The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is self-care different from self-indulgence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Procrastination? Or no payoff?

brokenwagonwheels

A while back while channel-surfing I had the pleasure of happening on Tootsie, one of my favorite movies of all time which I hadn’t seen in way too long.

In the movie, Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, an impassioned, perfectionistic but unemployed actor, and we get this great opening montage of Michael auditioning and teaching his acting class and we get to see how he cares almost impossibly deeply about the craft of acting, but that he’s also kind of a pain in the butt.

Early in the movie, Michael and his playwright roommate (played by Bill Murray, need I say more?) are walking home from the restaurant where they both work as waiters, and the roommate asks Michael why he has to be “Michael Dorsey the great actor” or “Michael Dorsey the great waiter” — why can’t he just be, you know, Michael Dorsey? And Michael says, “I don’t know what the payoff is there.”

(Tootsie is packed front to back with great dialogue, so writers, go watch it immediately. But not before you read this blog post.)

Obviously, Michael means he can’t see a dramatic payoff for being Michael Dorsey (and this “throwaway” line has a number of meanings in the context of the movie). But the line kept popping into my mind for a while afterward because I tied it to some situations a couple of my clients were going through, where they kept beating themselves up for not doing something they said they wanted to do.

In other words, for “procrastinating.” I always like to put quotes around that word, because, as I’ve said here quite a few times, it tends to be a quick go-to descriptor when we’re not taking action on something.

But it’s not always true that we’re procrastinating when we’re not taking action. Sometimes we tell ourselves we’re procrastinating because we don’t want to look more deeply at what’s actually going on. (And sometimes, yes, we are actually procrastinating. But true procrastination has a different feel than the more complex stuff, which I wrote about here.)

What I’ve noticed over the years is that sometimes when we’re not taking action toward something we say we want, it’s because we don’t really believe there’s a payoff in doing whatever it is we think we should do. And I don’t necessarily mean an external, tangible payoff here.

It could be that we are not sensing an intrinsic payoff.

In other words, we don’t really believe that doing that thing is going to make us feel any better.

Feelings are incredibly strong motivators. It’s our feelings that drive us to action. And although we may say we want something, if on some level we don’t actually believe that having that thing will make a difference for us, we’re just not going to feel drawn to it, and when it comes down to it, we won’t take action toward it.

It’s easy to fool ourselves here — we say we want something, and it sounds good on the surface, and maybe we’re even getting into a kind of urgency where we feel like we desperately want it or need it. We may be really attached to the idea that we need the thing, or need to do the thing. But do we, really?

There are some layers that need to be peeled here.

We can start by asking ourselves what we believe the payoff will be for doing this thing. Can we see a payoff? One of my clients had to admit, when we delved into her situation, that there was no payoff for her in doing her thing. No wonder she wasn’t taking any action toward it!

We only ever want anything because of how we believe it’s going to make us feel. There’s really no other reason we want it. We can name all sorts of other things — acclaim, money, knowledge, experience — but all of that really comes down to how we think acclaim, money, knowledge and experience will feel or make us feel.

How we feel is the intrinsic payoff for anything we do, anything we move toward. But so often we leave it out of the equation!

Experiment with this the next time you’re feeling stuck or stopped on something you believe you want to accomplish. Is there a true payoff for you in accomplishing this thing? How do you think accomplishing it will make you feel? Is that how you want to feel?

If not, you need to get back in touch with how you want to feel, and go from there. The goal may need some tweaking, or you may want something completely different than you thought you did.

What about you? Do you notice yourself “procrastinating” on something you want to accomplish? Is it possible there isn’t enough of a payoff for you in accomplishing it? I’d love it if you’d share.

Also: Because I am in the process of creating new coaching offerings, these are the last two weeks to work with me in the current format. As of the end of March, the package of four sessions will be gone (the one-session-at-a-time option will remain, but the package of four saves you $75 if you’re wanting to purchase multiple sessions). Learn more about working with me here.

Image is “Broken Wagon Wheels” © Geoffrey Kuchera | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Making decisions from a place of peace

Making decisions from a place of peace

Something I often notice when I work with a coaching client is how urgent everything can feel when we are in a space where we have unmet needs.

