There are always alternatives to pushing yourself

I often write here about how pushing ourselves too hard for too long can result in frustration, exhaustion, and burnout. (Which, ironically, slows us waayyyy down, and we’re usually pushing ourselves because we believe we need to go faster!)

A client said to me a while back, “But how do I know the difference between pushing myself to get something done and making enough effort to get it done? They feel the same to me.”

I totally hear this. Most of us have been raised to believe that pushing ourselves hard is some sort of virtue, and that pushing ourselves is simply necessary in order to achieve something.

I used to believe this, and it had much to do with being disconnected from my body and emotions and not recognizing what was true for me until I was exhausted (or sick).

I was all about ignoring the subtleties that tuned me in to what was happening for me.

In fact, I was so good at ignoring my body and my emotions that when I did start getting quiet enough to tune into them, I thought something was really wrong with me.

I became acutely aware of every physical sensation, every ping of hunger, every gentle sadness. I had bulldozed over my inner world for so long by pushing myself that when I started to tune into it, it felt very strange. It was like turning up the light in a room that had previously been dim.

Over time, as I began to gain more self-awareness, I realized there was not just “one mode” of moving through the world — there were actually many flavors of “getting things done.”

Pushing hard wasn’t the only way. I could choose it, for sure, but I discovered over time that doing so was not the kindest, or most effective, path for me.

There are so many ways “staying the course” can look and feel, whether we’re talking about a project that’s important to us or something else we want to stick with through the end.

And the key here is to decide what kind of relationship we want to have with this thing, and with ourselves.

Part of this is choosing language that resonates with how we want to feel. If you don’t want to feel exhausted at the end of the day, it might be best not to say “I really need to push myself today.” (I’ll point out here that some people truly like the feeling of pushing themselves! Even for them, though, there’s a point where it’s too much pushing, not enough allowing, not enough being — and it’s important to know the difference for yourself.)

What I shared with my client is the difference, for me, between pushing and tenacity.

Tenacity, for me, feels like hanging in there with something just long enough to stretch myself for the day, and continuing to show up and do that for the long haul. It’s like stretching a rubber band just enough to give it tension — but not so much that it snaps back or breaks.

We could also think of this as the commitment to keep showing up because we want and choose to show up. Do you remember being pushed to do something as a kid? Why was that person pushing you? Because they wanted you to do something you didn’t want to do, no doubt.

When you want to do something — even if that something is uncomfortable — embracing inner tenacity helps you remember you want to do this, and you will. But since there’s no pushing involved, you’re less likely to trigger that opposing force that says “No! I won’t do it!”

When we look at hanging in there with a project for the long haul, we can see that our energy will naturally ebb and flow — on some days, we’ll have more available to us than on others. Sometimes, hanging in there for the long haul might look like resting more. Sometimes, it might mean working on something just that little bit longer.

If we can pay attention to our body sensations and our emotions, we’ll start to understand what “enough for the day” feels like for us.

This is something we learn and refine over time. It’s life’s work for some of us. And that is a good thing! We will never “arrive” — there will always be more to learn about ourselves. If we push ourselves to “arrive” as fast as we can, we’ll simply end up in burnout, with the realization that “arriving once and for all” is an illusion. There’s no “there” there.

Ways to differentiate tenacity from pushing:

• There’s a “deliciousness” to tenacity. It’s stretching you, like when you use muscles you haven’t before, but you’re not collapsing.

• If you feel “shut down” (or want to shut down), you’ve probably been pushing. Remember that if someone physically pushes you, it’s a reflex to either push back, flee the scene, or freeze because you’re so stunned. All of that is tremendously rough on the nervous system, particularly if it happens again and again.

• When you are tenacious, you quit while you’re ahead. You end for the day feeling alert, maybe slightly used up, but not so used up that you want to avoid your project tomorrow. You’ve used up a good bit of energy, but you feel like there’s more where that came from rather than “totally wiped out.”

• If you sense a lot of inner conflict, like you’ve got one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake, you’ve probably crossed over into “push mode.” When we’re tenacious, we stay aligned with a certain lightness. It doesn’t feel like a slog.

