Posted in life hacks, lifestyle, memory keeping, Mindfulness, TN journaling

Monday Matters: An in-depth guide to Happy Memory Making and Creative Memory Keeping

This month I finished reading The Art of Making Memories: How to create and remember happy moments by Meik Wiking. I actually started it last year, but I put it to one side and picked it up again around the middle of October. I’d forgotten many of the key points and ideas, so I re-started from the beginning and spent 20 minutes each morning, reading and highlighting. This has now become part of my early routine and takes place in a super comfortable chair by the window to give myself a good dose of natural light. And, as one of my current affirmations on my vision board is ‘I use self-development books to help me grow’, I’m working hard to apply my learning and decided it would be a good idea to share some of the ideas on here too. I’m also going to talk about some of my own suggestions for memory keeping such as journalling, photography, scrapbooking, memorabilia displays and memory boxes, plus a few more ideas I found online.

Why are memories important?

Rather than provide my own thoughts on the above question, I collected a few ideas from others to share:

Happy memories are essential to our mental health. They strengthen our identity, sense of purpose and relationships.

Rangan Chattergee

There are important moments that make up our life’s narrative. We remember the defining moments in our lives, the moments that made us who we are, the moments where we became who we hoped we could be.

Meik Wiking, The Art of Making Memories

I love those random memories that make me smile no matter what is going on in my life right now.

The moment may be temporary but the memory is forever.

Bud Meyer

‘Happy memories form the cornerstone of our identity, and can help with combating depression and loneliness,’ says Wiking. ‘They influence our happiness in the current moment, as well as providing a framework for our hopes and dreams about the future.’ Nostalgia makes us happy, increasing self-esteem and strengthening social connectedness, so the more vividly we remember the good times, the happier we are overall.

Meik Wiking

Memories are timeless treasures of the heart.

So how can we create a life full of happy memories to treasure?

Following extensive research conducted by the team at The Happiness Research Institute in Denmark, Meik came up eight keys ingredients for creating happy memories whether they’re of important events such as births and marriages, everyday events such as drinking good coffee and eating delicious cake in a cafe with a friend for the first time in ages, adventures such as moving to a new city, climbing a mountain or going abroad for the very first time or struggling to finish a big assignment but then being delighted with the feedback given by the course tutor. Here’s a brief explanation of each of these elements:

Unforgettable firsts

This is the idea that the very first time you experience something is likely to be remembered much better than subsequent very similar experiences. So, for example, you’re likely to remember your first time on an aeroplane, your very first pet, your first job, your first kiss etc. A great idea then, is to seek out new and novel experiences on a regular basis, the more extraordinary the better. You might like to schedule an evening in your diary or planner to find out what’s available to you and explore different options – you might organise a holiday, choose a new restaurant for a family meal (trying a new food or dish will make it even more memorable), sign up for an evening class (I recommend beginners ceramics) or plan to visit a museum is a nearby town or city.

Make it multisensory

In the classroom, during my years as a primary school teacher, one of the important ways of ensuring all children learnt well and enjoyed activities was to create multisensory experiences. These are the kinds of lessons which stay with them for years and they can still remember well after they’ve left school. This can be applied to memory making too. Don’t just experience things with your eyes, try to make sure you use all of your senses (not just sight) to take everything in. Consider if there are any particular aromas in the air, like the smell of freshly roasted coffee, the scent of cinnamon and winter spices in a pot pourri at Christmas time. Be still and listen for near and distant sounds (either pleasant or unpleasant) such as the drumming of a woodpecker in a faraway tree, the roar of the ocean or music drifting on the breeze. Take time to explore different textures such as soft knitted blankets as you get all cosy after a chilly winter walk, or smooth pebbles on the beach and you sit on the sand. Maybe as you relax and take everything in you become aware of a range of sensations, the chill of winter on your skin or the warmth of the Sun on your face in summer or the crunchy autumn leaves below your feet. Perhaps new or favourite tastes complete the scene -succulent strawberries, crunchy, salty popcorn, the sharp tang of the lemon slice in your chilled glass of Pimms and lemonade. And, as you attend to every detail of your experience, you’re engaging in one of the key aspects of mindfulness which is wonderful for your mental health too.

Pay full attention

It should come as no surprise that experiences are best remembered if you invest your complete attention on them. So, for example, if in the summer you went on a Sunday afternoon boat trip to see puffins, but you spend most of the time thinking about all of the work you have to do on Monday, you’re unlikely to remember key details like the warm sun as it sparkled on the water, the interesting facts the captain shared as you headed towards Coquet island, the joy of spying a line of cute seals bobbing in the water making sure that the boat didn’t get too close, the thousands of noisy puffins flying overhead and diving down into the water to catch sand eels, and the hundreds more birds basking in the warmth after a busy morning fishing. However, if you remain attentive during whole cruise, you’re likely to be able to recall all of the magical trip and how you felt for many years to come.

