Monday, 25 April 2016

You Want Happiness? Define It.

Happiness; the much sought-after goal for many, the epitome of success for others, that all-consuming warm bubbly feeling that we all pursue at some point.

Happiness is an incredible thing, but for some of us, it's as if it's constantly out of reach. We ‘just want to be happy’, and find ourselves continually agonizing over how we're gonna achieve it (and how we never seem to be able to). It almost becomes a relic on a pedestal, requiring us to do x,y and z in order to even get up to eye level with it. 

When we have an idea like this perched up away from us, we're not really making it accessible. We're using it as a measuring stick to evaluate ourselves - and when we realise where we're at - using that same stick to beat ourselves up.

What I've learned is, regardless what goal we're chasing, we need to understand what it means for us personally to have any chance of getting it. Success, beauty, recovery, love, freedom - anything we're seeking needs to make sense in our own terms. This enables it to really become ours.

So we can tirelessly say 'we just want to be happy' but the thing is, that means something different for each of us. And until we nail down what that actually is, it's going to remain chilling up there on that pedestal.

What's wonderful though, is how many things happiness can be and how limitless that list is.

For some it’s the simple things; a cuddle with a pet, a walk in nature, a good book, snuggling into a cosy bed, being with the ones we love, seeing them smile, hearing them laugh from the very bottom of their bellies. For others; happiness is accepting oneself, feeling a sense of belonging, creating something new, having purpose. Happiness is connection for some, and being alone for others. 

It's beautifully subjective and we each get to put our own diverse definition on it.

Discovering our own definition of happiness is pivotal in us actually attaining it. If we really want to get it, we need to begin the essential exploration of what this word means to us. 

Curiosity is often the crux of gaining clarity, so maybe we could ask:

What is our fundamental attraction to this word? 
What does it look like for us?
What do we think has to happen for us to be happy? 
Could we actually already have it, if we look a little harder?
When we think of it, does it mean being happy all the time? 
Does it mean we’re never sad? 
Do we need to experience all of our emotions in order to feel real happiness?
Are we actually just seeking to be content?
Are we actually just seeking some peace?
What will change if we get it?
When did we last feel it?
Do we just want to feel okay? Comfortable? Relaxed?

“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” Brené Brown

Some of the things that make me happiest now are things I wasn't able to appreciate before. Some are things I didn't even realise I had and some are new, amazing things that I'm delighted to be able to truly enjoy. Some days I know it's easier to find happiness than others and some days it's just gotta be created within. But at least, I know I have it there to connect to.

In my own pursuit, I've read article after article about happiness and I genuinely love it as a subject. I've learned that it's highly correlated with gratitude, connection and being present. I've learned it's 'an inside job', I've found suggestions of what to let go of to get it, what to start doing, how to think. I've read about what helps it and what hinders it.

But maybe I just needed to catch it when I felt it and appreciate what made up that moment. Maybe I needed to just stop complaining. Maybe we need to stop looking everywhere for how to get it and turn inward to see where it actually lives. 

Maybe we've got to knock it off that pedestal and realise that it's got little splinters in every little moment of everyday.

But until we get specific, we have ourselves chasing a vague ideal.

And how can we ever reach our destination if we don't know where we're going?

Saturday, 16 April 2016

30 Days of Change

At any time in our lives challenges can and will arrive unannounced at our doorstep. We know this. In fact, we're beginning to know a whole lot about these challenges.

We know that when we're struggling to keep our heads above water, we need to learn to help ourselves. We know that we need to collect the knowledge, understanding and self-awareness to comprehend our situation and improve it. Essentially, we get that we just need to learn how to swim. So with such an apparent foundation of knowledge, why do we still end up flailing?

Seeking to educate ourselves is powerful, it seriously is. Among other things, it opens our minds, strengthens our self knowledge and points us in the direction of progression. 

But we can only read so much. We can only Google so much. We can only face in the 'right' direction for so long. Sitting with a head full of information doesn't get us where we want to be. We need to get our asses moving.

I watched this Ted Talk during the week and I think it's a brilliant reminder that many of us could do with.
I strongly believe that learning is a fantastic asset. But I also realise that adding tool after tool to our toolbox is useless if we never do DIY. There's no better time to take the tools out (blow off the cobwebs) and begin to actually use them, even if our hands are shaking and it feels beyond uncomfortable.

Spring has well and truly sprung so now is the opportune occasion to implement some change; to nurture the seeds of personal growth - to actually DO something with all that accumulated knowledge.
So I want to suggest 30 Days of Change. With minds jam packed with all the stuff that's going to help, I reckon it's high time to actually do all that helpful stuff. 

These 30 days are entirely yours to decide what you want to change, improve or practice. They are yours and it's up to you whether you want to do something with them - whether or not you want to look back in 30 days time and be proud, even if it's just the tiniest bit.

