Choosing your focus

My partner and I recently took our annual pre-Halloween zoo trip, which I always relish.

As we wandered around, mesmerized by the free-roaming guinea fowl (who sound like they’re chanting in unison!), I started venting to him about something that’s been bugging me for a while.

Except — I stopped myself.

It’s great to have good listeners in our lives, those to whom we can safely vent — people who don’t tell us we “shouldn’t feel that way” or who shut us down or who criticize us for having something to vent about. This non-judgmental listening is an essential quality if we want to feel deeply supported.

The kind of venting I’m talking about here is also sometimes called “conscious complaining” — you’re aware you’re complaining, and the other person holds space for you, for a certain amount of time, so you can get out whatever it is. This is different than an unconscious onslaught that saps and drains the other person.

Sometimes, though, as I move into more venting, a still voice inside me is like “Hmm … maybe you’ve focused on this long enough.”

That happened for me that day at the zoo. I kind of stepped outside of myself for a moment, and heard myself launching into this topic, again — and, although my partner was willing to listen (again!), it occurred to me that I didn’t need go there anymore. I could choose to move off of that topic because staying on it was no longer serving me.

It’s important to discern between focusing on things and talking about them because of our genuine need to sort through them and work them out — and focusing on them as a kind of fixation that distracts us from the good in our lives and, maybe, keeps us stirred up because anxiety is familiar to us.

We’ve probably all encountered people who go to one extreme or another here: the co-worker who can’t seem to stop sharing the same complaints with you day in and day out, versus the family member who downplays every emotion to the point you’re not sure they actually have any.

Between these extremes there is a place that feels healthier — unique to each of us — where we’re sharing when we need support and in order to work through things, but we’re not going over the same territory again and again when that path is already well-worn.

When I stopped myself from venting to my partner that day, it was because something in me sensed I would only be deepening the “brain rut” I’d already created with that long-held story.

And I realized it’s time to start detaching from it and letting it go. That means, for me right now, talking about it lesshonoring the subtle voice that says, “Let’s be still instead of going there again.”

So I chose, instead, to focus on the colors and textures of leaves, the quiet grace with which a giraffe loped across the grass, the stubby back legs of a polar bear as it swam under water, a squirrel monkey swinging from branch to branch with its tiny baby on its back.

Trees and animals (even those very vocal guinea fowl!) bring me to stillness, which helps me practice discernment.

It’s important to note, in our Western culture which does not encourage the expression of many flavors of emotion, that venting serves a truly important purpose — it helps us to get in touch with the feelings within us so that we can work through them. Often we’re not sure what’s up for us unless we share it with a trusted other.

When we’ve shared something many times, though, and we notice that sharing again may no longer be serving us, that’s when it’s time to choose where we want to put our focus.

Because, yes, we can choose! And it’s this choosing that, ultimately, creates movement, change, and growth in our lives.

(And by the way, the most important sharing we’ll ever do is with ourselves, whether that’s writing what’s true for us on the pages of a journal or in some other form. But, often, we get to that truth through connecting with others at some point in the process.)

What do you notice about this process of discernment for you? I’d love to hear from you. (And a belated Happy Halloween!)

My specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions will continue through November 30, 2019. If you’re in an “in-between” place this fall and need support, you might want to check them out! You can do that here.

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Self-knowledge will always support you (+ Happy Fall!)

When we’re going through challenging transition periods in our lives, or when we feel seriously overwhelmed, we can get triggered. Our “stuff” can come up big time — and by “stuff” here I mean our “core issues.”

For example, if one of our core issues is feeling like we need to do it all on our own because we’re not allowed to ask for help, we may coast along seemingly doing it on “all our own” during times when we’re not particularly challenged.

But one or two important elements of our life shift, we recognize we’re feeling in over our heads, and suddenly, bam! The core issue is pressing on us: “I need to do it all on my own, but I’m in new territory here and it feels like I can’t do it on my own, but I have to because I’m not allowed to ask for help/ if I were a strong person I wouldn’t need help/ maybe the kind of help I need isn’t out there.” (I use this as an example because it’s, in my experience, a pretty common core issue for my perfectionist-leaning clients — and for myself as well!)

Another core issue could just as easily be “I can’t do it on my own — I need someone to do it for me or I won’t survive.” You can see that, while this could indeed be very true for a child, for an adult it might not be true in many circumstances (depending on what the thing is and any number of other factors).

