Tapping into tortoise wisdom ( + my fall coaching special!)

There is a part of me that is always in an enormous hurry. It’s a small but mighty voice within me that has been piping up since I was very young. The voice says things like: “You are soooo behind where you should be. You have to move faster. You need to make up for lost time! If you don’t get busy, you’re going to regret it!”

I used to listen to this voice, most of the time. I believed the things it said to me, the way it spoke to me, were truth.

However, over time I came to see that when I listened to this voice, merged with it as though it were actually “me” rather than just a point-of-view within me, I actually felt more behind, felt like I had to move even faster, and experienced more regret.

Hmm … curious, right? How could this be?

Well, here’s what I realized was happening (and it took me many years to see this clearly): This voice, while it meant to help, created a very heavy and desperate feeling state within me. And when I took action from that heavy and desperate feeling state, the results I created were — wait for it — heavy and desperate.

(For example: working incredibly hard to prove to my boss that I could take on a lot of work — and getting more work dumped on me by the day. Or, writing for hours after my work day so that I could feel like a “real writer” and ending up so burned out I felt increasingly like a fraud and like it didn’t matter how much I wrote, I still sucked.)

***

My partner and I make a yearly fall trip to the Brookfield Zoo here in the Chicago area. There is something about being there (especially during fall, my favorite season), that taps into childlike, playful energy for me. I connect with spaciousness there, with the energies of the animals, and my mind (particularly, perhaps, that desperate voice that tells me I’m never doing enough), calms down.

This year, we saw that there are tortoises near the duck and pelican pond at one end of the zoo. We stood and stared down at the six different types of tortoises for a long time. A trio of Galapagos tortoises hung out at one corner of their area, and one of them eventually started making its way toward us.

We were surprised that the tortoise moved faster than we’d thought it would, but what we noticed most was how relaxed and methodical it was, how it seemed to feel its way across the soft ground beneath it. It was actually neither “slow” nor “fast” — it simply moved the way it moved, at the pace that felt right to it.

When it had gone a little ways, it turned back, in that same relaxed way, feeling with its feet, head swiveling from side to side. It had apparently changed its mind and it was no big deal. Now it was going that way.

When you watch tortoises closely, you can’t help thinking they are time travelers. These are prehistoric-looking creatures, and they have — you must imagine — a unique relationship with time.

So, back to that ever-present voice in my head, which has been my frightened companion for so very long. Its relationship with time is quite like a race. It thinks it can, at some point, beat time if it just tries hard enough.

It only knows two speeds: “fast” or “slow” (too slow). This makes sense, if you’re in a race. But if you don’t want to — choose to — live your entire life as a race, this voice will quickly propel you to that desperate, heavy place it has caused me to know so well.

The wisdom that the tortoises sparked in me this week was this: It’s not that it’s all about slowing down (though slowing down is, for many of us, an excellent idea) — that Galapagos tortoise traveled more quickly than we’d imagined he would. It’s about being open to your own relationship with time, with pace — how do you want that relationship to be? What pace feels good and supportive and nourishing to you?

Since I can trace that “we’re in a desperate hurry” voice back to my ten-year-old self, who always scrambled in school to get “extra credit” even though she was already doing plenty, I know it is not purely a response to “today’s” culture. But I do think today’s culture contains plenty of triggers for this voice to go into overdrive.

So my ongoing commitment is to keep on noticing when I am “merging” with that voice, believing that it is “me.” I call it “a voice within me” because it is not me. It’s a habitual, practiced reaction, but it doesn’t have to drive my behavior if I notice it, detach from it a little, assure it that it’s being heard but it doesn’t call the shots.

And then I can ask the wiser part of myself how I want the pace of my life to feel, and recognize that I have more choices than that scared, desperate voice thinks I do.

How do you want the pace of your life to feel? How can you create more of that feeling? I’d love to hear from you.

And: My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back — through November 22. These sessions are meant to support you in determining your “best next step” if you are feeling the uncertainty that big (or small!) life transitions bring. I’m finding that one-on-one support is vital for me right now, with all that is going on in our world, and I’d love to provide that support for you if it feels right for you. Learn more about Autumn Transition Sessions, here.

You can also now sign up for my newsletter, for periodic updates about my offerings and other good stuff, here.

Tortoise images © Jill Winski, 2017

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Getting clear on what’s true for you

Several years ago I was talking to a friend of mine (who also happens to be a very gifted life coach). During our conversation, I kept comparing myself to someone else I admired, saying “I just can’t do what she does.”

My friend pointed out my use of the word “can’t” and asked me: “You can’t — or you don’t want to?”

I stopped and pondered for a moment. Oh, my friend was wise. The truth was, I didn’t want to do what this woman was doing. It was wonderful — for her, but not for me.

This realization brought me to another question: Why was I choosing to believe I wasn’t capable of doing something, when the truth was that I didn’t want to do it at all?

It occurred to me that it was “easier” for me to believe I just couldn’t than to accept and sit with that fact that, as is often true for me, someone else’s path wasn’t my path. Allowing this truth to surface meant that I would need to find another way that did work for me, for who I was (and am).

