To Still a Busy Mind

I was either going to crash and burn and that was not going to be pretty or I was going to pull back and find a better way to live my life. As you will be aware if you have read my earlier blogs on meditation this was something I wanted to do but had yet to perfect how to do it.

Taking lessons from my less than stellar beginning, I decided the sofa in the sitting room would be a better location. I also decided twenty minutes of guided meditation first thing in the morning while the tea was brewing would be a good starting point for the day.

Dandelion
Dandelion by Coen Dijkman courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/3GXXg2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

I also found a better guided meditation. There are hundreds to choose from. It is all a question of what suits you best. I found some talked too much – it is hard to concentrate on your breathing and still your mind when you have someone yabbering away incessantly in your ear. It is also crucial to find a voice that does not get on your nerves – hard to relax if the way they speak is grating on you. All this takes a little experimentation. Eventually I found the perfect meditation for me. A soothing voice, helpful instructions and crucially long periods of quiet when nothing is said at all. Perfect.

Bubbles
Bubbles by Stellajo1976 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/ajYXq8 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

For two weeks I began my day with the same guided meditation session. Did I notice a difference? I had been prepared for a slow burn, signs of improvement but gradually probably over weeks if not months. The change, however, was much more immediate than that. I began sleeping right through the night, every night – not waking up at 2.00 a.m. and struggling to get back to sleep, my mind teeming. Because I was sleeping better, I was also waking up better, refreshed and ready to get up instead of clinging to the duvet. I also noticed that I was so chilled after my morning session that I went about my routine without any stress or rushing about. I lost the habit of checking the clock and yet when I was ready to leave the house and I did glance at the clock I was early. Life seemed so much easier than it had before.

calm
Calm by Ana Sofia Guerreirinho courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/fcVB51 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Like any new habit you need to stick with it long enough that it becomes second nature. That is my next challenge but when the benefits have been so positive, it’s a challenge worth taking on.

If you are any doubt whether meditation is for you give it a go but make sure you give it a go over a long enough period that you have chance to experience the benefits. Twenty minutes a day for two weeks was ideal for me and even the busiest of us can squeeze in an extra twenty minutes can’t we?

 

Digital Detox

digital detox
Digital Detox by David Lytle courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/fsCwQ2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

So I started with the best of intentions on my digital detox. My expectations were not set unrealistically high. I would take a week out – seven days but it would not be a complete shut down so far as my devices were concerned. There were still urgent emails to deal with regarding my next book release that could not be ignored and a couple of other deadlines that were immovable. Beyond that, however, freedom lay.

freedom
Freedom by Lauren McKinnon courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/pNL5v5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Interesting choice of word freedom and yet it had been on my mind a lot. Because I was feeling burnt out I was also feeling trapped – imprisoned by my commitments. An ailment of modern life given that most of the commitments were generated by my own fair hand and things I had entered into willingly.

It was therefore definitely time to step back. The first morning when I would normally be checking social media and scheduling blogs I removed myself from all my electronic devices and went and sat in the sun lounge. I had breakfast overlooking the garden and enjoying the birdsong and the sunshine.

In the background I could hear my iPad chirruping away with updates and alerts. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs I could feel my attention being pulled back to the world of social media which was merrily tweeting and facebooking away without me. What if the notification was not a standard one but an important one? Shouldn’t I check just to make sure?

I resisted the temptation – recognising it for what it was – a craving for my usual fix. Instead I struck a deal with myself that I would check the various platforms and emails during the lunch hour but would only respond if it was absolutely necessary. For one week, the world could do without me.

For once, I got ready for the day without the burden of buzzing thoughts. I arrived at work early and relaxed. At lunch, I limited myself to a few minutes of checking the platforms and emails. With my new mindset, I decided nothing there could be classed as important. With some satisfaction, I shut them down and read a book. The evening was more of the same. One quick check then freedom. That word again. Suddenly I had an open space mentally and physically to do other things.

The rest of the week continued in the same vein. I felt better almost instantly and that feeling multiplied as the days went by. It was as close to going cold turkey as I am ever likely to get. And I learnt two important lessons during my digital detox week:-

  1. I didn’t miss the whirl of social media
  2. The wheels did not come off my career by taking a few days out

So, if you are struggling with burn out, give yourself as complete a break as it is possible to have. You will feel better for it.

Freedom2
Freedom by Josef Grunig courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/3D7Ztx https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

You cannot however dwell in a digital free cave in the long term unless you are happy to ditch the writing career. Nowadays I do not realistically think you can have one without the other. You also do not want to end up back where you started in burnoutsville so what to do?

At the end of the week and with the headspace to actually sit and think I devised a fresh approach which I will share in a blog soon.

In the meantime, if you have been suffering with burn out please get in touch and let me know what worked for you.

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http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

Book Bloggers and Reviewers

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Heart by Nghiem Vo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

I am a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. I am also a member of their blogging team. At the end of last year I was invited to launch a new monthly blogging series on the RNA blog interviewing book bloggers and reviewers.

