Can you wrap a system around that?


I used to think that I didn’t like systems. Every time I found myself dealing with any kind of system — which implies structureI would rebel.

Part of this probably stems from having a childhood that felt way, way overstructured to me. My heart wanted to lounge in open fields with cows, sheep, books, and my journal (not that I lived near any fields), but my days always felt completely scheduled with activities from morning to night — not just riding the bus (an ordeal in and of itself) to school and back, but with afterschool activities, and then homework.

This seems so nuts to me now, but it was considered normal, and, thirty years later, though I don’t have kids myself, my sense is that many kids are even more overscheduled than I was (plus today’s kids have so much more technology to manage).

I think another reason I’ve tended to rebel against systems and structure is that I’m a Myers-Briggs INFP, and we “P” types like to keep things open-ended. Too much structure can feel overly planned and rigid for a “P” and trigger our rebelliousness.

At the same time, I’ve had to admit over the past several years, especially since becoming a coach and attracting clients who also tend to rebel against structure, that the right amount of structure can be a true godsend for those of us who cling to open-endedness (which can sometimes result in saying things like “I’ll write when I’m feeling inspired” or leaving ourselves one hour to complete something that actually takes four — woops!).

Systems and structure do not have to be elaborate or complicated. There just needs to be enough of a system to get it done — whatever “it” is.

Here’s my (very simple) example:

I was having a huge issue with mowing the lawn. It only takes me about 30 minutes, but it was becoming this thing that I so didn’t want to do and eventually I’d have to force myself to do it, angrily, usually swearing. Even though, once I’m doing it, I don’t hate it (except for that one time I mowed over some dog poop). It actually feels kinda good, moving my body, the smell of grass and dirt around me, the heft of the mower.

About a month ago, I figured out the issue. My brother, who used to live here and used to mow the lawn, had told me I should do it “about every ten days.” And I tried this. But it felt increasingly stressful to me. Because “every ten days” could fall on any day of the week. It might be a Wednesday, and then next time a Saturday, and then next time a Tuesday.

It occurred to me that if I mow the lawn every two weeks, it really doesn’t look all that much worse than if I do it every ten days. So I’ve made every other Sunday afternoon my mowing-the-lawn-time. And I think about it so, so much less. On Saturday, or Wednesday, I’m not thinking, “should I do it today?” because I know Sunday is lawn day. Every other Sunday, “mow lawn” is on my to-do list, and I know I’ll do it, and that’s that.

That was all the system that was required. It was actually way more stressful to keep the “when” I’d mow the lawn up in the air than it was to assign a day to do it.

This applies to anything I want to do on a regular basis, whether that’s writing or yoga or doing the dishes: Keeping the “when” up in the air creates stress and vagueness, and vagueness does not produce specific results.

And I think that’s worth consideration for us “open-ended” types. Is keeping something unstructured and open-ended giving us a feeling of peace and freedom, or stress and confusion?

The way to know you’ve hit on the right amount of “system” for you is that you use the system without a huge desire to rebel. (If you have a very strong inner rebel, as I do, you may be a little bit edgy around any amount of system, but when it’s the right amount, you’ll find yourself using it anyway.)

Your body is an excellent guide for whether or not a certain amount of structure is too much or too little. When I am overstructured, I feel frazzled, frenetic, like I’m on a treadmill. There’s a need to catch my breath (literally). When I have too little structure, I can feel sluggish, unfocused and fatigued.

There’s no right or wrong here; each of us has a “sweet spot” where we have enough structure, but not too much. So when I’m struggling with something that just won’t seem to get done, I’ve started to ask myself, “Can I wrap a system around this?” And then I brainstorm a little about what might feel like enough.

How do you feel about systems and structure? Do you tend to rebel against them, or do you find them helpful, or both? I’d love to know, in the comments.

Image is “Poppy Field with Powerlines” © Peter Gustafson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Making it ridiculously easy


When I went through life coach training with the wonderful Martha Beck, I learned about what Martha calls “turtle steps.” Turtle steps are teeny-tiny increments that help us reach a goal. The main thing about a turtle step is it has to feel do-able. It has to feel, as Martha puts it, ridiculously easy.

When I coached my very first client, I suggested she break that overwhelming goal down into turtle steps, and she said, “Turtle steps sound great, but I’m forty-five years old. I don’t have time to move that slowly.”

The coaching session came — for a moment — to a screeching halt. She’d triggered one of my own big fears. She’s right! I thought. At the time, I had two unfinished novel drafts and an image of them sitting in the corner of my office flanked by dust bunnies and cat hair popped into my mind. If I use turtle steps with my novels, I’ll be ninety before I finish them!

