It’s not about the tool …

I think it’s fair to say that I’m pretty impetuous. When we go swimming, I don’t edge in gently allowing myself to get used to the cold. Nope, I’m the one who’ll jump in, feet first (I’m no diver!)

When I decide to create a new thing or offer a new service, you can bet I’ll have designed the book cover or written the sales page within twenty-four hours – maybe forty-eight if one of the children happens to get sick!

And the same is true with technology. Which is why it should come as little surprise that, having discovered the wonder of the Morning Pages iPad and iPhone app, I’m now all over it. It’s brill!

That said, I know it’s not for everyone and last week my dad and I were chatting about alternatives. He had some frustrations with the functionality (or lack of!) and was thinking about what he might use instead. Evernote, a popular choice for many people, came up in conversation.

The funny thing is, I’ve tried really hard to like Evernote. I want to make it a useful part of my routine, there’s so much about it to love, but I’m just not a fan. I can’t even tell you why, I simply never stick with it.

But here’s the conclusion my dad and I came to: It’s not about the tool itself per se. The best tool is the one you’ll use consistently to do the thing you’re trying to do.

Take Morning Pages as the perfect example. Julia Cameron, the lady who gave the name ‘Morning Pages’ to this process of an early morning brain dump in her now classic work The Artist’s Way, is adamant that Morning Pages must be written by hand.

And, logically, I understand her thinking. But if it’s a choice between Morning Pages written using a keyboard or no Morning Pages at all, the keyboard gets my vote – every time!

She cites the example of lots of her author friends who write all their first drafts by hand. Each to their own I say. Personally, I like to type directly into Scrivener because the act of pouring the words out as quickly as possible, without allowing my conscious brain to interfere, makes for a fun process and stops me getting in my own way!

But what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. You have to find your own way, trial and error.

And yes, it’s great to read around, get advice and input from the people who’ve gone before us, but at some point we have to stop reading and start doing. And do so using whatever tool or technique will easiest allow us to do so consistently.

Consistency is queen my friend. It’s never about the tool.

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It’s only too late if you say it is

I used to say that I’m rubbish at losing weight but that’s simply not true. The reality is, I’m brilliant at losing weight – over the last twenty years I’ve lost the same 60lb more times than I care to remember! It’s always been a case of knowing what I needed to do and then, so long as I did it, the weight would come off. And then go back on again. And then off again. And then on again and … you get the idea! ?

Until this year. The first quarter of this year I found myself facing a bit of a health crisis. Okay, a fairly mini health crisis, it’s not like I had cancer or depression or anything else horribly debilitating, but I wasn’t in a good place. I was lethargic, cold all the time, my focus was shot to pieces and, to top it all, my usual routine for losing weight refused to make any difference.

I went to the doctor, hoping she’d tell me my thyroid was under-active (there’s a magic pill for that. Yay medicine!) but nope, the results came back as normal. Still though I felt rotten. As a bit of an experiment I decided to give up gluten for Lent. Just one week in I felt like a new person! Or, more like the person I’d always been until this most recent slump. Symptoms that I didn’t even know might be symptoms disappeared with the gluten. It was like magic!

Feeling so, so much better, I didn’t give much thought to my little weight issue. I lost a few pounds (probably as a natural result of not eating toast slathered with butter!) but then that was it. I didn’t care though. I was feeling great and that was all that mattered.

Just recently though it’s been niggling at me again. Am I really destined to remain in this slightly curvier than average frame? I’m happy to embrace my curves, I’m never going to be a waif, but I have been a bit slimmer and wouldn’t it be nice to be so again? And, probably even more frustratingly, why aren’t the things I was doing before working any more?

And then over the weekend I happened across a book called The Daniel Plan, with it’s focus on fitness and faith. That sounds like exactly my kind of thing, I thought, and so I decided to read it. I’ve only just started it so I can’t tell you anything about it yet but what I can tell you is, as a result of starting this book and picking at the niggle, my brain is trying to trip me up:

“Why are you bothering? It’s too late to start thinking about all this nonsense again! Be content with who you are. Why waste your energy on something that’ll never work?”

But it’s never too late, not unless we say it is.

And yes, my example today is health stuff but the same is true for whatever is important to you. You can try again. You don’t have to settle. And it is possible to be completely content with who you and yet still want to make a change. The two are not mutually exclusive.

