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, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions

My new circle drawing tool plus setting up Level 10 life and goals spreads in my bullet journal

As well as my amazing birthday gifts, I was also given some money and I knew straight away what I wanted to spend it on. As well as getting this gorgeous Finetec metallic gold watercolour set, I also ordered the Helix Angle & Circle Maker tool which has been on my wish list for quite a while now. After experimenting with how to make angles and circles, I use my new stationery must have to create a new Level 10 Life assessment wheel and identified some steps and goals for making improvements. In today’s blog post, I’m going to talk about various ways of using the Circle maker in your bullet journal and I will also share my Level 10 life spreads.

The Helix circle and angle maker is great for creating different sizes of circle and angles which makes it really easy to produce circular habit trackers, birthday spreads, mood trackers, monthly calendars (I’m just in the process of setting one of these up for September which I’ll share very soon), a decorative wreath outline or even a future log that’s a little bit different. You can also use the smaller circle templates in your weekly and monthly spreads, for example when labelling the dates in your month at a glance or to add decorative elements. I’ve collected some examples and added them to a new Pinterest board which you can check out here.

I’m sure many of you who use a bullet journal will already be familiar with the concept Level 10 life. If you’ve not heard of it and have no idea what I’m talking about, basically it’s all about living your best life by evaluating the life you have currently and setting mini goals to maximise a feeling of satisfaction and work towards your best (Level 10) life. The idea was created by popular author and entrepreneur Hal Elrod who outlines it in full in his book The Miracle Morning. He invites you to assess your life in 10 categories (or you can choose your own ideas if you wish) and give each a score out of 10. This can be recorded on a wheel of life so you can see where you stand at the moment. The categories are as follows:

  • family and friends
  • personal growth and development (which I labelled as personal development)
  • spirituality
  • finances
  • career / business
  • significant other / romance (which I labelled as marriage)
  • fun and recreation
  • contribution / giving
  • health / fitness
  • physical environment (home / office)

I created my wheel of life using my circle drawing tool to create 11 circles which provided me with 10 ring spaces. I began with the hole nearest to the centre and worked outwards. It’s a bit tricky to hold the thing in place but will a little practise on some scrap paper I was confident enough to go straight in with pen. I divided the circles up into segments of 36 degrees each which was easy enough to do with the angle measuring and drawing part of the tool.

When you’ve set up your wheel, you can then evaluate your life under the different headings to see what you’re doing well at and which areas would benefit from some attention. I’ve done one of these diagrams before and it’s best not to spend too long thinking and just go with your gut instinct. Here’s a close up of my scores:

When you’ve established your current scores, you can then work on setting some mini goals or things to do to improve them. I’ve just written my initial ideas here and then I can look into them in more depth later and set some actionable and measurable goals using my thoughts to help me.

When you’ve done these spreads, you can use them to set yourself mini goals for each month – maybe choosing the section with the lowest score to focus on first. Then, as long as you revisit regularly, you should find you make good progress towards your ‘Level 10 Life’. After a given amount of time, say three months, you can either record your progress on the same wheel by colouring further up the segments or you can make a new wheel of life and compare it to your old one.

That’s all for today but if you have any questions about the circle tool or Level 10 Life, feel free to drop them in the comments and I’ll do my best to help.

Posted in bullet journal, Bullet journaling, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions

Monday Matters: Making it stick, how to form positive habits and keep them going

Checking out Pinterest last week I found so many pins about habits and habit trackers. Habits of highly successful women, morning habits for a productive day, habits for a healthy mindset and so on. There’s also a plethora of bullet journal habit tracker examples and so many different beautiful and useful layouts to try. But what I wanted to know was, how to ensure that productive and positive habits stick. I found a few books on the subject and have added them to my TBR pile. I also found some useful diagrams that show the science behind habit formation but decided it would be really good to create a practical guide to instilling new habits to go with the theory. So let’s dive right in…

What is a habit?

According to the online Cambridge dictionary, a habit can be defined as ‘something you do often and regularly, sometimes without knowing that you are doing it’. Habits can be good and really helpful e.g. flossing your teeth, getting regular exercise, drinking plenty of water each day, keeping a gratitude journal, or can be bad or unhelpful e.g. eating too much junk food, criticising yourself, biting your nails or always being late. Some habits are really hard to break, such as smoking, being self critical, and drinking too much alcohol and may need help and support or a structured plan to enable you to make changes. Others can be difficult to keep up with for many people, such as eating a healthy and balanced diet, maintaining a positive mindset, having a good exercise routine and always being grateful for what you have.

