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.

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

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You don’t need a “good reason” to fill up again

I’ve spent the second half of this month recognizing that I was feeling “creative depletion,” and allowing myself to fill up again.

This snuck up on me (even though a huge part of the work I do is about reminding myself and others to resource themselves!).

And it caused me to think of a client I worked with a while back who said she had been feeling a great need to “just stop” for a while, but that she couldn’t let herself do that because she didn’t have a “good reason” for that need.

She is certainly not the only client I’ve worked with who’s had that belief, and oh! how I relate to this statement. How often have I doubted a need of my own because I couldn’t figure out the “why” of that need?

Maybe I don’t really need it if it doesn’t seem “logical”? Maybe I can’t admit it fully to myself if there doesn’t seem to be a “concrete reason” for it? Maybe I don’t really need it if it seems like others don’t need it?

Two weeks ago I was on my way back to Chicago after a visit with my parents and I had gotten on the plane and settled into my seat. There was a rather ominous announcement from the pilot. “Uhh … folks … unfortunately there’s a storm approaching, and we’re gonna have to wait it out here until it passes before we can take off.”

There was a collective groan, drowned out by my inner one. “Trapped on a plane” presses the anxiety button for me like few things do. “Well, at least they’re not telling us to get off the plane, right?” I said nervously to the woman next to me. “Not yet,” she said with a frown.

Luckily, the in-flight entertainment system in the back of the seat in front of me was working, and after a few deep breaths, I looked for something to watch. I chose the Julianne Moore movie Gloria Bell (which I thoroughly enjoyed, and which reminded me of the terrain I love to explore in my writing).

As I watched, I became present to the story unfolding on the screen, and although a frantic voice in the back of my head still whispered, “You’re never going to get out of this airport!”, I sank into the movie.

Within an hour, we were off the ground headed for Chicago, and I realized something important: it’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself to be truly present to a work of art.

And that reminded me of this: Creativity is a two-way street — we won’t feel full of our own creative energy if we do not take time to fully digest the creativity of others.

We fill up by recognizing ourselves in the work of others. We fill up by acknowledging that we are never alone in our creating, in our experience, in our humanness.

Always lurking, however, is this idea my client, and I, have harbored: that I need a “good reason” to deeply sink into something, to deeply focus, or to deeply rest. That I somehow need to “earn” the right to fill myself up — not in a “consuming content” way, but in a “present to what is in front of me” way.

So I’ve re-committed to filling my creative well, as Julia Cameron puts it, in a more mindful way during this second half of August.

And I’ve moved a bit away from the digital — my partner and I attended a play in person, we went to a movie in the theater, I found a collection of short stories I’d never read among our vast library of actual books (Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America — so good!), and it felt so nourishing and satisfying to hold the book in my hands rather than reading from a screen.

We don’t need a “good reason” to take care of ourselves in whatever way feels right to us. Sometimes it feels absolutely wonderful to read and watch things on my iPad, even with the interruptions I find myself indulging in. But I’ve been craving deeper focus, more consistent connection with words and images. And in doing so I am feeling full where I’d been experiencing depletion.

I’ve noticed it’s often helpful for us to look to our future selves: What happens for “future you”, six months or a year or five years from now, if you continue to believe you need a “good reason” to fill your creative well? What if that reason never appears? Will life be sustainable for future you?

It’s worth noting that “filling up again” can look all sorts of ways. My partner and I have been doing a lot together lately, but it’s been leisurely, connective, fun-filled doing, not hurried, get-it-done-now doing. (And giving feels so much better from this filled-up, solid, connected place.)

How do you know it’s time for you to fill up again? What happens if you let go of the idea that you need a “good reason” to do it? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for more articles and updates on my coaching offerings (including occasional specials for newsletter subscribers!) here.

Do you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority? I’d love to help! You can find out more on this page.

Above images by Siora Photography and Michel Porro, respectively, on Unsplash

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Help for when you’re hitting the wall (a self-care round-up)

The picture above is the view from my pillows the other afternoon.

