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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Allow yourself comfort — and see what happens

Toward the end of the year, I always find myself thinking back on the dear one-on-one coaching clients I’ve worked with, and what comes back to me about the work we’ve done together.

This year, I notice I’m thinking about comfort.

It seems there was a theme this year of my clients realizing that it was okay to allow themselves comfort.

That comfort did not have to be used as a reward, for when they were done with “the hard work” — it did not have to be dangled as a carrot to be consumed at the end of a lot of toil.

Comfort — amazingly! — could actually be part of the process.

I think I’ve written here before that “break out of your comfort zone” is not one of my favorite phrases. I’ve just never found it inspiring (though I totally get the meaning behind it).

There are a couple of reasons I dislike this saying. One of them is that I’ve seen many people — including myself — push themselves way too far out of their so-called “comfort zones”, to the point of having panic attacks, meltdowns, even breaking bones or pushing themselves through illness to try to compete in some way.

The other is that it indicates that being “comfortable” is somehow bad or wrong or self-indulgent. But for those of us who, perhaps, grew up without an adequate feeling of comfort and/or safety in our lives, this is inaccurate.

As I’ve written before, if you have a tendency to push yourself really hard (as most of my clients do), you probably need more comfort, not more withholding comfort from yourself.

And is it true that adding comfort to your “hard work” will keep you from getting it done?

Here’s what some of my clients found this year:

• The client who rewarded himself for completing his work on his writing project by taking his dog for a walk discovered that when he took his dog for a walk before he started writing, it actually helped him write better. He felt more centered and more creative. His body felt better because he’d moved it before sitting down (and his dog slept through the writing period rather than reminding him that it was time to go out!).

• The client who rewarded herself with a hot cup of tea after getting through a challenging weekly meeting found that allowing herself the tea during the meeting actually reminded her it was okay to show up as herself and be gentler with herself (and that warmth was an important thing to focus on when the “tough stuff” in these meetings arose!).

• The client who had recently left a long-term relationship found that allowing herself to stay home on the weekends wrapped in a blanket on the couch and watching Netflix was helping her grief process a lot more than “being productive” on the weekends (which was her usual approach!).

When we allow ourselves comfort, we are also choosing to trust ourselves, and to trust the process of life.

When I work with people who are in the midst of major transitions in their lives, 99.9 percent of the time they say that they just want to be out of the transition and that they are “moving too slowly” and that they need me to help them hurry up.

And I always say exactly what they think they don’t want to hear (but that brings some part of them deep relief): When we’re in a stressful transition, it’s helpful to allow ourselves to go slow. It’s not the time to make big moves and it’s definitely not the time to “break out of our comfort zone”.

In fact, we’re in transition because either we’ve chosen to leave the known and familiar behind — or because it’s been ripped away from us (and we had no choice in the matter).

What I have continually found in my own life is that when I’m in the midst of something really hard and I finally surrender to the fact that it is hard, and I can’t go as fast as I’d like because there is so much internal and external stuff to work through — when I accept that this is where I am and actually allow myself some comfort, that is exactly when things begin to transform. It’s exactly when I begin to relax into the new “me” I’m becoming.

But as long as I’m fighting things and trying to “tough my way through” what’s already hard, I am not allowing the space (or the comfort) to relax enough to welcome the new.

I’ve also noticed (as I wrote about here) that when I allow more softness into a task or a journey that feels hard, I do not become an overindulged mess. I actually feel far more capable, confident, and I enjoy what I’m doing a heck of a lot more.

I invite you to test this out for yourself. Where can you allow yourself a little more comfort? What happens when you do? I’d love to hear from you.

Speaking of transitions, the deadline to sign up for one of my specially-priced Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions is Wednesday, November 22. If you’re in an “in-between” place (with your creative work, a relationship, or some other aspect of your life) this fall and needing some support, I’d love to help. You can learn more about my Autumn Transition Sessions here.

Above images of tea cup © Jill Battaglia  | Dreamstime Stock Photos, and candles © Diana Constantin | Dreamstime Stock Photos, respectively

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When the “small” isn’t small, at all

I won’t even go into what a bad week it’s been. You know what’s been going on. And maybe, like me, you’ve been feeling sad and overwhelmed.

“Overwhelmed” is not a great place from which to take action. Sadness, though, can be  powerful. Sadness points us to what matters to us.

