What I Learnt From 90 Days of Keeping a Journal - Eleanor Snare - featured image

What I Learnt From 90 Days of Keeping a Journal

In this article, I’ll share with you my experience of 90 days of keeping a journal. Yes, that’s 90 consecutive days, without fail.

Included in this article are the ways in which I journal, how I made it a lasting habit, and a few of the things I learnt. All these are things you can do – and if you’re thinking keeping a journal might be something you’d like to explore, I hope this will give you the encouragement you need.

Through the article are pictures of my organisational journal I share regularly on Instagram – follow me here.
What I Learnt From 90 Days of Keeping a Journal - Eleanor Snare


Journalling is a simple process; writing (or drawing, or whatever) about your experiences. It’s a bit like a diary, except the emphasis is on examining and understanding your response to the situations of your life, rather than documenting them as if you were an observer.

If you re-read your teenage diaries, you’ll notice this; we talk about things that happened and feelings we had in quite a detached and blunt way, without really applying the necessary introspection to get anything out of the experience.

One part of contemporary journalling is the beautifying of journals, particularly organisational ones. But your journal doesn’t have to be all fancy; it’s all about the process.

There are a number of interconnected studies documenting the benefits of regularly keeping a journal. These include improved emotional intelligence, greater ability to deal with mental health challenges and deeper gratitude.

Anyone who has ever written a ‘fuck you’ email – the one you immediately delete after writing it – will know exactly how therapeutic writing can be. Just so with journalling.

For the last 90 days I’ve been practising a reflective and an organisational journal. Here, I’ll be mainly discussing my reflective journal because it’s this process which has given me the most benefits.

I am happy and willing to talk about my mental health challenges, and this is one of the reasons I’d like to share my experience of journalling with you; keeping a journal has had a profound, positive impact on this area of my life, as it has with many other people.



I keep two journals; one organisational and one reflective.

My organisational one is the one you’ll have seen on Instagram if you follow me there; I love creating the different spreads each week and showcasing how you can make a normal working week look exciting (thanks, stickers!).

It’s a public document which combines my love of planning and organisation with an unhealthy obsession with collage, scrapbooking, cute stickers and washi tape. Originally, this journal started as a bullet journal, but over time it’s morphed into a something more art-based and imaginative.

My reflective journal is the personal, in-depth, completely private journal. In it, I explore my day, my emotions and thoughts, and my reaction to the events of my life. It is often a hard thing to write (and even less pleasant to read back). I use a number of prompts to help make the process simpler, which have developed over the 90 days I’ve been writing.

Having two separate documents is a way to manage two separate but intrinsically linked parts of my life; the outer expression of myself, both organisationally and creatively, and the inner expression of the person I am.



I read somewhere it takes 90 days to form a true lifestyle change – compared to 21, 28 or 66 for a habit (depending on the source) – which is why I chose to aim for 90 days.

But it turns out 90 might be arbitrary too, and lifestyle changes are more about personality and strength of will than other factors like semi-random numbers. Who knew?

Whatever the number, it’s been difficult to make it to 90 days. Sometimes I still forget, especially when I’m busy, and end up writing the entry last thing at night rather than in the morning when I would prefer to do it. But I have used some simple techniques to make it into a habit.

Write your reflective journal in the same book each time.
I started by writing in a notebook, then forgot it and wrote on pieces of paper, then in another book – and it got confusing. Pick a nice, portable notebook and do it there.

Form a ritual around writing your journal.
This means picking a time, place and other small habit to go with the writing which will remind you to do it. Mine tends to be after breakfast, with a cup of tea, or at a mid-morning coffee break when I’m teaching.

Don’t worry about it being perfect/right/legible.
At first, I wrote very little in my journal; I was terrified of someone finding it. After a while, you stop thinking about it as a thing to be read and start thinking of it as a thing to be written. Looks, legibility, grammar and spelling don’t matter here.

Mark off the days to your goal.
Each one of my journal entries has a number from 1 to 90 marked next to it, so I could see how I was progressing. It was a small indication of my goal, but remembering that number and where I was up to helped me keep doing it.



Here are some of the many things I’ve learnt over the last 90 days of keeping a journal.

Deeper understanding of my feelings and their context
By writing down my emotions alongside what was happening in my day, I’ve been better able to understand where the regular triggers are, and how to mitigate that.

For example, I noticed I’ll often feel rushed as I’m writing my journal, because I’m desperate to get the day underway – but this can make me feel stressed too. To balance, I’ve attempted to calm myself and be present as much as possible during that time.

More nuanced expression of my feelings
Through reflective journalling I can now express myself more freely to myself – before I would often not write what I was thinking but a more concise, often less sweary version.

Because of this and the journalling process I think I can now express myself more effectively to others, with kindness and tact which before I might not have had.

