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.)

Bad with appointment-making? (And want to be better?)

Are you avoiding your doctor and dentist like the plague?

(Even as they're the ones who can help you avoid the actual plague?)

I know, I know—you're not doing it because you don't care about your and your family's health and well-being; it's just surprisingly difficult to make the time, consistently, to schedule appointments with All The People, for All Your People.

Too, we tend to overestimate how long it takes to complete this ticky-tacky stuff.

If you were to time yourself, you'd see that making a dentist appointment truly takes all of five minutes. It just feels like it'll take the better part of a day when you avoid it for months on end...and it grows extra limbs and then reproduces in your mind.

So, here's what I've taken to doing:

I'm knocking out my doctor/dentist/gynecologist/dermatologist appointments all at once.

Using one of the productivity hours during our free, monthly Get It Done Day co-working event (to be honest, it takes me far less than the full hour—which means I've got built-in daydream/chill-out time to reward myself with), I can get all my sticky note reminders crumpled up and into the trash—and be done with it.

If you suspect some group accountability would give you that extra push of motivation, join us! For a group of strangers, we're surprisingly invested in your getting your tasks off your list before the end of our day together (we even use a shared spreadsheet to keep track). And we cheer for each other in a heartfelt way.

Want to make your own event of it? Super! Go ahead and invite some friends over for an in-person Get It Done Day. (I don't own this idea!) You could incentivize yourselves with fancy coffee creamer and breaks on the front porch!

If you're not even remotely motivated by group stuff and/or if the timing of a group event is impossible because of your work schedule, find a way to entice yourself. Pick a day to ditch the office break room and your usual brown bag lunch, and instead, mosey down to the gourmet deli. In-between bites of a sandwich someone else made for you (they always taste better, don't they?), work your phone and "Must Call" list like nobody’s business. In less than an hour, you’ll have those appointments off your to-do list and on your calendar.

It doesn't have to be so hard! (In fact, it isn't all that hard; it's just not particularly fun. And Get It Done Day can help you there.)

Bad with birthdays? (And want to be better?)

Do you hate that sinking feeling you experience when you realize you missed your best friend's kid's birthday again?

(I do.)

Do you imagine that one day you'll get it together? You'll get the card out in time so that you can quit shopping from the 'belated' section of the card aisle?

Well, guess what? It won't happen. Not if you keep pushing it off to one day.

It will happen only if you make the decision here and now to align your actions with your values, to do the thing that represents who you want to be in the world.

 

I want to be the person who remembers birthdays and anniversaries, and sends a simple card (we're talking a short, but thoughtful message) to her people when they're celebrating their special days.

How do I do this?

After years and years of paper calendars (I'm an analog person at heart), I've finally made the transition to electronic (I can pull it up when I'm in those card aisles at Target and/or add special dates when I realize I never wrote down my best friend's kid's birthday in the first place!). I've created a separate Google calendar just for birthdays and anniversaries, which I review at the start of every month. (I can also turn it off when my calendar looks too chaotic and I need to see some white space.)

How do I make sure I get those cards out?

Well, it takes a little bit of effort, but you had to know I wasn't going to say I snap my fingers and it's done. 😉

When I review my birthday/anniversary calendar at the start of the month, I make a note of all the special dates that fall in the coming weeks (as well as into the first week or two of the following month). This takes no more than two minutes.

Next, I go through my stationery collection (yes, I have one—it's composed of paper I've loved, cards I've picked up because they reminded me of someone or because I knew I'd have a future need for them, boxed sets of whimsical designs with blank insides, etc.) and I grab a card for each person who has an upcoming birthday or anniversary. This takes between five and 10 minutes.

Obviously if you had a lot of time and/or resources, you could go a number of ways:

Money not an issue? While waiting for your prescription to be filled at the pharmacy counter, you could shop the card aisles and find something for everyone on your list, sparing no expense.

Time not of the essence? You could spread out a few sheets of watercolor paper and go to town with an abstract design, then cut up the paper into individual notecards and scrounge up some loose envelopes.

But my method of collecting pieces of stationery as I go, then raiding my supply each month for my loved ones' occasions, works really well for me. It helps me use the stuff I already have, and it also allows me to buy ahead when something strikes my fancy (or when it's November and I find the perfect card for my goddaughter's July birthday).

