The Coping Kete

Category Archives: Expression & Support

No. 150: Make a Memory Jar

This week, to attain, maintain or regain your sense of wellbeing…

… practice holding onto good memories by making and using a Memory Jar. To make a Memory Jar, all you need to do is get a jar with a lid that you can fill with reminders of your positive, special or treasured memories throughout the year. Each day, write down at least one positive thing you want to remember later. Write down the small things like amazing views or scenery you have seen or fabulous food you have eaten or moments of laughter with friends as well as the big events and achievements that happen throughout the days and weeks of the year.  Some people add objects and pictures to their memory jars too – like ticket stubs from good movies and concerts, photos of friends, shells from beach trips, dried flowers etc etc. Your Memory Jar can become a real lucky dip of treasured moments that you will be able to use as fuel for feeling good in days to come.

To start with, you’ll need to get my Memory Jar ready.  Click here to see some Memory Jars made by other people. Some people decorate their memory jars – you could get really creative with this.

Next schedule in some time each day for the next week, to write at least one new memory on a slip of paper and add it to the jar.  If you have been feeling low, try to choose a time of the day when you usually feel the best. It is harder to notice positives when we are feeling negative, so if you find it tough to think of positive memories from the day, don’t be hard on yourself for it. It helps to start small with just little things that have brought us a bit of pleasure. You might find it easier to write things down as they happen or to think back further than this one day or week.

At the end of the week, look through your Memory Jar and practice remembering each of the good moments. Plan how to continue adding to your jar as you move through the year and then dip into it when you need some help to hold on to the good bits alongside the areas of dissatisfaction you carry or for those times you need some inspiration for how to feel better. It might help to keep it somewhere you will see it often. Reviewing your Memory Jar regularly will help you to get comfortable holding your positive memories in mind without cancelling them out with the bad stuff that has happened. This can help us to prevent the difficult things from taking over our whole view.

You might find yourself having pessimistic or cynical thoughts about the activity, especially if you are in a low mood right now. Finding it hard to remember positive things doesn’t mean that there have been no positive things. It just means you haven’t noticed any positive things or you didn’t count them when you did, maybe they seemed inconsequential or insignificant. Sometimes it can help to write down something you think you would find positive on a different day if you were in a better mood. By practicing the art of writing something down every day, you will practice holding onto positive memories in the face of difficulty and hardship, when it is all too easy to forget them. You’ll also have a really neat record of your year to look back on in days to come.

As you gather more and more memories in your jar, and get comfortable noticing, recording and recalling positive memories, add ‘Use My Memory Jar’ to your Personal Coping Kete for moments of stress and distress. If you are finding things hard, take out your Memory Jar and use it to shift my thoughts to good times and moments of gratitude and find some ideas for things to do in the present to shift your mood. In times of stress and distress, as well as remembering good memories, try to add one new good memory to your Memory Jar a day. Even when everything is terrible, you will be able to find one good thing to add to your Memory Jar. Doing this during tough times might help you to balance out some of your unwanted thoughts and feelings and shift the intensity of your moods a bit.

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Happy New Year from Engage Aotearoa/CMHRT and Engage Resources Ltd.

No. 148: Practice Compassion

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice being compassionate towards myself. When I notice critical thoughts or judgments about myself or things I have done or not done, I will practice responding in my mind with kind words, that share sensitivity for my suffering and respect for my humanity. I will practice choosing compassionate and accepting words to talk to myself about my mistakes, weaknesses, flaws and limitations.  Other people can criticise me if they wish, but I will give myself compassion.

As I move through my week, I will keep an eye out for self-talk that is harsh, critical and judgmental. For example, I will watch out for self-talk where I label myself stupid or useless when I make a mistake. When I notice I am labeling myself harshly for my mistakes and limitations, I will give myself compassion by pausing to remind myself it is human to struggle. I will appreciate my strengths by remembering them to myself and recalling that my flaws and limitations are simply part of a whole, not all that I am.  By responding to myself with compassion throughout the week, I will practice accepting my whole self, warts and all. I do not need to be perfect, nor would I want to be.

