Taking small steps to align with your values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Competing values and conflicting desires

Many years ago, I trained to work on a crisis hotline for women in domestic violence situations. One night of our training, we did an exercise that has really stuck with me over the years.

We were given a sheet a paper with about a hundred different personal values written on it. We then took scissors and cut from the list the fifteen values on it that mattered most to us. Then we took those fifteen little slips of paper, each with an individual value on it, and whittled them down to the ten values that mattered most to us. And then five. And finally, three.

The instructor asked us, “How does it feel to let go of the things you value? To not be able to hold onto them? What do you notice about what matters most to you?”

The most surprising thing that came out of this exercise for me was realizing that one of my top three values was predictability. I’d had no idea predictability was so important to me. It didn’t sound very “exciting” to my young self at all. But I knew in my bones that this value of predictability was a true one for me.

What also came out of this exercise, though, was that another very important value for me was “a sense of possibility.” I had a hard time, back then, reconciling this with the deeply held value of predictability. But as I worked on the crisis hotline and talked to women in dire situations, I could see that most of them had a strong desire for predictability and a strong desire for possibility, both of which often felt cut off from them.

We humans are complex. Years later, both predictability and possibility are still deeply defining values for me. What I’ve discovered is that, for me, the risk of the possible often springs from the safety and stability created by the predictable — and vice versa. They are not as much at odds with each other as I’d once thought, and in fact I want to have the feeling of both, regularly, in my life.

I’ll admit, though, that when I learned “predictability” was a strongly held value for me, it felt at odds with my sense of who I was. Owning that value has been a challenge for me. But owning it made so much intuitive sense to me — I had for years at that point involved myself in relationships that were highly unpredictable, and I never felt safe or cherished in them.

One of the most frequent challenges I see coming up for coaching clients is exactly this: values that seem to “compete”, and along with them, desires that seem (on the surface, anyway) to conflict. On the one hand, we want this. And on the other, we want that. Sometimes the different things we value and desire may seem about as in sync as oil and water.

Here are some more examples from my own life of how this can look:

  • I value routine, but I also value flexibility and variety
  • I value solitude, but I also value lots of connection with others
  • I consider myself a homebody, but I also value exploring new places
  • I value a feeling of privacy, but I also value being seen and known

I used to think I was alone in having so much contrast in what I valued and wanted. But having spent nearly eight years connecting with people in my life coach role, I now know that it is extremely common to have values and desires that seem to conflict and compete all over the place. I’d say it’s just part of being human.

Our minds love to grab onto the all-or-nothing, the black and white. The part of the brain that wants to ensure our physical survival particularly gets caught up in this, because it is always trying to simplify. This is great with things that actually are simple: if I’m crossing the street and a car is zooming toward me without slowing, I’d better get out of the way.

With the complexities in our lives, though, it’s much more helpful to honor that they are complex. That things are not as all-or-nothing as they may seem. Or that, as Byron Katie says, our minds often get things “backwards”. (The Work of Byron Katie is a fantastic way to question what your mind believes. Katie says it is “meditation”.)

If you take my list above, for example, how does it feel different for you if we simply replace the word “but” in each sentence with the word “and”? That would look like this:

  • I value routine, and I also value flexibility and variety
  • I value solitude, and I also value lots of connection with others
  • I consider myself a homebody, and I also value exploring new places
  • I value a feeling of privacy, and I also value being seen and known

Wow! Just rewriting that list, I felt this amazing sense of spaciousness and possibility (one of my core values!) that I didn’t feel much of at all when I wrote the list with the word “but”. (As Martha Beck likes to say, watch out for your big buts!)

So when I work with clients who have competing values or conflicting desires (or both!), we first invite that sense of spaciousness to the table. How does it feel different if this is welcome, and that is also welcome?

What often happens from this place of spaciousness is one of two things: it turns out that one value or desire actually is more important than the other (so they are not truly competing or conflicting — it’s just that one takes more of a “supporting role”); or, there is very much a way that the energies of these seemingly competing or conflicting values or desires can co-exist.

When we see this possibility, we know that we are in the highly creative zone of our brains (as opposed to the “lizard brain” that is concerned only with our physical survival).

