This post has been a while in the coming, which will be evident if you know anything about Australian music. But I wrote this plane on the way to London for Christmas when I had a chance to actually sit down and do something for myself and now that I am back from holiday it was time to get blogging!

This is a post about gratitude. There is no doubt that gratitude is one of those ‘buzz’ concepts that is everywhere. Lots of shops sell gratitude journals and there are now a huge range of courses on gratitude. But what is it?


The obvious answer is that it is the act of being grateful for the things that are in your life. The ‘why does it work’ is slightly more complex. No one quite understands yet what predisposes people to being positive or negative thinkers (or whether it is nurture or nature) but the implications for happiness are vast (think back to my first post on CBT for an explanation as to for the reason why).

The most interesting thing about this is that it is relatively simple to retrain your brain to think more positively. One study showed that simply thinking about something for which you are grateful for 20 minutes (this was repeated weekly for three weeks in the study) led to profound neurological changes in the medial prefrontal cortex months after the intervention (see Kini et al., 2016 for details).

I work with my clients on this consistently; and have taken to starting every session by asking my clients to ‘name three good things that have happened this week’. The hope is that they will then find it easier to identify the positives in their life once they leave the room.

Recently I was in Sydney for the most amazing experience. My friend, Molly, invited me up to Sydney to see the Crowded House concert. This was a reunion show following their farewell show in the same place 20 years earlier. The position was on the steps of the Opera House, which was amazing!   

We got to watch the sunset over the harbour and then to see one of the most iconic Australian bands play an incredible set. The band are fantastic showmen and the gig was relatively small and intimate. In addition to this Molly’s uncle is actually in the band so we got to go backstage after and I got this signed shirt for my dad (who is a huge fan!).


Needless to say I am grateful for the experience, for having friends who invite me to these things and for having the means to be able to fly up to Sydney to go to the show. It was an incredible experience that will not be forgotten in a hurry.

But it is important to focus on the small things that give you pleasure as well.

While I was in Sydney I picked up these adorable Gratitude cards from Kikki K which I have been using (almost) every day. They encourage you to be grateful for tiny things (one of my favourites was ‘what texture are you grateful for?’ – I was wearing a new hoodie at the time and that warm fuzzy new hoodie feeling came straight to mind!) and to practice retraining your brain to be more positive. 

So take away lesson for today is: practice gratitude, think about what you have that you are grateful for, not what you don’t have. It can be an amazing experience or a tiny sensation. But practice daily positivity. While writing this blog post the following quote captured my attention:

‘what if you woke up tomorrow with only what you were grateful for today?’


How I attempt to stay organised

{post by Karen}

It’s the most wonderful time of the year: time to buy a new diary!

This will come as a surprise to few, but I’m a stationery addict. I have a bookshelf full of untouched or partially completed notebooks, and I keep buying more. Last night, I dreamt that I was shopping for my 2017 diary, and after browsing a couple options, decided to take the advice of two Asian shoppers who didn’t speak English, but led me to the cutest option (the best diaries come out of Asia).

The thing is, I’m very picky about my diaries. I want them to be cute, keep me interested all year long with a variety of engaging illustrations, and they need to be functional. Because I work in research, my job on any given day or week might involve a great variety of different types of tasks associated with several different research projects. Some will be urgent, some won’t be. In 2015, in my quest to find the perfect diary, I purchased three different diaries and debated buying a fourth. Sadly, I still haven’t found a yearly diary to meet all my preferences, but there are some good compromises out there.

Now, I realise that getting or staying organised is a completely personal, individualised process. Everyone does it differently. Some thrive without doing it at all. But here’s what I look for in a diary, in an attempt to keep myself organised and on track. For the record, I used to use an A6 weekly diary, because I like things to be as small as possible, and that suited my needs for a while, back when I worked in retail or worked on one specific research project. Then things started getting busier and more varied at work, my social life got busier (thanks softball!), I joined the softball team committee, and I started planning a wedding. Suddenly, there wasn’t enough space on the page!

