The question that cuts through your overwhelm

sadgirl

A week ago I returned from a coaching intensive (which I’ll no doubt share more about in the future), feeling one part energized, two parts exhausted. I had that good feeling of having stretched myself a lot, but a quieter part of me recognized that I couldn’t keep going at that pace for much longer without losing touch with what I truly needed.

Hmm. What I truly needed. How interesting that it took me almost a week to get there.

As the week wore on, and my after-stretching-myself buzz began to wear off, I noticed I felt scattered, pressured, pressed. By Thursday, I realized I had arrived at that most dreaded of states: full on overwhelm.

Friday morning, “to-do’s” spinning in my brain, I recognized I didn’t want to continue feeling the way I was feeling. And, regarding my rather pinched expression in the bathroom mirror, I asked myself this question: “What do you need right now?”

It seems like a pretty obvious question — doesn’t it?

The thing is, when I get into the spin cycle of “I want to rest — but there’s so much to do — but I want to rest — but there’s too much to do”, I do not see this question.

It was only pausing and noticing how I was feeling, and seeing that feeling conveyed on my face in the mirror, that brought me to this truth. I had a need, and it wasn’t being met. And I didn’t even know what the need was.

Asking yourself “What do I need right now?” grounds you in the present moment, in what is true for you.

Often, when we are in that “too much to do” place, we get caught up trying to plan for and control a future that is not here yet. If I don’t get it done now, X, Y, and Z might happen, our minds tell us.

And our activity becomes more and more frantic. We may get something done, maybe a lot of things done — but we don’t feel productive. “To-do-list” brain just keeps churning out more to-do’s.

When I asked myself, “What do you need right now?”, I received a few answers.

• I need to permission to do it all wrong.

• I need permission to not do it all.

• I need to be kinder to myself.

• I need to recognize where my true responsibility lies.

• I need to take a long walk.

I stopped there, lest “what I need” started to sound to me like another “to-do” list.

And I decided to meet two needs — the need to be kinder to myself, and the need for a long walk. My walk turned into what Julia Cameron calls an “Artist’s Date”, where I found myself meandering in my neighborhood, noticing the squirrels leaping around in the unusually warm weather, and I bought myself a new lipstick at Ulta Beauty.

On the way home from the walk, I realized just how much I’d needed that “settling down” time — that bridge between the high, intense activity of stretching myself, and moving back into my regular routine. It just took me a week to give it to myself.

As I write this, I do not feel overwhelmed. I feel present. In fact, after my walk I found myself — quite naturally — doing several things I needed to do, from a settled-down place of peace, of groundedness.

Now, here’s an interesting thing: This whole week, upon my return from my travels, I’ve been taking a morning walk each day, because that’s what I do. That’s part of my morning ritual. But my morning ritual didn’t seem to be “taking hold” as it usually does. I still felt keyed up, worried, anxious.

I see now that it’s because I didn’t ask myself what I needed. I kept taking the actions I usually took, without checking in first to see what was up for me.

The experience I’d had away had shifted my needs. I was needing a different flavor of self-care post-trip that I’d had before I’d left.

But I didn’t know it for almost a week, because I forgot to ask myself what I needed.

Live and learn, my friends. I offer a coaching program on practicing excellent self-care, and yet it took me a week to see how I needed to care for myself. We are always beginners in the ever-changing landscapes of our inner lives.

Are you overwhelmed right now? How does the question “What do I need right now?” sit with you? Is there another question that helps you cut through overwhelm? I’d love to hear from you.

And: I will begin enrolling clients in my one-on-one coaching program, Stellar Self-Care, on March 6, 2017. If your life feels overwhelming and you’re needing support, I encourage you to check it out! I will also be offering a small group version of the program this time around — please contact me for more info if you’re interested in that format. You can also learn about other ways we can work together, here.

Above image © Jose Antonio Sánchez Reyes | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Keeping self-care simple during the holidays

ornaments

This year, as I did some fine-tuning of my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program (which is currently on hiatus but will return in 2017), the message that kept coming up was that, when it comes to self-care, often less is more.

I realized early on that I had a tendency to “firehose” clients with lots and lots of tips and concepts, and while they’re all helpful, taken together, it can be hard for the mind to focus on even one.

And, along with less is more, it can be truly helpful for us to realize that focusing on “just one thing” can make an incredible difference to us, as I wrote about last year at this time.

It’s getting increasingly important for us to be able to cut through clutter — not just clutter in our homes, but general clutter in our lives, and that includes mental and emotional clutter (which are often tied to actual physical clutter in our homes, by the way).

