The power of tiny new things

bluejay

I was talking with one of my clients the other day about how when we’re getting ready to let go of an old, painful pattern, it usually seems to get worse. It seems worse because (yay!) we notice it more. We’re really, really aware of how terribly incongruent this pattern is with the new-us-we-are-becoming. So of course it feels more painful than it ever has before.

When a pattern is really painful, I know my tendency can be to get really hard on myself about it. “How could you create this mess?” “How can you be here, again?” “Are you never going to learn from your stuff?”

These kinds of thoughts are like a smokescreen, or code, for: big internal changes are happening, and they scare me, so I need to slow down the process by being really hard on myself. Then I have something to struggle with and rail against, so I can ensure that the change is as slow as a part of me needs it to be.

The part of me who is deep and wise knows that I don’t need to do this; I don’t need to make the process harder than it is. Actually, when a pattern is playing itself out and it’s really, really painful, this is the time to step back and be the observer. I don’t have to do anything; I don’t have to fight with the pattern or try to get rid of it.

By the time I’m noticing how acutely painful it is, it’s already on its way out.

Mixed in with the pain of “this so doesn’t work for me anymore” is, believe it or not, some grief — sometimes a lot of grief. A coping mechanism that, on some level, has been useful for (often) many years is being let go. There’s sadness in that. That coping mechanism has become part of my identity, so, truly, I am letting go of something that feels like me (even if it isn’t).

In these periods of watching old patterns rev themselves up to high speed until they burn up and work themselves out of my system, it can be so gratifying to notice tiny new good-feeling things that enter my life. As the old stuff is leaving, I like to set an intention to notice what feels new and good and light.

The new and the good and the light are so often commonplace AND unexpected. Like this morning when I was getting dressed, I saw this sweater in the bottom of my drawer that I’d bought a long time ago but never really worn. I put it on and smelled the sharp, fresh scent of new wool and it felt so snuggly and cocoon-like.

And then when I was reaching into my drawer for my earrings, I noticed this blue jay pin I love but haven’t ever worn much, either, and I put it on the sweater. And it looked like it was made for that sweater, like, how could I not have put these two things together before?

A tiny thing, yes, putting a pin on a sweater. But tiny bits of newness can be powerful. Because I’ve never put this sweater and this blue jay together before, they are already creating a tiny new alchemy that is about now, not then. Good to notice as the old stuff comes up to be kissed goodbye and released.

Try this: Experiment with tiny change. Move two tiny things in your house to new places, or put two things next to each other that have never shared the same space before. Notice what this tiny change sets into motion for you.

Coaching in the New Year: I have limited open slots for new coaching clients. If change is on the horizon for you, or you’re already knee-deep in it and need some support, check out my one-on-one coaching. Consultations are always free!

Practicing Reverent Curiosity

kittenwindow

“Novel-writing is not so much a profession as a yoga, or ‘way’, an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world.” — John Gardner

On Thanksgiving Day, I was hit with a bad cold. I spent two days pretending the cold wasn’t actually there and that I could go on functioning as if I were well. By the third day, I had to admit that I really was sick — and this meant I had to let go of my need for that thing I fondly call “momentum.”

I like the feeling of momentum. I like the idea that I am moving forward. The trouble comes in when I start to believe I can truly control exactly how things move.

When I returned to working on my novel after being sick, I felt disconnected from what I really wanted to say, at a loss with the story. My characters seemed like they were doing silly things, just marking time, moving around the rooms of my pages for no purpose.

Yesterday, during a group writing sprint with other members of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle, I went to the page with the same feeling of stuckness and confusion about my story that I’ve had lately. “This is terrible!” a familiar voice inside me piped up. “You have to get over this! You need to make this story work!” (No pressure, or anything.)

When, as a coach, I work with a client who’s stuck, I often use metaphor to help them see their situation clearly. I asked for a helpful image to come to me, and the image that bubbled up in my mind was my cat, when we have a vet visit scheduled and he’s caught on to the fact that the cat carrier has entered the room. Once he gets under the bed, my mission is impossible: he knows he can hide there from me as long as he wants, because I can’t physically pick up the bed and get him out. And we’ve certainly had incidents where I’ve chased him around the house, and sometimes I end up standing the cat carrier on its end and stuffing him into it while he braces his back legs on its sides and writhes furiously. I hate this. And, of course, so does he.

