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

frozen berries

That feeling that you’re up against a wall and there’s nowhere to go: it’s the worst. It’s enough to keep you up nights, and then you’re sleep deprived, which makes everything look about a hundred times bleaker than it is.

Feelings of overwhelm and “stuckness” do not come from our circumstances; they come from our thoughts. That’s not to say that our circumstances do not trigger feelings of overwhelm and stuckness — they definitely can. The holidays, for example, trigger overwhelm for many of us. That’s because they add that much more to our to-do list.

But it’s the thoughts we’re having about everything on the to-do list that create the feeling of overwhelm, not the to-do list itself.

Now, you can try crossing things off the to-do list to lessen the overwhelm. And it can work, sometimes very well.

But I suggest doing something else first: shifting your energy.

The quality of the energy we bring to our circumstances interacts with those circumstances and transforms them. Sometimes, we try to change circumstances, only to end up in the same energetic space: stagnant, heavy.

So before we go about manipulating our circumstances by crossing things off the to-do list or diving in headfirst to “get it all done,” let’s look at ways to shift our energy.

1) Trim tabs!

Martha Beck wrote this article for O Magazine where she talked about how Buckminster Fuller invented something called the trim tab for large ships. The trim tab is this teeny-tiny rudder placed on the ship’s large rudder that allows the ship to turn with a very slight amount of pressure.

I like to remind myself of trim tabs when everything feels like too much. I don’t have to move the earth in order to create change; I only need to make one tiny change that creates new direction.

Every time I remember trim tabs, I realize that there is NO WAY I can make all the changes I think I need to make right now. And I don’t need to. I just need to focus on one small change that tilts my course in the right direction. And go from there. (As a bonus, thinking TRIM TABS! reminds me that it’s not all up to me. When I make one small choice, other forces are set into motion, and I’m not in control of all of them. This is good news! )

2) Think marathon, not sprint.

Back when I was in life coach training, Pam Slim was teaching us a class on marketing our businesses, and she said, “It’s a lot more helpful to think of marketing as a marathon, not a sprint.”

This knocked me upside the head. At the time, it was quite the revelation for me. I’d always been a sprinter. If I had an idea, I wanted to make it happen, fast. My sprinting ways made me extremely impatient, particularly in my twenties, when I gave up routinely when something I wanted to happen seemed to be “taking too long.”

The fact is, large-scale changes take time. Even small changes often do not occur within a day or a week. Humans are resistant to change (it’s part of our built-in survival mechanism), and change very often takes longer than we predict. (I usually find that if I want it to happen in six months, it will actually happen in a year. But it will happen.)

Remembering “marathon, not sprint” — taking the long view — reminds us that progress is not always immediately apparent, and allows us to take the pressure off.

I bet if I challenged you to write down all the progress you’ve made in your life in the past five years, you could easily fill an entire page without having to think too hard. But you probably wouldn’t have been able to recognize all of it while it was “progress in process.”

3) Move your body.

This is one of the simplest ways to shift energy — the trick is, you can’t let your mind talk you out of doing it! Taking a ten-minute walk and focusing on your stride, your breath visible in the cold air, the dog in the sweater who just trotted by, is an amazing way to get out of your mind and press the reset button. But your mind will tell you it won’t make a difference, there’s no time, yadda yadda. Don’t listen to it!

4) Water.

Taking a shower is one of my favorite ways to shift my energy. Even washing my hands can do it. And doing dishes! Yes, I actually enjoy doing dishes because it allows me to be in proximity to water. Standing near a body of water, or sitting near an aquarium, can do it, too. Or just drinking a glass of water. Again, give it a chance — don’t let your mind talk you out of it! It works.

5) Write it down.

There’s power to seeing something in words, on paper. (The act of moving your hand across paper also ties into point #3 — it moves your body. It’s a much more physical act than typing.) When you can get whatever’s keeping you up at night out of your head and allow it to be held by the paper, you’re reminded that it is not bigger than you are.

Another way to approach this is to do what Natalie Goldberg calls “writing practice.” Just write what you see, what’s in front of you right now. “My Christmas-tree-scented candle is flickering; my cat is staring out the window even though it’s dark outside; there’s a Jackie Chan marathon on TV and I have the sound down; I can hear the downstairs neighbor coughing.”

Just keep your hand moving and keep on writing whatever engages your five senses. This creates an anchor for your mind, putting you solidly in the present moment, the only place where you actually DO have any power.

Once you’ve shifted your energy — even if just a bit — you can take a look at that to-do list.

What are some ways you’ve noticed that help you shift your energy when you’re overwhelmed or in a stagnant place? I’d love to learn more.

Work With Me: I’ll have some openings for new one-on-one clients starting in mid January, 2014. Interested in working together? Find out more, here.

Image is Frozen Berries © Rod Chronister | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What if you didn’t need a reason?

Happy Fall!

