A Work of Art

Photo by Daian Gan: https://www.pexels.com/photo/shallow-focus-photography-of-paintbrush-102127/

There are a lot of productivity techniques out there. A lot of rules for living. A lot of methods. If you’re anything like me, you can get hung up on trying to follow all the rules. ‘If I can just get this perfect,’ I think, ‘then I’ll have a perfect life. Everything perfectly in order. Peaceful. Calm. Quiet.’

However, life is not like an Excel spreadsheet. Life is more like a work of art.

Bill Bernbach was a big man in advertising in the mid-20th century. As he moved through his early career, he became concerned about the industry. He could see that there were amazing technicians working in advertising – they knew how long a sentence should be, or that the body of the text should be broken up for easier reading. But he could also see that perfect technique wasn’t enough.

In a letter to agency management he wrote:

 ‘… look beneath the technique and what did you find? A sameness, a mental weariness, a mediocrity of ideas. But they could defend every ad on the basis that it obeyed the rules of advertising. It was like worshiping a ritual instead of the God.’ – Bill Bernbach (Letters of Note)

It’s a temptation, isn’t it? To find books or blogs or podcasts that give us rules for living, and then to remember the rules, but forget the living part. When we do that, we find our lives become filled with sameness, mental weariness, and yes, mediocrity.

So what do we do about it?

Firstly, take the time to check in with yourself. Spend time in silence. Or go for a long walk. Or wash the dishes by yourself. Ask yourself how you’re doing. Listen to the answer. 

Be imperfect. Get it wrong. Make incorrect choices. Eat cake. Spend a day in your PJs. Leave the washing up on the sink. Double book an appointment. Not all the time, obviously. But when it happens, treat it as a special accent in the work of art that is your life. 

Sometimes it is not you that doesn’t follow the rules, but life happens around you. Happens to you. You get stuck in traffic or someone cancels your appointment or suddenly you’re babysitting a two-year-old and your whole day has to be rearranged. Instead of mourning the loss of your perfect (but slightly dull) routine, treat this as a plot twist in your life story and, after taking time to check in with yourself (yes, in the traffic jam), adjust and move forward.

Some plot twists are bigger than others. You lose your job. Or you find you have cancer. Or a loved one dies. I’m not really talking to these situations because in these big ones it seems that most people learn the hard lessons about what is important as they grieve and keep going. I guess what I’m saying is, can we apply this really hard and horrible lesson to our smaller life inconsistencies? Can we figure out what’s important even without the grief and tragedy? I think we can.

Let’s try to keep the trend in the right direction. Let’s keep on using our to do lists and organising our activities using a calendar. Let’s make time budgets and use reward charts and think before we give an answer to every request on our time. Let’s use the tools that people have discovered and created that help us to keep our lives peaceful and organised. 

But let’s remember that they are tools. That the aim is not to live a robotic monotonous life. The aim is to live a life that is a beautiful work of art. The aim is to LIVE.

is there a topic you would like me to write about? Please let me know at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or @aquietlifeblog on Twitter or Ruth Amos Author on Facebook. 

And if you’d like to hear the chat I had with Scottie, you can listen at A Quiet Life on any podcatcher or find the whole podcast on on my website.

Winter is Coming

Last year’s winter adventure in the snow at Mt Field

Winter is coming. And I don’t know about you, but I struggle with the season of winter.

It’s not the cold so much as the dark evenings and the dark mornings. I struggle to get motivated. I want to cuddle up on the couch and eat a lot and do nothing. And then I get a bit depressed that I’m not achieving like I would like to achieve. By the end of the season, I find myself thinking, ‘Phew, that’s another winter over. We made it.’

I don’t really want to feel like that. I mean, I understand that there are rhythms and I accept that winter is for comfort food and warm fires and sitting on the couch more. This year, I want to enjoy those aspects, not wish them away. There are two school terms between now and the September holidays and I don’t want to just ‘make it through’ those four or five months. I want to live my quiet life with joy and peace even in the dark months of winter.

So this is more of a process blog as I try to figure out what will make the next few months easier. And if you have any ideas to help, please let me know.

First things first, I want to keep up my exercise and keep taking vitamin D. We’re in Tasmania and we get so little sunlight through the winter months that many of us here are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D helps our moods be brighter and so does exercise. I’m glad I go to a gym so I can keep going even in the cold, wet months. I’m sure that will help.

