Choosing your focus

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

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

Except — I stopped myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Calling in what you need (+ a summer writing opportunity!)

As I was doing some journaling before bed last night (you can read about this ritual of mine here), I realized I felt frustrated and at loose ends. I glanced over at my cat, who lay stretched full-length on the bed next to me. And a question popped into my mind:

What qualities are needed here?

Peace and ease, came the reply.

I wrote this in my journal, put it on the floor and called it a night. I didn’t sleep well, and when I woke up my first thought was, you didn’t get enough sleep, great. But I also noticed that, despite this, I felt basically rested (a glass-half-full recognition that is unusual for me!).

Even though I had a lot on my plate that needed to be attended to early in the day, I gave myself permission to take the length of walk that felt right, rather than just darting down the street for coffee and coming back home to get stuff done.

It was a warm and windy day — I’m not a hot-weather person but it was still early enough that it felt pleasant — and as I moved my body and felt the ground under my feet, my energy shifted. Except I didn’t fully notice it until I returned home, sat down at my desk, and started in on the things that needed to get done.

It all felt purposeful and relatively effortless, and I felt present and connected for all of it. The air-conditioned alcove of my work space felt pleasant and soothing, and my cat puttered around as I worked, offering me meows here and there but not getting oppressive as she often does when I work at my laptop. (Laptop is, for mysterious reasons, her nemesis!).

At some point, I realized I was truly inhabiting the morning. In fact, my entire home felt open, somehow, imbued with a curious spaciousness.

And then I remembered what I’d scribbled in my journal the night before: What qualities are needed here? Peace and ease.

That is exactly what the morning felt like for me, even though I’d forgotten I’d asked for it.

And from that place of peace and ease, the day moved so much more simply. My choices were clearer, my energy was used more wisely. I already had what I wanted to get when everything was done: a feeling of peace and ease.

***

When I work with clients who want to let go of overwhelm, we take an in-depth look at what caring for ourselves — that ubiquitous and broad term “self-care” — actually feels like for us. And what actions come from feelings of wanting to care for ourselves.

Often, it comes down to seemingly “small” and subtle —- but ultimately powerful — questions like the one I asked myself in my journal. What is needed here? What energies can I call in? What happens when I call in those energies?

When we ask helpful, supportive questions and call on the energies we need, we can let go of the struggle, the striving, the efforting.

It’s not “magic” — but there can sometimes be a magical quality to this kind of caring for ourselves. With practice, it can become a positive habit for us to ask these helpful questions even though we presently feel mired in the muck (as I did before bed last night).

I’m going to add the question “what qualities are needed here?” to my regular evening ritual for the next month or so, and see what happens.

And, at any time during the day (or night!), we always have the option to ask ourselves helpful questions, and to call in energies that can support us. When we do this, we remind ourselves that we have a choice as to how we respond to what we’re going through, what we make it mean, and what we intend for ourselves moving forward.

This also underlined for me that I do not have to force myself to try to feel certain things — I can instead choose to call on those qualities. When I simply call on them, I recognize that they’re already within me, I don’t have to create them out of thin air. (I often hear people talking about “working up their courage” — what if you didn’t have to work it up? What if you could simply call on it, because it’s already a part of you?)

What happens for you when you set an intention to call in what you need? I’d love to hear how this works for you.

***

Write with us this summer! I’ll be leading an eight-week summer writing group over at Called to Write — it starts in just one week, on June 3. If you have a writing project you’d like to get going on (or continue) with compassionate group support this summer, feel free to send an email to support[at]calledtowrite[dot]com to get all the details! We’d love to have you. The group will be kept to eight participants (at this writing, it’s about half full.)

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

Above images by Solaiman HossenAaron Burden, and Hannah Jacobson on Unsplash

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Reducing energetic drains (and clearing space for creativity!)

I spent three days inside last week due to dangerously low temperatures here in the Chicago area. Since I rely on walking outside every day to stay grounded (and it’s also the best way for me to connect with my intuition, I’ve found), needless to say, I got more than little bit of cabin fever.

Being forced to stay in, however, made me more aware than usual of my surroundings — I couldn’t get outside to escape them!

