you repeat each day is another great way of focusing on all of the positive in your life. These can be quite general and things which we often take for granted e.g. I’m grateful for the clean air I have to breathe. I’m grateful that I have a cosy place to call home. I’m grateful for clean running water to drink and bathe in. I’m grateful for all of the delicious food in my fridge. I’m grateful for all of the opportunities that the modern world presents me with. This would make a lovely spread in your bullet journal and you could change your list each season. In the Summer you can add things like ‘I am grateful for sunny days’, ‘I am grateful for cold drinks when I’m feeling hot’ etc. In Winter time, ‘I’m grateful for my cosy pyjamas to keep me warm’, I’m grateful that we have central heating in our house’ etc.

Start a gratitude jar

I haven’t tried this one myself but the idea really appeals. You can choose any jar and you could even decorate it to show its purpose. It should be placed in a prominent place somewhere in your house (this might be a communal area if you want others to contribute to it as well) with paper and pens beside it. Each day (or most days), try to find something you are grateful for, write it on a slip of paper and place it inside. On days when you need a little pick me up, take some of the notes out and read them to remind yourself of what you have. You could also set a date in your diary or bullet journal to empty the jar out to see all of the loveliness inside.

Create a gratitude spread in your bullet journal

A few years ago, I created this wonderful sunshine gratitude spread and added to it during the weeks of December. I found it in one of my old bullet journals and have really enjoyed sitting and reading each of the things I had brought to mind. Many of them still stand today. I recall drawing the semi-circle by hand and adding the rays with a ruler to create the 19 sections. The centre of the sun is shading with coloured pencil and for the rest I used watercolour pencils as I didn’t have my paint sets then. There are so many different things you could focus on such as everyday things like your morning cup of coffee or your car to take you to different places. You can also think about people in your life who help you, for example your doctor who listens carefully and offers you appropriate treatment or your friend who provides a listening ear. You can even consider your own qualities and how they help you in your day-to-day life e.g. lots of patience with your children or your ability to be assertive when speaking to your boss at work.

Use gratitude prompts to evaluate your week

At the end of a busy week, it’s lovely to sit down and do some quiet reflection on all that you have to be grateful for. You can find a huge array of gratitude prompts on Pinterest -I’ve collected lots on this board so feel free to follow it if you need some ideas. You can either use them for journaling or to just focus your mind and thoughts. Here’s a few to get you started:

  • What challenge have you overcome and what helped you to face or overcome it?
  • What has been your favourite meal or snack over the course of the week?
  • Who have you felt inspired by?
  • What or who made you smile?
  • Think of a gadget in your home that has helped make something quicker or easier this week.
  • What is your main highlight?

You can also focus on your past experiences too:

  • Name a trip out that you’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year.
  • Think about one of your best memories from childhood.
  • Reminisce about one of your favourite holidays (vacations).
  • Recall something that you have made that you were really pleased with.
  • Think about something you have achieved in your life and consider your personal attributes which made you successful.
  • Recall one of the best gifts you have ever received and think about why.

That’s all of my tips for today. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them and that they are helpful in instilling gratitude in your life. Remember that even if you are having a tough time right now, there’s always something to be grateful for. You might have to dig deep to bring something to mind, but, by taking the time to reflect, you will be able to pick out some positives and this will help to improve your mood.

Posted in lifestyle, Planning and journaling, wellbeing

Monday Matters: 5 things to do in the evening to ensure a restful night’s sleep and a productive next day

Photo credit: Greg Rivers for Unsplash

A while back, I shared my newly set up evening routine which I recorded in my bullet journal during the month of May. For today’s Monday Matters post, I’m going to look at some of the points in more detail as I’ve found them to be super beneficial to ensure I have a really good night’s sleep and they might work for you too.

Get chores out of the way

I always make sure I’ve finished chores by 8pm, two hours before I go to bed. Anything that doesn’t get finished can wait until tomorrow. I dedicate half an hour to emptying the dishwasher, doing a quick tidy up and completing anything that absolutely needs to be done that day. My husband also helps too so we are super quick. Tasks that didn’t get done are migrated to the next day in my bullet journal spread.

Turn your phone to silent and take a social media break

At 8pm, the blue light filter kicks in on my phone and my tablet computer. At this time, if I remember, I also put my phone on silent and try to resist the temptation to check emails or use any form of social media. I do admit, however, that this second part is a work in progress as I think when you finally sit down on the sofa for relax, it can be seen as the perfect opportunity to do a little check in with Facebook / Twitter / Instagram or whatever after a busy day.

Take time for journaling and reflection

Next, I put on my PJs and take some quiet time for journaling and reflecting on how my day has gone. Unfortunately, this is usually the time when our hamster wakes up and starts begging to be out of her cage by knocking her wheel over or biting the bars! Anyway, I digress… I tend to write a few lines in my bullet journal at the end of my daily plan and I also have a little 5 minutes before bed book that gives prompts such as Smiling at…, Reminiscing about… Grateful for… etc which I’ve been filling in nightly since the beginning of April. This quiet time allows me to make a note of any problems I encountered and good things that happened. I see it as a way of emptying my head of clutter so I don’t lie in bed thinking and analysing.

