Competing values and conflicting desires

Many years ago, I trained to work on a crisis hotline for women in domestic violence situations. One night of our training, we did an exercise that has really stuck with me over the years.

We were given a sheet a paper with about a hundred different personal values written on it. We then took scissors and cut from the list the fifteen values on it that mattered most to us. Then we took those fifteen little slips of paper, each with an individual value on it, and whittled them down to the ten values that mattered most to us. And then five. And finally, three.

The instructor asked us, “How does it feel to let go of the things you value? To not be able to hold onto them? What do you notice about what matters most to you?”

The most surprising thing that came out of this exercise for me was realizing that one of my top three values was predictability. I’d had no idea predictability was so important to me. It didn’t sound very “exciting” to my young self at all. But I knew in my bones that this value of predictability was a true one for me.

What also came out of this exercise, though, was that another very important value for me was “a sense of possibility.” I had a hard time, back then, reconciling this with the deeply held value of predictability. But as I worked on the crisis hotline and talked to women in dire situations, I could see that most of them had a strong desire for predictability and a strong desire for possibility, both of which often felt cut off from them.

We humans are complex. Years later, both predictability and possibility are still deeply defining values for me. What I’ve discovered is that, for me, the risk of the possible often springs from the safety and stability created by the predictable — and vice versa. They are not as much at odds with each other as I’d once thought, and in fact I want to have the feeling of both, regularly, in my life.

I’ll admit, though, that when I learned “predictability” was a strongly held value for me, it felt at odds with my sense of who I was. Owning that value has been a challenge for me. But owning it made so much intuitive sense to me — I had for years at that point involved myself in relationships that were highly unpredictable, and I never felt safe or cherished in them.

One of the most frequent challenges I see coming up for coaching clients is exactly this: values that seem to “compete”, and along with them, desires that seem (on the surface, anyway) to conflict. On the one hand, we want this. And on the other, we want that. Sometimes the different things we value and desire may seem about as in sync as oil and water.

Here are some more examples from my own life of how this can look:

  • I value routine, but I also value flexibility and variety
  • I value solitude, but I also value lots of connection with others
  • I consider myself a homebody, but I also value exploring new places
  • I value a feeling of privacy, but I also value being seen and known

I used to think I was alone in having so much contrast in what I valued and wanted. But having spent nearly eight years connecting with people in my life coach role, I now know that it is extremely common to have values and desires that seem to conflict and compete all over the place. I’d say it’s just part of being human.

Our minds love to grab onto the all-or-nothing, the black and white. The part of the brain that wants to ensure our physical survival particularly gets caught up in this, because it is always trying to simplify. This is great with things that actually are simple: if I’m crossing the street and a car is zooming toward me without slowing, I’d better get out of the way.

With the complexities in our lives, though, it’s much more helpful to honor that they are complex. That things are not as all-or-nothing as they may seem. Or that, as Byron Katie says, our minds often get things “backwards”. (The Work of Byron Katie is a fantastic way to question what your mind believes. Katie says it is “meditation”.)

If you take my list above, for example, how does it feel different for you if we simply replace the word “but” in each sentence with the word “and”? That would look like this:

  • I value routine, and I also value flexibility and variety
  • I value solitude, and I also value lots of connection with others
  • I consider myself a homebody, and I also value exploring new places
  • I value a feeling of privacy, and I also value being seen and known

Wow! Just rewriting that list, I felt this amazing sense of spaciousness and possibility (one of my core values!) that I didn’t feel much of at all when I wrote the list with the word “but”. (As Martha Beck likes to say, watch out for your big buts!)

So when I work with clients who have competing values or conflicting desires (or both!), we first invite that sense of spaciousness to the table. How does it feel different if this is welcome, and that is also welcome?

What often happens from this place of spaciousness is one of two things: it turns out that one value or desire actually is more important than the other (so they are not truly competing or conflicting — it’s just that one takes more of a “supporting role”); or, there is very much a way that the energies of these seemingly competing or conflicting values or desires can co-exist.

When we see this possibility, we know that we are in the highly creative zone of our brains (as opposed to the “lizard brain” that is concerned only with our physical survival).

