The Self-Help Swiss Army Knife

I’ve been thinking about getting Swiss Army knives for my kids for Christmas, and I confess that this is likely a result of some ridiculously romantic notion of them cheerfully whittling on the back porch without cutting their fingers off and in lieu of some other pursuit that I find idiotic, but I’ve been thinking about it nonetheless. I have always been in awe of the massive amount of utility packed in such a relatively small container that is the Swiss Army Knife.

What tools will make me feel betterAnd then I got to thinking about that idea – a group of tools all hooked together and easily accessed, thus the idea of a Self-Help Swiss Army Knife was born. I began to seriously consider what tools in my toolbox I would recommend that people take on an adventure where outcomes are uncertain and pragmatism can be invaluable. And so, as a holiday gift to you all, I’ve come up with my Self-Help Swiss Army Knife (SHSAK) – although as I am a writer and coach and not a bookseller, it is sort of a DIY version (something I think I’d recommend against when it comes to an actual Swiss Army Knife – my Youtube search yielded lots of DIY to do WITH these knives and one actual “melee” weapon made of Legos).

So the Self-Help Swiss Army Knife needs to provide both the basic daily functionality of a plain old pocket knife and the extra bells and whistles (ok, corkscrews and toothpicks) of the real deal. Everybody with me?

Tool #1: A stillness practice. It can be meditation, but that word makes a lot of people anxiously flee (which they could prevent with meditation, but that’s not a helpful observation). The idea of and the procedures of meditation turn a lot of folks off, but there are many ways to develop a stillness practice – here’s one example, for more Google “sit spot”. What’s the point? The point is just like the one for the main blade of that knife. A stillness practice will cut away the crap. It gets you closer to what you actually want and need and gives you a break from the excess EVERYTHING. Sounds pretty good, right?

Tool #2: A body practice. What? Develop rituals, exercise, habits that put you in touch with your body. We spend so much time in our heads that we rarely give these amazing containers the attention that they deserve, and much of the attention we do give them is negative (a list of things we don’t like about them or recognition only when there is ailment). Paying attention to how your body feels and cultivating better physical feeling is both deeply rewarding and revealing about what is going on with you emotionally while you’re thinking about your holiday gift buying list. A body practice, like that nail trimmer on the knife, gets us focused on necessary self-care in a way that can only promote wellness over time.

Tool #3: Some method of journaling – this need not be written. If verbal expression isn’t your thing, maybe art OR maybe you hate to write, but love to talk. Find a way to express what’s going on in there in a stream of consciousness sort of way – no rules, no judgments, no grammar, no erasing, just get it all out there. Journaling is the can opener of the SHSAK. Let’s open it up and see what’s inside.

Tool #4: Now that we’re taking a look. Let’s magnify that vision a bit. For this, I heartily recommend Byron Katie’s The Work, a process of inquiry that she describes in her book Loving What Is. The author teaches us how to ask questions of our beliefs and our assumptions so that we can stop being hampered, tortured, made anxious and unhappy by things that aren’t necessarily true. It is a great tool for taking a closer look at what we think and believe and how it is impacting us.

Tool #5: Brooke Castillo’s The Model as described in Self-Coaching 101. This book is amazing. In it the author basically describes how to identify and change thought patterns that keep us stuck, prevent growth, and cause misery. Does she promise a totally happy life? No, but she promises a conscious one, where you get to make decisions about how you think and feel. This is the wire cutter and wire crimper of the SHSAK. It can also take care of small annoyances like the toothpick. Now THAT’s a useful tool.

Tool #6: Once you rearrange your assumptions, you may feel a little adrift. Any time you’re feeling adrift Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star makes an excellent compass for finding your way home – or to a new home. Okay, most Swiss Army Knives don’t have a compass, but I think we can all agree that they should, so the SHSAK definitely has one and this book is it.

Tool #7: The Fear Chair exercise as described by Liz Gilbert in Big Magic. The author talks about the power of fear to stop us in our tracks, regardless of how excited we might be about our endeavor. The answer? To put fear in its place. It can be here. It can exist. But it cannot drive. It cannot make decisions. It cannot run the show. This exercise is a great screwdriver. Pull it together, make it functional and go.

Growing and changingTool #8: Recognition and celebration. Growth and change are hard – that’s why so many of us avoid it at all costs. Notice your progress. Notice your accomplishments. Notice the way your life changes as you become more yourself. Break out a corkscrew and celebrate with a glass of champagne, or curl up with your favorite blanket and a book at a time you wouldn’t normally allow yourself such a treat. Give yourself a pat on the back and a big hug.

There you have it; a toolkit for self-transformation. If only I could fit them all into my pocket or yours.