It is challenging to look inward for guidance when it seems so much easier to look outward. Realizing we don’t want to do it the way “everyone else” is doing it may trigger stuff for us, too.  (“Why can’t I do it the way she does it — what’s wrong with me?”)

Guidance that doesn’t fit us, however, is not “easy” at all. Trying to follow it feels like wearing a pair of shoes that are too loose or too tight — it’s hard to get where you’re going that way!

Isn’t it fascinating that our minds will actually believe things that are not deeply true for us, rather than take in truths that may be hard to accept? And yet, this happens all the time. I see it often with my life coaching clients — which is why, sometimes, our work is about simply creating enough safety and comfort for them to be with whatever their truth may be.

Because here’s the thing: if we aren’t standing in our truth, we have no solid foundation to build on. Somebody else’s truth, somebody else’s guidance, won’t do it for us (unless it truly resonates for us).

So how do we get clear on what’s true for us?

• Be sure that you want to know the truth. Sometimes I’ve worked with a client who realizes “I don’t want to get clear right now. I have so much going on that is causing fear and chaos for me, and I’m just not ready yet.” This is totally valid. You know what’s best for you — and in fact, a feeling of safety is key in allowing the truth to surface. Allow yourself to get to that place of safety — that inner feeling of safety — first.

• Don’t force it. You don’t have to grasp or push to know what it true for you — the truth arises when you feel safe enough to be with it and when you are in a place of relative peace. (I often connect with what’s true for me when I take my morning walks, which bring me to a peaceful place of acceptance most days.)

• Notice the language you’re using, as my coach friend helped me do during our conversation. If you hear words like “can’t”, “should”, “never” or “always”, that’s your mind going to an all-or-nothing place — and chances are, those words are not true for you.

• Know that your truth is not deeply buried. When you feel safe to contact it, to express it, you’ll find that it’s right there waiting to be honored. If writing is your thing, a simple and helpful exercise is to go to your journal and write: “What I really want to say is … ” (Thanks to Natalie Goldberg for this idea, which I found years ago in her book Wild Mind.)

• Again, safety. And support. Who is a person you trust, who is good at reflecting to you who you are, as my friend did for me? She knew me well enough to intuit that my “can’t” wasn’t really a “can’t” at all, and she played that hunch.

It is so much easier to move forward — even with the really challenging stuff — when we are doing so from a foundation of what is true for us. That starts with letting yourself know what is true, and going from there.

A quick update: My one-on-one coaching program Light Up Your Creative Self will close after September 30. This program may be for you if you are feeling blocked, stuck or simply like you are flailing in the dark when it comes to a creative project or your creativity in general. I have typically done this program with writers, but it is open to anyone who feels called to it — we are all creative (even when it doesn’t feel like it!). Interested? Find out more on my Ways We Can Work Together page, here. (By the way, it’s $25 off the total price through the 30th.)

Above image is “Autumn Leaf” © Ronfromyork | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Are you allowing the seasons of your life?

As summer winds down, I’m reminded of the summers when I was a kid, the easy, lazy feel of them. I can remember skipping down the street in my bare feet to watch the local music video station at my friend’s house. We particularly loved to catch Cyndi Lauper videos. (On one thrilling afternoon, my friend did my makeup like Cyndi’s in her “Time after Time” video.)

I don’t know what it’s like for kids today, but those summers of the 1980s feel, in memory, like such a contrast to the start-up of fall.

The summer was meant to be a season of fun, play, and intentional winding down. Fall had a tangibly different feel. I happen to love fall (it’s my favorite season), and part of why I love it is because it is, for me, about ushering in the new, while also feeling nostalgic for the falls of yesteryear. For the me who swore each school year that “this year I will show up at school as a completely different person!” (Which never really happened, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I love that the “me” of today doesn’t want to be a completely different person (thank God!), but there was something promising and exciting about that desire as a kid. The desire for the new, the sense that something amazing was just around the corner. Fall carries that energy for me, and mingled with it is a cozy feeling. New and cozy? Sounds good to me.

When I moved into “adult life” in my twenties, and even in college when I often worked through the summer and took classes, that “summer feeling” got lost somewhere.

There was also a period in my life when I lived in Hawaii for a time. While Hawaii was undeniably beautiful, I missed the seasons.  There is something about the seasons in the external world that mirrors our inner shifting, and vice versa.

***

When I work with my life coaching clients, particularly the ones who feel they are pushing themselves way too hard but aren’t quite sure how to stop, I sometimes ask this question: “Are you allowing your life to have its seasons?”

Just as summer has a different flavor and texture than fall, our lives shift and change as one “life season” moves into the next.

Here’s the tricky part: If we don’t ease up on ourselves, if we don’t tune into ourselves, we can’t see the change in seasons in our lives. In fact, our pushing and tuning out are sometimes exquisite protections against allowing our lives to shift seasons.

This is why I focus a lot on self-care in my coaching practice: Self-care is, ultimately, self-connection, and when our connection to ourselves is blocked, we’re not able to get a clear sense of where we are.

If we are connected to ourselves, we’re attuned to the subtleties that alert us that a new season of our lives may be on the horizon. We prepare to open to it. If it brings up fear for us, we can investigate it and get support.