Where do you notice competing values and conflicting desires in your life? How do you work with them? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S. My Stellar Self-Care (In an Overwhelming World) one-on-one coaching program will begin enrolling at the end of this month. Want to learn more? You can contact me through my Ways We Can Work Together page.

Above images © Daniel Janusauskas | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and © Thorsten | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Seven years of The Artist’s Nest

Seven years ago this month, I wrote my very first blog post (you can read it here!).

Seven years is a long time! (Five, I could believe — but seven? I often feel like I’m about two years “behind” and I need to catch up with myself somehow. Like life has gone by so quickly I haven’t been able to process it all. Can I just have an extra two years to process, please?)

Seven years ago, March 2011, I was fresh out of my training to become a Martha Beck life coach, and blogging was a way of letting people know about my new “thing” and sorting out the issues I saw coming up for my (gulp!) new clients and also issues I’d been working with myself.

But blogging here has become something much more than that for me. It’s a writing practice. It’s a practice of showing up. It’s a practice of pressing publish.

In many ways, it’s a spiritual practice for me, because it causes my “stuff” to come up. (Do I really want to write this? Do I really want to publish this? Do I really want to reach out and connect, with all that entails? It’s great to revisit these questions, and to ultimately see, again and again, that the answer is “yes.”)

There is something about sticking with a practice for the long haul. It’s a relationship. You don’t get the benefits of the relationship if you’re not willing to keep showing up, even when you’re not sure, even on the days you wonder “why the heck are we doing this again?”

So I’m glad I’ve hung in here for this blogging relationship. And I’m so grateful — and honored — to have connected with readers and clients I’d never have “met” had I not started blogging. These posts have been a starting point for some of my most treasured connections.

By the way, here are the ten most viewed posts on The Artist’s Nest from these past seven years:

When your downtime doesn’t happen

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

Saving the worms

Ways to shift your energy when you’re stuck or overwhelmed

Getting out of analysis paralysis (or: what to do when you don’t know what to do)

A two-step journaling process (for when you’re feeling stuck or scared)

The power of evening pages and “it’s done” lists

Two ways to deal with “idea paralysis”

Where self-acceptance and creativity meet

Knowing yourself: What words inspire you?

As any writer knows, it’s funny to look back at things you wrote a long time ago. With some of these earlier posts, I barely even remember them — I’m like, did I write that? (This kind of distance can be a great thing, as it helps you look at your writing — and yourself! — with more detachment. Which always makes me laugh, eventually.)

Just for good measure, here are three of my favorite posts:

Daily saving graces for hard times

Squirrel wisdom (or, the power of a good question)

Creating rituals around the tough stuff

Thank you, dear, dear readers, for your presence. Whether you’ve left a comment, shared a post, sent me an email (and some of you have done these things many times!), or simply “lurked” here (lurkers are most welcome!) — I am truly grateful. I’ve felt your presence, and it’s meant, and continues to mean, so very much to me.

Want to stay connected? My Artist’s Nest Newsletter contains brief updates on my coaching offerings, and other good stuff — like how to get in on our monthly Artist’s Nest Community Calls. I’d love to have you there! You can sign up for the newsletter here.

Above images © Yanik Chauvin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and  © Lejla Alic | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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Your resources and the seasons of your life

I’ve written here before about how important it is to recognize that our lives have their seasons, and that it’s vital for us to honor those seasons.

Something I see when I work with my life coaching clients is that we often have the expectation that our lives should constantly be exploding with growth — and if they aren’t, something is wrong! It’s not surprising that so many of us have this idea, particularly in Western culture — we live in an extremely growth-oriented world, where we’re fed the ideal of “bigger, faster, more.”

Many heart-centered folks I know are becoming mindful of the ways this “constant growth” ideal has harmed our selves and our world, and they are dedicated to living differently, to treating the world differently.

But, still, some of them (and I include myself here!) have a really hard time stepping back and checking in to notice what season of their lives it is, and what is required of them in that season.

And being aware of what season you’re in is important, because heart-centered people want to give a lot of themselves to the world (and thank goodness they do!). But in some seasons of our lives, we simply have more resources with which to give than we do in others.

For example: sometimes I work with someone who has recently experienced a big loss. Maybe a spouse or a parent has died, maybe a job has been lost (or quit), maybe an important project has failed or a large amount of money has been spent on something that didn’t work out. Maybe an illness has changed the scope and shape of their lives.

