On difficult conversations

Why do seemingly simple conversations sometimes escalate?

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I’ve been reading Difficult Conversations recently, and the authors point out something that stopped me in my tracks:

In fact, anytime a conversation feels difficult, it is in part precisely because it is about You, with a capital Y.  Something beyond the apparent substance of the conversation is at stake for you.

It may be something simple. What does it say about you when you talk to your neighbors about their dog [who barks loudly]? It may be that growing up in a small town gave you a strong self-image as a friendly person and a good neighbor, so you are uncomfortable with the possibility that your neighbors might see you as aggressive or a troublemaker.

Asking for a raise? What if you get turned down? In fact, what if your boss gives you good reasons for turning you down? What will that do to your self-image as a competent and respected employee? Ostensibly the subject is money, but what’s really making you sweat is that your self-image is on the line.

(page 16, emphasis mine)

They call these kinds of conversations “Identity Conversations,” and argue that nearly anytime a conversation feels more challenging than it “should” be, it’s because someone’s identity is at play.

Having a simple conversation with your partner about chores but suddenly things get more heated? One of you may feel like some essential quality about yourself — whether you’re a good person, a generous person, a smart person, a conscientious person — is being questioned.

Simply noticing that you’re in an Identity Conversation is a powerful first step.

That way you can discuss the real issue. Perhaps your partner will reassure you that she wasn’t at all trying to say you’re not a hard worker, and you can go back to talking about taxes. Or, if she actually was trying to imply that you don’t work hard enough, then at least you can talk about that directly. 

Why people don’t tell you what you need to hear.

Recently, I was telling my husband about some feelings and fears I had about a problem in my life. I knew he wanted to comfort me and I knew that I wanted to be comforted by him, but somehow we were having trouble. It just seemed like my feelings were getting more intense and confusing.

Suddenly, in the middle of the angst, I realized: I know what I want him to say. I know what would make me feel better.

So I told him.
And he perked up, too.

“I didn’t realize you wanted me to say that!” he told me, relief in his voice. “I thought you wanted something else, something that I couldn’t truthfully tell you!”

So then he told me that thing.
And I felt better.

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Of course, it doesn’t always work out so perfectly. Sometimes the other person can’t tell you what you want to hear.

But this moment reminded me that, at least sometimes, they can.
They can tell you what you want to hear, and the only thing holding them back is that they didn’t know you wanted to hear it.

This is where it can get a bit tricky, though. Because if even you don’t know what you want to hear, you can’t expect them to know. So if a conversation is going haywire, this can be an empowering first step:

  1. Ask yourself: “What am I wanting to hear?”
    If you don’t know, take a moment to pause and really connect with yourself. It’s worth taking a couple seconds or even minutes to be clear on what your truth is, rather than getting lost in the muck of confusing feelings.  

    Common core desires are things like, “I want to be reminded that you love me” or “I want to know that you still want to be my friend.”
     
  2. Then, ask yourself: “Is this a reasonable thing to request?”
    For example, it might not be reasonable to ask your partner to say, “you look beautiful in every single piece of clothing in the world.” Maybe they don’t truthfully think so!

    Perhaps what you’re really trying to request something like, “I want to be reminded that you love me, even if you don’t always agree with my fashion choices.”
     
  3. If what you want to hear seems like a reasonable request, then tell the other person! Sometimes, even if you think it’s reasonable, they may not agree. That’s okay, too. But if you are clear about what you want, then at least it will be easier for you to see what compromises get you closest to the core thing you are needing.


I’d love to know: When you’re having a tough conversation with someone you love, do you know what you’d like to hear to be comforted? Have you ever tried actually telling them what you want to hear?

 

 

This isn't sexy. But it's helpful.

As a life coach, people come to me with all kinds of difficulties.  

My job as a coach isn’t to tell them what to do. Instead, I help them reconnect with their own truth, so they can figure out their own next steps — now and in the future.

A very common tool that I use for that process is emptiness.

I know, I know, “emptiness” doesn’t sound sexy or exciting. But I promise it's crucial to helping yourself out of just about any personal difficulty you find yourself in.

I recorded you a video – check it out below.

After you watch the video, promise me you’ll take even 60 seconds to do the practice I suggest? Pretty please? I know it’ll help.

Am I off track?

I have bad news and good news. It’s the same news:

Your journey probably won’t be linear. 

Not for your career.
Not for your relationships.
Not for your confidence.
Not for your eating.
Not for your body size or body image.

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It’ll get better and then worse and then better and then worse. Whatever “better” and “worse” mean, anyway.

Then it will go sideways and backwards and to the right and the left and the southeast and northwest.

Whew. Do you feel how exhausting it is? All those different directions?

This is bad news because it is friggin’ annoying that your life won’t progress like an arrow, zooming towards its destination.

But it’s also good news. If you feel like you're “off track” today or this month or this decade…it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re actually going in the wrong direction.

Of course, this isn’t to say that you can’t try to grow in the direction that you care about! I’m a coach, for goodness sakes. I help my clients do that all the time.

But it does mean that just because your journey seems zig-zag-y, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything is wrong. You might just need to take a breath, ask for a hug, and buckle up. 

On being "high maintenance."

No matter what my clients come to me wanting to work on, we end up talking about their relationships. Relationships with their partners, their friends, their family members.

Something I hear a lot is this: I don’t want to be high maintenance. 

Have you thought that, too? Have you worried about requesting something of someone, or showing someone how their words affect you…because then you’d be high maintenance?

If so, then this week’s video is just for you:

As always, I’m sending you strength + support for the week ahead. You’ve got this.

On emotional straightjackets.

“Cool is an emotional straightjacket.”

It’s a quote by Brené Brown, via Caroline Donofrio’s great article. Brown is saying that if you spend all of your energy trying to be “cool,” you cut yourself off from your goofy, weird, messy, awkward, wonderful authenticity. It’s like putting your true self in a metaphorical straightjacket. It limits your ability to connect with others and do your best work in the world.

First of all: amen.

But second of all, it got me thinking about how many other emotional straightjackets we have. Here are some for me:

Success
Being well-liked
Not disappointing people

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On one hand, all of these are great qualities! Who doesn’t want to be a successful, well-liked person who never disappoints colleagues or loved ones?

