Self-Care

How to make stress a catalyst for change

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Change can be scary, I know, but when you’re looking forward in your life and thinking, “This can’t go on,” or “I don’t want to live like this anymore,” change can magically become the more attractive option, even if that means stepping into unknown territory. I’ve been at that fork in the road many times myself, and what drew me toward coaching as a profession was the toolkit for navigating those moments with more grace and power.

I sometimes think of the coach’s work as “change midwifery,” meeting others at the proverbial crossroads with a backpack of strategies to make the journey easier. As we head into the sometimes stressful holiday season, I’d like to offer a few tips on how to see those stressful feelings differently, and in so doing, begin the process of change.

This week's post offers some practical tips to turn around anxiety, anger, and fear and see them through a new lens, as messengers of important information. Too often we blame the messenger and squash stressful feelings, but if we can learn to tolerate them long enough to listen, we can find the hidden gems that empower big positive life changes. Here they are:

1. Anxiety & Boundaries

Anxiety comes in many flavors, and sometimes, it will point you toward the need for a personal boundary of some kind. If you’re worried about seeing Uncle Bob to the point where you’re losing sleep over it, well, maybe it’s time to use your voice to gently let him know that his pejorative jokes about women are not ok for you. If you are dreading an office party you agreed to host, maybe it’s time to let your boss know exactly what you can and cannot do this week. Feeling overwhelmed with holiday preparations? How would it feel to set aside 30 minutes a day just for you?

If you’re experiencing anxiety around a certain person, place, or event, try asking yourself what would need to happen for you to feel ease and calm about that same situation. Often the boundary line has been crossed so often we forget where it is. Or maybe we’ve never had that boundary in place at all. New lines around our well-being can always be drawn, and I find it’s helpful to remember that healthy boundaries are what help us be more generous to others, not less. If we don’t feel good, we can’t give meaningfully to others. Put your own oxygen mask on first.

Above all, ask, “What do I need?”

 

2. Anger & Desire

When someone or something makes you angry, that anger can sometimes act as a bright neon sign for what you don’t want in your life. It can help you understand what’s most important to you. Very often, the anger is not the fault of the external person or thing in question, but rather an indication that you yourself have not been true to you own desire, or have not expressed that desire strongly enough. Maybe your spouse attempts to insist on something you don’t agree with, or a colleague ignores or diminishes the value of your work. Either way, anger has a tendency to cast other people or situations in the role of the villain, while you yourself play the role of the innocent victim.

Anger is sometimes like a magic mirror – it tells us really clearly what’s wrong for us so that we can get even more clear about what’s right for us. It can help us identify what we DO want, believe in, or want to make important in our lives.

If you often feel angry, ask yourself, what is it that I really want right now? What is most important to me? By stepping out of the victim role, you may need to ask for what you want, or seek it out on your own. You may find yourself navigating an uncomfortable conversation. These options can feel uncomfortable, but the discomfort itself is often a sign of learning, and of change.

Above all, ask, “What do I want?”

3. Fear & Decisions

We often name fear as an obstacle at the cusp of big decisions, and the most helpful perspective shift I’ve encountered in this area is to accept that the fear is actually okay, even normal. It makes sense to feel some version of fear (nervous, apprehensive, skeptical, etc.) on the cusp of change. If we didn’t, we might take higher risks and make less informed decisions. In fact, those who feel less fear often do just that. What if rather than tamping down our fear or reproaching ourselves for having it, we chose to acknowledge it instead?

I realize this is not the most fun choice. Fear can be extremely unpleasant. But once we understand that it’s okay to feel it, we can often glean valuable information from its presence, and it will then consume us far less. One great service that fear often offers is to slow us down, so that when we do make a big decision, we do so with a deeper understanding, having considered a wider range of options, having consulted more experts, and having written a Plan B. These are all important preparations for making the major life decisions that commonly trigger a fear response, such as changing jobs, getting married, or buying a house.

If you’re feeling fear around an upcoming decision or possible turn in your life, make some time to ask yourself, is there anything else I need to consider here? Is there any research I can do to give me a clear understanding of my options? Do I need to save money for another couple of months? Are there topics I’d like to discuss openly with my partner?

Above all, ask, “What do I know?”

 

If you or someone close to you is struggling with anxiety, anger, or fear, or is navigating a difficult decision or situation, please reach out to schedule a complimentary coach consultation. On this relaxed, confidential phone call, I’ll ask a few questions about your personal goals, and suggest a few techniques to try immediately. If I think I can help, I’ll also give you a recommendation on the frequency and duration of a coaching program.