Thanks to the wonderful world of the interwebs, we have an unbelievable amount of clutter available to us instantly at any time of day or night.

And it’s important to note that, when we have no internal room to hold any more, even information that is truly valuable to us can feel like clutter.

The holidays, particularly if you are an introvert and/or highly sensitive, can often feel extremely cluttered to us. And clutter is heavy. Clutter weighs us down, and if anything, at the holidays we’d love to feel lighter, not heavier.

So how can we apply the concepts of “less is more” and “just one thing” to our self-care during the holidays? Let’s take a look.

1. Give to yourself first.

For those of us who are exquisitely sensitive to our surroundings and the needs of others, it can feel “automatic” to leave ourselves out of the equation. And if this is a challenge for you on a regular day, it’s triply challenging during the holidays since during the holidays we are “supposed” to be focusing on others.

How does it feel to shift your intention from “focusing on others” or “giving to others” to “connecting with others”? I notice an immediate difference when my intention is to connect. It feels like I am part of the equation, like I haven’t left myself out.

How can you give to yourself first each day during holiday visiting and/or travel? For me, staying with a morning ritual (even if it’s a modified one), helps immensely. It helps me check in with myself, take my “emotional temperature”, and recognize what I’m needing to move forward with the day — and I am so much more able to truly connect with others from this space of self-connection.

2. Remember your “self-care bottom line”.

This is something I wrote about last year, and again, it’s triply important during the holidays. What are the basics — the very basics — that you need to feel functional, to feel like you? It’s okay to pare things down during the holidays — remember, less is more, especially during this time — but don’t eliminate anything that’s fundamental for you.

Here’s an example from my life: Because I travel over Christmas, I know my energy is going to be spread more thin than usual during that time. So, the week before Christmas, I make sure I’m not scheduling any “extras”. I have a few friends I like to see one-on-one to celebrate the holidays, but I’m having these meet-ups after Christmas these days, when my traveling is done, so that I can feel rested and present instead of like I’m “scheduling it in”.

So part of my self-care bottom line is preserving my energy for holiday travel and visiting. It goes sooo much more smoothly if I haven’t spread myself too thin before Christmas.

3. Give yourself permission to be “good enough” at socializing.

If you’re particularly sensitive to the needs of others, you notice their needs (or what you think their needs might be) a lot. And at the holidays, when we’re likely doing more socializing than usual, and maybe not in our familiar surroundings, it can be easy to put pressure on ourselves to get an A+ in being a guest or a conversationalist or a gift giver or a baker or whatever it may be.

For introverts and highly sensitive people (and this include extroverts who are highly sensitive!), who need alone time to recharge, we can be tempted to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to “be polite” and end up overextending ourselves.

What if it was okay to get a B- in holiday socializing? Why would that be a bad thing? What if it freed you up to take better care of yourself and actually enjoy connecting with others, in a more relaxed way?

4. Don’t argue with reality. “Arguing with reality” is a concept that I learned from Byron Katie.

This applies to what is true for you — you may not like that you need nine hours of sleep to feel fully rested, but if it’s true for you,  it’s true for you. Cutting nine hours to five because others can get by on five is not going to make it true for you that you feel rested on five.

Similarly, if you’re reaching a point where you’re feeling uncomfortably full, it’s true for you that you don’t have room for the pie Mom is dying for you to try. Eating it and feeling even more uncomfortable is not going to change your reality — you’ve had enough!

It also applies to things like bad weather, delayed flights, and opinions from relatives about your lifestyle that you’d rather not hear.  (On that note, “Thank you for sharing that” can be a very useful conversation-shifter).

Arguing with the fact that it’s happening doesn’t change it. (And accepting reality is not the same as liking it or agreeing with it!)

And now: If any of the above points particularly speaks to you, I encourage you to take that one concept  — just that one — and allow it to help you through your holidays. Don’t try to “do them all”. The one that resonates for you the most is the one you need. Remember: less is more, and applying just one helpful concept to your holidays will be more than enough.

This is my final blog post for 2016. Wishing you a delightful holiday and I look forward to connecting in a fresh new year.

Do any of the above ideas resonate with you for helping you incorporate self-care into your holidays? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. You might also find this post from 2014 helpful. 🙂

Above image © Katrina Brown | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Autumn transitions and morning rituals

leaftwins

With the first true autumn air having arrived in the Chicago area this past week, I get to revel in my favorite season. I always savor every moment of fall, particularly because it is so very short-lived here.

For me, it’s a great time to capture some of that beautiful fall color (so much of it is at our feet, on the sidewalk, and I just can’t stop taking pictures of leaves!), to reflect on where I am in my life and what’s next for me, and to notice how my inner landscape mirrors the changes I see in the natural world.

