Self Empowerment

Why you should guard your alone time

The word ‘introvert’ used to really freak me out. I would picture someone at home alone, with no one to love, no one to share things with. It made me think of lonely people. So I wanted to be an extrovert – socialising often, partying with friends on the weekend, always looking to extend my social circle. Choosing time out with others over time alone, regardless of how tired I was, regardless of whether or not I felt a true connection with them.

No wonder I was unhappy. I was disconnected from myself, acting against my true nature.

Since developing my creative journaling practice and my online business, I have opened a creative channel inside me that longs to be expressed. When I’m out with others I often find my mind drifting to my creative projects – the things I’m truly excited about. Things I tend to work on alone.discover yourself

When I started to dive deep in my journal, I realised that I am very much an introvert at heart – and I love it. I felt the pressure of socialising all the time fall away. It turns out that spending time alone with myself is awesome.

But this can also present a problem. I often get invited to social engagements, catch-ups, parties and so on. Now I find myself carefully guarding my alone time. I want to turn down a lot of these events to be alone and work on my creative projects, but it’s hard. It’s hard to explain to people.

Most often I just say I’m busy. Because I am busy. With myself.

It’s funny how bad we feel turning down others or cancelling on friends when we regularly do it to ourselves. It’s something I’m really working on – if I want to spend time alone instead of going out, then I say no. Brene Brown has this fantastic saying:

Choose discomfort over resentment.

Choose the discomfort of saying no at that moment, rather than the resentment you will feel later if you agree to something you don’t really want to do.

For me it used to be about what my friend calls ‘FOMO’ – fear of missing out. I used to worry that friends would have an amazing night out without me. So I would go along, just in case, even though most of the time I would be longing to come home well before the others.

I’ve now realised that years of missing out on spending time with myself has been more damaging than missing out on one or two great nights out.

By embracing my inner introvert and indulging in alone time, I’ve reconnected with myself. I’ve learnt things about myself that I never knew. I’ve stopped worrying about offending people if I turn them down – those that really love me understand.

I find using Brene’s mantra helps me to say no to the things I don’t want to do. I’m working on not feeling guilty if I choose time with myself over others, allowing myself the time and space I need to unwind, create and dream.

And it’s lovely.

Creativity

Practice makes imperfect

If you’ve read anything else on this blog, you will likely know that I have a bit of an issue with perfectionism – I struggle when things are imperfect.

Actually, I think a lot of people do. I think it’s symptomatic of an age of airbrushing and increasingly ridiculous expectations.

Nowhere is my need for perfection more apparent than in my creative work – my creative journaling, my painting, my writing.

Visual journaling is a real challenge for me because it’s supposed to be about letting go, playing, exploring and expressing yourself. It makes sense that the outcome of this process is not always pretty. In fact, I feel like visual or creative journaling is more about the process than the outcome – just like regular written journaling.

I don’t sit down to write a journal entry so I have a pretty page of words, I write because it helps me to process things and is healing. Visual journaling should be the same.

It’s been a real conscious process for me with my perfectionism in my art. I have to regularly remind myself that it doesn’t have to be perfect, that it’s ok to make a mess and not know where it is going. It is a very uncomfortable feeling, playing with my paints and not knowing how it will turn out. I have to deliberately sit with that uncomfortable feeling.

But I’ve discovered that the best way to get past this is practice. And I don’t mean practice so that I get better artistically, I mean practice being ok with not being perfect. Practice being in that state of discomfort. Practice being imperfect.

The more I can work in my journal and actively continue despite feeling uncomfortable and even fearful of what will happen, the more I start to become desensitized to that feeling. The less power it has over me. The more I can create freely.

Someone once told me that discomfort is a sign that we are challenging ourselves, that we are growing.

So the feeling of discomfort, as unpleasant as it may be, is actually a sign that we are doing something good for us. I like this. It means that when I sit down to work in my creative journal and I feel uncomfortable with not knowing how it will turn out, with making mistakes, that I’m actually growing.

Maybe one day there will even come a time when I can play without fear of what will happen. Maybe, with practice.

Creativity

Journal prompts: Accepting the actions of others

I can’t control anyone but myself. This has been one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt.

The thing is, we want to be able to control those around us. It might not seem that way – you may even feel a little disgusted at the thought – but really, we want other people to behave in ways that please us.

This can come in many forms. It might be as simple as other people being polite to us, or it might be more complex, like having the people we love, love us back.

But I have learnt one thing when it lesson 27comes to others: people are pretty much going to do what they want.

