When “good enough” is plenty

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My favorite morning ritual is to go for a walk and get coffee and then walk home. There is something about starting my day this way that just helps. Since I work from home, my “walk for coffee” is a transitional element — it smooths that space between waking and working.

But: the coffee at the places within walking distance just doesn’t really do it for me. Oh, there are many. Major chains, smaller independent places. But something is lacking in the taste of the coffee. It’s either too strong or too weak or it’s not quite the right flavor. Blah!

A few months ago I became obsessed with finding coffee that I could love. I was tired of paying for coffee I wasn’t thrilled with. I convinced myself that if I had better-tasting coffee to start my day, the day would go better. Like, way better.

So I decided to try just making my coffee at home. I did lengthy searches, read copious reviews, and found some fancy new flavors. And I was able to create the coffee I wanted, for the most part. And I felt satisfied. Sort of.

But: the walk. It was missing! And my morning walk is huge for me. It jump-starts my day. It connects me with the creative impulse, with birds, with squirrels and trees. It gets my body moving.

So: I decided I’d make my coffee at home, and then take it with me on my walk.

But: this didn’t work either.

Because: I like going into a coffee place and having that simple interaction with people. There is something about going into a place, talking to people a bit — just a bit, not too much — holding the door, that simple exchange — staring at the bulletin boards, smelling the coffee smells — I like all that. It connects me with the world. I need it.

So, I sat with this coffee conundrum, marveling that this seemingly small thing — really good coffee — had started to take up so very much space in my daily life.

And, eventually, I realized this: the perfect coffee just didn’t really matter that much.

Yes, it would be nice to have the coffee of my dreams on a daily basis, but it was the entirety of the experience I truly needed — walk/coffee/nature/people — and not really the coffee itself. Coffee was only one piece of a bigger thing — my foundational morning ritual.

I also realized something else: In preoccupying myself with my search for the perfect coffee, I was less available — even if only slightly — to the parts of my life that are more important to me. To the parts of my life where, perhaps, I need to take more risks and dial up my commitment. Or simply experience more presence, more of the “enough” of the here and now.

And so, I decided to let it go.

And you know what? Since I let it go, I am totally fine with my coffee, wherever I get it.

Sure, I will probably stumble on amazing coffee somewhere I don’t usually go, that is not near where I live (like the coffee they served at the Indian restaurant that went out of business!), and I will wish I could replicate that taste somehow.

But while fulfilling my desire for the perfect coffee would be nice, it’s not essential.

When it comes down to it, I’m okay with coffee that is good enough.

***

The coffee example is a simple one, but I see a version of this a lot with my clients, who sometimes feel like they need to hit upon the perfect product, or class, or book, or coach (or, in some cases, life path!) in order to feel like they’re really on their way.

While it is important in certain cases to find a great fit, sometimes it’s okay for the fit to be “good enough.”

(If we’ve struggled with perfectionism, and its shady sister, procrastination, we may use a tendency to hold out for the “perfect fit” as a way of keeping ourselves from showing up in ways that scare us. Check out the categories on the right to find my previous posts on perfectionism. )

Pouring energy into these non-essential areas may seem like a small thing, but it’s actually a huge drain on our creative energy to search for perfect when we already have enough.

And even when we are dealing with an area that is truly essential, like a central relationship or the pursuit of our soul’s work, the “search for perfect” can serve as an exquisite distraction from what is already available to us.

Do you see areas like this in your life,  where you’re looking for perfect when “good enough” would suffice? I’d love to hear how you experience this.

Need some support in making your creative work a priority in your life? I’d love to help. Click here to see if we might be a good fit. 

Above image © Dana Rothstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos

When the ideal meets the real

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One thing getting into my forties has shown me is that a lot of the “ideals” of my twenties and thirties haven’t truly meshed with “the real”.

Now, when I say “the real” here, I’m not necessarily talking about “the real world” — not exactly. I’m talking about what is, when it comes down to it, real and true for me for the whole of who I am.

It’s easy for me to hang out in the land of the ideal. I remember one time, in my twenties, I was explaining to my therapist how disappointed I was in someone I was dating. She nodded and smiled and said, “As usual, your standards are very high.”