***

Today my partner and I were at Target, and I was scouring the back-to-school section for the inexpensive notebooks I use as journals. A woman came up to us and said to him, “Hey, are you the guy who taught creative writing to my daughter last summer? My daughter loved your class!”

Now, my partner has been feeling sad this summer because the writing class he has taught to high school students for the past few summers was canceled this year. But here, here was in-person feedback from the universe that that class mattered. His teaching matters.

This woman could have passed us by. She had only met my partner once, at the reading the kids did as the culmination of the class, and she wasn’t even totally sure she recognized him. But she took a chance and walked up to us and reached out.

It mattered.

***

A few months ago, when it was still winter, I saw a sign for a lost black cat up in Starbucks. I jotted down the phone number on a piece of napkin, just in case. I do this. I can’t stand the idea that an animal and its person are suffering.

During the next several days, I did indeed see a black cat in one of the parking lots near us. It looked kind of like the cat on the poster. I fished the piece of napkin out of my bag and called the number.

A woman answered. She sounded anxious. I told her I had seen this cat and wondered if it could be hers. It turned out she lived in a suburb about an hour’s drive from me. She had no idea how the poster had even been hung in a Starbucks near me.

After some discussion, we realized the cat I was seeing could not have been hers. It was a little too fluffy and a little too standoffish and a little too large, and it had a little bit of white on it, whereas her cat did not. With disappointment, we both knew it wasn’t her cat.

But we talked for about twenty minutes, anyway. We talked about our cats, past and present. We talked about how hard it is to love and to let go, and how the not knowing is the most terrible part of having a missing pet.

Getting off the phone, I told her I was so sorry the cat I was seeing was not her cat. “That’s okay,” she said. “It’s good knowing someone is out there watching out for her.”

It wasn’t her cat, but my reaching out mattered.

Almost every time I do something like that, like calling a number on a poster about a lost cat, I catch myself thinking, should I even do this? Will this make a difference?

***

When I was twenty-one, I worked at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago in one of the gift shops. It was, at that time, called the Koala Shop. (The koala habitat was actually in the center of the shop, so all day I watched the koalas. They slept about 99.99 percent of the time.)

One day, a customer yelled at me for ringing up her merchandise incorrectly. She called me stupid and said she was surprised I could hold down a job. It was not a good time in my life, and later that day, during a lull, I stood out on the sales floor with a co-worker, openly crying. Not easy for me. I’ve always been a pretty private person, and was even more so back then.

My co-worker asked me quiet questions about what happened and just let me cry. He acted like my crying was the most natural thing in the world. He stood there, a few feet away from me, gently nodding and talking to me here and there, but also being quiet at just the right times, until I was all cried out.

I never had contact with that guy after I stopped working at the zoo, but oh, what he did for me that day mattered. He gave me permission to have my emotions, at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure it was okay to feel what I felt.

***

I am always telling my coaching clients that the more we look for something, the more evidence we find that it exists. That day, in the zoo shop, I started building evidence for the fact that I could feel what I felt and express it and I would experience kindness in response.

And when I think back to my time working in that shop, my mind instantly goes to my fellow employee’s kindness that day. I wonder if he even remembers. And I’m sure he has no idea how profound his gentle acceptance of me was — I never told him.

It is so easy to discount these things, these things we tend to call “small”. We forget that the world is made of up relationships. That we are always in relationship — to other people, to ourselves, to the animals and trees and oceans.

But this is how we do it — one interaction at a time. This is how we add love to the world. And we need to believe it matters.

If you want to see more evidence of love, where can you add love?

I guarantee you, it matters.

Where have you experienced “small” acts of love that made a big difference for you? I’d love to hear from you. (Because the “small” isn’t small, at all.)

P. S. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed because you care so much (but you need to take care of you, too), you might love this post from Jennifer Louden. I did.

Above image © Yoyo1972 | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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

journalpenIf you are a regular reader of my posts, you know that I am a big proponent of morning pages. They are part of my morning ritual, part of my creative process.

And they never feel like a chore to me — I look forward to them, because there’s no way I can “do them wrong.”

They are simply a brain dump, and if they move into deeper journaling and other forms of writing, great. If they don’t, they don’t; I’ve taken that time in the morning to connect with myself, to take a look at my mind on paper and see what’s going on there. It’s a great way to become more conscious of what I’m thinking, and how that thinking is affecting my life.

Lately, though, I’ve instigated a habit of evening pages, too. This might sound like a lot of rituals, but honestly, evening pages take but a few minutes, and they’re making a significant difference.