Even if you really want someone to do something for you, to act a certain way, or feel a certain way – and you may even convince them to, for a little while – at the end of the day, people will do what they want. They might do what you want for a while, then resent you for it, then do what they want. But ultimately, you can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do.

I have found so much more peace in my life by letting go of the need to control others, of wanting things to go a certain way. I put my trust in those closest to me and know that they won’t let me down and if they choose to do something that I disagree with or that upsets me, well, I can’t stop them. I can be upset for a while or annoyed, but I have to let go. Then I have a choice of whether or not I keep those people in my life.

We can’t change others – they can only change themselves. I certainly think it can be helpful to offer advice when appropriate but unless the other person agrees or chooses to take on board what you say (and it is really up to them whether they do or not) then that is all you can do.

What you can control are your own thoughts, words and actions. You can control who you spend your time around and what you do with your time. If you spend time around people who you wish were different, but you know they won’t change, then you can either choose to accept the way things are, or you can spend less time with them.

It is your choice, but all you can control is yourself.

>>> Prompts:

In what ways (subtle or obvious) do you want to have some control over others, or want to change others?

How do you think your life might be different if  you chose to accept others as they are without trying to change or control them?

Since you can only control you – what changes could you make to help you feel better about other people or relationships that aren’t as good as you’d like?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: The opinions of others

What other people think of me is none of my business – Wayne Dyer.

This is a phrase he has used often and it is so true.

Another way that Dyer phrased it was when he was paraphrasing Abraham Maslow, and stated that a self-actualized person is ‘independent of the good opinion of others.’

none of my businessI spent years trying to fit in and get approval from others. I used to worry about saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong thing, liking the wrong thing… so much so that I forgot who I was, what I liked.

Maybe it comes with age, I don’t know. But the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realised that what other people think of me really doesn’t matter.

So what if they don’t like what I’m wearing? I like it.

So what if they think I’m strange or weird? I like me. I’m happy with myself the way I am. That’s all that really matters.

There’s a line in one of my favourite India Arie songs that goes,

No matter what anybody says, what matters the most is what you think of yourself.

If you find yourself spending a lot of time trying to please others or win their approval, it might be worth considering why this is.

I know that when I used to feel worse about myself and have lower levels of self esteem, it was certainly worse. Since I’ve spent time and effort learning to love myself, I’ve cared less and less what others think. I guess it’s because my self worth no longer relies on their approval, because I give it to myself.

The way I see it, I’ll never be able to please everyone anyway. There will always be someone who disagrees with my decisions. So I may as well please myself.

Provided I’m not harming myself or others, it is totally up to me how I live my life. All that matters is that I am happy with myself and my life. Those who disapprove, well, they don’t need to be around me. They can take their disapproval elsewhere.

>>> Prompts:

Do you worry about what others think of you? In what ways?

Why do you think you worry about the opinions of others?

How would your life be different if you could live independent of the good opinion of others?

What is your opinion of yourself? Be as brutally honest as you can. What do you judge yourself for?

If it is negative, how can you work to change this – to be kinder and more accepting of yourself? One way is to write a letter to yourself as if you were your own best friend. It is very unlikely that they would say the kinds of things you tend to say to yourself.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Forgive yourself

I doubt not one of us can say we don’t have a single regret.

I spent many of the later years in my 20s feeling full of regret – for the things I hadn’t done (finished a novel, traveled the world, built a business, figured it all out) and the things I had done (studied the ‘wrong’ thing at university, lost friendships, hurt people, spent too much money, continually lost and gained weight).

forgive yourselfIt wasn’t a conscious choice to feel regretful about decisions I’d made, but if I let myself think about it for too long, I noticed an undercurrent of unease.

But the truth is, we don’t have it all figured out (newsflash: nobody really does), so we will make mistakes. We will do dumb things, miss opportunities and basically wish things could have gone differently. That’s life.

What matters is what you do with this. You can let these regrets continue to pile up as you go through life, creating a laundry list of reasons to feel bad, or you can shift your perspective.

Recognise that at any given point in life, you are only doing the best you can.

When I look back at my 20 year old self making foolish mistakes, instead of letting that familiar feeling of regret well up inside me, I look at her with compassion. Sure, she drank too much, didn’t try all that hard at university, couldn’t quite keep the weight off, and never finished writing her novel, but she was having a hard time. Being young and out in the world for the first time is hard. She was doing her best.

