How are you feeling this January? Fired up and ready to make changes? Or exhausted at the very thought, already too overwhelmed to imagine changing anything?
Or maybe you’re straddling a wrecking ball, swinging on a wild trajectory between the two, but feeling more panicked than courageous…
Whatever you’re feeling this month, you won’t be alone in that. So remember to be kind to yourself. The constant juggle of motherhood, relationships, work and life affects us all differently, at different times - but all of us find it hard. And every single one of us could do with some extra encouragement, inspiration and support. And a bucket-load of courage.
If I can help, let me know. Through Story of Mum, we offer all sorts of support - there’s our free facebook group: Mamas’ Everyday Retreat where we have a monthly online retreat party; Five A Day, a five day self-led e-course to encourage you to make more time for yourself; Day Retreats for women in Cornwall (and virtual personalised retreats online)
Or if you’re most likely to thrive with one to one support, I offer some wonderful coaching programmes to help you move forward in your life and work with resilience and confidence. Space to hear yourself think, overcome overwhelm and find more focus, rest and joy, even when that feels impossible.
In my own life, instead of trying to create a problem-free existence, I try to create the right conditions for courage - for living courageously, facing challenges, and managing change - so today I'm writing to remind you of your own immense capacity for courage, and to offer some thoughts on how we can all try to live more courageously as we step into 2020.
What does courage mean to you?
I often get told I'm brave for getting in the sea - and it's true that this is one of the ways that I remind myself that I can do hard things every day. But courage comes in many forms. We're being courageous any time we feel fear - and step out of our comfort zone anyway. When we walk towards the life that we want for ourselves knowing that it will be difficult. When we dust ourselves off after a disappointment, and carry on trying to become the person we want to be. Whether we're stepping into cold water, speaking up for ourselves at work or home, or trying something we've never done before - it's all courage.
I received a message on instagram this week: “I really want to get in the sea every month of this year. Tips?” Starting to reply, I realised that many of my top sea swimming tips also applied to life in general. So here, for you, as an extra January boost, are my top tips for winter swimming - and being brave.
1. SHARE THE EXPERIENCE WITH FRIENDS
Sea swimming: It's easier to start swimming if you find fellow (best of all, experienced) swimmers to swim with.
Not only does this make swimming safer, it also makes it lots more fun.
Living courageously: The same applies when you're trying to take any brave action in life - spend time with other people “in the arena” as Brené Brown would say: other people busy being brave, and keen to support each other on the journey.
Ask for the encouragement you need to get going (maybe even coaching?) and share your lessons. And don't spend too much time with people who may have strong opinions, but aren’t stepping up to take any risks themselves...
2. RESPECT YOUR OWN NEEDS
Sea swimming: Wear whatever you need to wear. I swim in the sea in my bikini because it's easier to change, I’m acclimatised now - and I've learnt what works for me. I also have lovely layers of natural skin padding that keep me all soft and warm. But that's me - and you need to find what works for you: don’t be embarrassed to wear a wetsuit and/or booties and/or gloves and/or a balaclava if that's what you need. Comparing yourself to others, and deciding you come up short because your needs are different, is a waste of valuable energy.
Living courageously: Ask yourself what kind of protection and support you need right now, physically and emotionally. And allow yourself to have that. Try to avoid comparing your 'brave' to someone else's - all that matters is how you respond to your own fear, and how you find your own courage to meet it - step by step. The more you do it, the more your courage will increase - and the less protection you'll need...
For example, wearing my bikini in public used to be a challenge. But the more often I do it, the less courage it requires. In fact, I've lost nearly all that self-consciousness over the past couple of years: which is pretty amazing evidence of how facing your fears over and over again, step by small step, can make a big difference.
And as an added courage bonus - what we choose to wear while we face our challenges can also have a really powerful effect on how brave we feel - I’ve learnt that from Hannah Marcotti’s many #spiritstyle challenges. Sometimes we need to wear the Wonder Woman bikini for a while before we feel like Wonder Woman. Sometimes we find courage in red lipstick or bright yellow glasses, sometimes cosy PJs, and sometimes only a good old power-dressing shoulder pad will do...
3. CHOOSE YOUR MOMENT
Sea swimming: How can you make it easier for yourself?
Well, if you want to swim through the winter, it’s easiest to start in the summer when temperatures are more appealing - and then keep going as the water slowly cools down.
Living courageously: Sometimes you just have to get on with being brave - and timing that moment perfectly isn't always possible.
But being mindfully aware of your own cycles and seasons - as well as all the other challenges in your life (other people's needs, likely stressors) - can help.
Try to schedule your bravest leaps for when you feel strongest and less likely to get overwhelmed and give up. (For example, I don't recommend attempting another brave new challenge at kiddy teatime, when you'll need all your courage just to wrestle those kids to the table...)
4. DO YOUR RESEARCH
Sea swimming: Before getting in the water, take a little time to get curious about the conditions and the risks. Learn about the potential dangers - but don’t let the jellyfish put you off. Because you might be lucky enough to see seals, swans, gannets, sea urchins, and all sorts of other lovely creatures...
Living courageously: Stay informed - but don’t let your fears put you off. Explore your own internal landscape - understand the triggers and stories lurking within that might trip you up along the way. But also imagine the best possible outcome - what have you got to gain, and what are your strengths?
