There are always alternatives to pushing yourself

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ways to differentiate tenacity from pushing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Self-knowledge will always support you (+ Happy Fall!)

When we’re going through challenging transition periods in our lives, or when we feel seriously overwhelmed, we can get triggered. Our “stuff” can come up big time — and by “stuff” here I mean our “core issues.”

For example, if one of our core issues is feeling like we need to do it all on our own because we’re not allowed to ask for help, we may coast along seemingly doing it on “all our own” during times when we’re not particularly challenged.

But one or two important elements of our life shift, we recognize we’re feeling in over our heads, and suddenly, bam! The core issue is pressing on us: “I need to do it all on my own, but I’m in new territory here and it feels like I can’t do it on my own, but I have to because I’m not allowed to ask for help/ if I were a strong person I wouldn’t need help/ maybe the kind of help I need isn’t out there.” (I use this as an example because it’s, in my experience, a pretty common core issue for my perfectionist-leaning clients — and for myself as well!)

Another core issue could just as easily be “I can’t do it on my own — I need someone to do it for me or I won’t survive.” You can see that, while this could indeed be very true for a child, for an adult it might not be true in many circumstances (depending on what the thing is and any number of other factors).

If we, as adults, don’t take a look at the core issue that is popping up for us during challenging times, we can stay in a sort of “spin cycle” for a really long time because we don’t see a way out of it.

Usually, working with a core issue involves gaining more and more perspective around it over the course of our lives, so that what once may have felt debilitating or terribly shaming to us becomes something we understand, something we can work with, something we can hold.

So, when we’re really challenged by circumstances inner or outer or both, we need to find ways to calm and soothe our nervous systems so we can relax and detach enough to see the core issue and work with it rather than running away from it, ignoring it or pushing it down.

One of the ways I’ve noticed seems to be particularly helpful here is to call on our strengths by asking them to come forth with this question: What do I know about myself that will help me here?

What’s useful about the framing of this question is that it presupposes that we do know things about ourselves that we value, are unique to us, and that have helped us in the past. This circumvents our tendency during stressful times to go to a place of self-doubt or a place of noticing what’s NOT working and what we’re NOT good at (which is totally habitual for most of us when we’re feeling dazed by something we’ve never dealt with before and in over our heads.)

This works even if we don’t have a lot of life experience. When I was in elementary school, I absolutely hated participating in team sports, but I was forced to for daily gym class. At one point, I was struggling through some sport or other in the gymnasium, wearing my red gym uniform that always seemed way too big, and my teacher shouted out, “You’re holding your own, Jill.” (I’m pretty sure my fourth-grade teacher had gathered by this point that I hated gym, since I sometimes pretended to have a stomach ache to get out of it.)

Now, oddly, when my teacher told me I was holding my own, I believed her. It felt true — I was holding my own. I was actually somewhat nimble and good at catching balls here and there. I just didn’t enjoy any of it — I wanted to read Judy Blume books under a tree somewhere, not dodge the elbows of my aggressive classmates.

What got me through playing countless team sports in gym class for several years after that, though, was my belief in what my teacher had observed: I could hold my own. It sucked, I didn’t want to do it, but since I was a kid and I didn’t have the agency to get out of it, I could hold my own (though not so well in wretched games like bombardment!).

This was my “kid version” answer to the question “What do you know about yourself that will help you here?” “I am pretty good at holding my own.”

(And, Hallelujah, when I got to high school I had way more options for gym class and I took almost all dance classes, which I actually enjoyed.)

Now, notice that if I hadn’t believed my teacher’s observation that I was holding my own, it wouldn’t have been useful self-knowledge to draw upon. When we draw on what we know about ourselves, it won’t feel supportive if we don’t have a certain conviction about it.

A client I worked with several years ago had been through an incredibly stressful relationship break-up. I asked her what she knew about herself that could support her in this bereft-feeling place. She said (shared here with her permission), “I am really good at finding comfort in the most unexpected places.”

What a beautiful piece of self-knowledge! And notice how her essential self served that right up when I asked? We always have within us the seeds of what we need to navigate those extra-challenging spaces, even if they are only seeds and have some maturing to do. That’s often how the hard places end up serving us in the long-run — by maturing the seeds within us that are so ready for growth.

