Flexible thinking tips: emotional health boosts at your fingertips

For me, emotional health is something that needs attention during the pandemic arrangements. We’re fortunate here in Australia to be comparatively low in infection rate, with few deaths and relatively relaxed restrictions. That doesn’t mean that world-changing times aren’t tough to deal with, from social distancing and home schooling to serious economic consequences for many people.

I’ve whittled my thoughts  down to the three top considerations that support my emotional balance: flexibility, empathy, and creativity. Today I’m going to unpack just one of these a little in case something is useful for you too. You may have your own go-to places that give you comfort and strength. I’d love to hear your tips!

Disclaimer: despite my excessive education, I am not a psychologist. These tips are from lived experience – age and the school of trial and error – plus a few years of studying psychology, communication, management and history…

Clare’s Flexible Thinking Tips

This year, we are all travelling in a vehicle that hasn’t yet been fully described, let alone having a user’s manual. That makes it even more important to be flexible. Rules change more often than I find comfortable, and that can increase my anxiety. Without certainty about what will happen next, it’s easy to become stuck in my thinking.

Stuck thinking increases anxiety – you know that feeling when your usual chair in the lecture theatre is already taken? – while flexible thinking entertains the possibility of difference without stress.

You may have heard my long-time mantra: I can’t do everything, but I can always do something. These days, many of my usual activities and routines are no longer possible or are radically changed. I try to cultivate a flexible mindset to help deal with the frustration and sadness about what we’ve lost. Here are four strategies I have used lately to promote and strengthen my flexible thinking.

I hope you can share some others to build my store of healthy thinking habits.

  • Ask what if?

    This is a regular trick of writers: what if someone ordered a coffee and found a tiny poodle in their cup? That’s OK for stories, but for everyday we need different what ifs. I use this these days with cooking ingredients (what if I use peanut butter in this cake instead of marmalade?), household chores (what if I don’t iron anything?), desk work (what if I turn off emails until after lunch OMG!!!), exercise (what if I walk anti-clockwise around the block today?). What if we have our main meal in the middle of the day? What if we eat on the verandah? What if I read a story to the dog? What if I move that painting into the other room? I like the way this activity changes up my mind set.

  • Say there might be another way.

    And then look for it. Of course, this depends on the task that you are tackling. In writing, I sometimes get out of a stuck place by leaving a large blank space and creating a “final” sentence, and later trying to make the two ends meet. Putting a task aside and doing something different for a while helps too. It’s also helpful to ask for a second opinion when something isn’t working out right – another brain will probably have another mindset. I also like to think about the past and the future – history and possibility – by wondering how this task was done in the old days, or how it might be tackled next century, or on another planet (yep, too much imagination!).

  • Take a breath and think what’s the worst that could happen?

    This can seem a dangerous ploy, but often I find myself stressing about something that, in the bigger scheme of things, just isn’t all that important. My sense of perspective can get seriously askew when I’m trying to do something that needs concentration and keep getting interrupted (EG: self-imposed writing deadline + barking dog). Breathe IN-2-3-4, HOLD-2, OUT-2-3-4, HOLD-2. I do that a couple of times. That gives me space to recalibrate. In my example, the worst that could happen is that I miss my home-made deadline. The best that could happen is that I actually get a new storyline out of the situation: hmm, busy writer ignores barking dog and misses the moment when the zombie breaks down the door…

  • Deliberate sabotage.

Weird, I know. This is related to the ‘what if?’ strategy, but uses a physical cue to change up my mindset. It’s kind of like playing a prank on myself so I get jolted out of my usual thinking rut. I have often used this trick in the past to mix up my routine thoughts on purpose. For example, I used to deliberately choose the longest queue in any circumstance, telling myself to use the time for taking notice of where I was, the people around me, and the mood of the place – all useful exercises for writers at any time, and quite good mindfulness exercises for anyone. These days I avoid queues completely, so I try other things like putting my phone at the other end of the house, taking the long route anywhere, reading and writing in unusual places like the garage or the back garden, and changing my furniture around. I do that quite a lot, actually! Last week, I turned my desk 180% so that I now face the door not the window. Is it better? I wouldn’t have thought so, but for the first time since the pandemic was declared, I wrote two new pieces of fiction. Was it the desk move that sparked me? Just maybe!