I had been experiencing neck pain all day, and I kept pushing and trying and pushing and trying to get something done. It wasn’t working.

This has tended to be my “default” for decades — there is a part of me that deeply believes that it is somehow noble and a sign of “never giving up” to keep pushing beyond the point that it’s actually helpful.

When my body finally communicated to me in no uncertain terms that it was time to lie down, I quickly began to see what I always eventually see in these situations: My tenacity is no longer helpful at the moment, and it is time to let go of the idea that I can control everything if I just push enough.

What’s interesting is that when I slow down enough to tap into that quieter, more restful energy, and don’t give into more “pushing” for a time, I am informed about the best next action to take.

And it’s almost always a simple action that just feels right. But I need to give myself that chance to tap into it — the opportunity to fill up again.

It is deeply ingrained in our culture to keep pushing. And tenacity, persistence, commitment, are indeed powerful and necessary qualities.

But those qualities sometimes look different than we think they will look. They sometimes look like just lying the heck down. They sometimes look like choosing to quit for the day. They sometimes look like saying no to an opportunity we sense will tax us so we can say yes to an opportunity we value more. (There is a lot of choosing involved in living the lives that feel most authentic and fulfilling to us.)

Genevieve the tuxedo cat makes a lovely napping companion.

In case you’re hitting that wall right about now, listed below are a few of the (many) posts related to self-care and not pushing yourself that I’ve written over the years. (It can help to see them in one place!)

Are you stretching or pushing yourself? How to tell the difference.

How to tell if perfectionism is running the show

Pausing is not the same as stopping

Overwhelmed? Step back, then scale back.

Momentum is not always obvious

Your self-care bottom line

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

Radical self-care: when your “normal” has changed

You only ever need to do one thing

Self-care and self-acceptance: when the pause is priceless

Welcoming the conscious pause

And by the way, choosing to “move away from the wall” doesn’t always look like resting. It might look like cleaning out a closet, or going to a movie, or calling a friend, or taking a walk. It’s however you choose to acknowledge that “this is no longer working, and I’m not going to punish myself by trying to bulldoze my way through this wall at this moment.”

It could be that, in the end, you recognize that you can simply walk around the wall. It could be that there is a door, covered in ivy, that you can open to get to the other side. It could be that you need to dismantle the wall, brick by brick, and you need a lot more help that you currently have in order to do that.

But we can’t see the big picture when we’re blind to any idea other than “pushing through.”

How do you know when you’re “hitting the wall” in terms of self-care? What clues you in? How do you give yourself permission to slow down (or stop) when you need it? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for more articles and updates on my coaching offerings (including occasional specials for newsletter subscribers!) here.

Do you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority? I’d love to help! You can find out more on this page.

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What shifts when you stop fighting your feelings?

The other day I was on the phone with a friend, explaining how I felt about something that had happened recently in a rather heated way. When I finally paused, my friend said, “It makes total sense that you feel that way.”

After I hung up with her, I went out for a quick walk, and as I passed my neighbor and his two adorable dogs (I’m always instantly happy when I see them!) it occurred to me that something had deeply relaxed in me since I got off the phone with my friend.

It had relaxed because she had validated my feelings. She had pointed out that the way I felt totally made sense. For me. In this situation.

And the reason I’d felt so worked up when I’d begun telling her my tale was because I’d felt I needed to argue my point — a part of me was believing I shouldn’t feel the way I felt about the situation.

When my friend pointed out that how I felt made sense, something clicked.

When I relaxed and allowed and validated my feelings (thanks to my friend “lending” me her validation), I knew exactly what I needed to do to take care of myself in the situation.

When I was wondering if my feelings were “okay,” I was judging myself for having them and then believing I couldn’t take care of myself. Because “maybe I shouldn’t feel this way in the first place? Maybe I’m selfish? Maybe I need too much? Maybe my feelings are just too much?”

One of the coaches who trained me back when I went through life coach training in 2010 said that a lot of times when she asked a client to describe what they were feeling, they ended up describing fighting a feeling, rather than the feeling itself.