And so today, at the start of this brand new week and the last week of the school year (here at least. I gather my friends in the US finished weeks ago!) consider this your encouragement to look again at those things that are important to you.

It’s only too late if you say it is so please don’t let anyone (even the little voice in your own head!) tell you otherwise. Thank you ?

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For those days when you don’t wanna …

No matter how much you love what you do, there are going to be days when it feels like a slog.

I got to my desk this morning, opened Scrivener and the latest manuscript I’m playing with and my head said, “meh!” The sun is shining. Both my daughters left for separate school trips in Europe yesterday. It’s Friday. Insert whichever excuse you like, it’s just hard work!

Ever the pragmatist, knowing I wanted to write to you, I decided to put the book to one side for a few minutes to instead poke at this “I don’t wanna” to see what might come out the other side. After all, I’ve got to believe I’m not the only person on the planet who finds herself distracted from time to time.

What do you do when your brain says “meh” but your goals and commitments say “must”?

Maybe, like me, you have an automatic tendency to rebel against the “must”, even when it’s a must of your own making?

Or maybe you know yourself well enough by now to realise that if you switch to something else for a little while before coming back to it, upon your return it’ll be lovely?

Here’s what I’m starting to realise … when your brain resists it’s usually for a very good reason.

Sometimes it’ll be because the thing you’re stalling on is out of your comfort zone. Your brain, sensing imminent danger, pulls out the big guns and before you can say ‘geronimo!’ you’ve stepped away from the metaphorical cliff edge and back into the safety of ‘same old, same old’. Phew! That was a close one!

Other times your brain puts the brakes on because it hasn’t got enough information. This is where I’m at today with this book. The fiction is coming along brilliantly. Charlie’s having an absolute blast in this latest (although her poor mother is being put through the ringer this time) and I’m excited to share it with you later this summer.

Nope, it’s the non-fiction that’s causing me a few headaches, simply because it’s a new format for me. Sure, I write these little offerings every day, that’s easy, but I’ve never published long form non-fiction before and the structure is killing me! Okay, I’m being over-dramatic, but it’s definitely been a learning curve.

Other times, your brain calls for a time out, simply because it needs the space to breathe. And it’s this third option that we all too often resist and try to push through. You cannot do all of the things all of the time. It’s not healthy, it’s not fun, and it definitely doesn’t make for a joyful journey.

The trick is being honest enough with ourselves to recognise what it is our delightful brain is trying to tell us when we get that “meh” feeling.

I’d love to tell you my brain is telling me it needs to down tools and do something fun in order to rest and breathe but that would be a big, fat lie! I’m resisting because it’s a little out of my comfort zone and I need some better structure for the content. To kick back and binge watch Game of Thrones would be doing both myself and the words a disservice.

How about you? If you’ve been going at break-neck speed all week, that “meh” feeling is a reminder to slow the pace down a little, be kind to yourself, and allow space for some fun into your day. For the rest of us, it’s time to face the fear and get on with it! ?

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On the best laid plans …

“Fail to plan, plan to fail!” – Benjamin Franklin

“A goal without a plan is just a wish!” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” Winston Churchill

I could go on but I’ll spare us both! You’ve undoubtedly heard all the usual maxims about planning and sure, it’s important, kind of, but as my dad reminded me a couple of weeks ago in church “no plan survives enemy contact!”

A couple of days ago I was complaining to myself in my morning pages that the non-fiction book was pretty tough going. I decided I needed a plan. (Or a better plan than the one I had at least!) The structure of the book is based on thirty days of content so I wondered if maybe I should organise what each day would cover before I wrote any more. That sounded like a very fine and sensible plan I decided.

But then in the very next sentence I realised something. Since I’m writing one every day and editing the whole lot before publication, what’s to stop me writing what pops in my head each day and then jiggling the order around to suit the structure after all 30 are written? Surely that would be much more in keeping with my process and, since no-one would read any of it until I was done, it wouldn’t harm the reading experience.

Boom! Immediately all the pressure I’d been feeling was gone. (Well, mostly. I still have to write the darn thing – more on that tomorrow!) But by creating in a way that matched who I am, it was much easier than trying to fit it into the ‘correct’ way of doing it as prescribed by an expert.

And that’s when it struck me … This doesn’t only apply to writing a book, it totally applies to how we do life.

