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HEARTS AND BONES

Written By: Fiona - Apr• 12•13

There are a many moments in my life when I’ve felt overwhelmingly grateful for experiences, things, events, people… The list is long.  Of these many moments, there are a special handful that almost take my breath away, and one of these times was just yesterday.  Let me explain:

Almost 40 years ago, when my older brother Mark was 17, his best mate was killed in a motorbike accident. When his mate’s family bequeathed their son’s record collection to him, Mark gave me one album: Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon. At the impressionable age of 15, and with a DNA that vibrated with the as-yet –unrealised-musical-appreciation-gene, I was, from that moment on, besotted with Paul Simon.

I went on to buy every one of Paul Simon’s albums ever after. I also saw every single one of his Melbourne concerts. Yep, I’m a groupie.

So when I found out that Monsieur Simon was touring Australia, I was beyond excited.  However, when I found out that his only Melbourne concert was scheduled for the same time that I would be mid-flight to the USA, I was devastated. Crushed. ‘Oh grow up, Fiona!’ I told myself. ‘You’re a middle aged woman, for goodness sake!’

So I grew up. I let the idea of missing The First Paul Simon Concert Ever in the History of Fionakind go and sooked for a few days. (Okay, weeks.)

That was, up until last night, when I was lucky enough to be in THE FRONT ROW of ‘An Intimate Evening with Paul Simon’ as part of a Melbourne Writers Centre event. One minute I was lamenting about my loss and the next minute I was leaping out of my seat with anticipation.  (Thank you, ABC Radio!)

On the way home from the event I played The Paul Simon Anthology at full boar, and felt an incredible burst of overwhelming gratitude and joy. I put my hand on my heart and whispered ‘thank you’.

These moments aren’t common, but when they hit, they fill my heart to the brim, and I am sustained for a long, long time.

…Enough to last until I get to another Paul Simon concert somewhere, sometime, in a land and time not too far away.

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Thanks a lot!

Written By: Fiona - Apr• 03•13

As Fiona is away in the US at the moment completing her course in  Positive Psychology,  I have been given the task of selecting a favorite post of Fiona’s…not so easy! I always look forward to reading Fiona’s posts every week and am continually amazed at her ability to produce such honest, open and often humorous posts.  Fiona has so much to give and so she does every week.  So I have chosen a post on the strength of ‘gratitude’, as this week I am truly grateful. Truly grateful for my family, for my friends and especially for my children.  I hope you enjoy this post second time around. Jodie

 

It’s easy to espouse the virtues of saving money when you’re not destitute. The same could be said of gratitude: that’s it’s easy to be grateful when things are going right in your life. But what about when they aren’t?

Expressing gratitude is a ritual that I start the day with. Sometimes the list is long and comes easily, and other days I have to scrape the bottom of the barrel, but no matter what my state of mind, I still find something – anything – to be grateful for.

Some people appear to be continually upbeat and happy, and see the positive in everything – and I mean everything.  I’m sure if you asked them to list 10 things they were grateful for, you wouldn’t be able to shut them up.  But for the more ‘normal’ of us who dip and fall, rise and fly, and even have times of cruisy complacency, this list may only come freely and easily on a good day.

Given I’m not a 100%-upper, but more of the dipper-faller-riser-flyer-cruiser variety, implementing a habit of daily gratitude hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes it still isn’t, but without this aspect of my daily three-pronged routine – yoga, meditation, gratitude – being completed, I feel out of kilter. (It’s now so ingrained, it’s as necessary as cleaning my teeth.)

For some of us, expressing gratitude is easy – whether up or down – but for others, not so. But no matter whether gratitude is one of your top strengths or sitting at the lower end, it’s a strength you can cultivate and build on without too much effort.  In fact, research has shown that the daily expression of gratitude aids our wellbeing (just as daily whingeing, moaning, complaining, lamenting, woe-ing, can erode it).

Prof. Robert Emmons, Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chol­ogy and author of Thanks: How the New Science of Gratitude can Make you Happier, says that “…research shows the prac­tice of grat­i­tude can increase hap­pi­ness lev­els by around 25%. Sec­ond, this is not hard to achieve — a few hours writ­ing a grat­i­tude jour­nal over three weeks can cre­ate an effect that lasts six months if not more. Third, that cul­ti­vat­ing grat­i­tude brings other health effects, such as longer and bet­ter qual­ity sleep time.” (see: http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2007/11/29/robert-emmons-on-the-positive-psychology-of-gratitude/)

On my Glass Half Empty days, or mornings that have come from sleepless nights, or when the cloak of depression won’t shrug off my shoulders, this list is shorter.  But still, there’s always a list.