Where do you notice competing values and conflicting desires in your life? How do you work with them? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. My Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) one-on-one coaching program will begin enrolling at the end of this month. Want to learn more? You can contact me through my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Above images © Daniel Janusauskas | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Thorsten | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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How getting grounded changes your perspective

girlwalking

The other day I was standing in line at a store near my home, waiting to buy a Father’s Day card. The only line open was at customer service; no other cashiers were visible. There were three people, total, in line (I was last) and none of it seemed like any sort of problem to me.

The woman in front of me, however, considered it a big problem. She was in a hurry; why didn’t they open up another line? She kept craning her neck to see around the woman in front of her, who glanced back occasionally with a sharp expression.

Soon enough, a cashier came over and announced that he was opening another register and we were welcome to step over. “Thank God!” said the woman in front of me.

At this point, the woman in front of her turned around and snapped, “Why do you have to be so rude to everyone?”

The woman in front of me seemed shocked. “I am not rude!” she shot back. “What did I do that was rude?”

Their conversation escalated as they tried to get ahead of each other in the new line. I stayed right where I was at customer service, half-amazed and half-bemused at how they were going back and forth.

At a deeper level, though, it didn’t affect me in the least.

I hadn’t experienced the woman in front of me in line as rude. I had experienced her as anxious, and, in fact, I’d had some empathy for her, and had been planning, if we’d waited much longer, to engage her in some conversation about the ceramic plates she was holding (they had lobsters on them).

Now, lest I come across here as mellower-than-thou, let me tell you, this is not usual for me. Sometimes, when I encounter high emotion in others, I absorb it right up like a sponge.

That didn’t happen in this instance because I was feeling grounded. Actually, at that particular moment, quite exquisitely grounded.

What made this day, or moment, different than others where I would have reacted (if not verbally, at least emotionally) to the scene unfolding around me?

• I was at the tail end of my morning walk, which helps me feel connected to my body and to the earth, 95% of the time. I was relaxed within my own body, and, as a pleasant side-effect of that, I felt a solid awareness of what belonged to me and what belonged to others. To put it in Byron Katie’s words, I was in my own business.

• At that moment, I felt physically and psychologically sound. I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t lonely, I wasn’t angry, and I wasn’t tired (read more about referring to the helpful acronym “H.A.L.T.” in this post).

• I was in a space of self-acceptance and feeling kind to myself (another frequent by-product of my morning ritual).

All of this contributed to my being in what Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person, calls your “optimal range” of stimulation.

This is the place where, in terms of your nervous system, you feel at ease. You’re neither bored and restless nor bouncing off the walls with excitement. In this space, you’re good. You feel comfortably connected to yourself.

catwalking

Animals, too, have an “optimal” range of stimulation, and cats (who are masters of the art of self-care) are good teachers for us here. My dear cat Slinky, who passed away in 2010, had quite a low threshold for stimulation. If I pet her for more than twenty seconds or so, she’d start to thrash her tail, and, as I quickly learned, if I continued petting after the tail thrash had begun, I was in for a nip to my hand.

Sullivan (my current feline friend whose pictures you can see on the pages of this site and who has outlived Slinky by nearly seven years now) is totally different. I can pet him non-stop for hours and he will not get overstimulated. He’ll lounge on my lap while I work, fall asleep and forget I even exist. (Slinky wouldn’t get on my lap — a lap would be way too overstimulating for her!)

When I work with clients on self-care, one of the concepts we always get around to discussing is looking at our lives through the lens of stimulation.

Highly sensitive people have nervous systems which pick up on subtleties and process them deeply. Because of this tendency, they may (like Slinky!) have a somewhat narrow window in which they feel comfortable and at ease, nervous-system-wise. (If they are high sensation seekers as well, the window may be even tinier!)

Had I been already overstimulated when the argument between the women in line arose, I likely would not have been able to view the situation with detachment and compassion. My nervous system would have already been on overload.

Getting grounded — to that place where you feel internally stable, centered, and solid — is fundamental not just to supporting your own nervous system, but to getting a clear, clean sense of what is true — and what kind of response is required of you.

For example, I received an email the other day which contained some feedback for me. When I first read the email, it was toward the end of a long day and I felt drained and irritated. From this place, I interpreted the email as unnecessarily harsh. Taking note of my emotional and physical drain, I flagged the email to respond to later.

The next day I took a look at it again. From that rested, solid, post-morning-ritual space, I saw the email in a different light. In fact, there was a lot of positive feedback in it, and the sender then offered me a couple of suggestions for “next time” (indicating his desire to work with me in the future!).