If we, as adults, don’t take a look at the core issue that is popping up for us during challenging times, we can stay in a sort of “spin cycle” for a really long time because we don’t see a way out of it.

Usually, working with a core issue involves gaining more and more perspective around it over the course of our lives, so that what once may have felt debilitating or terribly shaming to us becomes something we understand, something we can work with, something we can hold.

So, when we’re really challenged by circumstances inner or outer or both, we need to find ways to calm and soothe our nervous systems so we can relax and detach enough to see the core issue and work with it rather than running away from it, ignoring it or pushing it down.

One of the ways I’ve noticed seems to be particularly helpful here is to call on our strengths by asking them to come forth with this question: What do I know about myself that will help me here?

What’s useful about the framing of this question is that it presupposes that we do know things about ourselves that we value, are unique to us, and that have helped us in the past. This circumvents our tendency during stressful times to go to a place of self-doubt or a place of noticing what’s NOT working and what we’re NOT good at (which is totally habitual for most of us when we’re feeling dazed by something we’ve never dealt with before and in over our heads.)

This works even if we don’t have a lot of life experience. When I was in elementary school, I absolutely hated participating in team sports, but I was forced to for daily gym class. At one point, I was struggling through some sport or other in the gymnasium, wearing my red gym uniform that always seemed way too big, and my teacher shouted out, “You’re holding your own, Jill.” (I’m pretty sure my fourth-grade teacher had gathered by this point that I hated gym, since I sometimes pretended to have a stomach ache to get out of it.)

Now, oddly, when my teacher told me I was holding my own, I believed her. It felt true — I was holding my own. I was actually somewhat nimble and good at catching balls here and there. I just didn’t enjoy any of it — I wanted to read Judy Blume books under a tree somewhere, not dodge the elbows of my aggressive classmates.

What got me through playing countless team sports in gym class for several years after that, though, was my belief in what my teacher had observed: I could hold my own. It sucked, I didn’t want to do it, but since I was a kid and I didn’t have the agency to get out of it, I could hold my own (though not so well in wretched games like bombardment!).

This was my “kid version” answer to the question “What do you know about yourself that will help you here?” “I am pretty good at holding my own.”

(And, Hallelujah, when I got to high school I had way more options for gym class and I took almost all dance classes, which I actually enjoyed.)

Now, notice that if I hadn’t believed my teacher’s observation that I was holding my own, it wouldn’t have been useful self-knowledge to draw upon. When we draw on what we know about ourselves, it won’t feel supportive if we don’t have a certain conviction about it.

A client I worked with several years ago had been through an incredibly stressful relationship break-up. I asked her what she knew about herself that could support her in this bereft-feeling place. She said (shared here with her permission), “I am really good at finding comfort in the most unexpected places.”

What a beautiful piece of self-knowledge! And notice how her essential self served that right up when I asked? We always have within us the seeds of what we need to navigate those extra-challenging spaces, even if they are only seeds and have some maturing to do. That’s often how the hard places end up serving us in the long-run — by maturing the seeds within us that are so ready for growth.

What do you notice about this for you? What do you know about yourself that will help you in a situation you’re currently facing? I’d love to hear from you!

And: In celebration of fall, my favorite season, my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! If you’re in an “in-between” space this fall and needing some support, you might want to learn more. You can do that here

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

Above photos, respectively, by Anh Trandavide ragusa, and Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genevieve the tuxedo cat makes a lovely napping companion.

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

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

How to tell if perfectionism is running the show

Pausing is not the same as stopping

Overwhelmed? Step back, then scale back.

Momentum is not always obvious

Your self-care bottom line

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

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

You only ever need to do one thing

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

Welcoming the conscious pause

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

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

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

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

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

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The magic of giving yourself more time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program is enrolling now. If you want to let go of overwhelm and embrace your creativity, I’d love to support you. Want to learn more? You can do that here

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Above images by Giv Meraj and Terry Richmond on Unsplash, respectively

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Supporting your deep-diving self from the outside in

If you’ve read my blog posts, you probably know that I believe true personal change happens most of the time in our inner world (no matter how much we scramble to change the outer).

Many of us — and I certainly include myself here — have pushed and pushed to try to control our outer worlds to the point that we bottom out on that way of life.

