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Kirsty writes regularly here

A strong support network is vital

Research suggests a strong peer network in the workplace, and having close and supportive relationships personally and intimately, helps individuals live longer and can increase happiness and health by 80%.

Researchers from Flinders University, found that people with the highest number of close friends outlived those with the least friends by 22 % – on average, living to the age of 79, compared to 65. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data on death rates shows people living in intimate relationships (including those in married and de facto relationships); – both men and women – have lower death rates than single people in almost all age groups. A 2009 study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends’ women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to lead joyful lives.

In a world that seems to be more isolating than ever, and with each emerging online social networking tool introduced, people are growing further estranged – so the above points and statistics are more important than ever to take in and take action on. If you don’t feel inspired by those figures, then include the recent studies that are showing there is a link between the increase in depression, social isolation, stress and hostility, and the lack of supportive relationships people have.

When some of my clients first come to me and report feeling isolated, and have a limited professional and social support network, I find they can also be suffering from stress, emotional issues, and possibly even physical illness. Most of them are finding difficulty creating healthy relationships with others. They admit to having a lack of confidence and self esteem, because they have been let down or rejected in the past, and therefore bounce around the wrong people and relationships – and the cycle continues. This is having a dramatic impact on their health, happiness and success.

A fantastic resource is Blue Zones by writer and explorer Dan Buettner. He spent his life traveling the world in search of answers to longevity and living a fulfilling life. Buettner argues that relationships are really the key to lifelong happiness, saying, “the happiest people socialize about seven hours a day,” and that “you’re three times more likely to be happy if you are married … and each new friend will boost your happiness about 10 percent.” He also explains that good relationships in the workplace are so important; adding that, “the biggest determinant of whether or not you’ll like your job is if you have a best friend there, more so than how much you’re paid.”

Having a hand to hold as you go through life makes the difficulties and challenging times easier to deal with. When things don’t turn out as expected, knowing that your friends, partner, family members and co-workers have your back allows you to go through the storms and come out the other side, feeling okay instead of broken.

I think we are in a social and relationship crisis period. I decided that I want to do my bit to end the isolation, stress and loneliness for as many people as I could, so I spend many of my days helping people to be able to create excellent relationships, friendships and networks that support them to excel personally and professionally.

Look around you now, think about your last week, think about the plans you have for the coming week. Are you surrounding yourself with people who uplift you and inspire you? If not, search for those people, connect in person, make plans for catch ups, have conversations where you are really interested in what others are saying, and get out there and support your community. If you know someone who is experiencing loneliness or doesn’t quite know how to build networks and friendships, help them and reach out to them. Your health and happiness is determined by these connections, so make it a priority.

Kirsty 🙂

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The Year of The Rooster – Chinese New Year

Gung hay fat choy! Happy new year!

Chinese New Year, often called the Spring Festival, is the most important holiday in China and Chinese communities around the world.

Gung hay fat choy is how Cantonese speakers wish you a happy new year—literally “wishing you great happiness and prosperity.” In China, the official language is Mandarin. Gong xi fa cai is how Mandarin-speakers wish you a happy new year—literally “wishing you to be prosperous in the coming year.”

For more than 3,000 years, Chinese New Year is the beginning of a new year in the Chinese calendar. The historic Chinese calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning dates are determined by both the moon (lunar) and the sun (solar). Months begin with every new moon, when the moon is not visible in the night sky. The new year starts on the new moon nearest the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, sometime between January 21 and February 20.

The Chinese New Year 2017 begins on January 28. The festivities end two weeks later, on what is known as the Lantern Festival.

During the Chinese New Year’s celebrations, there are many traditional activities, some local and others celebrated universally. The Chinese believe that as they enter a new year, they should start a new beginning. They clean their houses, pay off all their debts, purchase new clothes, paint their doors, and even get new haircuts to have a fresh start for the new year. Homes throughout China are decorated with special banners, many of which are red and gold; the traditional representations of happiness and prosperity.¹

One very fun tradition is exchanging gifts. A traditional present that is given is small red envelopes filled with “lucky money”. These envelopes are given to children by their family and friends. Every year since my children were little I give them a red envelope with $5 in it and a message to wish them well through the next year.