That drained, overstimulated end-of-the-day space caused me to read things into the email that weren’t there, and I could give you countless other examples of this phenomenon. In fact, when I look back on my growing-up years, so many times I concluded that “something was wrong with me” when I was just feeling overstimulated (but had no frame of reference for such a thing!). Many of my clients report the same experience.

In this day and age of tons of emotion being tossed around in the online world as well as the “real” one, it’s more fundamental than ever to notice when you are getting uncomfortably overstimulated, and to bring yourself back to stability.

What does “grounded” feel like for you? What do you notice about the difference in how you respond to situations when you are feeling grounded vs. when you don’t? I’d love to hear from you.

Above images of woman walking © Peter Gustafson | Dreamstime Stock Photos and cat © Photozek07 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Keeping self-care simple during the holidays

ornaments

This year, as I did some fine-tuning of my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program (which is currently on hiatus but will return in 2017), the message that kept coming up was that, when it comes to self-care, often less is more.

I realized early on that I had a tendency to “firehose” clients with lots and lots of tips and concepts, and while they’re all helpful, taken together, it can be hard for the mind to focus on even one.

And, along with less is more, it can be truly helpful for us to realize that focusing on “just one thing” can make an incredible difference to us, as I wrote about last year at this time.

It’s getting increasingly important for us to be able to cut through clutter — not just clutter in our homes, but general clutter in our lives, and that includes mental and emotional clutter (which are often tied to actual physical clutter in our homes, by the way).

Thanks to the wonderful world of the interwebs, we have an unbelievable amount of clutter available to us instantly at any time of day or night.

And it’s important to note that, when we have no internal room to hold any more, even information that is truly valuable to us can feel like clutter.

The holidays, particularly if you are an introvert and/or highly sensitive, can often feel extremely cluttered to us. And clutter is heavy. Clutter weighs us down, and if anything, at the holidays we’d love to feel lighter, not heavier.

So how can we apply the concepts of “less is more” and “just one thing” to our self-care during the holidays? Let’s take a look.

1. Give to yourself first.

For those of us who are exquisitely sensitive to our surroundings and the needs of others, it can feel “automatic” to leave ourselves out of the equation. And if this is a challenge for you on a regular day, it’s triply challenging during the holidays since during the holidays we are “supposed” to be focusing on others.

How does it feel to shift your intention from “focusing on others” or “giving to others” to “connecting with others”? I notice an immediate difference when my intention is to connect. It feels like I am part of the equation, like I haven’t left myself out.

How can you give to yourself first each day during holiday visiting and/or travel? For me, staying with a morning ritual (even if it’s a modified one), helps immensely. It helps me check in with myself, take my “emotional temperature”, and recognize what I’m needing to move forward with the day — and I am so much more able to truly connect with others from this space of self-connection.

2. Remember your “self-care bottom line”.

This is something I wrote about last year, and again, it’s triply important during the holidays. What are the basics — the very basics — that you need to feel functional, to feel like you? It’s okay to pare things down during the holidays — remember, less is more, especially during this time — but don’t eliminate anything that’s fundamental for you.

Here’s an example from my life: Because I travel over Christmas, I know my energy is going to be spread more thin than usual during that time. So, the week before Christmas, I make sure I’m not scheduling any “extras”. I have a few friends I like to see one-on-one to celebrate the holidays, but I’m having these meet-ups after Christmas these days, when my traveling is done, so that I can feel rested and present instead of like I’m “scheduling it in”.

So part of my self-care bottom line is preserving my energy for holiday travel and visiting. It goes sooo much more smoothly if I haven’t spread myself too thin before Christmas.

3. Give yourself permission to be “good enough” at socializing.

If you’re particularly sensitive to the needs of others, you notice their needs (or what you think their needs might be) a lot. And at the holidays, when we’re likely doing more socializing than usual, and maybe not in our familiar surroundings, it can be easy to put pressure on ourselves to get an A+ in being a guest or a conversationalist or a gift giver or a baker or whatever it may be.

For introverts and highly sensitive people (and this include extroverts who are highly sensitive!), who need alone time to recharge, we can be tempted to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to “be polite” and end up overextending ourselves.