The latest in the series went live earlier this week and I am attaching a link below so you can take a look.

http://romanticnovelistsassociationblog.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/book-bloggers-and-reviewers-linda-hill.html?utm_content=buffer3dfc5&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

My guest was Linda Hill from Linda’s Book Bag

Book bloggers are a vital part of the world of books and Linda was a fab guest, giving us an interesting insight into her life as a book blogger.

 

Adventures in Meditation – Part Two

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Meditation by Luckey_Sun courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bxK3mR https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

As I recounted in Adventures in Meditation – Who Has The Time?! (see below) I knew the tangible benefits of meditation and that they could specifically help me. Mind buzzing all the time? Finding it hard to let go? Want to concentrate on something more important than a Facebook post? Yes please!

https://ellieholmesauthor.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/adventures-in-meditation-who-has-the-time/

So now that I had made the decision to give it a go, how did I actually begin? Before I got into the heavy stuff of scheduling where and when on a daily or even weekly basis I thought it would be a good idea to have a trial run.

For my first session, I chose a sunny Sunday morning when I was fairly sure I would not be interrupted by the outside world. I had already got a load of washing underway in the machine and I had taken my dog Willow for a long walk.

First dilemma – where should the meditation take place? Chair? Bed? Floor? I have tried practicing meditation on the bed in the past – I would usually fall asleep and then wake up cold so I discounted that idea. I decided to compromise and lay down on the sofa in the conservatory which was toasty warm from the early summer sun. This I thought also had the added benefit of the birdsong coming in through the open back door and the gentle fluttering of the blinds in the breeze. All an aid to relaxation, surely?

Relax
Relax by Dave Doe courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/o18eto https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The next question was how was I actually going to do it. I decided twenty minutes was long enough to give it a good go but not so long that I would start panicking about my to do list. That length of time also seemed doable on a daily basis which was my ultimate goal.

Should I set the timer on my phone and go it alone or should I choose one of the many guided meditations that are available on the internet which, helpfully, have their timings included and a little about what the guided meditation will entail.

I thought as a novice I should accept a little help – a bit like a kid with stabilisers on their bicycle.   I choose a guided meditation that did not look too worthy or daunting. I plugged my headphones into my iPad and settled down.

Except I could not hear a thing. I fiddled with the iPad but could not figure out how to increase the volume on the app. I abandoned the iPad and reached for the iPhone. Searched for the same guided meditation, plugged in my headphones and settled down. Again. This time I had sound. Hurrah!

It all started well enough. With a little squirming around and the re-arranging of cushions I managed to get comfortable, retrieved the earbud that fell out in the process and settled down. Again. I started to concentrate on my breathing. I let the voice soothe me. I began to relax. And then…the dog started barking. I remembered I had left the back door open thinking the birdsong would help. I got up, brought the dog in, closed the door.

I settled down, put the earbuds back in and picked up where I had left off. I got a little further with the relaxation exercise. I could feel it starting to work when my washing machine when into its spin cycle and sounded as though it was readying itself for liftoff. I made the effort to block it out.

Now my whole body was relaxed and it was time to start counting backwards from 10 and go to my ‘special place’. I hadn’t been warned I needed a ‘special place’. I quickly cobbled something together in my mind and began to descend. I had just arrived when Willow, my dog, decided to jump on my chest and settle down for a spot of meditation of her own. I was back in the present with a bang, one earbud forlornly dangling and my special place ripped away without any count back. I was just debating whether to start over when the washing machine beeped to indicate it had finished. I took it as a sign and went to hang out the washing.

Meditation speaks
Except maybe not in my house! Meditation Speaks by Tejvan Pettinger courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9tARE8 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

My first attempt at meditation had not been a complete disaster. I had learnt a lot. Mostly what not to do but at least I would be better prepared for next time and I was determined there would be a next time….

One Pair of Hands – That Burnout Feeling Part Two

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One Pair of Hands – Ellie Holmes

Over the years I have got good at juggling: family commitments, the day job, my writing…..the list goes on as I am sure it does for all of you too.

Every now and then I have added more on to the end of the list. When you migrate from writing to indie publishing, suddenly there are even more plates to spin.

If you are not careful you can get sucked into a whirlwind of activity and find that you are running just to stand still and paradoxically you aren’t actually achieving half as much as you did before.

If I had been on the outside looking in, it would have been obvious that I was straying into dangerous territory but we do not often have the luxury of looking at ourselves like that, do we?

A few weeks ago the blindingly obvious became, well – blindingly obvious and I hit a wall – emotionally and mentally.

Everything had become a slog, I was no longer enjoying what I was doing. Worst of all, I wasn’t even writing any more because I was too busy to write. How did I go from being an indie author to an indie author running her business who was too busy to actually write anything? The ludicrousness of the situation would have been funny if it were not so sad. I should have been living the dream but the dream was in danger of becoming a nightmare.

Frustration
Frustration by http://www.amenclinics.com courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/odEKjh https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

With no choice but to step back and think things through it became clear that I was suffering from burnout.

