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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Are you distracting yourself — from yourself?

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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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Self-care starts with self-connection (+ deadline to enroll in Stellar Self-Care)

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Nearly two years ago, I created my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program when I noticed a particular pattern in my life coaching clients: they needed permission to take exquisite care of themselves.

I realized that many of my clients — and this had certainly been true of myself as well — confused self-care with self-indulgence. (See “The difference between self-care and self-indulgence” for more on this.)

I also worked with people who had not established what I call a “self-care bottom line” for themselves — in other words, they weren’t sure about the basics that they needed to function at their best. And these basics will not necessarily be the same from one person to the next.  (See “Your self-care bottom line” for more on this.)

And some of my clients had been really excellent with their self-care practices — but life changes had shifted their daily lives to an extent that what worked before no longer worked quite as well. (See “Radical self-care: when your normal has changed” for more on this.)

Another common theme with my clients (most of whom identify as highly sensitive and introverted) was the huge lack of permission to allow themselves the amount of downtime they actually needed to feel balanced and recharged. (See “When your downtime doesn’t happen” for more on this.)

Our world is full of constant lures to disconnect from ourselves. And escapism can be just what we need at times — but if our disconnection from our essential selves is ongoing, we’ll notice, as a client I worked with the other day pointed out, a lack of presence in our lives.

We won’t feel connected to our true selves. And that self-connection is where self-care begins. If we don’t make a commitment to connecting with ourselves regularly, we simply won’t know what we need.

What this means is that we must make the choice to be in relationship to ourselves. This is fundamental. If you notice that you frequently choose to disconnect — to not nurture a relationship with yourself — consider these two things:

Your brain is wired to seek out pleasure and comfort. This is part of the skill set of your “old brain” — your “reptilian brain” that is only concerned with whether you survive (not whether you thrive). So don’t beat yourself up when you grab your cell phone or iPad and find yourself sucked into Youtube or Facebook. Just notice, with curiosity. How does it feel? I notice that I enjoy the online world a lot more when I am already feeling filled up within myself rather than when I use it to fill me up. If it feels more like I’m distracting myself from something uncomfortable within me, it’s time to step away and reconnect with myself.

• Connecting with yourself may feel uncomfortable, especially if it is unfamiliar, or if you are in a challenging place in your life. Being able to sit in that discomfort is key if you long to feel more connected. As one of my mentors often says, the ability to sit with our own discomfort is one of the most valuable life skills we can cultivate. But if we are committed to avoiding our own discomfort, we’ll only get more of what we’re avoiding.

It is so much more powerful to move toward connection with ourselves than to move away from discomfort.

Do you need support in putting connection with YOU at the center of your life? Enrollment for my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program ends on April 30. (This is for the one-on-one program — please note that the group version, which starts this week, is full.) Find out more, here.

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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When your inner guidance says “no”

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For many years, one of the hardest words for me to utter was “no”. To me, back then, “no” meant:

• cutting off an opportunity forever

• hurting someone’s feelings

• being perceived as rude or selfish

• admitting I couldn’t do it all (which, to my inner perfectionist, was akin to death!)

There were lots of other things “no” signified to me back in those days.

And an interesting thing happens when we are afraid of “no”: we don’t truly allow the inner wisdom that says “I don’t want this.” Or “the timing’s not right.” There is power in “no.”

A familiar struggle I notice with my coaching clients is this: An opportunity comes their way, but it doesn’t quite feel right. It looks good on paper, but something’s off. A part of them (and usually lots of friends and family, too), is telling them they should jump at the chance, but something tells them it’s either not the opportunity for them, or it’s a great opportunity, but not the right time.

This is a truly tricky spot to be in — if we let fear run the show. In fact, I was recently faced with a situation like this. An opportunity appeared and it looked great. But, somehow, it didn’t feel great. It felt exhausting — when I thought about actually doing it, I felt instantly tired and like I wanted to cry (this, I’ve come to learn, is one of my body’s ways of saying no when I try to push it).

Something I notice is that as I get closer and closer to “mastering” certain skills — in this case, the art of saying no! — the stakes in my decisions tend to feel higher and higher. I’ll hear myself saying, why does this feel so hard? Shouldn’t it be easier by now?

