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Donegal Revisited

Some of you might remember that last year I was in Donegal, with my husband and our German Shepherd, Annie.  We had an amazing time.  So good, in fact, that we booked the same house for the same week this year.  I couldn’t wait to get back there.  I spent the weeks running up to it day dreaming about all the lovely, long walks we would take, and reminiscing about the bright blue skies we had had.  I found myself buying the same wine we had last year, and planning to hit up the same eateries.  I was essentially trying to recreate what had been a truly fabulous few days.

I should know better.  I should know by now that when you try to recreate an experience it never really works out.  It’s like when you have a great meal in a restaurant, and when you go back the chef is out sick and you end up with cold beans on toast!  I am so familiar with this recreation disappointment that I normally try to avoid encountering it.  However, where Donegal was concerned we decided to take the risk, and I am glad we did.

We loaded up the car, popped the puppy (all 40kgs of her) into the back seat and off we went.  With a stop for a bite of lunch, the drive took about 6 hours.  We arrived in the early evening and got settled in right away.  We sent out for pizza, the same one we’d had last year, naturally, and set about the serious business of relaxing.  Annie was so much more chilled out this time.  Last year she insisted on walking backwards around the place for the first day or two.  There was no moon walking this time and she seemed right at home.

The next day, in much the same fashion as last year, we set out for a long walk along the beach.  The humans hit 10,000 steps with ease, and the dog must have clocked up about 50,000!  She even had a little tussle with another dog at one stage.  When we got back to the house we were all worn out but happy.  It’s amazing the restorative effect the sea air can have on the soul.  That night, however, we noticed that Annie was limping a little.  She had no doubt overdone it, so we resigned ourselves to taking it a little easier.

As it happened, the weather was pretty miserable for the rest of our stay, so were we not anywhere near as active as we had been last year.  Initially I was a bit upset about it.  This wasn’t the plan.  I wanted to whine about how it wasn’t “the same,” but I didn’t.  I decided to re-frame it.  If I spent all my time thinking about what the trip wasn’t, I would be missing out on what it was.  I won’t be getting another break for ages and I didn’t want to waste it, even if it wasn’t going exactly to plan.  Just because it wasn’t the same, didn’t mean it couldn’t be great.  In the end, it turned out to be just what we needed.  A few quiet days away to rest and spend some quality time with our furry baby.

I am sure we all have a tendency to succumb to this way of thinking.  Our plan hasn’t worked out exactly as we wanted it to, so it’s all ruined.  We get so caught up with chasing the fantasy, that we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Sometimes, as Ryan Holiday says in his brilliant book, “The Obstacle is The Way.”

I will give you an example.  My sister and I started recording a Podcast a few weeks back.  My younger brother is acting as producer, editor and general “making it all happen guy.”  None of us have a notion of what we are doing, but when has that ever stopped me!  We were pretty happy with how the first few episodes went, but there was an issue with the sound, that we couldn’t quite get to the bottom of.  It was really irritating, as it was making the Podcast seem less polished than we wanted.  We sat down last week to record and my poor brother’s computer decided to have a complete melt down.  No amount of ctrl+alt+delete could persuade it to cooperate.

Eventually we decided to fly up to my sister’s house and get her computer to use instead.  Of course her machine didn’t have the software we had been using, and we when tried to install it, we got nowhere.  At this stage we were all getting tired and more than a little frustrated.  We managed to find different software, downloaded it and praise the seven, it actually worked!  What’s more, we didn’t have the issues with the sound anymore.

The problem had been with the software all along, but of course we just assumed it was something we were doing wrong due to our lack of expertise.  If we hadn’t had the computer malfunction, we might never have figured it out.  What seemed like a complete disaster at the time, ended up being a big help.  Proving that good can come from just about any situation if you allow yourself to be open to it.  Be well xxx

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Sober October!