Examining all of my commitments I concluded that I could not easily shed any of them and there were still only twenty-four hours in a day last time I checked so what was the answer?

If I could not change the commitments and I could not change the amount of time available to me, the only thing left to change was my attitude and approach. Arguably, those things are the hardest of all to change but if I wanted to put the enjoyment back into what I do, I did not have a choice.

The one thing I was yearning for was to live my life like a normal person, if only for one week. Define normal? Don’t eat breakfast with one hand and schedule tweets with the other. Don’t spend your lunch hour answering indie business emails and checking stats. Don’t leave one desk to come home and sit at another. Sound familiar?

I wanted to give it a try, to take a holiday from my writing self but did I dare? The commitments were still there, piling up around me, could I look away and relax knowing they were all still waiting for me?

digital detox
Digital Detox by David Lytle courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/fsCwQ2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I am a conscientious perfectionist. I give myself the hardest time of all. Asking myself to sit on my hands and not get on with stuff is the ultimate punishment. But this was serious. I decided to go cold turkey. Well, sort of…

I will let you know how I get on in subsequent blogs but if you too have suffered with burnout at some stage in your career please get in touch and let me know what worked for you.

Adventures in Meditation – Who has the time?!

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Om by Wendy Cope courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/rgdL5q https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have flirted with meditation in the past. I bought a book about it once. I even read it. I know it is a positive and worthwhile endeavour. I know the benefits to my general health and wellbeing are potentially immense. But when I am already stressed because I have so much to do how can I find time in my overcrowded day to sit and do nothing? Chance would be a fine thing!

Then a few weeks ago two things happened to me. Firstly, I began to realise I was suffering with burnout. The second thing that happened was that I went to a friend’s house to join a new group she had started – likeminded individuals who wanted to talk about their spiritual and life experiences without judgment or dogma. We began the meeting with a guided meditation session.

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed the experience of letting go, even if only for a short time, to concentrate on my breathing and nothing else.

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Meditation by Luckey_Sun courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bxK3mR https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

During the meeting, we talked about the serendipitous nature of coincidences and how we had all got our friend’s email at a time in our lives when what she was proposing really chimed with us.

I left the meeting feeling as though I had made a group of new friends [I did not know any of the other people who attended apart from my friend] and with a lightness in my step.

Walking home, I realised that time to practice meditation or anything else for that matter was not going to magically materialise. I had to carve the time out. There was no point, however, sitting down to meditate with one eye on the clock, muscles tense thinking about all the other things I should be doing instead. Meditation in those circumstances would be impossible not to mention counter productive. I was either going to do it and do it properly or not at all. I resolved to make the effort and see where it led me.

In the next instalment of Adventures in Meditation I will let you know how I got on.

 

That Burnout Feeling

All authors are under pressure. Writing is hard work and to then switch to publicising that work is a difficult gear change for many. If you are an indie author, the pressures are magnified because you are your own CEO, your own publicist, your own everything. It takes a certain type of person to thrive in that environment but even the best of us can come unstuck.

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Burnt Out by Gerwin Sturm courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/9iWxgH https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Burnout is a danger in many walks of life and writers are prone to it. We live in our heads for one thing, we often have day jobs to support our writing for another and so we write around the day job when we are tired and often not at our best. If we are published, whether traditionally, hybrid or indie, there are other demands on our time. We need to keep abreast of new ideas and innovations, to be aware of strategies to assist with our writing, or the production of our books, or our sales, or connecting with our readers. We can easily become overwhelmed by all the information out there. It’s a tidal wave rushing towards us and it’s easy to get swamped. Information overload takes over.

Tidal wave
The Roar by FHG Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/34pDEU https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Although many people would envy our achievements, we know the sacrifices it took to get there. We are also familiar with the pressures. It is a fine line to walk between being busy and pushing too hard.

We are all capable of working hard to finish a big project, throwing all of our mental and physical energy at something just to get it done. But what if the big projects just keep coming? We can only keep going at that pace for so long. Eventually we need to throw the off switch and have some down time and if we don’t our bodies will throw the off switch for us by making us sick.

How to recognise you are heading for or suffering from burnout:-

  1. The things that gave you pleasure now no longer please you.
  2. You have stopped writing anything new (this is different to suffering from writer’s block – that’s when you want to write but cannot because the words aren’t there). Here, you no longer even want to write.
  3. You are tired – mentally. All the time.
  4. Even the simplest tasks seem like hard work.
  5. You keep coming down with bugs and sniffles.
  6. You feel overwhelmed and inadequate.
  7. You are running just to stand still but are achieving less and less.
  8. You question why you ever started this in the first place.
  9. You want to stay in bed and pull the duvet over your head.
  10. Moving to a desert island with no wi-fi connection is suddenly an appealing option.
Desert Island
Desert Island by Rob courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6V2ZTa https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Sound familiar? This is where I found myself a couple of weeks ago.

Recognising the problem is half the battle. In the coming blogs, I will share with you what happened to me and how I am trying to combat it.

If you too have suffered with burnout at some stage in your career please get in touch and let me know what worked for you.