Having said that, nature and being out in it helps too. Nothing like a bit of green to lift your spirits, even if it is seen out of the window of the car. Or walking along the beach, fighting against the wind. Last winter, one of our adventure weekends was a trip to the snow. It was magical. We might try that again.

Keeping up the adventure weekends is important for us too. They don’t need to be expensive, but they do need to take us away from home either on a day trip, or preferably overnight. We might go do some goo-ing over our grandson too.

Creative projects are great. Things that we can do inside but feel like we’re achieving and creating. We can’t go out into the garden when it’s cold and wet, but I can write and knit, and Moz enjoys woodwork and design. We need to make sure we have some projects on the go.

And there’s the normal things – the Sabbaths and retreats, the time of silence in the morning and the worry book, and the gratitude. All these help with attitude and optimism. Limiting social media and screen time, even though that’s all I want to do on those cold dark nights, and reading books instead, that will help.

Lists, keeping on top of work and not taking too much on, putting boundaries in place, setting priorities, doing my favourites first, all important time management things so I don’t feel completely overburdened. I know that July through September are particularly heavy work months and I need to allow for that and make sure I put a space between any requests and my answer so I know whether I can actually fit the work in or not.

And finally, for me, keeping a hold on my Type A personality so that when I do all these things and still feel a bit low, or maybe only manage to do 60% of the amazing list I’ve written out, that I don’t throw self-recrimination and guilt on top and make myself feel worse. There is no magic bullet that allows you to feel chipper and on top of things all the time.

It’s winter. It will pass.

How do you help yourself through the dark winter months?Let me know in the comments, or write to me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or find me at Ruth Amos Author on Facebook, or tweet at @aquietlifeblog.

Gratitude

The thing I am most grateful for, this time of year and always.

This time of year (Easter) fills me with gratitude. I’m grateful for the school holidays. For a long weekend. For chocolate (just that it exists). And of course, as a Christian, I am grateful for the sacrifice that Jesus made. In fact, that gratitude tops the list and I think it’s worth spending the weeks of Lent and the day of Good Friday and the whole Easter weekend meditating on. There is so much to be grateful for.

One of the things to be grateful for, is the benefit that comes from being grateful. It’s very circular, but also true. Being grateful has many benefits.

A quick google search found evidence from scientific studies of benefits such as

  • Better sleep
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Better relationships and more new friends
  • Better physical health
  • More resilience
  • Less materialism and more generosity
  • Less envy, resentment, frustration and regret, and
  • Higher self-esteem

Now, I’m not saying that you need to go through life with a happy smile pasted on your face, doing the Pollyanna thing and just refusing to face the hard things in life. Two things can be true at once. You can be grateful and at the same time understand that life is hard.

I like telling this to first-time mums. When I had my first child, I was so grateful for her. I had really, desperately wanted a baby and now I had one. She was wonderful. She was a gift. And at the same time, the labour was traumatic and my beautiful baby didn’t like sleeping on her own and life was hard. And I made life harder by refusing to acknowledge the hard parts. 

I needed to understand that I can acknowledge the hard parts of life while still being grateful for the good parts. No toxic positivity. But still, gratitude is a helpful attitude to have.

So how should we go about enhancing our attitude of gratitude?

One way a friend does this is at meal times. Our normal grace of ‘Thank you Father God for this good food’ is replaced with each person at the table stating something they are grateful for. And that’s what ‘saying grace’ is really for. Giving thanks.

A gratitude journal is another method. You could write one line each night or morning detailing something you are grateful for. Or for bigger benefits, be specific. Write five sentences about one thing. Detail and specificity enhances the effect of keeping a gratitude journal.

You could set your phone to give you random reminders to stop and give thanks. (There are many gratitude apps out there to help you.)

You could link your gratitude to another habit – give thanks when you drink your morning coffee, or give thanks as you ride the bus to work.

Or you can tell someone what you are thankful for about them. One of the things I learned in Youth With A Mission (YWAM) is that, rather than waiting for someone to die and then saying nice things about them at their funeral, pick a time and say nice things about them now. Celebrate birthdays by seating the person in a chair/throne and then going around the room, sharing how much that person means to you. If you think of something you love about someone, say it now. Don’t save it up. Or write it in a note or a card. Let them know.

There is so much to be grateful for. I, for one, am still overwhelmingly grateful for the clean water that comes out of our taps. Not taking that one for granted yet. 

I could go on and on about what I’m grateful for. But I think it’s your turn. What is one thing you’re grateful for today? Let me know in the comments, or write to me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or find me at Ruth Amos Author on Facebook, or tweet at @aquietlifeblog.