Luckily, by then I had enough evidence from the experiences of Martha and my fellow coaches to know that turtle steps worked. In fact, the more ridiculously easy they felt, the better they worked.

My client wasn’t ready to try turtle steps — yet. A month later, when she’d done nothing to move her goal forward because she kept approaching it with her familiar “bite off more than I can chew” method, she showed up for a session and said, “I think I’m ready to try out turtle steps.”

That’s the funny thing about the way our minds tend to work: We’d rather hold on to the idea of taking giant leaps forward that only exist in our fantasies than take smaller, less glamorous steps that we actually do complete.

If you have a tenacious inner perfectionist (as I do), know that you are probably going to have a tough time accepting the idea of turtle steps.

When I was an undergraduate in college, literally every semester I signed up for five or six classes, even though by my third semester it became blatantly obvious that I could not take on more than four classes without feeling overwhelmed and scattered. My inner perfectionist (who is best friends with my “social self”) loved the idea that I was tackling a huge course load — and besides, other people took six classes and aced them all, so why couldn’t I?

Almost every semester I ended up withdrawing from a class or two at the last minute because I felt completely overwhelmed. Twice, I withdrew past the deadline and therefore received a grade of a big fat F. Twice. The person who couldn’t stand the thought of getting less than an A+ actually ended up with F’s on her transcripts simply because she voluntarily took on too much.

The idea that we can take small, easy steps is anathema to the perfectionist, whose identity is formed out of the belief that if she can take on more than is necessary and excel at it, she will finally be worthy, and therefore, loved.

But it doesn’t work this way, my sweet little inner perfectionist is slowly discovering. She is loved, deeply, simply for existing and for being who she is. And she does not get more accomplished when she takes on more — she actually accomplishes less that way.

Back to my two unfinished novels: they have long since stopped communing with the dust bunnies in the corner of my office. They’re up and dancing around now, dust-free and shiny. How did this miracle happen? Since September of 2011, I’ve been taking ridiculously easy steps, on a regular basis, to finish my novels. (Read more about how I’ve done that at the end of this post.)

Yes, sometimes that means I write for fifteen minutes a day. Yes, sometimes that means I write one sentence. And no, I do not write every single day. But I’ve completed two novel drafts and I’m 240 pages into a third.

The key is making it ridiculously easy, step by teeny-tiny step. Any step can feel ridiculously easy if it is small enough.

Ridiculously easy isn’t as easy as it could be, though, because we live in a culture that tells us that for something to have value, it has to feel impossibly hard. And so we take on enormous “to-do” steps like “write novel” or “get new job” or “lose twenty pounds.” Seriously! These are actual items I’ve seen on clients’ to-do lists. But they’re not action steps, they’re long-term goals. In fact, I’m loath to call them goals — they’re actually processes, ways of life, daily habits we develop.

So a huge part of all this is allowing ourselves to do what feels ridiculously easy. That might mean a daily goal of “write one paragraph” rather than “write ten pages.” But it’s one paragraph that gets written, rather then ten pages that don’t.

Often our minds won’t allow us to embrace ridiculously easy. It’s a total shift for most of us, right? If it feels easy — or, at the very least, not hard, we don’t trust it. “But life isn’t easy!” we think. And that is certainly true. But we don’t need to add hard to the hard.

This is one of my favorite beliefs to challenge with my clients. When we make the shift from “It has to be hard” to “I can allow it to be easier,” amazing things happen. Believe me. I’ve seen it.

If you need support in allowing your process to feel easier, I’d love to help. See if we might be a good fit, here.

And: One of the biggest reasons I’ve moved forward with my novels is due to my participation in Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle. This is where I’ve put my writing turtle steps into action. This group offers me daily support, accountability and community around my writing. The last day to register for the next session of the Writer’s Circle is tomorrow, May 16. Check it out, here!

Image is Sharpened Pencil © Uschi Hering | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What triggers your resistance?

brick wall

One of the benefits of being a rabid journaler is that I have ample evidence of my patterns and habits and defaults. All that stuff I “tend to do” when I’m scared, overwhelmed, panicked, what have you. It’s there in ink on actual, physical pages. Hard evidence.

A client who also journals told me recently that he picked up a notebook from ten years ago and was depressed to see that he was struggling with exactly the same stuff as he is today. He thought it meant that he hadn’t changed at all, had been stagnating for ten whole years.

Which is so not the case.

Of course you were struggling with the same stuff back then, I said. Those are your core issues.

We all have core issues, those deep, resonant conflicts within us that we’re on this earth to be with, work with, and, over time, learn from. These issues are our teachers. It’s not about overcoming them or even letting go of them. The work is to become more and more intimate with our core issues as we cycle through them again and again in our lives. We peel our layers like an onion, each time getting closer and closer to our center.