The interesting thing about this urgency is that it can feel really true.

Sometimes, before we even consciously recognize it, we have acted on this feeling of urgency when — actually — the best course of action might have been, in this moment, no action.

One of the biggest push-backs I get from clients is when I suggest that if they are feeling frantic or highly anxious, they become peaceful before making whatever decision it is that they are sure they need to make.

Two things usually come up:

1) But I can’t get peaceful until I figure out what the heck I’m doing. I need to have my life sorted out first.

2) My needs are enormous and unless I take the “right” action to fulfill them, they will not be met. I am so tired of having these unmet needs. I need to do something about it, now!

I totally get both of these reactions. It can feel so frustrating and overwhelming to have a pile of unmet needs sitting there, unsure of how we will ever resolve any of it.

On top of the fact that the needs seem to be hanging there unmet, we can get really hard on ourselves for not meeting them immediately, or for having them in the first place. (The Buddha told a story where he referred to this as “the second arrow” — when something difficult happens, we in effect have “one arrow” in us, and our tendency is to “shoot another arrow into ourselves” by being hard and judgmental just when we most need to be compassionate.)

Here’s the thing: When we proceed from a place of panic, anxiety, or otherwise stirred-up feelings, we often end up making decisions that either do not actually need to be made right now (or at all), OR we make choices that only create more pain for us and have to backtrack and undo them.

So I like to share this Lao Tzu quote with clients (and sometimes they find this really annoying): “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.”

Clients usually say, but what do I do to get peaceful? How can I make the muddy water become clear, faster?

These questions make me laugh. They are so, so funny. Can you see why? (And I’ve asked the same questions myself, many many times, so I’m laughing from a place of compassion, for sure.)

Sometimes, it’s not about doing, and it’s not about making things happen, faster.

How can we tell? Because our doing has that frantic, anxious energy behind it. And, the biggest tip-off that we are doing in order to resist being with what is coming up for us: we don’t feel any better for having taken an action or made a decision.

Here are some better questions to ask ourselves:

What is so hard about staying with these uncomfortable feelings until they settle down a little and point me to clarity?

How can I make it easier to allow these feelings to be there, without trying to change them?

How might I support myself in being with the hard stuff that’s coming up for me right now?

Sometimes we might think, but how will I know that I’m ready to take a particular action or make a decision?

The answer is, you’ll know because you will find yourself in the middle of doing the action or making the decision.

When we’re in a place of acceptance, what truly needs to be done and decided arises naturally. We make the call to get the help we need. We withdraw the money from the bank. We comfort the friend who is hurting. We sleep because we’re tired.

This is all there ever is when we’re able to be with what’s actually true for us, right now: the next step presents itself, and we take it. (Or maybe what presents itself is that there is no action to be taken right now.)

But in order to be in our truth, in order to sense our true next step, we may need to allow our muddy water to clear. We may need to exercise some patience and be with whatever is coming up for us. And we can do that a few minutes, or seconds, at a time. We can break it down that much if we need to.

(Byron Katie says that we don’t make decisions — “decisions make us” when we have the necessary information to make them. Do you notice this for yourself?)

What have you learned about your decision-making process? What have your best decisions felt like for you? I’d love to hear.

And: I’m in the process of changing my coaching offerings and won’t be offering them in the current format for much longer. If you’d like to work with me in the current way, check out my offerings, here.

Image is “Water 4” © Chrisharvey | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Is it worth it? (and other helpful questions)

redleaves

This morning I took one of my beautiful fall walks and noticed that my mind kept going to several things I’ve had on my to-do list for a long time that are just not getting done.

I stepped back a little and let my mind go — the practice of walking helps me immensely with getting into “observe my thoughts” mode — and pretty soon I saw that the thought that kept coming to the top of the rotation was this one: “What’s wrong with you that you’re not getting these things done? Anyone else would have gotten these things done months, years, ago.”

“What’s wrong with me?” is kind of a default, underlying, unhelpful thought for many of us. I’ve been a coach for about four years now, and I notice this particular thought come up at some point for most people.