Here's some suggestions to keep in mind but after that I'd recommend making it entirely your own project of progress. Think about what you want to incorporate into your day to day, what you want to try or what you'd like to work on.

Take Stock

One of the loveliest parts of that video to me was when he spoke about taking photographs each day. It meant he was taking the time to capture the moment. He recalls when and where he snapped it and to me that's a beautiful exercise in becoming present.

We rush through so much of our lives nowadays, I think it's pretty special to appreciate the simple moments and give them a place of importance in our days. Maybe the next 30 days will begin the habit of taking stock of the little moments that we enjoy in each day.

Personally I want to use this to get into the habit of taking photos, journaling and becoming better practiced in active daily gratitude. I want to take stock regularly and really appreciate the magic in each day.

Introduce Small Changes

As we all know, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This isn't about making a massive lifestyle upheaval or a radical sudden change. It's about creating a lasting pattern of difference that will serve us. The little things can be incredibly significant when coupled with consistency.

It could be a slight change in our daily routine, ten minutes of assigned self care, reading a chapter of a new book. Whatever you choose, make it manageable but make it matter.

Create Habits

When we discover so many ideas, suggestions and inspirations we can get excited to do try everything (or overwhelmed and do nothing). But often this inspired motivation fizzles out and we forget about it, returning to the ways we're used to.

Habits require consistent practice to stick so this is a fairly fitting time to cultivate the ones we want. Intertwine new habits into your everyday routine and keep at them.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Try something new, maybe try a variety of new things, but get yourself out of the comfort zone that's been holding you back. Do the thing you've been curious about, learn the thing you've wanted to know, start the thing you wish you could do. If not now, when?

Apply Specific Learnings

This could be the key time to master those learnings, that you know inside out but have yet to conquer. Incorporate practices that turn your knowledge into action.

If you're learning to be your own best friend, take yourself out on dates. If you're learning to overcome fears, challenge them now. Turn what you know into what you live.

Each Day Counts

This isn't a resolution, it's not to be seen as a pressure. It's simply an opportunity for consistency.
For me consistency has always been key to achieve what I wanted. That's not to say I didn't find it tricky though. I'd start and stop, have off days, want to quit etc etc. So take each day as a fresh one. If you forget one day just start again. New day, New opportunity. 

It could be thirty days of first days doing something. At least something will be getting done and that's something more than was before. 

The best way to learn how to live is to get into life. So what are you waiting for?

Sunday, 10 April 2016

5 Ways to Be More Present

Be present, be mindful, live in the moment - nowadays we're abundant in positive buzz words like this. These are the answers to our problems. Feeling depressed, anxious or stressed? Be present, be mindful, live in the moment or throw the icing on the cake with a good oul; just breathe

While of course this is helpful advice, it can be hard to connect to what any of it actually means. Sometimes words and phrases are used so often that they lose their definition in the repetition. So we end up sitting with this advice whirling around our minds and getting frustrated when we've no idea how to apply it. How can I be more present? What will that even do?

Being present means truly being aware, being connected to and being a part of the moment that you are currently in. You get to actually experience and enjoy it fully.

But I think for a lot of us, it can be hard to remember the last time we did actually experience something fully. We can go to amazing places, exciting events, see beautiful sights but even while we're still there the experience can feel like a foggy memory. We're there physically but we're not really engaged in the moment, we're not connected. And as such, that moment isn't ours anymore. We lose it, even while we're still in it.

Life isn't meant to be a fast-paced blur of half-appreciated experiences. There's magic in so many moments, and it's time to stop missing out on them. It's time to figure out this whole 'being present' business and make it work for us.

1. Pay Attention

We miss so much by simply not paying attention. We might think we are, but in actual fact we're distracted or our mind is elsewhere or we're thinking about so many other things that there's feck all attention left for what's happening right now. Whatever you're doing, give it the attention it deserves. Realise that you're not going to get anything out of it, if you're not giving it anything. How can you enjoy it properly if you're not paying it proper attention?

Whatever experience it is, make a point of noticing - the little things, the details, the atmosphere. Notice each element that makes up this moment. Even if it's forced initially, take in what's going on, what makes it the moment that it is and what you're experiencing from it.

2. Use Your Senses

A great way to become present is to use your senses. Wherever you are you can connect to these 5 little nuggets of mindfulness. What can you see? What can you hear? What can you touch? What can you taste? What can you smell?

Make a point of connecting to the moment via these senses. Listen harder, look closer, inhale the air deeply. Pick out points of interest that your senses can feast on. The note of a guitar, the aroma of coffee, the intricacies of a flower petal. In any event, you can decide to connect to something within it, just zoom in and find focus. It brings you out of your head and into the present.

3. Single Task

Multi-tasking may be admirable to some (and a clumsy challenge to others), but when we're not being present it can kind of just mean half-doing a bunch of things and getting little benefit out of any of them. Wherever you are be all there. When you're doing one task, just be doing one task. Everything you need to do will get done, but it won't all get done at once. Put down the phone, turn off the tv and just do the task at hand. Then you can move on to the next. Engage in your life the same way you want to communicate with others - keep eye contact, listen closely, respond, ask questions. Be an active participant in the conversation of your day-to-day. 

