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.


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!


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


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,
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)


 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?


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.


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.


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,

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.


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.


 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!

They're here!!

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


Does any of this sound familiar?

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

Really frustrated.

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

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

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

That’s where the Dessert Club comes in.

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

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

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

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

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

— Gabi, New York (thanks, Gabi!) 

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

Don’t you deserve what a plant deserves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do I find a good coach?

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

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


 1. Ask around.

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

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


2. Reach out to me.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


4. Search on the internet.

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

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

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

Let’s talk about some particularly sensitive personality traits.

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

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

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

I feel relaxed, even thinking about it now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Defense of Sensitivity

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

But let’s talk about sensitivity anyway.

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

I’d like to make the argument that:

  1. Our society makes it hard to be sensitive.

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

1. Our society makes it hard to be sensitive.

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

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

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

How annoying.

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

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

So let’s talk about sensitivity.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compasses are sensitive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Should my coach be ICF-certified?

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

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



What is the ICF?

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

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

  • They accredit coach training programs. To be ICF-accredited, coach training programs have to cover certain topics, be a certain number of hours in length, include elements like mentor coaches and supervised coaching hours, and more.

  • They certify coaches. There are a few different routes to certification, but typically, an ICF-certified coach will have completed an ICF-accredited training program, passed a test, done a certain number of supervised coaching hours, and completed a certain number of overall coaching hours. To maintain their credential, ICF-certified coaches have to complete continuing education hours.

  • They uphold professional standards and ethics for coaches. If you work with an ICF-certified coach, and you don’t believe that they have behaved ethically, you can report them to the ICF and they might lose their certification. That’s the purpose of professional organizations, across all fields. If your coach is not ICF-certified, you don’t have this option.


Are all coaches ICF-certified?

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

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

  • They might not need it, to do what they do.
    If you’re looking for a writing coach, for example, there’s probably no need for them to be ICF-certified. You don’t necessarily need your writing coach to have gone to a particular training program or passed a test. You’re probably more interested in their experience as a writer or the amount of time they’ve spent teaching writing.

  • They might be early on in their coaching career.
    I did some coaching before I started my coach training program — I wanted to make sure coaching was a good fit for me. Even after I completed my training program, it took a while for me to meet all of the ICF certification requirements in terms of number of coaching hours and supervised coaching hours.

  • They might not feel like jumping through the ICF hoops.
    Getting and keeping your ICF certification requires time, energy, and money. Even some very experienced and skillful coaches may choose not to do it.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Yes, yes, yes.

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

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

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

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

"Why were you not Zusya?"

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


What to look for in a coach

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


3. Do they have appropriate credentials?

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

  1. Not all coaches have credentials, and not all coaches need to. For example, a cooking coach or a writing coach might not need a certification!

  2. But, if you are looking for some kind of minimum “quality control” in a life coach or a professional/executive coach, the certification that matters is from the International Coach Federation (ICF).

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

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


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

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

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


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

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



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

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

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



On going slowly.

Here’s a Sunday reminder:

Go slow to go fast.

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

Sometimes going very slowly is actually the fastest path.

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

On technology

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

What if you didn’t?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

I lay on my bed instead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d love to know how it goes.