reflecting on the weekend

I often get to Monday morning totally exhausted by my weekend. I don’t know what happened but somewhere along the way (I think when I became a mum) weekends stopped being refreshing for me.  They are a chore I need to survive and I have become increasingly dissatisfied with them. Long Saturday afternoons spent reading and watching movies are but a distant memory, and so is the feeling of feeling refreshed and replenished for the Monday return to work.  Now weekends are difficult, they go at a frantic 7-year-old pace with lots of bouncing, wriggling, and cartwheels.  Mr Seven’s behaviour is always at its most difficult when two parents are present. Saturday and Sundays start at 6.15am and are packed tight with activity and household organisation tasks until I collapse into bed by 9 pm.  I find myself longing for the peace, quiet and creativity of my work week.

So I decided to use some of my work tools to apply reflective learning to my weekend, to help me think about what is working and what isn't working.  To be able to sit and ponder how I can use my strengths and values at the weekend and in a way that leaves me feeling rested and ready for the week ahead.  For a number of years in my personnel development and coaching work, I have been encouraging others to use critical reflection in their work and to set regular rhythms of reflection and evaluation.  I have also realised that regular systematic reflection has a lot to offer for reducing self-doubt and building self-confidence too.  However last night it suddenly occurred to me that I have never applied the reflective principles that I apply to my work and teach to others to my weekend.  

It is interesting that the wellbeing literature suggests that getting to spend at least 80% of your work week using your strengths, contributes to feeling that you have an excellent quality of life.  We also talk about the impact on wellbeing and workplace engagement of being able to have work that lets us express our values.  Underlying this research about work is the assumption that work is something that we struggle to enjoy and weekends are all fun and enjoyment.  To be honest (and I think this may be true for other part-time working mums) this is the opposite way around for me.

I love my work, and really struggle to enjoy my weekends. 

Household organisation and physical activity do not let me express my strengths or values.  Our time off is just as important, if not more so than our time at work, but sometimes we can be reluctant to apply work principles to our time off.  I guess it makes us feel like we are working instead of relaxing and can sap our spontaneity.  If we are going to use work tools to help our time off we need to avoid using them to make rules and only use them if they do have positive results

I decided to bring together critical reflection, strengths and values to help me assess my weekends as a first step in finding a way forward to expressing more of my strengths and values. It is also an opportunity to assess the balance between each family member in the opportunities they get over the weekend.  To do this I made a simple worksheet which you can see here.  

I would love to hear your ideas of how you use your strengths to make weekends more enjoyable.

 

taking life micro-pauses

When did you last stop?  No I mean really stop.  Stop to do nothing.  I don’t mean reading this blog on your phone while you wait for your coffee to be made, I mean actually stop.  Life has been pretty busy lately and I was at the supermarket the other day waiting in the checkout queue.  As I realised I was going to have to wait for 2 people in front of me instead of feeling impatient like normal I was actually pleased, it felt like a treat.  You see for that moment all that was required of me was to wait, no-one was requiring anything from me (I do my shopping without my son) all I had to do was stand there.   

Waiting in the grocery queue was freeing and energising. 

This world that we live in cajoles us to keep going, to keep up, to keep thinking, to never quite switch off.  We live in an information-rich age, which ironically increases our expectation to know everything all the time.  Our devices with their dings, notifications, time to destinations, task lists and reminders, keep us aware of time, aware of all that we have to do, and the time that we have to do it in.  Usually when I have to wait I am caught up in this trap, I might be checking on blogs I follow, checking my own blog stats, checking to see if anyone has messaged me, writing a list of things I have to do next, or worrying that I won’t have time to do the next things I am trying to fitinto my stuffed schedule.      

Our brains, just like other parts of our body need care, maintenance and compassion to stay in good condition.  Part of how we care for our brains is to give them some down time. Some time when we stop putting information in and relax, letting our brain roam free.  The downtime allows our brain to process all that we have put in,  may assist it in storing memories effectively and being able to pay attention again when we need to. Downtime also helps us to create innovative solutions to those things we may be stuck on and helps our creativity.  Our ability to think and concentrate is also enhanced by making sure we take regular down times throughout the day.  

Life micro-pauses are those opportunities that we have to take breaks during the day, those little moments in which we can detach from the demands placed on us, and relax our bodies and brains.  The first step is to notice all these opportunities, and then to actually be intentional about using them to stop, as it is easy to fill them up with the noise of our connected lives.  Think about how you can use the small pauses that occur in your day to day life as downtime for your brain.  These can be those moments when you are waiting for the kettle to boil, or the coffee machine to heat up, waiting in the supermarket line, waiting for the lights to change, or in the queue at the post office.   These are all times when nothing is required of you, all you have to do in that moment is to wait, to take a moment to rest your brain and rest your body, and simply be.  You might like to be aware of your body or be aware of your breath, and you will need to be intentional about not filling these moments with your phone, magazines, music, the news of other inputs that you have on hand.  Take these moments as opportunities to refresh and re-energise.  

psychological safety

"I don't feel like I can be myself", or "the young people don't feel safe".  It is something I hear a lot, especially in the evangelical environments that I used to be involved in. There seems to be something about Christian (evangelical) environments that make it very difficult to create a psychologically safe environment.   I mentioned psychological safety briefly on my blog last weekbut it is such an important concept for churches and organisations to discuss I would like to highlight it again.  