I decided to try evening pages because I noticed myself feeling overstimulated and jittery before bed, probably from too much iPad use (and my dear, overworked iPad died just the other day, so maybe life is trying to tell me something). Evening is also the time that my brain gets fired up with thoughts that go something like “so much isn’t working and there’s so much more to do!”

Here’s the way I’ve been approaching evening pages: I sit down with my notebook (pen to paper, no electronic devices), and I write this question at the top of a fresh page: What worked today?

The answer may be something seemingly small or even insignificant — “I ended a phone call before I started feeling drained”, “I drank a glass of water instead of more coffee”. But making a note of it in my evening pages causes me to realize just how much good I create for myself in a given day, and, often, how those “insignificant” things I barely even notice actually make a true difference.

After the “what worked today?” question is answered, I move on to an “it’s done” list. The “it’s done” list is the equivalent of crossing off the items on my “to-do” list, but it feels much more real and satisfying to actually write down what has been done. And there is always so much more than I realized, if I look for it. Yesterday, I wrote down eight things — yes, eight — that I hadn’t even noticed I’d accomplished.

What I’m noticing is that this nightly process is helping me go to bed focusing on what I’ve already done, rather than how much there is to do.

Even things that are in the process of getting done (the big things that may take weeks or months) feel better and more manageable to me when I notice what I’m already doing and how much I’ve already done.

And the biggest takeaway I have from this process is that nothing is too small to note. It’s the voice of perfectionism (the pushy, hyper-critical aspect of perfectionism) that tells us “only the big things count.” The big things are, most of the time, made up of tons and tons of teeny-tiny things we did to create them.

One of the most significant things I’ve learned from six-plus years of working with my life coaching clients is that the more we focus on what’s working in our lives, the more we focus on what feels good and right to us — no matter how small it may seem at the time –the more of that energy we invite into our lives.

So often our tendency to is keep our focus on what’s not working. Yes, it’s important to notice when something just doesn’t work for us. If we don’t notice it, we can’t change it.

But we can get into a loop where we think if we can just “figure out” what’s not working and why, we’ll get to the bottom of it and move forward. What I’ve found is that the more we focus on what’s not working, the more evidence of things not working we find, and around that track we run.

So we need to commit to celebrating what is working, and what we have done. We need to remember to celebrate all of  it.

How do you remind yourself of what you’ve already accomplished? How do you celebrate it? I’d love to hear from you.

And: On Monday, March 6, enrollment begins for my Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program. I’ve been offering this one-on-one coaching program since 2015 and it is such a joy and an honor for me to witness the changes my clients make as I partner with them in this process. If you feel overwhelmed or overworked, or like you’re always putting others first and are ready to put YOU at the center of your life, I’d love to help. Find out more about the Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program, here.

Also: In late April, I’ll be offering a group version of this program. If you’d like to explore this content with a group, please contact me and I’ll send you the info on the group version. You can contact me about the group version through the form on the Stellar Self-Care Coaching Program page, here.

Above image is “Blank Page of Journal” [cropped] © Daniaphoto | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The question that cuts through your overwhelm

sadgirl

A week ago I returned from a coaching intensive (which I’ll no doubt share more about in the future), feeling one part energized, two parts exhausted. I had that good feeling of having stretched myself a lot, but a quieter part of me recognized that I couldn’t keep going at that pace for much longer without losing touch with what I truly needed.

Hmm. What I truly needed. How interesting that it took me almost a week to get there.

As the week wore on, and my after-stretching-myself buzz began to wear off, I noticed I felt scattered, pressured, pressed. By Thursday, I realized I had arrived at that most dreaded of states: full on overwhelm.

Friday morning, “to-do’s” spinning in my brain, I recognized I didn’t want to continue feeling the way I was feeling. And, regarding my rather pinched expression in the bathroom mirror, I asked myself this question: “What do you need right now?”

It seems like a pretty obvious question — doesn’t it?

The thing is, when I get into the spin cycle of “I want to rest — but there’s so much to do — but I want to rest — but there’s too much to do”, I do not see this question.

It was only pausing and noticing how I was feeling, and seeing that feeling conveyed on my face in the mirror, that brought me to this truth. I had a need, and it wasn’t being met. And I didn’t even know what the need was.

Asking yourself “What do I need right now?” grounds you in the present moment, in what is true for you.