Toward the end of this enforced hibernation period, I found myself cleaning out my bedroom closet, which had become a swirl of unused gift wrap, shoes, things I meant to donate and just a general lack of any organizing principle.

This led quite organically into organizing my dresser drawers, and between these two areas, I got some bags of donations ready for Goodwill.

Then I deleted a bunch of stuff I no longer needed from my laptop.

I also brought a beautiful picture out of the closet that I’d framed but not gotten around to putting up.

These actions may seem relatively small, but they’ve had a big effect on my energy this week.

Confronting the tangle of stuff on the floor of the closet had been creating frustration for me on a daily basis, but because it seemed “mundane” I wasn’t dealing with it (a pattern of mine). The same went for the overstuffed dresser drawers.

That unnecessary stuff on my laptop was taking up space. And that wonderful picture buried beneath clothes I’d meant to donate? I wasn’t getting to experience it, and I badly wanted to (that’s why I’d framed it!).

Now it’s out in the living room where I can appreciate it, I’m pleased when I look into my bedroom closet every day, and my dresser drawers close with ease.

None of this seems like “big” stuff, but add up enough of these individual energetic drains and you can wonder why you feel sluggish, unfocused, or frustrated every day.

If you are very sensitive to energy, as I am, these things can really affect you. So just notice if you’re falling into the “I’ll deal with that when it gets really bad” camp when it comes to your immediate environment. You can certainly make that choice (I often do!), but you might want to try out the exercise below and just see how you feel afterward.

This exercise works best if you choose only one area at a time to focus on. Often, we let things pile up and up (both externally AND internally) because we think we have to take it all on at once. That feels overwhelming, so we say, screw it! I’m not doing any of it.

(A solid guideline here: If you feel any amount of dread, the step you’re considering is either too big, or it’s not the right one, right now.) 

Doing an energetic home scan

• Go into a room of your home (or an area of a room, if that feels more doable) and stand in the middle of it. Simply let your gaze wander around the room and notice what feels “off” to you.

(It won’t necessarily be “clutter” — it can be anything at all that feels draining. One of my clients felt drained by the lime green chair in a corner of her office — the color was overwhelming to her! Another noticed a humming sound coming from her TV that bothered her. )

• Now, make a list of what you notice. You don’t have to get too detailed (unless you want to).

• When you’re ready, repeat the process with another room, or another area of the same room.

• Once you’ve done this with each room, choose just one thing on the list to deal with this week.

(If it’s a bigger thing, you may want to break it down. The important thing is to begin. I found that when I decided to clear away just a couple of things that kept falling off a box in the closet, I spontaneously did more because it felt so good. When we’re really into the process, we tend to continue it!)

• Really let yourself celebrate and appreciate the space you’ve created. Let how it feels sink in.

***

Taking small steps to clear energetic drains in our immediate surroundings often leads to taking small steps to clear other, less “physical” drains.

After I did this clearing out several days ago, I found myself reevaluating a couple of commitments that have been feeling “off” to me, and I’ve decided to cut back on one, and let the other go completely. Clearing space in my environment seemed to open me up to clearing space within me as well.

(That picture buried in the closet really got me thinking: something I truly value is hidden from view, underneath a tangled mess? Interesting … )

By the way, not giving ourselves the space we need between doing one thing and another can be a huge energetic drain as well. Where can you allow yourself more space — if only just to take a deep breath — as you go about your day?

Where do you notice energetic drains in your home environment? What do they point to for you in other areas of your life? I’d love to hear from you.

Need one-on-one support in recognizing the energetic drains in your home? You might want to try out one of my Living Space Discovery Sessions. You can find out more on my Ways We Can Work Together page, here.

Want to stay connected? You can get info about my ongoing coaching offerings and other good stuff, here.

 Bird photo by Clever Visuals on Unsplash; lantern photo by Mira Kemppainen on Unsplash

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Reconnecting with what you want (when you feel a little lost)

With only a couple of days left in 2018, I took a look back at my year and asked myself some key questions. (You can check out some of these questions in my 2017 year-end post.)

