Book Review, Discovery

Discovering Shinrin-Yoku

Whenever we visit my husband’s family in England I really look forward to walking in the nature reserve near their home.

Formerly a farm, the nature reserve is now 33 hectares of wildflower meadows, woodland, ancient hedgerows and ponds. While we are visiting I walk there most days. I refer to it as my “happy place”.

img_8680.jpg

img_8672.jpg

During our stay this summer I was reflecting on why I enjoy being there so much. At about the same time there was an article on the ABC about shinrin-yoku, the Japanese tradition of forest bathing. Shinrin in Japanese means forest and yoku means bath. So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere. It is simply being in nature and connecting with it using all of our senses. (And, no you don’t have to get naked for it.)

Intrigued by this, I thought I would explore the concept more by reading Forest Bathing by Dr Qing Li. Dr Li is one of the world’s leading experts on forest bathing. He has been investigating the science behind why forests and nature make us happier and healthier.

Some people study forests. Some people study medicine. I study forest medicine to find out all the ways in which walking in the forest can improve our well-being.

In Forest Bathing, Dr Li shares some of his research, as well as others, into the health benefits of shinrin-yoku. He also outlines how to practice forest bathing.

Make sure you have left your phone and camera behind. You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savouring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in.

Last week I went forest bathing at a park near my home. I listened to the sounds around me. I stopped to smell the trees, the flowers, the air. I felt the bark on the trees, the wind blowing in my hair, the feeling of the thick grass under my feet. I looked closely at the leaves, the flowers, the sky. The only sense I didn’t use was taste (for obvious reasons).

IMG_8939

Cities are full of excitement, innovation and energy. But living in a city is stressful. And the more we live in them, the more stress we have. The more stress we have, the sicker we get. We have more heart attacks, strokes and cancer. And we have more mental illness, more addictions, loneliness, depression and panic attacks. And, of course, the more expensive our healthcare becomes.

img_8932.jpg

Anxiety and depression cost the EU about 170 billion euros a year. They cost America about 210 billion dollars.

img_8933.jpg

Forest bathing will help you to unplug from technology and slow down. It will bring you into the present moment and de-stress and relax you.

IMG_8936

(Yes, I brought a device, but only for the purpose of sharing my experience with you, dear reader.)

Afterwards I definitely felt more relaxed, peaceful even. I think I slept better too. Overall it was a really calming experience.

So, am I convinced? Yes. And no.

After all, it seems obvious to me that taking a few hours out of your day to relax will make you feel better. And walking in nature is definitely better than watching TV or scrolling through social media. I guess this is where the science comes into it. Dr Li talks about how his research, and that of others, can prove that forest bathing boosts the immune system, decreases anxiety, depression and anger and reduces stress.

Over the past few years I have been focusing on exercise, meditation and mindfulness to help improve my health and well-being. Forest bathing is definitely a lot easier to practice than the others. Maybe it is finding a balance between all of these.

And if shinrin-yoku is so good for us, it just strengthens the argument to protect the environment. Perhaps if a few more people went forest bathing we would have a calmer world…

My final summation? Give it a go, it can’t hurt.

Forests are an amazing resource. They give us everything we rely on in order to exist. They produce oxygen, cleanse the air we breathe and purify our water. They stop flooding rivers and streams and the erosion of mountains and hills. They provide us with food, clothing and shelter and with the materials we need for furniture and tools. In addition to this, forests have always helped us to heal our wounds and to cure our diseases. And, from time immemorial, they have relived us of our worries, eased our troubled minds, restored and refreshed us.

Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, Dr Qing Li, Penguin Books, 2019, ISBN: 978-0-241-37760-4

 

Discovery

I’m a student, again!

This week marks my return to university study.

It’s been a long time since I studied at university. Put it this way, Facebook wasn’t even invented when I went to uni. No-one I knew had mobile phones and only a few people had personal computers. I remember typing up my assignments late at night in the uni computer lab and printing the results on a dot matrix printer!

I’m going to be what they call, a “mature age” student. I remember those people – they were serious, focussed, and knew so much more about the world. I remember the 23 year old mature age student in one of my lectures. He seemed so old and knew everything. He even had in depth conversations with the lecturer about the state of Australian politics when I barely knew who the opposition leader was!