On the other hand…it’s impossible to truly “have” these things. Even if you do your absolute best, you’ll still disappoint someone or have someone not like you. And, of course, there’s always somewhere higher to strive for in terms of success.

Yet, we still strive. And the process of striving often requires putting our deeper, messier, mushier needs or impulses in a straightjacket — locking them up and inhibiting their movements so we can do what we have to do, goshdarnit! 

The experience of having all these parts of ourselves put in a straightjacket…it isn’t fun. Most of us crave deeper authenticity, connection, creativity, or more sparkling energy, but we’re also afraid to let ourselves out of a straightjacket.

You probably know this, at least on some intellectual level. That you sometimes “straightjacket” yourself in the pursuit of things that might not be truly worth it. But do you know it in your core or your gut?  

Would it be helpful to remind yourself, when you feel yourself feeling tired or frustrated or anxious:

“Success” is an emotional straightjacket.
“Being well-liked” is an emotional straightjacket.
“Not disappointing people” is an emotional straightjacket.
Or ________ (you fill in the blank) is an emotional straightjacket.

(Of course, this is not to say that you can’t strive to do good work, or to be a good person. It’s more that the level at which we seek to achieve these things can be unachievable.)

Does that resonate? For me, it lands far more deeply than just saying, “you need to let go of trying to be well-liked!”

And I’m curious, what is your emotional straightjacket? Share your comment below!

On conflict.

You’re the most selfish person I’ve ever met.

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How did you feel when you read that? How would you feel if someone you cared about said that to you?

Would you feel a clenching in your stomach?
Would you think, Oh god, what did I do? I’m so sorry!
Or, she has no right to say that!

Marshall Rosenberg, in his classic (and really fabulous) book Non-Violent Communication, points out that we have four potential responses whenever someone says something negative to us. We can:

  1. Blame ourselves
  2. Blame others
  3. Sense into our own feelings and needs
  4. Sense into other person’s feelings and needs

Which of these four we choose have a big effect on how messy and painful our arguments get. But many of us default to one or two of these responses — and not always the good ones.

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Let’s say that someone you cared about made a painful accusation about you, something like “You’re an extremely selfish person.” You could respond in one of four ways:

1. Blame yourself: Oh man, I am such a selfish person! I am the worst! I immediately need to apologize for absolutely everything I did to this person!

I don’t know about you, but for much of my life, this was one of my go-to responses. Apologize, apologize, apologize. And there’s a certain good intention there — we want others to feel better, so we accept blame and responsibility.

But, as Rosenberg points out, in doing so we accept the other person’s (negative) judgements of ourselves – which may not always be true. And down the line, this can really mess up our self esteem, and lead us to feeling chronically guilty, ashamed, and depressed.

 

2.  Blame others: She has absolutely no business telling me that I’m self-centered! If anything, she’s the self-centered one!

This is also something that I’ve done. I mean, haven’t we all? The problem is that this response just generates anger, rather than helping to necessarily resolve the conflict.

If we just say that the other person “shouldn’t” feel that way, rather than having any empathy for how they are feeling, it’s hard to connect and truly resolve conflict.

 

3. Sense into your own feelings and needs: Wow, I feel really triggered right now. That accusation brought up all the self-judgement that I already have when I try to take care of myself instead of automatically doing what other people want.  

Instead of assuming that the other person is right or getting mad at them, with this approach you simply notice what’s happening for you.

You notice how this one accusation brought up other negative thoughts and self-judgements that already existed in your head. You notice how this particular statement triggered all kinds of other, deeper fears.

When you start from this place you’re not blaming anyone — either the other person or yourself. You’re just giving yourself the chance to notice all these feelings that are already happening, so you don’t get overwhelmed by them and react inappropriately.

 

4.  Sense into the other person's feelings and needs: I guess that she was really wanting to feel supported by me, and because I attended to my own needs instead, she wasn’t able to get what she wanted. It seems like this was really painful for her. 

With this approach, you try to assess what the other person was feeling or needing. Again, there’s not any judgement here — she’s not a “bad person” for wanting or needing something, or for having a particular reaction to not having her wants or needs met.

At the same time, you’re not blaming yourself. It’s not that you’re a bad person because you didn’t meet her needs, or because she had a particular emotional reaction .

You’re just noticing what seems to be happening for her.

Rosenberg points out that when our main reactions are #1 or #2, we tend to have more painful or messy conflict with others. We either feel guilty and take on blame that we may not wholly deserve, or we get angry and blame the other person. Either way, we’re throwing a lot of blame around — and that tends to make things worse.

On the other hand, either #3 or #4 are awesome starting places. When we can have empathy and understanding for both ourselves or another person — again, just understanding how both of us are feeling without judgement — we can begin the conversation with kindness and are more likely to be able to diffuse the situation.

Even more powerfully, we all respond more positively when we feel heard and seen with empathy. For example, maybe you couldn’t have behaved differently. But when the other person knows that you hear their pain, and you would like to help them resolve their pain, they tend to relax.

On a personal note, it’s hard to overemphasize how much more kind, relaxed, and safe my arguments with loved ones feel when I can remember to start with #3 or #4. I can’t recommend them enough.

Over to you! Think of a recent conflict you’ve had: which of the four reactions did you have? Which of the four did you completely forget about? 

 

On negative feelings.

Have you felt anxious or sad lately? Or maybe some other feeling that you can’t-quite-name, but it feels big and a little scary? 

If so, I made this video for you.

Or maybe you're not feeling too bad right now, but there’s something lurking beneath the surface that you're really hoping won’t pop up.

You might like this video, too. 

(And if you aren’t feeling any kind of negative feelings right now, awesome! Yay! You might enjoy the video anyway. Or just go out and enjoy the sunshine)

As always, I’m sending you so much caring + strength + support for the week ahead. You’ve got this.

 

p.s. Have you ever thought about working with a life coach? Or maybe you’ve mostly just thought What the heck is a life coach?  

As it so happens, I’m a life coach! You can find out more about my work here, and if you’d like to see if coaching would be a good fit for you (or figure out what the heck coaches do!), feel free to reach out :)

 

The gift of authenticity

Can I admit something?