I also thought about the clients I’ve worked with, and what had come up for them. And it seems that the most common issue I’ve seen this year is along the lines of this: I feel like I’ve gotten off-track, somehow. I’ve lost the path. Or: I feel so busy and overwhelmed, I’ve forgotten why I’m doing this in the first place.

In the process of creating our lives, we will feel off-track, like we’ve lost sight of the path, and even if we feel “on-path”, we will feel so busy and overwhelmed at times that we’ll wonder whether what we’ve created is actually what we want.

This is not a matter of “if I were doing it right, I wouldn’t feel this way.” I hear this so often. We’re so quick to jump from “this doesn’t feel good” to “I must be doing it wrong!”

Repeat after me: Feeling uncomfortable, off-track, or overwhelmed is not a sign that you are “doing it wrong.”

It’s simply a sign that something is calling out for your attention. Something wants to be looked at more closely. 

The more we “push through” and/or ignore this inner nudge to look more closely at what’s going on within us, the more out of control and “off-track” we tend to feel.

(Ironically, we usually bulldoze over our feelings because we’re afraid feeling them will cause us to lose control. It’s true that we do “lose control” in the moment when we allow feelings to emerge. But overall, we gain more control of our lives when we are clear on what our feelings are trying to tell us. I highly recommend Karla McLaren’s books The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy on this topic.)

Being able to sit with uncomfortable feelings as they arise is key to connecting (or reconnecting) with what you really want. 

Why? Because until we are coming from a “clean” emotional space, we will keep taking the same actions that lead us to results that aren’t really what we want. I have written here before about making decisions from a place of peace, and I have quoted Lao-Tzu, who asked if we can find the patience to allow “muddy water” to become clear. At that point, said Lao-Tzu, the “right action” will arise by itself.

I have found this to be true in my own life time and again. But most of us are really resistant to believing this, because it requires a certain degree of trust to let go enough to allow our “inner muddy water” to become clear.

If we haven’t had a lot of practice in exercising our trust muscles — trust in ourselves to make solid decisions, and trust in the process of life — it can feel downright scary to not rush to action.

But, as I’ve often written here, when we rush to actions that feel “muddied” because we are so afraid of being still, we often make messes that we have to undo, or we perpetuate the same feeling we are trying to get away from by taking rushed action!

I am a prime example of this. As young as age ten or so, I developed a coping mechanism of getting through life by avoiding my emotions, rather than moving toward what I wanted. This coping mechanism became so automatic that by my mid-twenties my body literally broke down. Pushing down emotions only works for so long, my friends.

Our emotions are messengers for us. When we can sit with them, let them move up and out, without taking action on them right away, we clear the way for our intuition to emerge. It is our intuition — the voice of our essential self — that will point us to (or back to) what is deeply true for us.

So when we feel like we’ve “lost our way,” what’s usually going on is that we have been avoiding emotion.

It’s extremely common for me to hear from a client, “I feel like I don’t have time to deal with my emotions!” (This is coming from people who know the value of emotional work — that’s why they’ve signed up for life coaching! Our culture really drills into us the idea that we don’t have time to feel. We must challenge this idea.)

Now, once we have allowed emotion to come up and out, and have cleared the way for the voice of our essential self to make itself known (this voice can be quite subtle, which is why “muddy” emotions can seem to blot it out), we’ll often find that what emerges is one simple step to bring us closer to ourselves.

That’s it. Intuition does not come to us in a series of complicated steps that extend into the distant future — it is usually just one step, one “best” next step.

I was reminded of this while doing my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions this fall — the whole purpose of these sessions is to connect folks with their “best next step.” It never fails to delight us when, once we’ve let the muddy water clear a bit, that best next step pops right up with intensity. It may be a seemingly “tiny” thing, but it’s always strong and clear.

What’s fascinating is that once we’ve allowed our feelings to emerge, rather than pushing them down, we often find that we’re not as “off-track” as we think, or that our overwhelm is directly connected to the pushing down of our feelings, not to what we’re doing or not doing.

The good news here is that allowing our feelings to come up and out does not have to be some laborious, time-intensive process where we remove ourselves from our “regular lives” for weeks or months. In fact, it’s vital that we weave connection with our feelings into our daily lives.