I am also reminded in the fall of the importance of a morning ritual to my overall well-being. (Since my morning ritual involves walking and, sometimes, “sit spotting” — taking a seat somewhere and simply noticing what is around me — the gorgeous color and crisp air enhances the experience for sure.)

My clients also tell me regularly that when they create a morning ritual — or return to one — they feel more balanced, more grounded, more soothed and more hopeful.

It’s easy to dismiss our need for ritual in a culture that values “busy”. But when we do, we often find more chaos showing up in our lives (both internal and external!).

I talk more about the specifics of my morning ritual in the video below, but I’ll add that I have a couple of guidelines for myself when it comes to my morning ritual:

• I keep it simple. Nothing overly structured or complicated. The morning ritual must be easy and enjoyable.

• I must complete my morning ritual before I engage with technology. No internet or phone calls until my morning ritual is done. (Obviously, on occasion life will dictate that I deviate from this guideline — that’s why I call it a guideline and not a rule! The key is to stick to it most of the time, for my own well-being.)

In the video below, I talk a bit about morning rituals and why they’re particularly important for sensitive people (and introverts!) and to our creative process.

P.S. If you are in transition this fall and need some support in navigating that “in-between” space, I’d love to help.  Check out my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions here. You can sign up for one through Nov. 1, 2016.

Do you have a morning ritual? What do you value about it? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image © Jill Winski, 2016

Why the downtime you “sneak” doesn’t really count

hamster

 

The other night, I stayed up much later than usual, watching a marathon of the HGTV show Fixer Upper and eating taco-flavored Doritos.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I paid for it with stomach discomfort all night and lousy sleep.

The odd thing about it was that, although I had told myself I “needed” this TV and Doritos “binge”, it didn’t really feel good. It didn’t quite seem to scratch the itch I’d thought it would.

I then remembered that my mother had once told me that, before he retired several years ago, my dad would often stay up late watching TV on weeknights, even though he was very tired. “It’s his only way to have time to himself,” she said.

And then I knew what my Fixer Upper-Doritos binge was about (because — honestly? — I don’t even like Doritos that much — they were only in the house because my partner loves them): It was my way of “sneaking” downtime that I wasn’t openly giving to myself. 

What’s going on when we “sneak” things for ourselves? When we do it in secret  — even if the only person we’re hiding from is us?

Geneen Roth, author of many wonderful books on our relationship with food, wrote that as she healed from emotional eating, an important part of her process was to eat in full view of others. Even if what she was eating was a whole chocolate cake.

I realized after my TV-and-Doritos escapade failed to give me what I’d hoped it would that I’d fallen back into an ancient pattern (and ancient IS the right word here, as my ancestors did it, too): believing that I only deserve open-ended time for myself once I’ve “earned” it through achieving.

Through “upping my game”. Through “checking off the to-do list.” Through challenging myself and “succeeding.”

Many people I work with tell me I am gentle, and while gentleness is indeed part of my true nature, I am also very driven. This driven-ness has a positive aspect — I stick to things, I usually do what I say I’m going to do, and I (definitely) know how to push myself.

But this driven part of me has a downside, too — it doesn’t know when to quit. It doesn’t have an “off” switch. It doesn’t always let go when it’s time to let go, either.

So part of the reason I am gentle is because I need to teach myself gentleness. Or maybe I am continually learning to embrace the gentleness that was part of me as a child.

This gentle part of me (and the driven part of me, too!) needs open-handed rest, rejuvenation, kindness, solitude, and daydreaming. It needs it not because I’ve “earned” it, but because I exist and it’s a true need at times. In fact, it’s a true need regularly.

Over and over I revisit the same learning: It’s okay to give myself something just because I feel the need for it.

As my teacher Mark Silver says, we don’t eat or drink once and never need to eat or drink again. We get hungry and thirsty multiple times per day and we fill those needs. We don’t expect that we will never again be hungry or thirsty just because we ate and drank one day.

The same goes for other needs that may not be as apparent (or as culturally acceptable!). I don’t have to “earn” downtime. It is a need, and the need for it will arise again and again. And I can give it to myself because I exist. Not because I “deserve” it.

But I had forgotten this. And the part of me that felt angry and neglected and sad that I had forgotten wanted some kindness, some gentleness, some acknowledgement. It reminded me by staying up late in “binge” mode.

It’s totally okay to watch multiple episodes of Fixer Upper (I love Fixer Upper!) and eat delicious food. As long as I am giving it to myself as a gift. As long as I am enjoying it. A little indulgence can be a truly good thing, especially for those of us who tend to go too far in the other direction and push and deprive ourselves.

