Learning

Finding a balance in life

River_1

It can be difficult to know what to do some days; sometimes you feel like there is so much to get done and not enough hours in the day, at other times you have nothing to do and filling the void of nothingness in your day can be daunting. This blog post is going to look at what you can do to find a better balance in your days and feel more content with how you’ve spent your time.

PACE Yourself

Play time is an important element to factor into your day; doing something that gives you a sense of enjoyment. Whether you enjoy going out with friends and family (albeit virtually at the moment with current Covid-19 lock down measures) or reading a good book, it is important to have time in your day that is just for you. You don’t need to necessarily be achieving anything or have an aim to what you’re doing, you are there to enjoy the experience.

For people like me who are very goal orientated and struggle to relax, knowing what to do to relax can be a challenge in itself. Something I have found helpful is to, at the end of every day, write down 3 things you did that you enjoyed that day and rate them on a scale of 1-10. My observations are below:

I worked past 5pm because I was enjoying my work

Scale: 7/10

I contributed work towards my blog

Scale: 8/10

I watched an episode of a documentary about Michael Jordan and  found it inspirational

Scale: 9/10

 

From this, you can begin to look at what you enjoy doing the most and start to plan time into each day for these activities. You won’t always be able to fit them in each day, but it’s important you try to keep as much balance as possible.

For me, I really enjoyed writing. However, I did not enjoy stressing about what to write about. So, I made a conscious effort to not set myself any goals for writing a blog post. I told myself that I may not even publish the post, that it was just for me to write and reflect on how I was feeling. When you take your focus away from all your goals and things you need to do and just focus on the experience of doing what you enjoy, it’s a moment of complete bliss.

Achievement is the next thing we’re going to look at. For many people, whether you’re goal orientated or not, it is important to feel like you have achieved something. From my personal experience, I need to constantly be achieving something every day to feel like I’m progressing forward. If I don’t, I feel very low and demotivated. However, people often make similar mistakes when trying to find what gives them a sense of achievement:

  • They look online at suggestions other people make, such as doing the washing up or tidying the house but those suggestions aren’t personal to them
  • They set unachievable goals for the day and feel demotivated when they cannot meet them

Similar to understanding what makes you happy, it’s also important to understand what is important to achieve for you personally. You may have a big end goal of earning lots of money by 30/working your way up to your dream job/going from being a complete slob to keeping the house perfectly tidy and that’s okay. However, you need to identify smaller, more achievable tasks you can complete to get closer to your goal. I began to write down 3 things each day that I did that helped with my sense of achievement that were personal to me, as small as they were.

I did the washing up and brought some washing up from downstairs

Scale: 8/10

I ate in line with my diet

Scale: 8/10

I wrote part of this blog post in HTML instead of using the normal viewer

Scale: 9/10

 

It may not seem like you’re achieving much, but slowly you are performing behaviours that are moving you closer toward your goals. Something as simple as keeping the kitchen tidy has done me a world of good with feeling less stressed. Slowly but surely, I am becoming less of a slob. Try to plan small amounts of time in your day to complete these activities.

Care for yourself. It is so easy to become flustered and lose track of your routine. Weekends/time off work can be particularly challenging as there is not a set routine you need to follow. You may choose to sleep in, but then become overwhelmed with guilt for not making use of the morning. You may treat yourself to a bar of chocolate but feel like you’ve failed at eating healthy for that day. You may go out for a walk but cut it short because you feel tired and feel like you’ve let yourself down.

Let yourself off the hook for those times; often they are indicators that you do not have enough balance in your life. It is okay to not meet every goal in your day; you can get back on track by focusing on your next one or reassessing and considering if you need a bit more ‘me’ or ‘achieve’ time. Beating yourself up about missing targets is that negative voice in your head trying to hold you back, but that isn’t you. Be kind to yourself.

Energy to achieve your goals or to engage with things you enjoy can sometimes be challenging. There will be days where you don’t feel like doing anything or feeling positive, however by keeping to your plan and doing it your mood will improve.

I had an awful day a few weeks back, where I had decided “Today is a write off” and that I didn’t have any energy to write a blog post. I began to lay down and close my eyes to escape from my reality but pushed myself to go outside and sit in the sun. Initially, I felt rubbish and couldn’t see how sitting outside was going to help my mood. However, I put on an audio book (something I enjoyed listening to) and laid there listening to it. After a few minutes, I felt the tension in my shoulders go as I just enjoyed the experience of relaxing.