When we connect this way, just checking in with how we’re feeling on a daily basis, we feel “off-track” far less, because in tending to our feelings and the message they have for us, we are clearing the way for intuition — the voice of the essential self. (You don’t have to actually “sit” with your feelings, by the way. I find walking, moving my body, most helpful for connecting with my emotions.)

How will you connect with what you’re feeling on a daily basis in 2019? What have you noticed about this process for you? I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I wish you a beautiful start to the New Year. 

(For more related to this topic, you might also find this post from last year helpful, or this one from years ago.)

Want to stay connected? You can get updates on my coaching offerings and other good stuff by subscribing to my monthly-ish newsletter, here.

I’ll be working with new coaching clients starting January 10, 2019. Wondering if I might be able to help? Feel free to check out my Is This You? page.

Above photo of candle by freestocks.org on Unsplash; snow globe by Aaron Burden on Unsplash; lamppost by Hide Obara on Unsplash

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

On gratitude, appreciation, and right timing

As we near the time of Thanksgiving here in the U.S., I want to circle back to something I’ve been doing for quite a while now. (I wrote about it in this post.)

As a complement to writing morning pages, I have been doing “evening pages” since early last year. I don’t do them absolutely every evening — usually it’s more like once or twice a week at this point. In my evening pages, I simply answer this question: “What worked today?”

It feels fitting to mention this at Thanksgiving time, as I notice it’s become a kind of unintentional gratitude practice for me as well. In answering this question in my journal, I never fail to notice so much that worked during the day that I would not have noticed if I weren’t choosing to focus on it.

For example, yesterday a woman held the door for me for a long time when I was struggling with my bags. (This on a day when I had also complained to my partner about the rudeness of another person I’d encountered.)

Until I sat down to my evening pages, I’d already forgotten about the kindness of this person who held the door — but when I set an intention to think back on what worked, she popped right into my mind.

It’s easy to get swept up into dark territory these days (I think you know what I mean!). And I’m not saying we should “be positive!” and ignore important issues that must be dealt with. But we must also choose to notice how much goodness is present. How much kindness, how much generosity.

***

My evening pages have also pointed me to something else: the rightness of timing.

One of my “default” fears is that I am moving too slowly, that I take way too long to get where I need to go. While I have accumulated all kinds of evidence that this is not true, it still tends to be a go-to fear for me, particularly when I am feeling thwarted in some way.

I noticed this happened for me on Sunday, when I ran into technology issues while trying to get my monthly newsletter out. The more frustrated I got, the longer it took, the more I noticed myself going to that default fear: Why are you so slow? Why does everything take you so freaking long? You’ll never get anything important accomplished. You’re always behind where you need to be.

Although the technology issues had nothing to do with me personally, my poor mind tried to make sense of them by blaming myself and deciding the problem was that I was just too slow. (This is a “child-me” thing — children blame themselves for all kinds of things that have nothing to do with them. With their limited power and perspective, it helps them to make sense of things. How often do we do this as adults, even though we have far more power and perspective than we did as children?).

Finally, I stepped away and decided I’d deal with the newsletter on Monday. As I did my evening pages Sunday night, I found myself writing about all kinds of things during the weekend that had been good timing for me. Things that might not have happened if I’d forced myself to do other things.

Like: I regretted missing a volunteer opportunity Saturday morning — but during that time, I met up with this adorable little dog I know (and his people!) in my neighborhood. We watched this lovely creature bound through the fall leaves, losing his little lime-green “dog booties” — three of them popped right off as he ran — which caused all of us to laugh, and didn’t phase the dog at all, who just kept right on frolicking.

I was so grateful for witnessing that — it felt so nourishing to me — that I went right to it in my evening pages. But if I’d forced myself to do the volunteer thing I’d thought I “should” do that morning, I’d have missed it.

So, my evening pages have given to me this helpful question: What if my timing is perfect? Most humans tend to have a deeply-ingrained habit of asking ourselves unhelpful questions. Focusing on what works, what we cherish and appreciate, can point us to far better questions. 

***

I’ll be taking the end of next week off for the holiday, but you can still sign up for one of my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions through tomorrow, Friday, November 16. If you’re struggling with a tricky life transition this fall and need some support, I’d love to help. You can find out more about these sessions, here.