The Year of the Fire Rooster I have read will be a powerful one, with no middle of the road when it comes to moving forward. It is a year themed with much success, triumphs and great new beginnings.  Impressions will count, and you’ll want to be clear on your intentions concerning love, money, and business. In a Rooster Year, all the Chinese animals can reap great rewards by tapping into Rooster traits – loyalty, commitment, hard work, family values, and outstanding appearances are just some of the characteristics that will be rewarded this year.

Why would I celebrate Chinese New Year?  I find the colour, the energy, the meaning and the celebrations hard to dismiss.  I enjoy another focused opportunity to begin again with purpose. My favourite colour is red, which in Chinese culture symbolises good fortune and joy, so I can dress for the occasion!  And, who doesn’t love a good Dragon dance?

If you are celebrating, enjoy your festivities – if you are not, you could take advantage of the new moon energy of the beginning of a new lunar cycle and focus on what you want and plan out your actions to achieve it.

Why not celebrate more and worry less?  Why not feel that good fortune is afoot?  Why not take every opportunity to refocus and make plans?  I know in my home this weekend you will see lots of red and hear many wishes of Gung hay fat choy!

Kirsty 🙂

¹Ref. and for more information – http://www.nationalgeographic.org/media/gung-hay-fat-choy/

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Be Conscious of Your Spending – Is This Bringing Value to Your Life?

The more we have, the more we spend. It is human nature. I know that in this household we stopped being so aware of the cost of groceries, and whether we had gone over budget or not when our income increased a few years ago. I didn’t hesitate as much as I previously would have when the children wanted money for outings, takeaway or other consumables.

What ended up happening was all potential saving capacity, all that potential to create meaningful wealth, decreased because we got used to spending the higher income and create debts to match. We weren’t any happier surrounded by all the stuff.

Once I realised this, I re-evaluated how we were spending and now practise a certain mindset around money. I ask myself, is what I am spending money on an investment or adding value to my life? If the answer is yes, I do it; if no, I ask myself, do I really want it? Is what I am going to spend money on going to make me money or add value to my life? This is called conscious, or intentional spending.

Conscious spending means we think about and choose what we are going to spend our money on. We analyse where we are currently spending our money and make goal-orientated changes and budget-based decisions.

Whether it is for going out, saving, investing, bills, looking after our health and fitness, holidays, schooling, rent, or mortgage—it is about having a plan that takes us towards our goals instead of feeling limited, restricted, and wasteful.

My husband and I both have various academic achievements, are members of industry-regulated bodies, and I am a keen business networker. We have supported each other in making these types of educational choices as it has proven to be an investment that pays good dividends back into our income increasing capacities.

Some like to invest in education, or antique furniture, or designer clothes, or travel, or property, or into their family and community, and some in wellbeing. As long as it is meaningful enough that when money is paid out there is a feeling of satisfaction and possible future growth and value—then it is conscious spending.

Seven helpful questions to ask when the household income increases –

  1. Have we shopped around for the best price? (Just because we have money, we can still buy the bargains).
  2. Are the needs of the household and each family member taken care of before the wants?
  3. Are we creating memories or debts?
  4. Are we consciously spending in line with our budget?
  5. Have we got the right advice, the right insurances, and the right bank accounts?
  6. Are we investing in ourselves through education or health?
  7. How can we support our community or a meaningful charity organisation? People who do this often say that doing something for others seems to bring good stuff back to them and a sense of fulfilment.

I am very mindful and intentional of what I spend, make room in our budget to support our community, and love a good bargain. Recently I bought a small coffee machine that was on special. I worked out that I gained back the cost of the machine within a month because I was not buying a takeaway coffee every morning.

