Understanding the message of fear + new coaching programs!


When we try something new, or sense that change is on the horizon, or when we’re in a murky transition period that seems to have no end, it’s not unusual to feel varying amounts of fear.

Sometimes, though, the amount of fear we experience, well, scares us. (I’m reminded of the title of a song by Bauhaus: “In Fear of Fear.” That’s how it is sometimes!)

So I like to look at fear in two different ways (there are probably infinite flavors of fear, but this is a general distinction that is often helpful when fear’s got us confused or shrinking).

One kind of fear is what is sometimes referred to as “rollercoaster” fear.

You’ve got butterflies in your stomach, and your body is braced for an intense experience — but there’s a definite thread of excitement there. You want to go where the rollercoaster is taking you, even though sometimes it causes your stomach to drop to your feet or your heart to spring to your throat.

The other kind of fear feels different. You’re expecting an intense experience, but instead of butterflies in your stomach, you feel cement.

This fear weighs you down; it feels impossibly heavy; you don’t anticipate the rollercoaster, but even if you did you wouldn’t have the lightness of step to get on. This fear is entangled with a palpable sense of dread, and sometimes a feeling of “ick” or revulsion. You don’t want to go where it’s taking you.

We can become confused when we don’t take time to make a distinction between these types of fear.

How many movies have you seen where a character is about to get married, and confides to her best friend that “something doesn’t feel right,” and the ever-helpful friend says, “Oh, you just have cold feet. It’s normal to feel that way before taking such a big step.” And either the bride turns and runs back up the aisle and out of the church in the middle of the ceremony, or she goes ahead with the marriage and it’s a disaster.

This is a good example of that second type of fear, which can be an indication that something isn’t right for you on the road you’re about to take.

Now, here’s the tricky thing: It can also be an indication that something isn’t right in the way you’re thinking about the road you’re about to take.

So, it’s not necessarily as clear-cut as, “Oh, you’re experiencing a side of dread with your fear? That means you definitely shouldn’t get married!”

What fear combined with dread actually warrants is further inquiry into what is going on for you.

It could be that you don’t want to marry this person — ever. He’s wrong for you and that’s the awful truth.

But it could also be that you love this person deeply — but you don’t want to marry him.

Or, it could be that you love this person AND you want to get married — but not until you’ve gotten in contact with your estranged dad, because your heart sinks at the thought of ever being married without your dad in attendance.

We always have a good reason for feeling the way we feel (even if the reason doesn’t seem valid to our “logical mind” or our inner critic). When we hit on that good reason, we usually feel true relief, sometimes accompanied sadness. If your fear feels heavy or “icky”, this is a sign to stop and investigate before moving forward.

If your fear feels like you’re about to get on a rollercoaster (and rollercoasters thrill you rather than making you want to throw up), this is a good sign that you’re in for a wild ride and your essential self is up for it.

(It’s worth noting, though, that if, like me, you are highly sensitive, “good fear” can feel overstimulating, so make sure you have solid support and self-care as you embark on your journey.)

Speaking of support, I have a two new one-on-one coaching programs I’m excited to share with you (and yes, I do feel some of that “rollercoaster fear” in putting these programs out into the world!). There will be more to come on these programs soon, but for now, you can hop on over and learn about Light Up Your Creative Self and Stellar Self-Care Foundations, here.

What do you notice about the different “flavors” of fear, for you? How do you deal with them? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image is “Necklace” © Mihail Orlov | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Creating during the rough times


A reader wrote me with this question recently (and gave me permission to share it here):

Lately I have a number of unexpected stresses in my life that have descended on me all at once. Almost every day I reach a point of overwhelm where I just have to do the minimum and then rest. My work on my novel has gone out the window. It feels like I spend every day just keeping up and managing my emotions, and have no energy left for anything creative. I keep trying harder to “do the work” and it’s just not happening. Any words of wisdom for me?

Oh! Creating during the rough times. What a challenge it is to get hit with a lot of “life stuff” and try to keep on keepin’ on as we have been.

In answering this question, I want to look at it from two different angles.

The first has to do with embracing reality.

When life throws a lot at us — whether that change is external or internal, or both — things are not as they were before. Pretty obvious, right? But let me repeat: life has changed.

I really want to underline this, because what I see again and again (and I see it in myself for sure) is that when our lives change radically — or sometimes even when we are afraid that they could change radically in the near future — we have a tendency to go into denial for a while.