And I can’t wait to change my desk back again. 🙂

I hope some of these crazy ideas make sense and are helpful. In the meantime, stay safe and wash your hands. Next week, Last Word will return with another author Q&A. See you then.




Last Word of the Week: Patricia Leslie

This week, I’m very excited to speak with Patricia Leslie, who writes urban fantasy that blurs the edges of reality with a dashing mix of action and history. You might know her books Keeper of the Way, The Ouroboros Key, and A Single Light. If not yet, pop them on your TBR list 🙂

Last Word of the Week: When did you write your first story, Patricia?

Patricia: I remember loving the physical action of writing before I could form letters so probably not long after I started school. I was an enthusiastic creative writer all through school. Writing was my way of sharing the words I couldn’t articulate (I was very shy), making sense of all the ideas in my head, and planning. I’ve “always” written whether it be stories and silly poems, notes on books I’ve read, quotes, or plans for world domination – it has all come from the scratch of a pen on paper.

A good session of writing is exhilarating and I miss it when I’m caught up in the minutiae of a writer’s life – not to mention family and work life on top of that! Some days, it’s all I can do to raise the remote control to change the channel on the television and others I race home and spend hours on my iPad or with my notebook, writing and writing and writing.


LWOTW: Interesting! Tell us, what do you think of dreams, imagination, and planning?

I have used some of my dreams (and nightmares) in my novels and short stories. One story I wrote called “Forward” is entirely based on a good/bad dream based on Whisper Magic, possession, and Fate. I’ve mentioned in other interviews that I’ve always been a committed day-dreamer and have concocted whole worlds, characters, and magics in my head. I use my downtime (usually right before I go to sleep) to imagine scenarios in the hope I’ll go on to dream about them. More often than not though my dreams are all about processing things that are happening in my life or feelings or anticipations.

Planning: I’m a list-maker so naturally I also plan, but once I start writing I just write. Some pieces are put aside until they are ready to fit into the overarching plan and some change the plan completely. Flexibility is the key to avoid inhibiting the flow of creativity.

LWOTW: I’m with you on the flexibility thing. And what’s the highlight of your writing career so far?

  1. Receiving a notification from Lending Rights Australia that I’m about to receive a payment! I do enjoy monetary surprises!
  2. But before that, there are two amazing moments: winning first place in a short story competition on my birthday and receiving my first publishing contract (which was also my scariest moment).

LWOTW: Prizes, birthdays and publishing contracts. How divine! What are you most busy with at the moment?

Promoting my latest novel, Keeper of the Way, which is Book 1 of Crossing the Line, and researching/writing books 2 & 3.

I’ve been updating my website, reinvigorating my previously sparse newsletter, writing lots of guest posts, and contacting book bloggers about reviews. As well, I’ve been organising speaking opportunities. Next on my To Do list is following up with bookshops.

LWOTW: Good luck! If you could say one thing to aspiring writers, what would it be?

Never give up

And the Last Word of The Week: What’s your favourite colour?

A light aqua/turquoise/green kind of hue

Beautiful! Thanks so much for sharing on Last Word of the Week.


You can find Patricia at https://www.patricialeslie.net/

Patricia Leslie’s books are available through all the usual online outlets

Maslow’s Ikigai for authors

There’s a theory of self-development called Ikigai* (see an explanation here) in which you can consider the intersection of four elements: what you are good at; what you love doing; what you can be paid for; and what the world needs. If you list items under each of these headings, and then identify the areas where your items overlap, then you will have found your “Life Purpose”.