Sometimes I can be a bit embarrassed about myself. Sometimes I think that I should change and be more social, more productive, more generous, less emotional. Sometimes I think my body should look different than it does.

But when I run into authentic people, it’s like I can sign a breath of relief.

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I don’t even know how to describe what it is to meet an authentic person — it’s more of the feeling they give off, that vibrant, alive energy. It’s like they are emitting a special frequency, a “ding” that happens when you inner self is in alignment with your outer self …

Do you know what I mean? Whether they are happy or sad or anxious or jazzed up or quiet…when I am with them, their “rightness” is in the air.

It relaxes me.
It reminds me that it’s okay for me to be me, too.
It’s such a gift.

And so, when I find myself wondering if I “should be different,” I remember the best thing I can do is embrace my own authenticity and integrity — as my own gift to the world. So maybe someone else who runs into me will take in a big breath of my energy, and maybe it will help them feel better.

Do you know any people who remind you that it’s okay to be you?

 

What somatic awareness is and why it matters.

In my early twenties, in the middle of a quarter-life crisis, my brother suggested I work with a coach.

I guess it could be useful, I thought to myself. Maybe she’ll help me figure out what I should do for my next job. 

Oh, I was in for a treat.

I learned many, many things from working with my coach (and that experience is one of the reasons I’m now a coach myself), but one of the most powerful was the power of somatic — or body-based — awareness. Up till then, I’d been a pretty smart, intellectual person, making most decisions using some kind of detailed pro-con list.

Somatic awareness totally changed my decision-making process — and is a huge part of how I now work with clients myself.

I wanted to share more about what somatic awareness is, why it’s so incredibly useful, and how you can cultivate it, so I made you a video.

Whether you’ve heard of “somatic awareness" before, or it sounds kind of hippy-dippy and weird, I think you’ll enjoy the video :)

Make a pact.

I was recently rereading Tara Mohr’s 10 Rules, and was so struck by her first point that I wrote it down on a piece of paper and now I keep it where I can see it every day. I want to share it with you, in case it is what you need to see today:

Make a pact. 

No one else is going to build the life you want for you. No one else will even be able to completely understand it. The most amazing souls will show up to cheer you on along the way, but this is your game. Make a pact to be in it with yourself for the long haul, as your own supportive friend at every step along the way.

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Even rereading it, I get this feeling of YES in my chest and my belly. It feels like excitement but also a bit like fear.

So let me remind you, paraphrasing Tara and using a lot more line breaks:

Only you can build the life you want.
No one else may even be able to totally understand it.
That’s okay.
You’ll find help along the way.
But this is ultimately your game, and no one else’s.
So make a pact with yourself — because you are the one who will see this through.

Oh man, it gives me chills.
Make. A. Pact.

Want something to read this fall? Try one of these.

I know that most book recommendations are for "summer reads," but I think that fall is a time when we especially need a good book.

First of all, after taking a breather over the summer to just enjoy life, we may find ourselves ready to ask some bigger questions, like: "what do I want out of life?" and "who am I?"

Also, for many of us, life gets crazy in the fall! So it's awesome to have something you can do to de-stress that doesn't involve a screen. 

I love reading, and I love getting recommendations from friends about books to read. So today I wanted to recommend books to you in two categories: books that changed my life (of the smart self-help variety) and books that are just fun, fabulous fiction.

We need some of both to keep things interesting, you know?

 

5 Books That Changed My Life

I know that’s a bit of a dramatic thing to say, but it’s true. These five books were incredibly influential in shaping the person I am today.

1. The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

The best way I can put it is that Cameron shows you how to live a productive and creative life in the world, without feeling like the type-A, personal trainer part of yourself needs to take over and really “push” you to get things done. No one had ever told me that I could “befriend” myself, trust myself, and also do the work I wanted to do in the world. Again, what I love about this book is that it is both incredibly warm and encouraging, but also entirely practical (Are you sensing a pattern?).

Cameron's book takes the form of a 12-week course that you can do by yourself or with a group of friends. I’ve “done” the course multiple times – both alone and in a “creative cluster,” and I've always been delighted by the results. I am always both more productive in the work I want to do and more delighted with life. Her “assignments” have even led me to do things like bake pies and learn to play the ukulele.

 

2. Finding your North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, by Martha Beck

I know that the title might sound a bit flakey or new age-y, but Beck is funny and smart and writes in such a delightful and practical way (and even graduated from Harvard, for what it’s worth). She gives you all sorts of different exercises and approaches to figuring out how you want to be in the world – from the work you should do to romantic relationships to how to spend your days. This is another book I go back to time and again.

 

3. Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, by Geneen Roth

If you struggle in any way with your eating, I can't recommend this book enough. My copy is worn out and dog-eared, and every time I re-read it, I feel like Roth is speaking directly to me. What I love most about it is that it is incredibly emotional, personal, and compassionate – how did she know exactly what I’ve been going through? – and also completely pragmatic. Roth provides practical solutions for questions from “How do should I choose what to eat?” to “How can I deal with showing up at a family gathering after I’ve gained 40 pounds and I feel so embarrassed I want to explode?”

 

4. Grace & Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilbur, by Ken Wilbur

I’ll be honest: I don’t usually like to read books about people who die from cancer. But this book is so moving and wonderful that I can’t recommend it enough.

Ken, an influential modern philosopher/spiritual dude (This is a provocative summary of his work, which is worth checking out on its own.), and Treya fall madly in love and marry five months after meeting. A few weeks later, she is diagnosed with breast cancer. This book makes it on my top five list because of (1) the way that Treya works through questions of how to be a woman and how to contribute to the world and (2) Treya and Ken’s thoughtful, authentic, purposeful relationship. They provided really powerful examples of how being in the world and loving in the world could be done at a time when I was figuring those things out for myself. 

 

5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

In case you haven’t heard, I am a strong introvert. But for years, I didn’t know it. I only knew that I seemed to be different than other people – I didn’t want to socialize as much as others, I was always staying home, I needed to be alone a lot, and I got drained easily. I’ll be frank: it caused me a lot of guilt, and I often felt pretty weird.

I realized that introversion was a thing when I took my first Myers-Briggs test, but reading Quiet took it to a whole new level. It helped me understand that it was okay to feel the way I felt, that other people felt the same way, and that there were even (shockingly) advantages to being introverted. It helped me feel much more comfortable asserting my needs: they weren’t weird or abnormal.

