Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

I had some big successes in 2015: getting a PhD, running an ultra marathon, starting a job that was both satisfying and challenging. But, while I’m proud of all these things, life is so much bigger than all of them, and none of them guarantee stable happiness and well-being for any decent length of time. Alongside these big successes, there was a slightly larger number of small successes; I managed to fix a few good habits in place over the course of the last 12 months, which have improved my happiness bit-by-bit, and which I can carry with me through the weeks, months and years regardless of whatever else life might throw at me.

I ummmed and ahhhed about new year’s resolutions for 2016. Part of me felt as if I should want to improve myself in some way, and so I resolved to drink more water and cut out sugary food just before bed. Both lasted almost the entirety of January (almost), but neither made me happier, and while I might be more hydrated, possibly a little thinner and saving more on dentist bills (see below), the effort required to do both of these things took something away, rather than adding something good to my life. As a used-to-be-overweight person I know that any real changes need to be easy to implement, make you feel good, and have some sort of measurable outcome. And they need to be enjoyable eventually, if not right away, in order to continue with them long-term. Aside from the satisfaction of ticking off glasses of water each day in my head, there was no real carrot to these two sticks. Inevitably I gave up, and I now continue to enjoy late-night sugar fixes thank you very much, no guilt required.

But onto the good habits – the things that really are making me that bit happier each day, and which bring stability and meaning to even the glummest and hardest weeks. Here is my small list: they’re all works in progress, but they have shown me how making positive changes reaps benefits in the long- and short-term.

For a long time I did yoga almost every day. Everyone seems to talk about how great getting ‘on the mat’ is; how spiritually invigorating and healing it is, how in touch everyone feels with their bodies. Years of yoga later and I started to feel totally out of touch with it. Don’t get me wrong, I loved yoga in places, and had an amazing teacher when I lived in Bradford who just about saved me. But we moved to York and I just couldn’t reconnect with it; it wasn’t right for me anymore.

Daniel had been attending a pilates class for some time, and so, intrigued, I decided to give that a go instead. One class later and I was adamant that it wasn’t for me. It made bits of me hurt that I didn’t know existed, and I didn’t see the point in doing strange movements that I never had to do in normal life. I knew it was good for me, but it wasn’t fast-paced or sweaty enough to keep me interested. But then I started training for an ultra marathon, combined with excessive amounts of PhD-related stress. I forced myself to go by paying for 7 classes up-front, so I attended those 7 classes, always a little bit reluctantly. And then I paid for 7 more. After 14 classes I could do this:

This might not seem a big deal, but no kidding, I have never in my life even been able to sit with my legs out straight, never mind bending forwards and touching my toes on top of it all. I could see the benefit, and I was sold. Now, I look forward to pilates. It’s become an hour in my week that is solely for me – all about doing good for myself and tuning in with my body. A hard-won habit, but one I’m sure I’ll stick with.

I know it’s really gross to not floss. I’ve tried and tried to become a nightly flosser since meeting my dental-health-freak husband, but my OCD makes it incredibly difficult to floss owing to the hand-to-mouth proximity that it requires. Last August I had to have my second filling, which my dentist put down to eating chocolate before bed. I knew that if I wanted to stick with my chocolate and avoid any more fillings, this had to change. I found a way to make it work for me without excessive hand-washing practices beforehand, and as I kept doing it, I noticed time and time again how great it feels to go to bed with a lovely fresh mouth. Better sleep, (hopefully) cheaper dentist bills, fewer fillings, more chocolate: what’s not to love.

Veggie Runners’ review of Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier totally changed my life. Convinced by their enthusiasm, I bought a copy for myself and laughed and cried my way through it. Only a few chapters in and I started to try out meditation for myself: first three minutes, then five, and now I’m up to seven minutes most days. It’s totally imperfect: most of the time my mind wanders to a place where I’m simply unable to observe my thoughts, and sometimes the alarm goes off without my having experienced a second of mindfulness. But just showing up to do it is enough for me; I am more aware of my thoughts, and it’s led me to some pretty soul-shifting revelations about myself and my thought processes. And, I’d agree with Dan, it’s made me around 7% happier for now – there is still a lot of work to do!

In the midst of my PhD I found myself routineless and lost. I was staying in my PJs for way too much of the day, feeling useless and without direction. I decided that I’d go out on a morning walk each day, before starting work. I’m lucky enough to live right by the River Ouse, where we have the wonderful New Walk, which was built for wealthy Georgians to promenade after their evening meal. It’s lined with huge trees, and there are two bridges crossing the river a convenient mile apart, making it a perfect 2-mile morning circuit, totally free from traffic. I walk this circuit almost every morning, come rain or shine, and it is wonderful. It never gets old: the light through the trees is different every day, the birdsong changes with the seasons and the light. And it’s valuable fresh air, headspace, and time for myself; it didn’t take long for me to reach the point where I simply couldn’t start work without my walk.