*The featured image above is from http://koebler.net/2015/10/finding-your-life-purpose/

Ideally, there will be one or two items on your list which feature in all four categories. That is, you will discover that you are good at cooking, that cooking is something you can be paid for, that you love cooking, and that the world needs cooking. Voila, you have found your life’s purpose: you are a cook.

There are of course weaknesses with this process, as there are with any technique that simplifies complex choices to make neat Venn diagrams.

I am totally good at ironing, and I quite like it (so soothing, meditative and useful…), and I guess I could take in the ironing of folk who need to have it done, and be paid for it. But I don’t see ironing as my life’s purpose.

Another weakness of this particular model, as pointed out by John Malesic in the New Republic (you can see the whole article here) is that it is based on a capitalist appreciation of value, and that it can lead to horrors such as exploitation in those areas where you do what you’re good at and love doing … but you don’t get paid. Go to the New Republic to see John Malesic’s critical and clear-sighted version of the Ikigai meme here.

Doubtlessly, simple-thinking techniques like the Ikigai meme might be of assistance, sometimes. This particular exercise could be useful as a time management technique, or as an affirmation of how you choose to spend your waking hours. At different times of the day, the year, or your life, you might need to prioritise one of the “like/good at/world needs/can be paid for” factors over the others. A classic example is that you prioritise earning money to live on over doing what you actually love doing, by undertaking an unfulfilling job. Another example is that you brush your teeth every day, even though you don’t love it, you’re not especiaily good at it, and you’ll never be paid for it (while the Tooth Fairy always comes through for those who neglect their teeth…how unfair!). We all know that oral hygiene has other rewards than $$$s.

This is especially true for creative and artistic folk (not the oral hygiene comment – the recognition of what our choices are). The value that the world assigns our work is often wildly removed from the time, effort and worth of our creative endeavours. I could be paid by the minute for ironing or gardening or dog walking, all of which activities I actually enjoy. I’d probably not be paid enough to live on, mind you. If I could have just a dollar for every minute I spend reading and writing, well – how many minutes are there in a year? Over 525,000? I’d be quite well off.

So why do we do it? Why do we spend so much of ourselves on a creative pursuit that will (except in very rare cases) always be undervalued by the society in which we live? One in which we can easily be exploited – “here, let me publish your story for free. It’ll be good for you in the long run”. Sure it will – maybe.

I wonder if another way to look at this conundrum is to consider the old notion of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need. In Maslow’s model, a person theoretically can achieve higher goals once their lower level needs are being met. For example, if you’re worrying about where your next meal might come from, you’re probably not wondering about where to buy your next house.

File:Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.svgImage from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow’s_Hierarchy_of_Needs.svg

If we are fortunate enough to be born into (or to move to) a stable, affluent society, then many of our lower level needs are probably met within a manageable framework. I note that ‘creativity’ is situated at the peak of this hierarchy, as one of the self-actualisation needs. I’d question that – for me, writing is certainly not something that I indulge in because I have all the esteem and the self-esteem, all the money and the resources, all the love and the friendship, etc etc, that I require!

I believe that our needs as humans, and our decisions about how to prioritise our time, involve a much more fluid interaction between us and our environment. Rather than being the ‘surfeit dream of someone with a full belly’, to rephrase the old saying, creativity may be triggered by some of the most life-threatening situations. Creativity may indeed help solve some of the basic needs for life and safety, although admittedly it may also compromise our needs for love/belonging or esteem – not every creative output is well-received.

So why do we do it? We writers write because we are writers. It’s what we do, regardless of reward.

Coming soon: the Last Word of the Week

Good news, readers and writers!

From the first Friday in July, we are starting a new project called the Last Word of the Week (LWOTW). Every Friday, a different writer will join me for a Q&A about the craft and business of writing.

I’m very much looking forward to getting started with all these clever, generous folk.