During these times (which in my training as a Martha Beck life coach we call “Square One” periods, or “liminal” periods), we simply have fewer inner resources — and often fewer external ones, too.

I’ve often seen clients lamenting — or really angry! — that their attempts at growth, at flourishing creativity, at building something, usually just won’t take hold during these times.

What’s going on here?

They’re in “winter”. And if we look at winter and take a cue from our animal friends, winter is a time in which we’re not growing new stuff, we’re not building new stuff, we’re not exploring new horizons. We might be underground, relying on our body fat to keep us warm and nourished until spring. We’re counting on what we gathered during spring, summer, and fall to get us through our winter.

But here’s the rub: We humans are not always that well-resourced when our “personal winters” hit.

Maybe money is tight. Maybe those we’ve always counted on for support make themselves scarce. Because these “winters” are also times of deep transformation, we may emerge from them feeling quite different from who we were when we entered them. (If you’ve been a one-on-one coaching client of mine, you know I am talking about what we Martha Beck coaches refer to as The Change Cycle here!)

So: If you are deep into a personal winter — if you’ve experienced a big loss, a huge change (and this can sometimes include what we think of as “positive” change as well!), or some sort of internal or external shift that’s really rocking your world — know that your resources are important right now.

And: They are probably limited. They are probably feeling much more limited than they were when you were in your “personal spring” — that time of lovely growth where beautiful, sparkly things seem to be sprouting all over the place.

Don’t try to make your life feel like a “personal spring” when, in fact, you’re in an inner winter. Be where you are. If your resources — inner and outer — are feeling limited right now, how can you preserve them? How might you bring in more without further depleting yourself?

I’ve found that one of the best ways to help myself through a (perhaps under-resourced) personal winter is to be as kind to myself as possible. I have some very clear ideas about what that means for me, and I encourage you to check in with yourself on this: What does being kind to yourself really mean to you? What does it feel like, look like?

I have little reminders around my home that guide me back to my personal definition of treating myself kindly: A sign with cats on it that my dad got for me in a Quaker-run shop that says “Be ye kind to one another.” A mug with the word Kindness on it that I use all the time.

(If you’re hitting a wall when it comes to treating yourself with kindness, I encourage you to check out the work of Kristin Neff, who has researched the importance of self-compassion.)

When I can remember to treat myself warmly and gently and with a huge amount of faith and trust in who I am and in my process, my “personal winters” are so much less hard.

Because much of the problem for so many of us is that our “default” is to be really hard on ourselves. We don’t ever need to be that hard on ourselves, but it’s especially damaging and unhelpful to be hard when we’re already in the hard that an “inner winter” brings.

It’s also important, in a world that is in so much need, that we balance our giving to the world with giving to ourselves (and yes, this giving does overlap!).

We’ll likely have more to give when we’re in our “personal spring” or summer than we do when we’re in our personal winter. This is okay. You don’t have to do it all, all the time. Others who are experiencing more of that “spring” energy will step up while you’re in your winter.

What do you think? What have you noticed about the seasons of your life and your resources (inner and outer)? I’d love to hear from you!

If you are in a “personal winter” and need some support on your journey, you can find out more about my one-on-one coaching work, here. I’d love to help!

And: My newsletter offers updates on my coaching programs and other good stuff. You can also find out through my newsletter about how to get in on my monthly Artist’s Nest community calls — the first one is coming up soon, on Feb. 28! You can sign up for my newsletter, here.

Above images are “Winter Landscape”, © Adina Nani | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and “Winter Branches”, © Peter Zaharov | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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End-of-year rituals and inquiries

Thanks to a severe cold that triggered a sinus infection, I was down for the count for the week before Christmas and am not quite fully operational as of this writing. So I didn’t get to “part two” of my last post — but I promise the topic of reconnecting with your “why” will be addressed at some point in the New Year.

Something I really savor doing toward the end of the year is engaging in some reverent curiosity about what went down during the past twelve months.

As I wrote a while back, I’ve been doing an evening ritual (as often as I can, not quite every night) which has two parts: 1) I ask the question, “what worked today?” and 2) I write an “it’s-done” list (as opposed to a “to-do” list).

