Mood, assumptions, and action

Sometimes when I am working with coaching clients, we talk about things that boil down, in essence, to “low mood.” Low mood is basically “I don’t feel like doing anything. I feel kind of sluggish and down.”

Low mood can be associated with depression, that’s for sure. Low mood can also have a chemical or hormonal component. It can also be, for some of us, our natural “setpoint.” If this is the case, it’s helpful to understand that, and to know that we may need to shift ourselves into action before we feel like doing anything. Wow! That’s a tough one, right?

I have written before about the importance of shifting our energy. I actually prefer this phrasing to “taking action.”

There tends to be a huge emphasis in U.S. culture, and, quite frankly, the coaching/personal-growth world, on “taking action.” Taking action is viewed as the “right thing” and stepping back, pondering, slowing down are often viewed as “not taking action” and therefore, the wrong thing.

Obviously, context is important here. It is definitely important to take action in support of injustice and in support of things we care about. We want to take actions that align with our values.

But many of my coaching clients have been addicted to “taking action,” and growth, for them, has been to slow down and learn that it’s okay to not do. It’s okay to stop. It’s okay to be.

All this said, when we are dealing with “low mood,” it can be important to take actions to shift that mood. Acceptance also comes into play here.

I know, for example, that my “default state” when I get up in the morning is low mood. It’s been this way since I was a kid. I can remember walking into the kitchen before I left for school for the day and my dad would be shaving in the little bathroom in the hall. “Good morning, Jillie!” he (a morning person) would say. I would grumble, barely audibly, good morning. His cheerfulness, at that time of day, was jarring to me.

Rather than “forcing myself” to be cheerful, I’ve found that it helps a lot to a) know that I am in a low mood place when I get up in the morning, and b) know that this will shift as I take gentle actions to start my day.

Sometimes we can get stuck in a kind of belief that is something like “I shouldn’t feel this way in the morning. What is wrong with me?”

Obviously, if we have severe low mood that is actually impairing our ability to function, this is something to check out with a doctor. But if, like me and some of my clients, you know you have a certain “low mood” default place, this self-knowledge is important.

And beyond that, self-acceptance — this is how I feel at X time of day and that’s okay, that’s part of being who I am so far in this lifetime — will allow you to move forward, rather than spinning your wheels in the land of “I shouldn’t be this way, it shouldn’t be this way.”

The thing about low mood is that when our minds get going in that space, we can spin out many very “negative” thoughts that increase the low mood.

In this low mood space, we may notice that we have many “negative” assumptions about things, life, and other people as well. (I put “negative” in quotes because I actually don’t like to view thoughts as “negative” or “positive”, or feelings, either. I think it’s more important to notice the feelings and behaviors that certain thoughts trigger than to label any of it “negative.”)

For example, in a low mood state I might read an email from someone and it comes across as snippy or rude to me. Later, in a more balanced mood state, it may come across as neutral.

In a low mood state, ideas or plans that previously felt important and good can seem trivial or exhausting.

It’s important to recognize that your mood can have a significant effect on what you’re experiencing, how you’re experiencing it, and the assumptions you make about other people.

Shifting out of a low mood space can be pretty simple. It’s why I take a walk every morning. It’s why I get my coffee out instead of making it at home — I get to exchange hello’s and how are you’s with the people who work in the coffee place, and I get to say hi to my neighbors (and their dogs!) on my way home. By the time I’m ready to go to work for the day, my mood has shifted to something more open, more grounded, more curious.

The steps to this shift can look like this:

  • Notice. Simply be curious about how you’re feeling at the moment (it’s pretty hard to be judgmental and curious at the same time — they are opposite energies!).
  • Move your body (in whatever way this is possible for you).
  • Connect with another being (human or animal) in a tiny way. Don’t make it too big! If connecting feels like too much, try observing someone else’s good-feeling energy. This might mean just taking a minute to watch a couple of sparrows (as I did the other day).

What do you notice about your “default mood”? How do you work with it? I’d love to hear from you.

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

Need support in taking care of your unique and sensitive self while making your creative work a priority? You can learn more about the ways we can work together, here. Wondering if we’re a fit? You can learn more, here.

Above images by Ludemeula Fernandes on Unsplash and MIKHAIL VASILYEV on Unsplash, respectively

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The power of acknowledging what is true

The other day I began to feel tired and to develop a sinus headache relatively early in the day. By 2 p.m., I was pretty wiped out and really didn’t feel like doing anything else. Something in me, though, kept pushing on, trying to get done the things I’d planned for the day. I noticed as the day rolled on that I felt increasingly edgy and dissatisfied and disconnected from myself.

At about 4 p.m., I sat down on the couch and realized I was in a lot of resistance to what was true for me in that day, that moment.

I also realized (because I have been here so many times before!) that acknowledging and accepting what was true was actually the way to presence and freedom, not pushing against it as my mind would have me believe.