Knowing what I do each day
Planning the day and describing the activities of the day have both contributed to learning more about what I do each day (you’d be surprised at how un-seeing you are of your day normally).

This in turn has led me to question the activities, and to consider whether that day led towards my life’s purpose – or whether it was a bit of a tangent.

Increased gratitude
My reflective journalling has a specific place which asks about gratitude, but I also record gratitude as I go along in my organisational journal. I am much, much more grateful for my life than I was when I started. This gratitude then helps me smooth over the struggles of a day, week or months and improves my quality of life.

Greater awareness of negative self-talk
Reading through previous journal entries has helped me understand the most common themes of negative self-talk I riff on. The main theme is not appreciating, or sometimes even acknowledging my successes.

Without reflecting on my life, I wouldn’t see this as clearly, and I wouldn’t understand the damage it has on my self-esteem – and I wouldn’t be able to change that.



Journalling, particularly reflective journalling, is an introspective process which has plenty of proven benefits for mental health and wellbeing. Making it a habit can be tricky, but by setting aside a time and place and not worrying about it being ‘perfect’, can help you on your way.

There’s lots to learn from journalling too; practising it can help you understand your emotions and reactions more, increase your gratitude, and lead you to ways you can combat negative self-talk.

You can start a journal at any time, and you’ll see the benefits almost immediately. You can do it in any form that works for you, and document any aspect of your life you like. The key is to spend time reflecting, not just describing, to get the most out of it.

Do you keep a journal? What are your tips for making it a lasting habit?


How The Research Behind Keeping New Year’s Resolutions Can Help You Set Better Goals

It’s been nearly two weeks since the first day of 2017. How have you done with your New Year’s resolutions?

It’s likely after a week you’ll still be on track – 75% of us who make resolutions are successful seven days in. But by six months, this has dropped to around 40% (Norcross, 2012). Not sticking to your goals can make you feel disappointed, ashamed and unhappy, which has an effect the next time you make – or attempt to achieve – goals.

Goal-setting and success is much more complex than it looks; much more complex even than the SMART method you might’ve been taught. But by understanding this you can set more effective goals and enjoy achieving them. In this article I’ll show you the research behind goal-setting and the ways my own experience changed how I’ve set goals for 2017.




To illustrate the complexity of goal-setting, take two pieces of research, around 15 years apart involving some of the same team. In 1981, Locke and colleagues saw better performance in 90% of their studies where participants had specific and challenging goals, compared to easy or no goals. So challenging goals can help encourage high performance.

Conversely, in 2006, a culmination of Locke and Latham’s research showed significant levels of poor performance in studies involving participants who had a challenging goal, but were intimidated by its level. So if the goal is too difficult, it can result in poor performance.

The question is: how do you know what’s a challenging goal, and what’s a too-challenging goal?

How do you know what you can achieve before you’ve achieved it?

Lots of us will feel passionately that setting goals is ‘a good thing’. I’ve always been a firm believer in goals, plans, and anything that can fill up a nice chart. And by setting goals, you can change what happens through narrowing the activities you focus on, encouraging persistence and effort, and modifying behaviour (Locke and Budworth, 2007).

Yet the success of your goal depends on a complex array of factors. For example, the commitment you make to others regarding your goal can be a deciding factor in whether it’s achieved or not (Locke and Latham, 2002). That’s why many goal-setting guides will tell you to tell other people about what you’re doing, or why ‘check in’ weight-loss groups are often effective.

Goal difficulty and goal proximity also have a strong effect on goal setting and achievement (Steel and Konig, 2006). Goal proximity could also be known as ‘the deadline effect’. Set a goal for a year in advance and you might plan carefully and stick with it – or you might lose momentum because it’s too far away to be of concern. Set a deadline of something very difficult for next week and you could be pushed into action, or overwhelmed with the challenge.


So the research shows setting goals is not a simple task, and achieving them is even harder. As an avid goal setter and achievement queen, I found this out first hand.

In the middle of last year I set myself 12 individual goals to achieve by the end of the year, ranging from specific and timely (“Throw myself into researching for the Global Fashion conference”) to general and a bit more exciting (“Book a really good holiday”). I used Lisa Jacobs’ mid-year review to help me, and for any goal-setting nerds like me it’s a refreshing way to put your goals together.

Out of my 12 goals, by the end of the year I’d been completely successful with 50% of them. Five others I did partially, and one I sacked off completely. Can the research into goal-setting help explain why some of my goals were successful, and others weren’t?

To a greater extent, yes.

The goals I achieved most successfully were specific and challenging, but most importantly they had proximity; they were events I needed to attend, or things which had a deadline. They were also the goals where I was committed to others – either explicitly, like presenting at a conference, or implicitly, like writing articles for blog readers.

