On stopping when you’ve had enough

bench

One of the things I often say here is that, when it comes down to it, self-care is less about what we do than it is about what we undo.

When I first started my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program in 2015, I noticed my tendency to “firehose” my clients with lots of information. After all, the more they knew, the better, right?

Then it hit me — whoa! This is a program about self-care. And, particularly if you are highly sensitive (as most of my clients are), you are already picking up on tons of subtleties that can make life feel extra-complicated. You don’t necessarily need more doing, more information. Chances are, you need to subtract, not add.

This “exquisite art of subtraction” is about noticing — really noticing — where we are doing more because of the belief that “if some is good, more is better.” This is such a pervasive belief in Western culture — and, in my experience, it simply is not true.

Let me give you a rather mundane example: I was out for my morning walk a week or so ago, wearing a pair of new sandals that still required a bit of breaking in. I had a wonderful meander over to the nearby park (where I’m sure to see lots of dogs and their humans and I always leave with a smile on my face), and as I made my way home from the park, I started to think, hmm, maybe I will make this walk even longer! Because it’s feeling so good!

Except that the new sandals were rubbing on my toes at this point. Even though my mind was telling me I needed more of a good thing (because more is better, right?), my feet were telling me that they needed some time away from the new sandals.

Well, my mind won out, and I kept on walking, and — interestingly enough — as I rounded block after block, I noticed I was starting to feel quite crappy. In fact, my enjoyment in the walk had decreased significantly. By the time I got home, I was in a bad mood (quite unusual for me after my morning walk) and my toes felt like they were on fire.

What happened? Well, my feet — toes, to be more specific — gave me a signal that my body had had enough. But I didn’t listen to it. (And hurting toes are not even a very subtle signal — they’re pretty blatant. Often, the signals to stop are much more subtle — but our minds are powerful, and in this case, my mind wanted more of a good thing.)

***

Underlying our desire to keep going even when we’ve had enough there is usually a feeling of scarcity, a fear of future deprivation.  Deep down, we believe we’d better capitalize on the good stuff while we’ve got it, because surely it will be taken away later.

In the moment I decided to keep walking even though I’d already had a beautiful walk, and my toes were beginning to hurt, there was a thought — outside my conscious awareness at the time — that went something like: You must really make the most of this good energy, because it probably won’t last.

Had I been aware of this thought, I could have countered it with: Yeah, it probably won’t last — today. And so what? Good energy returns. There will very likely be plenty of lovely walks in my future. But for today, I’ve had enough.

Stopping when we’ve had enough — whether that’s enough of something we don’t like or something we do, something that drains us or something that fuels us — is key to self-care, to working with our creative energy, and to avoiding burnout.

In fact, the periods of my life during which I have gotten into burnout can be always be traced to day upon day in which I pushed myself out of fear that if I stopped, if I trusted that I’d done enough for today or that I had enough for now, I would surely be deprived in the future. So it didn’t feel safe to stop.

The irony, my friends, is that getting into burnout forces you to stop. In fact, I believe that sometimes we reach a state of physical, emotional, and/or spiritual burnout precisely because it’s the only way we know how to stop.

Noticing that we’ve had enough comes first. If we don’t notice the often subtle emotions and sensations that are giving us the message that we’re nearing enough, we won’t stop.

So set an intention to notice. Pay attention to your body. Our bodies are the most trusted conduits of the messages we need — far more trustworthy than our minds (notice what my mind did when I was on my walk!).

Once we’ve noticed, that’s when it’s time to actually act on stopping when we’ve had enough. This is not easy! We probably have a bunch of deeply held beliefs about why we need to push ourselves through the stuff that feels bad, or hang on for dear life to the stuff that feels good.

It is so worth it to take a look at these beliefs and go deeper. In fact, doing this type of inner work is what will change our lives because it will change how we relate to ourselves.

When you can’t seem to stop, even though you know you’ve had enough, ask yourself why. Really take a look. What’s so scary about stopping? What are you afraid will happen if you stop when you’ve had enough, if only for today?