So long Scroll Free September, make way for Sober October!  I have been looking for a playful euphemism or a colourful metaphor to dress this up, but the truth of it is, for the last while I have been drinking too much.  Not in the “drinking problem” sense but simply in the “this is not good for my overall health” sense.  My husband and I have been planning to take a break from alcohol for ages now, but there was always some reason (read excuse) why it wasn’t a good time.  There was always a wedding, holiday or other occasion on the horizon, which made the idea of going tee total a daunting prospect.  We now find ourselves at the closing of the year.  Christmas is fast approaching and party season will be here before we know it, so it was pretty much now or never.

Those of you who are regular readers will know that 2018 has been a bit of a roller coaster for me.   Between my full time job, of which I have had three, and my side projects, I can end up feeling like I am working all the time.  There have been a lot of changes and often by the time the weekend comes along, I am too exhausted to attempt anything more energetic than binge watching Netflix in my pjs with a glass of wine or a nice cold beer.   Alcohol became a way to differentiate weekend nights from week nights!  I wouldn’t describe myself as a binge drinker, I rarely, if ever get drunk.  However, two or three drinks, a few nights a week quickly adds up to way more than the 11 unit safe drinking limit (17 for men.)

These habits crept in over the space of about a year.  What had once been limited to Friday and Saturday started creeping into some of the other evenings too.  I was definitely starting to feel the effect on my energy levels.  It’s never as easy getting up in the morning after even a couple of drinks.  As well as that, I am not getting any younger.  I will be turning 37 next month and it’s time to stop taking my health completely for granted.  I am well aware of the health risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption, especially for women, and I am not arrogant enough to think I should be lucky enough to escape them.  From this week I will be teaching an extra Zumba class.  This brings the total to 4 per week, and with the stress this will put on my body, I need to do all I can to mind it.  Alcohol certainly will not help with that!

I am sure there will be lots of other benefits of having a dry month.  I am looking forward to having more energy and to waking up refreshed on the weekends.  I am also looking forward to having a little more money in my purse.  But mostly I am looking forward to the challenge.  I am sure the first weekend will be difficult.  We Irish are notorious for having our social lives revolving almost entirely around a pint!  Like many Irish families, ours has not escaped the effects alcoholism.  I am acutely aware of this, and of its tendency towards heredity.  This makes it even more important for me to get my drinking under control before it actually does become a problem!  Who knows, it might become a permanent change.

As always, feel free to join me in my latest challenge.  Wish me luck (and please send cinema recommendations) I will keep you posted on my progress.  Be well xxx

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Something Old, Something New!

I have been tinkering with this blog for almost 3 years now.  It has become a dear friend and trusted confidant.  Over the years it has allowed me to express myself in ways I hadn’t known possible.  A little while ago, I entered a blogging competition and honestly had zero expectations.  I am shocked, amazed and humbled beyond belief to have made it to the final in the health and wellness category.  Thank you to everyone who has visited the blog since it started.  You guys are awesome.

I can’t help but remember back to when it was just an idea.  I had thought about it for so long.  Hmming and hawing, second guessing and procrastinating.  I worried so much about how it would be received.  What would people say?  What would they think?  I can’t speak to what they might be thinking, but as of yet I have not received any negative feedback.  I was prepared for trolls, but they have remained under their bridges up till now anyway!

Recently, my sister and I started a Podcast.  As always when I take on a new project, I was filled with trepidation and fear.  Imagining every eventuality and doing a fair amount of catastrophizing.  As I write this, we have two episodes aired.  A new episode will drop every Monday.  Naturally we have experienced some teething problems and are learning A LOT.  The learning curve is a steep one, but not insurmountable.  Astonishingly, nothing catastrophic has befallen us so far.  I am usually a solo flier, and it has been so nice to have my sister on this adventure with me.  My brother is producing the show for us, so it’s pretty much a family affair.

The Podcast is in a similar vein to the blog.  We talk about health, fitness and lifestyle and try to get to the truth behind some of the myths.  We also talk about food a lot, and anything else we stumble across.  It is all done with the honesty you have come to expect from me.  We are on all the major platforms.  I would love you to check it out, Fitty and Fatty

That’s enough of the shameless self promotion.

