Momentum is not always obvious

frozenwaterfall

A friend and I had a conversation the other day about those times in life when we feel like we just can’t get any momentum going, and it got me thinking.

It can be painful to feel like we’re not moving forward. Part of this is due to external stuff (we live in a world that has little tolerance for the idea of “standing still”) and part of it is due to our innate desire to grow and become more of who we are.

If I look back over my life and pinpoint the periods of a lot of “obvious” momentum, it becomes clear that they were almost always preceded by a time (sometimes a long one) where I swore I was stagnating and that nothing would ever change.

Why is this?

In my experience, it’s because the part of us that has outgrown where we are is the one who is experiencing “where we are” as stagnant.

But: there’s another part of us, the slower part that isn’t quite ready to let go, that is NOT experiencing “where we are” as stagnant at all. This part of us is still receiving benefits, comfort, nourishment, even joy, from being exactly where we are.

When I look back on my life from the standpoint of “who I am now”, the “me” I am now sees the periods of my life that preceded a lot of change as stagnant.

But, when I actually was LIVING those periods, a part of me was okay with them. A part of me needed them to be exactly as they were. And until that part of me was ready to let go, they weren’t truly “stagnant” periods to ALL of me.

Maybe the truth is that when we feel a lack of momentum, and think we are “stagnating,” what’s really going on is we’re feeling an increasing sense of incongruence.  Who we are becoming is feeling incongruent with who we have been, but we are still ALSO who we have been.

I’ve found that it’s not helpful to rush along the part of me that needs to be exactly where it is for a while longer. When I do that, it holds on tighter out of fear and a kind of rebellion.

What’s more helpful is to reassure the part of me that wants to gallop ahead that it WILL have its day, and that, in fact it IS moving forward as we speak, and that’s why the divide between it and the part of me that wants to stay put is becoming more and more painful.

The pain is a good thing! The pain of incongruence is a sign of momentum, rather than evidence that there is NO momentum.

If you find yourself thinking that momentum has to look a certain way, play around with rethinking it. Are there signs of momentum in your life that may not be obvious or tangible? Does the fact that something is not obvious or tangible mean it isn’t real?

Nature is always a good role model for us here. During the winter, growth does not stop altogether. Growth goes into a different phase. Trees do not die; they sprout new buds in the spring. Some animals go into hibernation, conserving energy for their eventual reemergence. The fact that they’re inactive during this period does not mean they are dead!

Before you assume you have “no momentum,” look for ways that momentum may be showing up in your life that are not totally obvious. And check for signs that you may be in the middle of your personal “winter,” where growth is occurring in oh-so-subtle ways, deep beneath the surface.

Trust is helpful here. Trust and momentum make good partners.

What do you notice about what momentum looks like for you? What do you do when you feel your momentum is “lost”? I’d love to hear how this works for you, in the comments.

 Image is “Iced Waterfall” © Patricia Cale | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What if it’s not as hard as you think?

redonstone

The other day I had to do something that I thought was going to be very hard.

In fact, I’d been putting it off for a while because I thought it was going to be so hard, so uncomfortable, so taxing. I imagined all kinds of stressful scenarios that were going to result from my doing this thing, how a chain of negative events would be set into motion if I did it, how maybe I’d regret doing it.

So I didn’t do it as quickly as I might have. In fact, I started getting very irritated with myself for “procrastinating.” (I like to put procrastinating in quotes because there’s a big difference between procrastination and waiting for the right time, and we need to do a little digging sometimes to recognize which is which.)

Basically, the “thing” involved saying no to someone who had asked me to collaborate with her. I was torn at first because in some ways I wanted to do it, but the reality of my life right now is that I simply don’t have the time or the energy for this level of collaboration.

So I put off saying no, even after my intuition had clearly let me know that “no” was the way to go. (Sorry for the Dr. Seuss-ian sentence — actually, I love it!)

Finally, I made the call. I said, “A part of me would love to, but I’m choosing to say no to this right now.”

Guess what? It wasn’t that hard. My heart raced, yes; my hand slipped a little on the phone because it was wet with sweat.

But all in all? Not that hard. Not nearly as hard as I’d built it up to be. In fact, the person involved thanked me for being direct (she didn’t even think I’d taken that long to get back to her), and then we had a conversation about how much we prefer hearing “no” to hearing nothing at all and being left hanging. (That’s a topic for a whole other post!)

Sometimes, something we need to do proves to be harder than we’d imagined it would be.

But, sometimes, much of the “hard” has to do with our thought that “it’s going to be really hard”. So we don’t do whatever the thing is, and in the not doing it, we create more hard on top of our idea that it’s going to be hard.