But life tends to throw us bigger challenges when we’re ready for a more challenging playing field. It’s like when you choose the “advanced” level in a video game instead of “intermediate”. Intermediate has gotten a little bit boring, but in the advanced level, it turns out the aliens shoot at you the whole time, not just off and on.

Even after many years of practice, I found it really hard to say no to this recent opportunity. But pushing myself through something that feels deeply exhausting is not walking my talk. It’s not what I stand for.

Let me tell you: the “yes” would have felt easier (in the moment). It is almost always easier for me to say yes when I am asked to participate. Saying yes doesn’t bring up my “stuff” the way no does (and I know this is not the case for everyone — some people have more difficulty with a genuine yes!).

In this case, I needed to say “yes” to permission to say no.

And you know what happened? I got so much support from the person I said no to. My genuine “no” — rather than closing off an opportunity — opened the door to the potential of future opportunities with this same person (who really appreciated my honest response).

I also had the experience of walking my talk when it comes to self-care — and being supported in doing so.

Had I said “yes” in order to not ruffle feathers, in order to not disappoint, in order to avoid the potential of beating myself up for “not doing enough”, I would have reinforced the idea that it’s not safe to say no.

And, my friends, we need to create evidence for ourselves that it is safe to do things that are hard.

Just as I once had an overstuffed file of evidence for my belief that saying no would mean I’d end up alone, I am building evidence for the contrary: saying no can be a powerful form of taking care of myself, and inviting others to support me in that self care — and participate in their own.

In her book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren calls situational depression “ingenious stagnation.” I wonder about this in terms of giving ourselves permission to say no to more of what our souls just don’t want — would we experience less depression if we had more permission to deliver an authentic no?

Do you find saying no difficult? What helps you do it when it feels scary? I’d love to hear from you.

(If you need help getting clear when you’re “on the fence” about a decision, you might find this post helpful.)

And: I’ll be enrolling in my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program through the end of this month — I have room to work with two more people one-on-one. Please note that the small group version is currently full — but I will likely offer it again in the near future! Find out more here

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Is it time to set down those old coping strategies?

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The other day, I noticed myself doing something I’ve done countless times in my life: I said “yes” when I meant “no.”

The story I told myself in my head, in the moment, was “Well, I’m too overwhelmed right now to get into a conflict by saying no. So I’ll say yes, and then I’ll find a way to gracefully bow out later.”

I have a lot of compassion for myself around this, because I was caught off-guard by the asker. And I don’t think there is anything “wrong” with the way I handled this. (I followed up the next day and said, “You know, after checking in with myself and looking at my schedule, I realize I actually can’t do X. I’m sorry about that.”)

But the truth is, I was out of integrity when I said yes, knowing I meant no. It wasn’t really fair to the asker, and the incident shone a light for me on an area where, perhaps, it’s time for me to shift “coping strategies.”

Back in my twenties, I went through some intense shifts where I realized I needed set some boundaries if I were to live the life I wanted to live, if I were to retain any semblance of my true self. So I said no, a lot. No, no, no.

In fact, I said “no” even when I wasn’t sure I really wanted to say no, just to practice. There was a lot of “no” going on during that time.

Eventually, I realized that many of my “no’s” were simply reactions to a fear of being controlled, to a fear of losing my autonomy. They were not genuine “no’s.” (Sometimes, when we’re embracing something new, we can go to an extreme with it. When that extreme starts to hurt, we know it’s time for some balance.)

So, bit by bit, I started letting “yes” — an authentic yes — be part of my life. And sometimes I got confused. Sometimes I’d say “yes” and realize that it was a people-pleasing yes, and then I’d get angry and go to a big NO. Sometimes I felt more of a “maybe” and I wasn’t quite sure how to handle that one.

So fast-forward to my forties. I’ve had tons of practice with all this over the years, and it is so much less stressful than it was when I was first learning to say yes when I meant yes, and no when I meant no. But I’ve held onto a coping strategy: When I’m on the spot, as I was the other day, I still sometimes go for the “yes” that is less about a true yes and more about not making waves in the moment.

And I realized this time around, I don’t need to do that anymore. I can let that particular coping strategy go.

I developed that coping strategy at a time of my life when I thought there was something wrong with anything less than a whole-hearted “yes” or a full-on “no”. I was at a place where my thinking was often black-and-white, all-or-nothing. It didn’t feel okay to be unsure or in-between.