When we’re pushing ourselves (to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, or to do more even if it doesn’t feel good), or tuning out, we’re far less aware of those subtle nudges that tell us a new season is approaching and change is near. That, in fact, our lives are changing (because nothing stays the same!).

So how do we stop pushing? How do we tune in to ourselves?

We take time to feel our feelings. It sounds simple, and it is, but it isn’t necessarily easy. So often our “pushing” is really avoiding. And when we’re avoiding, there’s only one thing we’re ever truly avoiding: feeling our feelings.

Here’s the thing: No feeling will destroy you.

As the poet Rilke wrote, “No feeling is final.” Feelings move. They shift (like the seasons). If you can take five minutes to let a feeling come up and be with it, you will notice it start to shift on its own. It may return, but it will not flatten you.

It’s when we avoid our feelings that we get overwhelmed — because we are using our energy to push away rather than be present to what is true for us.

So, when I pose the question, “Are you allowing your life to have its seasons?” what I am really asking is: Are you feeling your feelings? Are you allowing them?

If your life seems to want to be lazy summer right now, can you allow that? If it’s leaning toward a brisker, crisper fall feeling, can you allow that?

If you’re fighting a season of your life as it approaches, can you simply drop the fight, a little at a time? Can you simply notice the desire to fight the change?

Do you allow the seasons of your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Also: My Light Up Your Creative Self one-on-one coaching program will no longer be offered after September 30, 2017 (part of my practice of letting go of the old and welcoming the new!). If you’re feeling creatively blocked, stuck, or stagnant, you might want to check it out (and everyone who signs up prior to the end of the month will save $25). Find out more on my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Above images © Moonbloom, Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Olga Drozdova, Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively.

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When the “small” isn’t small, at all

I won’t even go into what a bad week it’s been. You know what’s been going on. And maybe, like me, you’ve been feeling sad and overwhelmed.

“Overwhelmed” is not a great place from which to take action. Sadness, though, can be  powerful. Sadness points us to what matters to us.

***

Today my partner and I were at Target, and I was scouring the back-to-school section for the inexpensive notebooks I use as journals. A woman came up to us and said to him, “Hey, are you the guy who taught creative writing to my daughter last summer? My daughter loved your class!”

Now, my partner has been feeling sad this summer because the writing class he has taught to high school students for the past few summers was canceled this year. But here, here was in-person feedback from the universe that that class mattered. His teaching matters.

This woman could have passed us by. She had only met my partner once, at the reading the kids did as the culmination of the class, and she wasn’t even totally sure she recognized him. But she took a chance and walked up to us and reached out.

It mattered.

***

A few months ago, when it was still winter, I saw a sign for a lost black cat up in Starbucks. I jotted down the phone number on a piece of napkin, just in case. I do this. I can’t stand the idea that an animal and its person are suffering.

During the next several days, I did indeed see a black cat in one of the parking lots near us. It looked kind of like the cat on the poster. I fished the piece of napkin out of my bag and called the number.

A woman answered. She sounded anxious. I told her I had seen this cat and wondered if it could be hers. It turned out she lived in a suburb about an hour’s drive from me. She had no idea how the poster had even been hung in a Starbucks near me.

After some discussion, we realized the cat I was seeing could not have been hers. It was a little too fluffy and a little too standoffish and a little too large, and it had a little bit of white on it, whereas her cat did not. With disappointment, we both knew it wasn’t her cat.

But we talked for about twenty minutes, anyway. We talked about our cats, past and present. We talked about how hard it is to love and to let go, and how the not knowing is the most terrible part of having a missing pet.

Getting off the phone, I told her I was so sorry the cat I was seeing was not her cat. “That’s okay,” she said. “It’s good knowing someone is out there watching out for her.”

It wasn’t her cat, but my reaching out mattered.

Almost every time I do something like that, like calling a number on a poster about a lost cat, I catch myself thinking, should I even do this? Will this make a difference?

***

When I was twenty-one, I worked at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago in one of the gift shops. It was, at that time, called the Koala Shop. (The koala habitat was actually in the center of the shop, so all day I watched the koalas. They slept about 99.99 percent of the time.)

One day, a customer yelled at me for ringing up her merchandise incorrectly. She called me stupid and said she was surprised I could hold down a job. It was not a good time in my life, and later that day, during a lull, I stood out on the sales floor with a co-worker, openly crying. Not easy for me. I’ve always been a pretty private person, and was even more so back then.

My co-worker asked me quiet questions about what happened and just let me cry. He acted like my crying was the most natural thing in the world. He stood there, a few feet away from me, gently nodding and talking to me here and there, but also being quiet at just the right times, until I was all cried out.

I never had contact with that guy after I stopped working at the zoo, but oh, what he did for me that day mattered. He gave me permission to have my emotions, at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure it was okay to feel what I felt.

***

I am always telling my coaching clients that the more we look for something, the more evidence we find that it exists. That day, in the zoo shop, I started building evidence for the fact that I could feel what I felt and express it and I would experience kindness in response.

And when I think back to my time working in that shop, my mind instantly goes to my fellow employee’s kindness that day. I wonder if he even remembers. And I’m sure he has no idea how profound his gentle acceptance of me was — I never told him.