I am not saying to steer clear of indulging in and enjoying occasional treats, that big holiday or buying those gorgeous shoes. I am suggesting being mindful and goal-orientated of how money is being spent. Enjoy the longer-term reward for your hard work and effort; and be thankful, purposeful, and masterful around your finances.

Top Tip – Ask the question before each purchase, “Is this bringing value into my life?”

How can you be more conscious and intentional with your spending this year?

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Three Minutes that Changed My Life!

A couple of years ago I had one of those game changer (or light bulb) moments. Life was challenging, exhausting, disappointing and frustrating!

A friend came across a You Tube link and emailed it to me with the message, ‘Don’t know why, but you came into my mind when I was watching this and wanted to share it with you.’ She is a very close friend and I trust her hunches without hesitation, so I watched it that day. It was a moment where everything just fell into place, it all made sense. I felt like I was just filled back up again and no longer running on empty.

The epiphany came from the question asked in the video, “Is your cup full?” The You Tube video featured IyanlaVanzant, who is a best-selling author and a regular on Oprah TV. She spoke about putting yourself first and being strong in life. She said that doing this is not selfish it is self-full.

Iyanla said, “It’s self-full to be first, to be as good as possible to you. To take care of you, keep you whole and healthy. That doesn’t mean you disregard everything and everyone. But you want to come with your cup full. You know: My cup runneth over. What comes out of the cup is for y’all. What’s in the cup is mine. But I’ve got to keep my cup full.”

From that moment I am always aware of how full my cup is – and filling it when needed.  How full is your cup?  What can you do today to replenish it?

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A Time To Relax – Program Launch

This month I am launching my first online Mindful Madhouse 4 week program.  It has been a big learning experience (helped by a team of very supportive people) to get my knowledge, expertise and experience into this format.  I am so proud of the result and grateful for the feedback coming in.  So, watch as I tell you a bit more about A Time To Relax 🙂

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Over being overwhelmed in January?

As you enter the shops and see the isles filled with exercise books, pens and pencils; pass the shoe stores and notice that black and white shoes have taken over much of the floor space – you realise that back to school is fast approaching.

Apart from the cost of purchasing school supplies, there is a sudden realisation that madness is fast approaching – before, during and after school activities, homework expectations, uniforms to be constantly cleaned and pressed, and making sure there is enough food to prepare and pack!

My eldest is 21 years old and my youngest is 9.  I have had many years of getting it wrong, getting it right, and most years it is a bit of both!  Here I share my top 18 tips to support you being better prepared and be more productive this upcoming year.

  1. Plan and prepare to avoid chaos. This includes weekly schedules, lists and weekly meal and shopping plan. Create a flexible routine that works for your family – from waking to bedtime.
  2. Have a central calendar in the house that all family members have access to with events written on it that are coming up.
  3. At least a couple of times a week make double the evening meal and freeze half for those nights when you run out of the time or enthusiasm to cook.
  4. Make time to bake each week.
  5. Make lunches and get uniforms ready the night before. We all think we will get it done in the morning, but sometimes it is just such a rush and adds so much pressure when trying to get you and your children ready and out the door!
  6. Have bags packed and checked ready to go the night before (including the hat).
  7. I think it’s never too early to give children some responsibility –tasks that you know they can complete for their age and abilities.
  8. Give children checklists – good for parents too!
  9. It is the perfect time to have conversations with your children when driving around with your kids in the car. They can’t get out or walk away!
  10. Take weekly time out for you to de-stress and reward yourself.
  11. Get proper sleep so you have the energy each day needs and avoid getting run down and common illnesses.
  12. Eat well to feel good and keep up. Feed your kids well to keep them healthy and calm.
  13. Remember to breathe – sometimes we just need to stop, take a couple of deep breathes and then proceed.
  14. Keep at least one day free on a weekend to relax and have fun with your family.
  15. Be kind to yourself.
  16. Ask for help when you need it!
  17. 30, 30, 30 and 30 every day! 30 minutes for quiet time for you, 30 minutes listening to your children with enthusiastic interest, 30 minutes for your partner and 30 minutes making sure you have cleared your day and are prepared for tomorrow.
  18. Get up each morning with a grateful affirmative attitude and a desire to meet all challenges with a smile.