There was this one time, though, when my cat snuck under the bed and I just didn’t have it in me to figure out a way to get him out and stuff him into the cat carrier. I set the carrier on the floor in the living room and sat down in a chair. I called the vet and told them we probably weren’t going to make it to our appointment.

The vet’s assistant was completely laidback about this. “Come on in if you catch him,” she said, laughing.

I sat quietly in my chair. Really, chasing my cat just didn’t seem worth it. He wasn’t ill; it was just a routine check-up since he’s getting into his senior years.

Within fifteen minutes, my cat emerged from beneath the bed and tentatively walked into the living room. He saw me sitting in the chair, looking quite harmless; he approached the cat carrier and sniffed at it. Then he began to investigate the carrier very thoroughly, with a kind of reverent curiosity. It was like he wanted to fully understand this instrument of his impending doom.

I realized that I was treating my story the way I treat my cat when I just want to get him to the damn vet. I stuff him into a box and endure his plaintive meows, feeling like a world-class jerk. Because I want to fix things. Because I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing. Because I’m driven by a kind of urgency.

Obviously, sometimes my cat needs to go to the vet and we do engage in this routine (though I’ve gotten quieter and better at doing sneak attacks, so neither of us struggle as much these days — usually).

But does this pattern work with my novel, with my characters?

I was stuck and overwhelmed because I was invested in the idea that my story needed to be “fixed,” that it contained a problem that needed to be solved. There are certainly plenty of books and advice out there that can tell me how to “fix my novel problem.” And some of them can be very helpful, at certain points in the process. But I realized yesterday that approaching my story in this top-down way, as if it was something I could fix from the outside by forcing it into a box of my choosing, was disconnecting me from anything the story had to show me, from letting it reveal itself.

When I sat back, relaxed, and made the choice to approach my story with that reverent curiosity my cat is so good at, I discovered a fascinating thing: I got really interested in my story again. I wasn’t trying to make it be, or do, anything; I was just interested in it. That all-important question, “What is it about?” welled up in me, and I realized I knew exactly what it was about. I also realized that this novel does not want to be as long as I’ve been thinking it should be. It just might want to be a novella. It knows what it is; and I’ve been so set on “fixing it” that I’ve lost touch with the thread that connects one scene to the next.

My story started to move again. I wrote beyond the 0ne-hour set time of the group sprint, I was so caught up in it.  Hallelujah! I understand my story better. And why did I get into this writing in the first place, if not to better understand?

Can I approach my life, too, from this space of reverent curiosity? Can I step back, breathe for a moment, and give my life the space and kind attention it needs in order to be what it wants to be?

Work With Me: I love helping writers and artists who are feeling stuck. Check out my one-on-one coaching, here.

Image is “Wonder Cat” © Eden Daniel | Dreamstime.com

Support: What it is, what it’s not

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of support. There are few things more frustrating and alienating than reaching out for support and getting something that feels like the opposite, even if support is what’s intended.

I like to say, “It begins with us.”

And this is true. Self-support is the cornerstone of any true support. Sometimes it’s impossible to let support from “out there” truly land if we aren’t first practicing self-support.

But, said one of my dear clients the other day, what if I’m in a place where I simply can’t access my self-support system? What if I’m so turned around and upside down and frantic that I just can’t get to that place in myself?

Of course. This happens. That’s when support from “the outside” can be most valuable. That gentleness from a trusted friend that we can’t seem to manage to give ourselves. That perspective we just never would have considered if left to our own devices. So. Important.

But: sometimes it’s when I’m in need of support the most that I am the most reluctant to reach out for it. In fact, this is usually what happens. The more I feel like a black hole of sucking need and desperation, the less I want to reach out, and the more I get sucked down, down, down into the vortex.

And, sometimes, into that vortex is exactly where I need to go. It’s not about “forcing myself” out of the vortex to ask for help. This doesn’t necessarily feel safe, and I’m also not necessarily in a place where I can receive any external support when I’ve gotten to this point. (More on this in my next post.)

True support meets us where we are. It doesn’t force, criticize, or project. It’s curious, interested; it asks open-ended questions. (See my previous post on true support, here).

