Posted in goal setting, Health and Nutrition, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, self care, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: 5 main barriers to eating healthily and ideas to overcome them

As regular readers of my blog will know, I’m currently signed up to a weight management programme, where, for 12 weeks, I have free access to my local wellness centre including the gym and fitness classes and also receive tips on developing a more healthy lifestyle through exercise and diet. I was already quite active and have now upped my exercise levels significantly so that I’m burning more calories due to more steps and more active minutes each day. I’ve made some changes to what I eat but I need to continue to work on this so I thought that for today’s Monday Matters, I’d consider the barriers to eating healthily and ways in which they can be overcome.

Information overload

There’s so much information online, in magazines and in books about diets and ways to lose weight that it can seem really overwhelming and leave you feeling like you don’t know what to do for the best. There are a great number of ‘fad diets’ which promise super quick results in terms of weight loss with little scientific evidence to back up their claims. They’re also often very restrictive encouraging you to only eat at certain times or to dramatically cut down or cut out certain foods. Then there are adverts for diet pills and meal replacement drinks which make all sorts of claims about awesome results and feature images of slim, smiley, glowing women to go with the emotive and persuasive language used in the words.

Realistically, your goal should not be to lose weight at a rate of knots, but instead, should be about making gradual changes to your diet to make it balanced and more healthy. Here’s some ideas to help you:

  • Ignore ‘fad’ diets and read reliable information from reputable sources such as the government or the NHS (in the UK).
  • Check out a healthy eating plate like the one below to establish how much of each food group to should be eating.
  • Avoid listening to dietary advice from friends or family members, unless they’re a registered dietician or expert nutritionalist!
  • Remember that even diets which sound healthy, like vegetarian or vegan can still be highly calorific if certain choices are made e.g. eating lots of cheese and butter or consuming too much soya milk and other dairy alternatives.

There’s a wealth of accurate and reliable information provided by the (UK) government which includes a PDF version of the above and a comprehensive guide to eating well. Click here to go there now.

Lack of time

It takes time to develop a healthy lifestyle, including eating better and ensuring you have a balanced diet. Many people lead very busy lives and if improving your health isn’t currently one of your top priorities, you may feel that you haven’t got the time or energy to devote to making dietary changes.

The first thing I would suggest doing is spending about half an hour considering the different areas of your life and assessing which you’d like to focus on more. I use Hal Elrod’s Level 10 life sections to rate the different aspects of my life. The following aspects are given a score out of 10 (with 10 being near perfect and 1 being an area which requires lots of work):

  • Family and Friends
  • Personal growth and development
  • Spirituality
  • Finances
  • Career/business
  • Significant other/romance
  • Fun and recreation
  • Contribution/giving
  • Health/fitness
  • Physical environment (home/office)

If you figure you could make improvements in the area ‘health/fitness’ then it’s a good idea to identify some small changes you could make to your life to enable you to work on some related goals e.g. preparing a healthy packed lunch to take to work each day, cooking from scratch more often so you can enjoy the benefits of home cooked meals or creating a meal plan so that you can work on having a balanced diet with healthier snacks.

When most people say ‘I haven’t got time’, what they actually mean is that they don’t want to dedicate time to a particular venture, that they are actively making a choice to do something else or that the particular thing that they ‘haven’t got time for’ isn’t important enough to them or high enough up their agenda.

If you want to eat healthily but need help with motivating yourself to start changing your eating habits, you might want to do a little research on the benefits of a healthy diet and record your findings. I created a spread in my Bullet Journal as a great reminder of why healthy eating should be a priority.

A motivational page from my current bullet journal

A few time saving tips:

  • make twice the amount when cooking a favourite dish and save the rest to enjoy quick and easy leftovers later in the week
  • buy canned pulses so you don’t have to remember to soak them
  • have some pre-cooked packets of couscous, rice and grains to accompany your dishes
  • if you can afford it, buy pre-prepared veggies when you’re super busy
  • do a quick weekly meal plan over coffee on a Sunday morning and then make a list of groceries for the supermarket shop
  • have some frozen veggies in your freezer e.g. petit pois, spinach, green beans, mixed pre-chopped veg etc
  • batch cook and freeze soups and stews

Lack of confidence with cooking

Pre-prepared dishes or ‘ready meals’ as they are known, make it easy to enjoy a main meal but often these items are highly calorific and contain lots of sugar and salt. They’re also usually seriously lacking in vegetables which, as shown on the food plate above, should, along with fruit, make up a large portion of your daily food.