After I've picked out a card from my stash for each person, I grab my pack of colorful felt-tip pens and bundle it up with the cards (giant rubber bands work great for this, but really just grouping the stuff together in a small pile is sufficient), then park it on the coffee table, where I can see it when I'm resting later in the day and can scribble my loving sentiments, one at a time

Since I've taken all the pressure off of myself to write something clever or perfect (after all, the fact that I'm getting a card out at all is epic! Why would I make it any harder on myself?!), picking up the pen to finish the job is far more enjoyable than it is a burden. Message scribbling takes a max of 15 minutes for, say, a bundle of five cards. That's three minutes a piece. Easy-peasy.

Stamps and my address book come next. And usually, by the time I've written the message, I'm fired up and wanting to get these notes in the mail ASAP, before they get covered by incoming mail and other house detritus, and then lost for months on end—so, it's pretty easy to get myself to address and post and be done with it.

If you're someone who does gifts in addition to cards, you're on your own.

Nah, just kidding. 😉

My recommendation there would be to remember the whole reason for the gift-giving in the first place.

If it's become a real burden to you, or something you just don't ever make ample time for, I'd say it's time to reconsider your efforts. Would a FaceTime call be more enjoyable for you and your person? Does it make more sense to plan a time to get together in person for ice cream and a heart-to-heart? Do you need to set up some personal boundaries around gift-giving?

An example from my own life: I buy books for kids. That's it.

Every kid in my life gets a book for his or her birthday, and another book at Christmas. I don't do toys, mainly because I don't feel like keeping up with what's cool and/or what the kid already owns. Also, I'm a big believer in reading as a totally worthwhile kid activity, so I practice what I preach by making books my go-to kid present.

As for the adults in my life, I give gifts on an at-whim basis; if, when I'm out and about, I see something that's just perfect for a particular someone, I'll buy it and save it for the nearest occasion. If I don't, I don't. This way, no one's getting crap for the sake of my handing them something on their special day, and I'm not forcing myself to go hunting for gifts for my loved ones all month, every month.

Your gifting philosophy might be different from mine, and that's a-okay. The important bit is that you're living out your values, not someone else's—and that you're aligning your actions with what's most important to you.

Card-sending and gift-giving not at all important to you? No problem! That doesn't mean you don't care about your people and it certainly doesn't make you a bad person. We all have our things, our ways of staying connected to the people in our lives, so take a moment to consider yours.

How can you bring more of who you want to be into what you do? Share with me below.

What's GOOD ENOUGH, anyway?

As if to prove just how interconnected we all are (and how blissfully unaware we are of this), my coaching calls in any given time period all seem to center around a particular theme. The theme lately? GOOD ENOUGH.

What's GOOD ENOUGH, anyway?

Well, for a lot of us (I’d venture to say all of you who are reading this post), GOOD ENOUGH seems to mean settling with subpar work; it’s the slippery slope to mediocrity; it’s the status we allow ourselves only when we’ve absolutely run ourselves into the ground and are plumb out of time and bandwidth. And even then, GOOD ENOUGH is less an empowered choice than it is a reluctant surrendering.

But really: What’s GOOD ENOUGH? Like, objectively-speaking?

It’s hard to tell.

(Let’s be real: There’s no way an objective definition of it even exists. But let’s try for one anyway.)

I’d like to propose a new, possibly radical understanding of it.

GOOD ENOUGH is shorthand for two separate determinations:

This is GOOD, and

this is ENOUGH.

 

Why two separate determinations?

Well, my clients are accustomed to excelling and even then, pushing themselves to do more and better. When they hear my suggestion to aim for GOOD ENOUGH, they’re quick to see it as a single unit of measurement: From their perspective, an effort that’s GOOD ENOUGH has barely cleared GOOD. They see the ENOUGH part as a mark below, a minus, points deducted—instead of the qualifying score, a clap on the back, the solid achievement that lands them (still!) in the top percentile.

And when GOOD ENOUGH is seen as something that barely clears GOOD, it’s no wonder we’re going to be far less inclined to willingly aim for it. (After all, who wants to barely be GOOD?!)

