Are you allowing the seasons of your life?

As summer winds down, I’m reminded of the summers when I was a kid, the easy, lazy feel of them. I can remember skipping down the street in my bare feet to watch the local music video station at my friend’s house. We particularly loved to catch Cyndi Lauper videos. (On one thrilling afternoon, my friend did my makeup like Cyndi’s in her “Time after Time” video.)

I don’t know what it’s like for kids today, but those summers of the 1980s feel, in memory, like such a contrast to the start-up of fall.

The summer was meant to be a season of fun, play, and intentional winding down. Fall had a tangibly different feel. I happen to love fall (it’s my favorite season), and part of why I love it is because it is, for me, about ushering in the new, while also feeling nostalgic for the falls of yesteryear. For the me who swore each school year that “this year I will show up at school as a completely different person!” (Which never really happened, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I love that the “me” of today doesn’t want to be a completely different person (thank God!), but there was something promising and exciting about that desire as a kid. The desire for the new, the sense that something amazing was just around the corner. Fall carries that energy for me, and mingled with it is a cozy feeling. New and cozy? Sounds good to me.

When I moved into “adult life” in my twenties, and even in college when I often worked through the summer and took classes, that “summer feeling” got lost somewhere.

There was also a period in my life when I lived in Hawaii for a time. While Hawaii was undeniably beautiful, I missed the seasons.  There is something about the seasons in the external world that mirrors our inner shifting, and vice versa.

***

When I work with my life coaching clients, particularly the ones who feel they are pushing themselves way too hard but aren’t quite sure how to stop, I sometimes ask this question: “Are you allowing your life to have its seasons?”

Just as summer has a different flavor and texture than fall, our lives shift and change as one “life season” moves into the next.

Here’s the tricky part: If we don’t ease up on ourselves, if we don’t tune into ourselves, we can’t see the change in seasons in our lives. In fact, our pushing and tuning out are sometimes exquisite protections against allowing our lives to shift seasons.

This is why I focus a lot on self-care in my coaching practice: Self-care is, ultimately, self-connection, and when our connection to ourselves is blocked, we’re not able to get a clear sense of where we are.

If we are connected to ourselves, we’re attuned to the subtleties that alert us that a new season of our lives may be on the horizon. We prepare to open to it. If it brings up fear for us, we can investigate it and get support.

When we’re pushing ourselves (to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, or to do more even if it doesn’t feel good), or tuning out, we’re far less aware of those subtle nudges that tell us a new season is approaching and change is near. That, in fact, our lives are changing (because nothing stays the same!).

So how do we stop pushing? How do we tune in to ourselves?

We take time to feel our feelings. It sounds simple, and it is, but it isn’t necessarily easy. So often our “pushing” is really avoiding. And when we’re avoiding, there’s only one thing we’re ever truly avoiding: feeling our feelings.

Here’s the thing: No feeling will destroy you.

As the poet Rilke wrote, “No feeling is final.” Feelings move. They shift (like the seasons). If you can take five minutes to let a feeling come up and be with it, you will notice it start to shift on its own. It may return, but it will not flatten you.

It’s when we avoid our feelings that we get overwhelmed — because we are using our energy to push away rather than be present to what is true for us.

So, when I pose the question, “Are you allowing your life to have its seasons?” what I am really asking is: Are you feeling your feelings? Are you allowing them?

If your life seems to want to be lazy summer right now, can you allow that? If it’s leaning toward a brisker, crisper fall feeling, can you allow that?

If you’re fighting a season of your life as it approaches, can you simply drop the fight, a little at a time? Can you simply notice the desire to fight the change?

Do you allow the seasons of your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Also: My Light Up Your Creative Self one-on-one coaching program will no longer be offered after September 30, 2017 (part of my practice of letting go of the old and welcoming the new!). If you’re feeling creatively blocked, stuck, or stagnant, you might want to check it out (and everyone who signs up prior to the end of the month will save $25). Find out more on my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Above images © Moonbloom, Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Olga Drozdova, Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively.