 

The Sting of Rejection

“No, thank you,” she said and even though I know better, I STILL felt a little sting, that sting of rejection. When I think about it in my wise brain, I know that not everyone will like everything I do. In fact, I’m quite sure there will be plenty of people who won’t like anything I do and my wise self tells me that’s okay. That last bit there, that’s the part I struggle with sometimes.

And I think that struggle is interesting for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that, just like most humans, I want to be liked. I want the things that I do to be liked, and I want to please the people around me. I am a recovering people pleaser (with the caveat that there are some people who I’ve never once tried to please and I’m sure they would have liked a little more than that). I think I’ve moved steadily from wanting to please others, be the good girl, shine like a little star sticker in a piano music book TO just wanting to not be actively disliked (like it’s okay if you don’t think I’m the bees knees, but please don’t hate me or be mean) TO realizing that how you feel about me is your business and I and everyone around me are best served by my staying out of that and being the best me I can be. Sounds like a nice steady progression, right? But just like any growth, the motion is not always purely linear. We can be mostly mature about something and still have flashes of 7 year old. I really still would like a gold star every now and then.

The second reason I think my reaction to being refused is interesting is because in that reaction I show that somehow I’ve made everything I do/create/write/make the same thing as me. If someone rejects, dislikes, doesn’t LOVE something I’ve put out in the world, they are rejecting ME (in this way of thinking). That’s ridiculous. When I turn the tables, I can think of plenty of people who make/write/create/share things that I’m not wild about even though I really like the people. I’m sure they have an audience for their stuff; I’m just not a member.

So given that my wise self knows better, why the sting of rejection?

How to not be hurt so much by rejectionAnd THAT is when it really becomes intensely personal, which is to say that it is ALL about me and what’s going on in my head. The sting of the rejection has nothing to do with the other person, and everything to do with what it triggers in me. What do I make that rejection mean?

“I knew it wouldn’t work.”

“I was afraid of this.”

“Nobody’s going to want this thing.”

Those are just warm-ups; hang on for the big guns…

“Why can’t I get this right?”

“Why did I think I could do this?”

“I’m nowhere near good enough to pull this off.”

“I think I’ve made a huge mistake.”

“Maybe I should look into grad school…”

And still better…

“Nothing I do works out.”

“Everyone else has it all worked out. I never will.”

“There must be something wrong with me.”

“I am not enough.”

If I let it, my brain can go from offering someone my work to crippling self-doubt in three steps. And the most important part of that sentence is the first part, the “If I let it.” A mentor of mine refers to the unobserved brain as a toddler with a knife. That brain will think and think and think and think, and it will think you into very safe corners that you most likely have no desire to inhabit, if you let it. If you choose to let your brain interpret the world as it chooses rather than the way that you choose.

When I choose to observe my descent into self-doubt, I can see it with compassion. And then, I can challenge it. “Really? One ‘no’ is evidence of your lack of worth?” I get a little loud with my brain sometimes. Other times: “There, there. I see you’re upset and I know this all feels big and real, so go have a cry if you need to and then we’ll talk about what’s actually going on here. Just take a minute. I’ll wait.” There will be plenty of opportunities to use both of these approaches.

Rejection is not deathBecause rejection comes in so many shapes and sizes. And it can mean everything or nothing. It is so rare that the person who delivered it is still thinking about it at all, because to them, it was just a “no,” a “no” that they have a right to deliver, to express, to use to dole out their time and talents in the way that is best for them. It was just a no.

You’re okay.

On This Thanksgiving Eve

So here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving in the U.S.

Many people are traveling. Some have already traveled and some will wake up early to travel with less crowd in the morning.

Some are cooking. Some are buying.

Some are telling old (and largely mythical) stories about Pilgrims.

Others are using the day to honor the Native Americans displaced and killed by the European advance.

Some will be working while other visit and dine.

No matter what you choose to do, when you choose to do it, or who you spend your time with, I hope that you will allow yourself a few minutes of holiday, holy day, sabbath.

I don’t really mean that in the religious sense of the word, although if that works for you and is what you need right now, by all means, get to it.

You have to choose to rest.I mean sabbath, an old idea that seems particularly helpful in this season of rush and scurry. Sabbath, the practice of choosing a time to rest, to avoid creating anything, to be.

Years ago I was having some counseling after a life-threatening miscarriage. I was in graduate school at the time and the recovery from my surgery combined with my singular focus on my studies had me all tied up in knots. I was not able to work to my usual standard, and my heart was not up to the hard-driving scholarship schedule I had been accustomed to keeping. I saw a therapist and after our time ended she referred me to a pastoral counselor.