This time I won’t be sitting in lecture theatres or even seeing my lecturers face to face. I’m entering the world of online learning. My lecturer lives 7,600 km away. And my classmates will be all over Australia and some, like me, living in other countries. Not only do I have to make my lecture on time, I have to figure out the time zones and plan accordingly.

I’ve put off studying for a long time. There have been a lot of reasons (excuses?). I don’t have time (or want to make time). I don’t know what I want to study (not that I looked all that closely). I have other priorities (raising a child, a social life). I’m scared of failing…… hmmmm.

I’m still scared but I’m also looking forward to the challenge. I’ve worked for so long in the marketing and communications area I’m actually excited about the prospect of learning about business law, managerial finance, international business, ethics, governance and sustainability.

So why now? I’ve found myself in a position where I have time available to commit to the course work. And for regular readers of this blog, you’d be aware that I have been questioning my life goals and my career path. I believe that studying will expand my knowledge and experience, and perhaps open up new opportunities for me to pursue.

Wish me luck!

(Photo by J. Kelly Brito on Unsplash)
Book Review, Discovery

Summer Reading Frenzy

This summer I went on a reading frenzy.

Holidays, long flights, sport on the television gave me the opportunity to indulge in my favourite pastime.

Over the past 12 months or so I have been focusing on books that furthered the purposes of my sabbatical. Books that I could blog about on my journey of discovery.

Well, I have discovered that after a while these books can get boring. One reason why I haven’t blogged in ages is because I was working my way through another book of discovery. However, I got stuck halfway through. I felt guilty because I wanted to read other books but hadn’t finished this one for my blog.

Then I remembered my earlier discovery; there are too many good books in the world to waste my time on one I am not enjoying.

I am pleased to say after reading 12 books in eight weeks I have rediscovered my passion for reading for pleasure.

So what were the books that took me on my reading frenzy?

Cedar ValleyCedar Valley by Holly Throsby – Coming from rural Australia I have an interest in stories set in the Australian countryside. It sometimes helps with my homesickness. I’ve read Holly’s first book Goodwood and liked it. Cedar Valley didn’t capture my imagination as much possibly because it came to quite an abrupt ending. However, it was still an enjoyable read, especially as it was my first fiction book in some time.

 

One hundred yearsOne Hundred Years Of Dirt by Rick Morton – Another one based in rural Australia. This time non-fiction. I was somewhat disappointed by this book as I was expecting the author to focus more on his mother’s battles raising her children alone in the outback. However, I still found it quite interesting, especially his perspective on the lack of diversity of journalists (from a socio-economic point of view) and the implications this has on media news and reporting.

 

The Virgins LoverThe Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory – My other area of interest is historical fiction and Philippa Gregory is a champion of this genre. I’ve read quite a few of Philippa’s books (as you’re about to find out). The Virgin’s Lover was an easy escapist read which lead me to…..

 

 

 

The last tudorThe Last Tudor by Philippa Gregory – After reading about Queen Elizabeth I, I thought I’d follow up with the story of her cousin, Lady Jane Grey and her sisters, Katherine and Mary. I’d read this book before so it was an easy read and included more on Elizabeth from another woman’s perspective.

 

 

The other boleyn girlThe Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory – To continue the focus on Elizabeth, I then read more about her mother, Anne Boleyn, and aunt, Mary. By this time I’d had enough of the Tudor England and returned to 21st Century rural Australia.

 

 

 

Year of the farmerThe Year of the Farmer by Rosalie Ham – Again I went with a known author (Rosalie also wrote The Dressmaker) and wasn’t I disappointed. This “love” story was set around farmer’s access to water and government bureaucracy. Having lived in both New South Wales (somewhere in the middle of the Murray Darling basin) and South Australia (at the end) I’m particularly interested in the differing and competing perspectives of water use in this region.

 

Girl with a pearlGirl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier – As I was spending a few days in The Hague, Netherlands, I wanted to read a book set in the area I was visiting. I’d not read Girl with a Pearl Earring, so this was the perfect opportunity. It really added to my visit and was topped off by the chance to see the painting by Johannes Vermeer.