The least successful goals were vague and too challenging – too much for me to achieve in the allotted time. Importantly, they were also goals where there was no feedback system in place; no-one to talk to about my progress or my “improvement in time management” or whatever goal it was.

The most radical difference between my successful and unsuccessful goals was whether or not I was learning something. Goal-setting research distinguishes between learning goals – where one is exploring and developing knowledge – and performance goals, where something definitive must be achieved.

Where I had learning goals, I succeeded to some extent – even if they were vague, like “Do more interesting research”. Where I had performance goals, I was much more likely to fail.

One of the reasons for this is clear: 

For complex tasks, goal-setting may actually impair performance (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997)

We’re so focused on ticking the box of a performance task that we end up doing anything we can to get there, which might bypass the learning opportunities available with complex tasks. I love learning, so I instinctively strayed from those goals where learning wasn’t a key factor.

Something to consider is our contemporary culture of setting #goals, openly or subconsciously, for every area of your life, from breakfast to relationships. And yet, I can’t think of a more “complex task” than life itself. What’s the effect of this consistent reduction of the complex task performance of life into a series of performance goals? What are we missing out on learning by prioritising tick-box achievements?

My yoga teacher often talks about ‘making the shape’ of the posture, but not really embodying the posture fully. I see the #goals culture in the same way; we are ‘making the shape’ of the achievement, helping it be visible to others, but not embodying achievement as it applies to our idiosyncratic and very complex lives.

In practice

The result from my investigations and my personal experience is to rethink what goals mean to me, and to work with the proven flows of my mind, rather than against it.

First, I’ve significantly reduced the number of goals I have for this year; in the last six months of 2016 it was 12; for 2017 I have just four. My criteria for this year is ‘experimentation’, helping me put learning at the heart of what I’m doing, and my goals are all oriented to learning, which means I much more likely to commit to and therefore achieve them.

I’ve built in clear sharing and feedback mechanisms, not only so I have committed to others but so my goals aren’t lonely. Plus, I’ve made them much more diverse; last year I focused predominantly on work, but this year they cover much broader areas of my life.


Understanding how the process of goal-setting can affect your success in achieving goals is key to making them enjoyable and meaningful, rather than binding rules or likely failures which knock your confidence.

I hope this research and my experience has helped you look with fresh eyes at your New Year’s resolutions. If you’d like some further support read Five Clear Ways to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions.


Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1997). Finding flow: the psychology of engagement with everyday life. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0465045138. OCLC 36315862.

Latham, Gary P.; Budworth, Marie-Hélène (2007). “The study of work motivation in the 20th century”. In Koppes, Laura L.; Thayer, Paul W.; Vinchur, Andrew J.; Salas, Eduardo. Historical perspectives in industrial and organizational psychology. Series in applied psychology. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 353–382 (366). ISBN 0805844406. OCLC 71725282.

Locke, Edwin A.; Latham, Gary P. (September 2002). “Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: a 35-year odyssey” (PDF). American Psychologist. 57 (9): 705–717. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.57.9.705. PMID 12237980.

Locke, Edwin A.; Latham, Gary P. (October 2006). “New directions in goal-setting theory” (PDF). Current Directions in Psychological Science. 15 (5): 265–268. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8721.2006.00449.x.

Locke, Edwin A.; Shaw, Karyll N.; Saari, Lise M..; Latham, Gary P. (July 1981), “Goal setting and task performance: 1969–1980” (PDF), Psychological Bulletin, 90 (1): 125–152, doi:10.1037/0033-2909.90.1.125, retrieved 2010-06-01

Steel, Piers; König, Cornelius J. (October 2006). “Integrating theories of motivation” (PDF). Academy of Management Review. 31 (4): 889–913. doi:10.5465/AMR.2006.22527462.


Five Clear Ways to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions

Despite January being a terrible month for positive vibes, weather and cash flow, many of us are still riding high on the continuing success of our New Year’s resolutions. Whether it’s exercising more, going on Facebook less or simply letting things be, there’s plenty of research behind why setting goals can be effective in helping us succeed.

But there are also many studies which show goals which are too challenging or limiting can significantly impair our behaviour.

From investigating some of the theory behind goal-setting, and my own experiences from 2016, here are five tips to help you keep your New Year’s resolutions – and avoid being one of the 60% who fail after six months (Norcross, 2012).

5-clear-ways-to keep your new year's resolutions

Choose fewer, clearer goals

Last year I decided to write down 12 goals halfway through the year, which I wanted to achieve by the end of 2016. That was an overwhelming number, and my attention was spread too thinly.

One of the strongest reasons for setting goals is to help us focus our attention on what really matters (Latham and Budworth, 2007), so if you have a list of more than five goals for 2017, I suggest stopping right there. And maybe cutting it down a little.