When you see the underlying fear, when you “get” it, you have so much more power because you have made what is unconsciously driving you conscious. In your willingness to look deeper, you cultivate trust in yourself. You start to befriend yourself.

Do you have a fear of stopping, even when you know you’ve had enough? Are you able to recognize what “enough” feels like for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Further reading: Martha Beck talks about “just in case” versus “just in time” thinking in this article. I’ve found this to be a truly helpful shift!

Work With Me: This can be tough stuff. If you need support in looking deeper, I’d love to help. Check out the ways we can work together, here.

Above image © Nancy Tripp | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Daily saving graces for hard times

whiskers

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

But Trooper served as my “saving grace” today.

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

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

***

And that brings me back to “the hard”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more day to sign up for Stellar Self-Care

leavesinsect

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

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

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

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

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

Why the downtime you “sneak” doesn’t really count

hamster

 

The other night, I stayed up much later than usual, watching a marathon of the HGTV show Fixer Upper and eating taco-flavored Doritos.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I paid for it with stomach discomfort all night and lousy sleep.

The odd thing about it was that, although I had told myself I “needed” this TV and Doritos “binge”, it didn’t really feel good. It didn’t quite seem to scratch the itch I’d thought it would.

I then remembered that my mother had once told me that, before he retired several years ago, my dad would often stay up late watching TV on weeknights, even though he was very tired. “It’s his only way to have time to himself,” she said.

And then I knew what my Fixer Upper-Doritos binge was about (because — honestly? — I don’t even like Doritos that much — they were only in the house because my partner loves them): It was my way of “sneaking” downtime that I wasn’t openly giving to myself. 

What’s going on when we “sneak” things for ourselves? When we do it in secret  — even if the only person we’re hiding from is us?

Geneen Roth, author of many wonderful books on our relationship with food, wrote that as she healed from emotional eating, an important part of her process was to eat in full view of others. Even if what she was eating was a whole chocolate cake.

I realized after my TV-and-Doritos escapade failed to give me what I’d hoped it would that I’d fallen back into an ancient pattern (and ancient IS the right word here, as my ancestors did it, too): believing that I only deserve open-ended time for myself once I’ve “earned” it through achieving.

Through “upping my game”. Through “checking off the to-do list.” Through challenging myself and “succeeding.”

Many people I work with tell me I am gentle, and while gentleness is indeed part of my true nature, I am also very driven. This driven-ness has a positive aspect — I stick to things, I usually do what I say I’m going to do, and I (definitely) know how to push myself.

But this driven part of me has a downside, too — it doesn’t know when to quit. It doesn’t have an “off” switch. It doesn’t always let go when it’s time to let go, either.

So part of the reason I am gentle is because I need to teach myself gentleness. Or maybe I am continually learning to embrace the gentleness that was part of me as a child.

This gentle part of me (and the driven part of me, too!) needs open-handed rest, rejuvenation, kindness, solitude, and daydreaming. It needs it not because I’ve “earned” it, but because I exist and it’s a true need at times. In fact, it’s a true need regularly.

Over and over I revisit the same learning: It’s okay to give myself something just because I feel the need for it.

As my teacher Mark Silver says, we don’t eat or drink once and never need to eat or drink again. We get hungry and thirsty multiple times per day and we fill those needs. We don’t expect that we will never again be hungry or thirsty just because we ate and drank one day.

The same goes for other needs that may not be as apparent (or as culturally acceptable!). I don’t have to “earn” downtime. It is a need, and the need for it will arise again and again. And I can give it to myself because I exist. Not because I “deserve” it.

But I had forgotten this. And the part of me that felt angry and neglected and sad that I had forgotten wanted some kindness, some gentleness, some acknowledgement. It reminded me by staying up late in “binge” mode.

It’s totally okay to watch multiple episodes of Fixer Upper (I love Fixer Upper!) and eat delicious food. As long as I am giving it to myself as a gift. As long as I am enjoying it. A little indulgence can be a truly good thing, especially for those of us who tend to go too far in the other direction and push and deprive ourselves.