Here are the websites I looked at:

https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-gratitude-research-questions/

https://www.healthline.com/health/benefits-of-gratitude-practice#benefits

https://positivepsychology.com/benefits-gratitude-research-questions/

Time as a container

Does your schedule feel like this kitchen sink?

This week I’ve been reading a great book called ‘Decluttering at the Speed of Life’ by Dana K White. It’s a book in one of my favourite genres – the decluttering genre. I have been inspired by it to throw out a big box full of cassette tapes that we were storing, for some unknown reason, and some old stained placemats. We did a big declutter many years ago. A great big life-changing declutter. And then little bits along the way since then. But it’s always good to look at your stuff again. Things change, and it’s good to look with fresh eyes.

But that’s not what this blog is about. It’s about time management, and rest, and simplification, and saying no. So what does decluttering have to do with that?

Well, Dana K White has a great concept that she calls ‘the container concept’. The idea is this (and bear with me, we will get to time soon): If you have a place to put something then the size of the container limits the amount of stuff you put in it. 

If you have a drawer in your kitchen for pots and pans, once you’ve filled it, that’s all there’s space for. You need to get rid of the pots and pans that don’t fit.

If you have a wardrobe for clothes, then once it’s full of clothes, you need to get rid of the clothes that don’t fit.

The size of the container limits what’s put in the container.

Dana suggests that you put in your favourites first. Then when you run out of space, she has a one-in-one-out policy. For each thing you put in, you take another thing out. 

So, what does this have to do with time management?

The thing I realised, as I mulled it over, is that your day is also a container. It is a limited, finite container for time. It can only fit so much. 

So applying the container concept, you need to define what your time is being used for, and you need to realise that when the container is full, it is full.

For example, the other night we had dinner with our son and daughter-in-law. Those few hours was set aside for spending time with them. And the fact that work emails were arriving on my phone was a distraction from the thing that I had set time aside to do. 

The thing is, science says that we can’t do two things at once. Multitasking is a myth. When you’re multitasking, you’re actually swapping attention from one thing to the next and back again. And that means that the nothing gets your pure focused attention. Even just getting a notification of an email can distract you, break your focus, change your train of thought to a new track. And according to the studies, it takes about 20 minutes to get focused again after that. 

This became a problem for me that evening with the family. I grew stressed as I watched the emails come in. I was distracted from the relaxing evening and felt under pressure. 

So I decided to do something about it. I talked to my tech guy (my husband, Moz) and he found an app I could put on my phone so that it stops checking the email after 6pm at night and doesn’t check it for the whole weekend either. This is a boundary that allows my rest time to be rest time, and my work time to be work time. It’s a definition of what my time-containers are for. 

I’ve also had a lot of work on my plate lately. And while I’m very grateful for it, it has meant that I’ve had to do some one-in-one-out work on my time containers. I’ve had to prioritise what I’m doing with my day. I can’t fit in more than fits in the container.

So when I was given three thesis chapters to edit, that meant that I couldn’t fit in the recording and editing of my podcast, and the uploading of my blog, and the emailing to my newsletter list. However, I didn’t let it stop me from working on my novel. That came first (favourites first) and then the paid work. And then the day was full, so some things had to wait. 

There are so many options to our days. There are many different possibilities for how we spend our time. But the time is finite and we just cannot do it all. We have to prioritise. Choose our favourites. And some things can be put off until a later time, but some things will just need to go. Sometimes we have to say no to some opportunities.

We might like to think we can just squeeze and squash more in. We can just push our schedules a little harder and work longer and go without sleep. But doing that makes our day feel like an overstuffed closet. And in the end, it’s going to all fall out all over the floor.

Instead, let’s apply the container concept to our time. Designate a use for a period of time. And when the day is full, allow it to be full, and either say no to new things, or put them into the next container we have available. Favourites first, and let the amount of time you have limit what you’re able to do. 

Was this helpful for you? Let me know in the comments, or write to me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or find me at Ruth Amos Author on Facebook, or tweet at @aquietlifeblog. And please feel free to share with anyone you think it might help.

