There are always alternatives to pushing yourself

I often write here about how pushing ourselves too hard for too long can result in frustration, exhaustion, and burnout. (Which, ironically, slows us waayyyy down, and we’re usually pushing ourselves because we believe we need to go faster!)

A client said to me a while back, “But how do I know the difference between pushing myself to get something done and making enough effort to get it done? They feel the same to me.”

I totally hear this. Most of us have been raised to believe that pushing ourselves hard is some sort of virtue, and that pushing ourselves is simply necessary in order to achieve something.

I used to believe this, and it had much to do with being disconnected from my body and emotions and not recognizing what was true for me until I was exhausted (or sick).

I was all about ignoring the subtleties that tuned me in to what was happening for me.

In fact, I was so good at ignoring my body and my emotions that when I did start getting quiet enough to tune into them, I thought something was really wrong with me.

I became acutely aware of every physical sensation, every ping of hunger, every gentle sadness. I had bulldozed over my inner world for so long by pushing myself that when I started to tune into it, it felt very strange. It was like turning up the light in a room that had previously been dim.

Over time, as I began to gain more self-awareness, I realized there was not just “one mode” of moving through the world — there were actually many flavors of “getting things done.”

Pushing hard wasn’t the only way. I could choose it, for sure, but I discovered over time that doing so was not the kindest, or most effective, path for me.

There are so many ways “staying the course” can look and feel, whether we’re talking about a project that’s important to us or something else we want to stick with through the end.

And the key here is to decide what kind of relationship we want to have with this thing, and with ourselves.

Part of this is choosing language that resonates with how we want to feel. If you don’t want to feel exhausted at the end of the day, it might be best not to say “I really need to push myself today.” (I’ll point out here that some people truly like the feeling of pushing themselves! Even for them, though, there’s a point where it’s too much pushing, not enough allowing, not enough being — and it’s important to know the difference for yourself.)

What I shared with my client is the difference, for me, between pushing and tenacity.

Tenacity, for me, feels like hanging in there with something just long enough to stretch myself for the day, and continuing to show up and do that for the long haul. It’s like stretching a rubber band just enough to give it tension — but not so much that it snaps back or breaks.

We could also think of this as the commitment to keep showing up because we want and choose to show up. Do you remember being pushed to do something as a kid? Why was that person pushing you? Because they wanted you to do something you didn’t want to do, no doubt.

When you want to do something — even if that something is uncomfortable — embracing inner tenacity helps you remember you want to do this, and you will. But since there’s no pushing involved, you’re less likely to trigger that opposing force that says “No! I won’t do it!”

When we look at hanging in there with a project for the long haul, we can see that our energy will naturally ebb and flow — on some days, we’ll have more available to us than on others. Sometimes, hanging in there for the long haul might look like resting more. Sometimes, it might mean working on something just that little bit longer.

If we can pay attention to our body sensations and our emotions, we’ll start to understand what “enough for the day” feels like for us.

This is something we learn and refine over time. It’s life’s work for some of us. And that is a good thing! We will never “arrive” — there will always be more to learn about ourselves. If we push ourselves to “arrive” as fast as we can, we’ll simply end up in burnout, with the realization that “arriving once and for all” is an illusion. There’s no “there” there.

Ways to differentiate tenacity from pushing:

• There’s a “deliciousness” to tenacity. It’s stretching you, like when you use muscles you haven’t before, but you’re not collapsing.

• If you feel “shut down” (or want to shut down), you’ve probably been pushing. Remember that if someone physically pushes you, it’s a reflex to either push back, flee the scene, or freeze because you’re so stunned. All of that is tremendously rough on the nervous system, particularly if it happens again and again.

• When you are tenacious, you quit while you’re ahead. You end for the day feeling alert, maybe slightly used up, but not so used up that you want to avoid your project tomorrow. You’ve used up a good bit of energy, but you feel like there’s more where that came from rather than “totally wiped out.”

• If you sense a lot of inner conflict, like you’ve got one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake, you’ve probably crossed over into “push mode.” When we’re tenacious, we stay aligned with a certain lightness. It doesn’t feel like a slog.

Really getting this difference is not an intellectual exercise — don’t let your mind tell you what’s “enough” for the day. It’s a visceral thing, and it takes practice. Twenty-plus years of learning here for me and I still overdo it at times, still get caught.

So I need to keep checking in with myself, notice what works for me and what doesn’t, notice where I’m getting sucked into what I think I “should” do rather than what feels truly supportive and effective for me.

