The beauty of limits

La gerbe
Henri Matisse

Don’t you just love being limited? Being told, ‘No, you can’t go there.’ ‘No, you can’t do that.’ I don’t think many of us like being told that that there are things we can’t do. But let’s look at our limitations creatively.

The thing that makes a Haiku special is the limitations placed on the lines. Like this one, which is so widely known now that I don’t know who to give credit to:

Five syllables here

Seven more syllables here

Are you happy now?

It’s not just Haiku, other poems have different rules. Have you listened to some of the older hymns? The scansion is perfect and the rhyming schemes are interesting and beautiful. They are written creatively using restrictions to make them better.

Austin Kleon used the restriction of copyright to create a novel class of poetry. He creates poetry from newspaper articles, blacking out words on the newspaper page until only one or two are left. The method is consistent with copyright rules and restricted by fair use. And the resulting poems are both beautiful and meaningful.

I was working with a friend on her academic paper. She’d written the abstract –  a short description of the paper and about 330 words long. However, the journal had a 250-word limit on the abstract so many words just had to go. We cut and cut and cut. A word from a sentence here, a change of tense there so that we could turn two words into one. The abstract became a thing of beauty as we worked creatively to meet the constraints.

When Matisse could no longer use oil paints due to ill health and hardship, he created a whole new art form by covering large sheets of paper with a colourful gouache paint and then cutting the paper into shapes with scissors. These incredibly vibrant artworks adorn walls at modern art museums such as Tate Modern and MoMA.

My friend Angie posted on Instagram, ‘When your garden gives you fennel, you cook Otolenghi roast chicken.’ She had used the limitation of what was in her garden to make her dinner much more creative. I find that I enjoy dinner decisions more when I’m working from the constraints of what’s in my pantry and fridge, rather than the wide open options of the supermarket.

I think we can look at the constraints and limitations thrown at us by life and use them as prods for our creativity, rather than handcuffs on our freedom. And maybe we can place constraints on our own lives to increase our quality of life, rather than just going with a free-for-all.

We can limit:

  • Our work hours to 9-5 and use evenings for rest and rejuvenation
  • Our work days to just Monday to Friday; no bringing work home for the weekend
  • Checking email to only three times a day
  • Special treats – what if ice cream was only for birthdays? That would make birthdays so special!
  • Screen time to just a couple of hours in the evenings so that we go to bed at a reasonable time
  • Meals – Michael Moseley suggests we cut back to three meals a day rather than eating all day long
  • Buying for ourselves. Then our friends can actually give us meaningful and useful gifts
  • Our activities so that they fit in the time we have available to us

These are just some ideas. What other limits can you think of that might add to quality of life? Let me know. Email ruth@ruthamos.com.au, find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author, or tweet me @aquietlifeblog.

Can you help me?

Sign saying HELP in white chalk on black background

Moz was chatting to a couple of his high school students yesterday. They were picking on his fashion sense. ‘You’re wearing a LOT of colours,’ one of them said. He was not concerned. The student ducked into his office and brought out the tie hanger that he keeps there. The two girls sorted through his collection to find a tie that would better match his shirt, jacket and trousers.

Good on them!

The thing is, we don’t all have all the skills that are needed to be brilliant in all the different areas of life. It’s just impossible. And that is why it is important to know when to ask for help.

Sometimes you need accountability help. You need someone to ask you if you are keeping that commitment that you said you would. I have a friend who is trying to keep to a diet, so his friend texts him at about 11 o’clock each morning, the time of day when he is tempted to buy himself some fried chicken, and just checks in. It helps him stay on track.

Sometimes you need help that isn’t just accountability.

I know a mum of primary school aged children who just can’t keep on top of the different school activities that are planned. She can’t keep track of whether today is free dress, or whether it’s the day to order lunch, or whether her child was supposed to bring in two dollars for this term’s charity. She just knows that she can’t do it. So she asked for help. Another mother with a child in the same class made a commitment to ring her in the morning when it was something easy, or the night before, if it was a more difficult task. She got the help she needed and her kids suffered far less embarrassment.

