It was cool to chat with Maggie Zhou in her article for Refinery29 about the lingering impact of toxic Tumblr feeds. You can read it here.
I was fortunate enough to get to chat about the best show on TV right now, with Thomas Mitchell from The Sydney Morning Herald. You can check it out here.
Phew. We made it. It did feel touch-and-go for a few moments there, huh? A spiralling global pandemic…again. Disconnection. Isolation. Confusion and uncertainty. This year called us to confront some of the more challenging aspects of being a human being alive on planet earth, and while I won’t lie and say it was easy, I will say that it provided many opportunities to work through challenges, confront discomfort and practice asking for, and accepting, help (as difficult as that can feel).
Something that I kicked off last year, inspired by James Clear’s Annual Reviews, is to take stock of what the year held for me – particularly how I was able to live in alignment with my values, move towards goals, live with intention and just bloody enjoy myself sometimes.
I share these publicly on my blog not with the intention to boast and whine (although, no one can deny the reality of mixed motivations) but in case it can be of any help to you. Of course, you will need to reflect on your year in the context of your own life, but this might lend a little structure to your own personalised look-back and allow you to take pride in your accomplishments, learn from challenges and create momentum towards fresh goals.
What went well for me this year?
Raising A Baby
Guys, raising a baby is hard f*cking work. I wasn’t sure whether I should put this in the “what went well” or below in the “what didn’t go so well” section, as the nature of child-raising is relentless and chaotic. It can be difficult to know if you’re doing it right. However, if Levon is anything to go by, then he is a shining star of joy and curiosity, and I feel bloody proud to have helped support his journey through the world so far. I’m grateful for the time I spent with him – even all the days that seemed aimless, dull, frustrating and never-ending. And I’m hugely grateful for the help of my wonderful parents – who model the most incredible love, support and mindful presence that a grandchild could want. One of the untold joys of bringing a kid into the world is undoubtedly watching family and friends extend their love and time to your child. I’m so happy (and Levon is so lucky) to have so many people like this.
In the year coming… I would like to make time to be fully present with Levon, to visit new places, try new things, dance, sing, play, read, watch movies and laugh…a lot. I want to be open to all that he has to teach me about patience, curiosity, openness, freedom and autonomy, and I want to do the The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment on him. 😅
This year, I worked a lot, so it’s a good thing that I love what I do!
- I am almost ready to submit for my General Registration as a Psychologist (wiew!) after a big year, which involved passing the National Psychology Exam, submitting all my case reports, conducting tests & assessments and working with my incredible clients.
- It was a big year for workshops and I’ve found so much joy in putting them together and facilitating them. I’m grateful to have worked with some amazing organisations and companies, including Pinterest, Linktree, Pedestrian TV, Linktree, APRA/AMCOS, Live Nation, UNIFIED and heaps more. I am also proud of my bespoke well-being booster pack workshops, that I hope to facilitate into the new year!
- I held my first in-person (okay, half in-person, half via-zoom ~ thanks COVID) course Get Your Sh*t Together, for The Indigo Project.
- I was involved in a range of awesome projects with Support Act, including their monthly On My Mind webinars, the Plug-In workshop series for Aussie music crew workers, and heaps of workshops & Insta-lives. They offered so much support for the Aussie music scene through this past year and I’m proud to be working with them.
- I also contributed to a number of articles and publications, for The Guardian, ABC, Refinery 29, Sydney Morning Herald and Zee Feed. My favourite of which has to be the smh mental health profile on Succession characters.
- I launched Heavy Mental, and with that, a bunch of custom merch which people actually bought. Which was so cool.
In the year coming… I would like to secure my general registration as a psychologist (big life goal), hold more in-person workshops (COVID, move aside, kindly) and continue to create impactful, evidence-backed psychology and self-development content with passionate, like-minded people.