Keep it meaningful

Meaningful moments in your life are those which are of great significance or value to you, where positive emotions such as gratefulness, love, happiness, pride, warmth, peace and often, a sense of connection with loved ones is felt. These could be ‘big’ milestone moments such as finishing college or university, starting a new job, the day you got married, the birth of a child or buying your very first house. They could also be smaller events or happenings which are really important to you and your personal values, for example, for me as a wildlife and nature lover, sitting quietly with my husband in the hide at Kielder Forest, watching and listening to the woodland birds and then suddenly spotting a red squirrel taking a snack from a feeder is one of my favourite memories which I will cherish for a very long time. As well as making exciting plans to celebrate each of our birthdays and our wedding anniversary, my husband and I also make sure we schedule in plenty of other pleasurable activities and adventures for our weekends such as visits to nature reserves, riverside walks in different parts of the Northeast, trips to the theatre, lunches in various vegetarian cafes and overnight stays in quaint villages or vibrant cities.

The emotional highlighter pen

According to Meik, emotions act like a highlighter pen so experiences involving heightened emotions will stick fast in your memory. That’s why we never forget the exact details of times when we’ve felt really embarrassed (no matter how much we’d like to). ‘An emotional reaction will make experiences and moments more memorable, so the art of making memories means making the emotional highlighter pen work for you.’ This also works for exhilarating, joyful, scary, traumatic, sad and shocking events too. Next time you’re planning a holiday, try to add a few activities to the itinerary which are bound to be emotional highlights.

Peaks and struggles

Some of the milestones mentioned above such as completing your university degree, buying your first home or getting married are highly memorable events, but the struggles, stresses and hard work involved to get there is likely to be unforgettable too. There’s so much involved in planning your wedding day that working full time and having a long to do list of preparations months and weeks before can be so stressful and exhausting that when the day arrives it’s such a relief that it (mostly!) went to plan, and you can enjoy what should be one of the happiest occasions of your life.

Meik shares these happy memory tips:

  • save the best for last – e.g., if giving a few gifts to your partner for their birthday or Christmas, save the most precious / exciting one until the end, when creating a holiday itinerary, do something with the ‘wow’ factor on the last day etc.
  • make the journey part of the experience and try taking the long route – for example, go on a gentle and relaxing boat trip along the river to the other side of the city or hire a bike for the day to cycle around the various attractions, rather than jumping in a taxi.
  • plan something for your weekend that helps it to end on a high note

Share your memories as stories and regularly have ‘remember when…’ conversations

A memory model known as The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve shows that over time our retention of memories decline, unless we take action to keep them. Knowing about and understanding the forgetting curve can be important when we are trying to learn new skills or absorb vital information but how does it help us with remembering happy memories? Well, according to Meik, regularly sharing your happy moments with others as stories can help immensely. This could involve helping loved ones to hold on to past events by retelling anecdotes, having ‘remember when?’ conversations or even sharing funny or interesting experiences from your own childhood. Regularly reminiscing has also been shown to help combat memory loss as we get older too.

Outsourcing

The final ingredient for maintaining happy memories is to outsource them. In business, as some of you may know, this generally means asking a third party to take care of a particular job or task. In memory retention, however, we can outsource memories by taking photos, collecting mementoes, keeping a diary or journal or by sharing to social media, such as Instagram, Facebook or even a blogging platform.

Most of us take thousands of photos each year which are generally stored on our phones or online using ‘the cloud’. Flicking through these images can certainly spark memories but personally, I prefer to use a range of memory keeping strategies and I especially love creative journalling.

Memory keeping ideas

Monthly memory pages

I’ve created a few of these in my bullet journal to help me to remember what happened during the month. I’ve tried to summarise each event in a few lines so I can fit plenty of memories in. Some of them are dated, whereas others are just something that occurred over time such as watching a particular TV series.

Mementoes

A memento can be defined as an object kept as a reminder of a person or past event. It can spark memories or feelings of happiness each time we see it. For example, when my nan passed away, my mum selected two ornaments from her Royal Crown Derby Cottage Garden Collection – a sleeping kitten and a cute little Dormouse, to give to me to keep. They remind me of my nan, her many ornaments which she had displayed around her home and my grandparents’ pet cat called Tibbles. Also, I like the animals which were chosen and the decor on each piece so they’re things that I’m happy to display in my own home.

Other mementoes you might consider include:

  • something from each of your holidays such as a fridge magnet
  • a photo in a frame of special occasions e.g., wedding days, child’s first day at school in uniform, the stunning view from a hill you walked up, the bespoke birthday cake that was made for someone’s 80th etc.
  • hand or footprint casts – you can even get one done of your pet’s paw!
  • your child’s first tooth
  • your child’s first artwork
  • a souvenir from some of your ‘firsts’ holidays e.g., a mini Eiffel Tower
  • newspaper clippings from something important to you that made the local news

Photographs

You’ve probably heard the adage ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ which basically means that one single image can often convey multiple ideas, messages and meanings more effectively than a long verbal description can. Therefore, you could write pages and pages describing particular experiences in your life but sometimes, photographs can be enough to spark your memory. Similarly, if you selected a particular photograph from one of your albums (or located one on your phone) you could use it to tell someone else the story of that particular occasion or spend time recalling the event in detail with whoever you shared the moment with.

Set up a private social media account

Many of you will have an Instagram account which features carefully cropped photos with perfect lighting, filters, captions and emojis. This is the stuff you’re happy to share with people online for likes and comments. What Meik suggests is creating another account for everyday memories which might not be Instagram ready bits and pieces you want the whole world to see but are still part of your experience and would give you pleasure to look at.