Home cooked meals might require a little more effort, but, you can find a range of simple, healthy recipes online or in cook books and if you specifically look for those which contain minimal or basic ingredients or label themselves as ‘one pot’ or ‘quick and easy’ then there’s no excuse to give it a go. You could also treat yourself to a few new tools and gadgets such as a set of cooks knives for speedy dicing of veggies, a food processor for chopping, mixing, grating and shredding, a blender for soups and smoothies or even a slow cooker for setting the dinner off at a simmer whilst you’re busy working so it’s ready to eat when you return home or get back to your kitchen.

My husband and I have found that each time we make a tasty and healthy dish we appreciate our efforts and the positive feelings it evokes prompt us to try more new recipes and boosts our confidence in the kitchen. We’re now more willing to try new ingredients and will give anything a go.

Feeling deprived

When you start working towards leading a more healthy lifestyle, you might give up some of the foods you like such as chocolate, crisps, salad dressings, sauces, ice cream and Friday night takeaways. Doing this may make you feel like you are being deprived of all of your favourites and can lead to lack of motivation to continue. Eating healthily doesn’t mean you have to stop eating everything you love. You just need to moderate the amount of sugary, fatty and highly calorific foods you have so that you eat then in small amounts and less often.

A popular way of achieving a healthy diet without feeling deprived is to apply the 80/20 mindset. This means that 80% of the time, you eat ‘clean’, choosing foods that are natural, whole and unprocessed e.g. fruit and vegetables, wholegrains such as wholemeal bread, brown rice, quinoa and wholemeal pasta, nuts and seeds, no-calorie beverages such as water, unsweetened tea. For the other 20% of the time, you can enjoy less-nutritious foods and treats. For example, on one day during the week, you might have an ice cream on a particularly hot afternoon or cake and coffee for a friend’s birthday etc. If you have several snacks a day over the period of a week, 11 or 12 of them would be healthy choices such as fruit, unflavoured nuts or low fat cheese on a wholewheat cracker, and 2 or 3 times you could enjoy a favourite treat such as a cookie or a small amount of chocolate.

Difficulty changing unhealthy or unhelpful eating habits and beliefs

Changing your eating habits to make them more healthy can be incredibly difficult, especially when many of them were established a long time ago, sometimes as far back as childhood. Some examples of unhelpful habits include:

  • eating whilst watching tv / YouTube videos etc (eating whilst performing other tasks)
  • piling your plate high with food at the buffet table (eyes bigger than your belly anyone?) because it all looks good / is free etc
  • eating a dessert even if you’re already full
  • emotional eating e.g. when bored, agitated, angry, stressed, upset etc. as a form of comfort
  • making your portion size the same as your partner who may have a much higher recommended daily calorie intake
  • believing that you have to eat everything on your plate, otherwise it’s wasteful
  • eating late at night, especially snacking just before bed
  • giving in to sugar cravings
  • believing you are hungry when really you’re actually thirsty
  • skipping breakfast
  • eating far too quickly

Even if you’ve had the same eating habits for years, it is possible to make improvements. I would suggest that the first step is to take time for some reflection. Consider what you good habits are e.g. always ensuring you get your 5 a day and your not so wonderful habits e.g. having a highly calorific dessert each evening after your main meal. If you’re not exactly sure what your habits are, try keeping a food diary, recording everything you eat and drink throughout one week. Also, think about what triggers your unhealthy eating such as a stressful day, a mid-afternoon energy slump etc.

Following your reflection and analysis, give yourself a congratulatory pat on the back for your healthy habits and then choose one of your bad habits to replace. So, for example, you might choose to focus on ‘eating too quickly’ and work on a plan to replace this with eating slowly and mindfully. Just as a bad habit does not evolve overnight, new and improved habits take time to develop too. But if you work on cementing one healthy habit at a time and continually reflect on how things are going, you can get there as long as a) you’re patient with yourself and take it one day at a time and b) you remember that there may be slip ups along the way and this does not mean that you’ve failed and should give up.

Tackling negative core beliefs about food and eating e.g. once I start eating, I can’t stop, I need to eat to make myself feel better, food is just fuel etc. can be extremely difficult. In this case, it is usually best to seek the help and advice of a trained professional such a dietician or a CBT therapist. These can be accessed via your GP.