 

5 Great Fiction Reads

And then, because I couldn’t resist, I wanted to share five more of my all-time favorite fiction books. It’s not always the right time for deep personal development and introspection – sometimes you just want a great book to read!

These ones range from books that are almost too painful to read, they’re so good and truthful, to the juicy, finger-lickin’ good page-turners (hello, hunky Scottish men!) :

1. Shining Throughby Susan Isaacs

Just a really meaty, juicy adventure story with a female protagonist you’ll love. I think Jennifer Weiner (also an amazing author) says it best: “Isaacs writes great, big-hearted heroines, sassy girls who win the day through their wit and their work, not their beauty.” My mom turned me on to Susan Isaacs, and my mom is a smart, feisty and bad-ass lady herself.

 

2. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon

Outlander is 600 pages, and I read it in 5 days. An English nurse who has just served in WWII is somehow transported back in time to 1743 Scotland. Yeah, it kind of sounds hokey, but the book is filled with Scottish hunks and incredible adventures. I also think it handles feminism and gender issues in an interesting way. You will tear through it.

 

3. Match Me If You Can, by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

I’m going to be real with you: this is a romance novel. But Susan Elizabeth Phillip’s books are really the only romance novels I read, and it’s because her heroines are always smart and empowered. They care about getting the guy, but they also inevitably have a business they want to start and a life they want to figure out, and I dig that, you know?

This one is about a woman who is trying to start a matchmaking business and the hunky sports agent who is her first client (and ultimately becomes her…you know). It is such a joyful, fun book that you will eat it up. Also, my grandma recommended it to me, if that convinces you.

 

4. The Interestingsby Meg Wolitzer

This is the story of friends who meet as teenagers at an artistic summer camp, and what happens to them over the ensuing decades as they grow up and experience different levels of success, love, and fulfillment. The characters are so real and truthful, and I’ve never seen an author describe that everyday, did I make the wrong choice? jealousy so perfectly. Just a fabulous, truthful, at-times-painful-because-it’s-true book. Also, this book turned me onto Meg Wolitzer, who is such a gem.

 

5. Prepby Curtis Sittenfeld

A story about a scholarship student at a prestigious boarding school who never quite fits in. But this book isn’t really for teenagers, and it’s much deeper than it sounds. Sittenfeld really taps into that feeling of someone who never is quite seen for who they are and never quite rises to her true potential. It’s one of those books that sometimes makes you cringe because it feels like real life. A fantastic read, and again, Curtis Sittenfeld is one of my favorite authors. 

I’d love to hear from you! Have you read any of these books? What do you think of them? And much more importantly, do you have any book recommendations for me? (I’m looking to compile my reading list, and I bet that everyone else would love more recommendations, too! :)

 

 

Don't underestimate the power of nature

I had just dropped off a close friend at the airport. As we hugged goodbye, I felt so good: happy, full, a little tired.

But as I drove home, my feelings changed. I felt sad. Lonely. Existential. What is the meaning of life, at the end of the day? Like, really? If you have enough food and shelter and you are safe, then why bother doing anything?

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I knew that it was an overreaction (I’m not the best at transitions), but I also couldn’t stop it.

When I got home, I tearfully told my boyfriend about my many, many feelings. After listening very carefully, he said the most amazing thing:

“Let’s go to the backyard. Nature is a salve.”

To which I thought: Uh maybeBut I think it’s going to take more than that. Do you get how sad I am?

But also I had nothing to lose, so I followed him past our kitchen table and into the back yard.

I walked barefoot on our grass.
I noticed some daffodils.
I felt better.

And it happened way, way, faster than I thought possible, in only a minute, maybe two. I didn’t even need to “fix” anything, or decide on the meaning of my life, or make a pro-con list.

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Truthfully, I hesitated to write this piece. Isn’t it the most trite thing in the world to say that nature makes us feel better?

Yet, even though I am a nature-lover (I walk outside every day. I love to sit in an Adirondack chair and look at trees or fields on vacations.), I hadn’t truly understood this.

In the past, I had to have a nature “experience” to feel better: a 45-minute walk, an hour to sit in a chair on the beach.

I’d never realized that when I was frazzled and distracted and all I wanted to do was procrastinate from every single thing on my to-do list, I could feel my feet on the grass for a few moments and it would be better.

I’d never realized that when I was sad, I could let nature be there, without doing anything myself. I could just stand in my ordinary, nothing-special-and-could-actually-probably-use-some-yard-work backyard.

I didn’t have to walk or move or find the perfect location or spend two hours luxuriating in the sun.

I just had to stand near the grass, the trees. Near the bunch of daffodils that have burst out of the ground (much to my surprise). And let nature pour cool water on my troubled heart.

I’d never thought of nature as a salve.

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I know I’m not the only one. Cup of Jo had the most lovely piece about the power of nature recently:

For children, being indoors is both over-stimulating and boring at the same time. 

Throughout history, “children spent most of every day frolicking outside,” wrote Harvey Karp, M.D., in his brilliant book The Happiest Toddler on the Block. “Our homes are boring because they replace the exciting sensations of nature (the feeling of the wind on their skin, the brilliant sun, the soft grass, etc.) with an immense stillness (flat walls, flat floors, no wind).” Yet at the same time, being indoors is over-stimulating: “It bombards them with jolting experiences that kids in the past never had to deal with: crazy cartoons, slick videos, clanging computer games, noisy toys and bright colors everywhere… which can make many little children feel stressed.” 

Wow. I know that this is technically about children, but doesn’t this also apply to adults?

How often are we overstimulated by the clicking from photo to photo, website to website, but also under-stimulated by being indoors for so long?

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So that’s my challenge to you this week. When you need it, let nature be your salve. Just for a moment, in a small way. Walk outside and feel real air. Be stimulated just the right amount.

You don’t need to go run a marathon on the beach or take an Instagram-worthy hike. Try being out there for a few moments, and let nature do its thing.

Then I’d love to hear how it goes. Let me know in the comments where you were and how you felt.

Please remember this

I just want to set the record straight:

You can take care of yourself better than anyone else in the world.

