Why I Sometimes Lose Momentum (and why it’s ok)

Back in September, I started my year of wellness with only one real goal: to write a blog post about my journey once a month.   Six months in, I lost momentum. Skipping one month turned into skipping another and then writing the blog just fell off my radar.

Now I can easily tell you what “caused” it. I can tell you about the multiple looming deadlines at work or the travel that took me away several weekends or the writing class that consumed several of my evenings. And I wouldn’t be lying but I also wouldn’t be telling you the whole truth. I did have a choice, over and over again.

But in a way, it felt like I didn’t. It felt like those times when I drive to meet someone and end up taking the route to work until I realize I’m going the wrong way. Sometimes my attempts at building new habits are thwarted by well-worn ruts.

I made a vow at the beginning of this journey to not focus on perfection but to learn from my missteps and better understand the barriers that keep me from being my best self. I decided to take a deeper look at what happened, not from a place of judgment but from a place of inquiry.

I got curious about why I so easily gave up on the monthly writing assignment. Because while it may seem like a small thing, I think it’s akin to anything I want in life but do not do.

Was something holding me back? What could I learn from this that I could apply to doing things differently in the future? Now that you are on the edge of your seat, here’s what I came up with.

1.  Energy, not time, is the most finite resource.

I trick myself regularly into believing that the reason I can’t or don’t do something is because I don’t have the time. But one thing I am really good at is wasting time. I will literally watch a movie that is on cable TV (with commercials!) when I own the movie on DVD. Time isn’t the problem. But having the energy to do what I want when I have the time…now that’s another story.

Looking back on the last four months, I definitely was more time starved than average (see paragraph #2). But what I felt in those months was a growing stress and depletion of energy.

There are no regular operating system updates for the iNicole7. I can’t be upgraded or traded in or replaced when I quit running as fast as I usually do. The only thing I can do when life starts getting full of activity and bogged down with stress is to unplug and reboot. With so much going on, I needed to protect my energy and take a few things off my list so I could have the energy to handle what was happening in the moment. Which leads me to my second a-ha learning.

2.  Balance in life is a moving target.

I’m a big believer that how you spend your time is what makes your life. Based on that premise, I try to fill my time with what I value the most…relationships, wellness, writing, learning, nature and simplicity. Within each of these things are multiple activities that I am interested in participating in. What I realize is that I can’t do it all at the same time. I don’t think balance in life looks like a scale with two sides. I think it looks more like a dartboard.

Work and life. Or motherhood and life. Or whatever “thing” you want to balance with life. I think life itself is what I am constantly trying to balance. And often as soon as I get it into perfect balance, something happens. A hot project at work. A sick loved one. A spontaneous weekend road trip.

I’m learning to cut myself some slack. I no longer base my worth on my ability to juggle it all. Sure I didn’t get my blog written but there are so many life experiences I’ve had over the last few months that I wouldn’t trade and writing was one thing I couldn’t fit into the bullseye. Instead of always trying to add more and throwing everything out of balance, I’m trying to focus on what it is I need in the now and know I can always come back to other things in time.

3.  Making a promise means more than setting a goal.

Setting a goal feels like something that I either do at work or something that in my personal life I’m going to have to “work” at. It tends to feel tedious. I’ve recently started thinking about goals as promises to myself and it has changed the narrative. I realize that keeping promises to other people is one of the tenets I live by. So why do I keep bailing on myself? Blowing off things here and there doesn’t seem like a big deal until they add up to so many moments that I stop believing in my ability to follow through with anything.

Making promises matters to me. They are the currency that I deposit into my character. And when I break them, it loses value. I try hard not to make promises to other people that are unrealistic but I hadn’t thought about how often my promises to myself are. Maybe the promise of writing a blog post once a month for a year is too lofty? I hardly know what next week might hold much less a year from now. What I really want is to work on being a better writer and to do that I need to write more often. The promise could be to write every day for 10 minutes or once a week for 1 hour. If that turns into a monthly blog post, then so be it. If not, I still keep my promise but I do it in a way that feels more realistic and manageable.

There will probably always be a part of me that wants to do it all and be it all and of course all right now. It’s a Type A hard wiring within me that’s difficult to completely unplug. But now I look at that part of myself with a sense of humor. It’s usually in the form of an old Southern woman sitting on the porch in a rocking chair saying, “Oh honey child, where do you think you’ve got to get in such a dang hurry? Come sit on this porch and drink some iced tea with me.”

