Our Grandmothers

February 29th was my Nanna’s birthday. If she were still alive she’d be approaching 104. She was born in the west of Ireland at the time of the Easter rising. She grew up in poverty and recalled the guilt she felt after sneaking in to a neighbour’s home and stealing a potato from the fire because she was so hungry. An old photo of her at school shows many of the girls without shoes and although she loved school she had to leave age 14, as this was a luxury the family couldn’t afford. At the age of 20 she left her home in Ireland to come to England to look for work so that she could send money back home. 

What do I remember her by? 

Her love: she had 5 children and 13 grandchildren but each of us felt that we were special. 

Her faith.

Her joy.  

As Nanna got older she lamented that people were so busy and no longer made time for each other. Nanna was never bitter about the opportunities she didn’t have but she lived her life to the full. 

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Photo by Tetyana Kovyrina on Pexels.com

Now look two generations later at the choices we have: the idea that I could create a business online, reach people everyday via social media, no matter where they are in the world; write a blog post that reaches 100s of people; coach and teach using video conferencing. The idea that I can go into a pub and teach local women, go into an investment bank in the city and coach women on confidence; speak at the Professional Speakers Association; teach women to create vision boards and plan retreats; create a product and sell it in a local shop. 

The opportunities we have available to us are phenomenal. We don’t have to stay stuck in jobs/ relationships or situations that make us feel stuck. 

But that could have been my choice. Only a year ago I was still in teaching. On paper it was perfect: part time and term time;  a high achieving school with amazing staff and students, 10 minutes away from my children’s school and I didn’t have to work in school holidays. Amazing right? 

But I felt trapped. It met 2 of my top three values: Love and Contribution. Honestly there’s plenty of opportunity for those in a school. But my one of my top values: growth was not being met. I need to learn and grow.  

I often refer to book The Five Regrets of The DyingI wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Being a teacher was what others expected of me- I loved my subject English; I loved teenagers and I know that’s not for everyone!  And I loved teaching. 

I could have chosen to stay stuck. I could have chosen to play small. 

Yes leaving teaching and starting a business was scary but even scarier is looking forward and knowing that if I didn’t find the courage I would feel regret. 

My nanna left her home at age 20 to move to a new country and find work. We’re not doing this alone: we stand on the shoulders of our grandmothers. 

What could you do? 

3 Ways to ROCK 2020!

Can you believe we are just a week in to this new decade? You may be firing on all cylinders or you may have not quite got started yet. 

Wherever you’re at, can I suggest you take half and hour with a cuppa, notebook and pen to pause and set yourself up for this new year and new decade…? 

1 JOURNAL

Looking ahead into this new decade 

What do you want to take with you? What are you already grateful for? It might be your health, your career and purpose or your relationships. It’s a universal law that what you focus on expands so take a minute to consider what you are grateful for. 

Now take yourself forward to New Year’s Eve 2020. What would you like to have accomplished? What will that look like? What will you be saying to yourself? How will you know that you have made a change? 

What is the WORD that will guide you this year. Choose a word that embodies your intentions for what you would like to Be, Do and Have. In the past my words have been love, peace, calm and focused. This year my word is intentional to really challenge myself to think carefully about the choices behind how I spend my time and energy. 

What new HABIT could you adopt on a daily basis that will support you in making progress? This might be a daily walk, going to sleep earlier, reducing time on social media etc. 

Who will SUPPORT you and cheer you on? Who are the people in your life who will encourage you? If you can’t think of anyone please come and join us in The Transformation Hub

Who or what might stop you or hold you back? How can you handle this? 

What is one ACTION you could commit to that you can take in the next 24 hours that will allow you to move one step closer to achieving your goal? 

2 CREATE A VISION BOARD

I spent the 2nd January with an amazing group of women creating my vision board for 2020. The energy and connection in the room was palpable and I came back fired up and ready to nail the new year. 

A vision board is a collage of words and images that inspires and motivates you. It’s a great tool to help you focus on what you want and to keep you on track on those days when you’re just not feeling it. 