There’s no satisfactory answer to this question. There’s no encouraging, supportive answer to this question. It’s a good example of a question that closes off possibility and keeps us spinning our wheels.

As I walked, and got out of my thoughts and into the present moment, noticing the row of trees that has erupted into lava-reds, the squirrels fighting for supremacy at the neighbor’s bird feeder, my mind began to get more peaceful.

And when I got home, I went to my journal (as I so often do), and experimented with better questions to ask myself about these things I am not getting done.

Why aren’t I getting them done? (“Why?” can be a good question, for sure, but in this case, it felt impossibly heavy.)

How do I want to feel about these things on my to-do list? (This created an instant feeling of lightness.)

What kind of relationship do I want to have with these things? (More lightness. Relief.)

Is it worth it to me to do these things? (Ahhh. Here I hit the jackpot.)

I could tell that last question was the one that opened up possibility and movement, because exploring it felt really juicy to me.

So I went through the list of these things that have been nagging at me, these things I’m not doing, and for each of them, I asked myself, “Is it worth it to me to do this thing?”

The answers were revealing. For the first thing on the list, the answer was a clear no. It simply wasn’t worth doing. But I was telling myself I needed to do it. Is it true I need to do it? No. I crossed it off the list.

For the second thing on the list, the answer was a clear yes. Yes, the thing is definitely worth doing. And here is where “why” comes in. It’s worth doing — good to know! — but I’ve gotten out of touch with WHY I want to do it. Time to reconnect with that.

With the third thing on my list, I realized I’m not sure if the thing is worth doing or not. Sometimes not being sure is code for “no”, but other times, there’s fear there that is masking the “yes.” So this one will require some inquiry, some investigation.

I feel so much lighter right now, like I’ve cleared a path before me.

What do you notice about the questions you’re asking yourself? Does your mind jump to “default questions” that may not be helpful, but you keep trying to act on them anyway? Try experimenting with finding some more helpful questions. And let me know how it goes.

Hope you are enjoying the changes that fall brings (both outer and inner) as much as I am.

And: My Mini Unsticky Sessions are half-price through Halloween, when I’ll be retiring them. My intention with these sessions is to help you make a quick shift that allows you to move forward on a project you’re feeling stuck on. I approach these sessions with a sense of curiosity and play, and they’re often a lot of fun. Check them out, here.

Image is “Red Leaves” © Bart Van Oijen | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What if it’s not as hard as you think?

redonstone

The other day I had to do something that I thought was going to be very hard.

In fact, I’d been putting it off for a while because I thought it was going to be so hard, so uncomfortable, so taxing. I imagined all kinds of stressful scenarios that were going to result from my doing this thing, how a chain of negative events would be set into motion if I did it, how maybe I’d regret doing it.

So I didn’t do it as quickly as I might have. In fact, I started getting very irritated with myself for “procrastinating.” (I like to put procrastinating in quotes because there’s a big difference between procrastination and waiting for the right time, and we need to do a little digging sometimes to recognize which is which.)

Basically, the “thing” involved saying no to someone who had asked me to collaborate with her. I was torn at first because in some ways I wanted to do it, but the reality of my life right now is that I simply don’t have the time or the energy for this level of collaboration.

So I put off saying no, even after my intuition had clearly let me know that “no” was the way to go. (Sorry for the Dr. Seuss-ian sentence — actually, I love it!)

Finally, I made the call. I said, “A part of me would love to, but I’m choosing to say no to this right now.”

Guess what? It wasn’t that hard. My heart raced, yes; my hand slipped a little on the phone because it was wet with sweat.

But all in all? Not that hard. Not nearly as hard as I’d built it up to be. In fact, the person involved thanked me for being direct (she didn’t even think I’d taken that long to get back to her), and then we had a conversation about how much we prefer hearing “no” to hearing nothing at all and being left hanging. (That’s a topic for a whole other post!)

Sometimes, something we need to do proves to be harder than we’d imagined it would be.

But, sometimes, much of the “hard” has to do with our thought that “it’s going to be really hard”. So we don’t do whatever the thing is, and in the not doing it, we create more hard on top of our idea that it’s going to be hard.

