​What elite athletes know

 LeBron James, one of the best basketball players in the world, spends $1.5 million each offseason on professional maintenance and development. Much of that expense is on people who help him identify weaknesses and design and implement new routines in his workouts, nutrition, hydration, physical therapy (cryotherapy, hyperbaric chambers), and more. And it’s working — he’s a 34-year-old athlete who is still at the top of his game.

Tiger Woods, one of the best golfers in the history of the sport, has changed his golf swing not once but four times. These aren’t microscopic changes that no one but the golfer can see; one golf publication compared each change to “razing Buckingham Palace and building the Kremlin in the exact same spot.” He’s done so by working with four different swing coaches.

Tom Brady, still one of the best quarterbacks in the world at 41 years old, has an extreme devotion to his “body coach” Alex Guerrero, who advises the elite athlete on workout routines, nutrition, spirituality, his mental attitude and more.

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So many people I talk to feel bashful for embarrassed about admitting that they might need help. But does LeBron James feel embarrassed? No. He knows that getting help is the only way that he will stay at the top of his game. I would assume that Brady and Woods are the same.

If you aren’t an elite athlete, the type of coaching or support you need may be different. And, obviously, your budget won’t be as high as James’, Woods’, or Brady’s. But if you want to keep growing, get past roadblocks, attain mastery, and prevent burnout or breakdown, why not follow the example of people who are at the top of their game?

Why not see asking for help as a sign of strength, or vision, or ambition?

And, of course: if you'd like some support to grow more or feel better than you do, hiring a personal coach can be a great choice.  If you’re curious about working with me, here's more about my approach, or you could schedule a short, free call with me to ask any questions you have.

An unusual definition of “breakdown”

One of the first lessons I learned when I trained to be a coach was about “breakdowns.” My coaching school, New Ventures West, defines a “breakdown” as “non-obviousness.”*

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Take a moment to let that sink in. Breakdown is when you experience non-obviousness.

Something about your life doesn’t feel right, and it’s not obvious what the problem is.
You are in a new or challenging situation, and it’s not obvious what the next, best move would be.
You know what you should do or want to do, and it’s not obvious why you aren’t doing it.  

Most of us intuitively understand that we might be in “breakdown” if something major in our lives was going off the rails —our career or our marriage, for example. But the radical thing about defining breakdown as “a state of non-obviousness” is that if we’re paying attention, we are all frequently in breakdown. 

Think about it. If we’re really paying attention, we probably find ourselves in a state of non-obviousness perhaps even multiple times a day.

It might not be obvious what the best way is to deal with a challenging relationship at work.
It might not be obvious what the best way is to prioritize our personal finances.
It might not be obvious what our goals are at work or at home. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re failing at any of those things. Most of us are quite competent people who make it through just fine, most of the time! It just means that if we were really paying attention, we’d notice that there are more situations than we thought, when we’re not really sure what is best for us.

And when things aren't obvious, life can get really interesting. We can can question assumptions and ideas that we thought were set in stone. We can explore and try new things, from a genuinely curious place. We can get advice and support, because we don't expect to be able to figure it all out on our own. 

If we let ourselves be in breakdown, it can sometimes lead us to truly thriving in the world. 

Which leads me to ask: In what areas of your life are you currently experiencing “non-obviousness”? How could you behave differently, by embracing that reality?

 

 

 

 

 

* New Ventures West was inspired by Heidegger’s work in developing this definition of “breakdown.” I am not a Heidegger scholar, but my understanding is that it comes from a combination of two terms in his work: “breakdown of transparency” and “breakdown of obviousness.”

 

The art of partial credit

I increasingly believe that one of the most important life skills you can cultivate is the Art of Partial Credit. 

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Sure, you’ll feel fantastic when you do your entire, ideal morning routine,
Or when you follow your eating plan perfectly,
Or when you check everything off your to-do list.

But then something will happen. Something unexpected. And you won’t be able to perfectly follow your plans.

What do you do then? Will you give up on your plans and browse the internet while mindlessly eating cookies for breakfast?

Or will you go for partial credit?

What is the difference between coaching and therapy?

I’m a coach, and I’m often asked: “How is coaching different from therapy?”  

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It’s a good question, especially because coaching is a newer profession than therapy, and less familiar to many people. In order to begin to answer it, though, I have to ask a different question:

How are you defining “therapy” and “coaching”?

There are a wide range of approaches in both therapy and coaching. An art therapist is not the same as a somatic therapist is not the same as a Jungian psychotherapist. Similarly, a writing coach is not the same as a financial coach is not the same as an Integral coach.

As a result of this, coaching and therapy can be extremely different (e.g., there might be very little overlap between a business coach and an art therapist). Or they may have many similarities. To be honest…

The modality of the practitioner likely matters more than therapist vs. coach.

I’ve been in therapy, and worked with a range of coaches. The first coach I ever worked with was an Integral Coach, whose work really changed my life. Several years later, I worked with a therapist who worked across a range of methodologies. While there were some important differences — which I’ll discuss below — there were more similarities, and I had a positive experience with both.

