There’s no “right way” to be social during the holidays

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Sometimes when I look back, I cringe at all the pressure I used to put on myself to be “differently social” than I actually am, especially during holiday times. I am an introvert (and no, by that I do not mean that I am “shy”, but that I need plenty of alone time to recharge).

I am an introvert who loves people, deeply. But I also cannot be around people for more than a few hours without needing to withdraw and spend time alone.

Like many introverts, I really struggled with this in childhood, when my natural introversion was viewed as shyness that needed to be “cured”, or a “fear of people” that needed to be conquered.

Thankfully, I am now an adult (in some senses, anyway!) and I have a lot more control over my life and the ways I choose to socialize than I did when I was nine.

The holidays, nevertheless, can prove to be a challenge for my introvert self.

But I’ve learned to give myself lots of permission over the years.

Back when it was harder to give myself permission, I needed to get it from other people.

Sometimes people give us permission by their example and they don’t even know it. This is a beautiful thing. Like:

* The Christmas party I was at one year where, after three hours, I felt completely depleted but was sure if I left before the gifts were opened, my host would be offended. So I suffered through, feeling overstimulated and disconnected. At hour number four of the party, a couple breezed in, said hello to the host, and then added, “We’ll only be able to stay for fifteen minutes. We’re dropping by another party tonight.”

Doh! From that point on, I realized it was perfectly fine for me to stay at a party for the amount of time it felt comfortable for me to stay. I don’t really give parties (unless three people coming over is a party), but I know for sure that I would not want anyone I cared about hanging around my party if they were really ready to leave. So now I apply that logic to myself.

* The friend, way back in college, who said “no” to the spur of the moment concert invite I’d given her. After a thoughtful moment, she said, “It sounds great, but I really want to have some time to myself tonight and enjoy my own company.”

Not only was I not hurt by her honest “no”, but she’d unwittingly given me permission to freely tell others that I wanted to spend time by myself — not the easiest thing to do at any age, but especially not back when I was twenty or twenty-one and staying home on a Friday night was not exactly the “socially condoned” thing. Thanks to this friend for being who she was and owning it.

* My grandpa, who took his after-lunch nap no matter what, no matter who was around, whether it was Christmas Day or a regular old Monday. His naps were a part of his daily routine and I don’t think it ever occurred to him to not take them just because guests were staying over for the holidays. They were something he needed; part of his self-care regimen. When he was done with his nap, he woke up and started talking. But during his nap, he was “unavailable.”

Here are four kinds of “breaks” I employ nowadays to rebalance and recharge when I’m around people during the holidays.

* Walk breaks. I tell people I need to stretch my legs for a bit and I’m going out for a walk. This works especially well if it’s really cold, because if it’s cold enough, no one will offer to join me.

* Journaling breaks. I shut myself into a bedroom or even the bathroom and write a couple of paragraphs in my journal. Sometimes just writing what I see around me is helpful because it reconnects me to the present moment. Sometimes I write more of a vent or a rant or whatever it is I’m feeling.

* Pet breaks. If there’s a dog, cat, or other animal in the household, I go and hang out with it for a while. Animals always somehow reconnect me with myself and have that nonjudgmental energy that can be truly helpful during certain, er, moments of the holidays. And if there’s a cat around, you have the plus of the purr. It’s soothing and research says a cat’s purr can even heal broken bones.

* Go-and-get-something breaks. If something is needed — more 7-Up, more paper napkins — I offer to go to the store and get it.

These are just a few things I do — I’m always inventing others. Because here’s the truth of it: the better I can take care of myself during the holidays, or any time, the more present I am to connect with the people I love. Just a ten-minute walk outside can work wonders for my ability to remain present.

And, here’s an article I wrote last year at holiday time on what to do when don’t get your downtime.

How do you take care of yourself AND connect with those you love during the holidays? I’d love to hear, in the comments. And to readers in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving!

Image is “Cone Alone” © Bx3t | Dreamstime Stock Photos

“I wrote to honor myself” ~ A conversation with memoirist Mary Montanye

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Mary Montanye is the author of the memoir Above Tree Line, which I had the joy of reading recently. To quote her website, it’s “the story of one woman’s spiral downward into physical and mental breakdown and her return to wholeness by courageously, and some would say recklessly, following her intuition.”