But when we can catch ourselves going too far in the other direction — when we notice before we swing too far out of balance — we are giving ourselves the true gift.

And when we’re “sneaking”, there’s a part of us, in that act, that wants to be seen. To be acknowledged. (A client told me a while back that she was “sneaking” time to write in her journal — some part of her wouldn’t allow her full permission to openly connect with herself.)

Our egos can be very tricky here. In my case, I was giving myself downtime here and there — but it was conditional downtime: you can have this, but only if you make up for it by working really hard later.

So the key here is giving ourselves what we need with no strings attached. (Check out my post on the difference between self-care and self-indulgence, here.)

Do you notice yourself “sneaking” something? Is there a message there for you? I’d love to hear from you.

And, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or disconnected from yourself and are needing support, I hope you’ll check out my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. I’ll continue enrolling clients in this one-on-one program through August 31, 2016.

Above image © Johanna Goodyear | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Noticing (and celebrating!) small changes

frenchlizard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How distracting yourself can get you unstuck

colourtube

Sometimes we can find ourselves in a cycle that looks like this: We’re pushing and pushing to get something done, but it’s not working, no matter how hard we push.

Then we ask ourselves, “Why isn’t it working? What’s going wrong?”

Our minds start looking for what’s wrong and find that it’s all wrong. (If we look hard enough for something, we will definitely find it.) The project is wrong, the way we’re going about it is wrong, we are wrong. Our lives are wrong. Wrong! Where did it all go wrong?

We get discouraged with how wrong it all seems, and we think, “Well, maybe it’s my attitude. I just need to try harder.” So we push ourselves, and the whole cycle continues.

Western culture is in many ways a “push” culture, which values moving forward at all costs.

One thing that can result from too much pushing is a feeling of stuckness.

Ideally — when I’m really “on track” — I’ve noticed that I feel pulled toward what I want, not like I am pushing myself toward it.

This is not to undervalue “push” energy, as it’s certainly necessary sometimes (it’s just not a great way to live all the time).

A lot of what’s going on with pushing ourselves is that we’re pushing so hard we’re losing sight of why we’re doing something in the first place.

And that’s why — in addition to pulling back and gaining a broader perspective, which I wrote about in my last post — an important element to moving out of a feeling of stuckness can be shifting focus. Or, to put it another way, distracting yourself.

Yes — that means stepping away from what you’re trying (unsuccessfully) to do, and doing something else. Anything else. Resist the urge — for the moment — to try to “figure out” why things aren’t working, and just do something else.

This can work on the smaller scale or the larger scale.

On the small scale, it might look like calling it quits for the day with that chapter you’re wrestling with and attending to the email you’re feeling called to write to a friend.

On the large scale, it might look like putting the major project that’s feeling incredibly draining on hold for a month and immersing yourself in a “fun” project.

This happened for me years ago during grad school when I felt a lot of heaviness around my thesis material. At the end of a summer, when I had a brief break from course work, I found myself super-inspired by these little cat paintings I saw artists doing on a certain auction site at the time. And it occurred to me that — for fun — I could try to do a little cat painting of my own.

I did one late on a Friday night, painting into the wee hours, and it was so much fun I did another one, then listed them both on the site for very low prices. Just for the hell of it.

My sister called the next day — she was always checking on my listings back then, as we sold used clothing a lot — and said, “What are these paintings you have up? One has a bid on it!”

Yep, my little painting I’d done “just for fun” had a bid on it. Someone wanted to pay actual money for my little experiment.

This was the beginning of a period of a year or so where I made lots of little cat paintings and sold them. One ended up in a coffeehouse in Seattle. One ended up in the home of an octogenarian with six cats who lived in England. It was so much fun selling my little paintings and learning about my customers.

And what I discovered during this time was that part of the reason I’d gotten so stalled on my thesis material was that I’d lost touch with what had mattered to me about writing in the first place: it felt fun! I liked it!