Often, when we are in that “too much to do” place, we get caught up trying to plan for and control a future that is not here yet. If I don’t get it done now, X, Y, and Z might happen, our minds tell us.

And our activity becomes more and more frantic. We may get something done, maybe a lot of things done — but we don’t feel productive. “To-do-list” brain just keeps churning out more to-do’s.

When I asked myself, “What do you need right now?”, I received a few answers.

• I need to permission to do it all wrong.

• I need permission to not do it all.

• I need to be kinder to myself.

• I need to recognize where my true responsibility lies.

• I need to take a long walk.

I stopped there, lest “what I need” started to sound to me like another “to-do” list.

And I decided to meet two needs — the need to be kinder to myself, and the need for a long walk. My walk turned into what Julia Cameron calls an “Artist’s Date”, where I found myself meandering in my neighborhood, noticing the squirrels leaping around in the unusually warm weather, and I bought myself a new lipstick at Ulta Beauty.

On the way home from the walk, I realized just how much I’d needed that “settling down” time — that bridge between the high, intense activity of stretching myself, and moving back into my regular routine. It just took me a week to give it to myself.

As I write this, I do not feel overwhelmed. I feel present. In fact, after my walk I found myself — quite naturally — doing several things I needed to do, from a settled-down place of peace, of groundedness.

Now, here’s an interesting thing: This whole week, upon my return from my travels, I’ve been taking a morning walk each day, because that’s what I do. That’s part of my morning ritual. But my morning ritual didn’t seem to be “taking hold” as it usually does. I still felt keyed up, worried, anxious.

I see now that it’s because I didn’t ask myself what I needed. I kept taking the actions I usually took, without checking in first to see what was up for me.

The experience I’d had away had shifted my needs. I was needing a different flavor of self-care post-trip that I’d had before I’d left.

But I didn’t know it for almost a week, because I forgot to ask myself what I needed.

Live and learn, my friends. I offer a coaching program on practicing excellent self-care, and yet it took me a week to see how I needed to care for myself. We are always beginners in the ever-changing landscapes of our inner lives.

Are you overwhelmed right now? How does the question “What do I need right now?” sit with you? Is there another question that helps you cut through overwhelm? I’d love to hear from you.

And: I will begin enrolling clients in my one-on-one coaching program, Stellar Self-Care, on March 6, 2017. If your life feels overwhelming and you’re needing support, I encourage you to check it out! I will also be offering a small group version of the program this time around — please contact me for more info if you’re interested in that format. You can also learn about other ways we can work together, here.

Above image © Jose Antonio Sánchez Reyes | Dreamstime Stock Photos

There’s no right way to process change

squigglyhearts

Many of us here in the U.S. are struggling to cope with our feelings about the results of our election this week.

One of the themes I’ve noticed over the past several days, for myself as well as clients, colleagues, and community I’ve connected with is something like this: I’m not sure how, or when, or where, to express what I’m feeling. 

I’ve heard several people say — as soon as a few hours after the election results came in — “It’s time to move on and stop talking about it.”

Whoa! This is big, for all of us (including those who are happy with the results of the election). How about allowing ourselves a little time to process this change, if that’s what we need?

I’ve also noticed myself feeling compelled to respond to others’ pain when I had nothing left in me to give. I’ve felt both comforted and exhausted by social media posts. I’ve wanted to grieve and process alone, and then very quickly wanted to grieve and process with others.

I’ve noticed that there’s a difference in feel between those who seem to want to hurry on to avoid what they’re feeling, and those who want to move on to create positive change without dwelling on what’s done. And probably many of us are experiencing all of the above.

I have so much compassion for all of this. When we’re hit with big change, each of us will respond based on our past experiences, who we are today, our unique temperaments, and the way we’re wired.

The bottom line for me: I want to feel safe, and I want others to feel safe. I want to be kind, and I want to honestly express what I’m experiencing when and where that feels safe and necessary to me. I don’t want to trample on anyone’s beliefs, and I need to honor my own.

I can care about you and disagree with you. I can love you, and need to process what I’m feeling in a way that is quite different from your way.

What if, as long as we are not intentionally hurting anyone else, it’s okay to process big change in whatever way we need to process it? As quickly or as slowly, as outwardly or inwardly, publicly or privately? With lots of talking it out, lots of contemplation, or a combination of both?

What if whatever we need is just okay? And what if, by open-handedly giving ourselves what we need, it helps us feel okay with others taking care of themselves in whatever way they need to as well?