Image Credit: The Garden of Chenenceau, by Clare Rhoden


Living on the edge

The older couple wriggled their way through to the front of the crowd. In only a few minutes, the aging rock star of their courting days would pass by in his elevated limo, beaming and waving, flashing the shiny ceramic imposter of his once-famous  smile. The old woman had prepared a small bunch of flowers to throw – nothing too heavy, for their idol was even older than they, and nobody wanted an incident: Aged Groupie’s Gladiolus Tribute Takes Out Star’s Eye. The crowd of younger fans eddied and heaved around them. The old man took her elbow, protecting her somewhat from the metal barrier that lined the roadway as well as the press of people behind.

A rising tide of sound marked where the star’s cavalcade was approaching from the left. As the wave of excitement rolled towards the old couple, a security guard unhitched the metal barrier. The pair suddenly found themselves staggering onto the roadway. As they disappeared under the great wheels of the big black car, the guard re-hitched the barrier.

Another group of fans squeezed their way to the front. Here’s the next lot, thought the guard, carefully folding her wings behind her. She looked over the crowd to the back, where new people joined the throng in an irregular pattern, not unlike the on-and-off disappearance of those at the front. Like lemmings, she thought, so eager for life that they fall right off the edge without even realising it.

She unhitched the barrier again, and waved another few people through.


Image: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10587


Ginger Spoodle barked, as in, BARKED!!!! way too early on a weekend morning. Someone coming! Someone on our patch!

It was our favourite tradies. The builders had returned on Saturday morning to finish our bathroom and kitchen renovation. Their final task was to caulk every crevice and gap in the wall tiles, splashbacks, and on the floor. Within two hours, we were all systems go.

Time for our work to begin. Every box, drawer, shelf and cupboard in the place has to be unpacked, every item has to be cleaned and put in its new-or-old place.

Problem is that I have found too many things that I haven’t even missed during the weeks of renovation. Why do I have all these cups and spoons? That tray? This jug? The other thingy?

File:2503 - Athens - Temple of Athena Nike being restored - Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto, Nov 11 2009.jpg

Time for a strict household EDIT (yep, it’s an anagram of diet!). Sure, it’s going to take a few days, but the end result will be worthwhile. The house will work better without the excess, unnecessary items.

And so will my writing. A lot of what I’ve written is scaffolding around the core story, scaffolding which has performed its task and can now be taken away. A few days’ housework may help me identify the flabby words when I get back to the manuscript.

Maybe I’ve been renovating my brain as well as my house.

Image by Giovanni Dall’Orto, via wikimedia commons at  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2503_-_Athens_-_Temple_of_Athena_Nike_being_restored_-_Photo_by_Giovanni_Dall%27Orto,_Nov_11_2009.jpg


In the city

I just pushed my way in.

That’s the first sentence I heard as I strode across the bridge over the Yarra on my way to a watercolour class. I’ve read about a writing exercise where you put together randomly heard phrases and create a story.

I just pushed my way in.

You can’t wear that.

Are you happy now? She’s crying.


No, the next one.


Maybe it’s a poem, or a flash fiction. I liked the words so much I almost walked against the traffic lights. I tried not to see the speakers. I’m imagining how those words would sound, how they would carry meaning, in different settings. When they are not on the bridge over the Yarra.

How would they sound in a snow-bound forest? On an ocean liner? On top of a mountain? In a derelict house? Outside the classroom? In the foyer of a bank? At the kitchen table? In a cafe? At the beach? On a train? In a waiting room? In the Tardis? While Vesuvius is erupting? At the Queen’s coronation? In a container full of refugees?

Perennial problem. Too many stories to tell. Stacked like logs in a pile. Which one to choose? I can’t tell them all 🙁



New Year: the year of yes

Sure, I can do it. 2017 is the year to make stuff happen. I’m very excited about having a publishing contract from the wonderful Odyssey Books (‘where books are an adventure’). That means I have to fulfil my end of the deal: become discoverable, share my writing, and stay alert. In other words, act like a real author!

For someone who spends a great deal of time thinking and writing and reading and generally living inside her own head, the task of maintaining a decent online presence is a little daunting. However, this year is my time to carry on the Obama legacy: yes we can.