Half an hour later, I sat up after having listened to enough of my book and pulled out my laptop and began writing my blog post. I actually wrote my best blog post to date and ended the day feeling so positive and like I’d overcome a big hurdle. I would never have managed it if I’d let myself accept that nothing was going to be accomplished that day.

It’s important in life to find a good balance that works for you between caring for yourself and achieving your goals. If you swing too far one way you may feel stressed and anxious all the time, or too far the other you may feel low and depressed. Reflect on each day as it comes and build a plan that works for you, one you know you will make you feel happy and will bring a sense of achievement to your days. Pace yourself, you can do this.

This blog post is based off of a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy PACE plan I’ve been trying to implement, you can find a link to it here.
Self Reflection

When it feels like you’re not progressing in life

Today is a day of not feeling good enough. Today is a day of feeling so far away from all of my goals. This is a post written in the middle of me trying to figure out what’s going on in my head.

First mistake of the day, I played a video game – I know, I know, if you’ve read any of my previous posts you know this was a terrible idea for me. I was already feeling a little low as I went out for a walk yesterday but wasn’t able to capture any good photos. I had some okay photos, but nothing any average photographer couldn’t take. I tried to then do some drawing but had the same thing, it was a pretty average drawing. Given my more recent drawings were quite good I felt like I needed to progress forward and not stay in my comfort zone.

Second mistake of the day, I had some chocolate. I’m trying to lose some weight at the moment and so far, I’ve lost 5kg. Last night I got myself some fish and chips as my husband and I have ‘take out Friday’. However, I really wasn’t that hungry so essentially forced myself to have it. I went way over my calorie goal for the day when I really didn’t need to. I didn’t even enjoy what I was eating so it was a completely wasted day of progress. So, I was feeling a little discouraged from that this morning so had some chocolate to feel better. 400 calories I did not need to be eating. Of course, today is now a total write off as there’s no way I can keep to my calorie goal when I’ve eaten 90% of them by 4pm. Might as well eat some more.

Third mistake of the day, I wrote a bad blog post. Or rather, I wrote a normal blog post but didn’t feel like I’d progressed my writing skills since my last post so of course it’s a bad post. To sum up, so far today as been a day of no progression so I feel quite low. I seem to have a problem with not progressing.

I had an interesting conversation with my CBT counsellor last Monday; we were discussing the importance of down time. I had said how I’ve gone from not doing anything and feeling very low, to doing far too much and feeling quite tired and overwhelmed. Bottom line, I was very concerned that it didn’t matter if I was doing nothing or if I worked hard toward goals, I still wouldn’t be happy.

My counsellor asked me what I thought of relaxation time and I said I recognise when I need to have it, so I can recharge and start working toward goals again. She was taken back a bit by how I perceived down time; a way to recharge and refocus. She pointed out that often people don’t have an objective with down time, they just want to relax and enjoy themselves.

Whenever I have down time, I feel like I’m wasting time I could be using to progress my skills. Therefore, I feel unhappy as I’m not progressing. However, if I don’t have enough downtime, I feel overwhelmed and like the quality of what I’m doing isn’t good. Again, I’m not progressing my skills.

Raft

So often we can fall into the trap of not having enough balance in our lives. It can feel like we’re on a float out to sea with sharks circling around us. We need to be sat in the middle to evenly distribute the weight, however we find ourselves leaning one way or the other. The more you lean one way, the quicker the float starts to sink beneath you. Before you know it, you’re slipping off the float, so you scramble your way to the other side to try and stop the float from flipping. However, now that side begins to sink so you once again race to the other side. Getting back to the middle feels impossible so you continue this pattern until you’re too exhausted to continue and fall off and accept your fate.

Down time; time to just be content with things that you enjoy that don’t necessarily work toward a goal is important. Today I am being unkind to myself. I enjoy playing video games as a way to unwind, however as I’m not progressing forward with anything, I bring a lot of guilt into what I’m doing. I feel like a day has been wasted.

As a result, I lose motivation to keep with my weight loss goal. I overeat and feel bad for it.

I force myself to write a blog post which I just can’t get into, so the end result isn’t what I want it to be. I feel bad for not writing a good post.

I have done so well this week with my weight loss goals so needed a break today, to just unwind and enjoy myself. If I eat more than I need to, that should be okay as I’ve actively lost weight this week and kept my fitness routines going, even when I didn’t feel like it. I have achieved things this week, just not today. That should be okay, but somehow in my head it’s not.

