choice, text, definition, dictionary

Making hard choices…and loving it

This week marked my first anniversary of life as a civilian.  It has been a whole year since I formally left the military and embarked on a whole new way of life.  And what a year it’s been!  There have been a whole lot of ups and my fair share of low points but I wouldn’t have done anything differently.

It’s easy to look to back with the benefit of hindsight and see all the dots joining up.  But I’ve had to make some really difficult choices along the way to get here – to a point where it feels like life is working itself out.  Ironically, one of the reasons I left the military was to have more choices, to be able to make my own choices for a change; having made what I thought would be the hard decision – the decision to leave a successful ten-year career with no real plan, to be honest – I’ve been a little surprised at how difficult these choices can be sometimes.

In my RAF days...

In my RAF days…

I met with one of my career advisers this week, a woman who I now consider a friend, who reminded me of the dilemma I thought I faced when I was offered the opportunity to go and volunteer in Bangladesh with VSO.  I don’t really remember that now; almost as soon as I had decided to go, it felt like exactly the right decision.  And I guess that’s how you know you’re making the right call.  You sleep on it and when you wake up, it just feels right.

I’d love to give you all some sage words of wisdom about how to tackle your own tough choices.  But I’m really not sure I’ve figured it out, if I’m honest.  I generally feel like I’m bumbling along, just trying to put one foot in front of the other and hoping – believing – that it will all fall into place.  If you want some good advice, I strongly recommend you head over here and check out Ruth Chang’s TED Talk.  As for me, I suppose I would just say a couple of things.

Opportunities don’t just come along.  You have to create them for yourself.  But when you do, don’t take them for granted.  Seize them with both hands and squeeze absolutely everything you can from them.

Every choice has an opportunity cost; by going down one path, by definition, you can’t go down another.  It’s really difficult to weigh up the pros and cons of different options but, as a rule, favour ‘sure things’ over ‘may bes’.

Talk to people.  Don’t keep going round and round the same thoughts in your head.  But don’t abdicate responsibility either.  It’s your choice: you have to live with it so you have to make it.

If in doubt, do it.  I firmly believe that you only live to regret the things you don’t do in life.  Better to be able to look int he mirror and say ‘I tried’ than ‘if only I had…’.  Yes, it’s scary (see my post on The Fear from a couple of weeks ago) but it’s also invigorating and exciting.

The principle I try to live by at the moment is that I want to have stories to tell when I’m an old lady; I am going to bore the pants of the other residents of my nursing home one day!  What will be important to you when you’re ninety?

Just some of the memories that have made the last year so special 🙂

I can, hand on heart, say that making that decision to leave the military was one of the best I’ve ever made.  I still have no idea where I’m going to end up but I am loving the ride!

excited, little girl, roller-skates, black and white, 1940s

Not actually me but pretty much sums up how I feel about life right now!

The Fear…and How to Face It

The fear comes at night mostly, although it can extend its grip whenever it likes.  Its icy fingers chill my heart and make it difficult to breathe.

The fear.

The fear of failing.  At life.  At love.  Failing.  The fear of never being gainfully employed again.  The fear of never meeting ‘THE ONE’.  The fear of not being successful.  Of not being happy.  Of failing.

As if that’s a thing….failing at life.  I mean, really, get over yourself.  But the fear still lurks there.

It’s funny though, how sometimes fear can be a great motivator.  Anyone who has left an essay until the last minute and is desperately hammering away on the laptop at 3am will know what I’m talking about.  But this kind of fear is paralysing.  There is so much I could be doing, should be doing…but I am becoming an expert at procrastinating.  And it’s so hard to explain to people.  Not that I really admit this to many people (except my lovely blogging audience!); in addition to becoming a professional boxset watcher, I am also now something of an expert at putting on the happy front.  And I so desperately want to be that person.  The brave, fearless woman who changed careers to follow her heart and turns down lucrative offers at major banks so she can change the world instead (okay, so maybe I won’t be unemployed forever but that’s not really what I mean).  The women who, whilst doing her masters degree, got ribbed for getting more done by 10am than most people would manage all day.  That’s the person the world sees so why don’t I feel like her.