What I look for in a diary

  • A5 size – alllllll the space!
  • A monthly view – I use this to see the month’s birthdays at a glance, and to keep track of my finances. I use an orange erasable gel pen to mark spending, and a green one to record income and totals.
  • Day-to-a-page views – again, allllll the space. Here, I can keep track of meetings as well as specific tasks to accomplish. Work tasks go up top, and things to complete at home go towards the bottom. I also track daily spending on my Qantas cash card (frequent flyer points, y’all!)
  • Address pages – yeah, I know this is a bit of analog redundancy, since I keep all my friends’ and family’s addresses in my phone. But I’m a pen and paper enthusiast and it makes me happy to recopy them every year, not to mention reminding me to update addresses.
  • Notes pages – confession: I keep all my online passwords in my diary. They’re in shorthand so you couldn’t guess them, but I use this cheat sheet CONSTANTLY, at least a couple times a week.
  • Two ribbon bookmarks
  • An envelope for bits and bobs

When I write a task in my diary, I put a box next to it. When I complete the task, I put a check in the box. If I don’t complete the task that day but still need to do it, I put an arrow in the box and copy the task to the following day (I put feathers on my arrows so they’re cuter 😊). Tasks that are no longer relevant can just be crossed out, or ones that have been scheduled to deal with later can be marked with a circle. I’m not great at this but it’s a good idea to keep tasks bite-sized and specific, so that you can check them off easily and get the satisfaction of feeling like you’ve accomplished things.

I’ve used kikki.K diaries for the last few years, and I do love them, especially their Sweet range (unfortunately, there’s not a Sweet daily diary). In 2016, I used their A5 daily diary. I could have bought the same one this year (and in mint), but I found it a bit…dull. I considered getting their Cute daily diary, but it’s not super professional. I decided to check Notemaker for other options, and found a Japanese diary that I decided to take a chance on. I’m so glad I did! I can’t say it’s less dull than the basic kikki.K diary, but it’s smaller in width, height and thickness (did I mention I like compact things?) while still having plenty of space on the page. The cover is soft, which pleases me. It has all the elements I look for, plus more yearly and monthly planning pages, more notes pages, more space for addresses, a world map with time zones, and subway maps for all the major cities of the world! Just in case I find myself in Tokyo or Paris. It evens tells me famous people who were born or died on any given day. The only thing it’s missing is an envelope at the back, but I can easily paste  a cute one in.

Want to learn more about staying organised using good old fashioned pen and paper?

What’s the point of meditating?

Remember all that talk about life settling down? Ha! This is adulthood; it never settles down!

I have now moved to Renmark! Except that I’ve only spent one day there in the past two and a half weeks, and we’ll probably be moving out in a couple more weeks! In the past three weeks, I’ve been to Adelaide, Melbourne, Geelong, Adelaide, Renmark, Melbourne, Renmark (for one hour), and Adelaide. The Hubby is coming down to Adelaide this weekend for Christmas shopping, so I didn’t bother going to Renmark this week. Maybe next week?

The Hubby is not happy with his job, and has been offered a new one by an old friend on Kangaroo Island. I’ll be moving to Adelaide full-time (yay!) and the Hubby will move to KI part-time. So you can probably imagine that I’m a bit knackered and relatively wound-up from all the change and travel!

As we were driving the 8 hours back from Melbourne last weekend, I was really tired and irritable. I tried to nap, but was too exhausted to fall asleep! With my eyes closed and my neck pillow cushioning my head, I found myself remembering elements of a guided meditation from my “Mindfulness for Dummies” book. I hadn’t tried meditating for a couple months, but it just seemed to happen. I focused on my breathing and the rhythm of the road, and though it wasn’t truly mindful because i let my mind wander a bit, after 20 minutes, I felt more relaxed and rested than I had in weeks. The irritability was gone. I felt a certain gentleness and compassion towards the world, which sounds super wanky, but is kinda the point of mindfulness!

The next day at my new job (which I LOVE!), I joined the weekly, pre-lunch, guided meditation. My coworker gently guided us through compassionate statements toward ourselves, then someone we love unconditionally, then someone we feel neutral towards, then someone we struggle to feel love for. Afterwards, the tension I normally carry around in my shoulders was gone and I felt at ease.

“Mindfulness for Dummies” warns us not to have too many expectations for meditation. The argument is that it’s a practice worth engaging in regardless of what you get out of it, if anything. And if we go into with expectations, we may be disappointed with the results and abandon the practice. I haven’t been meditating regularly at all, and when I have meditated, I haven’t always felt significantly different. But those times when I do feel better – less stressed, less anxious, less cranky – they make me want to keep practicing.

