Ways to comfort yourself during scary times

A lot of us are afraid right now, and when we get into fear’s grip, it can be easy to forget that we have the ability to take ever-shifting reality into account and take steps to soothe and comfort ourselves. Yes, it really can be both/and.

Remember that soothing and comforting yourself keeps your nervous system regulated. And a regulated nervous system keeps you functional and effective.

Most of my coaching clients identify as being highly sensitive (HSPs), which means a “more-sensitive-than-the-norm” nervous system. When the world feels scary, our nervous systems tend to go on high alert for signs of danger. The more we can help our nervous systems relax, the less likely we’ll be to go into one of the “fight, flight, freeze” stress responses, which impedes our ability to think critically (and actually worsens our health if we live there on a daily basis).

Here are a few ideas for keeping your nervous system regulated now:

• Stay informed, not obsessed. I’ve had several clients tell me that they’ve been up in the middle of the night worrying about the Coronavirus. The same thing happened to me two nights ago — I woke up at about 4 a.m. and my thoughts ramped up into a “worst-case-scenario highlight reel” that looped over and over again.

It was a signal to me that I’d been ingesting too much news — far more than I truly needed to stay informed. It helps to stay connected to the feeling in myself that alerts me to “enough” — where I realize I am frantically gathering info that is no longer serving me at the moment.

• Connect with people you care about — even if you’re staying at home more than usual. Pick up the phone. Schedule a video call. Find ways to connect via social media that feel nourishing (as opposed to overwhelming) to you. (I spend very little time in newsfeeds these days, but enjoy connecting in a few Facebook groups and other online communities that feel supportive to me.) Who can you “lean into” and feel that you’re giving each other strength — as opposed to pushing each other’s panic buttons?

• Appreciate your animal friends. To my cat, Genevieve (affectionately known as “Little G”), life is business as usual. Every moment is an opportunity to play with her favorite toys (which currently are these, in case you’re wondering), or dive into her favorite storage bin in the closet (which contains a nest of winter scarves, gloves, and hats).

Today as I walked down the street, I saw two pomeranian dogs, one tiny, one even tinier, barking at a squirrel clinging to the side of a tree. Connecting with animal energy and the natural world can help us stay in the present moment and bring us comfort and delight. (And if you prefer not to go outside right now, there are plenty of “inside” ways you can shift your focus to the present moment.)

• Give yourself permission to take the pressure off yourself. If you read my blog or subscribe to my newsletter, you know I am always in favor of less self-pressure rather than more. But particularly during times of tons of uncertainty and upheaval, it’s important to lessen self-pressure so you can focus on the here and now.

If you tend toward perfectionism, as many of my clients do, you are probably a “striver”, and your “best” is likely already full of a lot of self-pressure. Allow who you are to be enough, especially now. (I love Kristin Neff’s guided meditations for self-compassion — they’re also very relaxing if you’re having trouble sleeping.)

• “Borrow” calm from someone you admire. Think of a person you know whose presence is innately comforting or soothing to you, and remember you have that same presence within you. I had a friend years ago who was a great teacher for me (though she probably didn’t know it!). Sometimes when I felt really afraid, I’d kind of summon up her “essence” — a quality of quiet self-trust and inner confidence she had.

And guess what? I came to realize I had it, too. The only reason I recognized it so obviously in her was because I already had it within me. I have a handful of other people whose calming, comforting, and wise presences are always “at the ready” within me to draw upon when I’ve lost my grounding.

• Know yourself. It’s important to remember that what helps me feel calmed and safe may not be what helps you. A friend of mine feels safer staying totally inside right now, but for me, getting out and walking (while keeping “social distance”) helps my mental health the most.

Self-care is unique to each of us. (If you need ideas, click on the category titled “self-care” to the right — I’ve written a ton on this topic.) We’re individuals with differing histories, nervous systems, ways of processing change. And for all of us, it will continue to be a day-by-day decision-making process for a while, as this time of rapid change unfolds.

(And here’s a helpful infographic and podcast on our nervous system and the different stress responses — lots of good info on regulating the nervous system on this site.)

What are you doing to comfort and reassure yourself right now? I’d love to hear from you.

And, if you’re in need of support, I offer one-on-one coaching sessions via phone or video. You can find out more about my offerings, here.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here

Above image of cat by Ramiz Dedaković on Unsplash

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When it’s hard getting started: part two

When we start something new our lives — a project, a program, a class — we put it on the calendar and tend to think “this will take X amount of time in my schedule.”

But “starting new stuff,” as I wrote in my last post, is often about much more than just the time it will take.

Our brains can protect us, when we’re “taking the plunge” and doing something challenging, by oversimplifying just how hard it might actually be. We get swept up in the enthusiasm of “doing the thing” — and then, a little bit after we’ve begun, reality sets in: Oh. This is kinda hard.

I remember working with a client who wanted to make a commitment to writing regularly. He’d blocked out times about five days a week on his calendar when he was going to write. He came to a coaching session saying he had been writing — which we celebrated! — but he couldn’t understand why he felt so “off” and overall depleted.