And as soon as I recognized that it was okay to feel exactly what I was feeling and be exactly where I was, the tension I was holding in my body shifted. My breathing slowed and became deeper. When I allowed what I was feeling, I felt freed up to go on with the day (and also to call it a day, if that’s what I chose), rather than locked into a “bad feeling place.”

I’ve written previously about “fighting a feeling”. In fact, a lot of times when I ask a coaching client what they are feeling, they describe to me the experience of fighting a feeling, trying to push something down because it is in some way unacceptable to them. Similar to trying to hold a beach ball under water, this takes a ton of energy and ultimately just doesn’t work! (That beach ball somehow manages to pop back up every time.) When we fight with our feelings, we use up a huge amount of energy that can be available to us for living our lives.

I notice that, for me, what sometimes keeps me from acknowledging and accepting feelings is the idea that, if I fully allow them into consciousness, I won’t be able to do what I need to do. This is the mentality that leads us to burnout. In fact, Amelia and Emily Nagoski describe this in their book Burnout as “not completing the stress cycle.”

When feelings come up, they are meant to be attended to. They’re signals to us. In my case, physical symptoms — my tiredness and sinus headache — were pointing me to a need for a certain type of self-care that had been lacking: I needed better sleep, and to take a look at how I much was pressuring myself to do in a given day or week, and to take some things off my plate. If I had persisted in pushing down my tiredness and general grumpy feeling, I wouldn’t have been able to attend to my needs (because I wouldn’t have been fully aware of them!).

Did acknowledging, accepting, and attending to my feelings prevent me from getting stuff done? No. In fact, it helped me to approach what I needed to do more mindfully and realistically. It helped me put my attention where I wanted it to be (on my clients, on the beautiful day outside, on the text my friend had sent), rather than on trying to push down the beach ball of “unwanted” feelings. Letting my feelings know they were wanted was key to hearing their message for me.

A client said to me recently, but what if when I acknowledge my feelings, their message for me is that I have to take an action I don’t want to take? Ah, I’ve definitely had that fear as well. The thing is, you are still the one running the show that is your life. Acknowledging and accepting your feelings doesn’t mean you have to do anything. What it does do is open you to information about what’s going on for you.

You may choose to do one thing, or another, or nothing at all with that information, but opening yourself to the information gives you the opportunity to understand what’s going on for you more clearly and deeply, and from there you have a range of options that will not even seem in the realm of possibility when you are pushing feelings down.

In noticing our options, our nervous system relaxes. We no longer feel trapped and confined (with the resulting stress that goes along with that). When I acknowledged and accepted my tiredness, only then could I open myself to the myriad ways I could attend to it. When it remained unacknowledged and unaccepted, I felt like I was in the dark when it came to my needs, like my needs were hovering around the periphery and I kept elbowing them away.

There is power in naming what’s happening for us. This is why I’m such an advocate of journaling. When we see, on paper, what is up for us, it’s no longer a mysterious force driving us. We bring it to light, where we can work with it. And often, what’s going on is simpler than we think. Maybe we’re tired, as I was, or lonely, or sad, but we just haven’t named those things and brought them to awareness.

As you go through your day, when you’re noticing stress, chances are there are feelings that are not being given the airtime they need. What happens if you pause for a minute or two to acknowledge, accept, and attend to whatever you’re feeling? I’d love to hear about your experience of this.

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

Need support in taking care of your unique and sensitive self while making your creative work a priority? I currently have one opening for one-on-one coaching. You can learn more about the ways we can work together, here. Wondering if we’re a fit? You can learn more, here.

Above cat images by Dan Gold and Aleksandar Cvetanovic on Unsplash, respectively.

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Shifting your relationship to the problem

One of my favorite books is Tara Brach’s Radical Acceptance, in which she discusses the concept of “widening the lens of attention.” (You can tell this is a book I’ve turned to again and again, given the amount of coffee stains on its pages!)

I thought about “widening the lens” while working with a client the other day. Something unexpected had come up in her life, and she was feeling overwhelmed. I could so relate to the feeling that this one thing had popped up and made everything feel unworkable.

And I was reminded that when we press up against a particular, seemingly unsolvable issue, like pressing our face to a window pane, we can lose sight of the context, and the spaciousness, in which the issue lives.

At the core of most overwhelming life issues is fear, and Tara writes about the importance of relating to our fear rather than acting from fear. Fear can narrow our focus, constricting our awareness until all that seems to exist is the issue before us.

This is a good thing when, say, we’re sitting in our living room and we smell smoke coming from the kitchen. For more complex issues — those tangled, sticky ones that seem like they have no solution (and in which there is no true emergency), it’s not so effective!

Our minds will tell us that we must combat a seemingly unsolvable problem until we have a solution — that’s what minds do. That’s why, when we’re “pressed up against it” like this, it’s important to “widen the lens” — to expand our field of awareness so that we create “right distance” from the problem.

