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Volunteering in Borneo

April 22, 2017
Pygmy elephant Borneo

I’ve wanted to visit Borneo for years to see orang-utans in the wild. Like many people, I’ve felt strongly that we need to do something about the palm oil production and deforestation that is destroying their habitat and leaving many of them injured or orphaned (not to mention all the other species now extinct or endangered).

I searched online for orang-utan volunteering projects and was excited to find one that allows children to participate, since many volunteering opportunities are only open to adults. The social enterprise we volunteered with is APE Malaysia (Animal Projects and Environmental Education), and having just spent the Easter school holidays having an AMAZING time in Borneo, I’m keen to share our experience.

We arrived with a little trepidation having never participated in an organised trip like this before. (Our previous volunteering trip which involved teaching English to children in Cambodia was done on our own schedule and we booked all our own accommodation and meals.) We were advised that we wouldn’t have access to wifi, shops, or hot water and that all meals would be eaten in the villagers’ homes. Annabelle can be a fussy eater so I was imagining her living on boiled rice for the week!

We spent our first project night in a traditional Bornean longhouse, which was a stark contrast to the Hyatt Regency Kinabalu. We shared a dormitory with the English family joining us on this project – a mum, dad and twin boys the same age as Annabelle. The toilets and showers were shared not only with other travellers from all parts of the world, but all the resident bugs and critters of the jungle!

There was a nice community feel at the longhouse though. Really, it was just like camping!  There were several families with young children all passing through on their way to the same destinations we would be heading to (Sepilok where the wildlife sanctuaries are, and Sukau village on the river).  I overhead lots of chatter over breakfast about people’s plans for the day.

We met our project co-ordinators, Mark and Sumira for dinner. Mark has worked with APE for the past nine years and is a passionate and knowledgeable conservationist. Sumira joined APE in 2016, and spends much of her time working in the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre (BSBCC). She loves children and was a fantastic support during our week together.

Adventure Time..

The next morning we were up and away to our jungle destination of Sukau via a supermarket stop for any last minute purchases (snacks for fussy kids and footy socks to deter leeches in the jungle!)

First things first – our B&B on the river had air-conditioned rooms, ceiling fans, hot water showers and wifi in the café. The café also had free flowing coffee and tea all day and a beautiful view of the river. The food was great and included a mix of Malay and western options. So our minds were put at ease about those things immediately. It felt like luxury compared to what we were expecting.

When volunteering groups come through, they rotate through different B&Bs in the area to spread the income around various local businesses. I think we got the best one as it’s been upgraded over the years with more tourists bringing income to the area.

As soon as we arrived, we saw dozens of long-tailed macaques chasing each other through the trees, which made us feel like we’d definitely arrived in the jungle.  Later, we took a boat trip along the river for wildlife spotting. Of course everyone wants to see pygmy elephants or orang-utans but there are never any guarantees, so I tried not to get my hopes up. We couldn’t have been more excited to spot a male orang-utan (very hard to get a good picture) and a whole herd of pygmy elephants who put on a show for us when we were the last boat on the river after all the others had headed back for dinner. It felt like they waited especially for us. (Later in our trip, I overhead other tourists saying they’d been up and down the river four times and not an elephant in sight so we definitely got lucky!)

pygmy elephant borneo
Male pygmy elephant

Jungle Work

Our job was to plant trees in sections of the forest that have previously been cleared by logging. In  2006, the ‘corridor of life‘ was officially gazetted as a conservation area and is now protected from further logging or agriculture. We learned that orang-utans naturally move through the forest canopy, and it’s not natural for them to come to the ground. When sections of forest are cleared there is no longer a continuous canopy for them to move through. By replanting trees in cleared areas, sections of forest will eventually be reconnected, allowing the great apes easy passage through the jungle.

Being a kid-friendly project, we had two quite modest goals: The first was to use machetes to clear away weeds and grasses strangling some 70-80 new saplings planted three months ago. (10yr olds with machetes!! But it was all very safe.) The second was to plant 36 trees in a nearby section of forest.

Our days started with breakfast at 6am so we would get to the project site early enough to beat the heat of the day. It was hot, humid and reasonably strenuous work but the tasks were manageable and the working hours relatively short. As adults we all felt we could have done more, but I think the kids were happy with just the two days required to achieve our goals! When jungle time was over, it was game time on their various ipads and phones.