On the other hand, I briefly worked with a business coach, and that experience was extremely different from either my Integral Coaching or therapy experiences. I’d also imagine that if you worked with a Cooking Coach, for example, it would also be quite different from therapy.

For the rest of this essay, I’ll be talking about the differences between Integral Coaching and therapy, because that’s the form of coaching I am most familiar with — I’m a trained Integral Coach, and I’ve worked with several Integral Coaches.

Please remember that there are as many different types of therapy and coaching as there are practitioners, so for everything I say about therapy or coaching, there will be many exceptions. However, I think it can be useful for some people to understand some broad differences, so I’ll share how I best understand those differences:

 

Some differences between Integral coaching and therapy:

1. Coaches and therapists specialize in helping different kinds of clients.

  • Therapists are the only ones who are trained to help people who suffer from psychological disorders and serious trauma.

    If you suffer from schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, anorexia, bulimia, or another psychological disorder, a therapist will be best able to support you. Therapists will also be best qualified to help those recovering from serious trauma or childhood abuse, or folks who struggle with suicidal thoughts or depression that is so extreme that they haven’t gotten out of bed for weeks. Coaches are not trained to best support people who are struggling with these types of issues, and coaches are not able to diagnose mental disorders.

  • Coaches focus on helping on people who are already basically “functioning” in the world.

    By “functioning in the world,” I mean that you are generally able to show up to work, make and fulfill commitments, and form relationships. You don’t have to be a superstar — in fact, you can absolutely feel stuck or sad or anxious or down — but you’re able to generally do what is needed. Part of that is because more is expected of you in a coaching relationship (see #2).

    Coaches specialize it working with a person at this point of development. But, if you are at this level of development, you can, of course, also see a therapist. It will simply depend on what you are looking for.

  • Here’s one way of better understanding the difference between who coaches and therapists serve:

    Imagine a line from -100 to 0 to 100. If you were at “-100”, you would be really struggling with a serious psychological disorder. If you were at 100, you would be extremely highly functioning, and living a life of depth, meaning, and joy. If you were at 0, you would be in the middle. This example radically oversimplifies people’s struggles, so please don’t take it too literally. However, it’s a helpful simplified model for thinking about coach vs. therapeutic interventions.

    Coaches are not trained to best support people from -100 to say, -30. Those folks would be best served by a therapist.

    But from, say, -30 to 0 to 100, you could work with either a therapist or a coach. It would depend on the coach and their type of work, as well as what you wanted from the experience.

2.     A coach may expect more engagement from you.

A coach will invite you to be an active participant in the process, which will involve doing things between sessions like reading, journaling, or trying new practices. In my own life, I’ve found that taking action between sessions tends to produce greater change, and I prefer it.

On the other hand, some folks may simply not have the energy to take on actions between sessions. In an Integral Coaching relationship, it’s okay if you don’t currently have the capacity to take anything on, but that would probably be something we’d work on together. We’d like for you to eventually have the energy and space in your life to take something on, but understand that it’s important to meet you where you are, for now.

However, some folks may not want to do anything at all between sessions — they may simply want to show up each week to talk, indefinitely. In that case, they may find that therapy may require a bit less of them. Many — but certainly not all — therapists may not explicitly expect anything more than you showing up to talk each week. For some folks, this is a good fit. They simply don’t have the energy to do much between sessions.

3.     Coaching may be more structured. Therapy may be more open-ended.

Part of the first few weeks of your coaching relationship will include defining the skills or capabilities you want to develop. Once these are defined, you and your coach can check in with them throughout your work to see if you are progressing in the right direction. Even more importantly, they will help you know when you are done with your coaching program! — because you will have achieved your desired outcomes, or moved in a measurable capacity in that direction.

Therapeutic relationships, to my understanding, sometimes involve defining target outcomes or goals with a patient, but often do not and are a bit more open-ended. I want to emphasize that this can be great, too!

But part of this difference, in my understanding, means that at least sometimes, you might spend longer working with a therapist than you might with a coach. However, there are absolutely exceptions to this, as well!

One more thing:

One additional thing I sometimes share with folks who are curious about the difference between therapy and coaching is a bit about the origins of the fields:  

Therapy’s roots are in the medical field. One of the major guiding forces of the field is and has been the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which classifies mental disorders. Of course, not all therapists prefer to think of their clients in terms of the “mental disorders” they have, but the roots of the field do follow this path, and this is why only therapists are qualified to support folks who struggle with mental disorders like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Modern coaching has a number of different origins, but one major origin is sports. As a result, there is a history of working with people who are already competent — and sometimes quite highly functioning — and helping them reach the next level. There is less of an interest, in the history of the field, in thinking about disorders, and more of an interest in just figuring out what is blocking functioning people and helping them grow.


A final caveat: 

As a smart reader, I’m sure you’ve realized: I’m a coach! So I’ll acknowledge that I may be biased, but I’ve also strived to be as factual as possible. For example, for certain types of people — such as those struggling with serious mental disorders — therapy is truly the best option.