A psychologically safe environment is one where people feel free to be themselves, where they don't have to protect themselves by disengaging or holding back, where they don't fear negative consequences if they say what they think, make mistakes, ask questions express doubtor challenge the status quo.  In contrast to vulnerability which is largely an individual’s ability to share on a personal level, psychological safety deals with the actions, attitudes and beliefs on a group level.  For those of us in christian environments the biggest negative consequence of speaking our minds is the threat to our sense of belonging to the Christian community.  There is still an
emphasis on ‘in’ and ‘out’ and the feeling of belonging is very (perhaps spiritually) important to members.  Members may be reluctant to express themselves as the consequence is that they are labelled as non-christian or non-biblical, and their sense of belonging to the community is questioned.  

Psychological safety is necessary to encourage innovation and learning.  If we want to grow the individuals in our churches and our churches ability to keep up with societal changes we need to create psychological safety.  Leaders have a role to play in creating a psychologically safe congregation, but the research shows that the members have just as an important part in creating safety.  Leaders can help by modelling how to value and appreciate diverse opinions, by acknowledging the diversity of opinions within Christianity and within their denominations.  They can admit their own mistakes and doubts, and importantly they can model that the status quo can be challenged, and ask for input and feedback.  Members then need to be taught how to value and respect other's opinions, and how to be accepting of others doubts and questions.   As an individual it can be difficult to create a psychologically safe environment,  but it is possible to gradually make some small changes.  The first step is to take some small risks in sharing your own thoughts and ideas, this may encourage others to share as well.  Here are some questions to get you and your leadership thinking about psychological safety.  


Is my church a psychologically safe environment for me? For others?
Do the people in my church seem different in contrast to when I speak to individuals?
3) What are the ways in which we re-in force belonging over not-belonging and hold it as a threat for those who don't conform?
4) Does the leadership admit their fallibility, not just in their personal or spiritual life but acknowledging their blind spots and asking for input?  
5) How do I express appreciation for others opinions?
6) What are the small risks I could take this week to express myself fully?

 

Staying Positive

As we drove through the grassy fields of the Waikato during our summer holiday, we came to a small town.  I noticed that the town had two churches,  they were both rectangles of concrete block or brick that were popular in church architecture prior to 1970.  I looked at these rectangles and became annoyed with our church forebears.  Why couldn't they see that laying out their churches this way, was going to limit the church in the future.  These long rectangles with hard pews set out in rows, it wasn’t going to be the future of the church.  Why did they lack the insight to build structures that were more friendly, that helped us to develop community, discussion and interaction.  Why couldn’t they see that they were just leaving us with problems.  Of course I caught myself, and realised my annoyance was a little irrational and unreasonable, we can only do the best we can based on what we know today.  

This incident made me aware that once we start a process of critical reflection and deconstruction it is only a breath away from becoming critical.   The frustration with the slowness of change, the difficulty of helping people even see the need for change, the work it takes to help people imagine the future, the weight of it all accumulates over time.  The frustrations can quickly lead to a general attitude of negativity towards the church.  As I try and introduce change and cast critically reflective eyes over the church I need to make sure that I have measures in place that can keep me realistic and prevent me from becoming negatively critical.  If I am constantly negative it has an impact on my wellbeing but it also stops people from hearing the genuine critique that I have to offer.  Here are 6 practices that I find help protect me from slipping into negativity.  

 

  1. Have some close friends and/or family who can be completely honest with you, give them permission to say “that is a bit harsh!, I think you are slipping into negativity.”     
  2. Create a practice where every few months you must attend a service or event and you     must find 3-4 things, that were done well, and have a holiday from offering critique.    
  3. Send some positive feedback or encouragements in a card or e-mail to your faith         community leader.  It can be pretty tough being in leadership today.   
  4.  Make time to read stories of successful change in other communities, these stories can    keep you encouraged, help you believe that change is possible and that it will happen.
  5. Create small goals, you are not going to change the structure of the whole church today, but perhaps you can start the conversation.
  6. Record examples of small changes and small goals that you have achieved, as they        occur and look back over them regularly. Change comes gradually and it is easy to         overlook the gains that have been made.

 

tend your garden


A fresh year lies before us, it's pain and pleasures lie tightly furled and hidden from our eyes and ears.  As we are swept into the year it can be easy to focus on productivity and tasks, questions like, what do I want to achieve? What do I want to do? How many people do I want to reach? May be circling around your head.    Before you get lost in the pressure to create measurable outcomes stop a minute and think about what happens if you view your life as a garden.  If as we enter the year we focus on tending the garden (tending our own being), then a premature counting of the fruit (measurable outcomes) is removed.  Instead we need to think about the seasons, the soil, the conditions and the needs of the plants.  We then arrive at a different set of questions to focus our year.  We can think about who we are and who we want to become, we can think about what strengths and virtues we want to grow and the values that we want to express.  

We can focus on what we want to grow in ourselves rather than what we want to achieve.

Here are some questions to think about  

  1. What character traits or virtues do you want to cultivate? (For me it is patience).  
  2. What needs fertilising or extra energy? What type of fertiliser works best? (I definitely need lots of silence!)
  3. What needs pruning? (Sugar and caffeine for me!).
  4. What is feeling dry and desiccated and needs a watering schedule? (my IRL relationships need some work)
  5. What tiny buds of strengths and character do you see in your children or people you work with that you need to notice and nourish?  
  6. What needs to lie fallow?  Which areas of your life are depleted and need to rest?
  7. What is your watering schedule? How will it change as the seasons change?
  8. What is the Holy Spirit saying about which areas of the garden are full of unnoticed life, that may be going to bloom this year?