Do you need the toilet? Part II – more lessons in self-care

When I
wrote last week’s blog post on self-care, I hadn’t planned for it to be a two
part piece.

however, pride comes before a fall and in the days since I learnt another
important lesson about looking after oneself.
I want to share that with you too.

Let’s go
back to last Friday.  I got up and drove
for two hours to teach some visiting undergraduates that I’m working with this
summer.  On route I was feeling pretty
pleased about the blog post I’d written on self-care the day before and my new
insights on the topic.  I lectured the
students then inexplicably decided that I could run straight into their
individual tutorials without even taking a comfort break, let alone anything
more substantial.  Self-Care Mistake #1.

tutorials proceeded well enough.  We looked
over their assignments and I gave feedback and suggestions.  I had a very interesting discussion with one
of them about the differing healthcare systems here in Britain compared to the
U.S., with us both coming away more informed.
Yet rather than feeling invigorated by the interactions, I felt
completely drained.  Despite eulogising
about self-care only the previous day, I ignored what I knew.  I’d pushed on, giving and giving without
taking time to nourish myself even in the most basic ways (Do you need the
toilet?  Yes I do, but I’m going to wait over
an hour before going for no reason whatsoever).

perhaps unsurprising that Self-Care Mistake #2 followed quickly after.  By the time the session was finished, I was
past the point of being able to make the kinds of healthy decisions that follow
much more easily when you’re in a good place already.  Even though I could hear the internal voices
screaming ‘No! Don’t do it!  Get your
lunch first!’, I chose to drive straight home rather than getting something to
eat, thereby compounding Mistake #1.

It was
downward spiral for the rest of the afternoon.
I picked up a second Diet Coke even though I knew I’d feel better if I
drank water instead (Mistake #3).  I
convinced myself that I could survive on half a tub of Rocky Road in lieu of
actual proper food for lunch (Mistake #4).
In short, I did exactly the opposite of everything I’d talked about in
Thursday’s blog.  I even thought that
somehow I could offset this damage by having a bath when the working day was
done rather than making a decent meal (Mistake #5).  

None of
this would have been an issue had it not affected my state of mind and my body,
but these poor choices quickly took their toll.
By mid-afternoon I was physically sluggish, growing ever more mentally
befuddled and increasingly forlorn too (no doubt berating myself for failing to
act upon advice that I’d publicly shared didn’t help on that front).

Then, just
as easily as I slipped into the first mistake, I made a simple choice that
changed my direction.  Rather than
finishing the tub of Rocky Road as a substitute for dinner, I cooked a stir
fry.  As I sat at the table after eating
it, I could feel the internal shift.  My
body felt energised.  My mind
cleared.  My mood picked up.  Overall I felt cared for.

When faced
with cake or cooking, I knew that one decision would make a big
difference.  Stirring the food in the
pan, I realised that it’s the same with all our self-care choices.  Every single one, however small and seemingly
insignificant, has a big impact.  Every
single one has the potential to send us into a downward spiral – or can help to
keep us moving in the right direction.

At the same
time, we have to keep on making those self-care choices.  These are not a one-time only decisions.  We may take water with us on the school run
today but what about tomorrow?  We have
to do it again.  We may adjust our desk chair
so it’s the right height but give it a month or two and it’ll sink.  We have to do it again.  We may go to bed earlier tonight but what
about tomorrow night?

that I can’t just do self-care choices once but have to repeatedly make those
decisions feels like a useful insight (albeit probably a self-evidently obvious
one for some people).  It’s added a further
level of awareness and given those small everyday moments a wider context.  Picking up a bar of chocolate rather than a
banana doesn’t seem to necessarily make a difference in itself, but what about
the bigger picture?  

What about
your bigger picture?  Are you aware of
particular choices that are consistently detrimental to your self-care (the
extra glass of wine, anyone?!)?  Do you
have a specific pinch point where you can feel things begin to unravel?  For example, do you end up getting fast food
with a colleague because you want to spend lunch with them – even though you’ve
already bought in something to eat from home?
Does your partner suggest a film at night and your desire to spend time
with them overrides your commitment to getting to bed earlier?  Does reacting to the needs of small children
prevent you from sitting down to eat a decent meal in the middle of the day?

questions echo those from last week but I’d encourage you to think broadly
about them rather than just focusing on what is happening right now today.  How can you help yourself to make a good
self-care choice time and time again?