Self Talk

Photo by Amelie from Pexels
How you talk to yourself matters. It really does. Even if your top love language isn’t words of encouragement, the language you use when you’re talking to yourself still makes a difference.
And don’t tell me you don’t talk to yourself. We all do. Everyone does.
You spill your drink. ‘Ugh, you klutz,’ you say to yourself. ‘Always so clumsy.’
Or you feel tired. ‘You’re so lazy,’ you say. ‘Everyone else can do better than you.’
Or you forget to buy the milk when you go grocery shopping. ‘You’re an idiot,’ you say. ‘Always forgetting everything.’
We treat ourselves worse than we would treat any of our friends.
And it matters. We build these horrible neural pathways in to our brains and they limit us. They stop us from trying. Why would you try something new? You’re a lazy, clumsy idiot. Only you’re not. You’re a hard-working, clever, articulate, nimble, creative genius. You are, you know!
There is so much within your reach, and talking to yourself kindly is a first step to going out and getting it. Now I know how hard it is, especially as an Aussie, to say nice things about ones self. It really is hard.  I’m trying to tell myself right now that I’m an intelligent, clever, funny writer. And I’m struggling to say it, let alone believe it. But I think that this is so important that I’m going to keep trying. So let’s try a few things:

1) Be a friend. Talk to yourself like you would to a dear friend.  If you spill a bit of your drink, just say, ‘No use crying over spilt milk, let me clean that up for you.’ If you feel tired, tell yourself, ‘It’s ok that you’re tired. You didn’t sleep well last night. Take a little rest, you need it. The world will cope for a few minutes.’ If you forget the milk, ‘It’s not the end of the world. We’ll pick some up tomorrow.’ I think that thinking of yourself as a dear friend helps at least stop the harsher insults.

2) If you can’t think of something nice to say to yourself, use someone else’s words.  Courtney Frerichs has used words given to her by coaches and psychologists to help her achieve her athletics dreams. She has repeated phrases to herself such as, ‘Expect nothing. Achieve everything.’ Or ‘Let yourself run.’ These phrases have helped her to achieve a silver medal in the steeplechase at the Olympics. Here’s some other phrases you might like to use:
‘Am I good enough? Yes I am.’ Michelle Obama.
‘Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen,’ Brene Brown
‘Your perspective is unique. It’s important and it counts.’ Glenn Close
‘Every day above earth is a good day.’ Ernest Hemingway.
‘You must do the things you think you cannot do,’ Eleanor Roosevelt.
There are some great scriptures too:
‘Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.’ Psalm 27:14
‘…Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.’ Luke 11:9
And if you feel sure that God is telling you to do something then:
‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’ Deuteronomy 31:6
But always:
‘Do everything in love.’ 1 Corinthians 16:14
‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ 1 Peter 5:7

3) Remind yourself of what you want to be. What you want to grow into. Why is it that we’re happy to tell ourselves negative stories but not positive ones? We’re happy to drive into town repeating ad nauseam, ‘I’m not going to make it. I’m going to be late.’ But not to drive in saying, ‘I’ll get there in time. And if I don’t, I’ll cope. They’ll cope.’
We happily say, ‘I’m always late.’ But not ‘I’m organised and I’m going to be on time.’
We can say ‘I’m always …’ something negative, even when we know it only happens every fifth time. But we can’t say ‘I’m always …’ something positive when we know that it happens four out of five. Why do we let one negative outweigh four positives? So tell yourself the positive story instead. Say ‘I’m peaceful’ even when you might not be right at this moment. Or say ‘I’m going to cope.’ Find something positive that is also true and repeat that to yourself. 

4) Avoid negative labels. You may have put them on yourself or someone else may have labelled you. But you are so much more than even the best of labels. They are too simplistic. 
Of course, sometimes labels help. For example, if you are diagnosed with autism or ADHD you might find that having that label, that explanation, helps you cope so much more with life. But at the same time, you are more than even that helpful label. 
Once again, it’s easy to label ourselves negatively – coward, glutton, lazy. These labels are easy to use. But positive labels seem so much harder – creative, intelligent, go-getter. But why should they be? 
Rewrite the negative labels with some positive ones. Rewrite the pathways in your brain. Remind yourself of who you are, or who you want to be and use those words and grow into them.

I know that all this positive speak has been used badly by some influential people. Speak it into being, they say, and it will come to pass. All you have to do is repeat ‘I’m a millionaire’ five times every morning and evening and you will see the money manifest itself. 
I am not saying this. But at the same time, I believe words are powerful and that being positive and loving and kind in the words you use when you speak to yourself, that can only be helpful. And it will spill over to being loving and kind and positive when you speak to others too.

You can do it. You’re a good, kind, creative, precious human. And I am too. 