Another thing we sometimes do when a task we perceive as “hard” looms before us is we tell ourselves, “I need to have courage. I need to muster up the courage to face this.”

This can actually create yet another hurdle. This “mustering up the courage.” The idea that we need “courage” to face whatever it is actually makes the “thing” seem even harder. Our brain goes, “We need courage here? Wow, it must be really hard! It must be extra hard!”

What if we didn’t need courage? What if, instead of courage, what was more helpful turned out to be acceptance of the situation, acceptance of our fears about it, and trust in our ability to handle it?

It’s worth considering.

Image is “Red on Stone” © Cristina | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What would make it easier?

Drop of water

Several months ago, I led a small group of my clients through a support session to help them with fears that were coming up around their creative projects. They were all nearing the finish line and feeling a lot of resistance to completing, so I thought, maybe we could all support each other in this.

Something we noticed during our session was that we all had a tendency to complicate things to the point that we felt utterly paralyzed about how to move forward. The closer we got to finishing, the more questions about what might happen when we brought our projects into the “real world” came up.

A lot of the stuckness, we found, was based on fears of what might — or might not — happen in the future, if we actually did finish the projects. What if we put them out into the world and no one noticed? What if we put them out there and offended someone close to us with our content? What if we put them out there and got criticized or booed?

All of these things, of course, are distinct possibilities when we put our work out into the world. Focusing on these possibilities can also be effective ways to distract ourselves from actually finishing our work so it can BE out there.

So we came up with this question to ask ourselves when analysis paralysis set in: What would make it easier? What would make it easier, right now?

Just asking this question, we noticed, created a feeling of relief (which good questions usually do — and most of us are not in the habit of asking ourselves good questions!).

We brainstormed a list of possibilities this question generated, and here are some of the things we came up with:

* I could, just for today, commit to staying in the present moment with my work.

* I could stay in my own business. (This comes from Byron Katie’s “three kinds of business” — my business, your business, and God’s business [you might also call this the universe’s business or simply “reality”]. As I’ve written here before, much of the time I feel stress it’s because I’m in someone else’s business. That includes worrying about how my creative work will affect others in the future. There’s a place for this concern, but it’s not while we’re creating the work.)

* I could go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.

* I could check in with someone who helps me gain perspective when I’m stuck.

* I could drink more water. (This might sound silly and completely unrelated, but truly, dehydration can cause us to feel stuck, because water helps our physical systems move and flow. And, particularly if your system is highly sensitive, you may be susceptible to the effects of dehydration.)

* I could take more walks. (Sitting at a desk, especially if you use a computer to do your creative work, can cause you to feel sluggish and static. Moving your body shakes things up and help you shift perspective.)

* I could employ tunnel vision (in a good sense). Think of a racehorse who has blinders on so he is not distracted by what’s on either side of him — he’s only focused on the immediate few yards ahead.

* I could shift my work time to earlier (or later) in the day.

* I could work in a warmer (or cooler) room.

* I could take more frequent breaks when I work.

* I could aim for a B- rather than an A+ (this one is especially important for perfectionists, which most of my clients are). If it didn’t have to match your perfect vision, how much freer would you be to finish? Think about your favorite books, movies, music, artwork. Are they perfect, or are they inspired? There’s a big difference.

* I could, just for today, let go of the idea that I can please everyone with my work.

* I could, just for today, let go of the idea that I can please everyone in my existing audience with my new work.

These are only a few examples of what we came up with. But notice how simple most of them are. Sometimes there’s one small tweak we can make that really helps. And we noticed that the phrase “just for today” was especially helpful.

It’s very human to make things much more complicated than they are. Usually, when I find myself in the land of analysis paralysis, it simply means that I’m scared and I need some support. Notice if this might be the case for you.

What might make your current project easier — particularly if you’re getting close to finishing? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

And: If you’re stuck near the finish line and need some support in completing a large project, I’ll be forming another small, low-cost support group soon. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to be put on the list to learn more.