I’ve been doing this for about three years now, and I’m sure it affects the way I view the world, and how I more often notice the things that go right, rather than my previously perpetual look at everything that’s not.

And it’s so easy to do: even giving gratitude when you least feel like it is still possible. Probably crucial.

Amen.

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FUNNY HA HA

Written By: Fiona - Mar• 26•13

I like to laugh, and I like to make others laugh. All those endorphins running wild, all that serotonin pinging and popping… It’s better than chocolate.

Laughter is very, very good for you.  According to research, when you make people laugh, it broadens and builds their perspective and they’re more likely to come up with creative, lateral solutions to problems. Injecting humour into the workplace sounds like a pretty good thing then, doesn’t it?

Humour also acts as a shock-absorber to the ‘bumps of life’. This is because laughter develops resilience and can help overcome obstacles and hardship. You are better able to endure such things if you have a sense of humour. When Steve and I were in Sri Lanka on December 27th, 2004 – the day after the tsunami – we witnessed this kind of black humour firsthand, as a way – and often the only way – our friends coped with what they’d seen and experienced.

Dancing, singing, playing, watching comedy, reading something funny, laughing at a YouTube clip – doing any of these means you are contributing to your positive mental health, and creating a positive upward and virtuous spiral. Upward spirals are much more fun than those pesky downward ones, for sure.

Play is also an activity that goes hand-in-hand with humour. “Remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives is probably the most important factor in being a fulfilled human being,” Stuart Brown, author of the book, Play, says. Brown also says we are built to play and built through play. Play, it seems, is an innate human need.

I remember back when my kids were young I’d play a classic Carpenters album full boar while I did the housework, making it an almost pleasurable activity. (‘I’m on top of the world, looking down on creation’, I’d sing into the toilet bowl, and ‘Why do birds, suddenly appear…’ as I washed the floors. The only downside is that whenever I hear a Carpenters song, I think of housework.)

I raised my children with lots of playing, laughing and singing – all of us communally and collectively cacking ourselves. We’d sing stupid songs, do animal impersonations (rubber glove over the top of your head makes a good rooster) wave and toot and yell out to the Lollypop Lady every afternoon as we drove past her on our way home, dance stupidly to loud music, read stories with great animation and fun. I loved making my children laugh and I loved it when my children made me laugh. I still do.

My best friend Lucy makes me laugh, as does my husband Steve. My friend Kerryn hoots loudly at the smallest whiff of humour, which in turn makes me laugh. My friend Sharmini, although unable to speak, has the best, loudest and most infectious laugh I’ve ever heard. It’s like music to my ears.

And much, much better than chocolate.

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JUST DOING IT

Written By: Fiona - Mar• 20•13

Okay, so this is what you have to do: Stop complaining to yourself about yourself, stop telling yourself the same story over and over about how you could have/should have done something different/better, and stop ruminating about what could have been and should have been.

Just stop!

Stories can empower or disempower us. They can help us make sense of the world, of ourselves and of others. But stories that are stuck on the groove of blahblah and do nothing but perpetuate our own dismay or misery are a waste of our precious time.

A few months ago I was stuck in my own blahblah story called If I call myself a writer, then why aren’t I writing? What am I? A fraud? So I said to myself: ‘Self, here’s what you’re going to do. You’re going to shut up with the ‘I’m not really a writer’ story and write some stories. Every day for the next 30 days, you’re going to write a story a day. And your time starts… NOW!’

‘Now?” I said incredulously to self. ‘But it’s the middle of the month! Makes more sense to start at the beginning of the month. Good idea, but I think I’d better start it in two weeks’ time.’ BAH BOOWWWW. Copout!

I knew very well if I didn’t start writing that very day, it wouldn’t happen; that life would rear its loud and dominant head and I’d give the unwiped kitchen bench priority over the untyped keyboard. I’d be too busy, too tired, too uninspired, too blahblah.

And so back at myself I did speak: ‘Write now! Right now! Who cares if it’s the middle of the month? Middle schmiddle! Bah humbug!’