What positive things do you tell yourself? Write and let me know at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or tweet me @aquietlifeblog or find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author.
And feel free to pass this on to a friend, or let them know they can listen to the A Quiet Life podcast on any podcatcher.

Start small, but START

Green background with the words A Quiet Life in white.

This week I have published episode 100 of my podcast, A Quiet Life. This is a milestone worth celebrating! But even though 100 episodes sounds like a lot, it has been accomplished over a few years, just a little at a time.

Just like anything worthwhile.

As Bishop Desmond Tutu once said, “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” As you go on taking bite after bite, eventually you’ll get that whole elephant down.

In 2018, I decided I wanted to make a podcast. I had listened to a lot of them, and I thought about what kind of podcast I preferred and decided to make an interview format podcast. I’d heard some pretty inspirational people speak at various events and I wanted to give them a platform (yes, a very small platform, but it was something). I wanted to do my own little bit to get some stories heard.

So that’s how I started – I contacted people I knew with interesting stories, the elderly lady who visited people in prison, the friend who had climbed Mt Everest, the chaplain from a local hospital, a friend who had just discovered she was autistic, and so on. I interviewed them, doing the best I could with sound quality, and I put the interviews online.

After a while, I found I was struggling with inviting people for interviews, and I was struggling to get excited about the questions I was asking. So I paused for a while and re-evaluated.

And then a new opportunity was offered to me – I could meet up with Scottie, the breakfast announcer at our local community Christian radio station and have a chat with him once a fortnight. A regular segment on the radio. 

So I started the podcast up again, and this time I chose to base it on something I could talk about indefinitely. I love to share the things I’ve learned that have helped me to live a quieter, more peaceful, more organised life. Things like time management and productivity, things that have helped me with my anxiety, and helped me find my calling in life. Things that I hope will help you too.

And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past year. Episode by episode, and blog by blog, I have kept going, doing what I could until we got to this milestone. One hundred episodes.

I was listening to a Q&A podcast with Phil Vischer (of VeggieTales fame) the other day. He was asked what his advice was to people wanting to become creatives like him. His advice? Just do it. Just start creating. You can make a movie on your phone, you can, like me, start by recording on your computer and get a podcast up and running, you can sit down and write a page each day in a novel. The important thing is to do it. Just do it. 

It’s not just creativity that this applies to either. If you want to save money, don’t wait to have a thousand spare dollars sitting in your account. Put a little away at the beginning of each pay period and you’ll be amazed at how it adds up over time.

If you want to get fit, don’t wait to feel all energetic and then try to run 5 km all at once. Start with a little walk, just a little further than feels comfortable. Keep doing that, and you’ll get there (unless, of course, there’s an underlying illness problem, but you know what I mean).

If you want a tidy house, start by picking up one thing that doesn’t belong where it is, and putting it away.

(I’d like to add that pivoting is not bad either, just like I did in the middle of my podcast. A change of direction is not synonymous with failure.)

It’s been an interesting journey and I’m excited to see where it goes from here. I hope to expand into more public speaking, more workshops (online and in-person) and yes, another book or two. But I know that each of those things will come about little by little.

It’s easy to look at the tiny amount you are doing and discard it as too small, too insignificant to make any difference. But you don’t know where your project will lead. However, we all know, for sure, that if you don’t take the first step, you won’t go anywhere. Let me encourage you today to start. Start small. Take one step. Whether you end up as a celebrity or you just achieve something you never thought you could, it’s totally worthwhile.

Please share with me your own success stories, or let me know the project you’re going to start on. You can email me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author, or on twitter @aquietlifeblog. And please share this with anyone you know who needs encouragement to start today.

P.S. Here’s a little extra encouragement: A whole tree!

Are you a 3 a.m. planner?

An alarm clock showing the time twenty to three with a background of the moon and stars.

We all know that worrying is bad for us. Plenty of people have told us so. I did a quick search and came up with these mic drop quotes:

‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.’ Corrie ten Boom

‘Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.’  Erma Bombeck.

‘A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.’ John Lubbock.

Jesus famously said, ‘Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’

I’ve always found Jesus’ injunction not to worry, and his reassurance that God knows what we need in terms of food and drink and so on to be immensely comforting. ‘Don’t worry,’ I tell myself. ‘You’ll be fine. It’s better not to worry.’

So when I found myself waking up at 2 a.m. and being unable get back to sleep night after night, I thought I wasn’t worrying. I knew that worrying would be wrong and unnecessary and I was sure I wouldn’t be so silly. 