And I’ll be dammed if it doesn’t feel good to spend an afternoon with her.

Handling Emotions with My Big Girl Panties On

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I handle my emotions. I suppose a major heartbreak will do that for you. In full transparency, I actually called my therapist this week to ask him if I was going crazy because I seem to start feeling better and then plunge back into sadness and find myself crying in the bathroom at work. He reminded me in that kind, gentle therapy voice that losing someone comes with a grieving process and feeling sad and crying a lot are normal and actually healthy ways to grieve.

So, why was I so freaked out that I kept feeling sad? It occurred to me that managing my emotions was something I was never taught. There was no Feelings 101 class in high school. My parents never sat me down to have “the talk” about my emotions. Instead, I am learning in the typical human way, by trial and error.

After 4 years of doing meditation almost daily, I have witnessed that the practice of sitting and repeatedly bringing my mind back to the present has taught me to “see” my thoughts when they come up. Now, most of the time when I think something, I don’t automatically follow that thought down the proverbial rabbit hole. I can pause and question the thought – is that really true? And from there, I can make a decision how to act.

Here’s a case in point: I am getting bids to redo my back patio. As you can imagine, it’s expensive. Thoughts start popping up like, what if I spend all this money and then lose my job?

Old Me: you’re right, don’t do it, you are crazy and irresponsible, you should probably go eat some chips and mourn the fact that you are going to be alone, fat and in a house you hate for the rest of your life

New Me: well, right now there is no indication that will happen and if it does, we can deal with it then, you aren’t spending your life savings on this project, take a breath, chill out and call the contractor

I mean it’s embarrassing to admit but that really did used to be me. Without any ability to question the validity of my thoughts, they were just sort of a runaway train on a track to dysfunction town.

So it got me thinking, if I could act differently by learning to work with my thoughts, what if I could react differently by learning to work with my emotions?

Emotions are the genesis of reactions. Don’t believe me? Think of a 3-year old. You say a simple no; they go into full meltdown mode in the toy aisle of Target. And while we would all like to believe we have evolved extensively from the 3-year old versions of ourselves, we see examples all the time of this not being the case (see Donald Trump’s Twitter feed).

Managing our reactions to our feelings in any given moment actually takes practice. And how and what we practice is a big part of learning how.

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I read articles related to health and wellness voraciously. There is a common theme that comes up around emotions that goes something like this…”it is best to give your feelings some space to just be.” Y’all, I have read that so many times and I just couldn’t understand what I was supposed to be doing. Like do I need to sublet them my guest room for the month? Are they just going to crash on my couch for the night? What kind of space are we talking about?

What I finally figured out during all this sadness I have been experiencing (I’ve come to calling it my blue period, Picasso had one, so can I) is that giving my feelings some space means actually acknowledging that they exist and then giving them a place to go.

So how do I do that? My amazing love coach, Macy Matarazzo, told me this. Emotions are e-MOTIONs. They actually have energy and need to move through us. It’s the same thing we call “ch’i” or what acupuncturists work with during their practice. Now, we in the Western world aren’t as familiar with these concepts. But they have been practiced for thousands of years in Eastern medicine. With many Eastern countries listed among the healthiest in the world and America not faring as well these days, I don’t know about you, but I’m open to trying new things, especially ones that have a track record of success dating back to years that end in B.C.

A new way I have learned to put emotions into motion is to practice tapping, or the formal name of EFT (emotional freedom technique). There is a ton of information on this online but here is a site that gives a 101 on it. As they say, it’s like acupuncture without the needles.

Please note that I am not an expert on tapping but the tapping I have practiced with my coach essentially involves saying things to myself as I tap on certain points on my body. I’m sure the whole thing looks a little ridiculous. She has had me record our video sessions doing it and I cannot bring myself to look at them! But here is essentially what I do.

Let’s go again to my patio example. I have been feeling all this anxiety around spending a large amount of money. This feeling of anxiety is really uncomfortable and I’d rather just escape it with a Netflix binge or a glass (or two) of wine. But instead I start tapping. As I tap each spot, I say things like this…

I’m really afraid. I’m afraid I shouldn’t spend this money. I’m afraid I could lose my job. I’m afraid I won’t have enough money. I could never get another job. I could end up homeless. What if this is irresponsible? I hate feeling this anxious.