She didn’t say it with judgment at all, but with love — in fact, because I felt very accepted by her, I took it as a compliment. (She managed to say this when she could finally get a word in — at least once a session she would have to hold up her hand and say, “Jill, excuse me, may I say something?” Introvert that I am, when I am feeling safe, I can talk and talk and talk.)

I did have high standards — but I think it’s more accurate to say I had certain ideals that I was absolutely certain I needed to live by. And, as life plays out, as we live it, sometimes those ideals crash upon the shores of the real.

It’s not that the ideals are ridiculous or naive (as certain adults used to tell me about my “big dreams” when I was a teenager). It’s not even that the ideals are unattainable (sometimes ideals are very possible for us, especially when they are in keeping with our essential selves).

It’s more that reality provides constraints for our ideals to push up against.  And that who we think we are when we connect to certain ideals may not be who we truly are — or maybe it is, but we change, and our old ideals start to feel more punishing than inspiring.

And this is not a bad thing (though tell that to my twenty-five-year-old self!). In fact, creativity often thrives within constraints. (Why do we need to be creative if there’s nothing to work out, nothing to understand, nothing to make better or see more clearly?!)

When the ideal meets the real, that is when we get to know who we truly are.

I wrote several years ago about my early dream of being an actress, and how I discovered over time that the life of an actor was really not the life I wanted. If I hadn’t given it a shot, though, I never would have understood why.

The reality of me is that I’m much more a writer than an actor. And, as I’ve brought my “ideals around being a writer” into reality, I’ve also learned a lot about what kind of writer I am, and what kind I’m not. I’ve learned a lot about what writing means to me, and what it doesn’t. (In other words, I’m more than a writer. “Writer” is one aspect of me, and writing is a tool through which I express the whole of me. And I’m still learning here.)

***

Spiritual teacher Adyashanti has said that you can have all the ideals you want, but it’s your life experience — your daily reality — that shows you what is true for you.

I had to confront this in my relationships for a lot of years. Although I said I wanted to be with a partner who was fully there for me, the people I allowed into my life back then weren’t really partners at all — they were never truly available to me.

Reality for me clashed with my ideal — what was true for me, I came to see, was that I didn’t really want a partner who was actually there — I wanted the idea of a partner.

It took a lot of peeling back the layers of my ideal for me to comes to terms with what was real — and true — for me. (It’s extremely common in the work I do with clients for them to test out an ideal and discover that they liked the idea of it, but the reality of it is not necessarily a good fit for who they truly are. This is wonderful news: now they get to see what it was in the essence of that ideal that they wanted. Very often, it is the essence we crave, not the actual thing itself.)

If you find your reality pushing up against an ideal, ask yourself:

• What is it about this ideal that inspires me, that moves me? Is there a way I can have the essence of this in my life without needing particular external circumstances?

• Does this ideal even fit me — the real me — anymore?

• Do I simply need more support in order to really live this ideal in my daily life?

What do you notice about how your ideals mesh with reality in your own life? I’d love to hear how this works (or doesn’t!) for you.

This is tough stuff. If you’re in this space and needing support, check out my options for one-on-one coaching and see if you think we might be a good fit. I’d love to help.

Above image is “Clouds Floating Along” © Marilyn Barbone | Dreamstime Stock Photos

How distracting yourself can get you unstuck

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Sometimes we can find ourselves in a cycle that looks like this: We’re pushing and pushing to get something done, but it’s not working, no matter how hard we push.

Then we ask ourselves, “Why isn’t it working? What’s going wrong?”

Our minds start looking for what’s wrong and find that it’s all wrong. (If we look hard enough for something, we will definitely find it.) The project is wrong, the way we’re going about it is wrong, we are wrong. Our lives are wrong. Wrong! Where did it all go wrong?

We get discouraged with how wrong it all seems, and we think, “Well, maybe it’s my attitude. I just need to try harder.” So we push ourselves, and the whole cycle continues.

Western culture is in many ways a “push” culture, which values moving forward at all costs.

One thing that can result from too much pushing is a feeling of stuckness.

Ideally — when I’m really “on track” — I’ve noticed that I feel pulled toward what I want, not like I am pushing myself toward it.

This is not to undervalue “push” energy, as it’s certainly necessary sometimes (it’s just not a great way to live all the time).

