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  1. I do love Christmas. I love spending time with family and friends, I love hearing Christmas songs and seeing all the lights and decorations and I love the magic that is around at this time of year.

    But it can also be a stressful and overwhelming time of year too. Especially if you're a people-pleasing overthinker like me! It is easy to drown in a never-ending to-do list as you strive to deliver the perfect Christmas, as you constantly worry that the kids won't be happy, that people won't enjoy their dinner and that your bank balance will never recover.

    Every year, the 'Christmas Thing' seems to get bigger – and last longer. Increasingly impressive TV adverts paint full-colour images of the perfect Christmas, there seems to be a growing list of things that we feel we should do, like Christmas Eve boxes and Christmas pyjamas and even advent calendars just keep getting bigger and more impressive (and expensive!). It is so easy to get swept up with the idea that it is all these things that are vital for a successful Christmas – that Christmas is about a flawless dinner, giving a mountain of gifts you can't really afford to buy and skipping your way through the festive season with a smile on your face whilst belting out your best Mariah Carey impression.

     But when we stop, step off the commercial Christmas machine and remind ourselves what Christmas should mean for us then we realise that all these things are lovely – but they're not vital. If we allow ourselves to have the Christmas that we want, that is about the things that are really important to us, then it really doesn't matter if the gravy is lumpy, if the star falls off the Christmas Tree or indeed, if there are days when you want to punch Noddy Holder in the face because you're really not in the mood for Christmas cheer.

     dr seuss xmas quote

    And this is why I am wishing you a very Merry Imperfect Christmas this year.

    I want you to really think about what Christmas is about for you this year. Is it about having the best Christmas Tree in the village or is it about spending quality time with your family? Is it about hosting a perfect event or making precious memories? As soon as you pause and reflect on why you get swept up in all this madness, you will also hopefully realise that we can put so much pressure on ourselves to make the unimportant stuff perfect, that we miss out on the really valuable stuff.

    So to help keep us all focussed on what is important this year, and help stop us getting swept up in the craziness, I am running the Happy Mind Army Imperfect Christmas – and I want you to join me, and spread the word so that more people can join us and lift some of the stress and anxiety out of the holiday season. And there will be 3 main ways you can join in:

     

    1) The Happy Mind Army Advent Calendar

    Every day from 1st December through to Christmas Day, I will be doing a post in the HMA Facebook Group to help keep you focussed on YOUR Christmas, not the Christmas you think you should be having! These posts will be a mix of stuff including inspiring quotes, ideas for homemade gifts, time-saving tips and plenty of reassurance that you don't have to fit in to anyone else's version of Christmas.

    Life also still has the same challenges at this time of year – you could be grieving, having financial difficulties or struggling with illness – so feeling that you still have to live up to this idea of a perfect Christmas can be too much to bear. So HMA is here to remind you that you don't.

    Steering your way through the festive season with clear focus on your goal, YOUR Christmas, can really help take some of the anxiety away from trying to be everything to everyone. You might love all the lights, tinsel and trimmings and have a Christmas jumper for every day of the week, or you might find it all a bit too much and want a quiet understated Christmas – either way, you can make sure you enjoy and find joy in your festivities, not feel you have to survive them! There is no such thing as a 'perfect Christmas' so you shouldn't put pressure on yourself to deliver one!

    Rules for a Happy Christmas

     

    2) The Happy Mind Army Imperfect Christmas Photo-A-Day Challenge

    Hosted mainly on Instagram, but running across Facebook and Twitter, there will also be a photo challenge running during this advent period. Life gets pretty hectic at this time of year, so the idea of this challenge is to get to you be more mindful, to stop every now and then and be in the moment, and enjoy some of the things that are easy to miss when you're hurtling around at a million miles an hour.

     It's about slowing down the pace, having a moment and giving yourself the opportunity to be present and enjoy the festive season – not miss it all with your head buried in a to-do list!

    Each day will have a prompt word which you can use as a springboard for ideas for an image that you post on social media that day. A list of all the words, and more details about what it involves, will be posted on instagram and in the HMA Facebook Group very soon.

