Christmastime is warm. Gathering in. Holding close. It’s reds and burgundies and golds. It’s pine trees, crackling fires, and hot chocolate. It’s snuggles in front of candles and twinkling lights. It’s sharing and laughter with friends and family. It’s get-togethers and cookies. It’s how can we show you we love you. It’s giving. It’s joyful and it’s silent night, holy night.
It’s a baby like no other child born on this earth. For a believer, it’s an unthinkable grace. A gift beyond hope.
We experience the holiday season in hibernating warmth against the winter cold. In this gathering in and folding our lives around each other and around our traditions. In layer upon layer of wrapped memories. Some beautiful and some painful. All of which we unwrap each year as we add another layer.
It’s that child, that infant laid before an unbelieving nation. Celebrated by peasants, angels and the wise. It’s that child that interrupts our productions because today Christmas is a production. It’s a month of going, doing, running, creating, buying, wrapping, baking, decorating.
It’s a month of trying so hard, in celebration of the child who ultimately makes the trying unnecessary.
If Christmastime is about gathering in, warm, rich colors, flavors, and feelings, my New Years is the opposite. I typically leave for a week at the beach with a friend. It’s a ritual we’ve been practicing for almost 10 years now. We leave behind the trying and we rest. We drink in the expanse and simplicity of the ocean. We let the sea air blow through all corners of our souls. We recover and we prepare. We look both backward and forward. We hold the past year and the coming one in this tension of a between week. This odd week between the old and new.
I planned to give you a practical episode today. But, I feel poetic. The sea does that to me. This gulf that I love, the color that astonishes me all over again every time I see it. It’s simplicity, it’s clean lines and open space. It’s always different, yet unchanging nature. It’s power, it’s mystery and it’s music.
We open the door as soon as we arrive and we never close it. We listen to the waves, no matter what the temperature. It’s almost never warm here in this in-between week. It often rains. I haven’t seen the sun yet this trip, and I don’t care. While I cherish warm family trips full of sunshine, sunscreen, and laughter, I crave this season’s long solitary walks on windswept shores. I need the transition space of this week. I hunger for the moments to face truths in deep conversations, in prayer, and in my journal. This is the place my new year springs from.
This is my ritual. It includes things I love like books, fingers wrapped around a warm cup of tea, delicious meals, and the sound of the ocean. It includes a relationship I cherish and a place I cannot say no to. It gives me time and space to center my heart for the new year.
It’s my pause. My respite. My moment outside of normal. We need a pause. We need perspective, stillness and rest. A time and place to stop running through your life and away from yourself. A time to look with a stilled heart, thoughtful mind and clear eyes. Yes, by all means, play, yes rest also. But take time to consider. Consider your life, your place in the world. If you haven’t done the exercises from the past few weeks, here’s your chance to catch up. Create your 5 commandments. Find your gaps. Practice a pause.
How can you pause?
It can be smaller than mine. It might be an hour to yourself. An evening. A special time, place or person. It might be a change of scenery or it might be a few moments stolen from an everyday place. How much time do you need? More than you think you need, probably. But, start with what you can carve out. It takes days for me to still myself at this time of year. This is my second morning and I’m still fighting to let go. I’m still wound too tightly. Some years it takes more time than others. I expected this to be an easier year, but it’s not. My personal rhythms are off. But, I’ll get there.
How do you prepare your heart for the coming year? What is your ritual? How can you pause?
I’ll be back next week with the practical episode I promised and probably an episode about my love/hate relationship with a word of the year. Then, we’ll jump into the nitty gritty of successful change-making. Love you all for joining me on this journey and I wish you a new year filled with love. Shalom.
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This will go live on Christmas Eve, so if you’re finding this at release, I hope your Christmas is beautiful, meaningful and full of joy. And I hope your new year brings all the things you truly want!
That’s what we’ve been talking about for the last few weeks…the things you truly want. Two weeks ago we talked about creating a list of five commandments to live by. These are the things you want your life to be centered around. They’re a decision framework for what really matters to you.
Last week we talked about what drives our actions, is it urgency or importance? I mentioned that I wondered where my time really goes and I committed to tracking it for a few months. I want to see if I’m spending it on the things I say I want to be spending it on. And I promised a week of results today.
Well, I did it. And here’s a few things I learned.
I learned that this is a stupid season to track time. Nothing’s normal. My work is really slow the last few weeks in December, so I don’t get a realistic picture of how many hours I’m working. And with the holidays, there are a million extra things that don’t happen any other time of the year. School events, extra-curricular things, parties, family activities, shopping…all this adds up to very skewed time tracking.
But, it was still valuable.
I learned how much time I spend on this podcast, which is really helpful for planning purposes. I learned how much time I’m spending writing for my other projects. I learned how much time I spend driving…which is a ridiculous amount considering I work from home.
I learned that the way I’ve divided up my activities to track was only partially helpful. I realized I have a category like a kitchen junk drawer. You have one of those, right? That place where everything that you have no idea what it is or when you’ll need it or where it goes…gets put. Everything from paper clips to plastic pieces that look like they’re important but probably came from a vacuum cleaner that died ten years ago. I have an activity category like that called household. So much junk got put in that category that it became not very useful.
I was also reminded how the act of tracking something makes you so much more intentional about it. Tracking the food you eat makes you much more mindful of what you put in your mouth. It’s a built-in self-accountability. Accountability-lite if you will. There’s something about knowing you have to write it down or enter it into an app that makes you stop and think about it. Tracking time makes you realize when you’re drifting from what you need to be doing. Just because of tracking, I made more intentional choices.
I realized how much brain drift I’m subject to. Cal Newport in the book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, talks about the idea that if you spend enough time in a state of frenetic shallowness, you permanently reduce your capacity to perform deep work. Permanently! Frenetic shallowness is a perfect description of last week’s box 3 - the urgent but unimportant box on our matrix. Living life in response to your inbox, social media addiction, or technology addiction, in general, is a sobering example of frenetic shallowness. I’ve noticed in the last few years that the hit of dopamine I feel when I receive a notification on my phone has created habits that have reduced my attention span and ability to focus. So, for about six months, I’ve been working to eliminate distractions and stop multi-tasking. It’s improving. Tracking time this week has helped me realize that I’m doing better than six months ago, but I still have work to do.
Those are some lessons I learned from tracking my time. Now what? What do I do with that information? Here’s our basic outline so far.
What we’re interested in are the gaps. If there’s no gap…if you’re doing exactly what you should be doing to create the life you want, then awesome! Amazing! Why are you not doing a podcast I can listen to?! Come back in February when we’ll be on another subject unless you just like to listen to my voice. In that case, it’s fine. Really, though, that’s wonderful if you are.
If, however, you’re like most people, there are likely to be some gaps. My five commandments are: love God, prioritize people, spend intentionally, choose health, practice gratefulness. I found when I thought about it that last year at this time I was struggling spiritually but strong physically. I was doing a great job of choosing health and a poor job of loving God. The last six months, I’ve totally fallen off the wagon health-wise. My training group split up, I’m making bad food choices, I don’t have consistent sleep habits and I’ve gained a significant amount of weight. However, I’m in a much better place spiritually than I was a year ago. I will say some commands are more important than others. If I have to choose between love God and choose health, I’m making the right choice right now. But generally, I don’t have to choose between them.
I have two gaps. I’m not choosing health and I’m not spending intentionally.
Choose health is on my commandment list because it makes all the other things possible. I feel wretched when I’m not eating right, exercising and sleeping well. It impacts my ability to do what I want to do with my life. And I also don’t want to buy a new wardrobe, so I need to get the health thing under control. For me, right now, this is the biggest gap I found.
Spend intentionally means to me that I’m stewarding my resources well. I’m putting my time, talents and money into the things that matter - into the other commandments, into loving God, prioritizing people and choosing health. Tracking my time was also about being able to get my arms around how I’m doing stewarding my time with the intent to figure out if I could do all the things that I want to do next year or if I need to eliminate some of them. Am I overcommitted? Or, just undisciplined? I’m not getting any rest right now…emotional and mental breaks. How can I work that in? Plus, I’ve gotten away from my financial budget in the last few years and I need to fix that, too.
Looking forward to next year, these are the two gaps between what I say is important to me - my 5 commandments and what I’m actually doing. These are the places I’m going to be working to make change happen. Choose health and spend intentionally.
When you take an honest look at your five commandments and at your actions, your current lifestyle, where are the gaps? What changes do you need to make, in a broad sense? I’m not asking you to write SMART goals right now, I’m asking you to decide in a general sense, where are you not living like you really want to? Not, where are you not living up to someone else’s expectations…where are you not living up to what YOU know to be important to make your life worthwhile?
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Last week we thought about our Five Life Commandments--a decision framework for making choices. Let’s talk today about why we need a decision framework and add a little bit of context.
Why do you do what you do every day? We do things because we’ve put them on our schedule…we take our kids to school or to piano lessons. We do things because other people ask us to. We do things because we have a deadline. We need to pay the cell phone bill because there’s a due date. Sometimes our motivations for actions aren’t what they seem. We eat because we’re hungry, right? Maybe. But, we also eat because it’s a habit, we’re stressed, we’re bored or we’re being social.
What I haven’t mentioned yet…doing things because they’re important…is often eclipsed by all the other reasons I’ve listed. Urgency. Schedule. Habit. Demands of others. These aren’t necessarily wrong reasons to do things. But, they tend to get out of our control. They’re never-ending. They’re not necessarily going to get us what we want. And, by doing too many of them, they’ll certainly keep us from getting what we want.
Essentially, I’m talking about the difference between urgent and important. Many years ago, Steven Covey popularized a matrix based on Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Decision Principle. It involves sorting tasks into four boxes.
The first box is things that are both important and urgent. These are meaningful things that have a deadline. They may be things like paying your car insurance which is important because of the deadline or things that are important because they need to be dealt with immediately, like a car that won’t start.
The second box is things that are important but not urgent. This would be things that you put on your 5 commandments last week, but don’t have a deadline. Things that will make your life well lived. Things that will help you reach your business or personal goals. Things that are less urgent, so they often get pushed aside.
Box three is things that are urgent, but not important. These might be tasks that other people request of you, but don’t move you toward a goal. They might be emails or phone calls. These are things that make you feel like you’re accomplishing things because you can check them off your list, but they don’t actually add to your life in a meaningful way. We get easily lost in this swamp.
Box four is filled with the unimportant and not urgent. Many of our leisure activities live in this box. Time-wasters like social media and Netflix. Video games. Shopping sprees.
The usefulness of this matrix come in knowing where a particular task falls and where you want to be spending your time.
Here’s how to handle the tasks in each box:
Box 1 (important and urgent): This is the DO box. Get these things done.
Box 2 (important, but not urgent): This is the SCHEDULE box. Schedule time to focus on these in your life. Intentionally create the time to do them. They won’t happen by accident.
Box 3 (not important but urgent): This is the AVOID box. Delegate, ignore, or limit these tasks. They’re typically not as important as they feel like they are.
Box 4 (not important, not urgent): This is the CONTROL box. Use these things to reduce stress, relax, to give yourself a mental break, but use them intentionally and don’t let them use you. We spend far too much of our time here usually.
This matrix can be used to sort tasks so you can decide how to handle any given situation and to be aware of where you’re spending your time. We’ll talk more about time next week, but for now, know that ideally, you want to be spending your time in Box 2, on important things.
This is not a new idea. It’s been popular in productivity circles for a long time. Bailey Cooper writes, “We are, as author Douglas Rushkoff claims, experiencing "present shock" – a condition in which “we live in a continuous, always-on ‘now’” and lose our sense of long-term narrative and direction. In such a state, it is easy to lose sight of the distinction between the truly important and the merely urgent.
The consequences of this priority-blindness are both personal and societal. In our own lives, we suffer from burnout and stagnation, and on a broader level our culture is unable to solve the truly important problems of our time.”
I spoke about a year ago about my best friend living with stage four cancer. The reality of our mortality means something different to her than it does to people not struggling with a terminal illness. Something totally different. Cancer draws a swift division between things that are truly important and things that don’t matter.