There are, however, a few things I’ve learned that can contribute to getting into the vortex of swirling, sucking need that feels like it will never end and will never be met. Here are some I’ve noticed:

1) Calling something “support” that doesn’t feel like support. For example, the internet. There’s more than enough information for any of us to digest on any topic we want to do a search on for the next bazillion years. But information is not the same thing as support. And getting overwhelmed by information definitely doesn’t feel like being supported. Posting a question on Facebook and getting fifty different “here’s what I’d do” responses is not necessarily support; it just might be overwhelm — more to process, more to weed through.

2) Going for support, again and again, to people who just aren’t able to provide the kind of support you need. Different people provide different types of support. One of my ingenious ways of alienating myself for many years was going to people who weren’t able to give me the kind of support I needed in the past, hoping that this time they’d show up for me the way I wanted them to. It didn’t happen. Embracing reality: always a good thing.

3) Expecting people to support you exactly the way you’d like them to, without telling them the kind of support you need. If you just want to vent and you don’t want to be coached, you can let someone know that — even if they’re your coach. I used to have a habit of just accepting whatever support was offered, even if it was so not what I needed in that moment. I’d feel alienated by the other person, but really I was alienating myself by not stating what I needed. (This isn’t always, easy, of course. Sometimes, we’re just not sure what we need. We need to be really, really compassionate with ourselves here. We’ll figure it out.)

4) Thinking we need a LOT of support, when what we actually need is the right KIND of support. (See #1.)

5) Thinking that what feels supportive to others should feel supportive to us — even when it doesn’t. The same week my cat died two years ago, I had a trip planned. I literally had no energy for travel and wanted to be at home with my grief, even though other people told me the trip “might be just what you need!” It wasn’t; puttering at home feeling totally safe to burst into tears at any moment was.

In my next post, I’ll write about what to do — or not do — when we’re swirling in the vortex of need and we don’t know how to support ourselves.

What are your thoughts about support? Where do you look for it? What works for you and what doesn’t? I’d love to know.

Work with me! Check out my one-on-one coaching opportunities.

Image is LADY-BIRD © Nikolajs Strigins | Dreamstime.com

Being in the In-Between + Happy Fall

It occurred to me a while back that part of the reason I love fall (besides the excuse to start wearing my beloved sweaters again) is because fall is about “the great in-between.” To me, it always feels like a passageway, like a crisp tunnel of flaming reds and yellows in which things I no longer need start to fall away, and I begin to get a sense of what will flow in to replace them.

I’ve always been fascinated — and, until recently, tormented by — those in-between, liminal periods in life.

For most of my life, I hated the uncertainty that comes with being “in-between” so much that I rushed to get out of it as quickly as I could — only to end up right back in it. As in, I wanted to get out of the discomfort of “not knowing,” so I took action just to get away from my discomfort, and ended up creating more discomfort. (When we take action based on a desire to avoid something, we actually create more of what we’re hoping to avoid. It’s pretty annoying how that works.)

These days, I’m learning to truly be in the in-between.

And fall is a great reminder of how beautiful the in-between can be, if I open to it, breathe into it. There’s a sacred hush to fall, if I give myself a chance to feel it. The old is dying off, and the “what’s to come” isn’t here yet. When it comes down to it, there’s nothing but uncertainty, but during transitional periods we feel this more acutely. In fact, after fall there will be a winter in which much goes underground. In our personal winters, things are being worked out in us, things we may not be able to see or articulate. And it can feel terrifying, if we look at the unknown as anything but our friend.

I’ve come to feel that this dying-off, if you want to call it that, can be exciting, even exhilarating. And maybe that’s why I see fall as all about beginnings as well.

What are you open to letting go of as the fall season begins? What are you willing to let fall away? What might you be open to beginning?

Announcements:

I have two openings for new coaching clients starting in October. I help sensitive creators who struggle with overwhelm make their creativity a priority  — you can find out more here!

The last day to register for our next session of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle is this Thursday, Sept. 27. I’ve written quite a bit here about the huge benefits I’ve experienced in being a participant in this group, and I’m also Jenna’s co-coach. If you need to create a regular writing habit, or would like some group support as you write, be sure to check it out!

Image is WET LEAF© Jay O’brien | Dreamstime.com

Your True Supporters

Sometimes, when you’re in a place of confusion and feeling really vulnerable about it, someone else steps in and seems to think they know exactly what’s going on for you. And they label what’s happening for you and because you’re not sure what’s up for you, you start to think, maybe they’re right.

