How to: Motivate Yourself

Persistence is…

Keeping your foot on the gas as you inch round the side of a mountain.

Crossing off each day as it comes without ripping up the calendar.

Seeing the chink of sunlight between two angry rain clouds.

Not slowing, or walking, or giving up until you reach that mile.

Writing a thousand blog posts before someone reads one.

Watching the sun set before you stop working.

Watching the sun rise before you go to bed.

Making a diary entry on a duvet day.

Repeating a monologue until you embody the character.

Finishing this poem.

That’s all well and good – but to be persistent requires a great deal of motivation. How can you convince yourself to keep going against all the odds? Here is how I do it.

  1. Imagine the end goal: each task, each chore, each exam you do has a purpose. Whatever you are doing, there is a reason for it. By trying to picture where you will be once you have achieved your goal, it is much easier to motivate yourself to get there.
  2. Give yourself treats: separate your one big task into several mini milestones and place a reward at the end of each one. Obviously, it makes sense to leave the largest reward to the end, but don’t forget to congratulate yourself along the way.
  3. Stay healthy: yes, I know. Healthy mind, healthy body = yawn. But there is a lot to be said for how energised a short burst of Zumba or jogging will make you feel. Doing some exercise is an accomplishment in itself, leaving you feeling more positive about your other goals.
  4. GET ON WITH IT: Lying in bed thinking about the impending task at hand will not help you to conquer it. Sometimes, you have to just bite the bullet and begin, however painful. An hour in to the task, you’ll wonder why on earth you were dreading it in the first place.
  5. Know when to stop: once you get into a rhythm of work, it can be hard to take a break. You might think that interrupting your flow will be detrimental to the end result, but you need time to relax, reflect and rewind. If you don’t, you’ll wear yourself out and have no energy left for the next time around. A break of about 10 minutes every hour should do it.

So go on, get motivated!

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A new face in a small town

Picture the scene: I was chatting to an artist inside her workshop; the walls were covered in watercolour paintings of the Norman countryside, while stacks of prints and unique painted bookmarks bordered the room. There were paintings of cows, drawings of foliage and caricatures of ‘typical Norman people’, some of whom I thought I recognised from the high street. It was clear for all to see that this place deserved the monopoly in this small town when it came to art.

But business was slowing. Ever since the council restructured the roads so that it would be easier for drivers to pass through the town, that’s exactly what they did. With no through traffic coming through the high street and no curious tourists stopping in on a whim, it is no wonder that many of the once bustling shops are now boarded up and empty.

So when we spotted an unknown man, hopping from door to door, weighed down by a huge portfolio, the conversation stopped. We stared out of the huge shop windows at him, we watched him enter the butcher’s across the street.

‘If Caroline buys one of his shoddy prints, I’ll never buy another sausage from her,’ said the artist. She made it out to be humorous – she knew her friend would never buy from another artist – but there was no mistaking the serious undertone.

We stood and stared at the butcher and the door to door seller for what seemed like hours. I kept reassuring the artist that her friend was probably just being polite and that she would not buy anything, but I couldn’t be sure.

After a while, both the butcher and the door to door seller looked us in the eyes. They had caught us staring at them and were staring back. The butcher smiled and waved.

The door to door seller left the butcher’s. She hadn’t bought anything, so he moved on to his next potential conquest. We watched as he was thrown out of the café as soon as he walked in. Then he moved on towards the opticians, but our line of vision was obscured by a parked van.

‘I wonder if he’ll come here,’ the artist said.

‘What would you say to him, if he did?’ I asked, interested. I knew this artist to be a feisty woman. I knew that she would not take kindly to someone so brazenly trying to undermine her business.

‘I’d tell him to eff off,’ she said, seriously, ‘you get to use that word an awful lot more when you get to my age.’

When the door to door seller eventually did appear, I knew I was in for a scene.

‘Bonjour Mesdames,’ he said, upon entering the workshop.

‘Have you got a license number?’ the artist shot at him, straight away. Apparently he did and he had had one for twenty years, but he was unwilling to show it or his business card to us.