It took a long journaling session to unpack these feelings, but slowly I came to see myself this way – not some idiot who had made a string of mistakes and missed a bunch of opportunities, but a young person finding her way in the world.

If you look back on your past and feel you’ve made a lot of mistakes, try to be as compassionate as possible. Recognise that you were doing your best, and that it is never too late for what might have been.

>>> Prompts:

What are some of your regrets, mistakes, missed opportunities? What do you need to forgive yourself for?

How is not forgiving yourself serving you? How might you feel different if you forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made?

Complete this sentence: If I was to look at my mistakes through the eyes of compassion, I would…

Write a letter to your younger self. Offer wisdom, compassion and gentleness from your older self. Forgive your younger self.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Being different is a good thing

We spend most of our youth trying to fit in, to find our place with others.

And if we feel we are perceived as different in some way, often that’s cause for concern. We don’t want to be different – we want to be the same as everyone else.

I know I spent a lot of my youth this way – trying to fit in with my peers. As I’ve mentioned before I always felt a little bit different, and this lead me to think that there was actually something wrong with me.

being differentIt wasn’t until I became an adult (and by this I mean, around age 29) that I actually realised that being different is ok. Not just ok, but good.

Instead of seeing all my strange quirks as imperfections or flaws, I started to see them as characteristics of who I am. These are the things that make me, me.

It helps to be surrounded by people who love you unconditionally. And if you find that you are not surrounded by these kinds of people, then you need to be that person to yourself.

There is nothing wrong with you. You are awesome just as you are – even (especially) if that means you are different from others. You only get one life on this planet, why would you want to spend it being like someone else?

I love this Oscar Wilde quote, even if it is over-used:

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

If you struggle to accept your differences, the sooner you can make peace with them, the sooner you will feel a million times better about yourself.

>>> Prompt:

What are the things that make you different from others?

Which of these things do you already celebrate? Why?

Which of these are you unhappy about? How can you change your perspective about them?

Pick a person you admire. List all the things that make them different, and write about why you admire these things about them.

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Vulnerability

Since embarking on my creative journey, I’ve been very interested in fear and courage. I had never really given vulnerability much thought, until I stumbled across the work of Brené Brown and her talk The Power of Vulnerability.

Our culture places a high value on having it all together, being strong and not being seen as weak. But I’ve found that allowing myself to be vulnerable, and sharing that vulnerability with others, has changed the way I approach my life.

Instead of feeling fearful and letting vulnerabilitythat stop me from doing things, I can acknowledge the fear and accept that it’s ok to feel that way. Instead of trying to make things perfect and get everything right, I accept making mistakes and feeling a bit uncomfortable about that.

Why?

Because with vulnerability comes growth. Vulnerability comes when we take a risk, dare to do something, and push ourselves out of our comfort zone.

And, vulnerability leads to real connections with people. It is the act of opening ourselves up to be seen, as we really are, that allows others to connect with and love us as we really are.

It is not a sign of weakness in any sense – how can taking a risk and daring to make a mistake be a sign of weakness?

As Brené Brown says:

Vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.

One thing about our imperfections is that we often try to hide them from others – we feel vulnerable when they are exposed. I have found it incredibly empowering to share my imperfections with others – especially on my blog and through my art. It allows me to take control of who I am, and embrace all parts of me. And, it helps others to see their imperfections are perfectly ok, and when they reach out to tell me that seeing me be vulnerable has helped them, well that makes it all worthwhile.

Obviously, there is a time and a place to be vulnerable. Pouring your heart out to your boss or the guy who makes your coffee simply because you want to be vulnerable is probably not the best idea. You need to consider who you can be vulnerable with, especially to begin with. Think carefully about who you trust to support you as you share a little more of yourself.

How can you practice vulnerability?

  • Try saying no to something when that’s what you really want
  • Tell someone how you really feel
  • Let another person see a talent or skill you have
  • Share an embarrassing story of yours
  • Tell someone what you are afraid of
  • Share your biggest dreams and hopes with someone

>>> Prompts:

What does the word ‘vulnerability’ mean to you? What does vulnerability feel like or look like to you? Does it have any negative associations? Write about this.

Write about a time that you have felt vulnerable.

How could you see vulnerability being a strength? Why might you want to include more of it in your life? Explore this idea. (If you’re stuck on this one, I really recommend Brené Brown’s work.)

In what ways would you like to (safely) allow yourself to be more vulnerable? Who could support you in this?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Move your body

I’m going to come right out and say it: I don’t like to exercise.

