Category Archives: Jennifer Louden

Back to ‘Normal Life’?

Andrew Gormley sculpture on top of Blackwells Art shop in Broad Street, Oxford.

Andrew Gormley sculpture on top of Blackwells Art shop in Broad Street, Oxford.

I woke this morning to a blustery wind and the last dregs of ex- Hurricane Bertha outside the window. The sun has begun its long journey down towards the horizon, and the shadows around the hems of the trees are getting darker and longer. There is a dampness in the air that speaks of autumn on its way, that last frantic dash towards the end of summer before the urge to buy pencils and sign up for new courses presses in on us.

I’m back from a week-long trek around the country, visiting parents and doing family duty, and this morning, Jennifer Louden’s blog post about ‘Re-Entry’ popped up on my dash. It could not have been more perfectly timed.

We’ve been away, but it was not what one might call a ‘holiday’. I feel weird and disjointed now we are back, and I’ve realised I need not only to take time to recover from the business of travelling, but also to carefully consider my ‘Re-Entry’ into normal life.

Right now, I’m not even sure what ‘Normal Life’ looks like anymore.

There is a lot of emotional stuff to process from our time away, and plenty of new ideas and inspirations too.

We’ve reached the second half of the year now, and I am feeling the need to reassess my plans and intentions, to consider where I want life to take me in the coming months. Where am I going? What should my priorities be? Can I even remember the working systems I had set up before I left?

The beach where I grew up.

The beach where I grew up.

So I am giving myself time to go through the process of resuming my life, and allowing myself to visualise what this life can be. I’m trying to ignore all the headlong manias for starting new regimes.

You know the thing, the:

‘Now I’m back, I can start that new “diet/exercise regime/ meditation practise/ decluttering/ redecorating/ making my life look like other people’s I see in magazines because I’m not good enough as I am”’

Time to sit down with my journal and write through to what I really want. To decide what the next achievable step is. To remember how my creativity works.

And I am kind of at peace with that. I’m okay with needing time to gently settle back into my world. I know that the words I haven’t had time to write in the last week, the stories that I haven’t been able to visualise while I’ve been away, immersed in caring for others, will return, if I give them the chance. I will settle. I just have to have faith. And I’m happy to wait, and rest, until they condense into a cloud of meaning under my ribs.

If you are just back from your holiday, and struggling to reintegrate into your life, or just about to leave, and concerned about having the Post- Holiday Blues when you get back, grant yourself compassionate ‘Re-Entry’ time. Don’t push yourself too hard to resume. Allow yourself the chance to process the experience you have had, to allow the images and experiences to percolate through your mind. These transitional times are sometimes uncomfortable. Don’t fight it. Give yourself a break.

Happy reintegration,

EF

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Inspiration Monday: Planner Smorgesbord

I’m still in the midst of Bear energy at the moment, only more so, because last week, after I wrote my last post, I went down with labyrinthitis, a nasty inflammation of the part of the inner ear that controls balance.  The result is dizziness, nausea and on occasion, terrifying episodes of vertigo. Controllable, as it turns out, but I’ve had better times.  At present, I am living with a kind of low level seasickness which, whilst its not very pleasant, is at least managable.

Reading is intermittently a problem, but I have been surfing the net a bit, and I thought I would share a few pages I have been enjoying lately, just to keep you going until my brain comes back enough to write something  more coherent!   But before we begin, I should start with all my cards on the table:

Confession:  I am a Stationery addict!

I’ve been having a bit of a planner fetish lately.  I’ve always been very fond of Philofaxy, which is the filofax addict’s dream.  Somehow, it doesn’t fulfil my passion for the visual, and I’ve always found filofaxes too rigid in their forms to really work for me.

What delight, then, to discover Staples’ ARC discbound system, which combines the flexibility of a loose leaf format like filofax with the aesthetics and practicality of a notebook.

It is very annoying that the gorgeous Martha Stewart aqua coloured ARC binders that are all over the blogosphere at the moment are not available in the UK.  I’m trying to work out how I can get hold of one.  In the meantime, have a drool at what Jen at IHeart Organizing has done with hers – it is irresistable!  (She does a blog planner too, which I am head-over-heels for.)

I love what Jackie and Michelle at A Creative Operation are doing with theirs!

If you want something more creative and visually oriented than the usual planners, take a peek at Right-Brain Planner.  I’m not sure I could aspire to such heights of visual complexity, but its pretty breathtaking, and shows that you don’t have to conform to what Filofax says your diary should look like.

