The power of evening pages and “it’s done” lists

journalpenIf you are a regular reader of my posts, you know that I am a big proponent of morning pages. They are part of my morning ritual, part of my creative process.

And they never feel like a chore to me — I look forward to them, because there’s no way I can “do them wrong.”

They are simply a brain dump, and if they move into deeper journaling and other forms of writing, great. If they don’t, they don’t; I’ve taken that time in the morning to connect with myself, to take a look at my mind on paper and see what’s going on there. It’s a great way to become more conscious of what I’m thinking, and how that thinking is affecting my life.

Lately, though, I’ve instigated a habit of evening pages, too. This might sound like a lot of rituals, but honestly, evening pages take but a few minutes, and they’re making a significant difference.

I decided to try evening pages because I noticed myself feeling overstimulated and jittery before bed, probably from too much iPad use (and my dear, overworked iPad died just the other day, so maybe life is trying to tell me something). Evening is also the time that my brain gets fired up with thoughts that go something like “so much isn’t working and there’s so much more to do!”

Here’s the way I’ve been approaching evening pages: I sit down with my notebook (pen to paper, no electronic devices), and I write this question at the top of a fresh page: What worked today?

The answer may be something seemingly small or even insignificant — “I ended a phone call before I started feeling drained”, “I drank a glass of water instead of more coffee”. But making a note of it in my evening pages causes me to realize just how much good I create for myself in a given day, and, often, how those “insignificant” things I barely even notice actually make a true difference.

After the “what worked today?” question is answered, I move on to an “it’s done” list. The “it’s done” list is the equivalent of crossing off the items on my “to-do” list, but it feels much more real and satisfying to actually write down what has been done. And there is always so much more than I realized, if I look for it. Yesterday, I wrote down eight things — yes, eight — that I hadn’t even noticed I’d accomplished.

What I’m noticing is that this nightly process is helping me go to bed focusing on what I’ve already done, rather than how much there is to do.

Even things that are in the process of getting done (the big things that may take weeks or months) feel better and more manageable to me when I notice what I’m already doing and how much I’ve already done.

And the biggest takeaway I have from this process is that nothing is too small to note. It’s the voice of perfectionism (the pushy, hyper-critical aspect of perfectionism) that tells us “only the big things count.” The big things are, most of the time, made up of tons and tons of teeny-tiny things we did to create them.

One of the most significant things I’ve learned from six-plus years of working with my life coaching clients is that the more we focus on what’s working in our lives, the more we focus on what feels good and right to us — no matter how small it may seem at the time –the more of that energy we invite into our lives.

So often our tendency to is keep our focus on what’s not working. Yes, it’s important to notice when something just doesn’t work for us. If we don’t notice it, we can’t change it.

But we can get into a loop where we think if we can just “figure out” what’s not working and why, we’ll get to the bottom of it and move forward. What I’ve found is that the more we focus on what’s not working, the more evidence of things not working we find, and around that track we run.

So we need to commit to celebrating what is working, and what we have done. We need to remember to celebrate all of  it.

How do you remind yourself of what you’ve already accomplished? How do you celebrate it? I’d love to hear from you.

And: On Monday, March 6, enrollment begins for my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. I’ve been offering this one-on-one coaching program since 2015 and it is such a joy and an honor for me to witness the changes my clients make as I partner with them in this process. If you feel overwhelmed or overworked, or like you’re always putting others first and are ready to put YOU at the center of your life, I’d love to help. Find out more about the Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program, here.

Also: In late April, I’ll be offering a group version of this program. If you’d like to explore this content with a group, please contact me and I’ll send you the info on the group version. You can contact me about the group version through the form on the Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program page, here.

Above image is “Blank Page of Journal” [cropped] © Daniaphoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The question that cuts through your overwhelm

sadgirl

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

• I need to permission to do it all wrong.

• I need permission to not do it all.

• I need to be kinder to myself.

• I need to recognize where my true responsibility lies.

• I need to take a long walk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above image © Jose Antonio Sánchez Reyes | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Keeping self-care simple during the holidays

ornaments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Give to yourself first.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above image © Katrina Brown | Dreamstime Stock Photos

There’s no right way to process change

squigglyhearts

Many of us here in the U.S. are struggling to cope with our feelings about the results of our election this week.