Another thing we sometimes do when a task we perceive as “hard” looms before us is we tell ourselves, “I need to have courage. I need to muster up the courage to face this.”

This can actually create yet another hurdle. This “mustering up the courage.” The idea that we need “courage” to face whatever it is actually makes the “thing” seem even harder. Our brain goes, “We need courage here? Wow, it must be really hard! It must be extra hard!”

What if we didn’t need courage? What if, instead of courage, what was more helpful turned out to be acceptance of the situation, acceptance of our fears about it, and trust in our ability to handle it?

It’s worth considering.

Image is “Red on Stone” © Cristina | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Where self-acceptance and creativity meet

sand heart

For me, self-acceptance — the deep kind that warms the very center of my chest — and creativity are kind of like buddies.

On Pinterest yesterday I came across this pin of a dog that trots down the road to meet up with its buddy, a cat, who jumps down from a roof so they can pal around and go on adventures together.

That’s self-acceptance and creativity, in my world. It’s hard for me to have one without the other.

I notice that when I am feeling “uncreative,” it’s very often because I am not feeling very self-accepting.

How does this play out?

Noticing “shoulds” is a good place to start.

And we often don’t notice them. But the presence of “I should” is (most of the time) a good indicator that I am out of self-acceptance.

I used to frequent a message board where somebody had this signature: “As soon as I say ‘I should,’ I am somebody else.” (I wish I knew who to attribute that to — I think it’s brilliant.)

So if I’m feeling uncreative, my first step is to do what I call a “scan for shoulds.”

One of my clients is a poet.* She writes these awesome short poems that vibrate right off the page.  I love them because they’re so fun and real and colorful.

But she wasn’t feeling very good about them, and when we did a scan for shoulds, this popped up: My poems aren’t “real writing.” I should be writing a novel.

I asked her why.

She said, “Because then I’ll be taken more seriously.”

I asked her, by whom?

She said, “By serious writers.”

We broke down “serious writers.” Her definition of “serious writers” consisted of exactly two people: a snooty professor she’d had twenty years ago, and a perfectionistic friend she’d also been out of touch with for years. Interestingly, she’d always felt really uncomfortable around both of them.

I asked her what she believed she would have if she could get this professor and this “friend” to take her seriously.

The answer was, “I could take myself seriously.”

At some point, we both started laughing because we’d had many conversations about how she actually wanted less “seriousness” in her life and more play, more joy. (And I so get this, by the way. Nothing thwarts creativity like the idea that we should be doing, as Julia Cameron puts it, “Art with a capital A.”)

Being in self-acceptance, for my client, meant she didn’t really want to write a novel, and that she wanted to write even more of her awesome poetry.

It also meant letting go of the idea that “serious writers” (a.k.a. these two people who actually had never supported her true self) could somehow accept her if she wrote what she didn’t want to write.

And embracing the fact that it wasn’t their acceptance she needed. It was her own.

Maybe this is why we often skip over the very idea of self-acceptance. Because if we make it important, it means that we’ll likely have some letting go to do.

The other place where self-acceptance comes in is in noticing our needs and allowing ourselves to have them — even if a part of us is convinced they can’t be met.

Years ago there was a writing workshop I wanted to go to, except that I was told there were no single rooms available and I’d need to share a cabin with two other people for the duration of the workshop. I had a strong hunch that wasn’t going to work for me, because after so much socializing during the day at the workshop, I’d definitely want to recharge in the evening by myself.

I almost decided against going, until it occurred to me that maybe there was some currently unseen way I could have a room to myself. Just maybe, somehow.

I talked to the coordinator and she said, “Well, it so happens that someone who had reserved a single room just dropped out of the workshop. Would you like that room?”

I grabbed it immediately. I felt really happy with myself because in the past, I would have either gone ahead and stayed in the cabin with other people, spread way too thin because of no way to recharge alone, OR I would have assumed I just couldn’t do the workshop at all.

But I’d been able to be self-accepting enough to realize that my need was important enough to voice — even if it was a need some people wouldn’t have at all — and doing so opened the way for, guess what? Creativity!

What do you notice about the relationship between self-acceptance and creativity, for you? I’d love to hear from you!

* Please note that when I share stories about my coaching clients, it is always with their full permission to do so.

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” ~ The amazing Maya Angelou. RIP.

Image © Mamz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Ways to shift your energy when you’re stuck or overwhelmed

frozen berries

That feeling that you’re up against a wall and there’s nowhere to go: it’s the worst. It’s enough to keep you up nights, and then you’re sleep deprived, which makes everything look about a hundred times bleaker than it is.