I’d gotten locked into “serious grad student” mode and felt like my writing had to be big and important. I still struggled with those feelings (and sometimes do now), but doing my little paintings reminded me that there was much joy to be had from the small, the simple, the cute and the fun.

That thing I was truly seeking — connection with dear, kindred souls — was available to me by doing ordinary things with extraordinary care. (I wrapped my cat paintings in pretty tissue paper and tied them with ribbon and wrote personal notes to each of my customers. I loved responding to messages from my customers and hearing their stories about their cats.)

***

Anne Lamott tells a story in her book Traveling Mercies about her car breaking down when she and her son were on the way to visit a dying friend. When all was said and done, it turned out she wasn’t able to visit her friend until a few days later than she’d planned.

Somehow,  thanks to the “distraction” of the car situation and what it brought up for her, she was able to show up for her friend with more true presence. “I still did not know what was trying to distract me so it could get itself born,” she wrote, “but I felt happier than I had in a long time.”

Sometimes we need to distract ourselves so that we can get out of our own way.

I think this is what happened for me when I was drawn to making small, simple paintings of cats. I needed to get out of my own way.

Getting out of our own way in this sense is not the same thing as procrastination (though our culture — oh, our culture! — will try to convince us that it is, that there is nothing of value in ceasing to push.)

Challenge the culture. Allow your life to be a grand experiment that always leads you back to your core.

Need some support on your grand adventure? Through Feb. 29, my one-on-one coaching sessions and packages are at special prices, in honor of The Year of the Monkey. (Monkeys are a spirit animal for me — they are the guardians of fun and play, which my serious, driven side badly needs to stay connected with.) Find out more here

Above image is “Colour Tube” © Esra Paola Crugnale | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Are you pulling back enough to gain perspective? + special February coaching prices

eagle on beach

Scroll down to learn about my special coaching prices this month, in celebration of the Lunar New Year!

One thing about my many, many years of journal-keeping is that certain patterns — truths about the way I live my life, the behaviors I resort to when I’m under stress — show up with (sometimes frightening) regularity on my quickly-scrawled pages.

One of these truths about myself, which I don’t necessarily like but am coming to terms with, is that I have a tendency to keep moving things ahead even when they’re not working.

It makes me feel virtuous to check off my daily to-do list, to be there for others, to get things done that feel hard. And, I also truly love these things — when they feel deeply right.

But sometimes, I have a creeping sensation that something isn’t quite right, and, in the interest of getting my work done for the day, I don’t actually step back and ask: Is this work, you know, working? Is doing this stuff contributing to what I desire in the long run?

I had a conversation with a friend recently where I told her about this tendency of mine to keep hanging in there, to keep moving something ahead, even though it’s not necessarily working for me, even though I badly need to press the pause button.

And she said, “Wow, you know, I think of you in exactly the opposite way. You always remind me of how important it is to focus on what really matters and to take time out to be present.”

Ack. Apparently it’s true that we teach what we (desperately) need to learn.

The truth is, I’m a lot better at stepping back and focusing on the big picture than I used to be. In my younger years, I felt like I was constantly on fast-forward. I have no idea what I looked like to others, but I had a huge fear of stopping and looking around.

I became monumentally out of touch with my own feelings, and it was only an illness at twenty-five that really slapped me into the reality of what was true for me: I needed to stop pushing, to stop trying so hard to be there for others, and to allow myself to simply be. Not just once in a while, but as a regular practice.

But, it is always a process, and many years later I still get caught up in pushing myself forward when, in fact, what is required is a giant step back.

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

Obviously, moving things forward is vital, but the best way to do that is through what we coaches call inspired actionaction connected to what is in the best interests of our essential self — not simply action for the sake of it.

And this can be truly challenging when we live in a society that rewards us for taking lots of actions, for “just doing it.”

***

Last year, I made the painstaking decision to move into a smaller home. It’s a lot smaller. (I wrote about this journey here.)

