Posted in compassion, life hacks, psychology, wellbeing

Monday matters: Procrastination and 10 ways to minimise it

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

What is procrastination?

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

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

So, why do we procrastinate?

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

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

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

How can we minimise the effects of procrastination?

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

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

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

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

Posted in compassion, mental health, wellbeing

Monday Matters – Self soothing activities for emotional regulation

Photo credit: Johannes Plenio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in compassion, life hacks, mental health, Mindfulness, Planning and journaling, Setting goals and intentions, wellbeing, wellness

Practical ways to declutter your overloaded mind

Photo credit: Element5 Digital, Unsplash

There are a plethora of books and articles both online and in print about the benefits of decluttering your possessions in order to simplify your life and create more order. However, it’s not just our homes which can become cluttered and cause feelings of overwhelm and low mood. Our minds are equally susceptible and can easily become overloaded with worries, stresses and all of those emotions that come from spinning too many plates. Today’s blog post looks at practical ways of managing this mental clutter to improve our wellbeing.

1. Identify your current priorities in life

A good place to start decluttering your mind is to spend some time quietly reflecting on your life right now. Start to consider how you currently spend your time and use your energy and then begin to think about how satisfied you are with this situation. If you find yourself wanting to implement some changes, try focusing your attention on how you would like to live or what your ideal day would look like. This can help you establish what’s really important to you and enable you to prioritize. For example, you may decide that you are neglecting to look after yourself properly and need to give self care more of a focus or you might want to spend more quality time with your partner, your family or your friends.

2. Set some goals and instil some habits

When you know what your priorities are, you can work on setting some goals and creating some habits which help you to achieve these. For example, if having more ‘me time’ is at the top of your list, you may decide that you want to spend one hour per week learning a new skill or taking a class. If having more time together with your family is an area you’d like to work on, you might schedule a regular movie night, games evening or brainstorm or list of ways you would like to have fun together in your bullet journal or notebook. If you do use a bullet journal and like to have a habit tracker as part of your weekly or monthly spreads, your goals can inform the habits you choose to include. For example, if having a tidy space to study or work is one of your desires, you might choose to have a habit such as ‘ten minute desk tidy’ at the end of each day.

3. Practise mindfulness

Mindfulness is the process of bringing one’s attention to the current moment and concentrating on the flow of our thoughts, emotions, what is going on around us and bodily sensations without judgement. It can help us to reduce the time we spend dwelling on past events (rumination) or becoming anxious about the future and help us to become more calm and compassionate towards ourselves. Becoming more mindful can help to declutter our minds of worries and anxieties by creating a more relaxed state of being.

4. Take time to breathe

A big part of mindfulness and self compassion is about taking time out. Our busy lives often create minds which are full of mental chatter which we find difficult to silence. We can all find time to settle our minds by taking the time to slow down and a great way to do this is by changing your focus to a more soothing activity such as rhythmic breathing or a mini meditation. If, like me, you have a bullet journal or planner, try scheduling time to have a break as part of your daily plans or add meditation to your habit tracker. By being more mindful and checking in with your body and how you are feeling, you can also more easily recognise when you might need to pause or slow down.

5. Getting it down on paper

Another really helpful way of clearing mental clutter is to write it all down. There are many different ideas for how to go about doing this but popular methods include doing a ‘brain dump’ or regularly engaging in reflective journaling. A brain dump is basically where you put everything that’s on your mind down on paper or into a digital document. How you spill the contents of your brain is up to you. Some people like to just scribble down their thoughts and feelings onto a page of their journal or onto any random piece of paper they have available whenever they have lots on their mind. Others prefer the regular practise of creating ‘morning pages‘ where they dedicate time each day to writing it all down as soon as they wake up. Personally, I like to add thoughts and ideas to my daily plans in my bullet journal and spend some time each evening, reflecting on how my day has gone and writing a few things down underneath my bulleted lists. If you want to find out more about the bullet journal method for organisation, I recommend visiting Ryder Carroll’s website here or reading his book which explains the method in detail.

For specific projects, you may find that creating some sort of visual way of organising helps to get your thoughts on paper in a logical way. A spider diagram, is a popular method and one which you may have used at school. Basically, you start by placing your main thought, idea or topic in the centre of the page and then you add branches from this when you think of subtopics. These subtopics can then be broken down further by more branches, creating a kind of spiders legs effect on the page. A quick ‘Google’ search online shows lots of examples of this technique which can be a helpful way of structuring all of the information in your mind.