I know one of the issues I need to deal with in the coming months is that my schedule is too full and I need to take a hard look at all that I’m doing. In the process of thinking that through, I need to start evaluating which box I’m living in.
I want to spend my life on things that matter. I want to live in box 2.
Meaning should be the motivating factor for our decisions. We established what’s meaningful last week. These are the things that belong in our 2nd box. This is what we want to be spending our time doing. Because they’re not urgent, though, it’s so very easy to put off doing them. And then because, in the words of Annie Lamott, “the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives.” If we’re living out of the urgent but unimportant box, our life becomes urgent but unimportant. We run and run, but accomplish nothing of value.
Lao Tzu says, “Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.’”
I got curious where my time was really going this week. Have you heard the saying that the way to figure out what your priorities are is to look at your bank account and your schedule? To take a look at where you’re spending your time and your money? I suspect I waste far more time on social media than I’d like to believe. And I wonder how my actual time spent stacks up against my perception of how I’m spending it.
Well, I’m going to find out. I downloaded a time tracking app and I’m tracking my time. Just like you can track food, you can track where your time goes. I plan to do it for a month or two, but I’ll let you know next week how it looks with a week’s worth of data.
Last week we figured out what was important to us. This week I want you to take a look at the things you’re doing. Are they the things you’ve listed in your commandments? Are they the important, but not urgent things? Make a list of your activities. How many of them align with your commandments? With what you say is important to you?
This is a reality check exercise. Understanding and naming what’s important to us is great, but how does it stack up against how you’re living now? Where we find our gaps between what we say is important and what we’re doing will give us areas we need to focus on changing in the coming months.
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There are two big topics in the media in December. The holiday season and the New Year. Let's start the new year talk a little early. I usually see a handful of approaches to the new year.
The nothing ever changes approach. This person might want something different for their life but believes that nothing ever changes, so they've resigned themselves to a repeat of this year, every year. They won't even bother considering a change. They also might be perfectly happy where they are or too afraid of failure to bother. This group ignores and often scoffs at those thinking about making changes at year end. These are the backseat drivers and the sideline coaches of the world.
These people would really like something to change in their lives, but they aren't willing to actually do anything more than talk about it. Or, about what's not working for them at the moment. Because talking is easier than doing.
This person will join the crowd in talking about change and making some resolutions, or whatever the popular process is in any given year. Lately, it's been choosing a word of the year. These are bandwagon fans, because, when attention turns elsewhere or things become difficult in a few weeks, they'll turn their attention to whatever the crowd is talking about at the moment. In a month, that may be the Super Bowl or the amount of snow on the ground, but it probably won't be the resolution, goal or word they chose that first week of the year. I have nothing against words of the year, by the way. You can check out how my word ambushed me last year in episode 14 and 15. But, realize that choosing a word in January only makes a difference in your life if it's followed by sustained action.
This is the high achiever. The person serious about making real change happen. They may be naturally an achiever, or they may have just decided to get serious about one particular portion of their life and that "Let's get serious" decision moved them from the crowd to change-maker.
Where do you fall into those categories? Are you interested in change? Are you willing to work to make 2018 better in some way? There are plenty of products available to help you move from the crowd to the change-maker category. Most of them are designed to give us tools and guidance in pursuit of success. If this is you...if you're interested in becoming a change-maker in pursuit of success, I'd recommend checking out either Darren Hardy's or Michael Hyatt's products. No affiliate interest here, I've just used some of each of their methods and they're solid and able to give you good guidance.
But. What if you're not really overly concerned about pursuing success? At least the way the world defines it? What if you want to make some personal, internal changes? What if you'd like to lose 20 pounds, but, there are underlying changes that need to be made first? What if you don’t need more goals, you need real change? What if you're looking for more meaning, not more success? What if you want your changes to last longer than the January white sales? If that's you, then join me for a new kind of process this year.
I'm a natural goal planner and a high achiever. The success systems make sense to me and I've used some version or a homemade mish-mash of them for years. There is nothing wrong with them. If you work the plan, they work. You can accomplish your goals. But, in the last few years, I've changed my approach and you may find it of value if the success-oriented plans aren't appealing to you. Meaning and fulfillment are more important to me than success. I’m more interested in a process than performance. I want a mind and life shift more than I want achievement. I want a lifestyle oriented towards transformation.
Is that easy? no. Is it neat and well packaged? No. Is it one-size-fits-all? No. It's work, it's often messy and uncomfortable. It's not a package of easy answers that work for everyone. And you won't always know where you'll find yourself in the end. But, it’s a process that has led me into a life journey of discovery and meaning.
If that’s appealing to you, let's walk through it together and I'll let you come alongside me throughout this year. We'll work through some personal exercises over the next few weeks, then hit how to create lasting change in the month of January. Throughout the year, we'll follow up and check in on the process.
Ready? Let's get started with the first exercise. I want you to develop five commandments to guide your life. Just five. There's no magic about the number five, it just forces you to have a small, memorable list. Most of you can conveniently count them on one hand. It also forces you to be general rather than specific because we're looking for big picture guiding principles here.
I'm going to walk you through my five and my reasoning for each one. You may decide you want to adopt my five. Great. You're ahead of the game. But, I only want you to do that if you can absolutely get behind these five. These are my values. Yours might be completely different. Your list does not have to look like mine. But, it should look like five things that if you follow these commandments, you will feel like your life will feel well spent.
Love God. This is first on my list because it's the central purpose of my life and everything else springs from it. If you do not have a faith as a driving purpose, your list will look very different from mine and that's fine.
Prioritize people. From my perspective, people are what really matter in life. I believe that we are eternal beings, so long after my home, my art, my writing, my earnings....long after these things are gone, people remain. What I can do to serve people will last. Plus, because of my faith perspective, my biblical mandate is to Love God and love people. So, those things are central to my list.
Spend intentionally. Because my resources are limited, I want them to be used in a way that makes the most of them. This means that I'm going to plan, budget and invest both my time, energy, and money intentionally. I'm going to put them into things that matter.
Choose health. In order to do the three things I've mentioned already, I need to make decisions that promote good health. I don't make these decisions to look better to someone else, I make them so that I can better do the things that matter to me. Choosing health for me trickles down to sleep, eating and exercise habits. It's meditation. It's maintaining healthy relationships.
But, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. I'm mentioning specifics here because these are often things people think of when they look at making changes at the beginning of the year. And I'm a big proponent of good health. But, I want you to think about what you're really after. Why do you want to lose weight? Why do you want to exercise? Why do you want to eat better? Why do you want to feel better? Why does it matter? Keep asking yourself why until you get to a root cause. If that root cause is important enough for your life to be well lived, include it. For me, I want to choose health in order to make the other things possible. When I'm not healthy, my ability to love God and love people diminishes.
Practice gratitude. Frankly, I'm not sure this should be my fifth item. But, I'm including it for a few reasons. I'm telling you I'm unsure because this list isn't carved in stone. It's not the ten biblical commandments carved on tablets in Moses' hands. It's five guiding commandments that you can use in decision making. And, it may take some time for you to get the list just right. So, start somewhere. As "choose health" was the physical basis empowering my other life choices, this is the emotional, mental and spiritual fuel for making them possible.
These five things speak into my life purpose, my foundation, and stewardship of my resources. They can help guide my decisions. They're like building codes, keeping my activity in line with my values and priorities.
Now it's your turn! Start writing down things that you might include on your list. Ask yourself these questions:
If you find that you have related items on your list, try to group them under a larger category the way I did with "choose health" or the way my family, friends, colleagues and even strangers fall into my “Prioritize people” command.
Take your list and try to turn them into short imperative statements. Commands. Ones that will be easy to remember and will move you into action.
Set aside your list for a few hours or a few days. After some time has passed, look at it again. Does it resonate? Does it need changes?
Keep working at it until you're reasonably satisfied. "Reasonably" satisfied means that it's usable. It may not be perfect, but it's usable and you can continue refining as you go along. Remember, this is a process, not a performance.
Take your five commands and put them somewhere you'll see them. A computer or phone lock screen. A bathroom mirror. A journal cover. Wherever you'll be reminded of them until they become so familiar that they come to mind easily.
So, what are your five commandments? I'd love to see them! Maybe you'll think of something I've missed! Snap a photo and share them on social media with the hashtag #my5commandments. I'll start. Check for mine on Instagram @michelle.berkey
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A year ago this week, I posted an episode that was full of thoughts on a milestone birthday. I turned 50 last year. I was coming off a month of Whole 30, I'd been working out consistently for 9 months and was in great shape. I looked forward to 2017 with anticipation. It's convenient that my birthday falls at the end of the year (it wasn't so great for even present distribution throughout the year when I was a kid), it's a double whammy for end-of-the-year review and planning. It's a natural start to a reflective season for me.
Last year I was feeling on top of my game and looking back today, I realize that I had this idea that I never quite verbalized. I thought my fiftieth year would be epic or that I'd do something epic. A friend and I had talked about a big trip for years and circumstances changed those plans. But, still, I think I had this underlying assumption that it would be somehow bigger than it was.
Staring into the eyes of 51 seems a lot less epic. I lost my workout group in August and can't seem to be consistent on my own. I'm not eating as well as I should. I've had more and deeper bouts of depression recently, we had the devastating, unexpected death of my young nephew a few weeks ago, and I'm very, very tired. I'm feeling decidedly depleted.
I ended last year's birthday episode with a thought about the decade ahead...
As I look forward to the next decade, I commit to walking through the middle with curiosity, with grit and perseverance. I commit to being courageous. To showing up. To living without a mask. To pouring into my son and into other people. To loving lavishly, unselfishly, generously and with abandon. If I can do that. One day at a time. If I can do that, if I can write my story with the ink of love...no matter what the circumstances of my life in 10 years, my 50's will be a resounding success.
When I was doing my yearly planning last December, I wrote this big picture intention: If I had a fulfilling year, I would be a good mom and Cody and I would have a closer relationship, we'd have adventures and grow together. I would develop a sustainable second business that would be my sole income in two years. I would influence others and help transform their lives for the better. I would make art that's meaningful to me and to others.
Essentially, I'd set a decade and a 2017 intention at the start of my planning process last year. And, as down as I feel right now, as un-epic as I felt the year was...when I think through what actually happened in 2017 compared to those two intentions...every single thing on those lists except one (the business) I've accomplished. While it felt more average than I expected, I have no regrets about how I've lived this year. I feel somewhat depleted right now, but I have a sinus infection and I'm still reeling from last week's funeral. Of course, I feel depleted!
Often in the past, when I've felt depleted, "defeated" and "exhausted" have come right along with it. But, this time, I'm not feeling defeated and exhausted. I'm feeling pretty content about where my energy has gone. I'm feeling fulfilled. I may never accomplish crazy amazing things that I might have dreamed up in my younger days. And my year might not seem epic at first glance, not flashy, but I lived it generally in service of other people.
And that's exactly how I want to live.
Your birthday might not conveniently force this kind of reflection, but the end of the year can have the same effect. How do you feel about how you've lived 2017? What do you live for? Do you have changes you need to make for 2018? I'm not talking about resolutions, I'm talking about motivations and lifestyle changes.
As we start this holiday season, I'd encourage you to ask those same questions about the holidays. Why do you celebrate? What's really important? And, how can you make what's important central to your holiday?
How can you make what's important to your life central to your life in 2018?
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Welcome to week five of a five-week series on fear. It's the last week! We talked about safety and regret in episode 56 and then the following week, I explained how I used three tools to help me get out of my comfort zone. Then we learned about different types of fear and how to respond to them. Last week, we covered the first part of the process I use to deal with ego fear.
Today, we're going to finish talking about a process to deal with what we call ego fear. As a refresher, ego fear is a type of fear that is trying to keep your ego safe from things like shame or embarrassment. Fears of failure, success, or people who are different from you in some way all fall into this category. This kind of fear needs to be addressed and dismantled so that it doesn't drive away with your life.
Last week, we did step one and two in the process. We acknowledged the fear, and talked about why that matters, even though it seems lame. And we did a brain dump and named all the reasons we're afraid of something.