When I do this evening ritual — and fall asleep having done it — I notice I wake up with a much more peaceful, hopeful, and confident perspective than I do when I have not done it. (First thing in the morning is not naturally my best time of day.)

My end-of-year ritual is a similar process — I’m just looking with a broader eye at the “big picture” of the whole year (using “eagle vision”, as Martha Beck puts it, as opposed to the “mouse vision” that sees the details of a particular day).

But I like to riff on the question “What worked this year?” and add in a few more, such as:

What worked really well?

What surprised and delighted me?

When did I surprise myself (and how)?

What felt easy that has previously felt hard?

Where did I challenge myself and realize I was more than up to the challenge?

What were a few of my favorite things this year — and why? (One of my personal faves: Seeing Tori Amos perform for a sold-out house at the Chicago Theater in October!)

What qualities would I like more of in the coming year? (examples: trust, fortitude, lightness, softness, clarity, calm, spontaneity … you get the idea!)

What am I noticing I am ready to let go of in 2018?

Then, I dive into — and really relish — my “it’s done” list for the year. Any accomplishment — big, small, internal, external — anything that comes up for me from January through December — goes on the list.

What’s great about this is that — as with the “it’s done” list in my evening ritual — there are so many more things that I’ve done than I’ve actually acknowledged.

And it’s so important to acknowledge what we feel good about. Some of these accomplishments can be rather subtle (“I paused and counted to ten before reacting”) and we may forget about them. These are the ones that — in my humble opinion — are especially important to get on the list.

Maybe we made fewer assumptions about the behavior of others than we have in the past — or maybe we noticed our assumptions and questioned them more. This is huge, and should not be overlooked.

These are simply some suggestions, but however you go about making end-of-year inquiries and acknowledging what you’ve done, how you’ve changed, I encourage you to savor your own ritual. Light some candles, sit next to your Christmas tree (if you celebrate Christmas), curl up with a blanket next to your cat or dog (our animal companions tend to connect us to our hearts, which helps us get in touch with what we most cherish).

With that, I will sign off and continue extreme self-care so I can enter 2018 feeling as close to “normal” (whatever that is) as possible!

I look forward to connecting with you, dear readers, in the New Year. Hope your New Year’s has all the sparkle, hope, and glistening snowflakes you desire (or, if you’re not a cold-weather person, sun rays on your skin).

By the way, you can sign up for my Artist’s Nest newsletter, to receive updates on my life coaching offerings and other good stuff, here. I’ll be creating some fun new things in 2018, so now’s a great time to sign up!

What are your end-of-year rituals, if you have them? I’d love to hear from you.

Above images: Candles, © Easyshutter | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and second photo, close-up on my own Christmas tree.

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Are you pulling back enough to gain perspective? + special February coaching prices

eagle on beach

Scroll down to learn about my special coaching prices this month, in celebration of the Lunar New Year!

One thing about my many, many years of journal-keeping is that certain patterns — truths about the way I live my life, the behaviors I resort to when I’m under stress — show up with (sometimes frightening) regularity on my quickly-scrawled pages.

One of these truths about myself, which I don’t necessarily like but am coming to terms with, is that I have a tendency to keep moving things ahead even when they’re not working.

It makes me feel virtuous to check off my daily to-do list, to be there for others, to get things done that feel hard. And, I also truly love these things — when they feel deeply right.

But sometimes, I have a creeping sensation that something isn’t quite right, and, in the interest of getting my work done for the day, I don’t actually step back and ask: Is this work, you know, working? Is doing this stuff contributing to what I desire in the long run?

I had a conversation with a friend recently where I told her about this tendency of mine to keep hanging in there, to keep moving something ahead, even though it’s not necessarily working for me, even though I badly need to press the pause button.

And she said, “Wow, you know, I think of you in exactly the opposite way. You always remind me of how important it is to focus on what really matters and to take time out to be present.”

Ack. Apparently it’s true that we teach what we (desperately) need to learn.

The truth is, I’m a lot better at stepping back and focusing on the big picture than I used to be. In my younger years, I felt like I was constantly on fast-forward. I have no idea what I looked like to others, but I had a huge fear of stopping and looking around.

I became monumentally out of touch with my own feelings, and it was only an illness at twenty-five that really slapped me into the reality of what was true for me: I needed to stop pushing, to stop trying so hard to be there for others, and to allow myself to simply be. Not just once in a while, but as a regular practice.

