In Defense of Sensitivity

I want to talk about sensitivity today. You might be thinking I’d rather talk about productivity. Or success. Or how to lose weight. Or how to make everyone like you.

But let’s talk about sensitivity anyway.

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When I talk about sensitivity, I literally mean a sensitivity to you inner and outer world. In the outer world, it means being more aware of other people and the world you live in. Internally, it means being able to be more finely attuned to your body sensations, thoughts, and feelings.

I’d like to make the argument that:

  1. Our society makes it hard to be sensitive.

  2. Cultivating your sensitivity is an extremely useful tool. Ever feel like “yeah, my life should be pretty good, but something doesn’t feel quite right?” Sensitivity can help with that.

1. Our society makes it hard to be sensitive.

I think the pace and demands of the modern world dampen our innate sensitivity — no matter who we are. There’s not time to be sensitive! We have work to do and friends to see and kids to take care of. Then we need to do the laundry, get a workout in, take a shower, do our hair, catch up on Instagram, and watch some YouTube videos.

We consciously — or more often, unconsciously — sense that if were more sensitive, it might slow us down. We might have too many thoughts and feelings at work to be as productive as we want to be, for example. It would push us off track, reduce our effectiveness!

This is not an unjustified fear. Being sensitive might, in fact, slow you down or push you off track sometimes. You might have more feelings and thoughts about your co-workers or the project you’re working on or the set-up of your cubicle than you had previously realized. And once you realize that you had these feelings or thoughts…you might begin to want to do something about them. This would slow you down even a bit more.

How annoying.

In our society, being called “sensitive” isn’t typically a compliment; it’s often the opposite. To be fair, I’m not saying that it’s not possible to be too sensitive. It is! But it’s also possible to be too hard working or too generous, for example. Most traits have positive and negative possibilities.

But sensitivity is often ranked far below being “hard working” or “friendly” or “smart,” in terms of ideal traits. And while being a hard-working, friendly, smart person is fantastic, I’ve also met many hard-working, friendly, smart people my coaching practice who were still struggling. For many of them, increasing their ability to be sensitive was actually a secret sauce in our process.

So let’s talk about sensitivity.

 

2. Why increasing your sensitivity, no matter who you are, can be an extremely useful tool. 

I often tell my coaching clients that we all need a compass and a steam engine. (Actually, I got this model from Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star, which I highly recommend).

Most of us, if we’re competent in the adult world, have well-developed steam engines. We know how to push through. We know how to get stuff done. And sometimes part of getting things done means turning down the volume on that voice inside of us that has thoughts and feelings and doubts and worries and observations.

Shhhhh….I’m on a deadline! Let’s just push through!
Shhhhh…I need to accomplish everything on my to-do list, so I can go home and do laundry and then catch a plane!  

Having your own personal steam engine is obviously very useful. But it isn’t enough. You could imagine a train huffing and puffing and powering off in random or useless directions, right? Or maybe it’s going in a direction that “other people” said was meaningful or useful or best, but that direction isn’t right for this train.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.

It’s not good enough to have a strong, well-developed steam engine.
We all need compasses, too. It’s the compass that tells us the right direction to go in.

Have you ever held a real compass? I used to have one. If you held it in your hand, the arrow would wobble as it found its way to point north. If you moved your hand around or jostled it, it was even more wobbly.

Compasses are sensitive.

Real life compasses take in relatively simple inputs and tell you relatively simple information. E.g., all they tell you is what direction is North.

But your metaphorical, internal compass? That thing has got to be complex. It’s not just taking in information about “where is north?” and then telling it to you. It’s taking you all kinds of subtle things about the people you interact with, environments you live in, feelings, thoughts, and body sensations you have, and then it’s telling you everything you need to know about your career, your relationships, how you spend your days, what you like and don’t like, what is meaningful to you, and more.  

But to get that kind of information, you have to let a compass be what it is. And compasses are sensitive. Compasses speak in subtle voices, and many of us are out-of-practice at listening to them.

If you’ve lost connection with your compass, you may feel stuck or subtly frustrated with your life. You may feel like you aren’t quite going in the right direction, but you aren’t sure what direction you necessarily need to go in. Or maybe you have a sense of the direction, but you don’t know why you aren’t taking action.

Another sign of a weaker connection with a compass is that you may have unexplained feelings or do actions that don’t make sense to you. Why do I feel slightly anxious all the time? Why do I keep eating/going on the internet/buying things when I know it’s not good for me?

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, yeah, I could definitely use a stronger compass.  

