Year in Review – Prompt #5 Kind gestures

Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was, more focused on what you care deeply about, and more energised for the New Year.
Here is this week’s Year in Review prompt….

Kind gestures

If you’d like to join me again this week reflecting on the year we have had, take some time to reflect on kind gestures that stood out for you this year. I designed this week’s exercise with the idea of overcoming negativity bias (the way our minds can focus on the things that went wrong rather than the things that went right), and as a way to gently reconnect with feelings of gratitude and connection to others.

Q. What were the times this year that someone made a kind gesture to you that you really appreciated? Look for the warm glow around the memory that tells you that it was special and you felt lucky to receive their kindness.

For each one you can remember receiving, pause for a moment and write a few sentences capturing what the gesture was, who did it, how it made you feel, and why it was especially meaningful for you at that time. See if you can describe the moment in some detail, it may help with remembering the feelings that went with it.

See if you can come up with 10. This might mean you have to dig around a bit to remember them, or it might come easily.

  • Did someone unexpectedly buy you a coffee?
  • Did someone make you dinner?
  • Did someone give you honest feedback from a place of love?
  • Did someone lend you an outfit for a big night?
  • Did someone help you move house?
  • Did someone send a heartfelt message at a tough time?
  • Did someone listen when you really needed it?
  • Did someone include you or invite you somewhere?
  • Did someone forgive you?
  • Did someone give you kind words about something you did?
  • Did someone go with you when you had something hard to do?
  • Did someone share some of their optimism and encouragement with you?
  • Did someone show patience and loyalty?
  • Did someone surprise you with a kind gesture big or small?

The kind gestures really can be big or small! Please try not to judge yourself or the memories you come up with. Nothing is ‘too small’ or ‘silly’ for the purposes of this reflection. This is an exercise in honouring our emotional landscape and the things that matter to us, even if they don’t make sense to our rational minds. Even if they might not have ‘meant much’ to someone else, they meant something to you and that is important.
Once you’ve remembered and described the 10 acts of kindness, see what you can observe about the values that are important to you, the people who are important to you, or even what you might feel inspired to do more for others going forward.

If you’d like to share one of the moments that sticks in your mind with us feel free to do so in comment below (perhaps keeping the other people’s identity’s private, eg ‘a good friend said….’, ‘a stranger at the supermarket did…’, ‘a person at work offered to…’).

How does it make you feel to remember these kind gestures?

What does it make you think about?

If you would like to work on your vision for 2019 and start to implement a project close to your heart please get in touch. I am available for coaching and my rates are listed on the coaching link above.

Year in Review – Prompt #4 Giving

Sometimes we are encouraged to dive into a vision for the new year without processing the year that has been. Have you ever experienced that?
As an art therapist and coach I know that feeling, accepting and integrating our feelings, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is an important part of good health, and an important part of feeling authentically energised for the future.
Through the last two months of 2018 each week I’ll be sharing some end of year reflection and journaling prompts I have developed to help you integrate the experiences of this year and finish up feeling clearer and more accepting of yourself and the year that was, more focused on what you care deeply about, and more energised for the New Year.

Here is this week’s Year in Review prompt….
Around this time of year lots of people exchange gifts. Gift giving traditions can be fraught and tied up with issues with overconsumption, debt and more. But they are also deeply connected to reciprocity, social ties and acts of care.
Lets think gently and with curiosity about the act of giving. Grab a journal and a cup of tea and explore this one with me.
Journaling and reflection prompts (spend 5 minutes on each):
Beyond formal gift giving, what did you give this year with no expectation of payment or return?
What time did you donate to someone’s project or cause?
What random gifts did you give to those you love?
What funds did you give to charity?
What objects did you give freely to new homes?
Which of your gifts and talents did you share with others?
What small acts of kindness did you try to foster through the year?
Now looking across your answers above, spend 15 minutes with these questions:
What feelings arose in relation to giving this year? What themes can you see?
What was easy to give?
What was harder to give?
What felt great to give?
What would you like to give more of next year?
And if something comes to mind that you’d like to share in comments below feel free to do so!


