Every Single Day…

habitSome time ago, I was reading a book by Gretchen Rubin when I came across this phrase: The days are long, but the years are short.

These words resonated with me — not least because at the time that I read them, I was the mother of two pre-schoolers. My days seemed to be filled with repetitive, mindless tasks that revolved around keeping my children happy, healthy and (by obvious extension) clean, and that work — because it definitely is work — was often relentless and mind-numbing. The days were long (and the nights could be even longer), but the years were flying by with alarming rapidity.

Don’t get me wrong: being a parent is — without question — the single most rewarding role I have ever taken on, and this post is not about to descend into an extended diatribe about just how hard those long days and nights can be. (Besides, in my experience, even when a child has behaved absolutely diabolically while awake, that same child can somehow, miraculously, completely restore your faith in and love for them once they are soundly asleep — particularly if they stay that way for an extended period.)

No, the reason I recall that maddening yet magical part of my life is because I chose HABIT as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for August.

What now? Parenting is a habit?

Not at all. But I have been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book Better Than Before, which tackles habits and habit formation head on, and brought to my mind the wisdom of the ancients, specifically this observation from Aristotle:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Now that my children are growing up and increasingly self-sufficient, I would prefer not to think about the tasks I performed with increasing Aristotelian excellence when they were smaller, save to say — as a random example — that I reckon I could wrangle just about any kid into a five-point harness car seat while blindfolded. Possibly even one handed.

habit 2Aristotle’s adage did make me think, however, about the things that I repeatedly do now — because these, my friends, are my habits. Sure, there’s all the obvious basic personal hygiene and basic living habits like showering daily, cleaning my teeth morning and night, eating a decent breakfast, that sort of thing. But what else, I wondered, do I do every single day?

Well, I read…and I write…and…if I’m totally honest I probably check my social media accounts…

I mean, what do you do every single day?!

And that brought me to another one of Aristotle’s little gems: Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

When we know ourselves, we know what repeatedly do. We recognise our habits, good and bad, and know which of these we want to cultivate with further repetition and which we want to eliminate. One of my friends, for example, makes a habit of keeping a gratitude journal, of taking time each evening to record what she is grateful for every single day. She also encourages her children to say what they’re grateful for too, and even if they don’t yet write it down she’s hoping, by repetition, to help instil the same habit in them.

Another friend makes herself a properly brewed cup of coffee every single morning. For her, this is a good habit: not only is it something that she enjoys drinking, but she also enjoys the ritual of making it. For her, it is an important act of self care (not to mention the fact that it provides a caffienated kick-start to her day). And that’s where self-knowledge kicks in too — my friend also knows that drinking coffee all day long is not good for her (or anyone), so she relishes that morning cup all the more.

Needless to say, the same combination of repetition and self-knowledge can assist in a business setting, too. Religiously checking your business bank balance won’t improve your cashflow, for example, but billing clients regularly, offering multiple methods of payment and chasing your debtors often will all help. It’s about knowing what you need to do, and repeating the necessary actions to make those things happen.

So I ask again: what do you do every single day?

Does it match up with what you know you could be doing every day?

Because, just like when I wrote about eudaimonia and human flourishing, I think those ancient Greeks were onto something. Sure — for a modern take on it, check out Gretchen Rubin’s book (she really does unpack the whole habit bag, even if I did get slightly annoyed about her frequent references to wearing yoga pants all the time), but I think — as usual — what we’re all aiming for is what human beings have been aiming for for thousands of years. And yes, the Greeks had a word for it too:

 

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So I wish you well with all those things you do repeatedly this August, and with the habits your self-knowledge asks you to cultivate in the future.

Sophrosyne here we come!

Laser Beams & Drishti Points

Focus is a funny, occasionally unpredictable, thing — and that’s one of the reasons I chose it as Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for July.

Take this image, for example:

focus

What did you focus on?

Was it the cars in the street, so far below? Or did you spot the coffee first, or the hand holding the mug? Or perhaps your eye was drawn to the reflection of the clouds within the cup?

There are no right or wrong answers here — it’s just a simple way of pointing out that we all see and experience the world differently, and that our circumstances and personalities and a multitude of internal and external factors cause us to focus on different things. That means that your focus is unique: it’s peculiar and particular to you.

