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Posted in compassion, life hacks, psychology, wellbeing

Monday matters: Procrastination and 10 ways to minimise it

The second instalment of my Monday Matters series is focused on procrastination, something which effects most, if not all of us on a fairly regular basis. In fact, studies have shown that around 20% of the population are chronic procrastinators! In this post, I will consider what procrastination is and why we procrastinate, the forms it takes, and most importantly, steps we can take to minimise it in a bid to become more productive and achieve our goals.

What is procrastination?

The act or habit of procrastinating is where we put off or delay doing something, in particular a task which is unpleasant or burdensome, but which really requires our immediate attention. It can take on many forms such as not tackling the pile of ironing you’ve been meaning to do for the past week, leaving a bill payment until the last minute, avoiding a difficult conversation with someone at work or telling yourself you’ll start developing a more healthy lifestyle starting next week. Whatever it looks like, procrastinating can pre-occupy our thoughts and be a cause of stress, anxiety and even depression. It can even take over our lives and have a huge negative impact on our future.

Signs of procrastination include filling your day with low priority tasks, leaving a high priority item on your ‘to do’ list for a long time (for example, if you use the bullet journal system, you may repeatedly migrate a particular item to the next day or following week), making endless cups of tea, coffee or snacks, reading emails lots of times but not actually actioning any of them, or waiting for the right time or the right mood to get started with something.

So, why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination is a voluntary and unnecessary delay in undertaking something, but most people struggle to control it. There can be different reasons for not undertaking a task and these generally relate to poor time management, fear of failure (or sometimes even success), lack of motivation related to low mood or an unrealistic view of the self.

For some of us, as we think about starting a task, we can develop feelings of anxiety about getting it done. This can then cause us to become overwhelmed and then avoidance starts. Not getting the task done then becomes a source of guilt and shame and these negative feelings create a never ending vicious cycle.

Perfectionists are also frequent procrastinators. Because they hold such high standards, they often fear being unable to complete a task perfectly, so end up put it off for as long as they possibly can. This performance related anxiety causes them to seek out much less threatening or ‘safer’ options.

How can we minimise the effects of procrastination?

The first step to minimise procrastination is to begin to be more self compassionate. Forgive yourself for procrastinating and try not to feel guilty about it. Accept that everyone procrastinates at times and it’s okay to do so. Also, remember that it is particularly common in people who suffer from issues with anxiety or low mood.

When you have developed more understanding towards yourself, you can then work on your ability to take responsibility for your actions (or inaction!) and begin to believe in your ability to make small changes to enable yourself to be more productive. Here are some ideas I’ve collected from my compassion group work and from my reading:

  1. Ignore your mood and just get started – it doesn’t matter if you feel like doing it or if it seems like the right time, some tasks just have to be done. And besides, it might take you less time than you expected or you might feel a whole lot better when you get it out of the way!
  2. Break a project down into small manageable steps that can be accomplished – just a little bit of progress towards a goal will help us to feel better about the task and increase our self esteem and motivation to continue.
  3. Do some planning – at the start of each day, create a timeline of how you intend to spend each hour and try to stick to it as best you can, for longer projects, set deadlines for each task. That way, if you don’t finish what you had planned for today or this week it will affect your future plans.
  4. Get the worst or hardest bit done first – as Mark Twain once said ‘If it is your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.’ By completing your most important task first you’ll have the satisfaction of this achievement which will hopefully provide you with the motivation to get even more done.
  5. Think about your use of language – use positive affirmations as a way forward e.g. I can eat healthily, rather than I need to go on a diet, I am someone who exercises rather than I want to do some exercise. This helps to change the distance between yourself and your behaviour.
  6. Set time limits and then reward yourself for sticking with it e.g. 40 minutes of work and then I’ll have coffee, a biscuit and 10 minutes catch up on Facebook, when I’ve tidied and cleaned the living room, I’ll sit back and watch my favourite TV show.
  7. Minimise distractions – put your phone in another room, turn off your notifications, close all of your social media and email tabs, work in a clean and clutter free environment. Choose a place where you are most likely to be productive. This could be your home, the library or a quiet cafĂ©.
  8. Change your internal dialogue – instead of fixating on how much you dread a given task and forcing yourself to do it, try changing your mindset, deciding in advance that its completion will make you happy. Also, rather than using phrases such as “I need to…” and “I have to…” try changing to “I chose to…” or “I would like to…” as these imply that you have a choice and help you to feel empowered in making a decision to act.
  9. Let others know what your goals are – telling family and friends what you want to achieve can help in several ways. Firstly, it can hold you accountable, and secondly, they can offer you support and encouragement along the way.
  10. Remember, done is better than perfect – focus on just completing a task rather than getting hung up on minute details. Then you can celebrate the fact that it is finished. You can always go back to it to make improvements another time.

