2022 Resolutions…

Sunday Blog 18 – 2 Jan 2022

My Desire Map Journals from 2016-2021

For the last six years, I have used a Desire Map – an actual paper journal. The work of Danielle La Porte, the Desire Map methodology encouraged me to think about how I would feel once I achieved my goals. Sort of a feminine way of setting goals – turning them on their head by focusing on how they would make me feel once achieved. It also encouraged me to bring that feeling more into every day. It helped me stay in touch with both work commitments as well as my dreams for creativity, my home, loved ones, community. Pictured is my set of journals from 2016-2021.

In 2021 I was given the bombshell news by Ms La Porte that Desire Maps would no longer be produced. And just like that, the methodology just didn’t seem to work for me anymore. The weekly reflections I have long praised felt like an endless chore. It petered out in June. There was a brief reprise in October, but the die was cast. It made looking back on 2021 a little difficult – there were only snatches:

-A February trip to the seaside town of Busselton in the glorious warm of February in Western Australia (WA), when everyone has gone back to school and work. I am walking along the beach, darling husband is off for a long cycle. Our paths cross unexpectedly and he calls out to me, raises his arm in greeting in a way that lifts my heart.

-An almost perfect late March/April trip to Albany in the South of WA, staying in a cute cabin, my biggest issue that I haven’t bought enough warm things with me. It is usually so cold but every day was swimming weather.

-An April entry straight after letting me know the week of work washed away the break in no time.

-In September I am trying out other journals, knowing I need to find a Desire Map alternative. I am briefly excited about a journal that I think has caused a personality revolution and had helped me stop doing too much, but that was just a false alarm. Plus it was A4 and I just can’t be dealing with that.

-February and September entries both assure me that I probably need to leave my job to break the hypnosis of the overwhelm. Luckily, I eventually listened.

Cast adrift from Desire Mapping, I have become more and more enamoured of the work of James Clear on forgetting all about goals and thinking more about the habits you need to create to achieve those goals. As his quote highlights, we don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems. In his book Atomic Habits he advises “Don’t plan to run a marathon”, (I wasn’t, ever) “plan to be a runner.” Once the marathon is done the motivation to run disappears, but being a runner is forever (except in my case when it’s a not ever to the running thing.)

“Don’t plan to write a book”, (I am), “plan to be a writer”. Now he’s talking. He suggests you make the goal so small it can easily be achieved. Write for two minutes a day. And once the habit is there, you can expand it and develop it.

So here’s to binning New Years’ Resolutions and building good habits instead!


Sunday Blog 17, 26 December 2021

Gottman Sound Relationship House

‘Tis the season for being in close contact with family and/or chosen family and perhaps conflict is something that is top of your mind.

It’s on the top of mine, as I have been attending an 8-week Relationships Australia course entitled Building Better Relationships with my beloved. Much of it is based on the work of John Gottman et al, the researchers who observed thousands of couples. They were able to determine, with 94% of accuracy, which couples will have a healthy relationship versus those who will split or stay unhappily partnered. The marker they identified was the “Four Horses of the Apocalypse” aka negative communication patterns of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. When these become embedded, the relationship suffers.

69% was a figure I could not get out of my head during this course. It is the percentage of conflicts in an intimate relationship that are not solvable. They literally cannot be solved (because opposites attract, right?) and can only be managed. It normalised the reality that staying partnered can be hard, and bringing attention to how we communicate with each other is a game-changer.

It took five of the eight weeks of the course before we were allowed to get onto conflict, as we needed to build up the positive habits of truly getting to know your partner, sharing fondness and admiration, responding when your partner makes a bid for your attention, support or comfort. Then there’s giving your partner the benefit of the doubt, not rushing to be offended or criticise.

Then you can start tackling conflict. There is 31% of solvable conflict you can start nibbling around the edges. Then you begin to tackle the unsolvable ones, like differing levels of tidiness, ways of handling money. You bite off this big chunk by exploring what is underneath your partner’s attitude e.g. towards money. Then it can transform your conversations, but the differences will remain.

I even have a lovely shade sail out the back, shifting a previously gridlocked conversation between my darling partner and me. By completing our week 5 homework we moved right through to the other side.

Anyhoo, this 8-week course is literally the best $180 I have ever spent.

Merry Christmas!

Transition versus change

Sunday Blog 16, 19 December 2021

Peering at me through the screen was my counsellor who lives some 400 kilometres away. Thanks to the wonder of modern science she is available to support me. I called on her to pick up the pieces after my experience, detailed last week, when a 2018 journal entry sucker-punched me into understanding that it was time to leave my job. Begin to untangle the threads of what is me and what is my day job.

