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.

The Limits of Feeling Better

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Happiness the Wrong Goal?

“I just want to be happy.” I hear it ALL the time. I read it everywhere. It’s like a moaning mantra. It’s an interesting sentence in many ways. What does it mean to be happy? How different would that definition be for different people? Does this mantra suggest that you mean you want to be happy ALL the time, for five minutes, for some percentage of the day? And how about that JUST – is it ONLY or is it as though this is a small thing to want?

Our dogged pursuit of happiness as a goal has taken us in so many different directions, it seems pretty clear to me that the definition of happiness, or at least what is believed to be necessary to get there, is REALLY different for different people. And I think the thought of being happy all the time, no matter what your definition, is kind of funny. How would you even know that you WERE happy if that was all you felt? There’s a lot of trust there that your mind wouldn’t find SOMETHING to be bothered about, something to mourn, something to struggle with. Maybe your mind is cleaner than mine, but I’m pretty sure that no matter what my circumstances, I’m not going to be happy all the time. And so as for that “just,” if we’re talking all the time, being happy is no small feat. It takes work. It takes mental work. And when we have to do that… well, we’re not always happy. See what I mean?

How to be happy is the wrong question
All of the baggage that surrounds this notion of “just being happy” makes it worth considering that maybe happiness isn’t the best goal. What could we strive for instead of happiness? There’s another question that we’d likely get a variety of answers to, but I want to share what I learned from Sebastian Purcell over the summer. He’s a professor of philosophy who studies the Aztecs (as mentioned in this previous post), and it would seem that the Aztecs thought the proper goal for our striving was, rather than happiness, ┬ásomething they called “rootedness,” becoming deeply tied to and nourished from several sources. I was immediately intrigued by the idea, and that grew when I heard just HOW the Aztecs suggested one become more rooted.

In Aztec philosophy, the way to achieving the good life was marked by becoming rooted in four different ways: 1) rooted in one’s own body, 2) rooted in one’s own psyche, 3) rooted in one’s community, and 4) rooted in the universe. Oh, okay. Easy. Done. Yeah, no. That sounds like a tall order, so what are we really talking about here?

I have to say I absolutely LOVE that the first principle is becoming rooted in one’s own body. In my work with clients attempting to lose weight, I have seem so many people who only address their bodies with negativity, who have stopped listening to their own bodies’ language, and who don’t even want to look at their beloved spirit shells. For the Aztecs, the body was a source of sacred connection and nurturing. They emphasized this importance by recommending that people do something like yoga every day to be in tune with their bodies and balance “competing energies” within the body. For modern westerners at least, I think we could go a little more basic with some body awareness: cultivating the ability to really feel how your body feels, to pay attention to those signals (hunger, pain, fatigue), to pay attention and be fully present when we do something that feels physically good, to find ways to eat and move that are not just enjoyable for the chattering brain, but that make our bodies FEEL good, so we can become rooted, grounded and nurtured through our bodies.

The second principle is also really interesting in that the Aztecs saw becoming rooted in the psyche as an act of balancing desire and longing with judgment. The believed that good judgment is learned and tempers or informs, but does not destroy, our desire. Boy does that sound healthy! I can attest to the way that some of us use our “good judgment” to completely overwhelm, override, and dismiss our desire. We rely on our good judgment alone to take us toward our goals, losing sight of where those goals were born in the first place. If they are not born of desire, that’s a long row to hoe. To be rooted in one’s psyche, desire and judgment work together to inform our actions and allow us to be both grounded and nourished, rooted.

Thirdly the Aztecs believed that rootedness is cultivated in the community. Social cooperation is critical to the growth and health of a community AND to the rootedness of the individual. In other words, the roles that you play in society, the tasks you take on, are not only for the benefit of others, but for our own individual benefit. We become nourished by participating. We become grounded by interacting and working together with others. It sounds obvious when I say it, but in our 24/7 culture it is all to easy to let these kinds of things fall by the wayside. It is all to easy to let community involvement fall to the end of the list, forgetting that it is part of who we are, that it’s not just part of serving others but in being our best selves, rooted.