Really getting this difference is not an intellectual exercise — don’t let your mind tell you what’s “enough” for the day. It’s a visceral thing, and it takes practice. Twenty-plus years of learning here for me and I still overdo it at times, still get caught.

So I need to keep checking in with myself, notice what works for me and what doesn’t, notice where I’m getting sucked into what I think I “should” do rather than what feels truly supportive and effective for me.

(For more related to this topic, you might find this post and this post helpful.)

What do you notice about the different between pushing and tenacity for you? Is it subtle, or more pronounced? I’d love to hear from you.

Feel like you’re “in limbo” this fall and need some support to move through it? My specially-priced Autumn Transition Sessions are underway.  You can find out more here.

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Above images of squirrel monkeys by RaychanVincent van Zalinge, and Diego Guzmán, respectively, on Unsplash

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Help for when you’re hitting the wall (a self-care round-up)

The picture above is the view from my pillows the other afternoon.

I had been experiencing neck pain all day, and I kept pushing and trying and pushing and trying to get something done. It wasn’t working.

This has tended to be my “default” for decades — there is a part of me that deeply believes that it is somehow noble and a sign of “never giving up” to keep pushing beyond the point that it’s actually helpful.

When my body finally communicated to me in no uncertain terms that it was time to lie down, I quickly began to see what I always eventually see in these situations: My tenacity is no longer helpful at the moment, and it is time to let go of the idea that I can control everything if I just push enough.

What’s interesting is that when I slow down enough to tap into that quieter, more restful energy, and don’t give into more “pushing” for a time, I am informed about the best next action to take.

And it’s almost always a simple action that just feels right. But I need to give myself that chance to tap into it — the opportunity to fill up again.

It is deeply ingrained in our culture to keep pushing. And tenacity, persistence, commitment, are indeed powerful and necessary qualities.

But those qualities sometimes look different than we think they will look. They sometimes look like just lying the heck down. They sometimes look like choosing to quit for the day. They sometimes look like saying no to an opportunity we sense will tax us so we can say yes to an opportunity we value more. (There is a lot of choosing involved in living the lives that feel most authentic and fulfilling to us.)

Genevieve the tuxedo cat makes a lovely napping companion.

In case you’re hitting that wall right about now, listed below are a few of the (many) posts related to self-care and not pushing yourself that I’ve written over the years. (It can help to see them in one place!)

Are you stretching or pushing yourself? How to tell the difference.

How to tell if perfectionism is running the show

Pausing is not the same as stopping

Overwhelmed? Step back, then scale back.

Momentum is not always obvious

Your self-care bottom line

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

Radical self-care: when your “normal” has changed

You only ever need to do one thing

Self-care and self-acceptance: when the pause is priceless

Welcoming the conscious pause

And by the way, choosing to “move away from the wall” doesn’t always look like resting. It might look like cleaning out a closet, or going to a movie, or calling a friend, or taking a walk. It’s however you choose to acknowledge that “this is no longer working, and I’m not going to punish myself by trying to bulldoze my way through this wall at this moment.”

It could be that, in the end, you recognize that you can simply walk around the wall. It could be that there is a door, covered in ivy, that you can open to get to the other side. It could be that you need to dismantle the wall, brick by brick, and you need a lot more help that you currently have in order to do that.

But we can’t see the big picture when we’re blind to any idea other than “pushing through.”

How do you know when you’re “hitting the wall” in terms of self-care? What clues you in? How do you give yourself permission to slow down (or stop) when you need it? I’d love to hear from you.

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Do you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority? I’d love to help! You can find out more on this page.

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Working with the things you can’t change

Truth be told, I am not a big fan of summer. (I actually really dislike temperatures above about 75 degrees F). Fall, on the other hand, is magic to me. I basically wait out June, July, and August — once September hits, I can see the end of summer and breathe easier.

But, where I live in the Chicago area, summer (and a long one at that) is a given. Unless I decide to seek out a place where there’s no hot weather, summer is going to be here whether I love it or not. It’s one of those non-negotiables.

Non-negotiables are those things that just are — we can’t change them no matter how much we may want to.