Our group with Mark and Sumira

Play Time!

In our free time, we were treated to various cultural experiences. We learned about traditional music, dancing and crafts in the home of local villagers. Plenty of neighbours came along to join in the dancing and I think the party continued long after we had left.

We also ate most meals in the home of a local family, and I’m happy to report that even my fussy Annabelle raved about the food. SFC (‘Sukau Fried Chicken’) was  a winner with the kids! All of these activities help to provide some income to the villagers and get them on board with supporting eco-tourism along the river.

We visited Gomantong Cave and learned about the harvesting of swiftlet birds nests for use in Chinese medicine. At dusk, we observed birds of prey swooping for their dinner when thousands of bats exit the caves. It seemed that everywhere we went, an orang-utan was waiting to greet us. There was plenty to keep the bird-watchers entertained too.

Pied Hornbill
Pied Hornbill in the jungle

We trekked in the muddy jungle and took another wildlife spotting boat trip.  Mark was able to answer any question about the jungle and its inhabitants, the palm oil industry, and Sabah’s conservation policy. Both Mark and Sumira constantly astounded us with their ability to spot a well hidden creature in the trees from a distance in a fast-moving boat! All up, we saw six of the ten primates that reside in the area, as well as various snakes, lizards, birds and of course the lovely pygmy elephants.

Kinabatangan River Borneo
Jungle

Always, the scenery was stunning.

On our last project day we visited Sepilok. This is where you can get up close to the animals at the Orang-utan Rehabilitation Centre and Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre We also took a walk through the  Rainforest Discovery Centre before having a lovely farewell lunch and saying goodbye to our friends.

Annabelle and I chose to stay on in Sepilok for another day so that we could independently visit the Labuk Bay Proboscis Monkey Sanctuary. It’s actually part of a privately owned palm oil plantation, but the owner discovered a living community of proboscis monkeys in part of the forest. To protect the monkeys, he had the area declared a conservation area. He now charges tourists a fee to view them when they come down to be fed. Proboscis monkeys are unique to Borneo and this is the best place to see them up close.

Proboscis monkey borneo
Mum and baby proboscis monkey

In summary, we had a fantastic experience. The information and safety briefings were thorough and our project coordinators were brilliant. Everything was well-organised and our schedule ran perfectly to time so there was never any stress. Seeing the elephants and orang-utans in their natural habitat was a dream come true for me. Annabelle declared that she loved it too. I think all the kids had a great time together.

How to book

APE Malaysia has several volunteering opportunities which you can see on their website. (I don’t get anything for recommending them.)

If you’re in Australia, Mark suggests booking through Barbara Katsifolis, a Melbourne based travel agent specialising in responsible tourism and herself a frequent visitor to Borneo. Barbara recently participated in a 2-week volunteering trip to the Sun Bear Centre so she’s familiar with APE and their work. She wrote a blog about her experience which you can read here.
(Sun Bears are on my list now!!) You can find her on Facebook HERE or her contact details are: barbarak@travelpartners.com.au or phone 0408 360 890

Happy travels!

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It’s a jungle out there

April 9, 2017
Orangutan in Sumatran

I’m writing this from a traditional longhouse in Malaysian Borneo where my daughter and I are spending the night. I have limited internet and am using this opportunity to let anyone know who might be looking for me that I’ll be non-contactable for the next week.

We will be trekking into the jungle, which is the natural habitat of orangutans, pygmy elephants, gibbons, sunbears and other amazing creatures. and volunteering on a project supporting the reforestation of the wildlife corridor.

Borneo
View from our long house

I’ll be back in the land of wifi and connectivity next weekend and back at home/work on Wednesday 19th April.

I look forward to sharing pictures and stories of our adventure when we return.

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Don’t let comparison steal your joy

November 29, 2016
comparison

It’s almost impossible not to notice how we’re doing relative to other people, whether in terms of our career success, financial position, relationship status or physical appearance. It’s so common, in fact, that psychologist Leon Festinger came up with the term ‘Social Comparison Theory’ back in 1954 to describe our human drive to gain an accurate self-evaluation by comparing ourselves to others.

This kind of social comparison can sometimes be useful: Making upward comparisons (comparing yourself with people doing better than you are) can encourage you to work harder towards your goals; and if you’re feeling down about some aspect of yourself or your life, downward comparisons (comparing with people who are less well off than you are) can give you a sense of perspective so that you feel better about your own situation.