No, what I was doing, for a couple of hours each night, was planning

Planning is different.

Planning is being a responsible adult and making sure things don’t fall off the radar. 

Planning is thinking through the day ahead and making sure you have figured out what you need so that you can remember when you wake up and can do something about it.

Are you a 2am ‘planner’? Or do you turn the light off and ‘plan’ in bed until you go to sleep?

I’ve got bad news for you. That is not planning. That is worrying.

 My psych gave me an activity to do, which I’m sure I’ve shared before. She said that each morning, before 8 a.m. if possible, I should set aside time to worry. Yes, planned worry time. 

In that time, I write down my worries. Everything that I can think of. I put them all down on paper. Then I take that paper and put it into a worry box. Safe. 

I am a Christian, so I call that box, ‘God’s In-box’. I give the worries to him. They are no longer mine, and I know that he can take care of them better than I can. But even if you don’t have that joy, I am sure that this exercise will be helpful to you anyway. Because I’ve had two major epiphanies from the process of using a worry box.

A few weeks after I started the exercise, I dove into the box and pulled out some worry lists from the early days. I looked at all the things I had been worried about. I thought through the situations and saw how few of them were worthy of worry. How often things just turned out all right. How few of my imagined disaster scenarios actually came to pass. 

The people I was worried about could look after themselves. They didn’t die, or lose their jobs, or fail their exams. And if they did have something go wrong for them, they usually dealt with it quite well.

The dinner guests came and we had great conversation and the food was delicious. And if there was a catering mishap, it was easily covered over.

The costs for the house maintenance were covered in good time and without us having to starve or go cold.

Things were just not as bad as I was prepared for them to be. I didn’t need to be quite so prepared and geared up for catastrophe as I thought I did. We were doing fine. I realised that I didn’t need to worry as much as I thought I did.

The second thing, and this led to the planning/worrying epiphany, was that when I tried to think back and remember what I had been worried about the night before, I realised that the things that seemed like real worries at 3 a.m. were ridiculous when I looked at them at 8 a.m. after I had drunk a cup of coffee.

I had wasted hours worrying about things that, once my brain was properly awake, I could see weren’t even plausible. 

The fact is that the middle of the night is just not a good time for rational thought and planning. Even if I was planning, I was planning irrationally. It was much more worthwhile to save that planning time until the morning when I could write lists, check my calendar, even make phone calls or send messages if that was what was necessary. 

I hadn’t been planning after all. I had been worrying.

Do you know which part of the brain works extra well at night? I haven’t read any scientific studies on this but I reckon it’s the imaginative side. The creative part. And you can use that imagination to plan disasters, envision major calendar clashes, and figure out scripts to arguments with your friends and loved ones (that scripting never works – the other party hasn’t read the script and they’ll get their part wrong) or you can use your imagination to make up stories and songs, things that you don’t need to remember until the next day but that will work with your brain, helping it to relax, until the stories become dreams.

At least, that’s what works for me. I now choose to think about the novel I’m writing. I tell myself the part of the story that I’m working on at present. For me, it’s a good use of my time. If I work out a plot hole or a new bit of dialogue, then good. But more often, most of the time, I will tell myself a story, and that story will become a dream, and before I know it, I’m asleep.

Tomorrow’s worries can wait until it’s worry time.

I wonder if others have the same planning/worry mixup that I had. Have you ever got the two confused? And how do you put yourself to sleep? Or is this never a problem for you and do you sleep as soon as your head hits the pillow?

It’s good to be back after my summer break. If you’d like to hear my podcast on this subject, head to ruthamos.com.au/podcast. If this could help someone you know, please feel free to share it (or the podcast) and feel free to drop me a line (and answer my questions) at ruth@ruthamos.com.au or on Facebook or Twitter. I’d love to hear from you.

What makes you a Success?

to-do-list_o_915180

I’m sharing a couple of older posts as I take a break for the summer. I hope you enjoy this one, and that it helps you start the year with hope and clarity. I’ll be back in February with new posts. See you then!

I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago but didn’t put it up because it’s January and EVERYONE is writing about goals and resolutions and so on right now. But I’m going to post it anyway, because it’s what I’m thinking about as I start this year. My birthday is in January, so as well as the big New Years Day thing, I also have the next year of my life to think about. January for me is all about goals, dreams, plans for the year ahead.

And what it means to have those plans succeed.