Anyway, you get the point. I let everything I am feeling just come out. Some of it is really over the top and doesn’t even make realistic sense. But in the moment, I don’t judge it. I just let all my crazy hang out right on the front porch. And then I start reframing it. As I tap each spot, I say things like this…

What’s the worst thing that would happen if I lost my job? I think I’d probably be able to get another one pretty easily. And I have savings. So I could live safely for a while. And I really want this patio. I want to spend more time outside. It makes me feel better.

Again, you get the point. I’ll generally do this for 3-5 minutes. And I have to tell you, IT WORKS! Often times, I actually feel the emotion kind of move through me and pass out of me. Sometimes, I can’t let go of it in that moment and that’s okay too. Just like when I meditate, I have days when it’s easy and days when it’s not. But the power of things like meditation and tapping is the practice, the repeated doing over and over until it becomes a more habitual way of being.

To wrap it all up, here’s the truth about emotions. “We cannot selectively numb emotions, when we numb the painful emotions, we also numb the positive emotions.”  Thanks for the wisdom, Brené Brown. So for me to feel joy and hope and love and awe and inspiration, I also have to feel anxiety and sadness and fear and loneliness and anger. And sitting with those really does require practice. That, and my big girl panties.

My Pre-Resolution Resolution

There are 31 days in December, 31 chances to create something in my life before a new year begins. This time of year signifies a sloughing off in nature. And so in that spirit, I want to take these 31 days to have a sort of exfoliation of my own life.

Yesterday, I reflected on what I felt existed in my life that was no longer serving me. I think we develop habits and rituals for specific reasons, often to protect ourselves from pain or fear. But once we push past these feelings, this is when we re-examine those behaviors and think, why do I do that? It’s in those times that we can choose not to beat ourselves up but gently say that it’s just time to let go of doing this or saying that and move on to new ways of doing and thinking.

After my own reflection, I came up with a few things that I could work on letting go of before the new year.  I decided to focus on just one, mainly because it’s just too hard to change too many things at once.  And I can say 3 days in that it’s already working.

I decided to let go of beating myself up about exercise.  In fact, I am no longer calling it exercise.  That word has baggage for me – – it’s shame-filled and obligation-filled.  And the truth is that moving my body makes me feel great but the word exercise fills me with dread.  So I’ve been calling it movement instead.  Each morning I wake up and think about the day ahead of me and how I am feeling.  And then I envision how I can get more movement into my day.  For example, today I needed to do Christmas shopping, grocery shopping and yard work.  Between those three things, I was on my feet moving for about 3 hours!  If I’d thought about “exercising” for 3 hours, just the thought would have made me pull the covers back over my head.

It’s amazing how simple, seemingly insignificant changes can have such an impact on the way we feel and how we behave.

What’s one simple thing you could work on letting go of before the year’s end?

 

 

What I Am Grateful For

Before the last few months, I had never experienced tragic loss or true heartache. In many ways I felt lucky. In other ways I knew a big reason for that was because I hadn’t ever opened myself to true love. I had witnessed that kind of loss from afar, people who had lost love. Feeling a strong sense of empathy for them, I couldn’t understand how they could go on. Wouldn’t you just crumble and fold under those kind of feelings?

For almost the first 20 years of my dating life, I treated love like a game of hot potato. If someone threw some my way, I lobbed it back at them as quickly as possible terrified that hanging on to it would hurt too badly.

I have cried more tears in the last month than in the entirety of my 40+ plus years. I cry at stoplights, in the bathroom at work, in the shower. But I have also come to see that you can sit with terrible sadness and still be witness to joy. Life still marches on. My own joy feels a bit clouded right now, like I’m looking through wax paper. But I know it is only temporary.

And I am so grateful to have loved even though I lost it. For so long, I thought I’d never get a chance to experience what really taking that big risk of opening my heart to someone would feel like. And it felt amazing.

And so I try to look for love in the every day and the mundane. The other weekend, while sitting on the couch, my 3-year old niece wrapped her tiny arm around me and I remembered love. Last week, while I lay in bed crying, my dog snuggled right up into the crook of my leg and I remembered love. Today, I saw this couple in their 80’s walking hand in hand down a tree-lined street filled with golden and red leaves and I remembered love.

I suppose on my journey to wellness, I am destined to make many stops. Some will happy and filled with joy and some will be sad and painful. But there is so much life to be lived and experienced along the way. And I am grateful for every moment.