Too much comparing isn’t good for anyone though. Back in Festinger’s day, we were probably only comparing ourselves to our immediate family, friends, neighbours and co-workers. These days, social media has made it possible for us to compare ourselves and our lives to hundreds of ‘friends’, strangers and even celebrities online.

Women, in particular, seem to be in more danger of being negatively affected by social comparison because of the media images we are continually exposed to of other women who are thin, beautiful and fabulously wealthy.  Those carefully edited and posed photos filling our Instagram feeds and the photoshopped magazine covers have made us feel that the ‘ideal’ is actually the norm, and so we judge ourselves more harshly by comparing ourselves with an impossible standard.

stop self comparison

It’s not just physical comparisons that make us feel we’re not measuring up. There are the professionally styled living rooms, spotless kitchen benches upon which are served organic, whole-food meals and daily green juices. Spouses are always smiling – never arguing. Children and pets are perfectly groomed and well behaved. Not to mention that everyone is having fun ALL THE TIME. The more you engage in upward comparison, the more likely you are to experience its negative consequences of envy, self-criticism and lower self-esteem.  If you find yourself falling into the trap of comparing yourself with others and feel like you’re coming up short, here are some tips to help you keep things in a little perspective:

Remember it’s your ‘behind the scenes’ vs. their ‘highlights reel’

When comparing, we are seeing an edited version of a person’s whole life but often we fail to take into consideration that this is really their ‘highlights reel’ and that everyone has their own stuff going on behind the scenes, regardless of outward appearances. Not that I’m suggesting we hope anyone else is secretly miserable (!) but we do want to remember our common humanity. What you see is a snapshot, not the whole picture.

Focus on what’s important

Social comparison frequently tends to focus on outward, observable features of a person’s life such as their financial status, physical appearance, career achievement or lifestyle.  There’s enough research now to support the fact these are not the things that bring us deep and lasting joy in life. A life that is lived with intention and purpose, good quality friendships, good health and the savouring of small pleasures are all the things that make life worthwhile but they’re usually not what you’re focusing on when engaging in social comparison. Remembering your own values and practising gratitude can help to move you out of the comparison trap.

Have an abundance mindset

If you’re feeling jealous about other people’s success, you can fall into the trap of being mean-spirited or stingy with your compliments. This happens when you start slipping into ‘scarcity’ thinking; which is the idea that there is a finite amount of success and happiness to go around like a pie with limited slices. It might help to remember that the pie is unlimited and that someone else’s success doesn’t take anything away from you. In fact, you can choose to see others’ success as evidence of what is possible for you if you keep working towards your goals!

Resolve to actively and enthusiastically express happiness for other people’s progress. It will make you feel good and the positive support and encouragement will be returned to you tenfold.

Finally, remember that no-one else has your unique biological make-up, lifestyle or personal history so it makes no sense whatsoever to compare yourself with anyone else. Run your own race and you’ll always be a winner.

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Three ways to manage worry

November 24, 2016
manage worry

If you’re a worrier, you’ll know exactly how much time and energy you can potentially waste on that terribly unpleasant mental habit of imagining real or potential problems. To some degree, we all worry about different things at different times but the propensity to imagine risks or worst case scenarios falls along a spectrum. Basically, some of us worry more than others.

When you worry, your mind is performing the task of trying to control something that is uncertain. We all feel safer when we can plan and predict an outcome but when there’s no way of doing that, your mind can tend to go over and over the situation trying to come up with a solution. If worrying prompts you to come up with a solution to a problem, that can be a positive outcome, but usually the only result of your worrying is that you feel more stressed, anxious and tense.

While worry shares some of the same characteristics with the more serious problem of anxiety, worry tends to create a lower level of distress, can be focused on a specific situation and is more temporary in nature. Still, when you’re worrying a lot of the time it can affect your mood and your physical wellbeing and it’s worth learning some strategies to get it under control.

To help you out, I’ve listed three simple, useful strategies you might be able to apply when you find yourself being consumed by worry:

Postpone worry

This is a technique used in cognitive therapy where you simply decide to postpone your worry to a later time when it’s more convenient for you, say 5pm for 30 minutes. Each time you notice a worry thought pop into your mind, you simply remind yourself to postpone it until later. Then when your designated time comes, try to apply constructive problem solving to your worries.

