When the “small” isn’t small, at all

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

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

***

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

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

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

It mattered.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

I guarantee you, it matters.

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

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

Above image © Yoyo1972 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Coffee with your future self

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What qualities about her really strike you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above image © Monika Wisniewska | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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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

The power of “I wonder” + small group coaching in 2017

coffeesnow

Something I’ve learned in six-plus years as a life coach — as well as in observing myself! — is that we humans have a habit of asking ourselves some pretty crappy questions. Some of these questions are so automatic we might call them “default questions”.

A default question is an unhelpful question we habitually go to when we feel like things aren’t working for us.

Let me show you what I mean. A while ago I worked with a client who had recently started a new job. She’d sought out a coach because, about a month into said job, certain patterns were popping up that were making the new job look mysteriously like the job she’d left (and hated).

“Why does this always happen to me?” she asked.

Now, we could have gone there and answered that question. But “Why does this always happen to me?” was this client’s default question. In fact, when I pointed out that she’d posed it quite a few times over the course of our first session, she was unaware that she’d even said it.

That’s the thing about default questions — they’re not only unhelpful, they’re so automatic they’re outside our conscious awareness much of the time.

And yet, we create identities out of them! For my client, this identity was “the person who gives too much at work and gets way too little in return and either quits angrily or gets fired.”

Can you see how “Why does this always happen to me?” an unhelpful question? Yes, we could go there. We could eventually get somewhere by continuing to ask why. (Why? is a truly powerful question, when framed in a helpful way).

But, in this case, the question itself is making a huge assumption: that this always happens to the asker. And that can’t possibly be true.

So I didn’t go there with my client. Instead, I pointed out that the question wasn’t a great one.

And then I brought in some wondering.

I love the quality of “wonder”. It has, for me, the feeling of stepping outside to witness the glisten of just-fallen snow and the sparrow so light it lands right on top of the white sheen without making a dent.

I also love “wonder” as a verb. Did you notice how my client’s default question had a heavy undercurrent of judgment in it? That’s why default questions can be so damaging, especially when we don’t even know we’re asking them: They are almost always condemning the asker in some way.

Wondering, in contrast, is free of condemnation and full of curiosity.

One of my own default questions is “Why can’t you do this the way everyone else is doing it?” (I’m happy to say it’s no longer quite as default as it once was — sometimes I don’t go to it at all anymore, and when I do, I catch myself in it more quickly these days.)

It’s easy for me to see how this developed as a default question for me — from a very early age, there were often things I had trouble doing that “everybody else” didn’t seem to have a problem with (like playing kickball at recess).

Can you see why the question is not a helpful one? It’s got that undercurrent of judgment, and it’s also making the assumption that “everyone else” does something a “certain way” that I should certainly be doing it.

So what I’ve practiced over the years is a shift into wondering. It goes like this: Hmm … If I want to do this, I wonder how I could do it in a way that feels better to me?

Or, in the case of my client: Hmm … I wonder what it is exactly that feels really hard about your work situation right now?

When we wonder, we get to come to a situation, to ourselves, with beginner’s minds. We get to access a little of the feeling of the glisten of that fresh covering of snow. We don’t play into our well-established, age-old assumptions. We see that today is not yesterday, now is not then.

The first step here (as it so often is) is to notice our default questions. Sometimes we need someone else to catch them for us (they can be pretty sneaky) — a trusted friend, a therapist, or a coach is helpful here.

I also notice my default questions a LOT in my journal. When we actually take the time to write out what we’re thinking, we slow down our minds. We capture our thoughts in a moment of time and our default questions are forced out of their hiding places.

Do you notice yourself jumping to “default questions”? Where can you shift into wondering? I’d love to hear from you on this.

And: I will be starting a small group version of my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program in March (the one-on-one version of the program will return as well). If you’d like to make your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care, and would love steady, compassionate support in the safety of a small group setting, I encourage you to apply! Details will be posted soon, but if you’d like to get on the list for more info, please contact me through the form at the bottom of my Ways We Can Work Together page, here.

Above image © Creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

How self-acceptance can help you move forward (when it all feels like too much)

xmastreekitten

I’m writing this blog post on my iPad, sitting cross-legged in a chair in my living room, wearing snowflake-printed pajama bottoms, a pajama top with horses on it that I’ve had for a million years, and a ratty gray hoodie.

It’s nighttime, Mike & Molly is on TV, and I don’t even have the sound turned down. Across the room, my sixteen-year-old cat sprawls on the chair in front of the Christmas tree, his furry stomach rising and falling in rhythm to the alternating tree lights.