For some of us, fighting a feeling is all we actually know. We’ve never gotten beneath the feeling of resisting a feeling to the core feeling.

Does this sound familiar? If you grew up in, or currently work or live in, an environment where authentic emotion was or is not encouraged (and I think this applies to, oh, 99% of humans?!), chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about.

If you could believe that how you feel makes total sense for who you are and the situation you’re in, what might be possible?

Could you relax more? Could you, as I did after talking to my friend, connect more easily and quickly with what you need to do to take care of yourself? Could you view yourself, your life, and the people around you more clearly (because your vision is not clouded by fighting so hard against a feeling, or arguing so hard for your right to it)?

When we’re not fighting our feelings, or our right to our feelings, they come up, move through us, and find resolution. (Karla McLaren writes in depth about this process in her incredibly helpful books and on her website).

And we have far more access to our inner guidance when we’re not fighting or suppressing our feelings. It’s from that more relaxed place of accepting the feelings that we can see what their message for us may be. (It’s also from that place of acceptance, I’ve found, that my clients find themselves shifting out of “creative blocks.”)

Signs you may be fighting a feeling:

• You keep venting about something and it feels unresolved

• You catch yourself channeling Spock, saying things like “It’s not logical to feel, think or do this”

• You insist that the only thing you feel is boredom or apathy

• You’re easily irritated, angered, or feel ready to cry (but you don’t)

• You’re convinced that you “should” or you “have to” do something, but you’re not doing it

If this is the space you’re in, it’s time to create safety for yourself. My friend’s kind and patient presence and her validation of what I felt did that for me. On some days, though, I need to find other ways. I love the audios on self-compassion expert Kristin Neff’s site, particularly the one called “Soften, soothe, allow,” for this purpose.

The key word here is permission. If you had permission to feel just how you feel, if you could give that to yourself (because ultimately, we do have to give it to ourselves), what might you notice? What would be possible? These are (some of) the questions to ask. You can probably come up with new ones!

What do you notice about this process for you? What shifts for you when you allow yourself to feel whatever you feel? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for more articles and updates on my coaching offerings (including occasional specials for newsletter subscribers!) here.

If you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority, I’d love to help! You can find out more about working with me, here.

Above blue jay images by Steve Douglas and Erin Wilson on Unsplash, respectively

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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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Supporting your deep-diving self from the outside in

If you’ve read my blog posts, you probably know that I believe true personal change happens most of the time in our inner world (no matter how much we scramble to change the outer).

Many of us — and I certainly include myself here — have pushed and pushed to try to control our outer worlds to the point that we bottom out on that way of life.

When we’ve gone too far in the outer direction, and we start to sense the limitations of that, it makes tons of sense to start looking within.

That said, as an introvert who often works with introverts, I’ve noticed that we “deep divers” sometimes take our moving inward just a little too far.

This might look like trying to “accept” the unacceptable — for example, working on ourselves more and more to make a relationship better, when in fact we’re better off letting go of the relationship altogether.

It might look like using spiritual practice for the purpose of avoiding the “real world” (sometimes called “spiritual bypass.”).

It can also look like making things that are simple very complicated. I remember trying so hard to “like” taking care of the yard at my old home, but in fact, I just hated yardwork. It took me ages to recognize that I didn’t have to like it, didn’t even have to do it, and it was perfectly okay to hire help.

If trying to solve the problem on the inside seems to be creating more struggle, we might need to move ever so slightly outward.

In my last post, I wrote about how getting rid of energetic drains in our surroundings can clear space for creativity. That can be a hugely important part of an outside-in approach to self-care.

Another part of an outside-in approach can be making sure we connect with people whose energy feels supportive to us on a regular basis.

If you are an introvert, your natural tendency is to move inward. And this is a good thing! It’s why introverts who try to be extroverts end up feeling exhausted — and why not enough diving inward can be detrimental to us, as I learned early in life.

Sometimes, though, introverts may find themselves a little bit “too in.” (This may be particularly true if you have high sensitivity in the mix. Elaine Aron talks about the “too in/too out” dilemma many HSPs face in her work.)