In the meantime, I wish you much to cherish and appreciate (whether you observe Thanksgiving next week or not!).

What do you notice when you shift to focusing on what worked today, or simply what you appreciated? I’d love to hear from you.

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

Above images, respectively, by Evie Shaffer and Alvan Nee on Unsplash

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Knowing yourself and saying no

An opportunity to do something I’ve been wanting to do popped up out of the blue today. Except, it was very last-minute. As soon as I read about the opportunity in an email, and realized that the timing felt off for me, my whole body kind of deflated.

Thinking about taking the opportunity felt draining — definitely non-energizing. My body wisdom was clear, and I decided not to take the opportunity without much more thought.

This got me thinking about the importance of knowing ourselves, especially in this day and age of so much FOMO (that stands for fear of missing out, on the off-chance you’re not familiar with this ubiquitous term!).

I used to agonize terribly over most decisions — particularly when I sensed I might need to say “no” to something.

“Yes” tended to be my default position — if only to avoid potential conflict. (“No” was a word in my childhood that caused more conflict than any other, so by the time I was an adult, it was fraught with all kinds of stuff for me. I recently watched an episode of Mad Men where Sally Draper says “no” to Don — and the ensuing madness confirmed that Sally Draper is my childhood self’s fictional soul sister.)

When I think back to my twenties (from the perspective of my forties), I sometimes wonder why I was so upset about certain things, or why some things I’d deal with swiftly and deftly today turned my world upside down back then. Good grief, I’ll think, picturing my twenty-three-year-old self. What the heck was my problem?

And then I remember, connecting with compassion for this dear younger self of mine: It’s because I have a kind of “self short-hand” in my forties that I didn’t back then — I can quickly act from an accumulated self-knowledge that was undeveloped back then.

(That’s not to say everything is easier now. Some things are a lot harder than they were then.)

It is precisely because I agonized so many times over decisions in the past, and explored what was going on for me with all that agonizing, that I don’t often freak out over decisions in that same way these days.

I know now that there are few decisions that are permanent, there are few opportunities that won’t ever come again (and if some are truly lost, there are others right there waiting), and people can handle it if I say no (even if it doesn’t seem like it in the moment).

And because I know myself better than I did twenty years ago, I understand that one of my gifts is picking up on all kinds of subtleties and complexities — and that the “downside” of this gift is that if I focus too much on those subtleties and complexities, I can get lost in them.

And that means recognizing that not every decision requires weighing a bunch of things out. And some decisions do. And because I know myself better than I did at twenty-five, I intuitively sense which decisions are which for me.

I also know that picking up on all these subtleties and complexities means that sometimes things feel wrong to me when in fact nothing is wrong. I’m just picking up on a lot, and it needs to be sorted or let go, and I probably need to take a step back and reconnect with myself. When I didn’t know this stuff about the way I processed things, life was a heck of a lot harder.

So sometimes when I am working with a coaching client who is facing a challenging situation, I will ask: What do you know about yourself when it comes to situations like this? How do you tend to feel? What do you tend to do or not do?

Usually, a wealth of self-knowledge pours forth from the client when I ask these questions. They know a lot about themselves and have only temporarily “forgotten” (the brain-fog that often happens for us when we’re really stressed). And they need to be reminded that they have forgotten.

For me, for example, when someone rushes me to make a decision, if I don’t have all the information I need, I can’t access a clear yes or no for myself. If they push me further, I’ll tend to shut down.

Knowing that about myself, I’m able to say these days, “I’m not able to give you a clear answer on this until I have more information (or more time, or whatever).” That keeps me from moving to the shut-down place.

But if I have gotten to a place where I’m feeling shut-down, if I ask myself “What do I know about myself when it comes to feeling like this? What does feeling shut-down often mean for me?” — I can gain perspective again: Oh, when I’m feeling shut-down it usually means I’m pushing or forcing myself to do something too quickly. Oh, yeah. Maybe I can slow down here. Maybe I can allow myself to catch up with myself.