For others, it will depend on what you’re wanting from the experience. For example:

  • Is there a particular methodology that interests you?

  • Is there a particular practitioner who resonates with you? One helpful way to assess this is to see if they have a blog (like this one!)

  • How do you feel when you talk to the potential practitioner? How do you want to feel? E.g., supported, comfortable, etc. Most therapists and coaches will speak to you for free, to give you a sense of how they work and to see if you feel a connection. Take advantage of this!

  • Do you have an interest or willingness to put in effort between sessions?

  • How do you want to meet with your practitioner (e.g., in person, on the phone, over video conference?)

  • How much are you able or willing to pay?

 

In the end, I think you should trust your gut. There are great practitioners in both professions. Good luck!

(And, of course, if you're curious about coaching, here's more about my approach, or you could schedule a short, free call with me to ask any questions you have.)

On choosing.

Here’s a hard but important truth: Sometimes you have to choose.

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Sometimes you have to choose between having time to rest and recharge vs. doing something exciting and fun.
Between pursuing thinness vs. pursuing sanity around food. 
Between pursuing a career you love vs. a career that will make your life feel balanced.

Is it possible to have both? Maybe! Eventually! In some form!

But here in the present moment, we usually have to prioritize. We need to know what we’ll choose when push comes to shove. Even if it feels like both things are extremely important, there’s usually one thing that takes precedence, even subconsciously.

But why let it be subconscious? Life is easier if you make your prioritization explicit. That way, you don’t have to be jealous of other people who are thin or have a high-earning career, for example, if you are choosing to prioritize sanity around food or a balanced work life. Every choice has trade-offs, and you can make peace with yours.

Prioritizing is an act of kindness. It is saying to yourself: I will accept the limitations of reality.

What are your dreams for your life? How can you prioritize them, for the week ahead?

How can you give yourself a break?

A Sunday Reminder

Here’s a Sunday Reminder:

You probably do know.

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As in, if there’s something in your life — in your career or a relationship or personal choices — that you “don’t know” what to do about, there’s a good chance that you know more than you think.

Have you taken time to really be alone, unstimulated, and reflect on the question? There’s a good chance you’ll be able to get clear on:

  • What you do know right now

  • What experiments or actions you need to try next, in order to find out more

  • Who or what might be able to support you in figuring out more

  • What is un-knowable for the moment

Many of us use “I don’t know” as shorthand for “this is a hard situation.” But hard situations are precisely when we shouldn’t lie to ourselves about what we know!

You probably know a lot already. You probably know plenty to get started.

A generally useful prescription

Oh, you’re feeling anxious?
Stuck?
Frustrated?
Like something isn’t quite right in your life?

Oh, you’re convinced you need to leave your job?
Or break up with your partner?
Or completely change some other aspect of your life?
Immediately? 

Before you give you two weeks’ notice or throw out all the sugar in your house, may I suggest the following generally useful prescription?

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This prescription is like Advil for a variety of life’s emotional and existential pains. It solves some issues completely, and for others, it reduces the pain temporarily — which is nonetheless extremely useful: if you’re in that panicky, anxious place, it’s likely that you’ll make decisions and take actions that are not the best possible choices for you. So instead, take this prescription, and consult with yourself (or me!) two days later. 

A generally useful prescription: 

Once a day, for two consecutive days (Did you catch that? One day is not enough! TWO CONSECUTIVE DAYS.) : 

  1. Thirty minutes of gentle, pleasurable exercise.
    A walk outside counts. So does yoga. Boot camp class doesn’t. The goal is to gently burn off some stress, while helping you be more aware of your body. Sometimes if an exercise is too hard, you’ll somewhat “leave” your body in order to “push through” to the end.  

  2. Thirty minutes of journaling.
    You can journal about the things you’re worried about, the things you want to change or achieve, or about anything at all. The act of writing helps you stop ruminating and actually process how you’re feeling and what you actually want to do about it. More instructions here.

  3. Shower and attend to your appearance.
    “Attending to your appearance” means different things to different folks, but the idea is that you should do whatever makes you feel more juicy about your physical body. Wear some clothes you like, style your hair in a way that is appealing to you, wear some makeup or jewelry if those are things you enjoy. It sounds trivial, but it makes a difference.

  4. Get 8 hours of sleep — minimum.
    This is not a joke.

  5. Feed yourself food that is nourishing and pleasurable. Even if you don’t have time to cook, now is the time to splurge a little bit on some lovely, tasty food that also makes you feel good. And yes, some amount of purely delicious food — like a perfect cookie — is nourishing, too.

  6. Cut out all non-essential internet activities. You have to send emails at work? That’s fine. But no internet for pleasure. This might be the hardest thing to do of all of the things on this list, frankly — most of us in the modern world have a lot of compulsion around our internet usage. But you can use that time to do your journaling and walking and showering and sleeping, and probably still have some time left over to read that book that has been sitting on your nightstand for months.