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When the “small” isn’t small, at all

I won’t even go into what a bad week it’s been. You know what’s been going on. And maybe, like me, you’ve been feeling sad and overwhelmed.

“Overwhelmed” is not a great place from which to take action. Sadness, though, can be  powerful. Sadness points us to what matters to us.

***

Today my partner and I were at Target, and I was scouring the back-to-school section for the inexpensive notebooks I use as journals. A woman came up to us and said to him, “Hey, are you the guy who taught creative writing to my daughter last summer? My daughter loved your class!”

Now, my partner has been feeling sad this summer because the writing class he has taught to high school students for the past few summers was canceled this year. But here, here was in-person feedback from the universe that that class mattered. His teaching matters.

This woman could have passed us by. She had only met my partner once, at the reading the kids did as the culmination of the class, and she wasn’t even totally sure she recognized him. But she took a chance and walked up to us and reached out.

It mattered.

***

A few months ago, when it was still winter, I saw a sign for a lost black cat up in Starbucks. I jotted down the phone number on a piece of napkin, just in case. I do this. I can’t stand the idea that an animal and its person are suffering.

During the next several days, I did indeed see a black cat in one of the parking lots near us. It looked kind of like the cat on the poster. I fished the piece of napkin out of my bag and called the number.

A woman answered. She sounded anxious. I told her I had seen this cat and wondered if it could be hers. It turned out she lived in a suburb about an hour’s drive from me. She had no idea how the poster had even been hung in a Starbucks near me.

After some discussion, we realized the cat I was seeing could not have been hers. It was a little too fluffy and a little too standoffish and a little too large, and it had a little bit of white on it, whereas her cat did not. With disappointment, we both knew it wasn’t her cat.

But we talked for about twenty minutes, anyway. We talked about our cats, past and present. We talked about how hard it is to love and to let go, and how the not knowing is the most terrible part of having a missing pet.

Getting off the phone, I told her I was so sorry the cat I was seeing was not her cat. “That’s okay,” she said. “It’s good knowing someone is out there watching out for her.”

It wasn’t her cat, but my reaching out mattered.

Almost every time I do something like that, like calling a number on a poster about a lost cat, I catch myself thinking, should I even do this? Will this make a difference?

***

When I was twenty-one, I worked at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago in one of the gift shops. It was, at that time, called the Koala Shop. (The koala habitat was actually in the center of the shop, so all day I watched the koalas. They slept about 99.99 percent of the time.)

One day, a customer yelled at me for ringing up her merchandise incorrectly. She called me stupid and said she was surprised I could hold down a job. It was not a good time in my life, and later that day, during a lull, I stood out on the sales floor with a co-worker, openly crying. Not easy for me. I’ve always been a pretty private person, and was even more so back then.

My co-worker asked me quiet questions about what happened and just let me cry. He acted like my crying was the most natural thing in the world. He stood there, a few feet away from me, gently nodding and talking to me here and there, but also being quiet at just the right times, until I was all cried out.

I never had contact with that guy after I stopped working at the zoo, but oh, what he did for me that day mattered. He gave me permission to have my emotions, at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure it was okay to feel what I felt.

***

I am always telling my coaching clients that the more we look for something, the more evidence we find that it exists. That day, in the zoo shop, I started building evidence for the fact that I could feel what I felt and express it and I would experience kindness in response.

And when I think back to my time working in that shop, my mind instantly goes to my fellow employee’s kindness that day. I wonder if he even remembers. And I’m sure he has no idea how profound his gentle acceptance of me was — I never told him.

It is so easy to discount these things, these things we tend to call “small”. We forget that the world is made of up relationships. That we are always in relationship — to other people, to ourselves, to the animals and trees and oceans.

But this is how we do it — one interaction at a time. This is how we add love to the world. And we need to believe it matters.

If you want to see more evidence of love, where can you add love?

I guarantee you, it matters.

