There are always alternatives to pushing yourself

I often write here about how pushing ourselves too hard for too long can result in frustration, exhaustion, and burnout. (Which, ironically, slows us waayyyy down, and we’re usually pushing ourselves because we believe we need to go faster!)

A client said to me a while back, “But how do I know the difference between pushing myself to get something done and making enough effort to get it done? They feel the same to me.”

I totally hear this. Most of us have been raised to believe that pushing ourselves hard is some sort of virtue, and that pushing ourselves is simply necessary in order to achieve something.

I used to believe this, and it had much to do with being disconnected from my body and emotions and not recognizing what was true for me until I was exhausted (or sick).

I was all about ignoring the subtleties that tuned me in to what was happening for me.

In fact, I was so good at ignoring my body and my emotions that when I did start getting quiet enough to tune into them, I thought something was really wrong with me.

I became acutely aware of every physical sensation, every ping of hunger, every gentle sadness. I had bulldozed over my inner world for so long by pushing myself that when I started to tune into it, it felt very strange. It was like turning up the light in a room that had previously been dim.

Over time, as I began to gain more self-awareness, I realized there was not just “one mode” of moving through the world — there were actually many flavors of “getting things done.”

Pushing hard wasn’t the only way. I could choose it, for sure, but I discovered over time that doing so was not the kindest, or most effective, path for me.

There are so many ways “staying the course” can look and feel, whether we’re talking about a project that’s important to us or something else we want to stick with through the end.

And the key here is to decide what kind of relationship we want to have with this thing, and with ourselves.

Part of this is choosing language that resonates with how we want to feel. If you don’t want to feel exhausted at the end of the day, it might be best not to say “I really need to push myself today.” (I’ll point out here that some people truly like the feeling of pushing themselves! Even for them, though, there’s a point where it’s too much pushing, not enough allowing, not enough being — and it’s important to know the difference for yourself.)

What I shared with my client is the difference, for me, between pushing and tenacity.

Tenacity, for me, feels like hanging in there with something just long enough to stretch myself for the day, and continuing to show up and do that for the long haul. It’s like stretching a rubber band just enough to give it tension — but not so much that it snaps back or breaks.

We could also think of this as the commitment to keep showing up because we want and choose to show up. Do you remember being pushed to do something as a kid? Why was that person pushing you? Because they wanted you to do something you didn’t want to do, no doubt.

When you want to do something — even if that something is uncomfortable — embracing inner tenacity helps you remember you want to do this, and you will. But since there’s no pushing involved, you’re less likely to trigger that opposing force that says “No! I won’t do it!”

When we look at hanging in there with a project for the long haul, we can see that our energy will naturally ebb and flow — on some days, we’ll have more available to us than on others. Sometimes, hanging in there for the long haul might look like resting more. Sometimes, it might mean working on something just that little bit longer.

If we can pay attention to our body sensations and our emotions, we’ll start to understand what “enough for the day” feels like for us.

This is something we learn and refine over time. It’s life’s work for some of us. And that is a good thing! We will never “arrive” — there will always be more to learn about ourselves. If we push ourselves to “arrive” as fast as we can, we’ll simply end up in burnout, with the realization that “arriving once and for all” is an illusion. There’s no “there” there.

Ways to differentiate tenacity from pushing:

• There’s a “deliciousness” to tenacity. It’s stretching you, like when you use muscles you haven’t before, but you’re not collapsing.

• If you feel “shut down” (or want to shut down), you’ve probably been pushing. Remember that if someone physically pushes you, it’s a reflex to either push back, flee the scene, or freeze because you’re so stunned. All of that is tremendously rough on the nervous system, particularly if it happens again and again.

• When you are tenacious, you quit while you’re ahead. You end for the day feeling alert, maybe slightly used up, but not so used up that you want to avoid your project tomorrow. You’ve used up a good bit of energy, but you feel like there’s more where that came from rather than “totally wiped out.”

• If you sense a lot of inner conflict, like you’ve got one foot on the accelerator and one on the brake, you’ve probably crossed over into “push mode.” When we’re tenacious, we stay aligned with a certain lightness. It doesn’t feel like a slog.

Really getting this difference is not an intellectual exercise — don’t let your mind tell you what’s “enough” for the day. It’s a visceral thing, and it takes practice. Twenty-plus years of learning here for me and I still overdo it at times, still get caught.

So I need to keep checking in with myself, notice what works for me and what doesn’t, notice where I’m getting sucked into what I think I “should” do rather than what feels truly supportive and effective for me.

(For more related to this topic, you might find this post and this post helpful.)

What do you notice about the different between pushing and tenacity for you? Is it subtle, or more pronounced? I’d love to hear from you.

Feel like you’re “in limbo” this fall and need some support to move through it? My specially-priced Autumn Transition Sessions are underway.  You can find out more here.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest newsletter, here.

Above images of squirrel monkeys by RaychanVincent van Zalinge, and Diego Guzmán, respectively, on Unsplash

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Self-knowledge will always support you (+ Happy Fall!)