I had a lot of spiritual questions about what I had experienced, and I had a lot of hurt and anger. I just kept pushing in spite of all of that. I kept working hard. I kept exercising hard. I kept hosting events. I kept doing all of the things. And Holly looked at me, took one hand in hers, and said: “What would it take for you to allow yourself to stop?” It was not the first nor the last time I would hear a version of that question. Sometimes we need to hear things a few times before they really sink in.

She recommended a book (understanding intuitively that this was likely the best way to reach me – give me an assignment). It was called Sabbath. I have since misplaced the book, but it planted a seed. The tree that grew there is the one that now allows me to remember to allow myself to stop.

Because there is so much going on, and we tell ourselves that it is just this time, this immediate time that we’re living in. That the busyness is a temporary thing and that as soon as _________ is over, things will get easier again. As soon as soccer season is over, as soon as I get done with this class, as soon as my injury heals, as soon as this concert is done, as soon as I finish this project, as soon as that jerk has his last day at work…. the fact that I can come up with so many of these on the fly is a good indication of how non-temporary that state really is. There will always be something that will take the place of whatever “temporary” pressure we’re waiting to get past. The only way to have that level of busy stop – that swirly hamster wheel kind of busy – is to allow ourselves to stop.

Perspective on busynessNobody will do it for you because they are all on their own hamster wheels with their own list of things that need doing, fears about the future, missions to accomplish. You have to do it for yourself. You have to insist on taking a moment, or as many as you need, to breathe, to care for yourself, to rest, and to remember that you are but one glorious part of a miraculous web of life and chance. And this moment, as important as it seems to turkey preparation or family fun, is but one glorious moment in a miraculous collection of interconnected lifetimes.

You are okay. All will be well. No matter what kitchen mistakes you make. No matter what family faux-pas occur. No matter whether or not everything goes as planned. Lumpy gravy is not an indication of your personal flaws and shortcomings. And a gorgeous table won’t make you feel loved. Tend to yourself, tend to your heart, take a moment and be well.

XO,

j

P.S. If holiday gatherings mean difficult conversations, you might want to check out my Holiday Conversation Survival Guide. You don’t have to let anybody ruin your day.

Living YOUR Life

I was listening to a conversation between Oprah and India Arie the other day while walking my dog (okay, can we just pause in awe of the miracle of technology in that sentence). For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, India Arie is a musician who had a meteoric rise to fame about 15 years ago, took a break from music, and then returned on her own terms.

Being a perfect daughterIn discussing this time with Oprah, Ms. Arie said that she realized that in her early incarnation in the music business, she was not living her own life, but was rather inhabiting the one her mother wanted for her. She was doing all of the things she knew her mother would want her to do so she could have all of the things she knew her mother would want her to have. She was living her mother’s imagined daughter’s life. BAM. It was a revelation that pointed the way to an obvious set of next steps, starting with figuring out what she wanted independent of all of that.

It was a great conversation and as I listened I reflected on all of the different ways that we can live someone else’s version of our own lives. When I went to college, I was at something of a loss for what to study. My best times in high school were spent on the stage: singing and acting. I told friends I wanted to be a history teacher, but I think I really wanted to keep being on stage.

But somehow, I became convinced that this was not a pursuit I was meant to undertake, and when I let that super secret dream go, I was adrift. I enjoyed my history classes, but not enough. I began to take political science classes, a “more practical” version of history was my justification. In truth, I had grown up in the D.C. suburbs, and my understanding of careers included a lot of folks who likely studied political science, either formally or on the floor of the buildings in the capitol. I began to sketch out a version of myself that I think had everything to do with people I’d seen and admired and not much to do with where I felt on fire. I began to tell myself what people wanted for me, what my parents would respect (I didn’t ask them mind you, just decided for them) and charted a course that worked and got me finished in four years.

I was living someone else’s life – one that I made up for them. I was meeting expectations that were purely fictitious. And over time, the gap between my fictitious life and the one in my heart or the one I had yet to discover demonstrated itself in a variety of ways. I tried jobs on. I tried ideas on. I switched around, moved house, changed coasts. I kept shifting back and forth between doing what felt right and doing what “WAS RIGHT.” And if you’d asked me where that pressure was coming from, the pressure to do anything other than live my own unique life, I would have cited external sources every time.

Finding a pathI didn’t have the maturity or wisdom or emotional honesty to realize that I had done it to myself. A pushy parent or overbearing spouse can only go so far in taking us away from our path, as demonstrated by the fact that I had neither. To really diverge from our path, we have to submit to the desires of others (including the desires we imagine they have) and resist our own inclinations. We have to subvert our internal wiring and discipline ourselves thoroughly. We have to stop living our own lives and live someone else’s. Having a deeper, fuller, more satisfying time on this earth requires us to live our own lives.