If you fancy going right back to basics, you can’t do batter than iHanna’s tutorial on how to make your own!

If you want to go the whole hog, and plan your entire 2014, then do what I do and treat yourself to Leonie’s Amazing Biz and Life Planner.  This is the third year I’ve used mine and I really love it as a way of focussing on what you want.

And of course, don’t forget Jennifer Louden’s Life Organiser.  I use it religiously every Sunday.  Fact.

Meanwhile, being a bit compromised in the moving-about-without-falling-over department at the moment, I’ve been hanging my nose over the Organised Portable Home Office at ‘I’m an Organizing Junkie’.  Somehow I have got to make that one work so I don’t spend my whole life struggling up and down the stairs to find notebooks or binders when I’m working on the sofa instead of at my desk!

On that note, dear readers, I am going off to think about what to write about in my next post, but I hope that this one has fed your inner planner addict!

Happy creating,

EF

How do you want to feel?

“Be willing to look at your own life and want more for yourself without beating yourself up or making it about another self-improvement plan.” -Jennifer Lounden

Jennifer Louden’s recent post about Freedom from Self-Improvement seems completely apposite right now, in the run-up to Christmas, when we are all feeling the ‘we’re not worthys’ very badly.

Everyone else seems to have a nicer house, prettier, more stylish decorations, tastier cocktail treats, better fashion sense, better-behaved kids.  My own melt-down usually comes with present-wrapping.  Everyone these days makes present wrapping into an art form.  Me, I struggle to fold neat corners in my artfully chosen, blends-with-the-bauble-colour-scheme wrapping paper, never mind the hand-cut decorative snowflakes and layers of gauzy ribbon that some people cook up!

Christmas is a bunch of big red emotional triggers for me anyway.  So right now, I am choosing how I want to feel, and doing only those things that make me feel the way I want.

Sounds too good to be true?  Too many SHOULDS on your plate to even think its possible?

Remember, you always, always have a choice.

In the last post, I was talking about Intentions as an alternative to goals.  There is a process to setting intentions, and it starts with this:

How do you want to feel?

I found this exercise in Danielle LaPorte’s excellent book, The Firestarter Sessions.  It is another book I heartily recommend, and if you want to know how to do it properly, I suggest you grab a copy and check out the worksheet on page 73.

Journal Exercise:

Take some time with your journal.  Write about the feelings that give you a sense of wholeness, enoughness, satisfaction, happiness.  How do you want to feel about yourself?  How do you want others to see you?  What qualities do you admire in yourself and others?

Come up with between three and five words that describe how you want to feel/be in your life.

Mine are:

Radiant

Calm

Wise

Joyful

Creative

Take your time over this.  Make a long list, if you like, and sit with it for a while, weeks if necessary.  Then hone it, edit it, pick and choose until you come up with a series of words that describe heart of who you are.  How do you want to feel in the future?  What symphony do you want to start in your heart?

Key to this part of the process is NOT BEATING YOURSELF UP.

Choose words that resonate with you.  Not what other people would like you to be, or what you think you OUGHT to feel.  You are shaping your life, your coming year.  What feelings do you want to feel?

This is not about self improvement.  It is about self-actualisation.  It is about being fully and deeply yourself.  And by being fully yourself, you can let your innate creativity loose.  You can choose your creative direction and flow with it.

For more on this, check out Danielle LaPorte’s website.

In the next post, I will be talking about your word for the New Year

Happy Journaling,

EF

For Creativity, Press The ‘OFF’ Button Now

This morning, my part of the UK was hit by the worst Atlantic storm in some years.  Trees came down, houses flooded, power cables snapped, cars were crushed, trains and planes came to a standstill, and double decker buses were lifted off their wheels.  It was not nice.  Its over now, blazing across the county in under three hours, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.

Which got me thinking, you will not be surprised to hear.

Husband and I spent most of yesterday glued to various forms of news media, trying to gauge the progress and destructive force of Storm St Jude, working out which hatches to batten down, what damage might ensue, and whether, in Husband’s case, it was sensible to cancel his 9am lecture this morning. (He did, and I think it was the right decision).  The upshot of all this digital frenzy was that I didn’t get anything much done.  Which was an annoying waste of a whole day.  And made me think about something I had read a few days earlier:

I came across the work of Linda Stone, and in particular, her term ‘Continuous Partial Attention’, which is when we multitask cognitive functions such as talking with a friend at coffee whilst checking our email on our android under the table, surfing the internet when we are on the phone, and all those other digital things we do these days that we never used to.  Linda Stone says:

“Continuous Partial Attention involves an artificial sense of constant crisis, of living in a 24/7, always-on world.  It contributes to feeling stressed, overwhelmed, overstimulated and unfulfilled; It compromises our ability to reflect, to make decisions and to think creatively.”

