Resilience: not just for the birds

We encountered a robin who was insistent on making her nest atop the light fixture by the side garage door—the door we use to get to and from our car.

In theory, this is the perfect spot for a nest; it's covered by the overhang of the garage roof and it's a relatively low-traffic area; it's high enough off the ground, but completely inaccessible to the acrobatics of squirrels and mostly hidden from the hungry eyes of crows.

There is one problem, however.

We have to walk through that doorway multiple times a day.

And while we've no predatory intentions whatsoever, we do know that once eggs are laid and, later, baby birds are present, no robin will be happy with us for repeatedly getting close to the nest. We'll seem predatory no matter the benevolence in our hearts.

Plus, the last thing we want is to carry a new baby over that threshold, ever fearful of a bird who's equally protective of her own new hatchlings.

So, last week, my husband removed the beginnings of a nest: some dried-up strings of plant matter that were loosely, but expertly coiled around the spire of the light fixture. I watched from the kitchen window and felt guilty for disturbing nature, even as I saw that it needed to happen.

Well, the robin wasn't giving up so easily.

Within an hour, a new nest was well underway.

I watched from the kitchen window as the robin swooped by, making trip after trip with streamers of raffia hanging from her beak. She was adept and efficient, and things started to take shape much quicker this time around.

"We've got another situation," I called out to my husband.

He headed outside, stuffing his hands into the gardening gloves, just as the bird flitted away to secure more building materials. This second nest was more substantial than the first, which could almost be brushed away—and after he brought it to the window to show me, he walked it to the back of the garage and deposited it among the weed trees and the wild lilies that are just starting to emerge from the earth after our long Wisconsin winter.

Naturally, I felt some kinship with the robin. I'm in a period of nesting, too. Maybe even slightly frantic nesting.

A baby is coming!

There's urgency!

Things have to be in place!

So, did it really surprise me when, the following morning, I looked out the kitchen window to see the robin working on a nearly complete nest?

Not truly.

She was spending more time inside the nest, itself, instead of flying back and forth to collect and assemble. Pressing her body into the bowl of dried grass systematically, mud on her breast like a sculptor, this robin's determination seemed hardwired. Things were taking shape. Our light fixture wore the nest like a crown.

When my husband went outside, he peeked behind the garage and saw that the bird's second nest was missing. She must've lifted it from the ground and replaced it on the light fixture; thanks to some overnight rain, she laid mud within the fragments, gluing them together; the current nest was her attempt to salvage the previous day's efforts.

You know how this story (unfortunately) ends.

Our decision* was to remove the nest. To be consistent in our signaling to the bird, pre-eggs, that this particular location wasn't an ideal spot, after all. Nesting high up in the exposed rafter tails of our roof would be better for everyone (in fact, a few of those spots are already occupied by other robins—and we get along quite well with those neighbors).

Still, we had to admire the robin's repeated efforts to make a nest where she wanted to make a nest. Wallowing wasn't an option. No one was throwing a pity party. Surrendering didn't occur to her—until, of course, it became very apparent that a stable nest was needed as soon as possible...and in the span of 12 hours, no such nest existed.

On this, my final day in the office before my maternity leave begins, I want to leave you with a few things to chew on:

How quick have you been to give up, historically?

After your nest disappears, do you find yourself collecting more twigs and grass and mud—and beginning again? Or are you too busy collecting evidence that your plan won't work? that you're a failure? that it isn't meant to be?

How many times are you willing to endure everything falling to pieces?

In your mind, is 'square one' ever an opportunity, or is it always a catastrophe?

If determination were a hardwired trait of yours, how would things be different for you? Going forward, are you willing to operate as though it's hardwired?

You won't be hearing from me next week—and for a good long while after, as I become a mother and navigate this new chapter of life with my family.

Without a doubt, though, I'll be back on the blog come September and we'll get to reconnecting. In the meantime, here's wishing you tenacity, resilience, and a finely developed intuition that guides you in determining both when to stay the course and when to apply your efforts elsewhere.

*In sharing this story with you, I worried about the response I might get for participating in disturbing wildlife. My husband willingly takes the blame here, since he wanted the nest gone from the get-go—but I won't let him. Bleeding heart that I am, I initially thought we could leave things alone—that is, until I considered our little baby's bald head, exposed to possible territorial dive-bombing when we return from the hospital and then as we make our first trips to the pediatrician...and simply can't avoid the walkway between the house and the garage. That's when it became our decision. And I stand by it. Thank you for respecting my judgment call.

Meet me in the margin

While my baby isn’t due to arrive until the end of May, I’m closing up shop a whole month early, coaching folks through the end of this week—and that’s it until September.

A month or more ago, I realized that following through on this decision felt a bit challenging for me.

If the baby isn’t here yet, why shouldn’t I just keep working until the baby gets here?

I even caught myself saying to clients, “You never know—I might decide to push it a little further and hold sessions well into May,” and “End of April is only a loose plan at this point.” I was wishy-washy. Noncommittal. Hedging.

And I felt it. I felt sticky around this idea of turning off Working Helen to make way for a different Helen. A Transitional Helen. A Helen In-Between.

I realized that I felt a ton of resistance to the idea of stepping away from my business without a specific activity or role lined up, waiting for my attention.

Don't get me wrong; it's not like I'll be sitting around all day, every day, from May 1st to labor and delivery, eating bonbons (although...at nearly 36 weeks pregnant, that doesn't sound like a terrible idea). We've got a whole bunch to do to ready our home and our selves for this baby's birth day—but, somehow, taking an extended period of time to intentionally prepare for something not-yet-here is a foreign concept for me.

I realized that I was actually really uncomfortable with the idea of taking four weeks away from my work, to be spent in anticipation of this new little person’s arrival.

And just last week, I realized why this felt challenging for me. It’s something that a lot of us have in common:

We have a tendency to undervalue margin in our daily lives.

Are you often overly optimistic about the time it takes to complete certain tasks? To drive from Point A to Point B? To execute a project? To prepare yourself—physically, mentally, or both—for a transition or new chapter in your life?

I'm accustomed to cutting things close—to scooting in right before a deadline, leaving just enough time to travel somewhere, starting something new on the heels of whatever came before.

There are those of us who don't really like a lot of idle time (too much time to get in trouble with our thoughts!) and who mistakenly equate margin—the periphery around one thing or activity, or the border that separates activities—with idle time.

Because of this, what we wind up doing is denying ourselves any kind of buffer.

Maybe that doesn't sound horrible, but make no mistake: In regularly denying ourselves a buffer, we create a heart-in-throat feeling for ourselves. A sense of urgency and, on many occasions, despair—because our time and energy have been spent so thoroughly, right up to the edge of the next thing, with no moment, no pause, no reprieve for replenishment. And (somehow!) we get used to this dynamic. Which means we recreate it time and time again, even as we don't love the results we’re getting.

Just because it's become habitual doesn't mean it's a foregone conclusion if we don't want it to be.

So, what do you do instead?

  1. Invite in some awareness. See the above statement about tending to undervalue margin. You’re not bad at carving out margin (remember, you’re not categorically “bad” at anything); you’ve tended to undervalue it, which is different. And not a fixed personality trait.

  2. Rethink your relationship to discomfort. Recognize that taking a different approach will, very likely, stir up some discomfort at first. This means nothing—except that there’s this one particular approach (not leaving room for margin), which is fabulously familiar and comfortable to you because of repetition…and a new approach simply isn’t. Discomfort isn’t necessarily a thing to be avoided.

  3. Be open to experimentation. Since you already know the outcome of your existing method (i.e. that heart-in-throat feeling, a sense of urgency, panic, despair, and an energetic deficit), there’s little to be learned from repeating it even one more time. Try something new and take note of what happens and how you feel. You can always return to your old standby, but maybe you’ll find that you like your new approach better.