Last week, I was talking with the wonderful business coach Kristin Stevens, and I kept telling her about various things I wanted to do, and prefacing them with, “For some reason.”

“For some reason, I want to move into a smaller apartment.”

“For some reason, I want to streamline and simplify my life.”

Now, some coaches would have gone right to “Okay. Why? Let’s get clear on the reason.”

I would have gone there, if I were coaching someone. And it can be a good way to go.

But Kristin said, “You keep saying, ‘For some reason.’ What if you didn’t need a reason?

This stopped me. Because, in this case, I already feel clear. I already know that something in me wants to do these things — but my rational mind tells me I don’t have a good enough reason to do them.

For years, I lived in small apartments and had a great need for more space. In 2005, I moved and got the space I wanted. For the past eight years, I’ve lived in a beautiful space where I have plenty of room.

But now it feels oddly too big, like I’m a kid clomping around in my dad’s work shoes. And I realize I’ve filled it up with things I no longer necessarily want or need.

When I moved here, I had this idea of a life I thought I wanted. But now I realize that maybe that life was about who I wanted to be back then, and not who I actually am today.

My rational mind says, “But why would you want to go back to living in a small space? Isn’t that going backwards?”

Is it? I’m not sure it’s a good question, in this case, because questioning my desire is only keeping me in wheel-spinning mode. A good question sparks curiosity and creates spaciousness and movement.

That’s how I know Kristin’s question — what if you didn’t need a reason? — is a good one for me here.

If I didn’t need a reason, I’d start making plans to move. If I didn’t need a reason, I’d free up my energy to focus on things that are more important to me at this point in my life than having a larger living space and the maintenance that goes along with it.

It’s telling that a while ago on Pinterest I created a board called Cozy Spaces. Something in me longs for cozy right now. Why?

Do I really need to know? What if, in fact, I can’t know the answer to that question until I move toward what I’m longing for?

The nudges I get from my intuition feel simple and straightforward. “Do this.” Or, “Don’t do that.” Or, “Wear something blue today.” “Call about that class.”

Intuition doesn’t explain itself. It lives in the world of trust, not the world of guarantees. And often, when I’m clear but I’m still not taking action on that clarity, it’s because I want a guarantee. I want a guarantee that the direction my intuition is pointing me in will be pain-free, that if I go there, “everything will work out.”

Experience tells me there is no such guarantee. Sometimes, I think I am waiting for clarity but it has already arrived. The truth is, I’m not waiting for clarity — I’m waiting for that guarantee.

“Why?” is a good question if it creates more clarity. But if I’m already clear, I don’t need to ask why. I need to act on what I know.

What do you think? Do you ever second-guess the next step that comes to you from your intuition? I’d love to hear how this works for you, in the comments.

Image ©Jill Winski 2013

How kindness helps you create

ducks

So often when I’m feeling unhappy and stuck (whether in my life or in my creative work), I find myself frantically trying to control circumstances.

My thoughts go something like this: “If I could just get rid of [X circumstance] and find [X circumstance], and get [X amount of money], and if [X person] wasn’t so hard to deal with, I could stop feeling so bad.”

Or sometimes it goes like this: “If I could just figure out if what I really want is [X] or [Z], then I could move forward. But I’m so confused; I can’t figure it out. So I’m unhappy and I’ll be unhappy until I figure it out.”

There’s a kind of paralysis that sets in when I believe that circumstances are causing my unhappiness. It’s often a breed of analysis paralysis, closely tied to perfectionism, where I’m sure that if I choose the “wrong” thing, I’ll increase my current unhappiness in spades. So I don’t choose.

It usually takes me a while in this spin cycle before I remember: Ohhh. Waiiittt.

It’s not about circumstances. It’s not about making the “right” decision.

It’s about kindness. The kindness I’m forgetting to give to myself.

I don’t know about you, but when I remember to treat myself with kindness, there’s a palpable shift within myself. I feel it in my abdomen first, then my jaw — my entire body softens. I literally feel the rigidity seeping out of me, almost like it forms a puddle around my feet. And then I feel a surprising thing: hope.

From this place, there is fluidity — there is movement. How can that be? I haven’t changed my external circumstances, and yet, there’s movement?

Yes. Martha Beck, with whom I trained to become a life coach, likes to remind her coaches that our circumstances do not create our feeling states; it’s the opposite. Our feeling states create our circumstances.

When our focus is outside ourselves, on what we’re sure the “right” circumstances will bring us, we are disconnected from what’s inside us. We forget where our power actually lies — in our ability to choose how we relate to ourselves, and how relate to the world around us.

And here’s how this relates to our creativity: As I’ve often written on this blog, creativity, as I define it, is nothing more or less than the life force within us.

That life force needs to move. It needs to flow, and to ebb.