The Downward Arrow

When you find yourself worrying about something, use the downward arrow to drill down into the worst possible outcome. Simply ask yourself “What would be the worst thing about that, if it came to pass?” And then what would be the worst thing about that? And what would be the worst thing about that? Usually, whatever you are worrying about (even if it were to happen, which it may not) isn’t going to lead to anyone’s death, homelessness or bankruptcy. This can help to bring some perspective to whatever you’re worrying about.

Breathe

When you worry, the ‘fight or flight’ part of your brain (downstairs brain) is activated, which means the cortical regions (upstairs brain) are offline. It’s the upstairs brain that helps us apply rational problem solving, whereas the downstairs brain is only concerned with our immediate survival. Taking slow deep breaths sends a message to your brain that you aren’t in danger, and therefore deactivates the ‘fight or flight’ emotional response and allows you access to your upstairs, rational brain. The other advantage of focusing on breathing is that your mind can’t be in two places at once, so focusing on counting breaths can provide a distraction from your worry thoughts.

The most important thing is to learn to notice when your mind is wanting to anticipate all the things that might go wrong or all the worst case scenarios. If you’ve “always been a worrier” that mental habit can be hard to break but the more you can bring mindful, non-judgemental awareness to that habit pattern, the better chance you have of retraining your brain to do something different.

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Three steps to upgrading your self-belief

November 22, 2016
self-belief

From our earliest years, we start forming beliefs about who we are and what we’re capable of. We get these ideas through feedback from our family (maybe you were the smart one or the funny one, but not the sporty one) and then from our teachers and peers at school. We form beliefs not just based on what we’re told but on what we observe in the world around us.

Then we navigate our way through life carrying around a whole lot of ideas about what is possible for us, and make decisions based on those ideas without ever really checking in to see whether they’re true!

If you grew up with the idea that you were clever but not sporty, for example, you probably avoided trying out for team sports. And if you avoid sports, you never give yourself the opportunity to challenge that old belief so it stays put and becomes true for you. Vicious circle, right?!

Depending on what those beliefs are, they can seriously handbrake your ability to make progress on important goals.

The good news is that once you become aware that you have old beliefs or programs influencing your expectations of yourself and the actions you take in life, you can absolutely make a decision to do something about that because those stories do NOT necessarily have to be true.

Here are three steps to upgrading your self-belief and getting different results in life

1. Name the story

The first step to change is always awareness. Do a bit of a mental excavation and see if you can find ideas or beliefs (about yourself, your capabilities, your self-worth or what you think you deserve) that might be holding you back. Notice the things you regularly think (e.g., “I never finish what I start” or “I have no willpower”) and write them down.

2. Find and replace

Now you want to swap out some of those old limiting ideas and replace them with something more empowering. This is where some people have difficulty because if those old stories have been reinforced through years worth of your own behaviour, it can be hard to let go of them. The best way to do this is to swap out a disempowering belief such as “I’m an emotional eater” with a thought of possibility such as “I’m capable of learning new strategies to manage my emotions”. We’re not talking about chanting empty affirmations here, but planting new seeds of possibility in your mind, which you can strengthen with your behaviour.

3. Act as if it were true

Take one of these new thoughts of possibility and ask yourself how you would behave if it were true for you. If you really believed you were capable of supreme health and fitness, what actions might you take each day? If you believed you were deserving of love and respect, what would you no longer tolerate? If you believed you are as entitled as anyone to achieve all the success you hope for, how would your behaviour reflect that? Start doing those actions and before you know it, you’ll be building new experiences and evidence to support your new, upgraded self-belief.

I’d love for you to come over and join my free facebook community and share any insights you’ve gained about your self-belief so we can start working on your upgraded view of yourself and what you’re capable of!

 “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right”.

Henry Ford
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Bouncing back: How to build resilience

June 1, 2016
resilience

Why is it that when life deals one of its inevitable blows, some people are able to bounce back to their old happy self in no time at all (or maybe even better than their old self, because they’ve amazingly managed to glean some pearl of wisdom from their adversity) while others are completely flattened by it? The difference lies in that ineffable quality we call resilience. It’s something we want to instil in our kids so they can deal with the rejections and disappointments of life, and even as adults we could all benefit from this kind of psychological fortitude. If you find it extra hard to recover from emotional struggles – whether they be relationship difficulties, grief and loss, financial or work stress – you might wonder if it’s possible to increase your own level of resilience. Is it like a muscle we can strengthen and grow by our own efforts? The good news is that there are many known factors that contribute to strong psychological resilience, and it is most certainly within your power to do something proactive if you feel you could use some help in this area.