As for me: I’ll be upstairs in the nursery, hanging pictures and folding tiny clothes, paging through a book on breastfeeding, and trying to pay attention to those practice contractions to see when they become the real thing.

In other words, acquainting myself with the margin.

See you back here in September.

When today isn't THE day

You don't have to change your mindset today.

You don't have to observe your thoughts and let them pass through you without getting hooked by a single one today.

You don't have to dismantle your bad habit today.

You don't have to figure out how to stay motivated today.

You don't have to turn your attitude around today.

As much as today can be The Day (and for some, it will be—because they've decided there's no better day), today doesn't have to be anything more than a day. Another day.

You have permission to let today go. Not to leverage. Not to salvage. Not to do, fix, question, shift, eradicate, or leap.

You have permission to lie on the couch with tea and a heating bag instead of doing your special prenatal HIIT workout (speaking for myself, here). To soak in the bath instead of working on the website for your side business. To scroll mindlessly through Instagram instead of picking up Jen Sincero's latest Badass book.

A life—yours and mine—is made up of a lot of todays. (If we’re lucky, it’s a whole lot of todays.)

The choices we make accumulate…

AND

...there are infinite opportunities to renegotiate and course-correct.

Today is a wonderful day to move in the direction of what you want…

AND

...today is a wonderful day to simply exist.

While you're perfectly capable of making today transformational, that doesn't mean you have to.

(Be aware, though, of the fallacies that might be at work in your mind; do a gut check to see if your reason for writing off today is part of a bigger pattern of waiting and not doing. And if it is, let's talk.)

Does this resonate with you? Share in the comments below.

What my childbirth preparation class has to do with you

We attended our first childbirth preparation class last week.

In case you're not familiar: It's the sort of thing someone signs up for in her third trimester of pregnancy, usually through her local hospital or birthing center, with the express purpose of learning about the labor and delivery process.

You might've seen such classes portrayed on TV or in the movies—couples scattered around a room; heavily pregnant females reclined against their partners, eyes closed, engaged in some sort of relaxation or breathing technique.

"It's a rite of passage," I keep telling my husband, though neither of us is particularly jazzed about spending two and a half hours every week in a hospital conference room.

Did I mention it takes place on a weeknight? And that it'll go on like this for the next month or so? Still, we willingly signed up for this and we'll see our commitment through to the end.

Plus, I'm sure we'll learn something. Something that, no doubt, we can get from a book or a website, but in this age of information accessibility and internet searchability, it can be really nice to return to the analog—to being taught and guided by someone who has real-life experience and knowledge, and wants to share it.

Just like us, eight other couples are bringing pillows and blankets, a healthy snack, and their attention to the class—and we sit together in this liminal space, all of us on the brink of becoming parents for the first time.

Of course there's a slide deck and a PVC pelvis model and a baby doll and a molded plastic cervical effacement and dilation chart...but there's something else in the room, too.

(And maybe that's the thing we're actually there for, you know? The unpinpointable thing that has nothing to do with the facts of what lies ahead for all of us.)

In what other gathering of people can we expect to find this same collective mix of joy and terror?

When else do we get the opportunity to sit with others who are about to have their lives changed in the same profound way?

(Come to think of it: When else do we actually know ahead of time that life is about to change profoundly for us, and when else do we get to prepare for it in a way such as this?)

Kind of cool, no?

So, the childbirth prep class—and my own feelings about attending it—have me once again considering the importance of mindset.

You might not be looking forward to that all-staff meeting at the end of the week. Or maybe it's parent-teacher conferences. Your kid's spring recital. An organization you belong to that's convening to vote on something.

When you think about going, it feels like a drag. You'll be tired. It'll take longer than you want to give it. You'd rather stay home.

The challenge here for you is to identify some element of the experience that transcends the event, itself.

What else might be happening at the gathering that's, perhaps, less obvious? Is there a deeper meaning to it—some virtue that's being pursued collectively (or one that you can at least choose to connect with, to inspire some personal investment in it)?

Maybe there's nothing. Maybe you look and plumb and consider...and it really is just a meeting you don't feel like attending. Nothing else, nothing more.

But maybe you've found your access point, your way in.

Maybe you can transform your experience of this thing, now that you're willing to see it for what else it is or could be.

Does this resonate with you? Share with me below.

You might not be the best judge

Some time ago, I had a coaching session with a prospective client.

We’d connected on several different occasions, but never in a coaching capacity, and I had a really good feeling about what she could accomplish if we put our heads together and embarked on a coaching program. While I don’t always have a strong sense of how a first-time session will unfold, this particular one seemed steeped in possibilities and potential. In my mind, this powerful conversation would cement our next steps together.

I was pumped for it.

Fast forward to our actual session—probably no more than 20 minutes in—when I started to feel highly self-conscious and aware of every (inarticulate) sentence that came out of my mouth. I found myself tripping over my words, stumbling somewhere between my ideas and my expression of those ideas, and utterly unable to lead the client powerfully. Or so I thought.

I’d reminded myself that the session wasn’t about me or my performance. Sessions never are, and usually I remember this without trouble.

But, for some reason, I’d gotten hooked by a passing thought of mine, one that whisper-snarled, You’re not making any sense, Helen, and once that happened, I fell victim to another and another of those self-critical thoughts.

It was all I could do to keep the session on track, to stay present and engaged with the client (instead of with my own nasty inner monologue).

By the end of our time together, I was sure I’d never hear from this person again. I was sure I’d blown it. I’d had this one opportunity to make something of our connection…and I was sure I’d failed.

Those thoughts were really loud, still, even after we hung up, though they settled down and passed once I got myself to the local Y and set to walking the treadmill with the latest This American Life playing in my ears.

At some point, my thoughts became a tiny bit more generous and less inclined toward self-blame. Maybe you’re just tired? It had been an intense coaching schedule the past few weeks, so there was a good chance I was simply off my game and in need of rest… Maybe we just weren’t a coach-client match? That happens, and it doesn’t mean anything about either person or the quality of the session.

After a few days, I forgot about the session entirely.

And then I got an email.

It was from the prospective client, who wanted to hire me for coaching.

This person was ready to begin a program, felt I was the person for the job, and wanted to know how to pay me so we could get started immediately.

I remember being absolutely dumbfounded. I knew right away that there was a lesson for me here.

“I guess this means I’m not the best judge,” I said to my husband that day. “I can’t accurately gauge how good a session is.”

I can gauge only my own experience of a session—how I showed up, what I might want to do differently the next time, how coachable the client seemed, etc.

But I can’t gauge the objective quality of a session, because that’s unknowable to me.

Truthfully, it’s even unknowable to the prospective client (that person can gauge only his or her experience of the session).

What does this mean for me?

It means I don’t have to be attached to outcomes when I coach. In fact, it’s far better if I’m not. I’m a more effective, connected, and present coach when I’m not offering myself feedback along the way.

What does this mean for you?

The quality of something you produce is never in question. Not truly. Who can say if something you create is objectively up to snuff or subpar? People will try to, sure. You will even try to, as a way of understanding yourself, improving your skills, trying to grow in your field, whatever.

But all any of us can actually judge is our own singular experience of something.

And someone else might have an entirely different experience of the very same something.

Like a movie playing in the theater, we’re all going to walk out after two hours of watching an identical story unfold, with a wide variety of opinions and perspectives and a feeling that we’re right—that what we saw was either excellent or terrible or something in-between. And we’ll have our reasons, and when we go to articulate them, all we’ll be describing is our highly personal experience of this shared event.

Can you apply this understanding of self-feedback to some current situation in your life? Share it with me below.

You're not behind, and your 41 percent (or more) isn't a waste of time

I'm reading the Kindle version of a book that's sat in my phone for well over a year now. It's a memoir called Tracks: A Woman's Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback, and it's written by Robyn Davidson. I bought it a while back when it went on sale for something like two dollars and I'd thought, Now, there's a story I need to hear.