Many years ago, when I’d left college and I was in a total “liminal period”, as Martha Beck would call it, I started seeing a psychotherapist who really liked to label my behavior as “healthy” or “unhealthy”. This produced a pretty strong “ick” in the pit of my stomach (a sure sign that her way of working wasn’t right for my essential self), but back then I had a longstanding habit of ignoring my body and its messages.

So for six sessions, I saw this therapist and kept hoping she’d see me. I thought if I just explained myself well enough, she’d “get me.” I remember sitting in her big black pleather chair, telling her that memories from a particular period of my life had been flooding my thoughts, and they felt vivid and compelling. It felt like there was a message for me in those memories, I told her, and I wanted to be open to it.

She stared at me flatly and said, “You’re focusing on the past so you don’t have to move forward. You’re procrastinating.”

I wondered if she was right.  I mean, it sounded right. But it didn’t feel right.

What I know now, years later, is that for me, moving forward often looks like going back — temporarily. Frequently, before I arrive at my next stop, I need to backtrack a little and gather, process, and integrate what happened “back there.” Maybe I’ve frozen certain emotions that need to be brought up, or maybe so much happened in such a short period of time that I haven’t yet caught up with myself.

I’ve written previously about the importance of trusting your own, unique process. If your process looks like mine at all, and you’re feeling like it’s messy and confusing and you’re pretty raw about it right now, don’t let anyone else tell you you’re “not moving forward.” Trust me: You are moving forward. You’re just doing it in your own circular, zig-zag way. It’s all good.

Your true supporters on your journey will honor, support (and even be enchanted by!) your process, your way of working through and coming out on the other side.

That’s why, a year or so after I stopped seeing the aformentioned therapist, I found an amazing therapist who deeply honored my process. And because she honored my process, I learned to honor it myself. And I came to trust myself. Fiercely.

Your true supporters may not “get you” one hundred percent, but they have faith that you know what’s best for you, and they remind you that you are on your own side. They know, as Rainer Maria Rilke said, that “what goes on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love.”

But the most important thing, of course, is that you know this.

 

Image is BUTTERFLY © Martina Misar-tummeltshammer | Dreamstime.com

Creative Ebbs: Not the Same as Stuckness

If you think about any relationship you’ve ever had, you’ll notice that there were phases to the relationship. Sometimes you were sitting on the couch shoulder to shoulder eating cookie dough ice cream and watching Netflixed episodes of “The Office” (British version, preferably) and you couldn’t stop laughing and finishing each other’s sentences. Other times, you were kind of quiet and it was just nice. Other times you went rollerskating and you couldn’t stop falling down, in a good way.

And then there were those times when there was just nothing to say. Phone calls felt heavy; there were lots of long pauses, and not the good kind. You got on each other’s nerves without meaning to; previously endearing odd little habits began to seem like dealbreakers.

Maybe in your younger years, the not-so-good times felt like sound reasons to end the relationship; but as you got older and had more experience, you began to see that it was important to ride them out because the ice-cream-on-the-couch times could always come back.

You have a relationship with your creativity, too. And it needs to be accepted, nurtured and protected just like any other relationship you care about. But a lot of times (and what I see happening most often with my clients) is that we either neglect this relationship or ignore it — or, at the other end of the spectrum, we push it so hard and try to control it so much that it withers or hides from us.

Accept that your relationship with your creativity has seasons, cycles, ebbs and flows. You can — believe it or not — trust these ebbs and flows. Most of us are afraid to trust them. We love the flow, but the ebb, not so much.

So I won’t talk about what to do when you’re in creative flow. Most of us love that place. I’ll address the dreaded ebb (though you shouldn’t dread it — it’s really simply the yin to the yang that is the flow).

A creative ebb is a period in which nothing much feels like it’s happening creatively for you. It’s not the same thing as feeling stuck — stuck has to do, usually, with your fears around what you’re creating, or when you’ve reached, say, the middle of your novel and you have no idea what happens next and nothing you try feels right. When we’re stuck, it’s important to bring our fears to light and give them voice so we don’t dig our wheels further into the mud.

An ebb is a bit different. You might feel it for a few days or weeks after you’ve had a period of unusually high creativity. I used to create and sell these little paintings, mostly of cats. The way my process worked was I’d get a very clear picture of what I wanted to paint in my mind, often when I was out walking, and then I’d come home and get out one of my little canvases and the image would flow out onto it, usually quite similar to what I’d envisioned.