All you need is some magazines, scissors and glue. You can do this alone, with friends or family or come and join us here

3 FIND GOOD STRATEGIES AND SUPPORT

A few months ago, I was fortunate to hear Professor Carol Dweck speak about her latest research on growth mindset. The learning that resonated most deeply was that mindset alone is not enough. We all need good strategies and excellent support. We can’t do it alone. 

In the last few years I’ve made a career change and built my business from scratch. But I haven’t done it alone: I’ve worked with coaches and mentors; I’ve invested in my learning and development and I’ve been so grateful for friends old and new who have believed in me and championed me. 

You don’t have to do it alone and that’s why I have created Your Best Life Group Coaching Programme to offer you the teaching and strategies you need to kickstart your personal development journey, along with a group of like minded and supportive people. 

So what will you do to get started? You don’t have to make a massive changes; it’s good to start small. What is your first step? 

Can you Change a Habit? 100 days sober…

I’ve dabbled in this before- through necessity- 3 pregnancies, Dry January, giving up for Lent but always with a focus on when it would be over and I could go back to drinking. 

I’ve grown up with parents who drink, both socially and at home, alone and in company. An Irish Catholic background means drink is an integral and unquestioned part of your identity. A glass of wine to relax at the end of the week is well ingrained habit, but we’re not just talking Friday and Saturday night, but Thursday though to Sunday evening- that’s more than half the week. I’ve seen a family member struggle with alcoholism- it’s absolutely not a harmless drug.

I’m a social drinker and beyond two glasses there’s no off- switch. When I’m having fun I’ll carry on but as I’ve hit my 40s even one or two drinks lingers in my system and I’ve found myself using exercise as a way to sweat it out. Now all three children are in school our weekends are both full and precious. I want to be there and be present. I don’t need alcohol slowing me down. 

I’d known for a while it was time for a change. I know I can build new habits- daily meditation and exercise are so embedded they’re second nature. Eighteen months ago I kicked the coffee habit and haven’t looked back. 

This summer we got back from holiday and daily drinking and I stepped up my training for The Great North Run and that meant staying sober. The first challenge was my lovely school friend’s 40th- a lovely school friend who loves a drink and a party. Usually I’d have been right in there but this time, a week before the race I stood firm and ended up chatting to another runner who totally got it. This was closely followed by another 40th where there was drinking, dancing and all the antics. Again I stayed sober, danced, laughed and had just as much fun. 

My husband and my birthdays both fall in November- which usually would involve dinner out and at least a bottle of wine. Instead this year we went to the spa, ate all the health food and honestly had the best time. 

I’ve needed some support. I had to ask my husband to stop opening a bottle of wine and and offering me a glass in the hope I’ve changed my mind! My friends have been awesome and curious but have never tried to dissuade me or make me feel bad about not drinking. In fact the only peer pressure I’ve experienced was from my mother in law, horrified that I was turning down prosecco at 11am! 

The language around drink is interesting. The label teetotal still feels like a stigma; the more American word sober somehow feels more comfortable. The market is changing and there are an increasing number of alcohol free alternative which make it easier. Yesterday I tried the most amazing passion fruit cocktail which I swear would not be any better for having alcohol added. 

Many of the people I really respect don’t drink. These are the people who show up, full of energy and make an incredible impact. A friend who is a little further ahead than me said to me: If you have the willpower to do this, you have the will power to do anything. 

Will I go back? I don’t know. I’m sleeping well, my skin is clear and I’m more focused. When I need to relax I can make a choice that’s not a glass of wine. I enjoy going out being able to drive and not mess around with taxis. I enjoy waking up at the weekend having had a good night, but without the hangover. 

I can’t quite picture a future where I never have a drink but I’m also sure this is the start of a lasting change. 

What about you? What changes do you have planned for 2020? Join our lovely Facebook community The Transformation Hub and let us know. 

Where Are Your Boundaries? 8 Ways to Reduce Overwhelm.

This week is Work/Life Balance Week 2019. Companies may be offering yoga classes or suggesting other ways in which to look after our well being. I love a yoga class, but when it comes for work/life balance, we also need to take personal responsibility to consider where our boundaries lie.

