When you’re overwhelmed, get specific

blurrySomething I’ve noticed while working with clients who are “overwhelmed” is that, often, we remain in overwhelm because we are not getting specific enough.

We’re not specific about what exactly it means when we say “I’m overwhelmed.”

In this way, overwhelm is kind of like a stifling blanket of vagueness. We keep spinning in it, saying things like, “I just want to stop being overwhelmed” or “I feel so overwhelmed I can’t move forward.”

That’s the trick (and sometimes the gift) of overwhelm — it keeps us in the dark about what’s really going on with us. It keeps us spinning, obsessing, fighting, or zoning out.

Sometimes it is effective, when we realize we’re overwhelmed, to cut right through the “overwhelm story” and ask ourselves how we want to feel. And then, when we know how we want to feel, we can ask ourselves what would help us feel that way.

Sometimes, though, it’s more helpful to actually pull apart the overwhelm — to look at it as a mass that is made up of a number of components, and get really specific about those components.

What we call “overwhelm” is, in many ways, an attempt to focus on too much at once. So if we pull apart the elements of it, we can start to see what it is made up of. We can start to remove focus from pieces of it, and focus only on what we choose to focus on.

For example, as I mentioned in my last post, I have a move on the horizon, but I don’t know exactly where or when I’ll be moving. I am dying for more clarity around this move — the uncertainty, on some days, feels like it’s driving me crazy!

What I noticed a few days ago is that even though I have this fairly giant thing on my horizon, which is requiring a certain amount of focus and energy (looking at finances, neighborhoods, apartments, storage possibilities), I’d been demanding of myself that I focus on other “big things” as well. And my attention had become scattered and paper-thin.

So yesterday, I let go of a freelance project I’d taken on because it seemed like a good opportunity.

What I found was that even though my mind couldn’t pass up the opportunity, it was actually a terrible time to bring in another thing to take energy and focus from me, especially when it was a thing that didn’t totally light me up.

When I let go of the project, I also felt the overwhelm whoosh out of my body. From this place of more lightness and peace, my move and the elements surrounding it feel so much more doable.

Here are a few ways to get specific about what’s really going on if you’re feeling overwhelmed:

* Instead of saying, “I’m overwhelmed,” say, “I’m sensing overwhelm within me.”

This will create separation between you and the feeling of overwhelm. (You are not the feeling!) Then see what comes up. What happens when you recognize that you are bigger than the feeling of overwhelm?

* Give yourself ten minutes to write down what you’re feeling overwhelmed about.

Do this stream-of-consciousness — don’t try to “get it right.” (And don’t go on for longer than ten minutes — set a timer if you must.)

Then, read over what you’ve written. Notice what jumps out at you. Is there something here that you’re giving a lot of attention to that doesn’t warrant it? Is there anything you wrote down that you can just drop? Does it truly all have equal priority? (My guess is no!)

It can help to consult your “future self” here. If you were to ask you-five-years-from-now which of these issues is important, what does “future you” have to say?

* Bring your focus to your body.

What does your body feel like right now, while you’re in this space of overwhelm? Is it tightness in your abdomen, a clenched jaw, a headache? Shallow breathing? As you breathe, notice what thoughts bubble up for you with these body sensations.

The thought I had was, “If I don’t do this project, I’ll regret it.” I asked myself if this thought was true. What felt more true was, “If I DO this project, I’ll regret it.” That felt more true because doing the project was adding to my to-do list during an already stressful time, rather than taking away stress by giving me an opportunity! And that made it easier to let go.

* Ask yourself if perfectionism plays a role in your overwhelm.

Frequently, the idea that we have to “do it all well” triggers overwhelm because on some level we know it’s not possible or worthwhile. This creates a conflict — part of our attention is on “doing it all well” and part of our attention is on that nagging knowledge that we can’t do it all well.

If you had permission to show up for all parts of your life with C+ rather than A+ effort, how would that change your feeling of overwhelm? Is it possible that showing up in and of itself is enough?

What helps you break down this thing we call “overwhelm”? I’d love to hear what works for you.

And, if you’re struggling with overwhelm on an ongoing basis, you may want to check out my Stellar Self-Care (for Sensitive Creatives) program. You can learn more about that, and my other offerings, here.

Image is “Railway Station Through Glass Brick,” © Bx3t | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

strongtreesI have to admit that I’ve been pretty on edge lately. At times I feel unsafe. The house I rent is up for sale, and I know I need to move soon.

