Accessing Vacation Vibe

My family and I just returned from our annual trip to the Chautauqua Institution. It is a summer ritual that I cherish. Chautauqua is a spectacular place, and leaving is always difficult. We spend a good bit of our drive home in a repeated chat pattern. The first hour or two are usually spent thinking of ways we can spend more time there. Do we want to spend more money? When would we go? What would that look like? We usually come up with a scheme or two on that front in those two hours and then take some time introverting (which is not as hard as it sounds in a car, but takes practice and a good supply of interesting podcasts). After we’ve both recharged by pretending to be alone, we enter phase two of our annual conversation, which is how to extend what we get at Chautauqua into our every day lives.

This vacation we take is unusual in that it is not necessarily about resting and relaxing (no palm trees or umbrella drinks). On our trip we typically see live performances most nights, attend lectures and classes during the day, go to art galleries, take walks by the lake, and ride bikes everywhere. The usual summer vacation indulgences also make it in there (books, ice cream, the occasional nap), but we don’t really spend a lot of “down” time while we’re there. So when we get home, we are sort of pressed to acknowledge how we are spending our time. If we want to feel more often the way we feel at Chautauqua, we may need to change the way we’re doing things at home.

For us this means more engagement. We need to get more intellectual stimulation and banish the buffer box (the TV) more regularly. We need to see more art of all kinds, and plan to do it so we don’t have the option of bailing at the last minute. We need to be more engaged in social and political discussions; being places that are so interesting and stimulating that taking notes seems like a good idea. Perhaps more importantly, we also need to take a look at what we are thinking, because the way we feel at Chautauqua has a whole lot to do with what we think when we are there: “This is a magical place. This is a special place. There is so much here that I cherish. This place makes me feel alive. I wish there were more places like this in the world.” How could I not feel good and have a great time with those thoughts?!

Slide1The contrast with vacation, the reality of vacation letdown (boo hoo, I know) can make home seem kind of boring, but in reality I am surrounded by opportunities that I ignore on a regular basis. I get into my habits, I get into my thought patterns and I miss out on things that I enjoy, and I miss out on just feeling great right where I am.

For a lot of folks vacation means a time of exquisite self-care, a chance to rest, or a time to just play. What would your perfect vacation include? A lounge chair? A window, blanket, and book? A long hike followed by some tea? A puzzle and your kids? What is it that you’re missing that you long for during those vacation days when we allow our desires to take center stage?

Slide2The obvious question is if you are 100% sure you can’t fit some of that in to your every day life. I know, I know, you’re busy. Do us both a favor and just for a minute try on the thought: “I have time.” Just say it to yourself a few times and see what happens. Do you feel a sense of relief? Do you laugh a little and realize that you DO actually have some time, especially if you stop freaking out about being busy? Now, having done that, what part of your vacation dream can you fit in that slot? What nourishment can you sneak in when your super busy brain isn’t looking?

Slide3If you’re really wanting to go the extra mile, ask yourself how you feel on that dream vacation (close your eyes and picture it if you need to). What’s the feeling that you’re wishing you had right now? Got it? Now, ask yourself what you’d need to think to feel that way. What thought would you need to have in order to feel the way you want to feel? Is there a thought that’s getting in the way of the good feeling thought? Because here’s the thing. Those thoughts? The good one, the bad one that’s in the way, all of them… they are a choice. You can unpick them just like you picked them (at least the first time you had them). You can choose a new thought. You CAN feel more like you do on vacation; it’s totally within your power to do so. You just have to think the way you do when you are there.

If you could use a little more vacation brain, but aren’t sure where to start, I’d love to help.

How I Lost Weight

I’ve been getting a lot of questions lately about how I’ve lost weight. I did not have a ton of extra weight to begin with, but I guess I’ve gotten to the point where it is noticeable. I think when people ask me this question, what they are really asking is: “What diet did you try?” OR “What food did you give up?” People want to know what the magic solution is, and I totally get it, having looked for magic solutions many times in the past (grapefruit as the key, really?).

Slide1The truth is my weight loss process has been both easier and more complicated than the answer to the question that folks are asking. I could tell you how I eat, which at this point is pretty significantly different than it used to be, but that would be a woefully incomplete answer. The truth is the first part of my “weight loss journey” (I really hate that phrase), had everything to do with what was going on in my heart and my mind. Why did that have to happen first?