What do you notice about this for you? What do you know about yourself that will help you in a situation you’re currently facing? I’d love to hear from you!

And: In celebration of fall, my favorite season, my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! If you’re in an “in-between” space this fall and needing some support, you might want to learn more. You can do that here

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

Above photos, respectively, by Anh Trandavide ragusa, and Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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Calling in what you need (+ a summer writing opportunity!)

As I was doing some journaling before bed last night (you can read about this ritual of mine here), I realized I felt frustrated and at loose ends. I glanced over at my cat, who lay stretched full-length on the bed next to me. And a question popped into my mind:

What qualities are needed here?

Peace and ease, came the reply.

I wrote this in my journal, put it on the floor and called it a night. I didn’t sleep well, and when I woke up my first thought was, you didn’t get enough sleep, great. But I also noticed that, despite this, I felt basically rested (a glass-half-full recognition that is unusual for me!).

Even though I had a lot on my plate that needed to be attended to early in the day, I gave myself permission to take the length of walk that felt right, rather than just darting down the street for coffee and coming back home to get stuff done.

It was a warm and windy day — I’m not a hot-weather person but it was still early enough that it felt pleasant — and as I moved my body and felt the ground under my feet, my energy shifted. Except I didn’t fully notice it until I returned home, sat down at my desk, and started in on the things that needed to get done.

It all felt purposeful and relatively effortless, and I felt present and connected for all of it. The air-conditioned alcove of my work space felt pleasant and soothing, and my cat puttered around as I worked, offering me meows here and there but not getting oppressive as she often does when I work at my laptop. (Laptop is, for mysterious reasons, her nemesis!).

At some point, I realized I was truly inhabiting the morning. In fact, my entire home felt open, somehow, imbued with a curious spaciousness.

And then I remembered what I’d scribbled in my journal the night before: What qualities are needed here? Peace and ease.

That is exactly what the morning felt like for me, even though I’d forgotten I’d asked for it.

And from that place of peace and ease, the day moved so much more simply. My choices were clearer, my energy was used more wisely. I already had what I wanted to get when everything was done: a feeling of peace and ease.

***

When I work with clients who want to let go of overwhelm, we take an in-depth look at what caring for ourselves — that ubiquitous and broad term “self-care” — actually feels like for us. And what actions come from feelings of wanting to care for ourselves.

Often, it comes down to seemingly “small” and subtle —- but ultimately powerful — questions like the one I asked myself in my journal. What is needed here? What energies can I call in? What happens when I call in those energies?

When we ask helpful, supportive questions and call on the energies we need, we can let go of the struggle, the striving, the efforting.

It’s not “magic” — but there can sometimes be a magical quality to this kind of caring for ourselves. With practice, it can become a positive habit for us to ask these helpful questions even though we presently feel mired in the muck (as I did before bed last night).

I’m going to add the question “what qualities are needed here?” to my regular evening ritual for the next month or so, and see what happens.

And, at any time during the day (or night!), we always have the option to ask ourselves helpful questions, and to call in energies that can support us. When we do this, we remind ourselves that we have a choice as to how we respond to what we’re going through, what we make it mean, and what we intend for ourselves moving forward.

This also underlined for me that I do not have to force myself to try to feel certain things — I can instead choose to call on those qualities. When I simply call on them, I recognize that they’re already within me, I don’t have to create them out of thin air. (I often hear people talking about “working up their courage” — what if you didn’t have to work it up? What if you could simply call on it, because it’s already a part of you?)

What happens for you when you set an intention to call in what you need? I’d love to hear how this works for you.

***

Write with us this summer! I’ll be leading an eight-week summer writing group over at Called to Write — it starts in just one week, on June 3. If you have a writing project you’d like to get going on (or continue) with compassionate group support this summer, feel free to send an email to support[at]calledtowrite[dot]com to get all the details! We’d love to have you. The group will be kept to eight participants (at this writing, it’s about half full.)

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

Above images by Solaiman HossenAaron Burden, and Hannah Jacobson on Unsplash

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The magic of giving yourself more time

Something I’ve noticed again and again while working with clients who want to let go of overwhelm is just how often we expect ourselves to make big life changes very quickly and easily.

