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.

Posted in Health and Nutrition, lifestyle, Planning and journaling, self care

Monday Matters: 7 benefits of home cooking

Over the last few months, my husband and I have been trying out some new recipes, making sure that, at least once a week, we cook a meal from scratch. We’ve had some amazingly tasty dishes and afterwards, I’ve typed out any that we’ve really enjoyed (making any alterations to ingredients and method) and added them to a file we keep in one of our kitchen cupboards. We’ve ended up with a personalised cook book of laminated recipe cards with both vegan and vegetarian options.

There are so many benefits of home cooking on a regular basis and for today’s post, I’m going to focus on some of them which I feel have made a real difference to me personally.

Quality family time

To ensure we have plenty of time and energy for cooking, my husband and I tend to do our cooking from scratch on a weekend, mostly on a Saturday night. On a Friday evening, we have a routine of looking online for some veggie or vegan recipes which use seasonal ingredients and are not too difficult to prepare. When we’ve found something that appeals, we make a shopping list and pop to the supermarket late Saturday afternoon to collect what we need.

When we get back, we make a start on preparing our meal together. I take the lead and my husband assists me. As well as the process helping me to develop my confidence again following months of being unwell with depression and anxiety and having poor appetite, it’s been really nice to spend quality time together in the kitchen and at the dining table enjoying what we’ve made (or pulling faces on the rare occasion when what we’ve made has ended up being revolting!) We even work as a team to load and unload the dishwasher with the vast amount of pots and pans afterwards.

Easy to adapt dishes according to your taste, likes and dislikes

When you go to a restaurant or get a takeaway, you might be able to ask for something to be omitted from the dish (such as a sauce) or swap your chips for salad, but you’re generally limited to one or two changes. However, when you cook a meal at home, you can adapt a dish in as many ways as you like. For example, you can add more or less spice and herbs, serve the dish with your favourite veggies on the side, omit the salt and pepper and change the sauce or dressing. You can use your preferred type of cheese or alter the recipe to make it less calorific. And you can easily simplify a dish that has a long list of ingredients or swap something you don’t like for something you love.

An example of this is the vegan butternut squash and chickpea tagine that my husband and I made this week. We found two different recipes online, one had some negative reviews saying it was tasteless and the other had lots of different spices in it which we didn’t have at home. I used the information from both to create a mildly spiced version which included ingredients listed in one or the other recipe and altered the cooking time as I knew the veggies would take longer to soften. We thoroughly enjoyed our food and I’ve now typed out our heavily edited recipe so we can remember the ingredients, measures and method for next time.

As you become more confident in the kitchen, you’ll learn which ingredients work together and will be able to make changes to recipes and cooking methods to suit you and your family. You might also want to do what I do and save successful dishes by copying and pasting a recipe into a Word document, editing the ingredients and method and then printing and laminate the sheet to keep to make again. I’ve also created a template on MS Word so all of my sheets are A5 with the same font type and size, margins and layout.

Portion control

Often, when eating in a restaurant, the portion sizes are way bigger than you’d serve at home. Also, it can be tempting to make the most of your evening out by selecting a starter and a main course, then finishing off with a dessert. You might also choose sugary drinks, wine or cocktails to accompany your food and often you’ll have more beverages whilst you wait for the different courses to arrive. Before you know it, you’ve racked up more than your daily calorie intake in just one meal.

At home, when cooking for yourself or your family, you’re more likely to make just one dish and serve it with a side of your favourite veggies, salad or a tasty bread to fill up your plate. The portion size can also be easily controlled by you so overeating is avoided.

When my husband and I make a meal at home, we tend to serve a small portion from the pan or oven dish (putting more on my husband’s plate than mine in-line with recommended calorie intake) and then have some more if we find we’re still hungry. Otherwise, we transfer the rest to a smaller container and save the leftovers for another day. In a restaurant, it’s tempting to clear your plate, even if you’re full, either because you’re not eating mindfully and don’t notice you feel full, or because you’ve paid a lot for the meal and don’t want to leave some of it.

You can control the cost and quality

When you go to a restaurant or get a takeway, you have to pay the price stated on the menu and the chef has made choices about the quality of the individual ingredients that make up the dish. When you cook at home, you choose the price you want to pay for the items on your shopping list. You select the fresh foodstuffs which look and smell good (and are in season) and the quality you feel you deserve and can afford. If you want to choose free range eggs for a dish, you can. If you prefer organic produce, you can choose specific items which meet with your expectations. When money is a little tight, you can pick basics ingredients from your supermarket own brand collection to make budget friendly meals.

Healthier dishes

Restaurant meals, takeaways and supermarket ready meals are often loaded with salt, sugar, butter, cream or other additives that should be consumed in moderation. When you make your meals yourself, you can control exactly what goes into your dishes and this often makes them a lot healthier. You can use fresh ingredients and add herbs and spices to make your meals taste good. You can choose whether to add salt, decide between butter or vegetable oil to shallow fry and even find different ways to sweeten your dishes. Studies have found that those who frequently cook meals at home have healthier diets overall and consume much less calories per day.

