Bullet Journaling

“Mindfulness” is the buzz word at the moment. Actually it has been for a while, and I will happily raise my hands and confess to the fact that I am a sheep and follow the ‘mindfullness’ crowd by reposting motivational quotes about ‘making time for you’ and ‘being in the moment’ whenever I can; which is entirely hypocritical because my idea of savouring the moment is having a slightly slower walk back up the path after taking the bin out. Which, usually I just find tedious and an unnecessary waste of time after 0.5 seconds. I had an hour long, full body massage last week (not a typical Thursday afternoon for me, it was a post-wedding, mourning the loss of my Thomas Cook honeymoon treat), and even in a darkened room where the only sound is music specifically engineered to relax you, with someone physically relieving the tension in my body, I spent the hour thinking “am I relaxed enough yet?”. Ah, the perils of being an impatient, anxiety-ridden overthinker. However, despite being unable to achieve a state of even moderate relaxation without first receiving a general anaesthetic, I recently tried my hand at bullet journaling.

Bullet journals are something I have admired from afar for a while now, and by ‘afar’ I mean by looking at my Instagram feed and thinking “that’s too faffy and technical for me”, much like the satisfyingly organised homes and perfectly contoured make-up. I spent an embarrassingly long time researching which bullet journal to get before realising that they are all, essentially, just paper. Having said that, I’m not a monster so of course I spent money on a lovely smooth, pretty new notebook in which to do my bullet-journaling; along with some fun stickers because you’re never too old for stickers.

What I noticed about the more expensive, more technical bullet journals was that they were mostly segmented and had different prompts to help you think about what to write, but there are a lot of ways to manage this without spending a fortune. A lot of ‘fancier’ bullet journals are divided up by day, but that’s essentially just a desk planner or a weekly diary – readily available for less than a couple of quid if you look in the right place. I personally didn’t want to get into a weekly view, it felt too similar to planning my work schedule, and I like the idea of being able to close the page on each day – I haven’t re-read any of my previous entries, I just don’t find it beneficial or enjoyable. My journal came with some emjoi stickers (how very 2019), which I really liked, and prompted me to buy some specific ‘bullet journal stickers’ with little quotes and mantras on. To get the juices flowing, I start each day’s entry by choosing an emoji sticker and a quote which best fit that day, then using the written part to elaborate a bit on why. Even if my emoji for the day is the crying face because it’s been horrible, I’ll jot down a summary of why it was so horrible even if it’s just “busy day at work, am exhausted”. Something about putting it in that onto the paper and closing the page does, to my pleasant surprise, make me feel a bit lighter. It’s like that bit in Harry Potter when Dumbledore uses his wand to drag thoughts out of his head and put them in the water – who doesn’t love some de-cluttering?

The easiest counter-productivity traps to fall into with bullet journaling which would then put you off doing it again are to dwell too much on the negatives, and to write too much. I’ve managed to tackle both of those with some nifty tricks which were so useful I may have to consider copyright. First, although it’s perfectly fine and sometimes beneficial to write down negative things, for every negative point about my day I make myself write a “but”. For example, if I’ve had a difficult day at work I tend to follow it with “but, I did my best and that’s all that can be expected”. Ending on a positive definitely made me see the ‘point’ of bullet journaling, because writing a list of everything that was rubbish about your day is quite draining and just makes you feel worse. So, keep that little weighing scale of negatives and positives even.

Also, for someone like me who is a rambler (someone who talks a lot, not an old person who likes getting lost in the countryside), it’s very tempting to start writing War and Peace and listing every aspect and emotion of your day. To overcome that, I started being quite deliberate with the time slot I allocated for the journaling. While setting a timer seems like a nice idea, I personally would just stare at the timer and feel like I was taking an exam which would be totally counter-productive, but I’ve started using a limited time slot like waiting for the bath to run or for my dinner to cook – there’s a clear end point but it’s not a race against the clock. I did see someone else post online about how they like to see it as a challenge to write something that will summarise their day in thirty seconds, as if there was a trailer for the film version of that particular day in your life. That is also a fun and non-restrictive way to think about it; but sadly I’m from the North and talk really fast so could probably still get a feature length film out in thirty seconds.

So, after doing some research on bullet journaling, and from doing my own, I came to the conclusion that it is a genuinely useful and healthy habit to get into, but that it really needs to be bespoke to the person doing it. I’ve seen some journals online which have so many boxes, each demanding to be filled in with separate thoughts or ideas, or some which set targets for the week which, to me, just seems like a trap for self-induced guilt like New Year’s Resolutions. Although I started off by forcing myself to do this each day, it has quickly become a habit, and a useful one at that.