On a completely different note, here are some photos of knitting projects I’ve been working on lately! First we have the Knit Your Own Dog kit, in beagle variety. My sister in law gave me the kit last Christmas, and I figured it was about time to make some progress on it. I’ll do a separate post on how this all works out.

Next, we have the Honeycomb vest, a pattern by Sarah Castor for The father in law gave me this wool for my birthday four years ago! I started the vest about three and a half years ago, and it has been almost complete for over a year. All I needed to do was finish the ribbing on the neckline and armholes. Why was that so daunting??

Next, we have a very special penguin. Jayne insisted that I make Clyde for her as a sort of apology/punishment for moving away 😆 Clyde is based on Anna Maltz’s Pinglewin pattern, from her gorgeous book, Penguin: a knit collection. Clyde is an albino penguin and he has knit himself a black hoodie so he doesn’t get stared at while at the shops. But for the moment, he is focused on cheering up Jayne and Richard and being there for them at a tough time. He’s a really good listener and loves a cuddle. (Sorry he/I missed your birthday, Jayne!)

Guest Blog: Self-compassion

I have recently come to realise that I don’t treat myself as gently as I do others. And I wonder whether this is a common theme in our lives. Why do we expect so much of ourselves and often much more than we do of others? Is it some subconscious superiority complex? Do we overestimate our own abilities? Or, is it that we simply don’t feel like we have another option?

I began evaluating this when I came to the realisation that my inner monologue was a lot harsher than anything I would ever say to anybody else. Part of me was willing to brush over it – I mean a bit of tough love never hurt anybody right? The other part was intrigued. After some introspection I have a theory (for myself at least).

When you give advice to someone else, they weight it up with their own ideals and eventually make some sort of a decision as to how they are going to act, think, feel etc. Sometimes there is opposing advice from other people, sometimes there isn’t, but at the end of the day you are put in a position where you have to recognise that the decision is theirs and you can’t necessarily know or understand all reasoning behind it.

On the other hand, most of us have a fairly intimate knowledge of our own thoughts and experiences. So when it comes to giving ourselves guidance, we are less accepting of our own apprehensions and concerns. And with this comes the sting of words we would never say to anyone else, a sting that becomes a normality after long enough.

From my own experience this reaction is most often due to a lack of patience. I find that if put in an emotionally taxing scenario that I know other people have also gone through, or which I deem to be insignificant in the grand scheme of things, I end up telling myself that it is unreasonable for me to take time to process or resolve the issue, or at the very least to be upset. ‘Just get over it’ has become a bit of a mantra, one that I think I need to change.

So how do we begin to treat ourselves more gently? Well that’s something I plan on working on over the next few months. I think that it will be a bit of trial and error, because it’s generally pretty ingrained to expect a lot of yourself, but hopefully this is another instance where practise makes perfect. I’m going to start by trying to recognise each time I expect more than is fair, and then try to be objective, as if I was giving advice to someone else. After all, I think we need to sometimes remember that we should treat ourselves with the same patience, acceptance and respect with which we aim to treat others.



If you’re looking for some support with self-compassion, try Dr Lydia Brown, a leader in mindfulness-based self-compassion in Melbourne:

When things fall apart…

I am sure it has not escaped anyone’s attention that yesterday was Election Day in the USA. As the world watched on America voted for change (I am being diplomatic). I was just one of the millions of people around the world who watched the results closely and experienced the range of emotions that such an event precipitated.

It was a great chance to practice all the skills I teach my clients. Those of noticing emotional responses without engaging with them; those of distraction; those of acceptance.


I did this by throwing myself into a project and focusing mindfully on the task. Paying attention to my own behaviours, rather than getting frustrated by other peoples’. I am often reminding clients that they cannot control other people, they can only control their own thoughts and behaviours (I remind them that the first ‘automatic thought’ is often not helpful but what they do with this is their choice). It is important that we are not complacent and accepting of everything, there is a need to fight for and live within our values. But there is also a need for acceptance at times, of letting go of the unhelpful thoughts and behaviours and moving beyond the unpleasant emotions.


I have become interested in a branch of psychology called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and will be undertaking training in this early next year. It is my understanding that this focuses on the above. Identifying your values, observing your emotions without too much ‘holding on’ and accepting unpleasant feelings rather than seeking perfect happiness.