When — lo and behold! — making the changes feels like it’s taking a long time and is not all that easy, we conclude that something is wrong.

Where does this mindset come from? For some of us, it’s deeply rooted in childhood, where our feelings might have gotten lost in the shuffle or, in some cases, were flat out not allowed.

For lots of us, too, the culture that surrounds us is focused on “fast and easy,” and we can feel exposed to this message hundreds of times a day. No wonder when things feel slow and difficult, we question ourselves! (This is where self-compassion is especially important.)

When we allow our feelings to surface, we have access to our intuition, and our intuition gives us a solid sense of how fast — or slow — we need to go to best serve ourselves. (Sometimes intuition prompts us to move more slowly and see what emerges, and sometimes it prompts us to take swift action and a lot unfolds seemingly all at once, but when we’re acting from intuition, that unfolding feels right, no matter its pace.)

There are times, for example, when I get an idea about something I might want to do, but when I start taking actions toward it, I can feel a forcing/pushing energy behind it that creates an “ick” for me. (“Ick” is my way of describing something that feels like it’s actually the opposite of where my essential self wants to go.)

If I keep on pushing through the “ick,” I notice I just create more of it. My mind may tell me I need to do this thing (whatever it is), but if I don’t take a giant step back at this point and investigate what’s behind the “ick,” I only end up feeling awful about the thing I thought I wanted to do/create/have.

If we’re in a big hurry, it’s always worth stepping back and questioning what’s going on for us. What are we afraid of? What do we fear will happen if we don’t hurry? How do we want to feel?

***

A while back, a client I was working with felt pretty sure that she wanted to quit her job — the mere thought of quitting caused her essential self to light right up. But when she started getting things in order to actually quit, she felt her version of “the ick”. Flow stopped, fear took over, and she felt frozen. Did this mean, she wondered, that quitting her job was the wrong move?

After we did some calming of her nervous system and she was feeling more safe and peaceful, she was able to see that although she did indeed want to quit her job, she needed to give herself a longer time frame in which to make that big step. Instead of “right now!”, she realized that giving herself six months to plan her exit felt really good and didn’t trigger the “ick”.

When she stepped back in this way, her intuition was more clear to her — she wanted to leave, but she needed more time to do that in a way that felt solid and grounded to her essential self.

Your essential self is the essence of who you truly are (as opposed to your social self, which is much more concerned with how you’re viewed by those around you).

I have learned that the essential self is never in a hurry. Its voice is that of our intuition, which, as I mentioned above, has a “just-right” sense of our unfolding — it’s not about “fast” or “slow”, but about the right pace for where we want to go next, where we (essentially) need to be.

On a smaller, day-to-day scale, giving ourselves more time when things feel hard can help us meet ourselves where we are, too. Whenever I have to figure out some new technology, I get edgy because I am not a techy person. I’ve noticed, though, that if I can block out an hour to learn something new, rather than expecting myself to “just get it” in five minutes, I usually learn it fine and don’t feel like I’m waging a war against myself.

How is giving ourselves more time in this sense different from “procrastination”? It’s the difference between approaching and tending to our feelings, and avoiding them.

What we call “procrastinating” feels so awful because we’re really in avoidance — not necessarily of the thing we’re “supposed” to do — but of ourselves, our feelings, and understanding more deeply what’s going on. (I can’t tell you how many times a client who’s judged herself for “procrastinating” has come to the realization that the “thing” didn’t even need to be done, once she got clear on what was going on.)

When we take a giant step back and ask what’s really going on here, we are generous with ourselves. We’ve taken the pressure off, calmed our nervous systems, and now we can clearly feel into what’s right for us and what isn’t. (If you need support here, you might want to check out my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program.)

When you have that “up against a wall” feeling, what happens when you simply choose to give yourself a little more time? I’d love to hear from you.

My Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program is enrolling now. If you want to let go of overwhelm and embrace your creativity, I’d love to support you. Want to learn more? You can do that here

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Above images by Giv Meraj and Terry Richmond on Unsplash, respectively

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Finding a creative routine that works for you

Many years ago, I had a full-time job that drained my energy and I really wanted to write a novel. But it wasn’t happening. Every time I got home from work, I felt brain-dead, turned on the TV, watched two episodes of Sabrina the Teenage Witch (which happened to be on right when I got home), and kept the TV on for the entire evening.