As parents, we are constantly creating, re-inventing and re-shaping whilst keeping up with all the demands and challenges of each day. Creating routines and being organised will keep everyone on the same page and help you make sure you go to bed each night feeling a sense of peace and achievement – well most days!

What can you do differently this year to make your school and work weeks run smoothly?

Kirsty 🙂

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Here Be Dragons – Book Review

I was asked recently by Exisle Publishing to review Here Be Dragons.  It says on the cover, “A parent’s guide to discovering purpose, adventure, and the unfathomable joy of the journey.” I did think to myself, “not another parenting book!”

I got to about page three and, to my delight, couldn’t put it down.

It wasn’t like any other parenting book I had read or reviewed.  I loved what was different. It is written by Annmarie Kelly-Harbaugh and Ken Harbaugh – from how they met, how they developed as people together and apart, and how they met each challenge once they became parents.  I found it to be an honest and personal insight into both parent’s experience and how they felt about it and dealt with it – and is full of humour only parent’s would appreciate!

I felt a part of Annmarie’s and Ken’s lives as I turned the pages and could relate to their many experiences; as well as how they had overcome the tough times.

What stood out for me though was how they described real issues faced by all of us once we become parents –

  • How mothers are judged differently to fathers.
  • Working through career goals and meeting the needs of your children.
  • Who does what, when.
  • How imbalanced it can be – and that is perfect.
  • Getting the right people around you.
  • Weathering each storm, knowing it will pass.

Then it is all tied nicely together at the end with a section of topics and questions for discussion as you examine your own ‘story’.

I highly recommend Here be Dragons for parents of any age children.  Whether it is for reflection, guidance or amusement – this book has it all.

Kirsty 🙂

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Less Stress at Christmas

less-stress-at-christmas-blog

Christmas is a special time of the year filled with joy and reunions – with parties to host and attend, guests and visitors to catch up with and gifts to exchange. Not to mention the shopping trips, planning and preparing, holidays, getaways and day trips to enjoy.

Christmas can also be extremely stressful, exhausting and challenging – for kids and parents alike. Sometimes getting everything done so that the big day is ‘perfect’ can end up leaving you drained and your children filled with agitation.

To beat the blues and have everyone enjoying the season to its fullest, here are some approaches to keep Christmas as stress-free as possible for you and your family.

Firstly be aware of the signs of holiday stress in your children. Signs of holiday anxiety can include –

  • Tears for seemingly minor reasons.
  • Nervous behaviours such as nail biting and ?hair twirling.
  • Physical complaints, such as stomach-aches, headaches, fatigue, diarrhea.
  • Regression to younger behaviours – bed wetting, eating with hands.
  • Withdrawal from friends or siblings.
  • Any behaviour that your child doesn’t normally do could be a sign of Christmas anxiety.

Helping family members, especially children, cope with holiday stress involves knowing their personalities and limits. As their parent you are the expert in this. So when the anxiety hits, take a breath and a step back, and consider how you could best manage the situation.