I still struggle with much of the same stuff I did at twenty — it just doesn’t throw me as much, because I understand it better. I know how to work with it, play with it, in ways I didn’t then. In fact, some of the areas where I’m strongest now are the areas I had most difficulty with at twenty, even if those areas still cause me trouble.

For me, this is the work of my life. This is my real work, above, beyond, and beneath any other “work” I do in the world.

It’s these core issues, though, that trigger our resistance. Of course they do. They’re painful. Nobody wants to delve into pain. When I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and I just don’t see a way out, I can be pretty sure that some core issue has risen to the forefront and I’m in resistance to it.

What’s tricky is that we can often be blind to our core issues when they’re “up” for us. This is why I keep lists of my “resistance triggers” in my journals.

When I’m feeling stuck, I go to one of my lists. Resistance triggers basically boil down to painful thoughts that reflect our core issues. Here are some sample triggers from one of my lists:

You have to write something special, original and amazing or there’s no point. People have to be totally wowed by your writing or why are you doing it?

If you take too much time to yourself, people you love won’t understand and they’ll leave you. You have to be available to others when they need you or you’ll end up alone.

Even when you work really hard, it isn’t enough — what’s the point?

It doesn’t matter if you’re tired. Just keep going.

These are some of the biggies for me. You get the idea. The reason I write this stuff down is because I often don’t recognize that these issues are “up” for me. All I know is I’m feeling sad, empty, or pissed off and like I can’t move forward. Often, when I consult one of my lists I immediately see the thought causing the resistance jump off the page at me. Ahhh. Now I have something to work with.

So let me show you how this resistance thing plays out: If I’m in the grip of a thought like, “If you take too much time to yourself, people you love won’t understand and they’ll leave you,” but I don’t know it, I’m often over-responding to others, overscheduling myself, saying yes more than feels good to me.

Pretty soon I’m fed up, angry, withdrawing from and resisting interaction — even interaction that could be helpful and nourishing to me (such as taking time to truly connect with myself or with a friend who deeply wants to hear me).

If I’m in the grip of a belief like, “You have to write something special, original and amazing or there’s no point,” I become extra-hard on my writing. I become unwilling to experiment. I belabor every sentence. Everything feels squeezed and distorted, like I’m trying to fit my words through a teeny, tiny keyhole and hope they can make it through to the other side as magical, life-altering prose.

Pretty soon I don’t want to sit down at my desk at all. Writing has become painful, not life-enhancing. And certainly not fun. So now I’m resisting writing at all; I’ve become disconnected from why I ever wanted to do it in the first place.

Writing these triggers down as we become aware of them is a huge act of self-care. It’s about knowing ourselves. Seeing your thoughts on paper is a good way to cut them down to size — sometimes, thoughts that feel horrifying when they’re stuck in our heads can look absolutely ridiculous when you see them written down.

Just the act of noticing that I’m being triggered by one of these thoughts can create a huge shift for me. I’m no longer merged with the thought — I’m now outside of it, observing it, so it’s over there where I can question it, and not a driving force within me. The next step is to question these thoughts, look for evidence of where they are not true. (The Work of Byron Katie is an excellent way to question your painful thoughts.)

What triggers resistance for you? How do you know you’re “in it”? Let me know in the comments!

Image is “Stone and Brick Wall” © Peter Szucs | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The shark is working well enough … really.


Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I am obsessed with the movie Jaws. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen Jaws, but … just … don’t get me started. (Writers, study Jaws if you want to see a movie where every single scene moves the story forward. Nothing is wasted.)

If you know anything about the making of Jaws, you know that the mechanical shark, a.k.a. “Bruce”, didn’t work very well. In fact, there were so many problems with the shark that it wasn’t seen on screen nearly as much as director Steven Spielberg had originally intended. During production on Martha’s Vineyard in 1974, the frequent refrain from the loudspeakers was “The shark is not working. The shark is not working.”

Welp. As we all know, the shark worked well enough. In fact, the semi-working shark worked so well that Jaws was the movie for which the term “summer blockbuster” was coined, back in 1975 when it first appeared in theaters.

One of the main things I do as a coach, when I have a session with a client, is listen for stressful thoughts. Thoughts are stressful when they are not deeply true for us, but we believe them anyway. So when I hear something that strikes me as painful or stressful for a client, I scribble it down in my notebook. If it seems important, I’ll point this thought out to the client and we’ll work with it.