I finally resolved to get up an hour early each morning and work on my novel before I went to work. I did that for exactly one day. I felt so sleep-deprived at work due to cutting off my last hour of sleep that the entire day was a slog.

The next thing I tried was writing during my lunch hour. Typically, I didn’t take lunch, because if I skipped lunch and ate at my desk while I worked, I could leave earlier.

Writing during lunch proved challenging. I felt distracted (my mind on the afternoon work I had to get back to), and extending my work day by an hour drained my energy (too overstimulating for this introvert).

The next thing I tried was writing after I got home. I resolved to not turn on Sabrina the Teenage Witch (no Salem for me!), go right to my desk, and work for an hour.

This failed miserably. Once I walked through my door, my system set itself to “relaxation mode” and the hour of writing felt like a climb up a mountainside with a boulder strapped to my back.

Now, you may be thinking at this point, Well, yeah! It’s hard. You have to force yourself to do it!

Except I didn’t want my writing to be constantly tied up with the feeling of forcing myself. The whole reason I wanted to write a novel in the first place was because writing brought me joy and purpose, and because reading novels had felt so joyful and purposeful to me. Forcing myself to write was not going to work for me for the long haul.

So I started looking at the elements that seemed important here.

• It was important to me that I was able to sleep as late as possible in the morning — that worked best for my body.

• It was important to me that I could leave work as early as possible — that created the most hopeful and positive feeling for me in my work day.

• Writing at home at the end of the day didn’t work because it was too tempting for me to succumb to TV at that time — I had to rely far too much on willpower at that time of day in that setting.

But then I thought — hmm. What about a different setting? What about writing after work, but not at home?

So the next thing I tried was heading to the coffee place that was next door to my workplace, right after work. I brought a spiral notebook with me, ordered coffee, and started writing. About forty-five minutes in, it felt right to call it a day.

I went home, turned on the TV, and did my usual nighttime routine — except my writing was done. I hadn’t had to cut off my sleep in the morning to do it, and I hadn’t had to take a lunch hour. And I could go ahead and relax when I entered my apartment.

Eventually, I decided on writing at the coffee place at least four days a week, right after work, for no more than forty-five minutes a day. (I discovered that if I tried to push beyond forty-five minutes, I got too much into the “forcing myself” zone and I started to rebel. If I kept it at forty-five minutes, it usually felt just right.)

Creating takes energy — there’s no way around it. And while it’s true that creating gives us energy (as Maya Angelou famously said), it’s also true that our bodies have needs, very real ones.

Since several years prior to this period of my life I had completely ignored my physical needs and ended up terribly ill, I knew I had to take my body’s needs seriously. I knew I couldn’t afford to let perfectionism take the reins again. I needed a “reasonable, realistic” creative routine.

Ugggh! Reasonable and realistic had to be two of my least favorite words. (Still true for me — I’m an INFP, after all!)

So I had to do a couple of things in order to allow myself to carry on with this “workable but not necessarily exciting” creative routine:

• I had to let myself be a regular, boring human who couldn’t crank out a novel draft in a weekend on a great wave of inspiration.

• I had to accept that my creative identity was changing — it was no longer about great highs and lows — I was no longer flying above the treetops or clutching a towel sobbing on the bathroom floor. My creativity was now going to be built into my daily life, in a quieter, more subtle, more sustainable way.

And this needed to be okay if I was going to have a healthy relationship between my physical body, my emotional self, and my creativity.

It took me about a year and a half to get to a complete novel draft, and another year to rewrite it. I didn’t “crank it out in a weekend,” but I did finish it. (And although this novel makes me cringe now, I used excerpts from it to get into a graduate writing program, where I became a better writer. No creating is ever wasted!)

It’s a fact: as much as we may not like to believe it (I know I didn’t), we have a finite amount of energy available to us each day. (When we’re going through big things, we’ll have less than usual.)

We don’t move forward by arguing with reality. We move forward by embracing it. When we tend to see lots of possibilities, it can be easy to get disconnected from the realities of our physical and emotional selves.

But we’re in physical bodies for a reason (if we weren’t, we wouldn’t be here, having this human experience!). We need to honor our creativity and our physical and emotional needs.

