Avoiding vs. replenishing (+ last chance to sign up for my fall coaching special)

Fall walks: so replenishing!

As we head into the holiday season, overwhelm is a topic that comes up for many of us (particularly if we are highly sensitive, empaths, or introverts — or all of the above!).

When we feel overwhelmed (or are anticipating becoming overwhelmed), it’s tempting to go into “avoidance” mode. This can feel like the equivalent of putting our hands over our heads and saying “I can’t! No more!” — and retreating. And not returning.

Sometimes it is absolutely appropriate to avoid something. It may be totally wrong for us.

But we don’t have to stay in the energy of avoidance. Have you noticed what avoidance feels like? Have you noticed that avoiding something actually takes a lot of energy from you?

Replenishing is different. Replenishing ourselves is recognizing that we’ve had enough, and retreating for a while to rebalance and rejuvenate, and then emerging — replenished.

I’ve noticed that, if I can trust in my ability and willingness to replenish myself, I don’t have to avoid as much. What a relief! Because a lot of avoidance is flat-out exhausting.

If we’re going to replenish ourselves, we need to give ourselves permission to do that.

That might look like leaving a party early, when we recognize we’ve had enough (rather than avoiding the party).

It might look like opting to stay in a hotel rather than with relatives (instead of avoiding the trip altogether!).

It might look like giving ourselves lots and lots of breaks while we get the house ready for guests (noticing our energy levels). (Or, my favorite: being okay with getting a C+ in housekeeping.)

It might mean choosing to let something go, so we can have more energy for something that’s more important to us. (For me, this is often letting go of my need to “do it right” and reminding myself that just my presence is of value to the people I love.)

What do you notice about how you feel when you avoid something, versus committing to replenishing yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

I wish you the joys of replenishing yourself this holiday season (and Happy Thanksgiving, if you are U.S.-based). And if you need permission to do that — well, here it is!

(If you need further support for dealing with holiday socializing when you’re an introvert, you might want to check out this post I wrote back in 2014.)

Speaking of replenishing yourself: Tomorrow, November 22, is the last day to sign up for one of my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions. If you need support in navigating a challenging transition in your life right now, I’d love to help! You can learn more about these sessions here.

Also, you can sign up for my newsletter (for updates on my offerings and other good stuff) here.

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One more day to sign up for Stellar Self-Care

leavesinsect

A quick post today with a reminder that tomorrow, August 31, is the last day this year to enroll in my one-on-one coaching program, Stellar Self-Care. (I will not be taking on any new clients in this particular program until early 2017.)

On my walk this morning, I noticed the bare beginnings of fall — the leaves at the very top of a lush green tree had turned pomegranate-red, and one or two had even fallen to the sidewalk. This tree is a little ahead of the game, but fall is on its way!

Fall is (in my humble opinion as a fierce lover of all things autumn) a great time for new beginnings. It can also be a time where, for many of us, obligations and overwhelm start up again. We get busy, and when we get busy (especially those of us who are introverts and/or have sensitive nervous systems) we can be vulnerable to that frazzled, overcommitted, overstimulated feeling that’s just … icky.

If this sounds like you, feel free to take a look at my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. In this program, I partner with you to create a foundation of more peace, wellness, confidence in who you are and connection to what truly sustains you. Find out more here — I still have room for two more participants.

Above image is “Curiosity” © Max Hirsch | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

strongtreesI have to admit that I’ve been pretty on edge lately. At times I feel unsafe. The house I rent is up for sale, and I know I need to move soon.

Being in limbo mode with my living space brings up all my “stuff” around safety, feeling like I don’t have a true home base, and, well, strangers. Strangers coming through my home and seeing all my stuff, deciding if they’re interested in living here themselves.

It’s weird and, somehow, it makes me feel like a little kid. It brings up the part of me that wants to hide out.

And so, I’ve had to practice extra self-care in order to stay sane, to feel safe.