(For more related to this topic, you might find this post and this post helpful.)

What do you notice about the different between pushing and tenacity for you? Is it subtle, or more pronounced? I’d love to hear from you.

Feel like you’re “in limbo” this fall and need some support to move through it? My specially-priced Autumn Transition Sessions are underway.  You can find out more here.

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

Above images of squirrel monkeys by RaychanVincent van Zalinge, and Diego Guzmán, respectively, on Unsplash

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You don’t need a “good reason” to fill up again

I’ve spent the second half of this month recognizing that I was feeling “creative depletion,” and allowing myself to fill up again.

This snuck up on me (even though a huge part of the work I do is about reminding myself and others to resource themselves!).

And it caused me to think of a client I worked with a while back who said she had been feeling a great need to “just stop” for a while, but that she couldn’t let herself do that because she didn’t have a “good reason” for that need.

She is certainly not the only client I’ve worked with who’s had that belief, and oh! how I relate to this statement. How often have I doubted a need of my own because I couldn’t figure out the “why” of that need?

Maybe I don’t really need it if it doesn’t seem “logical”? Maybe I can’t admit it fully to myself if there doesn’t seem to be a “concrete reason” for it? Maybe I don’t really need it if it seems like others don’t need it?

Two weeks ago I was on my way back to Chicago after a visit with my parents and I had gotten on the plane and settled into my seat. There was a rather ominous announcement from the pilot. “Uhh … folks … unfortunately there’s a storm approaching, and we’re gonna have to wait it out here until it passes before we can take off.”

There was a collective groan, drowned out by my inner one. “Trapped on a plane” presses the anxiety button for me like few things do. “Well, at least they’re not telling us to get off the plane, right?” I said nervously to the woman next to me. “Not yet,” she said with a frown.

Luckily, the in-flight entertainment system in the back of the seat in front of me was working, and after a few deep breaths, I looked for something to watch. I chose the Julianne Moore movie Gloria Bell (which I thoroughly enjoyed, and which reminded me of the terrain I love to explore in my writing).

As I watched, I became present to the story unfolding on the screen, and although a frantic voice in the back of my head still whispered, “You’re never going to get out of this airport!”, I sank into the movie.

Within an hour, we were off the ground headed for Chicago, and I realized something important: it’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself to be truly present to a work of art.

And that reminded me of this: Creativity is a two-way street — we won’t feel full of our own creative energy if we do not take time to fully digest the creativity of others.

We fill up by recognizing ourselves in the work of others. We fill up by acknowledging that we are never alone in our creating, in our experience, in our humanness.

Always lurking, however, is this idea my client, and I, have harbored: that I need a “good reason” to deeply sink into something, to deeply focus, or to deeply rest. That I somehow need to “earn” the right to fill myself up — not in a “consuming content” way, but in a “present to what is in front of me” way.

So I’ve re-committed to filling my creative well, as Julia Cameron puts it, in a more mindful way during this second half of August.

And I’ve moved a bit away from the digital — my partner and I attended a play in person, we went to a movie in the theater, I found a collection of short stories I’d never read among our vast library of actual books (Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America — so good!), and it felt so nourishing and satisfying to hold the book in my hands rather than reading from a screen.

We don’t need a “good reason” to take care of ourselves in whatever way feels right to us. Sometimes it feels absolutely wonderful to read and watch things on my iPad, even with the interruptions I find myself indulging in. But I’ve been craving deeper focus, more consistent connection with words and images. And in doing so I am feeling full where I’d been experiencing depletion.

I’ve noticed it’s often helpful for us to look to our future selves: What happens for “future you”, six months or a year or five years from now, if you continue to believe you need a “good reason” to fill your creative well? What if that reason never appears? Will life be sustainable for future you?

It’s worth noting that “filling up again” can look all sorts of ways. My partner and I have been doing a lot together lately, but it’s been leisurely, connective, fun-filled doing, not hurried, get-it-done-now doing. (And giving feels so much better from this filled-up, solid, connected place.)

How do you know it’s time for you to fill up again? What happens if you let go of the idea that you need a “good reason” to do it? 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.

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.

Above images by Siora Photography and Michel Porro, respectively, on Unsplash

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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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On gratitude, appreciation, and right timing

As we near the time of Thanksgiving here in the U.S., I want to circle back to something I’ve been doing for quite a while now. (I wrote about it in this post.)