When I speak to busy women they are often struggling with overwhelm. We play so many roles, which carry so many responsibilities and with that a concept of perfection. Over the last few weeks I have had many conversations with exhausted women who feel burnt out because they haven’t put boundaries in place- whether that’s at home, at work, or in relationships. We start to feel resentful when we feel that we’re doing too much or that people are taking advantage of us. But actually, we have a responsibility to create and communicate reasonable boundaries.

When we get overwhelmed we lose the ability to think clearly. We start fire fighting or just focusing on survival. 

We also procrastinate because there is so much to do and we literally don’t know where to start.  

And it’s no surprise that we feel resentful. Society continues to exert a lot of pressure on women from an early age to achieve perfection- from how we look; how we achieve at school and how we parent. 

As children we gained approval from adults through showing certain behaviours: To hurry up; to be good; to be a people pleaser. And this continues to drive our behaviour as adults, until we are aware of them. 

Although women’s participation in the workforce is increasing we continue to carry a disproportionate responsibility for both domestic chores and childcare, not to mention single parent families constituting nearly a quarter of families, in which financial and domestic responsibility may fall solely on the shoulders of one person. 

So it’s very easy to fall into overwhelm and this is often the point at which people come to coaching. They have worked hard to achieve where they are in their career but sometimes find that other keys areas suffer: these are generally relationships with their children, partner or friendships. Alternatively, women manage to keep all the balls in the air from an external perspective but there is a health cost: lack of sleep, exercise, anxiety or dependance on food, caffeine or alcohol to get through. 

So when we are feeling overwhelmed how do we put boundaries in place? 

1 Identify Your Roles and Responsibilities 

Write down all of your roles and the responsibilities associated with each role. Where are you spending your time? What are you ready to let go of? 

2 Track Your Time

Track your time to see where you are spending it. Time management guru Laura Vandekam advocates tracking our time to find out where it is going. This is hugely powerful as we can only measure what we can measure and time, in my opinion, is our most precious resource. See my review of Vandekam’s I know How She Does It here.

3 Identify Your Priorities

Set 3 key priorities- Your Most Important Tasks at the beginning of each day and focus on completing them. 

4 Use the 80/20 Rule

Use the 80/20 rule or the Pareto principle which states that 80% of results come from 20% of people or tasks. Which 20% of the tasks you do are actually the most important? And of all the people in your life, who are in the top 20% and what can you do to really nurture those relationships? 

5 Delegate 

Our kids empty the dishwasher and we we frequently find random items in random places. My eldest has to help with his laundry so when it comes off the lines it’s jumbled, chaotic and has clothes pegs still attached. The kids love to bake or make pancakes and the washing up afterwards is often less than perfect. But I’ll take the imperfection anytime- they are learning to be independent. They don’t need me to do everything. 

The same may apply at work- sometimes you want to be in every meeting or you feel that you have to be responsible for everything- but you are part of a team. You don’t have to do everything. 

6 Lower your standards 

When I went back to work after my second child I knew I couldn’t work or parent at 100% and stay sane. My husband was working as a junior doctor and juggling weekend, night shifts and professional exams and life was full on with two tiny active boys. So I made a promise to myself that I would lower my standards in all areas to 70% and my mantra was Good is good enough. Guess what? No one noticed and I just about stayed sane.  

7 Practice saying NO

Our instinct is to say yes because we want to make people happy or prove that we can do it all. But ultimately a lack of boundaries leads to burn out. So learn to say no, without explanation or apology OR if it’s easier find some ways to cushion the effect of no: Can I get back to you? or I’d love to but…

8 Get control of the tech

This is where we really struggle with boundaries. Our devices are always at hand and the temptation to respond immediately is always there. But we know screens affect our sleep. Do yourself a huge favour and get them out of the bedroom. Create your boundaries around email and work calls. We all need some downtime. 

We are each responsible for protecting our time and energy. No one else will do that for us. Which area of your life needs better boundaries? Which of these tools will you start with? Let us know in the comments below. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed and know it’s time to make a change, don’t continue to flounder. Get in touch by booking a free discovery call here



			

The Big Leap

Last week, at forty years old, I left school. 

Yes that’s right I have spent my entire life in a classroom, first as the learner, then as the teacher. 

My younger brother learned to read at the age of two, partly because he’s annoyingly bright but also because I insisted on teaching him and I didn’t let him go until he’d got it right (Sorry James!)