6. Avoid information overload

This point is particularly relevant to our lives today in the digital age. With so much information at our finger tips online, especially through our use of various social media platforms, it can be very easy to become overwhelmed and feel like we are ready to explode. There are many ways to avoid overloading ourselves with information, including limiting the amount of time we spend online. Also, if you have already spent time assessing your current priorities, then you can use this to inform what you focus on. For example, at the beginning of the year, I decided that I wanted to improve my gardening know how, so I thought about the steps I would need to take to do this and then spent time and energy improving my knowledge through reading about the plants in our garden, finding seasonal gardening tips online and watching gardening programmes on the television. I then recorded my learning in a garden journal. Also, avoiding negative and unreliable media sources can help your online presence positive and informative. For example, I tend to stay away from sensationalised news articles and always try to turn off my notifications for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for a while when I’m super busy.

7. Out of your mind and into your body

In a previous blog post, I talked about ways to stimulate your vagus nerve and included plenty of suggestions about how to use the power of this cranial nerve to stimulate your body and relax your mind. By moving our attention to our bodies and reconnecting to the world around us, we create much needed space in our minds which helps us to gain better mental clarity. Going out into the garden to feel the fresh air, listen to the birds or get some sunlight on our skin, taking a quiet stroll in the local park, or even just putting on a favourite song and singing out loud whilst having a quick boogie can all help.

8. Take some time to unwind

Your brain needs regular breaks to rest and recharge itself and so creating white space in your calendar or planner is a must. Spend some time away from your phone or tablet and do something relaxing which makes you feel happy. For me, a walk in nature, reading a book or doing something creative, such as painting or drawing are some of my favourite ways to unwind. I like to create pages in my bullet journal for self care and ‘me time’ activities so that when I’m feeling frazzled, I can get some inspiration for self soothing behaviours.

Photo credit: Victoria Bilsborough, Unsplash

I hope you have found today’s post useful and it has helped to provide inspiration on how you might take steps to declutter your busy and active mind. I would love to hear any others ideas that you find work really well for you at times when you’re feeling a little overwhelmed.

Posted in art, creativity, mental health, Mindfulness, watercolour painting, wellbeing, wellness

Watercolour design pad: a simple red robin

A few weeks ago, I picked up a design pad containing line drawn images for watercolour painting. As I find drawing really difficult, I though this was an ideal way to practise my watercolouring skills without needing to draw my own pictures.

The pad contains 24 A4 size pages with 12 designs so you get two copies of each image. When I purchased it, I wondered why there was several of each image but as I messed up the first robin, I was glad of a second chance!

The pad contains animals and birds and one floral image.

I chose to start with the robin design as I love birds and we have had a robin visiting our garden each day for the past few weeks nibbling on the fat balls and seed mix I put out.

The paper in the pad doesn’t appear to be proper watercolour paper but I did find it easy to paint on and I was able to get the paper quite wet without it going soggy or wrinkling as it is quite dense.

I thoroughly enjoyed having a few quiet hours mixing and applying the paint and was pleased with the results on my second attempt which you can see below. I might add some highlights to the robin’s feet using my Posca paint pen or a white gel pen but I’m waiting a while and may do a test on a piece of paper as I don’t want to spoil my work.

My finished robin and my very messy paint palette!

I’m trying to find more time for doing creative activities as a way of boosting my mental health and after I’d finished painting I felt so relaxed and happy with what I had achieved. If you love getting creative, I can well recommend doing a little watercolouring as a way to wind down after a busy day as a change from sitting watching TV or mindlessly perusing the internet on your phone.

If you live in the UK and are interested in buying the watercolour pad, I picked mine up in Aldi but have also seen it at a slightly higher price in The Range shop. If you want to find out more about my watercolour set, click here for my previous post.

Posted in mental health, Mindfulness, wellbeing, wellness

It’s the first day of Autumn and a great time to go for a lovely nature walk

According to the astronomical calendar, today is the first day of Autumn (also known as fall) and the time of year when the weather turns a little colder, the leaves of deciduous trees start to turn lovely shades of red, yellow, orange and brown and many animals start to prepare for the Winter months.

I love walking all through the year, but for me, Autumn is the best season to go out and explore what nature has to offer. You can’t beat putting on a warm coat and boots and going to your local woodland or forest for a refreshing stroll, especially through the crunchy fallen leaves in their bright array of colours. It’s the perfect time to experience the dappled sunshine peeping through the trees, catch a glimpse of squirrels collecting nuts for the winter and have fun spotting nuts, berries, seeds, an array of different types of fungi and beautiful and intricate spiders webs. You could even take one of the great nature spotting sheets which I found here on the Wildlife Watch website.

Not only is it lovely to see all of the changes in nature taking place, the benefits of walking in countryside spaces for your mind and your body are well documented. Being out and about improves your health by reducing your blood pressure and has been shown to decrease feelings of anxiety, anger and depression. It’s also great exercise and wonderful for increased energy and vitality. I find it so calming and relaxing and after just half an hour in a beautiful, natural space I seem to be more focused for the rest of the day. I also find it gets my creative juices flowing too.

Do you love Autumn and nature walks as much as I do? Where’s your favourite place to go and why?