Mary and I got on the phone to talk about her experience of writing and publishing the memoir, and how she found support for the process of bringing it into the world. Mary is one of my fellow coaches in The Writer’s Circle, and she’s become one of my favorite people, too. I’m so pleased she took the time to talk with me, and my hope is that creators who are struggling to share their work with the world — or even to begin the process of creating — will gain courage and comfort from Mary’s writing journey.

You can learn more about Mary’s memoir (and read her terrific blog posts!) at her website, here.

Read highlights from our conversation below, or find the link to listen to our whole conversation at the bottom of the post (please note this more of a casual conversation, not a “formal” interview!).

* * *

Jill: I imagine some parts of this were much harder to write than others, emotionally.

Mary: Yeah, they were. And there were two things about that: Whenever I was getting close to writing something that I knew was gonna be really, really difficult, there were two things I did: One is, I reminded myself that all I had to do was write it. I didn’t have to share it; I didn’t have to publish it. There were many other reasons I was writing it. One is, I was learning how to write. Two, I was learning about me. I was honoring me.

That’s another thing, I think that many times writers have, somewhere in their childhood, been shut down. “Oh, we don’t want to hear about that,” or whatever. So, by me putting it down, I was honoring myself, and my voice, and my experiences, and my life.

So I told myself that, even if I choose not to publish this down the line somewhere, I still benefit. And when I did that, it made the writing of the hard stuff doable, and it also made it possible for me to be as honest as possible.

… And second of all, I told myself that even if I did choose to publish it somewhere down the line, I could remove anything that I didn’t want to have in there. If it was really too tough, if I was too afraid to have it out there, I would just remove it from the book.

And it ended up that I didn’t remove anything from the book. I mean, of course I tightened it … But it works to just let yourself do it, just write whatever. And then tighten, or delete.

Jill: So it sounds like there was a lot of permission to write it and not have to publish it, and then there was also permission to not have to put in those more difficult parts – that you could cut those out if you wanted to.

Mary: Yeah. I just had to constantly remind myself that, I have control over this. Just because I write it down doesn’t mean that I have to publish it. And it ended up that I did publish it, and actually, a lot of the fears that I had about that never came true: that other people would hate me, or judge me, or not want me in their life, or be hurt.

… I think you have to just bite off small pieces as you go along, and not think of it as some great big huge thing that’s gonna change the rest of your life, because that would be paralyzing. At least for me. But when I did it bits and pieces at a time, every piece that I did was beneficial.

And that even included the publishing. I mean, I’ve had people, especially younger women, that I never thought would even read it, say how much it has meant to them, and why. And that’s made it all worthwhile. This is why it was meant to be out there. And I can take fear.

Jill: So basically, then, it sounds like you were writing this for yourself. So would you say that if you had any audience in mind, it was just yourself? Kind of your own listening ear?

Mary: Yeah. Well, I also had a reader in that Mary [Allen, writer and writing teacher] was reading. She wasn’t changing things so much as she was just saying, “Tell me more about this. This is really interesting, could you write more here?”… So I had her as a reader, but she was a very loving, supportive, gentle reader. And in fact, having one person like that is really helpful in that she normalized some of this for me. Like, I was feeling so awful about myself, even this many years later, for doing some of the things that I did, and she would go, “Well, that’s really not all that bad.” And that sort of helped, too.

So I’m not saying never have a reader and just put it out there before you’ve ever had a reader, or never have a reader in mind. [But] have the perfect reader in mind: like, for a memoir, the most wonderfully accepting, gentle person that you could possibly imagine, who really wants to sit down and hear about your life, and not judge you for it. Because if you think about just a general “other” out there, like some big massive social media kind of other, it would be terrifying. I don’t know how anybody could write an honest memoir like that.

***

Jill: Another point that I wanted to bring up is self-care around this process of writing something that brings up so much stuff for us. That is bound to be emotionally taxing. And physically exhausting too, probably.

Mary: Yeah. Everything. Sometimes I’d just feel like all I wanted to do was go to bed. So I got to the point where I just let myself go to bed. You know, it’s okay. Or take time off, too. Take a week off. Or write something easier, write a little bit of history of the area, or something that isn’t like one trauma after another.