PS If you live in Australia a great giving opportunity this time of year is Share the Dignity‘s “It’s in the Bag” campaign. It’s easy – simply find a handbag in good condition that you are no longer using and fill it with toiletries and personal care items such as deodorant, face wash, pads and tampons, a toothbrush and toothpaste. Include a brief affirming note or Christmas card, and then drop off at a Bunnings store before or on Sunday the 2nd December.

It’s OK (really)

It’s ok to not have a plan
It’s ok to not feel good enough sometimes
It’s ok to need support and encouragement
It’s ok to struggle with your ego
It’s ok to feel jealousy and envy
It’s ok to not know what you want or to want everything
It’s ok to feel like everyone else has it figured out except you
It’s ok to feel hopeless
It’s ok to be tired, or lacking motivation
It’s ok to be anxious, frightened or scared
It’s ok to be uptight or a control freak
It’s ok to be chaotic or a slob
It’s ok to be driven and ambitious
Sure it’s not necessarily comfortable, or glamorous, but we really don’t need to despair about our worth as a human being if we find ourselves facing our hard to face stuff.
Everyone has stuff to deal with.
It’s ok to love ourselves even if we aren’t perfect.
Let’s practice accepting ourselves with kindness.
Let’s practice noticing our feelings and behaviours with curiosity not judgement.

Reader question: how to respond to ‘what do you do’?

A scanner called Mery asks: “I’m wondering how you introduce yourself to others when they ask what you do? I usually stumble through something about taking care of my little gal first and foremost and then doing virtual assisting work from home (I really need to tighten up my elevator pitch 🙂 ), but in my mind I’m running through all of the different things I do. Wondering how other scanners handle this conversation piece?”.

This is such a great question, and one I struggled with for years (double digit number of years) even when I was an employee and had a job title. The job title was vague enough that people still wondered what I actually did and then my absolute deluge of scanner interests would come rushing into my brain and I would awkwardly say things like ‘oh, you know, I do do projects, in topics like water, and um.. waste, but you know, I work on community engagement and social research, and deliberative democracy.. I like, um, systems stuff.’ Truly I think I gave the impression that I was just random walking past who had nothing to do with the mingling event at hand and was just regurgitating random words from the brochure.

You see it wasn’t that I didn’t know what I did, it’s just that I could see all my projects and their topics, and the various processes and fields that they spanned, as if they were there in three dimensions around me, and I couldn’t find a way to condense or simplify all that for a quick and easy few sentence answer. I knew in advance I would probably end up boring or confusing the person listening and still feel unsatisfied because I had been inaccurate or glossed over whole sections of my work. I sometimes longed to say ‘oh I’m an engineer I design bridges’, or ‘I’m a baker and I mostly bake cakes and pastries’ or ‘I work in HR and design all the training for our new staff’. Something that people might be able too visualise or understand and that I could say between mouthfuls of egg sandwich.

These days running my own business I am a bit clearer on the strands of my work, even though as a scanner its true that they evolve and change. Right now I can cheerfully tell you that I have 4 different connected threads running through my business: art therapy, coaching, art and consulting. These are 4 different businesses operating under the one roof if you like. Within that there are a squillion projects and beyond that are all my other scanner passions and side projects (although most of my side projects now fall under the banner of my business because I’ve build my business around the things I love to do).

But if you were to say ‘what do you do?” to me now, I would probably say ‘I run my own business, and I help people go after their dreams, live more creative lives, and use art for healing.’ I would probably add something concrete like ‘right now I’m working with (organisations X and Y) and also seeing my own clients’. If the conversation continued I might say ‘sometimes I help organisations as well’. (Well. That’s what I’d like to say. You still might catch me mid egg sandwich and find I mumble something about art and then switch topics to something else.)