This doesn’t mean that the problem ceases to be an issue (well, sometimes that actually does happen!). But it does mean that we become aware that this “insurmountable issue” is not the only thing in our lives — that there are things that are working very well alongside this challenging issue.

And so often, I’ve found, when we let go of the struggle around a particular issue, we can take cues from what is working. This allows us to see that a) we’re not in control of everything, and b) the problem, when viewed with more detachment and from a calmer place, may be just waiting for us not to solve it, but to change our relationship to it.

This is one of the reasons I do my “what worked well today?” evening pages exercise at least several times a week. Asking this question in my journal, and hand-writing the answers, helps connect me more deeply with what is going smoothly in my life — sometimes without a shred of conscious input from me! (Some of my clients have done variations on this exercise, such as “What did I appreciate today?” “What can I appreciate about myself today?” and “What inspired me today?”)

The poet Hafiz wrote, “Troubled? Then stay with me, for I am not.”

When we can ask the parts of ourselves that are not troubled, that are calm or confident or relieved, to weigh in on that really big problem that just won’t get solved, we are accessing an alternative way of relating to the issue, and we realize, in fact, that there may be many other ways of relating to it.

It may continue to be a problem, but we’ve been so anxious we’ve been missing the solution, which has been there all along.

Or, we may see that the “problem” is more of a path, through which we are learning about who we really are and what we really value.

The “problem” may also be a teacher, showing us that it’s not what happens to us but how we choose to respond to it that is key.

The problem may be directly or indirectly connected to systemic issues over which we do not have immediate control, and allowing ourselves to acknowledge this (rather than blaming ourselves for it) may point us to where we have true control and where we do not.

Or maybe, when we widen the lens, we realize that, with gentleness, the problem begins to evaporate — it was our own harshness toward ourselves that created it to begin with.

This was the case for me when recently I was judging myself for being confused about something, and for “doing it wrong.” When I met with a few others who were dealing with the same thing, it turned out they, too, had felt confused and concerned they were “doing it wrong.” We all realized that the information we had been given about said thing actually was incomplete and confusing, and therefore there was no “right” way to move forward with it.

Connecting with the group allowed me to recognize our common humanity — we were all being hard on ourselves and concerned about “getting it wrong.” How human of us! I realized that when I was able to let go of being harsh with myself, I could see that the “insurmountable problem” was simply a need for more complete information — and gentleness around all of this.

I’ve written here that during the pandemic my partner and I have created a practice of taking drives that help us feel more connected with with the broader world outside our home, and, particularly, with nature. After these drives, I always emerge from the car with a lightened sense of being, and a broader perspective on what I’m struggling with.

These drives support me in “widening the lens.” Walking does this for me, as well, as did connecting with others in the example above. I’ve written previously, too, about “puttering time” — that’s another way I bring in new perspectives for myself, by loosening my grip on whatever is troubling me and shifting my energy, allowing more flow.

What are your ways of shifting your relationship to an issue that feels overwhelming or insurmountable? How do you widen your field of awareness? I’d love to hear from you.

Need support in taking care of your unique and sensitive self while making your creative work a priority? I currently have one opening for one-on-one coaching. You can learn more about the ways we can work together, here. Wondering if we’re a fit? You can learn more, here.

Above images by Jenna Anderson on Unsplash and Stephanie Bernotas on Unsplash, respectively

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The invitation to move inward

Here in the Chicago area of the U.S., we are reaching the time of year where it gets dark very early.

Sometimes I turn a light on in my living room now before 4 p.m. because it’s become so dim. From my windows, I can see Christmas lights strung on the balconies of the condo building across the way, decorated trees lit up through the windows, and (my favorite!) the occasional dog or cat peering out.

I know some people find the darker times of year depressing, but I appreciate it when daylight ends earlier. It seems to me to be an invitation to reflect, to hush, to go within. And in this particular year, 2020, maybe more of us than usual are needing such an invitation.

During the pandemic, my partner and I have taken to longish drives on the weekends. I have come to appreciate, even to relish, these drives, which at first felt like acts of desperation (there’s nowhere to go!). Now they feel reflective to me, a shared activity between us where we simply notice. We listen to music on these drives, too (I rediscovered Fleetwood Mac!), and there is a quality of really listening, because our purpose is not to get anywhere. We are simply being, appreciating.

After these drives, more often than not, I feel renewed. And because we are covering more ground in the car than I would on my walks, I feel more connected to community-at-large, my place in the bigger picture, as the landscape flows by. It’s a good way of getting “out of myself” — noticing the specifics of the world around me — when I feel too “in”.

In that same way, during much of the pandemic I have been feeling too “out”. Is this true for you, too?