  • Having warm, supportive relationships creates an emotional safety net where we can land safely and take time to recover from our wounds. If you’re in emotional pain, having someone to confide in can make all the difference to how quickly you recover.
  • Resilient people tend to have an optimistic way of explaining the bad things that happen in life. Specifically I’m talking about the 3 Ps of Personalisation, Pervasiveness and Permanence. An optimist tends to say things like “These things happen to all of us” (non-personal); “It’s only this one area of my life that is affected” (non-pervasive); and “This too shall pass.” (non-permanent).  If you tend to have the more pessimistic explanatory style of “It’s all my fault. My whole life is ruined. I don’t know if I can ever recover from this”, you might benefit from considering the three P’s and re-working your self-talk.
  • Being able to manage your emotions in a healthy way is an important skill. A great many people fear that if they allow themselves to experience the full force of their emotions they will be completely overwhelmed, so instead they actively avoid or suppress their feelings. Learning and practising mindfulness can help you to open up and experience your own suffering in a healthy, balanced way so that you can process your experience and move on.
  • Self-compassion is about being kind to yourself in times of difficulty or perceived inadequacy (i.e., when you stuff something up). Launching into painful self-criticism when things go wrong is most people’s default reaction but this only adds insult to injury when things are already tough. Practising self-compassion is a proven buffer against depression.

We’re all different and what works for one person might not work for another so I’d suggest looking for opportunities to try out various strategies and finding your own formula for resilience building. And remember that just as you don’t build a bicep with one gym visit, cultivating resilience should be an ongoing process.

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Good enough! It’s time to overcome perfectionism.

May 2, 2016
perfectionism

Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?

Many people do, and in fact most consider it to be an admirable quality. Striving for excellence and holding yourself to high standards can be a good thing. Being orderly, organised and neat as well as paying attention to details – these are all positive qualities and are considered to be what we psychologists call ‘adaptive’. In other words, they serve a useful purpose!

For some people though, those high standards and fixation with details can be a symptom of an unhealthy kind of perfectionism. Maladaptive perfectionism is driven by a deep feeling that nothing you ever do will be good enough. It’s usually accompanied by relentless self-criticism and can result in not putting any work out into the world because of the crippling fear of judgement, rejection or failure.

Unhealthy perfectionism can lead to anxiety and depression due to the constant trying and failing to meet your own unrealistic expectations. Perfectionism can show up in any area of your life – at work, in your creative efforts, your body shape, home or your relationships.

The antidote to perfectionism is to wholeheartedly embrace the concept of ‘good enough’. And in order to be comfortable putting out good enough work, you first have to start with the sure knowledge that YOU are good enough; with all your flaws and imperfections. You have to know with certainty that even if you screw something up, it doesn’t mean YOU are a screw-up.

Until you are able to know this for sure, you’re at risk of being stuck in the painful grip of ‘never good enough’ and that’s a horribly confined space in which to live. What’s more, the world may never know the beauty and value you have to offer if your unrelenting standards prevent you from sharing it with others. If this sounds like you, I offer the following tips to help you overcome perfectionism:

Focus on what you do well

Perfectionists are always on the lookout for flaws or mistakes. Because of this negative bias, they minimise, dismiss or completely fail to notice all the things they are doing really well while they instead focus on every tiny thing that is not perfect. Take time each day to deliberately notice your positive achievements and successes. Begin to pay attention also to the examples of imperfection that are all around you that you still love and appreciate.

Remember that done is better than perfect.

As the saying goes, ‘Aim for progress, not perfection’. Press publish on that blog post. Submit the assignment. Go to bed even if the dishes aren’t done. The only people who will judge you for not being ‘perfect’ are other perfectionists projecting their own fears onto you, and while your ‘good enough’ work is making a difference in the world, their ‘not quite ready yet’ is helping no-one.

Share your struggles

Being afraid to talk about mistakes or expose your vulnerability is common if you have a false belief that perfection is the only option. Talking about your personal struggles, whether privately or publicly, allows people to connect with the real you (not the fake, ‘polished’ you), and gives you valuable real-time feedback that you are appreciated and accepted just as you are.