He’d thought it was just about “making the time” to write. But it wasn’t just about the time. It was about many other things: writing, after a long time away from it, was like using muscles he hadn’t used in a while. (I used to start and stop and start yoga practice a lot, and every time I started it again, it took about a day for me to be reminded of the muscles I hadn’t been using when away from it.)

It was also about: the fact that writing felt uncomfortable. It brought up uncomfortable stuff: do I really want to write this? Is it safe to write this? Is this any good? Why am I doing this again? (Not to mention anything challenging about the actual craft of writing.)

It was also about: The reactions my client’s renewed commitment in his writing triggered in those around him, who depended on him in ways he might be less available for now.

It was also about: Realizing he might not be able to do the amount of writing he’d hoped he’d be able to do and get everything else done that was important and necessary to him. It was about figuring out what could be let go and what couldn’t. (It’s a really common “blind spot,” I’ve found, for us to add something new to our schedules and not realize that doing so means we likely need to take something old out of the schedule.)

And it was about other things that I’m sure I know nothing about.

Scheduling that time to do it is a starting point, and a vital one. And it’s also vital that we recognize that it’s totally normal for it not to go “smoothly.” It’s normal to experience a period of “disorganization” where we’re letting go of part of our old routine to make room for the new one, and where we’re figuring out just how to best incorporate the new thing on a daily basis.

I’ve experienced this myself here at the start of the new year: the first week of January I started a new and challenging thing, and it took me until the third week of January to realize why I was feeling so weirdly behind, disorganized, and depleted.

I thought of my client and many others I’d worked with who’d had similar feelings when starting something new — and I realized, oh yeah! I’m not just “taking a really long time to recover from the holidays this year.” I’m actually doing a new thing, flexing muscles that haven’t been flexed in a while, processing the change, noticing what I’m needing to give up because of it, what new boundaries need to be set, and all kinds of other things around it.

Once I got it: okay, this isn’t just about taking an hour or two out of my days to do this thing; there’s a lot connected to taking that hour or two, mostly in my emotional world — an interesting thing happened: I caught up with myself.

And I began to feel far more in the present moment, more “on top of things,” and am establishing a pace that feels right for doing this new project. There is power in naming what is happening.

If you’re in the process of beginning something new and challenging, allow yourself the recognition that making the time is only part of it. If you’re feeling all kinds of other stuff as you start this new thing, it doesn’t mean anything is wrong. It doesn’t mean you’ve made the wrong choice; it doesn’t mean you should quit.

The more we can accept that starting something new brings up our stuff — and that nothing is wrong when it inevitably does — the more we, paradoxically, are able to be with all the stuff that comes up. It’s believing “something is wrong here!” that is the problem — not the stuff that’s coming up.

(And if you are freaking out, try naming what’s happening: This is new to me, and it turns out there’s a lot more to this than I thought there would be. That’s okay.)

What do you notice about this for you? Do you expect yourself to “just put in the time” and get it done? How do you make room for everything that comes up around starting something new?  I’d love to hear from you.

And, if you’re in a “starting new stuff” place and needing some support, I’d love to help! You can check out my one-on-one coaching offerings, here.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here

Top photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash; bottom photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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When it’s hard getting started

As we move into a new year, we’re met with a flurry of messages: How will you make this year different? What goals will you accomplish this year? How will you create BIG CHANGE this year?

These messages may or may not line up with where we actually are in our processes, in our lives.

Just because it’s January, it does not necessarily follow for all of us that we are in a “start new stuff” phase of life. We may be in a grieving place. We may be in a “processing everything that happened in the fall” place. It may be time to take a few things off the plate rather than adding more.

Even if we are in a “start new stuff” phase of life — which can be a delicious place to be! — we might find that we’re having trouble actually starting. This could be for any number of reasons — we might be, without fully realizing it, making getting started extra-hard for ourselves.

Are you really in a “start new stuff” place? Here are some ways to tell:

• When you think about something you’d like to begin, there’s an element of excitement, fun, joy, or deliciousness to it. There may be other, less “positive” feelings there too — but you notice that at least some part of this idea or thing lights you up.

• You have the time and energy (both physical and emotional) to do this thing.

• You have the financial resources to do this thing (or know how to get them).

• You have access to other sources of support that might help you to do this thing (or ideas about how to get them).

“Start new stuff” periods in our lives are characterized by moving outward into the world and gathering support for this movement. If you got mostly feelings of “yes” when you read the above statements, then, yay! You’re probably in a “start new stuff” period of your life.

But if you didn’t? Let’s do a little investigating and see if you might be in a “time to move inward” or “in-between” place in your life.

• You feel like you “should” be starting new things, but nothing is lighting you up.

• You feel depleted — your emotional, physical, spiritual and/or financial resources do not feel like “enough” right now.

• You feel overwhelmed, or like you’ve been running on adrenaline. You’re coming off a very busy time of life, and although your mind likes the idea of starting new stuff, in your body it feels like if you add one more thing you are going to shut down or implode.

• You are going through a big loss, or have just experienced a big loss in your life.

If you got mostly feelings of “true” when you read the above statements, you are likely not in a “start new stuff” period of your life. You are likely in a “moving inward,” “processing what happened,” or “cocooning” period of your life.