These ideas we have about why we don’t do that very thing: other people, practicality, reality, logistics, responsibility… they’re all baloney. They’re all there to keep us from having to face what we really want in the world and find the courage to do that. When we give our choices to other people, when we make them responsible, we give our power away wholesale. We surrender everything we need to be our best selves.

“But,” you say: “I DO have responsibilities…” Yes, you do. Where on that list of responsibilities are YOU?

Boom.

I love you.

j

Deep Authenticity

It’s been said so many times that it has nearly become meaningless. For the last few years I’ve heard lots of people talking about being “authentic.” And it is a fine conversation in the sense that none of us really likes someone who is phony and fake. We generally appreciate people who are straightforward in their dealings with us, whose motives are transparent and intentions are clear. So we strive to be more authentic and we seek out others seeming to do the same.

We try to say more of what is on our hearts and minds, without editing too much to please people. We try to relax and be ourselves around others. We maybe take risks in clothing choices that more accurately represent who we are. We try to become more careful custodians of our time. All of these are worthwhile, and can be challenging, but I would suggest that this is a shallow understanding of authenticity.

Wanting everyone to be authentic?Within the confines of shallow authenticity, I can still ignore a whole lot of my own personal experience and the world, because shallow authenticity focuses on my expression to others – literally how I express myself to others. I can be authentic. I can say real things. This requires things of me. It requires dropping shields. It requires accepting vulnerability. This requires courage. So, when I call it shallow, please don’t hear that as easy or cheap. All shallow means here is that there is another layer – there is a deeper understanding and practice of authenticity that we can aspire to and reach (with practice).

Deep authenticity requires us to face reality within and without. It cares less about our expression in the world and more about our acknowledgement of what IS in the moment. What does it take to practice deep authenticity? It takes a willingness to see that there is good and bad everywhere. It takes a willingness to acknowledge the limits of our own ability to impact every situation. It takes a willingness to admit that our own existence will be filled with moments that can’t be scrubbed clean with a positive affirmation. It takes a willingness, and you have to know this was coming if you’ve been following along, to feel all of our feelings, to stop resisting the dark ones and making them far worse than they are through that resistance. It takes accepting that the dark moments provide us with insight, prompts towards growth, and the motivation to do the work to get where we want to be. It takes accepting that no matter how much we improve ourselves, we will still feel bad sometimes.

Deep authenticity requires us to be honest with ourselves and accepting of reality (which is not the same as not wanting to make the world better, by the way). When we can do that, when we can live in deep authenticity, we are far better prepared for authenticity in our interactions with others. If I can face my fear of being rejected and feeling lonely, I don’t need to hide who I am. If I can face my fear of looking foolish in front of people I admire, I can be vulnerable in front of peers and mentors who can help me get where I want to go. If I can accept that some days will just feel bad, I can let that feeling in and STILL do what I want to do in the world without being phony, just being in a bad mood but productive.

Shallow authenticity seems like an easier place to start, because it allows us to demand the same from others: be real with me; tell me the truth; let me get to know you; let me help you. Deep authenticity means we drop our demands from others because we recognize our shadows in them. Deep authenticity means we believe they should be who they are, their real selves, which may mean that they don’t give and share as much as we want. Deep authenticity means we connect with ourselves and our own spirits so we feel less of a need to make demands of others and worry less about how they receive us.

The truth is that no matter how you slice it, if you live in the world, you’re going to see some things that aren’t beautiful and amazing. You’re going to see some things that are disturbing and dark. The question is whether or not you will engage. The question is whether or not you’re ready to meet those things with the depth of authentic feeling that you are capable of having. The question is whether or not you’re ready to be fully you even when its not pretty.

Deep authenticityDeep authenticity is not a small challenge, and it’s not something that many of us are taught. It is inconvenient and uncomfortable. But through that deep authenticity comes freedom: the freedom of being firmly grounded in reality, the freedom of knowing who you are and being able to follow your inner guidance, the freedom of not being afraid to feel any feeling and be yourself.

If you find yourself craving honesty and connection from others, if you sense that there’s something you want to express in the world but can’t quite put your finger on it, maybe it’s time to be with ALL of yourself. I’d love to help.

Keeping the Door Open

I’ve been thinking a lot about creativity lately. I am both a life coach AND a musician. I have not always been a life coach, but I have always been a musician. In the past I saw the line between my work (my paying work, let’s be honest) and my music work as the line of creativity. In this part of my life I am artistic, creative; in this part I work. I kept it all separate and had a pretty shallow definition of creativity.