But one way to start to cultivate that sensitive compass is just to notice how often you are in “steam engine mode.” How often are you huffing and puffing and pushing through? If you are in “steam engine mode” 100% of the time, can you build in some space for subtle voices to come up? Journaling can help with this. So can Doing Nothing.

Or, if you feel like your compass isn’t as strong as you’d like, but you aren’t sure how to fix it, may I suggest life coaching? I work with clients around the world over video conference, and locally in Los Angeles. Feel free to reach out.

 

 

Should my life coach be ICF-certified?

I recently wrote about what to look for in a coach. But there’s one topic — your coach’s “credentials,” that’s worth talking about in more detail.  

The most well-known credential in the world of coaching is ICF certification.

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What is the ICF?

ICF stands for International Coach Federation, which is the professional organization for coaches.

The ICF, a non-profit, does three key things:

  • They accredit coach training programs. To be ICF-accredited, coach training programs have to cover certain topics, be a certain number of hours in length, include elements like mentor coaches and supervised coaching hours, and more.
     
  • They certify coaches. There are a few different routes to certification, but typically, an ICF-certified coach will have completed an ICF-accredited training program, passed a test, done a certain number of supervised coaching hours, and completed a certain number of overall coaching hours. To maintain their credential, ICF-certified coaches have to complete continuing education hours.
     
  • They uphold professional standards and ethics for coaches. If you work with an ICF-certified coach, and you don’t believe that they have behaved ethically, you can report them to the ICF and they might lose their certification. That’s the purpose of professional organizations, across all fields. If your coach is not ICF-certified, you don’t have this option. 

 

Are all coaches ICF-certified?

No. Coaching is actually a bit like the wild west. Anyone can call themselves a coach, without any particular training or accreditation.  

However, I do not want to imply that that all coaches without certification are bad coaches. Far from it! Here are a couple of reasons why a coach might not be certified:

  • They might not need it, to do what they do.
    If you’re looking for a writing coach, for example, there’s probably no need for them to be ICF-certified. You don’t necessarily need your writing coach to have gone to a particular training program or passed a test. You’re probably more interested in their experience as a writer or the amount of time they’ve spent teaching writing.
     
  • They might be early on in their coaching career.
    I did some coaching before I started my coach training program — I wanted to make sure coaching was a good fit for me. Even after I completed my training program, it took a while for me to meet all of the ICF certification requirements in terms of number of coaching hours and supervised coaching hours.
     
  • They might not feel like jumping through the ICF hoops.
    Getting and keeping your ICF certification requires time, energy, and money. Even some very experienced and skillful coaches may choose not to do it.

 

What if my coach has other certifications that are not through the ICF?

Other certifications can be great! They may show that your coach has completed additional training with experts, which will make them even more skillful in working with you.

However, it’s also possible that the certifications don’t mean much. I don’t say that to put anyone down. I just think that, as a potential client, you should know that technically, anyone can create a “training program” and issue “certifications” for people who completed it. Plus, even if the certification is from a respected organization, it could have been issued after a five-hour training program or after a five hundred hour training program.

It can be hard, as an outsider, to know what certifications or trainings mean. That was why the ICF was formed — to provide standards across the profession so people would have a better idea of what they were getting when they worked with a coach.

 

If a coach is ICF-certified, will they be a good coach for me?

I’ll be frank: an ICF-certification doesn’t necessarily mean that a coach is amazing. And it certainly doesn’t mean they are the right coach for you.

It’s more like a minimum level of quality control. If you work with an ICF-certified coach, you know that they’ve been trained to some minimum standards, that they’ve been supervised while coaching others, that they will be upholding the ethical standards of the profession.

From talking to other coaches across the profession, for example, I know that ICF accredited coach training programs can vary widely. Some programs, for example, train coaches to focus on setting explicit goals (like: write that novel by the end of the year!) and being an accountability partner for their clients.

Other coaching programs — like New Ventures West, the one I trained with — focus more on the whole person. This approach is more about understanding the deeper factors that are causing you to feel stuck or dissatisfied, and building the skills that will help you thrive.

For example, as a result of working with me, you might find the clarity, creativity, or discipline to complete your novel. But I probably won’t be checking in with you every single week to make sure you’ve written 10 pages.

The point here is that even among ICF-certified coaches, approaches can vary widely. So ICF-certification will be only one of several things you’ll want to consider when picking a coach. Here are some others.

 

For the record, I am an ICF-certified coach. You can learn more about my approach here, or reach out if you’re interested in working together.