Final words…

I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s blog post and it has helped to explain some of the main barriers to eating healthily. If you are planning on making changes to your diet, it’s best to make small changes rather than doing anything drastic. It might also be a good idea to do a little journalling and reflection on the process, for example, recording any improvements you notice such as clearer skin, better sleep and feeling more attentive when working etc. You could also reward your progress by giving yourself little treats (non-foodie ones preferably!) such as a bath bomb, a gorgeously scented hand cream, new stationery or a potted plant for your room.

Posted in bullet journal, Bullet journaling, creativity, fitness, goal setting, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions

Setting up my Bullet Journal for April: Honey Bee Theme

Hi all, I hope you’re doing really well and enjoying the Springtime with its (slightly) warmer weather, bright and cheerful daffodil displays on verges and in gardens, morning bird song and emerging butterflies and bees appreciating the sight of the first flowers. In today’s post, I’ll be sharing my bullet journal pages for April in which I had great fun creating bright and colourful bee themed spreads. I’ve seen quite a few insects over the last few weeks including ladybirds, butterflies and bees and I love to watch them exploring our garden so this is where my inspiration came from for the upcoming month. I’m really pleased with how the pages turned out and I hope you enjoy looking at them too. I’ve provided minimal explanation but if you have any questions, I would be more than happy to answer them.

Cover page

Now I’m feeling better, I’ve gone back to creating cover pages for each month and decorating all of the spreads. This one uses two different yellow colours of Tombow dual tip pens (055 and 985) and a Crayola Supertip. The hexagons were drawn using a Helix stencil so it didn’t take me too long to do lots and colour them in. As I’m not too great at drawing, I went for a cute cartoon style bee!

Monthly Calendar

This is my usual layout with 6×6 boxes which leaves plenty of space for decor around the edges. I also added some flowers to go with the bees and honeycomb, filling in a few bits of white space nicely.

Workout log

As one of my current goals is to work on toning by body, I decided to keep a record of all of my different workouts. At the moment, I’m doing cardio at the gym on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, plus one session a week using the strength and muscle toning weight machines. I’m also continuing to do yoga five days a week and have put myself on the waiting list for Iyengar yoga and Pilates at the wellness centre (it’s proving to be really hard to get onto the classes as they’re so popular).

I’ve created a small calendar spread which is big enough to record multiple workouts per day. I’m going to add a coloured dot each time I do a particular workout. In May, I might also track the time I spent doing each activity but for now I’m just going to log each kind of exercise I do.

Body Tracker

Earlier this week, I mentioned I was using the SMART goal framework, to help me come up with detailed plans of my current goals. As well as measuring my weight to see how many pounds I’ve lost each month, I’m also going to take my body measurements regularly so I can see progress in this area too.

Missing spreads

I’ve chosen not to include a gratitude log and yoga session tracker for April as they’re time consuming to set up and I want to focus on my gym workouts and improving my fitness levels. When I’m well (not too high and not feeling low), I tend to spend time reflecting on what I’m grateful for anyway so I figured it’s okay to take a little break from writing things down. Also, I can see which online yoga workouts I’ve done recently by checking my YouTube history. It won’t be as easy to see the variety of sessions, to make sure they’re well balanced, but it will still give me some idea of what I’ve done. I can always put them back in place in May if I miss filling them in.

Final words…

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing my BuJo spreads for April. They’re certainly bright and colourful and better to look at than today’s grey skies and snow showers! Let me know in the comments what theme you’ve chosen for the upcoming month and if you’ve shared your pages on your blog, I’ll be sure to check them out.

Posted in goal setting, lifestyle, Planning and journaling

Monday Matters: A guide to SMART goals + an example of how I’m using the framework

Last week, my blog post focused on vision boards and how you can create one in your bullet journal. As part of this, I mentioned that as well as using pictures and words to establish what you want, you also need to identify steps you can take towards achieving your goals/dreams. Today, I’m going to deep dive into SMART goals and give an example of how I’m using the framework to help me achieve success towards a specific goal of mine which features on my current vision board.

What are SMART goals?

SMART is a mnemonic acronym that can help you with both goal setting and goal getting. It stands for:

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable / Achievable
  • R – Relevant
  • T – Time-bound

Sounds great in theory but how can I set SMART goals?

To enable the setting of SMART goals, you need to create a detailed break down of each of your personal goals using the SMART framework. Your goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound.

Specific

It’s important to be clear about what exactly it is that you want to achieve. To make your goals really specific, it can help to ask yourself a few questions to identify the detail:

  • What exactly do I want to accomplish?
  • Why is this really important to me right now?
  • Who will I need to help me achieve the goal and what will their role be?
  • Where will I work on my plan to achieve my goal?
  • Which resources will I need to help me?
  • Does my goal have financial implications?
  • What will my life look like when I have achieved my goal?
  • How will achieving my goal make me feel?

