Who’s Driving The Bus?

I’ve had something come up in a LOT of conversations lately – both professional and social, so I get this sense that maybe, just maybe it would be a good thing to talk about.

blur-book-girl-373465And because you know I like to make everything about me, I’m going to start with a story. I’ve been a little low in the last month (mentioned it a few times, I know, experimenting with vulnerable transparency – how am I doing?). There have been days when it just feels like a cloud in the sky – a partly to mostly sunny day. I’m still doing most of my things – maybe a little less social, maybe a little more tired, a little more inclined to pick up a book than have a conversation – you know kind of cloudy. Other days have been this swell mix of medical woes and misery that have been full on incapacitating storm conditions – like when all the power is out and you can’t leave the neighborhood, except without the nice part where you discover that taking a break from social media is a good thing.

Storm conditions when it is very clear that none of the things you planned yesterday are going to happen, and you can’t really remember what they were anyway. The ones you kind of remember seem stupid and you feel too sick to do anything about something that seems stupid. Yeah, like that. You’re down to one flashlight with batteries and into the canned goods. THAT kind of bad day.

Mercifully, it seems that both the physical and the emotional aspects of the storm are easing, and that has been an incremental kind of thing, each day finding one more battery, remembering the granola bar I hid for emergencies, reconnecting with one really good thing I wanted to do and feeling its importance deeply. And as I make this transition, I wonder about the difference between these two states. Some of it was purely physical. I won’t go into details, but it seems that everything that bothers me in a low-level chronic kind of way decided to show up at once at higher-levels. It’s been really fun. And the physical stuff certainly fed the emotional component. It’s hard to stay optimistic when your body is basically giving you the finger (and yes, that’s an intended pun for those familiar with my arthritic hands). It’s hard not to let your whole outlook be determined by your physical reality. And so, I gave up the keys.

A few weeks ago I decided to let my discomfort, my frustration, my pain, and my pessimism drive the bus. “I quit. Here you go. You do it. This is too hard. I’m too tired and I feel like I’m losing this battle, so I forfeit. You drive.”

This was not a conscious decision. And let me be clear. I’m not just talking about surrendering to feeling bad, because I think that’s necessary. I think all of those feelings needed to be felt, honored, seen, heard – all of it. But that’s not the same thing as letting them drive.

In her book Big Magic, Liz Gilbert describes how fear can totally inhibit the creative process. Her remedy is to imagine that fear has a seat in the car of your process, but it does not get to drive. Others have expanded on this idea. A 5th grade art teacher worked with her students to create a painted chair that holds all of the fear while they do their work. I have a chair in my office that is designated the fear chair. I send fear there when I have something big and important that I really want to get done. She doesn’t have to leave the room. I hear her. I know she’s there, but she doesn’t get to make the decisions because if she does, I won’t do any of the amazing things that I am here to do.

We can all agree, I think, that fear is something that we sometimes need to put in a chair. What I think we’re not as clear on is the difference between putting something in a chair and stuffing it way down deep (think passenger seat instead of glove box). What I think we’re not as clear on is the kind of route that holding two disparate feelings and opinions sometimes requires. I also just don’t think we pay attention to what part of us is holding the keys. They just get tossed around willy-nilly like a hot potato and whoever has them when it’s time to move, well, that determines what happens next.

abandoned-automobile-broken-53161For me this month it was disappointment, discouragement, general darkness. For so many others it’s fear. And fear drives that car in some really strange ways. Fear can decided to just park it because it’s a big world out there. Fear can decide to give us lots of reasons to do sub-par work so we can blame our lack of progress on something other than finding out if we’re really up to the task. Fear can make us worry so much about what’s coming down the road that we miss seeing the horses running in the field right next to us. Fear is a shitty driver. Disappointment, discouragement, and general darkness really aren’t so great either.

We can have all of those feelings. We can feel them, honor them, notice them, respect them, have conversations with them. We can allow them to inhabit us, feel them in our bodies, notice what they are. We can do all of these things without letting them drive. When we feel them in the quiet, when we honor them but don’t make them all of us, don’t make them everything, we can hear that at any given moment, there is more, maybe a small still voice, maybe just a deep breath waiting to be taken. There is more and the way clear, the road forward will be there, the route will unfold. We don’t need to let fear drive just so we have somewhere to go.