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What are your values?

February 1, 2016
what are your values

Let’s talk for a minute about values. You might have heard the term bandied around by coaches, in self-help books, or even at work. But still a lot of people either aren’t fully clear on what ‘values’ really are, or can’t clearly articulate their own highest values. Knowing your values and living in alignment with them is critical to a life that is happy, meaningful and fulfilling so it’s worth you spending some time on this.

So… what are values?

Simply put, your values are what you consider to be most important – in life, at work, or in relationships. Some examples of one’s core values might be wealth, freedom, faith, adventure, self-discipline, health, equality or family.

Values aren’t goals as they don’t have an end point. Rather, values guide the direction of your life, inform the decisions you make, and ideally will influence your vision and goals because setting a goal that isn’t aligned with your values isn’t going to get much traction.

Personal Values quota by Roy Disney

If I showed you a list of values you’d identify many of them as being important to you because we all consider many things to be important in our lives. The key is being able to drill down and determine the one or two HIGHEST values in your life. It can be challenging to narrow them down like this but there’s a powerful clarity that comes from doing so. This is what you stand for and what you’ll be remembered for. Values are that important. Before I get you to dive into your own values, I want to make a couple of important points:

  • There are no right or wrong answers here. Try not to get caught up in what you think your values ‘should’ be.
  • Be honest with yourself. If you say that physical health is an important value but your daily behaviour patterns do not include healthful choices, is it because you’re acting out of alignment with your values (trust me, you’ll know that in your gut) or because actually physical health is really not the most important thing to you? Remember – there’s no right or wrong!

So if you’re ready to take some time to explore your own highest values, feel free to download this Values List to give you some inspiration. Take some time with it. Get your top 10. Then narrow down to five. And if possible, get it down even further to two (or three). And when you’ve taken some time to reflect and decide on what’s most important to you, ask yourself….

  • Are the choices I’m making today consistent with my core values?
  • When I reflect on how I spend my time, money and energy, am I investing in the things I consider to be most important?
  • What might I do differently to ensure that my espoused values (what I say) are aligned with my enacted values (what I do)?

Have fun with it and if you find this exercise challenging, give yourself plenty of time to think and reflect.

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Are the crazies driving the bus?

January 13, 2016
the bus of life

Life’s a journey, and you’re travelling by bus (it’s a tired cliché but stay with me on this). You get to steer the bus wherever you want to go. Sometimes you take the direct route, sometimes you prefer the scenic route. Sometimes you get completely lost! Those times it’s important to stop and remember where you were headed in the first place and re-set your GPS so you can get back on track.

All good, right? Just as long as you’re in the driver’s seat and deciding the direction of the bus.

But what no-one tells you about the bus ride is that you have to take a whole lot of crazy characters with you. And no, I’m not talking about your family! I’m talking about all the thoughts and feelings that are scary and uncomfortable for you. The crazies on the bus will do anything to get you to stop the bus. When you stay very still and don’t go anywhere out of your comfort zone, they’re happy.

stop the bus
Don’t let them press the STOP button

Here’s how it goes: You decide what you want in life and you start up the bus. As you set off on your journey, the scary thoughts and feelings show up just as sure as the sun will rise. The more important the thing is that you want, the louder the crazies get, because the stakes are higher!  Whether you’re heading to a party or a job interview, going on a date or launching a business, the crazies will be on that bus – mark my words.

They might tell you that you’re too young, too old or too fat, that you’re not really that smart anyway or that people don’t like you very much. They might tell you that you’re not qualified enough or that because you had a terrible childhood, you’re basically broken. Essentially, you should stay home and stay still and pull your head in and forget all that driving the bus business.

The feeling will overwhelmingly be fear. But however it shows up, you need to know that these thoughts and feelings are the crazies and they will jump up and down and wave their arms and say anything to get you to stop the bus.

I know you want to throw them off and leave them on the side of the road, I really do. But sadly, no matter how hard you work to boot them out or shut them up, there willl always be one or two of them coming along for the ride.

Here’s what I tell my clients and what I want to tell you. You need to accept that the crazies are going to be on the bus. No, you didn’t invite them but if you stand around arguing with them, the bus isn’t going anywhere. So your best option is to tell them to buckle up, sit down and preferably keep the noise to a low roar.