I hope you’ve found today’s blog post helpful in terms of developing your understanding of procrastination and how we can minimise its effects. If you have any more tips, please do share them in the comments.

Posted in art, creativity, watercolour painting

Back to basics: Watercolour techniques Days 1, 2 and 3. More colour mixing and layering

As the colour mixing chart took so long to complete, I left the rest of the lessons for Day 1 and combined them with Days 2 and 3 for a mammoth painting session. Although I enjoyed the actual painting I was spending more time trying to clean up my set of colour pans and washing out the mixing palettes so in the the end, I popped to The Range and bought some squeezy tubes and two more mixing trays. This meant I had exactly the same colours as the painting tutor and I could leave my dollops of colour in the palettes to use at a later time. I learnt lots more about mixing colours and had great fun trying out the different techniques.

As I said in my first basic watercolour techniques post, the colour chart took me a long time to do, so although I watched all of the lessons for Day 1, I didn’t complete all of the practical tasks. When I got my new paints, I decided to make the chart again using the new colours so I could see how they would mix.

The second lesson was on colour value which basically means how light or dark a colour is. We learnt how to change the hue of a paint colour by gradually adding more water. Here are the results with different colours:

Finally, we learnt how to mix colours and dilute them to make almost black and white shades. The first two swatches were made by blending all of the different dark colours on my palette and tiny amounts of the warmer colours. It took a while to get the colour right but was worth persevering. Our teacher advised that these shades are softer than pure black and compliment the lighter shades that were going to be painting later on.

For almost white shades, we were taught to make a grey mixture and dilute it with lots of water to create super soft, pale tones. This then creates a very translucent colour which also shows the white of the paper. I made a couple of flower shapes to demonstrate and then added darker colour to the centre.

Day 2 was all about layering different colours. We started off by layering ‘wet into wet’ by tapping one colour into another. For this technique, we created a diluted colour swatch on our paper and then tapped another diluted colour into the corner of the swatch. This made the colour bleed into the first colour and created a lovely gradient effect. The trick was to ensure the paint was watery enough to create a glistening sheen on the paper when you tilted it in the light.

For the second lesson, we layered wet paint over dry. We started by making a colour swatch (permanent rose) on the paper and then left it to dry before adding a different colour (cobalt blue), slightly overlapping the first. We then let it dry again, before adding another colour (lemon yellow), overlapping the second. This allows you to create even more colour variations such as the purple and green which was created here:

On Day 3, we were introduced to colour bleeds. This involved adding a rectangular swatch of colour to your paper and then adding a second swatch right beside it whilst the paint is still wet and touching the tip of the brush to the first swatch. This makes the colours bleed into it each other and creates some wonderful effects. The amount of bleed is dependent upon how much water is used. As you can see, my yellow and red paints didn’t work as well as I didn’t use enough water.

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at my water colour techniques work and maybe it has inspired you to have a go yourself. In the coming lessons were going to be using what we’ve learnt to create an abstract piece and then we’re going to learn how to create florals. I’m super excited to do some more.

Posted in art, watercolour painting

Back to basics: Watercolouring Challenge Day 1

This week, I’m taking part in an online Beginner’s watercolour course called Show Me Your Florals. This free course comes complete with a workbook, daily demo videos and tasks to complete over a period of 1 week. For Day 1, the focus was on mixing basic colours to create a chart. I spent over 3 hours making it and now have back and neck ache so I hope it proves to be useful! I certainly enjoyed mixing the paints but wasn’t so keen on washing my small mixing palette repeatedly!

The full chart is made using 9 basic colours which are from my Daler Rowney tin. The artist who is running the challenge says it’s best to work with squeezy tubes of watercolour but I’ve already splashed out on new brushes and really couldn’t afford to buy more new paints so I’m sticking with my travel tin of little paint pans which I’m sure will be okay. I’ve also only got some of the suggested colours so I’ve chosen a few other similar ones from my palette.

The diagonal which goes from top left to bottom right shows the original colours and the other squares are the colour produced when mixing two equal amounts of the labelled paints. The chart has been done on Strathmore cold press watercolour paper 90lb weight and each square is 2 x 2 cms.

It was interesting to see how many different colours and shades could be created with the 9 basic ones. The artist also showed us how to can add more water to create a much paler version of the colours too.

A close up of the top left of my chart
The top right hand section
The bottom left section
And finally, the bottom right hand section

If you are new to watercolouring and want to try a little paint mixing, I can recommend making one of these charts to help you choose colours for your projects. However, bear in mind that it takes a while to make. Particularly if you only have a small mixing palette like I do and have to keep running bowls of soapy water to clean it.