When I am used to talking to myself with compassion and acceptance on an ordinary day, I will add ‘talk to myself with compassion’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping with stress and distress. When I find myself in distress, I will be mindful of how I am talking to myself and be careful to use compassionate words. In times of stress and distress, I will be better able to give myself messages of kindness, instead of giving myself messages of shame or judgement that make me feel worse.

No. 142: The No Sandwich

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…
…I will practice being assertive by using ‘the no sandwich’ in my daily life when I find myself wanting to say ‘No’ to something I have been asked.

The No Sandwich involves saying ‘No’ as the middle part of a three-statement sandwich: Empathy Statement + No I Can’t + Empathy Statement. Saying no this way tells the person, I understand what you need and it does matter to me, even though I cannot do what is being asked, I feel for your situation and our relationship is important to me. This is a useful way of saying no without offending people.

This week, I will practice the No Sandwich in the times I would ordinarily say no to something day-to-day and non-emotional, like if I am offered a food or beverage I don’t want at the time or asked to go out when I am not free. I will use these unemotional situations to practice the technique.

The No Sandwich Goes Like This…

  1. A positive or empathy statement about what has been asked or why it has been asked. E.G. “That sounds like it could be fun” or “I can totally relate to being so busy you can’t get it all done yourself, it is so stressful, I’m kind of in the same boat.”
  2. I’m sorry, no I can’t… E.G. “I’m sorry, no I can’t go out tonight.” or “I’m sorry, no I can’t pick up that extra work at the moment.”
  3. A second positive or empathy statement. E.G “I hope you enjoy yourself though.” or “I hope you are able to find some way to ease the pressure soon.” 
 Practicing the No Sandwich on day-to-day things might help me get my own needs met more, manage my time and deal with the demands of saying ‘no’ without having to worry about causing anyone offense. If someone does not accept my No Sandwich, I will offer them another one.
Part of saying no, involves knowing what we do and do not want and accepting those wants and needs as valid. We all have different levels of awareness of our own needs, so part of this week might also involve noticing my own needs and how I respond to them, such as whether I usually tend to put them aside to please others or not. I might start the week by making a list of things I know I need this week, like time to sleep, prepare and eat food, do my work or study tasks, house-work and family time, friends time and alone-time, so I know where my boundaries are on the day-to-day stuff from the start.
When I am comfortable using the No Sandwich to say ‘no’ in ordinary day-to-day situations, I will add The No Sandwich to my Personal Coping Kete  as a way of expressing myself during times of stress and distress, when others may be crossing my personal boundaries or asking more of me than I am comfortable giving. When I am distressed, I will be able to use the No Sandwich to say ‘no’ to the things that don’t help me in a positive way. 

No. 137: Use the Three Gates of Expression

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

… I will practice effective expression by regularly pausing before I speak to ask myself three questions.

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?

I will let my answers to these questions guide me in what I choose to say and how I choose to say it. In this way I will get used to (1) speaking accurately, (2) saying what I need to say and (3) expressing myself respectfully, even if what I have to say might be hard for the person to hear.

This strategy is inspired by a Sufi saying that translates into English as:

Before you speak, let your words pass through three gates.
At the first gate, ask yourself, ‘Is it true?’ 
At the second ask, ‘Is it necessary?’
At the third gate ask ‘Is it kind?’

As I move through my week, I will practice pausing and briefly reflecting on these three questions in everyday conversation. This will help me work out how to pause myself, how to think about the three questions and how to work my reflections into what I choose to say. It might be that I need to take time out to reflect or I might be able to reflect quickly in the moment.

When I am familiar with doing this kind of reflective communication, I will add ‘Use the Three Gates of Expression’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of expressing myself during times of stress and distress. When I am upset, I will be able to consider what the grains of truth beneath my reaction are, whether it is necessary for me to talk to this person about this specific thing and how I can express what I have to say kindly and with respect. It might also help me to balance out my thoughts during moments of distress when things can easily become distorted or blown out of proportion.

