Honoring your way of taking action in the world

glidingswan

In my “former life,” I did a lot of one-on-one tutoring of writers, both privately and through the creative writing program at Columbia College Chicago.

A while back, I heard from one of these writers, who caught me up on the book she’s working on and told me that one of the biggest takeaways she had from the work we did together was that it was really okay for her to take time to ponder a question before she answered it — whether in her writing or in her life.

Who knew? I remembered, then, our talks about introversion and how she’d felt pressured to respond to questions very quickly in her college classes, but she needed a little time to sit with the question before answering it. Meanwhile, the “quick responders” would have carried off the conversation and it would have moved on, before she got a chance to put in her two cents.

Oh, had I been there. Whether you identify as an introvert, extrovert, or somewhere in-between, it’s a fact that each of us has a unique way of taking in information and responding to it.

In other words, our individual personal make-up causes each of us to have our own way of taking action in the world.

I could empathize with my tutoring student because so often in school I felt I’d been “too slow” to respond, and so I wouldn’t speak up at all.

What was actually going on was that, as an introvert, I needed to take in information and chew on it for a bit before I could form my response. (Marti Olsen Laney talks about the “long neural pathway” that introverts’ brains must traverse as they respond to information — as opposed to the shorter “extrovert pathway” — in her book The Introvert Advantage.)

There’s also the fact that our personal energy moves in its own way (think about water: for some of us, our natural energy is more of a slow, steady river current, whereas for others, it’s still, like ice, and others are more like Niagara Falls).

In our Western culture, we tend to put swift decision-makers and bold, take-charge energy on a pedestal; but the truth is that that is only one way of taking action, one type of personal energy. If it’s not yours, you can — and must — honor your way of taking action in the world.

***

Kathy Kolbe developed a test called the Kolbe Index, which assesses your “conative style” — the way you take action. When I took the Kolbe, I scored equally high as a Quick Start (who needs to jump into an experience, before thinking much about how to proceed), and a Fact Finder (who needs to gather lots of information before taking action).

While neither of these styles of action-taking feel totally like “me”, I can definitely see where I have both Quick Start and Fact Finder tendencies (when I’m excited about something, I sometimes forget to investigate the finer points of how to actually execute it before moving ahead; when I’m not sure, I sometimes gather information way beyond the point that I’m uncovering anything new).

Mostly, though, what I’ve come to learn about myself over the years is that I have a fairly slow and steady style of taking action, punctuated by seemingly “sudden” leaps of faith at key points in my life that can appear as though they’ve risen up out of the blue. But what’s really going on is that all these slow and steady movements provide a foundation for me to take big leaps into the unknown when I recognize it’s time to do that.

I’ve also learned that it’s important not to allow myself to be pressured by people who have a swifter and bolder style of taking action than I do (just as it’s important for them to let me know if my slower, steadier style is feeling too heavy and cumbersome for them). I see this with couples a lot: when one has a swifter action-taking style, the one with the slower or gentler style can feel left behind and the swifter one can feel too slowed down.

With my life coaching clients, what I often see is that their self-care suffers when they are trying to adopt a style of taking action that doesn’t feel true to who they are.

This can take some un-learning (I often say that self-care is more about un-doing and un-learning than it is about doing or learning anything new!). We might have grown up with parents who required us to move more quickly or slowly than felt natural to us, or maybe in school the steady, structured pace of the learning felt out of sync with our more circular or “hands-on” style of learning.

***

When I became ill in my mid-twenties, I realized I’d been trying to move through life with a bolder and swifter energy than was actually natural for me. I kept pushing myself to move more quickly, to do more, faster. Why? Because I thought it was what would cause me to feel more accepted and loved and successful in the world. But guess what? It actually contributed to my physical collapse.

All these years later, I feel so much healthier when I allow myself to take action in my slower, quieter, ebb-and-flow sort of way (and in the long run I arrive at my destination more quickly because I don’t burn out along the way!).

And I’ve developed a lot of trust in this way of taking action — it works for me, and I’ve gathered plenty of evidence over the years that it does.