One of the themes I’ve noticed over the past several days, for myself as well as clients, colleagues, and community I’ve connected with is something like this: I’m not sure how, or when, or where, to express what I’m feeling. 

I’ve heard several people say — as soon as a few hours after the election results came in — “It’s time to move on and stop talking about it.”

Whoa! This is big, for all of us (including those who are happy with the results of the election). How about allowing ourselves a little time to process this change, if that’s what we need?

I’ve also noticed myself feeling compelled to respond to others’ pain when I had nothing left in me to give. I’ve felt both comforted and exhausted by social media posts. I’ve wanted to grieve and process alone, and then very quickly wanted to grieve and process with others.

I’ve noticed that there’s a difference in feel between those who seem to want to hurry on to avoid what they’re feeling, and those who want to move on to create positive change without dwelling on what’s done. And probably many of us are experiencing all of the above.

I have so much compassion for all of this. When we’re hit with big change, each of us will respond based on our past experiences, who we are today, our unique temperaments, and the way we’re wired.

The bottom line for me: I want to feel safe, and I want others to feel safe. I want to be kind, and I want to honestly express what I’m experiencing when and where that feels safe and necessary to me. I don’t want to trample on anyone’s beliefs, and I need to honor my own.

I can care about you and disagree with you. I can love you, and need to process what I’m feeling in a way that is quite different from your way.

What if, as long as we are not intentionally hurting anyone else, it’s okay to process big change in whatever way we need to process it? As quickly or as slowly, as outwardly or inwardly, publicly or privately? With lots of talking it out, lots of contemplation, or a combination of both?

What if whatever we need is just okay? And what if, by open-handedly giving ourselves what we need, it helps us feel okay with others taking care of themselves in whatever way they need to as well?

I write a lot about self-care here, and how we really can’t totally separate self-care from other-care. What if the ultimate act of self-care is gentleness toward ourselves when we’re just not quite sure what we need? And that, in cultivating this gentleness toward ourselves, we’ll be better able to extend it to others as well?

How do you know how to best take care of yourself — and respond to the needs of others — during challenging times? Do you tend to move through big changes quickly, or do you need to process more slowly? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image © Madartists | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Inauthentic — or unfamiliar?

carouselhorses

There’s something I sometimes notice in people who are sensitive, creative, and for whom authenticity is a deeply-held value.

We frequently believe we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do something because it feels wrong to us. It feels inauthentic — not like who we are.

And it’s important to notice that feeling, to see what it has to tell us.

When something feels inauthentic, it seems like we should run from it, or at the very least, let go of it. And sometimes, that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to recognize that we’ve come into contact with something which just isn’t in sync with who we are, and we need to move away from it.

But: sometimes we’ve come into contact with something that is unfamiliar, and because it feels unfamiliar, our minds immediately label it “inauthentic”.

Let me give you an example of how this showed up for me at the tender age of, oh, about five.

A little friend of mine (most of my friends were little then, I was five!) went to a different school than I did, and her school was having a “fun fair.” She kept talking about the fun fair and how excited she was about it, and how she wanted me to go to it with her.

And I began to dread this “fun fair”. Just the idea of something that existed for the sole purpose of “FUN” felt overwhelming to me. (What exactly was this mysterious fun that was to be had?)

I had already decided, at five (though not consciously), that something like a fun fair was not me. I would rather play quietly with one or two friends — that was me.

I could never have articulated this at the time, of course. I just knew that there was no way I was going to the fun fair! The fun fair was definitely not going to be fun for me!

At this point, my parents and I had already had quite a few go-rounds with me not wanting to do things. They found this quite confounding. Everyone else wants to do it! they’d say. Why not you?

In fact, there was something else at work, something I wouldn’t understand for years: my sensitive nervous system got easily overstimulated by situations that were unfamiliar to me. I even got overstimulated by thinking about new situations. Which was why I was dreading the fun fair that my friend couldn’t wait for.