Focus on learning rather than performance goals

My experience from last year showed I was most likely to achieve a goal where I had to learn things (like “Write more blog posts”) rather than one which was focused on performance (like “Be more disciplined about my time”). This is reflected in goal-setting literature, which suggests goal-setting for complex tasks where learning is required can have a negative impact on performance.

Try focusing on learning goals for this year, where you get to explore new topics and develop knowledge; you might find them more enjoyable, as well as giving you a greater chance of success.

Be clear on difficulty and proximity

The difficulty of your chosen goal and its proximity – the amount of time you have to achieve it – are very important, particularly if you do decide to set performance goals like “Lift the biggest weights in the gym” (Steel and Konig, 2006). A distant deadline may give you a false sense of security; regular check-ins are much more likely to keep you on track. Don’t just set a final deadline – set mini-deadlines to help you.

Difficulty is hard to measure yourself – how do you know what you can achieve before you’ve achieved it? – so take time to speak to others who have been successful in their goals, or who are experts in their field. I don’t think you should be too realistic because ambition can be encouraging, but don’t make it so difficult it becomes killer to try and achieve a single goal.

Build in feedback and sharing mechanisms

The success of your goal depends partly on the commitment you make to other people regarding the goal – either by telling them, or by including them in your goal (Locke and Latham, 2012). By sharing your goal with others, it can encourage accountability and realism. More importantly it reduces the loneliness of goal-achieving.

Feedback is also key. Another element which contributes to the success of goal-setting is self-efficacy – the belief you have that you can achieve that goal. Positive and critical feedback from others can help you develop self-efficacy and keep you on the path to success.

Make your goals diverse

The old saying of “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” applies to goals. Last year, nine of my 12 goals related to work. I did well at work, but other parts of my life suffered. This year, I have four goals spread evenly across essential areas of my life.

Take time to make your goals diverse, ensuring you are focusing attention and caring for a rich variety of things in your life. You’ll gain greater pleasure from feeling your whole life being enlivened by your goal-achieving activities, and you’ll make a more interesting dinner party guest.

Having goals is something many of us consider ‘a good thing’, so try making 2017 a year where you set – and achieve – goals you can be really proud of by following these five tips.

If you want to find out more about the science of goal-setting, and my own experience, read How the Research Behind Keeping New Year’s Resolutions Can Help You Set Better Goals.

What are your goals for this year?


Latham, Gary P.; Budworth, Marie-Hélène (2007). “The study of work motivation in the 20th century”. In Koppes, Laura L.; Thayer, Paul W.; Vinchur, Andrew J.; Salas, Eduardo. Historical perspectives in industrial and organizational psychology. Series in applied psychology. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. pp. 353–382 (366). ISBN 0805844406. OCLC 71725282.

Locke, Edwin A.; Latham, Gary P. (September 2002). “Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: a 35-year odyssey” (PDF). American Psychologist. 57 (9): 705–717. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.57.9.705. PMID 12237980.

Steel, Piers; König, Cornelius J. (October 2006). “Integrating theories of motivation” (PDF). Academy of Management Review. 31 (4): 889–913. doi:10.5465/AMR.2006.22527462.

How to Deal with Family Who Don't Value a Sustainable Christmas | Eleanor Snare

How to Deal with Family Who Don’t Value a Sustainable Christmas


It’s December, I’ve started listening to festive songs and preparations for Christmas are fully underway. I want to have a sustainable a Christmas as possible – just like I want my whole life to be as sustainable as possible – and maybe you do too.

But knowing we’re all at different points on our journey of sustainability, how are you supposed to deal with friends and family who don’t want a sustainable Christmas?

This year, I’ve seen plenty of excellent ethical and sustainable gift guides, vegan or vegetarian Christmas recipes, and tips on how to significantly reduce your environmental impact this festive season.

But unless you’re spending Christmas by yourself – consciously or not – it’s very likely other people will be involved in your celebrations. And other people mean problems. They mean things you can’t control.

Things like Quality Street wrappers. Mountains of metallic paper. Blister packs, cellophane and teeny, tiny cable ties. Far too much food. Glitter.

These are all unsustainable Christmas things which happen when other people are involved.

Here’s a guide to dealing with other people’s lack of sustainability at Christmas, your own obsessions, and when sometimes it’s ok to take a pit stop on the sustainability journey.


P.S. My family make every Christmas wonderful and I wouldn’t change a thing about them. They are not the family of the title.


Tips and ideas on dealing with a family who don't value sustainability at Christmas time | Eleanor Snare


Christmas cards

You could argue Christmas cards are incredibly wasteful; most are made from virgin wood pulp, many contain elements which are difficult to recycle (e.g. glitter or sequins) and nearly all end up getting shredded in the New Year.

And yet, my family live far away from each other. We lost a key member of our family this year. Christmas cards are a way for us to stay together, whether we are physically together or not. There’s something about seeing my friends’ and family’s handwriting – rather than an e-card – which makes me feel connected to them.