It is so easy to discount these things, these things we tend to call “small”. We forget that the world is made of up relationships. That we are always in relationship — to other people, to ourselves, to the animals and trees and oceans.

But this is how we do it — one interaction at a time. This is how we add love to the world. And we need to believe it matters.

If you want to see more evidence of love, where can you add love?

I guarantee you, it matters.

Where have you experienced “small” acts of love that made a big difference for you? I’d love to hear from you. (Because the “small” isn’t small, at all.)

P. S. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed because you care so much (but you need to take care of you, too), you might love this post from Jennifer Louden. I did.

Above image © Yoyo1972 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Who do you want to be today?

Saturday is normally a work day for me. I often have coaching clients on Saturday mornings, and if I don’t, I use that time for writing or other business-related things.

But when I got up this past Saturday, I realized I just wasn’t feeling “right”. After a couple of hours of inexplicably aching muscles, my mind went to all the things that could possibly be wrong; I imagined myself in the ER, or with a prolonged hospital stay; it would feel so invasive, it would be so expensive, and how would my elderly cat survive without me if I were in the hospital for a long time?

Meanwhile I kept telling myself I should make use of my day. It was important to keep on schedule! What would happen if I didn’t get it all done?

Saturday passed in a flurry of anxiety, during which I told no less than three people close to me over the phone that I was surely dying and things were crumbling and life always pulled the rug out from under me when I was feeling productive! Life didn’t want me to accomplish anything!

Fast forward to Sunday, when I felt markedly better and realized that I probably just had a mild bug which was causing weird muscle aches. Though I was tempted to play catch-up on Sunday, my body sent me a strong message that it was time to rest, and rest I did (with a little help from Netflix).

Monday morning, though, the tyranny of the un-done loomed heavily as I woke up, grateful to be feeling well but now back in “get-it-done” mode.

(So many years after the chronic illness that changed the way I related to myself back in my twenties, I still tend to make a very quick leap from “Feeling good” to “Now how much can I get done?” It still sometimes takes “feeling physically unwell” for me to truly slow down — and this is something I continue to notice and work with in myself.)

I went out for my morning walk (making it a brief one, since there was now so much to do!).  As I headed home, intuition guided me a little bit out of my way to walk past what I think of as “the cat house” — a house whose side windows are situated along a brick-paved street. In these windows, I almost always catch glimpses of cats. At any given time there seem to be about seven or eight cats living in this house.

The cats in the cat house are often asleep on various pieces of window-oriented cat furniture, but on Monday, I encountered two awake ones. In the first window sat a gray tabby, an adolescent, not quite full-cat size. It watched me as though I were the most curious thing it had ever seen.

In the next window, a full-grown, robust gray-and-white cat, sat hen-like. Its eyes followed me as I passed, and I couldn’t help smiling. It was like these cats posed a silent question to me: What’s your hurry, human?

I turned the corner and headed down the adjacent street, my mind quickly crowding out the happy images of the cats with my towering to-do list. But I felt a little shift in myself — a little bit of breathing room.

And then, as I passed the barber shop on the corner, noticing the barber inside chatting with a regular, scissors glinting, it occurred to me: Whether I approach “all I need to do today” from this place of frantic intensity, or borrow the laidback alertness of those little faces in the cat house and move through the day from a place of peace and curiosity, I will probably get about the same amount done.

And I asked myself, Who do you want to be today? The frantic person who tries to do it all because if you don’t, you’ll be really hard on yourself? Or the person who moves from a place of self-acceptance and recognizes that she is choosing to do what she does, and if it doesn’t all get done, she’ll be totally okay?

I chose the second person. And, interestingly, I got a heck of a lot done yesterday from that peaceful, self-accepting place, borrowing some of that laidback-yet-curious cat energy.

But whether I’d accomplished everything I wanted to or not, the experience of doing it, the journey of my day, felt so much more pleasurable (and powerful) than it would have had I chosen to be the frantic person who operates from urgency.

In her beautiful memoir Autobiography of a Face, author Lucy Grealy wrote that we don’t learn something big just once in our lives and then, that’s it; we tend to learn the same truths over and over again. This lesson is not new to me. In fact, this choice of who I want to be is one I make over and over again. Because I often forget that I have this choice.

The key, with so much in our lives, is remembering.

And when I choose self-acceptance and peace over frantic urgency, I do not contribute to the frantic urgency that is so prevalent in our world. 

Who do you want to be today? Who do you choose to be? How do you interact with yourself and others, based on this choice? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. Way back when, I wrote about how our “not enough time” issues are really issues of self-acceptance. You can read that post, here.

P. P. S. My one-on-one coaching program Light Up Your Creative Self goes away at the end of September as I make room for new things I’m creating. Interested in this program? Find out more about it, here — and get $25 off until it goes away.

Above image © Olena Chyrko | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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On stopping when you’ve had enough

bench

One of the things I often say here is that, when it comes down to it, self-care is less about what we do than it is about what we undo.

When I first started my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program in 2015, I noticed my tendency to “firehose” my clients with lots of information. After all, the more they knew, the better, right?