I think it’s because this type of fear can be really debilitating if you don’t master it.  And I do have to point out that these attacks are really rare.  But here’s a few ways I try to get over it.

What Are You Scared Of

It’s really easy for your fears to become this huge conglomerate mess where the apocalypse is nigh and you might as well just give up now.  Except the world isn’t going to end anytime soon and you still have a life to live.  So get specific about what you’re afraid of.  I am not really worried about never having a job again; I’m pretty confident that I could find a job within the next month if I wanted to.  What I’m terrified of is not being able to do what I want to do, of not finding a way to make passions pay enough to cover my rent.  So get a piece of paper and write down what scares you.  In detail.  Be precise.  Suddenly, those fears don’t look nearly as big and bad as they felt, which brings us on to…

Take Action

Having got a handle on what your fears actually are, you are now in a position to start to do something about it, because I guarantee sitting at home worrying about it won’t change anything.  Personally, I love a to-do list but again it needs to be really specific.  “Get a job” is not a smart to-do list goal.  Break down everything into tiny, tiny steps: write a CV might be a good start, or register on a jobs website.  For one, these things are actually manageable and, secondly, you will feel an exorbitant amount of satisfaction when you start crossing them off (well, I do!).  But, as I said before, this kind of fear – the heart-stopping, panic-attack inducing fear – can be paralysing.  So just do one thing.  One tiny little thing.  If that’s all you do today, then you did one thing.  But maybe after doing one thing, you’ll feel like doing one more.  And another.  Until you’re on a roll.  As my mum always says to me “How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time”.  Pro to-do list tip: don’t let your actions roll on week to week.  If you’ve still got stuff left over from last week, you’ve probably made the action too big.  Can you break it down into smaller bits that you can do this week?

Get a Routine

I, for one, cannot live without a routine.  Maybe it’s all those years of military discipline but I just can’t do it.  Even though I don’t have a job to go, the alarm goes off at 7am and I get up, get dressed and have breakfast.  At which point, I feel like I might as well do some of the jobs on my list.  Set the conditions for your own success.  Sitting around in your pyjamas all day will not make you feel like accomplishing things.  Get a diary and put things in it – yoga classes, going for a walk, go and sit in your favourite coffee shop for two hours on the condition you will do those three tasks on your list.  And don’t forget to schedule in some fun.  One of the hardest things I find about working freelance is that I don’t have an office full of people to chat to everyday so I have to work a little harder to make sure I’m seeing my friends and that I’ve got enjoyable things to look forward to.

Have Fun

Which is probably a good time to remind ourselves that you only get one shot a life so you might as well enjoy the ride.  Whether it’s work or play, find things that make you happy and keep doing them.  One of my fears, at the grand old age of 32, is that I won’t find love, that I won’t get married.  Well maybe I won’t, maybe I will, who knows.  But I’m not going to wait around for him to show up to enjoy my life.  I’m going to live life to the full so if he never comes along, I know I had a ball; and if he does come along, hopefully he will see a happy, vibrant person doing all sorts of cool stuff and say ‘hey, I want to be part of that’.

Be Realistic

When I was at boarding school, I would call my mum after exams in floods of tears.  Through the sobs, she would eventually hear “I’ve failed, I’ve definitely failed this one”.  Time after time, she would gently point out that I hadn’t failed one yet, in fact, I had a pretty good track record of As.  But I guess what I meant is that I was worried I hadn’t got that A, that I wasn’t going to be perfect (we’re back to that thing about being specific about your fears).  I have no idea where I got the idea that I had to be perfect.  My parents never demanded perfection but I always have.  What an idiot!  What a totally unachievable goal to have in life.  I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years but I still have the most ridiculous expectations of myself.  If I’m not running sub 9-minute miles every day of the week, I’m failing.  If I’m not practising yoga and meditation EVERY DAY, then I’m failing.  If I’m not an overnight success as a freelance consultant, then I’m failing.  Life doesn’t work like that.  It takes time, it takes effort, and it’s not about achieving perfection.  Nor does every day off, or every slower mile, mean that you should just give up.  Choose your metaphor – life is a rollercoaster, or like being in a lift, or even a box of chocolates – but there will be ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days.  Days when it all feels easy and days when everything little thing feels like a marathon.  The only thing you can do is go with it; survive the tough ones and thrive in the sunny ones.  That’s how it goes.  So make sure your goals and ambitions fit into that.  By all means, decide you want to be an astronaut, but maybe deciding you want to be a drummer in a rock band when you don’t have any rhythm isn’t quite going to work, just like deciding to be perfect when you’re just human isn’t really going to go your way.