And truly honoring my own way of taking action allows me to be more honoring of others whose action-taking styles are quite different from mine. It’s not about “right” or “wrong”; it’s about what feels natural for each of us.

What do you know about the way you take action in the world? Is the way you take action true to who you are? How does it apply to your self-care? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of self-care, I have two spots open for one-on-one clients in my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program (I’ll continue enrolling in this program through the end of April). And, if you are interested in participating in the group version of Stellar Self-Care, I am enrolling for that as well until April 21. Please contact me via my Ways We Can Work Together page if you’d like more info on the group version, or if you are interested in finding out about working together one-on-one.

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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The power of “I wonder” + small group coaching in 2017

coffeesnow

Something I’ve learned in six-plus years as a life coach — as well as in observing myself! — is that we humans have a habit of asking ourselves some pretty crappy questions. Some of these questions are so automatic we might call them “default questions”.

A default question is an unhelpful question we habitually go to when we feel like things aren’t working for us.

Let me show you what I mean. A while ago I worked with a client who had recently started a new job. She’d sought out a coach because, about a month into said job, certain patterns were popping up that were making the new job look mysteriously like the job she’d left (and hated).

“Why does this always happen to me?” she asked.

Now, we could have gone there and answered that question. But “Why does this always happen to me?” was this client’s default question. In fact, when I pointed out that she’d posed it quite a few times over the course of our first session, she was unaware that she’d even said it.

That’s the thing about default questions — they’re not only unhelpful, they’re so automatic they’re outside our conscious awareness much of the time.

And yet, we create identities out of them! For my client, this identity was “the person who gives too much at work and gets way too little in return and either quits angrily or gets fired.”

Can you see how “Why does this always happen to me?” an unhelpful question? Yes, we could go there. We could eventually get somewhere by continuing to ask why. (Why? is a truly powerful question, when framed in a helpful way).

But, in this case, the question itself is making a huge assumption: that this always happens to the asker. And that can’t possibly be true.

So I didn’t go there with my client. Instead, I pointed out that the question wasn’t a great one.

And then I brought in some wondering.

I love the quality of “wonder”. It has, for me, the feeling of stepping outside to witness the glisten of just-fallen snow and the sparrow so light it lands right on top of the white sheen without making a dent.

I also love “wonder” as a verb. Did you notice how my client’s default question had a heavy undercurrent of judgment in it? That’s why default questions can be so damaging, especially when we don’t even know we’re asking them: They are almost always condemning the asker in some way.

Wondering, in contrast, is free of condemnation and full of curiosity.

One of my own default questions is “Why can’t you do this the way everyone else is doing it?” (I’m happy to say it’s no longer quite as default as it once was — sometimes I don’t go to it at all anymore, and when I do, I catch myself in it more quickly these days.)

It’s easy for me to see how this developed as a default question for me — from a very early age, there were often things I had trouble doing that “everybody else” didn’t seem to have a problem with (like playing kickball at recess).

Can you see why the question is not a helpful one? It’s got that undercurrent of judgment, and it’s also making the assumption that “everyone else” does something a “certain way” that I should certainly be doing it.

So what I’ve practiced over the years is a shift into wondering. It goes like this: Hmm … If I want to do this, I wonder how I could do it in a way that feels better to me?

Or, in the case of my client: Hmm … I wonder what it is exactly that feels really hard about your work situation right now?

When we wonder, we get to come to a situation, to ourselves, with beginner’s minds. We get to access a little of the feeling of the glisten of that fresh covering of snow. We don’t play into our well-established, age-old assumptions. We see that today is not yesterday, now is not then.

The first step here (as it so often is) is to notice our default questions. Sometimes we need someone else to catch them for us (they can be pretty sneaky) — a trusted friend, a therapist, or a coach is helpful here.

I also notice my default questions a LOT in my journal. When we actually take the time to write out what we’re thinking, we slow down our minds. We capture our thoughts in a moment of time and our default questions are forced out of their hiding places.

Do you notice yourself jumping to “default questions”? Where can you shift into wondering? I’d love to hear from you on this.