When we’ve gone too far in the outer direction, and we start to sense the limitations of that, it makes tons of sense to start looking within.

That said, as an introvert who often works with introverts, I’ve noticed that we “deep divers” sometimes take our moving inward just a little too far.

This might look like trying to “accept” the unacceptable — for example, working on ourselves more and more to make a relationship better, when in fact we’re better off letting go of the relationship altogether.

It might look like using spiritual practice for the purpose of avoiding the “real world” (sometimes called “spiritual bypass.”).

It can also look like making things that are simple very complicated. I remember trying so hard to “like” taking care of the yard at my old home, but in fact, I just hated yardwork. It took me ages to recognize that I didn’t have to like it, didn’t even have to do it, and it was perfectly okay to hire help.

If trying to solve the problem on the inside seems to be creating more struggle, we might need to move ever so slightly outward.

In my last post, I wrote about how getting rid of energetic drains in our surroundings can clear space for creativity. That can be a hugely important part of an outside-in approach to self-care.

Another part of an outside-in approach can be making sure we connect with people whose energy feels supportive to us on a regular basis.

If you are an introvert, your natural tendency is to move inward. And this is a good thing! It’s why introverts who try to be extroverts end up feeling exhausted — and why not enough diving inward can be detrimental to us, as I learned early in life.

Sometimes, though, introverts may find themselves a little bit “too in.” (This may be particularly true if you have high sensitivity in the mix. Elaine Aron talks about the “too in/too out” dilemma many HSPs face in her work.)

The trick for introverts is that we may have quite a bit of ambivalence about keeping up with our connections — that time to ourselves, that delving inward, can be so enticing. So I like to make sure I have regular, “calendared” ways of doing this connecting. It makes it easier for me when I know I need to show up because people are counting on me to do so.

A few other ways that can be helpful in supporting ourselves from the outside-in:

Caring for animals. On my walks, I often run into my neighbor from the condo-across-the-way as he’s walking his dog. He’s told me how meeting his dog’s needs gives him a much-needed break from his tendency to “ruminate”. I was like, preach! I haven’t had cats for thirty years only because I love cats. They allow me to have my inner world while also bringing me out of it.

Gentle time limits. Journaling is fundamental for me — I do it most days through morning pages, but it takes many other forms for me as well and is key in making shifts in my life. I do, however, set a gentle time limit on my journaling each morning. Otherwise I can sometimes get lost in it.  We might also find it helpful to set time limits on certain phone conversations, watching Netflix, or any area where we tend to be a little bit “time-boundary-challenged.”

Soft deadlines. I used to think I hated deadlines, but I’ve learned they can support me as long as I’m not imposing hard, strict deadlines on myself.  (Many thanks to my friend and coach Theresa Trosky, who years ago pointed out to me in our work together that “soft deadlines” are actually my friend!)

Bookending the day. On most days, I try to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time. This regularity bookends the day and becomes something I can count on, particularly on days when my emotions have been swirling. There are other ways I “bookend” my day, such as morning and evening pages, and we can create these kinds of “containers” for ourselves throughout the day, too.

Limiting news consumption. This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s abundantly clear that exposing ourselves to anything and everything is anti-self-care, particularly if we are energy-sensitive. I have to trust my intuition here on how much news is actually helpful for me. (Notice how many of these outer supports are a form of limit?)

I’m sure you can think of hundreds of other outside-in supports (and I’d love to hear from you!).

What I notice is that these outer supports, rather than constraining the “deep diver” in me, actually support my inward focus while keeping me connected to the outer world. They remind me that I am a human being in a physical body in a physical world, even though I do a lot of delving into my inner world.

Turning inward, doing that inner work, is fundamental for those who want truly know and understand themselves. But the outer world sometimes holds the answers for us, too (and if not “answers,” certainly support!). How do you use “outside-in” support in your life?

I’ll be enrolling in this year’s version of my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program soon. Want to learn more, or just stay connected? Feel free to sign up for my monthly-ish newsletter, here.

Hearts photo by Rachel Walker on Unsplash ; woman with dogs photo by Frederik Trovatten.com on Unsplash

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A fond farewell to a feline friend

As we near the end of 2018, it feels right to share that earlier this year we said goodbye to our beloved Sullivan, feline extraordinaire.