5. ALLOW TIME TO ACCLIMATISE - AND RECOVER
Sea swimming: Allow your body to go at its own pace. Start slowly and gently - and gradually work your way up, bit by bit, to spending a little more time in the water. Be aware of your needs after your swim too, when your external body temperature has dropped to protect your most vital internal organs, and you’re still at risk of hypothermia setting in. It's a good idea to prepare everything you might need before you get into the sea, so that you can easily get yourself warm and dry as quickly as possible when you get out. Give yourself the time and attention you need to recover.
Living courageously: Start slowly and gently - and gradually work your way up, bit by bit, to spending a little more time being braver each day. If you need a break at any time, stop - take all the time you need. Whenever we try something new, it can be a shock to the system. As the adrenaline fades away, we might find ourselves questioning our actions, feeling shaky and anxious, exhausted, or getting trapped in self-criticism and shame.There may be useful learning to be found in all of those reactions - but equally, there might not be! Being brave is tiring. Remember that living courageously requires rest and nurturing - it’s vital to tend to yourself in between those courageous moments.
To prepare for the inevitable post-courage slump, think about the things you know will help you to feel stronger - the friends you can call, the early night under the duvet with a book, a special tea or your favourite food, time in nature, yoga, dancing or quiet, whatever works for you. And make sure to have those options on hand.
6. SMALL AND OFTEN
Sea swimming: Research has shown that our body’s initial cold shock response can become more effective after just a few quick intense doses - it only takes a few attempts at cold water swimming for our body to adjust more effectively to the cold temperatures.
A few short cold showers in the morning can be enough to help you to acclimatise.
Weather permitting, I usually manage to get into the sea between four and six times a week. The more often I go, the easier it is to walk in, keep breathing, manage my body's response, get on with enjoying myself - and ready to try the next brave thing.
Living courageously: The same applies - the more often you practice living bravely, the easier it becomes to be brave. Choose to do a little brave thing every day, and you'll gradually be able to increase your capacity to do more.
7. SINGLE PRESENT FOCUS
Sea swimming: The sea has a remarkable ability to bring us into the present moment, with a single clear aim - awakening our blue mind, as our attention lands on the water - both familiar and constantly changing. Sea swimmers like Jade describe how choosing a particular emotional focus for your swim (like releasing, strengthening, flowing...) and/or drawing a Sea Soul Blessings card to consider before a swim can also deepen that experience of the present moment. Use your swim as a chance to offer yourself some extra kindness, peace, and self compassion, inspired by the sea.
Living courageously: This works for me out of the water too. When I’m feeling nervous about a new task, finding a clear and specific focus in the present moment can simplify things and help to calm my anxiety. In those moments, I'll draw myself a Sea Soul Blessings card to guide me - and it always helps.
8. RIPPLE IT OUT
Sea swimming: Each time I head to the beach for a swim, I always take at least three pieces of rubbish away with me - usually more. It’s a way of saying thank you to the sea for all it gives us. Plus, taking simple positive actions in support of the environment can help you to manage your eco-anxiety, inspire others to join in, and remind you of your own power to make a positive difference. You get to protect what you love - and make it more likely you'll get in the sea again.
Living courageously: Your everyday bravery already impacts the world in ways you can’t see. Each of your actions has a knock-on effect. Each time you take action to make the changes you want to see in the world, you strengthen yourself and inspire people around you. So keep an eye out for the impact of your bravery on others, and look for opportunities to give back where you can. When we act to make a positive difference to the world around us, it's easier to see the many gifts we have to give - boosting our confidence and our courage.
Well that's my lot for now!
Swimming through the winter months offers me daily evidence of my capacity for courage - and so much more (for some of the other benefits, read my article for Art of Healthy Living...) If you fancy giving it a go, look out for our Midsummer Day Retreat, coming soon...!
In the meantime, we'd love you to come and join us next week from 8.30 to 9.30pm in Mamas’ Everyday Retreat for our monthly Mamas' Retreat Party.
We see your courage. Every day you get up and at it, when you'd rather stay in bed. Each time you recover from a knock, and keep going. Every time you lead with love. You are already braver than you think - and capable of more than you know. A new year doesn't mean that you need to change your life, or yourself, or do anything differently at all.
But if you're called towards living your life more courageously this year, surround yourself with the right people and ask for support. Stay mindful of your own capacity, cycles and strengths. Research the risks - but don't let them put you off. Go slowly and give yourself all the time you need to adjust - and to recover from each brave step. Make the most of each tiny bit of progress you make, and celebrate each moment of bravery.
Within you lies all the courage you need to step forward this year. And you're already rippling that courage out to others - including that child that looks up to you, and sees their own capacity to be brave. (Yes, this remains true even when you're weeping on the kitchen floor... and you get through it, and get on up again...)
Motherhood is a daily adventure into courage, so please look after yourself - and know that we're here to help if you need us.
May you be COURAGEOUS
The sea wills you to see your strength in every wave that breaks in your path. It proves your resilience with challenges to extend your bravery, stroke by stroke. It asks how far you will go in pursuit of yourself, towards all you can become.
May you face fear with compassion, and still claim your path. May you throw caution to the wind and the gulls. May you find courage in the sea. May you be bold.
Find more Sea Soul Blessings at www.seasoulblessings.com
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Monthly Retreat Party:
Join us on Wednesday 22 January from 8.30 to 9.30pm for our monthly #somum Mamas' Retreat Party in Mamas' Everyday Retreat.
Mamas' Everyday Retreat is a safe kind space for mamas to connect and support each other. You can expect much me-time encouragement, compassionate conversation, gentle motivation, and surprise treats.
If you're not already a member, ask to join the group and we'll add you.
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