Something that surprised me this past weekend: It isn't until you're about 41 percent of the way through this book (the Kindle version tells you how far along you are) that Robyn actually begins her trek in earnest, four camels in tow.

What was she doing for the first 41 percent of the book?

She was trying to learn about camels—how to ride them, how to train them, how to pack them. She was trying to figure out how to acquire three of her own. She was trying to navigate tumultuous relationships with the people who had the skills and know-how that she needed desperately to learn. She was trying to keep herself fed and sheltered and of sound mind, body, and spirit. She was trying to survive.

This means that 41 percent—almost half—of this book isn't about the specific journey we readers think it will be about.

This means that traversing 1700 miles of Australian outback is just one piece of the picture—a mighty piece at 50 percent or so, but still, not the entire story.

What else might this mean?

Our personal narratives, yours and mine, are a whole lot bigger than whatever we believe is the major plot point. No matter if it's an exciting, terrifying, encouraging, disappointing, joyful, or heartbreaking plot point. There's a TON of story that comes before—and, if we're fortunate, there will be a TON of story that comes after.

Also: Our journeys contain heaps more than the action-y bits. Whether or not we think we've started our Big Thing, it actually began way back when we came into this world—our Camel Studies 101 days, as it were—and it might take 41 percent (or more!) of our lives before we realize that right now is 'go' time, before we've developed the tenacity to take the next step, before we lead our caravan off into the desert to do the thing we suspect we're meant to do with our time here.

Where are you at in your big journey? Still earning money to have a saddle made? Standing at the edge of the last settlement before an abyss of sand? Or are you in the thick of it, sweating as you consult the map once again, adjust the camels' packs, and talk to yourself just to remember what your voice sounds like? Tell me in the comments below.

Wherever you are, the story is bigger than you can imagine. Don't lose perspective.

Less time, more meaning: a social media experiment

It’s called social media for a reason, right?

Yet how many times do I find myself scrolling and looking and reading and double-tapping…without even a lick of engagement?

You, too?

(It’s okay, safe space here. ;-)

Sure, someone posts something lovely or tragic on Instagram and you can bet I’ll leave a heartfelt comment (“Three cheers to you on your promotion! So deserved!” or “I’m so sorry to hear about Mr. Tiddlywinks. I know he was a huge part of your family”)—but aside from that, there’s A LOT of thought that goes on in my head when I’m scrolling and reading and liking…and very little of it makes its way into the comments section of anyone’s posts.

Very little of my social media activity is actually social.

What’s the point, then?

(This is how people lose entire hours to an app.)

A few weeks ago, I decided to set up a little experiment.

How can I become more engaged with the people in my feed while simultaneously spending less time on Instagram? I asked myself.

I played around with my phone settings and wound up creating a 15-minute daily limit for myself. I know, I know, 15 minutes seems like nothing. (And compared to my previous activity levels, it really is nothing!)

But 15 minutes a day felt like a good place to start, especially when I considered that my intention was to use less of my time doing this thing, but to use that time more meaningfully.

I became determined to use the minutes that I’m actually in the app to engage with other people, not to numb out or kill time or look at pretty pictures, mindlessly.

And it’s working.

How do I do this?

Easy. When I click on the Instagram app and the feed opens and refreshes itself before me, I engage with the very first post I see. No matter if it’s my cousin or a blogger I’ve admired from afar or Apartment Therapy—I leave a thoughtful comment about what I’m seeing and/or reading.

Then, the post below that. Same deal.

I do this until I start to feel a little spent—which, incidentally (and somewhat hilariously), happens way quicker than those 15 minutes are up, because I’m actually engaged the whole time. My mind is working, my curiosity is fired up, my empathy is tuned in.

I’m socializing. I’m present. I’m meeting the poster’s humanity with my own.

I’m treating these little squares as though they’re people in the room with me, as though a conversation—even the briefest one—is the natural progression of things.

This takes energy—especially for me, a highly sensitive introvert. And it means I’m not seeing as many posts; I’m definitely not keeping up with as many people as before (I do make exceptions; there are some folks whose accounts I check out periodically, whether or not they showed up in my feed, and I don’t always leave comments there when I do; baby steps!). But I feel more connected on the whole…and I feel as though I’m using my time better, more meaningfully, and with intention.

Your one job when enthusiasm takes a rain check

This past week, I've gotten to thinking about enthusiasm and what can be done when it seemingly disappears.

It’s a theme I began noticing in Summer 2017, when I started writing in earnest about some of folks’ more common struggles to actually do the things they were saying they wanted to do in and with their lives. This particular struggle around waning enthusiasm emerged as a top contender.

More than a handful of readers and clients have reached out to me since then, all wondering where their eagerness runs off to so soon after embarking on a new project.

“How do I keep going after the newness and excitement has worn off?”

Lately, folks are wondering where their motivation has gone after just four weeks into the new year. They think something's broken; they did it wrong; why are they flagging in their go-get-'em-ness so early on in 2019?

They feel an absence of enthusiasm and it sends them into a panic.

What if their low enthusiasm means something—about the success of their goals, their overall tenacity, their ability to commit to something and see it through to the end? What if it means they’re flakey or flighty or generally impossible to please for longer than a week at a time?

Enthusiasm can be a hard thing to maintain, especially when it's January 29th and your planner doesn't seem so shiny and encouraging anymore and your habit tracker is already missing a bunch of check marks and the one thing you were certain you'd accomplish by now has been back-burnered and this month just doesn't feel like the start of a new anything.

Enthusiasm can be a hard thing to maintain because it's a feeling, and feelings are notoriously hard to maintain.

They're changing all the time. Much like thoughts.

I'll let you in on a secret: Feeling enthusiastic is the result of a thought; not feeling enthusiastic is also the result of a thought.

The status of your enthusiasm has nothing—NOTHING—to do with what's happening or not happening around you. Not objectively, at least.

It has everything to do with whatever thought you've attached to and keep thinking, again and again.

So, what can be done when your enthusiasm has left the building?

You have one job, and it’s to cultivate the following gentle awareness:

Those thoughts that are swirling in your head? The ones that are creating the feeling that January is doomed, ergo your 2019 is doomed, and so on and so forth?

Let them pass through your mind.

Do not try to replace them with positive thoughts, do not try to reason with them, do not pass go and collect two hundred dollars.

Trust me when I say, you're going to have to resist the urge to DO SOMETHING about your thoughts, because that's the autopilot response when we don't like what's happening inside our heads. Let your swirling thoughts settle, like the snow in a shaken-up snow globe.

“BUT HOW DO I EVEN DO THAT, HELEN?” you're asking. (Do I know you, or do I know you? 😉) Here’s how: You don't engage with your thoughts. You refuse to follow them down their rabbit holes. And the best way to do this is to put yourself into motion (e.g. put your shoes on and go for a walk, empty and reload the dishwasher, take a ten-minute shower and then rub lotion all over your body, water your plants, make a batch of granola). Putting yourself into motion will look and feel a whole lot like DOING SOMETHING—however, you’ll notice that the particular SOMETHING here has nothing at all to do with messing with the thoughts in your head.

Once your thoughts have settled and your brain is no longer a hostile place to hang out in, then—and only then—can we reasonably begin to answer the question, “How do I keep going after the newness and excitement has worn off?”

The short answer: You take the very next step.

You don’t need to be enthusiastic or even particularly motivated to keep going at the thing you started. You just have to be willing to take the very next step toward it.

Without a drop of enthusiasm, it might not feel great—but we all do plenty of things we don’t adore every single day of our lives (I’m looking at you, flossing)—and that absence of enthusiasm doesn’t stop us.

So, why is this thing different?

(Hint: It isn’t. You’re just caught up in a thought that you’re supposed to feel a certain—positive—way about your project or new year ambition. Let that go. Seriously. Scroll back up to my directive to let those thoughts pass through your mind and work their way out organically. Don’t engage with them. Put yourself into motion. Let your snowy mind settle, etc.)