The Bridezilla Diaries – Lessons Learned

It’s currently T-minus twelve weeks until I become a married woman. That is terrifying. In one way it feels like I’ve been planning this wedding for my whole life (probably because it’s aged me about fifteen years within ten months), but in other ways it’s flown over. With hindsight, like most things, I look back over it now and there are definitely things I could have done differently to make it easier for myself, and things that I wish I’d known before starting the process. So, like the generous person I am, I thought now is about the right time to pass on the wisdom from one bridezilla to the next cohort of bridezillas. It’s too late for me, but with the following suggestions it’s not too late to save yourselves!

People will be interested in your wedding. 
It sounds obvious, but I definitely underestimated this. The only thing I find more boring than going to other people’s weddings is hearing about other people’s weddings (well, that and maybe Star Wars films). I have no interest in how much someone spent on a cake, what flowers they’ve chosen, or the difference between ivory and off-white (spoiler alert: they’re the same damn colour); because I am a normal person. Sadly, not everyone on this planet is normal, and some people feel a need to ask you about your wedding plans every time they see you. So, if you see a lot of people in a given day, that’s a lot of small talk. The best way to handle this is to not answer honestly. I made the mistake of providing an honest answer to “how much does your cake cost?” in the break room at work and got an uncomfortably long lecture about what else I could have bought with that money. My advice is to rehearse a set “yeah it’s ticking over nicely, it still doesn’t feel real though and I’m sure there’s something I’ve forgotten”, because you will be saying it approximately ten times a day for at least a year.

Give an early RSVP deadline.
Again, I am a normal person; so when someone invites me to an event which is a significant time away, I immediately provide confirmation as to whether I can or cannot attend, and write the date down. However, other people are not normal. Other people think that it is perfectly acceptable to spend ten months providing vague excuses about possibly going on holiday or possibly not having a babysitter; or confirm they are coming and then decide they have a better offer, and even decline but are then unable to find anything better to do and so backtrack and decide they are coming. I know, it’s stressful – there is a reason my hair started to fall out during this process. So, do not make the mistake of assuming that your extended family and friends are competent adults. I made the fatal error of giving people a nice long time to RSVP, which just allowed for people to change their minds and/or drag out the clearly very difficult task of ticking “yes” or “no” and putting a stamp on a piece of paper. I know, it’s a challenging task which clearly takes months. Make an early cut-off date and stick to it.

Enjoy the lull in the middle.
The start of planning your wedding is so fun. Bridal magazines, Pintrest boards, wedding fayres; just spending time soaking up ideas and enjoying having a ring on your finger is great. Also great is the last couple of months when everything falls into place and your venue show you how everything will run like a well-oiled machine on the day, so you can finally picture it all coming together. There is however a quiet interval between those two time periods, which I found incredibly unsettling. Going from constant shopping and reading endless reviews of various suppliers to having nothing to do but wait for RSVP’s (see above, that can take a long time if your family are inept), is unnerving if you’re a stress head like me. I had a constant fear that I should be doing something, and a paranoia that my wedding had been forgotten about – why was my planner not emailing me? Why were suppliers not checking in? Answer – because they have other things to do. Like the brief minutes of relief between contractions during labour, the down time is important to recharge for the challenge ahead. Do not make the mistake of wasting it by endless worrying about the wedding like I did – find a hobby or just take a long nap.

Look after yourself.
Easily the most important thing to remember, and the main thing that I wish someone had told me. I have never had so many colds in such a short space of time until I started planning my wedding. Stress makes my immune system crash and prevents me from being able to get a decent amount of sleep, so Olbas Oil and Vitamin C have been my friends for the last few months. Mental health is an important thing to keep an eye on too; this is something which has unfortunately always been a bit of a struggle for me, but the process of planning what has to become the happiest day of my life (no pressure) was so overwhelmingly stressful that I had to speak to a doctor about getting extra help to alleviate it and make it bearable. I thought I was bordering on insane, and that there was something wrong with me for not enjoying every second of planning the blissful union which other people would kill to have, but according to Google it’s not uncommon; and I wish someone had told me about that so I didn’t spend months crying silently in the bath so nobody would notice. Look after yourself, however that is best achieved for you: take breaks; delegate tasks to other people; have set times where all wedding talk is banned; do what you need to do to get through.

Don’t become too reliant on advice from others.
This is an easy mistake to make when planning your first wedding. Surely other people who have been married or have helped plan weddings in the past are the best people to assist you? To an extent, yes, but experience planning weddings is not an adequate substitute for knowing your own taste and comfort zone. There is definitely such a thing as too many cooks spoiling the broth, and everyone has strong opinions on weddings. At the end of the day, you and the person you are marrying know best what you like and what kind of celebration you are both comfortable having; and whether something is popular, quirky, expensive or “just what you have to do” should not come into it at all. Stick to your guns and have the day that you both want, even if people take the huff because, trust me, they soon snap out of it once you make it clear you’re having it your way.