Remember early on in this series when I mentioned that fear is a reaction to a perceived danger and that danger might be a real threat or not a real threat...but that our bodies react the same regardless? This is the point that we can begin to see the difference between real and not real threats.
So, pull out the list that you made last week. We're going to take each fear on that list and process it three different ways. By Facts, Feelings and Fundamental Truths. You're going to look at a statement you've written and respond with facts. Then with feelings. And then, after looking at the facts and feelings, decide what the fundamental truth is that you're dealing with. I'll show you how I did that with one of the fears I have about the job shift that's causing me some anxiety, but first, I should mention that you may have some things written down, that in your head seemed like a big deal, but when written down, seem rather ridiculous.
For example, I had written down that I'm afraid that the team I apply with will find out that I'm really a fraud and that I can't do anything well and then everyone will know that I'm not who they think I am. This is imposter syndrome speaking. Also, I have written, "I'm afraid that they'll find out that I can't do everything perfectly and I'll be exposed for being lame, either in the application or interview process or if hired." This is perfectionism speaking.
So, did you hear that? I'm afraid that I can't do anything right and I'm afraid that I can't do everything right. Both are real from an emotional standpoint and I do need to deal with both of those problems: imposter syndrome and perfectionism. But, when written in ink on paper. Or, when I say them out loud to you...they sound fairly ridiculous. They are lies. The fact is that I can do some things well. And no one can realistically expect perfection. So, I was able to write those facts next to these statements and move on. I didn't need to dig into feelings and truth. The facts are the truth. These are lies. So, some fears may not require as much processing as others.
But, what about fears that appear legitimate? Real threats? I have written, "I'm afraid that if I work for someone else full time, I'll be a worse parent to my son." This isn't a value judgment about working outside the home vs. working from home. It's a fear that I don't feel like I'm the best parent I can be right now and with less time and less flexibility, surely I'll be a worse parent. So, let's run this one through the Fact-Feeling-Truth process and see what happens.
Fact: I will never be a perfect parent and I might be thinking unreasonably about this. Fact: My son's a middle schooler and I'm looking at missing about 2 hours a day if I was working a normal work day. Those two hours, I'm typically working and making dinner and he's playing with friends, so this isn't time we're spending together now. Fact: I'd have less flexibility for in-school activities. But, the days of class parties and in-school things are mostly in the past. There are going to be far fewer of those things now anyway. Do you see how I'm thinking through this issue with facts rather than the fear?
Now, to deal with feelings. Feeling: I'm sad about him getting older and our relationship changing. He needs me less and that makes me sad. Feeling: I'm feeling guilty in that I believe he is my foremost responsibility in life right now and I don't want to shortchange that responsibility.
Before I move on to the truth portion, I will add that I asked him about this. I was concerned here how I felt about it, but I wondered how he would feel about it. What would he say the most important part of parenting him is? This is a gifted kid...but he's home with a nasty virus and running a 102-degree fever. It's a good time to ask, right? His answer to the most important thing I do parenting him? "Well, I suppose it's that you take care of me." Beyond being brilliantly insightful. It wasn't exactly what I was looking for. So, I told him what I was thinking about and asked how he felt about it. He concluded with, "Well if you're making that decision responsibly, for money reasons and it provides for us...I have no problem with that. We can deal with any issues that come up." Interesting.
But, let's get back to the process and move on to the Fundamental Truth or Truths. Remember, the fear is that I'm not going to be able to be as good a parent. But, after processing those facts and feelings and asking him, I've come to the understanding that my truth about this fear is that the differences in the jobs wouldn't have to affect the quality of my parenting.
Here's what we've done so far: Consciously admitted being afraid, Identified the fears. And put them through the Fact-Feeling-Fundamental Truth filter. I took the two fears that I felt were legit on my list and ran them through that process.
The next step is to identify the underlying want beneath the fear. We're typically afraid because there's something we want. What's the Want? In this case, by the time I'd worked through the three-part filter, I'd realized that what I really want, my fundamental desire, is to be a good parent.
If I really want to be a good parent, then that gives me something to focus on. The next step is making an action plan to get what I want. What can I do in this situation to be a good parent? Can I block out Saturday afternoon as sacred time with him? Or, dinner on Friday night? Can we have 30 minutes together each night of intentional activities or relationship time? Or, should I figure out his love language and be intentional about using it. There are a thousand different steps I could take to directly address the want...that in turn helps eliminate the fear.
So, to review, the five-step plan is this;
When I finished this process, I felt crazy better. I'm sure that fear will crop up again and I didn't eliminate all of it. But, I felt peace and the freedom to make a decision based on things other than fear.
I made a worksheet with this process outlined that you could print and use whenever you need it.
Putting this series together has given me some tools and perspective that I didn't have before, so I hope it has been helpful to you. If it did help you, I'd love to hear how. Click the voicemail link on this page, or email me. I look forward to hearing from you!
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Welcome to week four of a five-week series on fear. We talked about safety and regret in episode 56 and then the following week, I explained how I used three tools to help me get out of my comfort zone. Last week, I talked about different types of fear and how to respond to them. Today, we're going to start talking about a process to deal with what we called Ego-fear in the last episode. As a refresher, ego fear is a type of fear that is trying to keep your ego safe from things like shame or embarrassment. Fears of failure, success or people who are different from you in some way all fall in this category. This kind of fear needs to be addressed and dismantled so that it does not control your life.
For the past several months, I've felt pulled toward going in a different direction in my work. I own a small business that's been around for about 20 years. It turns out that thinking about going to work for someone else after working for myself for so long brings up a huge number of emotions and fears. Here are a few of them...I didn't really realize it, but part of my identity is built around being an entrepreneur. If I'm no longer an entrepreneur...well, what then? There's a performance fear...what if I can't do anything else well? There's a fear of choosing a route that settles for good when best may be in a different direction. There's a fear that I won't be as good a parent to my son if I'm working full time for someone else instead of at home. There's a fear that I can barely manage my life right now, what would happen if I change things?
That's a good long list, right? These are ego fears and those are just the ones I can think of at the moment. I sat down a few weeks ago and clarified them a bit, so they were pretty easy to identify. But, until I went through the process I'm about to share with you, all these things were swirling around in my head and heart, just under the surface, causing anxiety and fear. Not directed energy that's useful, but a generalized anxiety, worry, and dread.
I was at a conference in September, where I heard Gillian Ferrabee talk about fear. She talked about fear as it relates to the creative process and I decided to take my fear of a career shift through a framework she briefly outlined. So, what I'm about to talk you through came mostly from her, with a few tweaks of my own. I found it really helpful, maybe you will too. I'm going to give it to you in two parts, half this week and half next week.
Ready? Ok, let's dive into this...
I mentioned earlier that I've had a lot of thoughts chasing each other around in my head and heart about considering going to work for another organization. One of the problems with this is that all of these thoughts are half submerged in murky darkness. They don't come out and parade in front of me, to be seen clearly in the light. They poke tentacles up and slither away before I can catch sight of them clearly, so that I'm left feeling the results of fear with nothing to anchor it to and no way to deal with it. This process is about how to change that.
The first step is to acknowledge that you're afraid. We don't like to do this, because we think it's weak, or we think that will make the fear bigger, or we just don't want to deal with it. But, acknowledging that we're feeling fear is the first step to neutralizing it. This isn't just a good idea, there's real science behind it. When we name our emotions, we access a different part of the brain than we were experiencing the emotion in and this process seems to disrupt the intensity of that emotion. So, simply realizing you're feeling fear and saying so is a first step. You can say that out loud. In your head or on paper. I sat down and said it in my head and I pulled out my journal and wrote it down. I feel scared. And then of course, I had to elaborate and went on to say, "I do. I'm stressed. I'm anxious, I'm having a hard time dealing with life. I'm scared."
Sitting with that realization for a few moments, for just long enough to write that out cleared a bit of the emotional fog and got me into a place that I could then explore it more objectively. It was like I'd been leaning my back on a door trying to keep it closed while I dealt with other things in life. Scary things were pushing on the door...at least I assumed they were scary, I really wasn't sure what they were. So, this first step is like turning around, looking at it and saying, ok, I'm dealing with a door. I'm just going to deal with the door. Naming something tends to give you a power over it and that's a whole different conversation, but after doing this, I felt more clearheaded. Fear and anxiety function most effectively in the background, so bringing them to light reduces their effect.
It seems like I'm belaboring a silly first step, but it's truly more important than you think. Researchers call it "affect labeling" and its effectiveness is similar to that of mindfulness training as a way to establish conscious emotional regulation.
So, you've labeled it and called it out. You are scared. Then what?
Step two is deceptively easy to say. It's to identify the fears. This may sound simple, but it's not always. Sometimes you might not know exactly what your fear is. And even if you think you know, you might be surprised. Like an onion, when you peel one layer off, you might find several more layers underneath. Usually, when asked for a reason...about anything...usually the real reasons are buried several reasons in. It's the same with fear. What you think you're afraid of may not be the real deal, you might need to dig a little deeper for the underlying cause or causes.
So, pull a journal, notebook or 4' x 6' whiteboard, depending on how much room you think you need and just start writing. You're not aiming for organized thoughts. You're not aiming for sentences. You're aiming to just get the emotions and half-hidden thoughts down on paper. You can deal with them later. Start with, "I'm afraid that..." and complete that sentence as many times as you can until you're all out of sentences. You may repeat and rephrase the same things, that's ok. You may get stuck for a bit, that's ok too. But, I encourage you that if you think you're done, just sit with the process for a few moments and see if there's anything else. It's very normal to write down the surface stuff and then assume you're done and it's easy to quit the process before the important things come to the surface. Don't worry that there's too much. Don't worry about it making sense, it doesn't have to.
Doing this, I filled two journal pages with "I'm afraid" statements. They ranged from, "I'm afraid I'll be a worse parent than I already am." to "I'm afraid of looking like a fool." I had about nine or ten small paragraphs or long sentences when I was done. This is like brainstorming, you're getting all of it out on paper and will evaluate it next. Putting it into words does a few things.
First, like admitting fear, it takes these nameless anxieties and puts labels to them. This both reduces the intensity of the fears another step, allowing us to be more objective by switching the part of the brain we're using and it gives us something more concrete to actually work with.
The next step is to read through your list and see if there are restatements of the same fear. Cross out all but one the duplicates. Keep the one you think is most clear and accurate, or rewrite it to cover all your bases...but only combine things that are essentially the same. Keep separate fears separate.
So now we've said that we're afraid and we've dumped all the fear out of our heads and onto paper. And we've cleaned up that list a little bit. Our head might feel more clear, but we still have this list of fears to deal with. That's what comes next. Hold onto that paper, add to it this week if you need to. And next week, we'll talk about where to go from here.
We're in the very middle of a five-week series on fear. We've talked about safety and regret in episode 56 and last week I explained how I used three tools to help me get out of my comfort zone. Today, we're going to talk about responding to four different types of fear.
As I've been reading and thinking about how fear affects us and what to do about it, I realized that just saying "fear" lumps a whole lot of different reactions into one big category. It's like talking about a stomach ache. Abdominal pain can be caused by something as common and harmless as gas and as life-threatening as appendicitis. Choosing a treatment or a course of action depends on knowing what kind of stomach pain you're having. Because I certainly don't want to be treated for appendicitis if I just ate too many beans for dinner.
We immediately understand needing to clarify stomach pain to determine treatment. But, with fear, it's a whole different story. First, because we don't always think we can or should do something about it. We assume that fear is fixed, that we can't change it. We assume we should and can treat and correct a stomach ache, but we often just think we need to live with fear and muscle through it. Plus, the idea of dealing with fear is scary in and of itself. We're already afraid of whatever we're responding to, so intentionally dealing with it is likely to be even scarier. It's more comfortable (short-term) to ignore it or muddle through it as fast as possible and move on with life.
But, what if we could talk about fear in a way that made it possible to know how to resolve it? As I was reading, I ran across a framework that I thought was helpful and I wanted to share it with you. This terminology comes from a writer, coach, facilitator, and speaker named Heather Plett. There are other ways to think about categorizing fear, but her way to think about it has practical application for helping us deal with it. She sorts fear into four categories. I'm going to give you each category, describe it, and then tell you how to respond to each of those types of fear.