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Yes, of course, we need help.
Yes, of course, we can’t do it alone.
Yes, of course, we must draw on the wisdom and guidance of professionals and parents and family members and friends and doctors and lawyers.
Yes, of course, we can’t be subject matter experts on everything.

But you know what I see happening, far too often?

Brilliant, caring women and men feel overwhelmed and lost and insecure because we've forgotten…no one can take care of us better than we can.

Sure, all of those “experts” might have opinions till they are blue in the face….

But only you can know whether you need twelve hours of sleep tonight, or five.
Whether you need a spinach salad or an apple tart.
Whether you need a big hug or a big scream or a big whole afternoon alone.

We know what we need, if we are willing to listen. 

What do you need, today? Right now?

If you'd like to share, let us know in the comments :)

My morning ritual

There is one thing that I’ve done every single morning, without fail, for the past three and a half years.

I do this on Christmas, on my birthday, on New Year’s Eve. On weekdays and weekends, on vacation and in the middle of stressful workweeks.

I’ve done this thing in my bedroom, on planes, and hidden away in nooks in corporate offices.

It’s not a 5-minute task. In fact, it takes me around 45 minutes every day. But I do it anyway.

I do it because this activity has literally transformed my life – it has taken me from a panicking mess with a shaved head and no job…to someone who feels much more clear and confident in the world.

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This activity is called: Morning Pages. 

I’m going to tell you what they are, and then I’m going to tell you why they changed my life and why I think they are worth your time.

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What they are

To do Morning Pages, you sit down in a quiet place and you write three pages longhand (e.g., not on a computer).

You write about anything. Even if it’s just the same nonsense word over and over and over.

That’s it.

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How they changed my life and why you should do them

I learned about Morning Pages through Julia Cameron’s fantastic book The Artist’s Way when I was going through an extremely tumultuous period in my life. I had quit my job, shaved my head, and lost a serious relationship. I had stopped going to most social events (and was alternating annoying and freaking out my friends), and I had no real idea what I wanted to do with my life or my time except that most of what I had been doing wasn’t working. (More on that tumultuous time here.)

Morning pages felt self-indulgent and way-too-time consuming (though, of course, I was unemployed/occasionally working as a tutor, but 45 minutes is a friggin’ long time).

But at the same time, I was a mess and figured I had nothing to lose.

So I did it. I woke up, made myself tea, and sat at my desk in my apartment in Inwood and wrote three pages. And did it again the next day. And the next.

At first, it was excruciating, filling up those pages. Even one single page seemed to take forever. But gradually, those pages started to woosh by, until I would look up and say oh wow, it’s over?

Yet I credit Morning Pages for being a huge part of the transformation that took place between then and now. Here’s why:

1. Once it’s on the page, it’s out of your head.

I don’t know about you, but I tend towards being a huge worrier, thinker, obsess-er. If there is something to fixate on, I will.

But when I was writing, the thoughts in my head slowed down – to the point that I could write them out, one by one, on the page. And even more interestingly, I found that once I got a thought on the page, it was out of my head.

Even better, once it was on the page, I could ask if it was true. And most of my thoughts weren’t “truth” – they were just unsubstantiated worry.

Other things, like exercise, had helped me clear my head for a brief time, but the soul-cleansing effects of Morning Pages were more effective and long-lasting than anything I’d ever experienced.

It was — it still is — the most amazing brain dump in the world.

 

2. You can’t bullsh*t yourself for long.

When you have to write three pages every day, your true feelings come out. You can lie to yourself for maybe a page, but after that, your true feelings just start to pop out in unexpected ways.

You become aware, slowly or quickly, of what you truly feel.

Why? Somehow your Social Self, the self that says — “Oh, no, I’m terrible at dancing” or “That co-worked is a good person”— that Social Self gets tired.

And then the truth pops out, in the middle of you writing some gibberish about doing your laundry that day. The truth, which is, “I’d like to be a fabulous salsa dancer.” Or, “That co-worker might be a good person but she friggin’ annoys me and I really dislike her.”

And the amazingly incredible thing that comes out of that is…

 

3. Once you start writing the truth, you can’t help but change.

The amazing, fabulous thing about Morning Pages is how gradual and natural the change process is.

Let me tell you how this happened to me.

Four or five months after I started doing Morning Pages, I found myself writing about how I desperately wanted to live alone. I had lived with roommates for all four years of college and for my first several years in New York City. I always liked living with roommates – having girlfriends around to eat dinner with, celebrate with,  and cry with.  

Except…I had always dreamed of having my own, completely private space. But I kept telling myself reasons why I shouldn’t (it’s too expensive, you’ll hurt your roommates’ feelings). 

A few months after I started writing my Morning Pages, it kept coming up, again and again: I’d really, really, really like to live alone. So I kept writing about it, kept looking at my fears and concerns and desires. 

And then I started to brainstorm, in my writing. I figured out how to make it work with my finances, what trade-offs I was willing to make, and how I would explain it to my roommates in a way that would be as kind as possible. Eventually I was so tired of writing – it was so annoying to write about the same thing, day after day, week after week – that I knew I had to make it happen.

And the same experience has happened again and again in past nearly four years.

Morning Pages has brought up amazing things (good and bad!) that I didn’t even know I felt about boyfriends, friends, parents, living situations, cities, my body, my job, my routines, and more. And I never had to act, but after a while, it just became so clear that it was the right thing to do.

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I don’t do Morning Pages every day because I have to – in fact, many (busy) days, it would be easier not to do them.

I do them because they get me through any kind of pain or crisis, and they are my express train to flourishing. I do my Morning Pages to know what I think, and to get my crazy, un-useful thoughts onto the page.

Morning Pages took all the mess and disaster inside of me and slowly, gently, guided me towards my truth.

I wouldn’t have been someone to use word like “my truth” before I started doing Morning Pages – it would have seemed like too flakey a word. But Morning Pages taught me that I do have a “truth” about what I want and need.

I believe that you have one too.

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My challenge to you this week is to try Morning Pages. Try ‘em on a weekend, when you have a bit more time. Sit down and write three pages, longhand, and notice how you feel. Is it painful? Amazing? Why do you think that is?

I’d be honored if you’d share in the comments. Have you ever tried Morning Pages before? If you haven’t, would you be willing to give them a try?