Feelings of overwhelm and “stuckness” do not come from our circumstances; they come from our thoughts. That’s not to say that our circumstances do not trigger feelings of overwhelm and stuckness — they definitely can. The holidays, for example, trigger overwhelm for many of us. That’s because they add that much more to our to-do list.

But it’s the thoughts we’re having about everything on the to-do list that create the feeling of overwhelm, not the to-do list itself.

Now, you can try crossing things off the to-do list to lessen the overwhelm. And it can work, sometimes very well.

But I suggest doing something else first: shifting your energy.

The quality of the energy we bring to our circumstances interacts with those circumstances and transforms them. Sometimes, we try to change circumstances, only to end up in the same energetic space: stagnant, heavy.

So before we go about manipulating our circumstances by crossing things off the to-do list or diving in headfirst to “get it all done,” let’s look at ways to shift our energy.

1) Trim tabs!

Martha Beck wrote this article for O Magazine where she talked about how Buckminster Fuller invented something called the trim tab for large ships. The trim tab is this teeny-tiny rudder placed on the ship’s large rudder that allows the ship to turn with a very slight amount of pressure.

I like to remind myself of trim tabs when everything feels like too much. I don’t have to move the earth in order to create change; I only need to make one tiny change that creates new direction.

Every time I remember trim tabs, I realize that there is NO WAY I can make all the changes I think I need to make right now. And I don’t need to. I just need to focus on one small change that tilts my course in the right direction. And go from there. (As a bonus, thinking TRIM TABS! reminds me that it’s not all up to me. When I make one small choice, other forces are set into motion, and I’m not in control of all of them. This is good news! )

2) Think marathon, not sprint.

Back when I was in life coach training, Pam Slim was teaching us a class on marketing our businesses, and she said, “It’s a lot more helpful to think of marketing as a marathon, not a sprint.”

This knocked me upside the head. At the time, it was quite the revelation for me. I’d always been a sprinter. If I had an idea, I wanted to make it happen, fast. My sprinting ways made me extremely impatient, particularly in my twenties, when I gave up routinely when something I wanted to happen seemed to be “taking too long.”

The fact is, large-scale changes take time. Even small changes often do not occur within a day or a week. Humans are resistant to change (it’s part of our built-in survival mechanism), and change very often takes longer than we predict. (I usually find that if I want it to happen in six months, it will actually happen in a year. But it will happen.)

Remembering “marathon, not sprint” — taking the long view — reminds us that progress is not always immediately apparent, and allows us to take the pressure off.

I bet if I challenged you to write down all the progress you’ve made in your life in the past five years, you could easily fill an entire page without having to think too hard. But you probably wouldn’t have been able to recognize all of it while it was “progress in process.”

3) Move your body.

This is one of the simplest ways to shift energy — the trick is, you can’t let your mind talk you out of doing it! Taking a ten-minute walk and focusing on your stride, your breath visible in the cold air, the dog in the sweater who just trotted by, is an amazing way to get out of your mind and press the reset button. But your mind will tell you it won’t make a difference, there’s no time, yadda yadda. Don’t listen to it!

4) Water.

Taking a shower is one of my favorite ways to shift my energy. Even washing my hands can do it. And doing dishes! Yes, I actually enjoy doing dishes because it allows me to be in proximity to water. Standing near a body of water, or sitting near an aquarium, can do it, too. Or just drinking a glass of water. Again, give it a chance — don’t let your mind talk you out of it! It works.

5) Write it down.

There’s power to seeing something in words, on paper. (The act of moving your hand across paper also ties into point #3 — it moves your body. It’s a much more physical act than typing.) When you can get whatever’s keeping you up at night out of your head and allow it to be held by the paper, you’re reminded that it is not bigger than you are.

Another way to approach this is to do what Natalie Goldberg calls “writing practice.” Just write what you see, what’s in front of you right now. “My Christmas-tree-scented candle is flickering; my cat is staring out the window even though it’s dark outside; there’s a Jackie Chan marathon on TV and I have the sound down; I can hear the downstairs neighbor coughing.”

Just keep your hand moving and keep on writing whatever engages your five senses. This creates an anchor for your mind, putting you solidly in the present moment, the only place where you actually DO have any power.

Once you’ve shifted your energy — even if just a bit — you can take a look at that to-do list.

What are some ways you’ve noticed that help you shift your energy when you’re overwhelmed or in a stagnant place? I’d love to learn more.

Work With Me: I’ll have some openings for new one-on-one clients starting in mid January, 2014. Interested in working together? Find out more, here.