Success. What does it mean? More importantly, what does it mean to you?

How would you define a successful year? What makes you successful in your career? What does success mean in your family?

I’m a bit of a list addict. When the weekend comes I like to write a list of everything I want to accomplish in the two days. My list will have bigger tasks like ‘change the bed linen’ and smaller tasks like ‘clean up the kitchen’ (alright that can also be a big task – it depends on the day), and even hobby tasks like ‘read book’ or ‘bake cookies’.

If I cross all the tasks off the list by the end of the weekend I judge it to be a wildly successful weekend. But what if I don’t manage to get to all the tasks? Is the weekend a failure? Am I a failure?

I listened to a podcast interview by Steve Laube a literary agent, about success. He was talking about how writers define success and how it can be a dangerous thing. He said that some define success by sales numbers, ‘I’ll be successful once I sell 50,000 books,’ or by income, ‘I’ll be successful when I make $100,000.’ But, he says, what if you only sell 45,000 books? What if you only make $98,000? Are you a failure? If you haven’t ticked over that success milestone does that mean you have failed?

His point was that it is better to define success as the impact that you have on people – that even if you impact one person’s life for the better by your writing, you have therefore been a success.

We can apply that to our general lives too. We might never be millionaires, we might not ever be able to be Prime Minister, or a movie star, or the CEO of our corporation, or any of these high-impact people, but if we can impact the lives around us in a positive way on a day to day basis then we can also say that we are successful.

I agree. Money or fame or power are not good measures of success. They are more like gaping bottomless pits that suck you in and suck those around you into the abyss as well. At least, that’s what it looks like from the outside. I’ve never really been close enough to find out.

So yes, doing good to others, spreading the light however we can, reaching out and making anyone’s life better, that is a good measure of success but there’s a risk with this kind of thinking.

The risk is that we stop trying. We can be tempted to not push ourselves, not try hard, not grow, because all we’re doing is just trying to help the people around us, trying to shed light, and isn’t that enough? Just being a nice person? If that’s the definition of success then why bother training? Why bother learning? Why bother developing our artistic skills? Why bother with academic excellence?

But I believe excellence is something worth reaching for. Learning and growing and improving is a life-long journey and if we stop doing any of that then we stop living. Or at least we stop living a life filled with any richness.

My dream for my writing career is that I can make a living by what I write. That is what I think would constitute a wildly successful writing career. It is what I’m aiming for. My big shining city on a hill that I’m toiling towards. This is not something that I expect to tick off my list any time soon, but it’s the thing that will keep me striving for excellence, will keep me training and working.

And failure in my writing career is defined solely by this:

  • I fail if I stop writing.

So in between the failure and the big shining city there is a wide plain of moderate success:

  • I am successful if I put aside the time to write.
  • I am successful if I hone my skills, train in character development or descriptive writing.
  • I am successful if I bring a book to publication.
  • I am not a failure unless I fail to do that which I am called to do.

I think you can see from this list though that the goals that are on the success pathway are goals that are within my control. Goals that depend on me, not on external forces. Goals like exercising every day, rather than a goal of losing 10 kg which has a lot of factors you may not be able to control. Goals like mastering that piano piece or practicing five hours a week, not goals like winning Australian Idol. It is easy to fail if your definition of success depends on something that you cannot have a hope of controlling. Some people call these systems, not goals. I’ll probably write another post on this in the future because I think it needs some unpacking but just bear it in mind right now. When I talk about never failing, I’m talking about reaching for goals that depend on your own input, not externally defined goals.

Success and failure are not binary concepts. Success is not an on-off switch.

Rather there is a continuum from failure (which I think is only final once you’re dead) to wild and absolute success. And every step you take towards your shining city is a successful step. Every setback is just that, a setback. If you pick up and keep going, you have not failed.

I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this in the comments. What do you see as success? What do you think about goals? What are your goals for the new year?

Consider the Ant

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Multicoloured Ants from the Smithsonian Magazine

Happy New Year! Today I am re-sharing an older post about work and rest rhythms as this summer I am aiming for the rest part of that rhythm. I hope you enjoy this post. We will be back to our regular posting in February.

The Good Book says, ‘Consider the ant,’ and I have been doing a lot of that lately. Our house seems to be overrun with them. We have flying ants coming in through our windows and crawling ants coming in through every little crack in the walls.

No, I’m exaggerating. But we do have two major ant incursions.

One in the downstairs bathroom, and one upstairs in the kitchen.