I am helping someone at the moment who knows that she struggles with online forms. She’s super-intelligent, she has a PhD in medical sciences. But when she sees an online form, a cloud comes over her brain and she can’t remember what her name is, let alone her date of birth. So she asked for help. I sat with her and read out the questions on the form and we got through it together.

Moz and I would like to meet for dinner with new friends. I was a little scared about making the overture to the friends. Moz was sure he couldn’t do the organising of time and place and what foods to contribute. So we paired up. He made the first overture and got it started. Then I liaised with the other people to make the calendar date and work out dietary requirements.

If you know that executive function is not your thing, then some of what I say on my blog must really get up your nose. But I don’t want you to feel guilt or anything. Talking with teenagers is really not my thing but that’s ok. If I am in a situation where it’s going to be asked of me, I ask for help. 

We are not meant to live in a vacuum and community makes life so much easier. Sometimes you might pay people to help you. Sometimes a friend might help out of the goodness of their heart. Together we can get the jobs done.

I want to encourage anyone reading this that asking for help is not a weakness, it’s a strength. Know yourself, know your strengths and weaknesses, and then ask for help where necessary.

Where have you asked for help? Where have you used your strengths to help others? Tell me about it. Write to me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author, or on Twitter @aquietlifeblog.

Just Plodding Along

A quiet beach scene
Beautiful Kingston Beach. The place I go first for a walk.

This morning I went for a walk along the beach. No biggie, you might say, but it’s the first time I have set foot outside our house (apart from checking the mailbox) for 10 days. 

No prizes for guessing why I have been stuck inside for 10 days.

It was a delight to be out in the sunshine, sipping a flat white and strolling along the beach. However, I soon became aware of a number of pensioners who seemed to be speed walking as they overtook me (on the way up the beach and on the way back). In fact, I’m pretty sure that every single person on the beach, including the toddler playing in the sand, could have beaten me in a 50-m sprint. I was S L O W…

That’s OK. I am recovering from COVID, I haven’t done any exercise at all for over a week, and I’m doing very well to be out there at all. I know this. And I don’t really mind what other people think. They don’t know my history. They don’t need to know. I know I’ve done well to get out. That’s all that matters.

It made me think about life. About what a waste of time it is to compare ourselves to others.

You’ve all heard this. You all know it. How we curate our lives to look good on social media. How we share the happy bits and hide the sad. 

I think I’ve been more aware as I watch the news and hear the flood of stories of people who were abused as children. For some of us, just getting up in the morning takes a monumental effort. But often no-one else knows the amount of energy it takes to do the most basic of things. Just like none of those pensioners knew that I was recovering from COVID.

We need to remember that we are doing our best. Your best is no-one else’s best. It is yours, based on your background, your mental health, your learning, your energy levels. Your best is enough. My best is enough.

I’m here, trying to build an online business. Trying to sell books and promote a blog and podcast. And often I feel just like I did on the beach this morning – plodding along while others zoom past. I can get quite down about it. 

But I don’t need to. I just need to keep doing my best. I just need to keep plodding.

My books and things may never take off. They may never reach more than a few people. That’s ok too. The important thing is to be faithful to what I’m called to do. The important thing is to keep plodding and doing my best.

“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ 1 Sam 16:17b

There is only one who can ultimately judge us. He knows your background, your energy levels, your mental health, your physical health, everything. God knows it all. So he can accurately judge. 

Fortunately, he also loves us enough to die for us, so that when we don’t do our best, when we don’t measure up, when we don’t try hard enough, we can be forgiven and given a clean slate. Immediately. We just have to turn around and ask.

So whether we’re looking at ourselves or at others, comparison is useless, judging is useless, we just need to keep loving others and keep trying our best. And when we fall, we can immediately run back into the arms of the one who loves us enough to die for us, and then we can keep going. Plodding along the beach until we heal enough to be able to run.

If you think this can help someone else, please feel free to pass it on. And if you would like a chat, you can email me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, find me on Facebook at Ruth Amos Author, or on Twitter @aquietlifeblog.

Three methods for getting things done

This is my family the last time we were all together

Mum and Dad moved into their house a while back. It’s a lovely house that Dad has done a brilliant job of renovating (with the help of amazing friends). However, as always with house renovations, the house it isn’t quite finished. 