Do a little planning for the next day

After I’ve done my reflection in my bullet journal, I write the next day and date and check out what the weather is going to be doing tomorrow. Then, I add a few things to my plan which I really want to get done. So, for example, I might want to complete some of my college assessment or might want to take photographs of some new products for my Etsy shop. At this time, I also add any chores that I didn’t get done that I would really like to complete e.g. I might decide to do a machine load of washing if I know that the weather is going to be fine or I might want to clear clothes from the drying racks if I know that it’s going to rain and the laundry basket is overflowing. Writing some loose plans for the next day and transferring any appointments from by monthly overview really helps me have a productive morning the next day as I know exactly what I want to get done when I check my bullet journal after my morning meditation.

Choose relaxing activities

By 8.30pm, I’m chilling on the sofa with my feet up ready to relax. The activities change day by day but might include watching some TV (I love psychological dramas), reading my book or playing cards with my husband whilst listening to some music. Directly before bed, I often do a short meditation or some basic stretches – anything that will completely calm my mind. My 10pm I’m usually totally ready for sleep but I do like to read a few chapters of my current novel on my kindle before drifting off.

I hope you find these ideas useful and that, if you put them in place consistently, they help you to get a wonderful night’s sleep and ensure you wake up refreshed and ready for action on the morning of the day after.

Sweet dreams,

Posted in bullet journal, Bullet journaling, watercolour painting

Setting up my bullet journal for September: hedgehog theme

Hi everyone, hope you are all doing well and finding plenty of time to explore your creative side. For next month’s bullet journal spreads, I took inspiration from our garden again. I mentioned a while ago that we have a cute night time visitor who we have started putting biscuits out for each evening (specially formulated little hedgehog ones I should add!). We love getting all wrapped up and sitting on our patio watching him (or her) feed. My husband bought me a wildlife camera for my birthday and so I now have some gorgeous photos and videos of our spiny friend in addition to my creative journaling page records. I hope you enjoy looking through my hedgehog themed pages and I can’t wait to see what you have all chosen for your bullet journal spreads this September.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

For my cover page I wanted to have a go at a little watercolour painting. As my current bullet journal is a Leuchtturm 1917 and the pages don’t hold up too well with paint, I decided to use watercolour paper and then scan and print my finished art work to stick in.

My original watercolour painting. Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative.
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Next is a motivational quote that I found on Pinterest. It’s there to remind me to keep working towards my goals a little each day. I didn’t want to take the focus away from the words so chose not to add an illustrations.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve just bought a circle making tool and I’m having great fun using it. For my calendar, I decided to go with a completely different layout, a circular design which fits on one page. What I think is great about it is that the space needed for the dates and days is minimal and there are no empty boxes like on the month on two pages grid that I usually use. I drew a relaxing hedgehog in the centre and added autumnal elements. You’ll notice that I’ve done the picture on a while piece of paper and glued it in the centre – this is because I wasn’t happy with my initial décor so I started again.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Even though Autumn officially doesn’t start until 22nd September, the weather is certainly getting cooler and it looks pretty Autumnal outside already. It feels like Summer is over and it won’t be long until we get those gorgeous shades of red, yellow, orange and brown that we all love to see. I had a little space at the bottom of my calendar page so decided to take the opportunity to do some lettering.

Next are my habit trackers. Some of them are a continuation of last month as I want to make sure I’m keep up with my studying and blogging and also finding regular time to be creative. I’ve got lots planned for my Etsy shop and so will have to make sure I put the hours in to achieve my goals so work on my business is on there again. The other two habits are related to my Level 10 Life goals where I’m aiming for a tidier home and even more exercise by making sure I get a decent walk in each day.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

My next page was inspired by one of vlogger and bullet journaller Caitlin Da Silva‘s September spreads where she created a Fall Reading List. I thought it looked really cute with the little book covers (which I rarely get to see as I generally read on my Kindle Paperwhite) so decided to make my own. I went for a nice mix of fiction and non-fictions and all of the authors are completely new to me.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

It’s been a while since I had a monthly expenses tracker in my bullet journal but I decided that I’d like to be more aware of my spending habits so I drew up this simple spread. I covered the left and right edges of the page with washi tape temporarily whilst I drew the lines of Tombow pen to keep it looking a little neater.

Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

That’s all of my main spreads for September. I haven’t done any fitness trackers this time as I’ve not really kept up with them this month and they became a bit of a chore. I may do a running list of my workouts which I can add to as I do them. I’m also debating adding a Pinterest stats page as I’m using the platform to advertise some of my Etsy shop items and I also pin all of my blog posts on there.

Until next time,