Where have you experienced “small” acts of love that made a big difference for you? I’d love to hear from you. (Because the “small” isn’t small, at all.)

P. S. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed because you care so much (but you need to take care of you, too), you might love this post from Jennifer Louden. I did.

Above image © Yoyo1972 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Who do you want to be today?

Saturday is normally a work day for me. I often have coaching clients on Saturday mornings, and if I don’t, I use that time for writing or other business-related things.

But when I got up this past Saturday, I realized I just wasn’t feeling “right”. After a couple of hours of inexplicably aching muscles, my mind went to all the things that could possibly be wrong; I imagined myself in the ER, or with a prolonged hospital stay; it would feel so invasive, it would be so expensive, and how would my elderly cat survive without me if I were in the hospital for a long time?

Meanwhile I kept telling myself I should make use of my day. It was important to keep on schedule! What would happen if I didn’t get it all done?

Saturday passed in a flurry of anxiety, during which I told no less than three people close to me over the phone that I was surely dying and things were crumbling and life always pulled the rug out from under me when I was feeling productive! Life didn’t want me to accomplish anything!

Fast forward to Sunday, when I felt markedly better and realized that I probably just had a mild bug which was causing weird muscle aches. Though I was tempted to play catch-up on Sunday, my body sent me a strong message that it was time to rest, and rest I did (with a little help from Netflix).

Monday morning, though, the tyranny of the un-done loomed heavily as I woke up, grateful to be feeling well but now back in “get-it-done” mode.

(So many years after the chronic illness that changed the way I related to myself back in my twenties, I still tend to make a very quick leap from “Feeling good” to “Now how much can I get done?” It still sometimes takes “feeling physically unwell” for me to truly slow down — and this is something I continue to notice and work with in myself.)

I went out for my morning walk (making it a brief one, since there was now so much to do!).  As I headed home, intuition guided me a little bit out of my way to walk past what I think of as “the cat house” — a house whose side windows are situated along a brick-paved street. In these windows, I almost always catch glimpses of cats. At any given time there seem to be about seven or eight cats living in this house.

The cats in the cat house are often asleep on various pieces of window-oriented cat furniture, but on Monday, I encountered two awake ones. In the first window sat a gray tabby, an adolescent, not quite full-cat size. It watched me as though I were the most curious thing it had ever seen.

In the next window, a full-grown, robust gray-and-white cat, sat hen-like. Its eyes followed me as I passed, and I couldn’t help smiling. It was like these cats posed a silent question to me: What’s your hurry, human?

I turned the corner and headed down the adjacent street, my mind quickly crowding out the happy images of the cats with my towering to-do list. But I felt a little shift in myself — a little bit of breathing room.

And then, as I passed the barber shop on the corner, noticing the barber inside chatting with a regular, scissors glinting, it occurred to me: Whether I approach “all I need to do today” from this place of frantic intensity, or borrow the laidback alertness of those little faces in the cat house and move through the day from a place of peace and curiosity, I will probably get about the same amount done.

And I asked myself, Who do you want to be today? The frantic person who tries to do it all because if you don’t, you’ll be really hard on yourself? Or the person who moves from a place of self-acceptance and recognizes that she is choosing to do what she does, and if it doesn’t all get done, she’ll be totally okay?

I chose the second person. And, interestingly, I got a heck of a lot done yesterday from that peaceful, self-accepting place, borrowing some of that laidback-yet-curious cat energy.

But whether I’d accomplished everything I wanted to or not, the experience of doing it, the journey of my day, felt so much more pleasurable (and powerful) than it would have had I chosen to be the frantic person who operates from urgency.

In her beautiful memoir Autobiography of a Face, author Lucy Grealy wrote that we don’t learn something big just once in our lives and then, that’s it; we tend to learn the same truths over and over again. This lesson is not new to me. In fact, this choice of who I want to be is one I make over and over again. Because I often forget that I have this choice.

The key, with so much in our lives, is remembering.