I’ve had to remind myself, it’s okay, you’re an adult, you can take care of yourself with these strangers who suddenly show up.

I’ve had to pause and ground myself, remind myself to breathe, more than usual.

What’s interesting is how, because I’m also extra-busy right now, another voice comes up a lot.

It’s a high-pitched voice that snaps at me, “What’s with all this self-care stuff? Self-care? Aren’t you being just a little self-indulgent? I mean, look at all you have to do! And you’re letting yourself sleep an hour later than usual?”

This voice is old. Years ago, I thought “self-care” meant taking bubble baths and sitting on a cushion drinking tea. Or spa treatments. Or buying expensive moisturizers.

Self-care can look like those things, but what I’ve come to realize over the past twenty years is that it goes much, much deeper.

What I’ve also come to realize is what self-care is not: it’s not self-indulgence. There’s a big difference, but I think many of us confuse these two terms, which are most definitely not interchangeable.

I’ve mentioned quite a few times on this blog that in my twenties I developed a chronic illness and ended up in the hospital. Then and only then was my cynical twenty-five-year-old too-hip-to-do-self-care self forced to recognize that I had to take better care of me.

That’s all self-care is, really. It’s acknowledging that without putting YOU at the center of your life, there ultimately is no life that feels like you.

Many of the clients I’ve worked with over these past several years have had a pattern in common: feeling bad about not showing up for their creative work in the world as fully as they’d like because they just can’t make it important enough to put themselves front and center in their own lives.

Or: They’re doing their creative work in the world, they’re getting it out there, but they’re so overwhelmed and overstimulated from both the work itself and their interactions with others that they’re totally depleted and aren’t sure they can go another step on their journey.

Self-care, in my book, is about recognizing that YOU are at the center of any creative journey you’re on. Both when you begin the journey, and during it.

And yet, so many of us have a judge-y inner voice like mine that insists that taking good care of ourselves might just actually be, you know, self-indulgence.

How is self-care different from self-indulgence?

For me, “self-care” is about noticing what I am needing — truly needing — in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms, and making it important that I provide it for myself.

The focus of self-care is not doing, but noticing and acknowledging — and then doing, if necessary. (Often, practicing better self-care means practicing un-doing!)

It’s the noticing and acknowledging piece that we tend to lose sight of in our driven society. And often, when we do notice and acknowledge, we don’t allow ourselves to know what we know about what we need.

Self-indulgence, on the other hand, is fueling the part of us that doesn’t notice or acknowledge what we need. 

Self-indulgence is buying six more sweaters when we already have fifty and only wear ten (I’m raising my hand here!) — and the buying of the sweaters feels like an avoidance rather than a coming home.

It’s eating or checking Facebook or staying on the phone too long or having an extra glass of wine or pushing ourselves to work longer hours in order to avoid checking in with ourselves.

It may feel good or “righteous” or like we “deserve it” in the moment, but in the long run it’s actually continuing to do something that hurts when we know it hurts us.

Self-indulgence can also look like committing to something, or someone, and only giving it half our effort, or half our attention. It can look like always holding back just that little bit so we’re never fully present to our lives.

Now, I do want to emphasize that a little indulgence is not wrong, and sometimes it’s exactly what we need. (Particularly if we have a tendency toward perfectionism, we may need to “balance ourselves out” a little with some indulgence.)

The key is to be honest with yourself. When are you crossing the line from enjoyment to making yourself sick with enjoyment (I’m thinking about French silk pie here) simply because it’s hard to be present with yourself?

When are you crossing the line from doing an extra hour of work on the book you’re writing to feeling burned out but forcing yourself to continue? That, too, is self-indulgence. It’s starting to hurt, not help, and you’re rationalizing doing it anyway.

Self-indulgence always has a seed of avoiding ourselves in it; self-care always feels like coming home to ourselves. That’s how we know the difference.