 

 

Dirt musicDirt Music by Tim Winton – Back to rural Australia and Tim Winton’s book Dirt Music was one I’d been wanting to read for a while. I almost didn’t read it due to a review of the book by someone who totally didn’t understand the background of the characters (perhaps he/she wasn’t from Australia?). Anyway I very much enjoyed it and now want to go back to the Margaret River area.

 

 

The tattooist of auschwitz.jpgThe Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris – Back to Europe again, this time the mid 20th Century. This book has been on the top of many reading lists and I was interested to read an account of someone who had lived though the horrors of Auschwitz. However, as I read the book I felt a certain sense of incredulity, that what happened to the characters was a little unbelievable. When researching the book further I found out that that some of the story, which read as factual, has been proven as incorrect or dramatic licence taken. This lead me to be somewhat disappointed with the book. I think if I’d known this before reading the book I would have taken a slightly different approach in reading it.

The kissing seasonThe Kissing Season by Rachel Johns – This was a random read. I woke up during the night and couldn’t fall back to sleep. I’d just finished the above book and needed something to distract my mind which was running at a million miles an hour. I’ve read the Kissing Season a few times, it’s a quick easy read, a love story set in coastal Western Australia. After two hours I finished the book and fell asleep.

 

 

The nowhere childThe Nowhere Child by Christian White – While this books starts in Australia most of the story takes place in the US. This is Christian White’s debut novel and I really enjoyed the twists and turns. Just when I thought I’d figured it out Christian throws in a curve ball. The Nowhere Child is definitely one book I will read again and I’ll be on the look out for Christian’s next novel.

 

 

Ask again yes.jpgAsk Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane – I found this book through The Bibliofile’s blog. The Bibliofile said “This type of book, with its detailed character sketches and focus on family relationships, is not going to be for everyone, but if you think it sounds interesting, you’ll probably love it.” It sounded interesting so I thought I’d give it a go. It definitely was interesting but I felt like there are a few too many unanswered questions, like why Peter’s parents didn’t like Kate? The big reveal about Peter’s mother’s past should have elicited some sympathy but didn’t really help her character. Did I love it? No. But I kind of liked it.

 

(Main Photo by Dan Dumitriu on Unsplash)
Book Review, Discovery

Busy, Stressed and Food Obsessed! by Lisa Lewtan (Part 1)

I am a work in progress and I know I’m not perfect. But I’m OK with that.

My blog post today falls somewhere between a book review and a diary entry.

I have just started reading Busy, Stressed and Food Obsessed! by Lisa Lewtan and am working my way through the “assignments” at the end of most chapters. Rather than review the book as I usually would I thought I would share my progress as I work through the book.

Chapter III: What is my story?

I grew up in a family where we were told to “eat everything on our plate” and to “not waste food”. Growing up in a family of five siblings with not a lot of money or opportunities to eat out our main meal was the basic meat and three vegetables. Treats really were sometimes foods. And if you had something delicious (bacon, chocolate or lollies) you ate it quickly so no-one could steal it.

Fast-forward to now; I can eat what I want, when I want. The trouble is I want to eat everything all the time. I think about food often. What am I going to eat next? When am I going to eat next? I eat when I am bored, stressed, sad, happy, relaxed. I eat to reward myself. Hunger is rarely in the equation but when it is, the feeling is magnified 100 times. If you look up the word HANGRY in the dictionary there is a picture of me.

Many of us get caught in the pattern of over-scheduling our families and ourselves. Your to-do list is your map. Your cell phone is your compass. We say we hate it yet we just keep doing it. We rarely give ourselves permission to sit down and reflect, think abut our choices and our true desires and schedule our lives with our dreams and long-term goals in mind…. So we just keep going and going, getting more stressed along the way. Rather than slowing down, we turn to prescription drugs, wine and food.

Chapter IV: What is keeping me busy in my life? Is it satisfying or draining?

  • Work, which comprises roughly 35% of my waking hours = Mostly unsatisfying (sorry boss)
  • Household administrivia (cooking, shopping, tidying, helping my son with his homework) = Mostly unsatisfying
  • Exercise and meditation = Satisfying (but only 1.5% of my waking hours)
  • Obsessing over what are we / what am I going to do next = DRAINING
  • Socialising with friends and family = Very satisfying (but this often revolves around food!)