This means we’ll continue to aim for EXCELLENT when it comes to each and every endeavor on our list and in our life—and, in the process, cheat ourselves out of the satisfying feeling of being good and being enough...and being able to move on to the next thing that needs our attention.

From my work with clients, then, here’s a list of what I’ve learned about GOOD ENOUGH: 

  • GOOD ENOUGH is sanity-keeping.

  • GOOD ENOUGH is sometimes EXCELLENT, sometimes GOOD, but never POOR or BAD; though it will inspire some fear of the latter two, that fear will prove to be unfounded every single time.

  • GOOD ENOUGH can’t shape-shift into anything less than GOOD ENOUGH.

  • GOOD ENOUGH doesn’t sit atop a slippery slope.

  • GOOD ENOUGH isn’t actually detectable by others.

  • GOOD ENOUGH leaves room for many other endeavors to be GOOD ENOUGH (whereas EXCELLENT usually doesn’t; one thing gets to be EXCELLENT while everything else sort of falls off the radar into...not so much POOR or BAD territory, but more like...OBSOLESCENCE).

  • GOOD ENOUGH is GOOD; GOOD ENOUGH is ENOUGH.

What’s your working definition of GOOD ENOUGH? Do you like mine better? (It's yours to keep.)

What's August for?

This week, I'm popping in with a quick note to share with you an insight I had yesterday:

What if August isn't for doing more, for scrambling around to fit in one last thing before summer's over...but is, instead, for reaping what we've already sown, for enjoying the results of all the work we've already put in?

What if August is the collection month, the good-on-you month, the pre-harvest harvest?

What if August is for allowing the data to stream in and inform what comes next?

What if August is all bounty and no labor?

What if August is effortless effort?

As if to confirm my hunch, several bits and pieces on this very topic have been landing on my radar since last week. Signs abound.

 

Soon the harvest will begin here in earnest. There will be beans and tomatoes to can, grapes to steam for juice and jelly. There will be carrots and potatoes to dig, and then a garden to put to bed for the winter. I like the idea of pausing now, of a deep slow breath before the chaos of summer’s bounty fully arrives. Time to think, reflect, be thankful, anticipate.

—from Brenna Layne's "Lughnasadh Thoughts"

 

This is it. 
It’s not perfect. 
It’s ever-changing. 
There are highs and lows.
But THIS is how it is.

—from Andrea Scher's "This is how it turned out"

 

Hitting that peak of summer that’ll soon roll into September, already the nights are coming in sooner. Watering after dinner starts at dusk and somehow it's dark within the hour.

Last light comes from the flowers. What was a field full of wild colours two weeks ago has settled back into to the steady orange of marigolds, California poppies and the awkward family lineup of sunflowers. Despite the erratic irrigating, blunt pruning, blind training and lack of weeding...the seeds sown in March just keep on stretching...rambling...despite my best efforts to ignore half of it.

It feels like it’s been a full season already, don’t honestly think I’m even halfway through yet. The weather has been so out of whack that I couldn’t guess when the corn will be ready, when the big tomatoes are going to ripen, or if there will be a November frost to sweeten up the pumpkins. So I’ve given up on making many plans or taking a lot advice lately, everyone’s stabbing in the dark anyway, myself included. It’s gut instincts or bust now, best laid plans were fine for keeping me occupied in winter but it’s all out of the window now...brakes are off again, let's just see where the rest of summer takes us. Fairly sure the plants have got it covered.

—from Meg Lobb's @girlfridays_notes Instagram feed

 

The sometimes push-pull energy of August doesn't have to result in pushing or pulling.

Flow is always an option.

If you're picking up on the conflicting energy of this month, consider approaching your days as opportunities to reap what's already there—to benefit from the seeds you planted in early spring when the ground had just softened, the earned abundance that's finally coming into its own right now.

The season will change again, and soon (I've already spotted a few bright red leaves in our neighborhood!)—and with it, the natural rhythm of your actions.

You've got nothing to worry about and nothing to force.

Your insight is closer than you think

I've seen it time and time again.

I get on the phone with a person who claims to be really stuck. She's tried a bunch of different things, but nothing much is happening except the same merry-go-round (which is not so merry) of thoughts and problems, would-be solutions and discouraging outcomes.