The trick for introverts is that we may have quite a bit of ambivalence about keeping up with our connections — that time to ourselves, that delving inward, can be so enticing. So I like to make sure I have regular, “calendared” ways of doing this connecting. It makes it easier for me when I know I need to show up because people are counting on me to do so.

A few other ways that can be helpful in supporting ourselves from the outside-in:

Caring for animals. On my walks, I often run into my neighbor from the condo-across-the-way as he’s walking his dog. He’s told me how meeting his dog’s needs gives him a much-needed break from his tendency to “ruminate”. I was like, preach! I haven’t had cats for thirty years only because I love cats. They allow me to have my inner world while also bringing me out of it.

Gentle time limits. Journaling is fundamental for me — I do it most days through morning pages, but it takes many other forms for me as well and is key in making shifts in my life. I do, however, set a gentle time limit on my journaling each morning. Otherwise I can sometimes get lost in it.  We might also find it helpful to set time limits on certain phone conversations, watching Netflix, or any area where we tend to be a little bit “time-boundary-challenged.”

Soft deadlines. I used to think I hated deadlines, but I’ve learned they can support me as long as I’m not imposing hard, strict deadlines on myself.  (Many thanks to my friend and coach Theresa Trosky, who years ago pointed out to me in our work together that “soft deadlines” are actually my friend!)

Bookending the day. On most days, I try to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time. This regularity bookends the day and becomes something I can count on, particularly on days when my emotions have been swirling. There are other ways I “bookend” my day, such as morning and evening pages, and we can create these kinds of “containers” for ourselves throughout the day, too.

Limiting news consumption. This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s abundantly clear that exposing ourselves to anything and everything is anti-self-care, particularly if we are energy-sensitive. I have to trust my intuition here on how much news is actually helpful for me. (Notice how many of these outer supports are a form of limit?)

I’m sure you can think of hundreds of other outside-in supports (and I’d love to hear from you!).

What I notice is that these outer supports, rather than constraining the “deep diver” in me, actually support my inward focus while keeping me connected to the outer world. They remind me that I am a human being in a physical body in a physical world, even though I do a lot of delving into my inner world.

Turning inward, doing that inner work, is fundamental for those who want truly know and understand themselves. But the outer world sometimes holds the answers for us, too (and if not “answers,” certainly support!). How do you use “outside-in” support in your life?

I’ll be enrolling in this year’s version of my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program soon. Want to learn more, or just stay connected? Feel free to sign up for my monthly-ish newsletter, here.

Hearts photo by Rachel Walker on Unsplash ; woman with dogs photo by Frederik Trovatten.com on Unsplash

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Reconnecting with what you want (when you feel a little lost)

With only a couple of days left in 2018, I took a look back at my year and asked myself some key questions. (You can check out some of these questions in my 2017 year-end post.)

I also thought about the clients I’ve worked with, and what had come up for them. And it seems that the most common issue I’ve seen this year is along the lines of this: I feel like I’ve gotten off-track, somehow. I’ve lost the path. Or: I feel so busy and overwhelmed, I’ve forgotten why I’m doing this in the first place.

In the process of creating our lives, we will feel off-track, like we’ve lost sight of the path, and even if we feel “on-path”, we will feel so busy and overwhelmed at times that we’ll wonder whether what we’ve created is actually what we want.

This is not a matter of “if I were doing it right, I wouldn’t feel this way.” I hear this so often. We’re so quick to jump from “this doesn’t feel good” to “I must be doing it wrong!”

Repeat after me: Feeling uncomfortable, off-track, or overwhelmed is not a sign that you are “doing it wrong.”

It’s simply a sign that something is calling out for your attention. Something wants to be looked at more closely. 

The more we “push through” and/or ignore this inner nudge to look more closely at what’s going on within us, the more out of control and “off-track” we tend to feel.

(Ironically, we usually bulldoze over our feelings because we’re afraid feeling them will cause us to lose control. It’s true that we do “lose control” in the moment when we allow feelings to emerge. But overall, we gain more control of our lives when we are clear on what our feelings are trying to tell us. I highly recommend Karla McLaren’s books The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy on this topic.)