What do you know about yourself now that you didn’t twenty years ago, or ten, or five? How does this knowledge help you make the best decisions for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. As I wrote this post, I got an email update. Turns out the opportunity I mentioned, that felt too short-notice for me, has been rescheduled — for a date and time that feel just right. 

Coming up: I’ll have openings for new one-on-one coaching clients as we head into fall. Do you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care? You can learn more about working together, here.  Or, take a look at my Is This You? page.

Want to stay connected? You can subscribe to my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

Above images of feather, © Popa Sorin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and sparrow, © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

The power of catching up with yourself

The other day I was trying to hang a picture in the bedroom. The back of the frame had a tricky hanging mechanism, and I kept trying to get the picture on the nails in the wall and it wasn’t hanging quite straight. And then it kept falling down. I tried again and again and I couldn’t get it to work.

I’d had this vision of having this picture on the wall because I’ve been journaling in my bedroom more lately. And this picture had been sitting in the closet for a while.

But I couldn’t get it to hang right. Even when I got it to hang relatively straight, it still seemed like it might fall down at any moment.

Finally, I gave up. But after sitting in my frustration for a few minutes, I knew a solution would present itself. It hasn’t yet, as of this writing. But it will.

I tell this story because it’s a very simple example of the way we often approach more complex situations in our lives. We have a vision of something we want. We try to achieve it in a certain way, using certain tools. It doesn’t work, and we try again, the same way. Sometimes again and again and again. Sometimes this goes on for years.

We’re sure we need to get it done like this. If we just try harder, and enough, surely we can make it happen?

This kind of experience can be particularly frustrating for people who are really good at getting things done and making them happen. My early experiences in life were often full of putting my mind to something and doing it! So as time went on and I, inevitably, ran into situations where just doing it didn’t work so well, no matter how hard I tried, I became extremely discouraged.

This discouragement was a huge blessing, however. When we “fail,” we are given a chance — if we take it — to catch up with ourselves.

When we pause to catch up with ourselves — to process and integrate what we’re experiencing rather than immediately moving ahead to try something else — we take the opportunity to be shown what’s not working for us. And what is.

Sometimes, for example, our actions are fine — the problem is that we’re expecting immediate results when the results might take some time to come to fruition. This doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong.

Sometimes, we do need to take different actions. But if we don’t pause to assess how things are going, we get into that cycle of doing the same thing (that isn’t working) and expecting different results (the definition of insanity, an idea sometimes attributed to Einstein).

Where this can get tricky for us is when something once worked really well, but no longer does. It can take a while to get that things have changed — either within us or outside of us or both — and something new is called for. This is where we need to have lots of patience with ourselves. It takes time to catch on and learn — this is part of being human. It doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong.

When we take the time to simply catch up with ourselves, we welcome the power of sadness. As Karla McLaren says in her books The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy, sadness does not always mean we are overtly sad about some particular event. McLaren says that sadness is “the watery emotion,” and it helps us let go of what’s not working for us.

Until I began to allow sadness into my life on a regular basis, I often clung to things that weren’t working, or I clung to ways of being that weren’t working for me.

One of those ways of being was treating myself harshly. In fact, one of the most frequent learnings for my life coaching clients is that they are much harder on themselves than they need to be. (The women who’ve taken my Stellar Self-Care Program often come away with the recognition that in many ways they are already practicing really good self-care — they just haven’t been giving themselves credit for it because their “default” way of being is to notice what they’re not doing right.)

Often this harshness toward the self is in a “blind spot” — that part of ourselves that is not visible to us unless we have some way of shining a light on it or adjusting our perspective.

When I think of myself getting more and more frustrated while trying to hang that picture, I can see how quickly my mind’s belief that “because I envision it this way, it should work this way” was challenged, and how automatically I became harsh with myself because it wasn’t working that way.

The problem wasn’t necessarily that the picture wouldn’t hang the way I wanted it to, but that I believed it should hang that way, and that my failure to get it to hang that way meant I had done something wrong. (I caught myself thinking, “I should never have put these holes in the wall! I should have known it wouldn’t work!” Really?)

I notice that writing this blog post has helped me “catch up with myself” in regard to the picture-hanging incident. A small thing, to be sure, but sometimes what is simple and “small” can shed light for us on how we deal with the bigger, more complex “roadblocks” in our lives.