However, I recognise the guilt is there and it shouldn’t be. I guess the next step is to figure out how to move past it. No answers in this blog post today I’m afraid, just frustration.

You won’t always have days where you can find the answer to something, let alone know what to do about it. This is still quite a new realisation to me, that I punish myself for down time if it’s not achieving anything. So today is a day of reflecting on those feelings of guilt, acknowledging them and trying to understand what I need to do to help myself deal with them. I don’t know how to deal with this one yet, however I do know that if I keep paying attention to it and recognising when it happens, I will find a way.

Self Reflection

University, Stress and Mental Health

It can be terrifying growing up nowadays as there is so much choice around. The possibilities are endless, yet you feel trapped and like life is closing in on you forcing you to decide on what your career should be.

GothicSculpt
“The hardest battles are fought in the mind, not with the sword.” – Hellblade, Senua’s Sacrifice. This was a model I did in my third year. It had absolutely nothing to do with any project I was working on, but it really captured how I felt. Alone and in the dark, trying to find my way out.

What subjects do I study at school?

Do I go to college?

Will it look bad if I don’t get a degree?

For me, I had never really had any doubt in my mind I was going to University. I had always had a passion for graphic design and art, so it seemed natural to go to University to study Animation. It was exciting; I’d secured myself an unconditional offer at Ravensbourne University and couldn’t be happier.

My first year was great; I was living away from home, looking after myself and studying a subject I found fascinating. I had lovely classmates, not that I was particularly social myself, but it was a great atmosphere and one I look back on fondly. However, come my second year I began to notice I felt a mounting pressure growing on me. I still felt like a novice in things I was doing, and I wasn’t excelling at anything. I would look at classmates around me knowing what they wanted to do, and they’d chase after it.

You’re so far behind them, they’ve spent a lot more time learning than you have. You’ll never catch up.

It’s funny how thoughts creep up on you; they start off relatively quiet, a whisper in the back of your mind. However, it becomes skilful at creeping and you become blind to it approaching. Your body knows it’s there; headaches and tension become a familiar feeling, screaming at you to notice the stress that is mounting up. However, you carry on until it gets to a point where you cannot ignore it anymore. By this point in time, fight or flight kicks in. You either run away from the situation, you decide University isn’t for you and drop out or let your grades slip. Or you face the thoughts head on.

For me, I ran. Come my third year I had been ambitious and wanted to take on lots of different projects so I could really try and secure myself a top final grade. I was still stressed out about what I was going to do after University, but I had my focus with all my projects. I had noticed that I had started to need my partner a lot more and I found myself crying quite often.

However, it didn’t occur to me how stressed I had become until one day when I went in for a routine check-up for my Crohn’s disease (a chronic health condition that, for me, was triggered off by stress). I was told the severity of the inflammation that had occurred due to the build up of stress and not paying attention to how my body felt. I was in pain every day, whether that be headaches from tension or stomach aches through my illness, but I had learnt to live with it being a part of my life.

Due to the severity of the inflammation, I had to go into hospital for around a week. I can honestly say this was the best thing to have had happened to me at University. It was a huge wake up call and reality to check into how I was coping with things and how my mental health was declining. I remember my first few nights in hospital, I felt relief. I was stressed that I had just started my third year of University and now I was in hospital, falling behind in my work but I was also relieved as I had a reason to give myself a break (not just from University work, but from being wrapped up in my own little world, or rather nightmare, for the past couple of months).

Now, I could have chosen to carry on my University work from in hospital and continue to be distracted by my work and goals for the future, however my dad helped me recognise that I needed a break, some time to take a step back and gather some perspective on my situation.

When I look back now, I could see I had gone into autopilot, my brain shut off and me falling asleep at the wheel. I was rapidly rolling down a hill heading to an inevitable crash at the bottom. However, the passenger in my car, my dad, tapped me on the shoulder to wake me up and I applied the breaks and pulled over. There, I was able to think about what had just happened and how I’d gotten to the point of falling asleep. I was able to recognise the negative thought patterns that had exhausted and numbed me to what was happening around.

University can be a very stressful experience and can make you question why you decided to go there in the first place. However, what I have learnt from my experience is that self-reflection can be one of your greatest tools to success. Had I not listened to my dad, my mind, my body whilst I was in hospital, I feel sure I would have ended up back there again, possibly ruining my chances at achieving a good grade at University.

However, from taking a step back from my situation I was able to identify that the thought of getting a relevant job after University was stressing me out no end.