Day 2’s lessons popped into my inbox just after lunchtime but I’m going to continue to stay one day behind and work on it tomorrow (I still have a couple of tasks from today to do too). Also, if each of the activities takes in excess of 3 hours like this one did, it might end up taking me until at least the end of October but I’m sure it will be fun and I’ve learnt lots already.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to share pictures of the rest of the challenge but it may take a while as the light is starting to get a bit rubbish now with the cloudy weather and limited daylight hours. Have any of you done a watercolour course before? Did you do it online or did you go to a proper class with others and have personal support from a tutor?

Posted in compassion, mental health, wellbeing

Monday Matters – Self soothing activities for emotional regulation

Photo credit: Johannes Plenio.

Today marks the beginning of my new ‘Monday Matters’ feature in which I will present different ideas on how to live a happy life and increase your general wellbeing. My first post is on managing your emotions using self soothing activities and features lots of ideas for self care and relaxation.

Recent research by Professor Paul Gilbert, a psychologist who developed Compassion Focused Therapy argues that we have three emotional regulation systems in our brain, namely:

  • The threat system – for detecting danger, based on emotions of anxiety, anger or disgust.
  • The drive system – enabling us to have the motivation to do, achieve and acquire, sparking excitement.
  • The soothing system – helping us to manage stress, creating feelings of contentment, safety, trust and connection to others.

All three of these systems are important, but issues can arise when one system dominates. If threat presides, we end up feeling constantly anxious and worried. If we spend too much time in drive mode, we can become obsessed with being better and having more and this can lead to stress, perfectionism, burn out and depression. However, If we were always in soothing mode, we would never get anything done!

Many of us find that we have very active threat and drive systems but rarely use our soothing system. By investing time on activities which sooth us, we can greatly improve our wellbeing. Of course, what is considered to be soothing, depends on the individual but here’s a list I’ve collated to give you some ideas.

  • Wrap yourself up in a cosy blanket to enjoy your favourite warm drink
  • Light some scented candles or burn some oils and turn down the dimmer switch
  • Go to the park for a gentle stroll and feed the ducks
  • In hot weather, enjoy an ice cream, in colder weather, make some warming soup
  • Look at photographs from a happy event e.g. a holiday, your wedding, a celebration day.
  • Spend some time in nature e.g. woodland or a forest and look for signs of the current season, or do some ‘forest bathing’ (to find out more about this stress busting pastime click here. Of course you don’t need to book a holiday to try this technique out but you do need somewhere dry to lie and soak up the atmosphere).
  • Flick through your favourite magazine (I love Breathe magazine which is all about making time for yourself).
  • Set aside some creative time to enjoy your favourite craft such as sewing, card making or collage
  • Watch something funny, such as a romantic comedy or your favourite sitcom.
  • Run a warm bath and add bubbles or a bath bomb (I love the ones from Lush as they change the colour of the water and smell delicious)
  • Play some upbeat music and have a sing song and a dance
  • Go out in the warm sun and feel the heat on your face
  • Play with a pet (I love having snuggles with my hamster Kikki, when she lets me!)
  • Read some inspirational quotes or some positive affirmations (I like to write these in my BuJo)
  • Engage in rhythmic activities such as doing a jigsaw, colouring on or painting
  • Take your phone or camera out on a nature walk and take lots of pretty pictures of your surroundings
  • Lie on the grass and watch the clouds float by
  • Get yourself a drink and savour the temperature and flavour
  • Go bird or squirrel spotting in your local park
  • Enjoy a massage

I hope my post has given you some ideas to try. If you could spend 10 minutes, half an hour, a morning or afternoon doing something just for yourself, what would you choose?

Posted in Blogging, Business branding

A mini audit of my brand

For Day 2 of the free WordPress ‘Branding and growth’ course, the focus is on your brand and how your blog communicates what you are all about to visitors. It invites you to consider if the presentation of your site is consistent and focused and suggests you make one update to reinforce your brand.

I chose to make changes to theme but discovered that my current choice had become obsolete and retired from service! Therefore, in the end, I looked at alternatives and decided on ‘Scratchpad’ which seemed to suit my requirements. As well as changing the theme, I also created a custom header using Canva and added a lovely brush font for the blog title. I’m quite pleased with how it looks and hopefully, it will give readers an idea of the focus of my posts.

There are lots more changes I would like to make but I need to do more reading before I start to add further customisation. I hope you like the changes I’ve made so far. I would be interested to know if you have used one of your own photographs as the image for your header or if you chose an image from a copywrite free site like I did. I’m hoping to have my own image in place at some point but it always seems to be too dark for taking indoor photographs at the moment and it’s only Autumn!