But what I find fascinating (because of my own peculiar and particular focus, no doubt) is that there are different types of focus, too.

I’m not talking about different types of focus in a photographic sense, but in more of a “mental toolbox” sort of way. Because I know that I need different kinds of focus to perform different tasks. For me, focus is something you might measure on a spectrum.

Part of the reason I chose focus as my Word of the Month because I knew it was something I would need in abundance in July — and different kinds of focus, too. This month, I knew I needed to complete a whole pile of deadline-based tasks for my regular job as well as to honour a bunch of equally pressing commitments for clients in my freelance work, and fit all this around the time my children would be off school for Winter Holidays. Oh, and celebrating both their birthdays, too.

No pressure?!

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Pick your point and get it done…this is laser beam focus.

Now, I’m the first one to admit that a large part of getting things done is simply to being organised and doing what you need to do, but choosing your focus certainly helps.

At one end of the spectrum is Laser Beam Focus, which I would describe as being single minded, incredibly intense, and very specifically directed. Like laser beams themselves, this kind of focus has to be coherent, meaning it has to remain spatially and temporally constant. It’s an amplified kind of focus, and not something that is sustainable for long periods — we’re human beings, after all. That said, it’s fantastic if you’re screaming towards a deadline and really need to get something done.

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Drishti point focus…not sure whether I’d be able to pull it off in these circumstances!

At the other end of the spectrum is Drishti Point Focus, which comes (as with many things I love) from yoga. Drishti translates from Sanskrit as focused gaze, but it relates also to pratyahara and dharana, the fifth and sixth limbs of yoga, which relate to sense withdrawal and concentration. In the yogic tradition there are nine different drishti points, but most of us who do yoga regularly will probably think of the spot you gaze at in the middle distance to help you find a combination of strength and ease within a pose — particularly if it involves balancing. For me, drishti point focus is active, but it is also characterised by softness and a meditative stillness. It’s focus alright, but it’s a sustainable and nourishing sort of focus.

So my suggestion for July? That you look at your to do list and apply whatever focus from the spectrum you need to get things done. Know that there are multiple solutions to each and every task and as many ways to focus on them as there are human beings, and that part of what makes your work and life your own is that you bring your unique focus to it and to everyone you meet.

 

Stairways & Stepping Stones

Steps 4It’s winter where I live.

The shortest day has already slipped past, sinking silently into the darkness. Even the stars look cold and distant, silver points of light piercing the fast-falling night sky.

I’ve written about winter before, probably because I am fascinated by the passing of the seasons — such as they are in this Great Southern Land. I’ve also written about winter being a time for self-care, though this year I’m looking at it from a different persective — through the prism of Blue Jai’s Word of the Month for June: ALIGNMENT.

Steps 2The word alignment comes from the French words à ligne, which translate as ‘into line’. For me, it instantly conjures up images of perfectly spaced poplar trees, of soldiers standing to attention, of lane ropes skimming the surface of a swimming pool.

But then, immediately afterwards, it occurred to me that lines are not always straight — and that the words ‘into line’ do not imply that those lines are horizontal, vertical, or parallel. Alignment, then, does not have to be something ruled or rigid.

Steps 1I then thought about lines in nature — of the fiddleheads of ferns and the inside of seashells and other swirling curves that fit the Fibonacci sequence. I thought of nights I spent in the Northern hemisphere, watching the sinuous lines of the Aurora Borealis. I thought of human spines, of all our vertibrae arranged in concave and convex curvatures.

And then I thought of stairways and stepping stones, and saw these as a simple yet effective metaphor for making sure we keep putting one foot in front of the other to get to where we want to go. Doing so depends on preparing for each step, keeping our balance, and moving forward.

We are best equipped to take those steps — and sometimes even leaps — when we live and work in alignment with our goals and our First Principles. When we do this, unforeseen obstacles become easier to deal with: instead of seeing them as insurmountable, we simply make the necessary adjustments to bring ourselves back into alignment with our path once more.

So this June, and all this winter, I wish you well on your journey — one step at a time, onwards and upwards, in alignment with your path, however straight or curved it may be.