On jealousy

Do you ever feel jealous?

I know that I sure do. Sometimes my jealousy is this bubbling, sizzling, boiling thing inside of me.

And, for a long time, that made me feel terrible. Feeling jealous made me feel petty, unkind, and small-hearted. Especially when the people that I was jealous of were close to me – friends or family members. Why can’t I just be happy for them?   

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But then I read something by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way that totally changed my perspective.

Cameron argues that our jealousy is a “map” to what we most want in the world.

Even more importantly:

“Jealousy is always a mask for fear: fear that we aren’t able to get what we want; frustration that somebody else seems to be getting what is rightfully ours even if we are too frightened to reach for it.”

Jealousy is just a sign that we want for ourselves what other people have. But the truth is, we can have it, too — we just have to get over our fear and reach for it.

Cameron was never jealous of female novelists, because she had written several novels. But she always felt extremely jealous of women playwrights (or, as she writes, she had an “unhealthy interest in [their] fortunes and misfortunes.”)

It wasn’t until she wrote a play herself that she stopped being jealous, and instead felt only camaraderie. “My jealousy had actually been a mask for my fear of doing something I really wanted to do but was not yet brave enough to take action toward.”

I have found this to be true time and again in my life.

I was jealous of some business school students I knew because it seemed like they were completely confident about their path, while I was floundering and flopping.

I was jealous of a speech therapist I knew for the sensual, grounded, confident way she seemed to inhabit the world.

And I found myself jealous of baristas at my local coffee shop because they just seemed so chill, while I am prone to over-thinking and over-worrying.

After a lot of introspection, I came to understand that I wanted my own certainty about my career path (like the business school students), ease in my body (like the speech therapist), and softer, more open way of being in the world (like the baristas).

And I started to think about what I needed to do to make that happen.

Two things are important to notice about this.

  1. To accurately decode your jealousy, you need to be specific. 

    I wasn’t jealous of business school students because I want to go to business school myself.  I was jealous because they seemed so certain and confident in the path they’d taken.

    Jealousy itself is an amorphous, boiling-over emotion and sensation. It doesn’t tell you much, except that you are jealous. You have to take some time to untangle your feelings and figure out what they are telling you.
     
  2. Jealousy tells you a lot about yourself, but not that much about other people.

    Those baristas might have been brimming with internal anxiety despite a chill exterior, and those business school students might have been 100% lost about their life path.

    I honestly don’t know. I didn’t know any of those people that well. What people project on the outside is often not the same as what they feel on the inside. Jealousy is only a reflection of what I perceive about them, not their own internal truth.

 

If you use it right, jealousy can go from feeling like an ugly, small-hearted emotion, to a really valuable guide.

So let’s put that into practice.

Your challenge this week is to explore your jealousy. And here’s how (this exercise is also inspired by The Artist’s Way):

1.     Make a list of at least 5 people of whom you are jealous.

2.     For each person, first let yourself really feel your jealousy. Let it flare up, and look at it.

3.     Then, ask yourself what am I jealous of about this person? Get really specific. “They have a creative job,” or “they have fantastic clothes” or “they always seem really at peace with themselves.” Write it down!

4.     Once you’ve made the list, look it over. What trends do you notice? Are you jealous of other people’s closets? Jobs? Confidence? Boyfriends? What could you start changing in your own life, based on what you’ve found?

 

In the comments below, let me know: What are you jealous of about other people? What’s one change you could make in your life based on what you found?

Who would you be if you stopped pushing?

I spent this past week in DC, having a picnic dinner in front of the capitol building and wandering in some adorable neighborhoods – just walking through new neighborhoods (and stopping in new bakeries) is my absolute favorite thing to do when I’m in a new place.

And I was thinking about something I wanted to ask you.

Something that might sound impossible.

Who would you be if you stopped pushing?

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No really.

What would it be like?

What would your day look like if you stopped just-making-yourself-do-things-because-there’s-so-much-to-get-done-and-you’re-always-behind.

What would happen to your life if you were abstinent from the okay, I know I don’t feel like it but I really have to get this last thing home and then run those three errands and then do dinner?

If you thought to yourself: Everything would fall apart, I can relate. I used to be an excellent pusher. Pushing to do homework, pushing to do job work, pushing to be a good friend, a good girlfriend, an accomplished woman-in-the-world.

But when I started to investigate why I was always eating in ways that made my life painful – eating more than I wanted, or not actually getting pleasure from food – I found that it was often linked to the Pushing.

Almost every time I was overeating, I was pushing myself – to work when I didn’t want to work, to be social with people I didn’t want to be social with, to achieve things that I didn’t actually want.

Some deeper part of me was saying no, stop! But the pusher part wanted to keep going. So I continued, but I needed something to dull the pain.

And so there was food. And also Facebook. And Internet browsing. We all have our peccadillos that we use to tranquilize the pain that comes from not listening closely enough to our deepest selves.

The peccadillos themselves aren’t the problem – food, Facebook, Internet browsing are all great, in and of themselves. So are Instagram and Twitter and HGTV and reading the news, or whatever it is that you use to disconnect and numb. The problem is that when we use these things to quiet our internal truth, we lose the opportunity to get incredibly valuable information about our likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams.  

So instead of allowing that information to affect us, we push through, pretending that it doesn't exist. And as a result, we feel hard, stiff, tight in our chests and our backs and our jaws. And tired.

But what does the alternative feel like? What would it feel like not to push?

I mean, what would your body actually feel like if you stopped pushing it to do errands and be nice and get things done and go and do and try and strive and smile and plan and push?

If you can, close your eyes and just feel that for a second.

When I imagine taking the push away, it’s like I lose my bones and muscles, and my arms and legs and fingers and toes. It’s like I’m suddenly a blob of Jell-O – tingly, bobbing Jell-O.

Is that how you feel?

I’ll admit, it’s very scary to take the push away. Even thinking about it might make you nervous.

I need to work!
I need to tell people I love them!
I need to pay my bills and buy groceries!

I definitely have those fears when I think about not pushing.

But then I ask myself (or, frankly, my very wise boyfriend asks), why are you assuming that if you don’t push, you won’t work or take care of people you love or pay bills or buy groceries?

Yes, it might shake things up in your life.