I didn’t see the class assignments and curriculum decisions I made as being creative. I didn’t see the writing I did as creative. I didn’t see the decisions I made to gut and renovate a home as creative. They were all just work (notice the “just” there, too). I didn’t really acknowledge my own creativity across the board and in retrospect I suspect that the sharp dividing line caused me to miss out on opportunities to be even more creative in those “work” situations.

A friend shared a quote from Martha Graham and it really helped me to acknowledge what has been a shift in my thinking, and gave me a push to really think about creative force and how I allow, dismiss, and use it in all of my life. Here it is:

There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time this expression is unique. and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it! It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

You are miraculous.I want it on a poster. I want it stitched on a pillow (a big pillow). I want it in neon lights that only light up when I’m closing up like a sad, finished flower. I love this quote because it has it all in there: you are a unique expression of biological miracles and happenstance; only you can do what you do; comparison with others is a waste of time and should not be allowed; you have to allow inspiration for it to work. LOVE!

Here’s the thing, though, we see the word channel and people get a little iffy. What am I channeling? Where’s it coming from? Is this some sort of new age woo woo whackery? Yeah, I don’t know. You don’t have to believe that the channel is open to spirit, to ancient wisdom, or to universe juice to consider the idea that our being closed or open is what makes the primary difference in whether or not we try new stuff. What if the channel is just a gate to the part of you that is always experiencing, always feeling, always knowing, and always creating when you are busy working? What if it’s all in you and all you have to do is listen? There are a lot of things I don’t know, but I do know this: we are the gatekeepers of the flickers of brilliance that come to us – from wherever.

I also know, from my own experience, and from friends and clients alike, that we spend a whole lot of time and energy reinforcing that closed gate. Why do we do it? Why do we keep the guards at the gate, blocking out new ideas, new thoughts, creative approaches, solutions that aren’t fully formed yet but that are there – flashing at the corners of our attention?

I think we have sort of inflated expectations where creative inspiration is concerned. I think we’re expecting a burning bush, a whole novel, a complete song, a totally clear direction or plan. We think if it’s real inspiration, it ought to look biblical or at least vaguely miraculous. I guess that happens sometimes, but in my experience, mostly nope. Glimmer, work, fail, refine, crash, glimmer, refine…. Yay? That’s not exactly a burning bush but it IS something so long as we notice it.

I think the other big reason (and I think there are many little reasons) that we shut out our creative inspiration is fear. Plain and simple. It displays itself in different ways. It comes out as perfectionism. It comes out as “busy-ness”. It comes out as sheer rigidity and discomfort at changing plans and approaches. It comes out as our desire to fit in, meet social expectations, and not buck the system.

being more creativeWe shut it down. We close ourselves off. We dig into our tried and true routines. Our brains, which are really happy with us surviving and not taking risks, breathe a sigh of relief. But what if letting that inspiration in WASN’T risking everything? What if letting it in could make everything better, more interesting, more fun, and CERTAINLY more you? What if all you’re doing is closing yourself to yourself? Breaking yourself into little manageable pieces that don’t work together to really get fully engaged with anything? What would it feel like to open, just a little?

A year or two ago I was following a guided meditation series (Oprah and Deepak Chopra, they are periodically free and very useful) and the instruction was with each breath to open yourself just a little bit more. I had been working with a coach at the time and we had noticed that I tend to “armor up” at time, lots of good self-protection that was keeping me from being all the way “in” for anything. And so, as I meditated, I consciously pictured removing my armor, opening just a little more with each breath.

And you know what? It felt great. There’s a whole lot to this life that you can miss out on if you won’t let it in. How’s your armor? Need a safe place to take it off? Wait, that sounds bad. Want someone to help you listen? I’d love to help.

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If You Can’t Do It Right…

Why bother?

Forget it.

Delay.

There’s no point.

It will be terrible.

Don’t do it at all.

Really?

Don’t do it at all?

I’ve seen this so many times – in myself, in clients, in former students…

what do you give up for perfection?I had a student many years ago in a World History class. We were studying Medieval Europe and I had asked them to draw a castle. The castle had to have a list of features labeled and explained, the point being to understand the true military function of castles and let go of romantic ideas of what castles were all about. I got a variety of products (as was always the case). The artistic students went to town. The less artistic students focused on the parts of the assignment that appealed to them (detailed descriptions, adding architectural features, 3 D effects). One of my students didn’t turn one in.

It wasn’t a huge surprise. He was not a stellar student. He frequently missed assignments and struggled on exams. I was working with him on these things, suspecting some reading issues. I was disappointed that he didn’t turn the assignment in because he’d been making progress. In my mind: “Here we go again.” I pulled him aside and asked what happened. He said he wasn’t done with it. I told him to bring it to me. He reached in his backpack, where he apparently was carrying it around all of the time. He had a piece of poster board carefully rolled and tucked into the corner. He pulled it out gingerly, careful not to catch the edges on anything.