When we’re going through challenging transition periods in our lives, or when we feel seriously overwhelmed, we can get triggered. Our “stuff” can come up big time — and by “stuff” here I mean our “core issues.”

For example, if one of our core issues is feeling like we need to do it all on our own because we’re not allowed to ask for help, we may coast along seemingly doing it on “all our own” during times when we’re not particularly challenged.

But one or two important elements of our life shift, we recognize we’re feeling in over our heads, and suddenly, bam! The core issue is pressing on us: “I need to do it all on my own, but I’m in new territory here and it feels like I can’t do it on my own, but I have to because I’m not allowed to ask for help/ if I were a strong person I wouldn’t need help/ maybe the kind of help I need isn’t out there.” (I use this as an example because it’s, in my experience, a pretty common core issue for my perfectionist-leaning clients — and for myself as well!)

Another core issue could just as easily be “I can’t do it on my own — I need someone to do it for me or I won’t survive.” You can see that, while this could indeed be very true for a child, for an adult it might not be true in many circumstances (depending on what the thing is and any number of other factors).

If we, as adults, don’t take a look at the core issue that is popping up for us during challenging times, we can stay in a sort of “spin cycle” for a really long time because we don’t see a way out of it.

Usually, working with a core issue involves gaining more and more perspective around it over the course of our lives, so that what once may have felt debilitating or terribly shaming to us becomes something we understand, something we can work with, something we can hold.

So, when we’re really challenged by circumstances inner or outer or both, we need to find ways to calm and soothe our nervous systems so we can relax and detach enough to see the core issue and work with it rather than running away from it, ignoring it or pushing it down.

One of the ways I’ve noticed seems to be particularly helpful here is to call on our strengths by asking them to come forth with this question: What do I know about myself that will help me here?

What’s useful about the framing of this question is that it presupposes that we do know things about ourselves that we value, are unique to us, and that have helped us in the past. This circumvents our tendency during stressful times to go to a place of self-doubt or a place of noticing what’s NOT working and what we’re NOT good at (which is totally habitual for most of us when we’re feeling dazed by something we’ve never dealt with before and in over our heads.)

This works even if we don’t have a lot of life experience. When I was in elementary school, I absolutely hated participating in team sports, but I was forced to for daily gym class. At one point, I was struggling through some sport or other in the gymnasium, wearing my red gym uniform that always seemed way too big, and my teacher shouted out, “You’re holding your own, Jill.” (I’m pretty sure my fourth-grade teacher had gathered by this point that I hated gym, since I sometimes pretended to have a stomach ache to get out of it.)

Now, oddly, when my teacher told me I was holding my own, I believed her. It felt true — I was holding my own. I was actually somewhat nimble and good at catching balls here and there. I just didn’t enjoy any of it — I wanted to read Judy Blume books under a tree somewhere, not dodge the elbows of my aggressive classmates.

What got me through playing countless team sports in gym class for several years after that, though, was my belief in what my teacher had observed: I could hold my own. It sucked, I didn’t want to do it, but since I was a kid and I didn’t have the agency to get out of it, I could hold my own (though not so well in wretched games like bombardment!).

This was my “kid version” answer to the question “What do you know about yourself that will help you here?” “I am pretty good at holding my own.”

(And, Hallelujah, when I got to high school I had way more options for gym class and I took almost all dance classes, which I actually enjoyed.)

Now, notice that if I hadn’t believed my teacher’s observation that I was holding my own, it wouldn’t have been useful self-knowledge to draw upon. When we draw on what we know about ourselves, it won’t feel supportive if we don’t have a certain conviction about it.

A client I worked with several years ago had been through an incredibly stressful relationship break-up. I asked her what she knew about herself that could support her in this bereft-feeling place. She said (shared here with her permission), “I am really good at finding comfort in the most unexpected places.”

What a beautiful piece of self-knowledge! And notice how her essential self served that right up when I asked? We always have within us the seeds of what we need to navigate those extra-challenging spaces, even if they are only seeds and have some maturing to do. That’s often how the hard places end up serving us in the long-run — by maturing the seeds within us that are so ready for growth.

What do you notice about this for you? What do you know about yourself that will help you in a situation you’re currently facing? I’d love to hear from you!

And: In celebration of fall, my favorite season, my Autumn Transition Coaching Sessions are back! If you’re in an “in-between” space this fall and needing some support, you might want to learn more. You can do that here

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest newsletter, here.

Above photos, respectively, by Anh Trandavide ragusa, and Jakob Owens on Unsplash

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You don’t need a “good reason” to fill up again

I’ve spent the second half of this month recognizing that I was feeling “creative depletion,” and allowing myself to fill up again.

This snuck up on me (even though a huge part of the work I do is about reminding myself and others to resource themselves!).

And it caused me to think of a client I worked with a while back who said she had been feeling a great need to “just stop” for a while, but that she couldn’t let herself do that because she didn’t have a “good reason” for that need.

She is certainly not the only client I’ve worked with who’s had that belief, and oh! how I relate to this statement. How often have I doubted a need of my own because I couldn’t figure out the “why” of that need?