So the way I worked with that belief was to say “yes” when I felt pressured, and retract my yes later. Which was still leaps and bounds better than how I’d used to handle things (saying yes when I meant no but believing I couldn’t say no, so going ahead with things full of resentment, reinforcing to myself the belief that I wasn’t allowed to do what I really wanted to do).

You know what, though? Today, I believe that it is perfectly okay to say, “You know, I really can’t. I’m sorry.” Or, “Hmm … let me ponder that and get back to you on it.” Or, “I’m feeling a little conflicted about that — when do you need to know for sure?”

There is such a range of “okay” here that I didn’t see back then.

And since I’m okay with whatever my response might be, however someone else responds is okay, too. I don’t have to jump to the old coping strategy of trying to predict and head off a “negative” response. I can breathe and tell the truth, and, if they choose it, so can the person who’s asking.

It’s interesting that I hadn’t even noticed I was employing a coping strategy of yore. (I love the concept of yore. Yore is a good word!) And, now that I’ve noticed it, I’m wondering what other “old strategies” I might be able to just set down? Because other, better ones, more authentic ones, have already queued up to take their place.

Do you remember the Buddhist tale of the man who uses a raft to get across the river, and once he’s across, he keeps carrying the heavy raft over his head, even though he’s already across?  How often do we do this in our lives? We’ve grown and changed and we’re not who we used to be — we have different needs, new strengths, more capabilities.

But some little part of us still resorts to the means by which we got here. If those means continue to feel authentic and relevant, absolutely continue to use them. But if they’ve gotten a little stale, if you feel like someone else when you notice yourself employing them, ask: can I let go of this now? Can I trust in a new way?

As I finish this post, I’m aware of how much this concept affects us not just individually, but collectively. We are being called upon to set down the old ways that no longer work.

And we’re being truly challenged here. Are we up to the challenge? Can we give ourselves lots of compassion while we find a new way — or, if we’ve already found it, can we be steadfastly kind and patient with ourselves as we test our new wings?

I’d love to hear how this works for you — do you notice yourself using coping strategies that are more about who you used to be than who you are now?

And: I had the true pleasure of talking to the wonderful writer and speaker Caroline McGraw for A Wish Come Clear’s You Need to Read video interview series. Such an honor to be part of this series — I hope you’ll take a look at the interview, and subscribe to get the whole series! Check it out, here.

Plus: I heard from a few of you who’d like to get on the info list for the small group version  of my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. I’ll be sending out info to those interested around the third week of February. If you’d like to get on the list, please contact me through the form on my Ways We Can Work Together page, here.

Above image © Creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Inauthentic — or unfamiliar?

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There’s something I sometimes notice in people who are sensitive, creative, and for whom authenticity is a deeply-held value.

We frequently believe we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do something because it feels wrong to us. It feels inauthentic — not like who we are.

And it’s important to notice that feeling, to see what it has to tell us.

When something feels inauthentic, it seems like we should run from it, or at the very least, let go of it. And sometimes, that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to recognize that we’ve come into contact with something which just isn’t in sync with who we are, and we need to move away from it.

But: sometimes we’ve come into contact with something that is unfamiliar, and because it feels unfamiliar, our minds immediately label it “inauthentic”.

Let me give you an example of how this showed up for me at the tender age of, oh, about five.

A little friend of mine (most of my friends were little then, I was five!) went to a different school than I did, and her school was having a “fun fair.” She kept talking about the fun fair and how excited she was about it, and how she wanted me to go to it with her.

And I began to dread this “fun fair”. Just the idea of something that existed for the sole purpose of “FUN” felt overwhelming to me. (What exactly was this mysterious fun that was to be had?)

I had already decided, at five (though not consciously), that something like a fun fair was not me. I would rather play quietly with one or two friends — that was me.

I could never have articulated this at the time, of course. I just knew that there was no way I was going to the fun fair! The fun fair was definitely not going to be fun for me!

At this point, my parents and I had already had quite a few go-rounds with me not wanting to do things. They found this quite confounding. Everyone else wants to do it! they’d say. Why not you?