Creative journalling

Personally, I like to combine lots of different memory keeping tools and techniques in my creative journals. I use a traveller’s notebook size and like to record days out, holidays, special events, clothing, accessory and home decor purchases, craft and art projects, wildlife sightings, new dishes, snacks and sweet treats tried, anything really, but especially new and novel experiences (as per Miek Wiking’s power of firsts). As well as including journaling and photographs in various sizes I also like to stick in related mementoes such as restaurant menus, tickets, receipts, packaging, lists of wildlife or nature spots – anything that adds to the memory.

December daily

December Daily is a project idea created by memory keeper, Ali Edwards and is a way of documenting the 25 days leading up to Christmas. A few years ago, I had a go at creating a Christmas journal using a range of papers I picked up from my local Lidl supermarket making my own traveler’s notebook size insert. I made a page or two for each day

This year, I’ve bought a Chistmassy 8×8 album and a range of different pocket pages which can be filled with photos, bits of journalling and anything which will spark off festive memories. I’m busy building a collection of stickers and ephemera to use and am enjoying watching different approaches to the project on YouTube. I’ve also printed off lots of different prompts I found online to make sure I record lots of different aspects of the month of December and don’t run out of ideas.

Memory playlists

I’ve not tried this one myself, but it sounds like a really nice idea. In January, you start a new personal playlist e.g. ‘Tunes of 2022’, to which you add your current favourite songs throughout the year and tracks which evoke particular memories. When you listen to your playlists you are transported back in time, recalling memories based on music. Although I’ve not specifically done this, I know that when certain songs come on the radio I’m reminded of nights out at university, hitting the dancefloor, writing out or printing lyrics and learning every single word to sing along, wedding night songs including our first dance, favourite bands and artists we’ve been to see, trips to the theatre, movies we’ve enjoyed and many other fun times throughout the years. In fact, I read some information online this afternoon which suggested that playlists can be a particularly useful tool to create for elderly loved ones to help elicit memories of times gone by.

1 second everyday – video journalling

This is a video recording app (1SE for short) which enables users to create a video journal by recording meaningful one second movies for a myriad of everyday aspects of their lives. Each short video is stitched together sequentially to create a seamless record. So, for example, you might create a series of video during the month of November featuring a book cover of a novel you’re particularly enjoying, the crashing waves at the beach whilst on an Autumnal walk, your nails after applying a pretty nail polish, a finished craft project, coffee and cake at a new cafe you’ve tried, the smile of a friend during a good catch up, the rain lashing against your window that started just after you got home, a new recipe that you’re about to give a go and all of the ingredients lined up along the countertop etc.

Line a day journal

This can be a spread you do in your bullet journal each month which you fill in each day or you can purchase a special notebook that usually has space to record five years’ worth of memories. Whichever format you choose, it is meant to be something that you can quickly complete at the end of each day to summarise things such as events, experiences, things you are grateful for, purchases made, something nice someone said, something kind you did for a friend or a stranger etc.

Final words…

I hope you’ve found today’s post interesting and useful and that it’s prompted you to think about the different ways in which you can create wonderfully happy memories, keep and cherish them. Some people prefer to keep digital records whilst others, like myself, prefer to create tangible journals which can be flicked through and talked about with family members or friends. If you’re interested in finding out more about making and remembering memories, I definitely recommend you check out Meik Wiking’s book. He’s recently re-released it under another name ‘Happy Moments: How to Create Experiences You’ll Remember for a Lifetime’ but the content is the same. I like to buy this kind of book rather than purchasing the e-version as then I can more easily highlight parts I particularly want to remember and then flick through the pages whenever I wish to.

Do you enjoy creating journals or photo albums full of happy memories or do you find yourself flicking through digital albums on your phone and thinking about how you should really print a few of the photos off in case you have an issue with your cloud storage one day?

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Posted in hygge, lifestyle, Mindfulness, self care, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Simple ways to embrace the hygge lifestyle this autumn/winter time

Last week in my blog post, I wrote about the winter blues which many of us experience during the darker months of the year. As part of my practical tips, I talked about keeping yourself warm and cosy. Today, I’m going to take this a little further, looking at the concept of hygge, what it means and how we can embrace the idea to improve our wellbeing during the autumn/winter time.

What exactly is hygge?

According to Oxford dictionaries online, hygge is:

a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)

Popular Danish author Miek Wiking explains in his book:

Hygge is about an atmosphere and experience, rather than about things. It’s about being with people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.

The Little Book of Hygge

Elements of hygge and creating what Miek describes as a ‘hyggely atmosphere’ include soft textures, warmth, natural greenery – bringing the outdoors in, candlelight, togetherness, being present, comfort, pleasure, peacefulness, sharing and showing gratitude.

Ways in which we can embrace the hygge life this autumn/winter

There are so many ways to bring hygge into your life that whole books have been written on the topic such as Miek Wiking’s Little Book of Hygge. Today, I’m going to give some decor ideas which you can put in place in your home to create an atmosphere of hygge and a number of suggestions of activities you might like to try to evoke feelings associated with hygge living. I hope these will help make your autumn and winter a wonderful time which is full of happy memories and blissful feelings.

Soft lighting

A great way to create a cosy and intimate feeling in your home is with soft lighting. This can be achieved in a number of ways e.g. by using lamps with low wattage bulbs rather than bright pendant lights, dotting candles around (battery operated if you have young children or want to place them somewhere small or in a high traffic area) or mood lights – those ones which cycle through different colours are nice. As well as my little battery-operated set of three candles, we recently invested in a string of starburst lights and we have them hanging from a hook on the ceiling in the corner of our dining area – they look fantastic and are great for ambience when we’re enjoying a homecooked meal.