Image is Frozen Berries © Rod Chronister | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What if you didn’t need a reason?

Happy Fall!

Last week, I was talking with the wonderful business coach Kristin Stevens, and I kept telling her about various things I wanted to do, and prefacing them with, “For some reason.”

“For some reason, I want to move into a smaller apartment.”

“For some reason, I want to streamline and simplify my life.”

Now, some coaches would have gone right to “Okay. Why? Let’s get clear on the reason.”

I would have gone there, if I were coaching someone. And it can be a good way to go.

But Kristin said, “You keep saying, ‘For some reason.’ What if you didn’t need a reason?

This stopped me. Because, in this case, I already feel clear. I already know that something in me wants to do these things — but my rational mind tells me I don’t have a good enough reason to do them.

For years, I lived in small apartments and had a great need for more space. In 2005, I moved and got the space I wanted. For the past eight years, I’ve lived in a beautiful space where I have plenty of room.

But now it feels oddly too big, like I’m a kid clomping around in my dad’s work shoes. And I realize I’ve filled it up with things I no longer necessarily want or need.

When I moved here, I had this idea of a life I thought I wanted. But now I realize that maybe that life was about who I wanted to be back then, and not who I actually am today.

My rational mind says, “But why would you want to go back to living in a small space? Isn’t that going backwards?”

Is it? I’m not sure it’s a good question, in this case, because questioning my desire is only keeping me in wheel-spinning mode. A good question sparks curiosity and creates spaciousness and movement.

That’s how I know Kristin’s question — what if you didn’t need a reason? — is a good one for me here.

If I didn’t need a reason, I’d start making plans to move. If I didn’t need a reason, I’d free up my energy to focus on things that are more important to me at this point in my life than having a larger living space and the maintenance that goes along with it.

It’s telling that a while ago on Pinterest I created a board called Cozy Spaces. Something in me longs for cozy right now. Why?

Do I really need to know? What if, in fact, I can’t know the answer to that question until I move toward what I’m longing for?

The nudges I get from my intuition feel simple and straightforward. “Do this.” Or, “Don’t do that.” Or, “Wear something blue today.” “Call about that class.”

Intuition doesn’t explain itself. It lives in the world of trust, not the world of guarantees. And often, when I’m clear but I’m still not taking action on that clarity, it’s because I want a guarantee. I want a guarantee that the direction my intuition is pointing me in will be pain-free, that if I go there, “everything will work out.”

Experience tells me there is no such guarantee. Sometimes, I think I am waiting for clarity but it has already arrived. The truth is, I’m not waiting for clarity — I’m waiting for that guarantee.

“Why?” is a good question if it creates more clarity. But if I’m already clear, I don’t need to ask why. I need to act on what I know.

What do you think? Do you ever second-guess the next step that comes to you from your intuition? I’d love to hear how this works for you, in the comments.

Image ©Jill Winski 2013

How kindness helps you create

ducks

So often when I’m feeling unhappy and stuck (whether in my life or in my creative work), I find myself frantically trying to control circumstances.

My thoughts go something like this: “If I could just get rid of [X circumstance] and find [X circumstance], and get [X amount of money], and if [X person] wasn’t so hard to deal with, I could stop feeling so bad.”

Or sometimes it goes like this: “If I could just figure out if what I really want is [X] or [Z], then I could move forward. But I’m so confused; I can’t figure it out. So I’m unhappy and I’ll be unhappy until I figure it out.”

There’s a kind of paralysis that sets in when I believe that circumstances are causing my unhappiness. It’s often a breed of analysis paralysis, closely tied to perfectionism, where I’m sure that if I choose the “wrong” thing, I’ll increase my current unhappiness in spades. So I don’t choose.

It usually takes me a while in this spin cycle before I remember: Ohhh. Waiiittt.

It’s not about circumstances. It’s not about making the “right” decision.

It’s about kindness. The kindness I’m forgetting to give to myself.

I don’t know about you, but when I remember to treat myself with kindness, there’s a palpable shift within myself. I feel it in my abdomen first, then my jaw — my entire body softens. I literally feel the rigidity seeping out of me, almost like it forms a puddle around my feet. And then I feel a surprising thing: hope.

From this place, there is fluidity — there is movement. How can that be? I haven’t changed my external circumstances, and yet, there’s movement?

Yes. Martha Beck, with whom I trained to become a life coach, likes to remind her coaches that our circumstances do not create our feeling states; it’s the opposite. Our feeling states create our circumstances.

When our focus is outside ourselves, on what we’re sure the “right” circumstances will bring us, we are disconnected from what’s inside us. We forget where our power actually lies — in our ability to choose how we relate to ourselves, and how relate to the world around us.

