Recognizing your options (all of them!)

rusty signI was talking with an old friend of mine the other day and we remembered a situation we’d been in during college. It was a crappy situation, but we didn’t do anything about it.

“What the heck were we thinking?” we asked ourselves (our “today” selves). “Why the heck didn’t we just get out of there? It would have made things so much easier.”

Well, the answer is, our younger selves didn’t just get the heck out of there because we didn’t see getting the heck out of there as an option. We didn’t know we could just leave.

With the benefit of hindsight (and more than twenty years of life experience!), we could clearly see that we had many more options available to us than we recognized at the time. We could have chosen to leave the situation. We could have spoken up to change it. We could have brought humor to it.

But we did none of those things. We resigned ourselves to “just getting through it.”

***

I notice that I feel much more powerful and expansive than I did then. Sure, there are periods where I feel fragile, depending on what I am going through. But overall, I have a sense of standing on this earth with more steadiness, more perspective, a wider vision.

And I’m pretty sure this is directly related to the fact that I am aware that I have more choices than I believed I did in the past.

These can be actual, physical-world choices. But the choice that is most obvious to me today is in how I respond to what’s happening for me.

Back then, when I had the belief that I was stuck or trapped, it would send me into a flurry of frantic activity in which I would try to flee my circumstances, or, as in the situation with my friend, I would freeze, assuming I had no options.

What’s striking to me today is recognizing that, back then, I didn’t notice my belief. The belief “I’m trapped” was actually outside of my conscious awareness — I was reacting to a belief I didn’t even know I had!

Awareness of how our thoughts are triggering our feelings, and how our actions are triggered by those feelings, is key in recognizing our options. There are so many options we can’t see when our lives are being run by beliefs we never question.

***

Just today, I got triggered by an email request that seemed ridiculous and unfair to me. I felt a sense of anger and injustice rise up in me and I was ready to tell this person off. I started writing my email response in my head, in the most sharp-tongued tone I could imagine.

At the same time, I felt I had to take care of the sender’s feelings, so I felt a conflict — taking care of myself and taking care of the sender. Within probably thirty seconds of reading the email, my feelings were about to propel me to action based on this swirl of anger and confusion.

But: I stopped. I stopped and simply noticed the feelings coming up in me. After I sat with the feelings for a bit and just let them be, I could see that my feelings were based on the following thoughts:

How dare this person request this of me! Don’t they know I have a life?

I need to set them straight! They can’t think they have the right to request this of me!

What the heck is wrong with my life that I have to deal with this kind of thing? What am I doing wrong?

Wow. Look how quickly the thoughts evolved into a blanket statement about my life and its “wrongness”.

Now, I’ll be honest — ten years ago I would have acted on my anger and righteousness. I would have shot back a scathing email (probably cloaked in sarcastic politeness) and gone on to regret it. I likely would have escalated things with the sender and felt out of control and crappy and mean.

But when I stopped (and believe me, it wasn’t easy to stop, even after years of practice) and simply felt the emotions, I could trace them back to the thoughts the email had triggered in me.

And then I began to reconnect with my power. I began to see where I have control and where I don’t.

I can’t control what the sender thinks about me or wants from me.

But I can control the way I respond to it, and I can (from a place of peace) communicate that I would prefer the sender not make these sorts of requests of me. What that may look like, I’m not sure — I’m not calm enough yet! 🙂

What I do know for sure is that I have many more options here than to shoot back an angry email or to believe this person has some kind of power over me. And the key is to see those options.

***

Sometimes in situations like this, I write down dozens of things I could do instead of the thing my knee-jerk emotional reaction would have me do — even silly and ridiculous ones, like “climb up on the roof and do a manic dance in the rain” or “paint my toenails deep purple” or “kiss the top of my cat’s head”. Or “spray-paint LOVE on all the cars in the parking lot.”

I wouldn’t necessarily do all these things, of course (or maybe I would!), but you get my drift. There are tons of ways we can choose to respond that we may not be noticing — until we make a point to notice.

So, how do we notice?

• When your feelings are strong, don’t act, sit. Count to ten if you want to. Notice that sitting with strong feelings is only that — sitting with strong feelings. It will not kill you if you don’t act on them in that moment. You will not dissolve.