But, it is always a process, and many years later I still get caught up in pushing myself forward when, in fact, what is required is a giant step back.

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

those icky patterns show up on the pages of my journal

Obviously, moving things forward is vital, but the best way to do that is through what we coaches call inspired actionaction connected to what is in the best interests of our essential self — not simply action for the sake of it.

And this can be truly challenging when we live in a society that rewards us for taking lots of actions, for “just doing it.”

***

Last year, I made the painstaking decision to move into a smaller home. It’s a lot smaller. (I wrote about this journey here.)

It was a complicated situation, but a defining aspect of it was that I was expending a lot of physical, mental, and emotional energy trying to keep up a house that, in the long run, I just didn’t actually want to live in. In the final analysis, I had to admit I just didn’t care about the things that came with maintaining a house.

I would look around at friends and think, well, they do it. It’s worth it to them. And I’d wonder if there was something wrong with me that I wanted to go back to small apartment living, at my age.

But when I thought about moving into a small apartment, where upkeep would be minimal, where maintenance would be taken care of by someone else, where I could feel like each room and each object was well-used and appreciated, I felt all lit up inside. It was my truth, even if it wasn’t somebody else’s.

It took me a long time, though, to actually pull back from my daily existence enough to see this truth.

And it was care of the house, in part, that distracted me from the truth. Whenever I got everything else done, there was always snow to be shoveled, or leaves to be raked, or a flooded basement, or an attic fan that needed repairing. But isn’t this what you’re supposed to do? I’d think. Grow up and take care of a house?

***

Martha Beck, in her book Finding Your Own North Star, talks about the difference between “mouse vision” and “eagle vision”. Mouse vision takes care of the small details that help us get things done each day. Mouse vision is very important, because it is only through tiny, individual steps that we make our way to completing our “big things.”

Eagle vision, on the other hand, is about the big picture — it’s soaring above the landscape so we can get a sense of the whole scheme and notice what needs attending to, what needs to be let go of, and when we need to fly in a slightly (or dramatically) different direction.

It’s easy to get stuck in mouse vision. If you find yourself saying things like, “I can’t believe how the years are getting away from me,” it’s likely that mouse vision is a little too much at play in your life.

Something I’ve noticed while working on novel drafts (which I will get into more in a future post) is that it is really important to be able to flexibly switch between mouse vision and eagle vision in the creative process. Just like in my life, I’ve had a tendency to push my writing forward even when something nags at me, raising its little hand and saying, “Hey! Something’s not working here!”

It feels so virtuous to keep plugging along, to write more words, to check that off my to-do list! Who wants to pull back and look at the work as a whole? Do I get a gold star for doing that?

But it’s so necessary, in our lives as well as our creative work.

How do you know it’s time to pull back and embrace the big picture?

• You feel like you are drowning in the day to day. It feels like you’re just going from one thing to another, putting in the time.

• You feel disconnected from yourself, or your creative work.

• You find yourself getting really angry when you have to perform certain tasks. (When I was living in the house, there came a point where any time something broke — the dryer, the lock on the front door — I felt like I was ready to kill somebody. This kind of anger is a sure sign that something needs to change.)

• You start to get sick of hearing yourself complain about the same things, over and over.

The next step — as always! — is acceptance. This is where you are — and change is totally possible. What does a shift to a broader perspective reveal to you?

If you’re a little too entrenched in “mouse vision” and you’d like some support, I’m offering a package of three thirty-minute coaching sessions through Feb. 12 (this Friday). I don’t regularly offer thirty-minute sessions, so if this way of working with me appeals to you, I encourage you to check it out!

Also, through the end of this month, my 60-minute sessions and packages are at special prices in celebration of The Year of the Yang Fire Monkey! Find out more about this and my other coaching offerings here.

Eagle image © Cecilia Lim | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Making friends with creative transition

making friends with creative transitionRecently I spoke with a client who had just completed a massive project that took several years of her life to bring to fruition. It was a huge accomplishment for her to send her “baby” out into the world, and she was really happy about it.

Except that … she also wasn’t. She also felt lost and … sad?

How could this be? This was the time she’d been waiting for! In fact, at points during her journey she’d sworn the project would never be finished and couldn’t wait for it to leave her hands.