Maybe I don’t really need it if it doesn’t seem “logical”? Maybe I can’t admit it fully to myself if there doesn’t seem to be a “concrete reason” for it? Maybe I don’t really need it if it seems like others don’t need it?

Two weeks ago I was on my way back to Chicago after a visit with my parents and I had gotten on the plane and settled into my seat. There was a rather ominous announcement from the pilot. “Uhh … folks … unfortunately there’s a storm approaching, and we’re gonna have to wait it out here until it passes before we can take off.”

There was a collective groan, drowned out by my inner one. “Trapped on a plane” presses the anxiety button for me like few things do. “Well, at least they’re not telling us to get off the plane, right?” I said nervously to the woman next to me. “Not yet,” she said with a frown.

Luckily, the in-flight entertainment system in the back of the seat in front of me was working, and after a few deep breaths, I looked for something to watch. I chose the Julianne Moore movie Gloria Bell (which I thoroughly enjoyed, and which reminded me of the terrain I love to explore in my writing).

As I watched, I became present to the story unfolding on the screen, and although a frantic voice in the back of my head still whispered, “You’re never going to get out of this airport!”, I sank into the movie.

Within an hour, we were off the ground headed for Chicago, and I realized something important: it’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself to be truly present to a work of art.

And that reminded me of this: Creativity is a two-way street — we won’t feel full of our own creative energy if we do not take time to fully digest the creativity of others.

We fill up by recognizing ourselves in the work of others. We fill up by acknowledging that we are never alone in our creating, in our experience, in our humanness.

Always lurking, however, is this idea my client, and I, have harbored: that I need a “good reason” to deeply sink into something, to deeply focus, or to deeply rest. That I somehow need to “earn” the right to fill myself up — not in a “consuming content” way, but in a “present to what is in front of me” way.

So I’ve re-committed to filling my creative well, as Julia Cameron puts it, in a more mindful way during this second half of August.

And I’ve moved a bit away from the digital — my partner and I attended a play in person, we went to a movie in the theater, I found a collection of short stories I’d never read among our vast library of actual books (Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America — so good!), and it felt so nourishing and satisfying to hold the book in my hands rather than reading from a screen.

We don’t need a “good reason” to take care of ourselves in whatever way feels right to us. Sometimes it feels absolutely wonderful to read and watch things on my iPad, even with the interruptions I find myself indulging in. But I’ve been craving deeper focus, more consistent connection with words and images. And in doing so I am feeling full where I’d been experiencing depletion.

I’ve noticed it’s often helpful for us to look to our future selves: What happens for “future you”, six months or a year or five years from now, if you continue to believe you need a “good reason” to fill your creative well? What if that reason never appears? Will life be sustainable for future you?

It’s worth noting that “filling up again” can look all sorts of ways. My partner and I have been doing a lot together lately, but it’s been leisurely, connective, fun-filled doing, not hurried, get-it-done-now doing. (And giving feels so much better from this filled-up, solid, connected place.)

How do you know it’s time for you to fill up again? What happens if you let go of the idea that you need a “good reason” to do it? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for more articles and updates on my coaching offerings (including occasional specials for newsletter subscribers!) here.

Do you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority? I’d love to help! You can find out more on this page.

Above images by Siora Photography and Michel Porro, respectively, on Unsplash

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Help for when you’re hitting the wall (a self-care round-up)

The picture above is the view from my pillows the other afternoon.

I had been experiencing neck pain all day, and I kept pushing and trying and pushing and trying to get something done. It wasn’t working.

This has tended to be my “default” for decades — there is a part of me that deeply believes that it is somehow noble and a sign of “never giving up” to keep pushing beyond the point that it’s actually helpful.

When my body finally communicated to me in no uncertain terms that it was time to lie down, I quickly began to see what I always eventually see in these situations: My tenacity is no longer helpful at the moment, and it is time to let go of the idea that I can control everything if I just push enough.

What’s interesting is that when I slow down enough to tap into that quieter, more restful energy, and don’t give into more “pushing” for a time, I am informed about the best next action to take.

And it’s almost always a simple action that just feels right. But I need to give myself that chance to tap into it — the opportunity to fill up again.

It is deeply ingrained in our culture to keep pushing. And tenacity, persistence, commitment, are indeed powerful and necessary qualities.

But those qualities sometimes look different than we think they will look. They sometimes look like just lying the heck down. They sometimes look like choosing to quit for the day. They sometimes look like saying no to an opportunity we sense will tax us so we can say yes to an opportunity we value more. (There is a lot of choosing involved in living the lives that feel most authentic and fulfilling to us.)

Genevieve the tuxedo cat makes a lovely napping companion.

In case you’re hitting that wall right about now, listed below are a few of the (many) posts related to self-care and not pushing yourself that I’ve written over the years. (It can help to see them in one place!)

Are you stretching or pushing yourself? How to tell the difference.

How to tell if perfectionism is running the show

Pausing is not the same as stopping

Overwhelmed? Step back, then scale back.