Finding the right creative routine takes testing and trying. I tweaked this routine in small ways many times, and my life is different now and I don’t have this routine anymore. We need to be open to what works for us now, and willing to let it change and evolve.

It’s possible to find a creative routine that works for you — even when it seems like it isn’t. What have you discovered about this for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

I am currently enrolling new coaching clients. Do you need support in making your creative work a priority while practicing excellent self-care? I’d love to help.

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

Above images by Carli Jeen, Ella Jardim, and Kyle Glenn, respectively, on Unsplash

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A fond farewell to a feline friend

As we near the end of 2018, it feels right to share that earlier this year we said goodbye to our beloved Sullivan, feline extraordinaire.

I have tended to be quite hesitant to share publicly when my animal companions pass away, because they are so very dear to me and their passing feels, in some ways, exquisitely private.

But Sullivan was known to many of my coaching clients, and also to folks from the various communities of which I am a part.

Chances are, if we worked together on the phone, Sullivan was curled in my lap while we talked, or maybe you heard him purring wildly (which he did when he was in “lovey-dovey” mode —  it was so loud people would tell me they could practically feel the vibration of his purr as we talked). Or, if we did a Skype or Zoom session, you may have seen Sullivan pop up on your screen, or climbing the shelves or chairs in the background.

***

I adopted Sullivan back in 2005, as a companion for Slinky (who died of lymphoma in 2010). Sullivan was by far the skinniest cat in the shelter, but his spirit radiated joy. Even into his very last weeks, he maintained his “puppy-like” personality — he’s the only cat I’ve ever had who would trot happily over to me when I called his name. (When he felt like it, of course! He was, after all, a cat.)

Sharing a box with Slinky, around 2008 (Sullivan is on the right)

Sullivan was, in fact, so skinny when I adopted him that he looked rather like Dobby the House Elf — all ears. In those early days, people who met him were shocked at his thinness. Fast-forward to 2012, and he tipped the scales at nearly 13 pounds. (“He probably shouldn’t gain any more weight,” our wonderful vet, Dr. Brancel of Prairie State Animal Hospital, said with a laugh. I took this as a win!)

When Slinky left us in 2010, I was concerned Sullivan would be in deep grief, but he simply accepted her death and went on with life. I’d sensed as Slinky worsened that Sullivan “got it” — while he’d once demanded daily attention from her, and loved to ambush her on the couch or in a box where she was sleeping, he started to leave her alone, stopping when he passed to gently groom her now and then.

Ever the shelf sitter, in 2016

As far as we know, Sullivan was probably eighteen, or close to it, when he left us. Even into his last month or so of life, he remained a climber — he loved the top of the refrigerator, the highest shelf in the living room. We noticed, though, that he didn’t look out the windows as much in his last several months, and his favorite toy — a yellow “tiger tail” filled with catnip, was going untouched more and more.

It’s hard to imagine a sweeter soul than Sullivan, and as he aged, I reassured myself (or maybe chose the path of denial) by reminding myself that I’ve had cats for thirty-plus years, and that I was by now a seasoned veteran of cat loss, and I’d be able to “accept it” when Sullivan’s time came.

But you know what? I wasn’t even remotely ready. The loss has been extremely difficult for me, and for my partner, who first met Sullivan in 2011 and loved him almost as much as I did (though Sullivan remained, for the most part, a mama’s boy).

Sporting his Day of the Dead collar in 2015

Pets come into our lives for a relatively short time. When I adopted Sullivan in 2005, I was in a different place in my life, and I was a “youngish” person, while now, there’s no way around the fact that I am — a-hem — “middle-aged.” Sullivan made that passage with me, and it’s a period of my life that I’ll always cherish.

When the time came (and you never truly know when it’s “time”), we used this service for in-home euthanasia. A truly sensitive and compassionate vet, Megan Carolyn of Chicago, came to our home and we let Sullivan go.

When I started my life coaching practice in early 2011, Sullivan became my CEO of Curiosity and Relaxation. His presence was a constant reminder to me that I didn’t have to push so hard all the time, and that just being curious about the goings-on within me would take me a very long way.

We miss and will continue to miss you, beloved friend.