Warning fear is responsible for keeping us safe. We've all experienced this kind of fear. It's the body-flooding fear you get when you step off a curb and suddenly a blaring horn and a rush of wind tell you there was a car coming that you didn't see. Probably because you were looking at your phone. It's the healthy fear that gives you a surge of adrenaline to help you catch yourself when you trip on the stairs. Or, in my case, over cracks in the sidewalk. Warning fear also crops up in much more subtle situations, like those mental and emotional warnings that say that this really isn't a relationship or business partnership that you should get any deeper in and would be better off pulling out now.
When we feel warning fear, we should listen to it and take action. Jumping back on the curb out of harm's way is an instinctual and immediate action, but the more subtle warning fears should be acted on as well.
This is the kind of fear that says that my ego is in danger. It's trying to keep me from feeling shame, embarrassment, guilt, or any other feeling resulting in a perceived threat to my carefully devised assembly of personal identity, worth or capability. Fear of success and fear of failure both fall into this category. Fear of "other-ness" also lives here. It results in divides across belief, race, culture, class and gender barriers. Immanuel Kant calls our ego our, "precious little self." It's not who we are, but rather, who we think we are. And we are very, very good at protecting our precious little selves. Fear thinks that it's in charge of that, but it shouldn't be.
Ego fear is one that we should thoroughly examine and disassemble. While warning fear should be allowed the reins of our lives at times, Ego Fear is one that we should be directing when to speak and when to be silent. Once it's surfaced, this is the kind of fear we need to choose how much freedom it gets in our lives. It needs to be our choice, we're in charge.
If you've read Stephen Pressfield's book, The War of Art, you'll recognize invitational fear as what he calls "resistance". This is a type of fear that you might experience before stepping into something you were meant to do. It's closely linked with creative work and it often appears when we are starting or approaching something; a project, a job, a new task, a new idea, a blog post, even.
I remember learning a new quilting technique several years ago. It's a non-traditional art quilt method that's fairly unusual. Instead of using the technique on an instructional project, I thought I understood the concept and tried it on my own piece. I'd cut all the pieces and before I started to sew, I felt the strongest resistance. I sat there for a few minutes at the sewing machine unable to start until I realized it was resistance. It was starting something new. Something that I didn't really know how to do. It was venturing into the unknown. Which is kind of silly when I realized if it didn't work, I could just try again. I was talking about a 4" square finished piece. It had about 30 pieces, so it was complicated...but there was certainly no major life-threatening situation if it didn't work. It was just the fear of something new.
This is the kind of fear we need to befriend when we feel it. Treat it as a sign that you're doing something right, not wrong. Work with it and let it help fuel you to move forward or at the very least, ignore and proceed anyway. This fear tends to dissipate pretty quickly when we begin doing the thing we're supposed to do. Ms. Plett also calls it "the trembling", because it often manifests physically in your body.
Finally, the appendicitis of the fear categories. Trauma-related fear should not be treated lightly. This can be fear related to an injury, a sickness or disease, an assault, abuse, an accident or any other traumatic experience, both small and large. These may be logical or seem illogical.
While the other three we can often work through on our own, you wouldn't feel qualified to take out your own appendix, right? So, allow professionals to help you with trauma-related fear.
If you're feeling fearful about something and you can label it as trauma, invitational, ego or warning fear, you can then choose an appropriate response. If it's a subtle warning fear, you might realize that you need to pay attention to the warning and take action. If it's an invitational fear, realizing that it will dissipate quickly if you step over that threshold is helpful in moving through it and even using it as motivation.
If you're experiencing ego fear, well, now we come to the type of fear that we need to work through and not let control our lives. I'm going to give you a process in the next two weeks that helps me and hopefully, it will help you too, move through that type of fear, so come back for those episodes!
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I mentioned last week that one of the little brave moments I had was to choose to go to a conference by myself, where I was not only going to not know anyone, but I'm not really the target client of the conference, so I was probably going to feel seriously intimidated. But, I went anyway.
This was a conference for educators in a specialized niche segment. I'm a parent of one a student in that niche. Having parents there isn't unheard of, there was actually a seminar track for parents, which is why I thought I could legitimately be there, but, in general, most of the parents there were really also educators, which is why they became interested in that education niche, to begin with.
To boil down the situation for you. I was attending alone, in the midst of experts, in a field I know little to nothing about. That's an uncomfortable situation for a perfectionistic introvert with imposter syndrome.
I also told you last week that I was going to put together a toolkit on fear this week. And, I started to. But, like overwhelm, the number of suggestions out there for dealing with fear is...well, overwhelming. And, riddled with what seems to me to be stupid advice. So much so, that I tossed the toolkit idea out. Many of the first-aid style tools used for immediate relief of overwhelm (the type mentioned in episode 54) will work as first-aid for fear as well.
Instead, here's what I'm going to do. Today, I'm going to use my conference experience to explain three tools to help you act in spite of fear. Next week we're going to talk about different types of fear so that you can understand what you're experiencing and the best ways to deal with it. And, then, I'm going to give you a process for dealing with a decision or a situation that is making you scared. It's a five or six step process, depending on how I break it down and I'll walk you through how I applied it to a decision I'm struggling with fear about this week. It was super helpful for me, and I hope you'll find it helpful too.
But, today, back to my conference. I like to do conferences with a pal for a couple of reasons. First, doing things with friends is just more fun. Second, I find interacting with strangers difficult. And, I like having someone to process the conference content with. For today, the relevant reason is that I'm not a talking-to-strangers kinda gal. I admire people who are, it's a really valuable skill. I remember sitting on a bench at a marina where I was soaking up alone time and recharging in front of water and sailboats, two of my favorite things. And, my husband at the time was wandering around talking to people. He came back, sat down and started telling me about one of the boat owners he'd met who had previously worked for the CIA and details of that CIA experience. I remember looking at him incredulously. He'd been gone for 15 minutes. In 15 minutes, I might have said hello to someone. From a distance. Maybe. And he'd practically gotten their security clearance information. How is that possible?
I realized about a year ago that with the work that I do and the schedule that I keep, I was becoming more and more isolated. That the trouble I have opening up conversations with strangers was becoming more and more difficult for me...because I never put myself in a position to do it. So, what did I decide to do about that? I volunteered at my church in a position that would make me do it over and over. I'm not a door greeter, that would be easy for me. Smiling and saying hello when it's expected of me isn't really uncomfortable. It's initiating real conversation and connection with strangers that's tough. So, I make myself do it every. Single. Week. And, you know what? It's helped. I was much less stressed at this conference than I would have been a year ago.
Here's another example. In high school, I was terrified to speak in public, like statistically, most of you. Speech days were the absolute worst. In college, I wound up in a major that required me to present my solution to a problem and sell my ideas to a group three times a week. After presenting regularly, I remember vividly a speech to a larger group where I felt like I really had the audience with me. I could have told them anything and they would have believed me. And I was talking about the design of the Biosphere 2, a science research facility in Arizona. This wasn't a talk about something of critical importance. At that moment, during the speece, I was feeling this, for lack of a better term, power to influence, and I was hooked. While I might get nervous now because I haven't done it in awhile, I am not afraid of speaking anymore.
Incremental exposure to our fears has the power to break their hold. You may not love whatever you were afraid of like I learned to love speaking, but the fear can be significantly reduced.
Another approach is countering fear with gratitude. Tony Robbins has said that you can't be fearful and grateful simultaneously, but I like the way Wendy Fontaine said it better (Sorry, Tony).
It’s impossible to think about how scary life is when you’re focusing on all the ways it is beautiful. It’s like trying to keep your eyes open when you sneeze. You couldn’t do it, even if you wanted to...Gratitude shines a light on hope, and hope drives away fear.
How did that apply to my conference experience? I truly was grateful that this conference was available to me. I needed the information for me and for my son. While it was mostly geared toward educators, parents were welcomed and encouraged. I was grateful for that. It was local-ish. I could drive into Nashville for it each day, so I didn't need to travel and I didn't have hotel costs. It was relatively inexpensive and it was on a Friday and Saturday, so I only had to miss one day of work. Focusing on how grateful I was to be able to attend and made fears recede.
Gillian Ferrabee, who I'll talk more about next week says that fear lives in the vacuum of un-intentionality. Having a strong "why" helps you act in spite of fear. If you haven't read Simon Sinek's book, Start With Why, I strongly recommend it. The concept can be applied to so much more than leadership or even personal development. Studies link a sense of purpose not only to slower rates of cognitive decline as we age but to lower rates of disability and death as well. A purpose, a "why", is a big deal in life. And it can help get you through a conference by yourself too.
One class at this conference was the real reason I was going. It was on perfectionism. As it turned out, I'd seen these presenters before about 6 months ago. I didn't realize they were the ones doing this talk and it was still valuable because it was so content-dense that I caught some information I missed when I heard them speak before. But, there were other jewels at this conference that I would have totally missed out on, had this class not been the reason driving me to get over my fear enough to get me there.
Three different approaches that you can use in very practical ways to get you past your fear to action. The first was incremental exposure. Do the thing you're afraid of in small doses, increasing over time. Second, focus on gratitude. And, lastly, choose an intentional purpose that you feel more deeply than the fear.
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Friends, I'm drained. I see the posts all over every social media channel. I have my own #metoo stories. I meet with a group of women each week and we happen to be talking about a woman's purpose and place in the world this week and next and the #metoo movement couldn't be ignored as it relates, so we talked about it there. I had phone conversations about it this week. It eased itself into dinner conversation.
It's pervasive, it's exhausting, and I have mixed feelings about it altogether. Women already know sexual harassment, aggression, and abuse are experiences that every woman everywhere deals with on an ongoing basis. We all know. We all understand. Every woman has stories and wherever those stories fall on the spectrum of no-lingering-impact catcalls to life-changing-impact rape or abuse has absolutely no relevance to their legitimacy of those stories or that experience. They are all valid.
If a woman chooses to participate and post a #metoo on social media, I pray that she feels heard, acknowledged and supported. I pray that as men, seeing the overwhelming number of women in your feed affected, that you begin to understand that this affects all women. Not just a select few. Women you see as "healthy". Women you see as "normal." Your wives. Your daughters. Every woman you've ever met lives within the confines of this issue. Even the ones who choose not to participate in social media hashtags. Maybe, especially them. There are very valid reasons not to participate, but that does not in any way mean they aren't affected. You can just assume that every woman you've ever met is affected in some way.
Trending hashtags, however, don't make actual change happen. That takes time, effort and intentionality on a personal level for every one of us. Not just activists. Here's what I hope happens. I hope the hashtag movement sparks conversations. Conversations where a husband asks his wife how she's been affected. And then she has the courage to tell him and he listens without judgment, thoughtfully considers how it's impacted his marriage, responds in love and support, and then adjusts his attitudes or behavior in whatever ways necessary. I hope it sparks conversations among educators about what they can do on a personal level to support students and call out lack of respect they see among students. I hope it sparks conversations in youth groups, on soccer fields, on business lunches and in boardrooms. I hope that we begin to listen, learn, and see ways that we can make our circle of influence safer for all people.
Awareness means nothing if it's not followed up by action. Women can't do it by ourselves. We can talk about it until we're blue in the face, but we can't make the change happen. Men, you are going to have to take actions. And it does start with you. Not with stronger sentences for those convicted of rape. Should that happen? Yes, absolutely. But, it needs to start with all the men out there who think this behavior is inappropriate and morally wrong...and I know there are a lot of you who feel that way. Clean up your circle of influence. Don't allow toxic talk, call out inappropriate behavior. In the gym. In the locker room. In the conference room. In your home. In your heart. Don't perpetuate objectification of women and don't frequent stores, media, bars or products where you see it happening. Vote with your thoughts, your actions, and your wallet. Make your choices intentional.
Women. You're not exempt from creating change. And I'm not either. As I've struggled with my response to this whole thing, I realize that I need to do a better job parenting my son around this issue. It's not the driving issue in my world. I don't think about it daily. Yes, it's affected me in really profound ways over the course of my life. But, it doesn't define who I am. I realize, though, I should maybe have parented some things differently earlier.