And: I will be starting a small group version of my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program in March (the one-on-one version of the program will return as well). If you’d like to make your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care, and would love steady, compassionate support in the safety of a small group setting, I encourage you to apply! Details will be posted soon, but if you’d like to get on the list for more info, please contact me through the form at the bottom of my Ways We Can Work Together page, here.

Above image © Creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Autumn transitions and morning rituals

leaftwins

With the first true autumn air having arrived in the Chicago area this past week, I get to revel in my favorite season. I always savor every moment of fall, particularly because it is so very short-lived here.

For me, it’s a great time to capture some of that beautiful fall color (so much of it is at our feet, on the sidewalk, and I just can’t stop taking pictures of leaves!), to reflect on where I am in my life and what’s next for me, and to notice how my inner landscape mirrors the changes I see in the natural world.

I am also reminded in the fall of the importance of a morning ritual to my overall well-being. (Since my morning ritual involves walking and, sometimes, “sit spotting” — taking a seat somewhere and simply noticing what is around me — the gorgeous color and crisp air enhances the experience for sure.)

My clients also tell me regularly that when they create a morning ritual — or return to one — they feel more balanced, more grounded, more soothed and more hopeful.

It’s easy to dismiss our need for ritual in a culture that values “busy”. But when we do, we often find more chaos showing up in our lives (both internal and external!).

I talk more about the specifics of my morning ritual in the video below, but I’ll add that I have a couple of guidelines for myself when it comes to my morning ritual:

• I keep it simple. Nothing overly structured or complicated. The morning ritual must be easy and enjoyable.

• I must complete my morning ritual before I engage with technology. No internet or phone calls until my morning ritual is done. (Obviously, on occasion life will dictate that I deviate from this guideline — that’s why I call it a guideline and not a rule! The key is to stick to it most of the time, for my own well-being.)

In the video below, I talk a bit about morning rituals and why they’re particularly important for sensitive people (and introverts!) and to our creative process.

P.S. If you are in transition this fall and need some support in navigating that “in-between” space, I’d love to help.  Check out my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions here. You can sign up for one through Nov. 1, 2016.

Do you have a morning ritual? What do you value about it? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image © Jill Winski, 2016

Daily saving graces for hard times

whiskers

Whether you’re in transition and not sure which end is up,  just beginning something that requires a completely new skill set, or letting go of something (or someone) very dear to you, sometimes the hard just doesn’t seem to stop.

“I keep thinking this is going to get easier,” one of my clients who had moved to a new city and started a new job said a while back. “But every day is a challenge I’m not sure I want!”

Something I’ve been noticing over the past several years is that fewer and fewer of us seem to be experiencing those extended periods of time where we just kind of “coast”. I think there are a number of reasons for this, a big one being that our world and our planet are reaching very critical points where change must happen. We can’t “coast”, globally, in certain ways any longer.

And we, as individuals, are never disconnected from the whole of the world we live in. Many of us may have worked hard to cultivate independence, but the fact is that we are undeniably interdependent. What happens to the whole affects us, and vice versa.

***

Today I walked over to Petco to buy some pill pockets for my cat, who’s on medication for inflammatory bowel disease (yes, it’s as lovely as it sounds). My cat is old, but still active, and I want to keep him as comfortable as possible for as long as I can, for as long as he’s around.

In Petco, there were cats up for adoption. Four cats, in cages. Well-kept cages, with comfy beds and food and perches, but cages nonetheless.

One of the cats, a tortoiseshell whose sign informed me that her name was Trooper and that she’d been given up for adoption because “my owner’s girlfriend didn’t like me”, sat up straight and met my gaze with her green eyes. She gave me a commanding meow. She was extremely curious and open to me and everyone in the store. Her adoption fee was only $42.50.

Let me tell you, sometimes I hate going into Petco. I would have loved to take Trooper and another of those cats and offer them a stable and loving home. My gut tells me, though, that it would be too much stress for my existing fur child, whose immune system is not what it once was.

But Trooper served as my “saving grace” today.

Locking eyes with her in Petco circled me back to this truth: I want to be able to take care of me the best I can, so that I can be of greatest service to the people and animals who can best benefit from whatever it is I have to offer.