So in your situation, you might like to just practice a short answer that covers the main things you want them to know. You could say ‘I have two main areas of work – I’m a mom of a 3 year old, and I also work with business owners as a virtual assistant. That suits me for now but in the future I hope to also give time to all my other passion projects and hobbies’. If they are interested they’ll ask you. You’ve hinted that you have lots more to say, let them choose where to go next.

If your day job is boring you to tears and you don’t even want to tell them about it, feel free to just share one other thing you’re doing right now. No one said you have to answer based on the MAIN thing you spend your time on. It’s perfectly Ok to share the thing that is most interesting to you right now. I sometimes say: “at the moment I’m focused on..” Or “I’m juggling a few projects at the moment, one that’s big for me this week is Y” or “I work as an X but what I’m really excited about this year is Y”. Here are some examples of how you could focus more on giving a glimpse of one key project within your business, or highlighting the ‘other’ projects if that’s what you’re excited to share:

I spend most of my time working as a parent and virtual assistant but what I’m really excited about this year is researching different college courses.. I’m planning to study in the health field down the track (flag an up coming thing)

One of the things I do is work as a virtual assistant and this year I’m trying to find some local businesses to work with because a lot of my existing clients are overseas and I realise I miss the face to face (talk about one project within your business)

I work as a virtual assistant and I’m a mum, I also really love anything to do with gardening! (kept it brief but flag all your main areas of interest)

I work as a virtual assistant and I’m a mum, and on top of that I just super love learning. I am always reading and attending courses, I can’t get enough of it! (kept it brief but flag all your main areas of interest)

I juggle a few different things: parenting, working on my own business, studying, and a whole bunch of writing and craft projects (as above, kept it brief but flag all your main areas of interest)

I am a real organiser, so I love anything to do with getting people organised and working more efficiently. At the moment I’m raising my daughter and also helping business owners with their marketing and communications. (focus more on your favourite skills and who you are as a person, what makes you tick, let them know that the way you use those skills changes all the time)

Oh! So many things! I’m someone who always has lots of projects on the go. Let me see, what’s big this month? At the moment I’m taking on new clients for my virtual-assistant business, I’m helping at my daughter’s school with the new school play they’re putting on, and I’m cataloguing seed for our local seed swappers library. How about you? What are you working on? (the detailed snapshot of a moment in time – this can often tell more than generalities anyway)

So in conclusion…

Remember, this exchange is NOT a job application or CV, so you don’t have to convince them of anything. It’s also not a tax return, or college application that needs to be complete and include an accurate summary of all your activities. The answer to this question DOES NOT need to list everything you do, convince them you’re good at your job, be focused only on income earning work, or leave them knowing every little thing about you.

It IS an introduction, a glimpse, a handshake, an aroma. It’s a step forward in a conversation, not the whole conversation. It’s a tiny gift from you to them of showing yourself. You get to decide what you want to show, what feels right to show, what will be safe to show and still leave you able to chat. What you choose to share today with this person might be a different glimpse to what you choose to share next week to someone else. It’s just the tip of an iceberg.

But as a scanner, rather than one fixed and static iceberg you have a whole Antarctica full of them. In answering this question you get to choose which icebergs to reveal, which ones to keep under water. You might share the tips of a few of them, or talk about one whole iceberg in detail. You might just describe the landscape as full of icebergs, and not describe any in detail. All up to you. You get to decide.

Reader question: Getting started is hard – what do I do?

I am interested in lots of things but can’t seem to work on any of them long enough to make much progress. I think the reason I do so much thinking instead of doing is because I am a perfectionist and a planner, I hate starting ANYTHING until I have fully researched and planned down to the last detail, and got it all ready. I am like this with everything in life, like I can’t do anything until and unless all the things necessary are prepared.

