Accessing Vacation Vibe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Lost Weight

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Feels Like Freedom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Becoming a Curator Of My Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rules For Freedom: Dealing with Overwhelm

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Simple, But Not Easy Truth

One of the hardest things for most of my clients to accept is that it is possible to love themselves just as they are.

I understand the difficulty because they’ve come to me at a time of some kind of distress; something is wrong, and more often than not they’ve diagnosed that the thing that is wrong is THEM, like internally, inherently, and deeply. I’m familiar with this diagnosis as it is one I found for myself for many years: “There’s something wrong with me.” I could scoop up all kinds of crap with that cup. It’s amazing what kind of evidence you can find for such a thought if you want to keep it. It’s a great big general crap collecting and destruction generating belief. Vague enough to be right and specific enough to really hurt, just like we them, eh?

Slide1Here’s the thing, I tell them. You can love yourself and fix this or you can hate yourself and fix it. I have opinions about which will work better, but I’d like to know what yours are. It’s interesting because most people seem to go with the hate it and fix it school when it comes to themselves. We believe we have to despise ourselves, or at least the part that’s generating the problem in question. We believe that if we love it, we won’t fix it, that somehow loving it will make us complacent, accepting of the offending flaw, that we will forever carry the extra weight or the bad judgment or the poor career choice. We can only fix it through strict discipline and punishment.

Wow.

This is one of those moments when I am stunned by the way we treat ourselves as compared to the way that we treat others. With ourselves there is no quarter. With others… I’m pretty sure we love in spite of flaws all the time, like every single day. Do we dismiss other people because of one flaw? Do we hate them until they fix themselves completely? Do we have to discipline them into being alright for us? That’s a no.

The only relationship I can think of where one might even be tempted to do this from a disciplinary standpoint is the parent/child relationship and even then there is no hating and disciplining. There is loving and correcting. There is loving WHILE they learn, WHILE they grow, WHILE they change. There is loving WHILE they are imperfect, WHILE they make mistakes, WHILE they do the wrong things.

Slide2Could you learn to love yourself and make change if you pretended for a moment that you were your own child? What if you were raising yourself? What kind of adult would you like to help bring into the world? What kind of human would you like to help create? How would you treat yourself if you were simply raising yourself, taking yourself from one stage of development to the next, monitoring your own growth and change, noting problems as they arise, thinking about them and being encouraging, asking questions when it doesn’t make sense? How would that feel? I think it would feel a whole lot more like love. And I think change that comes from love is the change that works, and it works because it FEELS good. It feels good to accept ourselves. It feels like water on cracked earth. It feels so necessary and so overdue.

But I don’t know how, you say. I don’t know what that means. I say start small. Think of one thing you love about yourself. Sit, with your eyes closed and really focus all of your attention on that one thing. Feel into it. Let yourself delight in it. Allow yourself to feel your own affection for as long as you can tolerate it. See what happens. It just might change everything. Why? Because that kind of feeling expands; it grows and self-acceptance that is taken in as a small seed grows the fruit of love right there in your scared heart. It will be okay. You can still want to change, even after you learn to love yourself. I promise.

Trading Places

No, I’m not talking about the old Eddie Murphy movie (and to show my age I felt weird about calling that old, but I digress). I’m talking about the idea of trading places with another person in order to get a fresh perspective. We talk about this pretty regularly, particularly when we’re trying to encourage our kids to be aware of other people’s feelings.

“How would you feel if someone did that to you? What do you think she felt like when you said that? Do you think he was happy? Were they trying to hurt you? What do you think they were thinking about?” Maybe it’s just me and my poor tormented children, but these discussions happen pretty often when trying to untangle whatever happened at recess. This notion is a big part of our adult culture as well: “Walk a mile in their shoes.” Now, don’t misunderstand me all of this talk we’re talking doesn’t mean we’re walking the walk, but that is a subject for a different post altogether. Right now I’m just interested in this idea of ways that we can shift our perspective by trading places.