Image © zaliha yussof | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Trusting the deep pull inward

rowboat

Looking back over the past twenty years of my life, I notice that times of a lot of external change were usually preceded by a deep pull inward: a period of maybe a week, or two, or more, where I needed to become very still, write in my journal more than usual, and detach from the external world.

I remember a period like this in my early twenties where I took lots of long walks in the evening after work for several weeks. And another period years later where instead of going out on the weekends like I usually did, I stayed in and wrote intensely in my journal. I didn’t have the money to actually quit work or take a long vacation in order to go within, but it was like some force compelled me to figure out a way, anyway; it was a taking stock of where I’d been and where I was so that I could move forward in a clear and powerful way.

Except I didn’t really know this at the time. I can only see it in retrospect.

I have a couple of clients right now who are feeling this pull to move inward. And, not surprisingly, they’re having a hard time listening to it.

We often resist this inner calling for a while before we finally surrender to it. I think there are a several reasons for this:

1) We have an increasing number of distractions at our fingertips (the other night I was watching American Horror Story on my laptop WHILE looking up trivia about it on imdb on my iPad — and not fully present for either activity). I believe that our ability to focus — or maybe simply our willingness to concentrate on one thing — is becoming seriously impaired, and we need to take charge of this, STAT. It’s killing our souls.

2) We’re afraid of what we might find if we do go inward and be really present with what’s there. What if we discover that we need to make big, painful changes in order to live the life we want? Sometimes we’d rather not know and live in a murky sort of limbo.

3) We’re afraid of the intimacy that comes from having a relationship with ourselves. Truly tuning in and heeding that inward pull means we actually get to know ourselves on a really deep level. (I’ve had clients tell me that they don’t want to do morning pages for this reason. They aren’t sure they want to know themselves that well. They aren’t sure they’ll like the person who shows up on those pages.) Just as becoming more and more intimate with another person is a risk, so is getting to know ourselves. What happens when we encounter pieces of us that we just don’t want to be with?

The good news is that, whether sooner or later, our intolerance for a disconnect with our essential self wins out, and we do go inward. (It’s just usually better for us when we listen to the call sooner rather than later.) Our souls won’t tolerate the numbness that comes from a life half-lived, and eventually we are forced to listen.

Here are some suggestions, though, for making it easier to trust that pull inward, when it comes:

1) Take a weekly break from the online world. A total break, for a few hours, or more, if it feels workable for you. During this break, pay attention to your body, go out for a walk; remind yourself that you are a physical being in a body with a connection to the earth, not a just fingers and a brain connected to a device.

2) Just as you are allowed to take your time in getting to know another person (in fact, true intimacy with another often develops slowly, over time — the quick kind tends to evaporate), you are also allowed to take time in getting to know yourself. If you have resistance to connecting with yourself, it may be because you’re trying to do too much too soon. You can connect with yourself in small doses, whether that’s through journaling or just being present with what you’re feeling for a couple of minutes at a time.

3) Promise yourself that you don’t have to take action on anything you discover about yourself. Recognizing that you really want to move to Europe does not mean you have to take action on that knowledge, now or ever. You may choose to act on it (and hopefully, if it’s truly right for you, you will!). But, as I so often say to my clients, it’s simply good to know. That’s the point of connecting with yourself — to know the truth about yourself. It is not about forcing yourself to completely overhaul your life. I’ve seen time and again that we are far more willing to know our truth, and own it, when we trust that we do NOT have to take immediate action on it.

Have you struggled to trust the pull to go within and connect with yourself? What made it a challenge for you, and what helped? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “One Sepia Rowboat” © Tatiana Sayig | Dreamstime Stock Photos

How do we know we’re ready to let go?

twofeathers

In my first few coaching sessions of the New Year, I noticed this interesting theme of loss, fear of loss, and ambivalence about loss surfacing.

Some of it had to do with completing a piece of creative work and feeling the emptiness that can come with finishing. This thing that has taken up so much of our heart space and head space and waking hours is now up and walking on its own and it doesn’t need us the way it did. There’s sadness — and one heck of a void — in that.

Some of it had to do with letting go of a job or a relationship. And the big thing coming up around that was, is it truly time? How do I know?