Why am I telling you this? Because I don’t normally write like this. I’m usually at my desk, and it’s much earlier in the day, and the room is quiet, and I’m definitely not in my pajamas.

I don’t normally write in my pajamas, at night, while watching Mike & Molly because, on a regular basis, that would feel kinda sloppy and chaotic and it would be hard for me to concentrate and go deep with so much background noise.

But you know what? This evening, it’s exactly right. (I almost wrote “write” there.)

It’s exactly right because I got hit with an internal wall of “resistance to starting” here after the holidays. And I know I’m not alone.

Starting a new year brings with it big plans, desired new beginnings, and maybe even endings, for many of us. And if we tend to do what I call “piling on the change”, it can all start to feel like way too much.

And that’s when we can find ourselves stalling out and not getting started.

When I say “piling on the change”, what I mean is starting with one thing we want to begin work on — say, a first draft of a book — and then adding other “big” projects just because we can: “And while I’m at it, why don’t I also start running every day, clean out the spare bedroom so I can turn it into an office, completely overhaul my eating habits, and develop a new webinar to offer next week?”

It’s funny how we feel we need to capitalize on that “new year energy” and start getting stuff done! Like, a lot of stuff! Before the energy leaves us and we lose our momentum and we realize we can’t do it all!

But hey … what if … we start with the realization that we can’t do it all (right now) — and go from there?

Rather than holding our breath and jumping into all these goals and hoping we can handle it?

The thing about holding our breath is … we’re not breathing. We’re not present. We’re not paying attention to our bodies.

If we start from a place of acceptance — of the fact that we are human, that we are who we are and therefore have certain limitations — whatever that may mean for us — how might we be guided?

I call this self-acceptance. It is actually a place of great strength, because it centers us in our truth. Not someone else’s truth, but our truth.

If we were willing to embrace what is true for us, right now, what might we discover? What inner wisdom might bubble to the surface for us?

For me, self-acceptance today brought me to the inner wisdom to give myself permission to write in my living room chair in my pajamas with the TV on.

It’s not the way I’ll choose to write all the time from here on, I’m pretty sure. But today its message was this: Just because it’s a new year, and there’s so much change you’d like to see in yourself and the world (oh, the world!) does not mean you are not allowed comfort. It does not mean you need to push yourself extra-hard. It does not mean you can’t spend a little more time appreciating the Christmas tree. It does not mean you are running out of time and you’d better hurry before you do.

As soon as I gave myself permission to shift into lightness, softness, comfort and peace, I found myself writing. I didn’t have to force it, I didn’t have to push myself. I didn’t have to “defeat my resistance”. Once I connected with what I was needing, and gave myself permission to give it to myself, I allowed the writing to come forth.

(By the way, as I finish this post, my cat raises his head, stares at me, yawns, shifts position and goes back to sleep. Cats have a way of reminding you that your issues are not all that monumental.)

If you’re struggling to “get started on it all” here in the New Year, what’s underneath that? What might you need to give to yourself? Where do you need permission? I’d love to hear from you.

“From here on out, there’s just reality. I think that’s what maturity is: a stoic response to endless reality. But then, what do I know?” — Carrie Fisher, Postcards from the Edge. RIP to a woman whose writing inspired me toward self-acceptance when I was young and lost.

Intuition — or something else?

moonnight(Scroll to the end of this post to learn about two important deadlines.)

Something that often comes up for the clients I work with is confusion around the concept of intuition. When are we acting on our intuition, and when are other forces at play, that may look like intuition, but actually aren’t?

I used to believe that strong emotions and my intuition were the same thing. It took a few very painful experiences for me to come to terms with the realization that this wasn’t true.

At that time in my life, just getting in touch with my emotions was huge for me, because I had learned to disconnect from what I was feeling over the years. So when I got back in touch with my feelings, I began to act on them, usually extremely quickly.

This looked like: Getting and quitting jobs, without much forethought at all; getting into (and out of) relationships without pausing to reflect on whether they were what I actually wanted; expressing my feelings to others, even when it wasn’t helpful or necessary; buying things on the spur of the moment; staying up and active when I needed sleep — the list goes on.

All of the above, I came to discover, was not acting on my intuition — it was acting impulsively. It was an important place for me to be for a while, since I’d learned so well during my teen years to bury my feelings and disconnect from them (and my body, where feelings reside).

There’s certainly nothing wrong with being impulsive here and there. (It can be fun, for sure!) But ultimately, I had to face the truth that this impulsive behavior was not necessarily helping me. 

And then I began to wonder: what IS intuition, then?

