Taking small steps to align with your values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Soft energy and true downtime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s going on here?

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Knowing yourself and saying no

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The power of catching up with yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You don’t have to get rid of anything

A friend who read my last blog post, where I talk about clearing space for our creativity, told me she loves the idea of clearing space, but the reality is it’s hard for her to get rid of stuff.

I don’t particularly like the idea of getting rid of anything, either. My tendency is definitely to hang on.

Our innate temperaments and our childhood experiences are a big part of this. I had a boyfriend once who kept “losing” mix tapes I made for him (back in the ‘90s, around the time mix tapes were starting to become quaint). I couldn’t understand this. I still had mix tapes people had made for me in the ‘80s. I still had music I’d taped off the radio in like 1984. But his temperament and childhood experience made him much more prone to “ridding” than mine did.

The thing about “getting rid of” is that it feels like pushing something out — there’s a forcefulness to it, an anger, even. If you’ve ever been in the process of moving homes and reached a point where you had to make a lot of decisions quickly, you might have done some ruthless “getting rid of.” And it probably felt necessary at the time.

I know I’ve also had points in my life where I’ve “gotten rid of” things as a symbol that I was ready for change — like the time I cut off most of my hair with some dull scissors when I was about twenty-one. (I instantly regretted it — but it was undoubtedly a change!)

There’s a significant — if subtle — difference in energy between “getting rid of” and “letting go.”

When I clear physical space so I can focus on my creative work, it feels like I am creating something in the clearing, rather than “getting rid of.” It’s a gift I’m giving to myself — I’m not ripping something away from myself.

I think this is where we can develop a lot of resistance to change in our lives — when we believe the change will look like getting rid of things we love, or those things we love being ripped away from us.

Sometimes my life coaching clients say things like, “I just really need to get rid of this critical voice in my head”, or “If I could just get rid of this bad habit.” A critical voice? A bad habit? Who wouldn’t want to get rid of those things?

The truth, though, is that the critical voice and the “bad” habit are serving purposes for us, and we can’t just demand that they go away (especially when they may have served those purposes for many years!).

When we push something away from us, it tends to hang on even harder. In this sense we can’t truly “rid” ourselves of anything — the very energy of “ridding” is a pushing away energy. (Have you ever gone out of your way to avoid someone? Did you notice that you just kept on running into them?)

How does “letting go” feel different? I notice that letting go feels like relief to me. It feels like lightness. I also notice that there is no forcing in letting go.

And I’d say that’s because “letting go” is a process, whereas “ridding” is an action. It’s okay — and at times necessary — to “get rid of.” But I notice I sometimes feel regret over things I got rid of — whereas I do not regret letting go.

If we observe patterns and habits we want to “be rid of” — without actually trying to get rid of them! — we’ll see over time that they wear themselves out when we truly don’t need them anymore. This is the process of letting go. It’s organic.

In the same way, I find it doesn’t really work for me to “get rid of”my actual physical stuff. It’s more helpful for me to notice how attached I am to it, and allow the attachment to be there, even while a part of me is wanting to lessen that attachment, or maybe already no longer feels the attachment.

I’ve discovered that I let go of what I no longer want in my life more authentically and deeply when I observe myself this way. When I force myself to get rid of something, it or another thing like it just reappears in my life. (Like when I used to “get rid of” the job that sucked, only to find myself in another very similar job three months later!)

What do you notice about “getting rid of” versus “letting go of”, for you? Is there a difference for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You’re welcome to subscribe to my Artist’s Nest Newsletter for updates on my coaching offerings and other good stuff! You can do that here.

Do you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care? Feel free to check out my Ways We Can Work Together page!

Above images © Michael Flippo | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Ulina Tauer | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Subtle ways we reject self-care

Sundays are my “down day.” By that I mean they are the one day out of the week where my main focus is non-doing, replenishing, cultivating ease and rest.

I do thread these things throughout my week — after all, an overall foundation of self-care means we are going to infuse our daily life with the qualities that nourish and sustain us — but Sundays are my intentional “reminder to reconnect with myself” day.

Because of this Sunday intention, I do not sit at my regular workspace on that day of the week. I sit in other spaces — the loveseat in the living room, the table next to the window in the kitchen — places that help me connect with that more easeful energy.