I have tended to be quite hesitant to share publicly when my animal companions pass away, because they are so very dear to me and their passing feels, in some ways, exquisitely private.

But Sullivan was known to many of my coaching clients, and also to folks from the various communities of which I am a part.

Chances are, if we worked together on the phone, Sullivan was curled in my lap while we talked, or maybe you heard him purring wildly (which he did when he was in “lovey-dovey” mode —  it was so loud people would tell me they could practically feel the vibration of his purr as we talked). Or, if we did a Skype or Zoom session, you may have seen Sullivan pop up on your screen, or climbing the shelves or chairs in the background.

***

I adopted Sullivan back in 2005, as a companion for Slinky (who died of lymphoma in 2010). Sullivan was by far the skinniest cat in the shelter, but his spirit radiated joy. Even into his very last weeks, he maintained his “puppy-like” personality — he’s the only cat I’ve ever had who would trot happily over to me when I called his name. (When he felt like it, of course! He was, after all, a cat.)

Sharing a box with Slinky, around 2008 (Sullivan is on the right)

Sullivan was, in fact, so skinny when I adopted him that he looked rather like Dobby the House Elf — all ears. In those early days, people who met him were shocked at his thinness. Fast-forward to 2012, and he tipped the scales at nearly 13 pounds. (“He probably shouldn’t gain any more weight,” our wonderful vet, Dr. Brancel of Prairie State Animal Hospital, said with a laugh. I took this as a win!)

When Slinky left us in 2010, I was concerned Sullivan would be in deep grief, but he simply accepted her death and went on with life. I’d sensed as Slinky worsened that Sullivan “got it” — while he’d once demanded daily attention from her, and loved to ambush her on the couch or in a box where she was sleeping, he started to leave her alone, stopping when he passed to gently groom her now and then.

Ever the shelf sitter, in 2016

As far as we know, Sullivan was probably eighteen, or close to it, when he left us. Even into his last month or so of life, he remained a climber — he loved the top of the refrigerator, the highest shelf in the living room. We noticed, though, that he didn’t look out the windows as much in his last several months, and his favorite toy — a yellow “tiger tail” filled with catnip, was going untouched more and more.

It’s hard to imagine a sweeter soul than Sullivan, and as he aged, I reassured myself (or maybe chose the path of denial) by reminding myself that I’ve had cats for thirty-plus years, and that I was by now a seasoned veteran of cat loss, and I’d be able to “accept it” when Sullivan’s time came.

But you know what? I wasn’t even remotely ready. The loss has been extremely difficult for me, and for my partner, who first met Sullivan in 2011 and loved him almost as much as I did (though Sullivan remained, for the most part, a mama’s boy).

Sporting his Day of the Dead collar in 2015

Pets come into our lives for a relatively short time. When I adopted Sullivan in 2005, I was in a different place in my life, and I was a “youngish” person, while now, there’s no way around the fact that I am — a-hem — “middle-aged.” Sullivan made that passage with me, and it’s a period of my life that I’ll always cherish.

When the time came (and you never truly know when it’s “time”), we used this service for in-home euthanasia. A truly sensitive and compassionate vet, Megan Carolyn of Chicago, came to our home and we let Sullivan go.

When I started my life coaching practice in early 2011, Sullivan became my CEO of Curiosity and Relaxation. His presence was a constant reminder to me that I didn’t have to push so hard all the time, and that just being curious about the goings-on within me would take me a very long way.

We miss and will continue to miss you, beloved friend.

***

By the way, if you’re dealing with the loss of a pet, I was helped immensely after Sullivan died by the blog of Joy Davy (who also has a book on pet loss).

And please know, this is tough stuff and there is nothing wrong or weird about feeling intense grief over the loss of an animal companion. Pets, probably more than people for many of us, are so integrated into our homes, our daily lives, that they can leave a truly massive void.

Pets also provide us with the benefits of oxytocin — the “love hormone” that is released when we touch them. This hormone is in part related to mother-infant bonding, and it is said to have anti-inflammatory benefits. When that’s taken away, it hurts. (Research also shows that the frequency of a cat’s purr has healing properties.) No wonder so many of us feel better with animal in our lives.

(And yes, we do have a new feline companion named Genevieve, a.k.a. Little G, a.k.a. The QUOTH — Queen of the House. I’ll introduce Genevieve in a future post.)

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Taking small steps to align with your values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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