Friends & Family
This year, I made social self-care a real priority, as it’s true that once you have a kid, it’s easy to tumble down a parental abyss and lose touch with important people. However, socialising looked a little different this year, thanks to Lockdown 2.0. My birthday was spent celebrating at home, but we set up an impromptu photoshoot, and my friends threw me an awesome murder mystery zoom party. I’m grateful for the extra time I got to spend with my partner (who didnt get to work a whole lot), and for all the thoughtful check-in’s people sent me throughout the year.
In the year coming… I would like to be open to cultivating new friendships, particularly in the psych and academia world, and I’d like to host more dinner parties!
While it definitely took a few years to get into a good groove with my habits, I’m so proud to have done the groundwork for what is undoubtedly some very supportive and helpful habits, that help keep my mental health in check, and that allow me to feel like I’m living into my values a little bit everyday.
My DuoLingo “German” streak is at 674. That’s almost two whole years of commitment. I still feel like I can barely string to words together, but alles in ordnung, it’s about the process not the product.
Daily Meditations using the Waking Up app (as well as Insight Timer and Headspace, depending on what my needs are). I feel like Sam Harris’ guided sessions have invited me to connect with mindfulness in a new and empowering way.
Regular posting on Instagram. I know, a boring one, but something that allows me to write a reflect a little each day and noodle about with fun graphics.
I read 57 books! Lots of psychology and personal development stuff. Reading was a true highlight of my year this year, for sure!
Where the Crawdads Sing
The 10X Rule
Darkness is Golden
The Changing Mind
ACT with Love
The Algebra of Happiness
Make Time for Creativity: Finding Space for Your Most Meaningful Work
It Didn’t Start With You
The Culture Code
The Wisdom of Psychopaths
The confidence gap
The No Asshole Rule
If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Happy?
Come as You Are
Rule Makers & Rule Breakers
The Quick Fix
The Midnight Library
Sometimes Therapy Is Awkward
The Mother Wound
The Untethered Soul
The Success Experiment
The Book You Wish Your Parents Read
Dare to Lead
How To Do The Work
The Practicing Mind
9 Nasty Words
The Happiness Trap
Four Thousand Weeks
Power of Now
Stumbling on Happiness
The Compound Effect
The Gift Of Therapy
In the year coming… I would like to continue committing to these healthy habits. I’d also like to add a daily writing habit into the mix, in an effort to move closer towards the completion of my phd. I definitely would like to fine-tune the habits surrounding my groceries & meal-prep, and strength & fitness training too.
Savings & Contributions
Super proud to have smashed my savings goal this year (even after some sneaky surprise expenses showing up), and learned more about crypto investments (thanks dad!) I made some donations to Effective Altruism too.
In the year coming… I would like to learn more about crypto and throw my hat in the ring with some investing (as scary as it feels!) I am still interested in setting aside some of my salary each month to donate to Effective Altruism charities, even though I didn’t quite get there this year.
What didn’t go so well for me this year?
While I have been proud of the work I’ve done on my phd so far – including sharing my survey, sourcing a sample of over 600 people, and delivering presentations, I feel like there is still a great deal more to be done. I’m looking forward to shifting my focus for 2022 to prioritise writing and submitting to journals.
In the year coming… I would like to immerse myself a little more in the academic space, commit to a daily writing habit (in order to keep my head in the research), and submit some writing for publication.
Art & Music
Last year, I did have visions to spend more time on art and music (specifically learning piano), however, neither of these really got much of a look in during 2021. Sometimes, life is about focusing on certain things to the exclusion of others, and so instead of mourning the time I didn’t commit to art & music, I’m instead going to be proud of the small creative challenges I’ve embarked upon (using the W1D1 app) and the digital art I’ve created for my Instagram Profile and merch. I also made it to Clay Sydney for a class!
In the year coming… I would like to continue to eke out time and space for creativity, wherever I can find it.
Diet & Fitness
This year was certainly an improvement in regards to my diet and exercise, but I hold myself to high standards on this front and feel like I could make my life easier by putting some strategies in place to make healthy eating & mindful movement a more structured and predictable part of my life. I have loved my weekly Rock’n’Pole classes, which have helped me feel more in my-body, and enjoyed the yoga practice I committed to through lockdown. I’ve also re-joined the gym!