But, oh! How I need to remind myself, some Sundays, that I am not going over to the workspace!

“But I’ll just do it for a second, just to straighten some things up, just to glance at email.” It doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? A quick dash over to my workspace to flip up the laptop is really a fairly subtle thing, right?

There have been times I’ve found myself sitting there without even knowing how I’d gotten there. It’s such automatic behavior, and my mind is quick to tell me “it’s not a big deal.”

But it is a big deal on Sundays, because Sundays are my down day.

Working with clients on the subject of self-care has clued me in bigtime to how quick and sneaky we can be about dismissing our needs — particularly if they are more of the subtle variety.

The need to go to bed half an hour earlier, for example — how quick we are to tell ourselves “it’s just half an hour, it won’t make a difference.”

Something I’ve noticed time and again is my lack of acknowledgment, after some intense time away on a trip or at a workshop or something like that, that I actually need “integration time.”

What usually happens is, a few days after I’ve returned from the trip, or had a heightened period of activity, my energy gets edgy and frenetic. No matter how much I’m “getting done,” it doesn’t feel rewarding to me, and I feel ridiculously “behind.”

That feeling of “falling behind” and vague dissatisfaction has become a red flag for me that there is an unmet self-care need raising its hand to get my attention.

What’s subtle here — and therefore can sometimes hover just outside of my awareness — is that it seems “normal” to finish up with a big event, a trip, a heightened period of activity, and immediately return to a regular routine.

It may indeed be “normal” for some people, but I’ve found it’s not workable for me. I need to build in rest and integration time when I’ve expended more energy than is usual — or comfortable — for me.

But because my need for this may initially be subtle — because I’m still functioning to some extent on the adrenaline that got pumped into my system when I stretched myself beyond my usual energetic limits — I may not notice until I become edgy and frazzled that, oh yeah, I never really gave myself that integration time after the trip! Duh!

Yep, that’s how it is sometimes. Self-care is an ongoing, unfolding, highly organic thing. We might forget what worked before, or maybe what worked before doesn’t quite do it in this particular circumstance.

Here are some other subtle ways we may neglect or reject our self-care that I’ve noticed in working with clients and myself:

• Picking up a phone or tablet repeatedly, simply because it’s nearby (and along with this, failing to turn off unnecessary visual and auditory notifications — and let’s face it, most of them are unnecessary).

• Pushing ourselves to exercise more, write more, clean more — whatever it may be — when we’ve already gotten cues from our bodies that we’ve done enough for now. (I wrote about a time I fell into this trap here.)

• On the flip side, cutting short something that matters to us — journaling. exercise, a conversation with a friend — before we’ve allowed it the momentum it deserves (and that feels satisfying to us).

• Neglecting to indulge our five senses — not taking time to really taste our food, smell the coffee in the cup in our hand, feel our pet’s fur beneath our fingers.

• Forgetting to focus on our breath. Obviously, we don’t want (or need) to be doing this all day, but checking in and noticing how we’re breathing, and allowing ourselves several deep belly breaths, can center us and point us to the fact that our breathing may be quite “shallow” — in other words, up around our shoulders. This is really, really common.

• Clutter or disorganization in our environment that drains us. (I’ve found that I feel so much better when I make the bed every day — not because I particularly care about making the bed but because it reduces visual disorganization when I walk into the bedroom.)

When we miss the more subtle ways we are forgetting to care for ourselves, over time the subtle can build to the dramatic, and we may find ourselves in “crisis mode”, as I have several times in my life. But the more we learn to pay attention — the more attuned we are to these subtleties — the more we can make self-care changes before anything builds to a crisis state.

What do you notice about the more subtle ways you might forget to care for yourself? Or, what are subtle ways you CAN care for yourself that you might not always think of? I’d love to hear from you!

By the way, enrollment for my Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) One-on-One Coaching Program ends this Friday, June 22. This program is for sensitive, creative folks who’d love support in creating a solid foundation of self-care in their daily lives! Curious? You can find out more, here.

Above images: snail, © Marilyn Gould | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and cat, © Valerii Rublov | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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

Note: I am currently enrolling in my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program. Scroll to the end of the post to learn more!