Byron Katie talks in her work about “the three kinds of business” — my business, your business, and God’s business (or you might call this “the universe’s business”). (Katie’s tool The Work is a powerful one for dealing with things we have limited ability to change that are causing us pain, by the way.)

You can probably guess that “non-negotiables” fall into the realms of God’s business and “other people’s business”. I have a certain amount of control and influence when it comes to the realm of my own business, but when it comes to those other two, not so much (or, in some cases, none at all).

The arrival of summer is one of those things that falls into the realm of God’s business. For a client I worked with recently, her “non-negotiable” was that her son is moving to another country soon (her son’s business). A part of her doesn’t want it to be so (while a part of her is excited for him), but no matter how she feels about it, it’s happening.

We don’t have choices about the non-negotiables — except in how we respond to them, relate to them, hold them.

When my beloved cat passed away last year, I didn’t have a choice about letting him go — he was going to go whether I raged against it, tortured myself over it, or tried desperately to keep him here. I chose to respond to his illness — on my better days, anyway — by keeping him as comfortable as possible, loving him tons, and feeling huge gratitude for the gift of his presence in my life.

A friend who has a chronic illness told me, “I can’t get rid of this right now, or maybe ever, but I’m using it to learn more about myself.” (Since I can hardly think of anything more rewarding than the opportunity to know oneself better, I was truly wowed by this statement.)

Sometimes, we can take a nonnegotiable and turn it on its head by simply focusing on the things we do like about it — even if they’re relatively few and far between.

Summer? Well, I like wearing sandals and skirts in the summer. They feel freeing to me. I like going to the Polar Bear, which is only open in the summer months, and getting a sundae or a shake. There’s a courtyard building a couple of blocks from me where I can spot the resident cats lazing on the grass — but only during summer, when it’s warm enough for them to be out.

And I like my memories of childhood summers, when I ran barefoot around the neighborhood, orchestrating the other kids into complicated creative projects, and watching the local music video channel with my friend-down-the-street, always holding our breath in hopes of seeing something by Prince or Madonna or The Thompson Twins.

So yeah, not a fan of summer — but summer has brought me plenty of joys.

We can also “better” our non-negotiables. When I had to get a root canal a few years ago, I scheduled it at a time when my partner could drop me off and pick me up so his presence could comfort me before and after. (He also bought me this while I was at the appointment. He’s good like that.)

Sometimes, the non-negotiables in our lives are simply there. They may strengthen our acceptance muscles, should we choose to use them that way. They may offer us a chance to deepen our relationship to uncertainty, or to know ourselves in a way we might not have without them. They may spark kindness in us toward ourselves that was previously absent, or a softening toward ourselves and all of life. I’ve learned — through the non-negotiables in my life thus far — to be so much gentler with myself and others than I once was (and, at times, fiercer than I knew I could be before).

What have you noticed about the non-negotiables in your life? I’d love to hear from you.

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

If you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority, I’d love to help! You can find out more about working with me, here.

Above images by Jake Givens, Clark Young, and Brina Blum, respectively, on Unsplash

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Deep rest creates deep renewal ( + meet our new feline friend!)

When I was in college, I worked at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago for a while, in a gift shop that was then known as the Koala Shop. The koalas lived there, in circular habitat at the center of the shop. Sometimes, when the shop was slow, I’d go up near the glass and just watch the koalas. They were almost always sleeping. Sometimes zoo patrons asked us if they were alive.

At the time, I pushed myself hard, always. I was anxious, and I didn’t believe it was okay to slow down, ever. (I didn’t yet realize that my inability to allow myself to slow down contributed to my anxiety, not the other way around — though it had become a vicious cycle.)

I found that I looked forward to being around the koala energy, though. When I stood at the register ringing up small plastic animals for a long line of shrill-voiced school kids, I liked to glance over at the furry gray bodies wedged in a thatch of eucalyptus, eyes slit. They reminded me to breathe.

***

As I write this, my cat has been sleeping for four hours under the dresser in the bedroom. When she wants to go into deep sleep, she retreats to one of several lairs around our home, and gives herself full-on permission to full-out sleep. (Actually, she doesn’t “give herself permission.” She doesn’t need it. She’s a cat, and she’s doing what a cat does. It’s we humans who need to give ourselves permission to rest deeply.)