Then it hit me — whoa! This is a program about self-care. And, particularly if you are highly sensitive (as most of my clients are), you are already picking up on tons of subtleties that can make life feel extra-complicated. You don’t necessarily need more doing, more information. Chances are, you need to subtract, not add.

This “exquisite art of subtraction” is about noticing — really noticing — where we are doing more because of the belief that “if some is good, more is better.” This is such a pervasive belief in Western culture — and, in my experience, it simply is not true.

Let me give you a rather mundane example: I was out for my morning walk a week or so ago, wearing a pair of new sandals that still required a bit of breaking in. I had a wonderful meander over to the nearby park (where I’m sure to see lots of dogs and their humans and I always leave with a smile on my face), and as I made my way home from the park, I started to think, hmm, maybe I will make this walk even longer! Because it’s feeling so good!

Except that the new sandals were rubbing on my toes at this point. Even though my mind was telling me I needed more of a good thing (because more is better, right?), my feet were telling me that they needed some time away from the new sandals.

Well, my mind won out, and I kept on walking, and — interestingly enough — as I rounded block after block, I noticed I was starting to feel quite crappy. In fact, my enjoyment in the walk had decreased significantly. By the time I got home, I was in a bad mood (quite unusual for me after my morning walk) and my toes felt like they were on fire.

What happened? Well, my feet — toes, to be more specific — gave me a signal that my body had had enough. But I didn’t listen to it. (And hurting toes are not even a very subtle signal — they’re pretty blatant. Often, the signals to stop are much more subtle — but our minds are powerful, and in this case, my mind wanted more of a good thing.)

***

Underlying our desire to keep going even when we’ve had enough there is usually a feeling of scarcity, a fear of future deprivation.  Deep down, we believe we’d better capitalize on the good stuff while we’ve got it, because surely it will be taken away later.

In the moment I decided to keep walking even though I’d already had a beautiful walk, and my toes were beginning to hurt, there was a thought — outside my conscious awareness at the time — that went something like: You must really make the most of this good energy, because it probably won’t last.

Had I been aware of this thought, I could have countered it with: Yeah, it probably won’t last — today. And so what? Good energy returns. There will very likely be plenty of lovely walks in my future. But for today, I’ve had enough.

Stopping when we’ve had enough — whether that’s enough of something we don’t like or something we do, something that drains us or something that fuels us — is key to self-care, to working with our creative energy, and to avoiding burnout.

In fact, the periods of my life during which I have gotten into burnout can be always be traced to day upon day in which I pushed myself out of fear that if I stopped, if I trusted that I’d done enough for today or that I had enough for now, I would surely be deprived in the future. So it didn’t feel safe to stop.

The irony, my friends, is that getting into burnout forces you to stop. In fact, I believe that sometimes we reach a state of physical, emotional, and/or spiritual burnout precisely because it’s the only way we know how to stop.

Noticing that we’ve had enough comes first. If we don’t notice the often subtle emotions and sensations that are giving us the message that we’re nearing enough, we won’t stop.

So set an intention to notice. Pay attention to your body. Our bodies are the most trusted conduits of the messages we need — far more trustworthy than our minds (notice what my mind did when I was on my walk!).

Once we’ve noticed, that’s when it’s time to actually act on stopping when we’ve had enough. This is not easy! We probably have a bunch of deeply held beliefs about why we need to push ourselves through the stuff that feels bad, or hang on for dear life to the stuff that feels good.

It is so worth it to take a look at these beliefs and go deeper. In fact, doing this type of inner work is what will change our lives because it will change how we relate to ourselves.

When you can’t seem to stop, even though you know you’ve had enough, ask yourself why. Really take a look. What’s so scary about stopping? What are you afraid will happen if you stop when you’ve had enough, if only for today?

When you see the underlying fear, when you “get” it, you have so much more power because you have made what is unconsciously driving you conscious. In your willingness to look deeper, you cultivate trust in yourself. You start to befriend yourself.

Do you have a fear of stopping, even when you know you’ve had enough? Are you able to recognize what “enough” feels like for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Further reading: Martha Beck talks about “just in case” versus “just in time” thinking in this article. I’ve found this to be a truly helpful shift!

Work With Me: This can be tough stuff. If you need support in looking deeper, I’d love to help. Check out the ways we can work together, here.

Above image © Nancy Tripp | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Coffee with your future self

deuxcafesOften when we’re at a crossroads in life or feeling stuck, it helps to ask ourselves “what worked before?”

Our “past self” — far from being naive — has lots of wisdom for us. Sometimes I forget that I “solved” a particular problem in the past and that way of dealing with it will work just fine today — I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

But there’s a reason our “past self” is in the past — we’re not who we were then! And we all reach those “liminal” periods in our lives — times when we have let go of an old identity but not yet embraced a new one. (In fact, it is during these periods of “identity limbo” that clients most often seek out coaching with me. It can be a really unsettling place to be.)

This is why, when I’m feeling really unsure about my next step or overall direction, I like to consult my “future self”.

Consulting your future self does not have to be anything elaborate. It can be as simple as imagining you meet “future you” and have a chat over coffee (or tea, or coconut water, or whatever you and future you like. One client reported that her “future self” did not want to drink the same beverage that her “current self” did — a detail we found extremely interesting!).