XO,

julia

Just Stop It

There is an SNL skit with Bob Newhart playing a psychiatrist. His method of treatment, he explains, usually only takes about five minutes. The joke is that what he does is to tell his clients to just stop it. It’s really funny, at least to me and folks who do work like mine. It’s particularly funny because there is some truth to it, as brazen and unfeeling as this approach seems. Today I want to talk about a situation where “just stop it” is really probably the best advice that I could give you.

design-desk-display-313690One of the complaints I hear the most frequently has to do with busy schedules and the amount of that time that is spent doing things that aren’t fulfilling, often for other people’s fulfillment: the scheduling, the kid ferrying, the going the extra mile at work because of someone else’s stupidity, the saying yes to every opportunity to help anyone. If I were to say: “Just stop it,” I know the look I would get. It’s that “You don’t understand. My life is not like yours. Maybe that works for you. I thought you had children. Where ARE your children?” kind of look. I couldn’t possibly understand.

And yet I do.

Because I have had a calendar like that. I have had days like that. I have had months and years like that, where nearly all of what was on my schedule was distasteful to me and was solely for the benefit of someone else. Truly I have. If you know me and you weren’t the beneficiary, that doesn’t mean this wasn’t happening. It just means you didn’t get in on the action; and just so you know, that window is closed.

If you’d asked me why I was doing all of that I would have told you it was all completely necessary. In retrospect some of it was completely necessary, but a lot of it was not. And THAT’s that discernment that would be so great to have when you’re actually in that moment, when you can’t catch your breath because you’re too busy doing all of the things.

My advice to you? Just stop it. Stop it all, at least for a day. You’ll figure out pretty quickly what’s truly necessary – like feeding children. You may also figure out that those people you are serving can do far more for themselves than you realized (hungry children are actually remarkably capable), but while that’s a great thing to learn – like a SERIOUSLY great thing to learn, even that is not my point with the Just Stop It exercise.

attractive-beautiful-blonde-1101726The point of Just Stop It is to make the yuck that’s down in there come up when you stop. When you just stop doing all of the things that you are doing to make it okay, what happens? What thoughts and feelings come to the surface?

Are you worried about what people will think of you? Are you afraid of looking like a failure? Do you need to have a super clean house to maintain some kind of parenting standard you’ve secretly bought into? Are you keeping yourself busy serving everyone else so you don’t have to figure out what YOU really want or face the fact that you don’t believe you could EVER EVER do that so it’s safer to not try? Okay, I meant to slip that last one in, but that wasn’t all that subtle, was it? My capacity for subtle is fleeting at times. Sorry (not sorry if that’s what you needed to hear).

When we just stop with the behaviors that we think are completely necessary and totally driving us crazy, we find out why we are choosing, yes choosing friends, to do them. We find out where the healing needs to happen. We find out why it’s so hard to get off the merry go round and take a breath. And when we figure out what’s under all of that activity, we can address it. We can ask questions about it: “Is that really true? Will they really think I’m a bad Mom? Do I care if they think I’m a bad Mom? Will I really get fired? Will I feel so guilty I actually can’t stand it?” We can check out that baggage and either repair the zippers or decide it’s time for a new super sleek and helpful carry-on, a new way of thinking.

attractive-beach-beautiful-1097781I so want that for you to be able to get off of that merry go round. If you think it’s not possible, I extra want it for you. Because love, I want you to breathe. I want you to breathe in the idea that there are an infinite number of ways to be in this world and that you haven’t found but a small fraction of them. I want you to breathe in the idea that nobody else really cares if you’re meeting some Pinterest perfect standard of anything. I want you to breathe in the notion that there really is a big gap between letting a few things go and having all of the wheels come off the bus in some catastrophic and irreparable way. I want you to breathe in and entertain the notion that your discomfort is trying to tell you something and that the longer you ignore it, the louder it will get. I want you to inhale the possibility that the things you want, the way you feel, and the experiences you crave really do all matter, every single one. I want you to know that you are still in there, and we would all really love to meet you.

How to Get Out of Overwhelm

Even When You Have to Do It ALL…

You have so much to do, a really big list, and it all feels important and then it happens.