I bought my cards back in the sale in January and have plenty left over from previous Christmases, which I’ll be putting into use this year. Any new ones will be charitable or eco-friendly.

After Christmas, I’ll make paper decorations from the fronts of the cards – circles strung onto ribbon – which we use to decorate the house each festive season.

This is an area where I feel my family’s approach – send cards, and send lots of them, because it’s about love – is more important to me than the environmental impact, especially when there are plenty of ways to reduce this impact through more sustainable choices.

What you can do

If you feel the card situation is out of control, but you know your family want to send them, ask them to write you a Christmas letter instead; you’re likely to keep it for many years to come, and they’ll still feel like they’re connecting with you across the miles.

E-cards are much nicer than they used to be; Verena Erin has made a great sustainable Christmas tips video which features one brand, Greenvelope. You can buy charity cards online via Cards for Good Causes, or make your own using old Christmas card fronts and brown Kraft card blanks.

Recycle any cards you can, reuse others for decorations, and let family know in advance if you won’t be sending a card. Lack of festive greetings are the things grudges are built on.


Wrapping paper

I come from a family of magpies, so if wrapping paper is glittery, metallic or holographic we can barely tear our eyes away. This sort of paper is very hard or impossible to recycle – often it’s a bonded plastic and paper mix, a bit like coffee cups – and therefore pretty unsustainable.

I also come from a family which secretly takes part in competitive wrapping. The bigger, bedecked and be-ribboned it can be, the better that gift is – fact. Again, an unsustainable amount of stuff goes into wrapping like this, much of it plastic-based.

My own choice (which I practised last year) is to use brown craft paper, recycled papers, fabric ribbons and real ornaments to decorate the presents. All of these can be recycled or reused. This year, I’m also going to attempt to go Sellotape-free to make this process even easier.

I don’t know where to start explaining to my folks that wrapping papers could be unsustainable. They delight in wrapping things beautifully and having a ‘wrapping evening’ (and so do I), so instead I’ll try and showcase sustainable wrapping (see tip below). I’ll also be the one scurrying round, collecting the recyclable bits, flattening the reusable bits, and donating all the gift bags to the local charity shop.

What to do

Showcase your sustainable wrapping expertise with recycled papers, natural decorations and reusable ornaments. You can also find more ideas in Francesca’s guest post for Holly Rose on Leotie Lovely, including links to recycled papers and second hand fabric.

Politely request that the most lavish of your gift-decorating family reins it in this year – or if this feels like an impossibility, set a secretly-sustainable wrapping challenge using only reusable packaging.



Food and drink

I’m not vegetarian, although I’ve significantly cut down the amount of meat I eat. I’m not dairy-free, paleo, vegan or anything like that, so this time of year isn’t a complete minefield for me. But I hate food waste.

Luckily, so do my folks. Bringing Tupperware to a dinner is actively encouraged and my mum is some sort of magician with leftovers. Yet not every family is as anti-waste or as accommodating of alternative diets.

Of all the unsustainable Christmas practices that happen, I think this is one where you can get away with putting your food down. The general population still struggle with effective materials recycling, saving energy and making sustainable choices, but most people get when you make food choices for health or moral reasons.

I’m going to be piling my plate high with veggies and choosing smaller meat portions, as well as offering to cook some of the meals over Christmas – to ease pressure on my folks, provide healthier options and maintain a feeling of control (one of the things which I feel is most missing from Christmas in general).

What to do

Work out what the problem is with your folks not accommodating your choices; is it time, energy, access to the right foods, cost or the feeling you’ve rejected your upbringing? If you can work it out, you can work out a solution – which might be bringing your own foods, contributing to the Christmas food fund, or reassuring them that you still love that specific dish they cook.

If you want to introduce your family to some healthier recipes, Elizabeth of The Note Passer has compiled a blog post, Pinterest board and blog links to vegan recipes – these are for Thanksgiving, but they’d work equally well for Christmas.

Don’t forget as well that you’re allowed to break out of habits occasionally. If you are sworn sugar-free, and you fancy a marzipan fruit, have one; no-one is going to be annoyed that you’re enjoying yourself.



Gifts are the most frustrating, argument-inducing, difficult things to talk about. I really like Alden Wicker’s post on getting your family to give you sustainable presents, which articulates just some of the problems you might face.

As Alden mentions, in 1995 a book was published about The Five Love Languages. My partner and I talk about these a lot to help us understand each other. My top ‘love language’ is quality time.

At the bottom of the list is receiving gifts. Twinned with my sustainability-led value system, this makes me really rubbish at understanding gifting, and being fully appreciative of the gifts I receive.