When we’re in this space, it can actually be counterproductive to start new stuff (especially if it’s “big” stuff, like a project that will take a lot of time and energy, a move, or anything that requires lots of inner and outer resources to get going and keep going).

With clients who are in this space, I have often seen that projects they think they should do (because it’s a new year! Because they wanted to do them before, when they were in a different place!) end up falling apart pretty early on. It’s like there’s not enough glue (desire + resources + right timing) to hold them together.

We live in an “all action, all the time” culture. It’s not realistic to adapt ourselves to this message, pervasive as it is. Where are you, in your life right now?

If you realize you are in a “start new stuff” place — if the idea of that lights you up, at least a little! — it can help to begin in “right-sized” steps.

Lots of us have a habit of making our steps so big we just can’t wrap our minds around them. (This was me when I started blogging in 2011!)  Choosing a step that feels innately doable is key here. When I’m overwhelmed, I usually find that if I start with a step that feels super-easy, I’ll do more than I’d planned. But if I try to begin with something complex and triggering, I probably won’t get started at all.

A lot of getting started is about knowing yourself and what feels “right-sized” for you on a particular day. I remember coaching someone several years ago who felt energized by doing things in big chunks rather than tiny steps — really small steps just felt too boring to her and if something felt bigger she was actually more likely to do it, not less.

For others (like me!), we might need to make the step super-tiny on some days, and a little bigger of a step might feel right on days we’re feeling more resourced.

Wherever you are as you begin this new year, honor that. Change is a process, and there’s no right or wrong to that process — there’s only where you, authentically, are right now.

Whether you’re in a “start new stuff” phase, or a “moving inward” phase, or a “relishing what you’ve created” phase, it’s all good if it’s true for you. And you can find support for wherever you are.

What do you know about where you are as the new year begins? What’s true for you? What might support you in being where you are, whether you’re in a “start new stuff” place, or not? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of support, I have a new option on my Ways We Can Work Together page. If you need support for integrating self-care and creativity in your life, you may want to check it out!

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here

Above image of black cat by Andreea Popa on Unsplash; image of yawning cat by Philippine FITAMANT on Unsplash

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Detach from holiday stress: recognizing the Drama Triangle

It’s holiday time — which means it’s a very good time to revisit our understanding of the Drama Triangle.

What’s the Drama Triangle? It’s a concept that reveals the roles we can get into when in conflict. I often find it helpful to share with clients when we work on issues around self-care. The Drama Triangle was developed by Dr. Stephen Karpman in 1968 (it’s also known as the Karpman Drama Triangle).

Picture a triangle with the roles of victim, persecutor, and rescuer at the three points. Then imagine arrows that move from one role to the next and go around the triangle.

These roles are connected and reflexive — when we’re acting out one of these roles, we’re also setting the stage for the others. (Note that these roles are simply energies we can identify with — they’re not meant to be “labels” we give to ourselves or others. I’m not a fan of labeling people “victims” or anything else.)

For example, someone who strongly identifies with being a “rescuer” is going to see people that she is sure “need rescuing” all over the place. She’ll tend to “call in” people who often identify with “victim” energy.

Someone who enacts the “persecutor” (sometimes called “bully”) role tends to be critical and punishing, and can bring out the victim in others, and also trigger the rescuer who steps in to protect the victim.

And when we’re in a “victim” place, we tend to seek out people with rescuer energy.

Most people who hang out on the triangle actually shift between all three roles on a regular basis. And we can experience these roles not just in our relationships with others, but within ourselves.

Here’s an example of how I have experienced this dynamic within myself: I used to identify with a “victim” role quite a bit, and in order to get out of it, I had a “rescuer” or “hero” part of me that would step up and “save” the victim.

This seemed like a good thing for a while, but what I noticed eventually (and yes, getting off the Drama Triangle requires observing our behaviors!) was that the rescuer part of me was not healthy, either. It just wanted to save me and everyone else!

Also, if the rescuer didn’t rescue quite “right” or well enough, I noticed the victim part of me could actually shift over to the persecutor role and criticize the rescuer; similarly, if the rescuer’s “rescue” didn’t turn the victim around, the rescuer part of me could start attacking the victim part of me for being too slow or stubborn or aimless or whatever.

What was much more helpful was for me to observe the victim part of me and connect with it compassionately — not jump in to “save” it.

This is equally true in our relationships with others. When we can take an observing role (presence) and access compassion for ourselves and others, we detach from the Triangle.

Many of us have experienced life on the Drama Triangle in our families of origin at least some of the time. The main “benefit” of the Drama Triangle, for those who spend a lot of time there, is that the roles on the triangle are externally-focused ones.

When we fear looking inward, we may hang out on the triangle as a way of life. Staying externally-focused helps us maintain a sense of control. Our discomfort with self-connection is kept unconscious and directed outwards — we need to “fix” situations by taking up a role on the triangle and trying to control others.

The key to self-connection and calm is to stay off the Drama Triangle — or (more realistically!) to notice when we’re on it, and swiftly step off.

While the concept is fairly simple, it can feel like it’s not at all easy to take care of ourselves when we’re around people who live on the triangle.