In fact, there was something else at work, something I wouldn’t understand for years: my sensitive nervous system got easily overstimulated by situations that were unfamiliar to me. I even got overstimulated by thinking about new situations. Which was why I was dreading the fun fair that my friend couldn’t wait for.

However, on this particular occasion (in what, looking back, I see as a stroke of brilliant parenting) my mother told me something like this: “You don’t have to go to the fun fair. You can go if you want to, but you don’t have to go. Take some time to decide.”

This took a great weight off my five-year-old mind. Instead of being dragged somewhere against my will, I was being given the opportunity to choose.

I pondered the idea of the fun fair over the next several days, and eventually I went up to my mother while she was working in the kitchen and said, “Mom? I’ve decided to go to the fun fair.”

Now, the fun fair WAS most definitely overstimulating. There were echoey noises of kids yelling and running, and there were clowns (eek), and games where you could win a goldfish in a bag (my friend and I each won one, which at the time greatly excited me, but poor goldfish!), and I came home with a lacquered figurine of a bright orange squirrel with sparkly green eyes, which I had also won.

The fun fair was overstimulating, and it was FUN. Both/and.

And had there been another fun fair the following month, I might have gone without getting quite so overstimulated, because the fun fair would no longer have been unfamiliar to me. And because it was no longer unfamiliar, I would have gotten to know myself in that environment, and understood how I could show up there authentically, if I wanted to do that.

***

Our minds tend to do a fascinating (and not always helpful) thing: when something is unfamiliar to us, but maybe seems a little like some other experience we had that we really didn’t like, we put it into the category of “oh no! not that again,” and decide we’d better avoid it.

There are SO many good things (and people) in my life that I’d have missed out on if I hadn’t questioned my mind’s tendency to do this.

When we’re overstimulated because something is new and unfamiliar to us, of course we don’t feel authentic. Being overstimulated doesn’t feel good; we don’t feel like who we truly are when we are overstimulated.

But if we can choose to ride out the overstimulation in favor of exploration, of being curious about something new, as my five-year-old self did, we can give ourselves more options. And we can learn that what is “authentically us” may be vaster than we’d imagined.

(It’s definitely worth mentioning here that, for those of us with sensitive nervous systems, managing overstimulation is vital to our well-being. So I’m not saying “just throw yourself into overstimulating situations all the time and go ahead and burn yourself out.” We must choose wisely for ourselves and bring ourselves back into balance. The key is to remember that we have choices, usually more than we think we do.)

Have you labeled something “inauthentic” for you when in fact it was simply unfamiliar? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S.  In celebration of my favorite season, my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! I offered these last fall and worked with some wonderful folks. If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and feeling stuck or scared, you might benefit from one of these sessions. The format is the same as last year, but I’ve made them 45 minutes in length this time around. Check them out, here.

Above image © Jack Schiffer | Dreamstime Stock Photos

On discomfort, sadness, and creativity

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I recently reconnected with a teacher of mine, and, as I shared a frustrating experience with him, he reminded me of the importance of being able to tolerate discomfort.

Even thinking about “tolerating discomfort” makes me … uncomfortable. But I was so grateful for his reminder.

I wrote about allowing discomfort quite a while ago, and it’s a theme I revisit periodically. Because I forget: my mind gets busy trying to make things the way I think they should be SO THAT I am not experiencing discomfort.

But: what if the very discomfort I’m experiencing is exactly what I need to experience in order to grow into the place, the self, the life, I desire?

I am not saying that we should tolerate negativity or abuse or situations we can readily change by willingly acting on our desire to change them.

But sometimes there are situations we cannot readily change — they are not so clear-cut, and there may actually be nothing for us to “do” at this very moment. This is an uncomfortable place to be. It is the space of ambiguity, the (sometimes vast) gray area of uncertainty. Most of us will go to great lengths to not be here.

When I am feeling particularly crabby or “off” or I catch myself slamming into a wall again and again trying to make something happen, there’s a good chance that my mind is actively avoiding discomfort by trying to “move the furniture.”

(“Moving the furniture” is my metaphor for those times in life when there is really no clear action to take, but because fear has a hold on me, I try to do something — anything — in order to feel more control. In other words, the room may be perfectly fine and functional, for now, but I am moving the furniture here and there anyway, trying to predict how I’ll want it next month or next year.)