As a complement to writing morning pages, I have been doing “evening pages” since early last year. I don’t do them absolutely every evening — usually it’s more like once or twice a week at this point. In my evening pages, I simply answer this question: “What worked today?”

It feels fitting to mention this at Thanksgiving time, as I notice it’s become a kind of unintentional gratitude practice for me as well. In answering this question in my journal, I never fail to notice so much that worked during the day that I would not have noticed if I weren’t choosing to focus on it.

For example, yesterday a woman held the door for me for a long time when I was struggling with my bags. (This on a day when I had also complained to my partner about the rudeness of another person I’d encountered.)

Until I sat down to my evening pages, I’d already forgotten about the kindness of this person who held the door — but when I set an intention to think back on what worked, she popped right into my mind.

It’s easy to get swept up into dark territory these days (I think you know what I mean!). And I’m not saying we should “be positive!” and ignore important issues that must be dealt with. But we must also choose to notice how much goodness is present. How much kindness, how much generosity.

***

My evening pages have also pointed me to something else: the rightness of timing.

One of my “default” fears is that I am moving too slowly, that I take way too long to get where I need to go. While I have accumulated all kinds of evidence that this is not true, it still tends to be a go-to fear for me, particularly when I am feeling thwarted in some way.

I noticed this happened for me on Sunday, when I ran into technology issues while trying to get my monthly newsletter out. The more frustrated I got, the longer it took, the more I noticed myself going to that default fear: Why are you so slow? Why does everything take you so freaking long? You’ll never get anything important accomplished. You’re always behind where you need to be.

Although the technology issues had nothing to do with me personally, my poor mind tried to make sense of them by blaming myself and deciding the problem was that I was just too slow. (This is a “child-me” thing — children blame themselves for all kinds of things that have nothing to do with them. With their limited power and perspective, it helps them to make sense of things. How often do we do this as adults, even though we have far more power and perspective than we did as children?).

Finally, I stepped away and decided I’d deal with the newsletter on Monday. As I did my evening pages Sunday night, I found myself writing about all kinds of things during the weekend that had been good timing for me. Things that might not have happened if I’d forced myself to do other things.

Like: I regretted missing a volunteer opportunity Saturday morning — but during that time, I met up with this adorable little dog I know (and his people!) in my neighborhood. We watched this lovely creature bound through the fall leaves, losing his little lime-green “dog booties” — three of them popped right off as he ran — which caused all of us to laugh, and didn’t phase the dog at all, who just kept right on frolicking.

I was so grateful for witnessing that — it felt so nourishing to me — that I went right to it in my evening pages. But if I’d forced myself to do the volunteer thing I’d thought I “should” do that morning, I’d have missed it.

So, my evening pages have given to me this helpful question: What if my timing is perfect? Most humans tend to have a deeply-ingrained habit of asking ourselves unhelpful questions. Focusing on what works, what we cherish and appreciate, can point us to far better questions. 

***

I’ll be taking the end of next week off for the holiday, but you can still sign up for one of my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions through tomorrow, Friday, November 16. If you’re struggling with a tricky life transition this fall and need some support, I’d love to help. You can find out more about these sessions, here.

In the meantime, I wish you much to cherish and appreciate (whether you observe Thanksgiving next week or not!).

What do you notice when you shift to focusing on what worked today, or simply what you appreciated? I’d love to hear from you.

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

Above images, respectively, by Evie Shaffer and Alvan Nee on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

This is the time, my friends, for kindness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seven years of The Artist’s Nest

Seven years ago this month, I wrote my very first blog post (you can read it here!).

Seven years is a long time! (Five, I could believe — but seven? I often feel like I’m about two years “behind” and I need to catch up with myself somehow. Like life has gone by so quickly I haven’t been able to process it all. Can I just have an extra two years to process, please?)

Seven years ago, March 2011, I was fresh out of my training to become a Martha Beck life coach, and blogging was a way of letting people know about my new “thing” and sorting out the issues I saw coming up for my (gulp!) new clients and also issues I’d been working with myself.

But blogging here has become something much more than that for me. It’s a writing practice. It’s a practice of showing up. It’s a practice of pressing publish.

In many ways, it’s a spiritual practice for me, because it causes my “stuff” to come up. (Do I really want to write this? Do I really want to publish this? Do I really want to reach out and connect, with all that entails? It’s great to revisit these questions, and to ultimately see, again and again, that the answer is “yes.”)

There is something about sticking with a practice for the long haul. It’s a relationship. You don’t get the benefits of the relationship if you’re not willing to keep showing up, even when you’re not sure, even on the days you wonder “why the heck are we doing this again?”