And when I choose self-acceptance and peace over frantic urgency, I do not contribute to the frantic urgency that is so prevalent in our world. 

Who do you want to be today? Who do you choose to be? How do you interact with yourself and others, based on this choice? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. Way back when, I wrote about how our “not enough time” issues are really issues of self-acceptance. You can read that post, here.

P. P. S. My one-on-one coaching program Light Up Your Creative Self goes away at the end of September as I make room for new things I’m creating. Interested in this program? Find out more about it, here — and get $25 off until it goes away.

Above image © Olena Chyrko | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Coffee with your future self

deuxcafesOften when we’re at a crossroads in life or feeling stuck, it helps to ask ourselves “what worked before?”

Our “past self” — far from being naive — has lots of wisdom for us. Sometimes I forget that I “solved” a particular problem in the past and that way of dealing with it will work just fine today — I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

But there’s a reason our “past self” is in the past — we’re not who we were then! And we all reach those “liminal” periods in our lives — times when we have let go of an old identity but not yet embraced a new one. (In fact, it is during these periods of “identity limbo” that clients most often seek out coaching with me. It can be a really unsettling place to be.)

This is why, when I’m feeling really unsure about my next step or overall direction, I like to consult my “future self”.

Consulting your future self does not have to be anything elaborate. It can be as simple as imagining you meet “future you” and have a chat over coffee (or tea, or coconut water, or whatever you and future you like. One client reported that her “future self” did not want to drink the same beverage that her “current self” did — a detail we found extremely interesting!).

It can be fun to do this exercise with a group — I was led through a longer version of it by a gifted coach at an intensive a few months ago and what came out of it for me was powerful (there’s just something about group energy!).

But I’ve found it to be equally powerful sitting by myself on a bench in a nearby park. You can also do this with a friend or a coach. The key is to create a safe space for yourself where you can freely imagine.

First, set a time frame — how far in the future is this version of you? (I find that five years is often helpful for bigger-picture guidance, but depending on what I’m experiencing, it could be six months, a year, or ten years, too.)

Then, in your mind’s eye, simply ask your future self to show up, in whatever way she’d like.

When you meet your future self, take note of the totality of her. See everything there is to see. (Small details often represent big clues to your future life.)

What is she wearing exactly? What’s the expression on her face? Is she animated? Serene? Does she have anything with her? (This could be animal, vegetable, or mineral — it might not come as a surprise to you that when I did this exercise with the group a while back, my future self stood on a cabin porch, flanked by three cats.) How does she sit (or stand)?

What qualities about her really strike you?

Then: ask your future self what message she has for you, or if there’s anything she’d like to show you. (Sometimes clients report simply feeling a certain energy emanating from their future selves, nothing verbal. This is good, too!)

I notice that, almost always when I do this exercise, my future self gives me a message about something I need to let go of in order to transform into this “future me”.

About four years ago or so she showed me a vision of where she lived — in a smallish apartment with tree branches gently brushing the window next to her desk, where she sat writing. This message gave me a feeling of deep peace — but it also scared me. At the time I lived in a house that I really didn’t want to let go of, and my life felt so complicated that I couldn’t see how this vision could become a reality — in fact, I didn’t want it to become a reality — yet. (I wrote in this post about my process of parting ways with this beloved house.)

Although I didn’t know how I’d make what she showed me a reality at the time she showed it to me, the vision my future self revealed to me became a guidepost. It felt right.

And, step by step, my life unfolded so that I could let go of what needed to go. I saw that my future self had a focus and a purpose I felt out of touch with at that time, and I wanted to move toward it.

Your future self might seem ruthless, because she doesn’t necessarily need the things that “present you” needs. But don’t worry — when it’s time to sync up with your future self, you’ll find that letting go is a relief (even if there is some sadness there — I still miss the house from time to time, but I’ve never regretted my move).