And some of it was about giving ourselves permission to let a creative project, job, or relationship go — even though it did not feel “complete.” It was about deciding not to continue. (And that’s rough on perfectionists, which most of my clients tend to be. You mean I’m allowed to give up on it? I’m allowed to not see it to completion?)

My “big word” for this year is permission. I need to focus on permission because I’ve noticed that I can go for hours, sometimes days, forgetting that, yes, I actually do have permission to do things the way I need to do them. To feel things the way I feel them.

So I can’t help seeing these issues with letting go through the lens of permission.

And that leads me to this: Often, when we’re afraid of letting go, it’s because we haven’t given ourselves permission to NOT let go.

Some militaristic part of us jumps up and says, “Okay! Time to move on! Let’s get moving here!”

And those parts of us which are not ready to let go, sometimes not even NEARLY ready, get trampled in the stampede.

But, as I’ve written here before, we can’t truly arrive anywhere until ALL of us shows up. This concept came to me from the writings of Robyn Posin, whose beautiful website you can find here. She uses a stoplight analogy: We can race to the light, but if it’s red, we won’t actually move forward until it turns green.

There may be a part of us that is holding a green light, but many other parts of us are still cradling the red, tightly.

So, permission. To be right there.

That part of us that the light has already turned green for will probably be very impatient with the parts of us that need to go slower.

And working with the impatient part of us might mean saying to it, “Yes, I see that you’re really ready to go, and I get that. AND, the whole of us is not ready yet. You’re not allowed to let your impatience run the show. But you’re totally allowed to be impatient.”

As long as there is conflict between the parts of us that want to let go and the parts of us that don’t, we are not at peace.

And when we’re not at peace, when we’re locked in struggle, we’re in a poor place to make decisions about anything big. When we’re struggling, it’s painful, and any decision we make tends to be more about getting away from the pain than moving toward what actually feels right to us.

The questions to ask the impatient part of ourselves are: What’s scary about slowing down? What’s hard about being in the present moment?

The questions to ask the parts of us who aren’t ready to let go are: What’s scary about moving forward? What’s hard about stretching ourselves into the future?

Allow these parts to talk to each other. Write down what they have to say; you might try using a different color of pen for each part. When you can hear them all out (and notice that each of them has wisdom and truth), you can begin to integrate their needs.

And when you have integrity, you have peace. And from peace you can truly let go in wholeness.

What are your challenges around letting go? Do you tend to let go quickly, or do you really hang on? I’d love to know how it works for you, in the comments.

Image is Feathers Against the Sun © Kmitu | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Merry Christmas + tons of permission

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As I was thinking back over 2013 and touching base in my heart with all the amazing people I connected with this year, I noticed that so often the one thing we forget to give ourselves is permission.

When fear comes up, we have this tendency to skip the step that says, “This is what’s happening for me right now, this is where I am and how I feel. And I have permission to be here, feeling all this and being where I am.”

We want to jump over this uncomfortable, vulnerable space. It feels out of control, it feels like the unknown, and we’re not sure anyone else would get it if we shared what’s happening for us.

As a coach, I have the honor of working with clients who are in this space. And I feel it’s my responsibility to let them know that, whatever’s happening for them, it’s totally legitimate and they have total permission to be there. For as long as they need to be there.

Usually, though, we’re in a hurry to get out of this space. Mostly because we think being here means something is wrong. It doesn’t. It means we’re getting ready, preparing for that next right step to reveal itself, letting go of anything that would be incongruent with us being where we need to be next.

What we need during these times is space around everything we’re feeling, everything we’re letting go of, and the trust that whatever’s happening within us — and without — is in motion. It’s not static; it’s constantly changing, if we can create enough space around it to really observe it.

So, my gift to you this Christmas: tons of permission! Yes, it’s truly okay — in fact, it’s necessary — to be on whatever step you’re on right now. Nothing is wrong and your timing is perfect.

Two kinds of urgency

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Have you ever gone through an extended period where nothing felt clear to you, where everything seemed muddled and off and you wondered if it was ever going to end?

I’ve been there — many times (and if you’re going through this right now, I send you so much compassion. Yes, it’s hard.)