And here’s how this relates to our creativity: As I’ve often written on this blog, creativity, as I define it, is nothing more or less than the life force within us.

That life force needs to move. It needs to flow, and to ebb.

When I try to control circumstances, or second-guess my decisions, or try to make the “perfect” choice, that life force gets frozen in time. I’m teetering on the edge of the belief that the “reward” lies on the other side of “right” or “wrong” — when, in fact, the “reward” is right here, within me, if I can remember to treat myself with kindness.

Some of my clients say at first that they simply don’t know how to treat themselves with kindness — or that it seems self-indulgent, or a waste of time.

But my clients are often the kindest people I know — they are truly skilled at directing kindness outside of themselves, toward others. They just haven’t practiced directing it toward themselves.

And there’s a distinct difference between kindness toward ourselves and self-indulgence: Kindness creates movement that comes from the heart; it radiates outward. It’s intimately linked to “inspired action.” Self-indulgence, like a clenched fist, closes us off from ourselves, from the world. Rather than engaging the heart, self-indulgence feels like avoidance of something we fear. Kindness feels like an openness to what we love, to what inspires us.

Sometimes, when I think about doing something like, say, write a blog post about the importance of remembering to treat ourselves with kindness, there’s a hard, embittered piece of me that says things like, “Kindness? How cliche and cheesy and abstract is that?”

And then I have to laugh, because that’s exactly the voice that makes treating myself with kindness my last resort so much of the time. I often come to kindness — or it comes to me — because I’m at the end of my rope with treating myself harshly.

I come to kindness because I realize I’ve literally exhausted all my options if I’m viewing myself, and life, with harshness. Most importantly, I’ve forgotten to acknowledge that I am suffering. Of course it seems like I need to manipulate circumstances and choose perfectly if I’m coming from a harsh, rigid place. Wherever I go, there I am.

So, if I feel backed into a corner, if I believe I’m trapped and there are no good options — whether in my real life or in my creative work — it may be that I’ve forgotten this oh-so-basic step: Treat myself kindly. Exquisitely kindly. Time and again, I learn that from that space of kindness, unseen options emerge.

(To learn more about the amazing benefits of treating ourselves with kindness, check out Kristin Neff’s work at http://selfcompassion.org.)

Do you remember to treat yourself with kindness? Do you think it’s worth doing? Do you apply it in your creative process? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “Hand Feeding” © David Coleman | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When you’re not taking action (even though you want to)

birdonmirror2

Sometimes we’re in a space where there’s something we want to do, but we’re not taking any action toward actually doing it. This space is frustrating and icky. We can spin our wheels here for quite a while.

What I find especially stressful (and confusing) is when I do take a step toward whatever it is I want to do, but I don’t seem to build any momentum. Something feels off. I’m not getting caught up in whatever that thing is; there’s no passion, no fire.

What’s going on when we’re in this space? It’s tempting to try to bulldoze our way through and “just do it!” And there are times when that works.

But sometimes it doesn’t work — and, when we plow forward with sheer force, there’s a nasty lingering side effect: We don’t understand ourselves any better. We may get that thing done, but what happens the next time we’re in the “spinning our wheels” place? We force ourselves to plow through again?

I much prefer asking questions at times like these. More than anything, I want to understand myself better so I can have a better relationship with myself. If that relationship is vital to you, too, here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re spinning your wheels:

Do I truly want to do this thing, or do I believe I “should” want to do this thing?

The presence of a “should” is not necessarily an indication that you don’t want to do it; it often means that you have conflicting voices within you around taking this action. If you can untangle the “should” from the rest of it, you’ll have a much clearer sense of what you really want.

Is this something I used to want, but perhaps no longer do?

Does the person you are today actually want to do this, or is this something you wanted to do five years ago? Are you hanging on to an old dream? (“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” – Alice in Wonderland)

* Is there a deadline issue?

Some of us work better and more effectively with deadlines; some of us get panicky and overwhelmed when we have a deadline situation. And sometimes, the deadline is simply too close or too far away to work for us.

If there’s a deadline by which you’re supposed to do this thing, is it possible to push it back, or push it up? Would doing either of those things make a difference in how you felt about taking action on it? (Sometimes we’ve set our own deadlines. Most of my clients have a perfectionistic streak and expect themselves to complete things way sooner than is reasonable, or necessary.)

Am I making the task too big?

One of my clients had decided to apply to a graduate program, but she wasn’t taking any action toward it. The deadline loomed and the weeks were going by and nothing was happening.