     

    3) My weekly Monday Mindset Manouvres Email

    If you haven't already signed up for my weekly Monday email you can do so here. These emails take just a few minutes to read, but help set you up in the right frame of mind for the week ahead. During the festive season my emails will also tie-in to the #HMAImperfectChristmas to help make sure you remain calm and in control throughout the pre-Christmas madness.

     imperfect christmas intro pic

    So, make sure you sign-up for the emails, follow me on Instagram and join the HMA Facebook Group so you too can embrace an imperfect Christmas and paradoxically discover just how perfect it can be!

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  2. Creating and maintaining a healthy and positive mindset is like creating and maintaining physical health – it requires daily work and the developing of healthy daily habits. Small changes, repeated over time can lead to a massive positive impact on your mental health.

    So I'm inviting you to join in with a challenge that is designed to help you do just that – build in a small, daily habit that can bring with it big improvements to your self-esteem and overall mindset.

    van gogh quote

    Your challenge for November is to create a 'You're A Star Jar'.

    Every day, I want you to record something good that you achieved that day. You need to write this down on a strip of paper, which you will fold into an origami lucky star and pop into a clean empty jar.

    star jar pic

    There are loads of tutorials online that will show you how to fold the stars if you search for origami lucky stars (I found this short YouTube clip useful) - they can be a little bit fiddly at first, but after you've tried it a few times you should hopefully be able to do them quite quickly from memory. (From my experience, if you spend a bit of time getting the first 'knot' right, it makes the following folds dead easy! And I found 1.5cm strips cut from the long edge of a piece of A4 paper worked really well)

    As the month progresses you should see your jar filling up with stars, all of which have given you the chance to pause and recognise the positives from each and every day. And we're not just talking massive victories here (but definitely record them too when they happen!) – we're also talking about the small stuff, the everyday stuff that we often take for granted (in our own skills as well as in life in general!) So, for example, things you achieve could be making a phone call you've been putting off, saying no to something, accepting a compliment or driving somewhere new. Think of anything that has challenged you, pushed you out of your comfort zone or recognises a gesture of kindness or thoughtfulness you have shown to somebody else.

    small victories quote

    You might not think of these things as anything great, but if you can do this exercise daily, as the jar fills up it is a clear reminder of how all these small things add up and of just how much you do achieve each and every day. And don't be surprised if at first you struggle to work out what to write. We are all experts at highlighting times when we do things wrong, put our foot in it or think we could have done better – but we're not actually very good at acknowledging all the things we do get right every day (until now that is!)

    This is also a lovely challenge to include children in – asking them to write something down that they have achieved every day will also help them build their self-esteem and confidence. They may need help folding the stars but they can enjoy writing their achievements out in colourful pens and fancy writing and feel proud of themselves as the jar fills up.

    This challenge is also a chance for you to get a bit creative. You can enjoy a few minutes every day just writing out your achievement and folding your star, or you could jot them down in a notebook for a few days and then sit for a while making a few stars, using different papers, pens and even experimenting with different sizes. Enjoy the time creating your jar (which will then also become a beautiful item to keep and be a constant reminder of just what a star you are!)

    Now I am terrible for loving the idea of challenges like this and then never having the time to do them – or should I say finding the time to do them. But I am determined to do this along with you all – I waste time every day scrolling through Social Media far too often so I can certainly find the time to dedicate to something that can have a really positive impact on my life!

    I will be sharing more lovely stuff about this challenge over in the Happy Mind Army Facebook group (including the exclusive HMA 'You're A Star Jar' label!') so make sure you join in the fun over there (I am also hoping you will all share some pics of your growing jars too – and then we can all get a bit jar competitive ha ha!)

     lucky jar examples

    A few things to remember though before we start:

    I encourage you to record something each and every day (or even more than one thing every day if you want to) but if you miss a day (or a few days) or fall of the wagon completely then that is completely ok too (do what you can, when you can).

    Enjoy the process! The creative element of the challenge is there on purpose to make you spend a bit of time (even if it is just a few minutes every day) reflecting and recognising your own achievements. So cut some paper, get some nice pens out, even throw a doodle or 2 in there and enjoy a bit of creativity.

    If you spend a few minutes at the beginning of the challenge cutting quite a few strips of paper ready then it really doesn't take much time at all every day to make your star!