No. 130: New Descriptions Exercise

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will try experimenting with new ways of describing things. This might help me be able to express myself when I find I want to talk to someone else. But for this week, I’m just going to do it for myself. Once a day, maybe at lunch or before bed, I’ll sit down and do a word-play exercise.

In one column I will write a list of words that are nouns (names of things e.g. sadness, tree, people, day). Beside it, I will make a second column of words that are verbs (action/doing words, e.g. walks, dip, stumble, fall). Then I will mix the two colums together with joining words (‘like’, ‘and’, ‘of’, ‘but’) to make new descriptions of things. Finally, if I want, I will put them all together into a poem.

For example, using the words above… 

Sadness walks

like trees dip

and people stumble

but only

the day

falls over

the edge

~ ~ ~

I could do this with as many or as few words as I want. The point is to spend a bit of time playing around with expression each day.

Once I am a bit used to playing around with words, I will add the ‘New Descriptions Exercise’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of distracting myself from the present and expressing myself in moments of stress and distress. This way I can stop chasing my distressing thoughts and turn my attention to the simple task of listing words and turning them into whatever I can. It might even help me find new ways of looking at things as I go.

No. 128: Ask Someone to Listen

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice expressing myself and getting support by telling someone I trust that I’d like someone to talk to and asking them if they can listen. This is something we pretty much all need to do when the going gets tough, but which can be really hard to do if we are distressed and out of practice. This week, at the end of each day, I will call or visit someone and ask them if they can lend me an ear so I can get some of the day’s stress off my chest. Then I’ll tell them a bit about my day and anything stressful that has stuck with me. By checking in with them about their day as well, I’ll be able to help them leave the conversation feeling listened to as well. This might bring us closer.  Sometimes it can help to let people know what we are up to – I might even tell some of my friends that I am practicing asking for help and talking about my problems and that they might hear from me as I go.

Once I am comfortable asking someone to listen, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of coping in times of distress. I will be used to talking to people about small stresses and I will be used to reaching out, so it will be easier to do.

No. 125: Connect with Being Part of a Community

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice connecting with the community around me. This week, as I move through each day, I will practice belonging to my community and letting my community belonging to me. We so often live right next to each other for years, without ever stopping to say ‘hey how is it going?’ to each other and the world can become a lonely, anonymous place at times.

This week, I will say hello to the shop-keepers and checkout operators and stop to pass the time of day. I will introduce myself to my neighbours if I don’t know them and pause to chat when I see them.   I will take part in any free, public events and projects like music in parks, open mic nights, art exhibitions or tree planting working bees. I will walk around my community and appreciate the spaces around me. I will take the time to ask people about themselves and what they do, whenever I have a chance so I can learn about the people around me.

All the while I will remind myself that I am part of a wider community and the wider community is part of me. When I am bored or at a loose end, I will do something to connect with being part of that community. This week I practice getting to know my community and letting my community get to know me.

After engaging with my community for a while, I will be well prepared to self-soothe and distract myself from negative thoughts and feelings when the going gets tough. The experience of connection will be like ammo when I find myself feeling disconnected or lonely. Connecting with my community may help me practice expressing myself to others and build a wider support network of people I could turn to in a rough spot.

When I am familiar with doing things that connect me to my community, I will add ‘Connect with Being Part of a Community’ to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of shifting my mood during times of stress and distress. If I am feeling down, I will be able to turn to one of my familiar community connection strategies to distract myself. Doing things that connect me with my community might also help to self-soothe some things too, especially if I’ve been feeling isolated. When I notice my self-talk seems lonely, I will remind myself of my previous experiences of being connected to self-soothe and I will try to put some of my previous activities into action.


No. 119: Talk About Solutions

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice positive communication as a way of expressing myself. This week, I will practice talking to people about solutions, rather than identifying things I am unhappy about. Whenever I feel like complaining or raising an issue with someone, I will practice flipping it on its head and talking about what I want to see instead. For example, instead of saying “I don’t like it when you spill food on the carpet,” this week I would say “I’d really like you to have a plate.”