A lot of what’s going on with pushing ourselves is that we’re pushing so hard we’re losing sight of why we’re doing something in the first place.

And that’s why — in addition to pulling back and gaining a broader perspective, which I wrote about in my last post — an important element to moving out of a feeling of stuckness can be shifting focus. Or, to put it another way, distracting yourself.

Yes — that means stepping away from what you’re trying (unsuccessfully) to do, and doing something else. Anything else. Resist the urge — for the moment — to try to “figure out” why things aren’t working, and just do something else.

This can work on the smaller scale or the larger scale.

On the small scale, it might look like calling it quits for the day with that chapter you’re wrestling with and attending to the email you’re feeling called to write to a friend.

On the large scale, it might look like putting the major project that’s feeling incredibly draining on hold for a month and immersing yourself in a “fun” project.

This happened for me years ago during grad school when I felt a lot of heaviness around my thesis material. At the end of a summer, when I had a brief break from course work, I found myself super-inspired by these little cat paintings I saw artists doing on a certain auction site at the time. And it occurred to me that — for fun — I could try to do a little cat painting of my own.

I did one late on a Friday night, painting into the wee hours, and it was so much fun I did another one, then listed them both on the site for very low prices. Just for the hell of it.

My sister called the next day — she was always checking on my listings back then, as we sold used clothing a lot — and said, “What are these paintings you have up? One has a bid on it!”

Yep, my little painting I’d done “just for fun” had a bid on it. Someone wanted to pay actual money for my little experiment.

This was the beginning of a period of a year or so where I made lots of little cat paintings and sold them. One ended up in a coffeehouse in Seattle. One ended up in the home of an octogenarian with six cats who lived in England. It was so much fun selling my little paintings and learning about my customers.

And what I discovered during this time was that part of the reason I’d gotten so stalled on my thesis material was that I’d lost touch with what had mattered to me about writing in the first place: it felt fun! I liked it!

I’d gotten locked into “serious grad student” mode and felt like my writing had to be big and important. I still struggled with those feelings (and sometimes do now), but doing my little paintings reminded me that there was much joy to be had from the small, the simple, the cute and the fun.

That thing I was truly seeking — connection with dear, kindred souls — was available to me by doing ordinary things with extraordinary care. (I wrapped my cat paintings in pretty tissue paper and tied them with ribbon and wrote personal notes to each of my customers. I loved responding to messages from my customers and hearing their stories about their cats.)

***

Anne Lamott tells a story in her book Traveling Mercies about her car breaking down when she and her son were on the way to visit a dying friend. When all was said and done, it turned out she wasn’t able to visit her friend until a few days later than she’d planned.

Somehow,  thanks to the “distraction” of the car situation and what it brought up for her, she was able to show up for her friend with more true presence. “I still did not know what was trying to distract me so it could get itself born,” she wrote, “but I felt happier than I had in a long time.”

Sometimes we need to distract ourselves so that we can get out of our own way.

I think this is what happened for me when I was drawn to making small, simple paintings of cats. I needed to get out of my own way.

Getting out of our own way in this sense is not the same thing as procrastination (though our culture — oh, our culture! — will try to convince us that it is, that there is nothing of value in ceasing to push.)

Challenge the culture. Allow your life to be a grand experiment that always leads you back to your core.

Need some support on your grand adventure? Through Feb. 29, my one-on-one coaching sessions and packages are at special prices, in honor of The Year of the Monkey. (Monkeys are a spirit animal for me — they are the guardians of fun and play, which my serious, driven side badly needs to stay connected with.) Find out more here

Above image is “Colour Tube” © Esra Paola Crugnale | 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

The difference between “ready” and “comfortable”

gorgeous fall

Scroll down to find out about limited-time Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions. 

As I am settling into my new living space, I notice how satisfied I feel with this change. Being in this new place during the gorgeousness of fall, my favorite season, is lending a brisk beauty to this season of my life.

The other morning I was up with my cat at 4 a.m.  — he is a night prowler and shelf-climber, unfortunately (at least it’s unfortunate at that time of day). Even though it’s a drag to get up and monitor him at an insanely early hour, I often have insights at that time of day/night. (Isn’t 4 a.m. known as the witching hour? Hmm.)

The insight that came to me that morning was that, as with all the changes in my life that have felt most “right”, this move to a new home happened when I was ready for it, and not a moment before.