Slide1The difference for me right now is that I’m less interested in developing empathy (just for the moment, no worries) and more interested in gaining some perspective on the things that are going on for me. One parent in seminary and one parent as a fledgling entrepreneur can make for a lot of household uncertainty. Some days the uncertainty feels daunting and we just want more information. We just want to know what’s going to happen. Where will we be? Will all of this work out? Should we be doing things differently?

When I’m feeling freaked out or if that freaking out turns into some kind of b.s. self-abuse about being good enough, it is a good mental exercise to trade places with a friend. Let her look at the situation and tell me what SHE thinks. We’re not always good at being kind to ourselves. We’re not always good at seeing the big picture when we’re part of the landscape. We’re not always good at taking a longer view, but oftentimes someone else who knows us can, and sometimes we can access that without even talking to them. When our self-kindness and calm fails us, we can borrow some from someone else. I do this regularly. When I need calm and compassion I mentally trade places with my sister and see what she would say. When I need business advice, I mentally trade places with my mentor and see what she would say. When I need a pep talk, I imagine what my dear Dad would say. When my own capacity to be kind to myself and pick myself up is out of gas, I call in for a little mental trade.

But this trading places thing can go farther, and here’s where it gets really interesting. Every now and again I make it a point to imagine my future. I choose a point down the road, maybe a year, maybe five, sometimes ten, and I picture everything I can about that time. I try to get detailed. I try to see everything. I try to know exactly what’s happening, not by pushing, but by inhabiting that mental space, seeing it, being the me of THAT time. When that vision is really solid and I’ve been living there for a few minutes, I ask HER for advice for today. What do I need to know? What should I do? How can I get there?

Slide2It’s been fascinating. She always calms me down, and I guess that part isn’t surprising, but the rest of it is. There’s real advice there. There’s steps to take to get to the future I’m imagining. There are things to consider and plan, with a vision of what that will bring. THAT is powerful magic. THAT is motivating and grounding all at the same time. THAT makes moving forward feel both brilliant AND safe, like of COURSE I’m going to do X because that’s how I get THERE. And when I’ve gotten my questions answered, I trade places back. I return to my present with fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, a list of next steps on the road, and a vision to guide me.

What would your future self tell you about where you are today? What would you ask? What would happen if you tried trading places for just a few minutes? I can help you with that.

 

What Seeds Are You Planting?

Early in establishing my business, I got some excellent advice from a mentor. She advised that I think of everything I do today as something I might see in my bank account 6 months from now. It was an excellent reminder of the time that cultivating clients and developing programs takes, but really it was more than that. The advice came with an analogy, one of planting seeds. And I think in our fast-paced, immediate gratification, reactive world, it’s a perspective that it’s helpful to drink in every now and again.

Slide1As a Mom and as a business woman, there are probably several times every day when my next move is dictated by the necessity of the moment: meals, laundry, dog walks, client calls, sick kid at school calls, trips to urgent care, assistance for aging parents, the usual stuff that comes along with adulting, parenting, working. And it would be easy for me to fill my day with that stuff. I could literally, especially now during the summer months spend my entire day reacting to every situation that arises and participating in resolving it. But then what? Over time my clients would complete their work with me and I would have no more clients. Over time my children will, well at least if all goes according to plan, move out. Over time there will still be laundry, although it will be less as there are fewer of us here. The question is how much of my time I consciously devote to planting seeds, how much time I spend considering what I want in the future and taking even the smallest steps to get there. What kind of seeds am I planting for the day after these days?

I’ve been talking a lot about pretty BIG VISION stuff – aligning with the best part of you, dreaming big, asking questions – THIS is how you get there. You start with a vision, just like a gardener would. You develop a notion of what you want to grow. Maybe you’ve even gotten some colored pencils out or cut up some magazines or written a stream of consciousness journal entry about it – that big vision, that heart dream, that secret desire. THAT is good magic, all of that envisioning, and I believe there is some power in holding that vision close, but I believe the reason it’s powerful is because your amazing mental machinery will work on that vision. You ask yourself what you should do first to get there, and you have to very swiftly tell your brain to STOP it when it says: “I don’t know.” Just shut that stuff down, and then ask again. “What are some things I could do to get there?” and write down the list that comes to you, as ridiculous or obvious as some of those items might be. THESE are your seeds you see. To get to that big dream, big vision, “someday,” you HAVE to plant your seeds.

