This year, soon to become a mother of two and having recently gained so many wrinkles that our clothes look ironed by comparison (they aren't, but every cloud...), I decided to focus on building my mental resources with project 52 pauses.
Weary of feisty debates with the toddler on weighty issues such as whether or not it's ok to sleep with your shoes (generally no, but depends on wine consumption), I committed to trying one new thing each week to help me stay calm, focused and energised.
At the core was my wish to live and parent more mindfully. I wanted to slow down and soak up the small stuff; even the more, ahem, frustrating moments (like this one).
Three months on, I will be waddling into the maternity ward any day, so now seemed like a good time to pause and reflect. Unlike any of my clothes, there is plenty of room for growth. My mindful moments are still sporadic and I'm not exactly a vessel of calm, but things have certainly changed. I am more positive, more relaxed and collectively we experience fewer meltdowns and tantrums.
I don't know whether the change is in me or the toddler, or a bit of both: either way, it's good. Here are 4 things I've learnt so far:
1. The importance of finding our foundation
I'm not talking make-up, although that helps too. Nurturing others is a tough task if we don't take care of ourselves. My 'foundation' for staying smiley is a daily 30-minute walk, some stretching, a few deep breaths and a few minutes to myself. And usually a bit of chocolate.
I can do four out of five of these at the same time; five at a push, but the chocolate makes the yoga mat a bit sticky.
On a good day I do more: yoga, proper meditation, reading a book, writing. But I prioritise those few important things.
This foundation is more shifting sands than concrete. Our day to day needs change as life moves forward; what I need right now is very different to what I needed ten years ago (usually a taxi home at the same time the toddler now wakes me up...sigh).
2. The power of the pause
A few minutes, or even a few breaths, is enough to change the course of a day.
I'm getting better at recognising stress triggers and pausing to think about how I want to respond. When we're supposed to have left the house 30 minutes ago and the toddler is hiding under the desk wearing only wellies and sunglasses, I'm more likely to laugh and turn it into a game than to introduce her to some colourful new vocabulary.
The pause also gives me enough time to appreciate others' perspectives and agendas. Maybe she was just trying to reduce my laundry pile? This empathy builds connection; plus, dipping into a toddler's view of the world is often quite refreshing.
3. Relaxation possibilities are everywhere
I didn't think I had time for things like meditation or regular yoga, and often I don't have time for formal practices. But I can easily walk mindfully, pause for a few breathing exercises here and there, keep a mental gratitude diary or capture some of the nicer bits of the day with a gratitude photo project.
I've tried a few mindful activities with the toddler too (see the kid-friendly list). Mixed success there, but it's always fun and prompts us to tune into the moment.
What has been key is consistency and practice: factoring in a few moments of mindful calm every day has really helped to make it more habitual.
4. It's not all sunshine and smiles
A major shift for me has been that I'm less likely to wish I could change or improve situations when things don't go quite as planned (i.e. most of the time). To quote Jon Kabat-Zinn:
'You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf'.
This is not the best analogy for me as I have tried to learn to surf and can confirm that it's an impossible sport, and anyone who appears to be doing it is employing some sort of optical illusion. But you get the drift. Learning to accept and appreciate life as it unfolds is quite freeing.
We'll see what the next few months bring!
This post originally appeared on 52 pauses, a weekly blog about mindful living and parenting, with a sense of humour.