But when we can catch ourselves going too far in the other direction — when we notice before we swing too far out of balance — we are giving ourselves the true gift.

And when we’re “sneaking”, there’s a part of us, in that act, that wants to be seen. To be acknowledged. (A client told me a while back that she was “sneaking” time to write in her journal — some part of her wouldn’t allow her full permission to openly connect with herself.)

Our egos can be very tricky here. In my case, I was giving myself downtime here and there — but it was conditional downtime: you can have this, but only if you make up for it by working really hard later.

So the key here is giving ourselves what we need with no strings attached. (Check out my post on the difference between self-care and self-indulgence, here.)

Do you notice yourself “sneaking” something? Is there a message there for you? I’d love to hear from you.

And, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or disconnected from yourself and are needing support, I hope you’ll check out my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. I’ll continue enrolling clients in this one-on-one program through August 31, 2016.

Above image © Johanna Goodyear | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Noticing (and celebrating!) small changes

frenchlizard

This lizard I saw in France reminds me that it’s okay to hang out when I need to rest and regain my energy.

I am having so much fun this summer supporting several of my clients in creating better self-care (you can learn more about my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program here).

When I work with folks, I often see themes that are “up” for all of them (it’s amazing how this happens — the themes that jump out at me are, no doubt, themes that I’ve noticed in myself as well, and that’s why they stand out for me!).

One of the themes I’m noticing right now is our collective tendency to be “in a hurry”, to have it done yesterday, to finally “get it” once and for all. A couple of my clients have said, “How can I not know this stuff by now?” or “How can I still be struggling with this?”

Oh, wow, have I said this myself. In fact, I probably hear this weekly in various conversations.

It’s like we believe we should get to a point — hopefully fairly early in our lives — where we understand ourselves completely and there’s nothing more to learn. Because then we’d — what? Be perfect? Do everything “the right way”? Have it all figured out?

Wouldn’t that be awfully boring? The most exciting thing about life to me is learning more and more about who I am.

In fact, when I notice I’m comparing myself to others, one of my favorite ways to move out of that is to turn it right around and compare myself to myself. What do I know about myself now that I didn’t know twenty years ago, or ten? How am I better able to take care of myself and thrive and do my true work in the world because of that knowing?

A huge part of this is allowing ourselves to celebrate the changes we see — and not just the external changes, but the inner knowing that prompts that change. And I really encourage all of us to celebrate the small changes, even the tiny changes, we see.

Don’t fall for the idea that “it has to be ‘big’ to count.” So many of the changes we make in our lives that seem huge are made up of teeny tiny incremental changes that happened over time.

(I’m talking here about changes we pursue of our own volition — sometimes change is thrust upon us from the outside and, let’s face it, it’s just big, and in those cases we need support in handling the change, not in creating it!).

***

One of the changes I notice in myself over the past few years that has contributed to my practicing better self-care is that I pause more before acting (when it feels right). And I ask others to support me in allowing this pause.

This might look like saying, “I need to think about that before I make a decision.” Or, “Do you mind if we sit on this bench for a while and just hang out before we go on to our next activity?” It’s all about honoring my natural energy.

When I travel (especially long distances), I decide ahead of time that most of my first day in the new place will be spent resting, and I’ll move into more activity on the second day. When I went to France a few years ago, I spent an entire day hanging out in the villa we rented while everyone else went exploring. I floated in the pool and noticed the lizards and marveled at that white-hot South of France sun. It was what I needed.

But earlier in my life, I would have forced myself to go with everyone else because I didn’t want to feel left out, and ended up exhausted, unable to give myself the recharge I so badly needed after the trip. It felt so good to own my need for time to rest, keep myself company, and join everyone else the next day, fully energized.

Similarly, I’ve made plenty of poor decisions in my life because I sensed the other person wanted me to hurry up and decide, so I did — wrongly. I’ve discovered I don’t make my best decisions when I’m in a hurry.

And today, I own this. My partner said that when he and I first starting seeing each other, he was sometimes frustrated that it took me (what seemed to him) a long time to make decisions. But the other day he told me he now truly appreciates my (sometimes lengthy) decision-making process because, as he put it, “When you make a decision it is so right for you, and ultimately I can see how that’s right for us.” (Can I tell you how much I love that he said this?)

So, I celebrate these “small” changes in myself (which are really not that small, when it comes down to it). It’s all about supporting myself in who I truly am.

What small changes are you celebrating today? I’d love to hear about them.

If you’d like support in taking care of yourself in a way that honors who you truly are, I encourage you to check out my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. I’ll be enrolling new clients through August 31, 2016.  I’d love it if you’d join me if it feels like the time is right for you!