And so, all this extra grounding myself and focusing on my breath and allowing myself to sleep more than usual? I know it’s self-care because it feels like coming home. Which reminds me that home is within me, wherever I happen to be. It’s a great reminder when my external living space is in flux.

What challenges you about practicing self-care, especially during times of a lot of stress when you need it the most? I’d love to hear from you.

And, I have a new program called Stellar Self-Care (for Sensitive Creatives). If you’re wanting to put YOU at the center of your life, or get back to it, I’d love to be that support for you. You can learn more about the program, here.

Image is “Sunset at Peace” © Shannan Thiel | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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

pinecone

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

When your downtime doesn’t happen

emptybench

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

Can you wrap a system around that?

field

I used to think that I didn’t like systems. Every time I found myself dealing with any kind of system — which implies structureI would rebel.

Part of this probably stems from having a childhood that felt way, way overstructured to me. My heart wanted to lounge in open fields with cows, sheep, books, and my journal (not that I lived near any fields), but my days always felt completely scheduled with activities from morning to night — not just riding the bus (an ordeal in and of itself) to school and back, but with afterschool activities, and then homework.

This seems so nuts to me now, but it was considered normal, and, thirty years later, though I don’t have kids myself, my sense is that many kids are even more overscheduled than I was (plus today’s kids have so much more technology to manage).

I think another reason I’ve tended to rebel against systems and structure is that I’m a Myers-Briggs INFP, and we “P” types like to keep things open-ended. Too much structure can feel overly planned and rigid for a “P” and trigger our rebelliousness.

At the same time, I’ve had to admit over the past several years, especially since becoming a coach and attracting clients who also tend to rebel against structure, that the right amount of structure can be a true godsend for those of us who cling to open-endedness (which can sometimes result in saying things like “I’ll write when I’m feeling inspired” or leaving ourselves one hour to complete something that actually takes four — woops!).

Systems and structure do not have to be elaborate or complicated. There just needs to be enough of a system to get it done — whatever “it” is.

Here’s my (very simple) example:

I was having a huge issue with mowing the lawn. It only takes me about 30 minutes, but it was becoming this thing that I so didn’t want to do and eventually I’d have to force myself to do it, angrily, usually swearing. Even though, once I’m doing it, I don’t hate it (except for that one time I mowed over some dog poop). It actually feels kinda good, moving my body, the smell of grass and dirt around me, the heft of the mower.

About a month ago, I figured out the issue. My brother, who used to live here and used to mow the lawn, had told me I should do it “about every ten days.” And I tried this. But it felt increasingly stressful to me. Because “every ten days” could fall on any day of the week. It might be a Wednesday, and then next time a Saturday, and then next time a Tuesday.

It occurred to me that if I mow the lawn every two weeks, it really doesn’t look all that much worse than if I do it every ten days. So I’ve made every other Sunday afternoon my mowing-the-lawn-time. And I think about it so, so much less. On Saturday, or Wednesday, I’m not thinking, “should I do it today?” because I know Sunday is lawn day. Every other Sunday, “mow lawn” is on my to-do list, and I know I’ll do it, and that’s that.

That was all the system that was required. It was actually way more stressful to keep the “when” I’d mow the lawn up in the air than it was to assign a day to do it.

This applies to anything I want to do on a regular basis, whether that’s writing or yoga or doing the dishes: Keeping the “when” up in the air creates stress and vagueness, and vagueness does not produce specific results.

And I think that’s worth consideration for us “open-ended” types. Is keeping something unstructured and open-ended giving us a feeling of peace and freedom, or stress and confusion?

The way to know you’ve hit on the right amount of “system” for you is that you use the system without a huge desire to rebel. (If you have a very strong inner rebel, as I do, you may be a little bit edgy around any amount of system, but when it’s the right amount, you’ll find yourself using it anyway.)