Being able to sit with uncomfortable feelings as they arise is key to connecting (or reconnecting) with what you really want. 

Why? Because until we are coming from a “clean” emotional space, we will keep taking the same actions that lead us to results that aren’t really what we want. I have written here before about making decisions from a place of peace, and I have quoted Lao-Tzu, who asked if we can find the patience to allow “muddy water” to become clear. At that point, said Lao-Tzu, the “right action” will arise by itself.

I have found this to be true in my own life time and again. But most of us are really resistant to believing this, because it requires a certain degree of trust to let go enough to allow our “inner muddy water” to become clear.

If we haven’t had a lot of practice in exercising our trust muscles — trust in ourselves to make solid decisions, and trust in the process of life — it can feel downright scary to not rush to action.

But, as I’ve often written here, when we rush to actions that feel “muddied” because we are so afraid of being still, we often make messes that we have to undo, or we perpetuate the same feeling we are trying to get away from by taking rushed action!

I am a prime example of this. As young as age ten or so, I developed a coping mechanism of getting through life by avoiding my emotions, rather than moving toward what I wanted. This coping mechanism became so automatic that by my mid-twenties my body literally broke down. Pushing down emotions only works for so long, my friends.

Our emotions are messengers for us. When we can sit with them, let them move up and out, without taking action on them right away, we clear the way for our intuition to emerge. It is our intuition — the voice of our essential self — that will point us to (or back to) what is deeply true for us.

So when we feel like we’ve “lost our way,” what’s usually going on is that we have been avoiding emotion.

It’s extremely common for me to hear from a client, “I feel like I don’t have time to deal with my emotions!” (This is coming from people who know the value of emotional work — that’s why they’ve signed up for life coaching! Our culture really drills into us the idea that we don’t have time to feel. We must challenge this idea.)

Now, once we have allowed emotion to come up and out, and have cleared the way for the voice of our essential self to make itself known (this voice can be quite subtle, which is why “muddy” emotions can seem to blot it out), we’ll often find that what emerges is one simple step to bring us closer to ourselves.

That’s it. Intuition does not come to us in a series of complicated steps that extend into the distant future — it is usually just one step, one “best” next step.

I was reminded of this while doing my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions this fall — the whole purpose of these sessions is to connect folks with their “best next step.” It never fails to delight us when, once we’ve let the muddy water clear a bit, that best next step pops right up with intensity. It may be a seemingly “tiny” thing, but it’s always strong and clear.

What’s fascinating is that once we’ve allowed our feelings to emerge, rather than pushing them down, we often find that we’re not as “off-track” as we think, or that our overwhelm is directly connected to the pushing down of our feelings, not to what we’re doing or not doing.

The good news here is that allowing our feelings to come up and out does not have to be some laborious, time-intensive process where we remove ourselves from our “regular lives” for weeks or months. In fact, it’s vital that we weave connection with our feelings into our daily lives.

When we connect this way, just checking in with how we’re feeling on a daily basis, we feel “off-track” far less, because in tending to our feelings and the message they have for us, we are clearing the way for intuition — the voice of the essential self. (You don’t have to actually “sit” with your feelings, by the way. I find walking, moving my body, most helpful for connecting with my emotions.)

How will you connect with what you’re feeling on a daily basis in 2019? What have you noticed about this process for you? I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I wish you a beautiful start to the New Year. 

(For more related to this topic, you might also find this post from last year helpful, or this one from years ago.)

Want to stay connected? You can get updates on my coaching offerings and other good stuff by subscribing to my monthly-ish newsletter, here.

I’ll be working with new coaching clients starting January 10, 2019. Wondering if I might be able to help? Feel free to check out my Is This You? page.

Above photo of candle by freestocks.org on Unsplash; snow globe by Aaron Burden on Unsplash; lamppost by Hide Obara on Unsplash

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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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Soft energy and true downtime

One of the most frequently viewed posts on this site is called “When your downtime doesn’t happen.”