For a period of time, I did about three of these paintings a week. And the more people bought them the more I wanted to create them. But after about nine months or so of this, the ideas gradually stopped coming. I didn’t rush to my canvases the way I had. The art I created didn’t feel as inspired to me. Some of it wasn’t selling.

I was at an ebb. How do I know it was an ebb? Well, luckily for me, in this case I’d thought of this artwork as pure fun, not at all my “life’s work” or “serious art” — I didn’t have any of those ideas attached to it that can create stuckness because we make it so big and important. So when the “flow” stopped happening, I didn’t freak out. I just kind of noticed. By now I was about to move into a new home anyway, so I focused on that. The part of me that did the paintings rested.

And within about six weeks, I was ready to go again. I starting getting new ideas and now I was incorporating collage into the paintings. I began selling them again and I got my first overseas customers.

Creative ebbs don’t necessarily last for weeks. The ebb can occur, on a smaller scale, on a daily basis, when you do your writing in the morning, say, and it goes amazingly well but by evening you’re wiped out. That evening time is what Julia Cameron calls “filling the well” time. Although it’s true that the more I create, the more creative energy I tend to have, it’s also true that a prime component to our creativity is this resting phase, whether that’s a few minutes, a few hours, or a few days.

So what do you do when you’re faced with a creative ebb? Ideally, not much of anything — putter, water plants, daydream. But I know that doesn’t sit well with you if you make your living through your creativity, or if you’re on a tight deadline. In those cases, let the resting, “be-ing” energy be there as much as you can, while keeping up a regular creative habit. Sometimes this looks like doing the minimum that needs to be done and calling it a day.

Whatever you do, don’t demand of yourself that you reach for the creative high you experience when you’re in creative flow. That, my friend, is a sure-fire recipe for getting stuck.

Allow the ebb. The ebb is your friend. When the flow returns, you’ll reap the benefits of the ebb and see just how much richness that “fallow” period has brought to your creativity.

Announcement: This Thursday, Aug. 2, is the last day to sign up for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. I’m Jenna’s co-coach, and I’ve also been a participant in this group for nearly a year. It’s a great way to develop a regular writing habit and get group support. Check it out here!

Also: I’ll have openings for new coaching clients starting in mid August. If you’re feeling stuck or scared around your creativity, or it seems like life just won’t stop getting in the way, feel free to set up a free consultation with me.

Image is MUD FLATS © Slidepix | Dreamstime.com

Creating: There’s No Right Way to Do It

A friend of mine recently attended her first ever writing class. She was really nervous. She didn’t know if she’d “fit” there. She thought maybe she wasn’t brilliant or wacky or temperamental enough to be a writer.

She showed up, and things were going along okay, and then the teacher said this: “If you’re not willing to reveal everything about yourself, you have no business being a writer.”

Ouch. My friend felt like a hermit crab retreating into its shell. It had been hard enough just getting herself to the class, and now here’s someone in a position of authority saying that if she doesn’t put it all out there, she has no right to write.

Here’s the thing:

When we begin something new, we are tentative. This is normal. Feeling tentative does not mean we are not serious or that we “won’t make it.” We need to start small, and stretch ourselves a little each time we begin again. And little by little, we become less tentative. We take bigger risks.

When we create, we are exposing pieces of ourselves. We are saying, in essence, this is what fascinates me, this is what I struggle with, this is what I really care about. And that can be hard. That can be terrifying. Particularly if we’re just starting out. And even if we’re seasoned creators, we continue to explore new territory and there’s always an element of fear in that.

Starting small and feeling tentative about it is so much better than not starting at all.

And this is exactly why we need to start small if we are really, really afraid. If you get vertigo when you stand on a chair, you don’t climb up a bell tower and look down (well, unless you are Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo, but you get my point).

Some new writers are excited and motivated by the idea of  “laying it all on the line.” And that’s terrific.

But if you’re not excited and motivated by that, if it scares the hell out of you, that doesn’t make you any less a writer. And you shouldn’t have to hide this fear because you’re afraid someone will tell you that if you don’t want to lay it all on the line, it means you “don’t really want it.”

And here’s another truth: The more you care about something, the more tender the subject, the closer it is to your very essence, the harder it’s going to be to write about — or, at least, the harder it’s going to be to share with others.

But this doesn’t mean that, if you’re not feeling ready to do that now, you have no business being a writer. It just means you’re not feeling ready to do that now.