Your Friends Aren’t Wrong

I am not an Oscar-worthy actress.  Nor are my friends gullible.  I have not managed to convince them that I am an entirely different person.  Alright, they don’t hear my internal monologue, but it’s my monologue that’s wrong, not my friends.  I am the person that they see.  I don’t know why that inner voice is so mean and destructive.  I would never talk to anyone else the way that I talk to myself.  So I’m going to stop listening to that voice and start listening to my friends instead.  They’re a pretty fabulous bunch of people and if they think that I’m doing okay, then I’m going to trust that.

A Little Bit of Inspiration on a Monday

I always find this an odd Monday, stuck between Christmas and New Year.  The novelty of  eating mince pies at 10am in your pyjamas has probably worn off, the expectations for New Year’s Eve parties are still high, and no-one really wants January to come around yet.

Since I stopped working, I have a had a little more time to read than I have done recently, although I should probably put some thought into my imminent trip to Bangladesh!  So I thought today I would share some of the most touching, thought-provoking and inspirational things I have read in the last couple of weeks.

Laura Jane Williams might just be my favourite blogger at the moment; I have loved her writing ever since I first came across her blog a couple of months ago.  I think she writes beautifully and I really relate to her hopes and fears.  I read this post, It’s not a Breakdown, on a particularly bad day and I think it’s excellent advice for those days when it is just all too fucking much.  I also love her Letter for the Single People, which is the most gorgeous, heartfelt advice about loving yourself but not giving up on love.  And, if you needed anymore brilliant life tips, 36 Ways to be Braver is a good place to start!

Oh, one day I hope I will be able to write like this!

My other go-to blogger is Bangs and a Bun; I’ve mentioned her before on this blog.  She’s another talented writer and the kind of woman I would love to be and love to be friends with: down-to-earth, kind, no-nonsense, witty… You are more…is a perfect reminder about our infinite potential that you all need to read.  Right now.  Because I can’t  say it any better!

Finally, I found this list of 20 Things to Let Go of thought-provoking.  We all carry around so many expectations and worries that just weight us down and prevent us from fulfilling our potential.  Of course, it’s a lot easier said than done.  This is something that I’ve been working on recently.  When you have those negative thoughts, the ones that give you a horrible sinking feeling in your chest, don’t try to fight them: as you breathe in, try to just sit with the feeling, to accept it, then as you breathe out, imagine the feeling leaving your body with the breath.

I’d love you hear your thoughts on any of these articles.  What has inspired you recently?

Do, Review, Apply*

*or looking back and moving forward

A year ago, I sat in an office, many many miles away, and tried to picture what 2014 had in store for me, where I would be in a year’s time.  Let me tell you, it has been nothing like I imagined.  I knew it would be a year of change and of new starts; I had already submitted my resignation from the Royal Air Force and had some grand travelling plans but the master plan pretty much stopped in June!

As I sit here now, it’s too easy to feel overwhelmed by all the changes, to feel as though I have failed because I haven’t found the right job, or because that relationship didn’t work out, or that I’m still living at home months after I had planned to move out.  I have been scared, I have been hurt and sad.  There have been tears.  But I know that does not do my year justice…not by a long shot.