They absolutely do not get to drive the bus.

They can jump up and down all they want, but they can’t hurt you as long as they keep their hands off the steering wheel.

Get on with driving your bus because you’re the only one in the driver’s seat and you have too many awesome places to go to let a bunch of noisy passengers stop you.

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Making space the KonMari way

January 2, 2016
Declutter your life

Despite my best efforts to keep things clean and tidy around here, I’m afraid my house in the past few months has become one massive, disorganised mess. Papers and books cover random surfaces, my clothes don’t fit in their drawers and don’t even start me on trying to find a matching set of salad servers in the second kitchen drawer.

Clutter, to me, is not just physical. A crowded, disorganised space does not make for a calm, peaceful mind. It also means I waste a lot of time looking for stuff that is not in its right place and that makes me frustrated and stressed.

That’s why I was intrigued when I first heard about Marie Kondo’s bestselling book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying”. Marie is a Japanese declutter expert with a unique approach to the task of reducing the amount of stuff in your house. I’d known about the book for a long time before I decided that things had gotten so out of hand that I needed a bit of KonMari in my life (KonMari is her nickname and the name given to her unique method of tidying.)

life changing magic of tidying up
Marie Kondo’s bestselling guide to decluttering.

My priority was to clear my space, physically and energetically, for all the things the new year may bring and for about a month now, I’ve been quietly, excitedly anticipating the day when I could begin shedding my excess and regaining my peace of mind. That day was January 29th, which means I’m now a few days into my decluttering process. I have a very long way to go but I thought I’d share with you the basic principles of the KonMari method in case you too are keen to clear some space in your life and mind.

Here’s my quick rundown:

  • Decluttering is best done category by category, NOT room by room. So whether you’re doing clothing or books or papers, you go around the whole house and collect everything in that category, then begin the process;
  • Next, you take everything OUT of the wardrobe (or bookshelf or cupboard) and decide one by one which items deserve to stay;
  • Deciding which items stay and which ones go involves holding each item in your hands and deciding if it brings you joy. Seriously, hold it, connect with it and ask yourself, ‘does this thing make me feel happy?’ If it cost you $500 and you wore it once before you realised it was itchy and uncomfortable, it’s not sparking joy therefore it’s gone! I bloody love this because it’s not so much a rational process as an intuitive one. Marie says quite rightly that with a little practice, you will immediately know which items spark joy. (hint from me: if you feel stuck, it’s because your thinking mind is weighing in on the process);
  • For those many MANY items which do not spark joy, you thank each one for the purpose it served and then you let it go. I especially love this. Because I find the hardest things to let go of are those which I might have purchased on a whim, or which were expensive, and I feel guilty about giving away perfectly good (expensive!) things. But the KonMari approach says that any particular item’s purpose may have been served the minute it brought you joy when you purchased it. Or its purpose might have been to teach you to be more mindful about your spending, or that the colour orange doesn’t suit you and never will. Thank it and bless it out of your life;
  • There is a particular order to the decluttering process. By the time you get to photos and keepsakes which are hardest to let go of, you’ll be more skilled at knowing what sparks joy;
  • After you finish sorting, the next stage is storing things in such a way that everything has its place. This way your home will never be cluttered again. There’s a unique process here too but I’ll let you get the book for that!

And that’s pretty much it. She says most of her clients end up keeping about a quarter to a third of their original amount of stuff. I believe her.

As for me, I’ve just completed clothing over several days (contrary to the ‘do each category from start to finish’ rule). Everything I own is now in plain sight in my bedroom wardrobe – nothing hanging around in the spare room or in storage. And when I go to my wardrobe, there is nothing I automatically skip over because I don’t like how it looks on me. It really is a great feeling.

Probably the thing I really liked about the whole book was the amount of gratitude that goes into the whole process and continues as you actively appreciate those items you have chosen to keep. It’s well known that gratitude is fundamental to happiness, and Marie advocates expressing gratitude for the very things we take so much for granted on a daily basis.

I  plan to spend the next week continuing the process, and then I hope to maybe reap some of the ‘life-changing’ rewards that others report experiencing – including ‘KonMari’ing’ all the activities, obligations and people which do not spark joy in my life. I’ll keep you posted!

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RE-OPENING IN 2022

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