In the year coming… I want to commit to 4 sessions of exercise per week, including a yoga class, and a HIIT class. I would also like to organise & meal prep, so that we’re eating healthier food more regularly and we’re modelling a healthy and balanced diet for Levon.
What did I learn this year?
Thinking you should “feel differently” creates friction with reality
This past year, I’ve really dedicated myself to a regular mindfulness practice and for the most part, I am living the benefits – less reactive, quicker to notice sensations in my body that I can meet with curiosity and compassion, able to choose my actions, reactions and behaviours with greater intention. However, one of the things that comes up time and time again for me, outside of practice, is the recurring thought that I should be feeling differently to however I am feeling in the moment. This has been most apparent in time spent with bub, where we might be playing or hanging out, and I recognise the oppressive feeling of boredom. I can then become quite hostile at the fact that I’m bored, and my mind runs with stories like “If you were a good mum, you wouldn’t be feeling bored, you’d be feeling present and connected and grateful”. A friend and I also spent a few nights in Byron Bay this year, and as we watched an incredible sunset go down over The Farm, we both discussed how we were assailed with thoughts like “I should be enjoying this more than I am. I should be happier right now, in this moment.” which resulted in added disappointment. What I’m slowly realising now, is that these thoughts, these cognitive critiques on feelings, are barriers to presence and connection. The more I think into them, the more I struggle against whatever simply is in the present moment. These thoughts attempt to resist reality, and instead of allowing me the freedom to be more connected or present, they drag me down deeper into a pit of uncomfortable and challenging emotions. I’m continuing to learn that you cannot think your way into feeling differently (no matter how much CBT you’re smashing out). Sometimes, acceptance is the best tool we’ve got.
Small committments are better than no committments.
Simply moving through this end-of-year reflection, I’m recognising how much small committments are worth. I used to be an all-or-nothing type – jumping in, with both feet to some new project or practice, only for it to fizzle out, be abandoned and then onto the next thing (or back to the old, unhelpful thing). This year has seen me dedicate myself to healthy practices, without a sense of military-style regimen. So I could miss a day or two, or a week or two, and simply start back up again. The old me would’ve thought “What’s the point?”, but the wiser me can recognise the fact that good things done sometimes is better than never at all.
Giving up on the person you think you are allows you to be whatever you want to be.
Thanks to Sam Harris’ Waking Up app, I’ve been thinking more about the nature of self. I’ve been asking questions such as, “Is my self some continuous enduring force, lurking in the one body, glimpsing through the same set of eyes? Living out the one, congruent life?” Sam’s meditations explore the idea of consciousness and he likes to challenge this idea of an enduring self, that sense of being an “I” inside your mind. This was all incredibly confusing and mind-bending to wrap my head around initially, but as I move through his meditations (and the other thought-provoking reflections in the app), I find that he makes a good point. Much of what we experience as “I” is not generated or “thought up” by us, but merely experienced by us. And with mindfulness practice, we can learn to experience our “I“-ness more mindfully, with less resistance and hostility, and less commitment to being trapped in a restrictive, immoveable self.
Get clear on what’s important.
Understanding your values can be clarifying and nourishing, but living into them can be really f*cking hard. One thing I’ve learned is that doing the things that keep you aligned with your values wont always be easy, and sometimes (lots of times, even) challenging feelings will arise. When we’re guided into doing Values work, I think many of us harbour this latent desire that once we’re living a values-driven life, that everything will feel good in pure alignment, and we’ll always be happy and fulfilled. Ain’t that a load of bs. Suffering is inescapable. But we do get to decide what is worth suffering for. And since getting clear on my values and what’s important to me, I’ve realised that I can look back across the year and feel pretty damn proud that the suffering I endured (in the form of sleepless nights consoling a screaming baby, exhausted hours spent hunched over exam notes, compassion-fatigue from client-facing work, disruptive fears I’m not smart or eloquent enough to run workshops or write articles, boredom at the thought of cooking another healthy meal, or doing another morning yoga class, or sitting through another meditation…) has all been worth it. Because I chose it, knowing it’s in the service of how/who I want to be.