You shut down.

Your brain refuses. Your body refuses. You can’t even imagine what you should do next.

when you have to do everythingIt’s overhwhelm. The big cloud of too much-ness that cuts us off from our intentions and keeps us from getting things done, and usually makes us feel like crap about that. Yep, overwhelm.

Here’s a secret about overwhelm, though. It’s really just a cloak. It’s a shield. It’s a protective device.

And just saying that makes it seem a little different, doesn’t it? Like so many of our thoughts and feelings, overwhelm is just trying to keep us safe. If we can loosen it a little, we may find that we don’t need all of that protection.

So how do we get out of it, without dumping all of our responsibilities (even if that’s what we’d most like to do)?

I’ve got some pretty simple (notice I didn’t say easy) suggestions on that front.

1) Check in with how you feel about that list of things you have to do. Many times overwhelm is your brain’s way of protecting you from becoming angry, afraid, or my personal favorite when it comes to domestic responsibilities, resentful. I don’t like thinking I have to do everything. It gets me all jammed up. Makes things feel unfair, makes me feel like a drudge. When I am overwhelmed, I don’t have to really feel those things – they just percolate gently in the background instead of coming to a full boil.

Overwhelm often protects us from fear as well. When we have a list that will help us make progress on a big project or includes some risks, steps forward, new territory our fear shuts that stuff down. Nope, we’re going to be overwhelmed instead of afraid because afraid – afraid sucks. No thanks.

Ask yourself if there’s a feeling you might be avoiding by being overwhelmed. If you can admit how you feel and maybe feel it just a little, the fog may lift.

2) Check in with what you think about that list of things you have to do. Sometimes our thoughts make forward motion simply impossible. Let me give you a couple of examples of thoughts that might spur overwhelm:

  • I have to get all of this done today – the trick about this one is that there’s usually a second half to it about what it means if you don’t – some version of you’re no good.
  • I have to do all of this perfectly.
  • Nobody else does anything around here.
  • I’m the only one who can handle this stuff.
  • Sure would be nice to have 5 minutes to myself.

All of these thoughts (and others) signal to your brain that you need a break, that the list is not possible, that it would be dangerous to try to complete it (because if it’s not perfect you’re screwed or whatever). So you brain complies with a nice bit of fog. There, break granted. If you can find the thought that’s making the list too awful to do and face it, the fog may lift.

your brain needs a break3) Create your own break. I know, I know! When you are overwhelmed by everything you need to do, the last thing you think you can do is take a break, but let’s be honest, when you are overwhelmed you’re not getting anything done anyway, right? Why not give your brain what it’s asking for, a break? How you do that depends a lot on what feels like a real break for you, but I can make some suggestions to get you started, in case you are wrapped in brain fog at this very minute:

  • Take a short walk outside. The fresh air, the movement, the nature will all help release that fog and help you get some clarity on where to dig in.
  • If you are a meditator, do that even if it’s just for five minutes.
  • If you aren’t, make yourself a cup of your favorite warm beverage and sit somewhere pleasant and just drink it for five minutes. Don’t do anything else. Just drink your drink, look around and take some deep breaths.
  • If you suspect that what you really are is tired and there’s any way to take a power nap, do that. If you can’t, try my favorite trick and set a timer for 15-30 minutes, put your feet up and close your eyes. Trust that the timer will let you know when your time is up.

Giving yourself that time may be all your brain needs to release that fog for you.

Once the fog is gone, you can consider what’s on your list, but I won’t suggest that you edit it because I promised from the start I wouldn’t argue with you about whether or not you really have to do it all…

But do you?

So Much Love,

julia

When Not Having a Choice is Better

pexels-photo-568027-2Years ago I was in a dark place. I had had a miscarriage and had nearly died in the process. My body and my spirit felt pretty broken and I couldn’t seem to see a way out.

Friends tried, in different ways, to help out. Some checked in. Some just sat with me. And one, in a moment of divine inspiration, found just the right thing to say – a goal I don’t really recommend as it is so easy to go wrong.

This particular friend is one of my closest and oldest friends. We’ve known each other since 7th grade. He worked from home at the time and I was a full-time graduate student. He called and asked if I wanted to join him at the dog park with my pooches.