Through my teens and then university I worked on holiday play schemes in the UK and abroad, always playing and teaching. As a teenager I worked for Mencap, teaching younger teens how to play with and care for children with learning difficulties. 

Seven years ago I attended a leadership course and one of the sessions focused on coaching. After a brief introduction, I found myself coaching another teacher, asking her what she wanted to achieve as a result of the programme. When I finished she and the observer stopped and remarked- Wow Sarah you are SO good at this and though it’s not easy to accept a compliment my first thought was- Yes thanks, I am. 

But this wasn’t really surprising: I’d spent my life teaching- asking questions, building confidence and nudging children in the right direction, finding joy in those lightbulb moments when, suddenly, they got it. As my career progressed I coached other teachers, particularly those new to the profession, to set goals, find their strengths and reflect on their developing practice. As an English teacher I had spent years teaching children not just to read and write, but to speak and listen effectively. I hadn’t realised it but I already had the building blocks I needed to become a coach. 

On my return from maternity leave, A level was removed from my allocation: then two years later, GCSE was removed. The frustration I felt drove me to spend my evenings and weekends training and coaching; to listen to podcasts on the school run; to form new networks with coaches and business owners further ahead than me and it’s been a thrilling process. 

At work, I chose to keep my energy high. I covered my work space with positive affirmations and began to coach and teach coaching skills to  students and colleagues. 

I got clear on my values: love, growth and contribution. I came to understand that personal growth, a core value, had been inhibited but instead I focused this energy on personal and business growth. 

The true test is yet to come. I am leaving behind a wonderful community of staff and students. I am venturing into a new space in which I am solely responsible but I do know that we only get one shot. 

Life is too short to stay stuck, to be unhappy or to play small. 

•The Big Leap is taken from a brilliant book by Gay Hendricks

Boris for PM? First he needs a DISC profile…

It needs fixing and quickly but will Boris be the man for the job?

This is not a political post. I am not a Tory voter and I’m 100% with you in despair and frustration at Brexit. 

The DISC personality profile system focuses on the way in which we communicate and interact with others and how this may change when we create a public persona for example, at work and when we are under stress. 

It has four main categories: 

D = Dominant, Driver I = Influencing, Inspiring   S = Steady, Stable C = Correct, Compliant 

D and I characters tend to be fast paced; S and I slow paced. D and C personalities tend to be task focused, where I and S characters are people focused. 

Of course most of us are a blend of character types but understanding our personality style is an excellent way to raise our self awareness and improve our communication with others. In recruitment, this can be invaluable in considering how different team members may perform and interact. 

As far as I am aware Boris hasn’t taken a DISC profile. If he did, I am pretty confident he would be a high I- an Influencer or an Inspirer. He has charisma,  an excellent ability to persuade and, as we will remember from him zip wiring through London, a great propensity for fun. Boris is a people person: he will bring others on board, as demonstrated by his gaining the majority vote of 114 today, which outdid even what his supporters expected. 

A persuasive, fun loving, charismatic personality- so far, so good. But what are the pitfalls?

Personalities who have a high I on the DISC profile have character pitfalls they need to be careful to address. I know; I’m one of them. We high Is have a tendency to over commit, to be overly optimistic on what we can deliver. John Major cautioned today that anyone who promises to deliver Brexit by the October 31st deadline is unduly optimistic. Major, as an S/C, a steady and more cautious character would not appreciate some of Boris’ high I characteristics- a lack of attention to detail and a tendency to overpromise. But Boris, undoubtedly possesses the characteristics that Theresa May lacked: his focus will be on people, where hers was process. 

The characteristics of a D style are forceful, direct and strong willed (think Donald Trump). They are fast paced and task focused. They get things done but sometimes at the cost of personal relationships. S types who are steady and stable and very focused on relationships, can be easily shaken by a D’s abrupt style. 

Whether in a family, a classroom or in the workplace, knowledge of DISC is an excellent way of understanding ourselves, understanding others and how we can communicate and work together more effectively. 

I am a Certified DISC Practitioner and if you would like to know more contact me at coaching@sarahbramall.com

Imposter Syndrome: You’re Not Good Enough and Everyone is About to Find Out…

You’re not supposed to be here.