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Onwards!

momentum 2

Momentum demands movement.

It’s May, already.

And not only that, its coming towards the end of May.

Can you believe it?

The year is rolling on — faster and faster, I sometimes feel — and Blue Jai’s Word of the Month is MOMENTUM.

I’ve been more than usually busy lately, which is why I haven’t written this post until now, but while I’ve been busying myself with the various balls I’m managing to keep in the air at the moment I’ve been contemplating the nature of momentum and how important it is to being successfully busy, and successful in business, too.

And my musings have made me draw the following conclusions about momentum:

  • In physics, the law of momentum states that an object in motion will stay in motion until it meets a resisting force. To my mind, identifying the resisting forces in your world and finding ways to smooth them out will ensure that you keep moving forward. Eliminate distractions, and focus on what brings you closer to your aims.
  • Momentum, to me, is also something that builds. One of the things that enables me to build momentum is knowing the basic (often repetitive) tasks that I need to accomplish to ensure my day flows. Attending to these tasks enables me to create a more rhythmic approach to my day, and momentum often follows.
  • Finally, momentum demands movement — in order to create it, you have to be moving towards something.  So even when you have days when you don’t want to get out of bed, just do it. Keep on moving!

So this May, my challenge to you is to find your path, remove the resistance, and build your own momentum.

Onwards!

momentum 1

Eliminate distractions and resistance, and move towards your goals.

 

 

 

A Sort of String Theory

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, as the great Robbie Burns wrote, gang aft agley.

How ironic that my post on my Word of the Month — INTENTION — should come at the end of April instead of at the beginning, as I had originally planned.  Then again, given that the word intention derives from the Old French word entencion, which translates as both stretching as well as purpose, perhaps it is fitting that I have somehow managed to stretch out my time sufficiently to squeeze this post in before April bids us farewell — and while I’m sure there’s some witty astrophysical reference I could be making here, my knowledge of string theory is woefully inadequate to make an appropriate cosmic joke.

stress

Intention is a very powerful tool.

Strangely enough, the reasons why this post is so late also relate to intention. A valued client, who over several months had carefully planned and then (seemingly) successfully executed a handover from one administrative support person to another, was let down suddenly and unexpectedly when the new staff member got cold feet and left without notice or warning. This outcome was, quite obviously, not intended.  And having seen the lengths that my client had gone to to ensure a smooth and stress-free transition, stepping into the breach to provide them with on-site administrative support was a no-brainer for me — even if it meant my own plans, including writing this post, were delayed.

Now, I’m not one to sugarcoat things: the situation was stressful for everyone involved. But what impressed me most was that my client, despite being sincerely disappointed, maintained a positive outlook in the face of such a massive setback. And when I asked my client how he had managed to continue being so upbeat — which went, genuinely, beyond putting on a brave face — he gave me this response:

I’m not going to let one person’s quitting stop me from doing what I set out to.

And there it was: intention in action.

Life is full of unexpected twists and snarls, where the strings we attempt to smooth and straighten and follow along their slender lengths sometimes slip out of our grasp or snap altogether. When confronting such circumstances, however, it is worth returning to your original intentions: recalling your original purpose and remembering the reasons behind your actions can provide sufficient impetus to keep you moving ahead, even when it feels like everything around you is turning into a twisted, tangled mess.

I know my client will go on to hire someone new, and will probably end up with a better, more functional business because of it. In the meantime, it has been a privilege to work with someone who fixes their mind firmly, with intention, on their goals and who sustains their business by working deliberately towards achieving those outcomes, even in the face of unexpected setbacks.

stress 3

Suspended Stone Circle II, by Ken Unsworth.

There is great strength to be found in such an approach — in setting your intention and sticking to it. And for some reason, my experiences in April reminded me of an installation by Ken Unsworth at the Art Gallery of NSW that I have visited time and time again. It is called Suspended Stone Circle II, and for me it sums up visually what it’s like to successfully manage a business, or a family, or even the thoughts in your own head.

This is the power of intention.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cover Versions

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Adelaide street art — this is a fairly recent piece, and I love the incorporation of the windows in to the reimagining of this wall space.