You may
come up with a novel idea or a new system to help (for the stay-at-home mum
with small children, perhaps you could make a lunch the night before to stick
in the fridge?).  Or it may just be that
awareness of needing to make a decision again, then again, then again, is enough.  You see it in your day today, then laugh when
you’re confronted with it at the same time tomorrow.  Maybe we can even learn to greet these
choices as old friends rather than enemies.

Let me know
how you get on.  What choice do you
consistently struggle with?  What
solutions can you come up with?  Get in
touch by commenting below or via social media: there’s Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page.
And of course you can also email me (
If you feel stumped and frustrated with a particular aspect of
self-care, it may be that coaching could help you; again get in touch to find
out more.

Do you need the toilet? My basic approach to self-care

The Gellert Spa, June 2014 (left), and the Szechenyi Baths, June 2015 (right)

I was lucky
enough to go to Budapest on a work trip last weekend.  This is pretty much an annual event and as
well as meeting with colleagues, I get a fair amount of freedom to explore the
city as I choose.  The combination of
regularity and time to myself means the trip often gives rise to reflection
about life in the present compared to how things were when I last visited.   On this occasion, many of my thoughts
focused around the topic of self-care.

You may be
expecting me to now write that my approach to self-care has become more
sophisticated, more developed, more in line with the kinds of advice that we
read in the well-being sections of Sunday supplements: ‘I begin the day with
thirty minutes of meditation followed by a green smoothie made from ingredients
I grow myself.  All organic, of course,
and harvested in sync with the lunar cycle’.

Only it
isn’t like that.  As I looked back to my previous trip in June 2014 and all the ones before, beginning in May 2007 (around six months before my ‘A Life Of One’s Own’
journey had even begun), I realised that the reverse is true.  My attitude to self-care has become less
sophisticated over the years, particularly so in the last twelve to eighteen

I used to
take the major intervention approach.  I
focused on tactics that were costly, time-consuming and often beyond my
means.  Spa days and massages were high
up on those lists.  Budapest was a
god-send in this respect as spa days and massages are cheap and easily available
in the City of Baths.  I would engineer
my trip to maximise access to both, firm in my belief that if only I could have
more of this stuff then I would feel better all the time.  

Sure, a day
relaxing in the sunshine and getting an awesome pummelling did make me feel
better – and it still does.  But setting
aside money and a chunk of time does not amount to adequate self-care.  One day taking it easy didn’t offset a
chronic lack of sleep.  Getting the knot
in my shoulder blades manipulated didn’t compensate for my sedentary
lifestyle.  And the
cold-beer-and-ice-cream-whilst-lying-on-a-sun-lounger diet barely registered as
a treat when I failed to nourish my body adequately the rest of the time

I showed up
for the spa days, and all the other self-care tactics I tried, believing that
they offered a magic solution.  They were
the rescue remedies to undo and reverse the lack of self-care that
characterised the rest of my life.
Clearly they didn’t.

I’m sure
I’m not alone in taking this approach.
We’re all drawn to magic solutions that seem easier than taking
responsibility for making changes ourselves.
Hell, I think I’d still choose colonic irrigation over a decent diet if
I thought the results were the same!

I can’t
pinpoint why or when exactly that my attitude began to change.  What I do know is that this trip highlighted
how much has changed.  Rather than taking
a sophisticated approach (or trying to), my idea of self-care has gone in the
other direction.  It is becoming ever
more basic.  Yes massages and spa days
still have their place (as the picture shows, I still went to a baths) but they
are about indulgence and pleasure, two different goals entirely.  

is more low-level.  Care is about making
sure I have a decent lunch before travelling rather than kidding myself that I
can survive on a bag of nuts and pint of beer from the airport bar.  Care is about planning ahead for how much
water I really will need to drink en route to stay comfortable – and then
actually buying enough fluids.  Care is
about arriving at the hotel and having a shower (rather than a mini-bar beer –
is there a theme here?!) because I want to feel cool, clean and refreshed.  Looking after myself.  Anticipating what I will need and trying to
meet that, as we would if we were caring for a small child.  

This kind
of self-care generally clusters around a small number of areas: hunger, thirst,
sleep, movement, the bathroom, temperature, noise levels.  It isn’t glamorous.  It isn’t exciting.  Sometimes it means saying no: thanks but I
don’t want any alcohol until I’ve eaten; I’ve had a great evening but I’m tired
and going to bed now.  Oftentimes it
means listening to our bodies: I’ve discovered that the little tingling sensation
I get when sitting in the sun means put more suncream on.  Who knew?!