Something I’ve learned in these past few years of working with some very dear clients is that, frequently, when someone says “I’m stuck”, what’s really going on is an unwillingness to tolerate discomfort.

In an emotional sense, the feeling of stuckness is very real, because the unwillingness to allow the discomfort to be there creates a contraction in the body. It’s like rigidly setting your jaw or tensing your abdomen. There’s no flow.

What happens when we give space to discomfort? What happens when we are not frantically searching for the “right option” or course of action so we can get rid of it, but we simply allow it to be there? Just breathe into it, even for ten seconds or so?

I notice that, often, what is underlying my own discomfort is sadness. Just pure sadness.

This does not make me a “sad person”. Sadness, as Karla McLaren says in her book The Language of Emotions, is “the watery emotion.” It is about letting go and moving on.

We may feel a hint of sadness even about small “letting-go’s”, like finishing a book we’ve dearly loved reading, or donating some clothing we no longer want. And let’s face it, there’s not a lot of space for sadness in Western culture.

But these small sadnesses are part and parcel to letting go, moving on, sorting through what needs to be processed and integrated so we can allow movement and flow into our bodies and our lives.

Speaking of flow, I am experimenting with allowing tears more in my daily life. Obviously, not all situations are appropriate or safe for the expression of tears, but sometimes, tears are a totally good thing when I might normally stifle them, and I’m finding the expression allows people to feel closer to me and creates more real connection.

(I don’t mean I’m going around bawling. I’m just allowing the tears to come forth rather than forcing them back. Like, after I saw Hello, My Name is Doris last week, I let myself be all teary and emotional coming out of the theater, because I loved the character of Doris. In the bathroom, I looked over at the woman at the sinks next to me and saw that she, too, was wiping her eyes, and we shared this lovely, appreciative smile.)

***

Creativity is, at its most essential, the life force moving through us. If we are not allowing discomfort, if we are pushing it down and analyzing or strategizing in order to avoid it, there will be a deadness to anything we attempt to create.

You’ve probably felt it when something you’ve created is a little too “sterile” or “perfect”, with not enough feeling, not enough oomph!, not enough flow. Any chance you were trying to avoid discomfort in some way there? I know I’ve done this in my writing many times.

What do you notice about allowing space for discomfort in your life? What happens if you try it for ten seconds? I’d love to hear your experience.

Do you need support in making your creative work a priority in your life, in a way that works for YOU (not the way you think you should do it!)? I’d love to help. Find out more, here.

Above image © Gjs | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Are you pulling back enough to gain perspective? + special February coaching prices

eagle on beach

Scroll down to learn about my special coaching prices this month, in celebration of the Lunar New Year!

One thing about my many, many years of journal-keeping is that certain patterns — truths about the way I live my life, the behaviors I resort to when I’m under stress — show up with (sometimes frightening) regularity on my quickly-scrawled pages.

One of these truths about myself, which I don’t necessarily like but am coming to terms with, is that I have a tendency to keep moving things ahead even when they’re not working.

It makes me feel virtuous to check off my daily to-do list, to be there for others, to get things done that feel hard. And, I also truly love these things — when they feel deeply right.

But sometimes, I have a creeping sensation that something isn’t quite right, and, in the interest of getting my work done for the day, I don’t actually step back and ask: Is this work, you know, working? Is doing this stuff contributing to what I desire in the long run?

I had a conversation with a friend recently where I told her about this tendency of mine to keep hanging in there, to keep moving something ahead, even though it’s not necessarily working for me, even though I badly need to press the pause button.

And she said, “Wow, you know, I think of you in exactly the opposite way. You always remind me of how important it is to focus on what really matters and to take time out to be present.”

Ack. Apparently it’s true that we teach what we (desperately) need to learn.

The truth is, I’m a lot better at stepping back and focusing on the big picture than I used to be. In my younger years, I felt like I was constantly on fast-forward. I have no idea what I looked like to others, but I had a huge fear of stopping and looking around.

I became monumentally out of touch with my own feelings, and it was only an illness at twenty-five that really slapped me into the reality of what was true for me: I needed to stop pushing, to stop trying so hard to be there for others, and to allow myself to simply be. Not just once in a while, but as a regular practice.

But, it is always a process, and many years later I still get caught up in pushing myself forward when, in fact, what is required is a giant step back.