What do you notice about how you deal with it when something doesn’t work? What happens when you take time to “catch up with yourself” before taking more action? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected?  For updates on my coaching offerings and other good stuff, you are welcome to sign up for my Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

And: If we’ve worked together previously, I have a summer special for returning clients that ends August 31. Feel free to contact me through my Ways We Can Work Together page if you’d like to learn more!

Above images of frames, © Vlntn | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and water droplets, © Iryna Sosnytska | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Are you clearing space for your creativity?

My sister came over yesterday and pointed out that my kitchen table was a bit unruly. It was, actually, piled with stuff.

I tend to create piles — and I’ve come to realize that they are part of my thinking process and the way I move through the world. I focus on this over here, and then a little on that over there, and I collect and sift through lots of feelings, thoughts, and information as I do. My piles are the physical manifestation of this flow from one thing to another and back, integrating it all as I go.

So I don’t try to eliminate my piles, as I once did. I simply set an intention to keep them on the small side.

My sister’s comment yesterday caused me to notice that the kitchen table piles were becoming a bit monstrous. So today I set about doing some clearing there.

When you have a task like this, it always seems worse once you begin it, and then after you’ve put about fifteen minutes into it, and can see some progress, you realize it’s not going to be that bad if you just work on it a little at a time.

I didn’t end up clearing off the entire table today (I got it down to one tiny pile and one medium-sized one), but what I did achieve freed up so much space, and I was able to sit there with my journal and feel a lightness I haven’t felt since … well, since the last time I did some clearing of the kitchen table.

This got me thinking about how, on a grander scale, we can 1) become blind to the clutter in our lives (it can become part of the landscape, whether it’s clothing we no longer wear or a group we no longer want to be a part of);

and 2) that quote attributed to Einstein about how you can’t solve a problem from the same consciousness that created the problem. The mind that sees all kinds of obstacles is not the same one that sees all kinds of freedom, all kinds of possible solutions you’ve never tried before.

The problem-seeing mind tends to keep on trying to solve things in the way that didn’t work — sometimes for years.

The mind that sees all the ways it is already free of the problem is coming from an entirely different space. This mind has more space. It sees space.

So one of the things we can assign our problem-seeing mind is the clearing of space.

What I noticed as I cleared my table today was that I changed. As I focused my attention on the task at hand, I began to engage my more creative, space-seeing mind. My body began to relax — I could feel space opening up on the table, but also within me.

How often do we try to stuff something into our lives without clearing space for it? How often do we try to know the unknowable — try to see our way into our future — without first creating an opening for the new?

When I went through those piles on the table this morning, I found coupons that were long expired, sketch paper I’d forgotten I’d purchased, a card from a friend I’d forgotten to put in a folder I have labeled “nice things”. The piles were composed of the past, and unmade past decisions. Small ones, to be sure, in this case, but never the less, the piles on my kitchen table were like a holding station that zapped some of my energy every time I glanced at them.

I’d become blind to this, however, until my sister’s comment alerted me to it. I’d have seen it eventually, but it was good, today, to face it.

And how do I feel? Like there’s that much more space in my life for my creative brain to do its thing. When I look at the kitchen table now, I see possibility instead of a problem.

Clearing space might also look like:

  • Questioning your “have-to’s” and choosing to let them go
  • Letting go of a draining relationship
  • Being ultra-selective about where you focus your time and attention

Where in your life can you clear space and allow your creativity to enter? What do you notice about how clearing physical space makes you feel? I’d love to hear from you.

P.S. I have a fun new offering for one-on-one coaching clients — if this blog post resonated, you may find it of particular interest! You can learn more about my Living Space Discovery Sessions on my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Above images: flowers and sky, © Maunger | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and seashells and starfish © Grafvision | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Comparison and the “iceberg theory”

Sometimes when I am working with a life coaching client, I become aware that there is a kind of unspoken self-judgment going on for the client that has to do with comparison. It often shows up in a desire to give up on something difficult they’ve started, or a belief that “something is wrong” with them.