     

    And feel free to share! I would love as many people as possible to join in a challenge that I have designed to be fun, simple to do without a massive time commitment but which can have a positive and long-lasting impact on your self-esteem and confidence. So please share this post with people you think would like to get involved and why not share the filling of your jar with other members of your family? How lovely would a family 'You're A Star Jar' be :)

    I will see you and your stars over in the HMA Facebook group soon,

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  3. The core theme in all my current work comes back to one strong message – be who you are, love who you are.

    Working towards this one main aim covers all the topics I include in my painting and talk about on this blog and over in the Happy Mind Army facebook group – self confidence (and self-doubt!), overthinking, stepping out of our comfort zone, developing positive mental health, being kind to ourselves – all the things that can help, or hinder, us building a marvellous mindset and staying mentally healthy.

    And I think one crucial factor in us 'being who we are', is listening to our whispers, our niggles – those feelings deep down which tell us what we want to do and strive for in this one life we get. On paper, being who you are seems like the simplest thing in the world. Surely, just by waking up and breathing you are being you – but in reality, I think many of us get so trapped in the rat race of jobs, careers, paying the bills, even sometimes keeping up appearances, that often the 'real you' can get lost along the way.

    sail away quote

    I truly believe that ignoring these niggles can lead to a life of frustration – perhaps on a scale big enough to have an impact on mental health. And I believe that we can become so used to ignoring our own 'callings', burying them deep, that we even become frustrated with our own sense of frustration! We may feel unfulfilled or unhappy and we're not quite sure why. And unless we start listening and tuning into these niggles again, we can't do anything about them.

    So, my challenge to you is to start listening out for your niggles. You may already have a strong calling towards something, but feel it is so far-fetched that you try and hush it up – maybe it would call for a change of career, returning to education, a shake-up of relationships or even just a change of routine that would cause a few problems. Maybe you have been following the same old routine for so long that you can't even remember the last time you stopped to think about what you are here for, what would make you feel alive.

    But it is never too late to do it. Over in the Facebook group and in my social media this month I have been talking a lot about self-care and a big part of this is giving yourself permission to be who you are and to pursue things which fire you up. We are only here once (and who knows for how long) so we all deserve to live the life we are here to live – not someone else's version of life, but ours, no matter how different it is to everybody else's.

    Ask yourself, if you didn't have to worry about money, time, childcare or anybody else's opinion what would you do? Don't try and edit it or tone it down, answer honestly (you don't have to tell anyone else!) – and also allow yourself some time to find the answer. As I said, we can become so used to burying our niggles that we become numb to our own passions and interests. But when you do start to find some answers, free of limits and anyone else's opinion, somewhere within there might be a spark of something, a spark that can be the beginning of you coming back to life, or even just feeling back in control of life a bit again.

    just do it

    It might possibly be something that makes you reflect on huge areas of your life such as family, career, where you live, where you work - life-changing decisions can be made even when you think you are firmly embedded in a certain way of life. If who we are deep down, isn't in tune with the life we are outwardly leading then I really do believe this can be the source of deep unhappiness.

    But it doesn't have to be huge, life-changing decisions your niggles lead to. You might enjoy your job, be in a happy relationship and you may just uncover some small things, but small things that can have a huge impact on your happiness and sense of fulfilment. Maybe you will remember how much you loved performing when you were younger and it leads you to look at local Amateur Dramatics groups, maybe you acknowledge the frustration that you and your partner used to spend lots of time cooking together and now with work and family life you never do – so you vow to introduce a monthly evening where you bring masterchef back into the household! It could be that you remember how much you love reading, or that you've always wanted to learn to paint, to ride a motorbike or run a marathon! Whatever those niggles are, we need to stop hushing them up because life gets in the way and we need to start listening to them because they are in fact what makes us come alive.

    We owe it to ourselves, and our short time on this planet, to live our fullest life. To do the things which make us come alive and in turn make us more the person we were put here to be. Doing things which light us up is not selfish – ignoring them is to miss out on being who we are and loving who we are – and you know how important I think that is!

    So, turn up the volume on your niggles, get in tune with them and start having more than just any life, start living YOUR life!

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