So those of you who follow my side hustle at Blue Jai Creative will know that my word of the month for March is REIMAGINE.

I’ve selected the word reimagine quite deliberately — as writers are prone to doing — particularly after last month’s focus on connection, when I delved into the rich pickings that can be gleaned from connecting with people, with your inner voice, and with what inspires you, and then from connecting the dots between all those things to create something whole and meaningful. Hopefully, having spent some time making such connections, you have a stronger sense of what you want to achieve in your work or life.

The first thing that prompted me to select reimagine as the word of the month was a recent trip I took to Adelaide, South Australia. I’d never been there before, but was keen to check out the food and wine and, being a lover of street art, wanted to see some of the amazing work that has popped up all over the inner city in recent years — and I was not disappointed. Seeing the way that hidden nooks and crannies all around Adelaide had been transformed from grotty out of the way spots to beautiful, unexpected spaces was truly inspiring.

So this month, the word reimagine is designed to kickstart an examination of those things in your work or life that need reviewing. We all have pieces that don’t quite fit — procedures that don’t flow quite as smoothly as we’d like them to, systems that have pinch points or regular breakdowns, products that could do with a tweak, ideas that seem to resist attempts to realise them, all manner of things we know could be improved. Because let’s face it: we’re all human, which means none of us is perfect.

Reim hawking

Without wondering and reimagining, would Stephen Hawking’s work would have been impossible.

But the fact that we are human also means that we possess the greatest and most mind-blowing of gifts: we have the power to imagine and to reimagine — over and over again. For as long as we are capable of thinking, we can keep re-envisaging and reinvestigating.  The possibilities and permuations are limitless, endless, for as long as we are consciously able to imagine and reimagine them.

And that brings me to the second thing — or, more accurately, person — who inspired the reimagine theme for March: the brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whose passing earlier this month reminded the world not only of his amazing work, but also of some of his more poignant words of advice to his fellow humans: that we need to retain our curiosity and keep wondering — or reimagining — our worlds, and that we don’t ever stop doing so.  In his own words, it matters that you don’t just give up.

I think it’s important, at this point, to draw a distinction between reimagining and reinventing, because I think part of what makes human beings tend to give up on things is that we become caught up in thinking we have to create something completely and entirely new in order to be successful — and it simply isn’t true. As far as I’m concerned, the old adage about not needing to reinvent the wheel is right on the money: the wheel is just fine, thank you, but hats off to the person who can imagine a way to make it faster, stronger, or perhaps even prettier.

So this month, I encourage you to reimagine the things in your work or life that you think could do with some renewal. What would it look like, if you did something differently? How would that feel? Does it really matter that something is not brand new, or is it more important that you’re willing to try doing something in a new way? Sure – it might be a bit scary, but what if it actually worked?

reim cilly

Some of the many reimaginings of Cillian Murphy…

Which brings me to my third and final inspriation for my March reimagine theme, which was a fantastic bunch of cover versions actor Cillian Murphy played during a recent broadcast on BBC Radio 6. I have a sneaking suspicion that, like me, Cillian Murphy thinks music is about as necessary to human life as oxygen, and as well as being one of my favourite actors (a job which, quite obviously, requires you to reimagine yourself all the time) his recent forays into broadcasting have cemented him in my mind as being one of the most awesome human beings on the planet. (It’s OK…relax, I’ve stopped fangirling now).

Returning to cover versions, though — which are, of course, one artist’s reimaginings of another artist’s work. Some cover versions are pretty much straightforward reproductions of the original song…and to my mind such works are more like tributes than anything else. Other times, however, cover versions take original songs to a whole other level.  They make you aware of a fresh layer of meaning in the original lyrics, or evoke an entirely different mood from the melody, or strip a song back to its essential elements and make you fall in love with it all over again, in a new and exciting way. I’d cite Neil Finn’s cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as being one such a track, and Nirvana’s version of David Bowie’s “Man Who Stole the World”, or even Northeast Party House’s recent rendition of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” as others.

But there was one particular song Cillian Murphy played during his hour of favourite cover versions that he ventured to say was even better than the original — and even though it’s a big call, I’m inclined to agree with him. So I’m going to leave you with it, as a final piece of inspiration to look, and look hard, at what needs reimagining in your life and work.