If we unravel these beliefs a little bit, we often get to a deeper belief that might be something like “If I were meant to do this, it wouldn’t be so hard for me.” This is just a shade away from “It seems so easy for _____. What’s wrong with me that it’s easy for her, but hard for me?”

Geneen Roth once wrote that we tend to compare ourselves to people whose struggles are not apparent. Which brings me to what I call the “iceberg theory” of comparison.

We’ve all heard the phrase “that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” alluding to the idea that there’s a lot more to a problem or situation than the little bit we’ve touched on.

We can apply this idea to people as well: there is always more (sometimes much more) going on beneath the surface, below what we see “above the water.”

This applies even to people who share a lot about their struggles. One of my clients a while back compared herself to someone in her same profession who revealed a lot about herself on her blog. My client said, “There’s no way I could be so comfortable with revealing everything about myself.”

Notice the assumptions there? One, that the blogger was “comfortable” about revealing things about herself and her life. And two, that what she was revealing about herself was “everything.” That we were seeing the foundation of the iceberg beneath the water, when maybe we were just seeing a little further down the iceberg than my client would have chosen to let an audience in on at that point.

There is always more — there is always stuff we’re not seeing in those to whom we compare ourselves.

When I started my relationship with my partner more than seven years ago, I compared myself to him a lot. It seemed like so many things I struggled with came easily to him. And some of them truly did! (The excellent coach Theresa Trosky posed this question to me at the time: So those things should be easy for you, too?)

At some point our relationship turned a corner, and I began get back in touch with my own strengths, while still appreciating his, and also to realize that early in our relationship, his struggles had been far less apparent to me than they are now. In the first few months, I could only see the “tip of the iceberg” of my partner’s self. Now, I see much more, but I still don’t see everything. Just the other day he mentioned something that had been really hard for him to do, and I was surprised — I hadn’t known he struggled with that.

I have also had the experience of comparing myself to someone who truly did experience a lot of ease and joy in his life, most of the time. It wasn’t that he didn’t have heartbreak or disappointment, but he handled those things with a grace I couldn’t fathom finding in myself.

I felt a strange and painful combination of envy and admiration for him until one day I got the lesson: I wasn’t supposed to be him. It actually seemed to be true that I did struggle more in a lot of ways than he did — and maybe, at the end of the day, that was okay, because my life had a different purpose, a different thrust, than his.

When I finally got this at a deep level, not only did I feel a huge relief (and found this person much easier to be around!), but I realized something that has continued to be a theme in my life since then (nearly twenty years ago now): When I’m comparing myself to someone else, it’s a chance for me to practice deeper self-acceptance. Because the more self-accepting I feel, the less I seem to have the need to compare myself to others.

***

The purpose of the iceberg metaphor is not to provide a way for us to point at someone else and say, “She doesn’t really have it all together — we’re just not seeing how messy her life really is!” It’s a way to remind ourselves of the humanity, complexity, and depth of others — that they, too, struggle, despite how it may appear to us on a given day.

When I work with a client who’s caught in comparison, we first apply lots and lots of kindness and empathy. Our current world makes it easier than ever to compare ourselves (not to mention there is a part of our brain that has the sole purpose of comparing, in order to help us survive!).

Then, we reality-check. Can we really know it’s true that things always go so smoothly for the person we’re comparing ourselves to? And even if life does tend to go pretty smoothly for them much of the time (or they’re just really good at handling it!), what are we making that mean about us? (As my coach Theresa helped me see years ago, just because something that was easy for my partner was really hard for me didn’t mean there was something wrong with me or that I couldn’t achieve it, too, with the right perspective and support).

At the heart of comparison, I’ve noticed time and again, is the belief that if we are struggling, there must be something wrong. With us. With our choices. While there are definitely times it’s possible to drop the struggle, a certain amount of struggle is inherent to our humanness. So it’s always worthwhile to do some investigating here about what is true for us.

What do you notice about comparison, for you? Does the “iceberg theory” resonate for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You are always welcome to subscribe to my Artist’s Nest Newsletter, for updates on my life coaching offerings, to get in on our community calls, and other good stuff. You can sign up, here.

Above images © Staphy | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Viktor Burkovsky | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.