Measurable

Your goals should all be measurable so that you are able to see progress and know when you have achieved success. This can increase motivation as you start to see results from your efforts. Key questions to ask yourself could be:

  • How will I know when I have achieved my goal?
  • What will success look like?
  • What’s the best way of measuring my success?

Achievable

A vision board can sometimes contain ideals and big hopes and dreams, to make these visions into goals, you need to set more achievable targets to work towards.

  • On a scale of 1-10, how likely do you think it is that you’ll achieve your goal (1 being completely unlikely and 10 being absolutely certain)?
  • Is it completely within my power to achieve the goal?
  • Is the goal realistic?
  • Are there any obstacles which may present themselves?
  • Will I be able to achieve my goal in a given timeframe?
  • Do I have the resources or financial means to work on and achieve my goal?

Relevant

Your goals should be relevant to what matters the most to you right now. They should also align with your life values and current beliefs.

  • Is this a worthwhile goal and does it meet my current needs or desires?
  • Is this goal a priority for me right now?
  • What will achieving the goal especially mean to me?
  • How does this goal fit in with my values?

Time bound

It’s best to have a specific time frame in mind for meeting your goal. Setting a deadline or a date to assess if you have made significant progress can help keep you on track to success. You should try to decide on a realistic amount of time that is neither too long or too short. If the deadline is too far in the future, you will likely lose momentum or feel no sense of urgency. If the time frame is too short, you may become overwhelmed or stressed. A good idea might be to identify mini steps and assign an achieve by date for each.

An example of how I’m using SMART goals to achieve success

In last week’s Monday Matters blog post, I shared my current vision board. In order to increase my chance of successfully meeting my goals (or vision), I’ve been applying the SMART system to really break things down. To help you see how this works, I thought I’d take just one of my goals and look at it in depth using SMART.

On my vision board, I have a picture of a hamster and the word pampered. My goal is to treat our new pet in a way that gives her everything she wants and needs. We’ve been keeping hamsters for years and each time we have a new addition to the family, I try even harder to make sure she has a good life. Obviously I can’t ask Millie if she feels like she is a pampered pet but I can put things in place to ensure she is completely spoilt and receives the best treatment I can offer. Here’s my real life example of how I’ve broken my goal down :

Specific: I want Millie to be a happy and well pampered hamster so that I can be sure I’m giving her the best life I can. It’s important to me that my pet is treated well as part of our family. Both my husband and I will play a big part in working towards and achieving my goal. We’ll use our knowledge of keeping Syrian hamsters to help us as well as learning from guidance found online from reputable sources. Meeting my goal will have financial implications but we’re happy to spend a reasonable amount of money on both her cage and accessories within. When I have achieved the goal Millie will appear happy and content with her home and should show signs that she feels safe when we get her out of her cage each evening. She should look healthy and well cared for and my husband and I will be satisfied that we are good hamster parents!

Measurable: We will measure our progress using a checklist of things which need to be in place to ensure Millie is happy and healthy.

  • Extra large cage with floor space beyond the recommended size for Syrian hamsters.
  • Cosy house which is large enough for Millie to sleep in and also has room for snacks.
  • Large wheel which adult Millie can run in without concave back.
  • Water bottle to be refilled daily and scrubbed weekly.
  • A good quality diet consisting of dry food and small quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables.
  • Treats provided in line with feeding guidelines.
  • Plenty of bedding to be provided for nesting and digging.
  • Wooden chews provided for gnawing.
  • Sand provided for bathing.
  • Digging tower provided for out of cage play.
  • Cage spot cleaned regularly with full clean once a month.
  • Eating and drinking to be monitored.
  • Weight checked weekly.
  • Dedicated time with Millie outside of the cage every evening (minimum 10 minutes)
  • Basic health check performed each time Millie is handled.
  • No signs of distress or boredom displayed e.g. biting cage bars all of the time, excessive grooming, aggression, repetitive behaviours etc.

The goal will be considered achieved when all of these are in place and standards are maintained over the time period stated below.

Achievable As we are experienced hamster owners (Millie is my ninth hammy) we have very good understanding of what Syrian hamsters need for a happy and healthy life. Therefore, the goal should be achieved in a relatively short time. We’ve already ticked off some of the criteria as we’ve purchased an extra large cage, a wooden house and digging tower. We also have plenty of dry food, treats, warm bedding and a sand bath as well as a good sized wheel. Fresh water is provided although we need to get better at changing it each day.