These days, the message I get from “future me” is that I need to let go of certain deep-seated habits and ways of relating that are no longer serving me. “You can’t get here from there,” she smiles (and yes, like “present me”, she’s very much enjoying her iced coffee as we talk — thank God!).

Do you ever connect with your future self when you need intuitive guidance? How does this process work for you? I’d love to hear from you.

Work With Me: Do you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care? Find out more, here.

Above image © Monika Wisniewska | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Are you distracting yourself — from yourself?

beachumbrella

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

Above image © Billyfoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Do you need permission to give up or let go?

dogwithtoy

As I’ve begun another round of working with clients in my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program, I am so inspired.

These are intelligent, complex, high-achieving women — every single one.

But that’s not what inspires me about them. I’m inspired by their vulnerability. I’m inspired by their choice to reach out and say “I need some help here.”

They inspire me because I struggle with that, too.

Most of my clients would describe themselves as “perfectionists” and “recovering people-pleasers.”

Yep. Me, too.

And something I’ve noticed over the years is that, woven into the fabric of our Western culture, are particular ways of “supporting” each other that are just really not deeply helpful for perfectionists.

Here are some of them:

“You can do it — just try harder!” (The perfectionist is already trying way too hard. That’s part of the problem.)

“You’re strong enough to do this! Hang in there!” (The perfectionist has already carried strength to a Herculean level. The perfectionist needs permission to allow her feelings of “weakness” to exist.)

“You won’t succeed at anything unless you commit yourself 100%!” (Um … the perfectionist is practiced at over-committing. The perfectionist starts at 150%. This over-committing is why perfectionists sometimes “backslide” into procrastination — who wants to do it if doing it means over-committing yourself, every time?)

“Never give up until you make it!” (Tenacity is not an issue for the perfectionist. The perfectionist is like a little dog who just can’t let go of the chew toy, even though it’s in pieces. The perfectionist needs to learn to let go of things that are falling apart — and even things that still feel good but are no longer needed. The perfectionist needs to learn that some things are okay to give up on.)

“Strive for excellence!” (The perfectionist already functions through a belief that she must earn an A++++++ in everything. Excellence is not the issue for the perfectionist. Allowing herself — and her work — to be flawed but visible is the true journey of the perfectionist. This is why I loved the yoga teacher who told me it was best to approach yoga with “C+ effort” — she freed me up to be present to myself.)

The irony here is that, to people who are not yet aware of the toll their perfectionism is taking on them, everything I’ve written in this post will sound like blasphemy.

That’s because perfectionism is a belief system, and there are big payoffs, culturally, to having this belief system. It plays right into the idea that we don’t have limits if we just try hard enough.

There is a TV commercial running right now involving the relationship between a mother and daughter. In voiceover, the daughter says something along the lines of “My mother taught me that I could have it all. My mother never let me give up.”

Empowering? It depends on the lens through which you view “having it all” and “never giving up.” I know that when I try to “have it all”, my life feels so overstuffed I can barely breathe.

And I’ve found that everything I work toward in my life involves many moments where I “give up”. I give up what I think it has to look like. I give up my tight grip on it. I give up an old version of me so a more authentic version can show up. I give up because I just don’t want “it” anymore, not the way I did (because I’m not who I was when I set out on the journey).

If you have a tendency toward perfectionism, and you notice you have trouble giving up or letting go, start small. Where can you push a little less than you usually do? Where can you pause and reflect before responding or reacting? What activity can be crossed off the list — if only for today? Where would a well-placed “no” usher more peace into your day?

Don’t overwhelm yourself by thinking you need to “do this letting go thing right”! (Perfectionism can be oh so sneaky!) You don’t need to let go of anything big right now.

Practice with the little stuff. And see how it goes. Build those “letting go” muscles. Chances are, your “tenacity muscles” are already overworked.

I know the message to “practice giving up” may seem incongruent with the huge changes that are crying out to be made in our world at this moment. But as I’ve written here beforewe cannot truly separate self-care from other-care.

