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

Is it time to set down those old coping strategies?

birdsflight

The other day, I noticed myself doing something I’ve done countless times in my life: I said “yes” when I meant “no.”

The story I told myself in my head, in the moment, was “Well, I’m too overwhelmed right now to get into a conflict by saying no. So I’ll say yes, and then I’ll find a way to gracefully bow out later.”

I have a lot of compassion for myself around this, because I was caught off-guard by the asker. And I don’t think there is anything “wrong” with the way I handled this. (I followed up the next day and said, “You know, after checking in with myself and looking at my schedule, I realize I actually can’t do X. I’m sorry about that.”)

But the truth is, I was out of integrity when I said yes, knowing I meant no. It wasn’t really fair to the asker, and the incident shone a light for me on an area where, perhaps, it’s time for me to shift “coping strategies.”

Back in my twenties, I went through some intense shifts where I realized I needed set some boundaries if I were to live the life I wanted to live, if I were to retain any semblance of my true self. So I said no, a lot. No, no, no.

In fact, I said “no” even when I wasn’t sure I really wanted to say no, just to practice. There was a lot of “no” going on during that time.

Eventually, I realized that many of my “no’s” were simply reactions to a fear of being controlled, to a fear of losing my autonomy. They were not genuine “no’s.” (Sometimes, when we’re embracing something new, we can go to an extreme with it. When that extreme starts to hurt, we know it’s time for some balance.)

So, bit by bit, I started letting “yes” — an authentic yes — be part of my life. And sometimes I got confused. Sometimes I’d say “yes” and realize that it was a people-pleasing yes, and then I’d get angry and go to a big NO. Sometimes I felt more of a “maybe” and I wasn’t quite sure how to handle that one.

So fast-forward to my forties. I’ve had tons of practice with all this over the years, and it is so much less stressful than it was when I was first learning to say yes when I meant yes, and no when I meant no. But I’ve held onto a coping strategy: When I’m on the spot, as I was the other day, I still sometimes go for the “yes” that is less about a true yes and more about not making waves in the moment.

And I realized this time around, I don’t need to do that anymore. I can let that particular coping strategy go.

I developed that coping strategy at a time of my life when I thought there was something wrong with anything less than a whole-hearted “yes” or a full-on “no”. I was at a place where my thinking was often black-and-white, all-or-nothing. It didn’t feel okay to be unsure or in-between.

So the way I worked with that belief was to say “yes” when I felt pressured, and retract my yes later. Which was still leaps and bounds better than how I’d used to handle things (saying yes when I meant no but believing I couldn’t say no, so going ahead with things full of resentment, reinforcing to myself the belief that I wasn’t allowed to do what I really wanted to do).

You know what, though? Today, I believe that it is perfectly okay to say, “You know, I really can’t. I’m sorry.” Or, “Hmm … let me ponder that and get back to you on it.” Or, “I’m feeling a little conflicted about that — when do you need to know for sure?”

There is such a range of “okay” here that I didn’t see back then.

And since I’m okay with whatever my response might be, however someone else responds is okay, too. I don’t have to jump to the old coping strategy of trying to predict and head off a “negative” response. I can breathe and tell the truth, and, if they choose it, so can the person who’s asking.

It’s interesting that I hadn’t even noticed I was employing a coping strategy of yore. (I love the concept of yore. Yore is a good word!) And, now that I’ve noticed it, I’m wondering what other “old strategies” I might be able to just set down? Because other, better ones, more authentic ones, have already queued up to take their place.

Do you remember the Buddhist tale of the man who uses a raft to get across the river, and once he’s across, he keeps carrying the heavy raft over his head, even though he’s already across?  How often do we do this in our lives? We’ve grown and changed and we’re not who we used to be — we have different needs, new strengths, more capabilities.

But some little part of us still resorts to the means by which we got here. If those means continue to feel authentic and relevant, absolutely continue to use them. But if they’ve gotten a little stale, if you feel like someone else when you notice yourself employing them, ask: can I let go of this now? Can I trust in a new way?

As I finish this post, I’m aware of how much this concept affects us not just individually, but collectively. We are being called upon to set down the old ways that no longer work.

And we’re being truly challenged here. Are we up to the challenge? Can we give ourselves lots of compassion while we find a new way — or, if we’ve already found it, can we be steadfastly kind and patient with ourselves as we test our new wings?