There is a close relationship between self-care and self-acceptance. In fact, it’s hard to genuinely have one without the other.

What I’ve noticed in my own life is that the more I practice self-care — to the best of my ability — the more self-accepting I become.

Caring for myself — giving myself this permission — seems to “turn on the light” of self-acceptance for me. It triggers the belief that I am worth this care, and in feeling this, I also feel self-acceptance. In other words, I’m telling myself that the specific way I need to care for myself is okay.

Similarly, the more self-accepting I feel, the more willing I am to take care of myself in whatever way I need to, no matter how it looks to others.

This is the fourth year (already!) that I am offering my Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) Coaching Program, and it’s been fascinating to me to see how every year at least one person tells me something like this: “I’d love to ______, but can I really do that? Won’t that look like I’m too lazy, or too demanding, or too selfish, or too strange?”

Oh, I get it. Just a couple of days ago, I chose not to make a phone call I thought I “should” make because I needed some downtime and was in the middle of enjoying it when I remembered I’d forgotten to make this call. The call was non-urgent, could definitely wait at least a day if not more. But it was interesting to notice that I actually almost jumped up from the couch before I had the chance to think about it.

Except I didn’t jump up from the couch. I almost did.

Ten years ago, I would have remembered the call, instantly felt guilt for not making it, been unable to tolerate the discomfort of the guilt, and made the call. All of this would have transpired in a split second, and I would have found myself on the phone experiencing a cluster of icky feelings triggered by “the shoulds”, not present to either the person I was speaking to or to myself.

Yes, it has taken me years to get to the point where I pause before I jump into that kind of action. But that pause is priceless.

In this case, I recognized the urge to make the call, realized it wasn’t what I wanted to do at that moment, saw the thought “you should make that call!”, questioned it (really? is that true?), exhaled, decided to make the call when it felt right, probably the following day, and went on to savor my downtime.

Now, let’s say I’d done what I would have done ten years ago — jumped up to make the call, even though a part of me really didn’t want to and was overcome by “shoulds”. It’s at exactly that moment that we initiate what I call a “stress spiral”. 

When we are not in self-acceptance, we do not take care of ourselves, and when we take action from this place of lack and self-judgment, we create stress. This stress feels bad (obviously!), and from that feeling place, if we don’t interrupt the cycle, we take more frantic actions that get us further away from self-care and self-acceptance. (Instead of moving toward what we truly want, we’re attempting to move away from the stress.)

If we keep on living this way day after day (as I did years ago), we are living in a stress spiral that is self-perpetuated. We do more and more that we don’t really want to do, and all this doing hangs precariously on a foundation of self-rejection. Underneath it is the belief that who we are and the particular needs we have are not worthy of being seen and met.

The challenge here is that once we’re “in” the stress spiral, it can be incredibly difficult to recognize we’re in it. There is something about it that feels normal to us, or it wouldn’t be so automatic and compelling. And it is probably reinforced by our environments at least to some extent — family, friends, workplaces.

So if we can learn to access the awareness to interrupt the stress spiral once it’s begun, or, better yet, stop it before it really revs up, we can create a “new normal” for ourselves, one that is nourishing and supportive. One in which we can actually be who we are, and care for that person.

As is so often the case, noticing is key here. What do we really need in the moment (self-acceptance) and how can we give it to ourselves (self-care)? What might feel better or easier right now (self-care) and can we give it to ourselves even if it might seem odd or selfish to others (self-acceptance)?

When we can bring these questions to our awareness, and answer them for ourselves, we don’t trigger stress that repeats and repeats. And even if we have triggered that stress spiral, gentle awareness is always at our disposal. We just need to be reminded that another way is always available to us.

How do you notice and interrupt a “stress spiral”? How do you know you’ve moved away from self-care and self-acceptance? I’d love to hear from you.

And: My Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) One-on-One Coaching Program is now open for enrollment, through Friday, June 22. In this program, I partner with you to create a foundation of solid self-care, including how to deal with your particular “stress spiral”, how you get into it, and how you can let it go. I absolutely love guiding clients through this program, and I’ll be working with a maximum of four one-on-one participants this year; at this writing, one spot is filled and three remain. Learn more about it, here!