You’re not good enough.

Everyone is about to find out.

You know that voice right? The one that whispers to you; stops you in your tracks and makes you doubt yourself. 

As a young teacher in 2002, recently appointed and quickly promoted, that voice bothered me a lot. I thought was alone in feeling that way, until one day my colleague turned and looked at me and said: 

“Some days I feel like a fraud; I’m not good enough to be here and one day someone is going to find out.” 

In that moment my heart stopped beating. I couldn’t believe that someone else was experiencing exactly the same thoughts. 

What I didn’t know then, but do know now is that this condition is called Imposter Syndrome and is prevalent among high achievers. Although it affects men as well as women, it appears to be particularly affect women and members of ethnic minority groups, due to the cultural conditioning that may have caused us to feel less than enough. 

Imposter Syndrome was first coined as a term in 1978 by two psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes who studied high achieving young women at Georgia State University. These young women presented with symptoms of anxiety, lack of self confidence, depression and frustration. Clance and Imes found that these young women tended to attribute their success to external factors (I’ve been lucky) rather than intrinsic qualities such as their skills or experience. 

The challenge with Imposter Syndrome is that it doesn’t go away. High profile women like Michelle Obama still experience it, but have learned to manage it. Michelle Obama’s conclusion from sitting around tables with some of the most important people in the world, from NATO to the UN, is that “They’re not that smart.”

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook said that, ‘There are still days when I feel like a fraud, not sure I should be where I am.’

Even the great Maya Angelou said,“I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh oh they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.’”

The bad news is that Imposter Syndrome doesn’t go away. 

The good news is that we can learn to manage it. 

Imposter Syndrome stems from fear, a fear that we are not good enough and that we will be found out. This fear stems from our evolution as human beings. As cave men and cave women we survived as being part of a tribe. When we risk exposing ourselves by stepping outside of our comfort zone, or exposing ourselves to ridicule or rejection, we are fearful. For this reason, public speaking is a major fear for a majority of people. 

Our brains were not designed to make us happy, but to keep us safe. 

We can’t argue with or try to suppress Imposter Syndrome. What we can do is give that negative voice a face and a name. When this voice speaks to us expressing fear or negativity, we need acknowledge it and thank it for trying to keep us safe. 

But, in fact, we know that we aren’t placing ourselves in immediate danger by applying for promotion, delivering a speech or taking on a new role. 

Instead we can take the negative story- “You’re not good enough” and ask “What do I choose to think instead?” Our beliefs are formed of words and stories, repeated over time. We can choose to change our thoughts and change our language to form a new belief that will better serve us. 

When we focus on Imposter Syndrome we are focusing on ourselves: our doubts, insecurities and fears. When we shift our focus from ourselves to others and how we can serve, the story changes. C.S Lewis said, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.” When we shift our focus, we can ask ourselves more empowering questions: “What value do I bring?”; “Who needs my skills?”; “What is my unique contribution?”

In her brilliant TED Talk Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are Amy Cuddy explains how power posing can dramatically shift our confidence by increasing our testosterone (the dominance hormone) and decreasing our cortisol (the stress hormone). And no, we don’t have to power pose in public! But, the habit of altering our body language from powerless to powerful and creating a more empowered and less stress reactive state, can help us step into the person we want to become. 

Using confidence role models, visualising a positive outcome and even creating an alter ego, as Beyonce created Sasha Fierce, can all help take us to from the person we are now to the person we want to become. 

And yes, Imposter Syndrome will rear its ugly head, but when we can shift our thoughts, change our body language and focus on what we have to give, that nasty little voice will no longer have the power to stop us in our tracks. 

It’s Spring…and time to Grow!

It’s the beginning of spring- from now on the days get longer; we have more energy and this is a great time to commit to growth and enriching our lives. 

When I ask my clients to complete the wheel of life, the most challenging area is often personal development. Often when we have children this goes out the window. We may keep up to date with development at work or jump through some hoops to get through our annual appraisal but in terms of our own personal growth often we do very little. 

I was a total GEEK at school. 

I loved learning and I loved reading. 