The habit formation loop

The habit formation loop was first explained in detail by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit. The idea is that each habit is made up of three parts – The Cue (or trigger), The Routine (physical, mental or emotional behaviour that follows the cue and The Reward (a positive reinforcement which tells your brain that the routine works well). Here it is in diagrammatic form in my bullet journal:

Putting the theory into practice

So, the theory is easy enough to understand and has been widely accepted as a good explanation of how habits are created. But how can we apply the science when trying to form new habits? Here are some tips:

Start small

Choose one habit that is realistic i.e. one that motivates you and can relatively easily slot into your life. For example, if you want to start on a fitness journey, you might set a goal to go out for a brisk 20 minute walk each day at 11am rather than saying that you are going to go running for an hour three times a week, to the gym five days a week and swimming at weekends. In other words, take baby steps and take it slow!

Plan what your cue will be

I’ve found that the best thing to use as a cue is a given time. So, for example, I do my yoga at 11am each week day so I can make sure I don’t eat anything for a few hours before and I only drink squash and not coffee prior to my practice. I also make sure that my workout gear and the equipment I need is readily accessible – and I chose my favourite colours for the items for extra motivation too. My clothes are super comfortable and flattering and I treated myself to a good quality yoga blanket in a gorgeous minty green colour plus blocks and a bolster in a wonderful berry shade.

Know that it will take time

It takes time to develop a habit and it’s different for everyone. Don’t expect it to become automatic straight away – you need to work at it and train your brain! For a few months, I would write yoga on my daily to do list in my bullet journal to remind me that I needed to do it. Now, it’s part of my routine and something I do without thinking. If the habit is important to you, and you remain focused, you can do it. If you’re not really interested in making the change, then you will be less likely to achieve your intention. However, you should also be kind to yourself and not berate yourself if your habit formation doesn’t go as smoothly as you would like.

Hold yourself accountable

There are a number of ways of holding yourself accountable. You could share your intentions with a partner or friend and ask them to check on how it’s going. You could arrange an accountability partner who is trying to instil the same habit as you and motivate each other as you go. Or you could set mini goals to work towards and reward yourself each time you reach a milestone. I know of people who have shared what they hope to achieve in a group on Facebook and then updated everyone on their progress regularly.

Expect to have blips and work through them

Accept that there will be days when you don’t do what you set out to do or feel resistant. For example, I was feeling under the weather for a whole week at the end of last month and didn’t do my aerobic workout, toning exercises or daily yoga for five days. I could have quite easily continued the habit of not doing my workouts, but instead, I recognised the reasons for me not keeping up with my practice and made a promise to myself that I would start back up again when I was feeling better – and I did. I also reminded myself of the benefits of my routines for body and mind and this helped me get back on track.

You can also produce a written record of your intention in your planner and then evaluate how you’ve done each week. You can even give yourself some written feedback including what you did well and a couple of suggestions for improvement a bit like a work performance appraisal!

Write a plan using the habit formation loop as a guide

On his website, Charles Duhigg provides a number of resources to help you with breaking, forming and changing habits. The plan can be written in the following form: When (cue), I will (routine) because it provides be with (reward). So, for example, if you want to adopt a daily yoga practise, you could write the following plan: When it gets to 11am, I will change into my yoga gear and set up my equipment and do a 20 minute routine because it provides me with better focus and improved body strength. Or if you want to start keeping a gratitude journal you could develop this plan: After I finished the final daily chores, I will spend 5-10 minutes reflecting on my day and then jotting down at least 4 things that I am grateful for because it helps me look for positives in my life and reminds me that I have so much to be thankful for.

Track your habits

Writing down your habits in your bullet journal and tracking them is a great way to stay focused. I’ve tried various layouts in the past and my experience has taught me that it’s best to have a very small number of habits which you are really motivated to stick with. So, for example, you could choose a few things which you already do but want to engage in consistently e.g. meditation, in bed by 11pm, face cream, 10K steps etc. If you are wanting to instil a new habit, I recommend just selecting one that you can easily incorporate into your current lifestyle and that you are really highly motivated to put into place.

The first photo here is an example of a habit tracker that I tried in the past and found really overwhelming. You can see I had so many habits listed that just filling it in was hard to keep up with never mind actually doing them all. Needless to say, I regularly forgot to fill it in and gave up on it in the end! The second image is the one I have set up for next month. The new habit is studying for my distance learning course and I put it at the top as it is to be my main focus. The other habits are things that I do already but want to do consistently and preferably on a daily basis.