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

Obviously, moving things forward is vital, but the best way to do that is through what we coaches call inspired actionaction connected to what is in the best interests of our essential self — not simply action for the sake of it.

And this can be truly challenging when we live in a society that rewards us for taking lots of actions, for “just doing it.”

***

Last year, I made the painstaking decision to move into a smaller home. It’s a lot smaller. (I wrote about this journey here.)

It was a complicated situation, but a defining aspect of it was that I was expending a lot of physical, mental, and emotional energy trying to keep up a house that, in the long run, I just didn’t actually want to live in. In the final analysis, I had to admit I just didn’t care about the things that came with maintaining a house.

I would look around at friends and think, well, they do it. It’s worth it to them. And I’d wonder if there was something wrong with me that I wanted to go back to small apartment living, at my age.

But when I thought about moving into a small apartment, where upkeep would be minimal, where maintenance would be taken care of by someone else, where I could feel like each room and each object was well-used and appreciated, I felt all lit up inside. It was my truth, even if it wasn’t somebody else’s.

It took me a long time, though, to actually pull back from my daily existence enough to see this truth.

And it was care of the house, in part, that distracted me from the truth. Whenever I got everything else done, there was always snow to be shoveled, or leaves to be raked, or a flooded basement, or an attic fan that needed repairing. But isn’t this what you’re supposed to do? I’d think. Grow up and take care of a house?

***

Martha Beck, in her book Finding Your Own North Star, talks about the difference between “mouse vision” and “eagle vision”. Mouse vision takes care of the small details that help us get things done each day. Mouse vision is very important, because it is only through tiny, individual steps that we make our way to completing our “big things.”

Eagle vision, on the other hand, is about the big picture — it’s soaring above the landscape so we can get a sense of the whole scheme and notice what needs attending to, what needs to be let go of, and when we need to fly in a slightly (or dramatically) different direction.

It’s easy to get stuck in mouse vision. If you find yourself saying things like, “I can’t believe how the years are getting away from me,” it’s likely that mouse vision is a little too much at play in your life.

Something I’ve noticed while working on novel drafts (which I will get into more in a future post) is that it is really important to be able to flexibly switch between mouse vision and eagle vision in the creative process. Just like in my life, I’ve had a tendency to push my writing forward even when something nags at me, raising its little hand and saying, “Hey! Something’s not working here!”

It feels so virtuous to keep plugging along, to write more words, to check that off my to-do list! Who wants to pull back and look at the work as a whole? Do I get a gold star for doing that?

But it’s so necessary, in our lives as well as our creative work.

How do you know it’s time to pull back and embrace the big picture?

• You feel like you are drowning in the day to day. It feels like you’re just going from one thing to another, putting in the time.

• You feel disconnected from yourself, or your creative work.

• You find yourself getting really angry when you have to perform certain tasks. (When I was living in the house, there came a point where any time something broke — the dryer, the lock on the front door — I felt like I was ready to kill somebody. This kind of anger is a sure sign that something needs to change.)

• You start to get sick of hearing yourself complain about the same things, over and over.

The next step — as always! — is acceptance. This is where you are — and change is totally possible. What does a shift to a broader perspective reveal to you?

If you’re a little too entrenched in “mouse vision” and you’d like some support, I’m offering a package of three thirty-minute coaching sessions through Feb. 12 (this Friday). I don’t regularly offer thirty-minute sessions, so if this way of working with me appeals to you, I encourage you to check it out!

Also, through the end of this month, my 60-minute sessions and packages are at special prices in celebration of The Year of the Yang Fire Monkey! Find out more about this and my other coaching offerings here.

Eagle image © Cecilia Lim | Dreamstime Stock Photos

How time distortions keep you from getting things done

I love how this clock looks like it has cat ears.

I love how this clock looks like it has cat ears.

Here at the beginning of a new year, a curious phenomenon has arisen in the work I’ve been doing with my coaching clients. It comes down to this: what we believe about how long something will take is directly related to whether or not we actually do it.

These types of beliefs are time distortions, and a good example of this phenomenon comes from Seinfeld. There’s an episode where Jerry is trying to convince himself that it won’t be that bad staying for a few days with his parents in their Florida condo. To make the impending visit feel shorter, he tells himself that he can’t really count lunches and dinners and taking showers as part of the visit — so, actually, the whole visit will be “like fifteen minutes!”