Finishing the spare room has always been something Mum and Dad were going to do, and something they were actively working on. The shelves were ready to go into the closet, as was the hanging bar. And the toilet paper holder was under the house ready to put next to the toilet. The boxes sitting on the bed were slowly being sorted through. But as of a couple of weeks ago these things hadn’t been finished off and the spare room was more of a storage space. 

It’s a family month for us this month. My brother and my sister are both visiting. And when my brother told us the dates that he was coming, Dad and Mum sprang into action. I said that my brother could stay at my place (to lower the stress levels), but no, that was not an option. Mum sorted through boxes, Dad put up shelves, found the toilet roll holder and mounted it on the wall, and together the room was transformed from a storage space to a comfortable spare room. They even hung pictures on the wall.

And this, folks, is the power of a deadline. For some of us.

We know a job needs doing. We plan to do it. It will happen. But until there’s a deadline and a consequence, that job will not get done. The very presence of a deadline and consequence gets us going on that job, instead of all the others that need to get done. It helps us prioritise.

A deadline helps me on a fortnightly basis to get this blog written. I need to write it before I go and talk with Scottie on the radio, so that I know what to say. This week, I’m writing on a Monday, but some weeks I’ll be writing on Wednesday afternoon, frantically scribbling notes so that I can go in on Thursday and say something sensible. The deadline makes it happen.

For some people deadlines aren’t so helpful. Douglas Adams said, ‘I love deadlines. I love the sound they make when they go whooshing by.’ For some personality types, deadlines just add to the stress. They don’t make the work happen. They raise the anxiety levels instead.

That’s ok. We’re all made differently. Here are some other ideas that might help you get those jobs done that you’ve been procrastinating on:

For some people, an accountability group works well. I read an article this week (that I’ve since lost) inviting me to be part of a Zoom meeting with the purpose of helping people get things done that they just don’t want to do. Apparently the participants open Zoom and then sit and do their taxes, or sort their filing or whatever the horrible job is that they have been putting off, knowing that on the other end of Zoom, someone else is doing a similar horrible thing. They make a commitment to the others in the group and then they do the thing.

I have used this method for my writing. You’ve probably heard me talk about NaNoWriMo, the national novel writing month. In this activity, writers at every stage in their career decide to write a small 50,000 word novel in the month of November. It is an international thing (despite the name) and a lot of fun, if you’re that way inclined. I have done this twice, and each time I won (which means I managed the 50,000 words – it’s really not a competition). I enjoyed taking part in writer meetups and having daily accountability chats to other writers. It’s an exhausting month, but I think I might do it again this year.

This idea has taken off and been applied to other things too. I have just heard about NaKniSweMo – National Knit a Sweater Month. This is a bridge too far for me, but I guess it’s fun for those involved. There are also much lower level knit along events happening all the time where individuals all over the world decide to all knit the same sweater, or shawl, or knit with the same colours or whatever. 

I have also just become aware of this thing called ‘body doubling’. This is where people live-stream themselves doing boring jobs and others join them so that it becomes a group activity. You can do it on TikTok or you can find a business that will match you with someone doing a similar job. 

You can find a friend who will sit with you while you clean out your storage spaces. Or someone you can text when you’ve done your homework for the day. Or someone to meet you at the gym so that you actually go in and do the exercise.

Accountability to others, or just knowing you’re not alone when you’re trying to get things done, can be so helpful to get you past the procrastination barrier and onto doing the job.

Or here’s another idea: Scheduling. I have a good friend who wanted to do some training, but she is also a mum, runs a business and works part time. She doesn’t have a lot of time to spare, and the training always got pushed to the side. Eventually she realised that if she really was serious about doing the training she would have to schedule it into her calendar, and then take that appointment with herself seriously. By scheduling, she has now been able to do the training for several weeks in a row.

Joanna Penn, Stephen King, and many other writers credit a serious writing schedule with their ability to get the work done. King states that ‘your muse’ will start showing up at the scheduled time if you make it a priority every day.

Make an appointment with yourself, and then keep the appointment. Value yourself enough to keep it. And if someone asks if you are free at that time, just tell them you’re sorry, but you have an appointment. You do. And it’s worth keeping.