What if it was okay to get a B- in holiday socializing? Why would that be a bad thing? What if it freed you up to take better care of yourself and actually enjoy connecting with others, in a more relaxed way?

4. Don’t argue with reality. “Arguing with reality” is a concept that I learned from Byron Katie.

This applies to what is true for you — you may not like that you need nine hours of sleep to feel fully rested, but if it’s true for you,  it’s true for you. Cutting nine hours to five because others can get by on five is not going to make it true for you that you feel rested on five.

Similarly, if you’re reaching a point where you’re feeling uncomfortably full, it’s true for you that you don’t have room for the pie Mom is dying for you to try. Eating it and feeling even more uncomfortable is not going to change your reality — you’ve had enough!

It also applies to things like bad weather, delayed flights, and opinions from relatives about your lifestyle that you’d rather not hear.  (On that note, “Thank you for sharing that” can be a very useful conversation-shifter).

Arguing with the fact that it’s happening doesn’t change it. (And accepting reality is not the same as liking it or agreeing with it!)

And now: If any of the above points particularly speaks to you, I encourage you to take that one concept  — just that one — and allow it to help you through your holidays. Don’t try to “do them all”. The one that resonates for you the most is the one you need. Remember: less is more, and applying just one helpful concept to your holidays will be more than enough.

This is my final blog post for 2016. Wishing you a delightful holiday and I look forward to connecting in a fresh new year.

Do any of the above ideas resonate with you for helping you incorporate self-care into your holidays? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. You might also find this post from 2014 helpful. 🙂

Above image © Katrina Brown | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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

squirrelfoodA couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at my kitchen table with my journal, and I paused to stare out the window. It was cold out, bitterly cold, and I watched a squirrel make her way up a telephone pole across the parking lot with a frozen piece of hamburger bun.

When the squirrel had made it almost to the top of the pole, just inches from the wire she wanted to access in order to make it across to the tree branches many yards away, she dropped the bread. I watched it plummet — its trajectory was swift, and it bounced twice on the pavement.

On realizing she had dropped the bread, the squirrel immediately — and I mean immediately — turned around and started down the pole to retrieve it. It took her a while; eventually, she got to the pavement, located the bread (which was about twice the size of her head), put it in her mouth and headed back up the pole.

The squirrel had very little — if any — reaction to her loss of the bread. She simply noticed it had fallen and recalculated.

But here was my reaction, from the kitchen window: Oh my God! All that work and she drops it! Poor squirrel! What a hard life she has in the winter! It’s not fair! All that work just to get a scrap of bread! What if she drops it again? What then? Why is life so hard?

I watched as the squirrel made it up the pole a second time, this time without dropping the bread. She balanced with it on the wire and managed to reach the tree branches, at which point I stopped observing her because I couldn’t bear to see her drop it a second time. If she did, that would mean … what?

I was making the squirrel’s dropping the bread, or potentially dropping the bread, mean all sorts of things. Bad, sad, things.

But the squirrel wasn’t making it mean anything. She was just going on with life, not shaking her little squirrel fist at the heavens and saying, Woe is me! What a pitiful squirrel life I lead, dropping bread left and right! How will I ever eat? I am so incompetent and life is unfair to me!

What are you making it mean? is one of my favorite questions ever. I learned to employ this question during my life coach training back in 2010, and once I learned it I didn’t know how I’d lived without it. It’s probably one of my favorite questions to use with my clients, too.

Our thinking is often automatic. It bypasses our conscious awareness and, before we know it, we’re off into all kinds of stories.

Notice what I did when the squirrel dropped the bread? My mind just went there. It applied all my human concerns to the squirrel and her squirrel-ness. It took maybe three seconds — if that — for my mind to go from noting that the squirrel had dropped the bread to asking an unanswerable question: “Why is life so hard?”

It’s worth it — so worth it — to slow down and observe our thinking. We can’t stop our minds from spewing out thoughts — some research shows that we think at least 50,000 thoughts per day — but we can step back and notice how what we’re thinking is affecting us.

Sometimes (often!) I respond to myself the way I did to the squirrel. Something doesn’t turn out the way I wanted it to, or it’s harder than I thought it would be, and my mind is off and running — I shouldn’t have tried, what’s the point, that was so hard there’s no way I can do it again, why is life so unfair? 

It’s not bad, or wrong, that I have these thoughts. It’s what minds do. The not-so-great thing is when I believe them and take action (or not) accordingly.