When I try to control circumstances, or second-guess my decisions, or try to make the “perfect” choice, that life force gets frozen in time. I’m teetering on the edge of the belief that the “reward” lies on the other side of “right” or “wrong” — when, in fact, the “reward” is right here, within me, if I can remember to treat myself with kindness.

Some of my clients say at first that they simply don’t know how to treat themselves with kindness — or that it seems self-indulgent, or a waste of time.

But my clients are often the kindest people I know — they are truly skilled at directing kindness outside of themselves, toward others. They just haven’t practiced directing it toward themselves.

And there’s a distinct difference between kindness toward ourselves and self-indulgence: Kindness creates movement that comes from the heart; it radiates outward. It’s intimately linked to “inspired action.” Self-indulgence, like a clenched fist, closes us off from ourselves, from the world. Rather than engaging the heart, self-indulgence feels like avoidance of something we fear. Kindness feels like an openness to what we love, to what inspires us.

Sometimes, when I think about doing something like, say, write a blog post about the importance of remembering to treat ourselves with kindness, there’s a hard, embittered piece of me that says things like, “Kindness? How cliche and cheesy and abstract is that?”

And then I have to laugh, because that’s exactly the voice that makes treating myself with kindness my last resort so much of the time. I often come to kindness — or it comes to me — because I’m at the end of my rope with treating myself harshly.

I come to kindness because I realize I’ve literally exhausted all my options if I’m viewing myself, and life, with harshness. Most importantly, I’ve forgotten to acknowledge that I am suffering. Of course it seems like I need to manipulate circumstances and choose perfectly if I’m coming from a harsh, rigid place. Wherever I go, there I am.

So, if I feel backed into a corner, if I believe I’m trapped and there are no good options — whether in my real life or in my creative work — it may be that I’ve forgotten this oh-so-basic step: Treat myself kindly. Exquisitely kindly. Time and again, I learn that from that space of kindness, unseen options emerge.

(To learn more about the amazing benefits of treating ourselves with kindness, check out Kristin Neff’s work at http://selfcompassion.org.)

Do you remember to treat yourself with kindness? Do you think it’s worth doing? Do you apply it in your creative process? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “Hand Feeding” © David Coleman | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Embracing the everyday + the Sunshine Award!

childsshoes

Something that often comes up when I work with one of my lovely clients is the creative visionary’s resistance to accepting “the everyday”. Sometimes I call it “the mundane.” One of my clients calls it “real world crap.”

In my twenties, I ignored “real world crap” to the point that I became ill and had to be hospitalized. I was defining “real world crap” at the time as: paying bills, eating decent meals, getting good sleep, doing the dishes, doing the laundry.

The creative visionary part of me said: that stuff is boring and it won’t get me where I want to go. Focusing on that stuff is a drag.

Fast-forward fifteen years and I realize that the “everyday stuff” that I loathed so much back then is actually my friend.

Doing the dishes is an excellent way of being in the present moment and dealing with analysis paralysis.

Doing laundry is a great way of getting grounded, of coming back to earth, to the things of this rich material world, when my creativity has taken me far, far away from it.

Getting good sleep allows my physical body the rejuvenation it needs to move through another day with hope and resilience.

Paying bills is a way of acknowledging that money is part of the energy that supports me in living the life I love. (I didn’t want to accept this back then — money was boring, and “unspiritual.”)

And: because I, and many of my clients, are highly sensitive people, we tend to become easily overstimulated by the very creative work we love. There’s a point where, if we don’t stop when we’ve done enough, we are at risk of becoming ungrounded and burning out.

The “mundane” things of everyday life — walking to the mailbox to get the mail, mowing the lawn, saying hello to the neighbor — are actually vital ways of rooting us in the fabric of this earth, this world, the here and now.

So, if you feel like you’re spinning off away from yourself or swept up in a creative wave that feels a little scary, remember that “the mundane” can be your friend, dear highly sensitive creative visionary.

And, because you are who you are, I have no doubt that you will quickly discover the magic in the mundane, too.

And: The Sunshine Award!

The lovely Harula of wordsthatserve, who writes such amazingly true poetry, kindly nominated me for the Sunshine Award. Yay! I’m thrilled — thanks, Harula!

So, here’s me accepting, gratefully. 🙂

sunshineaward

Rules:

* Post a picture of the award on your blog
* Link back to the person who nominated you
* List ten random facts about yourself
* Nominate ten fellow bloggers who “positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.” (I’m actually nominating six.)
* Comment on their blogs to notify them of their nomination

So here are ten random facts about me:

1) One of my earliest memories is getting sick on giant marshmallow chicks on Easter day. And of my mother warning me not to eat so many.

2) Last month, I achieved one of my lifelong dreams: seeing “Jaws” on the big screen — twice. Chills.

3) My favorite actress is Crystal the Monkey. Few human actors have this monkey’s range of expression — seriously.

4) My current favorite thing to watch on MeTV: “Rhoda.” The opening theme music is so whimsically weird.