What I really wanted to say in this post is that incredible things do happen.  If you put yourself out there and take a chance.  Opportunity does knock, but only if you leave the porch light on.  If there’s something you have been wanting to do for ages, please go and do it.  If it doesn’t work out, so what?  If it does, who knows where it could take you!  And if you end up being up for an award, please let me know.  Be well xxx

PS.  For anyone looking for an update on Scroll Free September.  It has been going well.  I am not struggling at all really.  This blog automagically uploads to the Facebook page, so I promise I haven’t been cheating.

 

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7 Days Done!

So here we are at the end of week 1 of the Social Media Blackout experiment. Honestly it has been so eye opening. I have not missed scrolling a fraction as much as I thought I would. Far from feeling disconnected, I actually feel more in touch with what is going on around me.

At the beginning of this challenge I was extremely nervous. I was afraid I would be bored and I had a serious case of FOMO! It is a pleasant surprise that so far neither of those things have happened. I haven’t had a chance to get bored and I don’t think I have missed out on anything, but if I have, I can catch up on October 1st.

Let me know how you are getting on. Be well xxx

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Scroll Free September!

Tomorrow I will be starting what may prove to be my most difficult challenge to date, Scroll Free September. For 30 days I will be staying off Social Media. I will be logging off my personal Facebook and Instagram Accounts (I don’t understand Twitter, so I don’t use it much anyway.)

I sure this is going to be extremely challenging for me, as I spend an inordinate amount of time mindlessly scrolling through these sites. I am excited to see how I feel after the first few days of digital DTs have passed. I am also interested to see if I find myself with more time for things I actually enjoy, like reading!

I will still update my Zumba With Arwen page with class times etc. Luckily I don’t have to log in to my personal page in order to do that. My blog automatically posts to Facebook so that will still be happening too, but other than that I will be going cold turkey.

Many of you may not need or want to take on this challenge for a whole month, but I would encourage everyone to try to get even a small amount of unplugged time. As well as that, if anyone in your social media feed creates any sort of negative feelings for you (regardless of how rational these feelings may seem) just unfollow them!

I will let you know how I am getting on! Wish me luck and be well xxx

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100 Days of Headspace

I first discovered the Headspace app back in February of last year.  I can’t remember what was going on at the time, but a friend of mine recommended it over coffee one day, so I thought I would give it try.  I immediately loved it.  It is guided meditation, and Andy’s voice is so soothing, he could probably relieve someone’s stress by reading the phone book to them!  I kept it up for a few days and could feel the benefit, however, like with a lot of things, I missed a day or two and before long I had kinda forgotten about it.

Over the next year and a half, whenever life got hectic, as it invariably does, I would dip back into Headspace.  I would come away from each short session feeling better and the cumulative effect was brilliant.  However, it always ended up the same way.  After a few days I would give up, and often not return to it for several months.

At the beginning of the summer, I knew that there were going to be big changes happening.  I was about to start a new job and I was well aware of the stress that would cause me.  Even if everything was working out perfectly, the upheaval would still create anxiety for someone who struggles with change as much as I do.  I decided to revisit Headspace again, but this time I committed to it fully.  I made a promise to myself that no matter what happened, I would complete 100 days in a row.  I announced this publicly to help me stay accountable.

Initially, I did find it difficult.  I found myself saying things like “I have to go do my meditation now.”  I had to make a concerted effort to find the 15 minute window of peace in the day in which to get it done.  This alone speaks volumes as to how frenetic I had allowed my life to become, but that’s a post in itself.  As the days and weeks went by, I began to get into it.  I loved how grounded and peaceful I felt after each session.  I found myself hiding in empty offices during the day to sneak in an extra mini session, especially if the day was really crazy.  I was amazed that no matter how stressed and even panicked I felt going into that room, I left feeling ready for anything.