How to Set Healthy Boundaries

As I explore the concept of followership in the workplace, one skill has popped up again and again as simultaneously the most critical and also the most difficult: setting boundaries. Setting boundaries, of course, is not only for work - we all need to set healthy boundaries for ourselves in many aspects of our lives, regardless of whether we’re playing the roles of leader or follower. Professionally speaking, though, I see boundary setting as a followership skill because it primarily addresses the execution of individual or collective labor, whereas leadership qualities tend to address the organization of that labor.

How to Make Work Meaningful

All work is creative, no matter what your job description. No matter what you are producing or generating, whether it be digital, material, or ephemeral, you are a creator. Once we begin to look at our jobs this way, a new line of inquiry sometimes appears: What are we creating? Is it something we consciously chose? Is it something we enjoy or feel satisfaction from? Are we making a contribution that we consider valuable?

How to trust yourself when you don’t

It’s almost a cliché to say, “trust yourself,” when beginning any new endeavor, but I find it’s tricky to pin down in terms of concrete experience. How, exactly, do I trust myself on purpose? What is it I’m trusting, anyway? Changes of any kind, even good ones, can trigger our survival instincts and release various flavors of anxiety and doubt. When we’re feeling any degree of fear, it’s not obvious how to find our way back to ease, confidence, or trust.

How to Shift from Overwhelm to Engagement

Overwhelm is a common experience among nearly all of the working people I know. We are all busy, that’s for sure, and the labor system we live in tends to ask for more and more, and then some more. Perhaps that’s just its nature. For me, the difference between feeling overwhelmed and feeling engaged, as I operate within this system, is usually a question of perspective. That is, how do I internally react to what companies, managers, institutions, governments, or family members are asking of me?

How to Work with Resistance

When we set out to make a change in any part of our lives, especially the kind of change related to our own creative growth, we often experience some level of resistance as our mind and body approach a new way of doing things. Whether we’ve decided to wake up earlier, exercise regularly, learn a new skill, or simply say no once in a while, changes require a bit of extra effort and support in order to gain traction, as my gifted teacher Amy says, in the new terrain.

One Practice to Boost a New Goal

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Last week I wrote about a single technique to begin calming the inner critic, that voice in our heads that likes to remind us of all the reasons we might fail. This week, I’d like to share another stand-alone practice that can give your new goal or project an energetic boost, or start the proverbial ball rolling. It’s a writing exercise, but not necessarily a time-consuming one. I often do it in the mornings before breakfast in about five minutes. Here it is:

What if the goal or project you imagine had already been achieved? Write a few sentences in the present tense describing what you might be doing and what might be happening around you as if it were already true. For example, “I wake up in the morning having slept well. I have time to myself every day after work to cook, read, or spend time with my family. I organize my work so that the pace is challenging yet manageable, and communicate clearly and confidently with my colleagues.”

These statements may sound somewhat general. Yours, or course, will be tailored to your particular situation and current life goals. The “As If” writing technique asks us to travel into a parallel universe in which we are already living the lives we want, already achieving the goals we have identified. It matters not at all how likely or feasible this future may seem to your rational mind. In fact, it’s likely that your rational mind will reject all or part of this exercise. That’s fine. Just acknowledge the response and keep writing from your imagination, listening for another part of you that may be curious about the possibility that you are describing.

“As If” is one way we can use our innate creative faculties, not to design a painting, product or service, but to design our own life path. Once an idea takes hold in the imagination, our nervous system begins to seek out parts of that vision, or anything that may closely resemble it. We literally see things we may not have seen before: objects, colors, people, job listings, or connections that all accumulate momentum, feeding our goal and ultimately generating the circumstances for it to take shape.

Some guidelines for your “As If” journal:

1. Write in the present tense

2. Keep a small size journal (4x6 or 5 x7) and write a one-page entry per day (small tasks are most easily accomplished than big ones). If your journal is larger, write half a page.

3. Write only statements that feel positive and attractive to you, scenarios you would enjoy if they were to happen.

4. Write in the morning (really, anytime that fits your schedule is fine, but I find this exercise supports my mood for the rest of the day)

5. If your rational mind tries to tell you that what you’re writing is impossible, politely ask it to take a mental seat and wait until you’re done writing

6. Don't over-think this exercise. If you find yourself becoming anxious, stop and try again tomorrow

 

If you have experience with this or similar techniques, please share your story in the comments!

And if this kind of practice feels inspiring to you, please consider contacting me for a free empowerment consultation. Empowerment coaching is a goal-oriented system that guides you in shifting patterns of thought that are holding you back and creating vision-based strategies that result in lasting change.

 

One Trick to Tame your Inner Critic

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All this month, I’ve been writing about goal-setting, focus, and creativity. When we set out into new territory in a bold way, however, there’s often some resistance in our system that slows us down, so I wanted to address that phenomenon as a kind of complement to this series of posts. There are many types of resistance, but in this article I’d like to focus on one very typical one: the inner critic.