We noticed that every day she had been writing on her to-do list “Grad school application.” But when we broke it down, we found that there were at least twenty individual steps involved in completing the entire application process, and some of those steps could be broken down into even smaller steps. Of course she wasn’t taking action on it when “grad school application” was not an actionable step.

We often don’t want to break things down into small steps because we’re in a hurry. We think we don’t have time to take small steps. Then we proceed to do nothing at all because the giant leap we think we have to take overwhelms us. In the long run, we move more quickly and steadily when we take small steps over time. Think turtle and hare.

Am I in somebody else’s business?

Byron Katie talks about the three kinds of business: My business, your business, and God’s business. Much of the time when I’m feeling stressed, confused, or unfocused, if I remember to ask myself who’s business I’m in, I discover the issue. When I’m in somebody else’s business, as Katie says, there’s no one here taking care of my own.

How does this keep me from moving forward? If I’m worried about what someone else thinks of me, or trying to control someone else’s reaction to my choices in some way, I keep on spinning my wheels. I may not allow myself to do what I truly want to do. It’s human to care about what others think; but if we’re paralyzed because of it, we’re way out of our own business and into somebody else’s.

* Is my creative well empty?

I often mention the creative well on this blog. Julia Cameron likens the creative well to a “trout pond” that, ideally, is fully stocked with fish, except, as artists, we stock our ponds with images that inspire. We stock our ponds with the wordlessness that comes from simply being.

When the pond is empty, we need to restock it. And this means we need to practice great self-care and recognize that there are ebbs and flows to our energy and our creativity. Sometimes, when I’m not taking action, it’s simply because I need to be in a place of inaction for a while.

Any of these questions is a good starting point if you find you’re not taking action on something you want to do. If one question doesn’t seem to apply to you, try the next. And come up with your own, too — write them in a notebook where you can refer to them the next time you’re up against the stuckity-stuck.

How do you deal with it when you want to move forward but can’t seem to take action? I’d love to hear from you!

Image is “Bird on a Mirror” © Shane Link | Dreamstime Stock Photos

A two-step journaling process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared)

“My writer self is braver than the rest of me.” — Natalie Goldberg

On one of our recent group calls, a fellow participant in Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle asked me how I use journaling when I’m feeling stuck on my fiction writing. I thought I’d share my process, in case others might benefit from it.

My journal is one of the safest spaces I know.

And I’m someone who’s struggled a lot with safety. (I remember when I was an undergraduate, a teacher had us do an exercise that started with the sentence “Imagine you’re in a safe space.” At that time, I literally could not think of a safe space, so I couldn’t go on with the exercise.)

Safety is important. We’re often told to “take creative risks” and “really put ourselves out there,” but we’re doing ourselves a disservice if we pretend that isn’t scary, if we pretend that we feel safe, when in fact we do not. Nothing creates a feeling of stuckness like pretending we feel differently than we actually do.

So, a lot of the time, when I’m feeling stuck or scared as I’m trying to write, it’s because I’m not feeling safe.

Safe to what?

Safe to explore. Safe to write the worst crap imaginable. Safe to share only what I’m ready to share. Safe to be with the discomfort of whatever’s coming up for me. Safe to write that thing that brings up the pain of the past.

So getting away from my document on the computer (which can feel so oddly “formal”) and going to my journaling notebook is STEP ONE of creating safety. I think of the journal as a room, a room where there’s only me (and anyone else with whom I feel completely safe).

From this point on (STEP TWO), I ask myself questions on the page.

Any of the following questions are good jumping-off points.

* What do I really want to say that I’m not allowing myself to say?

* What’s the worst thing that can happen if I write the thing I’m afraid to write?

* Why don’t I want to write this thing?

* What’s the worst thing that can happen if I make a wrong turn?

* Do I actually need to step away from the story right now? (If the answer is yes, follow this one up with “How can I make that feel okay?”)

* Where is the tension (fear, stress, sadness) located in my body right now? If that tension had a voice, what would it say?

* What does this particular feeling of stuckness remind me of?

* If I had a guarantee that no one but me would ever read this writing, what would I write now? (This one can really point us to where we are censoring ourselves.)

* Am I truly ready to write this story? Why or why not?

* If I honestly don’t know where to go with the story right now, how might I open myself up to all the possibilities?

Take one of these questions, and run with it. Don’t deliberate too much over which question to choose — they’re all designed to create movement, which is what we need when we’re feeling stuck. Go with one of the questions and keep writing until you feel ready to stop. Often, new questions arise for me while I’m writing, and I ponder those, too, on the page.

