The chart that made me gasp

I was sitting on a plane, reading a kind-of-dry book, when I saw a chart that made me gasp.

My husband, sitting next to me, asked to see what had made me react like that. So I showed him, and his eyes widened, too.

“I can see why you gasped,” he told me. 

Here’s the chart, and I’ll explain what it means in a second:

instrinsic_extrinsic_goals_and_happiness

This chart is based on a study by Tim Kasser and Richard Ryan, in 2001. They were interested in the relationship between attaining certain kinds of goals and people’s well-being. In particular, they distinguished between two types of goals: extrinsic vs. intrinsic.  

  • Extrinsic goals include wealth or admiration or fame. They are things that we do because we like how they makes others view us.

  • Intrinsic goals include personal growth, close relationships, and community contributions. Typically, intrinsic goals feel good in-and-of-themselves, whether or not they impress or please others.

It’s worth naming that any given goal could be either intrinsic or extrinsic, depending on your motivation. For example, someone could play the piano simply because they love it (an intrinsic goal), or because their parents said they have to (an extrinsic goal).

In this study, Kasser and Ryan asked college students how much they felt they had achieved extrinsic goals (money, fame, appearance) and how much they felt they had achieved intrinsic goals (personal growth, close relationships, community contribution.)

Then, they separated the college students into four different groups:

  1. High achievement on both categories

  2. High intrinsic achievement, low extrinsic achievement

  3. Low intrinsic achievement, high extrinsic achievement

  4. Low achievement on both categories

They also asked those college students about their personal well-being — which they calculated by asking them about things like self-actualization, anxiety, and depression.*

 So, back to that chart again:

type_of_goals_and_wellbeing.jpg

Two things made me gasp about this chart: 

1. Attaining extrinsic goals doesn’t really matter for well-being. 

Look at groups 1 and 2. There was virtually no difference in well-being between students who had achieved both extrinsic and extrinsic goals (group 1), versus students who had achieved intrinsic goals only (group 2).
 

2. But if you haven’t attained intrinsic goals, your well-being suffers.

I think that group 3, in particular, is very interesting. Those students had high achievement of extrinsic goals, but low achievement of intrinsic goals. If you saw them, you might see them as attractive or successful. But they had terrible well-being! 

In fact, there’s not a ton of difference between students in group 3 (high extrinsic achievement, low intrinsic achievement) and group 4 (low achievement on both). A small difference, to be sure — it’s better to achieve something than nothing at all — but not as much as you’d think.  

The reason that I gasped when I saw this study was because even though I’ve heard all of the classic reminders that “being beautiful or successful can’t buy happiness” and “good relationships are what matters most,” I can still find myself wanting to achieve “impressive” things, on some level. Don’t you?

I had never seen, in such stark terms, how little those things actually matter for well-being.

And so, here’s my offering for this week: Have you reflected on your goals lately? How many of your goals are intrinsic? How many are extrinsic?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

* Technically, Kasser and Ryan compared goal attainment, on the x axis, and “correlation with well-being” on the y-axis in their original study, but Kasser, in The High Price of Materialism, simplified “correlation with well-being” to “well-being,” and I’ve chosen to do the same here.

(For anyone that’s curious, I originally saw this chart in Tim Kasser’s The High Price of Materialism, p. 44-46. I fully understood the study by going back to Kasser and Ryan’s original paper summarizing the data, which you can access here.)

Tech with Intention: Just because some is good, doesn’t mean more is better

I’ve very interested in how technology affects our well-being, and how we can use it more intentionally. I’ve written about this topic before (here and here), but here’s one phrase that’s been ping-ponging around my head recently:   

Just because some is good, doesn’t mean that more is better.

It’s easy to read that phrase and think, Of course. Duh.

But are you actually applying it in your relationship with technology? Do you actually say to yourself, for example: I’ve noticed that 30 minutes of this app/activity/device brings me significant benefit, but past that point the downsides outweigh the positives?