It’s easy to skim over this list. It’s easy to think, oh, I do some of that already.

But are you feeling anxious or frustrated or stuck or not-right?

I dare you.
I dare you to try these, 100%, and see how you feel. 

I will not discuss “do I need to make a major life change?” or “am I a failure?” until these actions have been completed, in full, for two consecutive days. (Reminder: One day is not enough. TWO CONSECUTIVE DAYS).

As I said above, it may not fix everything, but it will significantly reduce stress and anxiety, and give you more clarity of mind — hopefully, enough clarity of mind to come up with a wise sense of the right next steps for you.

Let’s talk about bone cells.

Sometimes my clients are frustrated with themselves. They’re smart and competent, and they may feel embarrassed that they’re struggling.  

Sometimes it seems like I’m the only person who is breaking down like this, they tell me. It feels like I’m the only person who needs to grow. 

In those situations, I tell them about Osteoblasts and Osteoclasts.

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Osteoclasts and Osteoblasts are bone cells that are always present in our bodies. Osteoclasts break down bone tissue, and Osteoblasts rebuild it. Bones constantly need to be repaired and remodeled to better address the many stressors our bodies face, and you can’t rebuild without having broken down the bone tissue first.

Osteoclasts and Osteoblasts work as a continuous team:

Break down.
Repair and rebuild.
Break down.
Repair and rebuild. 

What a perfect natural process. Break down, rebuild. Again and again.

Which is to say: our bodies understand that things must break down all the time, so that we can rebuild to be more efficient, more effective, and stronger.

Why not us?

“I’m afraid I’ll become a homeless person.”

I’m afraid that I’ll become a homeless person, and that I won’t have health insurance. 

I blurted out that sentence to my coach, trying to explain why I was so afraid to leave my job and take some time off. It felt kind of dumb after it came out of my mouth — it sounded so extreme.

But it did capture the real lot of fear I had: I was so burnt out at my job that my desire for rest seemed infinite. I was pretty sure if I listened to those desires, I’d never work again. And then I’d run out of money and have to live on the street and…

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But my coach was looking at me calmly. In the most compassionate way in the world, she asked me: “Katie, is health insurance something that you want?”

 “Yes,” I told her.

“Well then, I think you can trust that some deep part of you will take care of yourself. Just like you need rest and some space, you also need health insurance.”

She continued, in friendliest way, “Don’t you think that when push comes to shove, you’ll do what you need to, in order to get what you need? Like, if you get low on money and you really have to, you’ll get a job that you don’t prefer, so you can make sure to get the health insurance you need?” 

“Don’t you think that you will take care of yourself, when it comes down to it?”

I sat there, dumbfounded in my chair, soaking up how right she was.

To be clear, the point of this story isn’t “quit your job!”. That’s not always the right decision. (Far from it!) Rather, the point is this: You will take care of yourself.

So many of us have similar fears that we would blurt out if we were being truly honest:

If I let myself slow down at work, I’ll never accomplish anything, ever.
If I let myself turn down social events as much as I want to, I’ll never go out again, all my friends will abandon me, and I’ll be a complete loner.
If I let myself eat as many pumpkin cinnamon rolls as I really want, I’ll never stop eating until I gain 200 pounds.
 

I’ve heard all of these from my clients in the past, and I’ve certainly felt them myself!

But you know what? It’s typically not true that our desires are infinite.

Yes, we want a more balanced relationship with work, but we also want the pride of making an impact.
Yes, we want to rest at home alone, but we do also want to see our friends.
Yes, we want pumpkin cinnamon rolls, but we also want to feel good in our bodies.  

So, yes, if we listen to our desires for a while, we may end up staying home or eating more cinnamon rolls than usual. But, eventually, we will reconnect with the other things we want, and find a balance that makes sense.

That certainly happened to me. I eventually left my job and took a few months to completely rest and look around. Then, as I started to feel more rested, making sure that my bank account was healthy became an increasingly higher priority. So I found part-time work, and later, full-time work.

With health insurance, of course.

So I’d like to ask you: What truthful desires are you afraid of because they seem “too big”?

An unusual definition of solitude

Typically, when we think of solitude, we think of being physically alone.  

But I recently came upon another definition of solitude that stopped me in my tracks:

Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin define solitude as “a subjective state of mind, in which the mind, isolated from input from other minds, works through a problem on its own.”  (xvii)

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Let’s really think about that:

Solitude occurs when your mind is isolated from other minds.

That means that you can have mental solitude, even when you’re in a room with other people. Or you can be totally alone — but because you are checking Twitter or responding to email or reading a book — you are still being influenced by others’ words and thoughts.

Kethledge and Erwin suggest that definition in their powerful book Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership through Solitude. (And even if you don’t think of yourself as a “leader” in a formal sense, their definition of leadership includes “leading yourself” — as in, following your own true values and judgement rather than convention or bureaucracy or what others want or expect).

Of course, they aren’t arguing that input from other minds is useless — on the contrary, it is essential to any decision-making process.

But they are arguing that there comes a point when we have enough input.