Do you have a “most creative” time of day?

colorfulshoelaces

I got an email from a client the other day (and she gave me permission to share parts of it here). It was a joyful update — she’d finally hit on a workable process for doing the beautiful paintings she creates.

We’d talked a lot during one session about her desire to work on her paintings during the early morning hours, and how this never seemed to quite work out. Usually, she didn’t get started as early as she wanted to and then felt she’d failed. And because her artwork requires a lot of “set-up”, it wasn’t so simple for her to grab fifteen minutes here or there, as, for example, a writer can.

She wrote that after a lot of testing and trying, she’s discovered she feels most creative between about 8 p.m. and midnight. And when she makes that segment of time her “working hours”, she falls into bed worn out, but satisfied — and she can sleep until she feels rested.

She’d had a sneaky suspicion that the night-time hours might be the best time for her to focus on her artwork, but a part of her (which I’d be willing to bet is her “social self”) believed that only “slackers” waited until that late in the day to do their work.

This is so fascinating to me, and it got me thinking about the demands we put on ourselves and our creativity. And I think there’s another component to this that has to do with the direction our energy flows throughout the day.

When I was in graduate school, taking writing classes, I discovered that I had an awful time connecting with my voice and generating writing in classes that started at 6 p.m. (I also had more trouble communicating and socializing with other students at this hour).

But during the classes that began in the early afternoon, I did some of my best, most connected writing. In the one 8 a.m. class I took, I felt like I was just fully waking up and getting energized as the class was ending.

This was great information for me. Now, I don’t necessarily think this means that I am most creative during the late morning/afternoon hours. What I actually think is that during these hours, I, an innate introvert, experience the biggest outward flow of my energy. That is why I like to schedule coaching clients and lead group coaching calls during these hours as well — I have the most “other-focused” energy available to me during this time.

By about 6 p.m. (as I discovered in my evening writing classes), my energy is moving inward again in order to rebalance me and replenish itself.

This doesn’t mean I am not creative during this time (after all, there is both an active and a receptive component to creative energy). But it does mean that my creativity takes on a more still, absorbent quality, rather than an exuberant, expansive quality, at night.

During the evening hours I tend to be taking things in, chewing on them, puttering and reflecting. I might enjoy talking quietly with one or two people in the evenings, but I generally don’t want to be a part of large groups that require a lot of “extroverting” from me at night.

(It’s worth noting that, for me, fiction writing and blogging feel more like “extroverting” in the sense that I am aware I’m communicating with an audience — whereas journaling feels more like “introverting”, in that I’m processing my own thoughts and feelings, or doing things like mind-mapping that are mostly for my eyes only. This is probably why it’s a lot more challenging for me to write a blog post or work on fiction at night, but I have no problem doing leisurely journaling in the evening.)

My client said that when she does her paintings, it feels like she is “deep diving”, and she can best do this when the “mundane tasks” of her day are finished and no one is clamoring for her attention. That’s why the late night hours work well for her — she has a harder time accessing her “deep diving” space earlier in the day.

And I love her awareness that a part of her hadn’t even considered doing her paintings at night because it didn’t seem “industrious” or “productive” to do “serious work” at that time!

I suspect that her essential self doesn’t care a whit about being industrious, productive or serious — though I could be wrong. But her discovery was a reminder for me about how deeply our assumptions can color our choices.

My sense is that it’s not so much that we’re “more creative” during certain times of day, but that our creative energy is in different phases throughout the day. And some phases are more conducive to certain aspects of creating than others.

What do you think? I’d love to hear from you.

(And by the way, there are quizzes you can take online to discover your “most creative time of day”, and also your “most productive time of day” — they are not always the same. I found my results did not necessarily reflect what is true for me, but they’re still fun to check out.)

Also: I won’t be taking on any new coaching clients until the last week of August, as I’ll be moving into my new home in just over a week! I’m looking forward to sharing more about that with you here, once I am post-move and a little more grounded and clear-eyed. 🙂 In the meantime, happy creating!

Image is “Colorful Shoelaces” © Judy Ben Joud | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Hearing my voice in a noisy world

my daily journaling station

my daily journaling station

I grew up in a chaotic and noisy home. I’m not sure why it was this way — we were (and are) a loving family, and our propensity is more toward the introvert side of the personality type spectrum. But with three kids, two dogs (and an assortment of other animals), and two working parents for most of my childhood, privacy and peace were hard to come by.

The only way I knew to get true quiet was to stay home sick from school. Then everyone else would be gone (except the dogs) and I could absorb the quiet of the house, the ticking of clocks, watch how the sunlight moved across the floor as morning drifted into afternoon.