So yesterday I got to live my own advice. I threw myself into making a party dress. I am calling it my ‘Trump-may-be-POTUS-but-I-have-a-pretty-dress’ dress. I used it as a distraction away from both medias (press and social) so that I did not become emotionally wrapped up in circumstances I could not control.

I used a Simplicity Pattern and a 100% cotton fabric. Magpie helped me with the cutting.


Because it was a quick project that I needed to complete in a day (I have a horrible habit of not completing things if they are left overnight), I set up the electric sewing machine on top of the old Singer. Sometimes shortcuts are fine!

The kids watched me from the window as I worked!! I guess it’s been a bit long since i did any sewing as they had no idea what I was doing.


Now, I have had clients ask me in the past if distraction is acceptable. ‘Is it not just ignoring the bad stuff?’ they want to know. The answer to that is that it is often an important step as it helps us to distance ourselves from the immediate emotion. When emotions are big, it is hard to challenge the thoughts that come with them. However, emotions change over time so taking some time out and giving yourself space helps the emotion to become manageable before you do the cognitive work. And it can be productive too!



I just want to leave you with a little quote that I have always loved. It is a prayer, and although I am not particularly religious, the message is a poignant one. Feel free to change the word God or remove it altogether, I hope it is helpful to you!


A productive day

I love getting a ‘free’ day off. On Tuesday it was the Melbourne Cup public holiday. I know there are controversies around horse racing and I don’t want to use this space to discuss them. So I am going to share with you how I spent my day!

This probably falls outside the realms of ‘craft’ (and I’m not sure there was any mindfulness involved) but Stuart and I spent the day gardening. We ripped out a very overgrown hedge/creeper thing that had overtaken most of the front fence, and was slowly working its way around the tree, then planted Jasmine instead.

We also planted some Camellia out the back and painted the wall in order to make the outside space more of an ‘entertaining’ area and less of a dark, cluttered mess. It still needs a table, but once the Camellias are flowering it should look nice and colourful!


After doing this on Tuesday, we then spent Wednesday night playing with the cats out in the front garden. It was enough to kick start a change in our routine (although I’m sure the longer nights help!). This reminded me of a basic tenet in solution focused psychology:

Small changes lead to bigger changes

This is such a simplistic quote that I actually went searching for something more meaningful, but it sums up so much. The small change of removing something we didn’t want and putting in something we did, has caused us to want to spend more time in the space. This led to us soaking up the day’s last rays rather than our usual routine of ‘TV on, mindless watching’. We felt better, we connected, and the kittens loved it!

kittens in garden.jpg

I think that surrounding ourselves by beauty is great, but taking pride in our surroundings is probably greater.

Check that negativity

I’ve been a particularly stressy stress-head for the last few months. I had two big things on the horizon (a wedding and an interstate move), plus two jobs that I didn’t have enough working hours to complete to a high standard.

I thought once the wedding was over, life would settle down and I’d be less stressed and more…happy. But life never really settles down, does it? And as a stress addict, I create anxiety even when life is going pretty smoothly.

Our wedding was three weeks ago and it was wonderful. I had such a great time! We spent three weeks in Hawaii, prepping for the wedding, partying, catching up with friends and family, and generally honeymooning. (In case you were wondering, yes, we did purchase rings in Hawaii and it was the easiest, most stress-free decision we made.) I came back to Melbourne relaxed and a bit dazed. My brain hadn’t quite returned to real life yet.


But it did. Oh man, did it. My husband still lives in South Australia, while I still live in Melbourne. We still spend five nights a week apart. He still drives 16 hours round trip to spend the weekends with me. I still have a big house full of crap to pack up (how do we own so much crap??) My job is still here, and it still sucks. There is still more work than I have time to do. And now I have even less time to do it than I thought, because I’m quitting in order to start a new job.

Wait, what? A new job? But that’s wonderful, isn’t it? Yes, it is, and I’m super excited about it, but I’ve let it cause me stress as well. I’ve let my thoughts become a dust storm inside my head, and I haven’t been able to think straight. The various things I’m trying to coordinate just keep whipping past and as I try to process one thought, another one slams into it. I slipped into a depression for a few days and I was blaming everything and everyone else until Hugh pointed out that it was me making a bigger deal of things than was necessary.