5) I am happiest in weather between 30 and 70 degrees F. I love fall when it is brisk and slightly overcast.

6) My favorite book I’ve read recently is “It Chooses You” by Miranda July. So achingly real — and talk about embracing the everyday! This book proves that the extraordinary hides out in the ordinary.

7) Most of my favorite foods involve the potato in some form.

8) My shoe size is 7.5 M.

9) I’m kind of a chatty hermit. One of my gifts is connecting with others, but it needs to be balanced by lots of alone time.

10) I miss my grandparents more than I ever thought I would.

And my Sunshine Award nominees: every time I read one of their posts, I feel nourished and enlivened.

http://thesoulstoryjournal.wordpress.com

http://thisrosylife.com

http://alifeinbalance.com/blog

http://yourjoyfulheart.wordpress.com

http://kristinnador.wordpress.com

http://beautifullyzen.wordpress.com

Happy Saturday!

Top image is “Child’s Shoes” © Laukas | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Don’t forget to check inside

girlwalking

As part of my practice of observing my thoughts and feelings and the patterns they create, I’ve noticed an interesting thing lately: I feel more upbeat, hopeful, and just plain happier, in the early part of the day.

Part of this is just my own personal rhythm — my most energetic time of day tends to be between about 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. But it’s something else, too.

I start off almost every day with a walk (only in the most extreme weather do I forgo my daily walk). Depending on what I have to do that day, the walk (which I combine with getting my morning coffee) is anywhere from fifteen to forty-five minutes long.

My walk is all about noticing — the morning sounds of traffic and squirrels and birds, the feel of the sidewalk beneath my sandals, the super-slow beetle who somehow avoids being crushed by pedestrians as he makes his journey from one side of a cement square to the other. I also notice what’s going on within me — am I sad, joyful, serene? Are my thoughts fixated on that interaction I had yesterday that felt kind of icky? Am I grinding my teeth again? Did I get great sleep, or not quite enough?

When I return from my walk, I do a few minutes of journaling (or morning pages, as Julia Cameron calls them) and record anything I noticed on the walk, anything really taking my interest and “up” for me.

Then, I’m ready to start my day, and most of the time, not always, but frequently, I feel really good.

At 7 p.m., not so much. That 6 p.m.  to bedtime window tends to be the toughest time of day for me. Why?

It’s taken me a while to get this, but I understand now.

Evening time is iPad time for me. I “reward” myself for doing my priority stuff during the day by sporadically checking my iPad throughout the evening. Some of this is fun and feels good; much of it involves checking Facebook, Twitter, and various blog articles; getting caught up in trails of links from one blog to the next; absorbing lots of “expert advice” that may or may not apply to me; listening to recordings from classes and coaches and writers and others I’ve been meaning to get to.

All of this is good, to a point. Information can be profoundly helpful at the right times. And I think we all understand the dangers of information overload and the overwhelm it can wreak.

But the problem is not the information itself.

The problem is forgetting to check inside ourselves to gauge whether or not this information a) is worth our time, b) actually supports our own values, and c) actually applies to us at all.

The crappy mood I tend to get into in the evenings — so much to the extreme of my “morning self” — has much to do with the fact that, in the mornings, I make a conscious choice to connect with myself, to check inside. My morning walk, the steady repetitive rhythm of my steps, creates a great space in which to observe myself, while also connecting me to my surroundings, and particularly, the natural world.

In the evenings, I’m letting go of that conscious choice to check inside myself, and as a result, I turn into a kind of ping-pong ball bounced around by the information I absorb online. I find myself getting agitated, confused — this “expert” says to do this, and this one over here says the opposite; this friend on Facebook is annoyed that people are posting X, while this other friend wishes people would post more of X; this writer seems to know a lot about X and has tons of followers but in fact I feel depressed every time I read one of her posts.

It’s a lot to take in — and a lot of it doesn’t matter.

In the morning, I reconnect with me. I remember to check inside. I realize what I really value and what I don’t. I’m able to make a distinction between what information is helpful and what isn’t, and how much information is too much. I remember what’s true for me.

Can I carry that morning connection I establish with myself into the evening? Can I unsubscribe from lists that don’t add to my life, even if some panicky part of me believes this information is “practical” and I “just might need it someday”? (No matter how “practical” information is, if it doesn’t feel good and right to me, it’s not practical for me.)

Tonight, I’m going to begin an evening ritual of reconnecting to myself. This doesn’t mean I won’t pick up my iPad — I have a lot of fun there. It just means my evening intention will be to notice how I’m feeling when I absorb information, and to recognize I can choose to reconnect with myself at any moment. Information can be helpful, even crucial, but only when I’ve established a solid connection with my own inner compass first.

(And by the way, some of what I connect with online definitely helps me reconnect to myself — and certainly helps me connect to others. I love many of the ways I connect online. The important thing is to notice, to check in.)