It doesn’t tell you that I took a huge leap of faith.  I recognised that I wasn’t living the life that I wanted to and I decided to change it; the fact that I haven’t landed yet does not mean it wasn’t 100% the right thing to do.  It doesn’t tell you that I have had several job offers, that I’ve been published not once but three times and got to do an interview live on national news because I am an expert in my field.  It doesn’t tell you that I have made some wonderful new friends, that I have opened my heart to new people and new experiences and am all the richer for it.  It doesn’t tell you that I have laughed, been happy and excited, and have lived.

And I am still here, still fighting.  As I look back, the only thing for which I am sorry is that I haven’t always acknowledged those positive things about myself along the way.  Everything I have been through, the highs and the lows, have all brought me this point and this is exactly where I am supposed to be.  I know I still have so much to work out but you know what?  Bring it on!

this will be my year

There aren’t going to be any sweeping resolutions or ridiculous goals – life is just far too unpredictable for that.  What I want to kindle this year is a kinder, more relaxed, more mindful approach to all that life has to throw at me.  So here it goes, my intentions for a soulful 2015.

Be kind

Enough with the mean words and the harsh judgements.  I will look after my physical, mental and spiritual well-being, one day at a time, just doing a little more of what feels good.  After all, I am worthy; I am deserving of my own love.  So are you, each and every one of you.  It is when we show ourselves compassion and love that we are able to share love with the people around us.

Be balanced

Yoga often talks about striking a balance between Effort and Ease in a practice, of applying yourself and working hard in each posture whilst finding a sense of ease and comfort in the process.  It requires you to listen to your body, to notice what’s going on, to push yourself a little deeper into the posture, to recognise your own limits.  It strikes me as a pretty good concept for living too!

Be brave

Nobody ever achieved anything by staying in their comfort zone.  Bravery isn’t about the absence of fear; it’s about doing those things even if you’re scared, because they scare you.

Be authentic

Above all, stay true to yourself – your values, beliefs and feelings are the best guide you have to life (why, oh why, does life not come with a manual?!).  But that means you have to listen, to quiet the worries about yesterday and tomorrow, to say goodbye to the negativity and the doubt, to really pay attention to what your gut is telling you.  Because then, I can truly be me, every imperfect, awesome, incredible part of me.

a blank book

2015 shows no signs of letting up.  In two weeks time, I will be on my way to Bangladesh, to spend four months living in a rural community and leading a team of volunteers.  And who knows what the rest of the year will have in store but I am confident that I have the attitude to thrive, whatever comes my way.

So come on, how was your 2014?  And how are you going to live 2015?  If you need a bit more inspiration to answer that, check out Some Inspiration and Plot, Plan, Review, then let me know how you’re getting on.

happy new year

Here’s to owning next year – let’s make it the best one yet.

How to Survive the Festive Period

Christmas.  Without fail, a season of overdoing it.  Too much booze, too much food, too little sleep, too many rubbish songs, enforced family fun.  But it is possible to survive and even thrive over the next couple of weeks so you can see in January without the mother of all hangovers.

Keep Moving

No-one enjoys getting up in the cold dark mornings to work out but exercise, in any form, boosts your mood and will stop the worst effects of those extra mince pies.  You don’t suddenly have to start running 5 miles before breakfast every day either, just incorporate a bit of movement and fresh air into your day.  Meeting a friend for coffee?  Go for a walk instead (and maybe get the coffee to go with you).  Drag your family off the sofa on Christmas Day and go for a walk together.  Turn up for those drinks fashionably late, having made some time to go to a yoga class.  Your mind, and your waistline, will thank you for it.

eat and drink healthily where you can

This is a hard one – I am totally addicted to my mum’s mince pies and can eat an entire tray in one go if so inclined.  And no doubt I will!  But I will also try to make healthy choices along the way.  Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water every day – staying hydrated is key to warding off those hangovers – and keep eating your veggies.  Go ahead and indulge but make sure you’re still giving your body the nutrients it needs to get you through to the new year.