To give you some ideas of how to begin that process, I wanted to share how I’ve been applying it to one part of my relationship with technology: Internet browsing.

computertime_2 copy.jpg

Internet Browsing and Intentional Technology Usage

I’ll admit it: I love browsing the internet for pleasure. I use social media rarely at this point, but I still have blogs and websites that I love to read. Plus, occasionally watching SNL videos can be so fun! I think some amount of internet browsing is a “good” for me, because it brings me so much pleasure.

But I started noticing that because I enjoyed the internet so much, it was tempting to do it all the time. Oh, I just woke up? Why not look something up on the internet? Oh, I have a few hours after dinner? Why not spend all of it on the internet?

I often felt like time would fly by – and like I never quite had enough of it. I also started wondering if the internet was actually giving me all the pleasure and relaxation that I thought it did.

So here’s two things that I started to do, to implement “just because some is good, doesn’t mean that more is better” with my internet browsing:

 

1. Not using the internet after dinner

I used to spend most of my after-dinner time on the internet. I was tired from the day, there was nothing urgent to do, so why not? But I also noticed that I often felt emotionally tired at the end of my night, even after spending a significant amount of time online, which I thought helped me relax. I wondered whether the internet — even though it’s quite pleasurable — wasn’t letting me emotionally recover.

So I decided that I’d explore just not using the internet after dinner. Here’s some of the interesting things I found:  

  • I felt calmer. The very first night I did this experiment, I read a book for three hours after dinner, when I might otherwise have been browsing the internet. When I finished reading, I thought to myself, “wow, I feel so much calmer than I’ve felt in a while.” I noticed that my body felt noticeably less stressed than before, and my breathing was slower. This has proved to be consistently true, and is the main reason I’ve stuck with it.

  • I felt like I had more time. Somehow, my evenings have started to feel longer, even though they are often actually shorter, because…

  • I went to bed earlier. When I stayed off the internet after dinner, I kept finding myself getting tired earlier than I used to. It makes perfect sense — there’s no shortage of research on the negative effect of technology use on sleep. But it felt different when it actually happened to me.

  • I woke up earlier. It turns out that when you go to bed earlier, you tend to wake up earlier, too. I love mornings and had always wanted to get up earlier without sacrificing sleep, so this was a big perk for me.

  • I read many more books. The week that I’m writing this alone, I’ve started and finished two novels, and read some chunks of good nonfiction. This is an above-average week (the novels were both pretty fast reads), but I read a lot now.

 

2. Keeping a list of the things I’d like to “check” online

The internet makes it possible to get an answer to nearly any question, instantaneously. As a result, very tempting to look up the answer to any question, the moment we have it. It’s so satisfying to get an immediate answer! And it only takes a second!

But I started noticing that I was doing a lot of little “quick checks” throughout my day, and wondered whether it was affecting my productivity and focus. Plus, even if the answer to my question could be professionally or personally useful, it was rarely true that I needed the answer to the question right then. I could usually wait at least a few hours for the answer.

So that’s what I started to do – I started keeping a list of “things to look up online” on a post-it throughout my day. Then once a day, usually around 4 p.m., I look up as many of them as I please. I’ve definitely noticed that it helps me stay focused on the task at hand throughout the day, and it’s actually fun to be able to look up a bunch of things at once.

I like internet browsing — some of it is good for me. But using it whenever I had some leisure time wasn’t great for me, as it turned out. by not using the internet after dinner, I help myself have a calm and spacious, and more truly rejuvenating end to my day.

Similarly, I like being able to look up answers to my questions on the internet — some of it is good for me. But batching it helps me make sure I’m focused on what matters, rather than getting micro-distracted throughout my day. I can still get the answers to any questions that matter — I just have to wait a bit.

I’ll also say that I don’t do either of these practices 100% of the time. I’m not perfect, by any means. The good news is that I don’t have to do them 100% of the time, to experience real benefit.