Keeping Our Greatness in Check

I recently watched an episode of Super Soul Sunday where Oprah interviewed Shauna Niequist, author of the new book Present Over Perfect. During the show, they talked about this quote from her book and it has been tapping me on the shoulder ever since.

“The very thing that makes you, you, that makes you great, that makes you different from everyone else is also the thing that, unchecked, will ruin you.”

Being a frequent visitor of the personal growth section of the bookstore and enthusiastic taker of all means of personality tests, I have found my greatest gift is seeing the potential in other people. I love nothing more than trying to find ways to help people understand themselves better. I have this deep belief that everyone is worthwhile and that if they could only see their own greatness, they could do amazing things in this life.

It is this very thing that makes me a good friend, a good boss, a good colleague and someone easy to get along with. It’s also what draws me to coaching.

But just as this gift giveth, so it taketh away. When, as Niequist puts it, I let it go “unchecked”, I go from being a support to people to being an idealistic fixer. I stick my nose a little too far into their business and try to force a fix that I see for them. What is that common saying? You can’t fix other people? Yeah, it’s sage advice. Because it’s true.

The most valuable learning I have gained in my coaching education is that the coach is NEVER the expert. As a coach, I am not expected to diagnose anything, teach anything, fix anything or be the authority on anything. My role as a coach is to simply listen.  And then I help people hear what they already know within themselves to be true.  I continue to stand with them as an advocate and accountability partner as they take the steps they want to take to better their life.

And you know what? It’s so freaking refreshing to do just that. The unnecessary stress I would cause myself trying take on someone else’s emotional responsibilities was frankly just exhausting, not to mention completely ineffective.

FLOWER

In my new chapter of living in wellness, I will remember that I believe the state of the world today is not because we’ve lost the ability to see the good in others but because we’ve lost the ability to see the good in ourselves.  And so I will continue to see the good in myself and be grateful for the gift I was given to see the good in others.  I will be more aware of the shadow side of my unique gift and try to listen to and care for others without adding my own agenda.  I am the only one who can limit my own suffering.  I am the only one who can keep my greatness in check.

 

Run Your Own Race

If you’ve never heard about Dave Wottle’s 1972 Olympic race, you should definitely check it out sometime. While it looks like one of the greatest comebacks in history, what’s most amazing is that he didn’t actually speed up and outrun the pack. In fact, he ran essentially the same 200-meter split times throughout the whole race. He stuck to his pace, and one by one, his competitors fell.

In life, there are many reasons staying on our own pace isn’t exactly easy.

The most obvious is comparison. Listen, experts write about this all this time so there’s probably nothing new I can share here. But I can remind you that comparison kills joy. It takes anything you see as good and turns it into a pile of poo. So, don’t do it. And if you find yourself doing it, just say “No. Nuh-uh. Not Today.”

Another reason is our attachment to our story. Take Dave. If he’d been attached to the story of himself as a world class, gold medalist runner, then the second the competitors got out in front of him, he would have felt the need to prove that he was who he said or believed he was. Instead, he just continued doing his thing. It takes boundless bravery to just be you and not get caught up in trying to be the story you have created about yourself.

Also, while it’s great to use friends and family as a sounding board for making decisions in life, we can have a tendency to take on how they feel about our situation (that they aren’t actually living) instead of listening to our own inner voice. It culminates into those life moments when you look around and think, “How in the world did I get here?” You were running someone else’s race, that’s how.

Finally, sometimes we lose sight of the finish line. Instead of running towards the goal, we end up running away from the race altogether. Running towards the finish line gives every runner a chance at victory. But running away from the race will guarantee a loss. When I left my career, I thought I was running towards a new life. Looking back on it now, I realized I was just running away from a situation that I had let get out of control. Running towards something comes from a place of love – love for yourself and a way of life that is consistent with who you are. Running away is all about fear – fear of change and the unknown.

Fear is the biggest reason we get off track. And the more important something seems, the more afraid we are going to feel. The only way to overcome fear is to drag it into the light and expose it as a cuddly teddy bear instead of the big, green monster we imagine it is.

Are you afraid of what other people will think? Ask yourself this. If I could know that everyone in my life would be supportive, what would I be doing differently?

Are you afraid you will fail? Ask yourself this. What would I do differently if I could be guaranteed I wouldn’t fail?

Are you afraid that what you want is too difficult to attain? Ask yourself this. What is one small step I could take toward reaching my goal?