This approach works for any and all troublesome thoughts, but stay tuned for future blog posts where we’ll plug in various other specific examples to give you a full-color understanding of how to apply the technique.

As always, share your story with me below. I love hearing from you.

What if you don't get to know right now?

For a good long while, you might be creating blindly.

You might be training blindly. Surviving blindly. Building blindly.

You might be nurturing blindly. Recovering blindly. Working blindly.

You might be __________ blindly.

Fill in the blank with your current effort, whatever it might be.

You’re not seeing any evidence of progress.

You’re not getting signals that let you know you're on the right track.

You’re skeptical of whether anything at all is happening.

At points, you feel irritated, discouraged, clueless, uncertain, abnormal, stuck, or frustrated. Certainly you feel several of these, maybe even concurrently.

All this might be true, and still—it doesn't mean something isn't unfolding beyond what you’re able to witness right now.

I'm not suggesting you have faith. I'm not suggesting you believe in something, anything, that you can’t see. And I'm not telling you to place your trust outside yourself. (I'm also not suggesting you avoid doing any these things. You do you.)

I'm simply saying:

You might be so focused on requiring proof in order to keep going, in order to show up with some degree of enthusiasm, in order to not be miserable day-in and day-out, that you’ve forgotten just how unknowable most of life is.

You’ve forgotten that most things we work on for any length of time don’t come with built-in along-the-way encouragement. That isn’t personal! It’s simply how life works. And when you insist on something that just isn’t possible, you make it harder for yourself to show up at all.

You have to want the thing you’re after more than you need pep talks, signs from the universe, and incentivizing breadcrumbs.

You have to be okay with going at it blindly for an indeterminate amount of time.

At some point, more will be revealed to you. Of this we can be certain. Either the funding won’t come through and you’ll know it’s time to course correct and find a new job; or after running every week, your pants will suddenly require the use of a belt (which might then need to be cinched tighter and tighter as time passes); or you’ll lift your head from your desk one evening and realize you don’t know whether or not this project of yours will take off like gangbusters, but you’re sure as hell having a lot of fun getting lost in it every day.

You’ll know what you need to do next—whether it’s something different, more of the same, or irrelevant because you’re not in it for an outcome (always the holy grail of mindsets).

And in the meantime, the unknowability won’t kill you. It might just feel really uncomfortable, especially if you’re hyper-focused on fighting it every step of the way, needing it to be somehow different than what it is.

Take a deep breath.

You have no idea what’s happening beyond whatever it is you’re doing when you show up today.

Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s something. Maybe it really doesn’t matter.

Ditching your January superstitions in favor of WHAT IS

Here we are, smack dab in the middle of January.

How are you feeling?

Are you finding yourself drawing any conclusions about how the rest of 2019 will go, based on the past two weeks?

You know something—when the new year is off to a rocky start (or let's just say a humanstart), superstition tends to creep up even for folks who say they don't believe in it. They get to thinking that a couple weeks of feeling kind of meh or blah in the new year means something.

Let me tell you what: It doesn't mean anything beyond a couple weeks of feeling kind of meh or blah. I promise.

(And besides, it's January. Who doesn't occasionally feel meh or blah about January? Or about any random month, for that matter. Our emotional landscape is changing constantly, so there's a good chance if you live a decently long life that you'll feel crummy at some point during each and every single month. This is okay! This is what it is to be a human being.)

Are you falling into any of that superstitious thinking?

Have you decided that what's happened so far this month (bad or good—watch out for both) means something about what will happen the rest of the month...or the rest of the year?

If this feels familiar, try not to shame yourself. Go gently. Smile for the fact of this new awareness. Remember to stay present to what is, to recognize the good- or bad-feeling moment for what it is—a single moment.

Seven Personal Development Resources That Improved My Life in 2018 (Part 2)

[This is Part 2 of a two-part series on the very best personal development resources I discovered—and was changed by—in 2018.]

AN AWARENESS

This is decidedly more personal personal development, but 2018 was my year of more robust menstrual cycle awareness via two major sources:

5. Toni Weschler’s Taking Charge of Your Fertility, which I picked up thanks to enthusiastic endorsements from several different, unrelated female friends. In case the title puts you off, let me just say: This book isn’t only about fertility in the sense of becoming pregnant; it’s also about women’s gynecological and sexual health, and it’s written in a conversational tone as opposed to the disembodied dry voice of your ninth grade biology textbook. I learned more about my menstrual cycle from this book than I knew in 20 years of experiencing one firsthand! If you are a female of reproductive age, this book is a must-read.

6. Women’s life coach, Claire Baker, who specializes in menstrual cycle awareness. Of course I always knew my body operated on a cycle, but using Claire’s tools (many of which are free here), I developed a powerful awareness of just how much my energy and creativity change over the course of 30 or so days. With this new information, I’ve been able to alter my diet, my coaching and social schedules, and the expectations I have of myself—all depending on where I am in my cycle. Fellow uterus-owners: Life unfolds with far more ease when we pay attention to this integral part of our biology! If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and tune into yours.

ANOTHER AWARENESS

This year was my first full year living in an entirely new-to-me climate. Dry, itchy skin and unusually straight hair in the winter weren’t the only side effects requiring some adjustments to my routine:

7. Besides being a licensed acupuncturist and practitioner of Chinese medicine, Lauren Kaneko-Jones is a seasonal wellness expert—something I’d never heard of, but came to majorly appreciate during my first January in northeast Wisconsin. From Lauren’s website:

In Chinese medicine the practice of living seasonally is vital to maintain well-being. Nutrition, lifestyle and mindset shifts as the weather and light shift. In our modern lives, how do we adjust our lifestyles to adapt to the shifts of the seasons? Oftentimes we continue forth in our seasons as if nothing has shifted. When we ignore change in our lives season by season it is an easy habit to ignore in our lives. Yet, we all change. We are always changing. Well in the West is a place to remind you to attune to nature’s messages, switch things up, live by the seasons and allow yourself to change.

As I’ve articulated before, living seasonally is a challenge for me (rather, doing so with full presence is where I struggle), so when I discovered Lauren’s work, I was prompted to pay closer attention to all the shifts and transitions that were happening around me, and within me, all the time. I enthusiastically endorse both Lauren’s weekly newsletter and Instagram feed because I’ve found that they offer me new insights into my human experience…and they also confirm for me what I might’ve felt on some intuitive level, but wasn’t yet able to articulate. Case in point: Lauren’s Instagram post from November 28th: “Keep things simple. December can make things complicated. There are many events, holidays, social activity and intensity. On top of that, it’s winter! Which means our bodies are craving simplicity.” Instant validation for the way I’m feeling—the way I’ve been feeling for some time—but might’ve believed was a winter experience particular to me and my fellow introverts.

And there you have it! These are the top seven resources I learned from this year and will be carrying forward—both personally and professionally—into 2019. What about you? What meaningful resource or resources did you discover this year that made a difference in how you live? Please share with us below!

Seven Personal Development Resources That Improved My Life in 2018 (Part 1)

[This is Part 1 of a two-part series on the very best personal development resources I discovered—and was changed by—in 2018.]

On a sleepless night a few weeks back, I realized that 2018 has brought me more variety in personal development resources than any year prior. Some of them arrived serendipitously, while I sought out others explicitly in order to better help my clients.

As I lay there in the dark, counting meaningful resources instead of sheep, I came up with seven that I'd like to share with you. And I don’t just want to give you a list of links to check out—I want to tell you the why behind these picks—why I was drawn to them, why I recommend many of them to my clients, and why you might want to explore them for yourself.

If you’re familiar with any of these, leave a comment below and share with us your experience of it. Too, if this post encourages you to seek out any of these resources for yourself, circle back here and let us know how it landed afterward. I’d love to get some conversations going.