Here are some of my suggested stress management tips for your family –

  • Take children out of the spotlight during Christmas events at relatives’ or friends’ homes if they are feeling uncomfortable.
  • Combine parties and get-togethers to reduce the time you spend partying.
  • Stick with the routine as much as possible. Keep stressful holiday shopping and eating out to a minimum.
  • Start preparing for Christmas early to avoid holiday anxiety.
  • Ask your children what makes them feel better. Do they wind down with music, reading, spending time with you or playing with their friends, brothers or sisters? To help children calm down at Christmas, encourage them to do what they love often.
  • Make sure your children and you are eating nutritious foods, drinking lots of water, and getting exercise and time outside – a antidote to holiday anxiety.
  • Talk to your children about traditions and spirituality. If you have traditions, explain why they’ve stayed in your family. That sense of knowing why things are done this way will bring a sense of calm.
  • Bring a favourite blanket, pillow or stuffed animal (or other age appropriate familiar thing) if you’re staying with family or going away over the holidays. A bit of home always helps to be more relaxed.
  • Cope with your own holiday anxiety. The less holiday stress you feel, the more relaxed your children will be.
  • Volunteer at a charity, kids’ hospital, community centre or a cause (big or small) that is meaningful for you. Volunteering at this time of year brings a sense of contribution, satisfaction and involvement – and as the whole family gets involved there will be a moment where you all feel a connection to the true spirit of Christmas.
  • Lighten the mood with funny movie marathon days, park afternoons and cozy chats with hot chocolate treats – just getting out or staying in having fun together and laughing to let go of any built up stress.

Remember that with all its sparkle, expense and lists – the point of Christmas is togetherness, laughter, sharing, connecting and love. I often like to think of a word to represent my Christmas time. This theme keeps me on a calm purposeful course without getting caught up in the hype of shoulds, coulds, must haves and must dos. This year my word is appreciation.

What is your word this year?

Kirsty 🙂

 

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Must haves in your home – Book Reviews

I have just reviewed two books for Exisle Publishing and want to share what I thought with you all.  It is rare that I come across books that I think should be in every family home.  These two tick all the boxes! They would both be excellent gifts for your family or friends, and  I know I will be getting a few copies as Christmas presents.  To find out more click the links below under each review.

The Art of Mindful Origami

9781925335293-copy25-01I loved The Art Of Mindful Origami from the moment I saw the cover and picked it up. Upon opening you notice that it is dedicated to experiencing each moment fully, and I could feel this concept oozing from the books pages.

There is a simple, yet powerful, synergy – the combination of understanding, colouring, folding and creating, which certainly promotes a calm and focused mind, as the author intended.

I found that Dr Richard Chambers combined the art of origami and mindfulness in such a masterful way, and each project is supported by a story about the piece to be made and mindful practice suggestions. I really liked the way it was easy to understand the explanations and exercises – even my 9 year old was hooked. It is a very nice touch providing paper, that has beautiful nature pictures on it, to use for each project, as well as paper to mindfully colour in and use to make the origami if you choose.

I highly recommend this book for all that need support setting time aside to engage fully in the moment, or to use as some great fun activities to do as a family around the table.

Find out more…

Australia: Illustrated

9781925335217-copy25-01The cover of Australia: Illustrated lets you know you have just picked up a book that will be in your family for quite some time. It is a hard cover, with a material type feel that says, “This book will become a family favourite.”

Tania McCartney has created a book that inspires discussions in the readers – big and little. As you open to the first page you are met with words describing Australia – big, beautiful and diverse. I can tell you that this is a good description also of this book; it’s content and the beautiful illustrations.

What I liked most was the colours, the engaging dialogue, and how I felt inspired to either find out more or go to visit some of the places after reading it. I felt it acknowledged how diverse and multicultural we are – yet so very Australian. As my son and I flicked through the pages I said that there was so much we were yet to see, taste and experience in our own remarkable country. We also spoke about how different one end was to another.

Our family is Separated by Work (we are a F.I.F.O family) so this book was extremely useful for us as it shared information and pictures of where ‘Daddy’ worked and gave lots of points to talk about with Dad next time he rang.

I know every family would treasure this book in their home, and have many fun and exciting conversations whilst exploring Australia through the pages.

Find out more…

I look forward to hearing what you think of these delightful books, and if your family enjoys them as much as mine did.