How could you implement “just because some is good, doesn’t mean that more is better” in an actionable, concrete way in your life?

Sometimes what’s wrong feels nebulous

Sometimes what’s wrong feels nebulous:

  • It’s a subtle feeling of “not-rightness” that we only get in moments when we don’t have a lot to do.

  • It’s a nagging feeling in our belly that we need to make a change.

  • It's like we can only “see” what’s wrong out of the corner of our eye. And it's blurry.

Even more confusingly, we might feel fine a lot of the time! We go to work, spend time with our friends our partners, go to the gym, enjoy delicious meals. A lot of our lives are great!

And yet, we can’t shake the feeling: Something isn’t right. Something is “off.”

hydrangea close up.jpeg

Here’s my suggestion: don’t ignore that feeling.

That feeling is important. It’s even life-affirming, even though it might also feel vague and confusing. But precisely because it's vague and confusing, and because there are concrete things that we've gotta get done in the here and now — laundry to do, reports to write, friends to see — we have a tendency to push it aside. I'll deal with it later, we think.

And then we never actually deal with it later.

Here’s what I know for sure about this nebulous feeling of not-rightness: you have to stay in the question.

“Staying in the question” means not ignoring it. In fact, "staying in the question" means revisiting this feeling that something's off and asking, What’s wrong? and What needs my attention? and What am I resisting?

Feelings like this respond well to patient curiosity, but it may take some time. (And, of course, support can be quite helpful.)

The top of your intelligence

When I studied improv comedy in my early twenties, teachers always emphasized “playing at the top of your intelligence.” Even if your character isn’t a Nobel Prize winner, “playing at the top of your intelligence” means that in every situation, she’s trying to be as smart and savvy as she can with what she’s got.  

People who are playing at the top of their intelligence are more compelling to watch. The plots of their stories are more likely to move forward and not get bogged down in repetitive, boring, unnecessary stuff.

Are you playing at the top of your intelligence?

Many of us aren’t.

arboreteum skyline.jpeg

Many of us know, on some level, what’s working and not working about our lives. If we had a half hour of quiet to reflect, we could make a pretty accurate list of the things that are going great and the things we’d like to work on to have lives that are happier, healthier, more meaningful or more productive.

Many of us don’t do that kind of reflection very much. We may think it’s because we “don’t have time,” but most of us have plenty of time for Netflix or YouTube or whatever our technological pleasure might be. I suspect the real reason might have more to do with how uncomfortable it can be to see ourselves clearly or how making changes might require time or energy or shaking up parts of our lives. We might have to seek out help to figure out our next steps.

The end result of avoiding this reflection and truth is the same: We’re not playing at the top of our intelligence.

But remember what happens with characters who do play at the top of their intelligence? They’re more compelling to watch. The plot of their lives moves forward, and doesn’t get bogged down.

Isn’t that something we’d all like?

Here's a reminder

Here’s a reminder:

“You always have the right to change your mind.”

huntington sculpture and sky.jpeg

Even if you’d done something a certain way in the past…
Even if you thought something different before… 

You still have the right to change your mind.

Now.
Here.
Today.  

(That quote is from the always-wise Oprah, in this generally delightful video)

On coaching vs. therapy

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

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 some generalized definition of “therapy” (more on that below) and Integral Coaching. Integral Coaching 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. It’s nearly impossible to generalize across such large fields without simplifying, and I am, of course, making this analysis based on my personal experience and conversations with others. 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.

daisy.jpeg

Here are some of the big differences between coaching and therapy that I have noticed (again, with some important caveats at the bottom of this post):

1. Therapists are uniquely qualified to help people with psychological disorders or who are healing from serious trauma.
For example, if you suffer – or think you may be suffering — from schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or are healing from childhood sexual abuse, a therapist will have the best training to support you. Coaches simply aren’t trained to work with people these types of challenges. 

