My last post was an A-Z list of Tiny Steps Toward Joy. This week, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’d like to share another practice that I try to do regularly. This technique has many uses. It invariably cheers me up if I’m feeling down for any reason. When I have insomnia I start a gratitude list in my head. When I’m walking my son to school we sometimes play a game of listing what we’re thankful for. I usually start with something that starts with the letter A, but sometimes for variety I will go from letter Z backwards through the alphabet. Sometimes I just think of one thing that starts with the letter and other times I list several. Often my list is filled with the people in my life who I love. Other times I pick a theme like all the parts of my body. Feeling gratitude and expressing our thanks for the good that we have in our lives has been shown to improve our mood. It’s also a great way to get off the worry wagon!
A- I’m thankful for my Airstream camper in the Adirondack mountains
B- I’m thankful for Blackster (the cat) and sometimes B.T. (the other cat)
C- I’m grateful for Coaching!
D- I’m grateful for the Deer that visited the riding stable today
E- I’m thankful for Emotions, even the difficult ones
F- I’m thankful for my Father and for many, many Friends
G- I’m grateful for the Ground I walk on
H- I’m grateful for Horses
I- I’m thankful for Intuition
J- I’m thankful for Jim (my husband), Judy (my mother), Jean (my grandmother) and JOY
K- I’m thankful for Kayaking
L- I’m grateful for LOVE and Laughter and the Labyrinth
M- I’m thankful for Max (my son), Magi (the dog) and Matt (my brother)
N- I’m thankful for Nan (my great-grandmother) and Nannie (my mother-in-law)
O- I’m grateful for Oak trees, Owls, and the Ocean
P- I’m grateful for Patience and Playfulness
Q- I’m thankful for Quiet
R- I’m thankful for Rest and Reading
S- I’m grateful for Shannon (my sister), Shavonna (my niece) and Seth (my nephew)
T- I’m grateful for the Treasure chest that I’m restoring and hot Tea in the morning
U- I’m thankful for Unicorns
V- I’m thankful for Volunteering
W- I’m grateful for Water, Wind, and Whispering Manes
X- I’m grateful for Xi’an, China
Y- I’m thankful for Yoga
Z- I’m thankful for Zamanta (my yoga teacher)
May you have a Thanksgiving full of gratitude and thanks. If you care to share what you’re thankful for, please reply here. If there’s someone in your life who would like to know that you’re thankful for them, please let them know! It feels good to be appreciated. And if you’re not already a subscriber please sign up! I’d love to stay in touch.
I’m not a fan of posts that promise to teach you 5 ways to a flat belly or 10 things you must do to prevent your souffle from falling, but I do love a good A-Z. So I’ve been working on an ABC of Tiny Steps Toward Joy and wanted to share it with you! Please let me know if you try one (or more). They take very little time and can add up to a more joyful day.
A ALLOW for fun
B Take 3 deep BREATHS
C COLORa temporary stripe in your hair
D DANCE to your favorite song
E EAT something delicious and savor it!
F FEED the birds (and squirrels)
G Get GLITTER GEL PENS (and use them to write letters or checks with!)
H HUG yourself really tightly and tell yourself “I LOVE YOU!”
I Ask your INTUITION what you should do
J JOURNAL for 5 minutes
K KISS your loved one, your kids, your pet, or your knee
M Watch the MOON
N Notice something in NATURE
O Chant “OM” in your car
P Put on some PERFUME that you love
Q Be very, very QUIET
R Draw a RAINBOW
S Display some SUNFLOWERS
T Paint your TOENAILS crazy colors
U Wear your favorite UNDERWEAR
V VIEW a sunset
W WRITE a letter to a loved one
X eXAMINE your fears and let them go
Y YAWN really loudly
Z Get some ZINNIAS
I’d love to talk with you about what brings you joy and how you include it in your life.
If you’re ready for more JOY and are having a hard time getting started, contact me for a complimentary 1 hour session!