‘It’s so pretty!’ he beamed, overenthusiastically, upon approaching almost every painting in the workshop. He practically skipped around the place. Meanwhile, the artist and I stood planted to the spot, watching him still. It is now easy for me to see why my reception in this town was not a warm one; it appears they don’t take too kindly to strangers. I couldn’t believe that I was now part of that act.

I stood like the artist’s henchman as she questioned the door to door seller and eventually showed him the door, just throwing an obligatory ‘Bonne journée’ out behind him.

I wondered where he would go next. In which small town would he next try to sell his pastel drawings of African sunsets? Was he even aware of the massive impact a sale would make, not only to the local businesses, but to the friendships of the people who owned them?

I don’t know.

But I don’t think he will be trying his luck in this small town again.

Day 73-76 dans la maison de grand frère.

For anyone who isn’t bored of my constant weather reports, I measured a positively balmy 3 degrees in my bedroom on Thursday afternoon. Members of staff here were ‘hoping’ that the part to mend the boiler would arrive on Friday but if it doesn’t, it is likely that it won’t arrive until Monday at the earliest. If that is the case, consider this my appeal for accommodation to anyone in the Manche region.

Also that evening, I was able to sample the best of French vegetarian cuisine. I must say, it was an excellent dish for a bitterly cold December night. What was the delight? I hear you cry. That delight was some cold couscous to start and a plate of air for the main course – délicieux! Some helpful stranger told me not to worry, the salmon quiche is vegetarian. I think something might have escaped him there…

Not to brag, but I timed my Friday morning to perfection. I managed to escape the school early enough to avoid the confinement safety exercise, but late enough that I still had a respectable lie-in. I pottered around the town for a while, before going to a café/bar that I have frequented on many occasions for a little hot chocolate. Seeing as I been to this bar numerous times, I was confused when my simple question ‘How are you?’ to the barman was met with an apparent shock and discomfort. Had I asked him on a date? I certainly hope not, but it’s hard to tell what is appropriate with these traditional country folks.

Sarah and I had planned to spend Saturday in a (relatively) nearby town called Avranches. I caught the bus early in the morning and, since I was the only customer, ended up having a chat with the driver. He has a daughter called Sarah, so remembered us well on the way back.

In Avranches, we did quite a bit of Christmas shopping, visited the morning market, and had some lovely food (tomato and mozzarella tartines to be precise). It was a great day out, but I stupidly forgot to take any pictures, so I’ve got nothing to show you!

Now it’s Sunday, and I’ve got my hibernation techniques down to a tee: Pringles + Guacamole + Cosmo = recipe for success.

5 days to go!

Rude emails, excessive kissing and freezing fingers

Dear readers, welcome to the latest installment of my thrilling French adventure. I am thinking of renaming my blog ‘Heating, and other problems with France’ but that is still subject to revision.

On Monday I went straight into work at 8am from my weekend in Rennes because I needed to sort out an incident involving a rather impolite email from a colleague and to find out what I was going to deliver in my classes of the day. As it turned out, the situation was resolved, and I was required to conduct debates on the UK’s intervention in Syria, which proved to be quite interesting. Many of the students were pro-air strikes, which I found surprising considering my own cohort’s reaction to the news. Perhaps considering the recent success of the FN in France, this is just a small example of right-wing politics among the younger generation. The afternoon found me wandering round the school looking for my students because no one had informed me of the room change for that class. Eventually, one of them found me in the corridor and led me to the others, whereupon I discussed with individuals their opinions on war films and propaganda. A day full of light and airy topics. I bailed on badminton in the evening because I have actually picked up an injury from going on the bumper cars on Sunday. This one girl had it in for me, I’m telling you. At one of her ‘bumps’ I actually cried out ‘BLIMEY!’ Very French.