What can
you do to take better care of yourself?
Right now, right in this moment whilst you are reading this, is there
something that will help – grabbing a glass of water, nipping to the toilet,
putting on a jumper?  

about your day more generally, what simple thing could you do to look after
yourself more?  Bin off the to-do list and
head to bed an hour earlier?  Take a
bottle of water with you on the school run?
Adjust the height of your chair at work so it is finally in the right

broadly still, is there one simple task that you can do to improve your
self-care?  Do you need to buy a reusable
water bottle?  An extra pillow?  More fruit?
See if you can remove the hurdle in your way.  

This stuff
isn’t rocket science but because it is so basic, so straightforward, it is easy
to ignore.  We forget what a huge
difference it makes until we reap its benefits again.  I certainly noticed it, coming back from a
work trip without the feeling that I needed another break to recover from
it.  How have you got on?  Let me know – get in touch by commenting
below or through social media.  There’s
Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook page.  Share your self-care stories and experiments,
or ask a question.  I’d love to hear from

Repurposing: the joy of the toy-box

morning, my mum sent me a photo message showing my poorly eight year old nephew
clutching a well-worn soft toy in the shape of a panda.  Pandan, my nephew used to call him, and for
years he was never far from his side.  I
was always extremely thrilled by how much Joe loved Pandan as I had bought the
toy for him (although it is perhaps more accurate to say that I collected
tokens from the packets of a well-known brand of toilet paper and sent them off
with £1.99 for postage and packaging).

Now Joe is
almost nine, I hadn’t seen Pandan around for a while.  It was so heart-warming to discover that he
continued treasured him and still drew comfort from his frankly manky and
slightly discoloured fur.  It’s funny
which toys find a place deep in our heart and which remain simply

I replied
to my mum’s message saying that maybe Joe will put Pandan in a future toy-box
too, a joking reference to the toy-box that I have recently created.  Over the last few weeks, I have been boring
friends and family talking about my new toy-box (okay, so talking and making them look at it).  

The toy-box
(pictured above) is one of my latest mini-obsessions.  I love it almost as much as I love some of
its contents.  I had thought about
putting something like it together shortly after moving into my new home in
mid-April, having realised that we live in possibly the most un-child friendly
space ever (think lots of potentially dangerous items at low levels and little
to distract curious small people with).
Whilst we don’t have kids of our own, I want visiting children to be at
home here and want their parents to feel relaxed rather than nervous or

One Sunday
afternoon, I read an Apartment Therapy post that mentioned the same toy-box
idea and that was that: I seized the moment and tore round the place gathering
up any suitable items.  Some pencils,
plastic cups, a few children’s books that happened to be in unpacked
boxes.  I had a large basket just right
for the job.  I even remembered the two
hand-knitted rabbits, one of whom featured in my first day at school
photograph, suffocating in a plastic box under the bed.

In the
weeks since, more bits have been added.
I picked up a colouring book from a coffee morning.  My boyfriend put in his childhood chess set.  I’m keeping my eye out for suitable bits
(please someone somewhere get rid of some Lego!) but most of all I’m
encouraging my mum to get up the loft and find more of my actual toys out.  I’ve already begun bringing things from my
parents’ when I visit, including the first book I ever remember, yet I know
there is more still in the attic.  

all these possessions that I’ve never been sure what to do with have had a new
lease of life.  This sense of repurposing
has bought me genuine joy and contentment.
Lots of the standard advice on sentimental items or such like instructs
you to have a clearout, perhaps taking a photograph as a reminder of a
once-prized object.  But is that really
what we always want?  Whilst drowning in
reminders of the past can stop us from getting on with life in the present,
surely we can find ways to forge a new path where we give space to honour our
earlier treasures and let the happiness that they bought us then infuse our
worlds now.

That is
what I feel my new toy-box does.  It is
my own way through.  It isn’t getting rid
of everything, although there will be much from my childhood that I won’t
keep.  Nor is it shoving it all in some
place out of sight (under the bed, the loft, a spare bedroom – preferably in
someone else’s house), hoping to never have to deal with it but also never
getting any pleasure from it.  Seeing
another child being entertained by toys that you also happily played with is a
beautiful sight.

Of course
it doesn’t have to be a toy-box.  This sense
of repurposing can be applied to other possessions too.  What item in your home (or left elsewhere!)
is languishing?  What stuff aren’t you
sure what to do with?  Is it something
that you can breathe new life into in some form or another?

If you like
the idea of upcycling then Pinterest is full of amazing ideas to give you
inspiration; I’ve made a board with some of my favourite ideas.  Not that you have to be artistic or crafty;
if you love reading, can you simply spare some shelf space to your favourite
childhood books?  