How often do we plan and prepare and brainstorm our way through situations when, ultimately, we simply have to go with it, recognising who we are and the way we personally operate?

We do things the very best we can, within the remit of us being us.

You and I don’t have to play this game the same way as everyone else. When it comes to playing at life, who says we can’t improvise and play the tune in our heads? After all, it’s the differences in the harmony that have the power to make really beautiful music.

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What if the game really is won or lost in your head?

If you’re sat there thinking, “Well duh! Of course the game’s all in our heads” then you’re about where I was about two hours ago. But there’s a difference between knowing something, logically, and it actually impacting us at a deeper level. Sometimes the distance between heart and head is huge!

Bit of context: I watched a video this morning of a group of people jumping (or trying to jump!) off a ten metre diving tower. At a little over fifteen minutes, it was longer than your standard YouTube offering but uttering compelling.

One of my favourite bits was when one lady decided she couldn’t do it and started climbing back down the tower, only to change her mind and jump.

Then there was the friend who climbed back up the tower after jumping to encourage his friend who was struggling. You need to watch it for yourself really (yes, that’s the link to click to do so!) but there was something fascinating about how quickly the scared friend started resenting the one who had already jumped.

It was like watching little snippets of human nature play out in front of your eyes.

But it reminded me that this game really is won or lost in our heads.

What if you didn’t doubt yourself? What if you knew that that thing you’re considering jumping into couldn’t fail? What if it wasn’t too late or you weren’t too old or too, whatever excuse your brain keeps whispering to try and keep you safe?

What might that look like?

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The fifteen minute play thing that’ll unlock your best ideas …

When it comes to tech, I tend to think of myself as an early adopter. I had my first iPhone nearly a decade ago, before it became the norm for high school students up and down the land, our first DVD player cost at least ten times more than a basic model today (and it worked fractionally worse too!) and I’m eagerly awaiting the “paper tablet” from reMarkable. (Mine’s due to land late August. I cannot wait!)

But I realised this week that I can also be incredibly slow!

Because this week, for the first time ever, I started writing ‘morning pages’. (Okay, the very first one was ‘afternoon pages’ but eh, details!) You’ve probably come across this before but, just in case not, the idea is to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys if you prefer. The die hard fans might suggest otherwise but I’m more of the ‘whatever method means you’ll actually do it’ kind of girl) ideally first thing in the morning before you start your day proper, and just write whatever comes to mind. No editing, no censoring – and no need to show it to anyone else.

And that last bit was why it took me until now to play with this.

The idea of putting words on a page that would never see light of day sounded totally crazy to me. Why would I waste even just fifteen minutes every day writing something that I’ll never use?!? That’s madness! On a good day I can write half a chapter in fifteen minutes. Repeat that process every day  for a year and that’s one hundred and eighty two chapters gone to waste. That’s nearly three full novels! See? Total lunacy!

Total lunacy yes, until I actually tried it.

In just three days and a little over 1500 words I’ve somehow found myself having problems I didn’t even know were properly bugging me. I was vaguely aware of them yes, niggles and itches, but that was all. Better than that, contained within those 1500 words are some solutions. Sweet!

I still need to take those half-formed solutions and play with them a little, yes there’s work to be done, but the sense of clarity and enthusiasm is crazy. (Good crazy!)

And so I wanted to take a moment today to encourage you to consider those things you might have, until now, rejected or discounted as not being right for you.

(And yes, if you, like me, thought ‘morning pages’ was a total waste of time, a self-indulgent practice for people with too much time on their hands maybe, I’d challenge you to face that head on by giving it a try for a week.)

You might be right in your initial assessment but you might find yourself stunned by the difference and wondering why you never tried it before. But here’s the thing – you won’t know unless you try! ?

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What if we embraced the itch?

I don’t know if it’s simply because of a change in the weather, with the promise of summer serving as a physical reminder of the pace at which 2017 is running, or just because life’s feeling pretty steady so my brain decides it’s time for a shake up to keep things interesting, but I’m starting to get that itch.

Maybe you’ve felt it too? That niggle you get from time to time, calling you to take a look at what you’re doing on this planet and if it’s everything you hoped it would be. And it feels a bit like picking at a scab – you know you really shouldn’t but you just can’t help yourself.

What if we changed the dialogue around that niggle?

