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.

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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.

Creativity, Self Empowerment

Journal prompts: Know yourself

The practice of journaling regularly has allowed me to get to know myself in ways unimaginable.

There’s something about the process of writing our thoughts, dreams and fears out onto the page, getting them outside of ourselves and having them there for us to look at, that enables us to better connect with and understand ourselves.

My journal is a mirror I hold up to myself, reflecting back my deepest values, highlighting my darkest fears and loftiest dreams, showing me who I am.

Through this process I have gained greater clarity about myself, about things I never knew before; I’m a highly sensitive person, an introvert, I often let resistance and fear stop me from doing things but paradoxically I also believe that anything is possible.

lesson 7When I began my journaling journey, I didn’t set out to ‘get to know myself better’, it just sort of happened along the way. And while I’m sure there are other ways of getting to know yourself and how you tick, I have found journaling to be the most invaluable tool to do so.

It’s like an ongoing therapy session with myself that I always have a record of to reread. Patterns and cycles become clear, images, symbols and words are repeated, certain themes emerge.

And by seeing myself on the page, I start to become a character in a bigger story, distinct from myself. I find this allows me to learn about ‘this person’ with compassion and acceptance, without judgement.

In short, journaling has deepened my relationship with myself. I can now listen to that small, quiet voice inside – the one that accepts me as I am and comforts me when the world is too harsh, that tells me when something feels off, when I need to rest more, when I need more self-love.

In fact, the small voice inside has gotten louder and louder. I now no longer look at my life and wonder why things are happening the way they are happening. Because I have a deeper sense of who I am, because I know myself and why I think and behave the way I do, I have a greater sense of purpose and control over my life. I find myself reacting less and acting more purposefully.

This post is a lot more rambly than I intended, so I apologise if you’ve struggled to follow my train of thought!

>>> Prompts:

How well do you think you know yourself?

What practices do you engage in regularly to maintain a good relationship with yourself? It doesn’t have to just be journaling, it might be painting, meditating, exercise such as yoga or running, seeing a therapist, etc.

What practices would you like to try to create a deeper sense of connection with 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: Dealing with dieting

This is a bit of a controversial topic, and I’m talking about it with the understanding that some people will disagree and possibly even get angry.

I’ve touched on this before, and I can’t possibly cover the entire topic in one post, but it is definitely one of my most important lessons.

dietingIn my personal experience over 20 years, dieting has never, ever worked. Oh sure, it gets the weight off, and usually pretty quickly. But it never stays off. Even when I’ve attempted so-called ‘lifestyle changes’ – for example with something like Weight Watchers, which seems pretty healthy and reasonable.

But over the course of my 20 years of dieting and hating my body (yes, it was around age 10 that I realised I was bigger than others and it wasn’t a good thing) I’ve learnt that it’s pointless.

It’s the same old cliche – lose some weight, gain back more. Steadily, over this time, I have gotten bigger and bigger.

You may be thinking, and indeed my thinking was similar for a long time – that it is my own fault, obviously, because if I’d just stuck with it, then the weight would’ve stayed off.

Maybe.

But given how much I have loathed being bigger, I can’t help but think that if it was just that simple, then I would’ve kept it off. I mean, it’s not a matter of being ill-informed; I know how many calories I should be eating, how many steps I should be doing, what foods to avoid, what foods to increase, what exercise is best, etc. I think most of us do.

The issue is not with a lack of education (although there are many conflicting and often confusing dietary guidelines out there, such as less carbs or less fat, 3 big meals or 6 smaller meals, etc).

You could argue it’s a lack of willpower. But honestly, having to force myself to eat less than my body seems to need forever, well… that’s doomed to fail.

Anyway, I’m not writing this to justify why I am overweight.

From my journal:

We are taught that we must try to be smaller to be good enough – we are not taught to question this. I had to find the idea and the permission to question it on my own. I had to dare to consider that I am not flawed – the whole system is.