Momentum is not always obvious

Your self-care bottom line

The difference between self-care and self-indulgence

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

You only ever need to do one thing

Self-care and self-acceptance: when the pause is priceless

Welcoming the conscious pause

And by the way, choosing to “move away from the wall” doesn’t always look like resting. It might look like cleaning out a closet, or going to a movie, or calling a friend, or taking a walk. It’s however you choose to acknowledge that “this is no longer working, and I’m not going to punish myself by trying to bulldoze my way through this wall at this moment.”

It could be that, in the end, you recognize that you can simply walk around the wall. It could be that there is a door, covered in ivy, that you can open to get to the other side. It could be that you need to dismantle the wall, brick by brick, and you need a lot more help that you currently have in order to do that.

But we can’t see the big picture when we’re blind to any idea other than “pushing through.”

How do you know when you’re “hitting the wall” in terms of self-care? What clues you in? How do you give yourself permission to slow down (or stop) when you need it? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for more articles and updates on my coaching offerings (including occasional specials for newsletter subscribers!) here.

Do you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority? I’d love to help! You can find out more on this page.

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What shifts when you stop fighting your feelings?

The other day I was on the phone with a friend, explaining how I felt about something that had happened recently in a rather heated way. When I finally paused, my friend said, “It makes total sense that you feel that way.”

After I hung up with her, I went out for a quick walk, and as I passed my neighbor and his two adorable dogs (I’m always instantly happy when I see them!) it occurred to me that something had deeply relaxed in me since I got off the phone with my friend.

It had relaxed because she had validated my feelings. She had pointed out that the way I felt totally made sense. For me. In this situation.

And the reason I’d felt so worked up when I’d begun telling her my tale was because I’d felt I needed to argue my point — a part of me was believing I shouldn’t feel the way I felt about the situation.

When my friend pointed out that how I felt made sense, something clicked.

When I relaxed and allowed and validated my feelings (thanks to my friend “lending” me her validation), I knew exactly what I needed to do to take care of myself in the situation.

When I was wondering if my feelings were “okay,” I was judging myself for having them and then believing I couldn’t take care of myself. Because “maybe I shouldn’t feel this way in the first place? Maybe I’m selfish? Maybe I need too much? Maybe my feelings are just too much?”

One of the coaches who trained me back when I went through life coach training in 2010 said that a lot of times when she asked a client to describe what they were feeling, they ended up describing fighting a feeling, rather than the feeling itself.

For some of us, fighting a feeling is all we actually know. We’ve never gotten beneath the feeling of resisting a feeling to the core feeling.

Does this sound familiar? If you grew up in, or currently work or live in, an environment where authentic emotion was or is not encouraged (and I think this applies to, oh, 99% of humans?!), chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about.

If you could believe that how you feel makes total sense for who you are and the situation you’re in, what might be possible?

Could you relax more? Could you, as I did after talking to my friend, connect more easily and quickly with what you need to do to take care of yourself? Could you view yourself, your life, and the people around you more clearly (because your vision is not clouded by fighting so hard against a feeling, or arguing so hard for your right to it)?

When we’re not fighting our feelings, or our right to our feelings, they come up, move through us, and find resolution. (Karla McLaren writes in depth about this process in her incredibly helpful books and on her website).

And we have far more access to our inner guidance when we’re not fighting or suppressing our feelings. It’s from that more relaxed place of accepting the feelings that we can see what their message for us may be. (It’s also from that place of acceptance, I’ve found, that my clients find themselves shifting out of “creative blocks.”)

Signs you may be fighting a feeling:

• You keep venting about something and it feels unresolved

• You catch yourself channeling Spock, saying things like “It’s not logical to feel, think or do this”

• You insist that the only thing you feel is boredom or apathy

• You’re easily irritated, angered, or feel ready to cry (but you don’t)

• You’re convinced that you “should” or you “have to” do something, but you’re not doing it

If this is the space you’re in, it’s time to create safety for yourself. My friend’s kind and patient presence and her validation of what I felt did that for me. On some days, though, I need to find other ways. I love the audios on self-compassion expert Kristin Neff’s site, particularly the one called “Soften, soothe, allow,” for this purpose.

The key word here is permission. If you had permission to feel just how you feel, if you could give that to yourself (because ultimately, we do have to give it to ourselves), what might you notice? What would be possible? These are (some of) the questions to ask. You can probably come up with new ones!

What do you notice about this process for you? What shifts for you when you allow yourself to feel whatever you feel? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for more articles and updates on my coaching offerings (including occasional specials for newsletter subscribers!) here.

If you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority, I’d love to help! You can find out more about working with me, here.

Above blue jay images by Steve Douglas and Erin Wilson on Unsplash, respectively

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Working with the things you can’t change

Truth be told, I am not a big fan of summer. (I actually really dislike temperatures above about 75 degrees F). Fall, on the other hand, is magic to me. I basically wait out June, July, and August — once September hits, I can see the end of summer and breathe easier.