What about you? How do you remember to check in with yourself in a world where it’s increasingly easy to look outside ourselves for advice, for “the truth”? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Image is “A Walk in the Park” © Janet Best | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Two ways to deal with “idea paralysis”

sepiabulb2

A while ago, I had a session with someone who had so many ideas, she felt paralyzed as to which to choose and where to begin. Every time she took a little action on an idea, another one of her ideas started to haunt her and she was sure that one was better. So she’d stop working on the current thing and start this other thing. And then the other thing wouldn’t feel quite right, and some shiny new idea would start hovering and she’d drop the current thing and start in on the shiny new thing. And so on.

I so relate to this. It doesn’t happen to me that frequently, but when it does, it is crazymaking. What’s going on when we’re knee-deep in a sea of ideas and we just can’t choose, or stick with one long enough to bring it to completion?

For me, there are one of a couple of things happening:

1) Perfectionism has reared its oh-so-troublesome head.

We’re wanting the idea to be the be-all and end-all of ideas, rather than a stepping stone to what the idea can become. There’s no way an idea won’t transform as we work on it, so most of the time, it’s not going to stay the same as the seedling in our heads. But if we have perfectionistic tendencies, we want to know it’s going to be great, it’s going to knock everybody’s socks off. We can’t know that at the beginning of the process. We can’t know that at the end of the process.

Our own interest in the idea has to be enough. The only thing we have an absolute guarantee of is that we will check in with ourselves about how we are responding to our idea, from day to day. And I can guarantee you that our relationship to it will change from day to day, week to week.

Perfectionists often feel “it’s not quite right, so I’m not ready to begin.” My question to perfectionists (and that includes myself!) is: Is there enough here for me to work with? Is there enough here to sustain my interest, for now?

When I was in college, I had a screenwriting teacher I remember really well because he talked a lot about things that I sensed were true, but didn’t yet have the life experience to know were true. He looked at twenty or so pages of the screenplay I was writing and said, “You don’t have to telegraph your themes to the audience. The themes that are important to you as a writer are going to be there because they’re important to you. They can’t not be there. So stop telegraphing your themes and just tell the story.”

This felt like a huge relief. And I think this applies to those of us who struggle over choosing the “perfect” idea. No matter which idea we pick, the common theme behind it is going to be US. Just because you decide to tell the story about the guy who goes fishing with his estranged father instead of the story about the woman who learns her teenage son is in trouble with the law doesn’t mean your usual themes of loss, loneliness, heartache and redemption are not going to be there. They’ll be there because you will be there.

So relax. You, and the things that are important to you, will be there, in spades, no matter what path you choose.

And, on the flipside:

2) You may be knee-deep in ideas because you are only knee-deep. And what you really need is to be completely submerged in one idea, so your heart is engaged. In other words, there may be a bunch of ideas swirling around your ankles but they’re not really involving the whole of you, so it’s easy to jump off of one and onto another.

I’m reminded of someone I know who, many years ago, was caught up in romantic involvements with two different guys. Time went on and on, and she just couldn’t decide between the two. Finally, she ended both relationships, realizing that neither of these guys was a “hell, yes!” for her and that was why she couldn’t decide. The question wasn’t actually “which of these men is the better choice?” but “who am I and what do I really care about?”

If you’re flitting from one idea to the next, stop. Take some time out and ask yourself, what do I really want? Why am I doing this (writing, artwork, coaching, whatever it may be)? How can you engage the whole of you — starting with your heart, which tells you what you care about the most — in your creative process? And go from there.

Looking at it this way, you’re not choosing the idea so much as letting it choose you. And when something chooses us, there’s no contest.

(On this topic, I highly recommend Miranda July’s wonderful memoir, “It Chooses You.”)

Do you struggle with “idea paralysis”? How do you decide which idea to choose? Or do you let it choose you? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Work With Me: I have a couple of openings for new coaching clients, starting in July. Interested? See if we might be a good fit, here.

Image is “Sepia Bulb” © Graham Stewart | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Pausing is not the same as stopping

stopsign

Sometimes it is incredibly, excruciatingly hard for me to step away from something, when stepping away is exactly what I need to do.

Step away from that phone call that is not going anywhere and sucking up a lot of time.

Step away from my novel when I keep forcing it even though I’m beyond frustrated and realize I have gotten so far away from the heart of the story that I have no investment in what I’m writing.

Step away from the problem I’m desperately trying to solve (when it’s becoming more and more obvious that the mind that created the problem is not the one that can solve it).

Step away from the internet. Because, it’s the internet. And I need sizeable breaks from it if I’m going to remain sane.

I think one of the reasons it’s hard for me to step away is because of the idea that I am supposed to tackle things. Take control of them, wrestle them to the ground, and force them to cry uncle. This is the way I was taught to solve problems when I was very small, and, even though I’ve never been very good at it,  it’s deeply engrained in me.