If you took away the push, you might realize that the work you actually want to do is different from the work that you’re doing now, or that the people you want to spend time with are different from the people you’re spending time with now.

You might even find that what you’d like to eat is different from what you’re eating now.

And yes, we all have responsibilities. If you have a job, you probably can’t suddenly decide that you’re not going to “push” and make yourself go this week. But by integrating more and more non-pushing moments into your life, you can begin to ask whether your life is aligned with your true desires.

But maybe you’re wondering: How do I stop pushing?

My recommendation is that you mentally give yourself permission to give up all of your to-dos or supposed-to-dos, for an hour or an afternoon. Starting with a defined period of time – even 15 minutes – is a good idea.

And you start by sitting in a chair and noticing what it feels like not to have to do anything.

I’ll be honest, it usually feels uncomfortable. You get fidgety.

You'll also notice that feelings and sensations come up when you stop having to do anything.

And, eventually, you feel a genuine urge to do something. To walk or eat or call a friend or even (it really does happen) to work or exercise or pay your bills. I’m always shocked when I find myself wanting to do something practical when I’m not “pushing” myself to do it, but it really does happen, and it happens often.

It’s a subtle difference, but an important one.

So that’s my challenge to you this week. Pick at least an hour (or better yet, a whole afternoon) when you don’t absolutely have to do something, and let go of the Push. Sit down in a chair and feel how uncomfortable it is to not be moving onto anything else that your brain has decided is on your to-do list, and also not numbing out. Wait until you are pulled to do something.

If you are someone who struggles with a compulsive relationship to food, alcohol, money, etc., notice how this affects that relationship. When the push drops away for me, I find myself much, much less interested in food.

What do you think of this idea? Have you ever tried it, or would you? Let me know in the comments below!

Nope, you don't get to avoid conflict

I know there are some people who always say what they feel, who tell people exactly what they think of them and never put up with shit from anyone.

But those aren’t the people I tend to work with.

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The people I work with tend to be extremely caring and thoughtful, who are always aware of what others are feeling or thinking, and hate the idea of upsetting them or being rude.

They don’t want to tell a family member that her actions or words make them feel uncomfortable.

They don’t want to tell a friend that they are tired and would rather go home after an hour of hanging out.

They don’t want to tell a loved one that they aren’t hungry when they are over for dinner.

I’ll admit it: I’m one of those people, too.

In my family, for example, my brothers seem to have no problem being in conflict with my mom. I’m always amazed, and kind of jealous, how they will be having a mild disagreement about something random and suddenly blow up and speak sharply. And then, just a few minutes later, they talk it over and everyone feels totally fine.

I’ve never been that way. I’ve always hated conflict. But I’ve gradually learned how important it can be, so I wanted to write to you about it today.

First of all, let’s be clear: you don’t have to tell the truth all the time. Heck, there are tons of situations where it just isn’t appropriate to tell the truth, or when a white lie is a far better thing.

But, at the same time, sometimes you do have to tell the truth. 

Sometimes the only way to move forward is to honor your own needs and desires, to ask for what you want or tell another person how she is affecting you.

And sometimes, telling that truth will cause a conflict.

So in those times:

Prepare yourself for that achy, swirling, frantic feeling inside your chest.

Prepare yourself for your stomach to feel queasy.

Prepare yourself to have a head spinning with thoughts – Should I have said that? Was that totally crazy and unreasonable? 

Prepare yourself for the rumble.

We can’t live a life without at least some conflict. But we can learn to recognize our own aversion to it, and get better at sitting with those uncomfortable feelings when they are in the service of something greater.

So here is my advice for you: whenever you find yourself in that situation (either before or after you tell a truth that leads to conflict), try these two things:

 

1. Ask yourself: “Is a bit of conflict necessary to get me closer to my true needs and desires?”

Sometimes the only way to get something that you genuinely want or need is through coming into conflict with someone else. It’s just how it is. A friend, a loved one, a colleague may want something different from what you want, and that’s okay.

 

2. Say to yourself: “I’m in a situation where only one of us gets to be happy. And I get to choose who that is.”

I know that might sound harsh, but it can be powerful. Sometimes people don’t want us to do what we definitely want to do (go home, feel good about ourselves, take that job). And they’ve put us in a situation where not everyone will be happy.

If you’re a nice, sweet, caring person (and I bet you are!), you might be tempted to always let the other person be happy. And that’s fine. But just notice that. Why shouldn’t you be the one who gets her way, at least sometimes.

 

3. Remind yourself: “It’s okay to feel a little jumbled up inside when I clash with someone. Nothing about this is wrong or unusual.”

I know it sounds kind of cheesy, but honestly, I repeat that to myself all the time, when I am in conflict with someone I care about and it is making me feel a lot of feelings. To remind myself that conflict is a normal part of being alive, and just because I have a lot of feelings, it doesn’t mean that I did the wrong thing.

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You can’t take away the conflict in your life, but you can remind yourself that it’s not at all unusual.

And then, of course, you can work to find a compromise.

 

I’d love to hear from you. Do you find you dread or avoid conflict with people you care about? How does it make you feel inside? What do you do to deal with conflict? Let me know in the comments, so I can tell you that you are not a crazy person. 

An idea for how to feel more confident at a college reunion

As I write this to you, I’m preparing to go to my college reunion. I’m really excited about it, but also a little nervous.

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It’s the kind of nervousness I often feel when I’m about to go to an event where I’ll be meeting and chatting with a lot of different people, and I begin to think to myself:

I hope everyone likes me.
Will I sound impressive enough?
I wonder if I seem kind of weird or awkward. 

Have you had those thoughts before? Maybe before going to a networking event or holiday parties where you don’t know anyone, or even when you go to your parents’ for the holidays or see friends you haven’t seen for a while.

You feel vulnerable, and like you want the people you meet to like, accept, and approve of you.

A few years ago, I read something that gave me a lot of strength and inspiration for these moments, and I wanted to share it with you. It’s from Brené Brown’s lovely book, The Gifts of Imperfection:

I try to make authenticity my number one goal when I go into a situation where I’m feeling vulnerable. 

If authenticity is my goal and I keep it real, I never regret it. 

I might get my feelings hurt, but I rarely feel shame. When acceptance or approval becomes my goal, and it doesn’t work out, that can trigger shame for me: ‘I’m not good enough.’ 