When the “bad thing” happens, when I drop my proverbial bread, this is where What are you making it mean? can be a really helpful question to pose to myself. (Notice the difference in feel between this question and a profoundly unhelpful question like “why is life so unfair?”)

Humans are not squirrels, and not meant to be, but I’d like to become a little more like the squirrel. A little more undaunted, a little less self-pitying, a little less thwarted by inevitabilities that have absolutely nothing to do with me. Life is unfair (okay, I guess you can argue that thought, if you want to!). But the squirrel in her squirrel-ness reminds me that what I do with that fact is up to me.

(Two of my favorite resources for noticing and working with my thoughts are Byron Katie’s The Work, and Brooke Castillo’s Self-Coaching 101.)

What are you making it mean? I’d love to hear what you notice about how your reactions shape your world. (Noticing is always the first step!)

Need some support in bringing your creative work into the world? Check out the ways we can work together, here.

Above image is “Squirrel Food” © David James | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Making decisions from a place of peace

Making decisions from a place of peace

Something I often notice when I work with a coaching client is how urgent everything can feel when we are in a space where we have unmet needs.

The interesting thing about this urgency is that it can feel really true.

Sometimes, before we even consciously recognize it, we have acted on this feeling of urgency when — actually — the best course of action might have been, in this moment, no action.

One of the biggest push-backs I get from clients is when I suggest that if they are feeling frantic or highly anxious, they become peaceful before making whatever decision it is that they are sure they need to make.

Two things usually come up:

1) But I can’t get peaceful until I figure out what the heck I’m doing. I need to have my life sorted out first.

2) My needs are enormous and unless I take the “right” action to fulfill them, they will not be met. I am so tired of having these unmet needs. I need to do something about it, now!

I totally get both of these reactions. It can feel so frustrating and overwhelming to have a pile of unmet needs sitting there, unsure of how we will ever resolve any of it.

On top of the fact that the needs seem to be hanging there unmet, we can get really hard on ourselves for not meeting them immediately, or for having them in the first place. (The Buddha told a story where he referred to this as “the second arrow” — when something difficult happens, we in effect have “one arrow” in us, and our tendency is to “shoot another arrow into ourselves” by being hard and judgmental just when we most need to be compassionate.)

Here’s the thing: When we proceed from a place of panic, anxiety, or otherwise stirred-up feelings, we often end up making decisions that either do not actually need to be made right now (or at all), OR we make choices that only create more pain for us and have to backtrack and undo them.

So I like to share this Lao Tzu quote with clients (and sometimes they find this really annoying): “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.”

Clients usually say, but what do I do to get peaceful? How can I make the muddy water become clear, faster?

These questions make me laugh. They are so, so funny. Can you see why? (And I’ve asked the same questions myself, many many times, so I’m laughing from a place of compassion, for sure.)

Sometimes, it’s not about doing, and it’s not about making things happen, faster.

How can we tell? Because our doing has that frantic, anxious energy behind it. And, the biggest tip-off that we are doing in order to resist being with what is coming up for us: we don’t feel any better for having taken an action or made a decision.

Here are some better questions to ask ourselves:

What is so hard about staying with these uncomfortable feelings until they settle down a little and point me to clarity?

How can I make it easier to allow these feelings to be there, without trying to change them?

How might I support myself in being with the hard stuff that’s coming up for me right now?

Sometimes we might think, but how will I know that I’m ready to take a particular action or make a decision?

The answer is, you’ll know because you will find yourself in the middle of doing the action or making the decision.

When we’re in a place of acceptance, what truly needs to be done and decided arises naturally. We make the call to get the help we need. We withdraw the money from the bank. We comfort the friend who is hurting. We sleep because we’re tired.

This is all there ever is when we’re able to be with what’s actually true for us, right now: the next step presents itself, and we take it. (Or maybe what presents itself is that there is no action to be taken right now.)

But in order to be in our truth, in order to sense our true next step, we may need to allow our muddy water to clear. We may need to exercise some patience and be with whatever is coming up for us. And we can do that a few minutes, or seconds, at a time. We can break it down that much if we need to.

(Byron Katie says that we don’t make decisions — “decisions make us” when we have the necessary information to make them. Do you notice this for yourself?)

What have you learned about your decision-making process? What have your best decisions felt like for you? I’d love to hear.