However, on this particular occasion (in what, looking back, I see as a stroke of brilliant parenting) my mother told me something like this: “You don’t have to go to the fun fair. You can go if you want to, but you don’t have to go. Take some time to decide.”

This took a great weight off my five-year-old mind. Instead of being dragged somewhere against my will, I was being given the opportunity to choose.

I pondered the idea of the fun fair over the next several days, and eventually I went up to my mother while she was working in the kitchen and said, “Mom? I’ve decided to go to the fun fair.”

Now, the fun fair WAS most definitely overstimulating. There were echoey noises of kids yelling and running, and there were clowns (eek), and games where you could win a goldfish in a bag (my friend and I each won one, which at the time greatly excited me, but poor goldfish!), and I came home with a lacquered figurine of a bright orange squirrel with sparkly green eyes, which I had also won.

The fun fair was overstimulating, and it was FUN. Both/and.

And had there been another fun fair the following month, I might have gone without getting quite so overstimulated, because the fun fair would no longer have been unfamiliar to me. And because it was no longer unfamiliar, I would have gotten to know myself in that environment, and understood how I could show up there authentically, if I wanted to do that.

***

Our minds tend to do a fascinating (and not always helpful) thing: when something is unfamiliar to us, but maybe seems a little like some other experience we had that we really didn’t like, we put it into the category of “oh no! not that again,” and decide we’d better avoid it.

There are SO many good things (and people) in my life that I’d have missed out on if I hadn’t questioned my mind’s tendency to do this.

When we’re overstimulated because something is new and unfamiliar to us, of course we don’t feel authentic. Being overstimulated doesn’t feel good; we don’t feel like who we truly are when we are overstimulated.

But if we can choose to ride out the overstimulation in favor of exploration, of being curious about something new, as my five-year-old self did, we can give ourselves more options. And we can learn that what is “authentically us” may be vaster than we’d imagined.

(It’s definitely worth mentioning here that, for those of us with sensitive nervous systems, managing overstimulation is vital to our well-being. So I’m not saying “just throw yourself into overstimulating situations all the time and go ahead and burn yourself out.” We must choose wisely for ourselves and bring ourselves back into balance. The key is to remember that we have choices, usually more than we think we do.)

Have you labeled something “inauthentic” for you when in fact it was simply unfamiliar? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S.  In celebration of my favorite season, my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! I offered these last fall and worked with some wonderful folks. If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and feeling stuck or scared, you might benefit from one of these sessions. The format is the same as last year, but I’ve made them 45 minutes in length this time around. Check them out, here.

Above image © Jack Schiffer | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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

hamster

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above image © Johanna Goodyear | Dreamstime Stock Photos

How time distortions keep you from getting things done

I love how this clock looks like it has cat ears.

I love how this clock looks like it has cat ears.

Here at the beginning of a new year, a curious phenomenon has arisen in the work I’ve been doing with my coaching clients. It comes down to this: what we believe about how long something will take is directly related to whether or not we actually do it.

These types of beliefs are time distortions, and a good example of this phenomenon comes from Seinfeld. There’s an episode where Jerry is trying to convince himself that it won’t be that bad staying for a few days with his parents in their Florida condo. To make the impending visit feel shorter, he tells himself that he can’t really count lunches and dinners and taking showers as part of the visit — so, actually, the whole visit will be “like fifteen minutes!”

Have you done this? I know I have. When we’re dreading something, our minds will go to all sorts of lengths to help us cope.

This is in some ways helpful and productive — I know there are experiences I would probably have never exposed myself to if I’d known in advance how hard and stressful they were going to be.

But my mind convinced me that “it wouldn’t be that scary.” In some cases, it was far scarier than I’d imagined, but in the end I was thrilled that I had the experience (so, thank you, dear mind!).

More commonly, though, our minds can protect us into not doing something at all (that we either want or need to do) with these types of distortions.

A client I worked with recently had not completed the “homework experiment” we’d set up for her. (I refer to any homework I give clients as an “experiment” rather than an “assignment” because approaching something as an experiment tends to engage more curiosity and less resistance. But not in this case!)

When we dug into why, it turned out that she’d been thinking the homework “would only take thirty minutes or so” and she could knock it out the night before our session. When we looked honestly at the homework, though, it was clear that she would need a minimum of three hours to do it.