Seven years ago I took on the role of Executive Director at the Health Consumers’ Council in Western Australia. Almost immediately I began thinking about how long was the right time to have a role like that. Five to seven years was a common marker I referred to. As this metaphorical deadline approached, the internal whisper for change had become a roar.

“Have you heard of William Bridges Transitions?my counsellor asked. I hadn’t. I ordered it immediately and like a miracle, the hard copy arrived the next day. Drowning in the waves of turmoil, I had already downloaded the kindle and audible version just to be sure. I was clinging to this liferaft, still at the stage of wondering whether I just needed a lot of day naps or whether my time was really truly up. His book was a lighthouse that illuminated that the stuckness I was feeling is a key sign that transition is in the wings.

“Every transition begins with an ending,” Bridges told me. He encouraged me to think back on transitions in my life, and how I have handled endings. It’s fair to say that hurtling headlong into the next adventure and failing to understand the importance of a transition would sum up my approach.

This time I am protected by the reality that you can’t walk away from a leadership role like this in five minutes, or even a month. I have a plan. I am transitioning into the Acting Deputy Director role in the second week of January, and then off the permanent payroll by 31st March. After then I will likely contract back to the organisation, tackling the many fee-for-service projects we are constantly approached about. Between and now there will be loss, sadness, joy, excitement often in the same hour. I’ll consciously begin with the ending. I’ll sit with the messy middle of the transition and the (consciously, slowly) allow the next stage to unfold. Unless of course something really bright and shiny comes along and I revert to type and hightail after it!

Saved by the journal?

Sunday Blog 15, 12 December 2021

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a funk. With the wise words of Tara Brach in my head, I thought I would seek true refuge in journalling. Not a false refuge (e.g. bingeing on Netflix, drinking wine, compulsively numbing through doing, working my way through an impossibly large to-do list) but a true refuge. My journals have been my companion for four decades now. Their pages let me wrestle with my raging emotions and detangle the knots of heartache, shame, failure, confusion.

Journals are also the place I can go to unlock a feeling of calm and wellbeing, unleashed just by the act of my pen moving across the page.

So I reached for my journal anticipating this calm, but it fell open at a 2018 entry. The paragraph my eye fell on was almost word for word what I was just about to write. The journal sucker-punched me with the realisation that I am stuck in the hamster wheel of work, spinning faster and faster but getting nowhere.

I began to laugh, then cry, then just ugly cry. Later that day I recollected I had the recently published Burnout: The Secret to Solving the Stress Cycle on my kindle. What leapt out at me was the sentence “Stress is not bad for you; being stuck is bad for you.”

Indeed. And so my journal has propelled me on this journey of discovery to find out what my life needs to look like to get off that darned hamster wheel. Stay tuned.

The next generation…

This is the mosaic image I used on the cover of my memoir Not My Story. Because when the vase breaks we can fix it and leave it looking vulnerable or we can create a mosaic, that uses all the broken pieces (and maybe some new ones) and rearranges them in a sturdy, transformed, stunning new framework which is stronger, beautiful and different from before.

Sunday Blog 14, 28th November 2021

Here’s a warning – this post talks about violence against women. If this is not what you want to think about just now, please take care of yourself and scroll on.

As part of my day job, I was invited to a roundtable to create a new strategy for the prevention of violence against women. It felt quite frustrating because no matter how well thought-through that policy may be, the end result is a document. Creating a policy is a bit like creating a diet plan you intend to follow but it’s certainly not actually lost weight. It is only the potential or promise of losing weight. And we all know how difficult it is to lose and keep weight off.

Policy feels like an alternative to doing something that would make real change for women. Like politicians or even Prime Ministers wearing white ribbons and simultaneously de-funding women’s refuges.

I want to create an alternative to our current system where the gaps between police, victim support, health and justice services are reduced from yawning chasms to small, easily navigable steps. Where reporting an assault doesn’t mean agreeing to put yourself into a legal blender and be pulverized in the hope of an outcome that sees justice served and possibly safety for other women.

I may or may not have made a bit of a pest of myself throughout the session, suggesting that a policy might not be as important as an action plan of the many past recommendations from Inquiries that are yet to be implemented (a bit like those retained kilos.) I don’t consider these insights on gaps in the system and trauma by the justice system to be new revelations, or in any way unknown to policymakers and funders. It’s hard for me to see why action can’t happen right now.

Throughout the morning I insisted on how important it is to ensure people with lived experience are involved every step of the way of new policies and services. That we are at the decision-making table and shape the service from the inside out as true, equal partners. To highlight that the answer to every problem is not necessarily a service run by professionals with qualifications (learned experience) but also programs and initiatives run by those who have survived and have practical insights, and who embody a message of the hope of post-traumatic growth (lived experience).