Let’s start with what intuition ISN’T:

It’s not action that comes purely from emotion (many times we think we are acting from intuition when in fact we are being driven by fear or anger).

It’s not wishful thinking (sometimes we can confuse the hope that something will happen with the idea that it’s meant to happen).

It’s not predicting the future (though acting on our intuition can certainly guide us toward important growth experiences, they may not look like we thought they would!).

Because we live in a very action-oriented culture, one of the most difficult things for us to do can be sitting with discomfort. (It can be hard to even give ourselves permission to do that!)

What I learned from my experiences was that my impulsive actions were often born of an unwillingness to sit with that discomfort. I thought I had to do something to alleviate it — and more often than not, I’d just create more mess for myself (like the time, at about twenty-one, when I cut my own hair, screwed it up, and then shaved half my head to “cover up” the screw-up).

Sitting with our discomfort and letting muddy water become clear, to paraphrase Lao-Tzu, is key to getting in touch with our intuition.

True intuition has a detached feel to it. There will NOT be strong emotion hanging onto a true intuitive prompting — it will feel simple, more like “I want to do this” or “I don’t want to do that.” Sometimes people describe it as simply “a knowing”.  (It’s the stressful thinking we pile on top of an intuitive prompting that makes it seem complicated!)

Intuition does not explain itself, either. If you hear a lot of “Well, I want to do this because of this and this and this and then hopefully this will happen but maybe Mom will be mad if it happens but I’ll figure out a way to deal with that and oh yeah maybe Bob won’t like it either if I do that but I’ll show him!” — that is NOT intuition, it’s your mind rationalizing an action you’re not clear you want to take (yet).

This is why it’s so important, when we’re unclear, that we start with our bodies and notice what we’re feeling, then let the emotions come up and through us, and then, when we’re in a calmer, more settled place, see what we know.

Because intuition, I’ve noticed, tends to hide from drama. Intuition is always there, and can always be accessed, so it’s not truly hiding; it’s just that the drama drowns it out and is so noisy intuition can’t be bothered with it.

(Intuition is kind of like my cat, who slinks off to hang out under the dresser when there’s too much company. It’s not that my cat hates the company; he just figures it’s not worth the trouble and will reappear when the environment is quiet and peaceful.)

Now, intuition does take our emotions into account. It uses them as information. And that’s an important point: intuition needs information to function.

Even “intuitive flashes” that happen seemingly instantaneously occur in part because our subconscious mind has picked up on various cues in our environments and factored in our reactions to them — all so quickly our conscious mind may not notice. (Here the classic example of choosing not to get on an elevator with a person who gives you a “creepy” vibe applies. You’ve only seen the person for a second or two, but something feels “off.”)

Our desire to please others, or our fear of loss and change, can sometimes keep us from being willing to access our intuition. I always encourage my clients to allow themselves to know what they know and to give themselves permission not to act on it right away. It sounds, um, counter-intuitive, but sometimes this is the safety we need in order to allow our intuition to emerge — particularly if we grew up in an environment where speaking our truth was not encouraged or accepted.

How do you discern between your intuition and other energies within you? What helps you access your intuition? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. There’s still time to sign up for one of my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions. If you’re in a life transition this fall and need some clarity about your next step, I encourage you to check them out, here. You can sign up through November 1, 2016.

Also, if you’re a woman at midlife who’s feeling stuck and yearning for change, I hope you’ll take a look at my dear friend Theresa Trosky’s program, What’s Next? Theresa is an extremely gifted Master Certified Life Coach, and she’s helped me (brilliantly) through some of my own challenges. Her program begins on November 2, and you can find out more about it here.

Above image is “Moon Night”, © Paolo De Santis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Recognizing your options (all of them!)

rusty signI was talking with an old friend of mine the other day and we remembered a situation we’d been in during college. It was a crappy situation, but we didn’t do anything about it.

“What the heck were we thinking?” we asked ourselves (our “today” selves). “Why the heck didn’t we just get out of there? It would have made things so much easier.”

Well, the answer is, our younger selves didn’t just get the heck out of there because we didn’t see getting the heck out of there as an option. We didn’t know we could just leave.

With the benefit of hindsight (and more than twenty years of life experience!), we could clearly see that we had many more options available to us than we recognized at the time. We could have chosen to leave the situation. We could have spoken up to change it. We could have brought humor to it.

But we did none of those things. We resigned ourselves to “just getting through it.”

***

I notice that I feel much more powerful and expansive than I did then. Sure, there are periods where I feel fragile, depending on what I am going through. But overall, I have a sense of standing on this earth with more steadiness, more perspective, a wider vision.