As our canines played (well, and mine caused trouble), I described the difficulty I was having in following my usual routines. I didn’t want to go to class. I didn’t want to do the mountains of required reading. Writing papers seemed completely out of the question. I didn’t even really want to walk my dogs, a flashing neon signal that things were not right with me. He listened, really the best thing folks can do when someone has had a trauma, and during a pause he said: “What if you stopped seeing all of these things as a choice? What if they were just things you HAVE to do?”

Before I go further in, I want to assure you that I am not suggesting that the answer to anybody’s depression is just getting back to work. And I can honestly say that had my state of mind continued much longer, I likely would have benefited from medication to help my brain find it’s healthier pathways again. But in that moment, my friend’s words DID work for me.

Looking back on it now I recognize what was going on. He was reminding me that I had already made a commitment. I had already made a decision. And those commitments were to myself, to what I believed at the time was my highest good. Rather than asking myself: “Do I want to do this,” or “Do I feel up to that,” I might have just as easily asked myself if I was going to keep my commitment to myself that day. By allowing myself so much wiggle room, I was failing myself, and piling self-judgment about that failure onto my aching heart and soul.

It is so much easier to see this now, when I am self-employed and SO MUCH of my day relies on my ability to keep my commitments to myself. I could choose, at any time, to skip writing a blog post or skip creating a new PDF for folks. I could choose to skip networking lunches. I could choose to make bigger chunks of my schedule unavailable to clients. I could EASILY make myself  busy with the domestic demands of having high standards and children in the same physical space. I could do all of those things (and some days I would like to do that), but then I would not be keeping my commitments to myself.

The trouble with not keeping our commitments to ourselves is pretty deep trouble indeed. There is the initial trouble of allowing every action item to become a decision, which is TORTURE. We don’t do this with all of our action items, right? We don’t decide every morning whether or not we are going to brush our teeth. We just do it. We are committed to keeping our teeth clean. I, personally, am committed to not hearing a dentist’s drill any more often than absolutely necessary. So I don’t rethink this decision every day. I just do it. When it comes to our bigger commitments to ourselves, or to ones that we are not trained to do as children, we act like it’s reasonable to recheck our decisions whenever we’re not feeling fantastic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve got news for you. A big part of life is not feeling fantastic. Yep. And there are things you can do about that, but truth is no matter how good you get at managing your mind, you will not feel fantastic all of the time, so there will be days you won’t feel like it, whatever IT is. What can keep you going on a day like that? Sometimes for me it’s just relying on that decision by my yesterday self. SHE, who felt a little better and spent some time making decisions about what to do when, can be trusted and SHE needs me to follow-through, even when I don’t feel my best.

The other tricky bit about not keeping our commitments to ourselves is that we train our brains to distract us. When we so readily desert our plans in favor of whatever is shiny (or on FB or Netflix or even laundry), we are telling our brains that they should divert us in other ways. The message is clear: “I can be interrupted. I can be stopped.” And our brains love to hear that “I can be stopped” message because our most primitive selves, they really aren’t interested in all of this deeply satisfying forward motion. They are interested in keeping things the same. So when you reward the urge to be distracted, when you reward the urge to go off plan, you give that primitive brain encouragement to continue to distract you and tell you why your whole commitment idea really stinks anyway.

I know I’m sounding like a little bit of a hardass this morning, and it may be that I’m just talking to myself because it is rainy and miserable and cold here and it seems like a perfect day to ditch ALL of the plans. And there are times to do that. And there are reasons to not. For me, here in the dark, cold, wet gloom of Maryland February I felt the call of EVERYTHING ELSE. So I checked myself. What are my commitments to myself today? What did my earlier motivated planning self say we should do today if the field trip I was supposed to chaperone got canceled, because you KNOW that bossy bitch had a backup plan. Yes, she did. And it was even pretty nice. Just a couple of required items and then maybe a movie and a game with the kids. She planned it. I’m doing it, because sometimes it’s better not to have a choice.

Get It All Out, Get It All Done

I’ve been talking a lot about our stories lately, the things we tell ourselves about ourselves, about other people, about the world. But a lot of our stories aren’t even as big as all of that. We have stories on the micro-level too. We have stories about our day, about our workload, about our priorities. Well, maybe you don’t, but I sure do.