***

By the way, if you’re dealing with the loss of a pet, I was helped immensely after Sullivan died by the blog of Joy Davy (who also has a book on pet loss).

And please know, this is tough stuff and there is nothing wrong or weird about feeling intense grief over the loss of an animal companion. Pets, probably more than people for many of us, are so integrated into our homes, our daily lives, that they can leave a truly massive void.

Pets also provide us with the benefits of oxytocin — the “love hormone” that is released when we touch them. This hormone is in part related to mother-infant bonding, and it is said to have anti-inflammatory benefits. When that’s taken away, it hurts. (Research also shows that the frequency of a cat’s purr has healing properties.) No wonder so many of us feel better with animal in our lives.

(And yes, we do have a new feline companion named Genevieve, a.k.a. Little G, a.k.a. The QUOTH — Queen of the House. I’ll introduce Genevieve in a future post.)

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On gratitude, appreciation, and right timing

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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Permission to be done (and Happy Halloween!)

Periods of transition are often (but not always) synonymous with letting go. It might be letting go of a job, a relationship, a home — but, in a deeper and broader sense, this letting go is often a letting go of who we used to be.

One of the issues that can arise here is one of permission. My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are underway (you can find out more about these here), and something that has come up more than once so far is “permission to be done.”

Recently, I ran into someone I worked with years ago. Running into her, recognizing each other and catching up a bit, reminded me of the many pleasant and kind people I worked with in that job, and as we parted ways I found myself thinking, just for a moment or two,  “Why did I ever quit that job? That was a good situation for me.”

And it was … until it wasn’t. I can remember Fridays back then, done with work for the week, when I’d walk home in the dwindling sunlight (I had an insanely short commute, one of the great perks of that job), feeling so satisfied with my life and grateful for what I had.

Except, in truth, there were only a handful of those happy Fridays, max. (Memory is funny like that. ) That period of satisfaction didn’t last all that long. Things changed, I changed — my essential self wanted a different experience — and it started to become time for me to be done.

And yet, being “done” with that job was a process for me, in and of itself.

Looking back, I can see that there were various “parts” to being done. There was the part where I wanted to be done — but really, truly wasn’t. And that part went on for a pretty long time. Because the “me” who wanted to be done with the job was in conflict with the “me” who wasn’t ready to be done, a struggle ensued, and until both “me’s” were on the same side, it wasn’t truly time for change.

And then, after what seemed like ages, I was ready. Except I had a hard time giving myself permission to be done. Because once I was no longer in inner conflict, I recognized the plain old fact that my job was just pretty pleasant, and I worked with nice people, and I had good benefits. (And there was that insanely short commute!)

When we’re making changes or decisions from a pretty peaceful place like that, we’re actually on much more solid ground than when we try to change from a place of dissatisfaction and unrest (this is usually a sign that we’re, actually, not quite done).

But it can also feel challenging, sometimes, to simply give ourselves that permission to be done.

We might have some fear or confusion around giving ourselves that permission — particularly if we think we might be letting others down in being done, or if we harbor the belief that “quitting is bad” or that being responsible means hanging in there for the long haul.

If we’re heavily identified with being “the person who sticks around”, it may be harder for us to give ourselves permission to be “the one who leaves” or “the one who lets go.” (Being done does not always look like leaving, but it usually feels like it to some extent! Even if the change we’re making is strictly an internal one, there is still an “inner leaving” process to go through, a letting go of the person we were.)

On the smaller scale, the day to day one, I notice that this time of fall, of Halloween, where the days are noticeably shorter, helps me give myself permission to be done with the day. When darkness creeps in more quickly, it’s like there’s a clearer line of distinction between day and night.

It also reminds me that, in many ways, I am not in control of beginnings and endings, of day and night, of the seasons of my life and of life in general.

While this can be unsettling, it’s also a relief. Recognizing where I do and don’t have control can be a big help in giving myself that permission to be done when I need it.

Where do you need permission to be done? What helps you give yourself this permission? I’d love to hear from you. And Happy Halloween! 

P. S. My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are underway and will be available through November 16, 2018. If you need some support in navigating a difficult transition this fall, I’d love to help. You can find out more about these sessions, here.