A page from my journal: answering the questions, + doodling

A page from my journal: answering the questions, + doodling

This process does not have to take a lot of time — I often do it in ten minutes or so. The idea here is not to find the perfect answer to the question (there isn’t one). The idea is to dig beneath your surface “stuckness” and generate a new perspective. “Feeling stuck” is nothing more than believing something about your writing or yourself that is not helpful.

You can probably come up with other, better questions. Make a master list of them and have it on hand for times when you’re sitting in front of the computer and the sweat on your forehead feels like blood. We don’t have to make the act of writing so dramatic (put that drama on the page!).

(By the way, you can transfer this process to any art form, or anything at all that you’re feeling stuck on.)

What do you do when you’re feeling stuck on your writing, artwork, or any other creative project? Please share in the comments!

On that note, Aug. 15 is the last day I’ll be offering my Free Mini Unsticky Sessions! (I’ll be offering them for a low cost, in a slightly different format, after Aug. 15.) Want to grab one? Check them out, here.

And: This Thursday, Aug. 8, is the last day to register for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle. I’ve been a member of this group for going on two years now (I’m also one of the coaches) and it’s been an amazing source of support for me. Interested? Read more, here.

Five things I’ve learned about trust

This is my second post for The Declaration of You BlogLovin’ Tour (scroll to the bottom of this post to find out more). This is the final week of the tour, and the topic is Trust.

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I used to think I couldn’t trust others and I couldn’t trust life. It took me a long time to see the turnaround: It was me I thought I couldn’t trust. Once I saw this, I wanted to really know what it meant to trust myself. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned:

1) Trusting myself means that I allow myself to experiment, to stretch, to make mistakes.

I first encountered the idea of trusting myself when I discovered the writing of Geneen Roth in my early twenties. I was a chronic dieter at the time, and Geneen’s concept of trusting myself to know when I was hungry and to stop eating when I was full was a radical thing to me.

When I first tried it, the perfectionist in me wanted to “do this trusting myself thing right.” I thought if I made a mistake, it was proof I couldn’t trust myself.

It took me a few years before I’d integrated the truth that trusting myself is about the way I relate to myself when things don’t go as I want them to — it is about the way I relate to myself, period. It has nothing to do with being “good” or “right” or even wise. It is a way of living in the world. It is a choice.

2) Self-trust is intimately linked to self-acceptance.

If I’m judging myself, you can bet I am not in a place of self-trust. In fact, I’ve found that my intuition will “hide out” when I’m judging myself harshly. Intuition is fierce, but it’s often quiet and subtle in how it comes to us.

My cat usually disappears when someone who speaks loudly and has heavy footsteps enters the house. Intuition is similar — it tends to hide out in the closet when my inner critic starts raging. It’s not that intuition is afraid of the inner critic (intuition fears nothing; it simply is). It’s more that intuition (like my cat) has a very low tolerance for drama. So it goes silent and seems to disappear when that harsh voice within me goes on a rampage.

I can always reconnect with my intuition, though. I just need to get quiet again. Intuition never fails to show up when I’m in a place of peace. And the more deeply I can accept myself, the more peaceful I feel.

3) Trusting myself means having faith that my intuition is there for a reason, and taking the risk to follow it.

It’s the process of acting on my intuition that makes me feel alive, not the outcome, which will never be completely within my control, and which, I’ve found, I often cannot accurately predict.

The more I trust myself to take action on my intuition, the better I get at it, because I create more and more evidence for the fact that it feels good and right and empowering when I trust myself. It’s like strengthening a muscle. (You may not be sure you have the “self-trust” muscle if you haven’t used it a lot — but you do. Trust me.)

4) No one else’s truth is a substitute for my own.

The best help from others is guidance that points me back to my own inner compass, and reminds me how important it is.

It’s good — and often necessary — to gather information and receive advice from others, especially those who’ve been where we are. But at some point, we need to sift through this guidance, integrate it, and check inside ourselves for what feels right for us.

How do we know it’s time to stop going to outside sources? When the information we’re getting is creating more confusion, not contributing to clarity.

5) “Trusting myself” is a belief system.

There are no guarantees of what the outcome will be if I trust myself.

I may trust myself, take action from that place, and find that things happen in a way I couldn’t have predicted.

I’d love to tell you that the way they happen is always better than I could ever have imagined — but while that is sometimes true, it doesn’t always feel like that. Sometimes, I trust myself and things don’t turn out the way I’d like them to — and I don’t understand why things happened the way they did until years later, if at all.