I write a lot about self-care here, and how we really can’t totally separate self-care from other-care. What if the ultimate act of self-care is gentleness toward ourselves when we’re just not quite sure what we need? And that, in cultivating this gentleness toward ourselves, we’ll be better able to extend it to others as well?

How do you know how to best take care of yourself — and respond to the needs of others — during challenging times? Do you tend to move through big changes quickly, or do you need to process more slowly? I’d love to hear from you.

Above image © Madartists | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Inauthentic — or unfamiliar?

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There’s something I sometimes notice in people who are sensitive, creative, and for whom authenticity is a deeply-held value.

We frequently believe we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do something because it feels wrong to us. It feels inauthentic — not like who we are.

And it’s important to notice that feeling, to see what it has to tell us.

When something feels inauthentic, it seems like we should run from it, or at the very least, let go of it. And sometimes, that’s exactly what we need to do. We need to recognize that we’ve come into contact with something which just isn’t in sync with who we are, and we need to move away from it.

But: sometimes we’ve come into contact with something that is unfamiliar, and because it feels unfamiliar, our minds immediately label it “inauthentic”.

Let me give you an example of how this showed up for me at the tender age of, oh, about five.

A little friend of mine (most of my friends were little then, I was five!) went to a different school than I did, and her school was having a “fun fair.” She kept talking about the fun fair and how excited she was about it, and how she wanted me to go to it with her.

And I began to dread this “fun fair”. Just the idea of something that existed for the sole purpose of “FUN” felt overwhelming to me. (What exactly was this mysterious fun that was to be had?)

I had already decided, at five (though not consciously), that something like a fun fair was not me. I would rather play quietly with one or two friends — that was me.

I could never have articulated this at the time, of course. I just knew that there was no way I was going to the fun fair! The fun fair was definitely not going to be fun for me!

At this point, my parents and I had already had quite a few go-rounds with me not wanting to do things. They found this quite confounding. Everyone else wants to do it! they’d say. Why not you?

In fact, there was something else at work, something I wouldn’t understand for years: my sensitive nervous system got easily overstimulated by situations that were unfamiliar to me. I even got overstimulated by thinking about new situations. Which was why I was dreading the fun fair that my friend couldn’t wait for.

However, on this particular occasion (in what, looking back, I see as a stroke of brilliant parenting) my mother told me something like this: “You don’t have to go to the fun fair. You can go if you want to, but you don’t have to go. Take some time to decide.”

This took a great weight off my five-year-old mind. Instead of being dragged somewhere against my will, I was being given the opportunity to choose.

I pondered the idea of the fun fair over the next several days, and eventually I went up to my mother while she was working in the kitchen and said, “Mom? I’ve decided to go to the fun fair.”

Now, the fun fair WAS most definitely overstimulating. There were echoey noises of kids yelling and running, and there were clowns (eek), and games where you could win a goldfish in a bag (my friend and I each won one, which at the time greatly excited me, but poor goldfish!), and I came home with a lacquered figurine of a bright orange squirrel with sparkly green eyes, which I had also won.

The fun fair was overstimulating, and it was FUN. Both/and.

And had there been another fun fair the following month, I might have gone without getting quite so overstimulated, because the fun fair would no longer have been unfamiliar to me. And because it was no longer unfamiliar, I would have gotten to know myself in that environment, and understood how I could show up there authentically, if I wanted to do that.

***

Our minds tend to do a fascinating (and not always helpful) thing: when something is unfamiliar to us, but maybe seems a little like some other experience we had that we really didn’t like, we put it into the category of “oh no! not that again,” and decide we’d better avoid it.

There are SO many good things (and people) in my life that I’d have missed out on if I hadn’t questioned my mind’s tendency to do this.

When we’re overstimulated because something is new and unfamiliar to us, of course we don’t feel authentic. Being overstimulated doesn’t feel good; we don’t feel like who we truly are when we are overstimulated.

But if we can choose to ride out the overstimulation in favor of exploration, of being curious about something new, as my five-year-old self did, we can give ourselves more options. And we can learn that what is “authentically us” may be vaster than we’d imagined.

(It’s definitely worth mentioning here that, for those of us with sensitive nervous systems, managing overstimulation is vital to our well-being. So I’m not saying “just throw yourself into overstimulating situations all the time and go ahead and burn yourself out.” We must choose wisely for ourselves and bring ourselves back into balance. The key is to remember that we have choices, usually more than we think we do.)