So I did. I began that very day with story number one and continued to write for the next 29. I’m proud to announce that I now have a collection of 30 stories. Some are stupid, some are trite, some have hidden gems, some are gems. Doesn’t matter. I wrote, just like I told myself I would. I also gave myself permission not to make them masterpieces, and not to put on my editor hat until the 30 days were up.

(The whole month-long task drew on many of my strengths: creativity, perseverance, enthusiasm, honesty, hope, humour, self-control and wisdom. Strength saturation!)

Writing creatively every day was like visiting a long lost friend. Sure, my priorities are different nowadays with my other (non-fiction) writing, but I felt comforted and confident that I hadn’t lost it. That I could still write good dialogue, shiny metaphors, and kick-butt similes. Ah yes, the world is large, and so is my imagination.

If I can do it, you can do it. Maybe your story isn’t to do with writing, maybe it’s something totally different. Whatever it is you just don’t get around to because [insert your story of why here], then it’s time to bite the bullet. Commit. Do something about it. Go for a walk right now. Pick up the phone and call that person right now. Go see a movie right now. Tell your son you love him right now. Don’t eat that donut right now (chuck it in the bin right now). Google ‘language classes’ right now. Go to sleep right now. Get out of bed right now. Choose the paint colours for that wall right now. Clean the gutters right now. Stop.  Breathe. Do. Right now.

Grab the Right Now Bull by the horns and commit to doing those things you’ve been putting off . Stop the story.

Just stop.

Then start.

Reboot yourself.

Recreate yourself.

And stop the blahblah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Climb Every Mountain

Written By: Fiona - Mar• 13•13

A line from an Annie Lennox song leapt out at me as I paced my way up the steep hill this morning: “How many mountains must you face before you learn to climb?” (From the song, Universal Child).

This metaphor got me thinking how we can, time and time again come up against a challenge or obstacle, only to back away from it. Or choose not to confront it. Or pretend it’s not there (don’t make eye contact, and back slowly away).

Before long, there it is again, that mountainous chunk of face-off.  ‘Ah see ya, mountain, and ah’s gunna getcha this time!’

Children learn to walk by falling; trying and failing and picking themselves up until they have mastery. This is how we fundamentally learn and grow. Challenges, if met, can strengthen us, just as lifting weights strengthens muscles. If we only ever lift a weight that is comfortable and easy, the muscle stays the same. And if we never lift anything heavy at all, the muscle atrophies. Same with our psyche. Same with our mind. Same with our brain.

(All this is well and good – on paper (or screen). However, I don’t necessarily subscribe to the expression: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ We all have our limits, and when those limits are exceeded, we can injure ourselves. And with injury can come weakness, not strength. But by pushing yourself a little can only help, not hinder.)

It takes courage to face your mountain, to square it up. My lecturer, Tal Ben Shahar, illustrated what he meant by the word ‘commitment’ with a story about taking a journey through a forest and coming across an enormous brick wall. With no way to go around it, the only two choices you have are to return from where you came, or ‘throw the backpack over’, then work out how you’re going to get over the wall. Commit, he says, then find a way.

Back to the mountain. There it is again. Got your backpack? Then chuck it up the side of that mountain as far as you can, and begin to climb.

The view at the top is quite spectacular.

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Being Grateful for Gratitude

Written By: Fiona - Feb• 27•13

It was a business coach called Nicole McAuliffe that first introduced to me the idea of gratitude being an intentional, daily and ritualised act. I’m not sure why she suggested it, but perhaps I was in the middle of an emotional crisis or depressive slump. (Again.)  Whatever the circumstances, I’m so very, very grateful for her foresight.

Prior to my Gratitude Makeover, I had just started an honours degree (in professional writing), had my own freelance writing and editing business, taught part-time at Box Hill Tafe, and ran an eleven-piece household with my husband Steve (his six, my three). I’d bitten off a man-sized chunk of life.

I needed clarity, focus, discipline, and loads of encouragement to maintain a healthy relationship with my husband, cope with the challenges of a large blended family, sustain my editing and teaching, and conquer academia.

This is when I stumbled across Nicole. The year was 2004.