The funny thing is that once you do that, help often shows up in unexpected forms. Just like in the garden where rain and sun show up to nurture the plants, help and hope will come to nurture your big vision as soon as you start to work on it yourself. And, well, okay… just like the bugs and the deer come, so too will unexpected problems present themselves as your nurture your big dream garden. These too get tackled one step at a time, more effectively when we drop the “I don’t know what to do” in favor of “How can I solve this problem? What would make this better?” Just like the gardener figures out exactly what bugs she’s dealing with, we examine the problems that present themselves as we pursue our big vision, and rather than taking them as a sign that we should give up, we persist and work through it, because that garden is counting on us.

Slide2Our big dreams and visions are counting on us to stop the hustle and bustle of reactive living and take a big enough breath to remember that there are seeds to plant, and that those seeds will come with challenges, but will bring a harvest of delight, growth, and fulfillment that goes much deeper than the day we get all of the laundry done. If you’re not sure how to go about seeing your big vision, or you’ve got that but can’t seem to find those seeds, I’d love to help you out.

Challenging Our Scripts

The theme for Sunday’s service at my church was dissent. Our brilliant minister took us on a walk through the Supreme Court as an examination of the nature of dissent and the truth content of legal opinion. No, it did not stop there for me… as you’re likely guessing if you’ve been playing along with me for any length of time. Dissent is definitely a key part of the American political system, and any functioning democracy. I’d take a step farther and say dissent is part of an extremely healthy adult life. What am I talking about?

Slide1I’m talking about the frequency with which our adult decisions rely on assumptions, rules, and habits of thought and action. So much of what we do has to do with what “should be,” “needs to be,” or “has always been.” These starting points become our sacred scripts just as much as a holy text might for some folks or a legal precedent might be for others. We don’t question them. They are fact. They are written. They are tradition. They just ARE… But ARE they?

Let’s expand our view a little to a cultural level and imagine what would be true if we used the “has always been this way” standard to make all of our decisions. Leaving things the way they’ve always been would make the United States a very different place, right? We would still have slavery. Women would not own property. There would be no public schools. Medical care would most often involve bleeding and hoping for the best. Dental care would feature wooden teeth for the wealthy; no teeth for the rest. I could go on for a while here. The point is that all systems are dynamic. Things change, and thank goodness for that. People also change, and thank goodness for that.  On the changing nature of everything, James Baldwin offers: “For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock.” Even in the repetitions of earth’s natural cycles, change is born.

So what unleashes change in us? Sometimes it is born out of crisis – something in our environment or community creates a need for us to change individually and communally, to find new resources within and without. Sometimes change is born of growth, the moment when the skin we are in is no longer big enough to hold who we are becoming. And sometimes, change is born from dissent, the increasing dissatisfaction with the way that things are, the struggle to pinpoint the root of that dissatisfaction, to question its necessity, and to change it. This is true both in community and within ourselves.

So often people describe what is and isn’t possible in their lives and I gently inquire: “Are you sure? When did you decide that THAT isn’t possible? Would you be happier if that WERE possible?” I’m checking to see if that notion of possibility is a sacred script, an idea that is defining reality for them without being questioned and checked. “Are you sure?” So often people describe what they need to do and I ask: “Why? Do you really NEED to do that? Do you WANT to do that? What would happen if you DIDN’T do that?”  The sacred scripts that dictate so many of our decisions are, by their very nature, unconscious. We accepted them a long time ago, but maybe it’s time for a little dissent. Maybe it’s time to have a little internal protest. If you could make a sign for yourself, what would it say? What rule are you following that you made up for yourself? What parts of your current experience would you protest if you thought you had the time and the ability?