I have one persistent story that shows up often, especially if I haven’t gotten enough sleep. In fact if I made a chart to track my bad sleep nights and mornings I have this thought, I think they’d line up pretty darn well. When I haven’t gotten enough rest, my morning mantra is “I won’t be able to get it all done.” Now when I say it’s a mantra, that makes it sound like I’m doing it on purpose, that I’m choosing it, that it might be helpful. I know it’s not. This story about my day, about my workload, about the next several hours is completely counter-productive, and that’s what makes it such a great example to demonstrate the value of getting it all out. Let me explain.

How to be more productiveThis very morning I was doing that thing. “I won’t be able to get it all done.” Once the thought happened, the anxiety increased and once the anxiety increased I got a lot less clear about my plan for the day. Once I got less clear, I began to lose track of everything I actually did or didn’t need to do and after this went on for awhile (in the background while assembling lunches and nagging 5th graders out of the door), all I really wanted to do was turn on Netflix, pop Facebook open, and drink a mug of tea – the very things that would, in fact, make my annoying thought true. I wanted to self-soothe by numbing out a little to shut that nattering voice up. But I didn’t do that, at least not today (I won’t go so far as to claim that I am completely and permanently beyond that kind of behavior).

Today I whipped out a clean piece of paper. And I wrote. I wrote it all down. I wrote down all of the anxious, nagging, self-confidence killing thoughts that were whizzing through my head. I just kept writing. I got to the end of the thread and my jacked up brain started just repeating itself, wanting to be sure I really understood that I couldn’t possibly get it all done. I kept writing my thoughts and that one repeated three times at the end of a lengthy paragraph, like a needle skipping on a record. And I laughed a little when that happened. What better sign that my brain was stuck in a loop, what Brooke Castillo calls a “thought error” than having it just repeat the same sentence over and over when it was out of other words? I don’t run out of words very often, as you may have noticed, so that kind of repetition is worth a pause. The point of this whole writing exercise was to get it all out, just let my anxious brain have its moment to say it all.

I gave voice to the fear and the anxiety and in doing so, it lost some of its power. I became the observer of my own thoughts and feelings instead of reacting and feeling like I was trapped. I began to see how allowing that set of thoughts was impacting me. I could acknowledge that the desire for a morning off was based solely on the way those thoughts made me feel, well and maybe a little lack of sleep. I got it all out, like one big verbal vomit. And, well to be honest about the analogy, just like vomit, it made me feel better.

Then I was able to look at my day and decide if that thought was true. Was it really true that I couldn’t possibly get it all done? Was there really so much on my plate? If the answer was yes, I would have a series of decisions to make (as described here), but as is so often the case when I’m stuck in this particular mental trap, I didn’t have SO much to do. I did have some important things to do that I hadn’t thought about very much. I had some items that were at risk of falling through the cracks, but had not yet done so. I made a quick list of those items and set it aside.

How to change your moodAnd then I got down to the business of choosing a new thought, one that would make me feel better, that would allow for action beyond the great escape of Netflix and Facebook (I will always drink tea), and that would give me results that DON’T prove the negative thoughts I have about myself. Instead of “I won’t be able to get it all done,” I chose the perhaps only mildly ambitious but totally believable: “I will be able to get everything important done.” It didn’t make me feel like Wonder Woman – because I’m tired and that’s just not somewhere I need to try to go today. But it DID make me feel calmer and infinitely more competent. It also reminded me that some list items CAN be let go in the interest of clear-headed productivity.

I got it all out. I checked out my thoughts. I chose a better one. And that better thought allowed me to feel capable, calm, relieved and competent. Feeling that way allowed me to sit down with my planner and figure out exactly what needed doing and when, making a schedule for myself that I could follow and get results. And you know what happened? I got it all done. I got it all out and then I got it all done.