Have you labeled something “inauthentic” for you when in fact it was simply unfamiliar? I’d love to hear from you.

P. S.  In celebration of my favorite season, my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! I offered these last fall and worked with some wonderful folks. If you’re in “creative transition” this fall and feeling stuck or scared, you might benefit from one of these sessions. The format is the same as last year, but I’ve made them 45 minutes in length this time around. Check them out, here.

Above image © Jack Schiffer | Dreamstime Stock Photos

You only ever need to do one thing

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Yesterday I was having one of those days where my mind spun with all that I was sure needed to be done. I sat at my kitchen table, staring out the window, trying frantically to access peace (as if “frantic” could ever be the way to peace).

There was so much I should be doing, surely, but it felt like there was so much that there was no point in starting — with such a huge to-do list, anything I did would only constitute a drop in the overflowing bucket of what must be done.

This is a familiar place I can go to when more than “the usual” is on my plate, and that’s the case for so many of us at the holidays. Even though I’ve made a conscious decision to do things more simply this year, I still travel for Christmas and, grrr — traveling? Not my favorite thing. I like being there, I just don’t like getting there.

As I backtracked and took a look at what I’d been thinking yesterday morning, I realized I was focused on the sheer hell that plane travel would surely be, and what a drag it is that every year I endure this, and how with everything going on in our world I have an extra layer of fear right now, and on and on.

And then I felt selfish and self-centered for not being able to be a “bigger person” and have gratitude that my parents are in good health and I have this opportunity to see them at the holidays.

This is a good example of what our minds tend to do (my mind is hardly unique in its patterns!). When we fixate on something we’ve decided will be unpleasant, reinforce the expected unpleasantness with fearful thoughts, and then judge ourselves for having the thoughts in the first place, we get into a vicious loop.

When we’re operating from that loop, it looks like only eliminating the circumstance we’re convinced is making us unhappy will restore our sanity — or, only making the exact “right choices” within that circumstance will keep us safe, secure, on steady or virtuous ground.

If feeling good is dependent on either eliminating circumstances or choosing the “correct” ones, we’re on a slippery slope. So much is out of our complete control, even in areas where we do have a good amount of legitimate power over what happens.

So when we approach our lives this way, it’s kind of like we’re either focused on the finish line, when the race will be over and (if we do it right) we’ll have won, or we’re looking for a way to bow out of the race altogether. But I don’t want to run! we think. Why does there have to be this stupid race?

As I sat obsessing about the “right way” to handle my commitments, I looked over at my boyfriend, who was sitting in a chair in the living room laughing heartily at something on TV.

How simple it is for him, I thought. He doesn’t analyze everything the way I do. He just does what needs to be done and doesn’t make a big thing out of it. (He would tell you this isn’t exactly true, but it was what I thought in the moment.)

And then I noticed the mostly blank wall behind him. Since we moved in August, I’d been meaning to hang pictures on that wall, but I kept telling myself it wasn’t important enough to take precedence over everything else I needed to do.

But, I realized, I wanted to hang those pictures. Of everything I could have been doing in that moment, hanging those pictures felt like something I wanted to do. And, looking at the mostly empty wall, I realized that hanging the pictures — only that — was all I was called to do in that moment.

Just that one thing.

Back in August, during that last chaotic week before I moved to my new home, my friend Mary Montanye asked me via email how the moving preparations were going, and I told her I was mega-overwhelmed. She responded that when she was in the process of moving, she’d found it helpful to “just take the next indicated step.”

Those words spurred me on like you wouldn’t believe (thank you, Mary!). And yesterday, hanging the pictures and admiring them afterward, noticing how much more it feels like home in the living room now that the pictures are up, my mind began to quiet itself.

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Pictures are up!

I was reminded that all I ever need to do is one thing. No matter how big the project, how sprawling the to-do list, I only ever need to do one thing.

And here’s the trick: Only when I am in the process of doing that one thing am I able to see clearly that it is being engaged with the process that I crave, not getting to the finish line or eliminating the task.

When I am caught up in thinking about all that needs to be done, and not actually doing the one thing that presents itself, I am disconnected from the rewards of the process of doing. I believe that the only reward comes from “having done it”.

This is why when I hear people say things like, “I hate writing, but I love having written,” something in me cries, but that’s no way to live! If we can’t find ways to make the process rewarding, we’re forever focused on the finish line, and therefore missing most of our lives.