Jill: That makes a lot of sense. I think that as writers we can get into a mentally of, I’ve gotta sit there and I’ve gotta push through, especially maybe if we have some resistance coming up for us around a particular thing. And it sounds like you were very aware of your own exhaustion, and you must have had a lot of trust in your process in order to give yourself breaks when you needed it.

Mary: Well, I got it [trust]. I don’t think I had it right off the bat. But as time went on and I did it, I’d say, oh yeah, I’m noticing every time I write some really hard scene, that I don’t want to do anything but go to bed. Well, maybe it would be a good idea to just go to bed. It was through the process that I learned about me and what I needed, and what I could do and what I couldn’t. And that there was only a certain length of time I could write every day. About an hour, for this book, was it. When I got into editing, I could spend a lot more time, but the actual writing was not more than probably about an hour a day.

***

Jill: What would you say to people who have a story – or not even just a story but some piece of creative work, something they want to share with the world, but they’re feeling stuck or scared around that? Let’s say it’s a dream right now. It’s in sort of baby dream phase and nobody else knows about it, it’s just something they really feel strongly about but they haven’t taken any action to create it. What would be the first thing you would tell them?

Mary: Well, I would tell them first that, if they’re feeling this pull, this little dream, this tug, whatever you want to call it, that that’s your intuition saying that you need to do it. You don’t know why you need to do it, but there’s a tug there, there’s that intuition. I think we tend to ignore our intuition, and I’m somebody who doesn’t ignore her intuition most of the time.

And most of the time, or 99.9 percent of the time, I find out why it was important that I didn’t ignore it. It may not be what you think – it may not BE about publishing it in the world. It may be you’ll help one person. It may be that you will learn something about yourself that you need to learn. But whatever it is, the very first thing I would say is don’t ignore, don’t minimize the fact that we have that tug to do it. That would be my first.

And then my second would be to just begin. Don’t think very far in advance, and set aside some alone time where you won’t be bothered. And make it, like we say in the Writer’s Circle, make it sacred. And just begin. Simple. Twenty minutes, five minutes, ten minutes. And then just do something else the next day, and the next day. And just see where it goes. Because we can’t figure out in our head what the reason is. We can’t figure out the reason, we can’t figure out the end result. We can only figure that out by the actual doing of it.

So those would be my two main things. Don’t ignore, and then begin.

***

Check out the recording to hear more about Mary’s take on: being a writer who’s an introvert and a highly sensitive person; how Mary “discovered” she was writing a memoir; Mary’s process of sharing the draft of the book with people close to her; her publishing and marketing experience; and more!

 

Setting boundaries around your creative space: Part two

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In Part One of this post, I wrote about how important it is to honor the transitions between our “creative space” and our time interacting with others. It’s recognizing those transitions (even if they happen very quickly) that allows us to set boundaries that support our creativity.

(And when I talk about creative space, I mean not only the period of time in which we are actually tangibly creating, but also our solitary reflecting/processing/being time — which is vital for so many of us.)

It can be difficult enough to honor our own commitment to show up for creating regularly, whether that’s journaling, painting, working on our business or writing a book. But what about when those around us don’t support us in our regular habit of creating?

This can be a truly frustrating place to be.

In Part One, I wrote about how when I was a child I had a deep need to go off by myself and write, draw, or simply daydream.

What I didn’t say in that post was that my family and friends were not always terribly thrilled with my doing this.

At a certain point, the people around me began encouraging me not to be so “introverted”, and before I knew it my life became a flurry of activity and achievement with hardly any solitary “being” time. In fact, it wasn’t until I was out of college that I actually — slowly — began to recognize my need for solitude and to — slowly — give it to myself.

And that took a certain amount of courage, in a culture that worships “busy” and “tangible goals.”

In fact, I remember frequenting a cafe when I was twenty-three and working at a bookstore. When I was done with work, I’d stop at the cafe, have a coffee, and do Natalie Goldberg‘s “writing practice” (I was a huge fan of Natalie’s books at the time and still am).

After I’d done this for a while, the owner of the cafe came up to me one day and said, “I see you here almost every day, writing. Are you writing a book?”

“No,” I said, “I’m doing something called ‘writing practice’.” I explained to him Natalie’s concept of writing as a daily practice, as a way of grounding and connecting with ourselves.