So I’m glad I’ve hung in here for this blogging relationship. And I’m so grateful — and honored — to have connected with readers and clients I’d never have “met” had I not started blogging. These posts have been a starting point for some of my most treasured connections.

By the way, here are the ten most viewed posts on The Artist’s Nest from these past seven years:

When your downtime doesn’t happen

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

Saving the worms

Ways to shift your energy when you’re stuck or overwhelmed

Getting out of analysis paralysis (or: what to do when you don’t know what to do)

A two-step journaling process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared)

The power of evening pages and “it’s done” lists

Two ways to deal with “idea paralysis”

Where self-acceptance and creativity meet

Knowing yourself: What words inspire you?

As any writer knows, it’s funny to look back at things you wrote a long time ago. With some of these earlier posts, I barely even remember them — I’m like, did I write that? (This kind of distance can be a great thing, as it helps you look at your writing — and yourself! — with more detachment. Which always makes me laugh, eventually.)

Just for good measure, here are three of my favorite posts:

Daily saving graces for hard times

Squirrel wisdom (or, the power of a good question)

Creating rituals around the tough stuff

Thank you, dear, dear readers, for your presence. Whether you’ve left a comment, shared a post, sent me an email (and some of you have done these things many times!), or simply “lurked” here (lurkers are most welcome!) — I am truly grateful. I’ve felt your presence, and it’s meant, and continues to mean, so very much to me.

Want to stay connected? My Artist’s Nest Newsletter contains brief updates on my coaching offerings, and other good stuff — like how to get in on our monthly Artist’s Nest Community Calls. I’d love to have you there! You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Above images © Yanik Chauvin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and  © Lejla Alic | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Why it’s okay to be “boring” in your journal (+ community call date change!)

A few weeks ago I received this email (and the writer gave me permission to share it here):

I have been subscribed to your blog for a while now and I notice you talk a lot about journaling and morning pages and how valuable they are to you. While I want to believe this is true, I have so much trouble actually writing in a journal. It seems like everything I write is so mundane I can’t stand seeing what’s in my own mind! So I quit. But then I’ll want to try again, and I do it for a few days and I can’t stand what I’m writing so I quit again. What is my problem? Should I be journaling or not? I feel like it would help me connect with myself, but I don’t actually seem to like it. Any suggestions?

I wanted to share this email here because this is so, so common. I hear similar reports from my life coaching clients and have heard them from so many others when I share that I’ve been journaling regularly for more than thirty years.

First of all, whenever something becomes a “should”, we naturally develop resistance to it. So, no, you “shouldn’t” be journaling. You shouldn’t be doing anything.

There are plenty of ways to connect with yourself besides journaling and/or morning pages. Just because you hear lots of people saying how great they are doesn’t mean you have to do them. Find another way of connecting with yourself on a regular basis if journaling doesn’t speak to you. Find some way of being in your own company and noticing what you’re thinking and feeling. It doesn’t have to be journaling.

But I want to point something out here: When journaling/morning pages feel “boring” or frustrating because everything spilling out of you onto the page seems “mundane”, it may just be that you are uncomfortable with connecting with yourself.

I write tons of mundane stuff in the pages of my journals. I write about how I couldn’t decide which pair of jeans to buy, because one fit better but I liked the topstitching on the other one better. I write about how I can tell I am getting a zit and how I would have died if you told me when I was sixteen that I would still sometimes have zits in my forties. I write about how we rearranged the living room furniture and how pleased I am with how it looks.

And you know what? I enjoy writing this mundane stuff in the pages of my journal. I enjoy it because I am not trying to be “extraordinary” on the pages of my journal — my purpose there, often, is simply to keep myself company, to know the contents of my mind.

We are all capable of focusing on lots and lots of mundane stuff. And if we like who we are, if we enjoy our own company, that’s not a bad thing.

And here’s the paradox: My purpose with journaling is to keep myself company on the page, to know my own thoughts and feelings. And a lot of times, yeah, that’s pretty “mundane”. But my purpose with journaling is also to break through all that stuff, to cut a layer deeper, to get underneath it all.

If I’m really freaking out because I have a zit, if that’s really bothering me on a particular day, what’s underneath that? What am I making it mean? That underneath it all I’m still an insecure sixteen-year-old? That my body is out of control? That just when I’m feeling good, I have to be reminded of how imperfect I am?