I had a chat to The Guardian about how historical dramas can be good for our mind. You can read the full article here.
How A Rude Shock in a Yoga Class Got Me To Confront An Exhausting Habit
After four months of cramming my yoga mat on the floor of my busy living room, in amongst plastic whales, teethers and the detritus of baby-food missed in the flurry of a nightly clean up, I was excited to do my first class back at an actual yoga studio. A semi-regular yoga practice had been an anchor for me through lockdown, allowing me to reconnect with my body, embrace movement and flow, and focus on my breath in amidst a sea of uncertainty and anxiety. Yoga felt like the perfect invitation to connect with my felt experience of moving and being, in a world that is so suffocatingly obsessed with proving and doing.
But, I got a rude shock a few min into my first communal yoga class back, when I scanned around the room, swiftly evaluated the poses of those around me and immediately noticed a loud thought arising, that said…
Barely 5-min into a class that I attended for my own personal progress and growth, and I was already scrambling to compare myself with other people, and judging myself as good or bad depending on where I happened to fit on the yoga-doers hierarchy… in a GENTLE FLOW class, less than ONE WEEK after a 4-month lockdown.
Huge Buddha energy right there.
Why Are We Obsessed With Comparing Ourselves to Each Other?
My rush to comparison is a deeply human habit, and one that I have had plenty of practice with throughout my lifetime. In fact, comparing ourselves with others has been a staple of the human experience, given that we learn a great deal about how to behave and how to adhere to social norms based on observing other people’s behaviour, and the subsequent results or consequences of that behaviour – imagine a mum at a grocery store pointing out another well-behaved toddler to her own explosive child in full tantrum-mode, and saying “If you’re good like that little girl you can get a finger bun with sprinkles for the car ride home…”
The desire for status is also a feature we’ve inherited from our mammalian ancestors, and one that requires constant comparison and analysis of other people’s levels of power and prestige, so that we might evaluate where we fit within the social hierarchy.
It’s no wonder that we’re obsessed with comparison, but over the past few months (even before this embarrassing yoga experience) I have noticed how it’s become an almost constant feature in my daily life. I’m driven to compare myself as a mother, as a writer, as a psychologist, as a public speaker. I compare my body to other people’s bodies (“They’re so much fitter than I am…”). I compare my IG account to other peoples IG accounts (“They have wayyy more followers than I do…”). I compare my successes to other peoples successes (“That person has published a book! I haven’t published a book!”).
There are two different types of comparisons we make, upward and downward comparisons, and while they seem like polar opposites, they both wind up enforcing a dangerous ideal – that our worthiness is something that we judge based on the achievements & aptitude of others.
Upward & Downward Comparisons
Downward comparisons, that is the kind you make involving people you consider as doing or being worse than yourself, can ignite a cheap and transient experience of euphoria in the moment (“I am so great, I’m better than you”). On the flip side, upward comparisons are the kind you make with people you consider as doing or being better than yourself, that often leave you struck with feelings of inadequacy, incompetence and failure (“I am so shit, they’re so much better than me”). Social media creates a rife and fertile ground for upward comparisons, as you’re bound to find people on social media who present themselves with lives, jobs, families and achievements that look rudely superior to your own.
Although the immediate, felt experiences following upward/downward comparisons might be different, the act of comparison itself (regardless of its direction) is a habit that reinforces the importance of visible or external factors on your sense of worthiness & success. It constantly requires looking outside of yourself for who you are and how you’re doing, and constantly requires you to scramble to “please, perform, perfect & prove” (as Brene Brown puts it) in order to establish your worthiness.
The Comparison Grasp
You can also become easily addicted to the fleeting euphoria of evaluating yourself as better than others (kind of like a nangs-style ego boost), leaving you chasing it constantly (kind of like me in that yoga class). I’ve given this a name – The Comparison Grasp. That jolt to compare is almost like me grasping for a quick feel-good fix, but the other side to it is, that, if I don’t think or feel like I’m doing better than others, I cop a gross, feel-bad blow. From there, I’ll then force myself to “please, perform, perfect & prove” to increasingly greater degrees, in an effort to grasp again for the chance of that fix. It’s an exhausting and chaotic way to live.