At some point in our monthly coaching interactions, Nicole spoke to me of the benefits of writing down – at the end of each day – three things I was grateful for. This simple act was supposed to give me some perspective, enabling me to look back over my day with optimism, rather than with my well-worn pessimistic brush-stroke.

I love the crispy-clean smell of a new journal, with its smooth-cut rounded corners and its feint watermarked lines. And the pen must be just right: not too fine a nib, comfortable to grip, smooth-gliding, and something my hand enjoys holding.

Opening page, in highlighter pink: THINGS I AM GRATEFUL FOR. I was ready to write and roll. Thus began my nightly ritual of The Three Things.

I wrote Three Things the next night, and then the next, the next and the next. After a few weeks, I noticed I was getting bored with the process. I’d hit Gratitude Block. I was just going through the motions and one night even wrote ‘ditto ditto ditto’. I also didn’t know what to write on the nights I felt – wait for it – ungrateful. So I missed a night now and again. And another night, and another… until I’d stopped the ritual altogether. (Ritual? You call that a ritual? A half-baked attempt over a few weeks? How about ‘whimsy’?)

My gratitude journal went into the bottom drawer, my pen in the top.

Houston, I had a problem. And the problem was this: I truly wanted to be grateful. I wanted to have an open heart. I wanted to see those clouds with silver linings my husband was so good at spotting. But writing it down, night after night, just didn’t work for me.

Nicole is a good coach. Recognising my resistance, she introduced me to positive psychology, namely, the works of Martin Seligman (whose books include: Learned Optimism, Authentic Happiness, Flourish et al) and his research and studies on Signature Strengths. Nicole then had me do an on-line questionnaire on my strengths. This showed me my top five – out of 24 – universal strengths.

Being the eternal pessimist, the first thing I asked when I saw the results was, ‘Yes Nicole, but what about my weaknesses?’  I’d grown up believing there was something wrong with me, and it was my purpose in life to constantly fix and improve my broken bits.

Nicole said (rather gently; she’s like that): ‘This is a report on your strengths, not your weaknesses. There are no weaknesses here.’

No weaknesses? Shut up! Get out! But I’m full of them!

She smiled. (Told you she was good.)

Needless to say, this questionnaire had a huge impact on me. It made me see myself in a different light. I’d flipped the venetian blinds the other way: same view, different perspective. ‘This is who I am’ came through loud and clear when I looked at my top five strengths. These are: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Humour and Playfulness, Curiosity, Love of Learning and, wait for it – drumroll – GRATITUDE!

What a leap this was. It turns out I am a very grateful person. Very, very grateful. And I enjoy being grateful. I just hadn’t found a way to express it yet. Seeing gratitude as one of my strengths gave me impetus to once again establish a daily ritual of being consciously, intentionally grateful, which I did from that day forward.

However, this time I did it my way. Given my mornings begin with yoga and meditation, it seemed opportune to start my day – rather than end it – with gratitude, and tag it onto a routine I already had in place. And instead of writing down things I was grateful for, I spoke them. It was a better fit and set the tone for my day.

On a good day, the gratitude rolls out easily: I am grateful for being born in this time, and this place, for never going hungry or thirsty, for always being warm or cool, for a car that works, for the kindness of others, for music, for the internet, for birdsong, for laughter, for afternoon’s golden light. For family, friends, teachers. For books. Stories. Humankind. The list, on these days, is long.

On a bad day, I squeeze out a snappy ‘grateful for my yoga mat’. But no matter how lousy I feel, I can always find something – anything – to be grateful for.

Even if it’s for gratitude itself, of which I am very, very grateful.

Note:   Nicole’s website: www.creativeconnections.com.au

To do a free on-line strengths questionnaire: www.viacharacter.org

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Cool running

Written By: Fiona - Feb• 19•13

As I ran this morning, Mumford and Sons asked ‘Where are you now?’. I did too.  Then Xavier Rudd answered with ‘Home’. I smiled. This is a good sign.

Each morning before I leave for my morning run-walk, I do the same yoga routine I’ve been doing for years, give or take a few poses. I write in my journal and I meditate. This routine is my salve; my panacea for the soul. My refuge. My peace. My quiet. Mine.

On this morning I opened my journal, stared at the blank page for a minute, and then shut it. I had nothing to say. I meditated in silence. I blew out the four candles (one for me, one for Lucy, one for Sick People I Know, and one for The Other Steve).

And then the run-walk.