I’ve been busy lately — overscheduled, actually — and I could tell I was reaching my threshold for busy-ness yesterday evening when my partner pointed out that he sensed I was going into “mini meltdown” territory (as opposed to what he calls a “category 5” meltdown, when I have pushed and overwhelmed myself to such an extent that I shut down after a lot of yelling and tears.)

“Mini meltdowns” are, for me, an indicator that it is time to allow myself to access a little bit of koala energy, a little bit (or maybe a lot) of that sumptuous rest my cat dives into each and every day. The sooner I recognize this, the less likely I am to reach category 5 territory.

So I gave myself the gift of deep rest today.

***

I remember a friend of mine from years ago who couldn’t stand waiting around for anyone. Whenever we waited, anywhere, for anyone, she crossed her arms and started tapping her foot. “I can’t be waiting around like this!” she’d snap. “I need to make use of my time!

I thought of her today because, during my intentional period of channeling koala and cat energy, I kept noticing how spacious the day felt — but my mind kept jumping in with “But you should be making use of this time!” (Minds will do this.)

What if we could allow time to support us, rather than believing we must “make use of it,” always? What if we could experience the sumptuous, luxurious hours my cat does when she retreats to her lair for deep, deep sleep? What if we could make deep rest not just an option, but a necessity?

The koalas in that gift shop, I see now, served as guides placed on my path. They possessed the precise energy and orientation to life that I needed to inform me at that time. (Look back over your life, and I guarantee you’ll spot several of these types of “messengers” on your own path.)

We humans are not cats or koalas, obviously — we have a different set of mental, psychological, and biological needs than they do. But they can remind us of our fundamental need for deep rest during some days, some weeks, and, sometimes, longer periods of our lives.

Rest is how we renew ourselves; it supports us in moving from one phase of life to the next, whether that’s into a new day, a new relationship, better health, or a new expression of our creativity.

Because I’d gotten caught up in the cycle of overscheduling, I hadn’t allowed myself this renewal until today. And here I am writing a blog post — not because it’s a “have to” on my list, but because it suddenly felt delicious to do so, in the spaciousness of this day.

***

And by the way, meet Genevieve! We welcomed her into our home quite a while ago now (huge thanks to The Animal Care League!), but I haven’t officially introduced her here.

While my dearly beloved Sullivan, who left us last year, was my CEO of Curiosity and Relaxation, Genevieve brings quite a different energy. We call her the Queen of Mayhem!

But she’s still a cat, a creature who transforms rest into high art. We love her more every day, and it’s fun to see her expanding her territory to the living room windows this spring (where she recently spotted a hawk on the neighbor’s fence!).

How do you allow deep rest into your life when you need it — whether it’s for a few hours, a day, or more? If you need deep rest right now, how can you find ways to give it to yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

***

Are you feeling stuck in overwhelm and longing to live differently? I’ll be continuing to enroll in my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program through May 13, 2019 (or until all spots are filled). I’d love to support you in this journey if it’s right for you. You can find out more, here.

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

Koala photo credits: top photo by Enrico Carcasci; middle photo by David Clode; bottom koala Photo by Mélody P, all on Unsplash

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The magic of giving yourself more time

Something I’ve noticed again and again while working with clients who want to let go of overwhelm is just how often we expect ourselves to make big life changes very quickly and easily.

When — lo and behold! — making the changes feels like it’s taking a long time and is not all that easy, we conclude that something is wrong.

Where does this mindset come from? For some of us, it’s deeply rooted in childhood, where our feelings might have gotten lost in the shuffle or, in some cases, were flat out not allowed.

For lots of us, too, the culture that surrounds us is focused on “fast and easy,” and we can feel exposed to this message hundreds of times a day. No wonder when things feel slow and difficult, we question ourselves! (This is where self-compassion is especially important.)