Great leaders —  and the book is mostly a case study in great leaders, from Jane Goodall to Dwight Eisenhower to T.E. Lawrence — are people who seek out moments of isolation from other minds. Through the clarity, insight, and creativity those moments allow for, these leaders are able to make important decisions, discoveries, and creations.

Which leads me to the question: How often in your day are you truly “isolated from the input of other minds” for an extended period of time? What kind of thinking and decision-making is possible, in those moments? 

On compulsion.

Let’s talk about compulsion.

Maybe you’re already thinking to yourself, Well, I guess this post isn’t for me. I mean, I’m not perfect, but I’m not *compulsive* about anything. 

I want to acknowledge that the word “compulsion” might seem scary or intense. It might make you think of people in tattered clothing, in dark alleys, doing things that might eventually lead to their death.

And yet, here’s the Oxford English Dictionary definition: 

Compulsion (n): an irresistible urge to behave in a certain way, especially against one's conscious wishes: he felt a compulsion to babble on about what had happened.*

I think there’s two really important elements to this definition:

  • You feel an irresistible urge to act in a certain way

  • Acting in that way is against your conscious wishes 

Using this (correct) definition of “compulsion,” even if you aren’t a compulsive heroin user, you might still be compulsive. In fact, I would say that the majority of people I know — including both clients and friends — are compulsive about one or both of the following things:

  • Eating

  • Technology usage

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Ever promise yourself you wouldn’t eat any more brownies, and then find yourself grabbing a little bite (or a big one) every time you walk by a plate of ‘em? Ever find yourself checking your social media, even though you really need to get that report or presentation done?

That’s everyday, bread-and-butter, salt-of-the-earth compulsion. No, you’re not in a dark alley in tattered clothing. Yes, you are behaving compulsively.

You might be thinking: okay, who cares if we use the word “compulsive” or not? But I would argue that it matters a lot.

If we don’t use the work “compulsive,” then we’ll be either confused or frustrated with ourselves. Like:  “Wow, it’s so weird that I keep eating these brownies even though I promised myself that I’d stop because I’ve already had four.” Or: “Self, you promised you’d stop checking Instagram! But you keep doing it! What’s up with that?!!”

But both confusion and anger are unhelpful reactions in the face of irresistible urges that are against your conscious wishes. (Remember, that’s the definition of “compulsion”)

The whole point of compulsion is that you didn’t intend to do them. In fact, you’d strongly prefer not to do them!

But most of us have been either “confused” or “frustrated” with our compulsive behavior for year or even decades. Sometimes we resolve to change, and sometimes those resolutions work…for a while. Then they stop working because, uh, we feel irresistible urges that are against our conscious wishes! (Are you remembering the definition of “compulsion” yet?) 

The only thing that actually works, in the face of compulsion, is curious and kind exploration. Exploration can be about many things, but here are some of the biggies:

  1. What are the things in my life that trigger this compulsive behavior?

    It might be actions – like being at a party, or arriving home to an empty house — or it might be feelings or thoughts – like feeling tired but wanting to get more work done.

  2. What does it feel like, in my body, when I have that compulsion?

    Most people initially describe a compulsive experience like “being in a trance,” so their initial impression is that compulsion feels like nothingness.

    But when you actually explore it more deeply, 95% of the time** compulsion is actually extremely intense in the body. People feel a lot of sensation – like buzzing or zinging — in various parts of their body. Some people tell me, “I felt like I could scream,” or “it felt like I might explore.”

  3. When those feelings come up, what would it feel like to sit with them instead of immediately doing that compulsive thing?

    What would it be like to sit with those feelings for 60 seconds? For 120 seconds? For five minutes, or 10? When you are very experienced with this, you typically find that it feels very intense at first (see above), and then it becomes significantly less intense. (Here’s an example of one time I did that in exploring my own compulsions around technology.)

  4. What else could I do to satisfy the thing that brought on my compulsive behavior?

    If you think that eating too many brownies or checking Instagram too much is about your love of brownies or Instagram, then you’ll make all kinds of intense promises about sugar or internet usage. 

    But if you realize that it’s about something deeper — and usually it’s not just one thing, but a constellation of many things; sometimes it’s feeling tired, sometimes it’s feeling insecure, sometimes it’s that you are happy (even happiness can sometimes be very intense!) — then you can actually address the many, complex roots of the problem.

    Then you can stop being confused or frustrated, and start being effective.

 

One last thing: that list of four things to do to “explore” your compulsion? It’s easy for me to write it, but It’s really, friggin’ hard to actually do it. It might feel, at times, extremely painful or intense. It might be one of the hardest things you ever do.  

I don’t say that to intimidate you. The work is 1,000% worth it, in my experience. But I say that so, if you struggle, you won’t be surprised.

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

  

 

 

 

 

 

* This is actually the secondary definition of compulsion. The first definition has to do with “the action or state of forcing or being forced to do something,” for example, “the payment was made under compulsion.” But here, obviously, we’re not talking about that form of compulsion, like where a mob boss is forcing you to pay her $1 million or she’ll kill your first born.