Is she actually stuck? Do I believe her?

Well, I believe she thinks she's really stuck (which is just as good as being stuck—because, let's face it, there's no objective way to measure stuckness; it's a feeling, and as with any feeling, it ebbs and flows with little to no intervention).

Her thinking is, truthfully, her only problem.

 

So, where do we go first?

Do we unstick her? If so, how? (Asking for a friend, right? ;-)

Do I try to convince her she's not actually stuck, she just thinks she's stuck? And will that be enough to unstick her?

What we do together is explore the thinking that's behind the feeling of stuckness.

 

Questions I might ask her include:

How do you know you're stuck?

What does 'stuck' mean for you?

What's an indication that you're stuck?

Could that be an indication of anything else, or does it always and absolutely point to stuckness?

What are some of the thoughts you find yourself thinking about being stuck?

Why is being stuck a problem for you?

What if being stuck wasn't a problem? What would you do (or not do) then?

Once we can begin to see how her thinking has created the problem (or the problematic feeling of stuckness), we recognize that nothing more—no outward action—is necessary.

It's an inside job, you see.

 

And when she comes to understand that her thoughts are the only obstacle between her present stuckness and her future ease and flow, she sees that the power to unstick is and always was hers and hers alone.

So, her first insight might go something like this: Wait a minute—there isn't an actual problem here!

Followed by: I thought myself into a problem...so, I can probably think myself out of it!

Then: If my thinking about a situation is the only way a problem is or isn't created for me...then, nothing is truly an obstacle for me except my own mind!

And there you have it. That's the insight that everyone, without exception, is always on the brink of when she presents me with her unique stuckness (that's not tongue-in-cheek: The individual flavors of stuckness are absolutely unique in that each person who experiences being stuck is unique; what isn't unique is the gorgeous insight that sparks to life, the one that teaches each person just how powerful her thoughts are in creating her reality).

The reason why coaching might carry on for several sessions is because the above insight is surprisingly difficult to apply, contextually, when folks have (for so, so long) believed their problem of stuckness (or fill-in-the-blank with your particular problem) was an externally-created problem, or an internally-created problem requiring an external fix. Sometimes it takes us a handful of sessions together before we've properly and thoroughly established that nearly all of our perceived obstacles are inside jobs.*

And to understand on a cellular level that we're always only one thought away from having an entirely different experience.

*I hope it goes without saying that I absolutely believe in the existence of true obstacles, including but not limited to: grave illness/addiction, homelessness and/or dire poverty, war, abuse. The obstacles I'm referring to in the blog post above are of the thought-created variety—how we see ourselves in the world and what we believe about ourselves—though they almost always feel as if they're true obstacles.

If you're reading this, you probably need to take a break

I was the kind of student who fell over herself to listen to and truly hear absolutely everything the teacher said. In theory, this was great; who doesn’t love a devoted student? Oftentimes, though, the teacher was trying her damnedest to get through to all the students who weren’t listening, who weren’t hearing her.

“You need to study harder.”

“I was disappointed with the majority of what was turned in last week; you need to spend more time on your homework assignments.”

“You need to take more care on the next exam; so many of you lost points for sloppiness.”

Imagine a room of students, one or two of whom are already so exceedingly conscientious as to not need to hear these particular messages day-in and day-out. The others, the ones who probably do need to hear these particular messages day-in and day-out, are folding notebook paper into fortune tellers or coloring the boxes of their graph paper or frantically completing the homework for next period. And the irony, of course, is that the conscientious students are the only students who are paying such close attention to the teacher; they are the ones who are internalizing the teacher’s frustration, taking it to heart, and trying (always trying) to do even better.

At some point in my schooling, my mother saw what was going on and had to tell me, “They’re not talking to you, Helen. Those lectures aren’t aimed at you.” She had to help me learn to tune it all out, that relentless messaging that said WORK HARDER and DO BETTER. Because not only wasn’t it for me, but hearing it wasn’t serving me. It was turning me into someone who believed her very worst fears about herself, because what the teacher said seemed to confirm those fears: I’M NOT ENOUGH; I CAN’T AFFORD TO GIVE MYSELF GRACE; I DON’T DESERVE MARGIN.