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

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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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The power of catching up with yourself

The other day I was trying to hang a picture in the bedroom. The back of the frame had a tricky hanging mechanism, and I kept trying to get the picture on the nails in the wall and it wasn’t hanging quite straight. And then it kept falling down. I tried again and again and I couldn’t get it to work.

I’d had this vision of having this picture on the wall because I’ve been journaling in my bedroom more lately. And this picture had been sitting in the closet for a while.

But I couldn’t get it to hang right. Even when I got it to hang relatively straight, it still seemed like it might fall down at any moment.

Finally, I gave up. But after sitting in my frustration for a few minutes, I knew a solution would present itself. It hasn’t yet, as of this writing. But it will.

I tell this story because it’s a very simple example of the way we often approach more complex situations in our lives. We have a vision of something we want. We try to achieve it in a certain way, using certain tools. It doesn’t work, and we try again, the same way. Sometimes again and again and again. Sometimes this goes on for years.

We’re sure we need to get it done like this. If we just try harder, and enough, surely we can make it happen?

This kind of experience can be particularly frustrating for people who are really good at getting things done and making them happen. My early experiences in life were often full of putting my mind to something and doing it! So as time went on and I, inevitably, ran into situations where just doing it didn’t work so well, no matter how hard I tried, I became extremely discouraged.

This discouragement was a huge blessing, however. When we “fail,” we are given a chance — if we take it — to catch up with ourselves.

When we pause to catch up with ourselves — to process and integrate what we’re experiencing rather than immediately moving ahead to try something else — we take the opportunity to be shown what’s not working for us. And what is.

Sometimes, for example, our actions are fine — the problem is that we’re expecting immediate results when the results might take some time to come to fruition. This doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong.

Sometimes, we do need to take different actions. But if we don’t pause to assess how things are going, we get into that cycle of doing the same thing (that isn’t working) and expecting different results (the definition of insanity, an idea sometimes attributed to Einstein).

Where this can get tricky for us is when something once worked really well, but no longer does. It can take a while to get that things have changed — either within us or outside of us or both — and something new is called for. This is where we need to have lots of patience with ourselves. It takes time to catch on and learn — this is part of being human. It doesn’t mean we’re doing anything wrong.

When we take the time to simply catch up with ourselves, we welcome the power of sadness. As Karla McLaren says in her books The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy, sadness does not always mean we are overtly sad about some particular event. McLaren says that sadness is “the watery emotion,” and it helps us let go of what’s not working for us.

Until I began to allow sadness into my life on a regular basis, I often clung to things that weren’t working, or I clung to ways of being that weren’t working for me.

One of those ways of being was treating myself harshly. In fact, one of the most frequent learnings for my life coaching clients is that they are much harder on themselves than they need to be. (The women who’ve taken my Stellar Self-Care Program often come away with the recognition that in many ways they are already practicing really good self-care — they just haven’t been giving themselves credit for it because their “default” way of being is to notice what they’re not doing right.)

Often this harshness toward the self is in a “blind spot” — that part of ourselves that is not visible to us unless we have some way of shining a light on it or adjusting our perspective.

When I think of myself getting more and more frustrated while trying to hang that picture, I can see how quickly my mind’s belief that “because I envision it this way, it should work this way” was challenged, and how automatically I became harsh with myself because it wasn’t working that way.

The problem wasn’t necessarily that the picture wouldn’t hang the way I wanted it to, but that I believed it should hang that way, and that my failure to get it to hang that way meant I had done something wrong. (I caught myself thinking, “I should never have put these holes in the wall! I should have known it wouldn’t work!” Really?)

I notice that writing this blog post has helped me “catch up with myself” in regard to the picture-hanging incident. A small thing, to be sure, but sometimes what is simple and “small” can shed light for us on how we deal with the bigger, more complex “roadblocks” in our lives.

What do you notice about how you deal with it when something doesn’t work? What happens when you take time to “catch up with yourself” before taking more action? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected?  For updates on my coaching offerings and other good stuff, you are welcome to sign up for my Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

And: If we’ve worked together previously, I have a summer special for returning clients that ends August 31. Feel free to contact me through my Ways We Can Work Together page if you’d like to learn more!

Above images of frames, © Vlntn | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and water droplets, © Iryna Sosnytska | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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