I’m not exactly the fittest person in the world. I don’t enjoy running and I loathe going to the gym (I can’t think of anything more absurd than driving to the gym to walk on the treadmill).

But that doesn’t mean that I hate moving my body. I’ve found ways to do so that I enjoy.

move your bodyIt took me a while to get to this place, though. Because I used to be so focused on losing weight, I exercising solely for this purpose. It was all about burning the most calories, regardless of how much I might have hated every second of it. Exercise was simply a chore that needed to be ticked off the list to remove a little more guilt for being bigger.

Funnily enough, I’ve never really managed to maintain a regular exercise routine. I guess that’s because I kept forcing myself to do things I didn’t enjoy.

At around the same time I quit dieting, I also quit forcing myself to do exercise I didn’t enjoy. Now, I move my body only in ways that bring me joy.

Does that mean I’m not burning the most possible calories? Yep.

Does that mean I’m not the slimmest, fittest person ever? Uh, yeah.

But does that mean I enjoy the exercise I do? You bet!

So instead of pushing myself to go to the gym and run on the treadmill, I now go walking outside, in nature – with my pup. I do yoga using an app on my phone/computer. And when I have the time, I go cycling – outdoors. (Note – I have nothing against the gym. If you love the gym then that’s awesome. I just have something against forcing yourself to do exercise you don’t enjoy, which, for me, is the gym.)

How nice to finally give myself permission to enjoy exercise.

>>> Prompt:

What ways do you choose to move your body?

How do you exercise for pleasure, and how for other reasons?

Is exercise an enjoyable thing for you, or is it associated with negative feelings such as guilt or punishment?

What are some forms of exercise that you actually enjoy? What ways can you move your body that bring pleasure rather than pain? What would you like to do more of?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Sensitivity is a gift

I don’t really know how to say this without sounding dramatic, but it is the truth: all my life I have felt different from others. Even though I’ve always had friends and been part of a group of some sort, I’ve never fully felt the same as everyone else.

I noticed in high school that other people just seemed to ‘get on with life’ while I struggled with some of the most basic things – I would feel easily depressed after watching a movie, on a high and inspired for days from the words of a song, or I would take a comment or a joke to heart.

While other friends seemed to easily bounce back from breakups and bad grades, I would retreat to my room to let feelings of misery sweep over me. Not to mention I was easily overwhelmed and exhausted by life in general and spent a lot of time sleeping to recover. When I wasn’t sleeping I was writing, drawing or playing guitar.

I was told I took things too seriously and needed to lighten up. I was told I was too sensitive.

While I certainly knew that sensitivityadolescence is supposed to be a tumultuous time, I was also aware that I seemed to be having some issues that others around me weren’t. For years, I just assumed I was somehow defective. I learned to try and hide my sensitivity around certain people.

It wasn’t until recently, in the past couple of years, that I came across the term ‘highly sensitive person’ (HSP). This opened up an entirely new world for me. I wasn’t defective, I was just one of the 20% of the population who was easily overwhelmed and more aware of the subtleties of my environment than others.

For HSPs, the brain works a little differently: they are more likely to observe before acting. It is an innate trait that is often found in other species too – such as birds, fish, dogs, cats, horses and other animals.

Learning more about this trait also gave me answers in other areas of my life – why I am more likely to feel the cold, struggle to pay attention with a lot of loud noise around me, get easily overwhelmed when I have a lot to do in a short period of time, why I am easily moved by films, books, music etc. This trait also explains why I can’t watch really violent or upsetting films, and this also includes watching the news. Yes, I deliberately avoid the news because it upsets me too much.

But aside from these difficulties, I’ve learnt how wonderful it is, for me at least, to be a highly sensitive person.

  • I easily feel love, empathy and compassion other human beings, not to mention animals. While this can be draining at times, I think it is one of the best ways for us to function on this planet. Of course I get mad and impatient, I get bitchy at times. But for the most part, I feel a strong sense of compassion towards others.
  • I have a rich inner life. I experience emotions strongly, which again has its downside, but it means that I get to experience the most intense and fulfilling positive emotions. I get to be overcome with gratitude and joy, struck by awe or filled with inspiration. I get to look at my loved ones and feel myself full-to-bursting with love. And when I do have to deal with the intensity of negative emotions, they always lead to personal growth, and often give birth to new creative ideas.
  • I am a very creative person. Not only do I experience strong emotions, but I have a vivid imagination and big hopes and dreams. I allow myself to spend time in my own inner dream worlds and I often turn them into art or writing. Having a rich inner life allows me to be the creative person that I am, creating and expressing myself in ways that I can hopefully use to inspire others.
  • I can’t hide who I am. I am an open book and don’t do well at covering up how I am really feeling (I could never play a serious game of poker!). While this may seem like a bad thing, I’ve found it helps me to remain authentic. It helps me to stay ‘me’; to be honest. I don’t find myself playing lots of different roles or putting on different masks. It also means that I can’t stay in situations that make me unhappy for very long, which can only be a good thing.
  • I’m very observant. I often notice details and specifics about my environment, other people or situations. I remember things clearly and this has been very helpful in many situations. As well as getting easily overwhelmed by the environment, I am also easily inspired.