I’d love to hear how this works for you — do you notice yourself using coping strategies that are more about who you used to be than who you are now?

And: I had the true pleasure of talking to the wonderful writer and speaker Caroline McGraw for A Wish Come Clear’s You Need to Read video interview series. Such an honor to be part of this series — I hope you’ll take a look at the interview, and subscribe to get the whole series! Check it out, here.

Plus: I heard from a few of you who’d like to get on the info list for the small group version  of my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. I’ll be sending out info to those interested around the third week of February. If you’d like to get on the list, please contact me through the form on my Ways We Can Work Together page, here.

Above image © Creativecommonsstockphotos | 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

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

On discomfort, sadness, and creativity

reflections

I recently reconnected with a teacher of mine, and, as I shared a frustrating experience with him, he reminded me of the importance of being able to tolerate discomfort.

Even thinking about “tolerating discomfort” makes me … uncomfortable. But I was so grateful for his reminder.

I wrote about allowing discomfort quite a while ago, and it’s a theme I revisit periodically. Because I forget: my mind gets busy trying to make things the way I think they should be SO THAT I am not experiencing discomfort.

But: what if the very discomfort I’m experiencing is exactly what I need to experience in order to grow into the place, the self, the life, I desire?

I am not saying that we should tolerate negativity or abuse or situations we can readily change by willingly acting on our desire to change them.

But sometimes there are situations we cannot readily change — they are not so clear-cut, and there may actually be nothing for us to “do” at this very moment. This is an uncomfortable place to be. It is the space of ambiguity, the (sometimes vast) gray area of uncertainty. Most of us will go to great lengths to not be here.

When I am feeling particularly crabby or “off” or I catch myself slamming into a wall again and again trying to make something happen, there’s a good chance that my mind is actively avoiding discomfort by trying to “move the furniture.”

(“Moving the furniture” is my metaphor for those times in life when there is really no clear action to take, but because fear has a hold on me, I try to do something — anything — in order to feel more control. In other words, the room may be perfectly fine and functional, for now, but I am moving the furniture here and there anyway, trying to predict how I’ll want it next month or next year.)

Something I’ve learned in these past few years of working with some very dear clients is that, frequently, when someone says “I’m stuck”, what’s really going on is an unwillingness to tolerate discomfort.

In an emotional sense, the feeling of stuckness is very real, because the unwillingness to allow the discomfort to be there creates a contraction in the body. It’s like rigidly setting your jaw or tensing your abdomen. There’s no flow.

What happens when we give space to discomfort? What happens when we are not frantically searching for the “right option” or course of action so we can get rid of it, but we simply allow it to be there? Just breathe into it, even for ten seconds or so?

I notice that, often, what is underlying my own discomfort is sadness. Just pure sadness.

This does not make me a “sad person”. Sadness, as Karla McLaren says in her book The Language of Emotions, is “the watery emotion.” It is about letting go and moving on.

We may feel a hint of sadness even about small “letting-go’s”, like finishing a book we’ve dearly loved reading, or donating some clothing we no longer want. And let’s face it, there’s not a lot of space for sadness in Western culture.

But these small sadnesses are part and parcel to letting go, moving on, sorting through what needs to be processed and integrated so we can allow movement and flow into our bodies and our lives.

Speaking of flow, I am experimenting with allowing tears more in my daily life. Obviously, not all situations are appropriate or safe for the expression of tears, but sometimes, tears are a totally good thing when I might normally stifle them, and I’m finding the expression allows people to feel closer to me and creates more real connection.

(I don’t mean I’m going around bawling. I’m just allowing the tears to come forth rather than forcing them back. Like, after I saw Hello, My Name is Doris last week, I let myself be all teary and emotional coming out of the theater, because I loved the character of Doris. In the bathroom, I looked over at the woman at the sinks next to me and saw that she, too, was wiping her eyes, and we shared this lovely, appreciative smile.)

***

Creativity is, at its most essential, the life force moving through us. If we are not allowing discomfort, if we are pushing it down and analyzing or strategizing in order to avoid it, there will be a deadness to anything we attempt to create.

You’ve probably felt it when something you’ve created is a little too “sterile” or “perfect”, with not enough feeling, not enough oomph!, not enough flow. Any chance you were trying to avoid discomfort in some way there? I know I’ve done this in my writing many times.