We can never separate “self-care” from “other-care”. It’s all the same thing when it comes down to it. 

***

And that brings me back to “the hard”.

It’s often when things feel the hardest that we throw self-care out the window. Because “self-care” can feel like just one more thing on an ever-growing, ever-changing to-do list.

But so often self-care is not about doing but about undoing. About letting go of what is not necessary and coming back, every single day, to what is most fundamental for us.

And when we get away from it, life is there to point us back toward it, often in the most unexpected places, as Trooper in Petco did for me this morning.

Here are some ways to weave those everyday “saving graces” into your life, especially when things are hard:

If you are physically able, get out and walk. Your feet on the ground and noticing trees, bird, squirrels, is fundamentally nourishing. You can also combine this with “sit spotting” — finding a good bench and planting yourself there and just noticing for a while. During my last sit spot, I watched the bees interact with a plot of heather, their gold bodies moving in and out of the thick purple, and I saw how the sparrows were keen on the heather too, and how they weren’t bothered by the bees.

Take responsibility for what enters your ears and eyes. When I walk, I often listen to recordings of gifted coaches, teachers, and writers who remind me of the importance of what I do.  In keeping with this, limit social media time to only the aspects of it that feel truly supportive to you. When I’m “in the hard” I don’t spend much time in the Facebook newsfeed, for example, and mostly hang out in Facebook groups that feel the most supportive and connecting to me.

Have a morning ritual. Morning rituals allow us to take responsibility for our state of mind as soon as we wake up — this is extra-important when we’re in tough times. Don’t wait until later when, as writer Edna O’Brien has put it, “the shackles of the day are around you.” Mine is walking, coffee, and morning pages. What about you?

Take time — if only a moment or two — to be truly present with at least one other living being. Your partner, your child, your pet, the person ringing up your purchase at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Presence with another person is rejuvenating and reminds us of that continuum of “self” and “other”.  When things are hard, it’s so easy to slip into isolation, but something as “small” as a smile from a stranger can break us out of it.

And finally: Be open to the grace. Sometimes, in our yearning and longing and weariness for things to change, we adopt a “been there, done that” attitude and don’t notice the exact things that can support us.

What are your daily saving graces when it feels like things are hard? What helps you reconnect with what really matters to you when you’re not at your best? I’d love to hear from you.

By the way, if you’re in the U.S. in the Chicago area and interested in giving a home to a cat like Trooper, I hope you’ll check out Catnap from the Heart. These giant-hearted folks have done so much for homeless animals over the years and will be expanding their facility soon so they can help even more.

Please note my Stellar Self-Care Program is now closed until early 2017, but you can still sign up to work with me one-on-one in other ways. Interested? Find out more, here.

Above image is “Whiskers” © Marilyn Barbone | Dreamstime Stock Photos

One more day to sign up for Stellar Self-Care

leavesinsect

A quick post today with a reminder that tomorrow, August 31, is the last day this year to enroll in my one-on-one coaching program, Stellar Self-Care. (I will not be taking on any new clients in this particular program until early 2017.)

On my walk this morning, I noticed the bare beginnings of fall — the leaves at the very top of a lush green tree had turned pomegranate-red, and one or two had even fallen to the sidewalk. This tree is a little ahead of the game, but fall is on its way!

Fall is (in my humble opinion as a fierce lover of all things autumn) a great time for new beginnings. It can also be a time where, for many of us, obligations and overwhelm start up again. We get busy, and when we get busy (especially those of us who are introverts and/or have sensitive nervous systems) we can be vulnerable to that frazzled, overcommitted, overstimulated feeling that’s just … icky.

If this sounds like you, feel free to take a look at my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. In this program, I partner with you to create a foundation of more peace, wellness, confidence in who you are and connection to what truly sustains you. Find out more here — I still have room for two more participants.

Above image is “Curiosity” © Max Hirsch | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Noticing (and celebrating!) small changes

frenchlizard

This lizard I saw in France reminds me that it’s okay to hang out when I need to rest and regain my energy.