And I’m pretty sure this is directly related to the fact that I am aware that I have more choices than I believed I did in the past.

These can be actual, physical-world choices. But the choice that is most obvious to me today is in how I respond to what’s happening for me.

Back then, when I had the belief that I was stuck or trapped, it would send me into a flurry of frantic activity in which I would try to flee my circumstances, or, as in the situation with my friend, I would freeze, assuming I had no options.

What’s striking to me today is recognizing that, back then, I didn’t notice my belief. The belief “I’m trapped” was actually outside of my conscious awareness — I was reacting to a belief I didn’t even know I had!

Awareness of how our thoughts are triggering our feelings, and how our actions are triggered by those feelings, is key in recognizing our options. There are so many options we can’t see when our lives are being run by beliefs we never question.

***

Just today, I got triggered by an email request that seemed ridiculous and unfair to me. I felt a sense of anger and injustice rise up in me and I was ready to tell this person off. I started writing my email response in my head, in the most sharp-tongued tone I could imagine.

At the same time, I felt I had to take care of the sender’s feelings, so I felt a conflict — taking care of myself and taking care of the sender. Within probably thirty seconds of reading the email, my feelings were about to propel me to action based on this swirl of anger and confusion.

But: I stopped. I stopped and simply noticed the feelings coming up in me. After I sat with the feelings for a bit and just let them be, I could see that my feelings were based on the following thoughts:

How dare this person request this of me! Don’t they know I have a life?

I need to set them straight! They can’t think they have the right to request this of me!

What the heck is wrong with my life that I have to deal with this kind of thing? What am I doing wrong?

Wow. Look how quickly the thoughts evolved into a blanket statement about my life and its “wrongness”.

Now, I’ll be honest — ten years ago I would have acted on my anger and righteousness. I would have shot back a scathing email (probably cloaked in sarcastic politeness) and gone on to regret it. I likely would have escalated things with the sender and felt out of control and crappy and mean.

But when I stopped (and believe me, it wasn’t easy to stop, even after years of practice) and simply felt the emotions, I could trace them back to the thoughts the email had triggered in me.

And then I began to reconnect with my power. I began to see where I have control and where I don’t.

I can’t control what the sender thinks about me or wants from me.

But I can control the way I respond to it, and I can (from a place of peace) communicate that I would prefer the sender not make these sorts of requests of me. What that may look like, I’m not sure — I’m not calm enough yet! 🙂

What I do know for sure is that I have many more options here than to shoot back an angry email or to believe this person has some kind of power over me. And the key is to see those options.

***

Sometimes in situations like this, I write down dozens of things I could do instead of the thing my knee-jerk emotional reaction would have me do — even silly and ridiculous ones, like “climb up on the roof and do a manic dance in the rain” or “paint my toenails deep purple” or “kiss the top of my cat’s head”. Or “spray-paint LOVE on all the cars in the parking lot.”

I wouldn’t necessarily do all these things, of course (or maybe I would!), but you get my drift. There are tons of ways we can choose to respond that we may not be noticing — until we make a point to notice.

So, how do we notice?

• When your feelings are strong, don’t act, sit. Count to ten if you want to. Notice that sitting with strong feelings is only that — sitting with strong feelings. It will not kill you if you don’t act on them in that moment. You will not dissolve.

• Once you’ve felt the feelings, notice what thoughts bubble up, as I did above. (Sometimes it takes a while — maybe a few hours or a day in some cases — to allow your feelings to settle enough to recognize the thoughts that are driving you. Other times it’s a quicker process.)

• Question the thoughts you notice. Are they true? Are they helpful? What thoughts would feel better and more helpful and more true?

• Come up with at least ten ways you could respond. Notice your options, even if they’re seemingly silly ones like those I listed above.

• Now, ask yourself: is action necessary? Yes? What action do you want to take? Does it feel settled and peaceful? Then, do it. Action is good, when it’s inspired action.

It is always, always, the way we choose to respond in this moment that determines the course of our lives, because our lives are nothing more — or less — than moments, strung together, like thousands and thousands of fairy lights.

What do you do when you feel trapped or “up against it”? What happens when, instead of taking immediate action, you pause and notice your options? I’d love to hear from you.

Are you in “creative transition” and needing support? I’d love to help. I currently have openings for new one-on-one coaching clients. Find out more, here.

Above image © Alptraum | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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

eagle on beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagle image © Cecilia Lim | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The difference between “ready” and “comfortable”

gorgeous fall

Scroll down to find out about limited-time Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions. 

As I am settling into my new living space, I notice how satisfied I feel with this change. Being in this new place during the gorgeousness of fall, my favorite season, is lending a brisk beauty to this season of my life.