He then unrolled the board, revealing that he had burned away the edges to make it look like parchment. And as he lay it down and carefully placed books on the edges to hold it flat, I was astonished. It was beautiful. The artwork was amazing – pen and ink and so detailed. The features were carefully rendered and labeled. I couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t turn it in, and then I noticed the size of the stones he was drawing. They were so small, a sort of pebble castle. And there was a big section that he hand’t completed. I can’t imagine how much time he had put into this piece of work. I wanted to frame it.

“Why didn’t you turn it in?” “I didn’t have time to finish it.”

“But Tommy, it’s amazing.” “But it isn’t finished, and it’s not all that good anyway.”

We went on to have a conversation about grades and how some grade is ALWAYS better than a zero, even if the grade reflects being turned in late. I told him I wanted to hang it up; he made clear that that was not an option he would be comfortable with.

It took everything I had in me to get that young man to let me grade his work. I don’t remember what he got, but I know it was WAY better than zero. I also know it was probably the only time he ever saw a teacher (besides an art teacher) be amazed with his work. It was probably one of the longer conversations he’d had with a teacher who wasn’t threatening to prevent him from playing football, his other great love. He talked me through the work he had done, so I got to see how much of the material he really was taking in at a deep level – and he got to demonstrate mastery. So much he and I both could have missed out on had I let him go through with his plan of simply bypassing the deadline. In his mind it was better to get the zero than to turn in something that was not perfect. It became clear to me how much strength he showed when turning in other assignments, especially given what I suspected about his reading ability. What a risk he took every time he gave me his work. He wasn’t playing to his strengths, though, and maybe that’s why he could tolerate the imperfection in those other assignments. And he knew he had to keep his C to play football.

These are the corners perfectionism puts us in. We don’t even try, or we try but give up before anyone can benefit from our efforts. We don’t invite people over because our house isn’t clean enough. We don’t host holidays because Pinterest pictures make us think we need homemade napkin rings (Homemade?! Napkin rings?!) We don’t take the solo because what if we mess it up. We don’t take the risks because we might not get it right.  We see every family gathering as a nightmare because of the amount of preparation we will do to get things just right. We believe that if we don’t do it perfectly, we might as well not do it at all.

And that right there? THAT is a thought. And it’s a b.s., life-stifling, procrastination producing,  gift-hiding, intimacy preventing, joy avoiding bummer of a thought.

Accepting what is good enoughWhat would you do if you didn’t have to do it perfectly? Who would you see more of? What would you be less nervous about? What risk would you allow? What could be good if you didn’t need it to be perfect?

Maybe it’s just me, but it’s always nice to have a little more of the good.

All we need is a new thought. How about this one: I and the things I produce are good enough, and that’s pretty great.

xo,

j

Eff My Fitbit

Years ago, after my twins were born, I bought a pedometer. It was just a simple thing that I attached to my clothing so I could keep track and I committed to myself to increasing my activity level, in hopes of speeding up the return to my pre-baby weight. I think my first goal was 5,000 steps. Over the years since then I’ve graduated from that simple pedometer to my Fitbit which, in addition to tracking my steps, let me know how long I was sleeping, and a bunch of other stuff I didn’t really pay attention to. I used the Fitbit to keep track of my progress toward that 10,000/day goal. I enjoyed that Fitbit when we were in Rome clocking 20,000 every day surrounded by ancient architecture. Here at home I kept the dog and I moving in precise ways for specific amounts of time to meet my goal.

This relationship with my weird watch seems pretty reasonable if we make some basic assumptions. The first assumption that we have to agree to is that more activity is always an inherently good thing. The second assumption that we have to agree to is that measuring is the way to get that to happen. The third implied assumption here is that if we didn’t use some device to spur on a competition with ourselves, there would be no change.

self-love for weight lossThese assumptions make the Fitbit just one more in a long line of devices and strategies used by women to make our bodies “better,” “right,” “more beautiful,” which means: “smaller.” The goal of being smaller is assumed. We agree that measuring (and shaming) is a good way to get there. And we are certain that without some sort of external discipline giver, there will be no change. We will be hopeless.

I had bought in. I’ve judged myself in the mirror based on size. I shuddered at the “big boned” title I bore in earlier years. I have been an external discipline-giver extraordinaire. I’ve used all manner of measuring (how many steps, how many miles, how many calories, how many inches, what size number, what BMI, what heart rate). I’ve created a variety of rules for myself (no fat, low fat, high fiber, no meat, clean meat, whole grain, no grain, less sugar, no sugar, no dairy, no soy – no these weren’t all at the same time). I’ve assumed that if left to my own devices nothing would ever change.