This is why during the holidays we can sometimes find ourselves feeling “caught up” — and if we can recognize, “oh, I’m just back on the Drama Triangle, let me step off now,” we can return to presence and self-connection. It takes this recognition that we’re on it to step off, though.

So how do we know we’re back on the Triangle? By how we feel. If our mood takes a nose-dive, or we experience a more subtle sense of “being out of sorts”, we can check in. Have we stepped into any of the roles on the triangle? Are we reacting to someone who is playing one of those roles?

Now, sometimes stress can cause us to go “on autopilot” emotionally — we may not know what the heck we’re feeling. In these cases, we can take a look at our behaviors.

Are we arguing? Withdrawing? Defending ourselves? Trying excessively to make a point with someone else? These may be clues that we’ve stepped onto the Triangle.

Note that even if we haven’t gotten “sucked in” and are not actively playing one of the triangle roles, it can feel really uncomfortable to be around someone who is.

I’ve found that just acknowledging to myself, “Okay, this person is on the triangle and is trying to drag me onto it, too” can help me to return to presence and self-connection. This is the power of naming what is happening. It’s far less confusing when we recognize it and take steps to detach from it.

I’ve also found that honoring my needs as an introvert (and particularly my need for downtime — so important to remember at holiday time!) is truly helpful in keeping me off the triangle. It allows me replenish and I am so much less likely to get “sucked in” when I am rested and aware of my own boundaries.

We can bring in lots of compassion here — for ourselves and others. (I love this piece, Compassion for the Drama Triangle, by Sonia Connolly. And here’s an in-depth piece on how the Drama Triangle plays out and how we can disengage that I found very helpful.)

Here are some posts I’ve written in previous years that you may find helpful when holiday stress arises:

You only ever need to do one thing

There’s no “right way” to be social during the holidays

Your self-care bottom line

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

What are your experiences with the Drama Triangle? What helps you notice you’re “on the triangle”? I’d love to hear from you!

Wishing you holidays filled with peace and presence! (My holiday focus is presence more than presents these days. 🙂 )

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Above cat and dog images by Jessica LewisMaria Teneva and Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash, respectively

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Permission to hit reset

The other day I was getting really frustrated by an issue with my iPad when it occurred to me that before I started doing frantic Google searches, I could try resetting it. I did, and the issue was solved.

My partner and I have a little Winnie the Pooh picture on a shelf in our living room. The quote on it says “Let’s begin by taking a smallish nap or two.”

When I remember to look at it, it always reminds me that it’s okay to “reset.”

What does it mean for us to “hit our inner reset button”?

Well, often when I work with a client, there’s a part of her that feels frantic about the issue that’s brought her to coaching. She’s convinced she needs to stay in this urgent space or the issue will never be resolved. If this frantic energy worked to solve the problem, however, she would never have sought out help. It’s fascinating how we can cling to the idea that “if I’m not super upset about it, nothing will change!”

I have the same tendency. I’ve gotten much better at observing it in myself, and calming it down before it wreaks further havoc, but, as I’ve often written here, going to the frantic push-push-push place tends to be my default.

So I, and my clients, need lots of reminders that, while the frantic feeling is indeed a signal to us that something needs our attention, we don’t have to solve the problem from that space.

In fact, not only will trying to solve the problem from that space usually exacerbate the feeling of urgency, it also closes us off from a distinct possibility: That whatever we’re sure needs to be solved may not actually have an external “solution.” It may require an inner shift from us — or, at minimum, we are not likely to see the true solution until we have experienced an inner shift to presence.

This is what “hitting reset” feels like for me: Permission to exhale. The recognition that, in this moment, I can only be where I am, doing the one thing that calls to be done, now.

That one thing might be doing laundry that’s piling up; it might be taking a “smallish nap”, as Pooh would advise; it might be starting a new blog post; it might be paying a bill.

But before I do that one thing, I breathe. I reset. I look out the window at my neighbor walking his teeny tiny dogs. I watch my cat sleeping on her little cat sofa. I notice how my shirt feels against my skin, feel the floor or the ground beneath my feet.

I recognize just how much is good, how much is working, how much is supporting me right now.

Resetting in this way often points me to where I am putting too much pressure on myself. Pressure to do more than is possible in this day; pressure to respond to the needs of others; pressure to be more, accumulate more, produce more.

Sometimes a client will say to me some version of, “But if I don’t put this pressure on myself, won’t I stay small? Don’t I need to pressure myself in order to be all I can be?”

I can’t answer this question for anyone else, of course. I encourage clients, however, to really explore this. What does their own lived experience tell them? How does it feel when we believe we must pressure ourselves to “be more”?  (Remember, it is ultimately a feeling we are seeking, and nothing else, when it comes down to it!)

Hitting my “inner reset button” reminds me that I am enough. That there is enough, in this moment. Now, how do I proceed when I feel enough? When I believe there is enough? It’s quite a different feeling than proceeding from that frantic place.

And my lived experience tells me that I am more satisfied with the results in my life when I proceed with less self-pressure. I am more satisfied with — and sustained by — results that come from being who I am, where I am, and knowing that is enough, than results that come from frantic, “not-enough” energy.