You see what I mean? We can use the mundane in our journaling as a jumping-off point to understanding ourselves better. And that self-connection and self-understanding connects us to others — because we’re not so different from anyone else. In keeping ourselves company on the page, we realize we are in lots of good company.

When people tell me “I hate journaling because I can’t stand how mundane I am and how I wallow in my own shitty inner stuff” I want to say: Welcome to the human race. We are all mundane and we all wallow, at times, in our own shitty inner stuff. And, we are all capable of going a layer deeper, or many layers deeper, and letting that very human stuff take us to the core of who we are.

I would say to the writer of this email: There’s a reason that even though you always seem to quit journaling after a few days, you keep on wanting to try it again. You want to know yourself. 

This is a very good thing. Because no one is ever going to know you as deeply as you can know yourself. Not a significant other, not a child, not a parent, not a friend. One of the huge gifts of being here on this earth is that you have the opportunity to know yourself.

People who have the desire to write, to create in any way, usually have a deep desire to know themselves. But sometimes we have a tendency to think this desire is “selfish,” because we are so mundane so much of the time. What if it turns out we’re not that extraordinary? 

Give yourself a break. Let yourself be mundane. When you make room for your “ordinariness”, you will find it so much easier to allow the parts of you that are extraordinary to surface. Because we all have so much of both. We all have so much of everything within us.

A dear teacher of mine once said, “Great writing is nothing more than the truth, plainly told.” You will never see this more clearly than on the pages of your journal. But you need to stick with it for more than a few days. You need to be so loving toward the mundane contents of your mind that you see that you are not so mundane, after all.

And: Due to a scheduling conflict, I’ve pushed out the start date of the Artist’s Nest community calls one month, to Wed. Feb. 28. Want to join me on these monthly calls? You can get the call-in info (which I’ll send out approximately 24 hours before the call) by signing up for my newsletter, here!

Above images: Top,  © Kasia Biel | Dreamstime Stock Photos; bottom, one of my earliest journals, with kitty.

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End-of-year rituals and inquiries

Thanks to a severe cold that triggered a sinus infection, I was down for the count for the week before Christmas and am not quite fully operational as of this writing. So I didn’t get to “part two” of my last post — but I promise the topic of reconnecting with your “why” will be addressed at some point in the New Year.

Something I really savor doing toward the end of the year is engaging in some reverent curiosity about what went down during the past twelve months.

As I wrote a while back, I’ve been doing an evening ritual (as often as I can, not quite every night) which has two parts: 1) I ask the question, “what worked today?” and 2) I write an “it’s-done” list (as opposed to a “to-do” list).

When I do this evening ritual — and fall asleep having done it — I notice I wake up with a much more peaceful, hopeful, and confident perspective than I do when I have not done it. (First thing in the morning is not naturally my best time of day.)

My end-of-year ritual is a similar process — I’m just looking with a broader eye at the “big picture” of the whole year (using “eagle vision”, as Martha Beck puts it, as opposed to the “mouse vision” that sees the details of a particular day).

But I like to riff on the question “What worked this year?” and add in a few more, such as:

What worked really well?

What surprised and delighted me?

When did I surprise myself (and how)?

What felt easy that has previously felt hard?

Where did I challenge myself and realize I was more than up to the challenge?

What were a few of my favorite things this year — and why? (One of my personal faves: Seeing Tori Amos perform for a sold-out house at the Chicago Theater in October!)

What qualities would I like more of in the coming year? (examples: trust, fortitude, lightness, softness, clarity, calm, spontaneity … you get the idea!)

What am I noticing I am ready to let go of in 2018?

Then, I dive into — and really relish — my “it’s done” list for the year. Any accomplishment — big, small, internal, external — anything that comes up for me from January through December — goes on the list.

What’s great about this is that — as with the “it’s done” list in my evening ritual — there are so many more things that I’ve done than I’ve actually acknowledged.

And it’s so important to acknowledge what we feel good about. Some of these accomplishments can be rather subtle (“I paused and counted to ten before reacting”) and we may forget about them. These are the ones that — in my humble opinion — are especially important to get on the list.

Maybe we made fewer assumptions about the behavior of others than we have in the past — or maybe we noticed our assumptions and questioned them more. This is huge, and should not be overlooked.

These are simply some suggestions, but however you go about making end-of-year inquiries and acknowledging what you’ve done, how you’ve changed, I encourage you to savor your own ritual. Light some candles, sit next to your Christmas tree (if you celebrate Christmas), curl up with a blanket next to your cat or dog (our animal companions tend to connect us to our hearts, which helps us get in touch with what we most cherish).

