What would you do if free of expectations or commitments?

It might feel like a stupid question. After all, none of us is completely free of commitments.  We all have things that clamour for our attention, probably multiple times per day!

But what if you didn’t? Play pretend for a moment. Imagine you were given a free week. Not necessarily a holiday because that comes with a different set of expectations, but a week where you could play with anything you wanted to.

What would you do? Who would you spend time with? What might you create?

Now here’s the thing … as much as yes, you have commitments, if you wanted to, you could probably find a way to get rid of some of them. Delegate or just delete. Postpone for a time, or do it once more but then no more. How you make it happens will depend upon the thing in question and just how much you really don’t want to do it any more.

And it might not even be something you want to stop forever. Pausing for a time is totally valid too.

Today is my children’s last day in school for the summer so this is the last email I’ll send you until September. I’m not stopping because I don’t enjoy writing to you – I love it! I’m pausing because I have three manuscripts I’m itching to finish plus lots of family fun to undertake. Pausing the daily emails for a few weeks will make space for the latter without compromising the former.

You can do anything – but you can’t do everything.

Which leads me back to my initial question to you. What are you itching to create more of? What adventures are calling you? Where would you like to go today?

Having identified what those things are, all you need to do then is find a way to delegate, ditch or postpone some of your commitments. Easy. (And I can’t wait to hear what you get up to!)

Know someone who needs an adventure?

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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What if there was no right or wrong way?

The last few days have been a little bit mental. I’ve been writing my Morning Pages, keen to stick to the process, but unlike the first three weeks, it’s not really flowed. Some mornings the words falling from my fingers have felt little better than flotsam, but even the junk has its uses and so I pressed on.

I use an app for my morning pages (I know, I know, Julia Cameron says you should write by hand. More on that tomorrow.) and at the top of every new entry there’s a little snippet of text, a piece of encouragement for the day. A couple of days ago this little note reminded me ‘there’s no right or wrong way to write morning pages’ and, given how stiff it’s been feeling, I jumped all over that reminder. It was perfect!

Sometimes it’s simply about showing up and trusting the process. Doing the very best we can, without judgement or self-editing. But this isn’t only true for writing.

How many times have you held back or waited, because you were afraid you couldn’t do it ‘right’? Maybe you weren’t feeling totally at the top of your game so you put it off until you were feeling in a better place?

What if, instead, you did it anyway? Showed up to the very best of your ability, from a place of honesty? How much more freeing might that feel? Knowing that you didn’t have to worry about what ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ looked like?

I’m sure it wouldn’t work for every situation (if you’re a heart surgeon or the chief engineer for NASA, I imagine getting it right is pretty important!) but for the rest of us, what if we cut ourselves some slack and simply showed up?

Just something to consider over your coffee. ☕️

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What a difference a day makes …

If you were around at the end of last week, you’ll know that two-thirds of my children have been galavanting round Europe for the last few days. They’ve had a fabulous time and while they’ve been away, Michael (my youngest) and I have been having fun too. Doctor Who in Cardiff. Two trips to the cinema. Meals out. It’s been great! But still, a little piece of me was in Europe and it felt kind of funky.

By 11pm last night, both were home again (yay!) but with them came the unpacking and the washing and the sleep deprivation. My eldest daughter was adamant she wanted to go to school this morning but I’ve left the youngest fast asleep, not daring to go in there for at least another two hours!

About an hour or so ago though I was hanging out (another!) load of washing, delighting in the warm air and the beautiful hazy sunshine and it was then that I was struck with a feeling of contentment.

Yes, there is A LOT of washing to get through, we’re all pretty tired, and the house is currently littered with half-empty suitcases, but it’s a brand new day, the sun is shining, and hooray for automatic washing machines!

Contrast this with yesterday when I was checking my phone incessantly for updates and struggling to concentrate.

Life really is a mixed bag or, as Forrest Gump told us, like a box of chocolates.

And so I felt compelled today to remind you, if you’re having a less than stellar day, to hang in there. Seek out support. Talk. Be kind to yourself. Do whatever it is you need to do to get through this bit.

And if you’re having a delightful day, relish the moment. Give yourself time to pause and appreciate it. Store up those memories.

Because if there’s one thing you can be sure of it’s this: If you’re having a terrible day, yes this too shall pass – but if you’re having a wonderful day, this too shall pass!

So enjoy this moment. It is a gift.

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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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If you’re ready to quit, read this …

There’s a plant in our house which, until last year, lived in my daughter’s bedroom. It was looking a bit sad and neglected so some time last year she moved it to the dining room where everyone could be responsible for remembering to water it. Earlier this year,  I noticed “everyone” actually meant “no-one” and the poor thing was dead.

Never one to admit defeat, I moved the plant to the window sill in the kitchen. My record with house plants is fairly terrible but I decided that at least if it was in the kitchen, it was so close to the tap, it at least had a chance.

Every few days, off and on, whenever I happened to think of it, I watered this dead plant. It looked terrible. It’s leaves were brown and falling off. I didn’t hold out much hope for it and when I looked at it last week, it appeared to be little more than decayed, dried up mud. After feeling guilty for forgetting to water it (again!) I gave it more water and thought no more about it.

Until last night when I watered it again and, to my utter astonishment, I saw it had grown baby leaves …

To say I was delighted would be an understatement!