Less alone time and more coaching clients for me has meant more natural focus on others, and in many ways this has been very, very good. I’ve felt honored and blessed to be a part of a support system during this time for the lovely souls I work with, and it’s felt more important than ever to recognize that we all share this experience of being human, and that any issue a client I work with is experiencing is not solely “their own” — it is, in its essence, a universal thing, a part of existing on this planet.

And, for my introvert self, sometimes all this “out” is a challenge. I need to make sure I’m getting the alone time, the “puttering time,” that fills my creative well, that allows me to recharge and replenish.

That means that there are ways in which I’ve given myself permission to really slow down during this time.

Despite a couple of decades of practice of giving myself this permission, I have to say that it took me several months to recognize I needed it more than ever. A part of me kept exerting pressure to “keep to my usual pace”, with this particularly prickly voice within me piping up to utter things like, “You already go way too slow! And now you think you need to go even slower??”

Here is where I know that the “you need to speed up!” voice is not mine alone and part of a shared experience of being human (at least in U.S. culture): I have this conversation with clients a lot. The idea that they may need to move more slowly, to let some things go, triggers all sorts of fears. What if there won’t be enough? What if I won’t be enough? Who will I be if I’m “slacking off?What if I can’t keep up?

We talk about how this fearful voice is trying to help, but the voice ultimately doesn’t feel helpful.

We talk about noticing this fearful voice as a part of us, not the whole of who we are. It’s simply one part, often a young one that didn’t quite get its needs met way back when.

We talk about ways we can calm this voice, ways we can reassure it that we are okay, and we’re choosing a new way, a kinder way, to be in relationship to ourselves now.

Clients often say they are relieved to realize that this fearful, critical voice is just one part of them — just a voice within them — and that there are other, calmer voices within them, too. They’re just more used to focusing on the fearful voice.

As Kristin Neff teaches in writing about self-compassion, it’s vital to find equanimity when we are working with a part of ourselves that is fearful, that is suffering. We don’t want to overidentify with our suffering, but at the same time, we don’t want to dismiss it and pretend it doesn’t matter.

That fearful voice may have an important message for us — it’s just that, often, that message is amplified because the voice is so loud and demanding.

It can drown out other, quieter, less frenetic voices, like the voice that might say, “Hmm, yes, this is challenging right now, but we’ve faced big challenges before and figured out ways to handle them.” Or, “I’m sensing we need to rest for a while, and when we return to this issue refreshed, we’ll see it from another perspective.”

I notice that, although that frightened, frenetic voice really jumped out for me as the pandemic set in (and of course it did, why wouldn’t it?!), I am choosing to listen more to the calmer part of me, the part that knows the whole of me is capable of seeing creative solutions I might not have seen before.

And as darkness falls earlier these days, I accept the invitation to move inward and rediscover calm and quiet and the wisest part of me (who is also, by the way, quite fierce about setting boundaries around her time and energy). This will look different ways at different times, but it’s the underlying feeling of replenishing, of recharging and renewing, that tells me I’m on the right track.

For now, I am setting an intention to choose to respond when I notice a trend in my behavior of automatic reacting.

I am reminding myself that I can always access mindful presence, regardless of what I am “doing” at any time.

And that, if I am in a situation where I am really struggling to access mindful presence, I have permission to remove myself from that situation if I can. If that’s not possible, I can work toward acceptance of the situation. (And by the way, acceptance is not the same as resignation to things that are unjust! We can be in a state of acceptance of what is, and still take action toward the good.)

How can you welcome moving inward this season (whether your daylight hours have shortened or not!)? What permission can you give yourself to move inward and reconnect? How does this work for you right now? I’d love to hear from you.

Above images by Wonderlane, Debby Hudson and Renee Fisher on Unsplash, respectively

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When it’s hard getting started

As we move into a new year, we’re met with a flurry of messages: How will you make this year different? What goals will you accomplish this year? How will you create BIG CHANGE this year?

These messages may or may not line up with where we actually are in our processes, in our lives.

Just because it’s January, it does not necessarily follow for all of us that we are in a “start new stuff” phase of life. We may be in a grieving place. We may be in a “processing everything that happened in the fall” place. It may be time to take a few things off the plate rather than adding more.

Even if we are in a “start new stuff” phase of life — which can be a delicious place to be! — we might find that we’re having trouble actually starting. This could be for any number of reasons — we might be, without fully realizing it, making getting started extra-hard for ourselves.

Are you really in a “start new stuff” place? Here are some ways to tell:

• When you think about something you’d like to begin, there’s an element of excitement, fun, joy, or deliciousness to it. There may be other, less “positive” feelings there too — but you notice that at least some part of this idea or thing lights you up.

• You have the time and energy (both physical and emotional) to do this thing.

• You have the financial resources to do this thing (or know how to get them).

• You have access to other sources of support that might help you to do this thing (or ideas about how to get them).