I am having so much fun this summer supporting several of my clients in creating better self-care (you can learn more about my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program here).

When I work with folks, I often see themes that are “up” for all of them (it’s amazing how this happens — the themes that jump out at me are, no doubt, themes that I’ve noticed in myself as well, and that’s why they stand out for me!).

One of the themes I’m noticing right now is our collective tendency to be “in a hurry”, to have it done yesterday, to finally “get it” once and for all. A couple of my clients have said, “How can I not know this stuff by now?” or “How can I still be struggling with this?”

Oh, wow, have I said this myself. In fact, I probably hear this weekly in various conversations.

It’s like we believe we should get to a point — hopefully fairly early in our lives — where we understand ourselves completely and there’s nothing more to learn. Because then we’d — what? Be perfect? Do everything “the right way”? Have it all figured out?

Wouldn’t that be awfully boring? The most exciting thing about life to me is learning more and more about who I am.

In fact, when I notice I’m comparing myself to others, one of my favorite ways to move out of that is to turn it right around and compare myself to myself. What do I know about myself now that I didn’t know twenty years ago, or ten? How am I better able to take care of myself and thrive and do my true work in the world because of that knowing?

A huge part of this is allowing ourselves to celebrate the changes we see — and not just the external changes, but the inner knowing that prompts that change. And I really encourage all of us to celebrate the small changes, even the tiny changes, we see.

Don’t fall for the idea that “it has to be ‘big’ to count.” So many of the changes we make in our lives that seem huge are made up of teeny tiny incremental changes that happened over time.

(I’m talking here about changes we pursue of our own volition — sometimes change is thrust upon us from the outside and, let’s face it, it’s just big, and in those cases we need support in handling the change, not in creating it!).

***

One of the changes I notice in myself over the past few years that has contributed to my practicing better self-care is that I pause more before acting (when it feels right). And I ask others to support me in allowing this pause.

This might look like saying, “I need to think about that before I make a decision.” Or, “Do you mind if we sit on this bench for a while and just hang out before we go on to our next activity?” It’s all about honoring my natural energy.

When I travel (especially long distances), I decide ahead of time that most of my first day in the new place will be spent resting, and I’ll move into more activity on the second day. When I went to France a few years ago, I spent an entire day hanging out in the villa we rented while everyone else went exploring. I floated in the pool and noticed the lizards and marveled at that white-hot South of France sun. It was what I needed.

But earlier in my life, I would have forced myself to go with everyone else because I didn’t want to feel left out, and ended up exhausted, unable to give myself the recharge I so badly needed after the trip. It felt so good to own my need for time to rest, keep myself company, and join everyone else the next day, fully energized.

Similarly, I’ve made plenty of poor decisions in my life because I sensed the other person wanted me to hurry up and decide, so I did — wrongly. I’ve discovered I don’t make my best decisions when I’m in a hurry.

And today, I own this. My partner said that when he and I first starting seeing each other, he was sometimes frustrated that it took me (what seemed to him) a long time to make decisions. But the other day he told me he now truly appreciates my (sometimes lengthy) decision-making process because, as he put it, “When you make a decision it is so right for you, and ultimately I can see how that’s right for us.” (Can I tell you how much I love that he said this?)

So, I celebrate these “small” changes in myself (which are really not that small, when it comes down to it). It’s all about supporting myself in who I truly am.

What small changes are you celebrating today? I’d love to hear about them.

If you’d like support in taking care of yourself in a way that honors who you truly are, I encourage you to check out my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. I’ll be enrolling new clients through August 31, 2016.  I’d love it if you’d join me if it feels like the time is right for you!

How time distortions keep you from getting things done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are some of mine:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bringing the joy back to your creative work

paintedheartRecently, a writer friend and I had a great conversation about what to do during those periods when you feel like the joy has simply evaporated from your creative work (or your life!). The talk got me pondering.

I love a broad definition of creativity: I believe it is, simply, the life force moving through us. So when we’re not feeling joy, something is going on with the flow of that life force.

Consider the following three things if you’re wondering where your “creative joy” went:

* Structure: do you need more or less?