A BOOK

I read several fabulous personal development books this year, but this one’s easily head and shoulders above the rest:

1. Michael Neill’s The Inside-Out Revolution: The Only Thing You Need to Know to Change Your Life Forever is a book I’ve recommended more times than I can count this year. I just can’t think of a single person who wouldn’t benefit from learning about how thought works—and how we can transform our experience in a matter of moments, just by understanding what’s happening inside our minds. Its brevity (124 pages) is deceptive, however; you’ll read it once, then you’ll need to let it sink in for a bit before immediately returning to the beginning to take it all in again. In plain language, Michael points to three simple principles that explain where our feelings come from and what our experience of life is truly composed of. Spoiler alert:

No matter how scary or oppressive or insecure your experience of life may be, once you realize that it’s only your own thinking that you’re experiencing, that thinking loses much of its hold over you. You may still feel uncomfortable feelings, but because you know that what’s causing them isn’t outside you, you don’t feel compelled to change the world in order to change the way you feel, any more than you would go to your television set to try to convince the characters on your favorite soap opera to change their foolish ways.

I can’t say it more emphatically: Read this book.

A YOUTUBE CHANNEL

I’m continually bowled over by just how much punch is packed into these 12ish-minute videos:

2. Dr. Amy Johnson’s Ask Amy series is composed of a weekly video that answers real viewers’ questions about how thought works in specific situations. Topics range from “I’m afraid to drive on the highway. How can I get my freedom back?” to “How do I deal with envy and inadequacy now that my ex is in a new relationship?”, and everything in-between. I’d recommend pairing the Ask Amy videos with Michael Neill’s The Inside Out Revolution (as mentioned above). Amy’s work showcases a really practical application of the principles that Michael covers—so, if you’re slowly starting to wrap your head around the nature of thought, but you’re not quite there yet, poking around in the Ask Amy archives will no doubt round out the concepts for you, using real-life scenarios. If the specific example that Amy’s speaking to doesn’t apply to you and your life, give it a chance anyway; I’ve found that it’s really helpful to have proof that no matter how exceptional a situation might feel, the same principles hold true each and every time.

AN INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT

As with the personal development books I read this year, wonderful Instagram accounts abounded—and I discovered many that I adore. However, one in particular brought me a tremendous insight:

3. Keitha Young, @thepeacefulseed, is a new mother in New Zealand who writes with exquisite candor about trauma integration and resilience medicine. I found her late in her pregnancy, shortly after she’d had emergency surgery to remove her entire large intestine and install an ileostomy, when she’d begun sharing about the experience of almost losing her life. Keitha’s writing brought me new insight this year. She’s actively fighting the impulse to overcome her past traumas, which is something many of us struggle to do (but believe it’s the only way forward), myself included; instead, she’s working to integrate them into who she is now. How? By feeling them, allowing them to exist, processing them, sharing them, receiving counseling for them. It’s her belief (and now mine) that if we can actually move through our griefs (versus getting over them), if we can fully assimilate those exceptionally difficult life experiences, we’re ultimately more whole and empowered. Keitha is actively working on this—she’s not reporting to us from some several-steps-ahead place where she’s already got it all figured out—and this is what makes her writing and sharing all the more compelling to me.

A QUESTION

Early this year, I was surprised to learn that in the realm of personal development, really powerful answers can sometimes arrive in the form of questions:

4. Teal Swan’s “The Great Shortcut to Enlightenment” was brought to my attention by a dear friend. Although I was at first skeptical of this new-agey woman who appeared before me on my laptop screen, I was really taken with her simple process for cultivating unconditional self-love. The process takes a full calendar year (which is long, but hey, it’s still a total shortcut when you consider the topic of enlightenment!) and it involves asking yourself one specific question any time you have to make a decision—and then living your life according to the answer that emerges in response. What’s the question? “What would someone who loves themselves do?” (The sloppy grammar irks me, but I’ll live.) Admittedly, I didn’t engage in this process over the course of an entire year (more like a few days, as an experiment), but I absolutely see the value in doing so and would encourage anyone who’s actively struggling with unconditional self-love to take this on as her one assignment for 2019.

Stay tuned for part two of this series, next week.

"How do I choose my ONE GOAL to work on?"

Which idea (of the many ideas I have) do I act on first?

Where should I begin when I’ve got a list of things I’d like to start doing or areas in which I’d like to start improving?

Over the past year, I’ve received messages from many of you that pose some variation of the same question. Although I love sharing my thoughts with each of you on a case-by-case basis (and I’ll always do so), I figure it’s time I answer this question here on the blog—for future folks to discover and hopefully find some resonance.

This question is such a good one! It really speaks to a universal and pervasive desire to Do All The Things Now, and it also tells me that one of the biggest, most common obstacles to starting is a feeling of having too many worthwhile options. Naturally, if you can’t suss out which thing on your list is The Right Thing to attack first (because everything seems important and deserving of immediate attention), it’s easiest to do nothing at all—and to hope that one day, you’ll revisit the list and some clarity will emerge on its own; you’ll know what you need to do.

To be fair, I do think that happens; I’ve seen it firsthand, the setting aside of the list, then the later revisiting of the list, and BAM! Clarity (usually because circumstances have changed and priorities have been revealed) and forward movement.

That being said, what an utterly passive way to live. I suspect what most of us really want is to stretch and challenge ourselves to create momentum and possibility in our lives, rather than sit around waiting for it to whack us over the head.

Another thing: Time is of the essence. I’m not implying we need to rush, but I am saying that we’ve got no control over how much time we get on this earth...and we’ve got a lot more control over how we spend what time we do have than this passive approach would suggest.

So, then: how to proactively choose a starting place when the list is long, worthwhile, and perhaps a bit daunting.

You’re going to hate me for this answer, but here it is:

CHOOSE.

I mean it. Pick one of the projects or endeavors on your list, and begin.

Why such an unscientific/un-coach-y approach? Why no pro/con lists? Why no weighing of priorities?

Because it doesn’t really matter.

How do I know it doesn’t matter?

Well, you’ve already proven this by the fact that you’re unable to decipher which thing is more important than the other things.

Obviously, none is more important—because if it was, you’d know.

You’d know that getting your body back to a healthy and fit place is the most essential thing you can do right now.

Or finally beginning your memoir.

Or decluttering your closets and dressers.

Or socializing more.

You’d know—without having to deliberate.

As for your deliberation—this constant hemming and hawing over your list—and your subsequent lack of action because The Right Answer feels too inconspicuous? It tells me a few things:

  1. Unfortunately and probably unknowingly, you’ve already made your choice (and it’s not a great one, to be honest). You’ve chosen fear over action. Fear of everything on your list, fear of picking the wrong thing, fear of failing at whichever thing you do finally pick to begin, fear even of the possibly wonderful changes that will come about once you commit and take the first step forward.

  2. You don’t actually want any of the things on your list. Not truly. Not enough. Or if you do want them, it’s because you want the outcome only; you want to have done them or achieved them—but you don’t necessarily want to put in the elbow grease that’s required to make them happen for yourself. In this sense, your wants are a bit more like fairy godmother wishes.

  3. No right answer exists...and on some level, you already know this. So, really, you can’t go wrong just picking one (eeny, meeny, miny, moe style works) and diving in. In all seriousness, you see that you’ve got nothing to lose, right? The alternative to picking one and diving in is doing nothing at all...and continuing to hope that some magic will occur and you’ll finally get what feels like a more concrete plan for moving forward. I promise you this concrete plan will never come. Not without your intervention, that is. You’re the only one who can take the first step, and then, with that initial ACTION, summon the next step to materialize.

So, if none of your options is heads-and-shoulders more important than the others, there is no method, no prescription, no best practice for how to choose what to work on first.

Rather, the method is a verb, a one-word directive, that’s embedded in that sentence: CHOOSE.