• Once you’ve felt the feelings, notice what thoughts bubble up, as I did above. (Sometimes it takes a while — maybe a few hours or a day in some cases — to allow your feelings to settle enough to recognize the thoughts that are driving you. Other times it’s a quicker process.)

• Question the thoughts you notice. Are they true? Are they helpful? What thoughts would feel better and more helpful and more true?

• Come up with at least ten ways you could respond. Notice your options, even if they’re seemingly silly ones like those I listed above.

• Now, ask yourself: is action necessary? Yes? What action do you want to take? Does it feel settled and peaceful? Then, do it. Action is good, when it’s inspired action.

It is always, always, the way we choose to respond in this moment that determines the course of our lives, because our lives are nothing more — or less — than moments, strung together, like thousands and thousands of fairy lights.

What do you do when you feel trapped or “up against it”? What happens when, instead of taking immediate action, you pause and notice your options? I’d love to hear from you.

Are you in “creative transition” and needing support? I’d love to help. I currently have openings for new one-on-one coaching clients. Find out more, here.

Above image © Alptraum | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Making decisions from a place of peace

Making decisions from a place of peace

Something I often notice when I work with a coaching client is how urgent everything can feel when we are in a space where we have unmet needs.

The interesting thing about this urgency is that it can feel really true.

Sometimes, before we even consciously recognize it, we have acted on this feeling of urgency when — actually — the best course of action might have been, in this moment, no action.

One of the biggest push-backs I get from clients is when I suggest that if they are feeling frantic or highly anxious, they become peaceful before making whatever decision it is that they are sure they need to make.

Two things usually come up:

1) But I can’t get peaceful until I figure out what the heck I’m doing. I need to have my life sorted out first.

2) My needs are enormous and unless I take the “right” action to fulfill them, they will not be met. I am so tired of having these unmet needs. I need to do something about it, now!

I totally get both of these reactions. It can feel so frustrating and overwhelming to have a pile of unmet needs sitting there, unsure of how we will ever resolve any of it.

On top of the fact that the needs seem to be hanging there unmet, we can get really hard on ourselves for not meeting them immediately, or for having them in the first place. (The Buddha told a story where he referred to this as “the second arrow” — when something difficult happens, we in effect have “one arrow” in us, and our tendency is to “shoot another arrow into ourselves” by being hard and judgmental just when we most need to be compassionate.)

Here’s the thing: When we proceed from a place of panic, anxiety, or otherwise stirred-up feelings, we often end up making decisions that either do not actually need to be made right now (or at all), OR we make choices that only create more pain for us and have to backtrack and undo them.

So I like to share this Lao Tzu quote with clients (and sometimes they find this really annoying): “Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear.”

Clients usually say, but what do I do to get peaceful? How can I make the muddy water become clear, faster?

These questions make me laugh. They are so, so funny. Can you see why? (And I’ve asked the same questions myself, many many times, so I’m laughing from a place of compassion, for sure.)

Sometimes, it’s not about doing, and it’s not about making things happen, faster.

How can we tell? Because our doing has that frantic, anxious energy behind it. And, the biggest tip-off that we are doing in order to resist being with what is coming up for us: we don’t feel any better for having taken an action or made a decision.

Here are some better questions to ask ourselves:

What is so hard about staying with these uncomfortable feelings until they settle down a little and point me to clarity?

How can I make it easier to allow these feelings to be there, without trying to change them?

How might I support myself in being with the hard stuff that’s coming up for me right now?

Sometimes we might think, but how will I know that I’m ready to take a particular action or make a decision?

The answer is, you’ll know because you will find yourself in the middle of doing the action or making the decision.

When we’re in a place of acceptance, what truly needs to be done and decided arises naturally. We make the call to get the help we need. We withdraw the money from the bank. We comfort the friend who is hurting. We sleep because we’re tired.

This is all there ever is when we’re able to be with what’s actually true for us, right now: the next step presents itself, and we take it. (Or maybe what presents itself is that there is no action to be taken right now.)

But in order to be in our truth, in order to sense our true next step, we may need to allow our muddy water to clear. We may need to exercise some patience and be with whatever is coming up for us. And we can do that a few minutes, or seconds, at a time. We can break it down that much if we need to.

(Byron Katie says that we don’t make decisions — “decisions make us” when we have the necessary information to make them. Do you notice this for yourself?)

What have you learned about your decision-making process? What have your best decisions felt like for you? I’d love to hear.