Relevant Obviously the goal is relevant as we have a pet hamster and we wish for her to be well cared for and pampered. This is in line with my beliefs about how animals should be treated.

Time bound At least a couple of weeks for Millie to get used to us will be required as she is currently a little bit nervous and wary of us but progress is being made each day. I will assess and evaluate the situation at the end of this month and I expect that everything will be in place by 15th April as we will have had Millie for one month by then.

Millie at 9 weeks old and a little camera shy!

The need to be even SMARTER…

Although the SMART approach does not offer any guarantees of success, it does provide a useful system to help with setting and working on small goals with a view to you achieving your bigger hopes and dreams. Some authors have expanded on SMART to include two extra letters, namely E and R to make SMARTER, where E stands for Evaluated and R stands for Reviewed. In this longer acronym, it is suggested that further success will be achieved if the individual takes time to evaluate progress and reviews and reflects on how things are going in order to identify any issues and make adjustments where necessary. This certainly makes sense to me and so I’ve chosen a specific time and date to do some reflective journaling on my progress towards all of the goals displayed on my vision board. I’ve written it into my Bullet Journal Future Log so I don’t forget and I’ve allotted two hours for the process, which might seem a lot but I think it’s important to set aside a big chunk of time if the session is going to be useful.

Final thoughts

I’m feeling really motivated to work towards my goals and it helps that I know my what, why, where, who, when and how. I may meet with obstacles or setbacks along the way, but by evaluating my progress and making small changes, I’m in with a good chance of success.

Let me know in the comments if you’re a fan of setting SMART (or SMARTER) goals or if you think it’s something you might like to try in the future. I would love to hear about what you’re working on right now and if you are meeting with success.

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

Monday Matters: A beginner’s guide to Vision boards and how to create one in your Bullet Journal

When I start to feel better after a period of depression and anxiety, I tend to have lots of ideas for how I want my life to be now and what I want for my future. To avoid becoming overwhelmed, stressed and potentially causing a hypomanic episode (due to having bipolar disorder), I like to spend time taking a step back, really thinking about what I want for myself and asking myself some big questions. After reflecting, I like to create a visual reminder in the form of a vision board. In today’s Monday Matters I thought I’d present a beginner’s guide to vision boards and show you how I design and create mine in my bullet journal so that you can make one too.

What is a vision board?

A vision board is a collage of images and words which represent your current wishes and goals. It is used as a reminder of what you hope to achieve and aims to provide motivation and inspiration. Vision boards can be paper based or digital. They can contain as many words and images as you want but I find they work best if they’re relatively simple as then you are only working towards a small number of goals. Whereas a digital vision board works best if it fits onto your computer screen, a paper based vision board can be any size of your choosing. I created a large A1 sized board for my business and have the images and words pasted onto a black piece of card which is inside a clip frame. The vision board is on the wall in my craft room and I love looking at it regularly. My personal vision boards are usually created in my bullet journal on a double page spread and contain words and images from magazines as well as printouts from online resources like Pinterest. Click here to see an example of one I created during lockdown.

Your vision board can have a particular theme e.g. health and wellbeing, your word of the year etc, or it can be more general and include personal and/or professional related goals. Whichever style you choose, you need to spend some time reflecting on what you want your life to be like now and what you hope your life to look like in the future.

Some key questions to ask yourself:

  • What is most important to me in my life right now? (e.g. happiness, good health, work-life balance etc)
  • What are my core values? (e.g. family, creativity, self confidence, education, happiness, growth, self awareness etc)
  • What did I used to do in the past that I would like to start doing again now? (e.g. have lots of fun, meet friends for coffee, go to the gym, spend quality time with family etc)
  • What experiences would I like to have in the future? (travel the world, start a family, learn to swim, attend an art course etc)
  • What are my current interests or hobbies? (e.g. sewing, bullet journalling, watercolour painting, hiking, getting fit, baking etc)
  • Do I currently spend plenty of time engaging in things I enjoy? (e.g. I don’t feel I dedicate enough time to having fun, I always make time for my hobbies and interests etc)
  • What bad habits do I want to break? (drinking too much alcohol, going to bed late, eating unhealthy snacks, too many takeaways, spending too much time on social media etc)
  • What good habits do I want to instill? (e.g. exercise for 30 minutes 5 times a week, drink more water, eat more fruit and vegetables, starting a gratitude practice, meditating each morning, read one self help book each month etc)
  • What little things do I want to put in place right now? (e.g. daily gratitude, healthy breakfast, in bed by 10.30pm etc)
  • What are my big dreams for the future? (e.g. to write a book, to be a minimalist, to own a 3 bedroom home, to move to Australia, to travel the world, to have a family etc)
  • What can I do now to help me work towards my dreams / goals?
  • How will I feel when I achieve my goals / dreams? (proud, happy, confident, calm, successful etc)

How do vision boards work?