When we allow our feelings to surface, we have access to our intuition, and our intuition gives us a solid sense of how fast — or slow — we need to go to best serve ourselves. (Sometimes intuition prompts us to move more slowly and see what emerges, and sometimes it prompts us to take swift action and a lot unfolds seemingly all at once, but when we’re acting from intuition, that unfolding feels right, no matter its pace.)

There are times, for example, when I get an idea about something I might want to do, but when I start taking actions toward it, I can feel a forcing/pushing energy behind it that creates an “ick” for me. (“Ick” is my way of describing something that feels like it’s actually the opposite of where my essential self wants to go.)

If I keep on pushing through the “ick,” I notice I just create more of it. My mind may tell me I need to do this thing (whatever it is), but if I don’t take a giant step back at this point and investigate what’s behind the “ick,” I only end up feeling awful about the thing I thought I wanted to do/create/have.

If we’re in a big hurry, it’s always worth stepping back and questioning what’s going on for us. What are we afraid of? What do we fear will happen if we don’t hurry? How do we want to feel?

***

A while back, a client I was working with felt pretty sure that she wanted to quit her job — the mere thought of quitting caused her essential self to light right up. But when she started getting things in order to actually quit, she felt her version of “the ick”. Flow stopped, fear took over, and she felt frozen. Did this mean, she wondered, that quitting her job was the wrong move?

After we did some calming of her nervous system and she was feeling more safe and peaceful, she was able to see that although she did indeed want to quit her job, she needed to give herself a longer time frame in which to make that big step. Instead of “right now!”, she realized that giving herself six months to plan her exit felt really good and didn’t trigger the “ick”.

When she stepped back in this way, her intuition was more clear to her — she wanted to leave, but she needed more time to do that in a way that felt solid and grounded to her essential self.

Your essential self is the essence of who you truly are (as opposed to your social self, which is much more concerned with how you’re viewed by those around you).

I have learned that the essential self is never in a hurry. Its voice is that of our intuition, which, as I mentioned above, has a “just-right” sense of our unfolding — it’s not about “fast” or “slow”, but about the right pace for where we want to go next, where we (essentially) need to be.

On a smaller, day-to-day scale, giving ourselves more time when things feel hard can help us meet ourselves where we are, too. Whenever I have to figure out some new technology, I get edgy because I am not a techy person. I’ve noticed, though, that if I can block out an hour to learn something new, rather than expecting myself to “just get it” in five minutes, I usually learn it fine and don’t feel like I’m waging a war against myself.

How is giving ourselves more time in this sense different from “procrastination”? It’s the difference between approaching and tending to our feelings, and avoiding them.

What we call “procrastinating” feels so awful because we’re really in avoidance — not necessarily of the thing we’re “supposed” to do — but of ourselves, our feelings, and understanding more deeply what’s going on. (I can’t tell you how many times a client who’s judged herself for “procrastinating” has come to the realization that the “thing” didn’t even need to be done, once she got clear on what was going on.)

When we take a giant step back and ask what’s really going on here, we are generous with ourselves. We’ve taken the pressure off, calmed our nervous systems, and now we can clearly feel into what’s right for us and what isn’t. (If you need support here, you might want to check out my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program.)

When you have that “up against a wall” feeling, what happens when you simply choose to give yourself a little more time? I’d love to hear from you.

My Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program is enrolling now. If you want to let go of overwhelm and embrace your creativity, I’d love to support you. 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 images by Giv Meraj and Terry Richmond on Unsplash, respectively

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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

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Finding a creative routine that works for you

Many years ago, I had a full-time job that drained my energy and I really wanted to write a novel. But it wasn’t happening. Every time I got home from work, I felt brain-dead, turned on the TV, watched two episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (which happened to be on right when I got home), and kept the TV on for the entire evening.

I finally resolved to get up an hour early each morning and work on my novel before I went to work. I did that for exactly one day. I felt so sleep-deprived at work due to cutting off my last hour of sleep that the entire day was a slog.

The next thing I tried was writing during my lunch hour. Typically, I didn’t take lunch, because if I skipped lunch and ate at my desk while I worked, I could leave earlier.

Writing during lunch proved challenging. I felt distracted (my mind on the afternoon work I had to get back to), and extending my work day by an hour drained my energy (too overstimulating for this introvert).