Just like watching porn works to excite its viewers to want more sex, food porn excites its viewers to want more food! As a result, we are thinking, planning, and dreaming about food all day long. Is it any wonder we are all food obsessed?

Chapter V: Start paying attention. Start noticing conversations about food, pictures sent to you, billboards and commercials, and how often you find yourself thinking about food.

A snapshot of my day

Wake up: flick through social media posts from friends about meals they ate last night and recipes for cakes and chocolate. I’m thinking what am I going to eat for breakfast. Do I need to put something out to defrost for dinner tonight?

Busy stressed

On the way to work: I’m tired. I need caffeine, I need a cup of tea.

Mid morning: Hmmm I need a break from work. Maybe a snack. No I’ll resist and have another cup of tea.

Late morning: Lunch is coming soon. I’m getting hungry. I need to make healthy choices.

Lunch time: (in the cafeteria, lots to choose from) There’s the healthy choice, a salad. Oooh no, there’s dumplings for lunch. Yum I love that. I’ll have that. Scroll through social media and see what my friends are having to eat (see below).

Screen Shot 2

Mid afternoon: Hmmm I need a break from work. Maybe a snack. No I had too much for lunch. I’ll resist and have another cup of tea.

Home from work: Arrgh! I’m exhausted. But I have to start making dinner. I’ll just have a snack while I’m getting dinner ready. I’ll make it a healthy choice. Fruit! Yeah, fruit is good.

10 minutes later: I need to taste what I am making. Yum, not bad if I do say so myself. I need another taste (repeat, repeat, repeat).

After dinner: I’ve had a hard day. Scroll through social media (see below). I deserve a treat. Chocolate and a glass of wine. Some more chocolate. It’s almost all gone, I better finish it off…..

food-obsessed-4.png

 

Busy, Stressed and Food Obsessed!: Calm Down, Ditch Your Inner-Critic Bitch, and Finally Figure Out What Your Body Needs to Thrive, Lisa Lewtan, Healthy, Happy, and Hip, 2015,  ISBN: 978-0-692-50051-4

Discovery

Food obsessed

I’ve been reflecting on my eating lately. I have been really struggling. Some days I’m OK but other days I become food obsessed and want to eat and eat and eat. I lose a little weight then gain more and more.

Last year I lost 10kg, mainly through exercise and watching what I eat. Over the years Weight Watchers (oops I mean WW) has been the only program that has helped me to consistently lose weight. However, that is only when I diligently track my food intake. It controls what I eat and stops me from over eating. BUT once I stop tracking I lose control and start gaining weight again. It’s like I have learned nothing.

So much of my eating is emotional eating. I eat when I’m bored, I eat when I’m stressed. I eat when I socialise and I eat when I am alone. I eat when I am happy. I eat when I am sad. I eat because I love food and how it makes me feel.

Lately I feel like I am out of control. Recently I reached a low point. I felt like I simply could not stop myself eating. I felt unhealthy and unhappy. A few days later I reflected on that evening. I have recognised that a big part of my issues have been mental strength, something I blogged about 12 months ago.

I’ve decided I need to take action. I need to tackle my emotional eating, otherwise I will continue to fall back into bad habits time and time again.

I have found be book called Busy, Stressed and Food Obsessed by Lisa Lewtan. I am going to give it a go.

Watch this space…

Photo by Sandrachile . on Unsplash

 

Discovery

It’s the small things

I have classical music playing. I have a cup of French Earl Grey tea. And I’m writing  in my journal. How sublime!

I close my eyes and I imagine I am somewhere in the countryside. Rolling grape-vine covered hills. Clear blue sky. The sun is shining and there is a gentle breeze rustling my hair.

I am sitting outside at my old wooden writing table. My gorgeous villa is behind me. My husband and son are training in the pool and I can hear their splashes from time to time. Our dog, a golden retriever, is sleeping beside me. Occasionally twitching her paws as she chases a cat in her dreams. But other than that I am quite alone. Ahhh! Bliss!!