Working on identifying and making sense of what fears lay beneath our drive to perfectionism can be useful. For a lot of us who dance with perfectionism it can be fear of criticism, often stemming from childhood, when we were small and vulnerable and being criticised by someone harsh felt life threatening. For others being ‘perfect’ (/ good/ high achieving/ ‘good)’ was our way to get approval/ love / attention that was otherwise missing.

I like to draw an image of the inner critic and give it speech bubbles and see what comes out of its mouth. Is it a scary monster? Is it an anxious bean counter and pendant? What does it tell me about myself and my work? What is it scared of?

Sometimes I also draw myself as a small child next to the voice of criticism, offering back some words from another perspective. I find this is a good way to see more clearly what the critic fears most, and to counter the messages of the critic, and find compassion for myself.

Another approach is to reduce the risk of the task at hand so the task feels less scary. How can we reduce the fear? How can we lower the ‘stakes’ – so that it is ‘practice’ or ‘an exercise’ rather than an ‘outcome’? Can we allow our inner child out to play making a big messy rough draft? Sometimes I start projects that I’m super scared of by scribbling notes on a daggy old scrap of paper, or I write hard things in notes on my phone while standing in queue for a coffee. For me, reducing the feeling of ‘significance’ frees me up to get started, because I know I’m not expecting some grand result.

Another way to reduce risk is to involve other (friendly) people. Can someone else  join in on the project so it doesn’t all sit on our shoulders to complete it? Can we enlist a support team, a cheer squad, a mentor, a coach or guide?

Can we support ourselves like we would support a friend? Pretending that we are just imagining hypothetically what we tell someone else in that situation can be helpful. ‘What advice would you give someone else who was just setting out to do (whatever you are trying to do)?’ Or try saying ‘if I WAS going to write a book/ change jobs/ learn an instrument/ go travelling, hypothetically, what would the steps be? What support or resources might I need?’ It’s easier to let the ideas flow when fear is not constricting the answers.

Can you create boundaries that help you focus intensely and get over the hurdle of getting started? A writing challenge, drawing a picture a day, setting the timer and working on it for an intense initial 5 minutes (‘pomodoro’ style), sometimes these kinds of challenges help us push through and get started, move despite the voices of fear.

Reader question: making a “safe” place at home to create

Nona Makes asks: “How to deal with negativity or making a “safe” place at home to create when those around you are not as encouraging and nurturing as your workshops?”

I think this is a really important question.

If those who share your home don’t encourage you or at least accept you expressing yourself creatively it can be hard to find the courage to begin.

Creativity can’t flourish when every step feels criticised, or even worse shamed, or ridiculed.

It is really important that you make a mental/ physical space that feels safe when you sit down to write/ draw/ make music etc. If you don’t have that at home I would suggest seeing if you can find it somewhere else, or focus on creating that within yourself:

  • Find a way to create without scrutiny – do it when people aren’t home, do it in your bedroom, do it while watching tv and they aren’t paying attention to you, set up a painting corner in the laundry.
  • Create a beautiful box or folder and keep your works in there out of public view while you build your confidence
  • Head to a nice public library and do your thing there on a comfie couch with a view out the window.
  • Find a group of absolute beginners who do the thing you do and go meet with them, work together at a cafe or somewhere else that feels low stakes and fun (try Meetup as a great resource to find like minded groups).
  • Watch you tube videos of encouraging and enthusiastic people who love the thing you love, it will remind you that you are not the only one who loves this thing and remind you that you have a tribe out there somewhere
  • Find an online space where you can share what you make and have it kindly received (search Facebook for art groups and see what you find! If you are shy you might prefer a ‘closed’ group to a ‘public’ group, and a group with fewer members rather than more).
  • If you are constantly being told that what you make is worthless or a waste of time, you might need to spend time with people who are kinder and more encouraging! See if you can make some friends who share your interests – they aren’t likely to see it as a waste of time when you weave/ knit/ sing/ write etc. Going to a class/ fair/ expo / conference/ retreat on the thing you love might be one way to meet people who also love your creative pursuit.
  •  Practice some polite but assertive answers to the criticisms you hear (or maybe don’t hear but do fear).
  • Write a list of the common criticisms and then respond to each of them one by one in your journal. Imagine this is criticism a beloved friend of yours has just received, what would you say to make them feel better? How would you remind them that they are OK, or what they are doing is OK?