You mean, whether I get stressed out or anxious is a CHOICE? You mean, my ability to be mindful isn’t controlled by what’s going on in my life? There’s a novel thought.

I think part of the way I whip myself up into an anxious frenzy is by entertaining negativity and not allowing myself to believe that everything will work out just fine. I come to this realisation once every year or so, and then I start on something I call a Positivity Project that usually lasts about a week. It involves repeating positive mantras, and ignoring the niggling negative thoughts that I tend to prefer.

Everything WILL be okay. You WILL get your work done and your bosses WON’T hate you if you don’t. The new job WILL be great. The move WILL go smoothly. Living three days a week in one town and the other four in another WILL work and WILL be fun! You WILL get all the packing and cleaning and gardening done. And then you WILL live in matrimonial bliss with your new husband and your boxes and boxes of wool.


It’s time to communicate, effectively.

I do a lot of work with adolescent clients on how to communicate effectively and recently I had to draw on this for myself. Believe it or not, this is another story about bookshelves, but without the crafting!

In case you missed it, I have been waiting on bookshelves to be installed since January. And it has still not happened.

I have tried the patient thing, I have tried the humour thing, I have even tried the getting-someone-else-to-also-put-pressure-on thing. And yet I am still waiting on bookshelves. Now the problem with all of these things is that underlying all of my behaviours is the thought that ‘he must be really busy’. This goes back to a little bit of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy as described here. In reality the diagram is a little bit more complicated than shown previously…


This figure is taken from Dummet (2010) in the Advances in Psychiatric Treatment Journal and is a nice, clear way of seeing how our thoughts are triggered by early experiences, conditional assumptions and core beliefs. Now, I’m not going to give you a free psychoanalysis of my own core beliefs or assumptions. But I did come to the realisation after 8 months that my thought ‘he must be really busy’ comes with an underlying conditional assumption that ‘his busy is more important than my busy’. I too am busy, but if I failed to deliver a report after 8 months, the client would (rightly) walk away. Additionally, I have a (reasonable) expectation that if someone agrees to do something they will follow through.

This led me to think about how I teach communication styles to adolescents.

There are three communication styles (I tend to teach ‘Passive Aggressive’ communication as a type of ‘Aggressive’ communication):

communication styles.png

Back to my assumption that ‘his busy is more important than my busy’. This clearly fits right in to a passive communication and thinking style. And it wasn’t getting my anywhere. Because passive communication doesn’t tend to get you anywhere (incidentally, nor does aggressive communication, as people tend to put walls up).

Once I had realised this, I was able to challenge my thinking. Are his needs more important than mine? If he is too busy to do this, why hasn’t he told me he can’t? Is it reasonable to expect this to be done?

Once I had challenged my thinking it was time to change the behaviour! So I sent an assertive email stating what my needs and expectations are and that if these could not be met I would need to find someone else who could meet them. It was obviously important to include assertive messages, not aggressive ones. My message was short, to the point and used the following guidelines:

  • Try using a no-blame approach. It is important not to start out by flinging accusations or opening with grievances. Allow yourself to feel anger at the situation but don’t expect the other person to carry this for you.
  • Make clear, assertive requests. It is important you let the person know exactly what it is you expect or want. Don’t hide this in ‘aggressive’ language (e.g. ‘if it’s not too hard for you…’ or ‘It’s obviously too much trouble, but….’)
  • Include a ‘why’ or a ‘because’. I can remember a study from my undergraduate days that showed that people are more likely to comply if you include the word ‘because’ in your request. This worked even when you did not include an actual reason (i.e. ‘can I please use the copier first because I need to make some copies’ was just as effective as ‘can I please use the copier first because I am in a rush’).
  • Validate the other person’s feelings and efforts. Make sure you acknowledge that their needs are as important as yours, tell them you appreciate the effort.
  • Be willing to negotiate. If the person cannot meet your expectations, be willing to negotiate with them. If needed you can always find another person to do it, but they are more likely to be helpful in the future if you do this in a respectful way.

These tips worked for me! And I have an installation date for the bookcases one week!