Because I needed to learn how to be happy with myself, no matter what my body looks like. I needed to learn how to build a full life without relying on my dinner to be the best part of my day. I needed to learn to push myself harder so I could figure out what would make me deeply happy rather than being satisfied with knowing another meal or snack was coming.

My relationship with food was complicated. I used it. I used it to cheer myself up. I used it to distract myself. I used it to excel at something while I was a stay at home Mom. I used it exercise some control on my life when things felt out of control. I used it to avoid feelings and to bring on the physical buzz of overeating. I used it to impress people. I used it to practice my writing skills. I made food such a huge part of my life and then was disappointed when the other parts were so small and unsatisfying. I used food as an escape hatch, a wubbie, a friend. Before I could really make good decisions about how to eat, I had to REALLY learn how to deal with my emotions without food making it easier or unnecessary.

Slide2AFTER I did all of that, the question of what I ought to be putting in my body becomes a series of scientific experiments. What can I eat that will fuel me and be pleasurable? It’s so much easier. When I don’t need to eat for emotional reasons, all of these questions about what I choose to eat and not choose to eat just become math and planning that I do rather than some sort of horrible self-imposed deprivation. I get to stop thinking about food all of the time and then beating myself up for it. I get to get on with all of the wonderful things there are to do with my time on this earth. I still celebrate things. I still have friends. I still enjoy myself. All of it is good. In fact, all of it is a whole lot better because I did the REAL work first.

My BARE program will help you do that real work AND it will help you discover what kind of eating works best for you, and if you show up and really give it everything you’ve got, you will blow your own mind. The new school year is coming, a perfect time to make a change. I’m ready if you are.

What Feels Like Freedom?

I talk about decisions a lot here in these pages because a lot of people, and I include myself amongst those people, get hung up on decisions. We get hung up collecting information, we get hung up measuring pros and cons, we get hung up with figuring out how we really feel and how much of that is old programmed nonsense that we really don’t believe anymore. We get hung up because we’re terribly afraid that we’re going to make a mistake, do it wrong, fail, look foolish… I could go on. There is a test that helps us get past all of that, at least for the decision-making part. It’s simple, really. Acting after that is a separate discussion, but the test for a decision is remarkably easy.

Martha Beck, the brilliant PhD with whom I trained as a life coach and one of my esteemed mentors, agrees with other brilliant souls that the defining feature to look for in these times is a feeling. WHOA! I realize I may be losing some of you already. If this is not your first time at my personal rodeo, you probably saw that coming. The feeling that Martha Beck suggests we look for is something she calls “shackles on.” Looking for that shackles on feeling requires a couple of things. The first thing you’ll need to do is get quiet; stop the clamor of data in your head; stop the pro and con list (you can have them back later if you really need them). Get quiet and take some deep breaths. Let yourself temporarily let go of all of the reasons you SHOULD choose one thing or the other. When you’ve gotten yourself quieter, imagine one of the possibilities you’re considering, and see how it makes you FEEL.

Slide1Does it feel like you’ve got shackles on? For me that usually means heaviness and a feeling of being drained; my body will actually respond by slumping in my chair and emotions like dread and sadness usually come as well. Does it feel like shackles off? For me that means feeling physically lighter, breathing more fully; my body responds by straightening up, my head drifts upward and back on top of my neck where it is supported. I feel airier, like there’s room for me; I feel unlimited. THAT feels like freedom. That’s shackles off. My body knows where my true preferences lie, without all of the mental gymnastics I torture myself with. When you stop to see how you REALLY feel about options, sometimes the right decision becomes incredibly, even physically, clear.

BUT WAIT you say, I can’t possibly because… yes, I know. You have responsibilities. You have financial realities. You have obligations. I’m not being sarcastic. I TOTALLY get it; believe me. I have them too. Here’s the thing, recognizing what choice feels like freedom doesn’t mean you have to do that thing right this minute. What?!