The next thing I tried was writing after I got home. I resolved to not turn on Sabrina the Teenage Witch (no Salem for me!), go right to my desk, and work for an hour.

This failed miserably. Once I walked through my door, my system set itself to “relaxation mode” and the hour of writing felt like a climb up a mountainside with a boulder strapped to my back.

Now, you may be thinking at this point, Well, yeah! It’s hard. You have to force yourself to do it!

Except I didn’t want my writing to be constantly tied up with the feeling of forcing myself. The whole reason I wanted to write a novel in the first place was because writing brought me joy and purpose, and because reading novels had felt so joyful and purposeful to me. Forcing myself to write was not going to work for me for the long haul.

So I started looking at the elements that seemed important here.

• It was important to me that I was able to sleep as late as possible in the morning — that worked best for my body.

• It was important to me that I could leave work as early as possible — that created the most hopeful and positive feeling for me in my work day.

• Writing at home at the end of the day didn’t work because it was too tempting for me to succumb to TV at that time — I had to rely far too much on willpower at that time of day in that setting.

But then I thought — hmm. What about a different setting? What about writing after work, but not at home?

So the next thing I tried was heading to the coffee place that was next door to my workplace, right after work. I brought a spiral notebook with me, ordered coffee, and started writing. About forty-five minutes in, it felt right to call it a day.

I went home, turned on the TV, and did my usual nighttime routine — except my writing was done. I hadn’t had to cut off my sleep in the morning to do it, and I hadn’t had to take a lunch hour. And I could go ahead and relax when I entered my apartment.

Eventually, I decided on writing at the coffee place at least four days a week, right after work, for no more than forty-five minutes a day. (I discovered that if I tried to push beyond forty-five minutes, I got too much into the “forcing myself” zone and I started to rebel. If I kept it at forty-five minutes, it usually felt just right.)

Creating takes energy — there’s no way around it. And while it’s true that creating gives us energy (as Maya Angelou famously said), it’s also true that our bodies have needs, very real ones.

Since several years prior to this period of my life I had completely ignored my physical needs and ended up terribly ill, I knew I had to take my body’s needs seriously. I knew I couldn’t afford to let perfectionism take the reins again. I needed a “reasonable, realistic” creative routine.

Ugggh! Reasonable and realistic had to be two of my least favorite words. (Still true for me — I’m an INFP, after all!)

So I had to do a couple of things in order to allow myself to carry on with this “workable but not necessarily exciting” creative routine:

• I had to let myself be a regular, boring human who couldn’t crank out a novel draft in a weekend on a great wave of inspiration.

• I had to accept that my creative identity was changing — it was no longer about great highs and lows — I was no longer flying above the treetops or clutching a towel sobbing on the bathroom floor. My creativity was now going to be built into my daily life, in a quieter, more subtle, more sustainable way.

And this needed to be okay if I was going to have a healthy relationship between my physical body, my emotional self, and my creativity.

It took me about a year and a half to get to a complete novel draft, and another year to rewrite it. I didn’t “crank it out in a weekend,” but I did finish it. (And although this novel makes me cringe now, I used excerpts from it to get into a graduate writing program, where I became a better writer. No creating is ever wasted!)

It’s a fact: as much as we may not like to believe it (I know I didn’t), we have a finite amount of energy available to us each day. (When we’re going through big things, we’ll have less than usual.)

We don’t move forward by arguing with reality. We move forward by embracing it. When we tend to see lots of possibilities, it can be easy to get disconnected from the realities of our physical and emotional selves.

But we’re in physical bodies for a reason (if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be here, having this human experience!). We need to honor our creativity and our physical and emotional needs.

Finding the right creative routine takes testing and trying. I tweaked this routine in small ways many times, and my life is different now and I don’t have this routine anymore. We need to be open to what works for us now, and willing to let it change and evolve.

It’s possible to find a creative routine that works for you — even when it seems like it isn’t. What have you discovered about this for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

I am currently enrolling new coaching clients. Do you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care? I’d love to help.