I was going back over some notes before a session recently, and it really hit me just how often our thoughts are perfectionistic. They have to do with how we’re not doing enough, not doing it well enough (whatever it is), and how our reality is not matching the vision inside our heads. (I say “our” because, like my clients, I have a strong penchant for perfectionism. I’m always teaching what I most need to learn.)

I’ve written a lot here about perfectionism in the past (you can click on the categories link titled Perfectionism to the right to check out more). But I don’t know if I’ve emphasized how important it is for perfectionists to make a point of noticing what is working — and what is working well enough.

Because one of the biggest issues I see perfectionists struggling with is decision paralysis. We’re so terrified of making an imperfect decision and the havoc it will surely wreak that we hang out in indecision until it hurts. And then, then, we beat ourselves up for not making decisions quickly enough! It’s a totally lose-lose scenario.

And here’s the thing: We don’t struggle with decision paralysis as much when we give ourselves credit for having made good decisions in the past. Most perfectionists have a pretty big story about being poor decision-makers (it’s in keeping with the idea that we never quite measure up). We are also control freaks, so we tend to think we have much more control over our futures than we actually do.

Therefore, we think, we have to weigh each present or future decision very, very carefully, so we don’t repeat our past mistakes and don’t screw up our futures.

Why do we have this story? Probably because when life happens, as it will, it feels more familiar for us to blame ourselves than to admit the truth: Life is messy, and life is not fair. No matter how “good” we are, we can’t escape this reality.

So what if we were to flip this story on its head? What if we were to look back and notice how we made good enough decisions, and how some of them were even really good? How would we proceed if we basically believed that our lives worked well enough?

I think we’d go on making our movies, doing our writing, living our lives. We’d trust ourselves to create something good. What if Spielberg had decided to resign in the middle of production on Jaws because the shark wasn’t good enough? (Well, probably Universal would have replaced him with a different director. And we’d have had a very different Jaws. Which would have been a damn shame.)

At the bottom of it all, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, about our lives, are either helpful or not helpful.

I don’t mean that we should tell ourselves things we don’t truly believe. I’m not talking about piling positive affirmations on top of our fear like white-washing a rotted fence. I’m saying we need to really give ourselves some credit. I’m saying we need to lower our standards enough that we can show up in our lives and in our creative work (or creative play, as I prefer to call it).

Perfectionists, aim for the B rather than creating A+ work that exists only in your head. Make the decision that feels best to you and call it a day, knowing you can course-correct tomorrow. Admit that the shark at the core of your movie is working well enough to continue the filming. Create your flawed-but-amazing works of art and live your flawed-but-amazing lives.

Work With Me: I work with writers, artists, artisans and coaches who are feeling vulnerable and stuck. Learn more about how we might work together, here.

Image is Shark Kite by Ryan Somma at flickr; some rights reserved

Why creating consistently is so important


I’ve been thinking back over the past year and remembering the awesome clients I’ve worked with.

If there’s anything that’s repeatedly reared its head this year for my clients, it’s been the issue of making creativity so BIG that it feels scary, 0verwhelming, and like there just isn’t enough time to take it on. Almost everyone I worked with had a belief that went something like this: “I can’t [write, paint, dance, draw — fill in the blank] unless I have more time available to me. So I need to completely overhaul my life in order to focus on my creativity. But completely overhauling my life isn’t possible right now. So I’m hoping that by next year I’ll be able to let go of something so I can focus on my creativity.”

What I’ve found so interesting — because these beliefs can certainly come up for me as well — is that it’s the beliefs themselves that make the idea of creating feel so hard, not creating itself.

When we make it so big we feel like we need a ton of time in which to do it, we ensure that it will never be done, because we know on some level it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever have huge blocks of empty time available to us on a regular basis. And when we tell ourselves we need more time in which to do it, and we don’t make that time or don’t see that we can have it, we put off our creative work (I prefer to call it creative play). And when we put something off, we create resistance.

The very act of putting it off (when something deep inside us knows it’s vital that we do it) creates stress around the idea of doing it — our minds spin out stories like, “Well, if I’m putting it off, it must be because it’s terribly hard and scary and BIG, and wow, that feels really frightening, which makes me just want to put it off more.”

We don’t often question thoughts like these. But they start to wield a huge amount of power over us, because these thoughts create feelings, and our feelings create our actions (or lack of actions) in the world. Often, our most powerful thought around our creativity is “I’ll do it when I don’t feel so overwhelmed and uncomfortable around it.”

But the reason we are overwhelmed and uncomfortable around it is because we make it so BIG.

Since September of 2011, I’ve been a participant in Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. (We like to call it simply The Writer’s Circle). I’ve also been co-coaching the Circle with Jenna for about a year now. In the Circle, we focus on writing a little each day, building our writing habit over time, with group support.