What can we do as mothers with sons? Here's a non-exhaustive list of the things that come to mind immediately.
Friends, this is a no-brainer list. It's prompted by the #metoo movement, but it's about living life as a healthy person. How many of you have heard that the goal in raising a child is that they become a healthy independent adult? It's not. The goal is that your kids become a healthy interdependant adult. We live in complex relationships and we need to raise children, boys and girls, who are healthy in the context of those relationships. Healthy in personal relationships, family relationships, social relationships and societal relationships.
It's a no-brainer list, but it's not easy and it's not going to happen by accident.
I challenge you to choose three things you can do this week to respond to the #metoo movement. If you're a woman and you've posted a #metoo post, great, you only have two more to go.
Here's what I'm doing in my home.
I need to do a better job teaching my 12-year-old about boundaries, consent, and permissions. So, we're going to have a conversation about it with some specific changes in our household. I need to respect his space more and his person more explicitly. For example, we tickle fight and have since he was young. He needs the roughhousing in a mom-only household. But, I need to respect, "no" and "stop" more completely. We'll have that conversation this week.
With the lack of fathering in my home, I need to be more intentional about pointing out when I see things that men do that I want my son to emulate. "That's what it means to be a man." needs to be said more often.
Talk consistently about what good character in action looks like. How can he respond to any given situation with good character in an active, not passive, role? I need to make it clear that acting on his values is expected. Reward him when he does. I'm going to start using this as my after-school car question. "How'd school go?" to get it started and "How did you act on your good character today?" will be my questions of choice.
Ok friends, those are my three. And I posted a #metoo post, so in typical overachiever fashion, I'm ahead of the game. Write down your three things. Share them with a spouse or friend. Hold each other accountable.
How will you actively respond to the #metoo movement?
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I came close to a breakdown this morning. The obvious reason is ridiculous. My cleaning lady comes today. Who has a breakdown over someone coming to clean for them? I have someone help me out for an hour every other week. It keeps me sane. Usually. It makes sure that no matter what else happens in my schedule, my toilets get cleaned and my floors get vacuumed and my house gets dusted on a regular basis. This two hours a month is a complete luxury for me, which I am so very grateful for.
Rebecca coming makes sure that no matter what else happens in my schedule, my toilets get cleaned and my floors get vacuumed and my house gets dusted on a regular basis. This two hours a month is a complete luxury for me, which I am so very grateful for.
Except for this morning. She's only here for an hour. In order for her to do what I pay her to do, I have to have some things done in advance. For example, she can't vacuum the floor if we have stuff everywhere. I pay her to vacuum. She can--and is happy to--move stuff, but she can't do as good a job and I want her vacuuming, not picking up.
My house is a disaster right now. I have a pile of stuff in the living room that's been there since the Destination Imagination competition in March. And our hallway is full of stuff my son left there when he came home from camp in June. Everywhere else is just as big a mess. It drives me crazy. I worked upstairs in my parents' area last weekend because I didn't have time to clean up and I couldn't handle the visual chaos and constant reminder of what I wasn't getting done. I'm hoping I'm not the only one and someone out there can relate.
This week is Fall break and my son is home for a few days and we're not travelling. Perfect time to make some headway on cleaning up things like the hallway and the DI piles. Right after I get this podcast recorded, get my work caught up and make candy for a meeting tonight.
But, I forgot it was a Rebecca day. On top of my already crazy full schedule, I needed to get the place Rebecca-ready. I almost had a breakdown. The real problem right now is lack of margin. I'm operating way too close to the edge of handling everything. So, one thing--adding something into my full morning schedule--that wouldn't normally be a big deal instead makes me feel like losing it.
Overwhelm is a type of emotional paralysis where you feel as though you're unable to cope with or handle your circumstances. It may not be schedule driven like mine was this morning. It could be financial, relational, or physical.
Overwhelm is an epidemic in society today. The speed of change, amount of daily inputs we have to handle, the culture of overwork, chronic stress levels, cultural pressure to do it all, be it all and have it all, personal factors (like perfectionism), and social pressures (like an environment of comparison) all contribute to a vast number of people feeling overwhelmed.
A year or two ago, I got tired of feeling that way, so I did what I tend to do when I get curious about something. I did some research. How are people talking about overwhelm? What can we do to combat it? Today, I had to pull out my results from the work I did then and use it. So, I thought I'd share a little bit of it with you.
There are two phases to feeling overwhelmed. One is an acute phase, an initial paralysis, a breakdown, a panicked. "I've had it, I've hit my breaking point" phase. The second is a chronic phase. This morning, I was in an acute phase. So, I pulled out my first aid tactics. I have twenty-five of them, so I'm not going to overwhelm you with all of them. Here are five that helped me today.
Part of what caused my anxiety this morning was too many things in my head. So, I sat down and got it all down on paper. Today, that looked like a to-do list for me. It might look like a list of all the things you're worried about. It might be a list of all the projects you need to manage. All the steps needed to do whatever you're trying to do. All the things you're afraid you'll forget. Everything running around in your brain, get it all out onto paper. Just the act of acknowledging the thoughts seem to help them back off the pressure. You can remember them, organize and evaluate them now that they're in black and white. And you have mental space cleared out for dealing with life.
The reality of my Thursdays is that they're my least stressful day. My most stressful days all happen Sunday -Wednesday, so Thursdays are usually a relief. But today, I had a handful of things that all had to happen in a three hour time span and the last minute clean up threw me into overwhelm. I needed to narrow my focus and just deal with the next right thing. Multi-tasking, no matter how good you think you are at it, isn't effective. I needed to do one thing, then move on to the next thing and only deal with the one that's next most important.
Progress always reduces overwhelm. It feeds momentum which then helps you make progress and in the way of cyclical things...it spirals in a beneficial way. So, the key to this first aid tactic is choosing something small. Choosing something small allows you to gain that momentum foothold faster. It doesn't really have to be related to what you're feeling overwhelmed about. You need an action starting point that will move you out of paralysis. For me, this morning, that was two quick texts to people I needed to get in touch with.
Music is a mood manipulator. One of the things that really had to get done today was this podcast. But, I was having trouble focusing, getting started and staying calm enough to deal with it. One thing that helps me focus when I write is using white noise. So, on went the headphones. I had an immediate physical response when I heard the wave and rain sounds. It's as if my whole body breathed a sigh of relief as the repetitive, calming noises washed over me. You can use music to boost your energy, relax, or help you focus. If you're on Spotify, you can find a few playlists I use to manipulate my mood and energy at michelleberkey: a few zen chill lists, with and without lyrics, happy happy mood and stronger are a few you'll find there.
If your overwhelm is schedule related, slash your to-do list short term. Consider what would get done if you were bedridden-sick for the next week. Do only that. For me this morning, I wanted to re-do an art piece I wasn't happy with yesterday. That was squarely on the nice-but-not-necessary list. When I started to get overwhelmed, that got taken off the table for today. Doing my laundry, some follow up emails, and some work and ministry things that I need to get done (but not immediately) also got removed from my schedule for now.
In review, the five first aid tactics I used today were Brain Dump, the Next Right Thing, Do Something, Use Tunes, and Radically Slash Your List.
These five suggestions won't get to the bottom of your overwhelm. They're intended to be first aid for the acute paralysis that can occur. Put them in your pocket and pull them out when needed.
Because inspiration and education are great, but they only result in transformation when you add action - and that's your job - here are a few action steps you can take today.
Good: Digitally, file this information away where you can get to it easily when you need it. File the email, bookmark the post or favourite the podcast episode.
Better: Make yourself an index card of these five tactics. Write them in your planner or a journal. Physically writing them down will help solidify them in your mind and will give you something physical to pull out when needed. I made myself a flip book of all my tactics that I could drop in my bag or keep in my desk or car. I haven't needed it for a long time (that's an indication of growth right there), but I pulled it out this morning.
Best: Begin to work on the underlying root cause of your overwhelm so you don't have to deal with the acute paralysis.
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Good: Ask yourself what experiences you're having that you need to stop minimizing.
Better: Stop minimizing those things. And stop making assumptions. Train an insatiable curiosity instead.
Best: Get together with a friend, talk about these ideas and hold each other accountable to make real changes in your life.
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Who knew donuts could be a lesson in personal growth? Of course, if you eat too many, they certainly can foster personal growth in ways you don't want! That kind of personal growth may or may not be happening with me right now. It's time to get back on the no sugar bandwagon again. But, I'm already off subject. So, let's bring it back on track.
I was at a conference last week in downtown Nashville. Story 2017. If you're a storyteller in any form: corporate, writer, artist, marketing...go sign up right now for next year because you don't want to miss it.
I was standing in line with a friend, getting her some free Muletown Coffee (we serve it at The Bridge Church, too, good stuff, y'all) when we saw boxes upon boxes of donuts up near the entrance. Donuts are my son's drug of choice, but I can take or leave them. Unless we're talking about Charlie's Donut Truck in Alys Beach, FL and then I fall squarely on the "take them" side. This particular morning, they were Dunkin' Donuts, bright yellow frosted and filled. In my world, that's three strikes against them. But, I'd skipped breakfast that morning because I had to get up at o'dark thirty to get to downtown in rush hour traffic. So, bright yellow Dunkin Donuts looked more appealing than normal and we decided to check them out.
These mounds and mounds of donuts for all the conference attendees were provided by Pinterest. And as we were handed a donut, we were told why. "Take your donut - your blank-faced emoji donut - and head inside where there are fixin's that you can use to create an emoji face on your donut. Post a picture, hashtag the conference and get a chance to win a pretty sweet $400 leather bag."
Now, remember, this is a conference of creatives. You could see the sleepy eyes light up as people were given the instructions. This took a Dunkin Donut all the way from "better than nothing" straight on up to "bomb-diggity!" And as we walked into the soaring lobby of the Schermerhorn, we were greeted by a huge spread of fun pieces to decorate these donuts with. Eyes, lips, accessories, chocolate to custom cut, frosting...super fun, right?
Well, it should have been. What should have happened is that I looked around in creative glee and began to play. It should have been play. Light-hearted and fun.
Instead, I tripped and fell headlong into comparison and competition. All of these other people messing with the abundance of emoji parts were surely way more creative, way cooler and way higher on the (newly discovered) donut emoji creation scale. It suddenly became more about my own insecurity and need to perform than about play and fun.
I will say this. At least I recognized it this time and I refused to let comparison be the king of that donut table. I made a quick emoji. I kept it simple. I worked at not worrying about how creative it was or how it stacked up against all the other donuts. I chose from the first pieces I saw, added some frosting bangs and I was done.
As I stepped back from the table and watched the others, I was glad that I'd not let comparison reign. This is progress for me. I realized what was happening in my head and intentionally didn't walk down that path. But, it did still ruin the fun. I'm looking forward to the day when I can approach a project table with others in a spirit of fun exploration instead of comparison.
It was a great idea, Pinterest. Kudos on the marketing joy. And thank you for the personal reminder of how easily comparison can ruin a beautiful morning. Theodore Roosevelt is often credited with saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” and I had a very vivid experience of his quote that morning.
I'm not sure if there was anything I could have done to salvage the fun of that experience, but I had so many other fun things happening that I wasn't too concerned. I realized that I typically walk into events like that with a comparison mindset. Do I belong? How do I measure up against everyone else there? This time, I didn't. I didn't really think about it until late the first day, but this time, I had walked in with a warm expectation of what I was about to receive. I was at peace, I was comfortable and I wasn't comparing at all. For someone always unsure of her place in the world, this was a profoundly different experience.
If you struggle with comparison and you do a search on how to stop, you'll find plenty of lists, plenty of actions to take.
But, no one seems to address the root issue. Comparison is the fruit of insecurity. Do the hard work of dealing with the insecurity and the comparisons will naturally fade away.
Good: Start to realize when you're making comparisons to others and how it impacts your thoughts and your life. Start to listen to your inner voices and get enough perspective on them that you can start to see how they shape your life.