My value system is not my friends’ or family’s value system. Some of them love stuff. I don’t. You can, and should, talk to your folks about gifts, what they mean, and how you can all feel happy about what you are giving and receiving.

But be aware that when you say “I don’t really like it when you buy me lots of presents”, they might subconsciously feel you’re rejecting one of their favourite ways in which they love you. So how are you going to deal with that at Christmas?

What to do

There are two main areas to tackle: gifts you receive and gifts you give.

You can control, completely, the gifts you give. Ask your family what they actually want – don’t guess, because then if you get it wrong it’s wasteful. If they don’t know, ask if they’d like a donation or a voucher instead. Where you can, get the most sustainable option possible.

Only tell people it’s a sustainable choice if they ask; alternatively, include a little bit of information with the gift for them to read at their leisure. Just like marketing ethical brands, product needs to come first, then ethics.

Sometimes sustainable options can be significantly more expensive than unsustainable choices, and there’s a reluctance to pay if you feel the recipient might not give a toss. Try shopping second-hand on eBay or in charity shops for a cheaper alternative.

Or, and this is a last alternative, don’t worry about it. If your family member wants a £30 gift card from Zara and it makes you feel a bit queasy, ask yourself: which is more important, my ethical stance or their happiness and full use of whatever I get them?

As for gifts you receive, be specific. Make it simple – send links. If you don’t want any gifts at all, explain why and what donations you’d like instead. Be prepared for gifts to be there anyway, and be grateful – they’re showing you love, and that’s important.




Having a sustainable Christmas with friends and family

When sustainability is at the heart of your life, it can be difficult to forget it’s just not that important to other people – and even more difficult to realise that those ‘other people’ are people you love and care for.

I believe in a secular and traditional Christmas; spending time with people who are important to you, in a way you all enjoy. And while sustainability is something I think about every day, it’s not something which is more important than the love for (or of) my family and friends. Sometimes ignoring those things you would consider sustainability ‘blips’ is essential to the happiness of the season.

You can make good choices, and be a visible alternative to the excess consumerism and waste that dominates this time of year. But you can’t control what other people do, and nor should you; they’re on a journey, and they’re trying to show they love you.


Helping others at Christmas time

For many people at this time of year, there are bigger dilemmas than whether or not someone has chosen an easily-recyclable wrapping paper.

Hunger and homelessness are pressing concerns for children and adults across the UK, and can be exacerbated at Christmas. We can’t be a sustainable society until everyone in our population is living in a way which is sustainable, with warmth, food and protection.

The charity Shelter helps people find safety and security all year round. If you read this article and recognise some of us have bigger problems at Christmas, please donate £5.

If you read this and want to help us move to a sustainable society, please donate £5.

If you read this and realise you don’t need to buy a grande cinnamon-spiced latte and mince pie to feel happy, please donate £5.

If you read this and want someone to have a happier Christmas, please donate £5.

And please tell me about it, on here or on Twitter.

Sustainable Employment

Teaching Students How to Think About Sustainable Employment

In a couple of weeks I’m presenting at a sustainability and education conference at Leeds College of Art. My subject is a sustainable employment programme I ran with our third year students last year, based on finding your true purpose in life – not just rushing to get a job without really thinking about it.

A bigger idea of sustainability

Sustainability is something I try to encourage in my students through the way that I work – the behaviours I’m modelling – and when I talk about fashion marketing practices and ideas.

But I know that my journey in sustainable living really began when I started to think about how I, as a unique individual, was making an impact on the world around me and vice versa.

That included how and where I worked. Many marketing agencies can end up being run in an unsustainable way. Staff are stressed, burnt out, and working far too many hours for sometimes very little emotional reward. This is partly due to the nature of the business, but also because we’re wedded to the romantic idea of slaving away over a creative concept.

Yet even the most dedicated and passionate creative people still need time to rejuvenate themselves. They still need some sort of reward to make sure they feel energised and able to sustain their work – and more often than not this is not a financial incentive, but something more profound or meaningful.

A better template for new workers

If we want to change this template of creative work, it’s essential we put a new way of working and viewing employment into practice with students. They may never have had a full time job before, and may have challenging expectations of life after university. So modelling new sustainable behaviours now, during education, can help put them on a meaningful path for life.

To try and do this, I ran an employment programme with my final year students which is the subject of my research.

Employment programmes can often focus on what marketing folk would call the ‘tactics’ of employment; the day-to-day activities required to get a job, like having a great CV, or understanding how to conduct an excellent interview.

However, tactics aren’t that useful if you don’t have an objective. In marketing, there’s no point doing Facebook ads if you don’t have a reason for doing them. In employment-seeking, there’s no point having a great CV if you don’t know what your true purpose in life is.

My employment program was designed to help students work out what their objectives might be, not just for work but for long-term, lifelong plans.

