I’ll dive straight into this – the best way for me to try writing something that isn’t a very personal expression of some intimate feelings is to just smash myself into it. I’m a bit worried; I know how to write about the weird stuff that goes on inside my head, I’m not sure what to do about anything else.
Regardless, I’d had this in mind for a while, and typically, completely forgot to do it at the end of June which would actually have marked the half-year point. I received my Happiness Planner* from Mr Seeds as a Christmas gift after I helpfully gave him a direct link to the website and exact planner I wanted. The company makes and sells 100-day planners, 365-day planners, 52-week planners, notebooks, gift boxes, and all kinds of other lovely things. I went for the 52-week planner, thinking that a weekly review would be useful, and not trusting myself to stick to anything daily. The daily planners run July to June, and seeing as though it was Christmas I suppose that wasn’t really too sensible of an option.
Aesthetically, the planners are gorgeous. They’re ring bound and come in different colour schemes. I won’t lie, they know what they’re doing in terms of appearance, and something pretty is, in my opinion, much more likely to keep you going back to fill it in.
My 52-week journal has a four page spread for every week. I’ll briefly list the purpose of each page:
- The first page starts with ‘This week I’m excited about’, a free text box for you to note anything you feel positive about coming up in the week. There are then two sets of eight bullet points – personal goals, and work goals. This is finished off by a ‘Happy things I will do’ section.
- Page two is the weekly planner, divided into seven sections for you to note appointments, birthdays, whatever you’ve got planned that week.
- Page three is the start of the weekly reflection. On this page, you can describe your week in three words, and rate your moods or feelings from one to five. There is a box for the week’s highs (good, happy, or proud moments) as well as lows (frustrations, challenges, and struggles).
- The final page gives three text boxes for you to fill in: what I learned this week, who and what I’m grateful for, and what I’d like to improve or hope for.
The chance to plan and reflect each week is really useful, although as I never have anything going on in my life I feel the planning side was under-used. I have filled in my reflection every week so far, and I think it’s helped me to keep in touch with how I’m doing although admittedly, I have been terrible at actually looking back through it.
Before the weekly plan and reflect pages start, there are some pages with quotes and questions on; these are designed to help you reflect on yourself. For example, the first question asks what makes you happy, how happy it makes you, and how often you feel you should do this magical, happy-making activity. This, I suppose, should give you a guide of how to shoehorn nice things into your weekly activities.
There are fifteen questions to fill in before the planning pages start, such as – what makes you unhappy? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Who and what are you grateful for? What have you achieved that you’re proud of? What have you overcome? Where do you see yourself in five and ten years? What’s holding you back? Finally, there’s a chance to sum up what you will achieve over the coming year.
Phew. I’m not going to lie, I found this section really hard. Perhaps it relates to the struggles I’ve had with my identity, and with being able to identify anything positive that I’ve ever done. I didn’t really feel as though I had any dreams or plans, and certainly no idea where I’d be in five years’ time. I tentatively filled most of them in, though, even if it was just to timidly hope that I’d be more emotionally settled in five years.
I did manage to give myself some goals for the year – pass my driving test (eep), go to therapy, go on holiday, write in a blog (hello!).
Once all this was filled in, it was time to get going.
I’ve used my planner every week, but as I said before I haven’t been great at looking back over it. At times, it feels as though my reflections are just gone once I’ve written them down; a week can seem like a long time when you’re struggling to get out of bed.
The parts I’ve found hard are describing the week in three words. Lately, this has more often than not contained the word ‘quick’, as the weeks are just glibly flying by with no consideration for the fact I still haven’t got my shit together.
Looking back, I have noted some important things in my planner. It’s open on the first week now, and my ‘highs’ include a good driving lesson, resisting the urge to self harm, getting to the gym and meeting a friend’s baby. My lows, sadly, were panic attacks, not getting to work, no motivation and suicidal thoughts.
The cynical part of me wonders what the point of noting these things down actually is, particularly seeing as I never bother looking back at them. Being able to differentiate between good and bad moments, though, must be helpful at the time. I don’t think much of it, but I’ve managed to find positives in every week. In the same week I had suicidal thoughts, I also made my panic plan. I took some action, and crucially, I remembered that I’d done it.
I can see that my scores have slowly improved when I’m marking my moods out of five. I mean, this feels a little bit like those stupid questionnaires they make you fill in every time you step within a hundred yards of a counsellor’s office, but it’s nice to see the improvement, and to have done it off my own back.
What have I learned?
I know I have a habit of taking things for granted. I assume that everything I do or am capable of is the bare minimum, the line, the standard for all of humanity. I don’t give myself credit for anything, so looking back through my year so far and realising that I’ve actually done some good, helpful things for myself is refreshing. Remembering that I flew to Dublin on my own (a massive 50 min flight, if that) to see my friend; now, I wouldn’t think twice, and flying doesn’t really bother me, but I’d never done it before. That’s quite brave for someone who, at the time, was in the midst of rampant anxiety attacks.
I’ve learned that I’m no good at noticing or allowing myself to feel positive things. My mood scores improved slightly, but I’ve never been banging out five out of fives . I’ve found tracking these quite hard, and it seems to have flatlined at around the fifteen out of 25 mark. I’ve never given myself a full score for anything. It’s quite sobering looking back at that, and wondering what it would take for me to have a fully happy, excited, energetic, calm, and healthy week (these are the top end of the mood scores). To feel all those things at once sounds monstrous, to be honest. I can only imagine it would be very stressful to deal with all that positivity.
There are some things I’ve written that I’d like to improve upon that I know I’m still not doing. Back in March, I wanted to recognise more of my own good qualities. I don’t know if I’ve done that, but continuing to acknowledge the good things that I’ve been able to do or feel every week hasn’t exactly been a hindrance to that. My gratitudes have been similar every week; usually people, family or friends, as well as having access to therapy, a doctor, being able to write, getting good views or positive comments on this very blog. Although I may not be the best at reviewing myself, seeing these things written down, and thinking about them each week, helps me to focus on the positive things I do have.
I don’t know what the next five months will hold, but I’ll keep planning, and more importantly, reflecting on my time. To get more out of my planner, I think I need to spend a bit more time reviewing, and not just the previous week, but checking in with how I was doing before that, as well. I feel a little element of there being lip service paid to his holiness the Planner; I’m filling it in like a good girl, but am I really paying attention?
Perhaps, upon reflection, a daily planner might have worked better for me. Equally, though, I can envisage getting frustrated by not having planner-worthy events every single day. There are no recriminations for not meeting my personal goals. There is no inspiration or motivation to improve my mood scores. I’m giving it a good go, but as with many other things, there seems to be something missing. I can look back on a week of good things, and see that there hasn’t been any follow up. Good things happened, but I’m still not ‘better’. It’s still work to find them, sometimes.
Subconsciously, maybe I was expecting miracles. That isn’t going to happen. What has happened, though, is I’ve managed every single week for thirty weeks to think of something, even if it’s one just thing, that was good. Maybe it was fleeting, but it was there. I’ve managed to be grateful for something or someone. I’ve learned something, no matter how small. Potentially, that’s more than I did in the thirty weeks prior to that.
I’m going to carry on, of course, and try to be more mindful of reviewing and reflecting a bit further back to remember what I’ve learned each week. There’s a 52-week review at the end of the planner, and I’ll resist the urge to rip out the pages, gleefully screeching about how I haven’t achieved anything. I’ll look, and listen, and remember that I may not have moved mountains, but at least I’ve been hovering around at base camp every now and then, kicking up some dirt and making, however small, a presence.
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