Sometimes this looks like freezing and not doing anything. Often, though, it looks like trying to keep on exactly as we have been — even though things are not as they have been.

Which is perfectly normal. But — after a point — not totally helpful.

What embracing reality means from the standpoint of doing our creative work is that when things change, it’s pretty much a given that we won’t be able to approach it exactly as we have been.

If we are suddenly taking care of a sick child (or parent), that is taking up time. If we have to take on a full-time job when previously we worked part-time, that is taking up time. We literally don’t have as many hours in the day available for our creative work: it’s a fact.

Another aspect of embracing reality is who we are.

How do you tend to handle a lot of sudden change, especially certain types of change? How emotional and sensitive do you tend to be? Some of these things are innate in us: we’re not going to change them — even if we want to — beyond a certain point.

I value the fact that I have a very emotional nature (I’m a Myers-Briggs “feeling type,” for sure) and I’m also highly sensitive.

But this means that, for example, when I lost two loved ones in the same week several years ago, it rocked me to my core and I could not “just keep on.” I remember people suggested to me at the time that my grief could be good for my creative work, and that I could “write through the pain.”

That felt wrong in every fiber of my being. I didn’t want to create at that time. I wanted to grieve. Things had changed, and I needed to ask myself if there was value in forcing myself to continue writing during that time.

For me, there wasn’t. For someone else, there certainly may have been. But we need to take ALL of us into account during the difficult times — not just the part that wants to create and keep momentum with creative work. If it feels right to scale back, we need to give ourselves permission to do that.

The other angle I want to take here has to do with our emotions themselves and the way we approach them.

If, like my reader (and me!), you tend to be “emotionally intense,” the way you approach your emotions in and of itself can create more stress for you during the hard times — or not.

When a lot was going “wrong,” I used to say things like, “This sucks! I am so overwhelmed!”

Venting is a good thing sometimes. But it’s also important to look at what we say when we vent.

Here’s why: When I say “I’m overwhelmed,” I’m fusing my identity with the emotion. And, even if I value how deeply and intensely emotional I can be, my emotions are not me. They are simply energies moving through me.

Probably one of the things I say most frequently to a client when they share how they’re feeling about something is “Good to notice.” That’s because noticing is pure gold. We can’t change a thing if we don’t first have awareness of it.

And, at the bottom of it all, “who we are” is simply that awareness — not what we’re doing, what’s happening to us, the emotions we’re having or how we’re reacting.

So, now, when I catch myself saying “I’m overwhelmed,” I say instead, “I’m noticing that I’m overwhelmed” or “I’m noticing a feeling of overwhelm within me.”

Do you see how this immediately creates a space between you and the feeling?

From this space, you are both the person experiencing the emotion and the observer of that emotion, how it feels in your body, the way you are reacting to it, the thoughts you are thinking around it. And from that space, you are not rocked and thrown by your emotions; you are not fused with them; you are simply experiencing them.

So, during the difficult times, here are two places to start. I’d love to know if anything here resonates for you, or if you have other suggestions, in the comments.

And: If you’re in a rough patch right now and you need a shift, my awesome friend Dawn Herring, founder of Refresh with Dawn Herring and #JournalChat Live on Twitter, will be offering a Refresh Intensive e-course, starting April 3 (the deadline to sign up is April 1). And it’s only $21! Want to learn more? Find out, here.

Image is “Out of the Darkness” © Emi Pascuzzo | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Support, Part 2: Reaching Out of the Vortex

In my last post, I talked about how things that look, sound and smell like support may not actually be support. And I mentioned that dark, swirling, sucking vortex I can get into when I need support but I’m not sure how to get the kind I need — or maybe I’m not even sure what kind of support I need to begin with.

So, if we find ourselves in the vortex, how do we get out?

First, remember that being in the vortex is only scary because we believe we shouldn’t be there and we need to get out, now.

As Byron Katie might say, we should be there because we are there. Being there is just another opportunity to look around and learn.

Second, there are two parts to support — self-support and support from others that feels supportive. (Hiro Boga commented, brilliantly, in a recording I listened to on her site recently, that it’s not support if it doesn’t feel supportive!)