As with everything, as we change and our lives change, so does our need for structure. Back when I worked at a job that required me to be in an office from 9 to 5, I felt that my life was too heavily structured. I didn’t have the amount of “meandering, puttering time” that fed my creativity. However: when I quit that job and had more free time, I quickly found that I needed to create more structure in my life or I felt sluggish and unfocused.

Both feeling overly structured and “understructured” can squeeze the joy from our creative work. (As I was reminded last weekend while watching the movie Next Stop Wonderland, that quote from Emerson is NOT “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” but “a FOOLISH consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”)

Consistency in and of itself can provide the daily structure we need to show up for our creative work — but we need to be tapped in to what kind of structure and how much we truly need (or we can get into that foolish consistency territory!). There is no question that our souls crave those periods of open, meandering, wandering time. If you haven’t had one of these for a while, see how you can go about scheduling one and notice whether you see your joy resurfacing.

(I went into more depth on the topic of structure here.)

* Support: do you need more, or different?

Support for our creative work is so important — and/but it must be the kind of support that works for us, not for somebody else. If you feel like the joy is leaking out of your creative process, take a look at the support you’ve built around it. Is there too little? Is there any at all?

Or, are you surrounded by voices that encourage you in ways that don’t quite feel like the kind of encouragement you actually crave? Are you calling something “support” that actually isn’t? (For example, does the writing group you joined offer feedback in a way that doesn’t work for you? Can you ask them for what you need and move on if you’re not able to get it?)

Or, are you suffocating in information masquerading as support? I’ve become very picky about what I read online. So often, less is more, and in the end, it’s myself I need to consult, not “the experts.”

(I delved more deeply into the topic of support here and here.)

* Sovereignty: do you have enough? Do your boundaries need strengthening?

Sovereignty means that you are the ruler of your own kingdom.  In other words, you decide what comes into your life and what stays out, through creating boundaries around your creating.

Many times when I’ve felt I’ve “lost my joy”, when I’ve looked a little deeper (or perhaps had a friend, coach, or other compassionate witness point out the obvious to me), what’s really happened is I’ve lost my boundaries. I’ve allowed the desires and needs of others to encroach on my own to the point that I’ve felt angry and resentful — which is pretty much the opposite of joy!

Or, I may be eroding my own boundaries by being mean to myself (here it can be vital to look at my thoughts and how they’re influencing the way I feel) or getting out of whack in the realms of Structure and Support. (See how it’s all connected?)

Karla McLaren says in her wonderful books that when we feel anger, the questions we need to ask are “What needs to be protected?” and “What needs to be restored?” Very often, the answer is boundaries. We need to reclaim our crowns as rulers of our creative kingdoms (or use whatever metaphor works for you there!).

(I wrote more on the topic of setting boundaries around your creativity here and here.)

Reclaiming joy is a huge topic, but just taking a look at one (or all three) of these areas of your life can be a great jumping-off place.

How do you bring the joy back into your creating when it’s slipped through the cracks? I’d love to hear.

And by the way, if you’re needing more structure and support for your writing, you might want to check out The Writer’s Circle (where I am both a coach and a longtime participant!). Registration for our next session ends July 16.

Above image © Egidijus Mika | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

strongtreesI have to admit that I’ve been pretty on edge lately. At times I feel unsafe. The house I rent is up for sale, and I know I need to move soon.

Being in limbo mode with my living space brings up all my “stuff” around safety, feeling like I don’t have a true home base, and, well, strangers. Strangers coming through my home and seeing all my stuff, deciding if they’re interested in living here themselves.

It’s weird and, somehow, it makes me feel like a little kid. It brings up the part of me that wants to hide out.

And so, I’ve had to practice extra self-care in order to stay sane, to feel safe.

I’ve had to remind myself, it’s okay, you’re an adult, you can take care of yourself with these strangers who suddenly show up.

I’ve had to pause and ground myself, remind myself to breathe, more than usual.

What’s interesting is how, because I’m also extra-busy right now, another voice comes up a lot.

It’s a high-pitched voice that snaps at me, “What’s with all this self-care stuff? Self-care? Aren’t you being just a little self-indulgent? I mean, look at all you have to do! And you’re letting yourself sleep an hour later than usual?”