During the past 100 days there have been so many times when in the middle of the meditation I have thought to myself “this isn’t working,” or “I’m not doing it right,” or even “I’m not getting anything out of this.”  Regardless of how often these negative thoughts popped up during the session, at the end of it, when the guide told me to pause and reflect on how I felt, I always felt better than I had at the start.  Magic!

I am not good at homework.  The app often recommends little exercises to do throughout the day so that you get more bang for your buck as it were.  90% of the time I completely forget.  They always sound like great ideas, but the only way I am going to remember to do it is if I write it down or set a reminder.  I might try to be better at that for the next 100 days!  In spite of my lack of conscientiousness, I am convinced that this experiment has had a lasting effect on me.  I am certain that I would not have been able to survive all the drama in my professional life as well as I have without meditation.  In fact, I think I would have become a complete basket case.

The effects seem to be noticeable to others as well.  A couple of weeks ago I was out for a meal with some girlfriends I hadn’t seen in forever.  I was giving one of them a lift home when, unprompted, she said to me “Arwen, you seem very chill!”  What you need to understand is that this is definitely not how people would usually describe me.  Uptight, highly strung, control freak, anxious, would all be closer to the mark.  The thing is, I feel very chill.  For the first time in my life I feel in control.  Not in control of my life or anything going on around me, in control of myself.

Being educated in a Catholic school, spirituality was spoken about daily and meditation would often come up as part of that.  As such, I have been aware of it and it’s advantages for as long as I can remember.  Certainly long before it started being mentioned in the same articles as kale and goji berries.  I never really thought of meditation as a way to improve health or increase productivity.  When you think about it, these very modern concerns were not around when meditation was first recorded.  The Taoists and Buddhists weren’t overly concerned with “personal effectiveness.”

I always thought of meditation as promoting stillness and awareness, and having committed to a daily practice for a mere 100 days, I am beginning to understand what that really means.  I feel grounded and centered and like nothing can rock me.  I cannot recommend mediation highly enough and with so many apps available bringing it right into the palm of your hand, it has never been more accessible.  My advice to anyone, whether you feel stressed or not, is to give it a try.  Most apps offer a free trial period, some are free forever.  Commit to it for a period of time, even just a week and see how much better you will feel.  Be well xxx

 

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Everybody Fails!

Three months ago, I started a new job.  I was full of excitement and eagerly anticipated the challenge.  Last week, I handed in my notice.  The role wasn’t what I expected it to be, and the practices were hitting off my triggers.  For lots of other reasons, which are too dull to go in to, I decided it wasn’t for me.  This was an impossibly difficult decision to make.  I hate walking away from anything, especially when I don’t feel like I have given it a proper try.  Even though I know it’s irrational, and though I am fairly sure I am doing the right thing, I still feel like I have failed.

In all honestly, the last 12 months or so have been pretty disastrous work wise.  It started going down hill this time last year, when a promotion I was promised fell through.  The promotion involved spending a lot of time in the UK, so getting mentally geared up for it had been tough.  But once it was decided on, I was committed to giving it my all.  When it didn’t work out, I felt completely heartbroken.  It was as though the rug had been pulled out from underneath me.  I knew that the change of plan was just that, a business decision which had nothing to do with me personally.  Nor was it a reflection of my work or my ability.  Still the experience left me destabilised and unsettled.  A change was needed.

The thing was, I didn’t hate my job.  In fact, I quite liked it.  I had genuine affection for my colleagues, so I wasn’t going to take just any old job.  It had to be the “right move.”  After a fairly drawn out job hunt, I found a position which seemed to tick all the boxes.  It was a step up, more money, not too much of a commute and in a growing company so there would be plenty to challenge me and hold my interest.  Sounds perfect, right?  I thought so.  I was wrong.

So what?  I tried something, it didn’t work out and I moved on.  No big deal.  I have a new job lined up and having been completely honest with them about the reasons this one hasn’t worked out, I am hopeful not to experience the same issues.  This job is even closer to home.  I will have the shortest travel time I have ever had, which in itself is a reason to be happy.  The role has a lot going for it and I know I should be ecstatic.  99% of me is, in fact, delighted.  But the other 1% is loud, obnoxious and impossible to ignore.