The more I am able to fill my own cup, the more that cup overflows to others. It cannot be otherwise. When I try to “do it all” and insist on “never giving up” on anything, I’m spread so thin I am flat-out ineffective when it comes to the places where the world truly needs me.

If you struggle with perfectionism and people-pleasing, where do you need permission? Where might you practice letting go, or even giving up?

Speaking of perfectionism and self-care, I hope you’ll check out You Need to Read: A Wish Come Clear’s Video Interview Series. Caroline McGraw and her interviewees (including me!) delve deeply into these topics in her terrific series.

Above image © creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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Self-care starts with self-connection (+ deadline to enroll in Stellar Self-Care)

heartglobe

Nearly two years ago, I created my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program when I noticed a particular pattern in my life coaching clients: they needed permission to take exquisite care of themselves.

I realized that many of my clients — and this had certainly been true of myself as well — confused self-care with self-indulgence. (See “The difference between self-care and self-indulgence” for more on this.)

I also worked with people who had not established what I call a “self-care bottom line” for themselves — in other words, they weren’t sure about the basics that they needed to function at their best. And these basics will not necessarily be the same from one person to the next.  (See “Your self-care bottom line” for more on this.)

And some of my clients had been really excellent with their self-care practices — but life changes had shifted their daily lives to an extent that what worked before no longer worked quite as well. (See “Radical self-care: when your normal has changed” for more on this.)

Another common theme with my clients (most of whom identify as highly sensitive and introverted) was the huge lack of permission to allow themselves the amount of downtime they actually needed to feel balanced and recharged. (See “When your downtime doesn’t happen” for more on this.)

Our world is full of constant lures to disconnect from ourselves. And escapism can be just what we need at times — but if our disconnection from our essential selves is ongoing, we’ll notice, as a client I worked with the other day pointed out, a lack of presence in our lives.

We won’t feel connected to our true selves. And that self-connection is where self-care begins. If we don’t make a commitment to connecting with ourselves regularly, we simply won’t know what we need.

What this means is that we must make the choice to be in relationship to ourselves. This is fundamental. If you notice that you frequently choose to disconnect — to not nurture a relationship with yourself — consider these two things:

Your brain is wired to seek out pleasure and comfort. This is part of the skill set of your “old brain” — your “reptilian brain” that is only concerned with whether you survive (not whether you thrive). So don’t beat yourself up when you grab your cell phone or iPad and find yourself sucked into Youtube or Facebook. Just notice, with curiosity. How does it feel? I notice that I enjoy the online world a lot more when I am already feeling filled up within myself rather than when I use it to fill me up. If it feels more like I’m distracting myself from something uncomfortable within me, it’s time to step away and reconnect with myself.

• Connecting with yourself may feel uncomfortable, especially if it is unfamiliar, or if you are in a challenging place in your life. Being able to sit in that discomfort is key if you long to feel more connected. As one of my mentors often says, the ability to sit with our own discomfort is one of the most valuable life skills we can cultivate. But if we are committed to avoiding our own discomfort, we’ll only get more of what we’re avoiding.

It is so much more powerful to move toward connection with ourselves than to move away from discomfort.

Do you need support in putting connection with YOU at the center of your life? Enrollment for my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program ends on April 30. (This is for the one-on-one program — please note that the group version, which starts this week, is full.) Find out more, here.

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When your inner guidance says “no”

stopsign

For many years, one of the hardest words for me to utter was “no”. To me, back then, “no” meant:

• cutting off an opportunity forever

• hurting someone’s feelings

• being perceived as rude or selfish

• admitting I couldn’t do it all (which, to my inner perfectionist, was akin to death!)

There were lots of other things “no” signified to me back in those days.

And an interesting thing happens when we are afraid of “no”: we don’t truly allow the inner wisdom that says “I don’t want this.” Or “the timing’s not right.” There is power in “no.”