4. Affirm

For those of us all too familiar with the concept of the 'monkey mind', it can be tricky to pay attention to one single thing at a time. We can find ourselves getting annoyed by how easily we drift off into a plethora of irrelevant thoughts when all we want to do is be present. 

So put a stop to the tangents. Pick a mantra or affirmation and repeat. Even if your mind wanders off, bring it back and repeat that affirmation. Affirm what you want to be true 'I am in this moment', 'I am present'. Let this be the breath of air you need when you find yourself detaching. Bring yourself back. Take your mind by the hand and lead it to where you want it to be. 

5. Be Gentle with Yourself.

We may desperately want to be enjoying every amazing or even regular moment to the fullest, but we can't seem to shake the detachment. And that bothers us, which really just heightens the pressure and makes 'being present' a chore rather than a welcome practice. Take the pressure off. If you think about how long it's been since you last connected to a moment, acknowledge that it's going to take practice to make this a natural habit.

Plus - when we're focused on how detached we're sick of being, we can't empower our ability to connect. We end up getting caught up in the problem instead of sourcing the solution. Give yourself a chance. Don't judge how absent you've been or ruminate in regret for lost moments, realise that you're going to have so many more, deeper, richer and more thoroughly enjoyable moments when you nail this.

By constantly wishing for something better, or lamenting all the things that weren't good enough, we throw away what we have right now. You don't get to relive this life, you can't redo it, so pay attention to it. 

In life, sometimes we're just fiddling with our own dials trying to get on the frequency that is finally clear. The one where we can hear the message with no interference. That's how we get present, we make little adjustments and we listen out for the fuzz to die down. That long-awaited clarity will be so worth it.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

23 Learnings of a 23 Year Old

It was my birthday during the week, and as has somehow become my custom in the last few years I wanted to share my learnings. Every year brings something different and the more I'm engaging with life, the more I'm learning and really cementing everything I've picked up so far. There's always challenges but there's also so much excitement, experience and evolving to get stuck into. 

Through each mistake, each awkward encounter, each stressful situation, we can find the learning. We can change something for next time or we can just accept it as it was and move on. Learning is crucial for moving forward and growing in so many ways. 

All we need to do is pay attention. 

So here's mine as I take a look back, or at least, 23 of them :)

1. Trying new things is always worth it, even if just for that single experience of being outside your comfort zone. I've found it to open new possibilities and unlock potential.

2. I really enjoy change. And surprises. And exploring.

3. Sometimes decisions don't work out as expected, but that's okay. There's still something to take from them and there's always a solution.

4. The same places can transform when you look at them with different eyes (or different company).

5. Moments matter. Capturing and appreciating little magic moments, really matters to me.

6. Being human is okay. Crying is also okay, even if it's when sitting on a packed bus and for seemingly no reason at all - it is actually grand and it will happen, try as you might to avoid it.

7. I get defensive when I get afraid. (and now that I know that, it's pretty funny when I notice it)

8. Boundaries are extremely important. As is saying no, and valuing your own time and limitations. 

9. Every drop makes an ocean, every little ripple counts. Small things do matter, a hell of a lot. 

10. Blood tests aren't actually the worst thing ever. Especially when you can get the doc to tell you jokes as he does it.

11. People are incredible and interesting and accepting and there are so many good 'uns out there. Connection is crucial and I now love it.

12. I can be patient when necessary. 

13. I can do anything, but I can't do everything. Being a passionate person means really needing to strengthen the aforementioned (newfound) patience. 

14. Fear can be a loud liar but also a teacher. When we recognise it, we can hear what it has to say and what we need to do to overcome it. And then it'll have to shut up.

15. Overanalysing is an amazing waste of time. Keeping it simple, keeps it sane.

16. Owning it, means walking the talk and owning who you are and what you're about - and it's so liberating and empowering.

17. Self respect permeates so many of our behaviours and actions. It's important to keep an eye on where it may be lacking and adjust accordingly.

18. When you let go, you create space for better things to come into your life. Likewise, when one door closes, another one opens. 

19. Your energy introduces you before you even speak.

20. Open honest conversations are important to have and value. When you let the niggly stuff come up, you get to take control of wiping it away.

21. The past is best left in the past, but it's important to heal from it

22. I am so very grateful to still be here today to be able to write this. Everything passes and I can't explain how worth it it is to put the time into recovering. 

23. It's only going to keep getting better and better.

Looking back at last year's post there are some that I have learned again but in a different way or others where the learning has become deeper and more concrete. It's a continual process and I'm excited to keep having my eyes opened, to keep seeing things differently and to keep adding to my experience.

Twenty-three is set to be a good year :)

What have you learned today?