And: I’m in the process of changing my coaching offerings and won’t be offering them in the current format for much longer. If you’d like to work with me in the current way, check out my offerings, here.

Image is “Water 4” © Chrisharvey | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When you’re not taking action (even though you want to)

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Sometimes we’re in a space where there’s something we want to do, but we’re not taking any action toward actually doing it. This space is frustrating and icky. We can spin our wheels here for quite a while.

What I find especially stressful (and confusing) is when I do take a step toward whatever it is I want to do, but I don’t seem to build any momentum. Something feels off. I’m not getting caught up in whatever that thing is; there’s no passion, no fire.

What’s going on when we’re in this space? It’s tempting to try to bulldoze our way through and “just do it!” And there are times when that works.

But sometimes it doesn’t work — and, when we plow forward with sheer force, there’s a nasty lingering side effect: We don’t understand ourselves any better. We may get that thing done, but what happens the next time we’re in the “spinning our wheels” place? We force ourselves to plow through again?

I much prefer asking questions at times like these. More than anything, I want to understand myself better so I can have a better relationship with myself. If that relationship is vital to you, too, here are some questions to ask yourself when you’re spinning your wheels:

Do I truly want to do this thing, or do I believe I “should” want to do this thing?

The presence of a “should” is not necessarily an indication that you don’t want to do it; it often means that you have conflicting voices within you around taking this action. If you can untangle the “should” from the rest of it, you’ll have a much clearer sense of what you really want.

Is this something I used to want, but perhaps no longer do?

Does the person you are today actually want to do this, or is this something you wanted to do five years ago? Are you hanging on to an old dream? (“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.” – Alice in Wonderland)

* Is there a deadline issue?

Some of us work better and more effectively with deadlines; some of us get panicky and overwhelmed when we have a deadline situation. And sometimes, the deadline is simply too close or too far away to work for us.

If there’s a deadline by which you’re supposed to do this thing, is it possible to push it back, or push it up? Would doing either of those things make a difference in how you felt about taking action on it? (Sometimes we’ve set our own deadlines. Most of my clients have a perfectionistic streak and expect themselves to complete things way sooner than is reasonable, or necessary.)

Am I making the task too big?

One of my clients had decided to apply to a graduate program, but she wasn’t taking any action toward it. The deadline loomed and the weeks were going by and nothing was happening.

We noticed that every day she had been writing on her to-do list “Grad school application.” But when we broke it down, we found that there were at least twenty individual steps involved in completing the entire application process, and some of those steps could be broken down into even smaller steps. Of course she wasn’t taking action on it when “grad school application” was not an actionable step.

We often don’t want to break things down into small steps because we’re in a hurry. We think we don’t have time to take small steps. Then we proceed to do nothing at all because the giant leap we think we have to take overwhelms us. In the long run, we move more quickly and steadily when we take small steps over time. Think turtle and hare.

Am I in somebody else’s business?

Byron Katie talks about the three kinds of business: My business, your business, and God’s business. Much of the time when I’m feeling stressed, confused, or unfocused, if I remember to ask myself who’s business I’m in, I discover the issue. When I’m in somebody else’s business, as Katie says, there’s no one here taking care of my own.

How does this keep me from moving forward? If I’m worried about what someone else thinks of me, or trying to control someone else’s reaction to my choices in some way, I keep on spinning my wheels. I may not allow myself to do what I truly want to do. It’s human to care about what others think; but if we’re paralyzed because of it, we’re way out of our own business and into somebody else’s.

* Is my creative well empty?

I often mention the creative well on this blog. Julia Cameron likens the creative well to a “trout pond” that, ideally, is fully stocked with fish, except, as artists, we stock our ponds with images that inspire. We stock our ponds with the wordlessness that comes from simply being.

When the pond is empty, we need to restock it. And this means we need to practice great self-care and recognize that there are ebbs and flows to our energy and our creativity. Sometimes, when I’m not taking action, it’s simply because I need to be in a place of inaction for a while.

Any of these questions is a good starting point if you find you’re not taking action on something you want to do. If one question doesn’t seem to apply to you, try the next. And come up with your own, too — write them in a notebook where you can refer to them the next time you’re up against the stuckity-stuck.

How do you deal with it when you want to move forward but can’t seem to take action? I’d love to hear from you!