First off, I will need to take a moment to think about what I would like to see in the situation so I can express it to those around me. I’ll use simple, positive language to let the people around me know what I want to happen. In this way, throughout the week I will get used to identifying solutions to problems and negative feelings and expressing them to the people around me.

Once I am comfortable talking about solutions to everyday problems to the people around me, I will add the strategy to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of dealing with distressing situations with other people. If I find myself upset or stressed about something, I will be able to think about the possible solutions to the problems and talk to the person about those solutions and how we could put them into action together.

No. 114: List Poems

This week, to attain, maintain or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will spend 10 – 15 minutes every day writing a list poem about the things I have seen, done and felt that day. Each evening, I will sit down with a notebook and write a list of five things I saw that day, five things I did that day and five things I felt or thought. I will try to make each item on each list different. Then I will rearrange or join the items on my lists into a poem. I might add words and images or change things in my lists as well.

In this way I will practice regularly reflecting on my daily experience and finding a creative way to express it. While I am thinking of the words to use and working on rearranging the lines, I might get a bit of time out from worrying about things. If I get distracted by concerns of the day I will work them into the list and return my focus to the creative task at hand.  By working to include a number of different experiences in the list I will practice having an expansive awareness of my day without letting one experience override everything I have been aware of.

If I felt like it, I could share my poems with someone else as a way to connect with support and encouragement, but they are really something that I will do just for myself.

Once I am comfortable making list poems about a typical day, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a strategy for distracting myself from the moment and creatively expressing myself in times of stress and distress.

Example list poem. 


The aluminium sky
the neighbour’s stray cat
my own reflection in the window
outside the path littered with petals
the wind-blown tree.

I have typed so many messages
dressed myself to match
bought new socks and worn them
cooked hot food and eaten it
peeled an orange and given you half.
My small victories. 

I was caring about everything
sadness for all the news
I thought I saw you flinch when I said that
worrying over the day’s mathematics
joy in the act of nurturing something.

 – M. Barr

No. 111: Make Someone a Card

This week, to attain, maintain, or regain my sense of wellbeing…

…I will practice turning my attention to something positive by taking time in my week to make a card for someone I am grateful to for something and deliver or post it to them. I will schedule a time later in the week to make the card, so I have plenty of time to get organised. For the next little while, I will think over the people and things that I am grateful for until I think of a person I want to acknowledge and make a card for. It could be for something big, something small, something recent, or something from a long time ago.  It doesn’t really matter, but if this kind of thing makes me nervous, I could pick something small, like a recent favour from a friend. Once I have thought of someone, I will start getting ready to get creative.

I will want to find some card or paper to make it out of and design my own image for the front – I could draw something or cut pictures out of magazines or print something off a computer – but I won’t buy the card, this week’s strategy is also about using my creativity.  Finally, I will write a short thank-you message on the inside, letting them know I appreciate what they have added to my life.  I might need to spend a little while drafting what I want to say on some scrap paper. No matter what is happening in my day this week, I will find time each day to think about or work on making my card to someone I am thankful for. It is much harder to do these things when we feel low, so I might do it in little bursts, bringing my attention mindfully back to the card and where I am up to with it, whenever I am able. 

This week, I am practicing the art of emphasising the good stuff. It’s not a skill that comes naturally to all of us, and modern life isn’t set up to help us remember to notice and highlight the things we are grateful for.

Making a thank-you card means I will practice turning my attention towards positive memories as well as get a chance to practice letting myself be creative. By sending the card, I am learning another way of sending positive vibes out into the lives of others. These are all things I could feel good about.

Once I have gotten comfortable being aware of the things I am grateful for and making a card for someone at any old time, I will add it to my Personal Coping Kete as a way of balancing my attention when life seems to be throwing all the hard stuff my way. When I notice I am finding things distressing on a regular basis, I will spend some time thinking of things I am grateful for, making a card to acknowledge one, and sending it to the person. Each time I notice myself getting pessimistic, I will bring my thoughts back to my card and the meaning behind it to help balance my thoughts and remember that it isn’t all bad, all the time.