Can We Get Over the Compulsion to Comparison Grasp?
Well, the real talk is that we probably can’t – not completely. There will likely be a running dialogue in your mind urging you towards comparisons – more so, if you’ve found yourself entrenched in the habits of “pleasing, performing, perfecting & proving” your way to feeling worthy of love and belonging.
But what we can do is notice when these thoughts and the urge to “comparison grasp” arises. We can acknowledge that the act of constant comparisons reduces life and experience to a very narrow and rigid dichotomy – better/worse, good/bad, success/fail. And we can acknowledge that indulging in the cheap thrill of a “I’m better than you” downward-comparison leaves us at the mercy of suffering the discomfort and disappointment when we’re faced with the inevitable upward-comparison that says “You’re better than me.”
When you find yourself drawn to the urge to comparison grasp, just as I did in the yoga class that day, your best next step is to pause and take a breath. Unhook from the flurry of thoughts cascading through your mind by allowing yourself to sink back into the experience of being in your body.
You can do this in a yoga class, or while scrolling instagram, or while your kid’s having an exorcist-style meltdown. Recognise that the urge to comparison grasp is natural and human, but the result of being driven by these grasps leaves us trapped in an exhausting and unwinnable race. A race that pits us against friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers, where life becomes something to win or lose. Gently guide yourself back to your own lane and be present with your experience for what it is, in that moment – something not necessarily good or bad, better or worse, but rather a gesture in the kaleidoscope of growth & experience that we call life.
The wild and wooly world of dating can be a tough one to navigate. I got to chat to Rachel from ABC Everyday about the psychology behind ghosting and what’s the classiest way you can slide out of a dating-situation. Read the whole article here.
I had a chat with Steph from Lifehacker about Love-Bombing, what it might look like in a relationship and what you can do if it starts happening to you.
You can read the full article here.
This year has certainly been one to remember. It’s been said that there are some years that ask questions and other years that answer them. This year has held a great deal of answers for me, as well as much learning and reflection.
Something that I have found increasingly useful to do at the close of the year is take stock of what the year held for me – particularly how I was able to live in alignment with my values, move towards goals, live with intention and just bloody enjoy myself sometimes.
I’m sharing this below in case it might be helpful to you (even though it does feel a little boastful/whiney to be putting this out publicly). Of course, you will need to reflect on your year in the context of your own life, but this might lend a little structure to your lookback and allow you to take pride in your accomplishments and create momentum towards your goals.
What went well for me this year?
This year I grew and birthed a beautiful, healthy baby. So that was pretty cool.
In the year coming… I would like to spend quality time with Levon, be present as he grows up (they do that pretty quick, so I’ve heard), and mindfully and compassionately introduce him to the world.
I am proud of how I progressed this year with my psychology work – getting 6 months into my provisional licence, working with clients and learning lots about therapeutic interventions and ways to support others. I wrote a bunch of cool blogs and articles on behalf of The Indigo Project. I also got to hold a bunch of Zoom-workshops, courtesy of Support Act, where I chatted about mental health and hopefully helped some folks learn a little more about their minds, emotions and behaviour. I enjoyed facilitating workshops for Big Sound and would love to do more of this in the future.
In the year coming… I would like to tick off one full year to my provisional registration, hold more workshops (in person and online) and create more impactful and visible psychology and self-development content with passionate, like-minded people.
Friends & Family
This year, I got to spend a lot more time with friends and family. Thanks to COVID, I was forced to make the effort to catch up with people and spend quality time with people whose company I enjoy. I’m grateful for the amazing people I have in my life and would love to continue to invest in my relationships and make an ongoing committment to be present and generous with the people who matter most to me.
In the year coming… I would like to continue to enjoy the company of others, host dinners, play games, and keep in better contact with friends who live far from home.
This was the first full year where I committed to my healthy habits and I really committed.