It can be fun to do this exercise with a group — I was led through a longer version of it by a gifted coach at an intensive a few months ago and what came out of it for me was powerful (there’s just something about group energy!).

But I’ve found it to be equally powerful sitting by myself on a bench in a nearby park. You can also do this with a friend or a coach. The key is to create a safe space for yourself where you can freely imagine.

First, set a time frame — how far in the future is this version of you? (I find that five years is often helpful for bigger-picture guidance, but depending on what I’m experiencing, it could be six months, a year, or ten years, too.)

Then, in your mind’s eye, simply ask your future self to show up, in whatever way she’d like.

When you meet your future self, take note of the totality of her. See everything there is to see. (Small details often represent big clues to your future life.)

What is she wearing exactly? What’s the expression on her face? Is she animated? Serene? Does she have anything with her? (This could be animal, vegetable, or mineral — it might not come as a surprise to you that when I did this exercise with the group a while back, my future self stood on a cabin porch, flanked by three cats.) How does she sit (or stand)?

What qualities about her really strike you?

Then: ask your future self what message she has for you, or if there’s anything she’d like to show you. (Sometimes clients report simply feeling a certain energy emanating from their future selves, nothing verbal. This is good, too!)

I notice that, almost always when I do this exercise, my future self gives me a message about something I need to let go of in order to transform into this “future me”.

About four years ago or so she showed me a vision of where she lived — in a smallish apartment with tree branches gently brushing the window next to her desk, where she sat writing. This message gave me a feeling of deep peace — but it also scared me. At the time I lived in a house that I really didn’t want to let go of, and my life felt so complicated that I couldn’t see how this vision could become a reality — in fact, I didn’t want it to become a reality — yet. (I wrote in this post about my process of parting ways with this beloved house.)

Although I didn’t know how I’d make what she showed me a reality at the time she showed it to me, the vision my future self revealed to me became a guidepost. It felt right.

And, step by step, my life unfolded so that I could let go of what needed to go. I saw that my future self had a focus and a purpose I felt out of touch with at that time, and I wanted to move toward it.

Your future self might seem ruthless, because she doesn’t necessarily need the things that “present you” needs. But don’t worry — when it’s time to sync up with your future self, you’ll find that letting go is a relief (even if there is some sadness there — I still miss the house from time to time, but I’ve never regretted my move).

These days, the message I get from “future me” is that I need to let go of certain deep-seated habits and ways of relating that are no longer serving me. “You can’t get here from there,” she smiles (and yes, like “present me”, she’s very much enjoying her iced coffee as we talk — thank God!).

Do you ever connect with your future self when you need intuitive guidance? How does this process work for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Work With Me: Do you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care? Find out more, here.

Above image © Monika Wisniewska | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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How getting grounded changes your perspective

girlwalking

The other day I was standing in line at a store near my home, waiting to buy a Father’s Day card. The only line open was at customer service; no other cashiers were visible. There were three people, total, in line (I was last) and none of it seemed like any sort of problem to me.

The woman in front of me, however, considered it a big problem. She was in a hurry; why didn’t they open up another line? She kept craning her neck to see around the woman in front of her, who glanced back occasionally with a sharp expression.

Soon enough, a cashier came over and announced that he was opening another register and we were welcome to step over. “Thank God!” said the woman in front of me.

At this point, the woman in front of her turned around and snapped, “Why do you have to be so rude to everyone?”

The woman in front of me seemed shocked. “I am not rude!” she shot back. “What did I do that was rude?”

Their conversation escalated as they tried to get ahead of each other in the new line. I stayed right where I was at customer service, half-amazed and half-bemused at how they were going back and forth.

At a deeper level, though, it didn’t affect me in the least.

I hadn’t experienced the woman in front of me in line as rude. I had experienced her as anxious, and, in fact, I’d had some empathy for her, and had been planning, if we’d waited much longer, to engage her in some conversation about the ceramic plates she was holding (they had lobsters on them).

Now, lest I come across here as mellower-than-thou, let me tell you, this is not usual for me. Sometimes, when I encounter high emotion in others, I absorb it right up like a sponge.

That didn’t happen in this instance because I was feeling grounded. Actually, at that particular moment, quite exquisitely grounded.

What made this day, or moment, different than others where I would have reacted (if not verbally, at least emotionally) to the scene unfolding around me?

• I was at the tail end of my morning walk, which helps me feel connected to my body and to the earth, 95% of the time. I was relaxed within my own body, and, as a pleasant side-effect of that, I felt a solid awareness of what belonged to me and what belonged to others. To put it in Byron Katie’s words, I was in my own business.

• At that moment, I felt physically and psychologically sound. I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t lonely, I wasn’t angry, and I wasn’t tired (read more about referring to the helpful acronym “H.A.L.T.” in this post).

• I was in a space of self-acceptance and feeling kind to myself (another frequent by-product of my morning ritual).

All of this contributed to my being in what Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, calls your “optimal range” of stimulation.