Because this was the first creative project of this scope that my client had seen from start to finish, she was unprepared for the letdown she felt when it was done. And it was making her really nervous that she wasn’t sure what her next project would be.

She didn’t even have any ideas. She kept trying to grab onto opportunities that came her way, but none of them felt right.

What my client was feeling was so, so normal.

When we imagine finishing something big, we often envision the elation that will come with the accomplishment but we don’t realize that there is a sense of loss in finishing, too.

We get thrown into “creative transition.”

Our tendency during these times is to rush ourselves through them because they feel so uncomfortable.

If we rush ourselves through, though, we miss out on the opportunity to become the new “us” that the transition time provides. That’s what transitions are, after all — bridges or tunnels from one version of ourselves to the next.

It’s kind of like when we end a relationship. Most of us have had that experience of breaking up with someone and then (oh, crap!) getting back together with them a week or a month later.

What happened there? We crawled back into our former lives, not quite ready to go through the “deep cocooning”  process we must embrace in order to emerge as that new “us.”

This is okay. As Robyn Posin says in one of her wonderful posts, we’re never fully anywhere until all of us arrives there. (I’m also reminded of an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry compares ending a relationship to knocking over a Coke machine. It has to rock back and forth a few times before the whole thing falls over.)

So what can we do to make times of creative transition easier? Here are a few suggestions.

* Allow yourself to come down from the trip.

Recognize that at the end of a long creative journey, we’re often functioning — to some extent — on adrenaline. This is especially true if we have a bunch of deadlines to meet or events to attend in order to complete our journey and we’re (understandably) tired. Adrenaline will kick in to help us make it through.

Remember how badly you wanted the semester to be over back in college, and you got all your papers in and exams taken, and then didn’t know what to do with yourself for a few days? That’s because you were still pumped with adrenaline and it was compelling you to do something, anything! When we come down from that heightened state (which, by the way, is not healthy for us to remain in), we will feel more centered and present and at choice.

* Allow yourself to feel sadness and loss.

There is nothing wrong with you if you feel a sense of loss and even grief after achieving a huge success. It is part of the natural process of moving from one phase of life to another. It’s normal to enter a “liminal state” at this time, what Martha Beck refers to as “Square One.” (Martha’s wonderful book Finding Your Own North Star explains “Square One” at length.)

* This is an excellent time to cultivate curiosity.

As the sadness and loss mix with your joy at your achievement and wash through you, what’s taking your interest? What do you notice about the change in yourself from the beginning of this journey to now? As you move through your daily life, what are you needing? Comfort? Connection with trusted friends?

Journaling about what you’re going through can be a great way to gain more awareness of your current needs, and the ways your inner compass is pointing you to your next step.

* It’s okay to go slow — in fact, it’s best to go slow — at this time.

When you allow yourself slowness as you enter creative transition, you really get a chance to experience who you’re becoming and what this transition is all about (though that may not be totally clear to you until you exit the transition phase!). This time is an amazing gift and you’ll never get it back in exactly the same form again. So how can you find ways to savor rather than hurry it?

You may need support in doing this. Our culture does not encourage savoring and slowness. Trust that support is out there in the form you need it!

What have you noticed about creative transitions for yourself? Has anything in particular helped to make them easier for you? I’d love to hear from you.

And: These are the last several days (through March 31) to purchase my package of four coaching sessions as I will have new offerings up on my site soon (I can’t wait to share them with you!). The package of four saves you $75 and is a great way to get ongoing support from me. Take a look here to learn more!

Image is “Tunnel Under Railroad” © Peterguess | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Ways to shift your energy when you’re stuck or overwhelmed

frozen berries

That feeling that you’re up against a wall and there’s nowhere to go: it’s the worst. It’s enough to keep you up nights, and then you’re sleep deprived, which makes everything look about a hundred times bleaker than it is.

Feelings of overwhelm and “stuckness” do not come from our circumstances; they come from our thoughts. That’s not to say that our circumstances do not trigger feelings of overwhelm and stuckness — they definitely can. The holidays, for example, trigger overwhelm for many of us. That’s because they add that much more to our to-do list.

But it’s the thoughts we’re having about everything on the to-do list that create the feeling of overwhelm, not the to-do list itself.