Vision boards only work if you do! By this, I mean that choosing representational images and words to describe your desires, goals and dreams is not enough to achieve them. You also need to identify steps to take to work towards what you want and create habits which will help you (or break habits which are not helpful). A vision board provides a useful visual reminder and, when looked at on a daily basis, can be used as a prompt to spend time evaluating and reflecting on your progress towards your specific goals and wishes, looking at any obstacles that have come up and how you will remedy problems. It can also help to motivate you into action – especially if the images and words you have chosen are exactly what you desire and spark great attraction.

What I find useful is to accompany my vision board with a page of notes. I write down what each image represents and also record what I need to do or not do to work towards achieving my vision. I can then move on to identify the baby steps I need to take to have the best chance of achieving my goals. Reflecting on your progress regularly and setting new small goals is also really important if you vision board is to have the best chance of working.

Designing your vision board

The design of your vision board should suit you and your lifestyle. If you prefer to work digitally, you could create a vision board to display on the desktop of your computer or even create a vision board on Pinterest using attractive images and motivational sayings and quotes. If you like to get creative, you might do a cut and paste from your favourite magazines – try flicking through them and see what resonates with you. You can even cut out individual letters or words to put together to make motivational phrases (a bit like a ransom note but full of positivity instead!). Use pictures which sum up exactly what you want, for example an image of someone who is smiling can represent wanting to feel happier in life, a big house in the countryside can show that you would love to live in a more rural location, a passport and pictures of key locations in a Paris e.g. The Eiffel tower and a cruise boat on the River Seine, would be good to remind you that you really want to visit the capital of France.

I like to create a double page spread in my bullet journal as this is something I look at multiple times a day and use morning and night. You can read about the process of setting up my vision board below.

Creating a vision board in your bullet journal

Image selection I find the best way to create my vision board in my bullet journal is to use photographs which are available online. If you use images from magazines, they may be vastly different in size. If you search chosen key words online you can spend time looking through the different pictures and find one which is suitable for what you want and then resize it to fit (I make the width of my images around 4cm – 6cm). I placed the photos into a document on MS Publisher which was 4x6in and then printed the pages out on photo paper of the same size using my Canon printer.

After that, I cut them out using my small Fiskars guillotine and backed them on mid pink coloured paper to make them stand out. The backing of the photos was rather time consuming, especially as you really need to use double sided tape for photograph paper. The process could be speeded up using a roller tape but if you’re limited for time, you could just stick the images straight in to you BuJo. I left a tiny border of pink as I wanted the photos to take centre stage.

Motivational words Again, I create the words myself in a MS Publisher document rather than looking through magazines so I can play around with the sizing, font and specific word classes e.g. verb, adjective, noun etc. I also chose to print them on coloured paper so that they stood out from the white paper just like my photos. It’s up to you how you produce your words – you could create stickers, stamp them onto paper, cut them out and stick them in or hand letter them for example.

Playing around with placement Once you’ve got your images and words ready, it’s time to try out different placements until you’re happy with how they’re arranged. It’s a good idea to experiment with different layouts and then take a quick photo of your double page spread each time so you can always revert back to a previous arrangement. Once your happy you can paste everything in. You might choose to add some decorative elements to any spaces, for example, if you’re creating your vision board for the Springtime, you might add flowers, hearts in Spring colours, butterflies, motivational words etc. This could be in the form of stickers and ephemera like mine or, if you’re good at drawing, you could create something using spring coloured felt tip pens or coloured pencils.

My finished vision board in my bullet journal

Final words…

I hope today’s blog post has inspired you to create your own vision board as a motivational tool for working towards your goals and dreams. Remember that vision boards are a great way for clearly identifying what you want for yourself now and in the future but as well as creating this attractive and motivational tool, you also need to identify progressive steps going forward and also dedicate time to work on making your hopes a reality.

Do you currently use a vision board or is it something you would like to have a go at creating? What would be the most prominent image or idea on your board? Let me know in the comments below.