Tuesday: I continued marking year 11 oral presentations, led a semi-successful activity for the year 8s, and did equally fascinating things with the year 13 and over-18s, which you can read about in my extended edition of ‘How to lose the will to live in 12 hours a week’. Besides that, I thought I’d better try doing some studying because I’m missing out on all the jokes in the staffroom. Half because I can’t understand, but I suspect half because I’m basically a lost child hanging around with my parents’ friends there. Two interesting things I noted today: 1) The excessive amount of kissing that goes on among the students before each lesson goes some way to explaining the stereotype of French lateness. 2) I’m not saying the French are unhealthy, but half of my students were rolling fags BEFORE leaving the classroom.

I began Wednesday by momentarily forgetting everything and ending a sentence with ‘I can’t even French.’ So that went well. I helped out in a couple of year 8 classes, then caught the bus to St Hilaire, where I met up with Sarah. We had pizza, cider and tarte tatin in a nice little restaurant, then chilled (literally) for the rest of the evening at my place. As I write this, I am covered in clothes, a dressing gown and a duvet and still cannot feel my fingers. If anyone would like to come and have a go at the people responsible for heating in this place, they would be very welcome indeed.

A plus (provided I still have the ability to type)

Churros, 007, and a funfair: My weekend in Rennes

It’s the 7th of December already and I can hear those sleigh bells jingling! I get to come home at the end of next week, and it could not come sooner.

Having said that, I have had a rather nice few days since I last wrote.

On Wednesday, Sarah and I sampled the delights of a cute little patisserie in Mortain, then returned to my place to watch Love Actually and make Christmas decorations. My bedroom window is now covered in glittery snowflakes, a Christmas tree, Santa and one of his elves.

Thursday proved fairly unproductive because my lessons had once again been cancelled, so I managed to catch up on some highly important aspects of Anglophone culture that I had missed: Forrest Gump, Black Swan and Aladdin. Day well spent. In the evening, I ate with some colleagues at the canteen, and was slightly taken aback when we all received condoms alongside our meals. Thankfully, it was as part of an AIDS prevention campaign, and not just a casual Thursday night.

Anyway…on Friday afternoon, Sarah and I set off for our weekend away in Rennes. The journey involved a bus, a car-share, the metro and getting lost in the city centre but we eventually made it to our hotel. After settling in, we began wandering around the city, only to stumble upon a Christmas market, complete with warm cider, beignets (doughnuts), churros and a merry go round! That was a lovely surprise indeed, as was the Irish pub in which we finished off the evening.

We had every intention of doing something to explore the culture of Rennes but, alas, shopping took its hold of us. Rennes has some very stylish little boutiques that were more suited to browsing than buying, but the market was more affordable and equally mesmerising. In fact, I may have bought a little something from the market, but I’ll have to keep quiet because I don’t know who is reading this…

Now, I won’t lie, I thought that Sunday would be awful. So far, France has shown me that Sunday is a day to lock yourself inside, watch TV, and try not to starve.  However, mercifully, in the city, there were a few things to keep us occupied. We managed to watch Spectre and the new Hunger Games film (in French), then find a restaurant that served, wait for it, VEGGIE BURGERS AND CHIPS, and go on the bumper cars at a fun fair. Best French Sunday so far.

After all of that excitement, we got a lift back to Vire late on Sunday night, stayed overnight in my flat and caught the 6.53 bus this morning to work. I think I need a coffee…

A plus tard

Maze Runner, Michelin Man Jackets and Christmas in November

On Tuesday, I actually felt proud of myself for having delivered my first real lesson, unaided! Most of the time, I take students for one-to-one sessions or help the teacher during her lessons. However, on Tuesday, I had to plan and deliver my very own lessons to about 30 12-year-olds. And it went really well. Of course, I knew that using a funny YouTube video would help keep their attention. And as it turns out, I did manage to have authority over any less-than-perfect behaviour. I don’t know how much of the vocabulary they will remember because I had to introduce them to a new topic, but it was a good foundation to build upon, and I am pleased with how it went.

And to top off a day of great achievement, I made myself a ruddy good cottage pie for dinner!