I craved quiet, solitary time as a kid. I wanted to be able to hear myself think. But home was loud and school was loud and my friends seemed loud.

Seventh grade was different because my family moved to Hawaii for the year, something I resisted, kicking and screaming. People said, “You must be crazy not to want to go to Hawaii!”

But to my twelve-year-old self who craved fitting in and stability more than anything else, a move to a faraway place for just one year would be one more thing that made me different, one more thing that told my peer group, “She isn’t like us. She doesn’t fit.”

A life-altering thing came out of our year in Hawaii, however. My English teacher handed out black-and-white composition books and required us to keep journals.

I knew I liked to write, and prior to this, I had dabbled in journaling, but it was more of the “this is what I did today” variety. My teacher encouraged us to really get our thoughts on the page. What was important to us? What did we think about the books we read in class? What scared us? What filled us with joy?

I was hooked. I used all the pages in the first composition book and my words spilled over onto the cardboard back cover.

Finally, I could hear my own voice. I could read my own thoughts on the pages of the composition book. And my teacher validated it all — keeping a journal was a good thing. A healthy thing. It would help me know myself.

In all honesty, I don’t think I fully internalized what my teacher said at the time. This is probably adult me looking back and superimposing herself onto twelve-year-old me. But what I do know for sure is that I was hungry to keep a journal. It became a home for me, the only true safe space I could think of at the time.

Later, in my early twenties, I took frequent trips to New York City, and I remember sitting in the airport one day, my notebook spread out on my lap. I realized I felt at home in O’Hare Airport, waiting for my flight, despite the swirl of activity and noise around me. I wrote in my notebook that day, “As long as I can write in my journal, I can be at home anywhere. My journal is the only home I need.”

I smile a little at my early-twenty-something self now, because I am far less nomadic in spirit than I was then. Now, I like a home base that goes beyond my journal (I am a true homebody at heart despite my love of discovering new places).

But I am still in touch with the “me” who believed that, armed with my journal, I could feel safe enough to take on the world.

Decades after discovering the mysteries and joys of the depths of the black-and-white composition book in a classroom of girls in black-and-white uniforms at St. Andrew’s Priory School in Honolulu, I still meet with my journal at my dining room table every day. (Except now it’s a sketch book with wide, blank pages, so I can draw pictures next to my thoughts, too.)

And every time I put my pen on that page, I’m cutting through the chaos of not just the world, but my mind. I’m safe, and I’m home, and I know who I am, once again.

If you, too, keep a journal, what is the greatest benefit of journaling for you? I’d love to hear from you.

This post is my contribution to the Five-Year Anniversary Celebration of  #JournalChat Live. I’ve been proud to be a guest on #JournalChat Live several times. You can learn more about #JournalChat Live, including how to join the Facebook group, here.

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

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

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Sometimes when I look back, I cringe at all the pressure I used to put on myself to be “differently social” than I actually am, especially during holiday times. I am an introvert (and no, by that I do not mean that I am “shy”, but that I need plenty of alone time to recharge).

I am an introvert who loves people, deeply. But I also cannot be around people for more than a few hours without needing to withdraw and spend time alone.

Like many introverts, I really struggled with this in childhood, when my natural introversion was viewed as shyness that needed to be “cured”, or a “fear of people” that needed to be conquered.

Thankfully, I am now an adult (in some senses, anyway!) and I have a lot more control over my life and the ways I choose to socialize than I did when I was nine.

The holidays, nevertheless, can prove to be a challenge for my introvert self.

But I’ve learned to give myself lots of permission over the years.

Back when it was harder to give myself permission, I needed to get it from other people.

Sometimes people give us permission by their example and they don’t even know it. This is a beautiful thing. Like:

* The Christmas party I was at one year where, after three hours, I felt completely depleted but was sure if I left before the gifts were opened, my host would be offended. So I suffered through, feeling overstimulated and disconnected. At hour number four of the party, a couple breezed in, said hello to the host, and then added, “We’ll only be able to stay for fifteen minutes. We’re dropping by another party tonight.”

Doh! From that point on, I realized it was perfectly fine for me to stay at a party for the amount of time it felt comfortable for me to stay. I don’t really give parties (unless three people coming over is a party), but I know for sure that I would not want anyone I cared about hanging around my party if they were really ready to leave. So now I apply that logic to myself.

* The friend, way back in college, who said “no” to the spur of the moment concert invite I’d given her. After a thoughtful moment, she said, “It sounds great, but I really want to have some time to myself tonight and enjoy my own company.”