Today we will take a walk into the village, buy some cheeses, meats and fresh bread for lunch. On the way back we will drop by our favourite winery. Stop for a chat with the owners and buy a few bottles of wine…. the hardest decision we will make all day.

Life is beautiful. Living the dream!

Yes, a dream.

Instead here I sit. Inside! It’s cold, 6 degrees Celsius, and worse, the pollution is bad. AGAIN!! I don’t even want to go outside. And I have put off my run for another day. Grrrr.

I am writing on a wooden desk but it is not so pretty and is piled with junk. In front of me is a big computer screen and behind my husband’s training bike. Bleugh! So not the dream.

Back to reality!

This is life and life is not perfect. You can’t always live the dream. But you can focus on the small things in life that will make you happy.

I have classical music playing. I have a cup of French Earl Grey tea. And I’m writing  in my journal. How sublime!

 

Discovery

Finding Balance

I have been back at work now for almost three months. And, not surprisingly, it hasn’t been easy to find balance.

I have tried hard by being super organised.

I have been planning the week’s meals and grocery shopping on a Sunday. However, by Thursday I am just too tired to find the energy to cook and we order take away.

I’ve tried to set up my days so I can exercise 3-4 times a week but the Winter weather here (dark, cold and polluted) has conspired against me to make it very difficult to go for a run outside. This means I have to run inside on a treadmill, which I find really boring which in turn impacts my motivation to get out of bed and exercise.

I have even tried to structure time in the week to write. (I call it Executive Time in my calendar.) Unfortunately meetings and work priorities have meant I haven’t had the opportunity to write very often.

All of these things have contributed to me feeling crappy, depressed and even a little bit cranky.

This week I found some “Executive Time” and wrote in my journal everything I was feeling. I poured out my feelings. I listed my frustrations. I even ranted for a bit.

Then I read over what I had written. Wow! I need to relax a little and not beat myself up because I’m not hitting every goal at 100%.

And I spent some time re-reading a few of my blog posts (and this one too). I should listen to my own advice.

So, today as I write I am making some commitments to myself.

  • I need to go easy on myself. No-one is perfect.
  • Winter is never the time of the year when I am at my best.
  • I’ve only just returned to work and it takes time to build routines.

Do I feel better? Not completely. But a little. And that’s OK. Life is a journey.

img_6676 2

Main Photo by Jon Flobrant on Unsplash. The one above was taken by my 9 year old son.

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review, Discovery

An insight into my strengths

With my sabbatical nearing the end I am reflecting what I really want to do in terms of work. When I was younger, work was a central part of my life. It was essential to who I was. Now work is less important, other things define who I am and what I do with my life. I do not live to work.

However, I do want my work to be engaging, my strengths best utilized, and fit with my values. I don’t want to waste my time doing something that I don’t enjoy and doesn’t take advantage of my strengths.

So what are my strengths?

I had a reasonable idea but wanted something more objective. In my search I was recommended CliftonStrengths.

Don Clifton’s StrengthsFinder is based on 40 years of research. Millions of people have used CliftonStrengths to discover and describe their talents.

I have found that personal and professional development often focusses on improving your weaknesses. As a child you are told you can be anything you want to be as long as you work hard. But the reality is if you have always struggled with maths you are unlikely to be a great accountant. Tom Rath, author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, recommends putting our energy into developing our natural talents.

You cannot be anything you want to be – but you can be a lot more of who you already are.

According to research by Gallup (the company behind CliftonStrengths), having the opportunity to develop our strengths is more important to our success at work than our role, title or even our pay.

In the workplace, you are six times less likely to be engaged in your job, when you’re not able to use your strengths in your job.

Consider this; when you’re unhappy at work you are more likely to:

  • dread going to work,
  • have more negative than positive interactions with your colleagues,
  • treat your customers (clients, students, patients) poorly,
  • tell your friends what a miserable company you work for,
  • achieve less on a daily basis.

CliftonStrengths identifies 34 themes of talent, or core personality traits. Through an assessment where you have just 20 seconds to answer each question (top of mind responses being more revealing than if you have time to think about it) your top five strengths are determined and all 34 are ranked.

So what are my top five?