But, where I live in the Chicago area, summer (and a long one at that) is a given. Unless I decide to seek out a place where there’s no hot weather, summer is going to be here whether I love it or not. It’s one of those non-negotiables.

Non-negotiables are those things that just are — we can’t change them no matter how much we may want to.

Byron Katie talks in her work about “the three kinds of business” — my business, your business, and God’s business (or you might call this “the universe’s business”). (Katie’s tool The Work is a powerful one for dealing with things we have limited ability to change that are causing us pain, by the way.)

You can probably guess that “non-negotiables” fall into the realms of God’s business and “other people’s business”. I have a certain amount of control and influence when it comes to the realm of my own business, but when it comes to those other two, not so much (or, in some cases, none at all).

The arrival of summer is one of those things that falls into the realm of God’s business. For a client I worked with recently, her “non-negotiable” was that her son is moving to another country soon (her son’s business). A part of her doesn’t want it to be so (while a part of her is excited for him), but no matter how she feels about it, it’s happening.

We don’t have choices about the non-negotiables — except in how we respond to them, relate to them, hold them.

When my beloved cat passed away last year, I didn’t have a choice about letting him go — he was going to go whether I raged against it, tortured myself over it, or tried desperately to keep him here. I chose to respond to his illness — on my better days, anyway — by keeping him as comfortable as possible, loving him tons, and feeling huge gratitude for the gift of his presence in my life.

A friend who has a chronic illness told me, “I can’t get rid of this right now, or maybe ever, but I’m using it to learn more about myself.” (Since I can hardly think of anything more rewarding than the opportunity to know oneself better, I was truly wowed by this statement.)

Sometimes, we can take a nonnegotiable and turn it on its head by simply focusing on the things we do like about it — even if they’re relatively few and far between.

Summer? Well, I like wearing sandals and skirts in the summer. They feel freeing to me. I like going to the Polar Bear, which is only open in the summer months, and getting a sundae or a shake. There’s a courtyard building a couple of blocks from me where I can spot the resident cats lazing on the grass — but only during summer, when it’s warm enough for them to be out.

And I like my memories of childhood summers, when I ran barefoot around the neighborhood, orchestrating the other kids into complicated creative projects, and watching the local music video channel with my friend-down-the-street, always holding our breath in hopes of seeing something by Prince or Madonna or The Thompson Twins.

So yeah, not a fan of summer — but summer has brought me plenty of joys.

We can also “better” our non-negotiables. When I had to get a root canal a few years ago, I scheduled it at a time when my partner could drop me off and pick me up so his presence could comfort me before and after. (He also bought me this while I was at the appointment. He’s good like that.)

Sometimes, the non-negotiables in our lives are simply there. They may strengthen our acceptance muscles, should we choose to use them that way. They may offer us a chance to deepen our relationship to uncertainty, or to know ourselves in a way we might not have without them. They may spark kindness in us toward ourselves that was previously absent, or a softening toward ourselves and all of life. I’ve learned — through the non-negotiables in my life thus far — to be so much gentler with myself and others than I once was (and, at times, fiercer than I knew I could be before).

What have you noticed about the non-negotiables in your life? I’d love to hear from you.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

If you need support in practicing excellent self-care while making your creative work a priority, I’d love to help! You can find out more about working with me, here.

Above images by Jake Givens, Clark Young, and Brina Blum, respectively, on Unsplash

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Calling in what you need (+ a summer writing opportunity!)

As I was doing some journaling before bed last night (you can read about this ritual of mine here), I realized I felt frustrated and at loose ends. I glanced over at my cat, who lay stretched full-length on the bed next to me. And a question popped into my mind:

What qualities are needed here?

Peace and ease, came the reply.

I wrote this in my journal, put it on the floor and called it a night. I didn’t sleep well, and when I woke up my first thought was, you didn’t get enough sleep, great. But I also noticed that, despite this, I felt basically rested (a glass-half-full recognition that is unusual for me!).

Even though I had a lot on my plate that needed to be attended to early in the day, I gave myself permission to take the length of walk that felt right, rather than just darting down the street for coffee and coming back home to get stuff done.

It was a warm and windy day — I’m not a hot-weather person but it was still early enough that it felt pleasant — and as I moved my body and felt the ground under my feet, my energy shifted. Except I didn’t fully notice it until I returned home, sat down at my desk, and started in on the things that needed to get done.

It all felt purposeful and relatively effortless, and I felt present and connected for all of it. The air-conditioned alcove of my work space felt pleasant and soothing, and my cat puttered around as I worked, offering me meows here and there but not getting oppressive as she often does when I work at my laptop. (Laptop is, for mysterious reasons, her nemesis!).

At some point, I realized I was truly inhabiting the morning. In fact, my entire home felt open, somehow, imbued with a curious spaciousness.

And then I remembered what I’d scribbled in my journal the night before: What qualities are needed here? Peace and ease.

That is exactly what the morning felt like for me, even though I’d forgotten I’d asked for it.

And from that place of peace and ease, the day moved so much more simply. My choices were clearer, my energy was used more wisely. I already had what I wanted to get when everything was done: a feeling of peace and ease.