Best: Tackle your insecurities. Begin to ask yourself what your self image is based on. Begin to dig into where you find your identity. As your insecurities weaken, you'll begin to leave the comparisons behind.
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"Feeling inadequate is an occupational hazard of motherhood." says Harriet Lerner. I think she's right. Motherhood has a way of bringing inadequacy to the surface in a big way, but, I'd argue that it's really more than that, it's part of the human condition. When I started to think about the feeling of "I'm not enough," of being insufficient for a purpose, parenting is an easy place to start.
As a new first time parent, I remember feeling the weight of the responsibility for a life. I'd never done this before, it's years and years of actions with eternal consequences. It's caring for and shaping a human being. It is an incredible privilege, but it's an incredible responsibility as well. I was sleep deprived from a battle with sickness my whole pregnancy and I was dealing with the needs of a newborn that I didn't even understand. I don't remember much about my son's first year, but we obviously survived. And learned as we went along.
Unfortunately, around every turn of raising kids comes more things to learn, more mistakes we make and more fingers to point out our inadequacies. Sure, we learn as we go, but we make mistakes, too. You'd think that by child #2, we'd have it figured out. But, this second child is completely different than the first! We make some of the same mistakes, but this child is different, so we make new mistakes, too!
And we're left with feeling insufficient for the purpose of parenting. Add to that work and relationship struggles and we can feel not just insufficient for parenting. But, for all of life. Feeling insufficient for life is not a small thing. Suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the US in 2015, there were more than twice as many suicides as homicides that year. I'd be standing on a very shaky limb to say that those two things have a cause and effect relationship because I have no evidence to back that up, but it makes sense that a deep sense of inadequacy in life can contribute to the hopelessness that can propel someone to suicide. Or excessive alcohol or drug use. Or, workaholism. Or, your escape tactic of choice.
Much of the talk about reducing feelings of inadequacy begins at the place of encouraging us to believe that we are enough. When I was looking up some background on this, the idea of "Remember, you are enough!" is at the top of all the lists. And hearing can be very real refreshment for our hearts. It has brought tears to my eyes before. And I don't cry easily.
But, here's my problem. I don't believe it. And I think it's unhealthy to tell ourselves that lie. I don't think I'm enough. I don't think I'll ever be enough. And I don't think you're enough either.
I know this flies if the face of the self-help industry. And it's probably not the most encouraging thing you'll hear today. But, I'm not enough. By myself, I'm not enough
Here's the encouraging part. We don't have to be enough.
We have to be willing to be imperfect and try anyway. We have to learn to live within a community that knows us and helps each other. We have to be willing to both give and receive that help.
In short, we need to expand our lives in such a way that they encompass community. If we live our lives broken, but alongside other broken people who are filling in the gaps for each other, we begin to change the story of not being enough. It begins to be instead a beautiful picture of humanity. What are are the heartwarming stories of hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastation? They're pictures of community. Of people helping people.
I'm not enough to do it all myself, but I'm enough to share these words with you while a friend helps me produce the show...so that I can write other words to more people in a way that I'm called to do. I'm not enough to parent alone. But, my parents, family and friends help me out. I'm enough to take care of a friend's son for the weekend so that she can recover from surgery. Would she do the same for me? I have no doubt that she would. I'm enough to share with a close group of women that the last time I made a significant financial commitment to a cause I cared about, I lost my income for six months and I just realized on the verge of another commitment, the two are tied in my heart and I'm afraid. But, when they struggle with their fears? I'll be there for them too.
When we live among people--both our families and friends, but enclosed behind our own silo'd walls, we forfeit a powerful antidote to inadequacy. Yes, true community requires vulnerability. it requires knowing and being known. It requires caring enough about our soul health that we allow others to see that soul, the good and the bad in it.
We are a relational species. We are made to live in community. True community knows, loves, supports, heals, and cherishes. It also corrects and disciplines. But, we're not good at it. We tend to live in community the way we live on social media, in one of two extremes. We either vomit too much at inappropriate times and places. Or, we never go deeper than the perfectly groomed facade that's presented to Facebook or Instagram. Real community is neither of those. It's a real life, gritty, inconvenient mess. It's helpful, kind and loving in ways that move beyond words into actions. It's the hard work of accountability and forgiveness. It's offering hope in tangible ways.
Real community is sharing your life with a group of people in such a way that everyone together becomes enough.
I was at a conference this week that was a crazy amazing experience. You'll hear more about it in the coming months because I'm sure I'm going to be unpacking lessons found there for a long time. One of the things that happened in a transition between sessions was a song that the audience participated in. We linked arms and sang a refrain while she sang melody. It was a picture of us supporting her as she supported us in a community of melody.
But, before we sang, she said this, "when you have no faith of your own, you can borrow some from others." It struck me as exactly what I've been talking about today. And I was so impressed that she used the word borrow. "Borrow" faith from others. Because you need to pay it back.
May you both look to your community for faith and pay it back this week.
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Have you ever had the sense that you were doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing? That you're right in the sweet spot where talents, skills, opportunities and passions intersect? Or, maybe you're not in that elusive sweet spot, but at least on the path toward it. Or, you've finally reached a goal...you've lost that 50 pounds, gotten your dream job or married the man or woman of your dreams. What if that thing that was supposed to make you happy, solve your problems or make your life easier...didn't?
What it that thing happened and life was still hard?
I mentioned last week that I'm working on a new project. It's a daily writing that's being used in my community group at church and other people are following along as well since it's being put out on a public website. I feel like this group, writing, and the art associated with it is exactly what I'm supposed to be doing with my life right now. This spiritual storytelling and life-sharing is what I'm supposed to be investing my energy into.
So, life should be golden, right?
Not exactly. My sleep schedule is messed up, I'm stress eating and I can't keep up with my home or my laundry. My son was sick this week and so was I. Or, I felt like it. It may have just been eating foods that shouldn't be ever passing my lips in small amounts, much less by the truckload. It may be the barometric pressure changes as hurricane remnants come through. It's probably a combination of all of those things.
And at the same time that I'm feeling that I'm doing something I'm supposed to be doing, I feel defeated, depleted and discouraged. I can't keep up. I'm overwhelmed. I'm celebrating successful adulting if I can just get my son to school on time, dressed, and with a lunch box.
If I'm doing the right things...why am I feeling so wretched?
First, just because you have a success, a win, or are doing the right things in life does not mean your struggles will go away. We like to think those two things are related, but they're not. Do the great thing and everything gets easy. Happiness bubbles over, birds sing and flowers bloom, like walking down an enchanted path in a Warner Brothers cartoon. Have you ever wished that was you? With every step you take, the world comes to life and sings around you?
Achieving a certain thing or living your dream life doesn't change the fact that life can be hard. Hard stuff happens regardless. Your success or actions don't insulate you from struggles and a struggle-free existence isn't related to doing the right thing. My depression doesn't really care if I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing. It will happen anyway, mostly regardless of what I do or don't do and usually at the most inconvenient time.
Second, often, we create our own struggles. I know I shouldn't be eating the things I'm eating. I know it. It's not a shock or surprise that I'll wake up feeling bad. That my joints will be swollen and sore. That I'll feel sick and lethargic and have trouble thinking clearly. I'm creating that problem myself.
And last, if you think that a good life is built on achieving that thing you've been striving for, doing the right thing, having all the pieces fall into place or whatever you're counting on to gain in order to make you happy, I have news for you. Even if you change your life, you're still in the center of it. With all of your faults and your fears and your failures. With all of your quirks and your weaknesses.
What I'm trying to tell you is not to fall victim to the belief that being in your sweet spot or achieving that goal will make life easy, happy and painless. Easy, happy and painless are the cheap seats anyway. Set your sights instead on worthwhile, joy-filled and meaningful. These are found in the process. In the journey, not in achievement.
Expect that even on the right path, there will be sore feet, boulders to scramble over and rough weather. In fact, there may be more of those struggles on the right path than on the wrong path. In the War of Art, Steven Pressfield says, “Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
Are you sensing resistance? Then press in my friends, press in to that space.
This leads me to two other thoughts. Don't assume that because someone does have their life together, is doing what they're meant to do or had just achieved something that they aren't struggling. I'm not even talking about the majority of people posting on social media showing their sanitized life. Those people certainly are struggling. I'm talking about the ones who legitimately have good things happening. They very well may be struggling at the same time.
And lastly, don't miss the good stuff while you're running after that thing. Whatever that thing is that you're chasing right now. Remember that joy and meaning happen daily along the way. They aren't waiting for you when you reach your finish line. They were the cheers of the crowd, the sunlight on your face and well-timed food tables along the way. You will have struggles, but there is joy and meaning to be found in the journey if you look for it.
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Welcome back, my friends! I've been off for about six weeks and you got mini episodes while I was gone. Sort of like the appetizers you put out at a party to keep people around until you get to the main course.
Well, we're back to the main course again and what I thought would happen over the last six weeks is not AT ALL what happened. Some people plan years in advance and then things go off without a hitch. I apparently can't even plan six weeks of my life without it becoming a complete train wreck.
My son went into middle school this year and while I knew the transition would be tough for him, the first week was a nightmare. A few days of tears on the way home, "Mom, can you homeschool me?" Well, yes, I'd love too, but not because you don't want to deal with a new experience. His issues aren't with other kids. They're organizational and apparently the newness of the whole experience was completely overwhelming. Having lockers, changing classes, dressing out for gym, getting what you need where you need it and when has been really hard for him. He's got more organizational issues than the average 6th grade boy (is that possible?) and I made an extra trip into town every day for the first week and and a half taking forgotten stuff back and forth. But apparently, the eclipse straightened him out, because he hasn't forgotten anything critical since then.
Another thing that happened in the last six weeks was that I faced some unexpected decisions about work. A combination of circumstances and financial issues combined in a way that I found myself seriously considering looking for a new job. I've worked for myself for 20 years. That idea is a huge shift for me. I realized entrepreneurship is a part of how I define myself. And interviewing. I haven't thought about interviewing in several decades!
A new publishing project came up as well, that turned from a small 30 minute weekly commitment to a daily article on a new website. So, I decided to put off any job decisions until the new project is either under control or finished.
In the last five weeks I've started my son in a new school, interviewed for a job for the first time in 20 years, built a new website, started writing for it every day, and completed a few art pieces for that project. I took on two new roles at church and expanded the reach of the one that I was already doing. I've dealt emotionally with my son miraculously having turned from a child to a pre-teen. I'm not sure exactly when that happened, but I'm apparently the mother of a middle schooler. I've dealt with the idea of no longer being an entrepreneur--when I've seen myself that way for most of my life. I've prepped for a job interview, done the interview and then dealt with the disappointment of not being chosen for the work, after deciding I really did want it. I've dug into some emotional issues of gender and race.
It has been a draining six weeks. A lot has happened. So much emotional change. I tell you this to catch you up. But, also to talk about change. This has been a crazy transitional 6 weeks. Here are a few lessons I've thought about as I've gone through it.
First, we don't always know where things are going to lead, but not knowing doesn't mean they won't be valuable experiences. I wasn't looking for a new job. But a few options came across my path. One of them I really didn't think I was supposed to get...but I thought I was supposed to apply for it anyway. I'm still not sure what that was about and I may never know. But, I do know it already led to someone recommending me for a different position.
Even if I continue to work for myself for the next 20 years, I learned an awful lot about myself going through the interview process. I'm not suggesting you go randomly interview for jobs you have no intention of taking, but I am saying that you should be aware of opportunities around you in all areas of life, even if you don't understand why or where they'll lead.
[Tweet "Don't be afraid to take a new or unexpected path because you aren't sure what the end game is."]
Second, when everything's new and confusing, like my son's experiences at his new school, remember that "new" is a short term problem. I kept telling him that in a few weeks, all the things that seemed so strange and new would turn into the norm. He'd get it figured out and then we'd just be dealing with the stuff that's truly hard for him. And that's what's happened. He now knows what to expect. He knows how to navigate the class changes and the lockers. It's still not second nature, but it's not overwhelming. When you're in a new situation, remember that "new" turns into "old hat" very quickly. Just hang on, it will get easier every day.