This voice is old. Years ago, I thought “self-care” meant taking bubble baths and sitting on a cushion drinking tea. Or spa treatments. Or buying expensive moisturizers.

Self-care can look like those things, but what I’ve come to realize over the past twenty years is that it goes much, much deeper.

What I’ve also come to realize is what self-care is not: it’s not self-indulgence. There’s a big difference, but I think many of us confuse these two terms, which are most definitely not interchangeable.

I’ve mentioned quite a few times on this blog that in my twenties I developed a chronic illness and ended up in the hospital. Then and only then was my cynical twenty-five-year-old too-hip-to-do-self-care self forced to recognize that I had to take better care of me.

That’s all self-care is, really. It’s acknowledging that without putting YOU at the center of your life, there ultimately is no life that feels like you.

Many of the clients I’ve worked with over these past several years have had a pattern in common: feeling bad about not showing up for their creative work in the world as fully as they’d like because they just can’t make it important enough to put themselves front and center in their own lives.

Or: They’re doing their creative work in the world, they’re getting it out there, but they’re so overwhelmed and overstimulated from both the work itself and their interactions with others that they’re totally depleted and aren’t sure they can go another step on their journey.

Self-care, in my book, is about recognizing that YOU are at the center of any creative journey you’re on. Both when you begin the journey, and during it.

And yet, so many of us have a judge-y inner voice like mine that insists that taking good care of ourselves might just actually be, you know, self-indulgence.

How is self-care different from self-indulgence?

For me, “self-care” is about noticing what I am needing — truly needing — in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms, and making it important that I provide it for myself.

The focus of self-care is not doing, but noticing and acknowledging — and then doing, if necessary. (Often, practicing better self-care means practicing un-doing!)

It’s the noticing and acknowledging piece that we tend to lose sight of in our driven society. And often, when we do notice and acknowledge, we don’t allow ourselves to know what we know about what we need.

Self-indulgence, on the other hand, is fueling the part of us that doesn’t notice or acknowledge what we need. 

Self-indulgence is buying six more sweaters when we already have fifty and only wear ten (I’m raising my hand here!) — and the buying of the sweaters feels like an avoidance rather than a coming home.

It’s eating or checking Facebook or staying on the phone too long or having an extra glass of wine or pushing ourselves to work longer hours in order to avoid checking in with ourselves.

It may feel good or “righteous” or like we “deserve it” in the moment, but in the long run it’s actually continuing to do something that hurts when we know it hurts us.

Self-indulgence can also look like committing to something, or someone, and only giving it half our effort, or half our attention. It can look like always holding back just that little bit so we’re never fully present to our lives.

Now, I do want to emphasize that a little indulgence is not wrong, and sometimes it’s exactly what we need. (Particularly if we have a tendency toward perfectionism, we may need to “balance ourselves out” a little with some indulgence.)

The key is to be honest with yourself. When are you crossing the line from enjoyment to making yourself sick with enjoyment (I’m thinking about French silk pie here) simply because it’s hard to be present with yourself?

When are you crossing the line from doing an extra hour of work on the book you’re writing to feeling burned out but forcing yourself to continue? That, too, is self-indulgence. It’s starting to hurt, not help, and you’re rationalizing doing it anyway.

Self-indulgence always has a seed of avoiding ourselves in it; self-care always feels like coming home to ourselves. That’s how we know the difference.

And so, all this extra grounding myself and focusing on my breath and allowing myself to sleep more than usual? I know it’s self-care because it feels like coming home. Which reminds me that home is within me, wherever I happen to be. It’s a great reminder when my external living space is in flux.

What challenges you about practicing self-care, especially during times of a lot of stress when you need it the most? I’d love to hear from you.

And, I have a new program called Stellar Self-Care (for Sensitive Creatives). If you’re wanting to put YOU at the center of your life, or get back to it, I’d love to be that support for you. You can learn more about the program, here.

Image is “Sunset at Peace” © Shannan Thiel | Dreamstime Stock Photos