Chunky knits

Adding chunky knits in neutral colours such as cream, taupe, pale greys, ivory and of white in the living area of your home (and maybe your bedroom) helps to create a feeling of warmth and can be especially useful on chilly evenings. A selection of blankets and throws in a wicker basket or positioned on the arms of a sofa looks great and are close at hand when needed. Choosing different textures also makes for a tactile experience too. We like to have plenty of cushions in a range of different fabrics on our chair and sofa to make them super comfortable.

Greenery and nature

Bringing the outdoors in is another aspect of instilling a hygge vibe in your home. This can be achieved in a number of ways. Collecting nature items on a woodland or forest walk can be great fun – this could include conkers, acorns, pine cones, colour changing fallen leaves, sprigs of holly, spruce tree branches etc. When you get them home, I recommend leaving them giving them a gentle shake outside and leaving them on a white sheet of paper for a while so that any residing creatures can escape.

Displaying photos of scenery, wildlife, yourself and your family out and about in natural environments can remind you of happy times outdoors. You might choose an image from one of your favourite walks, stunning landscapes e.g. hills or mountains, waterfalls and rivers or close ups of nature (macro shots) such as berries hanging from a tree branch, interesting fungi or lichen on a tree etc.

There’s often home decor made from nature items available in home and lifestyle stores which can be picked up relatively cheaply, For example we have a glittery hedgehog made from pine cones and a reindeer which has bark attached to its front and ears. They both really twinkle in candlelight too!

And, if you spend a lot of time on your computer, tablet or phone a lovely idea is to choose a natural scene as your wallpaper or nature items as your screen lock or homepage. You can also sometimes get notebooks with patterned covers which would look great on your desk. This could be winter scenes, cute wildlife e.g. hedgehogs, squirrels and deer or flora such as poinsettias, holly or seasonal trees.

Cosy nook

Most Danish homes will have a cosy nook as a space for relaxation. This is usually somewhere comfortable to sit which has all of the hyggely elements – soft lighting in the form of candles or lamps, blankets and cushions, natural elements – the Danes love wood, tactile elements and a good book or magazine to read. In our living room, we have a gorgeous, swivel chair in a dark pink, soft velvet which is next to the window. There’s a table there with a cute hedgehog coaster on for a hot drink and a selection of books and magazines. We also have blankets nearby on our settee although it’s rarely cold when we sit there as it’s right next to the radiator. Can you think of a place in your homer where you could create a similar cosy nook? What would be your comforting essentials?

Indulgent foods and drinks

Although I recommend a diet which is balanced, varied and on the whole healthy, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the odd treat and as pleasure is another element of the hygge life, I recommend indulging every now and then. Trying new things e.g. different flavours will add to the experience. Why not sample a flavoured hot chocolate such as mint or salted caramel, choose a previously untried dessert from your local supermarket or bakery to enjoy with family or friends or just on your own when you’re relaxing, or pick out a different nice sounding coffee blend instead of your usual? Or, you could have a go at creating a dessert using a recipe you found on Pinterest. I know that my husband and I often tried out new main courses but rarely do homemade puddings. Cooking can be a great way of spending fun and quality time together too!

Togetherness

Family and spending quality time with them is very important to the Danes. The same goes for good friends too. Being hyggely is all about getting together in the home and doing things either as a family on a small scale, extended family or a group of friends. I have lots of ideas for doing this but here are a few to get you started:

  • movie night – pick one of your favourites that you’ve seen a few times so that if you start chatting it won’t matter
  • tv series binge watch – ask everyone to bring a tasty snack
  • games evening – Scrabble, Jenga, Monopoly, Cluedo, Kerplunk, dominoes, card games etc. depending on the ages and abilities of the participants
  • afternoon tea – think tiny sandwiches and mini cakes along with a selection of warm drinks
  • candlelit dinner – intimate dinner for two or with the kids, just make sure you ban mobile phones at the table so the conversation flows!
  • jigsaw puzzle – we like 1000 piece ones which take a while and they’re big enough for more than one person to work on at once
  • pajama party – this could include lots of decadent foods (everyone could bring something to share) and hot chocolate (with a choice of toppings) or beauty treatments such as face packs, manicures and foot spas.
  • holiday preparation – if you’ve booked a holiday somewhere else in the country or abroad, a nice thing to do is get a feel for the place before you go. This could include finding out about things to do there, places to visit, popular food stuffs, traditions and the language. If you’re heading overseas, you might even watch a film or TV series which is set in your chosen location.
  • Photo memories night – why not spend an evening reminiscing over previous times spent together by looking through old albums or journals?

Whichever kind of get together you choose, it should be really informal if you want it to be a hyggely occasion. The Danes prefer slow and simple living, anything flashy is completely frowned upon!

Showing gratitude

Being grateful for all that you have is, according to Miek, another key element of hygge. Why not start a gratitude practice where you spend 10 minutes each morning or evening considering what you’re thankful for. Try to choose experiences and feelings as well as material things, for example, the chance to sit out in the sunshine and listen to the birds in your garden, a text message from a friend asking how you are and if you’d like to meet for coffee next week, a riveting TV drama series that you’re hooked on.