Have you done this? I know I have. When we’re dreading something, our minds will go to all sorts of lengths to help us cope.

This is in some ways helpful and productive — I know there are experiences I would probably have never exposed myself to if I’d known in advance how hard and stressful they were going to be.

But my mind convinced me that “it wouldn’t be that scary.” In some cases, it was far scarier than I’d imagined, but in the end I was thrilled that I had the experience (so, thank you, dear mind!).

More commonly, though, our minds can protect us into not doing something at all (that we either want or need to do) with these types of distortions.

A client I worked with recently had not completed the “homework experiment” we’d set up for her. (I refer to any homework I give clients as an “experiment” rather than an “assignment” because approaching something as an experiment tends to engage more curiosity and less resistance. But not in this case!)

When we dug into why, it turned out that she’d been thinking the homework “would only take thirty minutes or so” and she could knock it out the night before our session. When we looked honestly at the homework, though, it was clear that she would need a minimum of three hours to do it.

So why had she decided it would only take about half an hour? Because she had a lot of resistance built up around doing it, and the only way she could bear to face it was to think that it would be over in a very short amount of time.

In this case, that meant she put it off until it simply didn’t get done. And I have a lot of compassion here, because I have SO done this.

Here’s another example, from a different client. She’d told a close friend she would run an errand for her, but hadn’t done it. For a month she’d been waking up thinking “I really need to do that today. I should do it.” Then she wouldn’t do it and the next day the whole cycle would repeat.

When we took a look at why she wasn’t doing the errand, another sort of time distortion revealed itself. She was certain the task was going to take hours and that it could become very complicated, and that she might have to get help to complete it that she wasn’t sure she could get.

I told my client that, while I could be wrong, to me it sounded like the task shouldn’t take more than about an hour to complete (and this included driving time). We looked at what would be the worst that could happen if, in fact, it did take her as long as she feared. “It would be really stressful and annoying,” she laughed.

But she agreed to go ahead and do it the next day. I told her to email me as soon as it was done and tell me how it had gone (this kind of check-in with someone who cares about you can be SO supportive!).

She emailed me way sooner than I’d expected to hear from her. Why? Because the task, including driving time, had taken her exactly 18 minutes — no complications, no extra help needed. Just straightforward driving to an office to pick up a folder and dropping it off at her friend’s house.

How do we keep ourselves from getting sucked into time distortions? Well, first we need to get our thinking about the task we’re avoiding out of our heads, where we can see it more clearly. It helps to write it down, or speak it aloud to yourself or someone else. (So often our thinking is automatic, bypassing our consciousness. We need to see it “out there” in order to be aware of it.)

If you notice there are time issues in your thinking (“I can write a draft of my chapter on the twenty-minute train ride”) and that you feel a considerable amount of anxiety with that thought, you can be pretty sure that what you’re telling yourself is deeply unhelpful. (We almost always avoid things because of the anxiety they bring up in us. If we can lessen the anxiety, we’re going to be far less likely to avoid them.)

So experiment with some mantras that will help you do a reality check when it comes to how long something will take. (Often, we just don’t know, and that needs to be factored in.)

Here are some of mine:

I won’t know how long it will truly take until I start doing it.

If it’s going to take a long time, I’d rather get started sooner than later. 

I want to feel as calm and grounded as possible around this action. What will help me feel that way?

All of these sentences give me a reality check. And for those of us with, shall we say, vibrant imaginations, reality checks can be a valuable part of our artist’s toolbox (as much as we might cringe at the idea of “mundane reality”!). As long as the reality check is supporting our bigger vision, it’s all to the good. 

What do you notice about how distortions of time play into your fears around getting things done? I’d love to hear from you.

And: Need some help moving your creative work forward in the new year? For a limited time, I’m offering three-packs of 30-minute coaching sessions. You can find out more, here.

Above image is “Old Distorted Clock,” © Jolin | Dreamstime Stock Photos

You only ever need to do one thing

christmasstar

Yesterday I was having one of those days where my mind spun with all that I was sure needed to be done. I sat at my kitchen table, staring out the window, trying frantically to access peace (as if “frantic” could ever be the way to peace).