With that, I will sign off and continue extreme self-care so I can enter 2018 feeling as close to “normal” (whatever that is) as possible!

I look forward to connecting with you, dear readers, in the New Year. Hope your New Year’s has all the sparkle, hope, and glistening snowflakes you desire (or, if you’re not a cold-weather person, sun rays on your skin).

By the way, you can sign up for my Artist’s Nest newsletter, to receive updates on my life coaching offerings and other good stuff, here. I’ll be creating some fun new things in 2018, so now’s a great time to sign up!

What are your end-of-year rituals, if you have them? I’d love to hear from you.

Above images: Candles, © Easyshutter | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and second photo, close-up on my own Christmas tree.

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Are you distracting yourself — from yourself?

beachumbrella

One of the most life-changing books I had the great fortune to discover back in my twenties was Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child. When we hear the term “gifted”, we often think of school — academically gifted, or perhaps musically or artistically. In her book, Miller’s “gifted” refers to children whose sensitivity enables them to intuit and absorb the energy and emotions of those around them as a survival skill. 

One of the things that stuck with me most from the book over the years was when Miller described a psychotherapy client she’d worked with who learned, painstakingly, to connect with herself after many years of disconnection. Miller noticed that as soon as her client would connect with herself, and start to experience the satisfaction inherent in that connection, she would distract herself in some way — usually by attending to others.

Miller noted in her client this “compulsion to repeat” — in the client’s childhood, every time she had connected to herself, she had been distracted by family members who demanded her attention. As an adult, the client distracted herself in this same way, whenever she felt self-connection. 

Sound familiar? Just the other day, I happened onto the (wonderful) movie Revolutionary Road on TV, and found myself totally absorbed in it, and at the same time completely enjoying my own company. Then a thought occurred to me: I should call my mom and ask her if she’s seen this movie. I need to call her today, anyway. 

I was just about to pick up the phone and call my mother when I recognized (again!) my unrewarding tendency to distract myself in the name of some sort of “service to others” at exactly the moment when I am feeling most absorbed in some act of creativity and/or my own company.

Underlying this tendency is a belief: that it is somehow self-indulgent to truly savor time to myself or to fill my creative well. It’s also familiar, since (not unlike Alice Miller’s client) it was usually when I was enjoying my own company as a kid that I got interrupted to attend to something — or someone — more “worthwhile”. It wasn’t long before I learned to interrupt myself.

***

There’s a connection here to what some call “upper limits syndrome”. Upper limits syndrome has to do with our capacity to hold good feelings — the good stuff of life — within ourselves.

I don’t know about you, but in a certain way it is easier for me to “hold” feelings of failure, disappointment, and frustration than it is for me to truly embrace feelings of success, joy, and, yes, contentment. Learning to be with them — to be comfortable with the good and the great — is a work in progress for me.

When life feels “too good” — in other words, more good flows in than I’ve learned to embrace — I “default” to habitual behaviors that temper all this good stuff by bringing in more “bad”. This can look like eating junk food rather letting myself feel the wonderful feedback I got that day, or suddenly worrying that a cold (or some other physical issue) is coming on when I’ve challenged myself in a new way and therefore expanded my sense of what is possible for me.

This is what is known as “upper limiting.” Sometimes it plays itself out as a belief that it’s okay to do really well in one or two areas of our lives, but not in a third (even if it’s important to us). For example, if we have a great relationship, we’re not allowed to also make good money or have creative success — isn’t that just a little too much goodness? 

***

On a call with some fellow coaches a couple of years ago, we noted that each of us had the tendency to practice solid self-care only to the extent that it served our work, our relationships with others, or our creativity. We realized we were effectively sending ourselves the message that self-care was only truly okay as long as it was in service of something else.

For me, this sounded something like, “I need to take good care of myself so that I can show up fully for my clients and for my writing.” But — insidiously — I was leaving me out. When we do work that we love, it does give back to us, and we are not totally separate from the work. And yet, we are not the work.

What I’ve found is that I need to make sure I check in with myself and notice where I am fueling myself only so I can give that fuel to others, or to my creative work. Because it is when I can allow myself to just be for the sake of being in my own company, my own presence, that I truly fill up enough for there to be genuine overflow to the people and projects I care about.

What do you notice about this for you? Do you find yourself distracting yourself just when you feel most connected? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image © Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Honoring your way of taking action in the world

glidingswan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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