Final words…

I hope you have enjoyed reading my ideas for creating a hygge atmosphere in your home. I haven’t read Miek’s Little Book of Hygge yet but it’s on my TBR list. I noticed he’s also recently released a new book called My Hygge Home – How to make home your happy place and if it’s of the standard of his earlier titles, I’m sure this is well worth a read too. Let me know in the comments if hygge sounds like a feeling you would love to have in your home and which of the ideas you would be interesting in trying.

Until next time, lots of hyggely hugs,

Posted in compassion, lifestyle, meditation, mental health, Mindfulness, self care, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Spiritual

This week, in my series on The Wheel Of Wellness, I’ll be looking at the Spiritual segment. This section, which is the last to be covered, is all about finding life’s meaning and purpose whilst developing understanding of your personal values, beliefs and morals and using these to guide your actions and inform your way of living. Spiritual wellness does not necessarily involve being a deeply religious person or believing in the supernatural, rather, it is related to the human spirit or soul, as opposed to material or physical things.

A focus on spirituality involves learning to be more self-aware and recognising our existence in time and space. It’s also about becoming more familiar with our personal beliefs and values and how they affect the way we live and what we see as our purpose in life.

We all have a spirit within us which is constantly guiding us, looking after us and showing us the way to go. When we start to tune in to and listen to our inner voice, we’re using our spirit, and this is what can help us to lead a life in keeping with our wants, desires and passions. Connecting with our spiritual side can also help us to feel happier and healthier which I’m sure is something we all want.

Ways in which you can connect to your spiritual self

There are a number of ways in which you can really tune in to your spirit and think about what you really want for yourself and your life.

Quieten the mind – meditation is a great practice to develop but other mindful practices include writing in a daily journal, doing relaxing breathing exercises, taking a walk in nature, doing a meditative activity such as drawing, painting or colouring in, stretching exercises such as yoga, Pilates or mindful movements and praying.

Practise gratitude – identify a number of positives in your life each day, expressing and reflecting on them

Take a Mindful approach – focusing your awareness on the present moment, whilst calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations is at the core of mindfulness as is a great way of becoming more in tune with your spiritual side.

Consider your personal values – values identify what is important to you in your life and how you wish to interact with the world. When your actions align with your core values you will immediately start to feel more content, fulfilled and satisfied. To help you do this, I’ve created a Pinterest board full of links to core values lists and related activities – try scanning the pages to see what resonates with you. You’ll see so many different ideas and the ones which you choose to add to your personal list will influence your decisions and life choices in many ways including:

  • your job or career path
  • your hobbies and pastimes
  • where you live
  • how you manage your money
  • your friendships, romantic partners and relationships
  • where you shop
  • compromises we are willing to make
  • how we parent our children
  • the ways in which we treat ourselves (both good and bad)

Whilst I was researching this blog post, I came across lots of worksheets, workbooks and exercises to try which focused on your values. One of these invited you to split your values into ‘Valuing myself’, ‘Valuing my relationships’ and ‘Valuing my work’. I had a quick go at this below but added ‘my life’ to the first category:

Valuing myself and my life

compassion, creativity, enthusiasm, open-mindedness, acceptance (self and others), creativity, happiness, health (emotional, physical and mental), learning, intelligence resilience, fun, wellbeing, respect for animals

Valuing my relationships

loyalty, thoughtfulness, love, playfulness, understanding, usefulness and humour

Valuing my work

contribution, commitment, professionalism, achievement, work/life balance

Spend time reflecting on your beliefs – these may have a religious focus or might be related to your core values. Examples of non-religious beliefs could be:

  • family comes first
  • we must take care of our planet
  • honesty is the best policy
  • everything happens for a reason
  • work/life balance is a priority
  • I should always try my best
  • community service is a central part of life
  • the different phases of the moon have particular influences on my life
  • breaking a mirror gives you seven years bad luck

Think about your dreams – not the ones you had in bed over the past few weeks, but your deepest desires and wishes. As part of this, you could do some journalling or have a go at creating a vision board. Afterwards, you might spend time reflecting on small but positive life changes that you could make right now to help you work towards these dreams.

Final thoughts…

Cultivating spirituality has many benefits for your physical and mental health and wellbeing. Getting to know your true self can help you begin to live in alignment with your core values and beliefs which is fundamental for a long and happy life. Psychologically, spiritual practices can develop your understanding of your inner self, leading to a greater sense of purpose. They can help you to think positively and clearly, lower your risk of stress, anxiety and depression and generally give you a better outlook on life. Physically, being more connected to your spiritual side can improve your immune system, help you to fight off illnesses, lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. It can also help you to make better choices in terms of diet and find other ways of looking after your body and your mind, for example by exercising regularly and finding time to relax. The peace and calmness we invite into our lives can also help us to get a restful night’s sleep.

I hope you have found today’s post useful and have enjoyed learning about The Wheel Of Wellness over the last few months. I would love to hear about your hopes, dreams and ambitions for the future and the ways in which you think you can bring these into fruition. In keeping with having an open mind, I’m currently learning about the magic of using the phases of the moon as a tool to develop self-awareness, self-care, nourishment and empowerment to live with purpose and to manifest my deepest wants and desires for life. You’ll see in my next blog post, in which I share my October bullet journal spreads, that this has inspired my theme for next month and provided me with lots of ideas.