Lindastone.net/qa/continuous-partial-attention quoted in Sharon Salzberg, The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Programme for Real Happiness, Hay House 2011.

It compromises our ability … to think creatively.

Just think about that for a minute.  I did.

I thought about how long I spend on Facebook every day, how many hours I lose cruising Tumblr and reading fanfics, checking my phone, watching BBC News 24.  These are what Jennifer Louden calls Time Monsters, habits you fall into that eat up the spare time you have and leave you feeling rushed and stressed out because you aren’t left with enough time to do the things you really want or need to do.  I have been known to lose whole weeks to my Time Monsters.  Yesterday, thanks to Storm St Jude, I lost an entire day.

I’m 46!  I don’t want to waste any more time!

Increasingly, I am finding that it is a luxury to switch off my phone and not look at my laptop.  I don’t want it to feel like a luxury to disconnect.  I want it to be the constructive core of my working life as a writer.  I don’t want to have to employ some kind of app to shut me out of the internet in order to finish a story, just because I can’t resist looking at yet another iteration of the same picture of Benedict Cumberbatch.

I want the sense of calm that comes with not knowing what is happening in the outside world.  The same calm I felt lying in bed this morning, listening to the wind riffling the roof tiles, blissfully ignorant of what speed it was going or when the next pulse of the storm was going to hit, courtesy of the Met Office website.

The question is, can I do this?  I caught myself the other day thinking that I couldn’t write down a snatch of dialogue I had going around my head because I didn’t have my laptop open.  As if a pen and paper weren’t good enough.

To be creative, in whatever art form you choose, from cookery and sewing singing, tango, writing or painting, you need time and space.  You need to reflect.  Being connected doesn’t give you that space.

For our own creative self-care, we need to make time to switch off.

I don’t want the stress of Continuous Partial Attention to wreck my creativity through anxiety, perceived comparison or peer pressure, or just from lack of time to create.  I want to make space.  Space to think more, reflect more, make more.

You can too.

Creativity Exercises

1. How do you use your time?  What are your chief Time Monsters?  What are the digital munchers in your life?

2. Once you have identified your Time Monsters, you can decide whether you want to continue feeding them, or jettison them to make room to do the things that really make you happy, instead of just keeping boredom and despair at bay.  Its nice to keep a few on standby, for days when you really are frazzled and just need to stare at the telly and not think, but that shouldn’t have to be every night.  If it is, maybe you need a major rethink.

3.  Consciously switch off.  Turn off the telly, your phone, your lappy.  Sit in an armchair and read a book, bake a cake, go for a walk, paint or garden or see friends.  Do something that involves experiencing the world directly, not digitally.   Use your time to think and create.

4.  Do one thing at a time.  Don’t surf on your phone when you are out with your pals, that’s rude.  Don’t have the telly on when you are painting (a bit of inspiring music might help, but nothing you have to think about.)  When you have a conversation with your mum on the phone, concentrate on her, don’t keep one eye on the news.  If something is worth doing, its worth giving your whole attention to.

I’m not advocating digital purdah, believe me.  The digital world has its place, but it is down to us to keep it in it.  I’m just saying we need to use our time more mindfully.  Which is what, from now on, I am going to try and do.

Happy Creating,

EF

Journal Friday: The Life Organiser

life org pages 2I’ve been enjoying Jennifer Louden’s The Life Organiser for a while now, and I wanted to share it with you.  It is a weekly practise that may offer those who struggle with daily journaling an easier way into self-expression.

Now I have to confess, I’ve got a bit of a thing about the whole Organising scene.  It is definitely a displacement activity for me.  I would much rather go out and drool over new Filofaxes than actually do the work to sort out my office.  I love stationery.  I love notebooks.  I love books about how to organise your life.  I love the websites too.  Call me a GTD addict.  It cons me into thinking I’m actually getting something done.  I am sure many of you can relate to that!

Lately, though, I have been wrestling with something of a mid-life crisis, and that, together with the complexities of actually writing on a regular basis for this website, as focussed my attention on the real core of the whole productivity mindset:

 Intention

Life Coaches and self-development gurus go on about formulating your life goals, having a vision, a mission statement, working towards SMART goals, and all that stuff.  Achievement, in other words.  All of which is great of you actually know where you are going, and what you want.