For years I have kept diaries, and written in them sporadically at best. Last year saw the start of this becoming an almost daily occurrence – something I’d been striving towards for a long time. I didn’t force it, but like the walking habit, it became a daily need. A time each day for me to reflect on what I’m thinking, how I’m feeling, what I’m hoping for. I know I’ll be grateful for it in years to come when I can look back, but it’s also helping me look forwards too, as I try to make sense of where I’m going, and balance up the various things that I want from life. Writing each day is probably the best gift I’ve been able to give myself: I don’t plan what to write, but the words fall from my head as if they’re desperately trying to escape into reality.

This was a good habit, but I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit in the new year as everyone in York seems to have made ‘swim at 7am every Monday’ their resolution, and they’re sticking with it, too. But I used to hate swimming, and now I love it. Again, it’s an OCD challenge, but just facing these challenges makes me more powerful. I also used to hate it because I’m rubbish at it, but now I love it because I’m still rubbish at it. I love how tired I feel afterwards: how easy it is for me to run 1km, but how difficult I find it to swim the same distance. I love watching the super swimmers tearing down the pool as I potter around in the slow lane doing breaststroke. I love admiring them yet not feeling rubbish about my own incapacity to swim well in response. It allows me to drift away in my thoughts, one repeated stroke after the next. Wonderful.


I’m pretty happy with this bunch, but they are all works in progress. As life changes, no doubt some will fall away, but hopefully I’ll gain new habits in their place. There are a few new ones creeping in that I’m keen to get established:

  • Parkrun – I’ve done Parkrun on 3 out of 5 weekends this year so far, and I love it. I really want this to become a regular weekly ‘thing’, as I love the sense of community. It’s so great to be part of something so positive!
  • Blood donation – I’ve done it twice, and I fainted the second time so now I’m scared to go back. I want to make it to five times and see how I feel after that. We’ll see.
  • Shopping local – more to come on this, but it’s our challenge for February, and I am really enjoying connecting with local producers when buying my food.

Read Full Post »

Trying, at least.

Life is a balancing act at the best of times, but sometimes it’s a challenge just to keep upright. It sounds ridiculous, but at present I am juggling five different jobs: language tuition, piano tuition, freelance editing and two part-time, turn-up-on-time jobs. For a while I was powering through on adrenaline, life scheduled itself between self-imposed deadlines; the only time I’ve really had for myself was while out running, and even then the pressure I’ve put on myself to reach mileage has been pretty unfair.

Over the past year or so I’ve been working on being more mindful, taking the time to do the things that make me feel better and more in control, and taking time just for myself, too. There are certain ways that I measure my levels of mindfulness at any given point. Sometimes it’s how often I practise yoga, other times it’s how much tea I drink in a day (more tea means more time to make tea), and often even the regularity of my night-time flossing routine is enough to reflect the soundness of my state of being.

Yoga has taken a distinct sideline in my life at the moment, and I’m quite happy with that right now. I was practising every day for a while, and I felt better for it – I have no doubt that I’d feel better if I were doing the same now. But truth be told, I’m bored of the yoga I’ve been doing; I need something to stimulate and control my practise, and even with DVDs or podcasts, it’s not easy to get that from independent practise. One of these days (when I have both time and money in more abundance) I will get myself a new yoga teacher, but until then I remain inflexible and content.

As the various aspects of my life start to move together a little more elegantly, I’ve started to implement a few changes with a view to getting back to a state of contentmentand calm. At the same time. Life is one huge work in progress, but a few small changes here and there can really make a huge difference:

– Flossing my teeth every night without fail. It’s amazing how much better I sleep after spending 10 extra minutes in the bathroom. Is there a more important time to wind down than just before bed? More than anything, I can measure my stress levels by the regularity at which I floss my teeth. Flossed teeth equals calm me.

– Not eating the biscuit tin dry before bed. Because I don’t really need four chocolate digestives half an hour before bed time. By eliminating this guilt-inducing habit I force myself to remember that, actually, I’m not hungry. Go drink a camomile tea instead.

– Warming up and warming down. I stick my hand up and confess that even my running routine is suffering, and my legs are burning out as a result. For the first time in too long today I took a full 10 minutes either side of my run to warm up and down, and I felt much better for it.

– Writing more. I have pretty much left my diary untouched since we moved house. Since writing is my all-time favourite thing to do, I need to get on it and write! I actually have two chapters of a novel saved on this computer, which I haven’t got back to in ages; characters and stories are developing in my head, but as soon as it comes to writing them down, I loose all inclination.

– Sign up for some races. I need some direction before I explode from training for an ultra-marathon that I haven’t signed up for. I’m running too far and too often; I need a half marathon planned to hone it down and direct my energies!

So, that’s me. Simple things that shouldn’t take too much effort to implement. Still, they make all the difference.


How do you measure your levels of mindfulness?

Read Full Post »