Kirsty 🙂

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Beyond the Paper, Pen, and Envelope — Being Mindful Online

being-mindful-online

I think I might get T-Shirts made with the slogan—“Even though we’re miles apart, a computer screen connects our hearts.” It sums up my families reliance on technology to feel close and communicate when we are separated by work.

Our FIFO (fly in fly out) lifestyle demands we use phones, mobile devices, and computers more than we would if we were seeing each other every day. We all have instantaneous methods at our fingertips to communicate. This is a wonderful thing, and I personally am very grateful for it, yet there is more to consider when navigating online communication and social media—the to do, what to be aware of, and what to avoid.

Technology itself is not a bad thing—it is how it is used that can be a cause for concern. We need to be aware that technology can completely rewrite our brain pathways. For people who spend too much time interacting through a screen, the neural pathways change and different ones are created.

A study by UCLA professor Dr Gary Small in 2007 asked three regular internet users and three neophytes to browse websites, in an attempt to point out the cognitive differences between heavy and light multi-taskers. Dr Small discovered differences in the neural activity between both parties when tasked to Google pre-assigned topics. The part of the experienced Internet users’ brains involved in decision-making and problem- solving lit up like fireworks, but the same couldn’t be said for the other half of the group.

After further testing under this study, test participants were asked to browse the web for one hour a day. Dr Gary Small discovered that the inexperienced Internet users’ brains lit up like their experienced counterparts six days later. This showed that people’s web surfing habits change their neural pathways. Online activity affects concentration, self-esteem, and people can lose empathy.

Communicating via a screen can increase a lack of empathy. This leads to people saying things electronically they’d never say directly to someone—because the person to who they are talking to isn’t physically present to display their emotional reaction. Dr Gary Small said in 2011, “I think all this online time is weakening our face-to-face human contact skills. Many people, particularly young digital natives, gain social support through their hours of texting and social networking, but does that person who averages more than 11 hours each day using technology look you in the eye when you have a conversation? I know when someone maintains eye contact, I have a greater sense that he or she is listening and interested in what I have to say. I feel a greater empathic contact.”

I think it is as if the part of our nervous system that registers the feelings of others has been paralysed or removed when we are communicating electronically. I have had times where I was talking to others electronically and they respond in a way that shows the message wasn’t received as I intended. When we discuss further they are quick to realise that they had misread what I was saying due to us not being face to face.

Five tips to use phones and computers effectively –

  1. Don’t say anything electronically that you wouldn’t say in person.
  2. Use your words well, whether you are speaking, texting, or typing. Re-read it and attempt to avoid any misinterpretation before sending.
  3. Don’t delay responding to messages you would rather avoid. If you feel you don’t completely understand, ask for more information rather than disregard, or ignore it.
  4. Listen for tone of voice cues as to how the person is feeling or hearing what you are saying, and always check for understanding.
  5. Remember emojis are not a true expression of feelings— nothing is better than hearing a laugh and seeing a smile on someone’s face.

Mobile devices and computers are not just connecting tools for family and friends. The screen world expands to include a global network of people who have access to each letter you type and the technological footprint you are creating.

I enjoy the benefit of instantly sharing photos, quotes, memories, and activities on social media with my friends and family. I like that I can support others if they are struggling and post about it in an online group I am in. Just remember though that in these online groups some people use a screen and keyboard to confront others, and some share difficult emotions that they would not do face-to-face.

Use online communication and social media properly and mindfully. The Internet is an amazing tool and it is here to stay. To make technology serve you well requires good judgment. Aim for a balance of online and in-person connecting and really think about what you are posting and how that affects others. Think about how it represents you and your family and keep at top of mind that a gentle smile or a heartfelt hug has far more power than the cleverest emoticon. Please be aware of the other person’s situation or needs if you are tagging or mentioning someone, or a company, or a site on social media groups. If in doubt, get their permission first, or wait 24 hours and see if you still want to type and send that message.

Kirsty 🙂

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