I Feel the Holiday Swirl

As much as I try to maintain my groove, the holiday season is catching up with me. Maybe it was the announcement by child #1 that clothes that were said to have fit for the piano recital but then were actually put on to reveal a young male gibbon in a white button down. Maybe it was the daily announcement by child #2 of exactly how many shopping days are left until Christmas. Maybe it was the realization that taking that week off means getting more done now. Maybe it was actually looking at the calendar and seeing what I’d done to myself despite having said NO several times. Maybe it was just staying up too late too many nights in a row to have a time of blessed quiet with the reverend. I’m actually willing to put a fair amount of money on that last one.

peace at the holidaysIt’s getting to me.

I’m feeling harried and disorganized.

I’m starting to feel that sense of inadequacy creep in.

I’m starting to wonder what will happen if I don’t do ALL of the things.

I’m starting to panic.

And I feel myself see that panic and immediately lash out with resistance. No! I know better! I can do this better!

And so I answer the panic with repression.

Which works internally about as well as abstinence education does externally.

So I reminded myself tonight, I remembered, that I can feel the panic.

I don’t have to be afraid to feel it because it’s just a feeling.

It’s just a vibration in my body that needs to express itself.

It’s just the scared primitive part of my brain freaking out because if I don’t do Christmas right, I’m going to get voted off the island.

Sometimes to settle that brain, we first just have to let it say its peace.

So now I’m taking a big breath. Go ahead brain. Panic. You are allowed to be here fear. I’m sorry you are so scared. I know you’re going to be okay, but I can see you don’t know that yet. And that’s alright. So just go ahead. Get it all out. I’m going to just sit here and breathe while you do that.

And then, when you’re done with this anxiety tantrum, I’m going to be in charge again. And we’re still not going to do all of the things. And we still might disappoint some people, but I will make all of those decisions consciously so you don’t have to worry that I’m just screwing it all up.

It’s okay little lizard brain.

Just breathe.

And look at the lights.

And know that you are and will be loved even if you don’t make Christmas perfect for everyone.

And know that you are okay and will be loved even if you don’t manage to work as hard this next 12 days as you thought you would.

Feeling lovedAnd know that you are okay and will be loved because you are enough no matter what you do or don’t buy, make, or create.

You are okay. You are loved. You are enough.

All is well.

Feel THAT and you will have a holy night.

In Peace,

j

 

 

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 others 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.

What To Do When You’re Too Busy

I remember seeing a couple on a TV show (or maybe a movie) scheduling a time to have sex. I remember nothing else about the show, the context, anything else. I just remember my horror. I remember thinking that was crazy. I remember rolling my eyes at how people could let their lives become that busy, rigid, regimented. I remember all of those feelings. I think I was around 23. And now I shake my head at my own darned self.

Adulting Can Be Extremely Busy

My family has entered an extremely busy phase. I thought we were in this phase before, but it turns out that the previous phase was just a very busy phase; THIS is the extremely busy phase. The exact circumstances aren’t that important, but I will share that my husband is a full-time seminary student on top of working, so if you have any experience with some version of that, you may have a sense of what things are like here. I am also nurturing my fledgling business, and oh, right, the kids. I won’t go on and on, because like I said, the circumstances aren’t that important. What is important is the way that we handle this phase. We’ve been bumping around a bit, trying to get to the place where we can actually observe ourselves so we can make adjustments. It has been a rough couple of months, but we reached meta this morning – we took a look at ourselves and realized there was a lot to improve on.

How are we going to make this crazy whirlwind better? The short answer is that we’re going to schedule things that are important to us. This will now be a mark of the level of priority – if it makes it on the calendar, it is important. I realize, however, that that is a short answer indeed and that it is not very helpful if you’re not already good at the whole scheduling thing. So, let me break down some other things we’re doing.