I worked hard because I had two VERY clever brothers hot on my heels. 

At uni studying for my English degree I devoured books like there was no tomorrow.

I went into teaching because I loved learning and I love helping others learn.

As a teacher, I always chose to learn. When I was first appointed I was asked to teach Media Studies to A level so had to work hard to acquire new knowledge and took a course at the local college. Throughout my career, I committed to learning: both subject knowledge and new pedagogy and this was an real source of joy for me- education has changed rapidly over the years and I have adapted to change with it. 

In my 20s I took a teaching job in the south of Italy. I enrolled in the university and spent the mornings learning Italian, and the afternoons and evenings teaching English. I had the time of my life. 

But when I returned from maternity leave with my 3rd child my learning stalled. Due to my part time status,  I was no longer allowed to teach GCSE or A level. I still loved teaching but my need for learning and growth weren’t being met. I’d had a pregnancy, not a lobotomy and I felt my brain was going to implode. 

Fortunately, I found coaching and this has opened up a whole new world of personal development, psychology and neuroscience. I’m devouring new learning in the way I did as a child. 

Last year I joined the Toastmasters organisation, in order to develop my skills and confidence in public speaking. The Toastmasters curriculum is very structured; you are evaluated on every role you take- from grammarian, to speaker, to evaluator but the level of detail and quality of the feedback is far better than any appraisal I have ever received at work. Not only have I met a wonderful new group of people who have a similar level of commitment to personal development, I have learned a lot from the content and the delivery of their speeches and found a new world of learning there. 

Over the last few years I have attended talks and seminars from others in the personal development and business worlds. Last year I attended Tony Robbins’ immersive four day seminar Unleash the Power Within– which was an incredible learning experience. 

Throughout the last few years I have worked with coaches to help me grow in self- awareness and to help me grow my business. I also have coaching supervision, with a group of other coaches who support me in reflecting on my learning, as well as challenging me to grow and develop. 

We are living at an incredibly exciting time when learning is freely available to us- from almost instant access to books, podcasts and You Tube videos for almost anything you can think of. I still read physical books but I’m incredibly grateful for Audible- when on the school run, folding laundry, preparing meals- I’m learning all the time. 

When my clients come to me, they are ready to make a change. This change requires personal development: mindset work; learning about confidence, resilience or how to find a better work/life balance. Often this also involves a career change, starting a new business or stepping up to the next level at work. This is always about learning and development. 

When we start to focus on what we want instead of what we don’t want, this is really powerful. When we learn, we grow. This builds confidence and motivation and is incredibly inspiring. 

What learning are you ready to commit? What support will you need to make this happen? 

If you have been feeling stuck and are ready to start making changes, book a free discovery call with me and I will help you work out what you really want and support you in taking action to get started. 

Why we’re putting US first

We met nearly 20 years ago- eventually- after MANY mutual friends telling me You should really meet Jon Bramall- he’s a good guy. Of course I totally ignored them but eventually we crossed paths and the rest is history. 

It’s never been just us. The Army dictated our moves from day 1 and I did my utmost to avoid it- I escaped to Italy while Jon was posted at Sandhurst and then Iraq. I kept working and made friends ‘outside the wire’ much to the disapproval of the army wives. In the early years we spent more time apart than together. Jon just made it back from Iraq by the skin of his teeth in time for our wedding and we changed jobs and moved house 10 times in 10 years. 

As a hospital consultant Jon is often working at the weekends and family and friends take it as standard when I show up to events and parties on my own.

But none of this has been a problem- we’ve always been happy and we’ve always taken that happiness for granted.

Until this year.

Whole weeks fly by when the only conversations have been logistical. We’re juggling demanding jobs (Jon is Clinical Director of ITU) with a teaching job, new business, three children, trying to maintain our social life. I’m sure you relate to this. Weekends are some kind of crazy military operation with each of us taking one or two children to a muddy football field in a random location, squeezing in homework, children’s parties and then trying to ensure everyone is fed and clothed. 

It’s exhausting and we find that in the evening when stories are read, dinner is cleared away and with good luck and a following wind we might actually managed a conversation, our 11 year old is right in there- interjecting, asking questions and generally procrastinating over bed time. 