**This percentage is based on my personal and professional experience, but not a scientific study :)

The only holiday advice I follow.

We’re in the thick of the holiday season, so I wanted to share with you the one piece of holiday advice that I live by:

Stay sensitive.

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For most of us, the holidays can trigger a lot of thoughts and feelings. We might show up to a party and think:

Oh my god I am so overwhelmed by seeing all of these cookies! I want to eat them all!

or

Oh my god what if my aunt/dad/second cousin asks me about my job/romantic prospects/recent weight gain? 

or

Oh my god what if my aunt/dad/second cousin looks at me askance and I can tell that they are THINKING judgmentally about my job/romantic prospects/recent weight gain?

 

All those thoughts and feelings can feel like too much. We can’t be expected to have big feelings and also make nice conversation over the eggnog table or the latke buffet, right? We may be tempted to push these feelings down.

But don’t. Please.

When we push down these sensitivities, we also push down our connection to our inner selves. You know, the kind of connection that would let you know if you were hungry or full. The kind of connection that would tell you if you actually wanted a sugar cookie or if you wanted to be home in your pajamas watching Girls instead.

And when we combine:

(a) a bunch of feelings and thoughts that we don’t usually feel/think,
(b) a loss of connection to our inner guidance about hunger, fullness, and what kind of nourishment our body is actually needing, and
(c) a tendency to eat when we feel stuff (hey, it happens to the best of us)

…the end result is that we might not take the best care of ourselves.

The only solution that I know is to stay sensitive. Yes, you may have to feel a little more than is comfortable, but you’ll also take far better care of yourself. And you may even find yourself connecting more deeply with others, because you are showing up more authentically.

Of course, staying sensitive isn’t always easy. Here are some things that help me:

  • Journaling before, after, or heck, during social events (I have been known to journal in the bathroom, on the Notes app on my phone).

  • Having an inner dialogue with yourself about how you are actually feeling, even when you are out at social events. My belly feels tight and I have zinging in my chest and I feel impatient. Interesting. I’ll check back in again later.

  • Setting boundaries, like, I know it might hurt ___’s feelings, but I’m only going to stay at the holiday party for an hour, because if I stay longer, I will explode with feelings or have to shut them down by eating/numbing out. Setting boundaries means that it feels safe to be sensitive, because you know that life won’t completely overwhelm you.

 

And above all, please know that I’m rooting for you, with all of this.

This is for you if you’ve had some feelings this week.

Here’s something for you, if you’ve had some feelings this week:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still,
treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

 
— Rumi (translation by Coleman Barks)

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 It’s a big ask, to try meet every emotion “at the door laughing and invite them in.” Who doesn’t want to slam the door on dark thoughts or depression or shame?

And yet, maybe it will give you some strength to remember that you aren’t the only one. You aren’t the only one who has emotions, coming and going like arrivals at a guest house.

There’s me, too. And everyone else reading this. And, of course, Rumi, our 13th century mystical poet friend who really gets feelings.

“Once most people have been repulsed…”

A few years ago, I met a cute, thoughtful guy on an online dating site. We’d been dating for a month when he casually told me his online dating strategy. 

When I was writing my profile, I tried to be as much myself as possible, he told me. I figured I’d scare away most people, which was a good thing.

Scare away most people? A good thing?
What? 

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I’d done the opposite. I’d written my profile hoping to be universally likeable. Didn’t I want to give myself as many options as possible?

Dating takes a lot of time, he shrugged. Most people aren’t right for me anyway. Why would I want to spend time on a date with someone who isn’t right for me?

I’ve always thought his approach was radical, because so much dating advice is about “getting the guy to ask you out” or “getting her to like you.” His strategy was the opposite. Here’s what he told me:

“People try to hide themselves. And then they try to slowly sneak up on their partner, thinking if they only let it out a little bit at a time, their partner won’t notice. But their partner will notice, and that’s usually why people break up. They finally see the other person for who they are, and they don’t like it.

“Instead, first show your “crazy” – your quirky, unique, vulnerable aspects. This isn’t saying you should be completely dysfunctional – it’s hard to be in a relationship with someone like that — but everyone has warts. Then once most people have been repulsed, you’ll find the one who really likes you.”

“If you’re a cat, you want someone who likes cats. You don’t want to date a dog person.”

 

On one hand, duh. But also, it’s easier said than done for many of us who typically want people to like us.

If you’re struggling with dating — or even with finding more friends — would you explore letting most people be “repulsed” ?

(And if you’re interested in this guy, I’m sorry to say that he’s off the market. Reader, I married him. :)

The most common advice I give my coaching clients.

I was buying some fancy bread at Whole Foods, when the friendly cashier with two buns on the top of his head asked me what I did for a living.

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I told him I was a life coach, and he perked up. “What’s the most common thing you tell your clients to do?” he asked me as he looked for the code for my sourdough boule.  