The cafe owner shook his head and let out a deep sigh. “This is no good,” he said. “You won’t get anywhere doing that.”

I could see the sincerity in his eyes and I honestly think he was trying to be helpful. But I never went back to that cafe. I felt stupid writing there after that.

And I didn’t even know the guy! When it’s our family or friends who don’t support our creative practice, that can really sting.

So what to do if those around us aren’t supportive, or even blatantly disrespect, our need for creative space?

This isn’t an easy one, but here are a few things that may help:

1) Reaffirm on a daily basis WHY it is important for you to have this time and space to yourself. When you’re regularly connected to why you’re doing it — at a deep level — it matters much less if others “get it” and support it.

2) In keeping with point #1, remember that others act as a mirror for our beliefs.

Part of the reason I was so bothered by the cafe owner’s statement all those years ago was because I had not yet owned the importance of my writing for ME. I wasn’t yet sure that I wasn’t doing something pointless by showing up to the cafe to write, so his words easily shook my not-yet-sound foundation.

Today, if someone were to say that to me, I’d probably be curious about his belief, but it wouldn’t throw me off balance (though I’d choose to be around more supportive energy). I’ve bitten down on the root of my need to write regularly so deeply that it doesn’t matter to me if a stranger questions what I’m doing.

3) Know that your commitment to your creative process may trigger those who want to do the same but just aren’t there yet. It may also shift your relationship with loved ones a little (or a lot). Remember you can always reassure them that this time is for you and that it will actually contribute to you having a better relationship with them. And let them know that it’s totally okay for them to establish their own creative practice, in their own way — you’ll support them in it, too.

4) Get clear on what kind of support you need. Sometimes our loved ones don’t know HOW to support us. It’s okay to tell them what feels supportive and what doesn’t.

5) Take note of the people in your life who DO support you in creating and seek out more of that support, whether that’s in person or online (preferably both as we can use true support in BOTH worlds!).

6) Be willing to let go of your need to be nice. I used to think I had to let go of certain relationships in order to feel more supported in my creative practice (and occasionally that’s been true). But I came to see that, more often, what I truly needed to let go of was my desire to be “nice” and constantly available for those relationships in ways that interfered with carving out my own creative space.

What do you have to add? How do you set boundaries around your creative practice when others aren’t supportive? I’d love to know.

Image is “Fence at Dusk” © Kurt | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Setting boundaries around your creative space: Part one

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A conversation on one of our community calls for The Writer’s Circle (a wonderful group I’ve been involved with for a long time now, which supports me in my writing habit and process) got me thinking about how difficult it can be to truly own and set boundaries around our creative space.

What do I mean by creative space? I mean physical space, yes, but also mental, emotional and spiritual space. Psychological space. And that space means our own energy as well.

From the time I was a little girl, I liked to go off by myself with a big pad of paper and a pencil and write and draw. I also liked to sit by myself — sometimes on our front porch — and talk out loud, making up stories, creating characters and acting out all the roles. Although I often organized neighborhood kids into plays and skits and “pretend movies”, I had a deep need to spend much of my “creating time” in my own company, with no one else around.

This is still true for me. Being solely in my own company (and spending time with animals or in nature) is part and parcel to my writing process, just as my writing process is part and parcel to knowing and understanding myself, and knowing and understanding myself informs what I want to write and what I choose to do with my life.

Geesh, what a cycle! See how it’s all connected?

So, I can’t “just let go of” time alone — daydreamy, musing, reflective time spent in solitude — without letting go of a vital part of the organism that is my functioning life.

And along with that, I can’t “just let go of” my actual writing time, where I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

But, as we discussed on our Writer’s Circle call, how challenging it can be to set boundaries around this sacred creative space on a daily basis!

Recently I had family visiting, and I noticed acutely (again) how I cannot “just shift” from socializing to writing, or socializing to reflecting time. I need to transition from one to the other.

This need for transitions, though, is a blessing. It is the transitioning that allows us to reinforce our boundaries around our creative space and creative energy.

For example, when I sat down to write this blog post, I did not “just sit down and start writing.” I first told my boyfriend, “Okay, I’m going to go work on a blog post now,” and I went into the next room to be away from his energy and more in my own. Then, I took a few deep breaths at my desk. And then I read a couple of blog posts by writers whose voices I love.