What I’ve learned over my time in this group is that:

1) Writing consistently (even if I’m not always crazy about what I’m writing — and believe me, I’m often not) feels a lot better than writing once every couple of months. When I create regularly, I remind myself of what matters to me, of what makes me me. When I put off creating, I can lose sight of why I create. I create because I have an instinctive drive to make meaning, to understand myself, to understand the world. I create because it’s fun (which isn’t to say it’s not challenging! But I love a good challenge.).

When I put it off until I have “more time,” I get confused about why I do it in the first place. I start to think it has something to do with money, with success, with notoriety. When I actually do it, I’m reminded that it has little to do with this things. It’s an act of adventure, a quest for discovery.

2) When we make our creativity really BIG — as opposed to integrating it into our daily lives in small, sustainable ways — it becomes something outside of ourselves, something to grasp for, something we believe will make us complete if we can only get to it. (Julia Cameron calls this turning our creativity into “Art with a capital A.”)

The truth is, creativity is always inside of us. It’s part of us. The “me” that lives my daily life and does mundane things like doing the dishes is not a completely separate entity from the part of me that sits down and writes. In fact, sitting down and writing is, in some ways, not that much different from doing the dishes. The hardest part is starting. Once I begin, I proceed one sentence — one dish — at a time.

When the parts of us that create and the parts of us that do the dishes are friendly with each other, and not strangers, they work together oh so much better, and we show up in the world as more integrated beings.

3) We all — whether we are seasoned writers, or writing our very first poem, whether we are published writers or not, whether we make our living from our writing, or not — struggle with clusters of the same (or similar) issues. It’s incredibly heartening to realize that that issue you’ve struggled with in isolation, sometimes for years, is not just shared by others, but is deeply understood.

If you’d like support in creating a more regular writing habit — whether you’ve been away from writing for years, or you’re just starting out — check out The Writer’s Circle. Our next session begins December 31, and tomorrow, Dec. 28, is the last day to register. New members can save $30 on their first session with the coupon code NEWYEARWRITE. We’d love to have you there!

Image is “Artist Box 2” © Andreea Stefan |

Rounding Up the Usual Suspects

A few days ago while logging in my daily progress for Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle, I had one of those light-bulb moments where I got something, not just intellectually but viscerally.

One of the questions we group members respond to daily asks us what negative thoughts we noticed that came up around our writing. Time and time again, I find myself writing some variation of this: “My writing isn’t exciting or important enough. It’s not active enough. There’s not enough drama. No one will find it interesting.”

I’ve examined these thoughts for quite a while now. Are they true? Yes, sometimes my writing lacks drama. Sometimes it could be more active. But all the time? No, these things are not always true. As for “it’s not exciting or important enough” and “no one will find it interesting,” well, that’s all subjective. I’ve certainly gotten enough feedback on my writing by this point in my life to know that quite a few people have found it interesting. And, as any writer knows, the most important thing when it comes to writing is that you, the writer, are fascinated by what you’re writing.

But this particular day as I logged in these thoughts once again, cringing at their familiarity, I got it. BUSTED! I said out loud, practically snorting my iced coffee.

These thoughts about my writing are my particular form of resistance.

Here’s how I know this: There have been days when I’ve known, without a doubt, that what I’ve written has been exciting and dramatic. To me, anyway. My whole body felt engaged as I wrote; I could hardly tear myself away from the page. These days don’t happen all that often. When they do, they’re wonderful, but that doesn’t usually completely quiet my inner critic.

On these days, when I logged in my progress, what negative thoughts had I noticed? “This writing isn’t serious enough; it’s too active; it should be quieter and deeper; it moves too quickly.”

Yep, when my inner critic knew it couldn’t convince me the writing wasn’t exciting or active, it just went ahead and criticized the writing for not being other things.

Here’s what I realized: My inner critic just wants to protect me from putting my writing out there for scrutiny. So it dredges up anything it can find “wrong” about the writing that I just might believe. When it knows I won’t buy into the idea that the writing isn’t exciting or active enough, it criticizes the writing for having these very qualities.

My inner critic wants to convince me that unless I’m sure my writing is all things to all people, I shouldn’t put it out there — it’s not good enough yet, it’s not ready. And it’s a lose-lose proposition, a double bind. It’s like not showing up to the party unless you’re sure you can be every kind of guest. Since you know you can’t be, you don’t show up at all.

So I’ve finally gotten it: “Not exciting and active enough, not important enough” or any variations thereof, are my “usual suspects” when it comes to my writing. They’re my go-to thoughts that exist solely to keep me from having faith in my own stories, from investing them with enough importance to go all the way with them, to truly own them. 