So there you go, there are three tools to help you get things done. It will depend on your personality and style of working of course, but there must be one idea in the three that will help you get there. Set yourself a deadline and consequence, or find an accountability partner (either in person or online), or just schedule it into your calendar and make that appointment serious. Or try a combination of methods – make an appointment with an accountability buddy, or schedule in your job with a deadline and a consequence. 

Whatever way you choose to motivate yourself, I wish you all the best for getting those pesky jobs done. Write and let me know what works best for you. You can find me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, at Ruth Amos Author on Facebook, or @aquietlifeblog on Twitter. I hope to hear from you soon.

Can I have ten minutes?

Photo by Stas Knop: https://www.pexels.com/photo/white-clock-reading-at-2-12-1537268/

Once upon a time, we employed a house cleaner. She would come for a couple of hours each fortnight and do her magic and the house would be spotless, at least for a little while. 

Things change, and our wonderful cleaner moved on to other work, and I wished her well and decided that as I have the almighty privilege of working from home, I would clean my house myself.

Like, it’s not hard, right? I have this labour saving vacuum cleaner and hot water and cloths and everything. I have a body that’s reasonably fit and will do most things I ask it to. It should be easy.

But I found myself putting off the cleaning.  I was resentful of the time that the cleaning was taking away from other, more enjoyable activities. I was never feeling energetic enough to just get off my backside and put some energy into the housework.

I would leave it until the house felt disgusting and then, grumpy with myself, I would drag myself out of my chair and plug in the vacuum cleaner. A short while later, there were clean floors and sparkling sinks and I’d wonder, ‘Why am I making this so hard?’

This week I came up with a solution. I decided that instead of doing the whole thing in one hit, I would just do a little each day. Ten minutes will get a bathroom clean. In ten minutes I can vacuum a couple of rooms.

Ten minutes is a really low bar. And it feels like I’m not using up any of the time that I should be spending on writing or editing. It’s just ten minutes. 

I do the cleaning first thing. Before breakfast, even. Because it doesn’t need a lot of energy to do ten minutes of vacuuming. And then it’s done for the day. Finished.

I start in the study, down one end of the house, and gradually I make my way around the house, cleaning, dusting and vacuuming as I go. When I get to the other end of the house, I go back to the study again. If it takes me a week or ten days to get through everything, that’s ok. Eventually I will have done it all, and then the process will start all over again.

This is not the most efficient way to work, sure. But the thing is, now the cleaning is getting done.

Sometimes we make jobs bigger than they need to be. We look at the whole of the job and think that there’s no way that we can accomplish it. It takes too much energy. It takes too much time. Sometimes we tell ourselves that it’s not worth starting because we’ll never get finished.

If you’re stuck in that mindset then can I suggest that you break the job down into smaller parts and attack each part separately.

Fifteen minutes of writing each day will eventually result in a book.

Ten minutes of cleaning each day will mean that each part of the house gets cleaned regularly.

Ten minutes of practice each day will enable you to play your favourite songs on the piano.

Small, achievable goals that you can mark off as being done will leave you with a feeling of having made progress and will get you closer to your goal.

We often aim for achievements that are so large that there is no way they can be achieved all at once – write a book, run a marathon, be promoted to CEO, be completely self-sufficient using vegetables from our garden. But these huge goals cannot be achieved in one day or one week or even one year. We need to break those goals down to smaller, bite-sized chunks.

James Clear talks in Atomic Habits about how each small action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become. Each time you go to the gym you are behaving as an active person. Each day that you write a to-do list you are voting for that identity as an organised person. Decide who you want to be, and then each small action can be a vote for that identity. You don’t have to wait to have written a whole book to call yourself a writer – you are a writer every time you sit down and write. You are studious every time you watch part of an online lecture. You are financially responsible every time you add $5 to your savings account. Every small action counts.

Tsh Oxenreider, in her book Notes from a Blue Bike, shares that we can’t always do the whole thing, but a partial solution is better than nothing. Are you desperate to travel and visit a loved one? Well, that may not be possible right now, but a partial solution might be a regular video chat. 