2. Coaches only work with people who are functioning or highly functioning in the world.
When we’re mostly “functioning” in the world, that means that we’re paying our bills, showing up to work, and mostly meeting our commitments to others. Or maybe we’re even highly functioning — other people, from the outside, might think that we’re really “together” or successful or happy.

But even if we’re functioning or highly functioning, we may still have a nagging that something isn’t right in our lives. Maybe we’re feeling stuck or lost, or maybe we keep putting off taking action towards what we want.  Maybe we’re having some big feelings — like sadness or anxiety — and we’re not sure what to do with them. 

Just because we’re functioning or highly functioning doesn’t mean we don’t have personal work to do. Coaches can be a great fit for people in this situation.

 

3. Coaches may expect more engagement from you.
Past clients have told me that they’ve been in therapy before, and felt like they showed up every session and shared about their feelings or their past. The therapist was often a compassionate listener, but the patient didn’t necessarily feel like they “changed.”

In my experience, my work with coaches has generally felt more active or potent than therapy. Part of that is because coaches expect more of you. You’ll be doing work in between sessions — which could include reading books or articles, watching videos, trying out new practices, or doing journaling to reflect on a key question that has come up.

When clients do work in between sessions, they have new observations about themselves, which makes future coaching sessions more productive. They also experiment with behaving differently in the world — for example, trying new actions to be more confident at work, or trying new techniques to resolve conflict better in relationships. In my experience, when you act differently and have new observations about yourself, you will change much faster than simply by talking for forty-five minutes or an hour once a week.

And, of course, some coaching clients don’t have the time or energy to do work in between sessions. That’s okay too — the coach would start by helping them make space in their lives. If they don’t have time for coaching homework, it’s probably a sign that they’re stressed, overwhelmed, or need some more free time, anyway.  

4. Coaches may be more explicit about your development path
In the first few sessions of a coaching engagement, we would work together to explicitly define: (1) the skills you will develop, and (2) how the world will feel to you, as a result of our work together. We write down that development plan, and check in with it throughout the coaching program.

That means that two months later, for example, we can notice which categories you’ve made progress on, and which need more attention. That document also helps us know when you’re done with coaching — when we realize that you’ve make significant progress in each of the major categories, it’s time to wrap up the coaching engagement.

5. Coaches may be more engaged with you.
Some clients have told me that their past therapists mostly listened, and preferred not to share their observations or ideas even when the patient asked their opinion. (Again, this is not true of all therapists; see below.)

While the goal of coaching is for you to develop the capacity to observe yourself and change on your own, as a coach, I am typically a bit more involved. Many of us have blind spots about ourselves that we can’t see — so as a coach, I would compassionately share with my clients what I notice about them, that they may not be able to see about themselves. Especially in the first half of the coaching engagement, I would also recommend the actions, reflections, or changes that I think might make sense of them to take next.

Of course, the goal of coaching for the client to be develop the skills to change independently of a coach. But I think that one of the great advantages of working with a coach — instead of trying to change on your own — is that the coach can notice things about you that you can’t notice about yourself. So I am actively, but compassionately, engaged in sharing that with you (and, in my experience, this is a satisfying experience for a client. I’m not harsh or unkind — typically, sharing my observations is a helpful thing for a client).  

6.  Coaching may be shorter than therapy.
To be clear, this is a generalization, but multiple coaching clients told me that they were in therapy for a year or more — sometimes even multiple years.

It would be very uncommon that a coaching engagement would go on for longer than a year. When this has happened, it is typically because the client has achieved their goals (see #4), but wanted to work on some new things together. The average length of my coaching engagements tend to be six months.

7.  The roots of the professions are different.
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. Typically, if therapists want to be paid through insurance companies, they must assess their patients has having one of the mental disorders listed in the DSM — even though they might not share that diagnosis with the patient. Of course, not all therapists prefer to think of their patient 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 coaches (more on sports and coaching here). 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.

8. Coaches often work over video conference.
This is increasingly common for therapists as well, but therapists can often only work with people over video conference who are in the same state as them. As a coach, I can work with clients all around the world — and have! (I’ve had clients on five continents so far!)