Noticing these thoughts — my usual suspects — allows me to round them up, corral and question them. In fact, I’m getting so used to them I don’t even always have to question them anymore. I just notice them and say, ah, there you are again.

One time when I was in grad school, a well-known writer visited one of my writing classes and was asked her best advice for writers. “Know what kind of writer you are,” she said. She said she loved Dickens, but she was never going to write like him.

And I’m probably never going to write action-packed thrillers that pump you full of adrenaline. It’s not the kind of writer I am. Luckily, I don’t have to be every type of writer. Knowing that — finally getting it at a deep level — frees me up to trust in the writing that is mine and mine alone.

Do you need support in creating a daily writing habit? Tomorrow, Aug. 30, is the last day to sign up for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. I’ve been a member of this group for going on a year, and I’m also Jenna’s co-coach. It’s a tremendously powerful way to become aware of what keeps you from writing, and to get group support while you do it. Check it out here!

© Dariusz Sas |

Getting out of analysis paralysis (or: what to do when you don’t know what to do)

A couple of my clients, both writers, have been struggling with “analysis paralysis.” They’re ultra-verbal, extremely articulate, and live a lot in their heads. And they’re both also funny and intelligent and sensitive and downright awesome. And I don’t like seeing them in so much stress. So, of course, we wanted to find out how to move them out of it.

Both of them said they had reached a point where they just didn’t know what the hell to do about the particular bundle of issues they were wrestling with. Because there were a lot of issues, and they’d gone over every possible option a thousand times, and looked at it all from every possible angle, and nothing solved the problem. And now they felt totally stuck and spent.

And I so, so get it. In fact, I’d been in the process of curling up in that very same corner (the one I’d so handily painted myself into). And it’s always interesting to see what you’re going through mirrored back to you, but when it’s somebody else’s stuff, you have the ability to see it more clearly.

There’s a correlation between people who tend to be perfectionistic (me!) and “mistake-avoidant” (me!) and people who get stuck in analysis paralysis. We think there’s got to be a right option, a right path, and we’re convinced that we can somehow keep ourselves from ever having any regrets if we can just find it, so we go into the spin cycle of analysis. We try to “think” our way out of whatever is overwhelming us, and in the process, we overwhelm ourselves more by imagining every eventuality.

And in the darkest, heaviest times, this is the stuff depression is made of. Because every option we see has a “yeah, but” attached to it, and since we’re using the minds that created the issues in the first place to try to find our way out of them, we’re truly in a stuck-leading-the-stuck place and more thinking is absolutely not going to help us now.

For those of us who tend to be very verbal and in our heads, it is vital that we connect with our bodies when we are freaking out — though this is probably going to be the last thing we “think” we should do.

That’s why the last time I got massively stuck in analysis paralysis, I got up from my desk (where I was surrounded by words: email notifications, my open notebook, my daily planner) and went into the kitchen and did the dishes.

In fact, Byron Katie actually has a concept called “doing the dishes.” It means, just do that one simple thing that needs to be done. That’s all you ever have to do. Everything else is just a thought, usually a thought about the future or the past.

My clients and I came up with several ways to pull ourselves out of an analysis paralysis “emergency state,” all based on the concept of simplifying and getting into the moment. And because, if you’re in this state, it is indeed vital to keep things simple, I’ve kept the list to three things.

1) Do something that requires physical movement. Think manual labor (like my doing the dishes, or vacuuming), or taking a walk to the post office — no mental heavy lifting. (Again: you don’t want to get more verbal at these times — that’s part of the problem. You want to get into your body.)

2) If you only do one thing (remember, we’re focusing on simplifying here), let it be giving yourself permission to stop beating yourself up for getting into analysis paralysis and everything that has contributed to it. Really, that’s all. Permission to stop beating yourself up. You don’t even have to stop. You just have to give yourself permission to do so.

3) Let go of one thing in your physical space. Yes, get rid of it. Take it to the trash. (If you’re like me, and you believe that even empty boxes of Kleenex just might have feelings, be very, very gentle as you do.) And, since our intention is to simplify and not complicate things here, it has to be something you absolutely have been meaning to get rid of. Don’t get caught up in wondering if you really want to get rid of it, because then you’re right back into analysis paralysis. Then: Notice how it feels to have let go of that object, whatever it was. See if you feel just the tiniest bit lighter. If it feels right, you can continue letting go of things. (I did this with two drawers of clothing recently.) But only if it feels right.

What are your techniques for getting yourself out of analysis paralysis? I’d love to know.

This week:

I have two openings for new coaching clients in July. Are you a sensitive creator who feels stuck or overwhelmed? Contact me to set up a free consultation.