This all took only a few minutes, but within this transition space, I respected and protected my creative blog-writing space and energy.

Similarly, when I had family visiting last month, after spending most of the morning with my brother and his girlfriend, I didn’t “just” sit down and work on the presentation I had coming up. I told them I was going to the library for a while, gathered up my things, walked the two blocks to the library (walking is a great way to transition from one energetic space to another) and sat in a corner cubicle in the cool, quiet library environment. I took a few deep breaths, and starting in on writing notes for my presentation.

Taking note of how we will transition from “social space” to “creative space” is a great way to put solid boundaries around our solitary creating time, space, and energy.

Karla McLaren, in her wonderful book “The Art of Empathy,” calls this “thresholding.” She gives the example of actors who move from the state of being backstage, with others bustling around them, to actually being onstage, in the performance space. Anyone who’s performed on a stage of any kind knows there is quite a transition from being backstage to being onstage, and very quickly you go from one type of energy to another. It’s awareness and respect for the threshold that allows this transition.

Try this: Think about how you might create protective, supportive rituals and routines that act as boundaries around your creative energy and space. My walk for my morning coffee always puts me into “reflective, creative mode”, which is like tapping my writer self on the shoulder and whispering, “Hey — we’re going to be putting words on paper in a little bit.”

In Part Two of this post, we’ll talk about how we can own our right to our creative energy and space, especially when it’s challenged by others around us.

What about you? How do you set boundaries around your creative space, time, and energy?

Image is “Fenceline” © Digitalphotonut | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #10

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It’s been a while since I’ve done a Saturday Gratitude post and it’s really time for another. The past few weeks have been kind of insane around here, in mostly good ways. But my HSP introvert self has been desperate for a little solid downtime, which, thankfully, I am able to have this weekend.

So here are some things I’ve been grateful for since my last Saturday Gratitude post:

1) My “senior” cat (the vet says he’s a senior, but Sullivan doesn’t agree with this at all) came through his dental surgery just fine, minus three teeth. The couple of days after were no fun for any of us around here, but on the third day he was back to his shelf-climbing, window-gazing, chattering-at-birdies self. Pheewwww. I’m grateful to the folks at Prairie State Animal Hospital for giving him extra love.

(Quite inexplicably, he’s still hanging out in the cat carrier, apparently no longer relating to it as an instrument of doom.)

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2) I participated in Kristin Noelle’s I Choose Authentic Joy Healing Wave, and we had a number of wonderful conversations in the Facebook group, including one about gratitude. I’ve signed up for a number of Kristin’s Healing Waves and they truly inspire me; if you’re not familiar with her terrific artwork, do check her out!

3) Last Sunday, I gave a presentation to Chicago IONS on “Time and Conscious Doing.” We talked a lot about how our thoughts can give us this (false) idea that there isn’t enough time, and how we can choose to create and take action from a feeling of “enough”. I was so grateful for the deep participation in the exercises and insightful questions from the audience, and to those who came up afterward to continue the conversation.

4) Squirrel monkeys! My boyfriend and I rewarded ourselves for work completed by taking a trip to Brookfield Zoo, and there are now squirrel monkeys in Tropic World, swinging like they own the place and have always been there (though what happened to my beloved capuchins?). Monkeys continue to be a kind of power animal for me, reminding me that I am always inspired when I focus on play, curiosity, and hanging out upside down (if only metaphorically).

What about you? What are you grateful for today? I’d love it if you’d share, in the comments.

Top image © Dr_harry | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Saturday Gratitude #8

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Time for another Saturday Gratitude post! I haven’t even gotten into my list yet and I’m already thinking about how grateful I am for these posts themselves. They always help me get present and notice what’s already here, when it is so easy for me to get lost in wanting.

So here’s what I’m grateful for today:

1) On Sunday, I celebrated Easter with my boyfriend’s family.

My own family is spread out across the country and we haven’t celebrated Easter together in ages. And … well, getting me to socialize, especially around a holiday, is not always the easiest task. But I had this sense that I needed to get away for a while, and my boyfriend’s grandma had a vintage-looking tablecloth printed with rabbits, and rabbit napkins, and there were Easter eggs with our names on them! (All of this reminded me so much of my own grandmas, whom I miss dearly.)