I am here to tell you that you already are enough.

Grace is your birthright.

Margin is a crucial ingredient for your success.

And: An important part of becoming someone who realizes her dreams and achieves her ambitions is being someone who knows when and how to take breaks.

(Really, an important part of being human is knowing when and how to take breaks.)

My clients and the people who tend to gravitate to my work (that’s you) aren’t folks who need to be told to work harder and do better. In fact, that’s pretty much their kryptonite—because it underscores their deepest fears that they’re not doing enough and that there isn’t time to pause or rest without falling too far behind.

My folks need to have their hard-working systems* reviewed.

*Your hard-working system is the relentless way you check things off your list; it’s your protocol for being productive and staying on top of things in your life. It might be a combination of day planners, Google calendars, late nights after everyone’s gone to bed, family chore wheels, hired help, spreadsheets, apps, carpools, and grocery delivery. It might also be that nagging voice in the back of your mind that lets you know repeatedly that you’re behind the eight ball and that you need to keep moving or else risk total collapse and chaos.

They need someone who understands how conscientious they already are to come in, assess, and then trim the excess—to say, “Here’s where a break is necessary for you,” and “Let’s try this more efficient approach,” and “Looks like you’ve forgotten to build some margin into your days; let me help you with that.”

My folks need me to remind them: It’s when you most feel you can’t afford to take a break that you most need to take a break.

Again, that’s the irony.

Same as Little Helen in the classroom, taking those diligent notes and studying excessively, as the teacher tried again and again to spark something in the uninterested students (who were too busy being uninterested to process or even care about anything the teacher was saying).

We all hear the messages we believe we need to hear, the messages that confirm some deep insecurity inside of us.

So much of my work with clients involves helping them to become a trusted voice of reason for themselves, so that they can work and play in a balanced, healthy, and human fashion—breaks, margin, and all.

Do you need to have your hard-working system audited—either because you’ve got the nagging feeling (still) that it isn’t enough, or because it simply isn’t sustainable (and you suspect you’ve overlooked the whole breaks/margin thing)? Leave a comment below or shoot me a quick email and tell me about it. I can help.


Recommended reading/listening:

Thanks to her newsletter this week, my dear friend and colleague, Caroline Leon, brought my attention to this post by Jac McNeil, 5 Ways to Bring Minimalism to Your Work, which reminded me of a favorite podcast of mine, Jocelyn K. Glei’s Hurry Slowly, and referred to these two particular episodes on the topic of rest: “This Is Your Brain on Nature” and “Prioritizing Rest and Reflection”.

How I diagnose (and treat!) time anxiety in my clients

Let me tell you three scenarios I hear fairly often in my coaching work with clients. See if any of them are at all familiar to you.

Scenario #1

Weekends and days-off are difficult for her, mostly because when she sets out to do one thing (e.g. dig into that novel that’s been sitting on her bedside table, the bookmark still stuck somewhere in Chapter 2, despite its being quite compelling so far), she quickly convinces herself that there’s something else she could or should be doing (e.g. organizing the pantry, weeding the garden beds, finally switching over the clothes from one season to another, catching up on email replies)… And before she knows it, the whole day has passed and she hasn’t thoroughly taken advantage of or even enjoyed a single minute of it. That particular lose-lose never ceases to sting.

Scenario #2

Rushing around is the normal state of affairs for her. Frequently she has her heart in her throat as she drives from one appointment to the other, because she’s late once again and no amount of scheduling seems to circumvent that. Her lateness makes her the butt of jokes among her long-suffering friends and irritates her punctual partner to no end. She’s convinced all would be well if only she had just a little more time in the day. (Or one less thing on her to-do list. Frankly, she’d take either.) Again and again, she convinces herself that she can fit in just one more thing before she has to 1. climb into the shower, 2. leave the house and start driving, or 3. get into bed and still have a solid night’s sleep. It never works. That one-more-thing always pushes her over the edge, into late territory. She half-believes the solution’s hiding somewhere in a new planner or system...and half-believes it’s hopeless. Do other people fight the clock this much?