***

When I work with clients who want to let go of overwhelm, we take an in-depth look at what caring for ourselves — that ubiquitous and broad term “self-care” — actually feels like for us. And what actions come from feelings of wanting to care for ourselves.

Often, it comes down to seemingly “small” and subtle —- but ultimately powerful — questions like the one I asked myself in my journal. What is needed here? What energies can I call in? What happens when I call in those energies?

When we ask helpful, supportive questions and call on the energies we need, we can let go of the struggle, the striving, the efforting.

It’s not “magic” — but there can sometimes be a magical quality to this kind of caring for ourselves. With practice, it can become a positive habit for us to ask these helpful questions even though we presently feel mired in the muck (as I did before bed last night).

I’m going to add the question “what qualities are needed here?” to my regular evening ritual for the next month or so, and see what happens.

And, at any time during the day (or night!), we always have the option to ask ourselves helpful questions, and to call in energies that can support us. When we do this, we remind ourselves that we have a choice as to how we respond to what we’re going through, what we make it mean, and what we intend for ourselves moving forward.

This also underlined for me that I do not have to force myself to try to feel certain things — I can instead choose to call on those qualities. When I simply call on them, I recognize that they’re already within me, I don’t have to create them out of thin air. (I often hear people talking about “working up their courage” — what if you didn’t have to work it up? What if you could simply call on it, because it’s already a part of you?)

What happens for you when you set an intention to call in what you need? I’d love to hear how this works for you.

***

Write with us this summer! I’ll be leading an eight-week summer writing group over at Called to Write — it starts in just one week, on June 3. If you have a writing project you’d like to get going on (or continue) with compassionate group support this summer, feel free to send an email to support[at]calledtowrite[dot]com to get all the details! We’d love to have you. The group will be kept to eight participants (at this writing, it’s about half full.)

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

Above images by Solaiman HossenAaron Burden, and Hannah Jacobson on Unsplash

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Deep rest creates deep renewal ( + meet our new feline friend!)

When I was in college, I worked at Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago for a while, in a gift shop that was then known as the Koala Shop. The koalas lived there, in circular habitat at the center of the shop. Sometimes, when the shop was slow, I’d go up near the glass and just watch the koalas. They were almost always sleeping. Sometimes zoo patrons asked us if they were alive.

At the time, I pushed myself hard, always. I was anxious, and I didn’t believe it was okay to slow down, ever. (I didn’t yet realize that my inability to allow myself to slow down contributed to my anxiety, not the other way around — though it had become a vicious cycle.)

I found that I looked forward to being around the koala energy, though. When I stood at the register ringing up small plastic animals for a long line of shrill-voiced school kids, I liked to glance over at the furry gray bodies wedged in a thatch of eucalyptus, eyes slit. They reminded me to breathe.

***

As I write this, my cat has been sleeping for four hours under the dresser in the bedroom. When she wants to go into deep sleep, she retreats to one of several lairs around our home, and gives herself full-on permission to full-out sleep. (Actually, she doesn’t “give herself permission.” She doesn’t need it. She’s a cat, and she’s doing what a cat does. It’s we humans who need to give ourselves permission to rest deeply.)

I’ve been busy lately — overscheduled, actually — and I could tell I was reaching my threshold for busy-ness yesterday evening when my partner pointed out that he sensed I was going into “mini meltdown” territory (as opposed to what he calls a “category 5” meltdown, when I have pushed and overwhelmed myself to such an extent that I shut down after a lot of yelling and tears.)

“Mini meltdowns” are, for me, an indicator that it is time to allow myself to access a little bit of koala energy, a little bit (or maybe a lot) of that sumptuous rest my cat dives into each and every day. The sooner I recognize this, the less likely I am to reach category 5 territory.

So I gave myself the gift of deep rest today.

***

I remember a friend of mine from years ago who couldn’t stand waiting around for anyone. Whenever we waited, anywhere, for anyone, she crossed her arms and started tapping her foot. “I can’t be waiting around like this!” she’d snap. “I need to make use of my time!

I thought of her today because, during my intentional period of channeling koala and cat energy, I kept noticing how spacious the day felt — but my mind kept jumping in with “But you should be making use of this time!” (Minds will do this.)

What if we could allow time to support us, rather than believing we must “make use of it,” always? What if we could experience the sumptuous, luxurious hours my cat does when she retreats to her lair for deep, deep sleep? What if we could make deep rest not just an option, but a necessity?

The koalas in that gift shop, I see now, served as guides placed on my path. They possessed the precise energy and orientation to life that I needed to inform me at that time. (Look back over your life, and I guarantee you’ll spot several of these types of “messengers” on your own path.)

We humans are not cats or koalas, obviously — we have a different set of mental, psychological, and biological needs than they do. But they can remind us of our fundamental need for deep rest during some days, some weeks, and, sometimes, longer periods of our lives.

Rest is how we renew ourselves; it supports us in moving from one phase of life to the next, whether that’s into a new day, a new relationship, better health, or a new expression of our creativity.