And it was just fun. And sometimes, when I get into a really driven, must-get-things-done sort of place, the last thing that occurs to me is to stop and have some fun. (And the introvert in me sometimes forgets that being with others can be, um, fun, and exactly what I need to get out of my own tunnel vision.)

2) I remembered to ask for help.

And when I asked, I got what I needed. Which was wonderful. And it reminded me that, even if I ask and I do not get what I’m asking for (which certainly happens, sometimes more often than not), the act of asking in and of itself reconnects me with possibility, as well as my own power.

When I forget to ask for help (which I often do — I’m amazed at the number of times a friend has said to me, you needed help with that? Why didn’t you ask me?), I also forget that there is lots of support out there. And that, much of the time, people like to be asked. (The person I asked for help told me that it made her feel good to respond to my request.)

3) A quiet moment yesterday where I sat at my dining room table with my cat on my lap and just listened to the bird songs coming in through the slightly-open window. (Watching my cat chatter at birds that come dangerously close to the screens has been fun, too. I swear the birds, especially the sparrows, know they are teasing my cat.)

What about you — what are you grateful for this week? I’d love to hear from you.

Image is “Tramp Sparrow” © Olgalis | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When your downtime doesn’t happen

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One of the most common issues that comes up for my clients, approximately 90% of whom identify as introverts (and most are also highly sensitive), is what I call Downtime Chasing.

It looks something like this: You were planning to stop working for the day at 5:30 p.m., eat some dinner, and have the evening to just hang out and experience some quiet and revamp your resources in preparation for tomorrow. Or, if you’re like me, maybe you wanted to get in a good solid hour of journaling before going to bed.

But: At 6 p.m., the phone rings. And even though you know you really need tonight’s downtime in order to reconnect with yourself and feel energized for tomorrow, it’s a family member and you wonder if something might be wrong. Or, it’s a work-related thing. Or, it’s a friend in a crisis and you want to be there for him.

So you pick up the phone, and before you know it, it’s time to go to bed and your much-needed downtime hasn’t happened.

Now you’re kind of irritated, maybe even angry, because you wanted downtime the night before, and last Thursday, and the same thing happened. And now you haven’t had any real time to yourself in over a week and you’re starting to feel like you’re running on empty.

Introverts need downtime alone to recharge. This is not optional; it is a necessity. We simply can’t renew our resources by being around other people the way extroverts can.

The tricky thing is, because introverts are usually very good at adapting to more “extroverted” ways, we may easily toss our need for downtime out the window. It might even be habitual for us.

If we’re highly sensitive as well, we’re often so attuned to what others need that it feels sometimes like their needs are just as pressing, if not moreso, than ours. So we jump into “helping” mode before we realize what we’re doing.

And then there’s this sneaky thought: “Well, so-and-so is an introvert, and she doesn’t seem to need the amount of downtime that I do. Maybe I need too much. Maybe I can go without it.”

I often see introverts going to two extremes with this issue:

The first is the introvert who gets angry and frustrated and locked into the “Desperately Seeking Downtime” cycle, which means that trying to get enough downtime becomes the main purpose in her life. Because she feels so deprived of time to herself, everything on her “to-do list” starts to feel like the enemy of downtime. This constant seeking doesn’t actually get her much downtime, but she thinks if she stays angry about not having it, somehow it will magically appear, someday.

The other extreme is the introvert who decides to just forget about downtime altogether and pretend she doesn’t need it. After all, she’s so good at adapting, maybe she doesn’t really need it! Maybe the problem is she’s trying to meet a need that simply can’t be met, and she’d be better off getting rid of that need, letting go of it.

Except … she actually does need downtime. It keeps her sane, keeps her connected to herself, keeps her energized and keeps her life in perspective.

Okay. So what’s the answer?

Well, I wish I could tell you the precise end-all-and-be-all solution to this issue for you. I can’t. Only you can do that. But here are some things I’ve found helpful for me, and my clients.

1) Know yourself.

How much downtime do you truly need to feel sane, to feel like you’re thriving and not just surviving? Be really honest here. 

The answer for me is: a significant amount. Definitely more than fifteen minutes grabbed here or there.

But, I often don’t need as much as I think I do.