Now, you can try crossing things off the to-do list to lessen the overwhelm. And it can work, sometimes very well.

But I suggest doing something else first: shifting your energy.

The quality of the energy we bring to our circumstances interacts with those circumstances and transforms them. Sometimes, we try to change circumstances, only to end up in the same energetic space: stagnant, heavy.

So before we go about manipulating our circumstances by crossing things off the to-do list or diving in headfirst to “get it all done,” let’s look at ways to shift our energy.

1) Trim tabs!

Martha Beck wrote this article for O Magazine where she talked about how Buckminster Fuller invented something called the trim tab for large ships. The trim tab is this teeny-tiny rudder placed on the ship’s large rudder that allows the ship to turn with a very slight amount of pressure.

I like to remind myself of trim tabs when everything feels like too much. I don’t have to move the earth in order to create change; I only need to make one tiny change that creates new direction.

Every time I remember trim tabs, I realize that there is NO WAY I can make all the changes I think I need to make right now. And I don’t need to. I just need to focus on one small change that tilts my course in the right direction. And go from there. (As a bonus, thinking TRIM TABS! reminds me that it’s not all up to me. When I make one small choice, other forces are set into motion, and I’m not in control of all of them. This is good news! )

2) Think marathon, not sprint.

Back when I was in life coach training, Pam Slim was teaching us a class on marketing our businesses, and she said, “It’s a lot more helpful to think of marketing as a marathon, not a sprint.”

This knocked me upside the head. At the time, it was quite the revelation for me. I’d always been a sprinter. If I had an idea, I wanted to make it happen, fast. My sprinting ways made me extremely impatient, particularly in my twenties, when I gave up routinely when something I wanted to happen seemed to be “taking too long.”

The fact is, large-scale changes take time. Even small changes often do not occur within a day or a week. Humans are resistant to change (it’s part of our built-in survival mechanism), and change very often takes longer than we predict. (I usually find that if I want it to happen in six months, it will actually happen in a year. But it will happen.)

Remembering “marathon, not sprint” — taking the long view — reminds us that progress is not always immediately apparent, and allows us to take the pressure off.

I bet if I challenged you to write down all the progress you’ve made in your life in the past five years, you could easily fill an entire page without having to think too hard. But you probably wouldn’t have been able to recognize all of it while it was “progress in process.”

3) Move your body.

This is one of the simplest ways to shift energy — the trick is, you can’t let your mind talk you out of doing it! Taking a ten-minute walk and focusing on your stride, your breath visible in the cold air, the dog in the sweater who just trotted by, is an amazing way to get out of your mind and press the reset button. But your mind will tell you it won’t make a difference, there’s no time, yadda yadda. Don’t listen to it!

4) Water.

Taking a shower is one of my favorite ways to shift my energy. Even washing my hands can do it. And doing dishes! Yes, I actually enjoy doing dishes because it allows me to be in proximity to water. Standing near a body of water, or sitting near an aquarium, can do it, too. Or just drinking a glass of water. Again, give it a chance — don’t let your mind talk you out of it! It works.

5) Write it down.

There’s power to seeing something in words, on paper. (The act of moving your hand across paper also ties into point #3 — it moves your body. It’s a much more physical act than typing.) When you can get whatever’s keeping you up at night out of your head and allow it to be held by the paper, you’re reminded that it is not bigger than you are.

Another way to approach this is to do what Natalie Goldberg calls “writing practice.” Just write what you see, what’s in front of you right now. “My Christmas-tree-scented candle is flickering; my cat is staring out the window even though it’s dark outside; there’s a Jackie Chan marathon on TV and I have the sound down; I can hear the downstairs neighbor coughing.”

Just keep your hand moving and keep on writing whatever engages your five senses. This creates an anchor for your mind, putting you solidly in the present moment, the only place where you actually DO have any power.

Once you’ve shifted your energy — even if just a bit — you can take a look at that to-do list.

What are some ways you’ve noticed that help you shift your energy when you’re overwhelmed or in a stagnant place? I’d love to learn more.

Work With Me: I’ll have some openings for new one-on-one clients starting in mid January, 2014. Interested in working together? Find out more, here.

Image is Frozen Berries © Rod Chronister | Dreamstime Stock Photos