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

Above images by Carli Jeen, Ella Jardim, and Kyle Glenn, respectively, on Unsplash

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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

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Taking small steps to align with your values

When I downsized and streamlined my life back in 2015, it was in part because I had identified one of my main values to be simplicity.

Now, simplicity can look like many things, but for me, it turned out that it did not involve maintaining an old house inside and out with tenants living in the downstairs unit.

Fast-forward three years to the present, and I am living the “simplicity” value more fully. To me, simplicity means that the commitments I’ve made are elevating me and not dragging me down, enhancing my life rather than causing me to feel scattered and dampened. There’s a feeling of lightness and focus to simplicity for me.

Still, living in alignment with my deepest values is a process and ever-changing.

While I have so much more lightness and focus in my life than I did before I moved, there are still times where something feels “off”, and I need to tweak what I’m doing, how I’m living. (Earlier this week I donated some clothing and shoes that I just didn’t need. I’d been hanging onto them “just in case,” but I realized there was no just in case, in this case, and it was time to let go.)

While moving homes is a big change, there are often small, subtle things we can do to live more in alignment with our values. When I work with clients, a fear that often comes up is that if they admit they truly desire change, they will have to completely overhaul (or totally blow up!) their lives.

So this is where I take a stand in support of the small, the subtle, the gradual. The truth is, even when we do overhaul our lives, it’s rarely a one-and-done sort of thing. It’s usually a series of disorienting changes that, in retrospect, feels like everything changed suddenly.

Obviously, sometimes we experience catalytic external events that do cause our lives to change rapidly: a fire, a diagnosis, a sudden death.

But when we’re talking about inner change, and the desire to align more fully with our deepest values, our essential selves, we can take small steps — even tiny ones, and notice the effect they have.

I especially recommend this if you are of a creative visionary ilk, as I am. I used to absolutely loathe the idea of “small.” I loved the idea of vast, expansive leaps — or, at least, I thought I did, until my leaping and lack of taking care of the vulnerable and sensitive parts of me landed me in the hospital at twenty-five.

The truth was, my visionary leaping and the reality of the needs of my physical body and emotional self did not always mesh. (As Byron Katie says, “When you argue with reality, you lose — but only 100% of the time.”)

And I find in working with my coaching clients, most of whom identify as highly sensitive or at least relate to that concept, that there’s often a disconnect between our “ideal” and what is actually true for us.

Sometimes the fear that if we align ourselves more deeply with our true values we will have to completely overhaul our lives can keep us from connecting with what is true for us.

What I have learned (often the hard way) is that there is power in small changes. Although I didn’t move to a new home until 2015, in late 2013 I took the step of just checking out various living spaces. That was all. I just looked. That small step of just looking allowed me to get curious about what kind of living space might help me align with that lighter, simpler feeling I desired.

Taking small steps also helps us test out our assumptions. If in looking at smaller living spaces I’d gotten a cramped, closed-down feeling, it would have been a clue to me that “smaller” was not actually the key to alignment with my value of simplicity. As it turned out, when I looked at smaller spaces I felt more freedom and a lovely coziness. That was my tip-off that I was on the right track. (“Cozy” seems to be a deeply-held value for me as well!)

Here’s a quick exercise to help you start taking small steps toward more alignment with your deepest values.

• Get a piece of paper and write three things you want on it. For example: more free time, more creative expression, more rest.

• For each of those things you want, write two qualities you believe having that thing would give you. For example: more free time –> a sense of spaciousness, a feeling of relaxation. Or: more creative expression –> a feeling of being more true to myself, connection to others who really get me. 

• Now, take one of those qualities and do one small thing to bring more of it into your life. For example, let’s say you choose “a sense of spaciousness.” What one small thing could you do to bring more spaciousness into your life? (For me, it was donating that stuff the other day. I love looking in my closet now because I see more space there!)

The most interesting thing, I’ve noticed, about taking small steps is that, over time, I actually move more quickly than I do when I overwhelm myself by believing I must make all the changes, right now!

(P. S. I wrote about the “power of tiny new things” here.)

What helps you live more in alignment with your deepest values? I’d love to hear from you.

And: My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are available now through November 16. Do you need support in navigating a life transition this fall? Find out more, here.