Not to be Dramatic – But I think I’ve Found the Secret to Life

So it was A Level results day this week here in the UK, and it’s GCSE results next week which means we have a whole fortnight of celebrities tweeting variations of ‘it’s okay if you don’t get the results you hoped for, I failed x, y and z and I’m still happy/successful’. Personally, I find this so completely unhelpful and frankly hypocritical. With the exception of those two days, we spend the rest of the year beating ourselves, and other people, up for not being exactly where we should be in the life plans we’ve set out for ourselves. I definitely think this is getting worse with the whole ‘millenial’ culture of ‘oh Milennials are such snowflakes and don’t work for anything, when I was your age I worked 7 jobs and walked 25 miles to each of them and still had time to find a husband’, and you know what? It’s A, pissing me off and B, so completely and utterly inaccurate and not the case for anyone.

Here’s the thing, I don’t consider myself to be some wise, life affirming, philosophical guru, I got an A in AS Philosophy and even that was only because I memorised the textbook and regurgitated it word for word on the exam paper. But, and I don’t mean to be dramatic, I think I legitimately might have just discovered the single most useful bit of life advice ever; I mean, this is like the boolprop cheats in Sims, this is *the* hack, something more useful than the elastic bands in Spy Kids 2 (still not convinced they ever found 99 uses for those). Are you ready for your mind to be blown? Here it is. *Clears throat*:

If you are happy in an overall, all things considered, general sense, you are fine.

I’ll say it again for the people in the back:

If you are happy, you are fine.

“Thank you, Captain Obvious” I hear you say, but this is something that I went twenty four years of my life without realising. I spent three years at a really good university, the best university in the country for my subject area actually, and although there were pockets of happy times in there, I made some great lifelong friends, it was overall a very negative experience. The people who attend this university are generally not very nice, the culture is not very nice, and if the only thing ‘Eton’ means to you is a messy dessert, they will make it very clear that you are not welcome there. I finished that university with a first class degree, which I am exponentially proud of, but all people say to me is “oh my god you got a first from x, that’s amazing”. Is it? Was it worth needing counselling and feeling generally miserable for three years? In a word, “no”.

Fast forward 2 years, I’m on my second job out of university and my career is exactly on the path I want it to be, it’s all mapped out and everyone is telling me I’m amazing for doing what I do. But again, I am miserable. The job I was doing was very psychologically challenging; I had to accept some really quite disturbing things as normal, things that if they were portrayed in a film people would say “well that wouldn’t ever happen in real life”. And, great for the people who can handle that, seriously well done to you, but for me I didn’t like the person I had to become to be able to cope with doing that job. Also, the company I worked for was not right for me. There was a general bullying culture, immense pressure to do a difficult job with few resources and not enough staff, and people in my imminent team who were just generally not very nice at all. That’s about as far as I can politely go without really offending certain people, much as many of them 100% deserve it. It took me getting to a point of genuine mental breakdown and being unable to leave my house without having panic attacks that caused me to collapse, to realise that having my career in the ‘right’ place was just not worth it at all. You are not successful if you are coming home most days in tears and unable to sleep from the stress. It does not matter what your salary is or how much fantastic experience you are getting, if it’s affecting you negatively, that is counter-productive and you are actually unsuccessful.

Once I learned this, I realised it was applicable to basically everything. Not to go completely Charlotte York about this, but a question people often ask me is why I’m not married or engaged, because of the length of time I’ve been with my boyfriend. I’ll say it again, we are happy, ergo we are fine. I’m not saying it will never happen and I’m not a feminazi ‘men are the devil and marriage is oppressive’ type, but for now, things are completely fine. We are happy and, as they say, if it ain’t broke…

So here I am, at 24, working a fairly mundane job which I know is a beneath my degree and experience, unmarried despite being in a position where I easily could be; but here’s the plot twist, I AM HAPPY! For the first time in about a year I am, overall, happy more often than I am unhappy. Yes, things aren’t perfect, nothing ever is – I do sometimes get stressed at work or argue with my boyfriend or feel upset when something goes wrong, but on balance things are good. I honestly think this is the secret to life, and I’m not going to lie – I feel like I’ve found the Holy Grail. ‘Success’ is such an arbitrary term and you’re realistically never going to feel like you’ve achieved everything you meant to, so just stop stressing about it and do what you enjoy – I absolutely could’ve saved myself so much turmoil and mental distress if I’d known this earlier.