If you’re feeling even a little bit galvanized by this post, go ahead and declare in the comments below what you’re choosing to start now that you’re clear there is no Right Thing to do first (and no particular approach—besides taking action—by which you’ll uncover it). I’ll engage with you to see if we can get your next first-step mapped out, so that by the time you click away from this post, you know exactly what you need to do to get moving.


What to do when your email problem feels...bigger

One of you replied to me last week, letting me know that my 25-minutes-at-a-time tip for conquering unanswered emails was helpful—but it didn’t quite get to the core of your problem. You wrote: “My struggle with emails is not that I need to answer them, but there’s something in them I need to do. Follow up on, read, watch. And that takes longer than the 25 minutes.”

Gaah, of course!

I’ve been there—in fact, I’m right there with you most every day I open my inbox—but it hadn’t occurred to me until your note that that was the worthwhile thing to look at, from a strategic coaching perspective.

What’s the best way to handle those emails that require some action on your part?

If you work in an organization with others, it might be that someone’s asked you to do something, and then get back to her on it—and you know you’ll need to set aside a good chunk of time to do the task, a chunk of time that doesn’t exist on your calendar at the moment.

If it’s your personal inbox, maybe you’ve received a newsletter that references a podcast that sounds interesting—one that you’d like to give a listen to, but can’t make the time for right now because it just isn’t your priority.

If you run your own business, perhaps it’s a colleague’s email that announces an interview she gave with some big-time blogger; of course you want to read it, you even want to leave a comment on the post to show your support, but today’s to-do list doesn’t include such an activity. (Come to think of it, tomorrow’s and the next day’s don’t either. You simply don’t have a to-do list for these types of activities, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important to you.)

So, then, it’s these types of emails that tend to sit around and clog up your inbox. What’s the handy rule or trick to apply to them?

I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all approach (if only I had one!), but I can give you two sensible options based on my own experience and my work with clients on this very subject:

1. Go non-linear. From Steve Chandler’s Time Warrior, one of my favorite personal development books of all time:

Non-linear time management is a commitment to action in the present moment. It's looking at a task and choosing NOW or not now. If it's not now, it's got to be NEVER, or placed in a time capsule that has a spot on the calendar and therefore is out of the mind. The mind must remain clear and empty of all future considerations. All fear comes from picturing the future. Putting things off increases that fear. Soon we are nothing but heavy minds weighing down on weary brains. Too much future will do that. Only a warrior's approach will solve this. A warrior takes his sword to the future. A warrior also takes his sword to all circumstances that don't allow him to fully focus.

Okay, what does this mean when it comes to our inboxes?

Well, for starters, I’d say it means you have to make decisions when you’re inside your inbox. Become a ruthless decision-maker.

Will you handle this email right now?

Yes? Perfect. Do it and be done with it.

No? That’s great, too. Click over to your calendar and create a spot on the calendar for dealing with it, specifically.

You might decide to carve out an hour every week wherein you tie up the loose ends of your inbox, all at once; perhaps instead of every week, it becomes a biweekly thing (because let’s be realistic here). A recurring event on your calendar that’s titled, “LOOSE ENDS,” and in the description for the event, you make a list of the email subject lines that you’ve flagged as needing your attention at this specific later date.

Regardless, the idea here is NOW or NOT NOW. It’s an empowered vertical move instead of a horizontal one that says you have to respond to things as they come up, no matter if they derail your greater priorities for your life.

2. Catch and release. Now, this is a decidedly less organized technique than Steve’s suggestion to go non-linear, but I know for a fact that it can work for the right people. If the idea of assigning a date to everything makes your skin crawl, 1. that sounds like resistance and would probably be very interesting, and I dare say fun, to explore in a coaching conversation together, but 2. I get it, and would recommend experimenting with the following:

Start to keep a sticky note list (I use Google Keep personally, but if you want to go analog with this one, knock yourself out) of the stuff you want to scope out and will scope out when you find yourself in-between projects, needing a break from whatever’s in front of you, or at a loss as to what you ought to be doing next with your time.

This approach works best for articles to read and podcasts to listen to; it absolutely doesn’t work for tasks that have someone else waiting on you.

To give you a specific example, I’ve got a Keep list that’s titled, Books to Check Out the Next Time I’m At the Library. I add to this list whenever I see mention of a book that interests me immediately, but that I’ve no time or bandwidth to research in the moment.

As for podcasts, if it’s something new that I know I want to listen to, at least give it a try, I’ll open up the Podcast app and subscribe right away, in the moment (so, this is a little bit of Steve’s approach blended in). This way, the next time I’m out in the garden or heading out for a walk and I open up the app, I’m greeted with a visual reminder that there’s something new I want to experience.

Another Keep list you might create? Resources to Explore Instead of Scrolling Instagram. On it might be that friend’s interview with the big-time blogger or an interesting-sounding article that someone mentioned in her newsletter, but that you couldn’t stop to read in its entirety at the time. Maybe these are things you’d like to give your time to instead of the mindless scrolling while your waiting for the dental hygienist to call you back.

And if they’re not? If you find that you’d rather just have a zone-out moment with Instagram? That’s okay. Simply recognize that the enthusiasm you have for some new resource might have a natural half-life. It might be a rabbit hole that, if you don’t or can’t allow yourself to go down in the moment, won’t ever be as compelling to you as your usual apps and decompression outlets. And that’s okay! It can come off your list!

So, there you have it. Those are my two big recommendations for those of us who find ourselves with a backlog of emails that aren’t being dealt with because of something bigger than procrastination.

If you find yourself with a ton of unanswered correspondence, I’d suggest first that you separate out what’s what: Which emails can you conquer using my 25-minute egg timer method and which have an embedded action or interest that needs to be handled before they can be filed? Deal with the quick-but-delayed responses first (25 minutes is nothing! And you’ll feel better by the end of it), then crack open your calendar and pull up your Google Keep, and get to assigning a home for everything.

Have a better method, or one that’s totally unexpected and wildly helpful? I’m all ears! Share it with us in the comments below, and let’s learn something from each other.


How to be in season

On one of our daily walks last week, I realized suddenly that the wildly-colored trees Dana was pointing out weren’t flukes.

In other words, it wasn’t that a few outlier trees had begun to change and I happened to be catching the beginning of something special.

It’s actually everywhere.

Autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere) is a thing that’s happening now.

It’s well underway.

I’m trying to notice more, not because I’m not naturally observant (I am), but because I have a tendency to really sink into a season just as it’s being traded in for the next one. This is a desperately nostalgic way to live—and nostalgia is fine, good even, in the right places and doses; but when it comes to living my life, I want to be all in, right now. Full-on presence is my ultimate objective.

Anyway, herewith are a few tips I’ve noodled on to help myself realize the right-now-time of my existence. Take any that resonate and apply liberally.

Make a list of fall flavors. I’m not talking pumpkin spice, unless it’s your thing. (It’s not my thing.) What I’m thinking about are those more timeless, pre-Starbucks flavors. The fall flavors of my childhood and young adulthood. The flavors that have specific memories linked to them.

I’m making my list, then I’m scheming up ways to get a taste of each one between now and December 1st (when I might allow holiday flavors to take over).

  • Apple cider—pick up a hot cup roadside while driving up to Door County on a Saturday.

  • Apple cinnamon—try my hand at these baked apples.

  • Cranberry—American Thanksgiving is right around the corner and that’s when I get my fill of cranberries for the year.

  • Pecan—again, Thanksgiving’s got me covered here.

  • Maple—pick up some local syrup and add it to my morning oatmeal…maybe with some sliced apples and cinnamon, too.

  • Pear—I’m not a big fan of salads in winter, but I can absolutely get on board with a fall salad like this one; I’ll get it on the meal plan for next week.

  • Brown butter—I’ll ask my mom for her recipe for ravioli with brown butter—and sage!—and kill two birds with one stone; after a cold week, it’ll be the perfect Friday night dinner.