Posted in Bipolar disorder, creativity, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: Wheel Of Wellness – Intellectual

In today’s Monday Matters I’ll be considering the intellectual element of the Wheel Of Wellness. This segment is all about keeping your brain active, exploring creativity and finding different ways to expand your knowledge and skills in various areas. It also includes finding ways to challenge yourself and ensuring you do activities which stimulate each area of the brain e.g. speaking and listening, problem solving, fine motor tasks and using and developing your skills of observation etc.

What do we mean by intellectual?

Sometimes when we use the term intellectual, we’re referring to individuals who come across as ‘brainy’, clever or highly educated as demonstrated by their thought processes, reflections, use of vocabulary, problem solving and factual knowledge etc. However, the term can also refer to ways in which you can stimulate your mind.

Today’s blog post is not about trying to develop a superior intellect or the knowledge of a Mastermind contestant, but more about keeping the different areas of your brain active and becoming a lifelong learner. Good mental fitness is very beneficial for your general health and wellbeing, and, as you get older, it can help to prevent signs of dementia or, at the very least, slow down cognitive decline.

Great ways to keep your brain active and expand your mind

Puzzles The term puzzle might make you think of a box of pieces that you join together to make a picture but a jigsaw is just one type of puzzle. In fact, the term is used to defined any activity that requires mental effort and has a definite ending. This can include paper puzzles such as crosswords, wordsearches, spot the difference and sudoku, board games such as Cluedo and Scrabble, guessing games such as I spy and charades and online games such as Candy Crush, Word Cookies and my favourite Angry Birds 2! Puzzling takes lots of concentration and mental effort which is great for improving both your physical and mental health. Here’s 5 benefits for you:

  • improves your problem solving skills which can then be applied at home or work
  • a wonderful stress reliever
  • reduces your risk of mental diseases such as Alzheimer’s
  • slows mental aging
  • a good form of entertainment and can be great fun!

If you are currently struggling with anxiety or depression, puzzles are a great way to distract yourself from negative thoughts, rumination and general worry about your problems. During my last period of depression, I used to dedicate a lot of time to doing jigsaws, wordsearches, arrow words and online games as it provided respite from thoughts that I wasn’t going to get better and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.

Learn to play a musical instrument There are so many benefits of learning to play a musical instrument that I could write a full blog post on it. According to my research, playing music uses both sides of the brain so you’re giving it a really good workout. Attentiveness, fine motor movements, memory and creativity are all required and as you get better at playing, you’ll become more confident, not just with regard to your instrument of choice, but also in general too. Setting and working towards goals and celebrating your achievements is bound to make you more positive and after a while, you will probably want to share you learning with others and impress them with your new skills – presenting a great opportunity to socialise with friends, family and even work colleagues.

In this month’s Happiful magazine, I also read that new research has found that learning a musical instrument (in the study they looked at the impact of piano practice) can protect against dementia in those over 60 as it strengthens white matter in the brain.

Read plenty of books, magazines and newspaper articles Being a regular reader is great exercise for the brain and both fiction and non-fiction have many benefits.

Fiction books can help improve your memory, vocabulary, empathy and emotional intelligence, analytical skills and tolerance of others. They can also be a huge source of pleasure and relaxation, alleviating stress and helping us to get a good night’s sleep.

Reading non-fiction books and articles (including blog posts) is a great way to improve your knowledge on a variety of topics which interest you. Whether you want to find out more about gardening, read about an interesting bird you spotted on a woodland walk, improve your understanding of a historical event or explore self help strategies for good mental health there are books and articles on every subject imaginable. And, if you join your local library, you can have access to a range of learning materials for free.

Many people also like to read a daily or weekly newspaper to keep themselves informed. Both the paper and online versions provide a source of global, national and local news, weather updates, the latest health and wellbeing advice, technological advances, entertainment and sports. You can even personalise the homepage on your computer so that news articles on particular topics appear first.

Learn a new skill Learning a new skill is a great way to fire up your brain. There are endless opportunities available for free online or you could try taking a class at your local college or doing a distance learning course. Here’s some examples which you might like to try:

  • flower arranging
  • photography
  • a foreign language
  • drawing
  • ceramics
  • watercolour painting
  • basic car repairs
  • Tai Chi
  • embroidery
  • good sleep hygiene
  • knitting
  • basic first aid
  • mindfulness
  • cooking on a budget
  • swimming
  • yoga
  • aromatherapy
  • Microsoft Office for beginners

As part of our course homework for last week, we were asked to have a go at learning something new. I chose something which I’ve been meaning to give a go for a long time which is developing the skills involved in creating wavy hair using a curling wand (which I purchased nearly a year ago and have barely tried out). My hairdresser showed me some of the basic techniques but it’s not so easy when you’re trying to do it on your own hair as you can’t see the back and you need to swap hands for each side meaning that for half of the styling process, you’re using your non-dominant hand for the wrapping. I found a few super helpful YouTube videos which used the same or a similar wand and have watched them a few times to get some tips. For next week’s session, I’m going to go to college with wavy hair to show off my new skill!

Try new things Trying something new is a great way to grow as a person. You might go to a restaurant you’ve never visited before, find a new recipe to have a go at, take a different fitness class, put on a different radio station, try listening to a different genre of music or go on a day trip to a place which a friend has recommended to you. You never know, you might discover a new favourite or create an amazing memory.

