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.)

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.