It may be
that you decide repurposing actually does involve giving something a new home
or to a new owner.  I used to have a
gorgeous ragdoll that an older cousin made for me when I was born; when she had
a daughter, I passed the doll on to her.

Or do you
need to rethink in a broader way?  Is
there a different way of looking at the item(s)?  It may be that a mental shift is more useful
than a physical transformation.  Old toys
were literally just old toys until I recognised that they still held their
magic for a three year old today just as much as they had for me thirty years

Share your
repurposing below or via Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest or the A Life Of One’s Own Facebook
.  If you are finding it difficult to
think differently about a possession and would like some help exploring options
then get in touch too – as a coach, offering a different perspective is part of
what I do!  Again there is social media
or you can email me (  I’d love to hear your repurposing stories.

Journaling with lists: exploring the things that make you happy

As part of my commitment to blogging regularly again in
order to share my work and my ideas, I’ve been thinking back over everything
that I have found useful since beginning my A Life Of One’s Own journey (there’s
more about that journey over here).  I
figure that if it helped me to move away from mass produced ideals of happiness
and meaning towards a life that feels more authentically my own then it could
also be of use to other people!  

Number one on that list of ‘stuff that helped’ was journaling (or journalling, depending on how you want to spell it!).  Journaling underpins it all.  It was one of the first things I started
doing and it remains my go-to as a place to think, explore, imagine and dream.  Whilst I primarily use journaling in a
personal context, it features in my work life as well as I keep a reflective
journal to aide my development as a coach.

‘The practice of journal keeping is being explored as a
way of becoming more aware of the patterns of our inner life, of growing in
self-knowledge and discovering our own gifts and possibilities…Keeping a
journal is just one way…of beginning to re-create your life.  At its most basic it is a decision that your
life has value and meaning and deserves the effort of recollection and
reflection.  It is also a decision that
what you are living and learning is worth recording.’

Jo Farrow, quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice

I’m now quite particular and stick to lined, hardback
Moleskines but in the past I’ve used any paper I could lay my hands on, including
loose sheets of A4.  It doesn’t really
matter; what is important is getting thoughts out of your head and down on
paper.  There is something special about actually writing rather than simply thinking particular thoughts or
ideas.  Sometimes it simply brings
relief, like an exorcism from the mind; sometimes a new insight or fresh
perspective emerges.  It can also be pleasurable
in and of itself.  Part of my love of
Moleskines is the delightful feel of my pen on the page.  Journaling can be a creative act, or a prompt
to further creativity.  The inspiration
for this very post came whilst scribbling away in my pad first thing this

There are lots of journaling techniques – it isn’t all
about writing reams and reams of prose.
One tool that I’ve long used is list making.  I’ll simply pick a topic, often wording it as
a question, and then make a list in response.
This can be pure fun but it can bring great clarity and awareness
too.  For example, one of the earliest
journaling lists I made was ‘Places I’d like to visit’.  Fifteen minutes of happy daydreaming that
also highlighted some clear preferences that I hadn’t been aware of before (Japan
over China, for example).  Places to
visit might seem a flippant example but this kind of self-awareness around any
subject can be useful.  You can begin to proactively
shape your life around positive desires rather than feeling pulled in all
directions by myriad possibilities.
Opportunity for a day trip?  I’ll
pick Harrogate, thank you, as I now recognise how much I would like to go there
– thus visiting this place over somewhere else will bring an added level of
contentment by satisfying my own idiosyncratic predilections.  

List making is a discernment process that puts the spotlight
on what you individually are drawn to.
It also has the advantage of being super simple!  If you feel a bit overwhelmed or intimidated
by journaling, it is a great way in.  And
even if you have no desire to journal in a more traditional sense, I’d recommend
giving list making a go to see what it does for you.

Here’s a brief ‘how to’ and a prompt to try:

Using list making as journaling technique

A single word or short phrases, jotted down quickly, in
response to a prompt (e.g. a question or a phrase)

It can be used to explore or reflect on a topic, get
your creative juices going or record something that’s happened (like word

 Don’t think too much about your responses

Don’t worry if you feel repetitive – keep going!

It can be worthwhile to set a target, e.g. five
minutes, fifty words, fill a page

Try out either five minutes, fifty words or fill a page
on: things that make me happy.  

Let me know how you get on! You can comment below or
get in touch via Twitter or the Facebook page.
There’s Instagram too – share a picture of your efforts or comment on