What I didn’t realize is that I was never actually left to my own devices because I was not paying attention to the best device I had. I was not paying attention to how I felt. I was not paying attention to how foods felt in my body. I was not paying attention to how different kinds of exercise felt to my body (hello bone spurs and surgery). I was not paying attention to the good feelings I got from healthful foods and stopping eating when I was satisfied. I was not paying attention to the energy and lightness of being that I felt after exercising.

tracking steps for weight lossI needed the external device because I wasn’t paying any attention to the guidance I had all along. I needed the external device because I was determined to look how I “should” and I was sure I couldn’t be trusted to handle that mission.

As you can guess if you’ve been following along for a while, things have changed a bit. Now the internal guidance IS the device. It is where I turn for instruction on how to take care of this body. It is where I turn to hear the signals and feel the signs. It is where I turn to take note of what works and doesn’t work. It is where I turn to decide what weight feels good, what exercise feels good, what kind of food feels good.

THAT is what being left to your own devices can be, if you learn to listen.

I was still wearing my Fitbit until a couple of days ago, mostly out of habit. The toggle button had fallen off a while back, so it’s functions were more limited, but I kept on charging it up and putting it back on. I would occasionally look at it while walking, but more and more often I noticed that I wasn’t using that information to make any decisions.

More and more I was using my own feedback and considering factors like the weather and the capacity of my aging canine friend. We go longer on good days, shorter on bad. The pace and the path are determined by what I and he need. Whether I listen to a podcast or not is determined by whether or not I need quiet. My other exercise has been figured out by trial and error – what makes me feel strong and capable, what makes my body feel good, what leaves me feeling energized and satisfied.

And so a couple of days ago I took that Fitbit off. I set aside its measurements and its task of inspiring me to compete with myself (and others). I set aside the ugly band that I hated seeing. I set aside its online awards and graphs. I am left to my own devices and boy does that feel good.

The “If…. Then…” of Relating to Other Humans

“If I don’t take care of this…”

“If I don’t get it right…”

“If I decide to just be myself…”

“If I choose what I’d actually like to do…”

“If I say what I really think…”

“If I wear the clothes I want to wear…”

“If I hurt his feelings…”

“If I do anything less that A+ work…”

Then what?

What if they don't like meThen they will all find out who I really am? Then they will all find out I’m not perfect? Then they can choose not to like me anymore? Then they will know the thing I’ve always known, inside, that I’ll never fit in, I’ll never be good enough, that I’ll never be safe just being myself here. Then they will know and I will know that they will know and that will be so painful.

But my dear darling THIS is already so painful. I know because I was a master of the double life. I discovered early in my teenage years that my grades were the barometer that my parents used to discern whether or not I was “okay” in the world. If I kept my grades up, I could get away with a LOT. And the longer I kept my grades up and did all of the things that a high-achieving student would do, the more trust they gave. More weekends away, fewer questions about my destination and my company, more really bad explanations for things accepted without further question. I had parties (big parties). I smoked cigarettes in the car. I skipped classes. Even now I’m uncomfortable writing this because there are family members for whom some piece of that might be new information. I took full advantage of the freedom that was given to me.

And the whole time, and for many years after, I was stunned by the fact that nobody was calling me on it, that nobody was catching me, that nobody actually KNEW what was going on and tried to stop me. I had built a double life. I was really good at it. I tried to fool them, and it worked. So yay! Yeah, not so much.

Not so much because the whole time that I was enjoying my secret life, what I really wanted was for someone to know me. I felt so lonely (maybe just in a 17 year old girl way, but it seems deeper, even in retrospect). I so wanted to be all of the parts and have it be known, even if there were consequences. I so wanted to ditch the fear that if they found out they wouldn’t love me anymore. My double life made me complex and cool to my friends and still allowed me to win gold stars with my family. I got all of the “awards” I was looking for and it just didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because what I was hung up on was how they felt about me. All of my secrecy and all of the entertainment I provided for my friends was to ensure that they all felt good about me. The entire “If… then…” world that I had built up failed to acknowledge the depth of feeling anyone had for me (like they actually love you kid, even if you screw up or aren’t cool). And to make matters worse, not one bit of all of that effort did anything about how I felt about myself.

imposter sydromeIt’s easy to see this in a teenage story, because we have myths about how insecurity is a natural part of being an adolescent, that somehow just dissipates as our bodies mature. But the truth is that for many of us this “if… then…” way of relating continues long after we reach the age of majority. We make so many decisions based on how other people will feel about us. We act in ways to shore up public opinion, as though we will appear on page 6 if we get it wrong. We fear that we will be fired if we make the smallest error at work. We’re sure that our upcoming presentation might be the breaking point when everyone will find out how unqualified we really are. We just know that if we relax and show our true selves that we won’t have any friends left. If… then…