It was a complicated situation, but a defining aspect of it was that I was expending a lot of physical, mental, and emotional energy trying to keep up a house that, in the long run, I just didn’t actually want to live in. In the final analysis, I had to admit I just didn’t care about the things that came with maintaining a house.

I would look around at friends and think, well, they do it. It’s worth it to them. And I’d wonder if there was something wrong with me that I wanted to go back to small apartment living, at my age.

But when I thought about moving into a small apartment, where upkeep would be minimal, where maintenance would be taken care of by someone else, where I could feel like each room and each object was well-used and appreciated, I felt all lit up inside. It was my truth, even if it wasn’t somebody else’s.

It took me a long time, though, to actually pull back from my daily existence enough to see this truth.

And it was care of the house, in part, that distracted me from the truth. Whenever I got everything else done, there was always snow to be shoveled, or leaves to be raked, or a flooded basement, or an attic fan that needed repairing. But isn’t this what you’re supposed to do? I’d think. Grow up and take care of a house?

***

Martha Beck, in her book Finding Your Own North Star, talks about the difference between “mouse vision” and “eagle vision”. Mouse vision takes care of the small details that help us get things done each day. Mouse vision is very important, because it is only through tiny, individual steps that we make our way to completing our “big things.”

Eagle vision, on the other hand, is about the big picture — it’s soaring above the landscape so we can get a sense of the whole scheme and notice what needs attending to, what needs to be let go of, and when we need to fly in a slightly (or dramatically) different direction.

It’s easy to get stuck in mouse vision. If you find yourself saying things like, “I can’t believe how the years are getting away from me,” it’s likely that mouse vision is a little too much at play in your life.

Something I’ve noticed while working on novel drafts (which I will get into more in a future post) is that it is really important to be able to flexibly switch between mouse vision and eagle vision in the creative process. Just like in my life, I’ve had a tendency to push my writing forward even when something nags at me, raising its little hand and saying, “Hey! Something’s not working here!”

It feels so virtuous to keep plugging along, to write more words, to check that off my to-do list! Who wants to pull back and look at the work as a whole? Do I get a gold star for doing that?

But it’s so necessary, in our lives as well as our creative work.

How do you know it’s time to pull back and embrace the big picture?

• You feel like you are drowning in the day to day. It feels like you’re just going from one thing to another, putting in the time.

• You feel disconnected from yourself, or your creative work.

• You find yourself getting really angry when you have to perform certain tasks. (When I was living in the house, there came a point where any time something broke — the dryer, the lock on the front door — I felt like I was ready to kill somebody. This kind of anger is a sure sign that something needs to change.)

• You start to get sick of hearing yourself complain about the same things, over and over.

The next step — as always! — is acceptance. This is where you are — and change is totally possible. What does a shift to a broader perspective reveal to you?

If you’re a little too entrenched in “mouse vision” and you’d like some support, I’m offering a package of three thirty-minute coaching sessions through Feb. 12 (this Friday). I don’t regularly offer thirty-minute sessions, so if this way of working with me appeals to you, I encourage you to check it out!

Also, through the end of this month, my 60-minute sessions and packages are at special prices in celebration of The Year of the Yang Fire Monkey! Find out more about this and my other coaching offerings here.

Eagle image © Cecilia Lim | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Walking my talk about self-care + Happy Fall!

pumpkins15Maybe the hardest thing for me about going through a time of heightened activity (or, insanely heightened activity) is coming down from it all.

After the last couple of months of transitioning from my old home to the new one — and the accompanying “too much to do” feeling on a daily basis — things are starting to settle down just a bit.

And I’ve actually found myself at loose ends on certain days. My mind and body have gotten used to “too much to do.” It’s that “coming down from the adrenaline of momentum” feeling that I’ve written about before. The adrenaline that helps us to get through the period of heightened activity actually starts to feel normal to us.

This is where I can get into trouble if I don’t pay attention. Last week Saturday was the first day I really took an opportunity to fully catch my breath — and it felt wonderful. But the very next day, I noticed myself overscheduling and stuffing in activities here and there because, why not? I’ve gotten used to having too much on my plate.