What if, instead of seeing it as something to be wary of, a flaw in our makeup, proof that we simply can’t stick to one single thing, what if we embraced the itch?

It’s a bit of a running joke between me and some of my closest friends. Spirally spiral we call it. (I don’t keep a running calendar of how often it happens but a quick search tells me May , June and October last year were all spiral months! That I’ve gone a whole nine months before getting niggly again must count as something of a record! ? )

What if, instead of beating ourselves up, we took the itch as our cue to spend some time reflecting on where we are and where we want to be?

If you’re a list maker, you might like to start by listing out all the things you’re delighted with in your day to day life right now. What things are you already doing every day or most days that light you up, help you feel at peace with the world, feel like they’re exactly what you’d like more of?

On the other side of the page (and this is the fun bit!) list out any things in your day to day life that you’re ready to do less (or none!) of.

(And in case you like printables, I’ve made you a handy dandy little PDF. Print it out or, if you prefer playing with these things on your computer, you’ll see I’ve made it editable so you can type and save it directly on your machine. Click here to download it.)

The first time I tried this I was surprised by how much longer the left hand column was.

Left unchecked, my itch had me believing that everything in my life right now was directly at odds with how I wanted it to be. In my head it was all about the things I didn’t want to do any more and I was miles away from doing the work that lights me up.

The reality is yes, there are things I want to bring more of into the world, there’s an impact I want to make that I’m not making yet, a message to share that’s not being spoken, but it’s definitely not all doom and gloom and certainly nothing that a few tweaks wouldn’t fix!

And maybe that’s true for you too. If so, great! ?

But even if the list on the right is huge and there’s what feels like a massive chasm between where you are and where you want to be, getting clear on paper what that looks like is the very first step towards making a change. (And yes, you really do need to write it down. Doing it in your head does not count – just in case you were wondering! ? )

Are you ready? Great! Choose ten minutes when you can play with this uninterrupted and see what comes up.

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Reminder: You are not a tree!

After moaning to myself over the weekend (in my head! You’ll be glad to learn that my long-suffering family weren’t forced to hear all about it!) about how I wasn’t writing enough, I woke up this morning realising that there was only one way to fix that – write more!

And it seems so simple but how many times do we talk (or think!) ourselves in knots?

Overanalysing, planning, following every and any random link on Facebook that promises to be the ultimate guide to getting all of the things done (or maybe that’s just me?!?) when ultimately, all any of us really needs to do is decide what the thing is (or isn’t – moving away from something is perfectly valid too!) and take steps in that direction.

And so this morning, as you step into a brand new week. take this as your gentle reminder (or kick up the pants if that’s more likely to get you moving!) that, if you’re not happy with something, now is the time to do something about it. Because you are not a tree! ?

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Is your life really your own or are you part of a bigger plan? What if the answer could be ‘all of the above’?

There’s a fun new game doing the rounds on Facebook. You might have seen this one already. You click a button, give the app the relevant permissions and, before you can blink, it shows you your Facebook status update ten years into the future.

Here’s what Facebook thinks my life is going to look like ten years from now …

fb

As an aside, I’ll bet my friends Sarah and Laura are going to love being dragged into the action! But I digress.

When I saw this on a friend’s Facebook wall, hers too was focussed on travelling and it made me wonder two things:

(1) Was the app sponsored by a travel company? and,

(2) What would I really like El from the future to be posting about?

“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese proverb.

Now here’s the bit where I sometimes get into a bit of a pickle …

Is our life really our own or are we part of a bigger plan? And if the answer is the latter, how do hopes and dreams and aspirations come into it?

Because about four or five years ago, towards the end of the year, I wrote a letter to myself, twelve months into the future. I wrote it as if everything had already happened and it was super inspiring. And then I forgot all about it and got on with my year.

What do you think happened to all the stuff I’d written down? Did any of it come true? If you laughed and guessed “no way” give yourself a gold star because, without exception, every single item in my letter failed to materialise.

I decided that planning was a complete waste of time, gave it all up as a bad idea and carried on with my life.

Until a couple of years ago when, after hearing Michael Hyatt speak at WDS, I decided to give his Best Year Ever programme a try. I did all the exercises (on paper and everything. I didn’t just write them in my head!) and came to the conclusion as a result that 2015 was not to be the year of fiction for me. I simply couldn’t fit it in with all the other stuff I was going to do!