I’ve also personally worked with several coaches of my own — coaches need their own coaches! — who lived in different states or countries than me. At first, I was a bit hesitant — can working with a coach over video conference be as effective as meeting in-person? I found that I had extremely powerful experiences working with those coaches. Of course, I’d always prefer to meet in-person when possible, but since they lived far away from me, I never would have been able to work with them if not over video conference.

As a coach myself, approximately half of my clients are over video conference — and I highly recommend it as an option if there’s not a coach you’d like to work with nearby.

 

I hope this is a helpful comparison. I wanted to make two important caveats, however:

1. The differences between therapy and coaching depend a lot on how you define “therapy” and “coaching.”

I mentioned this above, but it’s worth repeating here: there are many, many types of therapists and coaches out there. As a result, coaching and therapy can be extremely different — there might be very little overlap between a business coach and an art therapist, for example. Or they may have many similarities.

 So this comparison is really between a generalized definition of “therapy” (which is a huge field!) and Integral Coaching, because that’s the form of coaching I am most familiar with. I’m a trained Integral Coach (more on that here), and I’ve worked with several Integral Coaches.   

Much more important than whether you’re working with a coach or a therapist is the fit with the practitioner themselves. Do you feel comfortable sharing intimate things? Do you feel heard? Do the ideas they share with you resonate?

 

2. I’m a coach.

I’ll acknowledge that I may be biased since I’m a coach myself. But, I’ve also strived to be as factual as possible. I chose to become a coach, though I considered becoming a therapist for a long time, because I mostly wanted to work with functioning and highly-functioning people, and because I had such powerful experiences with coaches myself.

But I still believe that therapy can be a fantastic resource. For certain types of people — such as those struggling with serious mental disorders or who need to heal from serious trauma — therapy is truly the best, and only, option. And for those who are functioning or highly-functioning, it’s possible for you to see either a coach or a therapist — I have had positive experiences with both. It will simply depend on the experience you’re looking for.

Above all, I hope that if you’re struggling, or even if you just feel like you’d like some support, you’ll seek it out. Working with professional coaches or therapists have been extremely useful to me, and I recommend it highly.

If you’re curious about working with me, here’s more about my approach, and here’s how you can schedule a short, free call to hear more about coaching, ask any questions you have, and see if it might be a good fit for you. I’d love to hear from you!

 

One way to reduce anxiety and self-doubt

I read some remarkably useful advice recently. It’s simple, but I was astonished by how effective it was for me. I thought it might help you, too.

Here it is: “Don’t think too much about your life after dinnertime.”

lily bud.jpeg

That advice is from artist and author Austin Kleon. Here’s what else he says about it:

Thinking too much at the end of the day is a recipe for despair. Everything looks better in the light of the morning. Cliché, maybe, but it works.

Kleon is right: it sounds cliché, but it works.

Personally, I’ve noticed that at least 60% of my personal and professional anxiety happens at night.

Implementing this rule doesn’t mean that I’ll never feel worry or self-doubt, but it does mean that I’m less likely to engage with those feelings. Instead of spending an hour mulling it over, wondering if I should make big changes and how I would implement them, I just think, Well, I know that I tend to feel anxious and doubt myself at night. How about we table this question until the morning?

And then in the morning? You guessed it: It’s not that big of a deal. Either the “problem” isn’t truly a problem, or it can be addressed in do-able, non-stressful ways.

​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.

boat square.png

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.”*

flowers in a vase.jpeg

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. 

coastal view.jpeg

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?

On choosing.

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

cherry blossoms.png

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.

biltmoreview.JPG

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?

IMG_1997.jpeg

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.

DSC_3831.jpg

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…

IMG_1557.jpeg

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)

IMG_2067.jpg

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

DSC_4047 2.jpeg

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.

newportbeach.jpg

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)

IMG_2069.jpg

 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? 

IMG_0813.jpeg

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. :)