Running our own race means we have to question our own fears and limiting beliefs. When interviewed about the race, Wottle told reporters that as the pack pulled away, he thought he was done. But he didn’t let the fear of losing stop him from continuing on.

So, the next time you feel a bit lost, just think, WWDWD (What Would Dave Wottle Do)? And then get yourself back on your own pace and run your own race.

Slowing Down & Letting Go

Slowing down is fairly trendy right now. Everything from the slow food movement to things like slow fashion, slow photography and slow parenting seem to want to buck against our capitalistic, technology-crazed culture that hungers for more and right now. In our society, slowing down is a luxury. And to do it, you must be willing to swim against the current, lest being easily swept into the rushing flow.

So what happens when you find yourself on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean seemingly far removed from that? Well I’m here to tell you that many of the clichés about island life are true, especially the one about everything moving slower. Y’all, it’s for real.

What’s interesting is that I don’t necessarily think it’s that island people aspire to be slower. I think the island forces them to be. There are many practical reasons for this. One in particular is that everything here is tiny, tiny, tiny. Tiny streets mean you have to pull over and let people pass you slowing down your drive. Tiny living spaces mean tiny appliances and you have to do five loads of laundry instead of two. Tiny parking lots mean you drive around for ten minutes just trying to find a space at the local grocery store.

I must tell you I was really looking forward to this slower pace on my island adventure. I had a vision of a really chill version of myself, sporting beachy waves in my hair, strumming slow jams on my ukulele while my Mai Tai melted in the sun.

But since setting up shop here two weeks ago, I have felt more Stitch than Lilo, with this gnawing and growing frenzy inside myself. I’m having a hard time focusing for longer than twenty minutes. I’m constantly irritated with how long it takes to get anywhere. And I’m already planning parts of my life when I get back home.

I have come to know that our strengths are double-edged swords. They benefit our lives until their extremes become our liabilities. My penchant for quick decision-making serves me well until it delves into impulsiveness. My ability to get a lot done quickly is a true asset until it flips to impatience. But what they all have in common is this inner aching to rush things.

Being here where the culture actually promotes slowing down you’d think I’d finally feel at peace with my longing to do so. But how do you let go of the extremes without letting go of the parts that have made you successful?

I think the only thing to do is literally to check yo self before you wreck yo self. Wise words, Mr. Ice Cube.

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Checking in with myself as thoughts run amok in my head allows me to question if they are actually true. Like do I really need to get everything done on my to do list right now?

Questioning the reality of my thoughts helps to limit the frenzy of impulsive and impatient actions and ensure I can take care good of myself instead of ending my day downing a bottle of wine just to release all my pent up anxiety.

So here on this island where traffic and people and time seems to move slower, I will take a deep breath (or several hundred) and try to remember that sometimes thoughts are nothing but thoughts. And that letting go of being so attached them is the ultimate act of living well. Well, that and sipping on a Mai Tai.

Happy New Year!

Yes, I know it is September 1st but it feels like a new year to me!  I have always loved the promise of a new year, the seemingly contrived but nonetheless believable chance at  a clean slate.  But I also hate winter.  It’s dreary and cold and dark and makes me want to burrow, not blossom.

So, I decided to start my new year of wellness today instead.  I’m also incredibly blessed to be spending the months of September and October working from and living in Honolulu, HI.  If you haven’t heard, Hawaii has been voted the country’s happiest and healthiest state six times.  And considering this is the view on my daily walk, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about the start of my wellness journey!

Walk View HI

I am also embarking on the final leg to completing my certification as a Wellness Coaching Specialist.  I have no plan whatsoever on what I will do with it but it’s something I’m super interested in and a personal goal I want to complete.  I have found that coaching classes have benefited by own self discovery as much as given me the tools to help others do the same.

Of course a good new year wouldn’t be the same without some resolutions.  So here are some of mine as I explore this year of wellness.

  1. I will remember that the point of a journey is to enjoy the actual wandering and not just about finding the fastest route to the destination.
  2. I will be a sponge soaking up every last drop of knowledge I can get my hands on, without judgement or prejudice.
  3. I will remember that perfection is the antidote of joy and that my purpose is to merely to find all the barriers within myself that I have built against just being who I was perfectly created to be.

So let’s raise a glass to a Happy New Year!  I wonder if green juice and vodka would taste good together?