335 Days of German Practice (DuoLingo)
343 Days meditated (Insight Timer)
~330 Days of my gratitude practice, affirmations & journaling
I read 32 books
In the year coming… I would like to continue committing to these healthy habits, and add more exercise and healthy eating into the mix. I also started learning piano early this year, and going forward, I’d like to add that to my weekly habits too.
Savings & Contributions
Thanks to COVID, I surpassed my savings goal this year. Spending most of my 20’s being frivolous and carefree with money, I am proud of the discipline I have been able to show, and the system that has been put in place to put money aside regularly (Thanks, Barefoot Investor.)
In the year coming… I would like to hit a savings target! I would also like to make regular monthly contributions to a charity and learn more about investing. I would also like to start a savings account for Levon.
What didn’t go so well for me this year?
I didn’t make a great deal of progress with my phd and so as a result, feel quite behind with it. The shut down of the uni’s ethics portal and the impact of COVID didn’t help.
In the year coming… I would like hit some important milestones with the phd and make sure I am back up to speed with it.
I didn’t spend much time creating art this year and that disappoints me. I feel like it’s really something that does not get done unless I eke out specific time for it.
In the year coming… I would like to make a regular time to create art, both digitally and off the computer. I would also love to attend a Clay Sydney class, and a Sip and Sketch class too!
Diet & Fitness
Due to my pregnancy, as well as COVID, I wasn’t able to commit to my exercise regimen as well as I would’ve liked and was not particularly concerned with healthy eating. As a result, I don’t feel great in my skin right now and many of my favourite clothes don’t currently fit me.
In the year coming… I want to commit to 5 sessions of exercise per week, including one yoga class, one weights-based class, and one cardio class. I would also like to organise & meal plan, so that we can order less take-out and make more healthy meals each week. Oh, and stop drinking so much Coca Cola…
What did I learn this year?
If the worst could happen, so could the best.
Throughout my pregnancy, I spent a great deal of time worrying about the worst case scenario. This took a great deal of effort (was super draining) and also robbed me of enjoying my pregnancy. Turns out that Levon is complete fine, healthy and thriving. While I can forgive myself for being anxious given the circumstances (COVID and weird ultrasounds, etc.), I can now acknowledge that uncertainty does not always equal disaster, and that if I am making room to consider the worst case scenarios, I should also make room to consider the best – because sometimes the best comes true.
We can feel multiple things at once.
This year, I have done so much better at accepting that emotions aren’t the bad guy. I have given myself permission to feel what I feel, and not try to force myself into feeling differently or stop feeling. This has been a hard thing to learn, as it can be tricky to distinguish if you’re allowing yourself to feel your feelings in a healthy and constructive way, or instead wallowing in them and allowing them to rule you. I think daily reflective mindful practices (including meditation and journalling) have really helped with this. It’s one this to accept this conceptually, something totally new to actually learn to do it.
Some therapists just won’t be your person.
The psychologist that I was seeing earlier this year was not the right fit for me. I didn’t feel super comfortable sharing with her, and didn’t feel confident in the strategies she was suggesting. Doesn’t make her bad, doesn’t make me flakey/a quitter. I’ll have to practice what I preach here, and understand that finding a great therapist can take time and energy.
Cut yourself some slack.
Once upon a time, I would have given myself a flogging for all the ways I fell short this year – my weight gain, or lack of phd progress or for neglecting my art practice or failing to continue with my regular piano practice – however, I now know that that does little to help motivate me into the future, and instead, would simply damage the relationship I have with myself which I’ve worked so hard to nurture. 2020 has been a tough year and I’ve learned that you don’t have to do everything all the time. Sometimes it’s enough to tend to what’s important for you in the moment. This year, it was growing a baby and working to become a better friend, mum and psychologist – and I’m proud of my efforts all round.
I’ve definitely been feeling the tension and anxiety build in regards to uncertainty lately. The world is a weird place right now and it’s challenging when we don’t know what to expect a month, six months, a year from now. I wrote this blog to highlight the different areas in which we are empowered to take back control and exist with uncertainty.