Monday, January 16, 2012

Get started making changes: 3 ways to find your start point

It happens over and over again - my clients want to change. I urge them to start from where they are TODAY. They want to change! Things will be better once they are calmer or angrier or more outgoing or more introspective!

Every once in a while, someone considers what I've said, and then they ask the question: "How do I know where to start? If I'm going to accept who I am... who am I?"

Easy, right? Should be no problem putting together a blog post that tells you how to figure out who you are! Well, maybe not so much. But here are a few easy ideas for getting started down that path, and finding out what it is you really want. Because, as I've said to about a million clients by now, people tend to be happier when they change their environment to suit themselves than when they try to change themselves to suit their environment. (Warning: You may hear me say that again sometime.)

1. Pay attention to what worries you the most. You're trying to tell yourself something. If your biggest anxiety is that you have to get up and go to work, is it about working, or is it about the kind of work you do? Is it about performing under deadline pressure? Is it about the people with whom you work? See what I'm driving at? "I'm anxious about work" doesn't tell you much about yourself. "I don't like working with people," or "I don't like driving for 45 minutes a day" tells you a lot more.

2. Pay attention to what others say. Same thing here - what are people telling you that you do well? What are their worries about you? This is less about what people reward you for (because often that's about what they NEED from you) and more about what people tell you about yourself when you really listen without judgment and without trying to deflect attention from yourself.

3. Go and learn. Follow your curiosity, follow your whims, follow that little voice that wonders what it would be like to be a professional pole vaulter. Those whims are your soul trying to be heard over the voice of your boss and your kids and everyone else. This is important to know - you are much, much more free than you've ever imagined that you are. Make the things in your life a CHOICE. Any of you reading this could head out the door, right now, and walk (drive, roll, crawl) to the nearest ocean. It would be difficult for many, and it would cause some major repercussions for most, but you COULD. And armed with that knowledge, all you need to do is figure out where to draw the line.

And, remember, try and find the joy in the DOING, as much as you'll find the joy in the getting there. The beauty, as always, is in the work.

Time to get started.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

How to walk your way to mindfulness

brave souls

I have a client who is lost in the future. Not in the literal sense, luckily, although she could come back and tell me who to bet on in this year's Super Bowl. My client is a capital-P Planner. She fights her anxiety by try to fool herself into thinking that she can predict how things are going to go. She'd love to finish school and travel with her boyfriend. She plots ways to convince him. And, all the while, she makes a very sincere effort to "live in the moment."

Living in the moment is great. But, it's hard. We work on it, together, and her thoughts come in and whisk her away to the future, where everything is planned and settled and stable and predictable. I don't blame her. She's in the middle of some tough stuff right now, and maybe the future is an easier place to be. But, in the meantime, she's not very present in classes and she's kind of waiting for things to get done so she can be happy.

Sound familiar? We'd all love to "be in the moment," but no one ever tells us how to do that. Here's something to get you started: walking mindfulness.

Next time you've got a walk of more than a few steps, take a minute before you start moving and breathe. No goals, no right or wrong, just a few deep breaths. Now, step-by-step, NOTICE your feet. Feel them touch the ground. Feel your toes. Feel your ankles. Count your steps if you want, or find a rhythm to a song. Keep breathing. Feel your foot touch the ground. Acknowledge the strength of the legs that carry you, the feet that support you, the heels that strike the ground with each step to move you where you want to be.

As the thoughts come, smile with acknowledgement, and take another step. Go back to noticing your feet, and to giving gratitude for just how amazing they are. Just find a pace, and feel your footsteps.

The more I work with clients who would like to quit feeling as though they are missing their lives, waiting for the next thing, the more I realize that it's as simple as being in your body, for better or worse. And just being there.

Monday, January 9, 2012


It's Monday morning, and it's filthy jet inky black out there. Feels that way, anyway. I pull the strap of my bag over my shoulder and I head out the door.

I put one foot in front of the other on these mornings. I give thanks for the lack of rain, or if it's raining, for dry feet. The path is the same, every day... cross the street in front of the neighbor's house, diagonal weave across a dead dark expanse of asphalt, hop the sidewalk, push play. Music seeps in to my soul, some days more slowly than others, and as the rhythm establishes itself I pick up my pace.

I always think, right at first, that music choice matters, but the funny thing is that it makes no difference at all. Whether it's those first few steps, those breaths of fresh air, the sweet assault of the cold bracing dead-quiet early morning, whatever it is I'm moving more quickly now, expanding into my day. I start tiny, a speck on the neighborhood map. And I grow.

Thoughts of work float into my consciousness. I acknowledge them and gently encourage them to be on their way. There will be time to work when I get there. This is time to grow into myself, to take up the room I need to take. This is time to come into the world.

My feet contact the pavement, the ground, the concrete, the leftover rainpuddles and condensation settled into dips in the giant parking lot I cross. I feel the world in my feet. I feel the world move into me and make me the world. I start so small on this walk to the transit center. I start all crumpled up and sleepy and I let the world feed me until I am the world.

The parking lot is huge. Above it is scrawled a line of trees and clouds, daring me to be larger, a crossbar to high-jump. There is a lightening in the east reflected in a bank window. The sun is pulling me upward now with just a hint of its presence. I grow. I take the lot with one stride as I scurry across it, a collection of molecules, a presence as giant as the distant fiery ball of the sun. Big as the universe, small as a blade of grass.

This is all it takes. It seems like such a secret, and begs incredulity. Work so hard for so long, and then you give up and realize that you've done it. You've been a part of it all along. You've been all of it all along. Breathe in and take what's yours, for it is all yours. Give everything you have, for none of it truly belongs to you.

We are all so small. And we are all as big as the universe.

If you'd like to read more of my essays, check out Happy Monday!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Skip the resolutions

The first of the year brings an onslaught of posts about how to keep your resolutions, why to not make resolutions, making resolutions easier, there are no such things as resolutions, finding willpower, giving up and just eating a crapton of chocolate, etc.

I'm not big on resolutions, just as I'm not a big list-maker. I think that, just as with list-making, resolution-making is often done to lower anxiety. Rather than sitting there thinking "oh, no, the new year is here and I'm going to be the same old schlub!" you make a list of ways that you can change yourself. And, if you're like many people, you then get to watch yourself fail repeatedly.

Here's something to try. Rather than resolving to do a pile of things, make one simple choice to approach one thing that you're avoiding. Then, make that same choice the next day. Here's how it works: Say you're sitting at your desk. In front of you is a letter from your health insurance company, telling you that you have to do something time-consuming and irritating like fill out a form, or call someone, or some other mundane task. 2011 you would simply grimace and move on to something important like watching cat videos on the internet. 2012 you, though, sees it as the perfect opportunity. You feel the AVOID feeling. You do the APPROACH thing. You fill out the form. You resume watching cat videos while basking in the sweet, sweet feeling that you've taken care of your approach for the day.

Approaching can be tough, because avoidance is usually done to reduce fear in some way. It is uncomfortable to approach, and that's why we don't do. But, by getting in the habit one day at a time, rather than in the face of a giant, daunting list of resolutions, can go a long way toward helping you be the 2012 person you'd like to be.

Give it a try!