It might be a good idea to hit our “inner reset” when:

• We feel like we’re drowning in “to-do’s”, but getting things done isn’t feeling satisfying

• We’re physically or emotionally drained (see H.A.L.T. — hungry, angry, lonely, tired)

• We’re working on a creative project and we can’t figure out how to get from one point to another (whether that’s writing, artwork, choreography, or arranging a room!)

• We have the sneaky suspicion we’ve committed to something that’s not workable, and we’re not sure how to take care of ourselves

• We’re caught up in what Byron Katie terms “other people’s business” — things having to do with other people over which we have no real control (like what they might be thinking of us!)

You can probably list a bunch more of your own here. How do you know it’s time to hit reset? What are your favorite ways to do that? How do you give yourself that permission? I’d love to hear from you.

And: My specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions end November 30, 2019. If you’re in an “in-between” place this fall and feeling stuck, these one-time sessions can provide a shift for you. (They’re also a great, low-cost way to try out one-on-one coaching if you’ve been curious about it!) You can learn more, here.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest newsletter, here.

Top photo by Raychan on Unsplash

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Choosing your focus

My partner and I recently took our annual pre-Halloween zoo trip, which I always relish.

As we wandered around, mesmerized by the free-roaming guinea fowl (who sound like they’re chanting in unison!), I started venting to him about something that’s been bugging me for a while.

Except — I stopped myself.

It’s great to have good listeners in our lives, those to whom we can safely vent — people who don’t tell us we “shouldn’t feel that way” or who shut us down or who criticize us for having something to vent about. This non-judgmental listening is an essential quality if we want to feel deeply supported.

The kind of venting I’m talking about here is also sometimes called “conscious complaining” — you’re aware you’re complaining, and the other person holds space for you, for a certain amount of time, so you can get out whatever it is. This is different than an unconscious onslaught that saps and drains the other person.

Sometimes, though, as I move into more venting, a still voice inside me is like “Hmm … maybe you’ve focused on this long enough.”

That happened for me that day at the zoo. I kind of stepped outside of myself for a moment, and heard myself launching into this topic, again — and, although my partner was willing to listen (again!), it occurred to me that I didn’t need go there anymore. I could choose to move off of that topic because staying on it was no longer serving me.

It’s important to discern between focusing on things and talking about them because of our genuine need to sort through them and work them out — and focusing on them as a kind of fixation that distracts us from the good in our lives and, maybe, keeps us stirred up because anxiety is familiar to us.

We’ve probably all encountered people who go to one extreme or another here: the co-worker who can’t seem to stop sharing the same complaints with you day in and day out, versus the family member who downplays every emotion to the point you’re not sure they actually have any.

Between these extremes there is a place that feels healthier — unique to each of us — where we’re sharing when we need support and in order to work through things, but we’re not going over the same territory again and again when that path is already well-worn.

When I stopped myself from venting to my partner that day, it was because something in me sensed I would only be deepening the “brain rut” I’d already created with that long-held story.

And I realized it’s time to start detaching from it and letting it go. That means, for me right now, talking about it lesshonoring the subtle voice that says, “Let’s be still instead of going there again.”

So I chose, instead, to focus on the colors and textures of leaves, the quiet grace with which a giraffe loped across the grass, the stubby back legs of a polar bear as it swam under water, a squirrel monkey swinging from branch to branch with its tiny baby on its back.

Trees and animals (even those very vocal guinea fowl!) bring me to stillness, which helps me practice discernment.

It’s important to note, in our Western culture which does not encourage the expression of many flavors of emotion, that venting serves a truly important purpose — it helps us to get in touch with the feelings within us so that we can work through them. Often we’re not sure what’s up for us unless we share it with a trusted other.

When we’ve shared something many times, though, and we notice that sharing again may no longer be serving us, that’s when it’s time to choose where we want to put our focus.

Because, yes, we can choose! And it’s this choosing that, ultimately, creates movement, change, and growth in our lives.

(And by the way, the most important sharing we’ll ever do is with ourselves, whether that’s writing what’s true for us on the pages of a journal or in some other form. But, often, we get to that truth through connecting with others at some point in the process.)

What do you notice about this process of discernment for you? I’d love to hear from you. (And a belated Happy Halloween!)

My specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions will continue through November 30, 2019. If you’re in an “in-between” place this fall and need support, you might want to check them out! You can do that here.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest newsletter, here.

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There are always alternatives to pushing yourself

I often write here about how pushing ourselves too hard for too long can result in frustration, exhaustion, and burnout. (Which, ironically, slows us waayyyy down, and we’re usually pushing ourselves because we believe we need to go faster!)

A client said to me a while back, “But how do I know the difference between pushing myself to get something done and making enough effort to get it done? They feel the same to me.”

I totally hear this. Most of us have been raised to believe that pushing ourselves hard is some sort of virtue, and that pushing ourselves is simply necessary in order to achieve something.

I used to believe this, and it had much to do with being disconnected from my body and emotions and not recognizing what was true for me until I was exhausted (or sick).

I was all about ignoring the subtleties that tuned me in to what was happening for me.