It hurt. It always hurts. Sometimes I stop, sometimes I power through. Sometimes the pain beats me, other times I beat it. Today I beat it. I made it to my mark. And then the hill.

I kicked off the (seemingly) vertical walk with music thumping hard in my ears, and began to compose a ‘when I die’ letter in my head. Something I’ll write and feel silly writing, and then even sillier when I read it and I’m not dead. And the days, months, years, and hopefully decades will go by, and the instructions will be past their use-by date.  I probably won’t even remember who Newton Faulkner is and why I thought the song ‘If this is it’ was so relevant when there are so many wonderful Sinatra tunes! (Shoot me now.)

It’s good muscle-burning distraction: music for thinking and thinking for writing.

I didn’t stop once, even walking backwards to drink in the view. The dust puffed underneath my feet, leaving Neanderthal-like prints in my wake. The straw-brown paddocks full of useless, crunchy grass fell away to the suburban fringed border of boxy brown-roofed houses. The morning sun eased its way into my day.

I scanned the paddocks for kangaroos. I marvelled at the velvet blue darkness of the dam and the ducks slicing through its stilled surface, ripples echoing out. A dog watched me walk by, its barking muffled by the music thumping in my ears. I stepped in time to MC Yogi rapping ‘Ganesh is fresh’ as I reached the crest, and then out of time as I walk down.

Rubbish bins stood to attention at the front gate. I picked up the tight roll of newspaper, rolled and bound to an inch of its life. I pulled a bin behind me, its stench billowing.

The dogs greeted me, down-dog posed and smiling faces, panting and wagging.

It’s good to be alive.

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Are we there yet?

Written By: Fiona - Feb• 14•13

Sometimes it’s easy to just to give up. To throw the towel in, to quit while you’re not ahead.

Sometimes the end goal seems too out of reach, too difficult to navigate, and not worth the effort – especially when the effort is thwarted, undermined or doesn’t even make a blip on the radar.

Life can be hard. Work can be hard. Dieting can be hard. Getting fit can be hard. Staying in a relationship can be hard. Study can be hard.

Yet without struggle, challenges, effort or adversity there is no growth. Life would be one big mediocre sandwich. We’d be living in blah blah land, all complacence-ed out.

I know all about struggle, and about set-backs, about goal-crashing, about giving up. About failure. There have been many times in my life when it’s all seemed too hard to go another step, and I’ve wanted to throw every towel I’ve had in. I’ve had to stare down It’s Too Hard many, many times.

Case in point: I’ve just spent four days on a hike on the beautiful north eastern shores of Tasmania. I’m not a hiker. My feet hurt and my back hurts and I don’t like the heat and I hate walking on sand and I hate mosquitoes, sand flies, leaky tents and too-hot sleeping bags. But there I was, with a back-pack on my back, trudging along in the heat and the sand with my eyes on the lighthouse we were walking towards, which was a mere stick in the distance.

Hour after hour, on a slanting beach with a heavy pack, I kept my eye on that little lighthouse, wishing and willing it to get bigger quicker, with the Little Red Engine song incessantly looping in my head: I think I can I think I can I think I can. I changed shoes, I walked bare-footed, I rested, I walked some more, I whinged and I moaned. Finally, the lighthouse stood in front of us up on the cliff. Destination reached!  Wahooo!

But this was only our lunch stop. We still had another four hours to go.

Our final destination that day was the Bay of Fires Eco-lodge where hot showers, comfortable beds (with sheets!) and delicious food waited. Before we could get to the lodge, however, there were more beaches to walk, more rocks to clamber over and one very steep hill to climb.

Once I reached the balcony of the lodge – where a big glass of iced water greeted me – I wanted to punch the air and grunt like Rocky on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, but the best I could do was collapse into the festive deck chair and gulp my water, sweat dripping off my beetroot-red face.  Then, as I took in the magnificent vista of the rocky and rugged shoreline, and saw, way back in the distance that little stick of a lighthouse now far, far behind us, all the effort and struggle paid off.

“The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”  (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

Oh yes, I was stretched. And I met my limits, time and time again on that walk. Yes, it was difficult, but ultimately, it was very, very worthwhile.

I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could.

And I still have my towel.

 

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EXERCISING SELF-CONTROL

Written By: Fiona - Feb• 06•13

So, how are your New Year Resolutions going? On schedule? Peaky? Marvellous? Or have they fallen by the wayside? Or a bit of both?