What do you notice about allowing space for discomfort in your life? What happens if you try it for ten seconds? I’d love to hear your experience.

Do you need support in making your creative work a priority in your life, in a way that works for YOU (not the way you think you should do it!)? I’d love to help. Find out more, here.

Above image © Gjs | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When “good enough” is plenty

coffeegrounds

My favorite morning ritual is to go for a walk and get coffee and then walk home. There is something about starting my day this way that just helps. Since I work from home, my “walk for coffee” is a transitional element — it smooths that space between waking and working.

But: the coffee at the places within walking distance just doesn’t really do it for me. Oh, there are many. Major chains, smaller independent places. But something is lacking in the taste of the coffee. It’s either too strong or too weak or it’s not quite the right flavor. Blah!

A few months ago I became obsessed with finding coffee that I could love. I was tired of paying for coffee I wasn’t thrilled with. I convinced myself that if I had better-tasting coffee to start my day, the day would go better. Like, way better.

So I decided to try just making my coffee at home. I did lengthy searches, read copious reviews, and found some fancy new flavors. And I was able to create the coffee I wanted, for the most part. And I felt satisfied. Sort of.

But: the walk. It was missing! And my morning walk is huge for me. It jump-starts my day. It connects me with the creative impulse, with birds, with squirrels and trees. It gets my body moving.

So: I decided I’d make my coffee at home, and then take it with me on my walk.

But: this didn’t work either.

Because: I like going into a coffee place and having that simple interaction with people. There is something about going into a place, talking to people a bit — just a bit, not too much — holding the door, that simple exchange — staring at the bulletin boards, smelling the coffee smells — I like all that. It connects me with the world. I need it.

So, I sat with this coffee conundrum, marveling that this seemingly small thing — really good coffee — had started to take up so very much space in my daily life.

And, eventually, I realized this: the perfect coffee just didn’t really matter that much.

Yes, it would be nice to have the coffee of my dreams on a daily basis, but it was the entirety of the experience I truly needed — walk/coffee/nature/people — and not really the coffee itself. Coffee was only one piece of a bigger thing — my foundational morning ritual.

I also realized something else: In preoccupying myself with my search for the perfect coffee, I was less available — even if only slightly — to the parts of my life that are more important to me. To the parts of my life where, perhaps, I need to take more risks and dial up my commitment. Or simply experience more presence, more of the “enough” of the here and now.

And so, I decided to let it go.

And you know what? Since I let it go, I am totally fine with my coffee, wherever I get it.

Sure, I will probably stumble on amazing coffee somewhere I don’t usually go, that is not near where I live (like the coffee they served at the Indian restaurant that went out of business!), and I will wish I could replicate that taste somehow.

But while fulfilling my desire for the perfect coffee would be nice, it’s not essential.

When it comes down to it, I’m okay with coffee that is good enough.

***

The coffee example is a simple one, but I see a version of this a lot with my clients, who sometimes feel like they need to hit upon the perfect product, or class, or book, or coach (or, in some cases, life path!) in order to feel like they’re really on their way.

While it is important in certain cases to find a great fit, sometimes it’s okay for the fit to be “good enough.”

(If we’ve struggled with perfectionism, and its shady sister, procrastination, we may use a tendency to hold out for the “perfect fit” as a way of keeping ourselves from showing up in ways that scare us. Check out the categories on the right to find my previous posts on perfectionism. )

Pouring energy into these non-essential areas may seem like a small thing, but it’s actually a huge drain on our creative energy to search for perfect when we already have enough.

And even when we are dealing with an area that is truly essential, like a central relationship or the pursuit of our soul’s work, the “search for perfect” can serve as an exquisite distraction from what is already available to us.

Do you see areas like this in your life,  where you’re looking for perfect when “good enough” would suffice? I’d love to hear how you experience this.

Need some support in making your creative work a priority in your life? I’d love to help. Click here to see if we might be a good fit. 

Above image © Dana Rothstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos

How distracting yourself can get you unstuck

colourtube

Sometimes we can find ourselves in a cycle that looks like this: We’re pushing and pushing to get something done, but it’s not working, no matter how hard we push.

Then we ask ourselves, “Why isn’t it working? What’s going wrong?”

Our minds start looking for what’s wrong and find that it’s all wrong. (If we look hard enough for something, we will definitely find it.) The project is wrong, the way we’re going about it is wrong, we are wrong. Our lives are wrong. Wrong! Where did it all go wrong?