You see, I simply decided to stop dieting. I decided to stop looking around the corner for the next diet, the one that would finally work. We are taught that if diets aren’t working, then it’s a problem with us – we just need to try a little harder, want it a little bit more.

I call bullshit. image

Dieting itself is the problem. Instead, I’ve chosen to love my body and stop punishing it for being imperfect. Does that mean I eat junk food? Sometimes, although after learning about intuitive eating, I’m eating less of it. Does that mean I’m fatter than I ‘should’ be? Yes. Is my health at risk? Well, I’ve had blood tests and they all seem to be fine. Not to mention I usually exercise several times a week.

And exercise is another thing – I now actually just do exercise I actually love, which is usually walks in nature, yoga or sometimes cycling. Gone is the guilt for not pushing myself to the point of almost throwing up – instead is the pleasure of moving my body in ways that really feel good.

I would like like to lose weight, I’m not going to deny that. But I just plan to do it gently, from a place of love, and if I don’t lose much weight when doing things I consider to be reasonable and sustainable, then that’s that. I won’t be pushing myself further.

I choose to love myself as I am, even if it’s bigger than I’d like. I believe I can love and accept who I am, but still work towards positive changes in a (mentally and emotionally) healthy way.

I once did lose a lot of weight and got down to a size smaller than I had ever previously thought possible. But I was so miserable, questioning and regretting every bite, and so insecure. I felt fatter then that I do now. Even though I am bigger now, I have more love and acceptance for myself than I did at my smallest size.

I have nothing against those of you that choose to diet, or to exercise for weight-loss reasons. Please don’t be offended by what I have said, this is simply a lesson I have had to learn for myself, about my own life.

To quote one of my favourite health at every size bloggers:

You are the expert on you.  You do not need to pay someone to tell you how to live your life.  You do not need to follow a blogger or weight loss success story to know what to eat or how to exercise.  There is no point in any of it unless it is something you personally are willing to continue for life.  What that is is necessarily different for each person.

I’ll leave you with that.

>>> Prompt:

What does the word ‘diet’ mean to you? Have you ever dieted? Did you manage to keep the weight off? If so, how? If not, why not?

If you were to reject the idea of dieting and perfecting your body, what else could you spend that energy on? How might your life look different if you chose to accept your body as it is, and focus on other things?

In what ways do you treat your body poorly? How could you do this less?

In what ways do you show your body that you love it? How could you do this more?

If you’re interested in learning more about some of the things I’ve discussed, I recommend the following resources:

Online:

Books:

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: I am enough

It took me a long time to learn this, but when I sat down to think about what I’ve learned in my 30 years on this planet, this was the first that came to mind.

lesson 1

We are repeatedly told by our culture that we are not enough – not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, funny enough, flawless enough, sophisticated enough, and so on. We are told we don’t do enough, we don’t achieve enough, we don’t help enough, have enough, etc. I could write so many many more examples.

But I realised something, which I noted in my journal:

It doesn’t matter how much I am overweight, how bad my skin is, how many dimples are on my thighs. It doesn’t matter that I’m ‘overly sensitive’ or ‘cry too easily’, that I’m terrible at geography, that I make mistakes, that I get irrationally angry at other drivers and am not doing enough to save the planet. I AM STILL ENOUGH.

You are too. Just as you are, right now. You don’t need to do more, change, improve, acquire more, shrink down or expand. You are enough as you are now.

Accepting yourself as you are now doesn’t mean you aren’t able to change. It doesn’t mean you must stay the way you are. But it means that you can see your inherent value right now, and any changes you do make will come from a place of love.

>>> Prompt:

I found it incredibly liberating to list all the things I tend to judge myself for and then write in bold letters, I AM STILL ENOUGH. Try this in your journal. In what ways do you sometimes thing you aren’t enough? Write them all out, then declare, I AM STILL ENOUGH!

If you realised you were enough, as you are, right now, how would your life be different? What would you do differently?

What are some things you could do each day, to show yourself that you love and accept yourself just as you are, right now?

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.