I don’t do New Year Resolutions. I do, however, reflect on the year that was and the year that is about to become. I have intentions and goals for the year, but I no longer whimsically list a set of unachievable must-dos or must-haves.

One of my intentions for this year (and beyond) is to eat more healthily and more consciously. I was blessed with genes that meant it really didn’t matter what I consumed, my weight wouldn’t be adversely affected. If I noticed my jeans were a little tight or I looked pregnant when I clearly wasn’t, all I’d do was stop eating the things I knew I’d over-indulged in. This was easy. I just stopped buying the bad stuff: the Jam Fancies, Ginger Nuts, Chiccos, Snakes and Turkish Delights. If they weren’t in the pantry, I couldn’t eat them.

Time has changed all this good fortune. Since leaping over the Half Century hurdle a few years ago, my body hasn’t been the cooperatively springy, nubile or svelte thing it used to be. Overnight, it seemed, there were wobbly bits where no blubber had gone before. Friends began to say “You’re looking well!” in place of “You’re looking good!”. Hurrumph!

I had no choice but to begin to exercise my Self Control muscle: walk down the confectionary aisle looking with intense (faked) interest at the stationery opposite (Oh what a marvellous stapler! And what handsome loose-leaf sheets and perky highlighters!); opt for a piece of fruit instead of a sweet drink; stop eating when I was no longer hungry, not when I was full; eliminate sugar from tea and coffee (this was a tough one), start a cardio routine (this was tougher) – and stick to it (tougher still). And each time I did one of these things, inside I’d do a little high five. Yay me! (Hi My name’s Fiona and I didn’t eat a Turkish Delight today.)

The biggest change of all, however, was to begin to eat healthy, non-processed, unrefined and preferably organic, foods.

To help me to choose more wisely, I took some food principles from author and ‘liberal foodie intellectual’, Michael Pollan. Here are a few:

1. Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognise as food.
2. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
3. Don’t eat breakfast cereal that changes the colour of the milk.
4. It’s not food if it arrives through the window of your car.
5. Avoid foods that never rot (except honey).
6. Don’t buy food where you buy your petrol.

So far, all of this is going pretty well. Sure, there’s still some blubber in parts I’d rather there wasn’t, but I feel healthier. And even though the scales don’t lie, my Arnie Schwarzenegger Pilate-yoga-guns must account for something, surely? (Okay, not guns, pistols. Or maybe bullets?)

And my jeans still fit, so that’s the main thing.

NOTE:

All this may sound a little fairy-tale-ish, and I know it’s not always that straightforward for many people and reasons.

However, if self-control isn’t one of your top strengths, it doesn’t mean you don’t have any! We all have self-control: it’s just that some have ready, easy access to it more than others.

The only way to strengthen a muscle is to exercise it. And it’s the same with exercising your strengths – no matter where they sit on your list. If you want to engage self-control, but find it difficult, one way of enabling this is to link self-control with one of your top strengths.

For example: I love music (a strength of ‘Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence’) and fun (‘Humour and Playfulness’), so on my run each day I listen to a shuffled playlist of songs that I love and made especially for the occasion. If I can’t run in time to the music, I slow down and walk-dance in time – just me and kangaroos, ‘Coal-Mining’ with Devo up the long and dusty road. My morning run-dance-walk is now something I look forward to and have fun doing, not something I have to ‘get over and done with.’

Here are a few other examples of piggy-backing one of your top strengths with Self Control:

Social intelligence: exercise with a friend
Prudence: keep a food and exercise diary so you can track your progress
Kindness: be kind to yourself and your body
Hope: visualise a brighter, fitter, healthier you
Bravery: use your courage and take a stand for the person you want to be
Curiosity: be curious about your self-talk/reluctance/reticence/aversion to physical and emotional responses to changing your habits

May you live happier and healthier ever after…

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‘TIS THE SEASON TO BE GRATEFUL

Written By: Fiona - Dec• 12•12

There has been much research on the therapeutic value of writing ‘gratitude letters’ and over the past few years I’ve put this to the test. It’s an incredible experience – for the giver and the receiver.

And given that out of the 24 Character Strengths, gratitude is one of the most beneficial due to its impact on well-being, it’s a very good reason to give it a shot.