Or are you longing for a weekend away alone but can’t do that due to family commitments? A partial solution might be a commitment from your partner or a friend to give you an afternoon of unwind time without the kids once a week or once a fortnight.

Would you like to start a large practical project but don’t have a garage to put it in? A partial solution might be to join a men’s shed or ladies’ shed and use their space and equipment.

 My ideal situation with my house is that once a week it is sparkling clean all over. All surfaces dusted. All floors cleaned. Beautiful. That is not going to happen with my new way of doing things. But the house will still get cleaned over the course of a week or so. Just not all at once. For now, I am embracing my partial solution, I am casting votes every day for a clean house, I am breaking down the work into bite-sized pieces and I am getting it done.

I wish you all the best for your own projects and goals. Please write to me and let me know what you’ve done to break your task down or what partial solution you have embraced. You can find me at ruth@ruthamos.com.au, at Ruth Amos Author on Facebook, or @aquietlifeblog on Twitter. I hope to hear from you soon.

I just wanted to ask you …

Photo by Olya Kobruseva: https://www.pexels.com/photo/question-marks-on-paper-crafts-5428836/

This week I’m thinking about two big questions: 

Where am I?

And

What do I want?

These questions are based on two questions that God asks in the Bible. One from Genesis, and one from the Gospels. 

Very close to the very beginning God asks Adam, ‘Where are you?’ (Genesis 3:9). 

It’s a good place to start. What are you feeling? What are you worried about? What does your life look like right now? What’s joyful in your life right now? What’s stressful? What’s your health like?

Where are you?

After you’ve got that clear, you can move to the next one. 

What do you want?

In Mark’s gospel, a blind man calls out ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Even when he’s told to shut up, he calls out even louder. And Jesus takes notice. He asks the man, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ (Mark 10:51)

Reading that I’ve always thought that it was obvious what the blind man wanted. It makes sense that he wants to see. Wouldn’t Jesus just go ahead and fix the obvious problem? But Jesus doesn’t just jump in. I find it interesting that Jesus still asks the question. That he doesn’t take the obvious answer for granted. 

If someone asks you what you want, what’s your immediate answer? Sleep? A holiday in the tropics? A large whiskey? A million dollars?

These are surface answers. Obvious solutions. But if we dig deeper, we might find a different answer. 

A couple of days ago, I sat in my silent time asking myself this question. What do you want, Ruth?

First response: A large coffee.

However, I knew that this would be a quick fix. And not necessarily the best fix, either.

Our wants and needs are deeper than just the surface. A surface longing for a holiday in the tropics may be an outworking of a deep need for peace.

A surface longing for coffee might be an outworking of a deeper need to feel organised and under control.

A surface longing for a million dollars might be an outworking of a deeper need to work in a job that suits your personality better, and that sits well with your values.

When you can see what you really want, then you can start taking baby steps towards getting there. You can sort the massive pile of washing and clear your sofa so that you can sit in peace.

You can investigate what sort of job you would enjoy working in, and do a night class to become qualified to do it.

You can write an Everything List and start to bring the whirling in your mind under control.

These two questions: ‘Where are you?’ and ‘What do you want?’ have come to me from a training session I did with the Christian Coaching Institute

A life coach can help you take the time to answer these questions. They can help you sort the surface answers from the deeper ones. And they can help you to organise your life so that you can meet that deep, and possibly not obvious, need that you have unearthed. If you feel like you can’t answer these questions yourself, then make an appointment with a life coach or a counsellor to talk them through.

I encourage you to look for the answers yourself too. Where are you now? Where would you like to be? How can you take steps to get there?

As I asked myself these two questions I realised that one of the things I wanted was to walk in silence on the beach. And when I went walking in silence I understood two things: 1) I’m very happy with where I am – I’ve worked hard to be here and it’s coming together well, and 2) I need to go on retreat – I know I need this regularly, and it feels very much like I need this now. So I’m working with my calendar and to-do list to make a time where I can get away alone for a few days.

Answering these questions doesn’t have to lead to a big scary life change. It could lead to a life change, or it could lead to smaller adjustments; it depends really on what you want. I think it’s worth checking in and working that out.

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.

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.