Your body is an excellent guide for whether or not a certain amount of structure is too much or too little. When I am overstructured, I feel frazzled, frenetic, like I’m on a treadmill. There’s a need to catch my breath (literally). When I have too little structure, I can feel sluggish, unfocused and fatigued.

There’s no right or wrong here; each of us has a “sweet spot” where we have enough structure, but not too much. So when I’m struggling with something that just won’t seem to get done, I’ve started to ask myself, “Can I wrap a system around this?” And then I brainstorm a little about what might feel like enough.

How do you feel about systems and structure? Do you tend to rebel against them, or do you find them helpful, or both? I’d love to know, in the comments.

Image is “Poppy Field with Powerlines” © Peter Gustafson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Embracing the everyday + the Sunshine Award!

childsshoes

Something that often comes up when I work with one of my lovely clients is the creative visionary’s resistance to accepting “the everyday”. Sometimes I call it “the mundane.” One of my clients calls it “real world crap.”

In my twenties, I ignored “real world crap” to the point that I became ill and had to be hospitalized. I was defining “real world crap” at the time as: paying bills, eating decent meals, getting good sleep, doing the dishes, doing the laundry.

The creative visionary part of me said: that stuff is boring and it won’t get me where I want to go. Focusing on that stuff is a drag.

Fast-forward fifteen years and I realize that the “everyday stuff” that I loathed so much back then is actually my friend.

Doing the dishes is an excellent way of being in the present moment and dealing with analysis paralysis.

Doing laundry is a great way of getting grounded, of coming back to earth, to the things of this rich material world, when my creativity has taken me far, far away from it.

Getting good sleep allows my physical body the rejuvenation it needs to move through another day with hope and resilience.

Paying bills is a way of acknowledging that money is part of the energy that supports me in living the life I love. (I didn’t want to accept this back then — money was boring, and “unspiritual.”)

And: because I, and many of my clients, are highly sensitive people, we tend to become easily overstimulated by the very creative work we love. There’s a point where, if we don’t stop when we’ve done enough, we are at risk of becoming ungrounded and burning out.

The “mundane” things of everyday life — walking to the mailbox to get the mail, mowing the lawn, saying hello to the neighbor — are actually vital ways of rooting us in the fabric of this earth, this world, the here and now.

So, if you feel like you’re spinning off away from yourself or swept up in a creative wave that feels a little scary, remember that “the mundane” can be your friend, dear highly sensitive creative visionary.

And, because you are who you are, I have no doubt that you will quickly discover the magic in the mundane, too.

And: The Sunshine Award!

The lovely Harula of wordsthatserve, who writes such amazingly true poetry, kindly nominated me for the Sunshine Award. Yay! I’m thrilled — thanks, Harula!

So, here’s me accepting, gratefully. 🙂

sunshineaward

Rules:

* Post a picture of the award on your blog
* Link back to the person who nominated you
* List ten random facts about yourself
* Nominate ten fellow bloggers who “positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere.” (I’m actually nominating six.)
* Comment on their blogs to notify them of their nomination

So here are ten random facts about me:

1) One of my earliest memories is getting sick on giant marshmallow chicks on Easter day. And of my mother warning me not to eat so many.

2) Last month, I achieved one of my lifelong dreams: seeing “Jaws” on the big screen — twice. Chills.

3) My favorite actress is Crystal the Monkey. Few human actors have this monkey’s range of expression — seriously.

4) My current favorite thing to watch on MeTV: “Rhoda.” The opening theme music is so whimsically weird.

5) I am happiest in weather between 30 and 70 degrees F. I love fall when it is brisk and slightly overcast.

6) My favorite book I’ve read recently is “It Chooses You” by Miranda July. So achingly real — and talk about embracing the everyday! This book proves that the extraordinary hides out in the ordinary.

7) Most of my favorite foods involve the potato in some form.

8) My shoe size is 7.5 M.

9) I’m kind of a chatty hermit. One of my gifts is connecting with others, but it needs to be balanced by lots of alone time.