Above images of deer © Roger Calger | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and cat © Sf Shen | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Competing values and conflicting desires

Many years ago, I trained to work on a crisis hotline for women in domestic violence situations. One night of our training, we did an exercise that has really stuck with me over the years.

We were given a sheet a paper with about a hundred different personal values written on it. We then took scissors and cut from the list the fifteen values on it that mattered most to us. Then we took those fifteen little slips of paper, each with an individual value on it, and whittled them down to the ten values that mattered most to us. And then five. And finally, three.

The instructor asked us, “How does it feel to let go of the things you value? To not be able to hold onto them? What do you notice about what matters most to you?”

The most surprising thing that came out of this exercise for me was realizing that one of my top three values was predictability. I’d had no idea predictability was so important to me. It didn’t sound very “exciting” to my young self at all. But I knew in my bones that this value of predictability was a true one for me.

What also came out of this exercise, though, was that another very important value for me was “a sense of possibility.” I had a hard time, back then, reconciling this with the deeply held value of predictability. But as I worked on the crisis hotline and talked to women in dire situations, I could see that most of them had a strong desire for predictability and a strong desire for possibility, both of which often felt cut off from them.

We humans are complex. Years later, both predictability and possibility are still deeply defining values for me. What I’ve discovered is that, for me, the risk of the possible often springs from the safety and stability created by the predictable — and vice versa. They are not as much at odds with each other as I’d once thought, and in fact I want to have the feeling of both, regularly, in my life.

I’ll admit, though, that when I learned “predictability” was a strongly held value for me, it felt at odds with my sense of who I was. Owning that value has been a challenge for me. But owning it made so much intuitive sense to me — I had for years at that point involved myself in relationships that were highly unpredictable, and I never felt safe or cherished in them.

One of the most frequent challenges I see coming up for coaching clients is exactly this: values that seem to “compete”, and along with them, desires that seem (on the surface, anyway) to conflict. On the one hand, we want this. And on the other, we want that. Sometimes the different things we value and desire may seem about as in sync as oil and water.

Here are some more examples from my own life of how this can look:

  • I value routine, but I also value flexibility and variety
  • I value solitude, but I also value lots of connection with others
  • I consider myself a homebody, but I also value exploring new places
  • I value a feeling of privacy, but I also value being seen and known

I used to think I was alone in having so much contrast in what I valued and wanted. But having spent nearly eight years connecting with people in my life coach role, I now know that it is extremely common to have values and desires that seem to conflict and compete all over the place. I’d say it’s just part of being human.

Our minds love to grab onto the all-or-nothing, the black and white. The part of the brain that wants to ensure our physical survival particularly gets caught up in this, because it is always trying to simplify. This is great with things that actually are simple: if I’m crossing the street and a car is zooming toward me without slowing, I’d better get out of the way.

With the complexities in our lives, though, it’s much more helpful to honor that they are complex. That things are not as all-or-nothing as they may seem. Or that, as Byron Katie says, our minds often get things “backwards”. (The Work of Byron Katie is a fantastic way to question what your mind believes. Katie says it is “meditation”.)

If you take my list above, for example, how does it feel different for you if we simply replace the word “but” in each sentence with the word “and”? That would look like this:

  • I value routine, and I also value flexibility and variety
  • I value solitude, and I also value lots of connection with others
  • I consider myself a homebody, and I also value exploring new places
  • I value a feeling of privacy, and I also value being seen and known

Wow! Just rewriting that list, I felt this amazing sense of spaciousness and possibility (one of my core values!) that I didn’t feel much of at all when I wrote the list with the word “but”. (As Martha Beck likes to say, watch out for your big buts!)

So when I work with clients who have competing values or conflicting desires (or both!), we first invite that sense of spaciousness to the table. How does it feel different if this is welcome, and that is also welcome?

What often happens from this place of spaciousness is one of two things: it turns out that one value or desire actually is more important than the other (so they are not truly competing or conflicting — it’s just that one takes more of a “supporting role”); or, there is very much a way that the energies of these seemingly competing or conflicting values or desires can co-exist.