“Start new stuff” periods in our lives are characterized by moving outward into the world and gathering support for this movement. If you got mostly feelings of “yes” when you read the above statements, then, yay! You’re probably in a “start new stuff” period of your life.

But if you didn’t? Let’s do a little investigating and see if you might be in a “time to move inward” or “in-between” place in your life.

• You feel like you “should” be starting new things, but nothing is lighting you up.

• You feel depleted — your emotional, physical, spiritual and/or financial resources do not feel like “enough” right now.

• You feel overwhelmed, or like you’ve been running on adrenaline. You’re coming off a very busy time of life, and although your mind likes the idea of starting new stuff, in your body it feels like if you add one more thing you are going to shut down or implode.

• You are going through a big loss, or have just experienced a big loss in your life.

If you got mostly feelings of “true” when you read the above statements, you are likely not in a “start new stuff” period of your life. You are likely in a “moving inward,” “processing what happened,” or “cocooning” period of your life.

When we’re in this space, it can actually be counterproductive to start new stuff (especially if it’s “big” stuff, like a project that will take a lot of time and energy, a move, or anything that requires lots of inner and outer resources to get going and keep going).

With clients who are in this space, I have often seen that projects they think they should do (because it’s a new year! Because they wanted to do them before, when they were in a different place!) end up falling apart pretty early on. It’s like there’s not enough glue (desire + resources + right timing) to hold them together.

We live in an “all action, all the time” culture. It’s not realistic to adapt ourselves to this message, pervasive as it is. Where are you, in your life right now?

If you realize you are in a “start new stuff” place — if the idea of that lights you up, at least a little! — it can help to begin in “right-sized” steps.

Lots of us have a habit of making our steps so big we just can’t wrap our minds around them. (This was me when I started blogging in 2011!)  Choosing a step that feels innately doable is key here. When I’m overwhelmed, I usually find that if I start with a step that feels super-easy, I’ll do more than I’d planned. But if I try to begin with something complex and triggering, I probably won’t get started at all.

A lot of getting started is about knowing yourself and what feels “right-sized” for you on a particular day. I remember coaching someone several years ago who felt energized by doing things in big chunks rather than tiny steps — really small steps just felt too boring to her and if something felt bigger she was actually more likely to do it, not less.

For others (like me!), we might need to make the step super-tiny on some days, and a little bigger of a step might feel right on days we’re feeling more resourced.

Wherever you are as you begin this new year, honor that. Change is a process, and there’s no right or wrong to that process — there’s only where you, authentically, are right now.

Whether you’re in a “start new stuff” phase, or a “moving inward” phase, or a “relishing what you’ve created” phase, it’s all good if it’s true for you. And you can find support for wherever you are.

What do you know about where you are as the new year begins? What’s true for you? What might support you in being where you are, whether you’re in a “start new stuff” place, or not? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of support, I have a new option on my Ways We Can Work Together page. If you need support for integrating self-care and creativity in your life, you may want to check it out!

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

Above image of black cat by Andreea Popa on Unsplash; image of yawning cat by Philippine FITAMANT on Unsplash

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Permission to hit reset

The other day I was getting really frustrated by an issue with my iPad when it occurred to me that before I started doing frantic Google searches, I could try resetting it. I did, and the issue was solved.

My partner and I have a little Winnie the Pooh picture on a shelf in our living room. The quote on it says “Let’s begin by taking a smallish nap or two.”

When I remember to look at it, it always reminds me that it’s okay to “reset.”

What does it mean for us to “hit our inner reset button”?

Well, often when I work with a client, there’s a part of her that feels frantic about the issue that’s brought her to coaching. She’s convinced she needs to stay in this urgent space or the issue will never be resolved. If this frantic energy worked to solve the problem, however, she would never have sought out help. It’s fascinating how we can cling to the idea that “if I’m not super upset about it, nothing will change!”

I have the same tendency. I’ve gotten much better at observing it in myself, and calming it down before it wreaks further havoc, but, as I’ve often written here, going to the frantic push-push-push place tends to be my default.

So I, and my clients, need lots of reminders that, while the frantic feeling is indeed a signal to us that something needs our attention, we don’t have to solve the problem from that space.

In fact, not only will trying to solve the problem from that space usually exacerbate the feeling of urgency, it also closes us off from a distinct possibility: That whatever we’re sure needs to be solved may not actually have an external “solution.” It may require an inner shift from us — or, at minimum, we are not likely to see the true solution until we have experienced an inner shift to presence.

This is what “hitting reset” feels like for me: Permission to exhale. The recognition that, in this moment, I can only be where I am, doing the one thing that calls to be done, now.

That one thing might be doing laundry that’s piling up; it might be taking a “smallish nap”, as Pooh would advise; it might be starting a new blog post; it might be paying a bill.