And noticing this in myself clued me in to the fact that I’d fallen for it all over again — our culture’s glorification of “busy”.

Remember that saying, “If you need to get something done, give it to a busy person”? I heard that often from my parents and teachers when I was growing up, and again in college, and, heck, somebody just said it to me the other day.

And to a degree, being busy feels good and IS good, as long as we are occupied with things that are meaningful to us and notice our need to rest.

But there’s something insidious in the way we praise “busy”. We apologize for being “so busy”, and yet it also seems to give us some kind of quick validation. We’re busy, therefore we must be important, we must have value.

And: being super-busy also gives us a good reason to (finally) take a huge time-out and take care of ourselves.

But what if we didn’t need a “good” reason, or any reason at all? What if noticing our need to rest and then our need to be active and then our need to rest again, was simply part of our daily lives, part of our ongoing self-care? What if this kind of self-care was a must, a foundation for our lives, rather than something we have to hit a (sometimes very painful) wall to finally allow in?

For the past several months, I’ve been leading clients through my Stellar Self-Care program, which I created because I recognized that far too few of us truly anchor self-care into our lives at the foundational level. We wait until we’re in so much physical, mental or emotional pain that we simply can’t ignore the part of us that, ultimately, cannot be denied if we actually want to thrive and not just cling by a thread to survival.

And, here’s the thing I came to: I wasn’t walking my talk. I’d been seduced by the idea that I would practice better self-care after my move was over. When things calmed down. When things got less hectic. 

In these past few days, I’ve reminded myself that it’s okay to feel at loose ends as my body adjusts to living life in a less heightened way.

It’s okay to let go of activities that I’m tempted to “schedule in” but simply don’t feel necessary.

And it’s okay to do it all completely imperfectly as I discover how I want to live now (because now is not then!)

One thing I’ve learned while working with people in this new program is that we all have a tendency to turn self-care into “one more big to-do on the list.” And that’s exactly what I did when I starting telling myself I’d take better care of myself when the move was over. I already had such a giant to-do list I felt like I couldn’t possibly take on any more.

And I was right. I couldn’t.

But I was also wrong — because taking care of myself wasn’t about adding to the list; it was about leaning away from the list. About letting the list sit. If there was anything to “do”, it was simply to shift my relationship to the list. To trust that those things on the list would be done when they’d be done, rather than to hold my breath until I’d “tackled them.”

There’s nothing like “heightened times of activity” to trigger stress in us, and there’s nothing like stress to trigger our “fight, flight, freeze” reactions. Once we’re in fight, flight, freeze, we’re in survival mode and we try to “just get through it.”

If we can intervene before we get to that point, we absolutely should. And right now, as I’m writing this post, I’m noticing that part of me that is feeling like it’s pushed hard enough and is ready to stop. It’s saying “enough for today”.

Listening to that soft voice — right here, right now, not later, not when I’m sure this post is “good enough” — is key to me taking care of myself today. So I’m going to act on that urging. And stop. 🙂

I’d love to hear how YOU take care of yourself before getting to the “fight, flight, freeze” point. And you can learn more about my Stellar Self-Care program here.

Gorgeous gourds: confirmation that fall has arrived!

Gorgeous gourds: confirmation that fall has arrived!

Good stuff this week:

  • My good friend, artist, writer, and creativity consultant Dawn Herring, interviewed me about journaling for one of her “Creative Conversations”. I had a terrific time chatting with Dawn (she got me thinking and making connections between my journaling and the rest of my life that I don’t know if I’d have gotten to otherwise!).
  • I absolutely love this interview with Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity on Marie Forleo’s site. I particularly love what Elizabeth had to say about being a “trickster” when it comes to our creative work as opposed to a “martyr.”
  • Fall is here! The pictures accompanying this post are gourds I saw on one of my walks this week. I wish you the spaciousness to relish this gorgeous season as it sweeps in.

Images © Jill Winski, 2015

Bringing the joy back to your creative work

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

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

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

* Structure: do you need more or less?