And the process looks like this: one thing, one thing, one thing. (And yes, sometimes our “one thing” CAN be eliminating, or rescheduling, something on our to-do list! The key is in taking the action, rather than obsessing over it.)

I’m curious about how this works for you, and particularly about how you might apply “just one thing” to anything you have planned for the holidays.

And if, like me, you’re an introvert who’s needing a little more comfort and simplicity at this time of year, you might want to check out this post that I wrote last year at holiday time.

Top image © Jessie Eldora Robertson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

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

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As I’ve been working with clients in my Stellar Self-Care program, I notice how the tendency for many of us is to keep going on “as usual” — even though our lives have changed.

Maybe a health issue (for us or a loved one) has come up, and we’re still expecting ourselves to function as though it hasn’t.

Maybe we’ve started a new job, or we’re in the process of moving, or we have a project or business that is gaining momentum.

Maybe we’ve been through a break-up, or someone close to us has passed away recently.

Or, maybe a mix of ALL of the above is happening at once.

Whether our circumstances inspire hope, excitement, or sadness, the fact is that when things are changing profoundly in our lives, or when they’ve changed suddenly and without warning, we are affected.

So it’s really interesting to notice this human tendency to stay the course, to keep showing up, to expect “the usual” of ourselves, even though things are anything but “usual.”

None of this is “bad” or “wrong.” It’s just not necessarily effective — or kind to ourselves.

I notice for myself that my tendency is to toss self-care out the window — exactly when I need it the most.

When I’m really stressed, I also get really self-indulgent. (Read my take on the difference between self-care and self-indulgence, here.)

I start to obsess. I tell myself it’s more productive to worry than to sleep. I grab the quick food rather than the nutritious food (or don’t eat at all because I’m “too nervous”). I forgo my daily walk on the grounds that “there’s too much to do”. I feel much less creative because I’m tied up in knots and I’m “pushing the river”. (I like to think of creativity as a river that is always flowing — we can move with it, against it, or jump to shore and return later.)

And: I am getting a lot better at letting go of these behaviors and replacing them with acts of care for myself.

Sometimes this looks like:

* Declaring my sleep time as a “worry-free zone”.

Letting myself know that — if I want to — I can worry all I want at 9 a.m., but between between 9 p.m. and 9 a.m. I’m going to step into the worry-free zone.

Better yet, if I’m going to insist on worrying at all (which a part of me will), I can declare one hour a day as my “worry hour” and make the rest of the day the worry-free zone. (I’m not quite there yet, but I like this idea very much. A friend tells me that when she started doing this, eventually an hour became too long to worry — she got bored with it and found she couldn’t spend longer than about five minutes worrying when she was forcing herself to do it!)

* Taking my walk even though I’m having a thought that says “There’s no time for this, there’s too much to do.”

This might mean reminding myself that, often, if I walk long enough and focus on my body moving and my breath flowing in and out, problems have a tendency to solve themselves. (That’s because I’m back in the river of creativity, and I’m moving with it, rather than pushing upstream. Walking is great for reconnecting to the river of creativity.)

* Putting off the non-essentials for later, or for “never.”

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had taken on a freelance project even though I’ve been going through a hectic time because I just couldn’t say no to the opportunity. When I really looked at everything on my plate, I realized that the project was a non-essential, and I would be fine with taking on such a project later, or even never. Other opportunities would surely arise, but I was, at the moment, at bandwidth.

* Getting (or hiring) help where I can.

A couple of weeks ago, the lawnmower broke, and I got angry. After thirty minutes of going on about my terrible luck (The lawnmower breaks just when I have so much to do!), I realized this was a chance to give myself the gift of time and one less thing on my to-do list: I discovered a local lawn care service that would mow the lawn regularly for a very reasonable rate. The owner came over and gave me an estimate the very next day.

(This is a recurring theme in my life over the past couple of years: when something breaks, there is a gift in it for me.)

The bottom line, though: it starts with acceptance of where I am, and who I am.

If you feel like you’re slamming into the same wall again and again, ask yourself this: What needs to be accepted? And then: How can I accept myself, here?

Somewhere in there lies what is true, for you. And from that truth you will discover not only what caring for yourself looks like, now, but also that giving yourself that care is essential to navigating the reality of your life not as it was, but as it is.

Do you notice yourself resisting change in your life? What acts of care can you give yourself when change feels overwhelming?