But before I do that one thing, I breathe. I reset. I look out the window at my neighbor walking his teeny tiny dogs. I watch my cat sleeping on her little cat sofa. I notice how my shirt feels against my skin, feel the floor or the ground beneath my feet.

I recognize just how much is good, how much is working, how much is supporting me right now.

Resetting in this way often points me to where I am putting too much pressure on myself. Pressure to do more than is possible in this day; pressure to respond to the needs of others; pressure to be more, accumulate more, produce more.

Sometimes a client will say to me some version of, “But if I don’t put this pressure on myself, won’t I stay small? Don’t I need to pressure myself in order to be all I can be?”

I can’t answer this question for anyone else, of course. I encourage clients, however, to really explore this. What does their own lived experience tell them? How does it feel when we believe we must pressure ourselves to “be more”?  (Remember, it is ultimately a feeling we are seeking, and nothing else, when it comes down to it!)

Hitting my “inner reset button” reminds me that I am enough. That there is enough, in this moment. Now, how do I proceed when I feel enough? When I believe there is enough? It’s quite a different feeling than proceeding from that frantic place.

And my lived experience tells me that I am more satisfied with the results in my life when I proceed with less self-pressure. I am more satisfied with — and sustained by — results that come from being who I am, where I am, and knowing that is enough, than results that come from frantic, “not-enough” energy.

It might be a good idea to hit our “inner reset” when:

• We feel like we’re drowning in “to-do’s”, but getting things done isn’t feeling satisfying

• We’re physically or emotionally drained (see H.A.L.T. — hungry, angry, lonely, tired)

• We’re working on a creative project and we can’t figure out how to get from one point to another (whether that’s writing, artwork, choreography, or arranging a room!)

• We have the sneaky suspicion we’ve committed to something that’s not workable, and we’re not sure how to take care of ourselves

• We’re caught up in what Byron Katie terms “other people’s business” — things having to do with other people over which we have no real control (like what they might be thinking of us!)

You can probably list a bunch more of your own here. How do you know it’s time to hit reset? What are your favorite ways to do that? How do you give yourself that permission? I’d love to hear from you.

And: My specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions end November 30, 2019. If you’re in an “in-between” place this fall and feeling stuck, these one-time sessions can provide a shift for you. (They’re also a great, low-cost way to try out one-on-one coaching if you’ve been curious about it!) You can learn more, here.

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

Top photo by Raychan on Unsplash

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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.

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

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What shifts when you stop fighting your feelings?

The other day I was on the phone with a friend, explaining how I felt about something that had happened recently in a rather heated way. When I finally paused, my friend said, “It makes total sense that you feel that way.”

After I hung up with her, I went out for a quick walk, and as I passed my neighbor and his two adorable dogs (I’m always instantly happy when I see them!) it occurred to me that something had deeply relaxed in me since I got off the phone with my friend.

It had relaxed because she had validated my feelings. She had pointed out that the way I felt totally made sense. For me. In this situation.

And the reason I’d felt so worked up when I’d begun telling her my tale was because I’d felt I needed to argue my point — a part of me was believing I shouldn’t feel the way I felt about the situation.

When my friend pointed out that how I felt made sense, something clicked.

When I relaxed and allowed and validated my feelings (thanks to my friend “lending” me her validation), I knew exactly what I needed to do to take care of myself in the situation.

When I was wondering if my feelings were “okay,” I was judging myself for having them and then believing I couldn’t take care of myself. Because “maybe I shouldn’t feel this way in the first place? Maybe I’m selfish? Maybe I need too much? Maybe my feelings are just too much?”

One of the coaches who trained me back when I went through life coach training in 2010 said that a lot of times when she asked a client to describe what they were feeling, they ended up describing fighting a feeling, rather than the feeling itself.

For some of us, fighting a feeling is all we actually know. We’ve never gotten beneath the feeling of resisting a feeling to the core feeling.

Does this sound familiar? If you grew up in, or currently work or live in, an environment where authentic emotion was or is not encouraged (and I think this applies to, oh, 99% of humans?!), chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about.

If you could believe that how you feel makes total sense for who you are and the situation you’re in, what might be possible?

Could you relax more? Could you, as I did after talking to my friend, connect more easily and quickly with what you need to do to take care of yourself? Could you view yourself, your life, and the people around you more clearly (because your vision is not clouded by fighting so hard against a feeling, or arguing so hard for your right to it)?

When we’re not fighting our feelings, or our right to our feelings, they come up, move through us, and find resolution. (Karla McLaren writes in depth about this process in her incredibly helpful books and on her website).

And we have far more access to our inner guidance when we’re not fighting or suppressing our feelings. It’s from that more relaxed place of accepting the feelings that we can see what their message for us may be. (It’s also from that place of acceptance, I’ve found, that my clients find themselves shifting out of “creative blocks.”)