It took me a second, because I talk to my clients about so many things, and they all have such different styles and needs and goals. I started stammering something about how I don’t tell them what to do, at all (who wants to be told what to do?!)…but then it hit me:

I tell them to trust themselves, I told the nice cashier.

When I got home, I found myself wanting to tell the same thing to you, whether you are my client or whether we will never meet:

I think you can trust yourself.
I really do.

And one more thing: If you think you can’t trust yourself, it’s probably because your internal life is complex. Sometimes inner complexity may mean we seem to be doing things that aren’t good for us — like eating or using the internet too much, or procrastinating — but often, if we dig deep enough, there are parts of us that have good intentions but are hurting us because we aren’t in touch with the whole story.  

Another part of having a complex inner life can also mean that there are so many voices, we don’t know what to trust. That can make us feel overwhelmed or frustrated or stuck.

So I’m not saying that learning to listen to and trust yourself might not require some work or deep self-examination.

But I am saying: I think your deepest, truest self is trustworthy.  

 

And, of course, if you ever need help listening to your full story, or learning how to trust yourself again (it can be hard!), I’m here. I offer free calls with anyone who’s interested in coaching, so you can learn more about the coaching process, ask any questions you have, and see whether it seems like a good fit. Here’s how you can request a free call with me, if you’d like.

A post-Thanksgiving (or anytime) reminder

It was Thanksgiving in America this week, and I was thinking about you. How was your holiday? 

Thanksgiving can be challenging for some of us. There’s so much time hanging out, with food around! So many times that we have to summarize who we are and what we are doing with our lives!

And if you don’t have family or friends to spend Thanksgiving with, that can bring up its own challenges.

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Sometimes, in the aftermath of all of that, I feel less grounded in myself. I find myself wondering if I should change my weight or my hair. Wondering if I need to write a book or become a doctor, in order to feel more unequivocally proud of myself when I talk to other people.

So I wanted to send you a reminder this week: You are enough.

And this: It’s tiring to try to become someone that you’re not. It’s freaking exhausting.

And especially this: Other people need your authentic self. Really. 

(Of course, this also applies to the cookies-and-cocktail-party season we’re about to enter — also known as December).

 Take care, my dear friends.

On connection.

Here’s something that touches my heart, every time I read it:

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It doesn’t interest me
what you do for a living.
I want to know
what you ache for
and if you dare to dream
of meeting your heart’s longing. 

It doesn’t interest me
how old you are.
I want to know
if you will risk
looking like a fool
for love
for your dream
for the adventure of being alive. 

It doesn’t interest me
what planets are
squaring your moon...
I want to know
if you have touched
the centre of your own sorrow
if you have been opened
by life’s betrayals
or have become shrivelled and closed
from fear of further pain.

I want to know
if you can sit with pain
mine or your own
without moving to hide it
or fade it
or fix it.

I want to know
if you can be with joy
mine or your own
if you can dance with wildness
and let the ecstasy fill you
to the tips of your fingers and toes
without cautioning us
to be careful
to be realistic
to remember the limitations
of being human.

It doesn’t interest me
if the story you are telling me
is true.
I want to know if you can
disappoint another
to be true to yourself.
If you can bear
the accusation of betrayal
and not betray your own soul.
If you can be faithless
and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty
even when it is not pretty
every day.
And if you can source your own life
from its presence.
I want to know
if you can live with failure
yours and mine
and still stand at the edge of the lake
and shout to the silver of the full moon,
“Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me
to know where you live
or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up
after the night of grief and despair
weary and bruised to the bone
and do what needs to be done
to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me
who you know
or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand
in the centre of the fire
with me
and not shrink back.
It doesn’t interest me
where or what or with whom
you have studied.

I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
I want to know
if you can be alone
with yourself
and if you truly like
the company you keep
in the empty moments. 

(This poem is called “The Invitation,” and is by Oriah Mountain Dreamer).

 

Is it cheesy? I had a moment of worrying that, after I decided to share it with you. But more than anything, I think might feel a tiny bit cheesy because we’re not used to such open heartedness and earnestness about what matters. We’re not used to someone saying explicitly, I want to know the real you, and I want you to know me.

You know what? I’ll say it, too. I want to know the real you, and I want you to know me.

Don’t you?

It's okay to be not okay.

I should be okay” — or some variation thereof — is something that I hear a lot.  

I had time to relax all afternoon. I should be rested!
My partner is kind and a good person. I should be happy!
I make a decent living and don’t have too work too many hours. I should be grateful! 

If we dig down deeply enough, though, the subtext of “I should be okay” is usually: I’m actually not okay.

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But being “not okay” confuses us. I mean, my career/relationship/health is good. I should be fine, right?

Maybe it is true that your relationship or your career or how you spend your weekends is mostly fine. That’s great! But it’s also important to notice if, despite your life being good in many ways, there are some subtle things that still feel off.  

It’s okay to be “not okay.” It doesn’t mean you’re selfish or ungrateful or that you’ll never be satisfied.  