So, when you’re swirling in the Vortex of Need, ask the wise part of yourself: What might feel truly supportive right now? And see what bubbles up. (It’s really important to ask your inner wisdom for this information, and not the part of you that is spinning in need and angry or sad or desperate that it’s not getting its needs met. This part of you does not need to be burdened with questions right now.)

Usually, I get a response that is very simple. It might be to call a particular person I trust. It might be to tell any one of my private, virtual support networks that I’m feeling like crap. It might be to do the dishes, watch a movie, take a nap, open a particular book. It’s never about the long-term– it’s always a very small, specific thing I can do in this moment.

Thinking too long-term can make getting the kind of support we need feel completely overwhelming. It’s not possible to know what kind of support we’re going to need next year, or even next week. We can only know what we need in this moment.

So, what if it feels hard to get in touch with our inner wisdom? What if it’s crowded out by the voice of need? What if our inner wisdom suggests calling Suzy, but even though we know we deeply trust Suzy, we’re so far into the vortex that, in this moment, calling Suzy feels unsafe?

This is where the self-support piece comes in. Sometimes, I need to practice self-support before I can reach out for support from others. This is one of those steps that often gets left out. “Reach out, ask for help, have courage,” we’re told. But there’s an intermediate step that gets skipped over, and that’s kindness.

Can I access that space within me that is exquisitely kind, warm, and accepting — toward myself? It’s often easy to generate this type of kindness toward others, but what about turning it inward, toward me? This means having total reverence and respect for whatever it is I’m feeling. Giving it permission to be there, and legitimacy, and validity.

We often skip completely over this step, and then wonder why, when someone else does offer support, it doesn’t “land.” Usually it doesn’t land because there’s still a part of us judging and beating ourselves up for feeling whatever it is in the first place — for needing to begin with.

The beautiful thing is that when I practice this type of kindness toward myself, I am put immediately in touch with my inner wisdom. There’s nothing like kindness to lift me out of the vortex of need. In fact, reminding myself to treat myself with exquisite kindness points out the places where I’ve been harsh, or where others (not meaning to) have triggered my own harshness toward myself. But it’s hard to see the harshness when I’m living by its rules. I need to shift into kindness in order to see it.

So, the quick version of this process:

1) Accept that you are In the Vortex of Need, and it’s totally okay. You should be there because you are there.

2) Ask your inner wisdom, what might feel truly supportive right now? See what bubbles up. Take action on whatever comes.

3) If you can’t access your inner wisdom, or if what bubbles up from your inner wisdom feels too scary, practice kindness toward yourself. Deep, radical, kindness. Notice what shifts in practicing this. If it feels hard or awkward, imagine the kindness you’d feel toward a struggling friend, or your cat or dog — someone you find it really easy to be deeply kind to — and direct that kindness toward yourself.

The quick and dirty version:

Skip to number #3 and keep doing it. From deep, radical kindness, all Vortexes of Need dissolve and transform into Foundations of Support.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how you reach out for support. What makes it feel easier?

And: Wednesday, Nov. 21, is the last day to sign up for Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. I’m both a participant and a coach for this group, and I highly recommend checking it out if you’re looking for support in creating a daily writing habit!

Image is YELLOW VORTEX © Carsten Erler | 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

Moving Through the Fear

In early September, I had two unfinished novels sitting around, and I’d built up a huge amount of fear, resistance, and guilt in relation to them. I was ready to just trash both of them and start afresh, pretend they’d never existed. And that would have been okay, if it was what I genuinely wanted to do. But it wasn’t. I felt like I’d left parts of myself in those unfinished pieces. And I had a deep desire to go back and complete what I’d begun.

Enter Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle, a.k.a. The Writer’s Circle. I joined the group, started logging in my daily writing progress on the website, got support from group members, and, as I wrote about here, I completed a draft of one of my novels in late October. Now, I’ve gone back to my other unfinished novel and I’m working on that one.

This stuff felt too scary for me to touch as recently as four months ago. But I’ve been able to get to it with the help of this group, and by taking small, manageable, daily steps. And I have to tell you, it feels pretty darned powerful.

I’ll be one of the coaches for the next session of the Writer’s Circle, which starts Dec. 26. The last day to sign up is Thursday, Dec. 22. If you have a languishing creative project, or would like to start writing again, or write for the first time ever, this can be a great gift to give yourself. And it’s not a bad way to start the New Year, either.

You can sign up for the Writer’s Circle here. I’d love to see you there!