Only, sometimes — often — it just isn’t effective. There’s a point where I’m trying so hard to control the outcome of something that I am way too emotional to be effective. It’s at this point that pressing the pause button can be so essential.

But there’s another reason it’s hard for me to step away. It’s because of trust, or the lack of it. Allowing myself to step away means I am trusting that I will get back to whatever it is I’m struggling with — whether it’s a phone conversation or a tough scene in my novel.

And this kind of trust takes some practice to cultivate. I’ve been working with this for years and yet I can still go way too far out of fear.

We can never solve an internal problem by changing an external circumstance. If something within me feels out of control, no amount of controlling the external world will change that. This is the recipe for compulsion and, eventually, addiction. I’ve got to get back into balance within myself before I meet the world again.

This is why I suggest to my coaching clients that they not make huge decisions when they’re feeling intense emotions. We don’t know what the truth is for us until we come back to center. Our emotions are messengers, but they’re often not the message. (Extreme anger at your boss may just be saying, hey, let’s take a look at what’s happening here, not hey, let’s quit!)

So we’ve got to make it okay for ourselves to step away when we’re getting into a place that feels out of balance — no matter how important we’re making what we’re doing. Stepping away for now does not mean stopping altogether — in fact, it can mean letting another part of us — our subconscious — take the wheel for a while.

So, how do we do this?

1) If you’re struggling with something you’re creating (a painting, a novel, a website) and you’re ready to take a knife to the canvas or put your fist through the computer screen, know you’ve reached that point where you need a little less perspiration and a little more inspiration.

I know, I know, there’s that awful saying about how creating is one percent inspiration and 99% perspiration. Please. I don’t believe we need to feel inspired all the time to create — inspiration often comes in the course of creating, and some days it doesn’t come at all — but if, in the long haul, you’re only feeling one-percent inspired, you need more inspiration. If the whole thing feels like a struggle every step of the way, you’re forgetting how important it is to fill your creative well.

2) If you’re having a really hard time in several areas of your life (if you’re in what we Martha Beck life coaches refer to as “Square One”, where you’re going through a massive identity shift and you don’t know what the hell is happening), realize you may need to move much more slowly.

You may need to take more time-outs. You need to practice really good self-care during these times. If you’re in Square One, the question is never “how can I get out of Square One?” but “how can I make it okay to go slow?” (I love Kristin Neff’s guided meditations on self-compassion for these times, and all times, really.)

3) Know the point at which you are getting in your own way. See if you can step outside of your emotional self and be the observer. What do you look like when you’re in need of pressing the pause button? What happens with your body, your behavior?

A few years ago, I was walking home in a seriously foul mood, and a car rolled through the stop instead of letting me cross the street. I actually reached out and hit the back of the car as I walked behind it. Feeling the sting of the hot metal on my fingers (it was like a 100-degree day, which was part of why I was ready to maim), I knew I’d crossed one of my personal boundaries into nutso territory, territory I did not want to stay in. It was time for me to stop wrestling and take a time out. Know these places in yourself, and find ways to clue yourself in to when you’re getting into this territory. Hopefully you will not have to slap a defenseless Honda Civic to know you’ve entered “that zone.”

4) Above all, cultivate trust in yourself. Take baby steps. If you’d normally force yourself through something to the point of frustration, try stepping back even five minutes before you usually would.

One of my clients recently made the decision, for a number of reasons, to take a month off from her artwork. (Namely, because it was feeling too much like art-WORK. She said she didn’t want to return to it until it felt like art-PLAY. I love this!) She was afraid a month was too long, but she felt like she needed it. The need for the break felt like it was coming from her intuition, not from a place of fear. It felt deeply right.

A week into the month off, she emailed me. As of today, she said, I am back to my art-PLAY. It turned out she didn’t need an entire month off after all. Something in her was more than willing to return to creating when it was ready. Now that’s self-trust.

For an article on a similar theme, check out Practicing Reverent Curiosity.

Image is “Reflected Stop Sign” © Vladimir Zanadvorov | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The shark is working well enough … really.

sharkkite

Anyone who knows me fairly well knows that I am obsessed with the movie Jaws. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen Jaws, but … just … don’t get me started. (Writers, study Jaws if you want to see a movie where every single scene moves the story forward. Nothing is wasted.)

If you know anything about the making of Jaws, you know that the mechanical shark, a.k.a. “Bruce”, didn’t work very well. In fact, there were so many problems with the shark that it wasn’t seen on screen nearly as much as director Steven Spielberg had originally intended. During production on Martha’s Vineyard in 1974, the frequent refrain from the loudspeakers was “The shark is not working. The shark is not working.”

Welp. As we all know, the shark worked well enough. In fact, the semi-working shark worked so well that Jaws was the movie for which the term “summer blockbuster” was coined, back in 1975 when it first appeared in theaters.