Way back when, I thought going through these periods meant there was something wrong with me, or that I just wasn’t trying hard enough. Uggh.

I now know that these periods of sluggishness, lack of clarity, and downright suckiness are simply part of the process of change. They’re what happens when we’re letting go of a version of ourselves that no longer fits, but we haven’t yet stepped into whoever it is we’re becoming.

These are liminal periods, and I’ve written about them quite a bit on this blog (click on the Categories list to the right, particularly Transitions and Letting Go, to read more on liminal periods).

Another term for these transitional periods, which I learned while I trained to become a life coach with Martha Beck, is “Square One.”

During Square One, a kind of urgency can rise up in us. It feels like we’d better do something, now! We’d better get out of this crappy place! We’d better make some kind of decision, now! (Even though usually we have no idea what it is we’re deciding, because one of the hallmarks of Square One is a lack of clarity on what we really want. We know what we don’t want, and the rest of it feels like one giant slog through toffee.)

A frequent reminder that I, and the folks I work with, need while in Square One is this: The faster we try to get out of Square One, the longer we stay in it. It’s the ultimate paradox. Square One needs to be fully processed, fully felt. Yes, it sucks, but it’s the only way to get truly clear.

When we rush forward because our period of transition is so uncomfortable, we inevitably end up in more discomfort.

That’s because instead of moving toward what we want (because we’ve gotten clear on it), we’re moving away from discomfort and confusion because they scare us. And where do we end up? Right back in the discomfort and confusion, scared out of our minds. Wherever we go, there we are.

So, if you’re going through a transition, or approaching one, right now, and it feels scary and like you’ve completely lost your footing, the best path to peace is not to hurry out of the scary place.

It’s to slow down, remind your panicked brain that there is no true urgency here, and realize that (in the ultimate irony), you’ll actually move through this icky transition place much more quickly by embracing an easy, one-day-at-a-time (or, on the worst days, one-hour-at-a-time) pace.

Now, there’s another kind of urgency, too. That kind of urgency is a bit different. It’s what I’d call a “transmission from your soul.”

This kind of urgency has a kind of ache to it. It contains a yearning you can’t stave off or press down, no matter how many months or years you try to do just that.

This is the urgency that recognizes that life is relatively short and there are things your heart longs to be or do, and you’re not being or doing them yet. And you’re tired of putting them off.

Or, it’s the kind of urgency that tells you a certain situation isn’t good for you and it has to stop. And that if you don’t stop it, you’re going to keep on feeling this particular ache.

This kind of urgency is the urgency that signals you’re ready for change. Not ten years from now, but as soon as is humanly possible.

Yes, I know: I just contradicted myself. I suggested that if you’re feeling urgency, you need to slow way down, not speed up. And then I said that if you’re feeling urgency, you need to act, now!

Both are true. Can you allow your mind to wrap itself around that? It’s hard for me, too.

But notice my descriptions of the two kinds of urgency. One kind is about moving away from discomfort. And the other is about moving toward what you want. (An ache or longing points us toward something in us that wants to be born.)

We can feel both these kinds of urgency on the very same day! In the very same hour! And we can accept, and work with, both of them.

The tricky part is that, when we’re feeling a lot of the first type of urgency, we need to come to a place of peace before we take any action.

Otherwise, our actions are likely to be fueled by panic and a need to escape discomfort. (Have you ever quit a job, or left a relationship, and found yourself, almost magically, back in what seemed like the exact same job or relationship six months or a year later? That’s because your actions were fueled by a need to escape discomfort, rather than movement toward what enlivens you.)

So how do you know which urgency is driving you? You might want to share what’s going on with someone you trust, or jot down the thoughts you’re having in a journal. Then ask yourself (or let someone reflect back to you): Does what I just said (or wrote) come from the part of my brain that is strictly concerned with my physical and/or social survival? Or does it feel like a mandate from my soul?

Whichever answer you get, the next step is acceptance. And remembering that fully processing what’s going on for you is, in the long run, the fastest way to actually create what you truly desire.

What do you think? What have you noticed when urgency comes up for you? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “Time’s Up!” © Nspimages | Dreamstime Stock Photos