There was so much I should be doing, surely, but it felt like there was so much that there was no point in starting — with such a huge to-do list, anything I did would only constitute a drop in the overflowing bucket of what must be done.

This is a familiar place I can go to when more than “the usual” is on my plate, and that’s the case for so many of us at the holidays. Even though I’ve made a conscious decision to do things more simply this year, I still travel for Christmas and, grrr — traveling? Not my favorite thing. I like being there, I just don’t like getting there.

As I backtracked and took a look at what I’d been thinking yesterday morning, I realized I was focused on the sheer hell that plane travel would surely be, and what a drag it is that every year I endure this, and how with everything going on in our world I have an extra layer of fear right now, and on and on.

And then I felt selfish and self-centered for not being able to be a “bigger person” and have gratitude that my parents are in good health and I have this opportunity to see them at the holidays.

This is a good example of what our minds tend to do (my mind is hardly unique in its patterns!). When we fixate on something we’ve decided will be unpleasant, reinforce the expected unpleasantness with fearful thoughts, and then judge ourselves for having the thoughts in the first place, we get into a vicious loop.

When we’re operating from that loop, it looks like only eliminating the circumstance we’re convinced is making us unhappy will restore our sanity — or, only making the exact “right choices” within that circumstance will keep us safe, secure, on steady or virtuous ground.

If feeling good is dependent on either eliminating circumstances or choosing the “correct” ones, we’re on a slippery slope. So much is out of our complete control, even in areas where we do have a good amount of legitimate power over what happens.

So when we approach our lives this way, it’s kind of like we’re either focused on the finish line, when the race will be over and (if we do it right) we’ll have won, or we’re looking for a way to bow out of the race altogether. But I don’t want to run! we think. Why does there have to be this stupid race?

As I sat obsessing about the “right way” to handle my commitments, I looked over at my boyfriend, who was sitting in a chair in the living room laughing heartily at something on TV.

How simple it is for him, I thought. He doesn’t analyze everything the way I do. He just does what needs to be done and doesn’t make a big thing out of it. (He would tell you this isn’t exactly true, but it was what I thought in the moment.)

And then I noticed the mostly blank wall behind him. Since we moved in August, I’d been meaning to hang pictures on that wall, but I kept telling myself it wasn’t important enough to take precedence over everything else I needed to do.

But, I realized, I wanted to hang those pictures. Of everything I could have been doing in that moment, hanging those pictures felt like something I wanted to do. And, looking at the mostly empty wall, I realized that hanging the pictures — only that — was all I was called to do in that moment.

Just that one thing.

Back in August, during that last chaotic week before I moved to my new home, my friend Mary Montanye asked me via email how the moving preparations were going, and I told her I was mega-overwhelmed. She responded that when she was in the process of moving, she’d found it helpful to “just take the next indicated step.”

Those words spurred me on like you wouldn’t believe (thank you, Mary!). And yesterday, hanging the pictures and admiring them afterward, noticing how much more it feels like home in the living room now that the pictures are up, my mind began to quiet itself.

pictureshung

Pictures are up!

I was reminded that all I ever need to do is one thing. No matter how big the project, how sprawling the to-do list, I only ever need to do one thing.

And here’s the trick: Only when I am in the process of doing that one thing am I able to see clearly that it is being engaged with the process that I crave, not getting to the finish line or eliminating the task.

When I am caught up in thinking about all that needs to be done, and not actually doing the one thing that presents itself, I am disconnected from the rewards of the process of doing. I believe that the only reward comes from “having done it”.

This is why when I hear people say things like, “I hate writing, but I love having written,” something in me cries, but that’s no way to live! If we can’t find ways to make the process rewarding, we’re forever focused on the finish line, and therefore missing most of our lives.

And the process looks like this: one thing, one thing, one thing. (And yes, sometimes our “one thing” CAN be eliminating, or rescheduling, something on our to-do list! The key is in taking the action, rather than obsessing over it.)

I’m curious about how this works for you, and particularly about how you might apply “just one thing” to anything you have planned for the holidays.

And if, like me, you’re an introvert who’s needing a little more comfort and simplicity at this time of year, you might want to check out this post that I wrote last year at holiday time.

Top image © Jessie Eldora Robertson | Dreamstime Stock Photos