Yes, yes, yes.

I seem to want to share this little story with everyone I meet lately:

“Rabbi Zusya, when he was an old man, said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me: ‘Why were you not Moses?’

“They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”

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So let us all be reminded: In the final reckoning, it will not matter whether you were Moses or whoever you compare yourself to. In the final reckoning, what will matter is whether you were yourself.

"Why were you not Zusya?"

(This lovely story is in Parker J. Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, a book that is dear to me.)

 

What to look for in a life coach

Even if you’d like to work with a coach, it can be hard to find a good one. Fit matters — even very experienced or skillful coaches might not be right for you.

I wanted to share the five things that I look for in my own coaches, and what I advise friends and family to look for when assessing coaches themselves:

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1. When you talk to them, do you feel safe and heard?

In my opinion, this is the most important quality to look for.

Almost all coaches will offer a free consultation (here’s mine). During that time, you’ll talk about what’s been going on in your life and why you’re interested in coaching. As you share about yourself, notice whether you feel listened to, safe, and comfortable. Of course, it can feel vulnerable to share personal information about why you’re seeking coaching. But does this coach seem like someone you could share sensitive personal information with?

Listen to your gut instinct or intuition. Even if your coach is experienced or skillful, something about the way they interact with you could make you feel just a tiny bit uneasy. Listen to that.

 

2. When you talk to them, do they say anything that resonates?

This is another important thing to look for in your initial consultation. Do the ideas they share with you resonate?

Of course, an initial consultation isn’t the same as a coaching session. The coach won’t be fully coaching you yet, but they’ll probably share information about their approach. They may also share some ideas about what you might work on together based on what you’ve told them. How do those ideas land with you?

You probably want to feel a sense of “rightness” — though you might also feel a little bit scared or a little bit excited. It can be scary to think about changing! Like #1, this is something that you’ll have to trust your instincts or intuition on.

 

3. Do they have appropriate credentials?

 I have an entire post on credentials coming soon, but for now I’ll say two things:

  1. Not all coaches have credentials, and not all coaches need to. For example, a cooking coach or a writing coach might not need a certification!
  2. But, if you are looking for some kind of minimum “quality control” in a life coach or a professional/executive coach, the certification that matters is from the International Coach Federation (ICF).

I emphasize the ICF because if you poke around, you’ll find all kinds of other “certifications” out there. Certifications can be great, but as an outsider who isn’t familiar with the field, it’s hard to know much about what they mean. It can be hard for me to know what they mean — and I’m a coach! That’s because, technically, anyone can create a program and hand out certifications. 

The ICF is the professional organization for coaches. They are a non-profit that accredits coach training programs, certifies coaches that have met certain standards (training, supervised coaching hours, passed tests, etc.), and maintains the ethics of the profession.

 

4. Does their overall approach match what you’re looking for?

It’s a good idea to be clear about what want out of a coaching experience. Do you want to set explicit goals (like: lose 10 pounds, or make $7,000 more) and have an accountability partner to check in with each week? Do you want someone to help you understand the deeper factors causing you to act the way you do, and help you develop skills to better meet those challenges?

Most coaches have information on their website about their approach — either a general “About” page, or on a blog. Here’s my “About” page, and my blog, for example. This is also a great thing to ask about in an initial consultation.

 

5. Do the logistics of their approach match what you’re looking for?

How much are you willing to pay? Are you looking to meet with someone in-person or over video conference? Are you willing to commit to working with a coach for a year, or do you prefer someone who doesn’t require an upfront commitment?

 

 

You’ll be spending a lot of time with your coach, and paying them money. Most importantly, you’ll be trusting them with something very special: yourself.

It’s worth it to spend the time to find a coach that is a good fit for you. Please do trust your instincts.

And of course, if interested in working with me, you can reach out about scheduling a free consultation here.

 

 

On going slowly.

Here’s a Sunday reminder:

Go slow to go fast.

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When we go too fast, we sometimes end up going in the wrong direction, or doing work that needs to be redone later. And we miss the subtle learnings and course corrections that are possible at a slower pace. 

Sometimes going very slowly is actually the fastest path.

(This is something that an executive coach told me during my management consulting days. I remind myself of it not-infrequently. Go slow to go fast, Katie. Go slow to go fast.)

On technology

It was 8 pm. I’d just gotten home from a walk, and planned to shower and make dinner. But first, I reached for my phone.

What if you didn’t?

It was a small, kind voice inside of me that asked the question. It wasn’t mean or accusatory. But I also knew it was on to something.