So why had she decided it would only take about half an hour? Because she had a lot of resistance built up around doing it, and the only way she could bear to face it was to think that it would be over in a very short amount of time.

In this case, that meant she put it off until it simply didn’t get done. And I have a lot of compassion here, because I have SO done this.

Here’s another example, from a different client. She’d told a close friend she would run an errand for her, but hadn’t done it. For a month she’d been waking up thinking “I really need to do that today. I should do it.” Then she wouldn’t do it and the next day the whole cycle would repeat.

When we took a look at why she wasn’t doing the errand, another sort of time distortion revealed itself. She was certain the task was going to take hours and that it could become very complicated, and that she might have to get help to complete it that she wasn’t sure she could get.

I told my client that, while I could be wrong, to me it sounded like the task shouldn’t take more than about an hour to complete (and this included driving time). We looked at what would be the worst that could happen if, in fact, it did take her as long as she feared. “It would be really stressful and annoying,” she laughed.

But she agreed to go ahead and do it the next day. I told her to email me as soon as it was done and tell me how it had gone (this kind of check-in with someone who cares about you can be SO supportive!).

She emailed me way sooner than I’d expected to hear from her. Why? Because the task, including driving time, had taken her exactly 18 minutes — no complications, no extra help needed. Just straightforward driving to an office to pick up a folder and dropping it off at her friend’s house.

How do we keep ourselves from getting sucked into time distortions? Well, first we need to get our thinking about the task we’re avoiding out of our heads, where we can see it more clearly. It helps to write it down, or speak it aloud to yourself or someone else. (So often our thinking is automatic, bypassing our consciousness. We need to see it “out there” in order to be aware of it.)

If you notice there are time issues in your thinking (“I can write a draft of my chapter on the twenty-minute train ride”) and that you feel a considerable amount of anxiety with that thought, you can be pretty sure that what you’re telling yourself is deeply unhelpful. (We almost always avoid things because of the anxiety they bring up in us. If we can lessen the anxiety, we’re going to be far less likely to avoid them.)

So experiment with some mantras that will help you do a reality check when it comes to how long something will take. (Often, we just don’t know, and that needs to be factored in.)

Here are some of mine:

I won’t know how long it will truly take until I start doing it.

If it’s going to take a long time, I’d rather get started sooner than later. 

I want to feel as calm and grounded as possible around this action. What will help me feel that way?

All of these sentences give me a reality check. And for those of us with, shall we say, vibrant imaginations, reality checks can be a valuable part of our artist’s toolbox (as much as we might cringe at the idea of “mundane reality”!). As long as the reality check is supporting our bigger vision, it’s all to the good. 

What do you notice about how distortions of time play into your fears around getting things done? I’d love to hear from you.

And: Need some help moving your creative work forward in the new year? For a limited time, I’m offering three-packs of 30-minute coaching sessions. You can find out more, here.

Above image is “Old Distorted Clock,” © Jolin | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Welcoming the conscious pause

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Conscious paws are always welcome 🍃

Somewhere on the continuum between torturous procrastination and frenetic “just so I feel like I’m doing something” action is a place of pausing. Of breathing. Of looking around, looking within, and inquiring: what do I really want here? What is it I truly need?

Or perhaps this place, which I call conscious pausing, is not on that continuum at all. Maybe it is actually off that continuum — the silent, sometimes-sacred space you step off the path to claim, like the big rock next to the river that runs along the highway.

I mention this place of conscious pausing because it took me four days to recognize that I was forgetting it was available to me. I returned from visiting my family for Christmas a week ago, and allowed myself a couple of days to recharge (which a younger me would have felt like a slacker for allowing myself, so, yay! Progress!).

But after those two days, I began to ping-pong between a feeling of severe procrastination (I should be doing something, but what? how?) and impulsive activity that felt pointless and disconnected.

(One sign that I, a Myers-Briggs INFP, am “in the grip” — read: under stress — is that I start taking urgent actions that actually make things worse. If you’re at all interested in personality type theory, it’s worth reading up on what your type looks like when it’s “in the grip.” You can start to recognize these behaviors in yourself and regroup.)