My partner and I want to live together after University, but I’ll likely need to be based in London and he’ll be in Chichester, the commute will be too much.

…I don’t know what I want to specialise in, I feel like I have to choose a speciality to get a job after University.

…I don’t have enough time to get my skills up to scratch before I finish my third year.

The combination of all these thoughts (and many, many more) was making it impossible for me to focus on any of my work. I had to drop a project as I just couldn’t deal with the stress of doing it, thinking about how it wasn’t going to help me to develop any skills to get a job after University. This shift in perspective made me realise that, for me, the best thing to do was to not set any expectations to go into an animation job after I finished my third year.

In actual fact, I lined up an easy job at an energy provider so I could give myself a break after I finished my studies. That job turned out to be great; I got to use my creative skillset and learnt a whole lot more which has made me into a bit of a jack of all trades – master of none, sure, but boy do I have a desirable skillset (check out this TED talk if you don’t think you’re designed to just specialise in one area!).

I couldn’t focus on my third year as I was dealing with the stress of getting a job straight after University else I’d be behind everyone else or, worse yet, never make it as an animator. However, that thought was impacting my ability to do my coursework as I would spend so much time thinking about how I needed to use this time to work toward getting a job, I ended up not doing anything as I felt so exhausted.

I would never have realised this had I not accepted a break when it presented itself. It’s easy to think that you need to be using all your time to do something practical or work toward a goal; however, the value of doing nothing, letting yourself just think and just be in your own mind, is invaluable. I ended up with a First-Class Honours and learning a lot about myself and how I work.

If you’re struggling right now and feeling like you can’t find a way out, take a step back and really acknowledge those thoughts running through your mind. They will tell you a lot about what is best for you. Take away those pressures and expectations and take care of yourself, you’ve got this.

Self Reflection

Failure and Depression

Fear
“The darkness is coming. It yearns for life, hungers for it – like a pack of wolves on a hunt. But she’s not stopping. Not this time.” – Hellblade, Senua’s Sacrifice. The drawing is of an anime I love, Ajin.

Do you ever have those moments where you find out some new information, a missing piece in the puzzle of how you’re going to conquer your depression and you feel so motivated and in control?

An idea someone shares with you, a book you read, song lyrics, a blog you read online…

You think to yourself “Yes, this is me. That idea has filled in a gap for me, something that I didn’t know about myself previously that now I understand. Now I know this I can finally make a change and get myself out of this.”

So, you chuck on your sports clothes and go out for that run. Or you grab a pen and paper and start to write that book or draw that picture you’ve wanted to do so long now. You feel great but you hit your first hurdle, this is harder than you anticipated. You begin to notice a weight pressing down on your shoulder, as if a hand lay rested of it; you shrug it off. You push through it as you are in control and you know you can achieve your goal.

A thought crosses your mind “See, it’s just the same as before. You’re still struggling. You haven’t found the answer; you’re never going to make it out of this… it’s too hard.”.

You struggle to refocus on what you’re doing, working toward the better you, but the weight becomes overwhelming. You’re no longer carrying just a hand on your shoulder, but a full body collapsed over you. Every step you take on your run, every word you go to write, every line you go to draw has the extra weight pushing through it. You feel exhausted and give up, you’ve failed… again. Things will never change.

I’ve had my fair share of experience with the feelings of failure and like you’re stuck; never able to take steps forward, only back. Every time I tried something new or tried to push myself to follow through on a goal I so desperately wanted to achieve, I would fail. It would hit me hard and I would feel like I was sinking further and further away from where I wanted to be.

Negative thoughts started to seep in and take control. It had been so long since I was able to achieve something worthwhile that I felt like being a failure was who I had become. I felt like I had lost who I used to be, someone who was highly motivated and could achieve anything I put my mind to. Instead, I found myself in a hole I kept trying to jump out of. However, every time I tried to jump and didn’t make it the weight of my fall just deepened the hole. I felt like I was doomed to repeat the process for the rest of my life; this is who I was now as much as I tried to fight the idea of it.

However, one day I started watching a reality show on TV: SAS Who Dares Wins. I remember watching Ant Middleton talk about his struggles but how you just have to push through them. I quickly Googled his name and noticed he had a book out (now two books out) and several interviews where he speaks about failure.

The big things that stop us in life stop us from achieving is failure and fear. The fear, woom! Okay, we won’t even go there, challenge it because like you said, once you get past that and you feel like you’ve got that sense of achievement. Even if it’s a small sense, even if you fail but you learn something about yourself. You’re going to grow therefore you re-attack, you re-expose. And then you’re going to learn something that’s what life is about is this small progression in the right direction in life. You want to be doing that till the day you die because that’s what your purpose in life.