Finally, the Aztecs believed that rootedness can grow by developing a sense of being part of the larger energy of the universe. For them, the way there was either through religious drugs or through the study of philosophy. In my experience, there are other ways. Meditation has, for me, always been an inroad to a sense that I am part of something greater. Standing at the edge of the ocean has the same effect. When I look around at a large gathering of people and take the others in, see them as individuals and see the group, see the purpose they are there for, take in their connectedness I also feel a touch of the divine. It would seem that my willingness to slow down, to be present, to notice my place in the physical world and in my community is a way to be rooted in the universe.

Real happiness comes from being rooted.
The interesting thing about all of this, is that as I think about it, even as I type it all out, I feel pretty happy. Maybe it’s just my definition of happiness, but being that in touch, that connected with myself and the people around me, that sounds pretty great. Maybe the Aztecs knew something we didn’t. Maybe by taking our sights off of “happiness” as a goal and developing our sense of “rootedness,” we get to be truly happy a lot more of the time.

How SHOULD You Feel?

Slide1I can’t tell you how many times clients and friends, heck everybody I know has come up against a moment where, when we really dig down a bit, the problem isn’t necessarily HOW they feel, but how they think they SHOULD feel. Let me explain.

There’s a bride preparing for the big day. She’s sure she’s doing the right thing. Her partner is the right one for her, no question in her mind. And yet as she is getting dressed with her sisters and mothers, it’s there, that little twinge that makes her tear up. That bit of sadness that makes her pause for a moment and, if she gives herself enough time, maybe even start to doubt herself. Why am I sad? I shouldn’t be sad right now. It’s one of the happiest days of my life. I SHOULD not be sad; does that mean there’s something wrong? Is my subconscious trying to tell me something? Oh no, what if this is all wrong after all?…

You can see how this could get complicated.

Picture a funeral, one that follows a long struggle with an unkind illness. Picture a caretaker who is exhausted and grieving. Watch that caretaker brush aside the moment of relief he is surely feeling in favor of guilt that he should feel that way at all. He should be sad; he should only be sad. Being anything else means he’s selfish or unfeeling or somehow cheapens the relationship. We’ve now gone from grieving to self-abuse.

This is, I believe, a uniquely human trick: the double layer torture. Because we have the capacity to think about what we’re thinking, we are able to load judgment onto our struggles. Great.

I see my clients and friends do it all of the time. I see coach friends do it too – we’re actually extra good at it because we see it all happening and think that means we should know better: “I thought I was done with this. I KNOW this is just a story I’m telling myself. I can’t believe I’m here again.” Double layer torture is often rooted in some kind of feeling that we should know better, we should act better, that we should BE better people, the kind who don’t have feelings that don’t appear to match the occasion, the kind of people for whom life is simple – black and white, good and bad, right and wrong.

“Well, when you say it that way….” YES I’m saying it that way. Because we are all complicated; there is a whole lot of grey and with all of that complication and middle ground, we are, quite simply, allowed to feel however we feel. You are allowed to feel how you feel. You are allowed to feel how you feel. You are allowed to feel how you feel. And feeling how you feel doesn’t make you selfish, or unworthy, or wrong, or mixed up, or anything other than a stunning and complex human being. You get to feel how you feel without judgment, especially from yourself.

So what to do when these moments happen, when our feelings don’t match with how we THINK we should feel and we’re tempted first to torture ourselves with scorn for that and then to analyze that whole scene to figure out how messed up we really are… what to do?

How about a little compassion? How about taking a deep breath and allowing the feeling to be there, getting yourself a kleenex so the tears can come out without ruining your makeup if it’s your wedding day, allowing the smile if it’s a funeral? How about starting by telling yourself that you get to feel how you feel and it doesn’t make you anything other than human?

Slide2You may be startled to find that giving the feeling that room allows it to pass through, and suddenly it will become just a moment of real humanness rather than an indicator of a lifetime of anything. It will become a passing sentiment rather than evidence that you are who you’ve always been afraid that you are. It will just be a feeling, a feeling that you are allowed to have, and then it will be done. It will be done and you will still be worthy.