Scenario #3

She often feels as though the years are just flying by—or she fears they are. She’s worried she’ll look up one day and realize the good part of her life is pretty much over. Most women have kids at her age; she’s barely dating. She can’t remember a single, distinct Thanksgiving because, during the actual holiday, she finds herself distracted by that thing her mom’s cousin said to her last year (and on avoiding said cousin throughout the afternoon) and on how many emails will be waiting for her when she gets back to the desk job she can’t stand, that she forgets to anchor herself in the particulars of the event, the special day she’s inhabiting right now. It passes—and she knows (painfully) it was the only one of its exact kind that will ever exist in history.

Believe it or not, these different conundrums my clients face are very related—they all point to what I call time anxiety: a pervasive state of nervousness or unease as it applies to time (both the big construct, capital-T ‘Time’ and the ticking clock on the wall, measurement of moments ‘time’).

Maybe you, too, suffer from time anxiety. Maybe the scenarios above are all too familiar—and it never occurred to you that they could change, that things could be different, that a solution could be hiding in plain sight.

Let’s take a closer look and consider a way forward for each.

Scenario #1

What are the symptoms?

Existential angst about the time you have here on earth. Frequently, you feel worried that what you’re doing isn’t The Right Thing and how you’re spending your time isn’t The Right Way.

What’s at the root of this problem?

A lack of clarity—around what your priority is and what’s deserving of your time; how satisfied you are with your current use of time and what approach to living might lead to more satisfaction

What’s the solution?

Locate the clarity that's already there, within you. I promise you, you have it. You know what you’d do if you had just one more year on this earth, but you’re allowing that existential angst about your bigger purpose to take up valuable real estate in your brain and crowd out your inner knowing; it’s also stalling out your potential to take decisive action. Ask yourself: “What's most important to me today (or this week/month/year)? What do I want and/or need to give my attention to right now, in service to that (and what actually has my attention right now)?”

Scenario #2

What are the symptoms?

Panic, urgency, and scarcity around time. You feel as though there isn’t enough time to do everything that needs doing. You tend to be overwhelmed and feel unprepared. Your chronic lateness and rushing around are the biggest indicators of your tendency to simultaneously underestimate and overestimate time.

What’s at the root of this problem?

A lack of planning—when it comes to how much time you have and how much time various activities and enterprises require; matching your stated priorities to your available time slots; determining how you want to feel before, during, and after any given activity, and ensuring you leave the space to create that experience for yourself

What’s the solution?

Work backwards. Start looking at time as though it’s a relationship with a person who has clear and unflinching boundaries; you know exactly where you stand with it. Ready or not, the appointment time will appear on the clock, so why not anticipate the arrival of that hour by determining 1. what you need to do in preparation, 2. how long it typically takes you to do those things, and 3. how much latitude you might want to build into your timetable in case of traffic, a run in your pantyhose, or a moment to catch your breath. This is the symptom we all tend to attack first—and usually with new devices, apps, and systems—believing our main problem is a logistical one. And it might be! However, any planning solution that’s more complicated than simply working backwards from the time you need to be someplace or the deadline when something’s due? Probably unnecessary if your symptom is chronic lateness and/or rushing.

Scenario #3

What are the symptoms?

A feeling of time speeding by with nothing to hold on to. You tend to feel empty after holidays or big events, like you weren’t even there. Frequently, your mind wanders to the past or the future, and you often miss substantial chunks of time in the present moment because of this. You still believe multitasking is possible.

What’s at the root of this problem?

A lack of presence—in that you fail to bring both your mind and your body together...and keep them together...for any considerable length of time

What’s the solution?

Give yourself an awareness tune-up. Throughout the day, ask yourself: "Am I all here?" Check in to see if the mind and body are in the same place. Ironically, being 'all here' actually opens up many opportunities for creative ideas and solutions to come into being. You can be 'all here' while you’re taking a shower (in other words, not forcing yourself to work on a particular thought while you’re washing up for the day) and still wind up simultaneously toweling off and taking frantic notes. Change the expectation you have of yourself to do more than one thing at a time—and observe how miraculous the bio-computer in your head really is!

Do you have time anxiety? How does it tend to show up for you? Share with us in the comments, and let's see if we can come up with a workable solution to get you moving forward and feeling good.