Spending time in my comfort zone

As a psychologist I am constantly working with my clients on the idea of ‘Distress Tolerance’. This is important in our lives as we do not want to be too tolerant to unpleasant sensations or emotions as we won’t then be motivated to change them; nor do we want to avoid distress as then we will withdraw from any negative experiences (which can lead to depression, substance misuse and OCD behaviours).

This is also a concept with which I am engaged during my yoga practice. It is said that the yoga mat is a reflection of your life and I think this is where they can be evidenced best. If you can remain in a pose that is not comfortable (but is not painful) and notice how the sensation changes over time, you can apply this to life too. But you must be aware of your limitations as well and not push yourself until you do damage.

Mindfully paying attention to the sensation, without judgement or labels, allows you to notice more and tolerate more both in yoga and in life.

With all of that being said, sometimes we just have to know when to stay put and not push ourselves.

I like using Maslow’s Hierarchy to explain this to clients. Maslow posited that we must meet the basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid before trying to engage in tasks further up the pyramid.

This week I have been working right at the base. I have been ill and have needed a lot of rest. Thursday I put myself first and left work, needing to reschedule my clients (which is a huge deal to me) so that I could rest and feel better. And this got me thinking about comfort.

 When I went home I went immediately to comforts and rest. I binge watched my favourite guilty pleasure TV show (One Tree Hill), found a bar of Green & Blacks chocolate in the back of the pantry and pulled out my knitting. It was bliss! It also helped me to recover from my illness and not to prolong it.

Chilling with the kids on the sofa.

When we are ill this is an easy thing to do. We know that rest will do us good. But are we as good at doing this at times when the stress is emotional or mental rather than physical? Do you put yourself first and focus on building from the base upwards?

While it isn’t always best to slow down and rest, I think we need to recognise in ourselves what we need in any given moment. Is it time to push our boundaries and pursue new or creative ideas? Or is it time for old favourites and woolly pijamas?

We need both in our lives. And part of living mindfully is accepting our needs without judgement and meeting these in a healthy way.

Pedicures are a part of my looking-after-myself routine and so I went for one as soon as I could leave the couch! Bliss.




How can I be more resilient?

I’ve been pretty dang stressed out lately. I mean, I’m always stressed out. But what with two jobs, two bosses who don’t communicate well with each other, a ton of deadlines looming, a destination wedding to plan, an interstate move coming up and a fiancé in another state, I’ve started feeling like I might crack under the pressure.

When I get busy and start to feel overwhelmed, I try to make to-do lists so that nothing will get forgotten or neglected. In a way, this can help me to make order out of the chaos, and makes me feel like I have a bit more control over the situation. But it can also make the problem worse. I tend to prioritise everything on the list equally, despite the fact that the world won’t end if I don’t get a couple things taken care of this week. For example, if Hugh and I get to Hawaii without having purchased wedding rings, is that really a problem? Surely, we can buy some lovely jewelry when we get there. Or even buy plastic toy rings from a vending machine. Our wedding will be wonderful and meaningful regardless of whether we have some expensive metal bands to “seal the deal.”

Furthermore, once I’ve made a long list of to-do’s, I have a tendency to mentally turn the items on the list into bricks, which I then stack on my shoulders and carry around with me for days. Not super healthy. No wonder I have back problems!

There are days when I’m not sure I’ll make it to the weekend. There are days when I’m not sure I’ll make it to 5 o’clock! But I do. And then I spend the evening relaxing, whether with friends or on my own, and I feel better the next day. Every time I think to myself, “this is it, this is where I crack!” it doesn’t happen. I make it through another day.

cat friday

I found this article the other day that explained how I manage to feel better despite having the same number of stressors: because resilience isn’t about how strong or tough you are or how well you endure hardship, it’s about how you recharge. By treating myself gently in the evenings instead of trying to tough it out and get a couple extra hours of work done, I allow my weary mind and tense shoulders to recover, even just a little. When we did Christmas in July, the weekend was super busy and I didn’t relax much, but being around some of my favourite people helped me recharge all the same (that’s not to say I wasn’t a miserable git at softball that Sunday…)

I’ve been doing yoga once a week with Julia, and I know she tries to fit in as much yoga as possible around her long hours of work. The effects may not last long, but if we can relax for even an hour or two, I know that’s doing us a world of good!

So be kind to yourselves this week, lovies. We don’t have to be soldiers! We just need to learn to power down and recharge.