Ant Middleton , Paracelsus Recovery interview

I had never really considered failure this way, as a necessary part of life to learn from and grow as a person. Failure always had such negative associations with it. I never used to tell people I was going for a job interview as if I didn’t get it I didn’t want to be seen as a failure; I didn’t want my shame to be compounded by people telling me “Sorry you didn’t get it, I’m sure you’ll get the next one!”.

I would choose easy things to draw as I didn’t want to highlight areas in my skillset that are weak. If I tried to do a more challenging drawing and failed, I would feel horrible and retreat back to my comfort zone so no one could see the limitations of my skill. Or I wouldn’t draw at all. I would switch on my PS4 and play a game, something I knew I was good at. I choose the easy option.

A lot of people who shy away or they have the easy option and they choose the easy option and therefore, you will not build resilience if you do that. The easy option is something in life that is presented to us on a plate where if you decide to step off that path to challenge yourself that’s where you build up resilience and ultimately you expose who you are, you expose your emotions and you learn to deal with them, that’s what resilience is, it doesn’t have to be climbing Mount Everest, being in a special boat service, being in a special forces, being in the military. It is about taking on the challenges that will challenge you and test you.

Ant Middleton , Paracelsus Recovery interview

Historically I never reflected on what I could learn from my failures. I would fail at something and attribute that to myself; I was a failure. However, by doing that I never took the time to reflect on what I did well and what I could improve on. I would take one step forward toward my goal, but then two steps back as I would feel like I was back to square one and it would put me off trying again.

However, Ant Middleton describes failure as a journey. You take one step forward and you may fail, but now you’ve been there and got that experience. You may not have done it right the first time, but the next time you go for it you will be able to draw from your previous experience. If you’ve taken the time to reflect on what you’ve done well, but more importantly on what you can improve on you can learn from that. You’ve been down this road; you know the way and you recognise the wrong turn you made last time. This time you can avoid it and you may end up taking another wrong turn, but then the next time you try you’ll know to avoid that road too. However, if you don’t reflect on your negative experiences, all that experience is lost.

When you take the negatives in your life and use them to build a narrative of who you are, often self-hatred comes soon after. You become trapped in your own narrative and punish yourself for your failures and shortcomings. The easy option becomes your natural response to every situation. When you start to feel uncomfortable or feel people may see you for the failure you are you retreat further into your safe zone, but with that comes unhappiness. You become a prisoner to your own fear and failure so those dreams you have become just that, dreams. That comparison to where you are now and where you want to be only build on your unhappiness. You become stuck.

Stuck is where I found myself for many years, however at some point I decided enough is enough and began to put myself in uncomfortable situations, it was awful. I would fail and feel humiliated and retreat back into my comfort zone. However, I would then push myself again… and again… and again. Until I got to the point where if I recognised myself backing away from a situation as I was scared of failing, I would make myself do it.

From doing this and learning from my negative experiences, I have grown massively as a person. I used to be scared of picking up the phone and making a call, now I won’t think twice about doing it. I may feel anxious about doing it, but I will do it. I would never have become a trainer where I had to talk in front of a group of people (first couple of times doing it were horrible). I wouldn’t have started up this blog, I would be paralysed by my fear of failure and what people might think.

More recently I’ve learnt that this mindset can also be applied to smaller, everyday things. Such as making the decision to attempt a drawing instead of watching some TV. Or going to the gym and trying out the weights section instead of shying away and not achieving what I wanted to in the gym.

When you put yourself out there and try to better yourself or your quality of life, you will hit roadblocks and feel like you’ll never make it to where you want to be. Hitting that block is nothing to be ashamed of. This is a journey and it is the first time you’ve been down this route; no one expects you to know what you’re doing or where you’re going. I can’t promise some people won’t form their own judgements that do not help you; however, I can promise you that they do not matter. All that matters is that you do not forget those failures and you keep trying. Everyone fails, but not everyone learns to use those failures to their advantage. Be open and honest with yourself about your failures, you can do this.

Garden
It took about 50 different photos to finally get one I was happy with. I nearly gave up after the first round of photos I took as I felt like I just wasn’t skilled enough to capture what I wanted. However, I kept trying and got a pretty nice snap out of it in the end. From the rotting and dying plant, grows a pretty flower.