Here’s the thing about big changes and hard decisions and knowing what makes you feel free, knowing what your deepest desires are; these are treasures, precious cargo, and they deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, and sometimes that doesn’t mean jumping in with both feet into something big. Sometimes that means holding and refining that vision until you know exactly how you want it to go, nurturing it, cultivating it like a tender seedling. Sometimes it means asking yourself: “What are 10 small things I can do to get closer to THAT version of my life? What is it about that vision that works for me? Can I get a little of that while I work on all of this?” and then doing some of that, doing the work that will make it possible to get to where you ACTUALLY want to go; doing the work that will make the voices that tell you that you’re being foolish or that your dreams are impossible have to stop because, look, you’re doing it; doing the work that will make it easier to make a transition that might not be as immediately gratifying as going into your boss’ office and telling her exactly what you think of her. You can start to build your dream with little bricks, little motions, little efforts to tend your garden

Slide2You can do all that, OR you can keep using your spreadsheet and concluding that staying where you or choosing the thing that most certainly does not feel like freedom is the only possibility, convincing yourself that how you feel about it is immaterial. You can pretend that there is nothing between choice A and choice B because it feels too painful to admit what you actually want. You can pretend that you have no choice because of all of your obligations and you can continue to feel shackled to your current reality.  You can continue to collect evidence for why it’s so awful. You can do that, but I’m not sure why you’d want to. Wouldn’t a little freedom, even if it’s just in the form of a vision and a list of steps, feel REALLY, REALLY good?

If your vision maker feels broken or you’re afraid of what you’ll find if you look for your feelings, I’d be honored to help with that.

On Becoming a Curator Of My Life

There are two separate processes in the BARE program where the focus of the work is to let go of things which 1) no longer serve us or 2) actively deplete us mentally or physically. This can be a surprisingly difficult task. We hold on to so much, I suppose in an attempt to maintain stability, to convince ourselves that we are okay because of sameness, to ensure ourselves that while the whole world is changing at a million miles a minute, we are standing on solid ground.

This work was difficult for me. I didn’t want to evaluate the things in my home, even though I could sense that their number was too great for my sense of well-being. I didn’t want to evaluate my time commitments and my relationships to see if they were more than draining. I REALLY didn’t want to go into my closet and be honest about what clothes didn’t fit and which I didn’t like and probably shouldn’t have bought in the first place (the self-judgment about wasting money is perhaps the most fun part). I didn’t want to do any of that, but I did, and it paid off in spades. How?

Slide1My stress level went down as I became a curator of the things in my environment rather than just an acceptor of all things. My stress level decreased as I became more honest about the amount of time I wanted to spend on various pursuits and in various relationships. My happiness and confidence went up as I got rid of clothes that made me feel dumpy and as stained as a toddler Mom and replaced them with clothes that made me feel my best, helped me express how I WANT to look, not just what’s in my closet. Letting go of that which no longer served in my physical world has been a game changer.

The interesting thing is that performing those purges has helped to create a mindset that has made me a more careful consumer, planner, and doler-outer of my time. I really have begun to curate my experiences. I have begun to question how I’m spending my time and what I’m getting for it. And I’m making some changes that will exchange unpleasant time for time that will satisfy me.

And here I come to the issue of my garden… not my garden as in English garden with flowers and such, but my vegetable garden. We moved into this house 10 years ago and I have attempted to grow vegetables every year since (although I should note that if you are an aspiring gardener, buying a house in a neighborhood that has street names with “Slate Hill” in them is probably not a great move). We have had a few good years. Even those years, however, did not produce as much as they SHOULD have based on the amount of effort required. Why?

Our yard backs up to a protected woods that has a creek running through it. It is a magical place that we explore with the kids. We find critters, we wade, we take long walks and make up stories about what goes on at night. That woods backs up to a very large county park, which connects to other parks in our fairly rural and wooded county. What does all of this mean, other than that we live in a beautiful spot (which we really, really do)? It means our yard is part of a vast wildlife highway. We have groundhogs; we have rabbits; we have squirrels; we have even had a black bear. And the deer, please don’t get me started on the deer. I know all of you gardeners out there are chomping at the bit to give me advice on how to keep them out. Whatever you’re about to say, short of enclosing the whole thing in chain link fencing including a roof, which would be the only way to keep the squirrels from stealing my tomatoes, we’ve tried it. We’ve done everything short of shooting and poisoning them, which I’m not willing to do. For everything I grow in my garden, assuming the plants thrive, we might get 20% of the harvest. And I haven’t even talked about the bugs.

