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

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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

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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

Your self-care bottom line

Your self-care bottom line

The brutal winter months always remind me of the importance of walking as a way of staying connected to myself. Mostly because, when the weather is really awful, I can’t get out for a very long walk, and sometimes I can’t get out at all because the sidewalks are simply too treacherous.

Walking is one of those “bottom line” activities that help me feel actively connected to myself. It’s about moving my body, it’s about watching my mind — detaching from it — instead of buying into everything it tells me, it’s about connecting with the people and animals I see on my walks (even if this is only to smile and nod “hello”).

When I don’t get a lot of walking in, I start feeling deprived and stagnant.

Walking is one of the “tent poles” in my daily self-care. Occasionally I’ll run into someone from my neighborhood who says, “I see you walking all over the place!” People have been telling me this for years and years. (And that’s kind of funny, because when I’m out walking, I feel invisible — I feel like “I” disappear and my focus is on my breath, on the world around me, on the next step on the pavement. Apparently I’m pretty visible when I’m feeling invisible — but that’s a topic for another post!)

Another tent pole in my self-care routine is journaling. About five days a week, I need to journal to connect with myself. It’s rare that I miss more than a couple of days in a row of journaling. I have so many filled notebooks I couldn’t even begin to count them, and it’s fairly rare that I actually reread old ones (though it can be extremely beneficial when I do).

Sometimes people ask me how I “make myself” do all this journaling, and I tell them I’ve never once had to “make myself” journal. It’s like the walking — I crave it, because it’s my process of connecting with myself, knowing myself better, and using that knowledge to forge my path in the world. And it goes beyond myself as well — just like with walking, when I commit to doing it, I feel like I’m more connected to the universe, the collective consciousness, the whole of everything.

Sleep — good sleep — is another self-care tent pole, and a truly foundational one. When I struggle to get good sleep (as I have been this week), everything’s a little (or a lot) harder. And I put eating well — in a balanced way that doesn’t overwhelm my system — and staying hydrated in there with the sleep tent pole.

The fourth tent pole for me is “do-nothing time.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m actually doing nothing during this time. It means that I set aside some time every day where my intention is not to do but to be. The truth is, I might be puttering around the house, playing with my cat, or browsing Etsy during this “do-nothing” time. The important thing is that I’m not trying or striving or figuring things out during this time. The intention is presence.

I can reach this “being” place while walking or journaling, too — the difference for me is in the intention of simply being (which is different than the intention of moving my body or connecting with myself). I need to make sure I factor it in daily, even if it’s only fifteen or twenty minutes of “being” time.

So, my self-care tent is up, and there’s a lantern in it. That lantern is quality connection with — and support from — others. The reason I say “quality” connection is because I notice that if I don’t make a point of connecting with people I care about on a level deeper than jumping in and out of Facebook, it doesn’t necessarily happen. And during the weeks I have more depth of connection with loved ones — whatever form it may take, online or “real world” — I feel a LOT better, a lot more nourished and supported, and more able to pass on true support to others.

When I’m feeling drained, at loose ends, or like my life is insanely complicated, it really helps to check and see if one of my “tent poles” and/or my lantern have been consistently absent for a while. My self-care bottom line keeps me sane and reminds me that the only true power I have resides in the present moment, not in the past or the future.

What is your self-care bottom line? What are your absolute musts for taking good care of yourself and staying connected to yourself, on a daily basis? What do you notice about your overall sense of well-being when you practice solid daily self-care versus when you don’t practice it?

Image is “Vintage Raining Shoes1” © Pierrette Guertin | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Are you at the top of your mountain?

mountainreflectionI have to admit that I’ve felt overwhelmed by the flurry of goal-setting blog posts, announcements, and what have you as we’ve begun the new year. In fact, I’ve entered the new year in a bit of burnout.

Over the last couple of days, I’ve realized why.

I am in a season of needing to reflect on what I’ve accomplished over the past couple of years — to really take it in, acknowledge it, and absorb it a bit before I can move forward into a new season of envisioning fresh goals and horizons for myself.

And when I’m in a “reflective, introspective” season of my life, it can be difficult to rub up against a lot of “doing” energy. The energy doesn’t match my quieter, “being” energy, and it can also trigger quite a bit of “compare and despair” in me (“I should be doing more,” “I’ll never get to where he/she is,” etc.).

Back when I went through life coach training, my mentor Martha Beck often shared these words from The Buddha with us: “Just as you can tell it’s the ocean because it tastes of salt, you know it’s enlightenment because it tastes of freedom.”

My truth, my piece of enlightenment, for the moment, is that I’ve reached the top of my personal mountain and I need to sit here on a rock and take in the view.

And I realize, too, that I in fact needed to sit down and take in the view quite a while ago.

But I didn’t let myself.

I kept on pushing and goal-setting — even though I know all too well that “push” energy is not effective for me either in the short or long run — and now I am tired.

When we climb a mountain, we need to acknowledge it when we get to the top. We need to appreciate the gorgeousness of the view we’ve got from here. We need to acknowledge and integrate what we learned on the way up, at least for a while, before we start climbing again.

What we don’t need to do is immediately scan the landscape for an even higher mountain and decide it’s time to climb that one — right now. This is the way we get into burnout. This is the way we lose touch with ourselves, with our own inner compass which is specific to our journey, and not anyone else’s.

We live in a culture that believes busy is good. Doing is good. More goals, and pushing, and striving, are good.

I think goals are terrific, and necessary — but we are not always in “goal-setting season.” Sometimes we’re in “view-appreciating season.”

Here are some signs that we may not be in our personal “goal-setting season” and in fact may need to shift into our version of “view-appreciating.”

* The thought of doing anything “big” creates a feeling of instant exhaustion.

* We’re having trouble concentrating for more than a few minutes at a time.

* We notice that our “social self” — the self that cares a lot about what other people think — is chattering so much that our essential self is having a hard time getting a word in edgewise.

* We take lots of actions but they don’t seem to have much resonance for us. They don’t feel good or satisfying.

So, how can we appreciate (and really take in) the view we’ve arrived at?

* Think back on the accomplishments that truly pleased or delighted you that got you to where you are. Write them down or share them with someone. Writing them down and/or sharing them makes them more real. (And notice any tendency in yourself to downplay your accomplishments or compare them to someone else’s. This, too, contributes to burnout!)

* Commit to crossing the non-essentials off your to-do list for an entire week, or a month, or however long feels good to you.

* Acknowledge the person you were before you climbed this mountain, and notice the differences in yourself now that you’re at the top. Is there anything you let go of on the way up? A part of you? A job? A lifestyle? A way of being or doing? It’s important to acknowledge how we’ve changed so we can move forward from who we are now, not who we used to be!

* What are the “shoulds” that have been coming up for you? Are they based on what you really want — given who you are now — or are they based on the person you were before you reached the top of this mountain?

Are you at the top of your personal mountain? If you’ve been on a journey, have you really acknowledged what you’ve accomplished and let it sink in? I’d love to hear from you.

Image is “Snowy Reflection” © Martin Brown | 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