After writing my last post and taking out my journals to photograph them, I got curious. What was I writing about in 2014? What was happening in my life? I remembered sketching the pattern of the window screen as the shadows fell on the page of my journal. Maybe I didn’t have much to say.
I started writing in February for 15-20 minutes per day. I used a little red tomato timer that ticked loudly and had a jarring alarm. I got rid of it shortly thereafter and switched to a less noisy way of telling myself it was time to stop.
Some of those early pages were barely filled. I spent time just day dreaming. What did I want to write about? I complained that my hand and arm hurt from writing. I wrote “Tonight I’m writing that I don’t know what I’m writing about.” I asked myself “Is this important?” I worried that it was selfish of me to spend 20 minutes doing something for myself. I wrote “Keep writing & see if I can get up the courage to start a blog.” I told myself “Feeling afraid is okay.” I drew a mind map from a Google invitation to make the world a better place. I wrote about possibilities and how they made me feel. I started writing with glitter gel pens. I wrote a letter to my Muse and sealed it in an envelope.
I found this poem that I wrote in that first book and wanted to share it with you because we never know where our first small steps may take us.
If You Plant a Seed…
If you plant a sleepy seed will it grow into a dream?
If you plant a crayon will it grow into a rainbow?
If you plant a stone will it grow into a mountain?
If you plant a note will it grow into a song?
If you plant a raindrop will it grow into a river?
If you plant a feather will it grow into a bird?
If you plant a fingernail will it grow into the moon?
If you plant a diamond will it grow into a star?
If you plant a smile will it grow into a friend?
If you plant a kiss will it grow into true love?
If you plant a brick will it grow into a house?
If you plant a tear will it grow into the sea?
If you plant a whisker will it grow into a kitten?
If you plant a cotton ball will it grow into a cloud?
If you plant a word will it grow into a book?
If you plant a wish, what will it grow into?
What seeds do you dream of planting? What might they become?
At the end of August I wrote about Heeding the Call to Create and promised that my next post would be about finding time to create. In the interim we went from Panic to Peace with Hurricane Irma. I also realized it’s not so much about finding time as it is about making time. So today I’m going to fulfill that August promise before September is over!
Back in 2014 when I first started a regular “writing habit” I was thoroughly convinced that I didn’t have time to write. Even though I’d been wanting to write since I was a kid and over the years I had filled dozens of tiny spiral bound notebooks with my scribbling, I kept telling myself I didn’t have time. I was too busy. I wrote on the train on the way to work. I wrote when I was sad or angry and needed to get my feelings out. But I didn’t make it a regular part of my life. It was something I wanted to do but I was too busy.
I remember the first day I sat down at my great-grandmother’s Singer foot pedal sewing machine and started writing in a full sized journal. I set a timer for 15 minutes. I could hear my son in his bedroom, probably needing my attention at that very moment. I could feel my anxiety rising as I thought about getting dinner ready. “I really don’t have time for this.” But I sat and wrote and when the timer rang I closed my journal and put it away. And then I did it again the next day. Gradually I built up a new habit. A month or so later I read The Artist’s Way and decided to start doing Morning Pages. That required more commitment than the 15 minutes a day of “Scanner” notes which I’d been doing, While Julia Cameron claimed that you could write 3 pages longhand in 20-30 minutes I found that it was more like 35-40 minutes for me. But by that time I was hooked. I started getting up at 5:30 in the morning to give myself the time to write. And it felt great. I haven’t stopped since and it’s been over 3 years of daily writing. Yes, I even wrote before, during and after the hurricane! If you’re interested in starting a regular creativity habit, read on!
The first step is awareness that this is something you really want to do. Is there something that you always tell yourself “I’ll do that when I retire”, or “When I’m on vacation I can do that, ” or perhaps it’s “When the kids grow up”? It might not feel like a step in the right direction, but simply admitting to ourselves that there’s something that we want to do FOR ourselves is a big deal. The idea of writing regularly had been with me for several years before I started doing it. What’s been tickling the edges of your consciousness for months or even years?