And: This Thursday, July 5, is the last day to register for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. I am one of the coaches, and I’ve also been a participant in this group since it started last September. In that time, I’ve completed two previously unfinished novel drafts. If you’re feeling stuck or like you just can’t develop a solid writing habit on your own, I highly recommend you check it out!

Image is TRAFFIC SIGN © Zdenek |

Creativity and the selves within us

Lately with the wonderful creators I’m coaching, I’m noticing a theme of “shoulds.”

“I should be taking more risks with my writing.”

“I shouldn’t be spending so much time lolling around on the beach.”

“I shouldn’t be taking on so many creative projects” or, the flipside, “I should be trying harder to get out there and be more creative.”

First of all, creativity isn’t something you do. It’s something you are.

Our projects are simply a way of tapping the creativity that is always within us, giving it a form. It’s important to remember this, because our minds tend to work in a black-and-white way: “I’m creative when I’m sitting at the computer typing the words of my novel, but I’m not creative when I’m doing the dishes.” (Check out my previous post on defining creativity.)

Actually, you are creative when you are doing both. Creativity is simply the energy of life moving through us, and our particular perspective on that energy at that particular moment. It is always available. 

And, we all have different selves within us. I know I have an adventurous self who loves the idea of living on the edge, taking creative risks, going all out in search of a particular truth (I saw the awesome “Prometheus” last night, and I came out of the theater totally in touch with the adventurous risk-taker part of me).

But I also have many other selves within me. One of my core selves is about twelve years old, vulnerable, self-conscious, unsure of her place in the world and wanting very much to feel safe and cherished. This self is often completely at odds with the risk-taker part of me. And she needs a very particular kind of care.

A quick way for me to get into “shoulds” and create big-time resistance is to ignore the needs of one self or another.

If I ignore the needs of the risk-taker, I find I’m playing it safe (this particularly shows in my writing, when I read what I wrote the day before and realize I’m bored; I just don’t care about what I’m writing because the stakes aren’t high enough).

If I ignore the needs of the vulnerable twelve-year-old who craves safety and boundaries, I wear myself out, I throw myself into situations and relationships without questioning whether or not they are good for this part of me. I find I’m pushing and forcing myself a lot. I can also feel angry, teary, and like I am betraying myself. I may attempt to do something (write about a topic that is tough for me, for example) before I have built the inner resources to go there.

But it’s not an either/or. It’s a both/and. Believe it or not, I can meet the needs of both of these aspects of myself (and the many others as well — though I won’t necessarily be able to meet the needs of all of them at the same time). I can fuel the risk-taking needs of my inner adventurer and also reassure my inner twelve-year-old that I won’t drag her along on these risk-taking expeditions unless she is ready and willing.

This might look like, for example, taking on writing material that feels challenging and scary and risky, but promising myself that I will stop for the day if it starts to feel overwhelming and I’m physically tired or emotionally upset. I can continue the next day, if it continues to feel right for all of me.

And listening to as many aspects of ourselves as we can is beautiful for whatever we’re creating. The more we honor our complexity, the more complex and wondrous our creations will be.

How do you meet the needs of the different selves within you, and what impact does this have on your creativity? I’d love to hear your story.

Image is FREE TIME, ENJOYING THE SUN © Svetlana Komolova |

Noticing you’re “in it”: what does perfectionism look like?

This is the final post in my May article series on perfectionism and how it interferes with our creativity — and how we can recognize it before it has its way with us! There’s plenty more on this site about perfectionism, as well as its partner in crime, procrastination — just click on the Categories listing on the right.

It can be tricky to recognize when we’re in the grip of perfectionism, because we often applaud ourselves for the very behavior it creates. I struggled so much with overachieving as a child that by the time I was fifteen years old, I burned out and literally had no clue as to why I did anything at all — all I knew was that nothing I did gave me the sense of satisfaction I wanted it to give me for very long. The why beneath what we do is important; in fact, it’s essential.

Perfectionistic behavior is fear-based. We’re acting to secure what we think we’d be lost without. We do more because we fear that if we don’t, we won’t have enough.

When we take action from a place of wholeness and authenticity, we act based on the conviction that we are already secure. We do more because we enjoy it, because it enhances our lives. We stop when we’ve had enough.

So, how can you tell you’re in perfectionism’s clutches?

You can tell by the way you feel. For me, that’s often urgent, anxious, overly driven (I feel I can’t stop or slow down), a tight stomach, clenched jaw, contracted body, slumped-over posture. I physically “clench up”, become smaller than I actually am. Sometimes I feel extra-irritated and want to snap at people.

(Can you imagine the extra burden we place on ourselves when we sit down and try to create from this feeling, from this place?)