One of the main things I do as a coach, when I have a session with a client, is listen for stressful thoughts. Thoughts are stressful when they are not deeply true for us, but we believe them anyway. So when I hear something that strikes me as painful or stressful for a client, I scribble it down in my notebook. If it seems important, I’ll point this thought out to the client and we’ll work with it.

I was going back over some notes before a session recently, and it really hit me just how often our thoughts are perfectionistic. They have to do with how we’re not doing enough, not doing it well enough (whatever it is), and how our reality is not matching the vision inside our heads. (I say “our” because, like my clients, I have a strong penchant for perfectionism. I’m always teaching what I most need to learn.)

I’ve written a lot here about perfectionism in the past (you can click on the categories link titled Perfectionism to the right to check out more). But I don’t know if I’ve emphasized how important it is for perfectionists to make a point of noticing what is working — and what is working well enough.

Because one of the biggest issues I see perfectionists struggling with is decision paralysis. We’re so terrified of making an imperfect decision and the havoc it will surely wreak that we hang out in indecision until it hurts. And then, then, we beat ourselves up for not making decisions quickly enough! It’s a totally lose-lose scenario.

And here’s the thing: We don’t struggle with decision paralysis as much when we give ourselves credit for having made good decisions in the past. Most perfectionists have a pretty big story about being poor decision-makers (it’s in keeping with the idea that we never quite measure up). We are also control freaks, so we tend to think we have much more control over our futures than we actually do.

Therefore, we think, we have to weigh each present or future decision very, very carefully, so we don’t repeat our past mistakes and don’t screw up our futures.

Why do we have this story? Probably because when life happens, as it will, it feels more familiar for us to blame ourselves than to admit the truth: Life is messy, and life is not fair. No matter how “good” we are, we can’t escape this reality.

So what if we were to flip this story on its head? What if we were to look back and notice how we made good enough decisions, and how some of them were even really good? How would we proceed if we basically believed that our lives worked well enough?

I think we’d go on making our movies, doing our writing, living our lives. We’d trust ourselves to create something good. What if Spielberg had decided to resign in the middle of production on Jaws because the shark wasn’t good enough? (Well, probably Universal would have replaced him with a different director. And we’d have had a very different Jaws. Which would have been a damn shame.)

At the bottom of it all, the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, about our lives, are either helpful or not helpful.

I don’t mean that we should tell ourselves things we don’t truly believe. I’m not talking about piling positive affirmations on top of our fear like white-washing a rotted fence. I’m saying we need to really give ourselves some credit. I’m saying we need to lower our standards enough that we can show up in our lives and in our creative work (or creative play, as I prefer to call it).

Perfectionists, aim for the B rather than creating A+ work that exists only in your head. Make the decision that feels best to you and call it a day, knowing you can course-correct tomorrow. Admit that the shark at the core of your movie is working well enough to continue the filming. Create your flawed-but-amazing works of art and live your flawed-but-amazing lives.

Work With Me: I work with writers, artists, artisans and coaches who are feeling vulnerable and stuck. Learn more about how we might work together, here.

Image is Shark Kite by Ryan Somma at flickr; some rights reserved

Sometimes it’s simpler than we think

sunriseduck

I often write here about how anything we struggle with is usually more complex, and less black-and-white, than we make it. Which is good news. Black-and-white, all-or-nothing thinking is at least part of the issue about 99% of the time we’re stuck in fear.

But for some of us, and particularly for those of us who fall into my just-created category of “so-beautifully-complex-it’s-ridiculous” (and I say this with deep love and respect because I adore people who are ultra-complex), it can be good to remind ourselves that sometimes it’s actually kinda simple.

I’m thinking of that useful acronym, H.A.L.T. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. When we’re feeling crappy, it helps to ask if one of these things is going on for us. Hunger is one that sometimes sneaks up on me. If I don’t catch hunger before it becomes full-blown, I get into low-blood-sugar panic. This happened to me last week and I found myself grabbing food I’d never normally buy off the shelves in CVS, then ripping open a package of cookies in the car. I got so hungry I went into survival mode — food, now!

Luckily, this rarely happens because I don’t allow myself to get that hungry. But it was pretty simple: I derailed my afternoon because I convinced myself it was important to run errands before eating lunch. I didn’t need to make it mean anything other than that, even though I caught myself having thoughts about how clearly my life was spinning out of control as I stared through my windshield eating Mint Milanos in the CVS parking lot.

It’s good to notice what we’re making something mean. (In fact, if I were forced to choose my all-time favorite coaching question, it would be “What are you making that mean?”) Feeling crappy doesn’t always mean so awfully much.

Like today, I was sitting in my office about to start working on this blog post, and I started feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable. I often feel uncomfortable and vulnerable before I start writing a blog post. But in this case, I was also cold. (The heat doesn’t reach from the living room into my office very well, so I need to be extra-bundled-up while I’m in here during the winter months.) I put on a warmer sweater and I felt instantly more comfortable and a lot less vulnerable.