I was reminded of it a while back when a client mentioned to me that she had blocked off a day just for herself, and when the day was done, she realized she needed more than a day.

I asked her to say more about this, and she told me she had spent the majority of the day worrying about all she had to do, and feeling guilty for taking the time for herself when the world is in such an urgent state.

It turned out, the day to herself didn’t feel restful or replenishing at all.

I nodded in recognition as she spoke, staring at some squirrels out the window who busied themselves with burying acorns in the lawn next to the neighboring condo building’s concrete patio.

How often have I experienced what my client did — blocking out some time to “just be”, and spending that time feeling crappy about what I’m not doing? A lot.

It’s even more challenging with the recognition that our world is in an urgent state. It needs us, and sometimes it’s hard to reconcile that with taking a day (or an hour) to replenish ourselves.

What’s going on here?

I’m reminded of a story Martha Beck told in one of her books (I can’t remember which one right now!). She was recovering from a medical procedure and told to go on bed rest. The bed rest was supposed to keep her from feeling stress and aid in her healing.

Except the longer she stayed in bed, the more stressed she felt. She called a nurse and explained the situation and the nurse said, “Get out of bed!” Martha did, and getting up and moving around felt much less stressful to her than lying still.

Sometimes, we have an idea of what “downtime” or “resting” is supposed to look like. But the truth for us will always be in how it feels to us.

***

This past Sunday, I took the Green Line into downtown Chicago to meet my friend for lunch. I wanted to meet my friend, but on the train ride I picked up some disturbing energies, and by the time I got off at State and Lake, my mood was foul.

Sitting across from my friend, though, my energy gradually shifted. We had a leisurely lunch and afterward I felt like meandering in shops and spontaneously bought a gift for another friend’s birthday. I hadn’t planned to do that — it just felt right.

I was doing, but it didn’t feel like doing. It felt like being.

Because I had shifted into being mode, the train ride back home was considerably less stressful than the ride there — even though the train stalled for a while at one point. When I got home, I felt replenished and energized.

Now, I generally don’t consider navigating the Green Line and downtown Chicago to be “me time”. But somehow this turned into spontaneous me time and felt like lovely downtime. How?

Because my energy had shifted. My friend’s relaxed company, the warm smile of our waitress, our leisurely coffee and omelettes, and our talk about our cats and rabbits had transformed my default tense, pushing energy into softer, allowing energy.

Which is exactly why my client’s planned downtime felt anything but restful. She’d blocked out the time on her calendar, but her inner state hadn’t changed.

True downtime is less about “not doing,” and more about accessing your feel-good energy. From that softer, non-pushy, feel-good energy place, you are better equipped to assess whether you actually want to “do” or “not do.”

(When I left my friend after our lunch, I could have just as easily gotten on the train and headed straight home — which, in fact, was what I’d planned to do. But my softer energy state led me to meander into a shop in which I not only found a lovely gift but had a lovely interaction with the woman who beautifully wrapped it for me.)

Now, yesterday I had a day where, although I had quite a bit I needed to do, I was able to do it all from home and it felt absolutely delicious to stay home with the fall air coming through the windows (the air conditioning is off, finally!). I was in the “soft energy place” and it let me know that puttering around my apartment, quietly getting things done, was exactly what I needed that day.

The next time you sense you’re in need of downtime, see how you might first access more relaxed, gentle energy toward yourself. It’s this softer, kinder energy we’re so often in need of, not necessarily “doing nothing” (though time to do nothing is absolutely crucial on some days!)

And we won’t change the world by neglecting ourselves. If you’re so frazzled you can’t think straight, you won’t bring your kinder, softer, gentler energy into a world that badly needs it. (One thing that is helping me take action toward the change I want to see AND stay focused on self-care is The Americans of Conscience Checklist.)

I’m curious about how you bring yourself to a place of softer, more relaxed energy when you need it. How does downtime play into that for you? How do you define downtime for yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. My Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and need some support, check out these specially-priced sessions here

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

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