Not only was I not hurt by her honest “no”, but she’d unwittingly given me permission to freely tell others that I wanted to spend time by myself — not the easiest thing to do at any age, but especially not back when I was twenty or twenty-one and staying home on a Friday night was not exactly the “socially condoned” thing. Thanks to this friend for being who she was and owning it.

* My grandpa, who took his after-lunch nap no matter what, no matter who was around, whether it was Christmas Day or a regular old Monday. His naps were a part of his daily routine and I don’t think it ever occurred to him to not take them just because guests were staying over for the holidays. They were something he needed; part of his self-care regimen. When he was done with his nap, he woke up and started talking. But during his nap, he was “unavailable.”

Here are four kinds of “breaks” I employ nowadays to rebalance and recharge when I’m around people during the holidays.

* Walk breaks. I tell people I need to stretch my legs for a bit and I’m going out for a walk. This works especially well if it’s really cold, because if it’s cold enough, no one will offer to join me.

* Journaling breaks. I shut myself into a bedroom or even the bathroom and write a couple of paragraphs in my journal. Sometimes just writing what I see around me is helpful because it reconnects me to the present moment. Sometimes I write more of a vent or a rant or whatever it is I’m feeling.

* Pet breaks. If there’s a dog, cat, or other animal in the household, I go and hang out with it for a while. Animals always somehow reconnect me with myself and have that nonjudgmental energy that can be truly helpful during certain, er, moments of the holidays. And if there’s a cat around, you have the plus of the purr. It’s soothing and research says a cat’s purr can even heal broken bones.

* Go-and-get-something breaks. If something is needed — more 7-Up, more paper napkins — I offer to go to the store and get it.

These are just a few things I do — I’m always inventing others. Because here’s the truth of it: the better I can take care of myself during the holidays, or any time, the more present I am to connect with the people I love. Just a ten-minute walk outside can work wonders for my ability to remain present.

And, here’s an article I wrote last year at holiday time on what to do when don’t get your downtime.

How do you take care of yourself AND connect with those you love during the holidays? I’d love to hear, in the comments. And to readers in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving!

Image is “Cone Alone” © Bx3t | Dreamstime Stock Photos

“I wrote to honor myself” ~ A conversation with memoirist Mary Montanye

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Mary Montanye is the author of the memoir Above Tree Line, which I had the joy of reading recently. To quote her website, it’s “the story of one woman’s spiral downward into physical and mental breakdown and her return to wholeness by courageously, and some would say recklessly, following her intuition.”

Mary and I got on the phone to talk about her experience of writing and publishing the memoir, and how she found support for the process of bringing it into the world. Mary is one of my fellow coaches in The Writer’s Circle, and she’s become one of my favorite people, too. I’m so pleased she took the time to talk with me, and my hope is that creators who are struggling to share their work with the world — or even to begin the process of creating — will gain courage and comfort from Mary’s writing journey.

You can learn more about Mary’s memoir (and read her terrific blog posts!) at her website, here.

Read highlights from our conversation below, or find the link to listen to our whole conversation at the bottom of the post (please note this more of a casual conversation, not a “formal” interview!).

* * *

Jill: I imagine some parts of this were much harder to write than others, emotionally.

Mary: Yeah, they were. And there were two things about that: Whenever I was getting close to writing something that I knew was gonna be really, really difficult, there were two things I did: One is, I reminded myself that all I had to do was write it. I didn’t have to share it; I didn’t have to publish it. There were many other reasons I was writing it. One is, I was learning how to write. Two, I was learning about me. I was honoring me.

That’s another thing, I think that many times writers have, somewhere in their childhood, been shut down. “Oh, we don’t want to hear about that,” or whatever. So, by me putting it down, I was honoring myself, and my voice, and my experiences, and my life.

So I told myself that, even if I choose not to publish this down the line somewhere, I still benefit. And when I did that, it made the writing of the hard stuff doable, and it also made it possible for me to be as honest as possible.

… And second of all, I told myself that even if I did choose to publish it somewhere down the line, I could remove anything that I didn’t want to have in there. If it was really too tough, if I was too afraid to have it out there, I would just remove it from the book.

And it ended up that I didn’t remove anything from the book. I mean, of course I tightened it … But it works to just let yourself do it, just write whatever. And then tighten, or delete.

Jill: So it sounds like there was a lot of permission to write it and not have to publish it, and then there was also permission to not have to put in those more difficult parts – that you could cut those out if you wanted to.

Mary: Yeah. I just had to constantly remind myself that, I have control over this. Just because I write it down doesn’t mean that I have to publish it. And it ended up that I did publish it, and actually, a lot of the fears that I had about that never came true: that other people would hate me, or judge me, or not want me in their life, or be hurt.