When we see this possibility, we know that we are in the highly creative zone of our brains (as opposed to the “lizard brain” that is concerned only with our physical survival).

Where do you notice competing values and conflicting desires in your life? How do you work with them? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. My Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) one-on-one coaching program will begin enrolling at the end of this month. Want to learn more? You can contact me through my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Above images © Daniel Janusauskas | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Thorsten | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Navigating the messy middle (and reconnecting with your “why”)

In my life coach role, I frequently work with writers. Perhaps so many of my clients are writers because writing is so important to me, and I really get the struggles and joys of the writing life.

At any rate, I often have clients who are at some point in the process of creating something — whether that’s a book or a painting or a play. They might be in the excitement (and trepidation) of beginning. Or they might have finished something, and aren’t sure what’s next for them.

One of the most challenging stages of creating something — and the place where so many of our fears and our icky inner critic stuff can come up — is the “messy middle.”

Maybe we’ve lost some steam with our project. Maybe we’ve lost our way a bit. Maybe — God forbid! — we’ve gotten a bit bored with what we’re creating. (And does that mean we should give it up and move on to something else? In many cases, no! It just means we’re in the messy middle.)

This is the time, my friends, for kindness.

Just how kind can you be to yourself — and your creative work — when you are in this place of feeling like you’re not sure you want to go on with what you’re doing? (I wrote about the importance of kindness to the creative process here.)

I remember getting lost in a store when I was a kid. I was probably about four. One minute I was with my mom and everything was fine, and the next my mom was nowhere in sight and the gleaming aisles of the store might as well have been miles wide. (I think it was Kmart!)

It was probably only a couple of minutes before my mom found me, but I remember during that brief window of time telling myself how stupid I was for getting lost, how mad my mom was going to be at me, and how the adults around me were very scary and there’s no way they’d help me.

Sound familiar? Even to your adult self? We learn very early to be hard on ourselves when things feel scary and disorienting. But this is exactly when we need to slow down, reorient ourselves to our surroundings, and breathe.

Once you’ve given yourself permission to slow down for a moment (or hey, how about a whole day?), it’s time to reconnect with your “why”.

What prompted you to begin this work in the first place? What made it so important that you actually began it? (Beginning is huge! We often avoid it.)

What was the feeling state you desired when you thought about creating this thing? It is always a feeling we seek, and not anything else, when it comes down to it. The “result” — whatever it may be — is only of value to us because of how we believe it will make us feel. How can you reconnect with that feeling?

The “messy middle” can also be a time that we’re tempted to compare ourselves to others whose middles are long in the past (we see the results of them having made it through their own messy middles, but not the middles themselves). Just as we sometimes compare our beginnings to others’ “halfway-throughs,” we can compare our middles to their finished products.

What I love about the creative process is how it is a metaphor for the process of living itself. While the beginning of a relationship, for example, often has its share of trepidation (can I trust? should I trust? Is it safe?), it also has plenty of excitement (the possibility of love! sex! learning each other’s secrets!).

The middle of a relationship, however, may seem frightfully unexciting. (Is that all there is? Is this really it? Where do we go from here? This is especially true if you are a reformed drama junkie, as I am.)

In life, perhaps even more so than in our creative projects, we are challenged to reconnect with our “why.” (And remember: you are always in relationship to your creative work. It’s a relationship like any other!)

Can we reconnect? Absolutely. The real question, though, is do we want to? And if we do, what might support us in doing so?

These are the questions to ask. Their answers will guide us back to connection, with our project, with our loved one, or they will guide us to somewhere else, where the love truly is for us, today.

What helps you through the “messy middle” in your creative process? How do you reconnect with your “why” when you seem to have lost it? I’d love to hear from you.

Happy Earth Day! Let’s extend our kindness to this beautiful planet and all of its amazing creatures. In honor of Earth Day, my individual coaching sessions are at a special price, through the end of this month (April 30). Find out more on my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Coming up: My one-on-one coaching program, Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World), will start enrolling in May. Want to learn more? You can sign up for my newsletter to receive the details, here. You can find out about other ways we can work together, here.

Above images © Scamp | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Just2shutter | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Comparison and the “iceberg theory”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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