But what if, like me, you are about to fall off the edge of 45, and still don’t have a clue what you want to do when you grow up?

Deciding what direction you want to push your life in is a huge project.  It can feel overwhelming.  Jennifer Louden’s approach is more subtle and manageable.  Building on her work with The Women’s Comfort Book, and other invaluable tomes, she has written a workbook that gives the reader a chance to get in touch with their essential self, cut down empty busyness and focus on what is really important.  On a week-by-week and day-by-day basis, she encourages you to think about what is going on in your life, here and now, and what you need to help you flourish.  It feels quiet, comforting and manageable.  And it offers you a chance to choose direction and improve the quality of your life in a gentle, incremental way.  So how does it work?

 The Life Organiser Book

The book itself is a delightfully satisfying object to handle, even before you get inside.  It begins with some explanatory chapters, and then sets to work.  Each week of the year has a two page spread, offering journal prompts and questions to contemplate and answer, inspiring quotes and the chance to list things you have to do, would like to do, and can reasonably let go of (the latter is my favourite, because it is the most thought-provoking for me.)  It is all laid out so that you can use the actual book to write in if you like, but there are inspiring examples at the front of how other women have made their own notebooks and digital documents into Life Organisers too.

My Life Organiser Kit

My Life Organiser kit comes in this cute little bag...

My Life Organiser kit comes in this cute little bag…

I was given a little bag which is just the right size to keep my organiser kit in, and my day-to-day dates diary and journal fit in there nicely too.

 I like to use lots of bright colours when I am answering the questions, so I include coloured felt-tipped pens, both fine and brush point, so that I can do that.  I have settled on a colour scheme that I like, with particular colours for certain subjects, and that helps me if I want to check back through the pages of my notebook.

... and here is what's in it!… and here is what’s in it!

The notebook itself is one I bought from WH Smith because I liked the cover.  It has wide-spaced lines and lies open easily, which is great if I want to do a two-page spread for a mind map or such like.

Doing My Organising

I try to do my Organiser on Sundays or Mondays, so I can set a clear intention for myself for the week.

I like to write in my journal or do morning pages before I start on my organiser because it clears my mind, and helps me to focus on my needs rather than my complaints.  I like to check my date diary or calendar before I start too, so I know what appointments I’ve got coming up, and how my time and energy will have to be distributed for the ensuing week.

When I have done that, I put in the date, and then write a section I call:

Where I am right now

This is a way of grounding myself, working out where I am emotionally and physically, and what issues are coming up for me at present.  It isn’t in the Louden version, but I find it useful to do.

Once I know where I am, I start on the actual questions for the week.  I always write out the questions in, in full, in a bright pen.  (This year I am using pink, last year it was orange.) I answer in a kind of stream-of-consciousness.  Sometimes a list comes out, sometimes a paragraph, sometimes a complete rant!  It doesn’t matter what, it is all instructive.  It tells me what is important to me at the moment, what I need to encourage and nourish myself, what I need to take notice of.  From these realisations come the lists of what I could do, must do, and need to let go of.

I have found it is important not to make long lists of things to get done or to force myself to release things.  Once you become prescriptive, these things become OUGHTS, and just make yet more burdens to add to those we have already.  I keep my list of things I could do for the week to a minimum so I don’t pressure myself.  Sometimes it is just a couple of things I could think about.

The lists can then be transferred over into my day to day diary and calendar if appropriate.  I can make appointments to do the self-care things I have identified, and book rest time in, which I need because of my health.  I put my ‘Let Go Of:’ list in the margin of my diary too, so that when I refer to it every day, I reminded of what is important to me.

Life Org pagesI think the Life Organiser is a more mindful way of keeping true to my intentions and needs than the endless To Do lists most productivity tools offer.  It forms a kind of accounting process that lies on top of my journaling, a means of orienting myself in a more concrete way.  Because I do it on a weekly basis, (although sometimes I miss, in which case, I don’t worry about it)  it doesn’t feel so much like a chore, and I look forward to it.  It keeps me in touch with myself and has helped me formulate my dreams and visions into doable agendas in a gentle way that seems far less scary than other methods.

I recommend it.  Get yourself a copy, and have a bash.  You might find it bridges the gap between journaling and Filofaxes that you need!

(You can find out mroe about the amazing Jennifer Louden here.)

Happy journaling

EF