  • Sage

  • Cloves—maybe it’s time for another batch of homemade Masala chai?

  • Butternut squash—an easy soup to make and pair with crusty bread for lunch this week.

Bring out favorite fall accessories and hang them where they’re accessible. I’m a scarf person. Well, I used to be a scarf person. Back before we lived in the motorhome, when I had my own little apartment and a way of storing and displaying my accessories that made me more inclined to pick them up and wear them—rather than look at them longingly through a clear plastic tote.

This month, I’m picking out the scarves and handbags that scream “Fall!” and hanging them up on the pegs behind my closet door—so that when I’m getting dressed, I can pull from the colors and textures of the season. Plum-colored messenger bag? Check. Jewel-toned hand-knitted infinity scarf? Check. Olive green jacket with military detailing? Check.

Collect fallen leaves and make a temporary garland. I did this last year with just a single pass through City Park, a few blocks away. In ten minutes, I collected enough bright red leaves to make a garland for the double windows in the dining room and for the little window-paneled door in my office. And all I needed were about two pockets’ worth of leaves and a couple lengths of baker’s twine. Once hung, it was especially curious to watch the leaves go from hanging straight and supple...to curled and crunchy, all in the span of a few weeks. Because I attached them to the twine by their stems, the leaves actually retained their brilliant colors through the early winter, when I finally took them down and replaced them with snowflake-themed banners and bottle-brush trees.

Anyway, I’m making a new leaf garland this year, to hang from a light fixture (in a golden palette—should look great with all that light hitting it), and this week’s my week! Leaves are falling like crazy.

And if you’re going to look ahead... It’s tempting for me to look ahead, to plan and plot and figure out what’s next and what it’ll look like and how to prepare for it. But then I lose sight of the only thing I actually have, the only time I’m actually assured of: right now. In the coming weeks, I’ll be using some of what I’ve written above to remind me of this moment, to bring me back to it, and to settle the part of me that’s trying to live out tomorrow or that’s clawing ahead to next year.

The other thing I’ll be using is a little strategy I’ve cooked up just recently: When I want to think future, I’m allowed to think future—but only if I’m willing to start those plans now. For example, what fall traditions do I want to create for myself and my family? Do I want next fall to feel differently, or to have some added element? Great! I’ll begin incorporating it into my life now. This now-ness eliminates the tendency to put off what I want or dream about until some future, not-promised-to-me date. Oddly, it also keeps me focused on what’s right in front of me, even as it allows me to envision the future.

All right, friends: Tell me below if you, too, struggle to realize the right-now time of your existence. Does it affect your appreciation of the calendar year, of the seasons? Have you found any helpful methods for grounding yourself in the month at hand? Share in the comments.

Need some long-term downtime? (And secretly want to say 'no' to everyone?)

You’ve heard of FOMO. (Fear Of Missing Out, if you haven’t.)

You’ve heard of JOMO. (Joy Of Missing Out, if you haven’t.)

Well, I’ve just coined MOOP. (Missing Out On Purpose.)

There’s no fear in it, there’s probably not even much joy in it, but my god, there’s a whole hell of a lot of RELIEF in it.

It’s a pause button for everything—every obligation, relationship, task, event, chore, you name it.

When you’re MOOP-ing, you can respond with a friendly, “No, thanks!” to everything simply because, “I’m not adding anything to my calendar right now.” Or, “I’m not taking on anything new at the moment.”

MOOP-ing requires no explanation.

It stands on its own.

It’s something like a calendar status.

(Seriously, imagine if your calendar just stopped accepting new events for, say, an entire month or two. Like, it isn’t even your choice so much as it’s the calendar saying, “Nuh uh, no more, I’m too full.” What would you tell people? “My calendar isn’t working right now, so I’d better decline for the time being.” Brilliant.)

If you need some downtime—far and beyond the standard out-of-office-for-a-week-or-two level of downtime—try MOOP-ing for the foreseeable future.

Sure, some folks will get their feathers ruffled over it. (Loving family members won’t. Truly good friends won’t. You most loyal clients probably won’t.) But they’ll survive. So will you. And everyone will move on eventually. Only you’ll be in better shape to do so because you MOOP-ed when you felt like MOOP-ing.

This isn’t a Dr. Seuss book, I promise.

It’s a real bid for you to see that you don’t have to do anything. Not truly.

I mean, aside from breathing, sleeping, eating, and drinking water, anything we think we have to do is actually only a thing we might want to do if we don’t like the consequences of not doing it.

An example for you: showing up to your job. You don’t have to do it. You’re not actually compelled to do it in the way you’re compelled to consume calories for survival.

However, not showing up to work comes with consequences. One of those might be losing your job and therefore losing your source of income. If you’re not keen for that to happen (and who would be?!), you’ll show up to work every day you’re expected to.

But let’s be clear: It’s not because you have to; it’s because the consequences of not doing it are undesirable to you.

Anyway, the upshot here is to experiment every once in a while with missing out on purpose. Especially if you finding yourself wincing at every request or invitation that comes down the pipeline. It’s a small shift I’ve suggested to clients who will tell you they’re the better for it.

Because after all, no one likes to hang out with someone who doesn’t actually want to be there; no one wants to hear bitter complaints from someone who said ‘yes’ when she wished she said ‘no’; no one will advocate for your time and energy like you can…

So, do it.

Self-advocate.

MOOP, and see what happens (if anything—there’s a chance no one will even notice).

Struggling to manage your inbox? (And need a better way?)

Do you ever feel as though you’re barely staying on top of your email correspondence, let alone your text messages, Instagram direct messages, Facebook private messages, etc.?

I know I do.

And maybe I’m a bit of an outlier, but I’m partial to having one inbox that I open only when I’ve got the bandwidth to make decisions and take action in it.

Back in college, there was a poetry professor who was known for refusing to use email. Even as Goucher announced that email was the official form of communication for the college (this was circa 2001), this particular professor just didn’t want to get on board.

Suffice it to say, I bet she’s using email now.

The thing is, we can put all kinds of boundaries in place around our time and attention, whom we allow to access it and when, but the truth of the matter is: There’s got to be a better way of coping than to just shut it down completely.

(Though, between you and me: I do have fantasies of developing an app that creates out-of-office messages for every imaginable account, so I don’t leave anyone hanging, but also don’t have to remember to check and reply within so many damn inboxes!)

Inboxes aren’t going away. Not anytime soon, at least.

And your current read-but-don’t-reply-for-a-week (-or-more) method doesn’t sound particularly empowering.

It sounds like it takes a lot of energy…with very little reward.

You read through your emails and get everyone’s bids (requests for feedback, for time to chat, for favors, for attention in the form of a simple ‘hello’) on your mind, but if you don’t have the actual time or mental bandwidth to answer them right then and there, when you opened the email in the first place, you wind up carrying the weight of those bids forward…with no designated time to set them down.

Sounds heavy.

And oddly time-consuming, even though the whole thing was that you didn’t have time to reply to the emails in the same moment in which you opened them.

It’s time for a new way.

This new way is simple as all get-out. No fancy systems for filing or categorizing emails. No alerts. No extra time needed.

What I propose is this:

An email doesn’t get opened unless it’s going to be dealt with (i.e. answered, filed, or deleted) right then, in that very moment.

If you don’t have the time or bandwidth to make decisions (i.e. to answer, file, or delete your emails), you don’t have the time or bandwidth to be in your email inbox.

Close it. Walk away. Do something (or nothing) else.

But for the love of all that’s holy, don’t do that halfway thing where you open All The Emails and allow all those requests to pile up in your mind—and then you try to move on to the next thing on your list.

It just doesn’t work. You’ve now tied up psychic energy in an unfinished thing, which is an everyday masochism that can absolutely be avoided.

Now, what this might mean is that on a given day, you’ve got 70 unread emails in your inbox, all of varying importance, and perhaps that stirs up some overwhelm or panic.