A familiar struggle I notice with my coaching clients is this: An opportunity comes their way, but it doesn’t quite feel right. It looks good on paper, but something’s off. A part of them (and usually lots of friends and family, too), is telling them they should jump at the chance, but something tells them it’s either not the opportunity for them, or it’s a great opportunity, but not the right time.

This is a truly tricky spot to be in — if we let fear run the show. In fact, I was recently faced with a situation like this. An opportunity appeared and it looked great. But, somehow, it didn’t feel great. It felt exhausting — when I thought about actually doing it, I felt instantly tired and like I wanted to cry (this, I’ve come to learn, is one of my body’s ways of saying no when I try to push it).

Something I notice is that as I get closer and closer to “mastering” certain skills — in this case, the art of saying no! — the stakes in my decisions tend to feel higher and higher. I’ll hear myself saying, why does this feel so hard? Shouldn’t it be easier by now?

But life tends to throw us bigger challenges when we’re ready for a more challenging playing field. It’s like when you choose the “advanced” level in a video game instead of “intermediate”. Intermediate has gotten a little bit boring, but in the advanced level, it turns out the aliens shoot at you the whole time, not just off and on.

Even after many years of practice, I found it really hard to say no to this recent opportunity. But pushing myself through something that feels deeply exhausting is not walking my talk. It’s not what I stand for.

Let me tell you: the “yes” would have felt easier (in the moment). It is almost always easier for me to say yes when I am asked to participate. Saying yes doesn’t bring up my “stuff” the way no does (and I know this is not the case for everyone — some people have more difficulty with a genuine yes!).

In this case, I needed to say “yes” to permission to say no.

And you know what happened? I got so much support from the person I said no to. My genuine “no” — rather than closing off an opportunity — opened the door to the potential of future opportunities with this same person (who really appreciated my honest response).

I also had the experience of walking my talk when it comes to self-care — and being supported in doing so.

Had I said “yes” in order to not ruffle feathers, in order to not disappoint, in order to avoid the potential of beating myself up for “not doing enough”, I would have reinforced the idea that it’s not safe to say no.

And, my friends, we need to create evidence for ourselves that it is safe to do things that are hard.

Just as I once had an overstuffed file of evidence for my belief that saying no would mean I’d end up alone, I am building evidence for the contrary: saying no can be a powerful form of taking care of myself, and inviting others to support me in that self care — and participate in their own.

In her book The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren calls situational depression “ingenious stagnation.” I wonder about this in terms of giving ourselves permission to say no to more of what our souls just don’t want — would we experience less depression if we had more permission to deliver an authentic no?

Do you find saying no difficult? What helps you do it when it feels scary? I’d love to hear from you.

(If you need help getting clear when you’re “on the fence” about a decision, you might find this post helpful.)

And: I’ll be enrolling in my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program through the end of this month — I have room to work with two more people one-on-one. Please note that the small group version is currently full — but I will likely offer it again in the near future! Find out more here

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Honoring your way of taking action in the world

glidingswan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is it time to set down those old coping strategies?

birdsflight

The other day, I noticed myself doing something I’ve done countless times in my life: I said “yes” when I meant “no.”

The story I told myself in my head, in the moment, was “Well, I’m too overwhelmed right now to get into a conflict by saying no. So I’ll say yes, and then I’ll find a way to gracefully bow out later.”

I have a lot of compassion for myself around this, because I was caught off-guard by the asker. And I don’t think there is anything “wrong” with the way I handled this. (I followed up the next day and said, “You know, after checking in with myself and looking at my schedule, I realize I actually can’t do X. I’m sorry about that.”)

But the truth is, I was out of integrity when I said yes, knowing I meant no. It wasn’t really fair to the asker, and the incident shone a light for me on an area where, perhaps, it’s time for me to shift “coping strategies.”

Back in my twenties, I went through some intense shifts where I realized I needed set some boundaries if I were to live the life I wanted to live, if I were to retain any semblance of my true self. So I said no, a lot. No, no, no.

In fact, I said “no” even when I wasn’t sure I really wanted to say no, just to practice. There was a lot of “no” going on during that time.