Starting and finishing...with the seasons

I decided to finish work early today, so I could get out into the garden to weed and trim and clear out while the sun was shining and my energy tank was full.

The cherry trees have finished blooming in our yard. Same with the tulips and the daffodils.

(The lilac bushes are about to start. Same with the wild lilies and the irises.)

We think of spring as beginning—new life, new growth, new newness.

But it’s also a time of finishing. There’s constant finishing, all around me, as one or another tree or shrub does its thing, has its 15 minutes of fame, and then goes quiet again… That is, until next year.

What are you finishing this season? What are you starting?

"I struggle least with time when..."

This week, I’m curious to find out what’s easy for you, when it comes to time…

To get the conversation started, I’ll tell you some of my fill-in-the-blank answers.

I struggle least with time when...

  • I plan backwards from the time I need to be somewhere, and
  • I round up in considering how long each activity will take.
  • I bookmark possible distractions for later instead of reacting in-the-moment to every interesting thing I encounter.
  • I’m truly present to the task at hand, immersing myself completely in what’s right in front of me.
  • I consider how I want to feel as I arrive at each appointment or commitment (not frantic and frazzled, I’ll tell you that much!), and use that as my guidepost for how I spend the time I have.

What about you? Tell me about your time successes in the comments, or email me if you prefer a little privacy.

Who are you to do this thing?!

You’ve got this wild idea. It’s big. It’s maybe even revolutionary. You have a strong feeling there’s a place for it in this world—and it has the potential to be truly awesome once you figure out how to get it off the ground.

In your darker, fearful moments, it seems farfetched and like you’re kidding yourself. You don’t know anyone who’s done anything like this, so not only do you lack a trustworthy precedent, but you start to wonder if you might also lack credentials. ‘Who am I to do this thing?’ plays on repeat in your mind.

There’s a few mental obstacles you keep encountering, and while a big part of you knows they’re just mindset things, a much smaller but somehow louder part of you insists there’s some legitimacy there; it insists there’s some hard facts about what’s possible for you and what isn’t.

If you could just get a handle on this teeter-totter between conviction and self-doubt once and for all, you’d know how to move forward; you’d know where you need to expand your thinking and where you need to enhance your skill set.

I can help you. I know what a janky mindset looks like (and how to remedy it) and I can spot the missing tools in your tool belt (and help you find the right resources for filling them) pretty swiftly.

Leave a comment below to get the conversation started, or, if you’re ready to dive all the way in, go here to book your own 90-minute session.

The impossibility of impossibility

As a human and as a coach, I stand against impossibility.

I just don’t believe in it. And so nothing is impossible for me.

I’m not bright-siding when I say this, nor am I plugging my ears and la-la-la-ing myself into a state of denial.

I’m simply but profoundly aware of my immense power to create whatever I want for myself—if only my own mind doesn’t get in the way. And that’s one of my more important jobs: not to let it get in the way.

I believe the same is possible for you, too: You are perfectly capable of getting what you want, IF YOU BELIEVE YOU ARE. And if you truly honor the lifelong task of not letting your own mind get in the way.

What feels impossible for you today? Have you remembered to punch in at your crucial job: to guard possibility from an encroaching nay-saying mind?

What self-beliefs are you choosing? Wanna choose some different ones?

You’re not categorically “bad at finishing”—it isn’t a fixed personality trait of yours. You just haven’t gotten really good at it yet; you haven’t allowed yourself enough opportunities to practice and cultivate a finishing mindset and skill set; you’ve carried an old story forward into the present, so that the only thing that’s preventing you from being a finisher now...is a belief you have about yourself.

That’s it! Just a belief. Not a fact or a condition, but something you’re playing over and over again in your mind.

You could just as easily choose to believe the opposite.

If what you believe doesn’t make something true or false (that’s what your actions are for), why not believe something about yourself that feels better? Something that encourages you, something that’s uplifting, something that creates an energy of possibility and capability.

And then what if your actions followed suit? On their own? What if you became someone who finishes what she starts simply because you convinced yourself, via your chosen belief, of the possibility?