But regardless of outcome, it’s a heck of a lot easier for me to make decisions — and to live with them — when I operate from a platform of self-trust. It comes down to how I want to live: From a space of doubting myself, or from that solid foundation of knowing I’m worthy of my own trust.

I know this: It feels better to trust myself, and to act on that trust, than it does to spin my wheels in the sticky mud of indecision, doubt, and fear.

What have you learned about trust? I’d love to know — feel free to share, in the comments!

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The Declaration of You, published by North Light Craft Books and available now, gives readers all the permission they’ve craved to step passionately into their lives, discover how they and their gifts are unique and uncover what they are meant to do. This post is part of The Declaration of You’s BlogLovin’ Tour, which I’m thrilled to participate in alongside over 200 other creative bloggers. Learn more — and join us! — by clicking here.

Top image is “Ferris Wheel” © James Hearn | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Two ways to deal with “idea paralysis”

sepiabulb2

A while ago, I had a session with someone who had so many ideas, she felt paralyzed as to which to choose and where to begin. Every time she took a little action on an idea, another one of her ideas started to haunt her and she was sure that one was better. So she’d stop working on the current thing and start this other thing. And then the other thing wouldn’t feel quite right, and some shiny new idea would start hovering and she’d drop the current thing and start in on the shiny new thing. And so on.

I so relate to this. It doesn’t happen to me that frequently, but when it does, it is crazymaking. What’s going on when we’re knee-deep in a sea of ideas and we just can’t choose, or stick with one long enough to bring it to completion?

For me, there are one of a couple of things happening:

1) Perfectionism has reared its oh-so-troublesome head.

We’re wanting the idea to be the be-all and end-all of ideas, rather than a stepping stone to what the idea can become. There’s no way an idea won’t transform as we work on it, so most of the time, it’s not going to stay the same as the seedling in our heads. But if we have perfectionistic tendencies, we want to know it’s going to be great, it’s going to knock everybody’s socks off. We can’t know that at the beginning of the process. We can’t know that at the end of the process.

Our own interest in the idea has to be enough. The only thing we have an absolute guarantee of is that we will check in with ourselves about how we are responding to our idea, from day to day. And I can guarantee you that our relationship to it will change from day to day, week to week.

Perfectionists often feel “it’s not quite right, so I’m not ready to begin.” My question to perfectionists (and that includes myself!) is: Is there enough here for me to work with? Is there enough here to sustain my interest, for now?

When I was in college, I had a screenwriting teacher I remember really well because he talked a lot about things that I sensed were true, but didn’t yet have the life experience to know were true. He looked at twenty or so pages of the screenplay I was writing and said, “You don’t have to telegraph your themes to the audience. The themes that are important to you as a writer are going to be there because they’re important to you. They can’t not be there. So stop telegraphing your themes and just tell the story.”

This felt like a huge relief. And I think this applies to those of us who struggle over choosing the “perfect” idea. No matter which idea we pick, the common theme behind it is going to be US. Just because you decide to tell the story about the guy who goes fishing with his estranged father instead of the story about the woman who learns her teenage son is in trouble with the law doesn’t mean your usual themes of loss, loneliness, heartache and redemption are not going to be there. They’ll be there because you will be there.

So relax. You, and the things that are important to you, will be there, in spades, no matter what path you choose.

And, on the flipside:

2) You may be knee-deep in ideas because you are only knee-deep. And what you really need is to be completely submerged in one idea, so your heart is engaged. In other words, there may be a bunch of ideas swirling around your ankles but they’re not really involving the whole of you, so it’s easy to jump off of one and onto another.

I’m reminded of someone I know who, many years ago, was caught up in romantic involvements with two different guys. Time went on and on, and she just couldn’t decide between the two. Finally, she ended both relationships, realizing that neither of these guys was a “hell, yes!” for her and that was why she couldn’t decide. The question wasn’t actually “which of these men is the better choice?” but “who am I and what do I really care about?”

If you’re flitting from one idea to the next, stop. Take some time out and ask yourself, what do I really want? Why am I doing this (writing, artwork, coaching, whatever it may be)? How can you engage the whole of you — starting with your heart, which tells you what you care about the most — in your creative process? And go from there.

Looking at it this way, you’re not choosing the idea so much as letting it choose you. And when something chooses us, there’s no contest.

(On this topic, I highly recommend Miranda July’s wonderful memoir, “It Chooses You.”)

Do you struggle with “idea paralysis”? How do you decide which idea to choose? Or do you let it choose you? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Work With Me: I have a couple of openings for new coaching clients, starting in July. Interested? See if we might be a good fit, here.

Image is “Sepia Bulb” © Graham Stewart | Dreamstime Stock Photos