Now, what do I mean by “ready”?

There’s an idea out there in the world right now about “starting before you’re ready.” That if we wait to be “ready,” we’ll never begin.

I understand this concept, but my experience tells me something different. And I think it has to do with what is meant by “ready”.

I would say, “Start before you’re comfortable, but don’t start before you’re ready.”

For me, deep, true “readiness” has a feeling of acceptance attached to it.

With moving to this new home, for example, I wasn’t entirely happy about the change. For a long time after I began to perceive that it was going to be necessary for me to let go of my old home, I felt a lot of resistance to that idea.

About a year and a half before I made the move, I looked at apartments in the very building where I now live, and I had a feeling of wondering. Hmm, I wonder what it would be like to live here. I really like this street. I have a sense that I’d like to live here.

But: I was nowhere near ready to make a move at that point. My attachment to my old home was still so great that even thinking about a “real move” filled me with grief, exhaustion and overwhelm.

At that point, all I was ready for was wondering about where I might want to live next. The idea that I should be “more ready” to make a change than I actually was created lots of stress for me. (Funny how it’s always easier to see these things in retrospect.)

The shift for me came this past March or so, when I realized that even though things were still very much up in the air with my living situation and I was enduring frequent house showings, it felt right to simply be where I was. I stopped scrambling. I decided that despite the uncertainty of my situation, I was going to fully enjoy my home for as long as I had it.

And, from that place of full acceptance, I began to become truly, deeply ready to make a change. By June, my boyfriend and I had found our new home and we knew we would be moving in August.

But moving — despite feeling more truly ready for it — was not comfortable.

As I wrote previously, I had a ton of downsizing and letting go to do, on a number of levels. Aspects of that felt excruciating, not just from an emotional standpoint but from a logistical one.

And sometimes, in my new “streamlined” existence, I am still uncomfortable with the fact that I go looking for something that was part of my life for a long time and realize I donated it back in August. Or, now that my boyfriend and I do not have separate office rooms to go to, we sometimes feel on top of each other when we are trying to work. This change is not comfortable, even though I wanted it, I chose it.

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Happy Halloween!

Another example: Back when I finished life coach training in 2011, a number of my fellow “cadets” began to go through the coaching certification process. My mind started in on a familiar loop: “Look at them! You’re falling behind. Hurry up and get certified!”

Luckily, my training had taught me to question my thoughts, and in doing that I realized that, deep in my bones, I was not ready to apply for certification. I wanted to do more coaching first. I wanted to “get” coaching at a deeper level before I went through the certification process so it would actually have meaning for me, rather than just feeling like a “should”.

This feeling came from a different place than the “never-quite-good-enough” thrust of perfectionism. It simply felt right to me to wait to get certified.

When I did go through the certification process, in November of 2011, I felt ready, but it was not comfortable. I still had all kinds of doubts and fears, but the way I knew I was ready was that I was not attached to the outcome. The process of certification was so “real” to me by this point that, even if I didn’t get certified, I knew what coaching meant to me, and I knew that I was a good coach. I’d walked coaching into my bones, and certification felt like a natural evolution of that process.

And, as it happened, certification went beautifully for me. But it wasn’t comfortable. I had all kinds of anxiety around it, but it was a different kind of anxiety than I would have had if I’d forced myself to go through the process six months earlier than I did, just as I would have had a different kind of discomfort around moving if I’d made myself do it a year earlier, just to end my discomfort!

(One of the most poignant things I’ve learned about humans since I became a coach is that, so often, in our hurry to end our discomfort, we create even more discomfort for ourselves. Then we look back and wonder what in the world we were thinking.)

What do you notice about the difference between the times you’ve felt “deeply ready” to make a change and the times you started too soon? Has being “ready” felt comfortable for you? I’d love to hear your experience.

Plus: In celebration of Halloween and the beauty of fall, I’ll be offering 30-minute Autumn Transition coaching sessions for just $39, now through November 25. If you find yourself in deep transition and not quite sure how to navigate your next step, I’d love to help. Find out more about Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions, here.

Above images © Jill Winski, 2015

Walking my talk about self-care + Happy Fall!

pumpkins15Maybe the hardest thing for me about going through a time of heightened activity (or, insanely heightened activity) is coming down from it all.