Because I’d gotten caught up in the cycle of overscheduling, I hadn’t allowed myself this renewal until today. And here I am writing a blog post — not because it’s a “have to” on my list, but because it suddenly felt delicious to do so, in the spaciousness of this day.

***

And by the way, meet Genevieve! We welcomed her into our home quite a while ago now (huge thanks to The Animal Care League!), but I haven’t officially introduced her here.

While my dearly beloved Sullivan, who left us last year, was my CEO of Curiosity and Relaxation, Genevieve brings quite a different energy. We call her the Queen of Mayhem!

But she’s still a cat, a creature who transforms rest into high art. We love her more every day, and it’s fun to see her expanding her territory to the living room windows this spring (where she recently spotted a hawk on the neighbor’s fence!).

How do you allow deep rest into your life when you need it — whether it’s for a few hours, a day, or more? If you need deep rest right now, how can you find ways to give it to yourself? I’d love to hear from you.

***

Are you feeling stuck in overwhelm and longing to live differently? I’ll be continuing to enroll in my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program through May 13, 2019 (or until all spots are filled). I’d love to support you in this journey if it’s right for you. You can find out more, here.

Want to stay connected? You can sign up for my monthly-ish Artist’s Nest Newsletter, here.

Koala photo credits: top photo by Enrico Carcasci; middle photo by David Clode; bottom koala Photo by Mélody P, all on Unsplash

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Tolerating the discomfort of setting limits

One of my teachers says that being able to tolerate discomfort is one of the most important capacities we can develop in this life.

I very much agree.

We humans will do a heck of a lot of maneuvering in order to avoid discomfort. In fact, we employ all sorts of sophisticated systems — many of them automatic and not entirely within our awareness — to keep ourselves from feeling discomfort.

And when we commit to taking better care of ourselves, to responding to our needs instead of squashing them or pretending they’re not there, one of the really uncomfortable things we inevitably realize we need to do more of is setting limits.

Many of us have a rather complicated relationship with the idea of limits. Part of this goes back to how we were raised by our parents or guardians. We may have had lots and lots of limits imposed on us.

Or maybe we had far too few (which can be particularly frightening for children, who need the safety of supportive limits that adults set for them). We may also have experienced an inconsistent and confusing mix of the two.

So setting limits in support of self-care can be truly challenging, particularly for those of us who are practiced in living in an “others-centered” way.

And yet, setting these limits is vital to taking care of ourselves and creating the space that is required to build the lives we desire, to create what we yearn to create.

The good news, I have found, is that many people are absolutely happy to respect our limits, once we communicate them. The not-so-good news: We will also experience “pushback” when we change the behavior people are used to from us. (Martha Beck refers to this pushback as “change-back attacks”.)

This pushback can come from others, and it can also show up as extreme discomfort that arises within us. In fact, sometimes the biggest challenge I have is in setting limits with myself.

There is a deeply-rooted adaptive behavior I can default to of pushing myself relentlessly. (I say “adaptive” because I learned when I was young that if I pushed myself very hard, I could potentially get a lot of praise from the adults around me.)

And when I let in a little discomfort, if I’m not mindful, I can sometimes default to even more pushing myself to avoid feeling it.

Of course, there is an unpleasant hangover effect from all this pushing myself: I feel depleted, disconnected from myself, angry, sad, and confused as to why I feel so awful after all my very hard work.

Most of the clients who work on self-care issues with me are all too familiar with the icky hangover effect of defaulting to self-neglect. And we do quite a bit of working with the significant amount of discomfort that can arise when we start to let go of this pattern and turn it around.

This is where the power of noticing comes in. Sometimes, particularly when a coping behavior is very deeply ingrained in us, we need at first to just notice it — more and more particularly — and give ourselves a good chunk of time to let it really sink in just how this pattern is affecting us.

I sometimes work with clients on one area of a particular relationship that causes them stress. They know the relationship is challenging for them, but until they slow down enough to truly notice what’s happening within the relationship that is triggering the stress — the various pieces that make up the chain of events that lead to the result of STRESS — the pattern continues.

Slowing down and noticing our thoughts, our feelings, and the actions we take (or don’t take) in these situations is key — and it can be truly uncomfortable to do that.

A lot of times the ways we neglect to take care of ourselves — sometimes particularly where other people are involved — can get shoved into a giant blind spot for us because our discomfort causes us to speed right over what’s actually happening.

One of my clients, for example, felt that she had to answer the phone every time her mom called. And her mom sometimes called as many as five or six times a day.

Until we took a slowed-down, close-up look at her belief system around her relationship with her mom and the feelings and actions that belief system created for her, my client was dropping everything multiple times per day to be there for her mom. She wanted to be there for her mom, but she needed, she came to realize, to be there for herself first.

And there was some untangling to do there that was uncomfortable to accept — and to act on.

The paradox here is that when we’re willing to let in the discomfort of slowing, stopping and really seeing what’s going on, we actually feel less discomfort over time. We learn to live more comfortably within our true selves.