I took the opportunity to try out a new kind of exercise whilst I had access to all of the fitness classes for free. I’ve now discovered that I really enjoy doing pilates and although it’s a relatively gentle form of exercise, it’s great for toning your core muscles.

Ask questions This is something my husband and I do regularly as part of our thirst for new knowledge and greater understanding. For example, there are some swifts that come back every year and nest in one of the roofs we can see from our back bedroom. They’re fascinating birds and, being nature lovers, we always want to find out more about them. Some of the questions we’ve searched on Google this year include: When do swifts arrive in the UK? How many eggs do swifts have in a clutch? What do swift eggs look like? Do swifts pair for life?

You can also learn a lot from asking questions of friends, family, work colleagues and various acquaintances. You might want to get a different opinion or perspective or you might want to find out about something they seem to be somewhat of an expert in or at least know more about than you.

Try out a new hobby New hobbies are great for enhancing your skill set. Also, they present new challenges which can be wonderful for boosting your confidence and self esteem. Here’s a few hobbies that might appeal:

  • birdwatching
  • geocaching
  • upcycling
  • origami
  • gardening
  • calligraphy
  • scrapbooking
  • martial arts
  • astronomy
  • archery
  • camping

Keep a ‘things I want to learn’ list in your bullet journal or notebook Every time you think of something you’d like to know more about, write it down so you don’t forget. It might not be top of your to do list right now, but making a note can be a good reference for the future. When you’re ready, you can then pick something out to focus on and set some learning goals.

Watch documentaries If you’re a visual or auditory learner, documentaries are a great source of education. You can find out about anything you’re interested in, including wildlife, nature, different cultures, living with particular health conditions, environmental issues, technology, crime, history, arts and media, science, religion and current affairs. In the UK, Panorama and Dispatches are popular documentary programmes which tackle the latest issues, whilst Horizon focuses on a variety of subjects related to science and philosophy. I also find anything that Sir David Attenborough narrates to be both fascinating to listen to and incredibly informative.

Get creative Every one of us has the potential to be creative as long as regularly find the time to develop our skills. You might think that creativity is all about making a piece of art work or writing a story or poem, but you can be creative in many different ways. Here’s some examples:

  • developing a new storage system for all of your cleaning supplies and tools at home
  • finding an alternative solution to a problem at work
  • create a capsule wardrobe for your holiday abroad
  • choose a colour scheme for your living room and have fun choosing complementary soft furnishings
  • learn how to make bread dough and then have fun turning pieces into different animals
  • try styling your hair in a different way
  • create a costume for a fancy dress party
  • take a landscape photo and then recreate the scene as a watercolour painting
  • choose a new theme for your bullet journal spreads and have a go at designing different pages for the month

Final words…

Although as adults there are things that we feel we must learn to get by in life and to progress in our jobs or career, we should also make time to learn about things that particularly interest us. I love trying out different art techniques and a few years ago (before COVID struck), I joined a beginner’s ceramics course. I had so much fun and met some lovely people there and, even though we were given specific assignments, e.g. to make a pinch pot, our creations were all completely different and unique to us. Quite a few of us signed up for the intermediate class too to develop our skills further and try out different techniques. It was so exciting to see our finished projects when they’d been glazed and fired and we all felt a huge sense of achievement by the end of the course.

I would be really interested to know if you consider yourself a lifelong learner and, if you do, what you’d like to find out about next, which kind of hobby appeals the most, or which skills you particularly want to develop in the future.

Posted in compassion, meditation, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 5 Easy ways to Practice Mindfulness every day

When practiced regularly, mindfulness can have a really positive impact on our mental health, reducing feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. In today’s post, I’m going to share five simple ways to incorporate mindful activities into your day so you can enjoy the many benefits mindfulness brings.

What exactly is mindfulness?

There are lots of explanations and definitions available online but I particularly like this one from the Oxford dictionary:

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Oxford online dictionary

Basically, mindfulness is about paying attention to the here and now, showing curiosity about what’s going on in a non-judgmental way. That’s not to say that as soon as you start practicing the various techniques that your mind won’t wander, it will, and that’s completely okay. But as you get used to paying attention in a range of simple ways, you’ll likely find it becomes easier.

So here are five ideas for practicing mindfulness every day that anyone can try.

Choose an activity you do each day and really pay attention

A great way to get started with mindfulness is to choose one activity that you do every day and bring moment to moment awareness each time you do it. Examples of suitable activities could be: drinking your cup of coffee or tea first thing in the morning, brushing your teeth, taking a shower, washing your face, getting dressed, driving to work. Whichever activity you choose, focus on knowing what you’re doing as you’re actually doing it, and what you are thinking and feeling from moment to moment too. At first, you’ll likely find that your mind wanders quite frequently, but if it does, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. With time, you’ll find it gets easier to remain mindful.

Connect with each of your five senses

Using your senses – touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing is a great way to focus on what’s happening right now. You can either spend time exploring each one in turn or pick a particular sense to focus on in a given moment. So, for example, you might sit quietly at home curled up in your chair with a coffee, smelling the aroma, being warmed by the heat of the mug. You might then close your eyes and tune in to sounds within the room such as the clock ticking, and far away sounds such as a dog barking. As you open your eyes, you might change your focus to the colour of your drink or the patterns on your mug, before taking a sip and savouring the flavour. At another time during your day, you might focus in on just one of your senses. So, during your daily shower, you might choose to focus on smell, inhaling the scent of your shampoo, shower gel or soap and your conditioner and really appreciating each one. By doing this you will be immersed in your current experiences rather than dwelling on past events or getting stressed about all of the things you have to get done before bedtime.