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

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Soft energy and true downtime

One of the most frequently viewed posts on this site is called “When your downtime doesn’t happen.”

I was reminded of it a while back when a client mentioned to me that she had blocked off a day just for herself, and when the day was done, she realized she needed more than a day.

I asked her to say more about this, and she told me she had spent the majority of the day worrying about all she had to do, and feeling guilty for taking the time for herself when the world is in such an urgent state.

It turned out, the day to herself didn’t feel restful or replenishing at all.

I nodded in recognition as she spoke, staring at some squirrels out the window who busied themselves with burying acorns in the lawn next to the neighboring condo building’s concrete patio.

How often have I experienced what my client did — blocking out some time to “just be”, and spending that time feeling crappy about what I’m not doing? A lot.

It’s even more challenging with the recognition that our world is in an urgent state. It needs us, and sometimes it’s hard to reconcile that with taking a day (or an hour) to replenish ourselves.

What’s going on here?

I’m reminded of a story Martha Beck told in one of her books (I can’t remember which one right now!). She was recovering from a medical procedure and told to go on bed rest. The bed rest was supposed to keep her from feeling stress and aid in her healing.

Except the longer she stayed in bed, the more stressed she felt. She called a nurse and explained the situation and the nurse said, “Get out of bed!” Martha did, and getting up and moving around felt much less stressful to her than lying still.

Sometimes, we have an idea of what “downtime” or “resting” is supposed to look like. But the truth for us will always be in how it feels to us.

***

This past Sunday, I took the Green Line into downtown Chicago to meet my friend for lunch. I wanted to meet my friend, but on the train ride I picked up some disturbing energies, and by the time I got off at State and Lake, my mood was foul.

Sitting across from my friend, though, my energy gradually shifted. We had a leisurely lunch and afterward I felt like meandering in shops and spontaneously bought a gift for another friend’s birthday. I hadn’t planned to do that — it just felt right.

I was doing, but it didn’t feel like doing. It felt like being.

Because I had shifted into being mode, the train ride back home was considerably less stressful than the ride there — even though the train stalled for a while at one point. When I got home, I felt replenished and energized.

Now, I generally don’t consider navigating the Green Line and downtown Chicago to be “me time”. But somehow this turned into spontaneous me time and felt like lovely downtime. How?

Because my energy had shifted. My friend’s relaxed company, the warm smile of our waitress, our leisurely coffee and omelettes, and our talk about our cats and rabbits had transformed my default tense, pushing energy into softer, allowing energy.

Which is exactly why my client’s planned downtime felt anything but restful. She’d blocked out the time on her calendar, but her inner state hadn’t changed.

True downtime is less about “not doing,” and more about accessing your feel-good energy. From that softer, non-pushy, feel-good energy place, you are better equipped to assess whether you actually want to “do” or “not do.”

(When I left my friend after our lunch, I could have just as easily gotten on the train and headed straight home — which, in fact, was what I’d planned to do. But my softer energy state led me to meander into a shop in which I not only found a lovely gift but had a lovely interaction with the woman who beautifully wrapped it for me.)

Now, yesterday I had a day where, although I had quite a bit I needed to do, I was able to do it all from home and it felt absolutely delicious to stay home with the fall air coming through the windows (the air conditioning is off, finally!). I was in the “soft energy place” and it let me know that puttering around my apartment, quietly getting things done, was exactly what I needed that day.

The next time you sense you’re in need of downtime, see how you might first access more relaxed, gentle energy toward yourself. It’s this softer, kinder energy we’re so often in need of, not necessarily “doing nothing” (though time to do nothing is absolutely crucial on some days!)

And we won’t change the world by neglecting ourselves. If you’re so frazzled you can’t think straight, you won’t bring your kinder, softer, gentler energy into a world that badly needs it. (One thing that is helping me take action toward the change I want to see AND stay focused on self-care is The Americans of Conscience Checklist.)

I’m curious about how you bring yourself to a place of softer, more relaxed energy when you need it. How does downtime play into that for you? How do you define downtime for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and need some support, check out these specially-priced sessions here

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

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