An overwhelming habit tracker that didn’t work for me
Photo credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Final thoughts

If you want to make changes to your life by instilling new habits then the best way is to keep it simple and achievable, develop an effective routine and record your progress. I also think sharing your intentions with others is a great way to keep yourself accountable as you can often rely on family and friends to ask how you are doing and keep you in check. However, ultimately, it’s up to you to keep yourself motivated and regularly assess things and evaluate how your new habits are affecting your life for the better.

I would really love it if you took the time to leave me a comment telling me what habits you want to form next month and how you’re going to go about sticking with them. I hope you’ve found my ideas useful and that they help you work towards your goals.

Posted in bullet journal, Bullet journaling, creativity, Planning and journaling

Setting up my Bullet Journal for August: birthday themed month

It’s my birthday next month and I will be sharing my special day with my niece, Lexi. On the 3rd August, I’m going to be 43 (and still thinking and behaving like a kid) and Lexi will be 9 years old (and probably feeling really grown up). So, for August, I chose to do a Happy Birthday theme and include cakes, presents, balloons and banners in my decor. Here are my spreads for next month:

Cover page

As I’m still developing my drawing skills, I was keen to have a go at a hand-drawn birthday cake so I took to Google and found a simple cake tutorial. It was really easy to follow even for a beginner like me. The tutorial came with a YouTube video but on this occasion, I just followed the pictorial and written instructions. I also added bunting and a banner as well as the word August in brush lettering, then finished it off with some party popper paper ribbon pieces (I’m sure they have a name but I can’t think what it is!). The banner is painted using some Winsor & Newton watercolour and the rest of the illustrations are coloured in using my Tombow ABT brush pens.

Image credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Month at a glance

My monthly calendar has the same structure as usual with 6 by 6 dot boxes. Although I don’t have things to write each day, I do like to have plenty of room for when I do make entries so have stuck with doing a two page spread. I’ve also just started a distance learning course run by my local college, Mental Health Level 2, and so I have assessment deadlines to meet each week so I’ve recorded when I have to submit evidence of my learning. Again, I’ve decorated the spread with birthday related items.

Image credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

Exercise logs

I’ve kept my steps tracker the same but will be using colours from my palette for the month. I’ve changed up my log of different workouts for this month, so instead of a calendar style that I did in May, June and July where I recorded the minutes I spent on each workout, this time I’m going to be creating bars which show how many workout minutes I’ve done each day and what type of exercises I’ve done. This will help me to see how active I’ve been on a particular day. Another change, is that I’ve split up fat burning and cardio as this is shown on my Fitbit tracker and so is easy to record. This will enable me to see when I worked a little harder during my walks and my Zumba workouts. I’ve included an example I made on MS Word to show how it will look when it’s filled in.

In hindsight, I wish I’d done the key on the right hand page to make it easier to use but it’s done now and I’ll be able to alter it next month if I choose to use a similar spread.

The Get Fit stickers are actually a shiny gold colour but they look black in the photograph above so I took the bottom of the page at a different angle.

Image credit: Laura Jones for Keeping It Creative

Habit Tracking

For August, I’ve also decided to go back to using a habit tracker. I previously used one but tracked so many things on it, I’ve found it really overwhelming to fill in and often got behind. This time, I’m just tracking six things which should make it a bit easier to keep up with. I want to make sure I study regularly as there are a lot of reading materials for my course and written activities to complete. I also want to make time to meditate each day. I currently do a mindfulness meditation set up by my local recovery college but this is only twice a week so I want to use my Calm App and my Fitbit App where I have a premium membership trial on the go. I have free trials on both of them and I’m currently not making the most of them so hopefully the tracker will help me.

Image credit: Laura Jones for Keeping it Creative

The rest of the habits are related to my Etsy shop, my blog and creativity. I want to make sure I do some blogging and shop work each day so I wanted to track when I do blog related research, reading, post writing and checking out blogs of the people I’m following. I also want to squeeze in a little creative task most days such as drawing, painting, journalling and papercrafting.

As I’m a leftie, I got absolutely covered in Tombow ink whilst working on my spreads and managed to smear some on the bottom of the habits page. I tried to cover it up using white gel pen, Tippex and my white Posca paint marker but it didn’t really work. The mark will annoy me for the whole of the month. Maybe I should have included a habit where I try to embrace imperfection in my spreads!

That’s all of my spreads for this month. I hope they have inspired you to get creative in your bullet journal. Let me know what your theme is for August and if you’ve featured your pages in your blog I will definitely go check them out.

Happy bullet journaling!