So we’re just about keeping body and soul together (albeit touch and go somedays) but how on earth do we keep our marriage together? 14 years in? With 3 kids? And not inconsiderable pressure for a dog?!

Can WE wait until the kids are older…11 years into the parenting journey and with 15-20 years to go?  No, we can’t. 

Some of our married friends are choosing to go their separate ways. They are better apart, than together and we wish them well. Life is short: go and be happy. 

But that won’t make us happy. We’re sticking with it. 

We decided this year it’s time to start putting us first. 

I’m not alone. When I speak to my clients they often feel overwhelmed by the juggle of work and raising a family. Often health and wellbeing are neglected and there’s a sense of sadness that either their friendships or relationships aren’t quite where they’d like them to be. 

In Becoming Michelle Obama describes how Barack in the early years of their children’s life was  swerving all over the place. He had an optimistic attitude to time keeping which meant that he would say that he was on his way home whereas actually he just had another conversation to finish. Yet she found it hard to criticise him as he was doing important work which was aligned with their shared values. While having children meant that everything had changed for Michelle, Barack had barely missed a beat. She found part time work unsatisfying as she felt that she was juggling two roles and underperforming in both. 

I’m sure this resonates with many of us. 

And it would be very easy to allow our relationship to suffer as a result. 

So this year we’ve made a commitment to each other. To spending time together. Because it can’t wait another 10 years or 20 years. 

Last month we managed to get away to a ski resort- this was work- Jon was attending a conference and I was speaking but after a twelve year break for me we were back on the slopes and having fun. 

We’ve committed to date night even if it’s just the local pub and we’ve put the kids into childcare to free up a day in half term so we can have those conversations we’ve been skirting around and which don’t seem to go so well at 9:30 pm. 

In January we attended a goal mapping workshop and were relieved and delighted to discover that yes we are on the same page- we want to be together; we want to have adventures with the kids and triathlon and being by the sea are shared passions (phew!)

So Valentines day is here and it’s not all roses, chocolates and champagne. No: I’ll take an uninterrupted conversation, good laugh and, ok a bottle of wine with my best friend. 

Presence, not presents

Like many I was horrified by the plastic mass floating in our oceans and highlighted in the Blue Planet series. 

We try to our bit: we recycle, walk when we can and my husband drives an electric car but we realised we needed to do more. 

Last Christmas we had 13 for Christmas dinner with other friends and family members dropping in. We had 5 children; two of whom had birthdays. By the end of the Christmas period the mass of plastic and wrapping was horrendous. 

One of our 2017 goals was to reduce the use of plastic and the use of chemicals. According to this article the average woman puts 515 chemicals on her face each day. This horrified me and the my awareness that my children were also slathering chemicals on themselves prompted me to take action. 

I’ve gone back to the Body Shop- the shop of my youth. They’re not perfect but as far as ethical products go, they do pretty well. My friend introduced me to the Tropic skin care range recently- they have impressive ethical standards- see online shop here. There are things I’m not yet ready to give up like gel nails- this is a work in progress!

We have also gone back to milk delivery- an absolute novelty for the kids who still can’t quite believe the magic of opening the door and finding milk on the doorstep. We’ve found a veg box delivery scheme and managed to reduce our meat consumption significantly- not a problem for me but a big sell to my husband who grew up on a pig farm. I also learned from Deliciously Ella  that fishing trawlers are responsible for ocean plastic and have consequently reduced our family’s consumption of fish also. 

We’re far from perfect and still enjoy a good BBQ or fish and Chips but have definitely made progress in reducing our impact on the environment. 

In the house we’ve substituted chemical based products for Method and Ecover and I can’t say I can see a difference! We’ve managed to last out so far without a tumble dryer but with a family of five that’s not easy!

As for the plastic we’ve been warned that if we continue at this rate they’ll be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2020 so we have committed to small changes such as reusable bags and choosing to not buy products packaged in unnecessary plastic. 

Leading up to Christmas this year, we are encouraging the children to value experiences over things. Without wanting to take the joy out of Christmas we are gently encouraging family and friends to reduce the number of gifts we exchange and instead spend time together. This Christmas I’m hoping for presence, not presents. How about you?