On Wednesday, I worked for a few hours and then met Sarah at the bus stop. We cooked a fabulous roast dinner at mine, then settled down to eat the creamy, chocolatey cakes she had brought for dessert. They were delicious! Afterwards, we ventured out to the cinema to watch the new Maze Runner film. I was a little apprehensive because I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to keep up with it in French, but actually it was quite easy viewing – except the zombies, that was not welcomed by me! We finished off the evening with loads of chocolate, just how a Wednesday night should be spent.

Thursday was decidedly uneventful, so much so that I have almost forgotten what I did…

Despite it being my day off on Friday, I decided to get up early and catch the bus to Vire for the market. It was a typically French affair: cheese stalls aplenty, people lining up to get their daily fruit, vegetables and bread, and strange, puffy, Michelin-man jackets for sale. But before I even arrived at the market, something interesting happened. After about 15 minutes on the bus, it stopped in a small town called Sourdeval, where two women got on. They were English and clearly struggling to understand the bus driver, so I thought I would give them a hand. As we got to talking, not only did I find out that one of them was also called Nikki, but that they had lived in France for over 8 years! As I hopped from one cafe to another, then back to the bus, I continued to see the women and chat about how we all came to find ourselves in rural Normandy.

When I returned to Mortain, I opened up a package that my sister had given me a few weeks earlier. She had told me not to open it until I had a free day, with no plans. She had also told me not to get too excited about it. But it was worth getting excited about. The package contained a copy of Glamour Magazine, a sachet of Cadbury’s hot chocolate, a pocket Sudoku book, a face mask, and a family-sized bar of Galaxy. Now, that is DEFINITELY worth getting excited about.

Saturday. I made the brave step into one of the many local hairdressers and hoped for the best. After having seen the results of the client before me, I was not hopeful. Thankfully, the hairdresser did not leave me with a wild, red bob, so all was well. I managed to successfully have my hair highlighted, trimmed and straightened, AND do a fair amount of useless chit-chat. When I left the salon, I went to check out the little Christmas market that had popped up in Mortain. It was a bit strange really, because it is still November, and as I write this, the market has already been taken down. Apparently, this strange arrangement is due to the fact that Mortain does not own its own market chalets, so they had to be borrowed from another town nearby. Nevertheless, the market was quite sweet; especially the ponies pulling children along in their sleighs.

So there we are, one more week over. There isn’t anything to write about today because it’s Sunday, in France, so naturally everything has gone into hibernation. However, after the market I am feeling more in the Christmas spirit, so I’m settling down to watch Elf.

A plus tard

How to beat your fear of failure

‘While I am so afraid to fail so I won’t even try. Well how can I say I’m alive?’ – Rollo Armstrong, Dido Armstrong Life For Rent

As someone who is used to success, the pressure to maintain a clean record is difficult. For some, trying not to fail can be crippling.

But why do we fear failure?

Usually, a failure is associated with a judgement that is larger than the failure itself. For example, failing an exam could lead to negative judgements, such as ‘I’ll never make it as a…[doctor, engineer, etc.]’. The greater the importance of what we set out to achieve, the greater the judgement we impose upon ourselves for not achieving. Concepts such as ‘your life’s ambition’ and ‘the be all and end all’ cause us to focus on one goal alone which, if missed, makes it seem like the world is crumbling around us. With pressures like these, no wonder some of us are afraid to fail.

‘If you take no risks, you will suffer no defeats. But if you take no risks, you win no victories.’ – Richard M. Nixon

How to overcome this fear

Simply because it is understandable to fear failure, does not mean it is unavoidable. In 2013, Forbes published a really helpful article called 5 Ways To Conquer Your Fear Of Failure and this is what I gained from it:

Just as a runner has to break through ‘the wall’ to carry on, we have to feel the fear, walk around in it, and break it down to come out the other side.To beat the fear that stops us reaching for our goals we have to think logically:

Suppose I do fail.

What are the next logical steps?

Can I draw something positive from my missed target?

What have I learned?

By answering these questions, we will be better prepared to adjust strategies and reach our goals the next time around.

And if that isn’t quite enough, here’s an encouraging quote by someone really successful:

‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.’ – J.K. Rowling