Being near the creek makes us a prime target for SO many pests. And again, short of spraying things that I’m not comfortable eating, we’ve tried it. We’ve tried it all and I am weary. I am tired of being disappointed when I go out to tend to my garden. This is not the experience I had in mind. There has been little fulfillment in the whole operation, and so I have decided that this year will be my last in carrying out this size of effort (I have a big garden). I haven’t yet decided if I will simply make a much smaller garden of things that do well here or stop the enterprise altogether. I do know that some flowering plants would make a nice addition to part of the yard that the garden covers up. That would feel good to me. And that’s the thing, right? These chores we assign ourselves should get us SOMETHING we feel good about, right? I am going to curate my yard so I can be in it and feel GOOD instead of disappointed or like I am a rotten gardener. I want to enjoy my space. I get to decide how to spend my time and what kind of results I want.

Slide2What part of your life could use a little curating? What are you accepting that is not yours? What are you committing to that is draining you? What used to be fun and now is, well, not? What’s in your closet? If you need a personal guide who can teach you how to be a better curator, I’d love to help.

Rules For Freedom: Dealing with Overwhelm

 

Look, there are plenty of good reasons to get overwhelmed in the modern world. Everywhere we look there are SO many options. I used to joke that I would do better in really small grocery stores that only carried one brand of the the thing. ONE kind of ketchup, one kind of mayonnaise, whatever. I know, I know, what would we do without the battle over Hellman’s versus Duke’s? Seriously. At times I just wanted to stop spending time on this level of decision-making. Why? Because then some time would be free and I wouldn’t be thinking about mayonnaise – right? And then the shopping would be done.. don’t worry I don’t really spend that long on mayonnaise, it’s just an illustration.

Slide1But the same level of possibility can apply to big decisions. And there’s a lot of information out there for us. We can get so caught up in the details and comparisons, data collection and analysis, worry that we’ll pick the wrong thing that we never do anything. In fact, I can’t tell you about how many adults I’ve talked to who say they’d rather be doing some other kind of work but then they get bogged down in the logistics, the details, the worries about whether or not it will work, the need to know the future. All of that becomes overwhelming, and so they stay exactly where they are, unhappy but safe. Sometimes they’ll try to put some whipped cream on that by telling me about their nice coworker.

I have a couple of reactions to this. First, it’s actually really good to stay in the blah job long enough to learn how to be happy even though your circumstances aren’t ideal. If you  can’t learn to manage your mind and emotions, you’ll just be taking that stuff with you. On the other hand… if you are just staying in a job because it’s safe and you can’t decide what to do next, the problem isn’t the number of possibilities, it’s the way you are looking at them.

Slide2When we’re taking on a new project, there are three phases involved with getting started: the idea (which may involve some dreaming), the logistical details (which often includes anything but), and action. SO many people spend an enormous amount of time in the second phase, the one that’s supposedly about logistical details. I like to call that phase: “I can’t because…” This is the time when we start with some logistical details (maybe we have some scheduling issues) or concerns from previous jobs (maybe we’ve been burned before) and those really just become the centerpieces for a big feast of reasons why we can’t ever change anything. It feels like thinking about our options, but really it’s just a whole bunch of storytelling. How do I know it’s storytelling? Because it involves predicting what will or won’t be possible in that next big career move when you have NO idea what could actually happen because you haven’t talked to anybody about anything. All stories. You made it all up. You may find that offensive because it’s based on something real. That’s okay I can take it. You still made it up. What happened to you in the past is past. The best way to allow that injury to continue is to allow it to limit you forever.

Slide3So when I have a client who’s in this kind of overwhelm, the analysis paralysis, I encourage them to focus on the other two steps: focus on the idea and the vision for what could be next, including how they want to feel and what they want to do with in great detail and THEN? Then I encourage them to act. “But I don’t know what to do….. I’m going to get it wrong… I will fail.” 1) Make a list of 10 small actions you could take to support your idea or vision. 2) Yes, you might, then you try one of the other 10. 3) Yes, you might, and you will be okay, and you will like yourself better for having tried, and you will learn what NOT to do so you can try again.

Sitting in overwhelm is paralyzing, and it’s also a choice. A good rule for freedom? Don’t allow it. Focus your sights on your vision and action. Before you know it, you just may be somewhere totally new.