… I think you have to just bite off small pieces as you go along, and not think of it as some great big huge thing that’s gonna change the rest of your life, because that would be paralyzing. At least for me. But when I did it bits and pieces at a time, every piece that I did was beneficial.

And that even included the publishing. I mean, I’ve had people, especially younger women, that I never thought would even read it, say how much it has meant to them, and why. And that’s made it all worthwhile. This is why it was meant to be out there. And I can take fear.

Jill: So basically, then, it sounds like you were writing this for yourself. So would you say that if you had any audience in mind, it was just yourself? Kind of your own listening ear?

Mary: Yeah. Well, I also had a reader in that Mary [Allen, writer and writing teacher] was reading. She wasn’t changing things so much as she was just saying, “Tell me more about this. This is really interesting, could you write more here?”… So I had her as a reader, but she was a very loving, supportive, gentle reader. And in fact, having one person like that is really helpful in that she normalized some of this for me. Like, I was feeling so awful about myself, even this many years later, for doing some of the things that I did, and she would go, “Well, that’s really not all that bad.” And that sort of helped, too.

So I’m not saying never have a reader and just put it out there before you’ve ever had a reader, or never have a reader in mind. [But] have the perfect reader in mind: like, for a memoir, the most wonderfully accepting, gentle person that you could possibly imagine, who really wants to sit down and hear about your life, and not judge you for it. Because if you think about just a general “other” out there, like some big massive social media kind of other, it would be terrifying. I don’t know how anybody could write an honest memoir like that.

***

Jill: Another point that I wanted to bring up is self-care around this process of writing something that brings up so much stuff for us. That is bound to be emotionally taxing. And physically exhausting too, probably.

Mary: Yeah. Everything. Sometimes I’d just feel like all I wanted to do was go to bed. So I got to the point where I just let myself go to bed. You know, it’s okay. Or take time off, too. Take a week off. Or write something easier, write a little bit of history of the area, or something that isn’t like one trauma after another.

Jill: That makes a lot of sense. I think that as writers we can get into a mentally of, I’ve gotta sit there and I’ve gotta push through, especially maybe if we have some resistance coming up for us around a particular thing. And it sounds like you were very aware of your own exhaustion, and you must have had a lot of trust in your process in order to give yourself breaks when you needed it.

Mary: Well, I got it [trust]. I don’t think I had it right off the bat. But as time went on and I did it, I’d say, oh yeah, I’m noticing every time I write some really hard scene, that I don’t want to do anything but go to bed. Well, maybe it would be a good idea to just go to bed. It was through the process that I learned about me and what I needed, and what I could do and what I couldn’t. And that there was only a certain length of time I could write every day. About an hour, for this book, was it. When I got into editing, I could spend a lot more time, but the actual writing was not more than probably about an hour a day.

***

Jill: What would you say to people who have a story – or not even just a story but some piece of creative work, something they want to share with the world, but they’re feeling stuck or scared around that? Let’s say it’s a dream right now. It’s in sort of baby dream phase and nobody else knows about it, it’s just something they really feel strongly about but they haven’t taken any action to create it. What would be the first thing you would tell them?

Mary: Well, I would tell them first that, if they’re feeling this pull, this little dream, this tug, whatever you want to call it, that that’s your intuition saying that you need to do it. You don’t know why you need to do it, but there’s a tug there, there’s that intuition. I think we tend to ignore our intuition, and I’m somebody who doesn’t ignore her intuition most of the time.

And most of the time, or 99.9 percent of the time, I find out why it was important that I didn’t ignore it. It may not be what you think – it may not BE about publishing it in the world. It may be you’ll help one person. It may be that you will learn something about yourself that you need to learn. But whatever it is, the very first thing I would say is don’t ignore, don’t minimize the fact that we have that tug to do it. That would be my first.

And then my second would be to just begin. Don’t think very far in advance, and set aside some alone time where you won’t be bothered. And make it, like we say in the Writer’s Circle, make it sacred. And just begin. Simple. Twenty minutes, five minutes, ten minutes. And then just do something else the next day, and the next day. And just see where it goes. Because we can’t figure out in our head what the reason is. We can’t figure out the reason, we can’t figure out the end result. We can only figure that out by the actual doing of it.

So those would be my two main things. Don’t ignore, and then begin.

***

Check out the recording to hear more about Mary’s take on: being a writer who’s an introvert and a highly sensitive person; how Mary “discovered” she was writing a memoir; Mary’s process of sharing the draft of the book with people close to her; her publishing and marketing experience; and more!