The following mindful activity is also a good one to do when you’re feeling anxious to help distract from negative thoughts, judgements and physical sensations associated with a tense body.

  • Close your eyes or lower your head and soften your gaze. Take some slow and deep breaths in and out.
  • Open your eyes and take your focus outside of your body. Find the following:

5 things you can see.

4 things you can hear.

3 things you can touch.

2 things you can smell.

1 thing you can taste.

Focus on your breathing

Breathing is a key part of mindfulness practice as it’s something we do naturally out of necessity. There are many online exercises which focus on the breath such as alternate nostril breathing, square or box breathing and equal breathing where you focus on making the inhalation the same length as the exhalation, but the technique which I find easiest and most comforting is soothing rhythm breathing, which I was taught as part of my compassion group sessions a few years ago.

  • Sit comfortably in your chair with both feet on the ground and your hands resting in your lap.
  • Close your eyes or direct your gaze downwards – whichever feels most comfortable.
  • Gently bring your focus to your breathing feeling the ribcage expanding as the air coming in to your lungs and leaving your body as you exhale.
  • Try breathing a little faster or slower until you find a breathing pattern that feelings soothing and comforting.
  • Focus on the breath as it comes in and leaves your body. You might like to notice the sensation of cool air entering your nose and warm air leaving.
  • Turn your attention to your body. Sensing the weight of your body resting in the chair feeling relaxed and supported. Feel your feet touching the floor beneath you.
  • If your mind wanders, notice what has happened and gently bring the focus back to your breath. Even if your mind is bobbing about all over the place, just accept what is happening without judgement and come back to the breath.
  • As you bring the exercise to a close, gently wiggle your fingers and toes and bring the focus back to the room around you.

To ensure you commit to this short meditative practice each day, you might find it helpful to make an appointment with yourself in your bullet journal or diary e.g. 5 minutes after you’ve eaten your breakfast or as an end of the day thing to encourage restful sleep. Again, this breathing exercise is also helpful to calm yourself down in moments of anxiety.

Engage in mindful walking

Whatever the weather, cold, warm, rainy, bright sunshine, cloudy, try to find 10 or 15 minutes each day to go for a mindful walk outside. Take time to pay attention to the different aspects of your experience. Start by exploring how your body feels when you’re walking – your feet as they make each step, your legs as they move you forwards, your arms as the swing by your sides. Next, tune in to what’s going on around you using all of your senses – perhaps you can hear traffic in the distance or a bird singing, maybe you can see the sun shining through the trees, perhaps you can smell the damp earth. Be open to whatever you notice, wherever you are and whatever happens. Try to fully immerse yourself in the here and now. As you end your walk, bring your attention back to how you feel as a result of your practice.

If you want to read about mindful walking in more depth, I wrote a whole blog post on it last year which can be found here.

Be totally present during conversations

All too often during conversations, we’re either multi-tasking or our mind wanders so we’re not paying full attention. However, being fully present has so many benefits for the speaker and the listener. Not only will you both feel valued, you’ll have a better understanding of the other person’s needs and any information that you impart is likely to be comprehended more easily. You’ll also likely improve both your communication skills and your relationship with the other person whether you’re talking to a friend, colleague or family member.

If you want to be more mindful in conversations, the first step is to notice when your mind wanders and, without judgement (no berating yourself for being a terrible listener!), bring your attention back. Try to resist the temptation to make excuses for being distracted such as “I was bored by what they were saying”, “I’ve got so much to do I couldn’t wait for them to finish” or “they were just repeating themselves”. Just remember that mindfulness takes practice and you are just learning but it will get easier with time.

In today’s busy world, multitasking is very tempting and often encouraged, but studies have shown that humans aren’t really capable of focusing on more that one task at a time, and in actual fact, what happens is our brain constantly switches between the different demands on our attention. If you want to be full focused on a conversation, try to put distractions aside. Put your mobile phone away in your bag, close your emails, avoid looking at what others are up to or what’s happening elsewhere by facing and looking at the participants. Really listen with interest to what the other person or people are saying using gestures such as a nod of the head, a smile or an “I understand” as appropriate. Think about the words they are using, their tone of voice, body language and emotions to really comprehend what they’re saying. Let the other person finish before you contemplate what they have said and offer a response.

Being a mindful communicator takes practice and isn’t always easy, but it’s a great skill to have and can be really useful in social settings as well as work situations.

Final words…

Although in today’s post I’ve presented a number of simple ways in which you can start to be more mindful every day, mindfulness in itself is not always easy to master. It might be helpful to remember that it’s not all about being perfectly present at all times – it’s a way of slowing down and making a conscious decision to notice our thoughts, emotions and the world around us, intentionally accepting things as they are right now without judgement. Being mindful can help us to enjoy life, understand ourselves better and reduce stress. It’s something that everyone can try and, when practiced consistently, has been shown to have positive effects on our physical and mental health, happiness, work and relationships.

Feel free to let me know in the comments how you get on and if you have any questions, I’ll be more than happy to answer them if I can, or direct you to further resources which you may find useful.

Until next time,