With love and best wishes,

Posted in Bipolar disorder, depression, depression management, lifestyle, mental health, Planning and journaling, wellbeing, wellness

Monday Matters: A mini guide to using Behavioural Activation as a treatment for depression

In last week’s blog post, I mentioned that my support worker and I have been using a technique called Behavioural Activation (B.A.) as a practical treatment for my depression and anxiety. Today, I thought I’d share an introduction to how B.A. works, ways in which it can help ease depression and anxiety and some tips on how to get the most out of using the method.

What is Behavioural Activation?

Behavioural Activation is an effective and pro-active treatment for depression which can be used in addition to medication and CBT techniques. Research shows that when individuals are struggling with depression their activity levels reduce, leading to less enjoyment and achievement and feelings of lethargy and poor motivation so that even small tasks and activities become hard work. This then becomes a vicious cycle of inactivity – depression and anxiety – inactivity and so on leading to us feeling worse.

Source: NHS Greater Manchester Mental Health

Additionally, a person may engage in unhelpful behaviours such as turning to drugs or alcohol, staying in bed late into the day, withdrawing from social situations or sitting ruminating about things.

Behavioural Activation (B.A.) aims to break the above cycle by increasing pleasurable and positive activity each week with a view to improving mood and decreasing feelings of anxiety, including any negative thoughts you might be having such as “I’m a useless wife/husband/partner”, “I can’t do this anymore”, “I’m never going to get better” etc.

Although Behavioural Activation is a relatively simple idea and can be used as a self- help strategy, I think it is best done with a therapist or support worker so that they can guide you through the process and provide encouragement along the way. They can also look at the particular difficulties you’re having and help you to put things in place to make positive steps towards tackling them.

Establishing a baseline – the first step of Behavioural Activation

Once you understand the principles behind B.A. therapy the first step in the process is to monitor your current activities throughout the week and how they affect your mood. This can either be done using an activity monitoring sheet, examples of which can be found online, or by simply making a list of what you do each hour of the day and scoring your mood out of 10 each time, 0 representing feeling very depressed and 10 representing feeling really good. This should help you to clearly see the relationship between your activity levels and your mood. You could also try listing which of your activities made you feel good and which made you feel bad, for example going for a walk in the park made me feel good, sitting and worrying that I’ll never get better made me feel bad.

Using a ‘Weekly Schedule’ sheet to make plans – the next step in the process

Once you’ve established what you are currently doing, it’s time to make some small improvements. Each week, you work on creating a schedule which should include routine plans such as having breakfast, going food shopping, pleasurable activities such as playing cards, watching TV, doing something creative etc and necessary things that need doing e.g. paying your car tax.

You should also try to include activities which you already do that make you feel better such as getting dressed, brushing your hair, going for a daily walk etc. So, for example, even though I didn’t feel like doing my yoga each day, I did it anyway as it helps to calm me and I feel good after doing it.

My modified B.A. weekly schedule sheet created in MS Word

What you write in the boxes depends on your current difficulties. For example, if you are struggling to get out of bed you might write in the first box ‘Up by 9.00am’, ‘Have breakfast’ and ‘Get ready’ (dressed, teeth brushed and face washed). If you’re currently not doing any household chores, you might add laundry related activities to your list. This can be broken down into small steps e.g. ‘Load the washing machine’, ‘hang out clothes’ and ‘Bring in washing’.

You should also try to think of activities which are important to you, for example spending time in nature, being creative, quality time with family or friends, eating a balanced diet etc. These are related to your core values and you might want to talk to a support worker or therapist to establish what you want from life so you can set some goals for the future. Although your depression is likely to lead you to believe that things will never get better and you will never again feel a sense of pleasure or achievement, try to think of your situation as temporary and know that things will improve in time (I know this is much easier said than done though).

Using your weekly schedule to good effect

Your weekly schedule is your plan for the week and is a guide for what you hope to achieve. It should be referred to throughout the day and will help you see what you have planned. It’s also a place to record your achievement and enjoyment levels (out of 10) so you can evaluate the effect B.A. is having on your mood. You might also like to spend time each evening reflecting on your day – you could even do a little journalling too. If you find your enthusiasm waning at any time, remind yourself why you’re using Behavioural Activation and think about the positives so far.