In fact, I was so good at ignoring my body and my emotions that when I did start getting quiet enough to tune into them, I thought something was really wrong with me.

I became acutely aware of every physical sensation, every ping of hunger, every gentle sadness. I had bulldozed over my inner world for so long by pushing myself that when I started to tune into it, it felt very strange. It was like turning up the light in a room that had previously been dim.

Over time, as I began to gain more self-awareness, I realized there was not just “one mode” of moving through the world — there were actually many flavors of “getting things done.”

Pushing hard wasn’t the only way. I could choose it, for sure, but I discovered over time that doing so was not the kindest, or most effective, path for me.

There are so many ways “staying the course” can look and feel, whether we’re talking about a project that’s important to us or something else we want to stick with through the end.

And the key here is to decide what kind of relationship we want to have with this thing, and with ourselves.

Part of this is choosing language that resonates with how we want to feel. If you don’t want to feel exhausted at the end of the day, it might be best not to say “I really need to push myself today.” (I’ll point out here that some people truly like the feeling of pushing themselves! Even for them, though, there’s a point where it’s too much pushing, not enough allowing, not enough being — and it’s important to know the difference for yourself.)

What I shared with my client is the difference, for me, between pushing and tenacity.

Tenacity, for me, feels like hanging in there with something just long enough to stretch myself for the day, and continuing to show up and do that for the long haul. It’s like stretching a rubber band just enough to give it tension — but not so much that it snaps back or breaks.

We could also think of this as the commitment to keep showing up because we want and choose to show up. Do you remember being pushed to do something as a kid? Why was that person pushing you? Because they wanted you to do something you didn’t want to do, no doubt.

When you want to do something — even if that something is uncomfortable — embracing inner tenacity helps you remember you want to do this, and you will. But since there’s no pushing involved, you’re less likely to trigger that opposing force that says “No! I won’t do it!”

When we look at hanging in there with a project for the long haul, we can see that our energy will naturally ebb and flow — on some days, we’ll have more available to us than on others. Sometimes, hanging in there for the long haul might look like resting more. Sometimes, it might mean working on something just that little bit longer.

If we can pay attention to our body sensations and our emotions, we’ll start to understand what “enough for the day” feels like for us.

This is something we learn and refine over time. It’s life’s work for some of us. And that is a good thing! We will never “arrive” — there will always be more to learn about ourselves. If we push ourselves to “arrive” as fast as we can, we’ll simply end up in burnout, with the realization that “arriving once and for all” is an illusion. There’s no “there” there.

Ways to differentiate tenacity from pushing:

• There’s a “deliciousness” to tenacity. It’s stretching you, like when you use muscles you haven’t before, but you’re not collapsing.

• If you feel “shut down” (or want to shut down), you’ve probably been pushing. Remember that if someone physically pushes you, it’s a reflex to either push back, flee the scene, or freeze because you’re so stunned. All of that is tremendously rough on the nervous system, particularly if it happens again and again.

• When you are tenacious, you quit while you’re ahead. You end for the day feeling alert, maybe slightly used up, but not so used up that you want to avoid your project tomorrow. You’ve used up a good bit of energy, but you feel like there’s more where that came from rather than “totally wiped out.”

• If you sense a lot of inner conflict, like you’ve got one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake, you’ve probably crossed over into “push mode.” When we’re tenacious, we stay aligned with a certain lightness. It doesn’t feel like a slog.

Really getting this difference is not an intellectual exercise — don’t let your mind tell you what’s “enough” for the day. It’s a visceral thing, and it takes practice. Twenty-plus years of learning here for me and I still overdo it at times, still get caught.

So I need to keep checking in with myself, notice what works for me and what doesn’t, notice where I’m getting sucked into what I think I “should” do rather than what feels truly supportive and effective for me.

(For more related to this topic, you might find this post and this post helpful.)

What do you notice about the different between pushing and tenacity for you? Is it subtle, or more pronounced? I’d love to hear from you.

Feel like you’re “in limbo” this fall and need some support to move through it? My specially-priced Autumn Transition Sessions are underway.  You can find out more here.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest newsletter, here.

Above images of squirrel monkeys by RaychanVincent van Zalinge, and Diego Guzmán, respectively, on Unsplash

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Self-knowledge will always support you (+ Happy Fall!)

When we’re going through challenging transition periods in our lives, or when we feel seriously overwhelmed, we can get triggered. Our “stuff” can come up big time — and by “stuff” here I mean our “core issues.”

For example, if one of our core issues is feeling like we need to do it all on our own because we’re not allowed to ask for help, we may coast along seemingly doing it on “all our own” during times when we’re not particularly challenged.

But one or two important elements of our life shift, we recognize we’re feeling in over our heads, and suddenly, bam! The core issue is pressing on us: “I need to do it all on my own, but I’m in new territory here and it feels like I can’t do it on my own, but I have to because I’m not allowed to ask for help/ if I were a strong person I wouldn’t need help/ maybe the kind of help I need isn’t out there.” (I use this as an example because it’s, in my experience, a pretty common core issue for my perfectionist-leaning clients — and for myself as well!)