This is the place where, in terms of your nervous system, you feel at ease. You’re neither bored and restless nor bouncing off the walls with excitement. In this space, you’re good. You feel comfortably connected to yourself.

catwalking

Animals, too, have an “optimal” range of stimulation, and cats (who are masters of the art of self-care) are good teachers for us here. My dear cat Slinky, who passed away in 2010, had quite a low threshold for stimulation. If I pet her for more than twenty seconds or so, she’d start to thrash her tail, and, as I quickly learned, if I continued petting after the tail thrash had begun, I was in for a nip to my hand.

Sullivan (my current feline friend whose pictures you can see on the pages of this site and who has outlived Slinky by nearly seven years now) is totally different. I can pet him non-stop for hours and he will not get overstimulated. He’ll lounge on my lap while I work, fall asleep and forget I even exist. (Slinky wouldn’t get on my lap — a lap would be way too overstimulating for her!)

When I work with clients on self-care, one of the concepts we always get around to discussing is looking at our lives through the lens of stimulation.

Highly sensitive people have nervous systems which pick up on subtleties and process them deeply. Because of this tendency, they may (like Slinky!) have a somewhat narrow window in which they feel comfortable and at ease, nervous-system-wise. (If they are high sensation seekers as well, the window may be even tinier!)

Had I been already overstimulated when the argument between the women in line arose, I likely would not have been able to view the situation with detachment and compassion. My nervous system would have already been on overload.

Getting grounded — to that place where you feel internally stable, centered, and solid — is fundamental not just to supporting your own nervous system, but to getting a clear, clean sense of what is true — and what kind of response is required of you.

For example, I received an email the other day which contained some feedback for me. When I first read the email, it was toward the end of a long day and I felt drained and irritated. From this place, I interpreted the email as unnecessarily harsh. Taking note of my emotional and physical drain, I flagged the email to respond to later.

The next day I took a look at it again. From that rested, solid, post-morning-ritual space, I saw the email in a different light. In fact, there was a lot of positive feedback in it, and the sender then offered me a couple of suggestions for “next time” (indicating his desire to work with me in the future!).

That drained, overstimulated end-of-the-day space caused me to read things into the email that weren’t there, and I could give you countless other examples of this phenomenon. In fact, when I look back on my growing-up years, so many times I concluded that “something was wrong with me” when I was just feeling overstimulated (but had no frame of reference for such a thing!). Many of my clients report the same experience.

In this day and age of tons of emotion being tossed around in the online world as well as the “real” one, it’s more fundamental than ever to notice when you are getting uncomfortably overstimulated, and to bring yourself back to stability.

What does “grounded” feel like for you? What do you notice about the difference in how you respond to situations when you are feeling grounded vs. when you don’t? I’d love to hear from you.

Above images of woman walking © Peter Gustafson | Dreamstime Stock Photos and cat © Photozek07 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Are you distracting yourself — from yourself?

beachumbrella

One of the most life-changing books I had the great fortune to discover back in my twenties was Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child. When we hear the term “gifted”, we often think of school — academically gifted, or perhaps musically or artistically. In her book, Miller’s “gifted” refers to children whose sensitivity enables them to intuit and absorb the energy and emotions of those around them as a survival skill. 

One of the things that stuck with me most from the book over the years was when Miller described a psychotherapy client she’d worked with who learned, painstakingly, to connect with herself after many years of disconnection. Miller noticed that as soon as her client would connect with herself, and start to experience the satisfaction inherent in that connection, she would distract herself in some way — usually by attending to others.

Miller noted in her client this “compulsion to repeat” — in the client’s childhood, every time she had connected to herself, she had been distracted by family members who demanded her attention. As an adult, the client distracted herself in this same way, whenever she felt self-connection. 

Sound familiar? Just the other day, I happened onto the (wonderful) movie Revolutionary Road on TV, and found myself totally absorbed in it, and at the same time completely enjoying my own company. Then a thought occurred to me: I should call my mom and ask her if she’s seen this movie. I need to call her today, anyway. 

I was just about to pick up the phone and call my mother when I recognized (again!) my unrewarding tendency to distract myself in the name of some sort of “service to others” at exactly the moment when I am feeling most absorbed in some act of creativity and/or my own company.

Underlying this tendency is a belief: that it is somehow self-indulgent to truly savor time to myself or to fill my creative well. It’s also familiar, since (not unlike Alice Miller’s client) it was usually when I was enjoying my own company as a kid that I got interrupted to attend to something — or someone — more “worthwhile”. It wasn’t long before I learned to interrupt myself.

***

There’s a connection here to what some call “upper limits syndrome”. Upper limits syndrome has to do with our capacity to hold good feelings — the good stuff of life — within ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but in a certain way it is easier for me to “hold” feelings of failure, disappointment, and frustration than it is for me to truly embrace feelings of success, joy, and, yes, contentment. Learning to be with them — to be comfortable with the good and the great — is a work in progress for me.

When life feels “too good” — in other words, more good flows in than I’ve learned to embrace — I “default” to habitual behaviors that temper all this good stuff by bringing in more “bad”. This can look like eating junk food rather letting myself feel the wonderful feedback I got that day, or suddenly worrying that a cold (or some other physical issue) is coming on when I’ve challenged myself in a new way and therefore expanded my sense of what is possible for me.