8 Steps to Fix “Too Busy”

  1. If it’s a triage situation – like you’re emotionally bleeding out/exhausted/freaking out: Get Real Clear on What’s Not VERY Important and eliminate it. I was going to say “scratch it off your list,” but ELIMINATE feels better right now. Get rid of it. My husband and I are both crossing one thing off our respective lists this morning because we realized he is leaving town and we needed to talk about all of this AND just see each other for a few minutes. I’ve been sick, and oh, yeah, the kids. We each found the least important part of our respective days and are eliminating them.
  2. Feeling better when you're overwhelmed.Stop allowing yourself to be “overwhelmed.” Overwhelm makes us spin, which is incredibly unproductive. The thoughts that create overwhelm are usually some version of: “It’s too much. I can’t possibly do it all,” or the classic circular: “I’m so overwhelmed.” Spinning won’t help that feeling. When I get that spin feeling, I try a thought like: “I need to figure out how to do this day/week/month” so that instead of feeling more overwhelmed, I feel determined to get down to business. That always feels better and is far more productive than the “I don’t know” freaking out that comes with overwhelm. This is particularly difficult if I am tired, which leads naturally to…
  3. Recognize the importance of, and schedule self-care. When we are extra-busy we have a tendency to make cuts in the worst places. We stay up a little later to finish one last bit of work or to have 10 minutes to ourselves. We get a little less careful with how we eat because we think we don’t have time to cook and eat proper meals. We skip taking a few minutes to just breathe because we’re sure we just don’t have time for that. I say all of this without scolding because I’m just as guilty of it as everyone else. I am especially guilty of the sleep part. And my body lets me know. I get less productive. I get WAY more grumpy. I get SO tired of it all. And if I keep pushing, I get sick. Usually not terribly sick and not for very long, but my body lets me know. Want to go from busy to totally UNPRODUCTIVE? Push hard enough that you get sick. Make your body force you to stop. The benefit? You may get some rest. You may recognize that you’re doing yourself in. The cost? All of that stuff you had to do just gets moved around more. Being busy does not get solved by being tired, poorly nourished and stressed out. It’s really that simple. If you don’t take care of you, it will all get worse.
  4. Sit with your goals/plans/big list for a few minutes each day. Check in. What is it you are trying to accomplish? What takes priority this month/this week/today? What steps do you need to outline for yourself to get from where you are to there? When are you going to do those things? Write it down or type it in – whatever your planner penchant is – do that.
  5. Make planning a part, but not a terribly LONG part, of every day. I’ve talked here about my morning meeting and how invaluable I find it. Every day I move from looking at my goals/plans/objectives to actually planning out when I’m going to do those things. I allot very specific amounts of time, not depending on how long I think it will take, but based on how long I want to spend on each item. 90% of the time I actually finish in that amount of time (which is always shorter than I think it will “take”).
  6. Check in with involved parties on a regular basis. We have in the past, and will begin again, having the Sunday evening meeting. This is when we review what’s coming up in the next month and in the next week so we know who’s going to be where and when. So we identify gaps (oh yeah, kids) in case we need to enlist childcare. So we don’t get caught off-guard by someone else’s meeting or travel. So we can prepare for events rather than constantly reacting to them. AND so we can thank each other for picking up one another’s slack.
  7. If it’s important to you, schedule it. And yes, I mean everything, including haircuts, naps, walks, extra long showers because you have a cold, trips to the drugstore because someone’s prescription is ready, lunch dates with your spouse. If it’s important, treat it like it’s important. Schedule it and honor your schedule… which leads me to….
  8. You can handle it all. Learn to trust yourself.Honor your schedule. If you MUST make a change, be conscious about it. Think it through. Recognize all of the implications. Review the rest of the day and see what impact it will have. Never do it because you don’t “feel like” doing what’s next on the schedule. Honor your commitments to yourself and the overload gets a lot less stressful because you will know that you can count on yourself to meet your obligations. You will know that you are reliable and capable. You will know that you are trustworthy with your own time.

You Are In Charge

There’s a lot more I could say, but I’m looking at this like an emergency room situation. These are the basics for moving from insanely and overwhelmingly busy to just plain busy – but busy that is directed, goal oriented, planned, and all-inclusive. This is busy that assumes taking care of oneself in all of the ways. This is busy that allows for productivity skyrocketing because you actually feel good AND feel able to do it all, and you can, OR you can make some decisions that make it all work.

You may fight me on this but you really are in charge. I know, I know, we’re not all self-employed, BUT we are all able to make can keep commitments to ourselves. We are all able to adjust our level of effort so that we can actually complete tasks in a reasonable amount of time. We are all able to use calendars and timers. We really are, and if you are where I was, if you scoff at the use of such tools to mark the time in your day, that’s okay. Just call me in a few months when you’re EXTREMELY busy and I’ll tell you how I do all of that.

 

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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?

declutteringMy 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.

declutteringWhat 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.