What do you think happened this time around? Long time readers will still be laughing because, after a few months of ignoring the fiction, by November it all got too much and I started work on my first novella series. I ended 2015 celebrating the best year ever because I was finally a published author, but still none of the stuff I’d written down at the start of the year had come true.

Seriously, what gives?!?

Is, as I was starting to suspect, this planning lark little more than throwing spaghetti at a wall, waiting to see what sticks? Or could this big, amazing God of ours who purports to love us so much, actually have some way to guide us in the right direction?

And what does “right direction” mean anyway? Right for who?!?

Am I little more than a puppet on a string, being dragged around wherever the puppet master might have me go, or might I actually have some say in the matter?

After starting the fiction in November I decided that that was it for me and faith work. I’d been around the block way too many times trying to figure out what this work was that I was meant to be doing. That was it. I was done. And I meant it, I really did. I finished the novella series in March and already had ideas for what I would write next, a full length novel this time. Life was feeling great!

And then, much like what happened with the fiction in November 2015, the faith work started niggling at me again.

And you know what happens to a niggle when you try and ignore it? It does one of two things. Sometimes it packs up and goes away. And other times it simply gets louder and more persistent. I went from dead website to fully fledged new thing up and running and ready to share with the wider world in the space of two weeks. It was crazy!

Having gone through this experience twice now, I’m more convinced than ever before that those niggles, those things that keep on itching at you and will not let you go, are God speaking, trying to get your attention. To remind you that there are things in your life that he would love to have a play at with you.

But the even better thing I came to realise?

The stuff that niggles at you is always, without exception, linked to the very best version of you. The ‘you on a good day’ you. In the flow, doing work that lights you up and leaves you feeling purposeful and inspired. God never niggles at you to do stuff you hate. He doesn’t coerce you into trying hard at something that should really be on your stop doing list. It’s always the cool, wonderful, brilliant stuff.

All of which led me to conclude that, yes your life really is your own, but you’re also part of a bigger plan.

They’re not two distinct entities. They’re actually part of one and the same thing. How cool is that?!?

All of which leaves me with just one more question …

What are those things that are niggling at you? What’s it going to take for you to move forward with them?

(Oooops, yes, you got me – that was actually two questions!)

Limitations breed creativity. AKA: The real reason I love Twitter!

If you’ve ever heard yourself making the excuse that you can’t do thing x or y because of lack of time or talent (and thing x or y is actually something you’d love to do of course!) then today’s post is especially for you.

For the last seventy-something days I’ve been playing along with the 100 Day Project on Instagram. My creative thing for the duration has been a daily haiku, largely because, historically at least, I’ve been terrible at maintaining any sort of a challenge past the first week so I wanted to do something that I had at least a fair chance of sticking to!

It’s been fun and although, yes, I’ll be glad to have the freedom to say “Good Morning!” however I fancy once the 100 days are up, I realised this week that having those constraints in place has forced me to exercise my playful side a little more, as well as get creative.

Same with Twitter. I love playing with the characters, seeing how I can stretch and massage them to get as much meaning from the little space as possible.

All of which got me to thinking …

How many times do we decide to put off starting something, simply because we don’t have enough time or ability or energy? (Leaving aside that all of which are massively subjective of course!) If the things we put off aren’t all that important to our mental, spiritual or physical well-being then it’s not that big a deal of course.

But what if you’re putting off stuff that would make a day feel delightful?

What if that thing you’re relegating to “some day, one day, maybe, I wish!” is actually really vital to you?

Why would you not do that stuff??

Oh, you don’t have a full hour to dedicate to it and you’re probably not the best at it anyway plus, you didn’t sleep well last night so maybe it would be better to do it another time.

Nooooo! If you wait until the perfect time you’ll be waiting forever! It’s time to work with the constraints and do it anyway. You only have thirty one minutes? So what? You can do a lot in thirty-one minutes.

You’re not an expert at it? Whatever ‘it’ is, me either! 😉 Is it fun to you? Does doing it make you lose all sense of time? Does it light you up? Great! Sounds like the perfect reason to add more of it to your day 🙂

Constraints breed creativity. It’s time to work those boundaries to your best advantage and start doing more of what makes you smile.

Ready? Get to it! 🙂