Ikigai and employment

It was based on the concept of ikigai, a Japanese term translating as ‘the reason for which you get up in the morning’. There’s an excellent TED Talk which explains the concepts in more detail and which you can watch here.

Framing employment in a broader sense through ‘the reason for which you get up in the morning’, we were able to open up discussions about what having a good job really meant and what a good job even was. Too often we are focused on a job as a way of accruing economic capital. However, there is the opportunity to see your job as a way of releasing and rejuvenating human capital; the intelligence, energy, skills and vibrancy locked into individual human beings through the process of education.

Through the program, students were given tools to introduce them to ikigai and exercises to help them start to plan future employment, in particular as part of a larger and comprehensively fulfilling life plan.

A positive result

The feedback from the program has been incredibly positive. As always there are lots of things to learn about and do differently so that, year-on-year, the program can improve. But the biggest thing I found was that students were genuinely engaged with the idea of pursuing a fulfilling, meaningful job in a sustainable way. Here are just a few comments I received from students who had completed the programme:

“[This] approach to careers was on a larger, more thought provoking scale. The programme’s focus on Ikigai made us look at our whole lives rather than just a job. As our career makes up most of our time, being presented with the idea that our job choice should be driven by what makes us happy makes obvious sense now. This approach however, seemed new to us all at the time.”

“[The programme] helped me realise I didn’t need to have an exact plan right now, and although I still had ultimate goals/ikigai there are so many different ways to achieve this and there is no right way, to take any opportunity I feel is right and see where it takes me.”

“[The programme] helped me to manage my expectations of life after uni and salaries.”

More details

I’m presenting this research at a sustainability conference at Leeds College of Art, taking place on the 15th of October. It costs just £30 for a ticket. I definitely recommend coming along, but if you’re unable to, then the proceedings of the conference will be published afterwards.

Thanks for reading, and I hope this taster of my research project has started you thinking about the way in which you work, how you talk about work with colleagues or students, and whether you could inject something more sustainable or meaningful into it.

Eleanor Snare presenting at Liberal Arts launch 2

Five Lessons from My First Year as a Lecturer

The university year is now over. The 2015 to 2016 academic year was my first full year as a lecturer; although I’ve done a lot of guest lecturing in the past, this year was my first gig where I got to see students week in, week out.

I mainly taught third year Fashion Marketing, helping them complete their final major project, but I also taught first years, had two personal tutees for pastoral care, and supervised three dissertations.

Here are five lessons I’ve learnt.

Most people just want you to see them

The greatest lesson I’ve learnt from this year of teaching is that most people want something very simple: for you to truly see them.

It’s easy to work somewhere, be in a relationship with someone, or spend time with friends without truly seeing them. To see someone means to see them for who they are as an individual, wholly and imperfectly; not as a reflection of you, or in relation to you, or as a daughter/brother/partner, or as a manager, or an employee, but as who they are.

My students, aged around 18 to 21, are used to classification. They’re used to being ‘so-and-so’s daughter’ or ‘an A grade student’ or ‘the talkative one’. They are used to being labelled as ‘millennial consumers’ or ‘undergraduate students’. They are used to being seen in relation to other people.

They are not used to being seen as individuals, wholly and imperfectly. Many of them wanted this, many were terrified, but all of them who could accept it improved in their work and personal confidence.

Being seen means someone validates you as an independent and individual being, unique but understandable. It helps you develop agency – the knowledge that you are able to, and responsible for, your own life. It also brings to the surface all those terrifying weaknesses that get erased when you’re seen as part of a general classification, whose identification is essential for moving onwards and upwards in life.

So, lesson 1: seeing people, aside from the classifications and relations you’ve given them, will help them develop agency (and probably scare them too).

Most people also just want you to listen

Listening comes a very close second to seeing. I love helping people, solving problems, helping them fulfil their potential. I learnt this year that you can’t do that unless you listen first.

Teachers of all kinds (including parents) are quick to impart knowledge, because they want to help, they think they can, and because they want to prevent suffering in their students.

Students will not listen to you if you don’t listen to them.

You can give the best advice in the world, but if you haven’t listened, fully and empathically to start with, it won’t sink in.

That’s because real listening isn’t about an exchange: it’s not, “I listen to you, then formulate advice based on your problems”. Listening is pure absorption. It’s taking everything that comes out of the other person and absorbing it, putting it away, accepting it. You can respond if you want to, but that’s not the purpose of listening.

I found many of my students wanted someone to be a sponge for their thoughts. They wanted to say something out loud so it didn’t have to rattle around in their heads anymore, frustrating them. They wanted someone to nod, and make noises, and not give any advice. After that, they were very receptive to advice and actioned it straight away.

I struggled immensely with ‘just’ listening, and it’s something I’ll continue to develop over my life as a tutor.

Lesson 2: listen to purely absorb, not to give advice.