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Lately, I’d started to wonder if used technology too much. Previously, I had always thought of myself as a “slightly below average” technology user — I don’t follow that many people on social media, I don’t text that much, I don’t get that many emails. And yet, I found myself checking my phone or my laptop:

  • When I’ve just gotten home, but was still in my car — before walking into the house.
  • Right after arriving in my home, before doing anything else. I’d set down my bags, and check my email or my phone.
  • When I entered my office, before starting work.
  • In the middle of working.
  • In the morning, right when I woke up.
  • Right before bed.

Of course, there were other times I used the internet, too. A big part of my work is on the internet — it’s how I meet with clients who don’t live nearby, and it’s how I’m sending this letter to you. But that didn’t particularly concern me.

There was something about that first type of internet usage that did feel important to look at, because it seemed like they fell into two categories:

  1. Transitional moments. I’ve talked about transitional moments in the context of eating before, but transitions are often times when we have more feelings than we realize.

    Say that we’re just gotten home from work or seeing friends. We may carry within us some tiredness or even pent up excitement from that past activity. Plus, traveling even short distances can be subtly draining, and then we are trying to focus on doing all the things we need to do when we get home.

    The point here is not that transitions are the most tiring things in the world. Rather, it’s that we are often more tired or overwhelmed than we realize in these moments. 
     
  2. Blow-off-steam moments. You know that feeling when you’ve been working for a couple of hours (or even just 20 minutes), and suddenly checking social media or your email or that blog you like sounds like a good idea? Or suddenly grabbing a snack sounds like a good idea? If we look deeper in these moments, we pretty quickly find something like I’m tired of working and I want to less stress and more pleasure. So we use technology. Or food. Or something else.

 

It’s not that technology can’t be helpful to deal with the subtle tiredness of transitioning, or with blowing off steam. But it seemed like I was spending a lot of my day on technology — sometimes I would suddenly realize I’d been on Instagram for a half hour, for example, even though I just meant to do a “quick check.”

I also felt I had more trouble concentrating than I did when I was in high school. Back then, I didn’t have a smartphone and the computer in my bedroom could only do two things: word processing and solitaire.  I felt like my life wasn’t that busy now, but I was getting less done than I’d like, and I felt easily distracted.

I started to wonder if technology was actually the best way to deal with these transitions or blowing off steam.

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So in that curious moment, when I was hungry and sweaty and really wanted to “just quickly” check Instagram on my phone…I didn’t.

I lay on my bed instead.

I lay on my bed and did nothing. Just lay there. I noticed what it felt like, to have not picked up my phone. It felt pretty intense in my body at first, like I might jump out of my skin. Then it died down quite a lot.

As I lay there, I realized that I had been feeling subtly overwhelmed. My early evening had been busy, and somehow the act of going straight into a shower and making dinner had seemed like slightly too much to do. No wonder I wanted to blow off some steam in that transition.

As I continued to lie there, I noticed other things. I paid attention to the ebbing and flowing of body sensations. I reflected on some things that had been making me feel insecure lately, and found some peace about them. I even had a couple of ideas about articles to write — which was surprising because I’d been low on writing ideas lately.

When I finally got up, I felt calmer and more grounded in my body. It wasn’t like everything was fixed — I still felt tired from the day, for example — but I was able to notice those feelings while also moving onto what needed to be done.

That night was a few weeks ago.  Since then, I’ve been trying to not use technology, at least sometimes, when I can tell that I’m using it for a transition or to blow off steam.

It doesn’t always feel great at first, to be honest. That jumping-out-of-my-skin feeling is usually there. So sometimes I’ll lie on my bed or even on the floor and just notice my thoughts and feelings and body sensations. I’ll let them be a little more intense for a few moments, and then let them ebb away.

I’m just making small experiments so far, but they’ve been useful. Last night, when I was about to browse the internet after dinner, I stayed off screens and read for three hours instead. I was surprised at how refreshed I felt, how much my stress level seemed to lower.  

So that’s my offering for you this week: Is there something that you worry isn’t serving you? Can you experiment with, just once, not doing it? Intense feelings and body sensations might come up, at first. Can you sit with them, at least for a little while?

I’d love to know how it goes.

 

 

A reminder

Here’s a Sunday reminder:

“Don’t go to war with yourself.”

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This is from spiritual teacher Adyashanti and his book The Impact of Awakening. Instead of going to war with yourself, Adya advises that you “simply inquire into who you are.”

{This is me, breathing a sigh of relief.}

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.