What was so wonderful for me that morning was spotting the woman who has been working on the Young Women Against Sexual Violence initiative. Getting introduced, exchanging cards. Losing her card and finding it again a week later.

It’s nearly twenty years since I survived this experience and seven years since I self-published my memoir on the topic. I have since posted a copy of my book to her. We’re going to start to meet up. I may not be invited back to the next government policy conversation but at least I can re-connect with the grassroots work happening right now to support women.

Twenty years ago…

Sunday Blog 13, 21 November 2021

I moved into my new little cottage I had recently bought. Only I wasn’t sure if I was buying the cottage or it was claiming me – it had felt like home from the moment I saw it just four weeks earlier. I was making a permanent home for my then three-year-old daughter who had lived in two continents and six houses in her short life. I would meet my fate just days after when the man who lived across the road invited me over for a cup of tea. I would fall in love with him over that cup of tea. Six months after that I would meet another fate when a man crept in through the unlocked back door and assaulted me.

Would I change that fate? Would I relinquish the husband I eventually secured after seven years of convincing him marriage would be a great idea?

Would I change the expansion of my understanding from the narrow circle of privilege? I had emerged from a sheltered childhood and adulthood of opportunity. This horror had enlarged this narrow circle to something a bit more aligned with what many people go through day after day, year after year.

No, I would not change my fate. But I still take a moment each year to feel the sadness of being at the end of an unprovoked attack, in the wrong place in someone else’s messed up life trajectory.

And understand I will never live in that house again.

Books are replaceable…

My copy of Pride and Prejudice missing since 1997 in Salonika –
very similar to the copy of Persuasion in this picture -have you seen it??

Sunday Blog 12 – 14th November 2021

So said author and bookstore owner Ann Patchett, when talking on The Australian ABC’s Bookshelf podcast in a recent episode. It struck me as true, in a very brutal real way. “What that book has to give me, it has given me” – once the story is told, the ideas shared, the book itself is a husk that can be re-gifted.

When I left my flat after six years in London and traveled to Greece in 1996, I left most of my books, but I did take my hardback copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with me. It soothed me to re-read it, and I figured having spent just four weeks learning how to be a teacher before getting my first teaching English as a foreign language gig in Greece, well, I would need some soothing.

Almost immediately on my arrival in Greece, I knew I should have packed the whole bookshelf. Getting hold of something good to read in Greece in that far away pre-Google, very-early internet world was an expensive and often fruitless endeavour. I re-read Pride and Prejudice because yes, I needed soothing but also because I often had nothing much else to read.

Another feature of mid-1990s Greece was that phone boxes were a big part of my life. I had no mobile, no landline, just public phone boxes at my disposal. Buying a phone card from the kiosk, dialling the many numbers to reach the other side of the world, not getting it all said before the phone card ran out – these were regular occurrences. Back and forth I might go sometimes, between phone and kiosk, trying to get all the conversations I needed to have.

One particularly trying day in a particularly trying period (the teaching was every bit as hard as you would expect, with such a short training course) I had my sacred copy of Pride and Prejudice with me when I made the trek to the phone box. Somehow in the miasma of unfinished conversations and a fug of homesickness, I walked away from the phone box, leaving the book there.

It took me a few blocks to realise, and I rushed back breathless – it was gone. I know if it had been me who arrived at that phone booth I would have stashed it away like so much gold and scurried back home as soon as I could.

Once I left Greece and returned to Australia, I was once again able to immerse myself in books. I read many more different books and learned the truth of Ann Patchett’s pronouncement. Books are replaceable.

But still, if anyone has seen it out there, do let me know…


Sunday Blog 11 – 7th November 2021

The night before last something very strange happened to me. I went to sleep at 8.30pm, and I awoke at 5.30am. In between, I had laid in bed all night, asleep. Eyes closed. No toilet trips. Nothing.

That may be your night every night, but for me, it felt like a miracle.

Last week my daughter turned 23, and it’s fairly safe to say since then, I have slept right through the night about as many times as I have fingers on my left hand.

Sleeplessness began in the obvious way, tending to a baby human’s need for survival, then became a habit when the baby no longer awoke but the sweet peacefulness of the wee hours was so enticing I stayed awake. Some nights I get up and do things, others I listen to podcasts, or read books. When I am feeling really rebellious I might scroll through socials, although that’s not much fun because you don’t want to like or comment and out yourself as the night owl you are.