It keeps reminding me that I thought I was making the right move before and I was DEAD WRONG.  It whispers to me that I FAILED.  It prompts me to wonder if this career path is really for me.  It waits in the dark to ask me “what if the problem isn’t them, what if it’s YOUR FAULT?”  No amount of rational thinking, meditation or mindfulness can quieten these fears.  The inconvenient truth is that the experiences of the last year have left me doubting my own instincts.  I have spent so long not knowing what to do, that it has become the default.  I can’t stop thinking, what if I start in the new job and it’s even worse?  Is it a case of better the devil you know?

I recognise that uncertainty and anxiety are completely normal during times of change.  I understand that even though they might not admit it, everyone experiences the same range of emotions.  I also know that everybody fails.  The reality is, if you have never failed, you haven’t tried hard enough.  If you always stay within your comfort zone and never stretch yourself, you eliminate the risk of failure.  But, you also eliminate the potential for growth.

Fail_Chart_1800x

So, once more into the breach I go.  Come Monday I will be taking another step into the unknown.  Scared as I am, I will try my hardest to walk in there with an open mind and an open heart.  To do anything less is to cheat myself.  It is the same when we start a new relationship, make a new friend, or start trying to lose weight for what feels like the 219th time.  Letting go of past “failures” is the most important, and often most difficult, first step to take.

I cannot tell you how excited and nervous I am.  Even as I write this, I am painfully aware of how flaky and changeable I must seem.  I desperately want this to work out.  I need to feel settled again.  So much of my identity and self worth is tied up with my professional life.  It is the corner piece of my jigsaw, without it being in place I find myself unable to work on anything else.  Routine is vitally important to me and in its absence it I struggle to keep my fitness, nutrition or pretty much anything else on track.  Wish me luck, and be well xxx

 

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Mindful Eating – An Experiment

I have just done an exercise in Mindful Eating as prescribed by #headspace
I sequestered myself in the boardroom at work. I brought my lunch and water bottle with me and NOTHING ELSE. I ate slowly. I had no phone, music, reading material or any other distraction. I was able to fully engage with my food and the experience of eating.
Here is what happened:
*It felt a little odd, but not “lonely or boring” as I was expecting
*I tasted my food so much more than usual
*I enjoyed my food
*I experienced feelings of getting full BEFORE I had over eaten
*I came away from the meal feeling satisfied and with an awareness that I had refuelled my body (not just shovelled food into me)
I am going to make an effort to eat at least one meal a day in this way going forward. Go on, give it a try

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In Praise of Uni-tasking!

Has this ever happened to you?  You go to unload the washing machine, only to discover that although you loaded it and put in the powder, you neglected to actually switch it on?  It happens to me with frightening regularity and always when I have an overflowing hamper and can ill afford the time to wash clothes, I thought had already been washed!  Unfortunately this isn’t limited to the washing machine.  I routinely leave tasks half done, because I had become distracted by some other, seemingly more pressing thing.

I went to a Catholic Secondary School.  Not because my family are particularly religious, but because there was little choice in Ireland in the nineties!  I remember having a religion teacher who was a nun.  Her mantra, which she recited daily, was “you can’t do two things at once.”  She would go on to say that you can of course try to multitask but that everything will suffer.  In essence you can’t do anything properly unless you give it your undivided attention.  I spent 5 years in that school and remarkably, that lesson is one of only a handful of things which has stuck with me.

Of course, at the time I gave her wisdom little merit.  I was a typical teenager who assumed I knew better.  I did not credit this woman, who must have been in her seventies, with any life experience, and so twenty years later I am learning her lesson the hard way.

We live our 21st centuries lives at a breakneck pace.  We boast about how busy we are, how little spare time we have and how frazzled we feel.  We read books like “The 4 Hour Workweek” in an attempt to boost our productivity.  We are always striving to be able to fit even more in.  Lately I am beginning to ask myself is there a trade off between quantity and quality.  Is multitasking a myth?  Are we fooling ourselves into thinking we are achieving more, when in reality we are leaving a trail of half finished jobs in our wake, which will come back to bite us in the ass before long?