Lots of stuff about Millennials is rubbish

In my first few months, I believed a lot of what marketers and business people say about Millennials; they’re prone to anxiety, narcissism, feelings of entitlement, lack of respect for authority, etc. They think they’re special snowflakes who need constant reassurance, etc. Aren’t they just so not like us? etc. etc.

Lots of stuff written about Millennials – from the perspective of this tutor who has spent hours with about 30 of them, seen them cry, laugh, panic, fuck up, save it all – is rubbish. No, it’s damaging.

They are a generation more connected than any before them. They have access to more information, are told more about themselves and catered to by more brands in very targeted ways than ever before. But the act of classifying them is turning them into these archetypal Millennials; it’s not some inherent feature they all share.

They’re told university is stressful, so they get stressed. They’re told they can do ‘anything they want’, so they’re paralysed by choice. They’re treated like fragile creatures, so they become fragile. They’re told they are consumers, so they see everything as an act of consumption

But as individuals, truly seen and listened to, they aren’t these things. I have seen them: they are strong, independent, complex people – just like every other generation. They are people, with a few more years of life to experience and a whole weight of statistical generational ‘evidence’ weighing them down.

Lesson 3: don’t treat people you are educating differently because someone collected data about them this one time; treat them as individuals.

Trust is a gift you can give to your students

My students are adults; they can vote, move house, get married, get a job and do all number of things without asking anyone’s permission. Yet we’re quick to treat those we’re educating – or managing – as ‘untrustworthy’.

We might not think they’re going to nick staplers out of the cupboard, but we might not trust them to get something finished in time – so we step in. Or we don’t trust them to present their work properly, so we over compensate our teaching and advice in this area.

Trust is a gift that every educator can give their students, and I see it as an essential gift for them to move their life onwards and upward.

Stephen Covey of ‘7 Habits’ fame talks about trust in his descriptions of delegation; ‘gopher’ delegation is the menial tasks given to workers and shouted instructions, which results in everyone being unhappy and either over- or under-worked. Sometimes this happens in education. It’s pointless. Students don’t learn nor do they feel as if they have agency in their learning, which means responsibility lands back on the educator.

Trusting someone to do the job (or complete the project) gives them agency. Covey outlines ways the work can be ‘framed’ to ensure as good a result as possible. But there will always be the first leap of faith; to trust your student.

I had a few phrases I used a lot this year, but one of the most-used was “I trust you to…”.

“I trust you to make the best decision”.

“I trust you to hand in on time”.

“I trust you”.

And I really did. They might not all accept this gift – they might not accept their own agency and ability – but without me freely giving it to them I would’ve been educating ‘gophers’, not humans.

Lesson 4: frame their projects to help them complete it, then take a leap of faith and trust them to do so.

Defensive practice is a waste of time

University education in the UK is subject to the whims of many different people and organisations. There are funding bodies, quality boards, frameworks, government policies, inspectors and student satisfaction surveys.

Because these whims are so apparent in university life, and because we’ve been sucked into the rhetoric of students-as-customers, people get fearful. Horror stories abound of tutors who’ve been sacked for swearing, or courses pulled for poor student satisfaction results. Folk get frightened of doing something ‘wrong’ in teaching, and so defensive practice begins.

Defensive practice is just as it sounds: practising your work on the defensive, the ‘just in case’, the risk-avoidance path, to avoid doing something ‘wrong’.

In education, and especially in creative education, this is a complete waste of time.

A creative worker who is risk-averse, fearful, prefers the status quo, won’t try new things and afraid of getting it ‘wrong’ will not be any good at their job. A human being who is afraid of change, and making mistakes, won’t be very good at being a happy human being.

Teaching is modelling behaviour. If I am on the defensive, my students will be too. They will think that defensive practice is normal, and they’ll take that with them into life and work, and they’ll be unhappy and rubbish.

Over the last year, I’ve seen examples of defensive practice in teaching and I have done everything I can to not do it. I model the behaviours I expect my students to have: passion, enthusiasm, sincerity, humour, dedication, determination and more. That modelling might including arguing, joking, playing devil’s advocate, being blunt, honesty, swearing, physical expression, and ‘poking with a stick’ (my phrase for when you’re trying to get something out of someone).

Historically, educators are often those who (along with artists) stand outside of social norms to present new challenges to the world, and help the world to understand these challenges. They poke things with sticks.

Lesson 5: avoid defensive practice if you want great students, and instead model the behaviour you expect them to have as they move onwards and upwards in life and work.

Over the last year I’ve had the honour and pleasure of teaching students about fashion marketing, but I’ve also had the joy of being changed and encouraged to grow by each of them.

Being an educator, whether you’re teaching 5 year olds, managing 50 year olds or anything in between, is a challenging, frustrating, exciting gift; I hope these lessons help you in your journey.