My writer friends and I have noted that when we’re tired, we’re a lot more judgmental about our writing. Geesh, when I’m tired, everything looks a little bit bleaker. And the same for when I’m dehydrated.

Sometimes, things truly are complex and need some heavy untangling. But sometimes, it really is as simple as putting on a sweater or drinking a glass of water or getting more sleep. When you’re so-beautifully-complex-it’s-ridiculous, this can be deeply comforting to remember.

Try this: The next time you find yourself grid-locked by analysis paralysis, apply H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) to your situation and see what you comes up for you. The last time I did this, I discovered I was actually lonely, called a close friend, and emerged from the conversation with an entirely new — and workable — perspective on my situation, even though we hadn’t actually discussed what I was worried about.

You can check out my previous article on analysis paralysis, here.

Image is “Sunrise Solitude” © Lyn Adams | Dreamstime.com

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

A couple of my clients, both writers, have been struggling with “analysis paralysis.” They’re ultra-verbal, extremely articulate, and live a lot in their heads. And they’re both also funny and intelligent and sensitive and downright awesome. And I don’t like seeing them in so much stress. So, of course, we wanted to find out how to move them out of it.

Both of them said they had reached a point where they just didn’t know what the hell to do about the particular bundle of issues they were wrestling with. Because there were a lot of issues, and they’d gone over every possible option a thousand times, and looked at it all from every possible angle, and nothing solved the problem. And now they felt totally stuck and spent.

And I so, so get it. In fact, I’d been in the process of curling up in that very same corner (the one I’d so handily painted myself into). And it’s always interesting to see what you’re going through mirrored back to you, but when it’s somebody else’s stuff, you have the ability to see it more clearly.

There’s a correlation between people who tend to be perfectionistic (me!) and “mistake-avoidant” (me!) and people who get stuck in analysis paralysis. We think there’s got to be a right option, a right path, and we’re convinced that we can somehow keep ourselves from ever having any regrets if we can just find it, so we go into the spin cycle of analysis. We try to “think” our way out of whatever is overwhelming us, and in the process, we overwhelm ourselves more by imagining every eventuality.

And in the darkest, heaviest times, this is the stuff depression is made of. Because every option we see has a “yeah, but” attached to it, and since we’re using the minds that created the issues in the first place to try to find our way out of them, we’re truly in a stuck-leading-the-stuck place and more thinking is absolutely not going to help us now.

For those of us who tend to be very verbal and in our heads, it is vital that we connect with our bodies when we are freaking out — though this is probably going to be the last thing we “think” we should do.

That’s why the last time I got massively stuck in analysis paralysis, I got up from my desk (where I was surrounded by words: email notifications, my open notebook, my daily planner) and went into the kitchen and did the dishes.

In fact, Byron Katie actually has a concept called “doing the dishes.” It means, just do that one simple thing that needs to be done. That’s all you ever have to do. Everything else is just a thought, usually a thought about the future or the past.

My clients and I came up with several ways to pull ourselves out of an analysis paralysis “emergency state,” all based on the concept of simplifying and getting into the moment. And because, if you’re in this state, it is indeed vital to keep things simple, I’ve kept the list to three things.

1) Do something that requires physical movement. Think manual labor (like my doing the dishes, or vacuuming), or taking a walk to the post office — no mental heavy lifting. (Again: you don’t want to get more verbal at these times — that’s part of the problem. You want to get into your body.)

2) If you only do one thing (remember, we’re focusing on simplifying here), let it be giving yourself permission to stop beating yourself up for getting into analysis paralysis and everything that has contributed to it. Really, that’s all. Permission to stop beating yourself up. You don’t even have to stop. You just have to give yourself permission to do so.

3) Let go of one thing in your physical space. Yes, get rid of it. Take it to the trash. (If you’re like me, and you believe that even empty boxes of Kleenex just might have feelings, be very, very gentle as you do.) And, since our intention is to simplify and not complicate things here, it has to be something you absolutely have been meaning to get rid of. Don’t get caught up in wondering if you really want to get rid of it, because then you’re right back into analysis paralysis. Then: Notice how it feels to have let go of that object, whatever it was. See if you feel just the tiniest bit lighter. If it feels right, you can continue letting go of things. (I did this with two drawers of clothing recently.) But only if it feels right.

What are your techniques for getting yourself out of analysis paralysis? I’d love to know.

This week:

I have two openings for new coaching clients in July. Are you a sensitive creator who feels stuck or overwhelmed? Contact me to set up a free consultation.

And: This Thursday, July 5, is the last day to register for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. I am one of the coaches, and I’ve also been a participant in this group since it started last September. In that time, I’ve completed two previously unfinished novel drafts. If you’re feeling stuck or like you just can’t develop a solid writing habit on your own, I highly recommend you check it out!

Image is TRAFFIC SIGN © Zdenek | Dreamstime.com