Once I noticed how I was acting, I realized my desire to “start the New Year off right” had caused me to fall back on old black-and-white thinking: “If you’re not doing productive things, you must be procrastinating. And if you’re procrastinating, you suck. And now 2016 sucks. Bah!” (Humbug.)

But the key, my friends, as always, is in noticing — a seemingly benign word with a ton of power.

Because once I noticed my swing from one end of that aforementioned spectrum to the other and back, I was able to consider the possibility that I had another choice. That, instead of beating myself up for procrastinating or jumping into frenetic doing, I could take that conscious pause and reconnect with what I truly wanted and needed.

***

Here are some questions I find helpful when I realize it’s time for a conscious pause.

(It’s good to ask them while placing awareness on your breath. I often find that writing the questions and my answers in my journal gives me a bit of detachment from myself so I can see what’s going on in me more clearly. But you can also speak them aloud, or have a friend read the questions to you.)

How exactly am I feeling right now? What emotions are coming up? (If you’re not sure, start here: are you more mad, sad, glad or scared?)

How does it feel in my body right now? (I have a headache, my chest is tight, my knees hurt.)

How do I want to feel right now? (excited, hopeful, peaceful, relaxed?)

How does my body feel when I’m in that place? (get specific here: my spine straightens, my pulse slows, I breathe more deeply.)

What thoughts am I having about the immediate future?

(Here are some of mine as examples: I can’t get it all done. I’m already behind. I won’t make the deadline. I can’t show up fully for my client.)

How can I change these thoughts to thoughts that feel better but also feel true? (When you work with your thoughts, you must believe your new thoughts — your essential self will not be fooled by hollow “positive affirmations”!)

Here’s how I changed my examples above:

I don’t have to get it all done, only the priority stuff. (I believed that.)

Exactly WHAT am I behind? A semi truck? (The frantic part of me didn’t have an answer for this; she just sort of laughed, nervously.)

If I absolutely can’t make the deadline, I can find a work-around. I’ll see it better when I’m in a place of peace.

I can offer my client my imperfect presence, my listening, my best for today. That is all I can ever do. It’s been enough in the past, so why wouldn’t it be enough now? (My frantic self rolled her eyes and scowled at me a bit here, but I could see her shoulders relaxing despite her best efforts to act intimidating.)

***

After you check in with these exercises, you’ll notice that what you’re wanting and needing will be all over your answers to the questions. (It’s amazing how easily and automatically we forget to ask ourselves what we want and need!)

It really helped that my cat climbed into my lap while I was checking in with myself. Is there anything more grounding than a warm feline?

By the way, you don’t have to answer all of these questions (you don’t HAVE to do anything!). You can start with the first one, and move on as it feels right. You may find relief after the first two.

Or, you can nix the questions altogether and simply focus on your breath and the fact that you are, indeed, choosing to consciously pause and stop the madness! What I love about going through these questions, though, is the clarity I come out with on the other side. Every time I see my behavior, my thinking, my feelings, with more clarity, it’s that much easier to navigate the stress when it arises the next time around.

Here’s to conscious pausing and a juicily creative 2016! How might you integrate the power of the conscious pause into your intentions and goals for the new year?

You only ever need to do one thing

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Yesterday I was having one of those days where my mind spun with all that I was sure needed to be done. I sat at my kitchen table, staring out the window, trying frantically to access peace (as if “frantic” could ever be the way to peace).

There was so much I should be doing, surely, but it felt like there was so much that there was no point in starting — with such a huge to-do list, anything I did would only constitute a drop in the overflowing bucket of what must be done.

This is a familiar place I can go to when more than “the usual” is on my plate, and that’s the case for so many of us at the holidays. Even though I’ve made a conscious decision to do things more simply this year, I still travel for Christmas and, grrr — traveling? Not my favorite thing. I like being there, I just don’t like getting there.

As I backtracked and took a look at what I’d been thinking yesterday morning, I realized I was focused on the sheer hell that plane travel would surely be, and what a drag it is that every year I endure this, and how with everything going on in our world I have an extra layer of fear right now, and on and on.