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

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

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

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

* Support: do you need more, or different?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Above image © Egidijus Mika | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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

palebutterflies

As I’ve been working with clients in my Stellar Self-Care program, I notice how the tendency for many of us is to keep going on “as usual” — even though our lives have changed.

Maybe a health issue (for us or a loved one) has come up, and we’re still expecting ourselves to function as though it hasn’t.

Maybe we’ve started a new job, or we’re in the process of moving, or we have a project or business that is gaining momentum.

Maybe we’ve been through a break-up, or someone close to us has passed away recently.

Or, maybe a mix of ALL of the above is happening at once.

Whether our circumstances inspire hope, excitement, or sadness, the fact is that when things are changing profoundly in our lives, or when they’ve changed suddenly and without warning, we are affected.

So it’s really interesting to notice this human tendency to stay the course, to keep showing up, to expect “the usual” of ourselves, even though things are anything but “usual.”

None of this is “bad” or “wrong.” It’s just not necessarily effective — or kind to ourselves.

I notice for myself that my tendency is to toss self-care out the window — exactly when I need it the most.

When I’m really stressed, I also get really self-indulgent. (Read my take on the difference between self-care and self-indulgence, here.)

I start to obsess. I tell myself it’s more productive to worry than to sleep. I grab the quick food rather than the nutritious food (or don’t eat at all because I’m “too nervous”). I forgo my daily walk on the grounds that “there’s too much to do”. I feel much less creative because I’m tied up in knots and I’m “pushing the river”. (I like to think of creativity as a river that is always flowing — we can move with it, against it, or jump to shore and return later.)

And: I am getting a lot better at letting go of these behaviors and replacing them with acts of care for myself.

Sometimes this looks like:

* Declaring my sleep time as a “worry-free zone”.

Letting myself know that — if I want to — I can worry all I want at 9 a.m., but between between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. I’m going to step into the worry-free zone.

Better yet, if I’m going to insist on worrying at all (which a part of me will), I can declare one hour a day as my “worry hour” and make the rest of the day the worry-free zone. (I’m not quite there yet, but I like this idea very much. A friend tells me that when she started doing this, eventually an hour became too long to worry — she got bored with it and found she couldn’t spend longer than about five minutes worrying when she was forcing herself to do it!)

* Taking my walk even though I’m having a thought that says “There’s no time for this, there’s too much to do.”

This might mean reminding myself that, often, if I walk long enough and focus on my body moving and my breath flowing in and out, problems have a tendency to solve themselves. (That’s because I’m back in the river of creativity, and I’m moving with it, rather than pushing upstream. Walking is great for reconnecting to the river of creativity.)

* Putting off the non-essentials for later, or for “never.”

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had taken on a freelance project even though I’ve been going through a hectic time because I just couldn’t say no to the opportunity. When I really looked at everything on my plate, I realized that the project was a non-essential, and I would be fine with taking on such a project later, or even never. Other opportunities would surely arise, but I was, at the moment, at bandwidth.

* Getting (or hiring) help where I can.

A couple of weeks ago, the lawnmower broke, and I got angry. After thirty minutes of going on about my terrible luck (The lawnmower breaks just when I have so much to do!), I realized this was a chance to give myself the gift of time and one less thing on my to-do list: I discovered a local lawn care service that would mow the lawn regularly for a very reasonable rate. The owner came over and gave me an estimate the very next day.

(This is a recurring theme in my life over the past couple of years: when something breaks, there is a gift in it for me.)

The bottom line, though: it starts with acceptance of where I am, and who I am.

If you feel like you’re slamming into the same wall again and again, ask yourself this: What needs to be accepted? And then: How can I accept myself, here?

Somewhere in there lies what is true, for you. And from that truth you will discover not only what caring for yourself looks like, now, but also that giving yourself that care is essential to navigating the reality of your life not as it was, but as it is.

Do you notice yourself resisting change in your life? What acts of care can you give yourself when change feels overwhelming?

Image © Phillip Wheat | Dreamstime Stock Photos