These are just a few of the things that make me feel blessed to be HSP. It certainly comes with challenges, but I wouldn’t be anyone else but me.

>>> Prompts:

What does the word ‘sensitivity’ mean to you? Does it have negative associations? Why?

In what ways do you see being sensitive as problematic? How can you reframe this view?

List as many ways you can think of that being more sensitive than others is a gift.

In what ways can you honour your sensitivity more?

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.

Creativity

Journal prompts: Not having all the answers

I recently turned 30.

Like most people (I think!), I spent most of my twenties trying to get it all ‘figured out’.

At 21 I left university, ready to start my ‘real’ life when I got my first job. I can’t describe the crushing disappointment that followed when my first ‘real’ job turned out to be the most mind-numbingly boring thing I’ve ever done, and I had to quit a few months later to work in retail while I figured out my next move. So much for starting my ‘real’ career.

What came next were a series of what I can only describe as life experiments: training as a secondary teacher for something to do while I figured out what I really wanted, loving then hating teaching so training as a life coach, quitting teaching to travel and study psychology, then back into teaching when that hit a dead end.

All the while I felt like such a failure, mainly because I didn’t really enjoy teaching but couldn’t quite figure out what else I wanted to do. I kept thinking, shouldn’t I have this sorted by now?

This was accompanied by lots of why my 20s were a bit of a messpartying and drinking as a way to escape (plus, aren’t your twenties supposed to be wild?) but that didn’t bring me much joy either.

And then I met my now-fiance. Finally, something going according to plan! But I watched as many people around me got married, had babies and got houses, while my boyfriend of 2, 3, 4 years still hadn’t so much as proposed.

What the hell was going on? I panicked as 30 loomed on the horizon, drawing nearer and nearer. I just wanted to have it sorted by my 30th. Surely by then I should have it figured out?

Well, yes and no. Sure, my boyfriend and I got engaged, bought property and are planning for our future. So I guess I can tick that one off. As for my career… well, I’m still in teaching, but since moving to part-time I’m enjoying it more.

And as for my ‘real’ career? Well, I don’t know. I’m passionate about creativity, journaling and writing, helping people, art… some of these skills get used as an English teacher but not all of them. I know I won’t be teaching forever, but I’ve yet to figure out what the next step will look like.

And you know what? That’s ok.

imageStrangely, I approached 30 with a genuine sense of contentment. Gone are the judgments towards myself about not figuring it all out, gone is the guilt at having ‘wasted’ my twenties (what does that even mean, anyway? I couldn’t possibly have gotten to this point without going through the experiences I have).

I’ve made peace with the fact that I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t have to. It must come from growing up, I guess – when you’re young, you see life as black and white, and you think it should be easy enough. (I once had a student of mine, about age 14, remark in surprise that I wasn’t married with kids by age 26. She declared that she certainly would be by then. Yes, I once thought that too, love.) But once you get mired in the mess of becoming an adult, you start to see it’s not that straightforward. I think the only reason this causes pain is because we cling to that childish notion of having everything figured out.

So, on my 30th birthday, I celebrated having made it through the bumbling, awkward, disappointing, exhilarating and confusing ten years that were my twenties. Here’s to not having it all figured out!

>>> Prompts:

Try to think back to the way you imagined your adult life would look as a child/teenager/young adult. Do you feel in any way that you have let yourself down?

What are some of the judgments you have about how your life is now? What do you think ‘should’ be different but isn’t? Why?

What are some ways you could show more acceptance and contentment towards your current life?

What are some expectations or judgments you need to let go of?

Bonus prompt for those over 30: List ten ways that your life has been better in your thirties than your twenties!

Note: this post was originally part of a series of 30 life lessons and journal prompts for my 30th birthday. You can access the rest of the lessons and prompts here.