  1. DisciplinePeople who are especially talented in the Discipline theme enjoy routine and structure. Their world is best described by the order they create. Initially I thought Discipline was about self-control (definitely NOT one of my strengths) but I am all about routines, structure, and being organised.
  2. InputPeople who are especially talented in the Input theme have a craving to know more. Often they like to collect and archive all kinds of information. I really do find so many things interesting. I love to read just about anything. I love to travel because each new location offers a new experience.
  3. CommunicationPeople who are especially talented in the Communication theme generally find it easy to put their thoughts into words. They are good conversationalists and presenters. This is what I am all about. I love to write (hey, blogger!). I love to talk. I love to bring ideas to life, to energize people and to inspire them to act.
  4. HarmonyPeople who are especially talented in the Harmony theme look for consensus. They don’t enjoy conflict; rather, they seek areas of agreement. Of my five top strengths Harmony is the the one that that is least descriptive of me. I do like to argue and put my opinion forward. However, I do believe that while people’s opinions matter and people should speak up, we should be working towards agreement and consensus. We do need to find common ground.
  5. RelatorPeople who are especially talented in the Relator theme enjoy close relationships with others. They find deep satisfaction in working hard with friends to achieve a goal. I don’t always feel comfortable meeting new people or confident striking up a conversation with an acquaintance,  but I do gain strength from being around close friends and believe that so much more can be achieved by being friends with my colleagues.

Now I have an insight into my strengths it doesn’t end there. CliftonStrengths offers advice on how to develop your strengths and on managing areas of less strength (e.g by seeking others with talents in those areas). They also help you to be aware of blind spots caused by your strengths.

I am working on an action plan for improving and applying my strengths into the future.

To start with, each week I plan to select a different strength in my top five and ask myself, “How can I use this strength today?” and at the end of each day, reflect on how I intentionally used this strength and think of the impact it had for me.

Secondly, I plan to ask those who know me, especially my former colleagues, three questions relating to my top five strengths.

  1. What was your initial reaction to my report?
  2. Which strength or strengths do you see most in me? Can you give me an example?
  3. What do you see as my greatest strengths?

I hope that by focusing on my strengths, rather than my weaknesses, I will gain a clearer picture of how best to use my time and how I can best can contribute to my community.

(Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash)
Strengths Finder 2.0, Tom Rath, New York, Gallup Press, 2007, ISBN 9780-1-59562-015-6

 

Discovery

One year on

Twelve months ago I embarked on a journey full of uncertainty. After 23 years in the workforce I decided to stop working and take time out.

There were plenty of naysayers; “You’ll be bored in six months”, “ You’ll miss work too much”. There was also lots of encouragement; “What a fantastic opportunity”, “I’ve always wanted to do what you’re doing”.

Early on I wrote down the goals for my sabbatical and developed a clear plan of what I wanted to achieve. This was partly because this is how I have always operated in the  work environment and I wanted to ensure my time was well used. But, truth be told, it was partly because I felt guilty for taking the time off and I needed to be able to prove to myself and others that I was achieving what I set out to do and not just taking an extended holiday.

As I prepare myself for a return to the workforce (albeit part time) I have spent some time reviewing those goals and reflecting on the past year.

So, did I achieve my goals? Mostly yes. And some no’s.

Did I learn anything about myself? Absolutely.

Habits

After many years of working I discovered I had developed some unhelpful habits; emotional eating, intermittent exercise, dwelling on decisions made, spending Sunday evenings obsessively worrying about what might happen at work the coming week.

During the past 12 months I have consciously spent time on breaking these bad habits and creating new ones.

I now exercise four to five times a week (a mix of yoga, running and swimming and I have recently added kickboxing to try something new). I focus on making healthy eating choices four or five days a week and give myself permission to enjoy a few treats over the weekend while trying not to overindulge. (One or two pieces of chocolate NOT the whole block!) When I am eating socially I try to eat mindfully, stop part way through the meal, wait a few minutes and then ask myself am I eating out of hunger or because of my uncontrolled desire to just to eat everything in sight.

Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits and Marc & Angel’s Hack Life both gave me inspiration and easy to follow tips as I slowly tried to kick habits of a lifetime.