This is what is known as “upper limiting.” Sometimes it plays itself out as a belief that it’s okay to do really well in one or two areas of our lives, but not in a third (even if it’s important to us). For example, if we have a great relationship, we’re not allowed to also make good money or have creative success — isn’t that just a little too much goodness? 

***

On a call with some fellow coaches a couple of years ago, we noted that each of us had the tendency to practice solid self-care only to the extent that it served our work, our relationships with others, or our creativity. We realized we were effectively sending ourselves the message that self-care was only truly okay as long as it was in service of something else.

For me, this sounded something like, “I need to take good care of myself so that I can show up fully for my clients and for my writing.” But — insidiously — I was leaving me out. When we do work that we love, it does give back to us, and we are not totally separate from the work. And yet, we are not the work.

What I’ve found is that I need to make sure I check in with myself and notice where I am fueling myself only so I can give that fuel to others, or to my creative work. Because it is when I can allow myself to just be for the sake of being in my own company, my own presence, that I truly fill up enough for there to be genuine overflow to the people and projects I care about.

What do you notice about this for you? Do you find yourself distracting yourself just when you feel most connected? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image © Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Do you need permission to give up or let go?

dogwithtoy

As I’ve begun another round of working with clients in my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program, I am so inspired.

These are intelligent, complex, high-achieving women — every single one.

But that’s not what inspires me about them. I’m inspired by their vulnerability. I’m inspired by their choice to reach out and say “I need some help here.”

They inspire me because I struggle with that, too.

Most of my clients would describe themselves as “perfectionists” and “recovering people-pleasers.”

Yep. Me, too.

And something I’ve noticed over the years is that, woven into the fabric of our Western culture, are particular ways of “supporting” each other that are just really not deeply helpful for perfectionists.

Here are some of them:

“You can do it — just try harder!” (The perfectionist is already trying way too hard. That’s part of the problem.)

“You’re strong enough to do this! Hang in there!” (The perfectionist has already carried strength to a Herculean level. The perfectionist needs permission to allow her feelings of “weakness” to exist.)

“You won’t succeed at anything unless you commit yourself 100%!” (Um … the perfectionist is practiced at over-committing. The perfectionist starts at 150%. This over-committing is why perfectionists sometimes “backslide” into procrastination — who wants to do it if doing it means over-committing yourself, every time?)

“Never give up until you make it!” (Tenacity is not an issue for the perfectionist. The perfectionist is like a little dog who just can’t let go of the chew toy, even though it’s in pieces. The perfectionist needs to learn to let go of things that are falling apart — and even things that still feel good but are no longer needed. The perfectionist needs to learn that some things are okay to give up on.)

“Strive for excellence!” (The perfectionist already functions through a belief that she must earn an A++++++ in everything. Excellence is not the issue for the perfectionist. Allowing herself — and her work — to be flawed but visible is the true journey of the perfectionist. This is why I loved the yoga teacher who told me it was best to approach yoga with “C+ effort” — she freed me up to be present to myself.)

The irony here is that, to people who are not yet aware of the toll their perfectionism is taking on them, everything I’ve written in this post will sound like blasphemy.

That’s because perfectionism is a belief system, and there are big payoffs, culturally, to having this belief system. It plays right into the idea that we don’t have limits if we just try hard enough.

There is a TV commercial running right now involving the relationship between a mother and daughter. In voiceover, the daughter says something along the lines of “My mother taught me that I could have it all. My mother never let me give up.”

Empowering? It depends on the lens through which you view “having it all” and “never giving up.” I know that when I try to “have it all”, my life feels so overstuffed I can barely breathe.

And I’ve found that everything I work toward in my life involves many moments where I “give up”. I give up what I think it has to look like. I give up my tight grip on it. I give up an old version of me so a more authentic version can show up. I give up because I just don’t want “it” anymore, not the way I did (because I’m not who I was when I set out on the journey).

If you have a tendency toward perfectionism, and you notice you have trouble giving up or letting go, start small. Where can you push a little less than you usually do? Where can you pause and reflect before responding or reacting? What activity can be crossed off the list — if only for today? Where would a well-placed “no” usher more peace into your day?

Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to “do this letting go thing right”! (Perfectionism can be oh so sneaky!) You don’t need to let go of anything big right now.

Practice with the little stuff. And see how it goes. Build those “letting go” muscles. Chances are, your “tenacity muscles” are already overworked.

I know the message to “practice giving up” may seem incongruent with the huge changes that are crying out to be made in our world at this moment. But as I’ve written here beforewe cannot truly separate self-care from other-care.

The more I am able to fill my own cup, the more that cup overflows to others. It cannot be otherwise. When I try to “do it all” and insist on “never giving up” on anything, I’m spread so thin I am flat-out ineffective when it comes to the places where the world truly needs me.

If you struggle with perfectionism and people-pleasing, where do you need permission? Where might you practice letting go, or even giving up?

Speaking of perfectionism and self-care, I hope you’ll check out You Need to Read: A Wish Come Clear’s Video Interview Series. Caroline McGraw and her interviewees (including me!) delve deeply into these topics in her terrific series.

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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