And lastly, if things really do change, be willing to adjust for new opportunities. Which brings me to where the podcast is headed. My new project will run through the holidays and it's going to require a good chunk of time. It came up in the last two weeks and became something much larger than I originally intended. If you're a Christian woman interested in a daily article digging into what scripture says about what it is to be a woman, I'd love for you to check it out.
Even before that came up, I was looking at making some changes to the podcast. Because of the new project, I was really thinking I was going to have to put the podcast on pause until the new year...until an angel friend of mine offered to do some of the production work for me. I'm eliminating the artwork, the coffee talk emails and the worksheets. I'll do the episode, continue to publish on Sundays and send out a Monday email with the audio link and a few application questions to consider. So, "What if's" will continue to come your way, with those adjustments.
Things have changed for me in the last six weeks. Things will continue to change. Things will change for you as well. Things always change. Even when you aren't sure where they're going, be open to new opportunities. Trust that process is as important as the end goal. Walk in confidence, trust in process. It's important know that "new" doesn't last very long, things will normalize quickly. Be willing to adjust for changes if it means a good opportunity.
So, the answer to, "What if things change?" is that you'll be fine. If things change, you'll be fine. You might be afraid. We're all afraid. I had more fear in the midst of these changes than I expected to have, more than I've had in a long time. Fear is normal. Just don't let it determine your course.
[Tweet "Fear is normal. Just don't let it determine your course."]
It's good to be back with you and I'm so grateful for the help to keep this guy rollin'! Because this decision was made at the last minute, I have no idea what topic is coming up next to give you a preview. But, I can tell you that I'll be back next week with another episode and I look forward to chatting with you again.
Have a great week!
When I was a toddler and would hum the tune, "Row, Row, Row, Your Boat," my parents couldn't tell what song it was. I had no sense of pitch. My grandfather could have been a concert pianist and had amazing pitch...such a dramatic fall to his granddaughter! I grew up believing I couldn't sing and still have trouble singing in front of people. What instrument did I want to play when elementary instrument sign ups came along?
You know, an instrument that you need to be able to tell when you're out of tune in order to play! Generally speaking, when you hit the correct piano key, you get the correct note. Things are a little more nebulous on a stringed instrument. You need to be able to tell when your fingers have found the right place. Luckily, six or seven years of playing and private lessons had a big impact and my sense of pitch has been trained. It's much better than when I was a toddler.
Welcome to the 2017 quote series. This is one of a series of abbreviated episodes happening before Labor Day where we're taking a look at little bits of wisdom in the form of quotes. Today's quote is from Dr. Maya Angelou and she said,
"A bird doesn't sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song"
You have a song. You have a song that is particularly yours. It is shaped by who you have been made to be. But, as my actual voice was shaped by training my ear, yours has been shaped by circumstances as well.
The world has plenty of people who are more than willing to spout answers. Many of us have a nature that wants to solve problems. Solving problems makes us feel like we're doing something. But, generally people just want our song. Or, to share their song with us.
I think I'm about to take Dr. Angelou's quote in a direction that it wasn't meant to go. But, I don't think she'd argue.
Hurting people are all around us. You don't need an answer to help them. Simply acknowledge their hurt and listen. Your attitude of caring, your listening, your willingness to hear them is your song. And that song penetrates hearts so much faster, so much deeper than answers.
You don't need to have the answer.
Instead what if you sing? And what if you really listen to the songs of those around you?
Welcome back to the Summer Quote series of 2017! While I'm doing some prep work for future episodes and re-vamping things around the What If podcast, we're talking about some small nuggets of wisdom in the form of quotes. We started with Vince Lombardi and in the last few weeks, we're hearing from Maya Angelou.
Today, you're getting a quote that while true, just made me laugh. It's not the quote itself that's funny, it's Dr. Angelou's no nonsense delivery.
Here it is...
"If we don't plant the right things, we will reap the wrong things. It goes without saying. And you don't have to be, you know, a brilliant biochemist and you don't have to have an IQ of 150. Just common sense tells you to be kind, ninny, fool. Be kind."
There's an abundance of fools in this world and a definite lack of kindness. Be the person that plants kindness. I don't care what the others around you are putting out into the world, but you be the one planting kindness.
If you need a little inspiration, here are 6 reasons Bruce Cryer gives to be kind:
Because this is a short episode, I'm not going to elaborate on those. Just know that there are good reasons to be kind.
But, I shouldn't have to give you those. "Just common sense tells you to be kind, ninny, fool. Be kind."
How would your day change if you chose to be kind today?
Welcome back to the Summer Quote Series, which is a pared down and shortened up version of the podcast. We're taking 6 weeks or so to listen to some wisdom snippets from Vince Lombardi, the legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers.
Since I've been in the workforce, teamwork has taken on a bigger and bigger role. It's become a buzzword and companies are restructuring all over the place into team frameworks. I admit. teams have been a hard sell for me. I'm naturally more of a loner. I'm generally self-directed. Give me a goal or project and I can go off and make it happen on my own.
But, over the years, I've managed to get wiser as I've grown older. Teams produce better work. No matter how smart and capable I am, projects benefit from multiple viewpoints, multiple personality types and multiple inputs. With a good leader and/or good team dynamics, more and better work can be done in a team than one person can possibly accomplish alone.
Lombardi said, “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society.”
Modern society has an awful lot of problems. And I'm not sure we're doing a very good job of working on them together. We have a nasty habit of villianizing those who hold a different viewpoint. I read an article this week, posted by one of my very, very liberal friends. It was a reader who had sent in a question in to a liberal writer explaining that his father was ultra conservative and they could no longer have a relationship because the dad was destroying the planet, destroying the country and destroying their relationship. What should he do? The article answered the questioner by saying that the letter, which had been really ugly and vicious, had reduced the father to a set of ideologies and that until we begin to see each other as people first, we'll make little headway on bridging the gap between differences of opinion. Bravo. Exactly.
People who work together will win. Work gets done faster. Problems get solved better. Solutions are more creative. When people work together.
Where in your life do you need collaboration? Do you need to start seeing people instead of ideologies? People who work together will win. Where do you need to win this week?
What if we work together? What could we accomplish?
Welcome to the Summer Quote Series, which is a pared down and shortened up version of the podcast. We're taking 6 weeks or so to listen to some wisdom snippets and they're all going to be from Vince Lombardi, legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers.
Last week we covered a quote about thoughts leading to character and I mentioned that I'd been having a difficult day inside my own head that day. I was having thoughts like, 'I have nothing of value to offer." "Things just aren't ever going to go right for me, even if I do what should make things go right." and feelings of being a failure.
Now. I know. I intellectually understand, that those feelings aren't truth. However, when they start whispering to your heart, if you're not careful, they make a home there. I suffer periodic bouts of depression. Not typically deep, but semi-regularly. And my thought patterns change when it happens. I can sense it come on and I can tell when it's going away simply because of the way my brain functions. I didn't think this was a depressive episode. I thought it was triggered by some outside circumstances related to my business and income. But, speaking those thoughts out loud, it could be a bit of both.
Reading Lombardi's quotes about high performance and winning are anti-motivational to me in this frame of mind. Plus, I'm not a fan of couching life in terms of winning and losing. However, he existed among high performing people his whole life, knew the subject and thought about it more than most of us. Here's a Lombardi quote that's a good reminder and doesn't feel de-motivating at the moment.
“Don’t succumb to excuses. Go back to the job of making the corrections and forming the habits that will make your goal possible.”
This is one of the tactics I use to get my head on straight again when circumstances derail me. Excuses benefit no one. I don't like to hear them from my suppliers when something goes wrong at work. I don't like to hear them from my son. And I can't tolerate them in my own head. Step one is looking past our tendency to camp out in the land of excuses. Don't accept that of yourself. When we make excuses, we tend to stop, set up tents, settle in and start sharing excuses to anyone who stops by to warm their hands by the campfire. Don't do it.
But step two is to get back to work. Doing the work is what gets us where we need to go. Stop with the excuses. Instead, make corrections. Get your thoughts in line to form the habits that will help you reach your goals.
Do you camp out in the land of excuses? Or, do you make corrections and work at forming the habits you need to succeed?
If you missed last week's episode, I'm taking some time off for the next month or so and am going to do some abbreviated episodes without the artwork, worksheets or Coffee Talk emails. Welcome to the summer quote series where I'll share someone else's little bit of wisdom to to encourage you on a path to growth
I chose all the quotes last weekend and sat down to write up a few episodes tonight and it just felt flat. But because writers write even when they feel flat, I decided to narrow my focus and switch quotes. So, I asked a regular listener for a theme and she gave me Vince Lombardi. Gotta love my girlfriends who share my love for football, right?
So, for the next six weeks, we'll see what Coach Lombardi has to offer up. If I was doing this in advance, I'd have read a biography on Lombardi's life, but the point of this exercise is to buy me some time, not give me another project or book to read. After all, I just cleaned an 18" high stack of books off my table this morning that I haven't had a chance to read. So, as much as it pains me, I'm going to ignore context and just deal with the quotes at face value. Here's the first.
“Winning is a habit. Watch your thoughts, they become your beliefs. Watch your beliefs, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Watch your habits, they become your character.”
To pull out the progression in case you missed it, it went like this: thoughts lead to beliefs lead to words lead to actions lead to habits lead to character.
thoughts > beliefs > words > actions > habits > character
Your thoughts are incredibly important. They start the whole progression leading to character. If you want good character, you're sabotaging yourself if your thoughts aren't healthy. I'm coming back the morning after I started this and editing before recording. And I'm having a really discouraging day. My thoughts have been more toxic than helpful today. So. That needs to change.
At every step Lombardi says "watch." Watch your thoughts, watch your beliefs, watch your words...at every step along the way, "watch." Too many of us waltz (or trudge) through life without evaluating what we're doing. Without watching any of those things. I'm watching where my thoughts are headed today and it's straight down a path to defeatism and hopelessness. But, noticing that, I can work at fixing it.
Winning is a habit. We think of it as an achievement. But many of the things that we consider achievements are really the end product of right thoughts.
Where are your thoughts leading you? Is that where you want to go?
I love stories. We all do. We're hardwired to react to them. But, I really get hooked into them. I can't deal with an audio book, TV or anything that could be construed as even a micro story on when I'm trying to think or fall asleep. Even song lyrics will engage and distract me from whatever I'm trying to do.
I'm also very visual. Movies, in their larger than life visual and auditory immersive storytelling, really affect me. I don't think I'm quite normal in this. Maybe it's because I never have time to watch TV anymore, so I'm no longer desensitized. Maybe it's because I've become more available emotionally as I get older (and smarter). Maybe it's because I'm just wired that way, I'm not sure. But, I have to be kind of careful these days about what movies I see and when I go. They can wreck me for days.
I went to see Wonder Woman last Monday night with a friend and her daughter. Someone later asked me if it was a fun evening and I answered, "Well. I guess so." That seems like a weird response to a movie that's a fun, summer comic-based, hero movie. But, it really got to me. It's not a heart-wrencher. It's not a scary, horror show. I'm really glad I went. But, fun seems lighthearted and it wasn't a lighthearted night for me.
I share things that are on my mind each week, the things I'm processing through in my life. I have a lot going on my head right now, I'm struggling with some big questions about my future. And I was going to share about those this week, but instead, I'd rather chat about Wonder Woman.
First, let me say that I've always been a Wonder Woman fan. I have a pair of Havianna Wonder Woman flip flops that a dog bit through the strap and I still wear them duct taped together, because I love them. One of my close friends has a vintage, sequined Wonder Woman t-shirt that I've coveted for something like 20 years. Every so often I go hunting Ebay for something similar and I strike out, which is so frustrating! But, also know I'm a very casual fan. I'm not a rabid comic, DC and Marvel follower. I love them, their history and the new realm of superhero movies, I enjoy that stuff, but I don't do cosplay, I'm not really a fangirl and I'm not here to talk about authenticity of the character, the movie or even the quality of the film making.