Sometimes, though, I’m not necessarily in touch with my feelings or my body. I’m totally in my head, and although I know lots of techniques for getting into my body, I don’t always do them because my mind is telling me I don’t have time, or there’s no point (tricky, tricky mind!).  This is when I can look to my behavior for clues.

For me, perfectionism manifests itself in the following behaviors:

* Going above and beyond just because I can; staying really, really on top of things (i.e. responding to emails immediately; setting daily goals that are way bigger than they actually need to be because my ego likes the way they look).

* Saying YES a lot, when I really mean maybe, or no. Often I do this to avoid conflict. Will saying no really create conflict? I can always say, “Let me think about that,” instead of “yes.”

* Finishing what I’ve planned to do for the day and then doing more, rather than, as we like to say in Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle, “declaring myself satisfied!” A similar version of this is sneaking “doing” into time I’ve set aside for “being.”

* People-pleasing and all its graspy little offspring. This can look like refusing to set boundaries around my time and energy, or affecting an “always smiling” persona so I don’t “upset anyone.”

* Cutting back on, or cutting out, fun activities until I’ve “gotten it all done.”

* Using the terms “should” and “have to” a lot.

Any of these behaviors are good pointers, alerting me that I’m “in it.” The value in noticing them is that when they go unchecked, I get further and further cut off from my true feelings, my true needs. Stopping them before they snowball can prevent the build-up that creates “the backlash” (a term I got from Cynthia Curnan, author of “The Care and Feeding of Perfectionists”), where I burnout, crash, and want to remain immobile for hours or days at a time because I’ve pushed and criticized myself for so long.

What behaviors alert you that you’re “in it”? Jot down a list of these (writing them down really helps you remember them) and the next time you notice yourself doing them, pause and course-correct until your actions stem from what you authentically want. It is so worth it.

If you struggle with perfectionism (or what can often be its flipside, procrastination), check out my one-on-coaching, here. I have a ton of tools in my arsenal to help you!

Image is PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS © Ronalesa Salstrand |

Don’t let perfectionism keep you from getting started (or from finishing)

This is the first in a series of several articles I’ll be publishing on perfectionism and how it keeps us from doing what we most want to do, or from enjoying it when we do accomplish it!

I finished a first draft of my novel yesterday. I had to declare myself finished. This draft had been sitting for more than three years when I returned to it early this year.

I had a hard time starting the novel way back when because I wasn’t sure I had the “just right” story, and I wasn’t sure I had the “just right” point of view (I even wrote 200 pages of it in third person and then rewrote it all in first, which, if you write fiction, you know is a lot harder than just changing “she” to “I”). I kept rehashing and rewriting these 200 pages, polishing scenes, cutting scenes and creating new ones, changing the order. At one point I went back to third person and wrote from multiple points of view. Then I went back to first.

At some point, I realized I needed to make some choices, stick with them, and continue — even if the draft wasn’t exactly the way I envisioned it.

So I did. And as I finally neared the end of my draft this week, everything felt bittersweet. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the writing of it (generating the writing is my favorite part; I like editing and rewriting much less). But mostly, I wanted to feel I had the best possible ending. I wanted to feel like, wow! This ending rocks. (That was how I felt when I finished the first draft of my other novel, a few months ago, which you can read about here.) I’d venture to say we all want that from our endings, and our readers, of course, want that too.

But this was a first draft, and at some point, I realized I needed to call it enough. As Anne Lamott tells us, it’s totally okay for first drafts to be shitty. My friend and mentor Jenna Avery said, “How about calling it enough for now?”

Yep. “Enough for now” felt exactly right.

Those of us who tend to be perfectionists can forget the concepts of “enough” and “for now.” We want it to be right, we want it to be brilliant, we want it to be perfect. Only the thing is, in wanting that so badly, we often don’t actually do our work, don’t get it to those who can benefit from it and appreciate it, because we don’t get started, or we don’t ever allow ourselves to finish.

A first draft is just that. It’s something rough, something messy, something that takes chances and probably contains lots of mistakes.

That is good. What if we could apply a “first draft” mentality not only to our first drafts of our writing, but to our lives? I know I love the things I love in part because they are messy, and rough around the edges, and imperfect. Not because they’re polished to a high shine, but because they move me, in all their imperfection.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with starting and finishing. What helps you begin something you’re afraid of, and what helps you say I’m done, for now?

Also: Today, May 10, is the last day to register for Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. It’s through my participation in this group that I’ve now completed drafts of two novels. (I’m also one of the coaches.) If you can’t seem to get started on something you’d love to create, or you’ve gotten stuck, check it out here!

And: I have a couple of spots open for new one-on-one coaching clients. Find out more here.