And: I’m in the process of changing my coaching offerings and won’t be offering them in the current format for much longer. If you’d like to work with me in the current way, check out my offerings, here.

Image is “Water 4” © Chrisharvey | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Taking action on what you know

doves

One thing that I really like to drive home to my coaching clients is the importance of knowing ourselves.

I mean, really, really knowing ourselves — and particularly, the things we have a tendency to do that create chaos and disconnection for us.

Because very often, we know what doesn’t work for us, but we do it anyway.

Particularly if you are highly sensitive or an introvert, or both, the “general way” our society does things may not work for you. But it’s easy to toss away our particular, unique self-understanding when we convince ourselves that “everybody else” seems to be living, well, differently.

When we’ve been through the hell of learning something that brings us to our knees and connects us with our core (or, to put it another way, our essential self), we need to actually own that and act from what we know.

I call this acting from exquisite self-knowledge.

It is powerful to put this stuff into action. And you can often tell when you’re not putting it into action, by the way you feel.

This is true on both smaller points and large ones.

Like today, I was writing in my journal and I was completely caught up in the flow. As I’ve written about before, when my journal is truly calling to me, I have got to heed that call. Journaling has been, for many years now, the way I process and ultimately integrate what’s happening for me. It is my practice. If I don’t do it — especially when it’s really calling to me — I keep spinning my wheels and I don’t move forward.

But: I get really antsy and am easily distracted when I can feel something big about to come through in my journal. And I have a tendency to sabotage these “hardcore” journaling sessions by reacting to stuff in the external environment.

Today I actually grabbed my iPad in the middle of my journaling session — even though it was going brilliantly — and searched for youtube videos on Jaws 2. (Okay, not even a good movie, but I’ve been feeling oddly nostalgic for it lately.)

Before I knew it, I was watching shark attack videos which were obviously fake (and why in the heck would I do that to my HSP self?), and then somehow I was watching videos of cats stuffing themselves into small boxes (how do I always end up there?).

So I moved away from the iPad and picked the journaling session back up. A couple minutes later, the phone rang. I am like one of Pavlov’s dogs when the phone rings. I don’t know why I think I have to get up and see who it is. But get up I did.

It was a friend of mine who I really wanted to talk to. Normally, when the caller ID comes up as a close friend or a family member, it’s almost impossible for me not to pick up. I pick up as a kind of reflex. I figure I’ll make up the journaling time later; I tell myself the call will only take a couple minutes and then I’ll get back to my writing.

But experience has shown, this isn’t what happens. I get sucked into the call and when I get off the phone it’s hard to get my flow back. I put the journaling off. I toss away my practice. And I feel disconnected from myself.

So today, I didn’t pick up the phone. Why? Because I finally know myself well enough to know that if I pick up the phone during sacred journaling time, I will regret it.

And I have to tell you, acting on that exquisite self-knowledge felt really powerful. It felt congruent.

This might sound like a small point, not picking up the phone during a journaling session, but all these seemingly “small” points add up over the long haul. When I toss the needs of my essential self away on a regular basis and tell myself these “little things” don’t matter, I end up disconnected from myself, over time, in a big way.

There are larger points, too — like going back, out of fear or familiarity, to that job or that relationship we just know in our gut isn’t good for us. Or saying “yes” to something that we know from experience we simply have no desire to do.

None of this is about “doing it right” all the time or never making choices that don’t feel good to us. Part of the process of knowing ourselves is learning through trial and error what doesn’t work for us.

And sometimes, like with my Pavlovian response to the ringing phone, we have a very long learning curve. But when we do finally learn, it’s important to own what we know and take action on that knowing.

Try this: Make a habit of keeping a written record of things you’ve learned — the hard way — about yourself but have a tendency to forget. (I call this my Exquisite Self-Knowledge List.) Then check in with it from time to time, particularly if you’re feeling crappy and you’re not sure why.

What do you absolutely know about yourself that you might put on your own list? I’d love to hear from you.

And: Speaking of putting pen to paper, Thursday, Feb. 21, is the last day to register for the next session of Jenna Avery’s Just Do the Writing Accountability Circle. I’ve been a member of this group for going on a year and a half, and I’m also one of the coaches. You can read about the strides I’ve made with my writing in this group here. We’d love to have you join us! You can check it out here.

Image is “Doves” © Cook | Dreamstime.com