After the last couple of months of transitioning from my old home to the new one — and the accompanying “too much to do” feeling on a daily basis — things are starting to settle down just a bit.

And I’ve actually found myself at loose ends on certain days. My mind and body have gotten used to “too much to do.” It’s that “coming down from the adrenaline of momentum” feeling that I’ve written about before. The adrenaline that helps us to get through the period of heightened activity actually starts to feel normal to us.

This is where I can get into trouble if I don’t pay attention. Last week Saturday was the first day I really took an opportunity to fully catch my breath — and it felt wonderful. But the very next day, I noticed myself overscheduling and stuffing in activities here and there because, why not? I’ve gotten used to having too much on my plate.

And noticing this in myself clued me in to the fact that I’d fallen for it all over again — our culture’s glorification of “busy”.

Remember that saying, “If you need to get something done, give it to a busy person”? I heard that often from my parents and teachers when I was growing up, and again in college, and, heck, somebody just said it to me the other day.

And to a degree, being busy feels good and IS good, as long as we are occupied with things that are meaningful to us and notice our need to rest.

But there’s something insidious in the way we praise “busy”. We apologize for being “so busy”, and yet it also seems to give us some kind of quick validation. We’re busy, therefore we must be important, we must have value.

And: being super-busy also gives us a good reason to (finally) take a huge time-out and take care of ourselves.

But what if we didn’t need a “good” reason, or any reason at all? What if noticing our need to rest and then our need to be active and then our need to rest again, was simply part of our daily lives, part of our ongoing self-care? What if this kind of self-care was a must, a foundation for our lives, rather than something we have to hit a (sometimes very painful) wall to finally allow in?

For the past several months, I’ve been leading clients through my Stellar Self-Care program, which I created because I recognized that far too few of us truly anchor self-care into our lives at the foundational level. We wait until we’re in so much physical, mental or emotional pain that we simply can’t ignore the part of us that, ultimately, cannot be denied if we actually want to thrive and not just cling by a thread to survival.

And, here’s the thing I came to: I wasn’t walking my talk. I’d been seduced by the idea that I would practice better self-care after my move was over. When things calmed down. When things got less hectic. 

In these past few days, I’ve reminded myself that it’s okay to feel at loose ends as my body adjusts to living life in a less heightened way.

It’s okay to let go of activities that I’m tempted to “schedule in” but simply don’t feel necessary.

And it’s okay to do it all completely imperfectly as I discover how I want to live now (because now is not then!)

One thing I’ve learned while working with people in this new program is that we all have a tendency to turn self-care into “one more big to-do on the list.” And that’s exactly what I did when I starting telling myself I’d take better care of myself when the move was over. I already had such a giant to-do list I felt like I couldn’t possibly take on any more.

And I was right. I couldn’t.

But I was also wrong — because taking care of myself wasn’t about adding to the list; it was about leaning away from the list. About letting the list sit. If there was anything to “do”, it was simply to shift my relationship to the list. To trust that those things on the list would be done when they’d be done, rather than to hold my breath until I’d “tackled them.”

There’s nothing like “heightened times of activity” to trigger stress in us, and there’s nothing like stress to trigger our “fight, flight, freeze” reactions. Once we’re in fight, flight, freeze, we’re in survival mode and we try to “just get through it.”

If we can intervene before we get to that point, we absolutely should. And right now, as I’m writing this post, I’m noticing that part of me that is feeling like it’s pushed hard enough and is ready to stop. It’s saying “enough for today”.

Listening to that soft voice — right here, right now, not later, not when I’m sure this post is “good enough” — is key to me taking care of myself today. So I’m going to act on that urging. And stop.:)

I’d love to hear how YOU take care of yourself before getting to the “fight, flight, freeze” point. And you can learn more about my Stellar Self-Care program here.

Gorgeous gourds: confirmation that fall has arrived!

Gorgeous gourds: confirmation that fall has arrived!