If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble. I get going by making authenticity the priority.

This is such a deep sentiment, and it was truly a game-changer for me.

If I go to a party where I don’t know anyone, and the goal is authenticity, it’s okay if everyone doesn’t think I am hilarious and charming, or if I have no one to talk to for a bit and spend some time looking at the bowl of chips.

If I go into a performance review and the goal is authenticity, it’s okay if my boss doesn’t shower me with compliments. It might sting, but I don’t have to be adored by everyone.

And, I remind myself as I prepare for the weekend ahead, if I go to my college reunion and the goal is authenticity, it’s okay if I have some awkward conversations or don’t wow my classmates by explaining how I cured cancer while on a research trip to the Arctic Circle.

As long as I come out feeling like I’ve been myself, it can be success.

It’s also worth mentioning that this whole “authenticity” thing has had big implications for me in terms of my eating. When I go into a social event and feel like I want people to like or approve of me, I feel like I have to hold everything together to project a certain image.

And honestly, that pressure is tiring and straining. Without realizing it, I will often find myself gorging on food before, during, or after the event to keep down all of the feelings of insecurity and nervousness that would otherwise be coming up.

But when I let myself make authenticity the goal, then the stakes aren’t so high and the outcome is within my control. I don’t need other people to like or approve of me; I just need to be myself.

And I am able to enjoy the food that goes along with these events, and not end the night feeling like I ate 100 tiny spring rolls or mini tarts.

Over to you: Do you have any upcoming social interactions that make you feel vulnerable? How would your attitude towards them change if you didn’t need acceptance, approval, or to be “liked,” but instead you let yourself make authenticity the goal? I’d love to hear from you!

On relationships

It was fall, and I was walking with a girlfriend between brownstones in New York as she told me about this guy that she was crazy about.

Smart, handsome, generous. He was the perfect guy.

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“He’s just so much better than anyone I’ve ever dated,” she said as we weaved around a tree on the sidewalk. “And so I want to be really strategic about this. I just don’t want to come on too strong.”

I don’t know about you, but I can relate to that feeling. 

I’ve been in a lot of relationships where I’ve held parts of myself back…

  • I let him call me 
  • I ended conversations first 
  • I let him initiate times for us to hang out 
  • When I had big feelings, I didn’t like to really show them to him. I might show him a little bit of my sadness or anger or hurt, but I certainly wouldn’t let it all hang out, the way I would with my friends or my mom.
  • I wouldn’t bring up little things that he did that bothered me, because I didn’t want to seem whiny

I was sure that if I called him as much as I wanted to call him, if I talked for as long as I wanted to talk, if I suggested that we hang out whenever I wanted to hang out, he would get tired of me. 

If I really told him all the feelings I had, all day every day, he would realize how emotional and crazy and a mess I am, and he wouldn’t want me anymore. 

I also often felt like I couldn’t say no – to hanging out, to social events, to intimacy, or whatever – as much as I’d liked. Not that I was ever forced into anything, but I just sometimes didn’t quite feel like doing whatever it was, and didn’t feel like I could say so without causing a rift in the relationship.

In the end, it came down to: I was convinced that if I showed up authentically – if I said yes in as big a way as I wanted to say yes, and no in as big of a way as I wanted to say no, if I was emotional and volatile and moody in the way that I truly am emotional and volatile and moody, he wouldn’t be able to handle it. And our relationship couldn’t handle it. 

And, let’s be clear, this wasn’t a terrible strategy. There were lots of guys in my life who couldn’t handle it.

The brilliant Med School/Ph.D. student who is going to be a wonderful neurosurgeon but couldn’t handle my feelings when I’d had a bad day, the sweet and generous Russian investor who just couldn’t handle the time alone that I needed. And there were the other relationships, where I never really tried to show up authentically with my strong and argumentative opinions or my existential thoughts, because I could just sense that they couldn’t handle it.

So there were some relationships that were failures, and many more relationships that should have been failures, because I said “no” when I meant “yes” or “yes” when I meant “no.”

Eventually, I decided that I was exhausted by all this time not being myself, and needed to find a better way. 

Ironically, at this time I met a guy who frightened me by how honest he was. On our first phone call, his first question to me was, “What’s important to you in life?” But I figured that I had nothing to lose by being honest in return. 

That was the beginning of a nearly-five-year relationship that has changed everything that I thought was possible about relationships.

When he’d ask me about my day, I was used to just saying “good.” But when I really thought about it, I realized that wasn’t true. 

What was true was well, I had a nice morning but then work was stressful and I started doubting everything but by the afternoon I took a walk outside and everything felt a lot better and I had pizza for dinner so that was definitely a highlight. 

I feel comfortable being as messy and sad and angry and confused and happy and delighted with life as I truly am. And since he sees the “real” me, I feel more supported and heard and loved than I’ve ever before experienced. 

This isn’t a fairy tale. Our relationship is still very much a work-in-progress, and I don’t know how it will turn out. But it was the first time in my life that I made the decision to show up as I truly am, and it has been one of the greatest gifts for my life.We're getting married in March.

So at the end of the day, here’s what I know:

You get to make the choice, and some people don’t want a super “authentic” relationship. But it’s important to think about what you’re choosing when you hold some of yourself back. What happens when you choose not to expose who you truly are in a relationship because you don’t want to be “too much”? 

It’s important to be clear about what you lose and what you gain, and to be okay with that.

And so, here’s what I said to my friend, who is warm and intuitive and generous and accomplished, as we walked on that fall day in New York City:

If you never let yourself be yourself with him, you’ll never really know if he can handle you. 

You’ll always kind of wonder if, yes, maybe you are just too much. And then you won’t see that the real problem is that he is not enough for you. A guy who can’t handle you – all of you – might be a great guy, but he probably isn’t the perfect guy for you. 

And is that really a way you want to live?

On the other hand, if you show up as yourself – as big and overwhelming and too much as it is – you’ll know for sure. Some people won’t be able to take it, and yes, you might lose that relationship. But you’ll also know for sure when you’ve found a good one. 

 

Over to you: Are you really showing up authentically in your romantic relationships? What would have to change in order for you to do so? I’d love to hear from you, and cheer you on.