I never watch a movie as a critic, Actually, I try to never read a book, eat a meal or listen to a friend as a critic. That's a whole 'nother podcast, perhaps. I think if you're busy looking for things to evaluate and tear down, you miss the experience of it. So, this isn't meant as a typical review, just a few things the movie made me think about.
A Strong Lead Unafraid To Be Herself
First, I'm a strong female character, and unfortunately, I've spent my whole life being hyper aware of how that affects other people. And spending a significant amount of energy pulling back on the reins in order to make my way in the world. Maybe that's why, but I love seeing strong female leads in stories and movies. It somehow seems to authenticate the fact that some females are created to be strong leads in life.
But, here's what I liked most about Gal Gardot's Wonder Woman: she was unafraid.
Unafraid of who she is.
Unafraid to jump into a new, unfamiliar world.
Unafraid of speaking her mind.
Unafraid to share her opinions and world view.
Undaunted by others' positions and authority.
Unfazed by obstacles.
Undaunted by the staggering amount of what she didn't know.
Maybe naive is a word you would use, and maybe that's true. But, regardless. She stepped forward unafraid and undaunted. Believing in herself and in her purpose. That's inspiring. And strong. And I loved it.
Helping The People In Front Of You
A lot has been written about the No Man's Land scene. In the words of Director Patty Jenkins, when she was arguing for the scene not to be cut, "This is a scene about her becoming Wonder Woman." And it is. It's the best part of the movie. Seeing Diana come into her own and understand her mission is both beautiful and inspiring.
But I loved it for another reason. If you haven't seen the movie, there is a series of scenes in the middle of the film where she and her group are on their quest toward destroying the Germans' new weapons. They get to a point where they're in the trenches in an area that has seen action but no change for a year and there's a French village caught in the middle. Diana, (Wonder Woman) wants to stop and help the people of the village who are starving. Those she's with insist that she can't. She can't do anything to help. It's not their mission. They don't have time. They don't have resources. They can't save everyone. They can't cross No Man's Land. They need to stay on mission and complete the task they're working towards.
But, Diana disagreed. People are her mission. She takes time out of her schedule to help the people right in front of her who need help.
I hope I never need to make my way across a no man's land into a nest of German artillery. But, I hope and pray that every day as I work down my to-do list and I rock my schedule...that every moment, I remember that people are the most important thing. And that when someone comes across my path that I can help, encourage or love on. That I take the time to do that. That I see with a heart that remembers that priority. That acknowledges with words and deeds that the people in my path are more important than my task list and my schedule.
In the climactic moments of the movie, in her final fight scene with Ares, Diana has a mini speech about the human race. I'm going to seriously paraphrase here: That yes, we humans have darkness in us. Anger, pride, jealously, cruelty, arrogance and a whole host of other awful things. But, there is more, much more than that. We also have great capacity to love and the key to fighting hatred is love. It was a bit cheesy, but this is a superhero movie.
There are moments in a few movies that as I watch them, they just reverberate through my heart as Truth with a capital T. And this is one of those moments. Friends, Love wins. Only love can win. Hate can clash with hate and strength can prevail. But, hatred cannot destroy hatred. Only love can do that.
Unfortunately, special effects, kicking enemy butt all over Europe and superhuman strength, speed and amazing truth-inducing lasso's aren't the kind of love that overcomes hatred in real life. It's too bad, because that glowing lasso could be really fun.
In real life, it's the difficult. Sacrificial. Gritty. When-it-hurts. When-it's-not-popular. Inconvenient kind of love that melts hatred. So, let the truth that love overcomes hate echo in your heart and inspire you. But, remember that the hard work of that truth is what is really meaningful to your neighbors, social circle, critics, enemies and community. Look for the opportunities to love people in your path. Not just the easy people. But the ones that are hard to love. In situations that are hard to love. When there is no reason to, other than, love melts hatred and heals hearts.
You can see that I cheated on the artwork this week. It's a quote set on one of my painted papers. At least I used my own painted background, right? First I wanted to do a piece about love conquering hate and then I wanted to do a cool piece of Wonder Woman. But, the time I had set aside for podcast art this week got eaten up by doing some things in love for other people. And I'm ok with that. I made a choice that the people in front of me were more important than getting a particular type of piece done for this episode. So. I'm practicing what I'm preaching today!
Emma Stone's quote, "I can't think of any better representation of beauty than someone who is unafraid to be herself. " seemed to fit today. I believe there are a few other important components of beauty that Emma didn't mention, but it certainly seemed to fit this episode.
If you haven't seen the movie, go see it while you can still catch it on the big screen.
I also want to give you a quick heads up about what's coming down the pike on my show. I'm going to be taking a break for about six weeks. I'll release a short episode, based on a quote, each week. Probably just a few minutes instead of my typical 8 - 10 minute episodes. The artwork will be the quote similar to this week and there will be no daily Coffee Talk. I will be in touch on Monday's with the new episode and a few thoughts if you're used to getting to the episode that way, but it will be one email a week until Labor Day-ish when I'll kick off a new season.
What am I going to do with all that time off? Well, I'm going to get those six episodes together, then take a week or maybe 2 weeks completely off. After that, I'll be working on the upcoming episodes in advance, some episodes for times when I'm sick or have an emergency, a few new writing projects and re-thinking how I approach the podcast and what I need to change or revise. So, if you have any thoughts on that...what you love, what you really don't care about, what you really wish I'd change, feel free to get in touch by email at or the audio voice recorder on the side of my website. I probably should spend some of that time updating my website too. But, as it is, all the sudden it's sounding like I need way more than a month off!
Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone: Episode 42 Downloads
There are a few things I've done in my adult life that have totally shifted my perspective.
Having a child is one of those things. Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” And that's very true. Having a child changes your perspective on life in every way possible.
Moving to another part of the country and travel has shifted my perspective. Making your way in a new place, learning a new culture, meeting all types of people changes you.
My divorce shifted my perspective, on my marriage, on the people around me, on my life and on myself.
I was an adult when I became a Christian; when I put my trust in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. That's a serious perspective shift and, like becoming a mother, has changed every area of my life.
But, there are smaller, less momentous shifts that have happened as well. I got about halfway through studying and training to be a pilot. Pilots have a whole different perspective of time and distance. While for me right now, a beach visit only makes sense for a long weekend. It's a trip. But for a pilot, it's a jaunt. It's an easy flight for dinner and a sunset. Most people can't imagine that kind of perspective on time and distance and how it shifts the possible.
I recently experienced another of those perspective shifts when I began to study and practice mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness has a lot of benefits. Studies have shown it can reduce stress, improve working memory, improve attention and focus, reduce emotional reactivity, foster more cognitive flexibility, reduce rumination and depressive symptoms and foster empathy and compassion. There are a lot of other claims with weaker empirical evidence. But, really, the studies on PTSD symptoms were enough to get me interested in trying it.
One of the most interesting things to me is that the payoff and benefits don't require years of practice, And, I've found that to be true in my own life. Mindfulness meditation is like a workout for your brain. It's training your mind. And I found a difference in myself in 20 minutes a day, several days a week. The perspective shift for me happened when I realized that I have a choice about how I deal with my thoughts and emotions. I can choose my responses to them. They don't have to control my day, my attitude or my responses to others or to my circumstances.
We typically spend our days reacting automatically to the things that happen around us and to us. We allow circumstances to control whether or not we have a good day. Rebecca Norrington has a good description of this, saying, "a below-average golf game, an inconsiderate driver, the weather, your health, a rude cashier, a forgetful spouse, an anorexic bank account. These things, according to you, determine what type of day you’re having. I’ve labeled countless days “bad” or “good” depending on what’s “happened” to me. Sound familiar?"
You've probably lived this way. What determines whether or not you have a good day? A good season? A good year? We don't have to let our circumstances define our lives. What if I told you that your circumstances have nothing to do with whether or not you have a good or bad day?
Your choices do.
Last week, I talked about the difference between reacting and responding. The fundamental difference between reacting and responding is a conscious, intentional choice. And I told you that this week I'd get practical and share some ways to help you learn to respond instead of react. Here's the pattern to remember and to practice. And because I'm a fan of alliteration, the three steps all start with the letter "P."
Pick a response
Let's talk about each step.
Pay attention. Practice noticing when you're reacting versus responding. Practice noticing what invokes quick reactions. Pay attention to how you react in different situations. Pay attention to what gets you emotional. The first step toward making intentional choices is paying attention to when we need to make those choices. Most of us carry on internal conversations all day long without really paying attention to what's being said. Start noticing. Start paying attention.
Pause. Practice using a pause. It can be your best friend. Just because we have an internal thought, feeling, or reaction doesn't mean we need to react immediately. This is a game changer, friends.
I live in an area where ticks are rampant. You know, those disgusting little creatures that latch onto your skin, bite you, take your blood and can leave debilitating diseases in return. And they don't just jump off when they've bitten, they hang out gorging themselves on your life essence until they've transformed into a creature resembling something more like a mini balloon with waving whisker legs than a bug. They're absolutely disgusting. And can cause very serious harm. In the Spring, early in the season, when we find one, we tend to yelp, panic, flail around, brushing at both real and imaginary bugs. By midsummer, even the kids are calmly asking where the tweezers are and just pulling them off and dropping them in the alcohol jar to die.
We can learn not to react. We can learn to pause and let rational thought take control. That pause can be short or long depending on the circumstance. The point is not to be slow in responding, the point is to always be thoughtful. Having an interruption in your reaction cycle is invaluable.
In the article, Responding vs. Reacting, J. Loeks writes:
The act of responding requires one to look at the circumstance, identify the problem or situation, hear what is happening and reflect. That reflection can be for a moment, five seconds, one hour, two days or longer. The time frame doesn’t matter. What matters is that you stopped and put an effort to think and suspended judgment. It is a conscious act and shows that you are willing to listen or observe. This ‘gap’ between the circumstance and your behavior is what contributes to gaining a sense of control in your life. Once a person can identify that in responding they actually have a choice in the matter, he/she will start to realize that they are able to make better decisions. The key is that pause. If the situation requires an immediate action, then just take a deep breath first. This alone can help one gain a semblance of control and make one choose an alternative statement or action that can make a big difference in an outcome of a situation.
Pick a response. Now that you've paused, you've gained time to choose how to respond. You buy time to shape your perspective. How do you want to live your life? What kind of choices and reactions do you want to be known for? Kind ones? Cultivate picking kind responses. Ethical? Compassionate? Wise? Loving? Cultivate picking ethical, compassionate, wise or loving responses.
You always have an array of choices before you. Our initial reactions lead us to believe that there's only one appropriate response to any given event, stimulus or circumstance, the one that happens automatically. But, that's just not true. There are always options. You have the power to pick.
Pay Attention. Pause. Pick a response.
When we filter our reactions through a pause, they become clearer, more focused; they become a choice. You may choose to express the exact same emotions in a response that you would in a reaction, but you are able to choose how they're expressed. Yellow, red, white and black are all present in both the background and foreground of this piece, but in the background, they're muddled, messy, uncontrolled. In the foreground, in the version filtered through the pause, I chose their placement, the expression of their color in in shape, pattern. location, size and repetition.
The pause is made up of more than one layer. You may need more than one pause to find your best response and you'll certainly need more than one to practice this. It's not second nature.
This week, I took a photo Monday afternoon at a waterfall and I posted on Facebook. That evening, an acquaintance took my photo and posted it in a Facebook group that we both happen to be a part of. I suspect she didn't know I was in the group and she didn't claim to have taken the photo herself, but if there's one thing sure to get an angry reaction from a professional photographer, take one of their photos and use it without their permission. Now, I'm no longer a professional and this was a snapshot. But, still. Word to the uninformed: If you didn't take a photo and don't have permission to use it...just don't use it. I wasn't really angry, but I was definitely annoyed. She absolutely could have asked my permission and she didn't. So, I got to practice paying attention, pausing and picking a response. I noticed I was annoyed and I waited a few hours to respond. I'm not sure I chose the best response, but it certainly was better than had I responded immediately.
We react automatically to most of our lives. To countless things every day. But, we don't have to. One advantage of being human is that we get to choose.
Practice that ability.
Want to process the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week's art on your phone: Episode 41 Downloads