If that happens, take a deep breath.

Find yourself ten minutes of nothingness at some point today.

Climb into your inbox and scan that list of 70 unread messages. Are you pretty sure some of those messages are more important—or even actually urgent—than others? Great, start with the most important-seeming one of those.

Open it, read it, and make a decision.

If you need more time to get the sender a proper answer or to make an informed decision, type that. I mean it! Literally, type: “Hi, [insert name]. I’ve got to do a little research before I can get back to you on this. Will be back with you [insert date and/or time].”

DONE.

Now, before you even think about opening another email (DON’T YOU EVEN THINK ABOUT IT), complete that necessary bit of research (or create an event on your calendar at which time you’ll absolutely do it) and get back to the person who’s now waiting on your reply.

You have every permission to answer your emails out of order; regardless of when someone sent you a message, it’s within your rights to prioritize other, received-later messages.

You get to be the master of your inbox. The conductor. The air traffic controller.

What you need to stop doing, however, is disempowering yourself by reading every single thing that comes through with no plan for when you’ll actually finish the task by answering each message. That’s a time and energy suck.

It’s either NOW or NOT NOW. And if it’s NOT NOW, make a date with yourself to do it, or decide you simply won’t do it, ever—then get it off your list.

A day in the life of a life coach

In anticipation of The Business of Coaching, our three-part workshop series this October, fellow coach Caroline Leon and I are producing some content that will be especially interesting for the coaches in our respective audiences.

Here’s a story I created for Instagram that contains a good bunch of details about my daily working routine—a peek behind the curtain for the coaches and non-coaches, alike!

Please enjoy and don’t forget to leave a comment or question below.

If you’re a fellow coach and you’re trying to figure out how to make money from your coaching skill set, consider joining us for The Business of Coaching next month. If you register before the end of September, you’ll be gifted with a complimentary 90-minute coaching session with me, valued at $300 USD!


Join us for The Business of Coaching Workshop

Are you a fellow coach, one who’s keen to master the art of connection and the building of a robust client roster? Register for the three-part workshop series I’m co-hosting this October with fellow coach, Caroline Leon. To read all about it click here or on the image below.

Underwater? (And want to come up for some air?)

Guys, I’ve made an error in judgment.

You see, my husband Dana and I have just returned from vacation. Two weeks on the coast of Maine. It was glorious. I had my out-of-office message set up; I made family time and play time my priority; I got myself to a place of feeling recharged and ready to jump back into my business this second week of September with both feet.

There’s just one problem. (Well, sort of—it’s just not the problem that I think it is.)

I didn’t carve out even an ounce of margin for myself in this week that I’ve returned to the office.

I had a medically minor but very necessary appointment first thing Monday morning.

I’m up to my eyeballs in email (apparently the out-of-office feature doesn’t actually manage your inbox for you—it just gives you a mountain to triage once you return; I forget this every time I use it).

I’ve got multiple coaching calls each day this week (which is an absolute blessing, not a curse—just poorly timed on my part).

I’m in full-on creation mode for a collaboration workshop series I’m launching with a dear friend and colleague.

Friday is September’s Get It Done Day, which means I do usually get some stuff done…but am much more committed to facilitating an experience that allows my participants to get their stuff done, so that’s where I’ll be putting my energy.

In any case, this isn’t supposed to be a laundry list of Just How Much Freakin’ Stuff I’ve Got On My Plate.

Because, as a matter of fact, I love my plate.

And I love my stuff.

As my two-week vacation unfolded, I found myself actively looking forward to the work I had waiting for me here. To the coaching calls. To the collaboration. To Get It Done Day. (Definitely not to the medical procedure, but you win some, you lose some.) For the most part, I even looked forward to coming up with a blog post to share in my weekly newsletter, because I want to write useful, actionable articles for you.

But between yesterday and today, that last one kept getting knocked to the bottom of my to-do list. (Case in point: It’s 7:00 p.m., long past the end of my work day, and here we are.)

Not truly on purpose; more like by default.

Whatever I might’ve wanted to write to you, however polished I would’ve liked to make it, it turns out I’m cooking dinner while composing this post, because it’s pretty much the only time I’ve had to give to this particular task today.

When I hit the ground running on Monday, I had to take a good, hard look at my work priorities (my clients and my collaboration) and decide that those were the only work-related things getting prime Helen attention this week. Everything else would have to get my not-so-prime attention. Like, composing-while-cooking attention.

In other words, I renegotiated.

I gave myself the grace to be imperfect. (This sentence really makes me laugh, because of course I’m imperfect either way—whether or not I manage to give myself grace for it—but it certainly feels better to be on board with the imperfection than fighting it, tooth and nail.)

And here I am. Free-writing my blog post while sautéing zucchini.

As far as my tip series goes, this might be one that doesn’t land with you right away, but hear me out anyway: I get overwhelmed, too; I come back from vacation and feel absolutely underwater with all that I’ve got to do in order to show up in the way I want.

However, what I do with that overwhelm, that underwater feeling, isn’t spin out. I don’t stay up later, way past my bedtime, to do more or to do it better.

I don’t make myself suffer for my error in judgment, the one that had me booking and overbooking my calendar for the week I returned from a two-week vacation.

Nope.

(That was just a mistake. A little too much optimism or enthusiasm, maybe. A past-me who didn’t give her future self all the leeway that her future self would wind up needing.)

Instead, what I do is revise the terms of the contract I have with myself, the one that says “here’s what you’ve put on your plate this week, Helen.”

How?

I take one (or two, or seven) things off my plate, now that I’m looking at it and it’s bigger than my stomach.

Sometimes I ask coaching clients to reschedule to the following week. (And the world isn’t ending because of this.)

I abandon to-dos that might feel really urgent, but definitely aren’t important enough to lose sleep over; in other words, tomorrow morning will be fine. (And the world isn’t ending because of this.)

I write an unplanned, low expectations blog post in between cooking and eating a decidedly un-fancy dinner. (And the world isn’t ending because of this.)

Get my drift?

Renegotiating is always an option. Very little in life is do or die. (And the world isn’t ending because of this.)

Craving some credit? (And want to actually get it?)

It's not altogether unheard of to seek validation from the people in your life.

Your spouse, your parents, your boss, your fitness instructor, your client, whomever.

We all like to feel appreciated. Seen. Acknowledged. Maybe even adored? C'mon, it's fine to cop to it.

Whether or not we need this validation is irrelevant. (Well, it's not entirely irrelevant—it's pretty important you realize validation isn't an essential part of your existence; praise can't and shouldn't be water or food or air to you. I like to think of it as cake icing. It's really, really nice; it makes life more enjoyable and work easier; but it is possible to give yourself what you seek from others...to decide that you don't need to outsource your self-esteem.) Many of us crave it on occasion, and there's no sense in pretending we don't. Or in denying ourselves this thing we so desperately want.

What's the solution?

Well, let's call a spade a spade, and just ask for the damn thing we're after.

When I want acknowledgment, I ask for acknowledgment.

When I want praise, I ask for praise.

When I want to be seen, I ask to be seen.

Plain and simple.

How do I do it?

Well, sometimes I ask informally (e.g. I might say to my friend, "Check out my new haircut!" when I'm seeking some attention and acknowledgement), but I also ask professionally (e.g. I request feedback from all my clients via a straightforward questionnaire that covers what worked well for them, as well as what didn't; I give them the opportunity to praise me and to help me become a more effective coach).

When’s the last time you asked for a pat on the back from someone who loves you, likes you, trusts you, or just might have something really nice or helpful to say about you?

What about a public pat on the back? In other words: a Facebook recommendation, a Google review, a LinkedIn endorsement, a word-of-mouth referral, a website testimonial?

What's stopping you from asking? Share below and let us help you.

(And if you've got this one covered, awesome! Share with us what's worked for you.)