Good stuff this week:

  • My good friend, artist, writer, and creativity consultant Dawn Herring, interviewed me about journaling for one of her “Creative Conversations”. I had a terrific time chatting with Dawn (she got me thinking and making connections between my journaling and the rest of my life that I don’t know if I’d have gotten to otherwise!).
  • I absolutely love this interview with Elizabeth Gilbert about creativity on Marie Forleo’s site. I particularly love what Elizabeth had to say about being a “trickster” when it comes to our creative work as opposed to a “martyr.”
  • Fall is here! The pictures accompanying this post are gourds I saw on one of my walks this week. I wish you the spaciousness to relish this gorgeous season as it sweeps in.

Images © Jill Winski, 2015

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

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is self-care different from self-indulgence?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How showing up too much can thwart your creativity

pinkbloom

The title of this post might sound a little backwards. After all, isn’t showing up regularly — through a daily or almost-daily habit or ritual — key to doing to our creative work?

Absolutely. And that’s not what I’m talking about here.

The showing up I’m referring to has to do with a kind of perfectionistic, I-can’t-afford-to-take-a-day-off mentality which causes us to neglect replenishing our reserves.

There are times when we need to work on showing up. This can be true when we’re building a habit, like exercising or writing or maybe expressing ourselves more to our significant other!

But for some of us (and I definitely include myself here), there’s an “unconscious” kind of showing up that can propel us into the zone of compulsion or addiction.

In other words, it’s not “I choose to show up,” but “I have to show up — in fact, I’m showing up on autopilot without even noticing that I have a choice in the matter.”

What this perfectionistic kind of showing up has looked like for me:

* Never taking a day off from work, not because I didn’t need to take a day off, but because it didn’t occur to me that I could, unless there was an emergency or I was deathly ill

* Always responding to calls, emails and other requests for time very quickly

* Talking to friends or family members who called when my intention was to have time to myself

* Checking social media sites “just in case” I missed something that I “should” be attending to (what a slippery slope that one is!)

* Never missing a class or a workshop or a group meeting even though I was feeling very tired or even ill

* Scheduling client sessions during the time I take my morning walk

* Continuing to move a project forward even though something felt “off”, just so I could feel “productive”

I remember, way back in college, showing up late to a class one day, feeling stressed and slightly mortified that I’d disrupted the group already-in-progress. My teacher graciously welcomed me into the semi-circle, telling the other students to make room for me.

A week or so later, another student showed up late and my teacher gave him a severe bawling out which shocked the whole class. My curiosity got the better of me, and during a conference with my teacher I asked him why he had yelled at this other student for being late, and yet when I was late, he was so kind to me.

He thought about it a moment, and then said, smiling, “It’s kind of like this: you need to learn to be late, and he needs to learn to be early.”

My teacher was perceiving — quite accurately — that my tendency was to drive myself hard and beat myself up when I didn’t “do enough.” Apparently he’d perceived the opposite tendency in this other student.

I felt the vulnerability — and relief — of having been seen.  My teacher helped me recognize that I could start to allow a little bit of spaciousness around my compulsion to show up, to never be late, to never miss a day, to never take planned time off.

I still notice this tendency in myself, many years later, along with a tendency to make myself overly available to others. And when I get into this “overdoing”, “over-responding” place, I find that anything I create has a forced, thin, surface feel to it. The richness has been stripped away; there’s little within me to draw out, or, at the very least, I have trouble accessing what is there.

When we can sit with a request from another without responding to it immediately; when we can say “no” in order to preserve space in our schedules for non-doing; when we can “show up” 90 percent of the time instead of 110, we are feeding our creativity.

We are feeding it by noticing our breath, by noticing our surroundings, by noticing how we are truly feeling. We are allowing ourselves to fill up, rather than running on empty, or on adrenaline. We remember that, sometimes, we can let the world come to us — and it will.

When we slow down enough to invest in the present moment, our words on the page, our paint on the canvas, our listening during a coaching session is more vibrant, more there, more true.

So how do we prevent ourselves from carrying this idea too far and using it as an excuse to not show up when we do need to be showing up?

There’s no easy answer to this.

But if there were an easy answer to it, I’d say it’s this: Know yourself.

Know your own tendencies and your own struggles like the back of your hand. And then trust. Trust yourself to show up as much as you choose to, but never as much as you “should.” Choose. Trust yourself to choose, and choose again.

Do you ever find yourself showing up compulsively? What do you notice about the effect this has on your creativity? I’d love to know!

Image is “Beautiful Flower” © Matthias33 | Dreamstime Stock Photos