10) I miss my grandparents more than I ever thought I would.

And my Sunshine Award nominees: every time I read one of their posts, I feel nourished and enlivened.

http://thesoulstoryjournal.wordpress.com

http://thisrosylife.com

http://alifeinbalance.com/blog

http://yourjoyfulheart.wordpress.com

http://kristinnador.wordpress.com

http://beautifullyzen.wordpress.com

Happy Saturday!

Top image is “Child’s Shoes” © Laukas | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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

Understanding our Limits: Self-care and Creativity

The foundation of a healthy relationship with our creativity is self-care.

And yet, creators know that the act of creativity is also part of our self-care. So how do we negotiate the needs of our physical and emotional selves, and the needs of our spirits?

When I was in my twenties, I thought that all the good feelings I got from creativity meant I could override and ignore pesky things like getting enough sleep, eating well, and having relationships that felt reciprocal and nurturing. I thought I could be this wildly creative being and forget the fact that I am a physical being with physical needs that are not going to go away just because I ignore them.

This turned into a vicious cycle which went something like this: let me create more because it helps me feel bigger and better and then I’ll have more energy to pour into my relationships and I won’t need as much sleep or to slow down and pay attention to what I’m eating and whether or not I really have enough money to support myself. Okay, now I’m really wired and tired and my relationships aren’t very healthy and I don’t have enough money; but let me create more because it makes me feel good and then I don’t have to think about these other annoying things that are part-and-parcel to living.

This was a form of grandiosity, though it took me a while to understand it. I didn’t want to believe that I had limits, that I was a physical being with a body that got tired and emotions with messages like, “I’m burning out here.”

I did burn out on this way of life at about age twenty-five. I ended up in the hospital, dehydrated, with an unbearably sore throat and an enlarged liver and spleen. (“You don’t actually need your spleen,” the doctor told me. “But it’s nice to have it.”)

It took me a couple of years to transition into a different, slower, deeper way of living. At first I thought this way of life would be boring; I kept trying to go back to my old way of burning the candle at both ends and ignoring my physical and emotional needs. But my body wouldn’t let me.

This was the beginning of transforming my definition of creativity and what it means to be “a creative person.” I still created, regularly, but over time I saw that I did it because I wanted to, because it felt good — I stopped using it as a means to avoid the aspects of life that I had previously considered too “mundane” to deal with.

I also realized that I had a deeply held belief that if I wasn’t actively creating something — something tangible in the form of words on paper or paint on canvas or what have you — I had no value as a person. I was so wrapped up in this “doing” mentality that it took me a while to realize that, for me, “creating” had become completely entangled with proving my own worth as a human being.

What I now know is that creativity is a natural extension of my human experience. Though it’s vital to have a regular habit or routine of creating, it’s also important to recognize that I don’t make creativity “happen.” It’s a natural part of being; a regular habit of creating is simply a way of building a container to give our creativity a form and a shape. (If you want to test me on this, try not creating anything for a day and see how impossible it is.)

That’s why, now, when I work with creators, I’m committed to helping them accept not just the natural ebbs and flows of the creative process, but their own personal, internal and external ebbs and flows. When I work with someone and hear something like “I need to be writing eight hours a day,” I ask, why? Because you really love writing all the time and it brings you joy and purpose, or because you believe it’s giving you worth and value to be constantly doing?

It’s so important to examine what we believe and how it drives our actions. What I know for sure is that if I drive myself too hard — even in the name of creating — I will wear out my body, and it’s this body that, ultimately, carries out my purpose on this earth.

The fascinating paradox of all this is that when I build into my life the care for my body that it truly needs, I accomplish more of what I deeply want to accomplish — not less — and I feel better about what I do.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you balance self-care and your creative projects?

If you need a reminder to listen to your body, hang out with animals. When they’re tired, they rest.

Image is LOUNGING CAT © April Turner | Dreamstime.com