Remember that standing up for unique selves – doing what we love even if those around us don’t value it – is part of truly being authentic in this world. And if what you are doing is legal and not hurting anyone else it’s really no-one else’s business what you do for fun.


A servant to your to do list?

Are you a slave to your To Do list? Do you feel like you’re only allowed to relax once everything is done and your list is empty?

Do you feel guilty if you do something just for yourself? Do you worry that self care is selfish or horribly indulgent?

Where did these feelings come from? Did you grow up in an environment where only your achievements were valued? Did you grow up in an environment where the adults were tired, unwell or unavailable, leaving you with a strong sense of responsibility to help get things done? Maybe the people around you also struggled with self-care and you feel guilty any time you were found to be loafing around while they were working hard.

You may know all of that but what are you going to do about it?

Creating new attitudes towards self care is not easy. But it’s important work.

Self-care can be about the basics like making sure we are clothed and fed, kept warm and safe. For some people even the basics are something they have to learn themselves as adults.

Self-care can also be about allowing play. Time spent doing what we feel like without a deadline, without an output, without a gold star at the end.

Self-care can be about tending to our bodies, noticing when they are tired, allowing them to rest and allowing them to move joyfully.

Self-care can be about what we don’t do as well as what we do. About setting boundaries. About saying no about not having to be all things to all people. It can be about learning to tolerate the discomfort that comes when we can’t alleviate the pain of others. Self-care can be about gently reappraising our role of rescuer, doer, saver, get things done-er.

Self-care can be about stepping into the role of kindness giver to our bodies, of noticing and being in physical form.

Self-care can be about allowing the frivolous. Tapping into our senses. Doing things purely for delight, that is, our delight, our own delight, not delighting others. Self-care is an inward orientation, and listening to the quiet voice of need as well as whim and whimsy.

Self care is unlearning hardness, deafness to our bodies, unlearning critical appraisal of our leisure, unlearning callousness, unlearning the need to be permanently productive, unlearning a commitment to constant movement and striving.

A learning of gentleness. A learning of kind trusting and well wishing. A learning of allowing in the soft small and beautiful. A learning of unclenching.

Ultimately self-care is a learning of the self. Beginning to see ourselves in the centre of our lives beginning to chart the topographical contours of what we love what we like what we need and what keeps us well.

Living in line with our values

Are we living in the way we say we intend to?

Looking at our values and seeing whether we are living them helps reflect back whether our day to day choices are anchored in our deepest life meaning and pursuits.

If compassion is our highest value, where is it showing up, and where is it not? What is the growing edge for us in applying it?

If integrity is our highest value, and we find ourselves stretching the truth or acting differently behind closed doors to how we present in public, is this an area we need to look more deeply at?

If kindness is a core value but we find ourselves so exhausted and running on empty that we snap at those around us, what does that say about our ability to be kind to ourselves?

If we value expression but find ourselves holding back from speaking up, we might wonder about what we fear and what silences us.

For me, learning, creativity and zest are my highest ‘values in action’ – the things I both care about and like to frequently apply. Life feels better for me when I’m learning, when I am making things and expressing myself and when I can act with enthusiasm and spontaneity.

But lately, with world events and even in my personal sphere, I’ve been thinking about some of my other values of kindness, care, and taking responsibility.

There are things I care about but don’t always act on in the ways I would like.

There are ways I’d like to see myself, but my actions speak differently.

I notice, I reflect and ask the questions, and hopefully then I course-correct. Towards kindness, towards compassion, towards outspokenness when needed, towards taking responsibility for our shared problems, towards my vision for the future.