Make time for yourself

It’s so easy to be busy being busy during the holidays and if you’re an introvert, like me, it can all get a bit overwhelming.  So make sure you schedule some time every day to just check in with yourself.  Go for a run (see the point above), have a bath or a long shower, block out the time when your favourite film is on TV (I have already told my family that I will be unavailable for a couple of hours on Christmas Eve because the Muppet Christmas Carol is on – it’s not Christmas until I’ve watched this movie!).  Whatever it is, make it a priority, enjoy the time, and then throw yourself back into the festivities.

Live in the moment

This is a recurring theme for me at the moment but I would urge you to be present in whatever you are doing this Christmas.  Give it your full attention.  Don’t be distracted by what happened yesterday or what you’re going to buy your sister.  Notice what is going on around you, use all of your senses, notice you feel about it.  Not only will this help you recognised when you’re actually feeling full so saying no to a fourth helping of mashed potatoes, but you will find that you enjoy the moments more – and if you’re not, acknowledge the feeling, recognise why and ask yourself what you can do differently.

be grateful

It’s too easy in this season of abundance to forget how lucky you are.  As you’re checking in with yourself, take a moment to be thankful for all of the blessings in your life.

enjoy it

Time off work, the perfect excuse to spend time with friends and family, presents…there are so many reasons to enjoy Christmas (it’s not even my favourite time of year) so go out there and enjoy it.  Laugh, love and live – you only get one shot at this.

How to Practise Yoga at Home

At the start of October, I set myself the challenge of practising yoga every day.  With a full-time job and a busy social life, not to mention this blog, I would really struggle to fit in and afford yoga classes every day.  So I have been practising at home.  Last week, I wrote about some of the benefits of self-practice so today I thought I would share some tips on how to practise on your own.

Where to go for ideas and inspiration

Go to a class

This might sound counter-intuitive but going to a yoga class is really important to developing your own practice.  Firstly, it’s a great way to learn the basics and how to practise the postures safely.  Secondly, your teachers (and I suggest you try classes with different teachers) should be a source of inspiration.  Many teachers use a set sequence to base their class around so, once you’re familiar with it, use this as the basis of your practise.  If you’re worried about not remembering it all (which doesn’t actually matter, by the way), take a pen and a notebook to your next class and jot down the sequence; just remember to let your teacher know what you’re doing – a, it’s polite, b, they are there to help you and may have their own tips on self-practice.

Go on retreat

In a similar vein, a yoga retreat is a great way to cultivate self-practice.  You’ll be taking your yoga practice to new depths anyway, exploring new postures and techniques, and you have so much time on your hands away from the usual distractions of life.  So take advantage!  Use some of that spare time to practise on your own – your yoga teacher will be on hand to give you advice if you’re struggling.  There are lots of retreats out there so hunt around but two of my favourite teachers, Natasha and Luca, are running retreats in Bali this autumn if you want to do something spur of the moment!

Get online

The internet is a wealth of resources for yogis!  There are literally hundreds of websites out there with advice and ideas for your practice.  Some of the ones I use include: MindBodyGreen, DoYouYoga, ElephantJournal, YogaJournal, Yoganonymous, and GaiamLife. There are also plenty of sites offering free and paid-for classes – not something I have tried yet but check out this handy little guide to some of the best.

Use a book

In addition to the internet, there are a whole plethora of yoga books out there.  I am going to recommend two that I use a lot.  First up is Om Yoga: A Guide to a Daily Practice by Cyndi Lee.  This is such a great little book to practice with; it has short sequences for each day of the week, handily tabbed, with easy-to-follow stickmen drawings.  You can use the daily sequences or the book also has a series of ‘recipes’ at the back to put together longer practices.  This is my go-to resource when I don’t know what to do with my practice.  The other book I love is How Yoga Works by Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally.  This is actually a novel about a young woman in 12th century India, who transforms a community through her yoga teachings.  It’s a beautiful story in its own right but also provides a really accessible way to understand the Yoga Sutras.  I always recommend it to friends who have started practising yoga and they have all loved it!