Image © Phillip Wheat | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When you’re overwhelmed, get specific

blurrySomething I’ve noticed while working with clients who are “overwhelmed” is that, often, we remain in overwhelm because we are not getting specific enough.

We’re not specific about what exactly it means when we say “I’m overwhelmed.”

In this way, overwhelm is kind of like a stifling blanket of vagueness. We keep spinning in it, saying things like, “I just want to stop being overwhelmed” or “I feel so overwhelmed I can’t move forward.”

That’s the trick (and sometimes the gift) of overwhelm — it keeps us in the dark about what’s really going on with us. It keeps us spinning, obsessing, fighting, or zoning out.

Sometimes it is effective, when we realize we’re overwhelmed, to cut right through the “overwhelm story” and ask ourselves how we want to feel. And then, when we know how we want to feel, we can ask ourselves what would help us feel that way.

Sometimes, though, it’s more helpful to actually pull apart the overwhelm — to look at it as a mass that is made up of a number of components, and get really specific about those components.

What we call “overwhelm” is, in many ways, an attempt to focus on too much at once. So if we pull apart the elements of it, we can start to see what it is made up of. We can start to remove focus from pieces of it, and focus only on what we choose to focus on.

For example, as I mentioned in my last post, I have a move on the horizon, but I don’t know exactly where or when I’ll be moving. I am dying for more clarity around this move — the uncertainty, on some days, feels like it’s driving me crazy!

What I noticed a few days ago is that even though I have this fairly giant thing on my horizon, which is requiring a certain amount of focus and energy (looking at finances, neighborhoods, apartments, storage possibilities), I’d been demanding of myself that I focus on other “big things” as well. And my attention had become scattered and paper-thin.

So yesterday, I let go of a freelance project I’d taken on because it seemed like a good opportunity.

What I found was that even though my mind couldn’t pass up the opportunity, it was actually a terrible time to bring in another thing to take energy and focus from me, especially when it was a thing that didn’t totally light me up.

When I let go of the project, I also felt the overwhelm whoosh out of my body. From this place of more lightness and peace, my move and the elements surrounding it feel so much more doable.

Here are a few ways to get specific about what’s really going on if you’re feeling overwhelmed:

* Instead of saying, “I’m overwhelmed,” say, “I’m sensing overwhelm within me.”

This will create separation between you and the feeling of overwhelm. (You are not the feeling!) Then see what comes up. What happens when you recognize that you are bigger than the feeling of overwhelm?

* Give yourself ten minutes to write down what you’re feeling overwhelmed about.

Do this stream-of-consciousness — don’t try to “get it right.” (And don’t go on for longer than ten minutes — set a timer if you must.)

Then, read over what you’ve written. Notice what jumps out at you. Is there something here that you’re giving a lot of attention to that doesn’t warrant it? Is there anything you wrote down that you can just drop? Does it truly all have equal priority? (My guess is no!)

It can help to consult your “future self” here. If you were to ask you-five-years-from-now which of these issues is important, what does “future you” have to say?

* Bring your focus to your body.

What does your body feel like right now, while you’re in this space of overwhelm? Is it tightness in your abdomen, a clenched jaw, a headache? Shallow breathing? As you breathe, notice what thoughts bubble up for you with these body sensations.

The thought I had was, “If I don’t do this project, I’ll regret it.” I asked myself if this thought was true. What felt more true was, “If I DO this project, I’ll regret it.” That felt more true because doing the project was adding to my to-do list during an already stressful time, rather than taking away stress by giving me an opportunity! And that made it easier to let go.

* Ask yourself if perfectionism plays a role in your overwhelm.

Frequently, the idea that we have to “do it all well” triggers overwhelm because on some level we know it’s not possible or worthwhile. This creates a conflict — part of our attention is on “doing it all well” and part of our attention is on that nagging knowledge that we can’t do it all well.

If you had permission to show up for all parts of your life with C+ rather than A+ effort, how would that change your feeling of overwhelm? Is it possible that showing up in and of itself is enough?

What helps you break down this thing we call “overwhelm”? I’d love to hear what works for you.

And, if you’re struggling with overwhelm on an ongoing basis, you may want to check out my Stellar Self-Care (for Sensitive Creatives) program. You can learn more about that, and my other offerings, here.

Image is “Railway Station Through Glass Brick,” © Bx3t | Dreamstime Stock Photos