Tips on using Behavioural Activation to treat depression

Start small When I first started planning out my week according to the principles of B.A., I would identify one activity for in the morning, one for in the afternoon and another for in the evening. This would mainly include relatively simple and mindful activities which helped to distract my anxious and negative thoughts and improve my mood a little. So, for example, in the first week I would have breakfast, get dressed and straighten my hair in the morning, go for a walk in the park in the afternoon and then play cards, do some of my jigsaw or watch TV in the evening. By week 5, I was doing several activities in the morning, afternoon and evening and setting more difficult goals for myself. However, we always made sure I had some time for pleasurable and relaxing activities each week such as reading my book in bed two mornings a week (after having a good breakfast and brushing my teeth and washing my face).

Break down activities into steps When you’re feeling depressed, it’s common to lack the motivation to do even basic things. For this reason, it’s helpful to break down activities into small steps which feel more achievable. So, for example, ages ago I bought a cheap set of gouache paints and really wanted to have a go at using them. Rather than creating a full page art piece, I set myself the simpler task of painting some stems and leaves. For the first step, I experimented with creating different shades of green by mixing varying amounts of blue and yellow. Then I introduced small amounts of other colours of paint to explore what happened. I also added white to some of the mixture to make lighter shades. After that, I tried painting samples onto a small strip of watercolour paper to see if I had the consistency of the paint correct as I knew that gouache is quite a bit thicker than watercolour which I’ve used many times before. This was all I did on the first day. I returned to my paint samples a few days later and decided to have a go at some stems and leaves. I spent time looking online at different stem and leaf shape and patterns and then had a go at creating them using a small selection of brushes. By breaking down my art project, I avoided feeling overwhelmed. I also did the same for housework tasks e.g. rather than cleaning the whole kitchen, I started by just cleaning and polishing the sink area.

Routine, Pleasurable and Necessary Try to create a balance of activities on your plan so that you engage in a range of pleasurable and achievement related activities each week. So, for example, you might do some watercolouring on Monday morning because you know that you have enjoyed painting in the past. This would be a pleasurable activity (even if you believe that you won’t enjoy doing it). On Tuesday morning, you might put one load of washing in the machine and then hang it out in the sunshine when it’s finished. This would be a routine task (something that needs doing regularly) and is likely give you a sense of achievement. On Wednesday afternoon, you might plan to get a few necessary tasks out of the way such as renewing your car insurance, replacing a lightbulb or replying to an email or text message from someone.

Evaluate how your week has gone During my weekly support sessions, Nichola would ask me how my week had been and part of this involved talking through how I’d got on with my B.A. plans. This gave me the chance to share my achievements but was also an opportunity to identify any problems I’d had, if I’d found solutions myself or if I needed help to find a way forward. For example, one week, I’d got really upset because my dressing table in the bedroom was thick with dust and I felt ashamed at how bad it was. I only cleaned this one piece of furniture instead of the whole of our bedroom as I became really overwhelmed. We discussed that sometimes a task may need modifying or simplifying to make it easier and that I may need to try to be kinder to myself / show more self compassion etc.

Reward yourself regularly As well as going easy on yourself, it’s also a good idea to spend time recognising your achievements and reward yourself for progress made. As well as doing this with Nichola once a week, my husband talks with me about how my day had been and what I’ve achieved. Also, every Friday afternoon, we go to my favourite cafĂ© for a coffee and cake as a well deserved treat. This has become a part of our weekly routine which will have carried on even though I’m now feeling much better and it’s not so hard to get things done.

Enlist the support of others If you find it difficult to motivate yourself to do the activities on your weekly schedule, it can be helpful to ask others for support. This could be a family member or friend who regularly checks in with you to see how you’re getting on and provides gentle encouragement. They might also help you with a particular task e.g. preparing a meal, filling in a form or tidying a space in your home.

Final words…

Although Behavioural Activation on its own isn’t a cure for depression, it can be a really useful coping mechanism and a helpful treatment for lifting your mood. Hopefully, in time, you will find that you start to enjoy some of the activities on your plan or feel a sense of achievement when you’ve completed tasks that you’ve probably been avoiding. As you continue to schedule in activities and complete them successfully, you’ll likely be motivated to do more. Remember, though, that there may be days along the way where you don’t feel so good and some of your tasks might not get done. This is okay and perfectly normal – just go easy on yourself and celebrate what you did achieve. Even a small number of activities done each day can have a big impact on your mood.

If you have any questions about Behavioural Activation, feel free to drop them in the comments and hopefully I’ll be able to answer them or direct you to an online resource which might help. Also, if you would like a copy of my Weekly Schedule, I would be more than happy to share it – just get in touch using the email address in the ‘Contact me’ section of my blog.