Long ago I have learned how much can be achieved with little sleep. But as menopause is now upon me, I have let the period of early parenting natural wakefulness elongate right into menopausal sleeplessness. Plus, I have been slowly realising that what I can manage on four hours’ sleep is not what it used to be.

So the night before last I tried something revolutionary. I actually heeded the advice of the many sleep books out there. I didn’t look at a screen and let myself fall asleep naturally.

While not exactly able to pull the miracle off two nights running (because all those episodes of Grace and Frankie won’t watch themselves) it does feel important that I turn over a new leaf, pay attention to habits the support good sleep.

Then when listening to Martha Beck’s new podcast, Bewilderment (right at the end of Episode 4 if you want to know) the quote in the image for this blog leaped out at me. It does take courage to rest, to stop, to relax. Turn off the screens and let natural sleep do its thang.

Night night.

The ordinary moments…

Sunday Blog 10 – 31st October 2021

I was on the road this weekend, and my Podcast app was scrolling through to whatever was next on the playlist. It landed on a re-run of an episode I had listened to some time ago – Brene Brown’s first interview with Oprah Winfrey. As the episode unfolded again, several times I almost pulled over to write down some notes as I was listening. I had to go back later that evening for another run-through. If you are not familiar with Brene Brown, she is an American research professor who has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Her TEDx talk from 2010 catapulted her to fame.

In the many, many interviews Brene has done with research participants over two decades, she gleans insights, very often counter-intuitive, about humans and how we work. Through careful sifting and theming of research stories, she uncovers wisdom. She has then shared in her books and podcasts as practical, actionable strategies for us to use every day. For example, empathy is a teachable skill. Having difficult conversations, teachable skill. Being authentic – not an innate characteristic at all, but a teachable skill we choose every day, or every hour of every day.

The insight that got me rewinding the tape later to listen again, was that it is not the big moments, it’s the small, everyday moments that we miss when someone we love is gone. She summarised and riffed on the many stories she has heard through her research:

“I miss hearing the screen door slam and knowing my husband’s home from work.”

“I miss hearing my kids fighting in the backyard.”

“I miss the way my wife sets the table”

And Brene reminds us “these are the moments that are in front of us every day and we can stop and say “God, I’m grateful for this.”

She shared the story of a man whose wife of 40 years died in a car accident. He had always been the kind of man who never got too excited about anything – no highs but no real lows either. The moment he realised he’d lost his wife he said, “I should have leaned harder into those moments of joy, because not leaning into them hasn’t protected me from what I’m feeling now.”

The cultivation of gratitude and joy is the way home, Brene says. And it’s right under our noses, hidden in plain sight of our everyday lives.

So no more nit-picking for me, or not getting too excited in case I come across as not cool.

It’s gratitude and joy for the everyday moments for me all the way.

Ram Dass Reflections

Sunday Blog 9 – 24th October 2021

Last night I was perusing one of our excellent independent bookshops, already clutching a couple of eclectic choices, when I saw a hardcover copy of Being Ram Dass. This is a memoir written not long before Ram Dass’ death in 2019, and I plucked it off the shelf, shrugging off the price on the back. Because supporting your local bookshops is always a good thing. Even if the shelves at home already groan with a to-be-read pile.

For several weeks now I have been listening to the Ram Dass Here and Now podcast, so it would have been churlish to leave this memoir languishing on the shelf.

If you have never heard of Ram Dass, he was born Richard Alpert in 1930s America, partnered with the infamous Timothy Leary in pioneering LSD research in the 1960s, and went off to India to find a high he didn’t come down from. He found among other things, yoga and meditation, which he brought back to the Western world.

The podcast Ram Dass Here and Now is chopped up recordings of the many talks he gave in the 1960s and 1970s. One of his friends who originally travelled to India with him in the 1960s introduces each podcast, (I’ve learned to fast forward through those bits) and then Ram Dass cuts in and I am treated to Ram Dass’s resonant voice rolling out contemporary slang phrases, such as “dig it.”

He’s quite funny, as evidenced in the picture quote above. I’ve just spent an evening with my family and so any illusion of being enlightened has been wiped clean. (Only kidding, it was a lovely evening – and not a week, so…) I drove home from the family home listening to him talk about the importance of appreciating uniqueness, rather than having preferences. Using the analogy of trees, he notes that we don’t start judging trees when they’re different – we appreciate their different qualities. But this appreciation vanishes as soon as it’s humans rather than trees. We immediately judge and criticise and find wanting. Think of people as trees, he suggests. Celebrate their unique qualities, have no preferences about people. Good advice.

As well as the amusing reflection on enlightenment and families of origins, he is famous for describing our relationship to each other as “we’re all just walking each other home.”

I love that.