The other morning I was up with my cat at 4 a.m.  — he is a night prowler and shelf-climber, unfortunately (at least it’s unfortunate at that time of day). Even though it’s a drag to get up and monitor him at an insanely early hour, I often have insights at that time of day/night. (Isn’t 4 a.m. known as the witching hour? Hmm.)

The insight that came to me that morning was that, as with all the changes in my life that have felt most “right”, this move to a new home happened when I was ready for it, and not a moment before.

Now, what do I mean by “ready”?

There’s an idea out there in the world right now about “starting before you’re ready.” That if we wait to be “ready,” we’ll never begin.

I understand this concept, but my experience tells me something different. And I think it has to do with what is meant by “ready”.

I would say, “Start before you’re comfortable, but don’t start before you’re ready.”

For me, deep, true “readiness” has a feeling of acceptance attached to it.

With moving to this new home, for example, I wasn’t entirely happy about the change. For a long time after I began to perceive that it was going to be necessary for me to let go of my old home, I felt a lot of resistance to that idea.

About a year and a half before I made the move, I looked at apartments in the very building where I now live, and I had a feeling of wondering. Hmm, I wonder what it would be like to live here. I really like this street. I have a sense that I’d like to live here.

But: I was nowhere near ready to make a move at that point. My attachment to my old home was still so great that even thinking about a “real move” filled me with grief, exhaustion and overwhelm.

At that point, all I was ready for was wondering about where I might want to live next. The idea that I should be “more ready” to make a change than I actually was created lots of stress for me. (Funny how it’s always easier to see these things in retrospect.)

The shift for me came this past March or so, when I realized that even though things were still very much up in the air with my living situation and I was enduring frequent house showings, it felt right to simply be where I was. I stopped scrambling. I decided that despite the uncertainty of my situation, I was going to fully enjoy my home for as long as I had it.

And, from that place of full acceptance, I began to become truly, deeply ready to make a change. By June, my boyfriend and I had found our new home and we knew we would be moving in August.

But moving — despite feeling more truly ready for it — was not comfortable.

As I wrote previously, I had a ton of downsizing and letting go to do, on a number of levels. Aspects of that felt excruciating, not just from an emotional standpoint but from a logistical one.

And sometimes, in my new “streamlined” existence, I am still uncomfortable with the fact that I go looking for something that was part of my life for a long time and realize I donated it back in August. Or, now that my boyfriend and I do not have separate office rooms to go to, we sometimes feel on top of each other when we are trying to work. This change is not comfortable, even though I wanted it, I chose it.

pumpkintrio

Happy Halloween!

Another example: Back when I finished life coach training in 2011, a number of my fellow “cadets” began to go through the coaching certification process. My mind started in on a familiar loop: “Look at them! You’re falling behind. Hurry up and get certified!”

Luckily, my training had taught me to question my thoughts, and in doing that I realized that, deep in my bones, I was not ready to apply for certification. I wanted to do more coaching first. I wanted to “get” coaching at a deeper level before I went through the certification process so it would actually have meaning for me, rather than just feeling like a “should”.

This feeling came from a different place than the “never-quite-good-enough” thrust of perfectionism. It simply felt right to me to wait to get certified.

When I did go through the certification process, in November of 2011, I felt ready, but it was not comfortable. I still had all kinds of doubts and fears, but the way I knew I was ready was that I was not attached to the outcome. The process of certification was so “real” to me by this point that, even if I didn’t get certified, I knew what coaching meant to me, and I knew that I was a good coach. I’d walked coaching into my bones, and certification felt like a natural evolution of that process.

And, as it happened, certification went beautifully for me. But it wasn’t comfortable. I had all kinds of anxiety around it, but it was a different kind of anxiety than I would have had if I’d forced myself to go through the process six months earlier than I did, just as I would have had a different kind of discomfort around moving if I’d made myself do it a year earlier, just to end my discomfort!

(One of the most poignant things I’ve learned about humans since I became a coach is that, so often, in our hurry to end our discomfort, we create even more discomfort for ourselves. Then we look back and wonder what in the world we were thinking.)

What do you notice about the difference between the times you’ve felt “deeply ready” to make a change and the times you started too soon? Has being “ready” felt comfortable for you? I’d love to hear your experience.

Plus: In celebration of Halloween and the beauty of fall, I’ll be offering 30-minute Autumn Transition coaching sessions for just $39, now through November 25. If you find yourself in deep transition and not quite sure how to navigate your next step, I’d love to help. Find out more about Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions, here.

Above images © Jill Winski, 2015

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