We get discouraged with how wrong it all seems, and we think, “Well, maybe it’s my attitude. I just need to try harder.” So we push ourselves, and the whole cycle continues.

Western culture is in many ways a “push” culture, which values moving forward at all costs.

One thing that can result from too much pushing is a feeling of stuckness.

Ideally — when I’m really “on track” — I’ve noticed that I feel pulled toward what I want, not like I am pushing myself toward it.

This is not to undervalue “push” energy, as it’s certainly necessary sometimes (it’s just not a great way to live all the time).

A lot of what’s going on with pushing ourselves is that we’re pushing so hard we’re losing sight of why we’re doing something in the first place.

And that’s why — in addition to pulling back and gaining a broader perspective, which I wrote about in my last post — an important element to moving out of a feeling of stuckness can be shifting focus. Or, to put it another way, distracting yourself.

Yes — that means stepping away from what you’re trying (unsuccessfully) to do, and doing something else. Anything else. Resist the urge — for the moment — to try to “figure out” why things aren’t working, and just do something else.

This can work on the smaller scale or the larger scale.

On the small scale, it might look like calling it quits for the day with that chapter you’re wrestling with and attending to the email you’re feeling called to write to a friend.

On the large scale, it might look like putting the major project that’s feeling incredibly draining on hold for a month and immersing yourself in a “fun” project.

This happened for me years ago during grad school when I felt a lot of heaviness around my thesis material. At the end of a summer, when I had a brief break from course work, I found myself super-inspired by these little cat paintings I saw artists doing on a certain auction site at the time. And it occurred to me that — for fun — I could try to do a little cat painting of my own.

I did one late on a Friday night, painting into the wee hours, and it was so much fun I did another one, then listed them both on the site for very low prices. Just for the hell of it.

My sister called the next day — she was always checking on my listings back then, as we sold used clothing a lot — and said, “What are these paintings you have up? One has a bid on it!”

Yep, my little painting I’d done “just for fun” had a bid on it. Someone wanted to pay actual money for my little experiment.

This was the beginning of a period of a year or so where I made lots of little cat paintings and sold them. One ended up in a coffeehouse in Seattle. One ended up in the home of an octogenarian with six cats who lived in England. It was so much fun selling my little paintings and learning about my customers.

And what I discovered during this time was that part of the reason I’d gotten so stalled on my thesis material was that I’d lost touch with what had mattered to me about writing in the first place: it felt fun! I liked it!

I’d gotten locked into “serious grad student” mode and felt like my writing had to be big and important. I still struggled with those feelings (and sometimes do now), but doing my little paintings reminded me that there was much joy to be had from the small, the simple, the cute and the fun.

That thing I was truly seeking — connection with dear, kindred souls — was available to me by doing ordinary things with extraordinary care. (I wrapped my cat paintings in pretty tissue paper and tied them with ribbon and wrote personal notes to each of my customers. I loved responding to messages from my customers and hearing their stories about their cats.)

***

Anne Lamott tells a story in her book Traveling Mercies about her car breaking down when she and her son were on the way to visit a dying friend. When all was said and done, it turned out she wasn’t able to visit her friend until a few days later than she’d planned.

Somehow,  thanks to the “distraction” of the car situation and what it brought up for her, she was able to show up for her friend with more true presence. “I still did not know what was trying to distract me so it could get itself born,” she wrote, “but I felt happier than I had in a long time.”

Sometimes we need to distract ourselves so that we can get out of our own way.

I think this is what happened for me when I was drawn to making small, simple paintings of cats. I needed to get out of my own way.

Getting out of our own way in this sense is not the same thing as procrastination (though our culture — oh, our culture! — will try to convince us that it is, that there is nothing of value in ceasing to push.)

Challenge the culture. Allow your life to be a grand experiment that always leads you back to your core.

Need some support on your grand adventure? Through Feb. 29, my one-on-one coaching sessions and packages are at special prices, in honor of The Year of the Monkey. (Monkeys are a spirit animal for me — they are the guardians of fun and play, which my serious, driven side badly needs to stay connected with.) Find out more here

Above image is “Colour Tube” © Esra Paola Crugnale | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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

eagle on beach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eagle image © Cecilia Lim | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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

christmasstar

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.

pictureshung

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