Good for your mental health

It might surprise you that as well as being good for your physical health due to the nutritional benefits, home cooking can also be great for your mental health. When I was struggling with anxiety and depression a few months ago, my support worker suggested that I try planning and preparing one meal per week as part of my work on behavioural activation. There were a number of ideas behind her suggestion, including trying to find joy in cooking again, improving my appetite, having a sense of purpose when going to the supermarket (I had to challenge myself to make a list of items needed for the recipe and collect them independently), being assertive when advising my husband how to assist with the preparation, feeling a sense of achievement and confidence building. It also became a wonderful mindful activity which took me away from my anxious thoughts. Although it didn’t do much to improve my appetite at the time, it was wonderful for my self esteem and, overall, was a really positive experience.

Now that I’m feeling much better, my husband and I are continuing to try out new recipes regularly and it feels great when we sit down to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Preparing and cooking a meal is also a great way to slow down and focus on all of the physical processes involved such as weighing out ingredients, peeling, chopping, blending and stirring – all of which demand lots of attention and can help to relieve stress.

It makes you more creative

I’m used to getting creative with my art and craft supplies, but cooking at home can also make you creative in the kitchen too. When I first started making meals (back when I was at university), I tended to find super easy recipes with simple ingredients and follow the instructions carefully. Now, I look for dishes in books, magazines and online and I’m not frightened to try out new cooking methods, change up the ingredients or merge ideas from several different recipes together. The more I cook, the more my confidence grows. I also find I can throw things together to make meals using whatever is left in the fridge and kitchen cupboards and most of the time, they turn out great!

Final words…

I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s post and it has encouraged you to do more home cooking. The only downside we’ve found is that the dishwasher is always full to bursting and it takes ages to dry everything and put it all away. However, if you make twice as much of the dish, you can enjoy the leftovers another day and then you have barely any washing up to do!

Posted in art, Bullet journaling, compassion, mental health, Planning and journaling, watercolour painting, wellbeing

Monday Matters: Creating a ‘Words Of Encouragement’ spread to help you get through tough times

This month, I moved into a new bullet journal – a gorgeous handcrafted linen notebook from Notebook Therapy. The journal is completely blank so I set up the usual index, future log and grid spacing cheat sheet. Then I decided that I wanted to create a spread which was full of messages of support and encouragement to help me whilst I’m struggling with my mental health. The idea is that I read all of the positive content each morning a bit like you would a list of affirmations. It took me quite a while to make but I’m really pleased with how it turned out so I thought I’d share the results on here and talk a little about the process.

Creating the background

A watercolour wash

I wanted something bright and cheerful for the background so I decided to create a wet on wet variegated wash using just two of my Winsor & Newton Cotman watercolour tubes – cadmium red and gamboge yellow hue. I used an A5 piece of Aquafine smooth paper and taped the edges down so I got nice clean lines. After coating the paper with water, I swished the first colour back and forth from the top to the bottom, leaving gaps between the paint strokes. I then did the same with the second, filling in the gaps but also sweeping over the first colour slightly so that they nicely blended together. I was really pleased with the effect I achieved. When the paint was dry, I removed the tape and then scanned the piece in using my printer/scanner. I then printed it off twice, trimmed the papers so that they would fit perfectly in my bullet journal and stuck them in using double sided tape.

Finding the supportive messages

When I’d created my backgrounds and stuck them in, it was time to find some messages to stick on the pages. I spent a while thinking about what I’m struggling with at the moment and some words of positivity that I could focus on. So, for example, I’m being really hard on myself and self critical so I chose a ‘be kind to yourself’ message and a quote about being enough. Most of the images were found online by typing them into an image search (a lot of them are actually phone wallpapers cropped to size). I also got a few from a Tim Holtz Small Talk idea-ology sticker book but you could just as easily type onto plain paper and cut and stick them. I created a MS Publisher document to add the images to and cropped them and altered the size until they would all fit into the double page spread. I then printed them onto an A4 sticker sheet to make it easier to stick them in but you could easily use an A4 sheet of paper and cut them out using a paper trimmer.

What you choose to put in your spread or board would depend on the particular difficulties you’re facing. For example, you might need some confidence boosters, help with dealing with anxiety, messages to encourage you to manage your depression or some little reminders about positive body image and loving the skin you’re in. Here’s some ideas to get you started:

Confidence boosting – You’ve got this. You’re more powerful than you think. Inhale confidence. Exhale doubt. Believe in yourself. Self confidence is a super power. Once you start believing in yourself magic starts happening. I can and I will.

For dealing with anxiety – Everything is going to be alright. I can’t control everything and that’s okay. I am stronger than my struggles. Just breathe. My anxiety does not control me.

Managing depression – I am strong. I can get through this. Life is tough but so are you. Keep going. I’m enough. Stay positive. Choose to be grateful. Think positive and positive things will happen. Everything’s going to be okay.

Body positivity – Happy, beautiful and strong. Your body loves you. Love it back. My body. My goals. My happiness. Be kind to your body. All bodies are good bodies.

Final words

I made a spread in my bullet journal because it’s somewhere I look every day. However, if you’re not into bullet journaling, you could just as easily create a board out of a piece of coloured card to go up on your wall or some other place to look each morning. As an alternative to searching online, you might choose to use post it notes to write messages to yourself or cut small pieces of paper and use brightly coloured pens for your reminders. The most important thing is to make sure you look at what you’ve made frequently so you can try to take on board the supportive statements.

I hope you have found today’s post interesting and it’s inspired you to have a go at creating a similar ‘Words of encouragement’ spread. Let me know in the comments what you think you would benefit from telling yourself each day.