Eventually, I realized that many of my “no’s” were simply reactions to a fear of being controlled, to a fear of losing my autonomy. They were not genuine “no’s.” (Sometimes, when we’re embracing something new, we can go to an extreme with it. When that extreme starts to hurt, we know it’s time for some balance.)

So, bit by bit, I started letting “yes” — an authentic yes — be part of my life. And sometimes I got confused. Sometimes I’d say “yes” and realize that it was a people-pleasing yes, and then I’d get angry and go to a big NO. Sometimes I felt more of a “maybe” and I wasn’t quite sure how to handle that one.

So fast-forward to my forties. I’ve had tons of practice with all this over the years, and it is so much less stressful than it was when I was first learning to say yes when I meant yes, and no when I meant no. But I’ve held onto a coping strategy: When I’m on the spot, as I was the other day, I still sometimes go for the “yes” that is less about a true yes and more about not making waves in the moment.

And I realized this time around, I don’t need to do that anymore. I can let that particular coping strategy go.

I developed that coping strategy at a time of my life when I thought there was something wrong with anything less than a whole-hearted “yes” or a full-on “no”. I was at a place where my thinking was often black-and-white, all-or-nothing. It didn’t feel okay to be unsure or in-between.

So the way I worked with that belief was to say “yes” when I felt pressured, and retract my yes later. Which was still leaps and bounds better than how I’d used to handle things (saying yes when I meant no but believing I couldn’t say no, so going ahead with things full of resentment, reinforcing to myself the belief that I wasn’t allowed to do what I really wanted to do).

You know what, though? Today, I believe that it is perfectly okay to say, “You know, I really can’t. I’m sorry.” Or, “Hmm … let me ponder that and get back to you on it.” Or, “I’m feeling a little conflicted about that — when do you need to know for sure?”

There is such a range of “okay” here that I didn’t see back then.

And since I’m okay with whatever my response might be, however someone else responds is okay, too. I don’t have to jump to the old coping strategy of trying to predict and head off a “negative” response. I can breathe and tell the truth, and, if they choose it, so can the person who’s asking.

It’s interesting that I hadn’t even noticed I was employing a coping strategy of yore. (I love the concept of yore. Yore is a good word!) And, now that I’ve noticed it, I’m wondering what other “old strategies” I might be able to just set down? Because other, better ones, more authentic ones, have already queued up to take their place.

Do you remember the Buddhist tale of the man who uses a raft to get across the river, and once he’s across, he keeps carrying the heavy raft over his head, even though he’s already across?  How often do we do this in our lives? We’ve grown and changed and we’re not who we used to be — we have different needs, new strengths, more capabilities.

But some little part of us still resorts to the means by which we got here. If those means continue to feel authentic and relevant, absolutely continue to use them. But if they’ve gotten a little stale, if you feel like someone else when you notice yourself employing them, ask: can I let go of this now? Can I trust in a new way?

As I finish this post, I’m aware of how much this concept affects us not just individually, but collectively. We are being called upon to set down the old ways that no longer work.

And we’re being truly challenged here. Are we up to the challenge? Can we give ourselves lots of compassion while we find a new way — or, if we’ve already found it, can we be steadfastly kind and patient with ourselves as we test our new wings?

I’d love to hear how this works for you — do you notice yourself using coping strategies that are more about who you used to be than who you are now?

And: I had the true pleasure of talking to the wonderful writer and speaker Caroline McGraw for A Wish Come Clear’s You Need to Read video interview series. Such an honor to be part of this series — I hope you’ll take a look at the interview, and subscribe to get the whole series! Check it out, here.

Plus: I heard from a few of you who’d like to get on the info list for the small group version  of my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. I’ll be sending out info to those interested around the third week of February. If you’d like to get on the list, please contact me through the form on my Ways We Can Work Together page, here.

Above image © Creativecommonsstockphotos | Dreamstime Stock Photos