In fact, I think that the feeling of I’m not okay is actually an important part of our continued growth as adults. That feeling tells us there’s something that needs more attention or action. If we’re paying attention, we will have that I’m not okay feeling frequently — in tiny ways and huge ways — throughout our lives.

Being able to hear the subtle nudges of I’m not okay is what will help us make sure that we’re on the life path that is best for us. It’s a life-affirming feeling, even though it can also be uncomfortable. 

Today, instead of focusing on all the ways that you should be okay, could you gently ask yourself, “in what ways am I not okay?” And listen for the subtle, whisper-like answers?

I’ll be doing it, too.

First things first.

When we want to change, most of us start by thinking about what to change. But there’s actually another question that needs to be asked first:  

What’s my current capacity for change?

I’ll be frank. Many of us do not currently have the capacity for change.

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 I know that sounds harsh, but stick with me. As James Flaherty defines it in Coaching To Excellence, “Being in condition to change means that clients have reserves of attention, physical and emotional energy, and social support.”(158)

These things can be hard to come by in our twenty-first century lives.

As Flaherty puts it:

“Many of us feel pressed in our personal, business, relational, and financial domains. When not pressed by external circumstances, we usually feel compelled to maximize our activities so that at the end of the week or the end of the month, nothing is left. Then something goes amiss, or a potential new possibility fascinates us, and we consider working with a coach. Somehow we imagine that the coach knows something that will make this unworkable situation turn out just fine.” (158, emphasis mine)

The wry point he’s making here is that a coach doesn’t have some secret mystery to the universe. You can’t buy a black Mercedes G-class SUV* if you have no money. You can’t make changes if have no reserves of attention, physical and emotional energy, and social support.  

So you have to make space first. You’ll need some free time. You’ll need to take care of your emotional state and your physical body. You’ll need to get some support from people you care about, if you don’t have it yet.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t work with a coach if you don’t currently have these things in place! Coaches can be extremely helpful in creating this space, and then supporting you in the process of changing after.

But even if you never work with a coach: If you’re trying to change and have been going in circles, it’s worthwhile asking yourself, What’s my current capacity to change?

 

 

 

 

* I have no idea why that car appeals to me, but it really does. Feel free to share your favorite fuel-inefficient, luxury car fantasies :)

On boredom.

Here’s a radical question for all of us:

Do you need to feel more bored?

So many of us are chronically busy or stressed. I started to notice that even though my life isn’t crazy-busy — which I’m grateful for — I didn’t have that open, relaxed, spacious feeling as much as I’d like. It often felt like my life was going by fast, and I wondered if that was what I really wanted.  

I’ve started to wonder whether boredom is part of the solution. For me, boredom feels like the opposite of busy-ness. When you’re busy, your life is too full. When you’re bored, your life is too empty.

And do we need that feeling of “too empty” regularly, to balance out the frequent times when our lives feel “too full”?

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Like any good life coach, I experimented on myself.  

One  recent Saturday, my husband was gone for the afternoon and I had nothing to do. I could feel myself being pulled to watch episodes of Sex and the City (which I’m watching for the first time; please send your opinions). But I’d also been feeling a bit overstimulated recently — and have been curious about how I relate to technology — so I decided I would try stay off screens all afternoon.   

I’ll read, I thought. That’s a pleasant way to pass the time. But I’d been reading a lot lately and didn’t feel like reading more.

I could feel myself starting to worry: Wait, what am I going to do all afternoon? That’s a lot of time!  

I genuinely didn’t know what I was going to do all afternoon. I felt bored. But I also noticed that within the boredom was a some anxiety. I wasn’t used to this feeling of under-stimulation and feelings were coming up.

And yet, after lying on the couch and worrying that this afternoon would kill me with boredom and last forever, I did eventually find some things to do:

  • I journaled about some things that were on my mind.

  • I made a daydreaming list of all the furniture I’d get to decorate my house if I had an unlimited budget.

  • I paged through cookbooks, looking at pictures and thinking about recipes to make.

  • I cut blooms off our rosebushes, filling five tiny jars with roses and putting them all around my home.

  • I sat on my front stoop and looked out at the street, watching people walk by with their dogs.

Once a few hours had passed, I realized the initial anxiety was long gone. In fact, I felt more relaxed than I had in a long time.

Even more surprisingly, my life felt slow. While I don’t have a crazy stressful life, my life doesn’t usually feel slow. It felt like I lived in a small town on a 1950’s sitcom.

Truthfully, I didn’t have “fun” in the way I would have had fun binge watching episodes of Sex and the City. It was an under-stimulating and sometimes boring afternoon, even though I eventually found some pleasant things to do. But in other ways, I felt extremely rejuvenated from just a couple of hours. I literally thought to myself, it feels like I’ve been to a spa.

I can’t remember ever thinking to myself that a random weekend afternoon felt like a trip to a spa.  

So I’d like to ask you, again: Do you need to be more bored?

I bet that most people reading this email can relate to life feeling too full. But how often, for hours at a time, has your life felt too empty? Would you be willing to explore it?

If so, let me know how it goes!