I first heard of the idea of gratitude letters back in 2010 during informal, online studies in Positive Psychology through Penn University. Martin Seligman has also written about the therapeutic value of gratitude letters in his many books. Given its research-based credibility, I have written a few over the past couple of years. However, I’ve never been the recipient of such… until now.

Just last week I was in my office lamenting about the lack of Christmas cards I’ve received this year, when my friend Sam turned up – with a ‘gratitude letter’ for me!

Sam made me sit and listen as she read. It started like this:

‘Dear Fiona, I could write you a gratitude letter every day of the rest of my life and still not be able to adequately express the gratitude and love I feel towards you and for you….”

…and continued for three, hand-written pages.

I felt very humbled and moved by her words, and what had started out as a pretty average, stressful day turned out to be an upbeat and energetic one. What a great early Christmas present!

So far, I’ve written a gratitude letter to my best friend, Lucy, to my husband Steve, and to my children.  Here’s one of those I prepared earlier:

September 2010

Dear Lucy,

I don’t know if I’ve ever really articulated how and why you have earned the prestigious and rare title of ‘Bestest Buddy’.

From that first time the queue at Gang Show when you turned around – in your joyful and extroverted way – and said ‘Hi, my name’s Lucy! What’s yours?’ I knew I was going to be your friend.  But I didn’t know that it was going to be forever, and it didn’t know it was going to be ‘best’.

We’ve had some fantastic times together.  Whenever I drive through Blackburn, I always think of your family home, your mum and dad, your siblings, your pool, your brightly coloured hallway, the sauna (!), the beautiful and flamboyant (yet tasteful) design of the house.  I remember the gentle acceptance and smile of your dad; I remember your mum’s rambunctious enthusiasm.

I also remember the very first day you took me to your house and your mum was in the garden.  You took one look at her and said “Oh mum! Take off that ridiculous hat!”  I was shocked at your gumption, but inside it made me squeal with delight.  Imagine talking to your mother like that and getting away with it!  Your mum wasn’t ruffled. I loved that about her. She was, really, un-ruffle-able.  Your parents were so kind and loving towards me.  I remember them both very, very fondly.)

Sharing houses together with you, Lucy, was one of sheer delight. I know we probably had our differences, our frustrations and our spoken and unspoken hissy fits, but if we did, they have disappeared from my memory block, leaving only fondness and nostalgia.  For example:  your wetsuit hanging above the shower, like a suicidal black  corpse; greeting people for dinner whom I didn’t know, entertaining and cooking for them until you got home, after you’d had to sleep off a terrible migraine on your way back from a diving expedition; your aerobic exercise tapes that we danced and exercised to; your choreography of the Greek play at the Fairfield amphitheatre; the crazy way you dropped me off at the station that time on my way to Sydney, running alongside the train like Quasimodo.

I’ve been through tough times, happy times, joyous times and distant times with you too, Luce.  I remember how distraught I was when your mum died, and I was so unwell and on the point of emotional/physical breakdown, I just couldn’t get to the funeral. That’s one of the few things in my life that I regret – that I wasn’t there for you. 

When I was working corporately, you were a student; when I was a student, you were the corporateer; when I was a mother, you were the godmother; when I was entrenched in twin-dom, you were rising in the ranks in USA. 

Lucy, my best and dearest friend, you have made my life joyful and I always rest easy, knowing you are and always will be present for me, to share my joys, to hear my laments and vents, and to provide me with wisdom.  And even though you have lived on the other side of the world for the last 15 years, our friendship has remained as strong as it ever was.  Distance, nor time, will ever wear or tarnish our great friendship and love.

You are my rock.

You are my Bestest Buddy.

I thank the great divine for bringing you into my life, and for keeping you safe and protected through precarious and tenuous times.

I love you, my friend.

There’s no time like the present, and there’s no present like your time. So what are you waiting for? Make someone’s day. Give them the best gift ever. Tell them how grateful you are for their part in your life.

It will be the best letter you’ve ever written and the best letter they’ve ever received.

NOTE:

Reference: “Letters of Gratitude: Improving Well-Being through Expressive Writing”, by Toepfer & Walker 2009. Web link below.

http://www.jowr.org/articles/vol1_3/JoWR_2009_vol1_nr3_Toepfer_Walker.pdf

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