When I deprive myself of downtime, I start to feel like I need it all the time. I don’t. Even though I’m pretty up there on the introversion scale, it’s not often that I actually need days of downtime. In fact, if I fully and freely give myself an entire day where my intention is mostly downtime, I usually find a couple of hours of true downtime will do just fine.

2) Notice where you’re getting into comparisons.

You need as much time to yourself as you need.

It doesn’t matter if Jane is also an introvert and doesn’t need as much downtime as you do. She’s not you; her constellation of needs, choices, and wiring is different.

When you can own how much downtime you actually need, without feeling like you “shouldn’t” need it, you are about a hundred times more likely to make that downtime happen.

We live in a world that believes “busy” is good. So we can feel pressure around owning our need to shift into “being mode,” whether we’re introverts or not. Sometimes, it takes real courage to own this need. Take that into account.

3) Notice where you are rigid around only getting your downtime in a certain way.

Be open to fluidity and flexibility around your downtime — without giving it up.

I once heard someone (I think it was Eckhart Tolle? — feel free to correct me!) use this analogy about money: We think money has to come in through the front door, when in fact it might also come in through the windows.

The same is true for downtime. It can come to us in myriad ways if we’re open to that idea.

If we think it must look like sitting in total quiet on the couch in our living room, we might miss out on the opportunity to have absolutely blissful, rejuvenating time to ourselves while walking home from our dentist appointment or cleaning up the kitchen (yes, it’s possible!).

4) There’s a discipline to downtime.

And I’m not a big fan of the word “discipline,” but, for introverts, it’s a commitment.

Notice the ways you’re too willing to break this commitment. Notice why you’re willing to give it up. Are there two tempting social opportunities this weekend, and deep down you know you can only handle one? What makes you want to schedule in both? What do you think you’ll be getting by doing the extra activity and cutting out your downtime?

It’s okay to drop the downtime to do something you want to do — as long as it’s a choice and you have a strategy for how you’re going to replenish yourself (it might mean you need next weekend totally to yourself, with absolutely nothing scheduled, so you can bounce back).

With the holidays right around the corner, it’s a great time to think about your needs for downtime. How do you make sure you get enough? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Image is “Empty Park Bench” © Theresa Martinez | 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

How to Take a Pretend Vacation

I realized this afternoon that, kind of without being totally aware of it, I’ve slid into one of my oh-so-rare “pretend vacations.”

A Pretend Vacation is something I give myself when I’m a little overwhelmed, a little run-down, or maybe just feeling more reflective and inward than usual. It might last a day; it might last three. It’s never a planned thing. It’s like a need that asserts itself in a small voice; if I don’t listen, it speaks up more sharply.

I suspect the need for a Pretend Vacation has been coming on for several weeks. Maybe it’s kicked in because of the events of this past weekend: Saturday morning, while eating a Larabar, my crown popped off and I almost swallowed it. Did you know when a crown comes completely off, it has a little pointy screw thing sticking out of it? Be warned.

Then, Saturday night, there was a party. I have an interesting relationship with parties. If I can get myself to them, I like them. For about twenty minutes. I stayed at this one for three hours. (But it was a Halloween party! Costumes! Gummy worms soaked in vodka! And “Poltergeist” and “The Exorcist” on TV all night! My inner scary-movie-lover was happy; my inner HSP-introvert was overstimulated.)

I spent Wednesday morning in my lovely dentist’s office as she dealt with the gaping hole in my gum. Throw in a couple other unexpected and stress-inducing issues over the past few days and, on cue, need for Pretend Vacation makes itself known.

A real vacation is planned in advance. It involves taking time away from work, maybe more time with family or friends, or not, maybe traveling to another place, or not, but there is an interruption of one’s normal routine.

In my Pretend Vacations, my normal routine goes on. I just scale it back as much as possible. I do everything that’s a priority — keep my appointments with clients, do my writing, feed my cat. But I cut out anything I might normally do but don’t really need to. Today, for example, laundry and the dishes fell right off the list so I could sit quietly and drink Midnight Velvet tea. I haven’t been on social media much. I let a couple of phone calls go to voice mail.

The intention behind a Pretend Vacation is to create a container for the part of me that is vulnerable, tired, and wants to move inward to reflect or rest, while not completely removing myself from my life. I’ve noticed on a Pretend Vacation, choices I might usually waver over become really, really clear. I also notice I’m gentler with myself than I usually am, and I’m less likely to respond to things that don’t really require a response from me.