However, I know it could be very easy to go back to these habits once I return to work. For me regular exercise and making healthy choices when eating requires discipline. Which leads me to the next discovery…..

Mental strength

So many of my bad habits were due to not having the mental strength to make the right decision. After spending so much of my time obsessively worrying about past decisions and future scenarios I was too tired to focus on what I needed to do in the present.

Mindfulness is such a buzz word for today. However with the help of tips and meditation practices from Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace, I have come to recognise negative thoughts for exactly what they are “thoughts”.  They are not reality unless I allow them to be. I don’t ignore these thoughts but I acknowledge them for what they are and move on to a more productive route.

Please don’t think I no longer have negative thoughts or concern myself about the past or future. They are still there. At this moment I am worried about how I am going to balance my new found life with work commitments. How am I going to fit in the yoga and running, preparing healthy but delicious meals for my family, writing and pursuing my creative side?

Priorities

This is where Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck has really helped. Mark’s message is not about not caring about anything, his message is to care about those things you value. Saying yes to what matters to you and not wasting time with the rest.

Prioritising what I value most; my physical and emotional health, my family and community. And also finding something that challenges me and stops me becoming too comfortable or complacent in the world.

 

I have set myself new goals and developed a new plan for the next 12 months, focusing on what I am passionate about, what is meaningful to me. Will I achieve everything I set out to do? Definitely not. But I will ensure I continue to direct my time, energy and passion to what matters the most to me.

 

(Photo by Delano Balten on Unsplash)
Discovery

Why I am learning Chinese (Part 2)

For one of my very first blog posts I wrote was about why I am learning Chinese. Last week I had my final lesson for the semester and I thought I would reflect on what I have achieved in the past year.

First up, my goal was to be able to go out for dinner with my Chinese friends and speak with them in their language rather than forcing them to converse in mine. A very ambitious goal! The old adage that the more I learn, the more I realise I know so little, is very true.

However, I am pleased with what I have achieved. I have significantly increased my vocabulary and can even construct simple sentences. It has been frustrating at times but I can see real progression. In fact, I have to say, I have even enjoyed it!

I am thrilled that I am setting a good example for my son. There were times when we were learning the same theme and could quiz each other. He often corrects my pronunciation! And I’d like to think that I even inspired my husband to start learning. Annoyingly he seems to be mastering it quicker than I. (I am trying hard not to be jealous of this.)

Importantly it has improved the connection I have with my Chinese friends. I sense that maybe they feel more respected and valued as a friend. They seem to enjoy explaining the nuances of certain words and phrases and teaching me new ones. What is particularly interesting is when I show off my latest vocabulary and they laugh and tell me that what have just said is not how real people talk, it is the formal way of saying something and then proceed to teach me the vernacular.

Of course I can’t have any real in-depth conversation with them. Our conversation is limited to basic sentences and as soon as they get more complex the language switches to English as I try to explain.

Learning Chinese has led me to understand and appreciate China better. I can appreciate how a language reflects the culture (or is it culture reflected in the language?). For example the Chinese language has many more words to describe a persons family connections e.g. where English only has sister and brother, Chinese describes whether your sister or brother is older or younger than you (jie jie, mei mei, ge ge and di di respectively), whether your grandparents are your father’s parents (ye ye, nai nai) or mother’s parents (wai gong, wai po). And don’t get me started on the variations for aunt, uncle, cousins and in-laws.

chinese-book.jpg

Learning Chinese has helped me to understand English better too. Or at least reflect on my complete lack of understanding of English grammar rules. If someone asked me to explain the use of nouns, determiners, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions in a sentence I would be perplexed. I can’t explain it, I just know it.

Someone once told me that while Chinese is hard to learn, once you know the rules it is  easy as you just follow the rules. This is in comparison with learning English which is full of exceptions to the rule. Not true! Chinese also has many exceptions to the rule. This makes it more frustrating to learn because just when you think you understand the teacher tells you about the exceptions. Arrgh!

Despite this, I intend to continue learning Chinese. Next semester I plan to resume attending class. I also want to arrange a more one on one conversational chat with someone once a week. Now I have the basics I need to work on my confidence and actually start speaking the language.