Signs you may be fighting a feeling:

• You keep venting about something and it feels unresolved

• You catch yourself channeling Spock, saying things like “It’s not logical to feel, think or do this”

• You insist that the only thing you feel is boredom or apathy

• You’re easily irritated, angered, or feel ready to cry (but you don’t)

• You’re convinced that you “should” or you “have to” do something, but you’re not doing it

If this is the space you’re in, it’s time to create safety for yourself. My friend’s kind and patient presence and her validation of what I felt did that for me. On some days, though, I need to find other ways. I love the audios on self-compassion expert Kristin Neff’s site, particularly the one called “Soften, soothe, allow,” for this purpose.

The key word here is permission. If you had permission to feel just how you feel, if you could give that to yourself (because ultimately, we do have to give it to ourselves), what might you notice? What would be possible? These are (some of) the questions to ask. You can probably come up with new ones!

What do you notice about this process for you? What shifts for you when you allow yourself to feel whatever you feel? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for more articles and updates on my coaching offerings (including occasional specials for newsletter subscribers!) here.

If 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 about working with me, here.

Above blue jay images by Steve Douglas and Erin Wilson on Unsplash, respectively

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Calling in what you need (+ a summer writing opportunity!)

As I was doing some journaling before bed last night (you can read about this ritual of mine here), I realized I felt frustrated and at loose ends. I glanced over at my cat, who lay stretched full-length on the bed next to me. And a question popped into my mind:

What qualities are needed here?

Peace and ease, came the reply.

I wrote this in my journal, put it on the floor and called it a night. I didn’t sleep well, and when I woke up my first thought was, you didn’t get enough sleep, great. But I also noticed that, despite this, I felt basically rested (a glass-half-full recognition that is unusual for me!).

Even though I had a lot on my plate that needed to be attended to early in the day, I gave myself permission to take the length of walk that felt right, rather than just darting down the street for coffee and coming back home to get stuff done.

It was a warm and windy day — I’m not a hot-weather person but it was still early enough that it felt pleasant — and as I moved my body and felt the ground under my feet, my energy shifted. Except I didn’t fully notice it until I returned home, sat down at my desk, and started in on the things that needed to get done.

It all felt purposeful and relatively effortless, and I felt present and connected for all of it. The air-conditioned alcove of my work space felt pleasant and soothing, and my cat puttered around as I worked, offering me meows here and there but not getting oppressive as she often does when I work at my laptop. (Laptop is, for mysterious reasons, her nemesis!).

At some point, I realized I was truly inhabiting the morning. In fact, my entire home felt open, somehow, imbued with a curious spaciousness.

And then I remembered what I’d scribbled in my journal the night before: What qualities are needed here? Peace and ease.

That is exactly what the morning felt like for me, even though I’d forgotten I’d asked for it.

And from that place of peace and ease, the day moved so much more simply. My choices were clearer, my energy was used more wisely. I already had what I wanted to get when everything was done: a feeling of peace and ease.

***

When I work with clients who want to let go of overwhelm, we take an in-depth look at what caring for ourselves — that ubiquitous and broad term “self-care” — actually feels like for us. And what actions come from feelings of wanting to care for ourselves.

Often, it comes down to seemingly “small” and subtle —- but ultimately powerful — questions like the one I asked myself in my journal. What is needed here? What energies can I call in? What happens when I call in those energies?

When we ask helpful, supportive questions and call on the energies we need, we can let go of the struggle, the striving, the efforting.

It’s not “magic” — but there can sometimes be a magical quality to this kind of caring for ourselves. With practice, it can become a positive habit for us to ask these helpful questions even though we presently feel mired in the muck (as I did before bed last night).

I’m going to add the question “what qualities are needed here?” to my regular evening ritual for the next month or so, and see what happens.

And, at any time during the day (or night!), we always have the option to ask ourselves helpful questions, and to call in energies that can support us. When we do this, we remind ourselves that we have a choice as to how we respond to what we’re going through, what we make it mean, and what we intend for ourselves moving forward.

This also underlined for me that I do not have to force myself to try to feel certain things — I can instead choose to call on those qualities. When I simply call on them, I recognize that they’re already within me, I don’t have to create them out of thin air. (I often hear people talking about “working up their courage” — what if you didn’t have to work it up? What if you could simply call on it, because it’s already a part of you?)

What happens for you when you set an intention to call in what you need? I’d love to hear how this works for you.

***

Write with us this summer! I’ll be leading an eight-week summer writing group over at Called to Write — it starts in just one week, on June 3. If you have a writing project you’d like to get going on (or continue) with compassionate group support this summer, feel free to send an email to support[at]calledtowrite[dot]com to get all the details! We’d love to have you. The group will be kept to eight participants (at this writing, it’s about half full.)