Slide2If “nothing is fixed,” why on earth would we expect ourselves to stay the same? How could we possibly trudge on under the same assumptions, the same internal rules, the same traditions? If nothing is fixed, we may very well need to change. If nothing is fixed, we may very well need to think new thoughts, which means we need to start by discovering and finding the old ones. What’s keeping you the same? Are you ready for a little internal revolution? I’d love to help you paint your signs.

Where Are You in Your Spreadsheet?

Many of my clients come to me when they have a big decision to make. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s a relationship start or end, maybe it’s a move or career change. We’ve all got them, big decisions, at least at some point, and it can be daunting to approach that decision. What my clients tend to do, and well, pretty much everybody I know, is to approach the decision with some sort of pro and con list; the lists vary and some get more complex, more of a comparison grid where you can see all the possibilities at once. They gather all kinds of information about all of the elements of the decision. They investigate salaries. They look at housing prices. They find out whether the potential partner wants kids. They examine opportunities in different careers. They look at school performance data. They look on internet forums for firsthand accounts of all of the above. They collect enormous amounts of data.

Slide1This past Sunday, my minister brought up the idea of Dataism, the rise of big data in our culture and our economy and our increasing tendency to rely on and consume huge amounts of information and to analyze and attempt to use that data to predict the future in all fields. I see this in my clients and friends. When presented with a fork in the road, the instinct is to gather information. We value information so strongly that our knee jerk reaction is to go get some whenever there is a moment of indecision. The interesting thing about that is that in my own case, and with most people I know and talk to, when these big decisions arise, gathering all of the data doesn’t seem to help people make a decision. It seems, actually, to drown them. They are awash in information and no closer to making a decision than they were when all of their data-collecting efforts began.

Some data analysts might suggest that they are not using the right methods to consider their data. I think the problem is simpler than that. It doesn’t seem simple as someone describes all of the complicated parts of their decision, describes all of the possible outcomes, describes all of the different risk factors, describes the way that trying to absorb all of that data has given them hours of worry and stress. But the truth is that they are usually missing some data. There is a critical piece of information that they’ve failed to collect, and it’s one we are not culturally encouraged to consider very often. They’ve forgotten to check in and see how they feel about the options before them.

Slide2When I’m coaching someone, I wait until they are done with their data dump. They’ve described all of the stuff, and then I ask them: “How do you feel about it? What do you want to do?” Most of us are so wedded to our information that we initially respond with another run down of the key points comparing evidence and highlighting pros and cons, and almost without exception this still leads to a shrug and a sigh. I then say something brilliant like: “Take a deep breath. Stop thinking about it. Tell me how you feel about Option A.”  The rest of this conversation usually takes about 10 minutes, because you know what? They almost always know how they feel about it. They almost always KNOW what they want to do. They may want the data to support that, but they know. The move from the question: “What should I do?” to “What do I want to do?” almost always bears more fruit.

That’s when things get really interesting, because that’s when my friend or client reveals that there are many reasons why their preferred option isn’t possible. Me: “Okay, so don’t do it.” Client/Friend: “Wait? What?! You’ve just helped me realize I actually DO really want this!” Me: “So change the question.”

The questions we ask ourselves have everything to do with the outcome we get. “What should I do?” will yield data and society’s ideas about you. “What do I want to do?” gets you your own doggone preference. Finally: “How can I make that happen? What’s the first step?” tears down the barriers that your scared primitive self puts up for you and tells you to watch Netflix in bed with a bag of chips. “How can I make it happen?” allows fresh thoughts, creativity, help from others to play a part. “How can I make it happen?” assumes IT can happen rather from starting from a big, fat NO. Because, hey, what if it can? What if you can have what you want? What if you can be who you want to be? What if it IS possible? Don’t you want to find out? Big change is hard. You need to ask the right questions to get to an answer that will not just be right, but will be right for you, no matter what big data says.