And then I felt selfish and self-centered for not being able to be a “bigger person” and have gratitude that my parents are in good health and I have this opportunity to see them at the holidays.

This is a good example of what our minds tend to do (my mind is hardly unique in its patterns!). When we fixate on something we’ve decided will be unpleasant, reinforce the expected unpleasantness with fearful thoughts, and then judge ourselves for having the thoughts in the first place, we get into a vicious loop.

When we’re operating from that loop, it looks like only eliminating the circumstance we’re convinced is making us unhappy will restore our sanity — or, only making the exact “right choices” within that circumstance will keep us safe, secure, on steady or virtuous ground.

If feeling good is dependent on either eliminating circumstances or choosing the “correct” ones, we’re on a slippery slope. So much is out of our complete control, even in areas where we do have a good amount of legitimate power over what happens.

So when we approach our lives this way, it’s kind of like we’re either focused on the finish line, when the race will be over and (if we do it right) we’ll have won, or we’re looking for a way to bow out of the race altogether. But I don’t want to run! we think. Why does there have to be this stupid race?

As I sat obsessing about the “right way” to handle my commitments, I looked over at my boyfriend, who was sitting in a chair in the living room laughing heartily at something on TV.

How simple it is for him, I thought. He doesn’t analyze everything the way I do. He just does what needs to be done and doesn’t make a big thing out of it. (He would tell you this isn’t exactly true, but it was what I thought in the moment.)

And then I noticed the mostly blank wall behind him. Since we moved in August, I’d been meaning to hang pictures on that wall, but I kept telling myself it wasn’t important enough to take precedence over everything else I needed to do.

But, I realized, I wanted to hang those pictures. Of everything I could have been doing in that moment, hanging those pictures felt like something I wanted to do. And, looking at the mostly empty wall, I realized that hanging the pictures — only that — was all I was called to do in that moment.

Just that one thing.

Back in August, during that last chaotic week before I moved to my new home, my friend Mary Montanye asked me via email how the moving preparations were going, and I told her I was mega-overwhelmed. She responded that when she was in the process of moving, she’d found it helpful to “just take the next indicated step.”

Those words spurred me on like you wouldn’t believe (thank you, Mary!). And yesterday, hanging the pictures and admiring them afterward, noticing how much more it feels like home in the living room now that the pictures are up, my mind began to quiet itself.

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Pictures are up!

I was reminded that all I ever need to do is one thing. No matter how big the project, how sprawling the to-do list, I only ever need to do one thing.

And here’s the trick: Only when I am in the process of doing that one thing am I able to see clearly that it is being engaged with the process that I crave, not getting to the finish line or eliminating the task.

When I am caught up in thinking about all that needs to be done, and not actually doing the one thing that presents itself, I am disconnected from the rewards of the process of doing. I believe that the only reward comes from “having done it”.

This is why when I hear people say things like, “I hate writing, but I love having written,” something in me cries, but that’s no way to live! If we can’t find ways to make the process rewarding, we’re forever focused on the finish line, and therefore missing most of our lives.

And the process looks like this: one thing, one thing, one thing. (And yes, sometimes our “one thing” CAN be eliminating, or rescheduling, something on our to-do list! The key is in taking the action, rather than obsessing over it.)

I’m curious about how this works for you, and particularly about how you might apply “just one thing” to anything you have planned for the holidays.

And if, like me, you’re an introvert who’s needing a little more comfort and simplicity at this time of year, you might want to check out this post that I wrote last year at holiday time.

Top image © Jessie Eldora Robertson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Walking my talk about self-care + Happy Fall!

pumpkins15Maybe the hardest thing for me about going through a time of heightened activity (or, insanely heightened activity) is coming down from it all.

After the last couple of months of transitioning from my old home to the new one — and the accompanying “too much to do” feeling on a daily basis — things are starting to settle down just a bit.

And I’ve actually found myself at loose ends on certain days. My mind and body have gotten used to “too much to do.” It’s that “coming down from the adrenaline of momentum” feeling that I’ve written about before. The adrenaline that helps us to get through the period of heightened activity actually starts to feel normal to us.