I’ve been deconstructing some of my if then thinking over the last couple of years. And I want to tell you a few things about that:

  • I’ve never been fired, even when I make mistakes or tell the truth.
  • I still have friends, maybe even more friends, certainly deeper friendships.
  • I’m not so very tired after every social engagement. I’m still an introvert, but I’m not working so hard all of the time.
  • I feel free to try new things, risk things personally and professionally because I’m not so worried about what everybody else thinks.
  • Paying more attention to what I think of me has been the greatest gift I could possibly give myself.

Are you living a double-life? Maybe yours doesn’t have house parties and hidden cigarette butts – maybe yours looks more like putting things off until you’re sure you can get it perfect; maybe yours looks like constantly putting your own needs on the back-burner so you won’t seem selfish; maybe yours looks like waiting for the other shoe to drop at work, at home, with friends. Aren’t you tired of it all?

What would happen if you just decided to be a little more yourself? Dipped a toe into the water of telling the truth and doing what you want? Maybe it’s time to find out.

The Limits of Feeling Better

I’ve had a lot to say here about feeling better, seriously many, many posts. And in all of that talk I think I might have created the wrong impression. I’m afraid I might have inadvertently suggested that it is possible to feel good all of the time. And saying that will make half you roll your eyes and turn away because “Yeah, right” and half of you will be so relieved because all you’ve wanted your whole lives is to feel good all of the time. Okay, maybe let’s get rid of the “halves” in that equation and just say that while people might not believe that’s possible, it is very much what we all want.

How do we know we want to feel good all of the time? We know because of all of the things we do to try to make that true. We overeat; we over drink; we over Facebook; we over TV; we over whatever it is you do to avoid feeling bad and to try to convince ourselves we feel okay. I’m going to say it even though I know you know this; none of those things actually make anything better. They may make us feel a little better for a short time, but they don’t change anything externally or internally and many of them have negative consequences.

What would happen if instead of all of that running that we do, because that’s really what it is – get me away from this discomfort ASAP – what if we decided that discomfort is a normal part of life? What if we decided to just allow ourselves to feel bad once in a while? What if we decided not to self-soothe, distract, or cheer ourselves up? What if we didn’t numb it, stuff it, or ignore it? What would happen?

feel your feelingsI can tell you that in my personal experience, one thing consistently happens when I do this – when I allow the “negative” feelings, a whole lot of tension falls away. Because when I’m dodging that stuff, when I’m telling myself I shouldn’t feel bad, when I’m desperately searching for ways to make myself feel better for just a few minutes (hangover or sugar crash be damned), there is tension. There is physical tension and psychological pressure. There is tension because I am fighting myself. I am fighting how I feel. I am fighting my natural responses. I am fighting who I am. Fighting, fighting, fighting. That stuff takes a lot of energy and has a cost. What would happen if we just stopped fighting?

“Well then we’d feel bad Julia.” Yes, you will. But does what you’re doing feel good? Does numbing out feel good? Does spending hours on social media feel good? Does overeating and over drinking feel good (that question is harder for me than the others, but maybe it’s the opposite for you)? When we chase the bad feelings away with momentary false pleasures, they don’t go anywhere. We just try to drown them out, suffocate them with a food, booze, media blanket. We fight ourselves.

What if feeling bad could help you? What if sitting with it could give you answers to questions like: “What do I really want to be doing in my life?” “What am I missing out on?” “Who do I want to be?” “What do I need to work on to feel more whole?” What if ALL of your feelings are part of a finely tuned navigation system that’s trying so very hard to help you be your best and most fulfilling you? What if ignoring that stuff is pretty much ignoring the best advice and direction you could get anywhere? What if feeling all of your feelings makes the good times even better? What if it turns out that the bad feelings aren’t as bad as you fear? What if it turns out that feeling sad for a few minutes WON’T mean feeling sad forever (wouldn’t that be good to know)? What if feeling badly every now and again (or like 50% of the time) is part of the human experience, part of what helps us grow and learn, part of what makes our lives uniquely ours? That’s an awful lot to miss out on.

Missing out on lifeYou are here. There are experiences. They are not all good. No matter what you add or change or adjust your vibration for, they will not all be good. The fact that everyone has bad days and bad feelings suggests something kind of basic there. This is it. This is the deal. This is being human. Do you really want to miss out on half of it?

If you’re tired of fighting yourself, but aren’t sure how to really let yourself feel all of the things, I’d love to help.