There’s something to be learned here, methinks. Can I invoke this Pretend Vacation mindset for the parts of me that are vulnerable, overwhelmed, or scared, while still attending to the parts of me that don’t want to leave the party because “The Exorcist” hasn’t gotten to the really good parts yet?

I can’t necessarily care for all these parts of myself — all these selves — on the same day, in the same moment, but I can let them all know that they will get their say, they will be heard by me, and none of them will be left out.

I can also let the sensation-seeking parts of me — my inner adventurer, my inner scary movie buff — and the driven, perfectionistic parts — know that, in the long run, a Pretend Vacation is good for all of us.

And a Real Vacation is even better.

For a related article, click here.

Image is TOY ON THE BEACH © Cristina | Dreamstime.com

What It Really Means to be an Introvert

Many of the creators I work with as a coach are introverts. But some of them have a hard time owning this.

I get it. As I was growing up, I learned that there were these “social definitions” of introvert and extrovert. These definitions went something like this: An introvert is quiet, shy, and keeps to herself. She’s not very friendly. She needs to learn to be more outgoing and social. An extrovert is gregarious, charming, engaging. She has lots of friends. People really like her and she’s socially well-adjusted.

Naturally, most people wanted to feel they were the second thing, not the first. I know I absolutely hated being labeled “shy”, and my parents and most of my teachers wanted me to “combat my shyness.” I always felt they were not seeing me for who I was.

I think a lot of people nowadays (I hope, anyway) have a better understanding of what an introvert actually is. But I know here in the U.S. there’s still a cultural bias in favor of extroversion. Recently when I mentioned to someone that I work mostly from home, she said, “Oh, gosh, you don’t want to spend too much time at home. You might become an introvert!”

It hit me once again that the reason some of us struggle to accept ourselves as introverts — and try to live contrary to our nature — is because these old “social definitions” of introvert and extrovert are still intact.

Actually, the definitions of introvert and extrovert that I prefer may be even older. Jung defined introversion as “predominately inward-looking” and extroversion as “predominately outward-looking.” What this means is that introverts are naturally inclined toward delving into their inner worlds, whereas extroverts are more inclined toward interacting in the outer world. And everyone is at a different point on the introvert-extrovert spectrum — we’re all some of both, but to varying degrees.

I am probably not the most extreme of introverts, but I’m way up there on the scale. This DOESN’T mean that I am always quiet and that I dislike being around people. It means that because I take anything I experience in the outer world and turn it inward in order to process it, I need a certain amount of downtime in which to chew on things and recharge my battery.

So, my bandwidth for socializing and being in the “outer world” is finite, and if I don’t respect that and push myself beyond my limits, I’ll become overwhelmed and depleted. What overwhelmed and depleted looks like in me is spacey, irritated, tired, quiet, withdrawn, and yes, sometimes it may look “shy” or create shy behavior — in other words, I may become fearful in situations that normally wouldn’t cause me to be so because my battery isn’t charged and I know I don’t have the energy to deal with them at the moment.

This is why traditional school and work settings are often not ideal for introverts — we run out of steam and feel like we’re running on empty, try to retreat to our inner worlds to get recharged, and discover this isn’t acceptable in the company of (most) others. Then we start judging ourselves for not being able to act like extroverts, who recharge their batteries by being with people and engaging in activities.

Because I understand my introversion so well (though I’m always learning more about my needs) I love the fact that I’m an introvert and I fully embrace it. This hasn’t always been true for me, but now that it is, my life flows so much more smoothly. When I can accept the ebbs and flows of my own energy and give myself the downtime I need — and own that in the company of others — I can show up fully myself.

I’d love to see all introverts embrace their nature and see how it works for them as creators. I’ll talk more about this future posts.

Check out Marti Olsen Laney’s “The Introvert Advantage” or Susan Cain’s “Quiet” if you’d like to read more about embracing your introversion (or understanding a loved one who’s an introvert). And if you struggle with accepting and working with your introverted nature, check out my one-on-one coaching opportunities. I love working with introverts!

Image is FEATHER IN THE FOREST © Paige Foster | Dreamstime.com