This is where I can get into trouble if I don’t pay attention. Last week Saturday was the first day I really took an opportunity to fully catch my breath — and it felt wonderful. But the very next day, I noticed myself overscheduling and stuffing in activities here and there because, why not? I’ve gotten used to having too much on my plate.

And noticing this in myself clued me in to the fact that I’d fallen for it all over again — our culture’s glorification of “busy”.

Remember that saying, “If you need to get something done, give it to a busy person”? I heard that often from my parents and teachers when I was growing up, and again in college, and, heck, somebody just said it to me the other day.

And to a degree, being busy feels good and IS good, as long as we are occupied with things that are meaningful to us and notice our need to rest.

But there’s something insidious in the way we praise “busy”. We apologize for being “so busy”, and yet it also seems to give us some kind of quick validation. We’re busy, therefore we must be important, we must have value.

And: being super-busy also gives us a good reason to (finally) take a huge time-out and take care of ourselves.

But what if we didn’t need a “good” reason, or any reason at all? What if noticing our need to rest and then our need to be active and then our need to rest again, was simply part of our daily lives, part of our ongoing self-care? What if this kind of self-care was a must, a foundation for our lives, rather than something we have to hit a (sometimes very painful) wall to finally allow in?

For the past several months, I’ve been leading clients through my Stellar Self-Care program, which I created because I recognized that far too few of us truly anchor self-care into our lives at the foundational level. We wait until we’re in so much physical, mental or emotional pain that we simply can’t ignore the part of us that, ultimately, cannot be denied if we actually want to thrive and not just cling by a thread to survival.

And, here’s the thing I came to: I wasn’t walking my talk. I’d been seduced by the idea that I would practice better self-care after my move was over. When things calmed down. When things got less hectic. 

In these past few days, I’ve reminded myself that it’s okay to feel at loose ends as my body adjusts to living life in a less heightened way.

It’s okay to let go of activities that I’m tempted to “schedule in” but simply don’t feel necessary.

And it’s okay to do it all completely imperfectly as I discover how I want to live now (because now is not then!)

One thing I’ve learned while working with people in this new program is that we all have a tendency to turn self-care into “one more big to-do on the list.” And that’s exactly what I did when I starting telling myself I’d take better care of myself when the move was over. I already had such a giant to-do list I felt like I couldn’t possibly take on any more.

And I was right. I couldn’t.

But I was also wrong — because taking care of myself wasn’t about adding to the list; it was about leaning away from the list. About letting the list sit. If there was anything to “do”, it was simply to shift my relationship to the list. To trust that those things on the list would be done when they’d be done, rather than to hold my breath until I’d “tackled them.”

There’s nothing like “heightened times of activity” to trigger stress in us, and there’s nothing like stress to trigger our “fight, flight, freeze” reactions. Once we’re in fight, flight, freeze, we’re in survival mode and we try to “just get through it.”

If we can intervene before we get to that point, we absolutely should. And right now, as I’m writing this post, I’m noticing that part of me that is feeling like it’s pushed hard enough and is ready to stop. It’s saying “enough for today”.

Listening to that soft voice — right here, right now, not later, not when I’m sure this post is “good enough” — is key to me taking care of myself today. So I’m going to act on that urging. And stop. 🙂

I’d love to hear how YOU take care of yourself before getting to the “fight, flight, freeze” point. And you can learn more about my Stellar Self-Care program here.

Gorgeous gourds: confirmation that fall has arrived!

Gorgeous gourds: confirmation that fall has arrived!

Good stuff this week:

  • My good friend, artist, writer, and creativity consultant Dawn Herring, interviewed me about journaling for one of her “Creative Conversations”. I had a terrific time chatting with Dawn (she got me thinking and making connections between my journaling and the rest of my life that I don’t know if I’d have gotten to otherwise!).
  • I absolutely love this interview with Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity on Marie Forleo’s site. I particularly love what Elizabeth had to say about being a “trickster” when it comes to our creative work as opposed to a “martyr.”
  • Fall is here! The pictures accompanying this post are gourds I saw on one of my walks this week. I wish you the spaciousness to relish this gorgeous season as it sweeps in.

Images © Jill Winski, 2015