Many of us have an inner critic, that voice of doubt, judgement, or skepticism that appears when we speak or act out of our comfort zone, or even within our comfort zone. Sometimes new situations or people trigger the inner critic to pipe up and remind us that we’re not clever enough, not prepared enough, will surely fail, or maybe don’t deserve an opportunity we’ve been given. 

I struggled for many years as my inner critic argued convincingly that I wasn’t a real artist and didn’t have enough training or ability or social skills for this or that project I felt inspired to take on. I tried many, many strategies to escape this ingrained pattern, and ultimately the key was, ironically, to stop trying to escape.

The tactic I’m suggesting to you in this blog post will not completely shift a negative thought pattern, but I do believe it is an indispensable and foundational step to begin a process of doing exactly that. Together with other techniques, the simple and regular act of WITNESSING the critic begins the process of its release. WITNESSING is a kind of calm, non-judgmental observing, as though from the back row of the theater of your mind. Many “mindfulness” practices are very similar.

Consider this brief internal sequence:

1. Mentally step back and observe the critic. Give it your full attention.

2. Ask yourself, what is the critic really saying? Or what would it say, if it could speak?

3. Ask yourself, what physical sensations are present in my body when I hear that message?

4. If sensations are present, gently suggest to the body to let them go with a few long exhales.

Again, this kind of awareness-building will not completely shift a negative thought pattern by itself, but it is a powerful first step. When you observe a negative thought or sensation, you put some metaphorical distance between you and the critic. With that distance, you can begin to question its function in your life, its origin, its validity. It may seem less intense, or less absolute.

You can, of course, observe anything in this neutral, nonjudgmental way, but I offer it specifically for the purpose of taming the inner critic because inner critics tend to be so persistent! Like cats, they really want our attention! And also like cats, often once we give it to them, they just wander off.

If you’d like deeper, practical support with your inner critic or with changing any sort of negative thought pattern, I invite you to learn more about my empowerment coaching work. I am continually amazed and inspired by this work and honored to be able to offer it professionally from my home office, both in person and via video conference.

If you have an inner critic, how do you manage your relationship with it? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

How to Boost Your Creativity

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Advice on “how to be creative” may feel like a contradiction in terms, because if we’re following a formula, or set of repeatable instructions, it seems like we're tamping down our creativity, not enhancing it. And yet, we live in an adult world that ignores our innate creative nature, so much so that some of us have started to believe we have lost our creativity somewhere on the way from childhood to adulthood.

Rest assured, it is still there, but we may need some extra support once in a while to remind us where to find it. And while there is nothing that will spark your creativity more than literally creating something, making a soufflé or a pair of earrings or a garden bench takes time and raw materials. In this post, I'm interested in how we can access our creativity in subtle drips and drops, to gently increase its flow through our days and weeks.

If you aren’t sure why you might want to re-discover or strengthen your creativity, consider how it often translates into the work world as initiative, curiosity, and innovation. Consider how it may manifest in your relationships as playfulness, spontaneity, or adventure. I believe these qualities are examples of our innate creativity channeled into our daily lives in ways that make them meaningful.

That said, here are four tiny tips to try at home, at work, or anywhere in between:

1. Stories – Whether realistic or fantastical, a good story or novel stimulates your imagination, re-familiarizing you with the realm of possibility. Reading stories trains your mind to imagine things that do not actually exist (at least not yet). This is one of the many thresholds of creativity. If you've ever spent time with children, you know how much they love story time before bed. Every adult has an inner child who never forgot about that sacred time. As Julia Cameron writes, your inner artist is a child. Indulge her. Try NPR Books if you're not sure where to start.

2. Nature – A generous and visceral reminder of the eternal process of growth and change, the natural environment embodies the creative cycle. Walk in nature, listen to the birds, keep a potted plant on your desk, or simply observe the trees, flowers and grasses that peek through our urban landscapes. Consider that your life also is a unique process of growth and change.

3. Doodle – No great masterpieces, or even recognizable images are needed for this to work. Lines, circles, loops, scribbles, and squiggles are the name of the game. Fill up the margins of a notebook or keep scrap paper and a pen by the phone. Make some tiny marks with real ink on real paper with your real hand. The linking of body and mind through this simple movement  instantly puts you into the mode of creator, whether you realize it or not.

4. Organize - I truly believe that creative opportunity is everywhere. If I'm really feeling stuck or unmotivated, sometimes I'll just organize a drawer or a closet. This seemingly mundane act of spatial problem-solving is a super practical way of boosting your creative energy. The trick is to actively choose to see this as a creative challenge rather than an unpleasant chore, and to get some part of your body engaged with the ordering of physical objects in ways of your own choosing.

How do you keep your creative energy going? Please leave your personal tips and tricks in the comments. And if you're interested in exploring your own creativity more deeply, check out my upcoming retreat, CREATE, March 22-25, 2018.