Here’s a question I like: What might help me to feel a little more okay about starting?

Obviously, the idea that she had to be willing to reveal everything about herself shut my friend down. She didn’t want to return to the second writing class; she didn’t even want to write.

So here’s what we worked out together. We changed “I have to be willing to reveal everything about myself” to “I’m willing to reveal some things about myself.” This felt much better to her. And here’s another thought that felt true for her: “I have the right to be a writer because I have a deep desire to write.”

I tell this story because we create resistance when we believe black-and-white, all-or-nothing thoughts about our creativity. There’s no “right” way to create. You can be a “real” writer even if you are not putting one hundred percent of your inner turmoil out there for the world to see.

Here’s what I’ve found: I can usually do more and go farther than I thought I could. But I don’t find that out if I don’t give myself full permission to meet myself where I am. If I set up a challenge for myself that feels insurmountable (or, when it comes down to it, undesirable), I’m going to shut down.

So give yourself full permission to be a beginner (and we’re all beginning, again and again and again). If someone criticizes you for being “too tentative,” or “not serious,” say, “‘I am serious. I’m seriously tentative. I’m trying something new.” And then tell them they have to stop criticizing you. And this goes double if you’re criticizing yourself.

If a belief shuts you down, it’s not the truth for you. There are as many kinds of creators as there are human beings who have the desire to create. And we’re all motivated in different ways. It’s not one-size-fits-all, and thank goodness for that.

Image is MESSY PAINTS © Paige Foster | Dreamstime.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This week:

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

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

Image is TRAFFIC SIGN © Zdenek | Dreamstime.com

Noticing you’re “in it”: what does perfectionism look like?

This is the final post in my May article series on perfectionism and how it interferes with our creativity — and how we can recognize it before it has its way with us! There’s plenty more on this site about perfectionism, as well as its partner in crime, procrastination — just click on the Categories listing on the right.

It can be tricky to recognize when we’re in the grip of perfectionism, because we often applaud ourselves for the very behavior it creates. I struggled so much with overachieving as a child that by the time I was fifteen years old, I burned out and literally had no clue as to why I did anything at all — all I knew was that nothing I did gave me the sense of satisfaction I wanted it to give me for very long. The why beneath what we do is important; in fact, it’s essential.

Perfectionistic behavior is fear-based. We’re acting to secure what we think we’d be lost without. We do more because we fear that if we don’t, we won’t have enough.

When we take action from a place of wholeness and authenticity, we act based on the conviction that we are already secure. We do more because we enjoy it, because it enhances our lives. We stop when we’ve had enough.

So, how can you tell you’re in perfectionism’s clutches?

You can tell by the way you feel. For me, that’s often urgent, anxious, overly driven (I feel I can’t stop or slow down), a tight stomach, clenched jaw, contracted body, slumped-over posture. I physically “clench up”, become smaller than I actually am. Sometimes I feel extra-irritated and want to snap at people.

(Can you imagine the extra burden we place on ourselves when we sit down and try to create from this feeling, from this place?)

Sometimes, though, I’m not necessarily in touch with my feelings or my body. I’m totally in my head, and although I know lots of techniques for getting into my body, I don’t always do them because my mind is telling me I don’t have time, or there’s no point (tricky, tricky mind!).  This is when I can look to my behavior for clues.

For me, perfectionism manifests itself in the following behaviors:

* Going above and beyond just because I can; staying really, really on top of things (i.e. responding to emails immediately; setting daily goals that are way bigger than they actually need to be because my ego likes the way they look).

* Saying YES a lot, when I really mean maybe, or no. Often I do this to avoid conflict. Will saying no really create conflict? I can always say, “Let me think about that,” instead of “yes.”

* Finishing what I’ve planned to do for the day and then doing more, rather than, as we like to say in Jenna Avery’s Writer’s Circle, “declaring myself satisfied!” A similar version of this is sneaking “doing” into time I’ve set aside for “being.”

* People-pleasing and all its graspy little offspring. This can look like refusing to set boundaries around my time and energy, or affecting an “always smiling” persona so I don’t “upset anyone.”

* Cutting back on, or cutting out, fun activities until I’ve “gotten it all done.”

* Using the terms “should” and “have to” a lot.