Another core issue could just as easily be “I can’t do it on my own — I need someone to do it for me or I won’t survive.” You can see that, while this could indeed be very true for a child, for an adult it might not be true in many circumstances (depending on what the thing is and any number of other factors).

If we, as adults, don’t take a look at the core issue that is popping up for us during challenging times, we can stay in a sort of “spin cycle” for a really long time because we don’t see a way out of it.

Usually, working with a core issue involves gaining more and more perspective around it over the course of our lives, so that what once may have felt debilitating or terribly shaming to us becomes something we understand, something we can work with, something we can hold.

So, when we’re really challenged by circumstances inner or outer or both, we need to find ways to calm and soothe our nervous systems so we can relax and detach enough to see the core issue and work with it rather than running away from it, ignoring it or pushing it down.

One of the ways I’ve noticed seems to be particularly helpful here is to call on our strengths by asking them to come forth with this question: What do I know about myself that will help me here?

What’s useful about the framing of this question is that it presupposes that we do know things about ourselves that we value, are unique to us, and that have helped us in the past. This circumvents our tendency during stressful times to go to a place of self-doubt or a place of noticing what’s NOT working and what we’re NOT good at (which is totally habitual for most of us when we’re feeling dazed by something we’ve never dealt with before and in over our heads.)

This works even if we don’t have a lot of life experience. When I was in elementary school, I absolutely hated participating in team sports, but I was forced to for daily gym class. At one point, I was struggling through some sport or other in the gymnasium, wearing my red gym uniform that always seemed way too big, and my teacher shouted out, “You’re holding your own, Jill.” (I’m pretty sure my fourth-grade teacher had gathered by this point that I hated gym, since I sometimes pretended to have a stomach ache to get out of it.)

Now, oddly, when my teacher told me I was holding my own, I believed her. It felt true — I was holding my own. I was actually somewhat nimble and good at catching balls here and there. I just didn’t enjoy any of it — I wanted to read Judy Blume books under a tree somewhere, not dodge the elbows of my aggressive classmates.

What got me through playing countless team sports in gym class for several years after that, though, was my belief in what my teacher had observed: I could hold my own. It sucked, I didn’t want to do it, but since I was a kid and I didn’t have the agency to get out of it, I could hold my own (though not so well in wretched games like bombardment!).

This was my “kid version” answer to the question “What do you know about yourself that will help you here?” “I am pretty good at holding my own.”

(And, Hallelujah, when I got to high school I had way more options for gym class and I took almost all dance classes, which I actually enjoyed.)

Now, notice that if I hadn’t believed my teacher’s observation that I was holding my own, it wouldn’t have been useful self-knowledge to draw upon. When we draw on what we know about ourselves, it won’t feel supportive if we don’t have a certain conviction about it.

A client I worked with several years ago had been through an incredibly stressful relationship break-up. I asked her what she knew about herself that could support her in this bereft-feeling place. She said (shared here with her permission), “I am really good at finding comfort in the most unexpected places.”

What a beautiful piece of self-knowledge! And notice how her essential self served that right up when I asked? We always have within us the seeds of what we need to navigate those extra-challenging spaces, even if they are only seeds and have some maturing to do. That’s often how the hard places end up serving us in the long-run — by maturing the seeds within us that are so ready for growth.

What do you notice about this for you? What do you know about yourself that will help you in a situation you’re currently facing? I’d love to hear from you!

And: In celebration of fall, my favorite season, my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! If you’re in an “in-between” space this fall and needing some support, you might want to learn more. You can do that here

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest newsletter, here.

Above photos, respectively, by Anh Trandavide ragusa, and Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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You don’t need a “good reason” to fill up again

I’ve spent the second half of this month recognizing that I was feeling “creative depletion,” and allowing myself to fill up again.

This snuck up on me (even though a huge part of the work I do is about reminding myself and others to resource themselves!).

And it caused me to think of a client I worked with a while back who said she had been feeling a great need to “just stop” for a while, but that she couldn’t let herself do that because she didn’t have a “good reason” for that need.

She is certainly not the only client I’ve worked with who’s had that belief, and oh! how I relate to this statement. How often have I doubted a need of my own because I couldn’t figure out the “why” of that need?

Maybe I don’t really need it if it doesn’t seem “logical”? Maybe I can’t admit it fully to myself if there doesn’t seem to be a “concrete reason” for it? Maybe I don’t really need it if it seems like others don’t need it?

Two weeks ago I was on my way back to Chicago after a visit with my parents and I had gotten on the plane and settled into my seat. There was a rather ominous announcement from the pilot. “Uhh … folks … unfortunately there’s a storm approaching, and we’re gonna have to wait it out here until it passes before we can take off.”

There was a collective groan, drowned out by my inner one. “Trapped on a plane” presses the anxiety button for me like few things do. “Well, at least they’re not telling us to get off the plane, right?” I said nervously to the woman next to me. “Not yet,” she said with a frown.

Luckily, the in-flight entertainment system in the back of the seat in front of me was working, and after a few deep breaths, I looked for something to watch. I chose the Julianne Moore movie Gloria Bell (which I thoroughly enjoyed, and which reminded me of the terrain I love to explore in my writing).