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

Above images by Solaiman HossenAaron Burden, and Hannah Jacobson on Unsplash

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Finding a creative routine that works for you

Many years ago, I had a full-time job that drained my energy and I really wanted to write a novel. But it wasn’t happening. Every time I got home from work, I felt brain-dead, turned on the TV, watched two episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (which happened to be on right when I got home), and kept the TV on for the entire evening.

I finally resolved to get up an hour early each morning and work on my novel before I went to work. I did that for exactly one day. I felt so sleep-deprived at work due to cutting off my last hour of sleep that the entire day was a slog.

The next thing I tried was writing during my lunch hour. Typically, I didn’t take lunch, because if I skipped lunch and ate at my desk while I worked, I could leave earlier.

Writing during lunch proved challenging. I felt distracted (my mind on the afternoon work I had to get back to), and extending my work day by an hour drained my energy (too overstimulating for this introvert).

The next thing I tried was writing after I got home. I resolved to not turn on Sabrina the Teenage Witch (no Salem for me!), go right to my desk, and work for an hour.

This failed miserably. Once I walked through my door, my system set itself to “relaxation mode” and the hour of writing felt like a climb up a mountainside with a boulder strapped to my back.

Now, you may be thinking at this point, Well, yeah! It’s hard. You have to force yourself to do it!

Except I didn’t want my writing to be constantly tied up with the feeling of forcing myself. The whole reason I wanted to write a novel in the first place was because writing brought me joy and purpose, and because reading novels had felt so joyful and purposeful to me. Forcing myself to write was not going to work for me for the long haul.

So I started looking at the elements that seemed important here.

• It was important to me that I was able to sleep as late as possible in the morning — that worked best for my body.

• It was important to me that I could leave work as early as possible — that created the most hopeful and positive feeling for me in my work day.

• Writing at home at the end of the day didn’t work because it was too tempting for me to succumb to TV at that time — I had to rely far too much on willpower at that time of day in that setting.

But then I thought — hmm. What about a different setting? What about writing after work, but not at home?

So the next thing I tried was heading to the coffee place that was next door to my workplace, right after work. I brought a spiral notebook with me, ordered coffee, and started writing. About forty-five minutes in, it felt right to call it a day.

I went home, turned on the TV, and did my usual nighttime routine — except my writing was done. I hadn’t had to cut off my sleep in the morning to do it, and I hadn’t had to take a lunch hour. And I could go ahead and relax when I entered my apartment.

Eventually, I decided on writing at the coffee place at least four days a week, right after work, for no more than forty-five minutes a day. (I discovered that if I tried to push beyond forty-five minutes, I got too much into the “forcing myself” zone and I started to rebel. If I kept it at forty-five minutes, it usually felt just right.)

Creating takes energy — there’s no way around it. And while it’s true that creating gives us energy (as Maya Angelou famously said), it’s also true that our bodies have needs, very real ones.

Since several years prior to this period of my life I had completely ignored my physical needs and ended up terribly ill, I knew I had to take my body’s needs seriously. I knew I couldn’t afford to let perfectionism take the reins again. I needed a “reasonable, realistic” creative routine.

Ugggh! Reasonable and realistic had to be two of my least favorite words. (Still true for me — I’m an INFP, after all!)

So I had to do a couple of things in order to allow myself to carry on with this “workable but not necessarily exciting” creative routine:

• I had to let myself be a regular, boring human who couldn’t crank out a novel draft in a weekend on a great wave of inspiration.

• I had to accept that my creative identity was changing — it was no longer about great highs and lows — I was no longer flying above the treetops or clutching a towel sobbing on the bathroom floor. My creativity was now going to be built into my daily life, in a quieter, more subtle, more sustainable way.

And this needed to be okay if I was going to have a healthy relationship between my physical body, my emotional self, and my creativity.

It took me about a year and a half to get to a complete novel draft, and another year to rewrite it. I didn’t “crank it out in a weekend,” but I did finish it. (And although this novel makes me cringe now, I used excerpts from it to get into a graduate writing program, where I became a better writer. No creating is ever wasted!)

It’s a fact: as much as we may not like to believe it (I know I didn’t), we have a finite amount of energy available to us each day. (When we’re going through big things, we’ll have less than usual.)

We don’t move forward by arguing with reality. We move forward by embracing it. When we tend to see lots of possibilities, it can be easy to get disconnected from the realities of our physical and emotional selves.

But we’re in physical bodies for a reason (if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be here, having this human experience!). We need to honor our creativity and our physical and emotional needs.

Finding the right creative routine takes testing and trying. I tweaked this routine in small ways many times, and my life is different now and I don’t have this routine anymore. We need to be open to what works for us now, and willing to let it change and evolve.

It’s possible to find a creative routine that works for you — even when it seems like it isn’t. What have you discovered about this for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

I am currently enrolling new coaching clients. Do you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care? I’d love to help.

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

Above images by Carli Jeen, Ella Jardim, and Kyle Glenn, respectively, on Unsplash

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