Being in limbo mode with my living space brings up all my “stuff” around safety, feeling like I don’t have a true home base, and, well, strangers. Strangers coming through my home and seeing all my stuff, deciding if they’re interested in living here themselves.

It’s weird and, somehow, it makes me feel like a little kid. It brings up the part of me that wants to hide out.

And so, I’ve had to practice extra self-care in order to stay sane, to feel safe.

I’ve had to remind myself, it’s okay, you’re an adult, you can take care of yourself with these strangers who suddenly show up.

I’ve had to pause and ground myself, remind myself to breathe, more than usual.

What’s interesting is how, because I’m also extra-busy right now, another voice comes up a lot.

It’s a high-pitched voice that snaps at me, “What’s with all this self-care stuff? Self-care? Aren’t you being just a little self-indulgent? I mean, look at all you have to do! And you’re letting yourself sleep an hour later than usual?”

This voice is old. Years ago, I thought “self-care” meant taking bubble baths and sitting on a cushion drinking tea. Or spa treatments. Or buying expensive moisturizers.

Self-care can look like those things, but what I’ve come to realize over the past twenty years is that it goes much, much deeper.

What I’ve also come to realize is what self-care is not: it’s not self-indulgence. There’s a big difference, but I think many of us confuse these two terms, which are most definitely not interchangeable.

I’ve mentioned quite a few times on this blog that in my twenties I developed a chronic illness and ended up in the hospital. Then and only then was my cynical twenty-five-year-old too-hip-to-do-self-care self forced to recognize that I had to take better care of me.

That’s all self-care is, really. It’s acknowledging that without putting YOU at the center of your life, there ultimately is no life that feels like you.

Many of the clients I’ve worked with over these past several years have had a pattern in common: feeling bad about not showing up for their creative work in the world as fully as they’d like because they just can’t make it important enough to put themselves front and center in their own lives.

Or: They’re doing their creative work in the world, they’re getting it out there, but they’re so overwhelmed and overstimulated from both the work itself and their interactions with others that they’re totally depleted and aren’t sure they can go another step on their journey.

Self-care, in my book, is about recognizing that YOU are at the center of any creative journey you’re on. Both when you begin the journey, and during it.

And yet, so many of us have a judge-y inner voice like mine that insists that taking good care of ourselves might just actually be, you know, self-indulgence.

How is self-care different from self-indulgence?

For me, “self-care” is about noticing what I am needing — truly needing — in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms, and making it important that I provide it for myself.

The focus of self-care is not doing, but noticing and acknowledging — and then doing, if necessary. (Often, practicing better self-care means practicing un-doing!)

It’s the noticing and acknowledging piece that we tend to lose sight of in our driven society. And often, when we do notice and acknowledge, we don’t allow ourselves to know what we know about what we need.

Self-indulgence, on the other hand, is fueling the part of us that doesn’t notice or acknowledge what we need. 

Self-indulgence is buying six more sweaters when we already have fifty and only wear ten (I’m raising my hand here!) — and the buying of the sweaters feels like an avoidance rather than a coming home.

It’s eating or checking Facebook or staying on the phone too long or having an extra glass of wine or pushing ourselves to work longer hours in order to avoid checking in with ourselves.

It may feel good or “righteous” or like we “deserve it” in the moment, but in the long run it’s actually continuing to do something that hurts when we know it hurts us.

Self-indulgence can also look like committing to something, or someone, and only giving it half our effort, or half our attention. It can look like always holding back just that little bit so we’re never fully present to our lives.

Now, I do want to emphasize that a little indulgence is not wrong, and sometimes it’s exactly what we need. (Particularly if we have a tendency toward perfectionism, we may need to “balance ourselves out” a little with some indulgence.)

The key is to be honest with yourself. When are you crossing the line from enjoyment to making yourself sick with enjoyment (I’m thinking about French silk pie here) simply because it’s hard to be present with yourself?

When are you crossing the line from doing an extra hour of work on the book you’re writing to feeling burned out but forcing yourself to continue? That, too, is self-indulgence. It’s starting to hurt, not help, and you’re rationalizing doing it anyway.

Self-indulgence always has a seed of avoiding ourselves in it; self-care always feels like coming home to ourselves. That’s how we know the difference.