Designing your own sequence

Keep it simple

All of my tips so far have been how to find ideas and sequences that you can practise at home but how do you make up your own sequence?  I asked Natasha this question while we were practising yoga in Goa a couple of years ago and her advice still guides my practice: start with a few rounds of sun salutations, then pick one posture you hate and one you love.  It’s that simple.  The postures you don’t like to practise are the ones you probably need to practise the most; I don’t like forward-folds because I have tight hamstrings (thanks, running!) and so they are hard but that just means I need to do them more.  And pick a posture you love because your practice should be enjoyable and it’s good to end on a positive note.  This will also help keep your practice balanced.

Closing your practice

Always close your practice with a moment of quiet contemplation; this could be shavasana or just sitting cross-legged on the floor.  Just take a moment to notice you feel after the practice and to reflect on all of the blessings in your life.

It can be daunting the first few times you step onto the mat without having someone else’s voice to guide you but it gets easier with time.  Try not to get too focussed on how long you should be holding a pose for (as long as you’re comfortable for or about 5 breaths are both a good guide); instead, really try to focus on how the postures feel.

So over to you.  What advice would you give to someone starting out with self-practice?  Have you tried to practise at home?  How did you find it?

The Benefits of Self-Practice

I love going to a yoga class.  Or on retreat.  I really enjoy the community that exists around practising yoga.  But ultimately, yoga is about your own journey, the connection with your body and your breath.  If you really to feel the benefits of yoga, whatever they are for you, you are going to want to step (bravely) away from a class and into self-practice at some point.

I’m going to talk about how you can do that in a later post; firstly, here are a few reasons why you should practise on your own.

Anytime, anyplace

You don’t need much to practise yoga.  There is only one essential: you!  A mat is a nice-to-have but not a requirement; you don’t even need a lot of space.  This means you can practise whenever and wherever you like, so no need to fit your life around a class schedule.  Find a time and place that works for you and go for it!

No time limits

In a similar vein, you can practise for as long or as little as you want.  Regular practice is the key to improving at anything; it doesn’t need to be an hour long class, even 10 minutes every day will help you start to feel the benefits of yoga.  I am already feeling better from practising every day over the last week; it’s easier to get up in the morning, I ache less at work, I have more energy throughout the day.

Practise how you feel

I think it’s great to be challenged in a class, especially if you’re lacking energy, but the beauty of a self-practice is that you can tailor your practice around how you are feeling.  Want to really push yourself today?  Go for it with a fast-flowing vinyasa practice.  Maybe you’re feeling run-down and just want to relax with some restorative yoga – I’ve been doing this a lot over the past week.  Or perhaps you’re working towards a challenging posture and want to focus on postures to help you reach your goal.  You can do anything you want in self-practice because you are the only person that matters.

Save money

Let’s face it – yoga can be an expensive business these days.  The average price of a class in London seems to be about £15 and that’s before you’ve thought about travel or having the “right” clothes.  Practising on your own is free and who cares what you’re wearing!

Discover what yoga really means for you

People practise yoga for all sorts of reasons: to be more flexible, to get stronger, to feel more grounded.  Maybe all of those things apply to you; maybe you haven’t quite worked that out yet.  Yoga teachers can guide you through your journey but they can’t do it for you.  I would really recommend going to classes and learning from as many different teachers as you can but you are the one who needs to put the work in and discover what ignites your passion for yoga.  For me, it’s those little moments of peace and quiet in my head, where the rest of the world and all my worries just back off for a while; I just feel a sense of space and lightness after practising.

It’s fun!

There is no right or wrong way to practise yoga (as long as you are staying safe and listening to our body) so play around with the practice.  Have fun.  Enjoy it!  Put on loud music; laugh; experiment with postures and flow.  Whatever you want – it’s your practice.

I’m now a week into my challenge of practising yoga every day.  It was a rather inauspicious start but I’ve managed to keep it up so far.  It’s not always easy, even finding 10 minutes can be tricky on some days – I practised in bed this morning as I was staying with my sister and I know I will be home late tonight.  I’ve been doing short sessions so far but am planning a couple of longer practices over the weekend when I have a bit more time.

So over to you.  Do you have a self-practice?  How do you find it?  What do you think the benefits are?