You can’t easily tell from the photo but these little shoots are tiny, the biggest ones are smaller than the fingernail on my little finger, they’re really cute.

And yes, I was happy for the plant but more than that, they’re new life, evidence that, despite appearances, things are never as over as they might appear to be.

If this plant could speak, it would probably complain about what’s happened to it. “Look what you did to all my luscious leaves. What has become of me?!? I’m ruined!”

And yes, compared to eighteen months ago, that conclusion would be correct. Compared to what it was back then, it’s nothing but compared to what it was two weeks ago, it’s a miracle!

Logically, that dead looking plant should have been thrown away weeks ago. There was no reason to keep on watering it, it was dead. There was nothing that could be done to save it. But you know what? Never say never.

Life has a way of surprising you and so today, if you’re on the brink of giving up, take this as your encouragement to give it one more day. And then maybe the day after that, and the day after that.

Sometimes giving up is the kindest thing we can do, but for everything else, there’s always one more day.

Know someone who needs some encouragement?

Cygnets aren’t ugly, they’re just not ducks! ?

A couple of days ago in church, the poor little ugly duckling came up as an example of the need for transformation. I didn’t say it at the time (it doesn’t go down well when you interrupt to disagree with the person at the front! ? ) but the idea I couldn’t let go of was that actually that “ugly duckling” wasn’t a duckling at all, he was a baby swan. They were judging him all wrong.

I understand that it’s meant as a story of personal transformation, to remind us that it doesn’t matter what our beginnings were like because we too can be transformed into the mighty swan etcetera etcetera but, personally, I think we might be missing the point.

About five days out of seven I take the dogs for a walk around a big pond near our house. (As an aside, yes I did just have a conversation with my fella about ‘pond’ versus ‘lake’. I always call it a lake but I’m told that my dear friends in North America would snigger to hear this expanse of water that I can walk the perimeter of in about fifteen minutes described as a lake.)

This pond is home to loads of ducks and geese and yes, swans too, and last week I noticed mama and papa swan have had two babies. Have you taken a look at a cygnet recently? They’re not ugly at all, these little grey fluff balls are really cute! They’re just not ducks.

If we judge a fish on its ability to fly or a tree on its ability to lay eggs, both will always come up short. Same with our dear little cygnets. They’re delightful and lovely and really very cute in their own right, and it wasn’t until the ‘ugly duckling’ stepped into his true identity that he really shone.

Same with you and me. The sooner we stop trying to measure up against a yard stick meant for someone else, the happier and more content life will be. You are wonderful and delightful, God’s work of art and master piece, and he doesn’t need a do over.

And so today, consider this a reminder if you need one. Take a deep breath, pull your shoulders back and step into this brand new day as you: wonderful, delightful you.

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Does the beginning dictate the end?

Alert: Massive British stereotype ahead! Don’t say I didn’t warn you! ?

The weather here is weird! (And not the wonderful weird I wrote about last week.) After a lovely few days last week, today, if it wasn’t for the crazy humidity, would be bordering on cold. What’s that about?!?

It hasn’t stopped me working outside though. Okay yes, it was a nicer experience last week but it’s still lovely to be working in the fresh air. I have the sound of the beach in my ears as I write. I’ve just finished a rather lovely coffee. It really is, on paper at least, a little bit dreamy.

The funny thing is, the day didn’t start like that. It started with me feeling tired and was swiftly followed by my rushing around play errand keeper for my youngest daughter, all for no apparent reason as it turns out. (Don’t you just hate it when that happens?!?)

If the start of the day had been any indicator of what the rest of the day would entail, it was destined to be a horrible stressful kind of a day. But surely the very beginning of something doesn’t have to be all there is?

Take babies by way of example. They’re a lot of work. They eat, sleep, cry and poop. And sure, they’re kinda cute, but that’s pretty much all they have going for them. Their beginning isn’t all there is. They’re not destined to remain forever thus.

Or take the child who has a horrific entry into the world. We’ve probably all met mothers who relish telling their birth stories, clearly still scarred by the experience. That beginning can’t be all there is.

If in the big things, like bringing a whole new person into the world, we cut people some slack, why can’t we do the same for day to day life?

Right here, right now, based on this one snippet, this one moment in this day, today is brilliant. It’s like my favourite quote says:

“Every day may not be wonderful, but there’s something wonderful in every day.”

We choose what to give our attention to. I’m choosing right now, to notice the way the little breeze is making a blade of grass dance. I’m choosing to notice the gentle trickling noise from my next door neighbour’s pond. I’m choosing to notice the feeling of calm and contentment. I’m choosing to notice the warmth of the wood under my feet.

What if instead I chose to notice every time a car travels a little too fast down the road? Or if I chose to notice the occasional banging noise from three doors down where plasterers are working? Or if I chose to notice the areas of the garden where the weeds are getting (more than a little!) out of hand? Or if I chose to notice that annoying motorcycle that just put-putted its way down the road?

It’s all a choice.

Both versions of this moment are real, they’re happening simultaneously, dancing around one another and overlapping, but we filter in more of the things we pay attention to. (Yes, it’s that darn reticular activating system again!)

Whether your day started brilliantly or was a little bit bumpy, there’s always time to turn it around. You only have to choose.

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