Here is Stevie Wonder, playing a cover version of The Beatles’ “We Can Work it Out” — at the White House, in front of President Obama and his family, who are sitting right next to Paul McCartney…who wrote and performed the original song. Boom.

If you think you’re scared of reimagining something new, let wheelchair-bound scientist and a blind man show you the way. You might just work it out, too.

 

The Greatest Connection

together

We’re all connected…

Connect.

That’s the word I’ve chosen to focus on for February at Blue Jai Creative — not least because here in the Great Southern Land, summer has heralded its annual leave-taking with hot and humid weather. The Silly Season and its many distractions are over, New Year’s Resolutions have (hopefully) taken hold, and our children have dutifully trouped off back to school for the year.

It’s time to get back into the swing of things. To ramp up our efforts. To take the plunge.

It’s time to connect.

Since February began, however, I have realised that there’s not much point in doing any of these things unless our actions are focused.  And now is the perfect time to paint a clear picture in our mind’s eye of what we might want to achieve in the upcoming year — hence, my word of the month and my current plan:

Connect with people. They are our most valuable and — frequently — most overlooked resource. Call someone who is a positive presence in your life, and when you’ve had an uplifting chat, pay it forward if you can — even if it’s just by smiling at a stranger. Find a mentor. Thank a supporter. Ask a colleague for help if you need it. Compliment someone. And connect especially with your clients; listen to what they have to say, and let what you hear help you map out your plans.

Connect with your inner voice. Know what your First Principles are, the guiding tenets that keep you and your journey on track. For example, my First Principles (which revolve around words, music, and food) remind me to keep on creating, to listen to things that bring me joy and peace, and to eat well so I can sustain myself properly. Living and working in alignment with your own First Prinicples will always bring you greatest satisfaction, because you will be living and working authentically.

Connect with what inspires you. In the normal, real world, what you do for work may not take you to dizzying heights of bliss. For many of us, some or even much of what we do can feel repetitive or mundane. Taking the time to seek inspiration — whether it’s playing a particular song, baking a cake, reading, swimming in the ocean, getting up early to see the sunrise, updating your vision board, taking a walk in the rain, or whatever else delights you — can help to keep you motivated to turn up and take the next step.

Connect the dots. No matter how winding the path you take, make sure that each step along the way is bringing you closer to your goals. Connecting the dots helps you bring perspective to your decision making and can help you stay the course when you feel discouraged or distracted. And if you’ve already connected with people, your inner voice and what inspires you, you’ll already know that the quality of your journey is just as important (if not more so) as wherever you’re hoping to get to.

Connect.

tesla

…throughout history and around the globe…

Focusing on this one word (talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, in alignment with my own First Principles) has made me realise that throughout history, around the world, and across every discipline of human endeavour, some of our deepest and most innovative thinkers have all been saying the same thing: we are all connected.

Here’s what Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) had to say during the Renaissance:

To develop a complete mind, study the science of art, study the art of science, learn how to see. Realise that everything connects to everything else.

Or the Upanishads, the ancient Sanskrit texts that inform much of Hinduism, written in India six centuries BCE:

Who sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.

During the Romantic era the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)  wrote, “I am a part of all that I have met”, while in the twentieth century the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (born 1926) reminded us that, “We are all the leaves of one tree; we are all the waves of one sea.”

Perhaps, in more recent years, it has fallen to the scientists to spell things out in their usual succinct fashion. In the words of American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson:

We are all connected — to each other biologically, to the Earth chemically, to the rest of the universe atomically.

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…and we’re all making journeys towards the same end. That’s our greatest connection.

Or, as Nikola Tesla (1816-1943) — inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist and futurist — summed it up even more simply when he said “We are all one.”

We all make these journeys — weaving in and out of each others’ worlds and crossing each others’ paths along the way. We’re all doing the same thing, each day, to take the steps to get us to where we want to be. We really are all connected.

And should these words of mine, spiralling out into cyberspace, connect with you today, may you discover connections with people who support you, with experiences that inspire you, with the guidance within you, and every last dot along the way.