The next step is looking closely at your current time commitments. Those fifteen minutes between homework and dinner didn’t seem like much time but they were enough to get me started. Fifteen minutes was the most I could commit to when I first started. And since my goal was to write by hand it was important to start small. If you don’t use those muscles they get sore! If you’re telling yourself you can’t find fifteen minutes in your day take a closer look. Do you use Facebook? Instagram or other social media? Do you watch television? I don’t want you to stop reading, because I believe the suggestions in this post can help you find time for your own creative practice, but you’re online right now. Get really honest with yourself about how you spend your time. You may even want to track how much time you spend online using a tool like Checky or Moment. I was surprised to read that people are spending up to 23 hours a week online and texting in this Business News Daily article.
Another way that we convince ourselves that we don’t have enough time is by doing things for other people that they could be doing themselves. This happens most often when we have children who will happily absorb all of our time if we allow it. Setting limits and sticking to them may seem hard or unfair. However, in the long run if you’re being unfair to yourself, you may become resentful. Let your children do some of the things you’re doing for them and give them the satisfaction of gaining independence. Another way our time gets absorbed is by taking care of a loved one who is elderly or has health issues. Ask for help if you need it and take some time for yourself. Otherwise you’ll burn out and may end up with stress related health issues yourself.
Some of us (I’m not guilty of this one) also spend a lot of our free time cleaning house. When it’s all said and done do you want to be the one with the sparkling toilet or would you rather have made a beautiful painting, written a poem or story, or participated in a community theater project?
Finally, look at how much time you’re spending on work and determine if it’s a wise investment. One of my clients was staying well beyond the eight hours a day she was being paid for AND working on weekends. She wasn’t being paid overtime and the company didn’t demonstrate any appreciation for her extra effort. When she stopped spending more than 40 hours and started taking back her time, her life improved and now she’s dreaming of what she really wants to do. If you’re putting in a lot of extra hours or obsessing about your work even when you’re not physically doing it, please pause to consider why and what you could be doing instead.
Starting a new habit can be challenging and sticking with it can be even harder. I loved the suggestions in B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits TED Talk and it helped me to make writing part of my life. Start very small, tie it to an “anchor” behavior which is something you always do (like brushing your teeth), and reward yourself when you do it, even if it’s only to give yourself a “high five” in the mirror! The reward might be something intangible like the great feeling you get from knowing you’re creating something important to you. You can keep your habit in place by putting in on your schedule. I write my creative times on my calendar, just like a regular appointment and I stick to it. On those rare occasions when “Morning Pages” become “Evening Pages” I still know I’ve accomplished my creative goal for the day. You can also check off your creative goals from a “to do” list and it’s satisfying to see those check marks adding up.
Another step in developing a creative habit and making it part of your life is accountability. I was initially very shy about my writing but I joined an online group (which has since dissolved) led by Courtney Carver. The members of the group supported one another in our writing endeavors and provided feedback. If you tell someone else that you’re going to blog every two weeks or write in your journal every day or paint for 15 minutes a day it helps to have someone to check in with. This can be a friend who will cheer you on or you can look for a group. There are groups on Instagram that have challenges to post a creative project daily for a week, a month, 100 days or even a year. Depending on what your creative output and commitment is you can can always find inspiration and support for your goals. Just don’t fall victim to “compare and despair” and feel that your work isn’t as good as someone else’s work! And yes, I realize I just recommended cutting down the amount of time spent online but it is a way to find encouragement and support.
For some people investing in their creative habit will help make it stick. I joined a class on children’s writing led by Jon Bard called “It’s Your Time” and the fact that I had paid for the class was a good incentive for me to continue writing. You can also work with a coach who will help you through all of the steps, from being aware of your creative calling, to making time for it, developing it into a consistent practice, and providing accountability for you to continue.
Is there something in your life that’s calling you to create? Please share in the comments. Start with a few minutes a day, you never know where it might lead you… And now I’m going to paint for a few minutes before I start preparing dinner!