They're here!!

It’s my honor to inform you that the next round of Dessert Clubs are officially open for enrollment. They’re not until 2019, so you have some time to think about it.

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Does any of this sound familiar?

You pretty much "have it together" in your life, but you're frustrated with your eating.

Really frustrated.

You've been on diets and read articles and books about superfoods and fitness. Some things have worked, for a while. But eventually the Paleo or Weight Watchers or counting every single freaking calorie stopped working or started making you crazy.

And worst of all were the overeating "episodes" -- those times when you stood next to the refrigerator and ate weird bites of tortilla chips and stale cookies and last night's leftovers. Even though you knew that you shouldn't.

Ever felt like you could never let your guard down around food? 

That’s where the Dessert Club comes in.

The Dessert Club is a small group class that explores why you feel out-of-control or frustrated around food, and what you can do about it. 

It takes place online over video conference, so you can join from anywhere in the world. And honestly, if feels like a bunch of really cool, warm people, all gathered around a table, being honest and vulnerable and funny. 

You’ll hear more about the Dessert Club from me in the new year, but for now, I wanted to share something from a recent Dessert Club participant:

“If food is enough of an issue for you that you are considering joining the Dessert Club, definitely do it! There is so much to gain. 

”I wasn't sure about joining because I have probably read every single book about dealing with food issues and have done extensive individual therapy as well. But the feeling of warmth and support that you get from a wonderful group of people who struggle with the same issues is just incomparable. And Katie’s presence is like that of a wise wonderful friend who always knows exactly what to say.”

— Gabi, New York (thanks, Gabi!) 

I’ve been running Dessert Club groups for more than three years, and it’s something that I’m very proud of. Curious? You can find more information here.

Don’t you deserve what a plant deserves?

Here’s what I’ve been thinking about this week: 

“Most of us are accustomed to thinking that if our needs seem different from what “everyone else” needs, it must not be legitimate.

“Poppycock! Every single person is different. Think of all the different species of plants in the world. They’re all designed to thrive and bloom in different kinds of environments. They need different temperatures and soils, different amounts of water and shade.

“An African violet, for example, which needs at least twelve hours of sunlight a day to grow and bloom, certainly doesn’t sit around thinking, ‘I shouldn’t need so much sun. I should like living in the shade.’ I think people have at least as much right to have different and exacting needs as plants do.”

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(This is from Helene Brenner’s lovely book, I Know I’m In There Somewhere: A Woman’s Guide of Finding Her Inner Voice and Living a Life of Authenticity.)

I wish you a week focused on the joyful fulfillment of your own “different and exacting needs.”

How do I find a good life coach?

 After reading some of my recent essays about life coaching, you might be interested in working with a coach. Awesome!

The problem is…how exactly do you find a life coach?  Today I wanted to share the four ways that I’d recommend:

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 1. Ask around.

Coaching is far more common than it used to be, so there’s a pretty good chance that someone you know has worked with a coach before. However, people may not always mention it in everyday conversation.

Ask around! A friend may have worked with an executive coach at her job, for example, and that executive coach may also do life coaching. Or maybe that executive coach knows a good life coach or two. I worked with a fantastic coach years ago who my brother recommended.

 

2. Reach out to me.

In case you hadn’t realized, I’m a life coach! As of this writing, I’m still taking on clients. If you’re interested in working with me, please feel free to reach out. 

I’m also happy to give you some recommendations for other great coaches I know. I’ve referred family, friends, and even strangers on to great coaches that I trust and respect.

 

3. Check out a coach training program’s coach directory.

There is enormous variation in the field of coaching. Even among ICF-certified coaches (more on what ICF certification means here) there are many different types of coaches. For that reason, I would recommend being very particular about your coach’s training.

My personal recommendation would be to look for a New Ventures West-trained coach.  You can see their directory of coaches here.

I feel strongly about New Ventures West because of their whole person — or “integral” — approach, and also the rigor, depth, and care that they bring to the coaching process. I consistently find that when I meet New Ventures West-trained coaches, even people I have never met before, I am impressed by their thoughtfulness and insight.

On a personal level, working with a New Ventures West coach in my early twenties was transformative for me, and I chose to train there because I was so impressed by their approach. When friends or family ask me for coach recommendations, I generally recommend New Ventures West-trained coaches.

  

4. Search on the internet.

You can also find a life coach with a Google search. You might find a coach’s website directly, or a directory that lists coaches.

There’s also at least some coaches listed on Psychology Today (here’s my listing) and there are some dedicated coach-only websites like Noomii.com. Even Yelp has coaches!

Those can all be great resources, and I’ve certainly had many clients find me that way. However, it’s not my first recommendation because if you aren’t familiar with the field of coaching or what different types of training or certifications mean, you might not know what you’re getting. If you look for a coach in that way, I’d recommend being extra thoughtful about doing your research. I wrote a whole blog post about what to look for in a coach, which you can find here.

Let’s talk about some particularly sensitive personality traits.

When I got to college, something seemed to be wrong with me. Suddenly, it was impossible for me to concentrate.

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My three roommates studied in our room. Classmates were always working in the dorm common areas, or in the student center. Me, I couldn’t even study in most parts of the library.

The only place I could do good work was two floors down into the basement of the biggest library on campus. There, between the stacks and stacks of old books, far against the wall, were old wooden desks that must have been there since the 1960’s. It was quiet and empty and no one went there.

I feel relaxed, even thinking about it now.

That was the first time I noticed that I seemed to need an above-average amount of quiet and alone-ness. It wasn’t the last.

I never seemed to want to go out to parties as much as other people. When I got my first job after college, and spent my whole day sitting at a conference table with three or four other people, I often felt like I couldn’t get anything done. Some boyfriends in my 20’s were annoyed because I needed a lot of time alone, or because sometimes when we were together, I just wanted to read or do quiet things. Why are we together if we’re just going to read? a kind but confused boyfriend once asked. 

As I learned more about myself over the next decade, I realized that there were two factors that contributed to it. I was an introvert and a highly sensitive person (HSP).

Ever heard of those traits? Here are some simplified definitions:

  • An introvert is someone who tends to be drained when they spend time with groups of people or in larger social settings, and tends to be energized when they are alone or in small social settings.

  • A highly sensitive person (HSP) tends to be more sensitive than the average person, to both external and internal stimuli. External stimuli could include sounds or temperatures or environments or art or music what is going on with other people. Being more sensitive to internal stimuli means that they might feel their emotions or thoughts more strongly. Because of that increased sensitivity, they may feel drained more easily.

As you might expect, there’s a lot of overlap between introverts and HSPs. About 70% of HSPs are introverts, though extroverts can be HSPs as well.

It’s worth noting that both of these traits are value-neutral — not inherently good or bad. Depending on the person and the culture we live in, there certain strengths of being an HSP or introvert, and certain challenges.

Last week, I wrote about how cultivating your sensitivity can be helpful for anyone. But HSPs and introverts have some innate sensitivities, and many of them may feel like there’s something “wrong” with them.

If you take nothing else away from this essay, I hope you’ll know that nothing is wrong with being an introvert or an HSP.  In fact, they can be strengths! I am a far stronger coach because I am a sensitive person, for example, and I even cultivate my sensitivity that so I can notice more about my clients and how to help them.

Finally, if either of these personality traits resonate with you, I’d encourage you to look into them more. Learning about these traits helped me to understand that I wasn’t a “weak” person, but rather that these were common personality traits, and they gave me both strengths and challenges in the world.

If you’d like to explore more, here are some of my recommendations:

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.

...

...

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?