Any of these behaviors are good pointers, alerting me that I’m “in it.” The value in noticing them is that when they go unchecked, I get further and further cut off from my true feelings, my true needs. Stopping them before they snowball can prevent the build-up that creates “the backlash” (a term I got from Cynthia Curnan, author of “The Care and Feeding of Perfectionists”), where I burnout, crash, and want to remain immobile for hours or days at a time because I’ve pushed and criticized myself for so long.

What behaviors alert you that you’re “in it”? Jot down a list of these (writing them down really helps you remember them) and the next time you notice yourself doing them, pause and course-correct until your actions stem from what you authentically want. It is so worth it.

If you struggle with perfectionism (or what can often be its flipside, procrastination), check out my one-on-coaching, here. I have a ton of tools in my arsenal to help you!

Image is PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS © Ronalesa Salstrand | Dreamstime.com

How to tell if perfectionism is running the show

Here’s the second article in my May perfectionism series. You can read the first one here. And there’s plenty more on this site about perfectionism — just check the “categories” listing on the right.

Sometimes — often — I get into a space of confusion where I’m aware that a rather ugly shift has occurred, but I’m not sure why.

It’s when I’ve been doing something I’m really excited about — something, like writing, that may be hard and challenging, but it’s also energizing because it feels like I’m doing what I’m meant to do. I’m humming along, excited, full of enthusiasm, with a feeling of deep rightness. Or maybe I’m just feeling pretty okay. It’s going well. Well enough.

And then: the shift. Something starts to nag at me. I feel a tightness in my head, my chest. I notice I’m tired. I notice I’m a little angry. Suddenly, that feeling of deep rightness is gone and in its place is fatigue, a bad mood, depletion.

When this used to “happen to me,” I thought it was because I was just moody. I thought it was because I was emotionally unstable. I thought it was because I was doing something wrong.

Now, I know it’s because perfectionism has taken over. Without my awareness, I’ve shifted from the challenge and joy of the aims of my inner enthusiast, to the futile agenda of my inner perfectionist.

The truth is, I don’t “suddenly” shift from a space of enthusiasm and energy to Suckville. There are some “middlemen” that I typically don’t notice because they’re so subtle and automatic. Those middlemen are: 1) my physical sensations and 2) my thoughts.

“The shift” happened to me last night. I was at my computer working on something with my cat in my lap, feeling content, peaceful, energized. Everything was humming along; for about an hour or so, I was in a pretty blissful place.

And then: I started to get a little bit sleepy. That was all. Just a little sign from my body that it was beginning to be time to call it a night. (Middleman #1 — physical sensation.)

Not a problem, right? I’d put in a good hour of work (and it’s unusual for me to get much done in the evening anyway, so this was a plus after a day that had been pretty “productive” already.)

However, when I started feeling physically tired, my mind spewed out the following thoughts: You’ll never get anywhere if you always stop when you’re tired. You know tomorrow is a busy day and you won’t have the evening free to work. Why don’t you ever have the energy to make a real dent in the important stuff? You really need to push yourself to do more. (Middleman #2 — my thoughts.)

This was just a sampling of my thoughts — there were probably dozens triggered by the simple fact that my body was ready to call it a day and my inner perfectionist, a.k.a. that part of me that believes I’m not enough and I must constantly prove myself by doing more, wasn’t having it.

Last night, I was able to catch the poor little inner perfectionist and assure her that we’d done more than enough for the day and she was going to have to take a nap, which she badly needed. Sometimes, I don’t catch onto her as quickly. I believe she is telling me the truth. I push myself to do more and more, and I burn out.

The aims of my inner enthusiast feel inspiring, expansive. They challenge me, open me up, make me feel “greater than” I was before. The aims of my inner perfectionist feel like a clamping down. They tighten and close me. They make me feel “less than.” They may look like valuable ideals that are meant to get me to a better place (this is the tricky part), but the truth is in how they feel.

During my life coach training, Martha Beck liked to remind us, “You can tell it’s enlightenment because it tastes of freedom.” The pursuits of my inner enthusiast ultimately feel like freedom — even when they’re challenging as hell. The agenda of my inner perfectionist feels like punishment — even when it looks good on paper, even when it looks awfully appealing to my “social self.”

Saying “enough for now” does not mean my inner enthusiast won’t propel me toward my dreams again tomorrow.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you know when you’re in the grip of perfectionism? And how do you move out of it?

For more on this topic, check out my article on how to tell if you’re stretching or pushing yourself, here.