And so, all this extra grounding myself and focusing on my breath and allowing myself to sleep more than usual? I know it’s self-care because it feels like coming home. Which reminds me that home is within me, wherever I happen to be. It’s a great reminder when my external living space is in flux.

What challenges you about practicing self-care, especially during times of a lot of stress when you need it the most? I’d love to hear from you.

And, I have a new program called Stellar Self-Care (for Sensitive Creatives). If you’re wanting to put YOU at the center of your life, or get back to it, I’d love to be that support for you. You can learn more about the program, here.

Image is “Sunset at Peace” © Shannan Thiel | Dreamstime Stock Photos

How showing up too much can thwart your creativity

pinkbloom

The title of this post might sound a little backwards. After all, isn’t showing up regularly — through a daily or almost-daily habit or ritual — key to doing to our creative work?

Absolutely. And that’s not what I’m talking about here.

The showing up I’m referring to has to do with a kind of perfectionistic, I-can’t-afford-to-take-a-day-off mentality which causes us to neglect replenishing our reserves.

There are times when we need to work on showing up. This can be true when we’re building a habit, like exercising or writing or maybe expressing ourselves more to our significant other!

But for some of us (and I definitely include myself here), there’s an “unconscious” kind of showing up that can propel us into the zone of compulsion or addiction.

In other words, it’s not “I choose to show up,” but “I have to show up — in fact, I’m showing up on autopilot without even noticing that I have a choice in the matter.”

What this perfectionistic kind of showing up has looked like for me:

* Never taking a day off from work, not because I didn’t need to take a day off, but because it didn’t occur to me that I could, unless there was an emergency or I was deathly ill

* Always responding to calls, emails and other requests for time very quickly

* Talking to friends or family members who called when my intention was to have time to myself

* Checking social media sites “just in case” I missed something that I “should” be attending to (what a slippery slope that one is!)

* Never missing a class or a workshop or a group meeting even though I was feeling very tired or even ill

* Scheduling client sessions during the time I take my morning walk

* Continuing to move a project forward even though something felt “off”, just so I could feel “productive”

I remember, way back in college, showing up late to a class one day, feeling stressed and slightly mortified that I’d disrupted the group already-in-progress. My teacher graciously welcomed me into the semi-circle, telling the other students to make room for me.

A week or so later, another student showed up late and my teacher gave him a severe bawling out which shocked the whole class. My curiosity got the better of me, and during a conference with my teacher I asked him why he had yelled at this other student for being late, and yet when I was late, he was so kind to me.

He thought about it a moment, and then said, smiling, “It’s kind of like this: you need to learn to be late, and he needs to learn to be early.”

My teacher was perceiving — quite accurately — that my tendency was to drive myself hard and beat myself up when I didn’t “do enough.” Apparently he’d perceived the opposite tendency in this other student.

I felt the vulnerability — and relief — of having been seen.  My teacher helped me recognize that I could start to allow a little bit of spaciousness around my compulsion to show up, to never be late, to never miss a day, to never take planned time off.

I still notice this tendency in myself, many years later, along with a tendency to make myself overly available to others. And when I get into this “overdoing”, “over-responding” place, I find that anything I create has a forced, thin, surface feel to it. The richness has been stripped away; there’s little within me to draw out, or, at the very least, I have trouble accessing what is there.

When we can sit with a request from another without responding to it immediately; when we can say “no” in order to preserve space in our schedules for non-doing; when we can “show up” 90 percent of the time instead of 110, we are feeding our creativity.

We are feeding it by noticing our breath, by noticing our surroundings, by noticing how we are truly feeling. We are allowing ourselves to fill up, rather than running on empty, or on adrenaline. We remember that, sometimes, we can let the world come to us — and it will.

When we slow down enough to invest in the present moment, our words on the page, our paint on the canvas, our listening during a coaching session is more vibrant, more there, more true.

So how do we prevent ourselves from carrying this idea too far and using it as an excuse to not show up when we do need to be showing up?

There’s no easy answer to this.

But if there were an easy answer to it, I’d say it’s this: Know yourself.

Know your own tendencies and your own struggles like the back of your hand. And then trust. Trust yourself to show up as much as you choose to, but never as much as you “should.” Choose. Trust yourself to choose, and choose again.

Do you ever find yourself showing up compulsively? What do you notice about the effect this has on your creativity? I’d love to know!

Image is “Beautiful Flower” © Matthias33 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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