Image is “Bird on a Mirror” © Shane Link | Dreamstime Stock Photos

What triggers your resistance?

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One of the benefits of being a rabid journaler is that I have ample evidence of my patterns and habits and defaults. All that stuff I “tend to do” when I’m scared, overwhelmed, panicked, what have you. It’s there in ink on actual, physical pages. Hard evidence.

A client who also journals told me recently that he picked up a notebook from ten years ago and was depressed to see that he was struggling with exactly the same stuff as he is today. He thought it meant that he hadn’t changed at all, had been stagnating for ten whole years.

Which is so not the case.

Of course you were struggling with the same stuff back then, I said. Those are your core issues.

We all have core issues, those deep, resonant conflicts within us that we’re on this earth to be with, work with, and, over time, learn from. These issues are our teachers. It’s not about overcoming them or even letting go of them. The work is to become more and more intimate with our core issues as we cycle through them again and again in our lives. We peel our layers like an onion, each time getting closer and closer to our center.

I still struggle with much of the same stuff I did at twenty — it just doesn’t throw me as much, because I understand it better. I know how to work with it, play with it, in ways I didn’t then. In fact, some of the areas where I’m strongest now are the areas I had most difficulty with at twenty, even if those areas still cause me trouble.

For me, this is the work of my life. This is my real work, above, beyond, and beneath any other “work” I do in the world.

It’s these core issues, though, that trigger our resistance. Of course they do. They’re painful. Nobody wants to delve into pain. When I feel like I’m spinning my wheels and I just don’t see a way out, I can be pretty sure that some core issue has risen to the forefront and I’m in resistance to it.

What’s tricky is that we can often be blind to our core issues when they’re “up” for us. This is why I keep lists of my “resistance triggers” in my journals.

When I’m feeling stuck, I go to one of my lists. Resistance triggers basically boil down to painful thoughts that reflect our core issues. Here are some sample triggers from one of my lists:

You have to write something special, original and amazing or there’s no point. People have to be totally wowed by your writing or why are you doing it?

If you take too much time to yourself, people you love won’t understand and they’ll leave you. You have to be available to others when they need you or you’ll end up alone.

Even when you work really hard, it isn’t enough — what’s the point?

It doesn’t matter if you’re tired. Just keep going.

These are some of the biggies for me. You get the idea. The reason I write this stuff down is because I often don’t recognize that these issues are “up” for me. All I know is I’m feeling sad, empty, or pissed off and like I can’t move forward. Often, when I consult one of my lists I immediately see the thought causing the resistance jump off the page at me. Ahhh. Now I have something to work with.

So let me show you how this resistance thing plays out: If I’m in the grip of a thought like, “If you take too much time to yourself, people you love won’t understand and they’ll leave you,” but I don’t know it, I’m often over-responding to others, overscheduling myself, saying yes more than feels good to me.

Pretty soon I’m fed up, angry, withdrawing from and resisting interaction — even interaction that could be helpful and nourishing to me (such as taking time to truly connect with myself or with a friend who deeply wants to hear me).

If I’m in the grip of a belief like, “You have to write something special, original and amazing or there’s no point,” I become extra-hard on my writing. I become unwilling to experiment. I belabor every sentence. Everything feels squeezed and distorted, like I’m trying to fit my words through a teeny, tiny keyhole and hope they can make it through to the other side as magical, life-altering prose.

Pretty soon I don’t want to sit down at my desk at all. Writing has become painful, not life-enhancing. And certainly not fun. So now I’m resisting writing at all; I’ve become disconnected from why I ever wanted to do it in the first place.

Writing these triggers down as we become aware of them is a huge act of self-care. It’s about knowing ourselves. Seeing your thoughts on paper is a good way to cut them down to size — sometimes, thoughts that feel horrifying when they’re stuck in our heads can look absolutely ridiculous when you see them written down.

Just the act of noticing that I’m being triggered by one of these thoughts can create a huge shift for me. I’m no longer merged with the thought — I’m now outside of it, observing it, so it’s over there where I can question it, and not a driving force within me. The next step is to question these thoughts, look for evidence of where they are not true. (The Work of Byron Katie is an excellent way to question your painful thoughts.)

What triggers resistance for you? How do you know you’re “in it”? Let me know in the comments!

Image is “Stone and Brick Wall” © Peter Szucs | Dreamstime Stock Photos