As I watched, I became present to the story unfolding on the screen, and although a frantic voice in the back of my head still whispered, “You’re never going to get out of this airport!”, I sank into the movie.

Within an hour, we were off the ground headed for Chicago, and I realized something important: it’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself to be truly present to a work of art.

And that reminded me of this: Creativity is a two-way street — we won’t feel full of our own creative energy if we do not take time to fully digest the creativity of others.

We fill up by recognizing ourselves in the work of others. We fill up by acknowledging that we are never alone in our creating, in our experience, in our humanness.

Always lurking, however, is this idea my client, and I, have harbored: that I need a “good reason” to deeply sink into something, to deeply focus, or to deeply rest. That I somehow need to “earn” the right to fill myself up — not in a “consuming content” way, but in a “present to what is in front of me” way.

So I’ve re-committed to filling my creative well, as Julia Cameron puts it, in a more mindful way during this second half of August.

And I’ve moved a bit away from the digital — my partner and I attended a play in person, we went to a movie in the theater, I found a collection of short stories I’d never read among our vast library of actual books (Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America — so good!), and it felt so nourishing and satisfying to hold the book in my hands rather than reading from a screen.

We don’t need a “good reason” to take care of ourselves in whatever way feels right to us. Sometimes it feels absolutely wonderful to read and watch things on my iPad, even with the interruptions I find myself indulging in. But I’ve been craving deeper focus, more consistent connection with words and images. And in doing so I am feeling full where I’d been experiencing depletion.

I’ve noticed it’s often helpful for us to look to our future selves: What happens for “future you”, six months or a year or five years from now, if you continue to believe you need a “good reason” to fill your creative well? What if that reason never appears? Will life be sustainable for future you?

It’s worth noting that “filling up again” can look all sorts of ways. My partner and I have been doing a lot together lately, but it’s been leisurely, connective, fun-filled doing, not hurried, get-it-done-now doing. (And giving feels so much better from this filled-up, solid, connected place.)

How do you know it’s time for you to fill up again? What happens if you let go of the idea that you need a “good reason” to do it? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for more articles and updates on my coaching offerings (including occasional specials for newsletter subscribers!) here.

Do you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority? I’d love to help! You can find out more on this page.

Above images by Siora Photography and Michel Porro, respectively, on Unsplash

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Help for when you’re hitting the wall (a self-care round-up)

The picture above is the view from my pillows the other afternoon.

I had been experiencing neck pain all day, and I kept pushing and trying and pushing and trying to get something done. It wasn’t working.

This has tended to be my “default” for decades — there is a part of me that deeply believes that it is somehow noble and a sign of “never giving up” to keep pushing beyond the point that it’s actually helpful.

When my body finally communicated to me in no uncertain terms that it was time to lie down, I quickly began to see what I always eventually see in these situations: My tenacity is no longer helpful at the moment, and it is time to let go of the idea that I can control everything if I just push enough.

What’s interesting is that when I slow down enough to tap into that quieter, more restful energy, and don’t give into more “pushing” for a time, I am informed about the best next action to take.

And it’s almost always a simple action that just feels right. But I need to give myself that chance to tap into it — the opportunity to fill up again.

It is deeply ingrained in our culture to keep pushing. And tenacity, persistence, commitment, are indeed powerful and necessary qualities.

But those qualities sometimes look different than we think they will look. They sometimes look like just lying the heck down. They sometimes look like choosing to quit for the day. They sometimes look like saying no to an opportunity we sense will tax us so we can say yes to an opportunity we value more. (There is a lot of choosing involved in living the lives that feel most authentic and fulfilling to us.)

Genevieve the tuxedo cat makes a lovely napping companion.

In case you’re hitting that wall right about now, listed below are a few of the (many) posts related to self-care and not pushing yourself that I’ve written over the years. (It can help to see them in one place!)

Are you stretching or pushing yourself? How to tell the difference.

How to tell if perfectionism is running the show

Pausing is not the same as stopping

Overwhelmed? Step back, then scale back.

Momentum is not always obvious

Your self-care bottom line

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

Radical self-care: when your “normal” has changed

You only ever need to do one thing

Self-care and self-acceptance: when the pause is priceless

Welcoming the conscious pause

And by the way, choosing to “move away from the wall” doesn’t always look like resting. It might look like cleaning out a closet, or going to a movie, or calling a friend, or taking a walk. It’s however you choose to acknowledge that “this is no longer working, and I’m not going to punish myself by trying to bulldoze my way through this wall at this moment.”

It could be that, in the end, you recognize that you can simply walk around the wall. It could be that there is a door, covered in ivy, that you can open to get to the other side. It could be that you need to dismantle the wall, brick by brick, and you need a lot more help that you currently have in order to do that.

But we can’t see the big picture when we’re blind to any idea other than “pushing through.”

How do you know when you’re “hitting the wall” in terms of self-care? What clues you in? How do you give yourself permission to slow down (or stop) when you need it? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for more articles and updates on my coaching offerings (including occasional specials for newsletter subscribers!) here.

Do you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority? I’d love to help! You can find out more on this page.

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