If that doesn't quite land with you, here's a cheeky alternative: Why not decide that what you believe, either way, doesn't actually matter as far as your behaviors are concerned? What if you don't need to first believe that you're a strong finisher in order to become one? What if what you believe as far as your finishing capability is irrelevant?

Snack on that food for thought on this fine Friday—and, if you’re up to it, share one of your new chosen beliefs in the comments...or declare your decision to separate your beliefs from your actions. Whichever feels best for you.

"I struggle most with time when..."

I want to hear from you about your relationship with time!

But, just to get the conversation started, I’ll tell you some of my fill-in-the-blank answers.

I struggle most with time when...

  • I operate from a place of magical thinking, believing I can accomplish more than is actually humanly possible in a given day.
  • I mistakenly believe I can outrun the clock.
  • I follow my distractions instead of going all-in on one thing at a time.
  • I tell myself the story of not having enough time.
  • I get too big-picture in my thinking and forget that the here and now is all I have to work with.

What about you? Tell me about your time struggles in the comments, or email me if you prefer a little privacy.

(#tbt to October 9, 2016, when my husband and I found ourselves inside a giant hourglass in Colorado. ;-) Not really. We were in the south-central part of the state, where the Sangre de Cristo mountains surrounded us as we climbed the tallest sand dunes in North America. The dunes are estimated to contain over 5 billion cubic meters of sand. It was a strenuous climb that involved lots of stopping to empty our shoes, but time stood still. We were fully present. And we made it to the top of Star Dune, at 750 feet, where we took out kites from our backpack and sent them up into the sky.)

Examples of small steps you might take today

BUSINESS

  • Come up with a list of five specific people you want to serve.
  • Ask ten friends, family members, or coworkers to subscribe to your email newsletter.
  • Reach out to a former client in a meaningful way; ask her what she needs right now.

HEALTH

  • Post a request on Facebook for physician recommendations in your area.
  • Set a timer to remind yourself to get up from the computer every 40 minutes to stretch.
  • Replace your third cup of coffee with a glass of water.

RELATIONSHIPS

  • Instead of your usual phone date this week, FaceTime with your parents or your kids.
  • Put a note in the mail to that friend you haven’t talked to in a while but think about all the time; no fancy stationery necessary, any old paper will do.
  • Before you and your love fall asleep for the night, share with each other your favorite part of the day.

Do these examples spark some ideas for you? Declare your small step in the comments, and I’ll cheer you on. Encouragement is more vital than you might think!

The truth behind your Shiny Object Syndrome

Here’s a question and distinction I’d like to invite you to consider: Is your SHINY OBJECT SYNDROME actually a FEAR OF COMMITMENT in disguise?

You’re highly cerebral, exceedingly intelligent, interested in learning about everything. Curiosity propels you. Your mind does wild amounts of work every hour of every day—processing, considering, scheming, dreaming, problem-solving, puzzling, you name it. The list of things that fascinate you is infinite.

I suspect boredom is something you remember feeling quite a lot as a child in school; maybe even as a young adult at a pointless and brainless minimum wage job; and possibly in your first few serious, college-age romantic relationships.

You weren’t challenged. Your mind was restless. It all felt too easy and stupid.

Shiny Object Syndrome became your way of navigating and staying engaged with the world. You grew accustomed to chasing whatever piqued your interest because that feeling of piqued interest is both addictive and life-giving, and it reassured you that you wouldn’t die of boredom.

But that same chasing is a crutch now. It’s a familiar excuse and it’s an acceptable way to not commit to any one thing. (And if you don’t commit to any one thing...you can’t fail at any one thing. It’s genius, really.)

To be clear: I believe you’ve got a whole slew of interests and passions. Of course you do—you have a brilliant and hungry mind.

But I also wonder if you’re afraid to commit. Because you’re afraid of becoming bored, sure—but more than that, because you’re afraid of giving everything you’ve got to this one thing. Of giving yourself over absolutely. Of being all-in. Of sticking it out for the long haul, come what may: failure, restlessness, discouragement, disappointment, frustration, and everything else that’s possible when we make and move forward with a choice.

If you’re willing to ditch Shiny Object Syndrome in order to lock it down and commit to one Big, “Impossible” Thing at a time, I can help. Leave a comment below (“I’m ready!” will do just fine), and I’ll take it from there.