We’ve been using Ant Rid to deal with them. The first thing that happens with Ant Rid is that the ants get all excited and they ALL come to eat the bounty that you have provided for them. Then, so the advertising tells me, they take the poison back to their nest and it kills off the queen and you’re rid of your ant problem.

The downstairs ants have stopped coming, which is nice. But the upstairs ants, they are pretty persistent. There must be a lot of them in that nest.

We keep feeding them, more and more of the delicious Ant Rid. They keep crowding around, making nice neat circles around the drops of golden goodness. We’ve even been making patterns with them — long strips of ant rid, or crop circles. It’s fun. As I say, I’ve been considering them a lot.

When I think of those verses, Proverbs 6:6 and Proverbs 30:25, I tend to think about the busy bustling ant. I think that the verses are a call out to me to be busy. To work hard. To keep going back and forth, storing up food, doing what I’ve been told to do. But that’s not entirely what those verses say.

They say that the ant is wise, it has no commander, and it has little strength, but it stores up its food in the summer; gathers its provisions at harvest.

There is a time limit implicit in those words. The ant doesn’t work hard all the time. It works hard when it is work time, ‘at harvest’, ‘in the summer’. It stores up food then, so that at other times, when it’s not time to work, it will be able to rest.

Our kitchen ants (they are almost pets now) also work hard when the working is good. But when the sun is out and shining on the wall, making it too hot for them to climb up, they rest. At the moment, as I write this, the ants are gone. There are just little puddles of ant rid sitting on our bench and waiting.

But when the sun moves to the west, they will be back, once again busily collecting the food for the nest.

So even for the busy ant there are periods of rest and periods of hard work.

And I think we can apply this to our own lives too. There are times when, even though we are small and weak, we are called to work hard. But around those times, we need to allow ourselves to rest.

Work and rest. It’s a rhythm. Let’s dance to it.

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The perfect Christmas verse

I think I’ve found the perfect Bible verse for Christmas.

It’s not your normal verse. Not ‘In the beginning was the Word’ or ‘For God so loved the world’ or ‘For unto us a child is born’, or anything like that.

It’s a different one.

But I think it’s suitable.

It’s this one: Philippians 4:13

I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
The 'do all the things' meme
And sometimes we feel like we have All the things to do!

Now this verse has a bit of a bad rap. 

People have used this verse to say that they will succeed in their business or pass all their exams. They use it to say that things will go well with them because they’ve told Jesus to ‘make it so’. But that’s not what this verse means.

In his letter, in the lead up to this sentence, Paul says that he’s learned to be content whatever the circumstances. Whether he’s in need, or has plenty, whether he’s well fed or hungry, it doesn’t matter. He knows that he can do all things through God who gives him strength.

Paul has learned that whatever happens, God will be there with him. 

Advent candles. Four white candles surrounding a purple candle. The white candles are all lit.
The fourth Advent candle is lit. Just the Jesus candle to go.

Christmas can be very hard for some of us. 

Everyone in my family has had conversations in the last few weeks with people for whom Christmas is a really difficult time. People who have difficult family relationships. People who are mourning. People who are lonely. 

For some of us, (cough *introverts* cough) Christmas is exhausting just because it is full of people and fun and good times.

Christmas is a time that requires extra strength.

But that’s God’s gift to us. He gives us strength. Strength to the weary. 

So whatever you’re doing this Christmas:

  • if you’re the one cooking the whole meal for the hordes this Christmas 
  • or you’re going to eat your mother-in-law’s famous roast
  • if you’re surrounded by people
  • or doing Christmas day on your own
  • if you’re going for three straight days so you can visit all the family
  • or if you’re mourning the loss of a loved one
  • if you’re still frantically shopping to make sure all the presents are bought
  • or if you’ve been organised since July and everyone’s getting a goat from a charity anyway
  • if you’re leading the Christmas Eve service, the midnight service, and the service for Christmas day
  • or if you’re not going to church at all
  • if your Christmas decorations have been up since mid-October
  • or you haven’t decorated even one room in your house 

Lean on Him who gives you strength. He promises to never leave you. He knows what you’re doing, how you’re just barely coping, or how much you’re giving to others. He will be there for you.

You can do it, you can do all the things, through Him who gives you strength.

A nativity scene. Mary, Joseph, the baby Jesus, two sheep, a blue plastic dinosaur, and four lego figures representing our family.
This year’s nativity scene. The lego figures represent our family, thanks to a present from Jess.