Instead of moving away from discomfort, we move toward the kind of relationship we want to have with first ourselves, and then our loved ones.

Facing our discomfort around setting limits — whether with ourselves or others — is easier with support. This is the kind of work we do together in my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program. Interested in learning more? You can do that here.

Want to stay connected and learn more about my coaching offerings? You’re welcome to sign up for my monthly-ish newsletter. You can do that here.

Thanks to these photographers for helping me illustrate today’s post with monkeys! Top photo by Tobias Mrzyk on Unsplash ; middle photo by Andre Mouton on Unsplash ; bottom photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

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Supporting your deep-diving self from the outside in

If you’ve read my blog posts, you probably know that I believe true personal change happens most of the time in our inner world (no matter how much we scramble to change the outer).

Many of us — and I certainly include myself here — have pushed and pushed to try to control our outer worlds to the point that we bottom out on that way of life.

When we’ve gone too far in the outer direction, and we start to sense the limitations of that, it makes tons of sense to start looking within.

That said, as an introvert who often works with introverts, I’ve noticed that we “deep divers” sometimes take our moving inward just a little too far.

This might look like trying to “accept” the unacceptable — for example, working on ourselves more and more to make a relationship better, when in fact we’re better off letting go of the relationship altogether.

It might look like using spiritual practice for the purpose of avoiding the “real world” (sometimes called “spiritual bypass.”).

It can also look like making things that are simple very complicated. I remember trying so hard to “like” taking care of the yard at my old home, but in fact, I just hated yardwork. It took me ages to recognize that I didn’t have to like it, didn’t even have to do it, and it was perfectly okay to hire help.

If trying to solve the problem on the inside seems to be creating more struggle, we might need to move ever so slightly outward.

In my last post, I wrote about how getting rid of energetic drains in our surroundings can clear space for creativity. That can be a hugely important part of an outside-in approach to self-care.

Another part of an outside-in approach can be making sure we connect with people whose energy feels supportive to us on a regular basis.

If you are an introvert, your natural tendency is to move inward. And this is a good thing! It’s why introverts who try to be extroverts end up feeling exhausted — and why not enough diving inward can be detrimental to us, as I learned early in life.

Sometimes, though, introverts may find themselves a little bit “too in.” (This may be particularly true if you have high sensitivity in the mix. Elaine Aron talks about the “too in/too out” dilemma many HSPs face in her work.)

The trick for introverts is that we may have quite a bit of ambivalence about keeping up with our connections — that time to ourselves, that delving inward, can be so enticing. So I like to make sure I have regular, “calendared” ways of doing this connecting. It makes it easier for me when I know I need to show up because people are counting on me to do so.

A few other ways that can be helpful in supporting ourselves from the outside-in:

Caring for animals. On my walks, I often run into my neighbor from the condo-across-the-way as he’s walking his dog. He’s told me how meeting his dog’s needs gives him a much-needed break from his tendency to “ruminate”. I was like, preach! I haven’t had cats for thirty years only because I love cats. They allow me to have my inner world while also bringing me out of it.

Gentle time limits. Journaling is fundamental for me — I do it most days through morning pages, but it takes many other forms for me as well and is key in making shifts in my life. I do, however, set a gentle time limit on my journaling each morning. Otherwise I can sometimes get lost in it.  We might also find it helpful to set time limits on certain phone conversations, watching Netflix, or any area where we tend to be a little bit “time-boundary-challenged.”

Soft deadlines. I used to think I hated deadlines, but I’ve learned they can support me as long as I’m not imposing hard, strict deadlines on myself.  (Many thanks to my friend and coach Theresa Trosky, who years ago pointed out to me in our work together that “soft deadlines” are actually my friend!)

Bookending the day. On most days, I try to get up and go to bed at roughly the same time. This regularity bookends the day and becomes something I can count on, particularly on days when my emotions have been swirling. There are other ways I “bookend” my day, such as morning and evening pages, and we can create these kinds of “containers” for ourselves throughout the day, too.

Limiting news consumption. This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s abundantly clear that exposing ourselves to anything and everything is anti-self-care, particularly if we are energy-sensitive. I have to trust my intuition here on how much news is actually helpful for me. (Notice how many of these outer supports are a form of limit?)

I’m sure you can think of hundreds of other outside-in supports (and I’d love to hear from you!).

What I notice is that these outer supports, rather than constraining the “deep diver” in me, actually support my inward focus while keeping me connected to the outer world. They remind me that I am a human being in a physical body in a physical world, even though I do a lot of delving into my inner world.

Turning inward, doing that inner work, is fundamental for those who want truly know and understand themselves. But the outer world sometimes holds the answers for us, too (and if not “answers,” certainly support!). How do you use “outside-in” support in your life?

I’ll be enrolling in this year’s version of my Stellar Self-Care One-on-One Coaching Program soon. Want to learn more, or just stay connected? Feel free to sign up for my monthly-ish newsletter, here.

Hearts photo by Rachel Walker on Unsplash ; woman with dogs photo by Frederik Trovatten.com on Unsplash

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