There are some things which I won’t even attempt to try to do simultaneously.  I cannot have two conversations at once (so if I am on the phone and you try to talk to me, don’t expect a polite reply!)  I also can’t text and talk.  Past attempts at this have resulted in my typing what I am saying or vice versa, neither of which ends well!  Similarly if I am driving and need to concentrate, I have to turn the radio down.  Whatever way my brain is wired, auditory stimulation overrides anything else.  Happily as we get older, we usually learn to recognise these limitations in ourselves and work around them.

Those of you who follow me on social media will know that I have been getting into meditation lately.  It started off as a challenge.  I wanted to see if I could commit to daily meditation for 100 days.  (As I write this I have clocked up 74)  However, as the days tick by, I am noticing just how much it is helping me.  I fully intend to make it a part of my daily life, for the foreseeable future.  As well as helping me to combat the stresses of modern existence, the meditation is helping me to understand the importance of being mindful in everything we do.  Being fully engaged and present in our activities, not just going through the motions like deranged zombies.

When you start to take notice of it, you will be amazed at how many things you do on complete autopilot.  For instance, have you ever driven somewhere and when you arrive at your destination you have little recollection of how you actually got there?  I have, and it is scary as hell!  Surely something as potentially perilous as driving should be given our undivided attention.  But we don’t do it.  We might be chatting to our passenger.  Singing along to the radio.  Doing a detailed postmortem of the meeting we had with our boss, or planning a future conversation (yes, I actually do that!)  This is especially true on a familiar route.  We don’t need to actively concentrate and so the mind wanders.

I am reading a book at the moment called Thrive and in it Arianna Huffington recommends taking one task each day that we do routinely, such as brushing your teeth or taking a shower and doing it mindfully.  Actually pay attention to what you are doing, and be engaged.  I tried this while brushing my teeth a couple of times this week and I am telling you it is so much harder than you think.  I was thinking about pretty much everything apart from the task at hand.  It’s a simple exercise, but it really opened my eyes to how much I am not present in my life.  I am often times merely going through the motions.  Is that what I truly want.  To sort of half experience life.  I don’t think so.

In an age where multitasking is prized and we are measured on our productivity, being mindful and doing one thing at a time is not the easy option.  Added to this, we are surrounded by devices which constantly vie for our attention.  We feel like we need to react to them instantly, no matter what else is going on.  I am so guilty of this.  Sometimes my husband will come home and I will be in the middle of a text chat, or scrolling through Facebook and when he comes in I will distractedly ask how his day was.  Invariably, when I put the phone down a minute or two later, I will ask him the exact same question.  It drives him insane and I don’t blame him.

It is not going to be easy to break the habit of a lifetime, but my attempts at multitasking have been so disastrous lately that I am going to try to stop myself from doing it.  I am going to attempt to complete one task at a time.  If and when I catch myself starting something when I am in the middle of something else, I will gently guide myself back to the task at hand.  I am interested to see if this actually makes me more productive.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but I wonder if in starting less tasks, I might actually finish more.  I wonder if by uni-tasking and concentrating on what I am doing a little more, I might be able to get through it more quickly.  As well as that, I am pretty sure it will help me to combat the feelings of overwhelm and burn out, which I often experience.

As I write this, I have been tempted to check my phone about 27 times.  Which brings me on to my next challenge.  Scroll Free September.  That’s right.  For the month of September, I will be logging off Facebook and Instagram (I don’t use Twitter because it confuses me too much.)  My blog posts automatically upload to Facebook, so when you see that happening, don’t think I am cheating.  I am not under any illusion that this is going to be easy.  I am a social media junkie, but I think a digital detox will be good for my overall well-being.  Oh dear, FOMO is setting in already!  I will let you know how everything is going.  Wish me luck and be well xxx