Did you start feeling festive a little earlier this year? You’re not alone.
My friends and I started feeling the excitement and anticipation of Christmas in November this year! Unseasonably early.
What was going on?
It seems we are responding to a long year of uncertainty and change by looking to familiar rituals for comfort.
Associate Professor in Anthropology and Psychology at the University of Connecticut, Dimitris Xygalatas says the pageantry of holiday rituals sets these special events apart from more routine ones. It signals that the anxiety and uncertainty of everyday life can be suspended because at this special time we know what to do and how to do it. We can relax into the sense of structure, control and stability our festive routine provides.
Festive rituals in this anthropological sense of course include religious practices, but are not limited to them. Rituals can be any set of actions, often repeated, that are performed in a meaningful way.
In Western society we don’t often think of our practices as being ritualistic, but there are many common practices that have the ceremony and significance of a ritual. Activities like putting up the Christmas tree or exchanging gifts are examples of festive rituals.
Rituals provide a sense of familiarity, comfort and certainty, which are a soothing balm to the unprecedented challenges and changes of 2020. They also evoke a sense of connection as we partake in practices that are shared by others.
Rituals also help us mark time. They are used across cultures to mark change and define beginnings and endings. Celebrating the end of 2020 will be a significant marker for many of us, whether it be with a quiet night at home or at a COVID-safe event with special friends and family.
So if you’re feeling the urge to get festive and into the Christmas spirit, lean into it and enjoy! I’m off to watch Die Hard and make Rum Balls which has been part of my festive ritual for years.
As the saying goes, patience is a virtue. But if unquestioned, virtues can be a prison.
It can be helpful to pause and recognise what a virtue is before unquestioningly following it.
A virtue starts out as a value.
Values can be many things, they are as individual and unique as we are. Our personal values help guide us to a life that is rich in meaning and purpose. They tell us what kind of life we will be proud of living, and what we want to stand for.
A value becomes a virtue when it is imbued with a judgement of goodness by society.
This is an important distinction, because it can make it a little trickier to live our true life, aligned with our own values and not virtues we have unwittingly adopted from society.
The values that guide our decisions vary from moment to moment, sometimes certain values of ours will come to the fore, and in other circumstances, we will be led by a different set of values.
Values are guideposts that inform our choices, not strict rules that imprison us.
Living aligned to our values feels like sparkly freedom, lightness and excitement, with the occasional moment of terror and dread as we vulnerably go after our dreams. Aligning with a virtue may have positive feelings too, with perhaps a little righteousness thrown in for good measure, which can be an intoxicating mix.
But if your values are not aligned with the virtues that society defines, there will be some forks in your road that will be challenging to navigate. Your true self, your true values will be calling you in one direction and society’s virtues guiding you another.
So what do you do?
When I’m working clients and considering their preferred action in response to a dilemma, I often ask the question: what are you making it mean?
Taking a step back and looking at the underlying beliefs and thoughts around a value (or virtue) can help you understand why and how it is motivating your action. It can also help you determine if this is a value that you truly want to be guided by in this instance, or a virtue that is placing a judgement on the situation and acting more like a strict rule.
Navigating these cross-roads can involve deep thought work – where you and I as your coach, look at deeply held thoughts and beliefs and check if they are still serving you and helping you live the life you truly want.
But it is work that will be richly rewarded. Distinguishing values from virtues can help you break out of the belief prisons that are keeping you stuck.
Confession time. I used to think life coaches were charlatans.
*record scratch and silence*
Yep, it’s true. I thought life coaches were showy performers quick to take your money with little value to offer.
I am sharing this awkward truth with you because now I know better, and this belief prevented me from accessing incredibly powerful assistance that would have helped navigate my years of confusion and stuck-ness (also known as my 20s and 30s).
So let’s start at the beginning – what is a life coach? A life coach can be many things and can work in many ways. Essentially a life coach will help you to boost your life in some way. It might be focussed on a specific goal, or larger life aspirations.
This broad definition captures all sorts of folks, but for many years my only exposure to life coaches was the really polished and showy ones from the TV. I’d always been interested in personal development but this form of life coaching didn’t resonate with me.
Back to the twists and turns of my 20s and 30s, I had a yearning for something different from life. But I didn’t know how to start creating the change, or even what change I needed. This yearning wasn’t a clinical problem for me so I didn’t discuss it with a psychologist but looking back I see now some coaching help would have been brilliant.
Let me pause here to say that at times I did seek out the support of a psychologist when my anxiety or depression loomed too large. In very brief terms psychologists work with illnesses and assist with recovery. Life coaches work with boosting wellness and discovery – discovering your true values, discovering how to find more joy and purpose, or discovering how to obtain your dream career/relationship/life.
Many years later, by chance, my path crossed with a life coach who had a nurturing and gentle style. The exact opposite of those I’d previously seen on TV. It was an eye-opening experience. With this coaching I made small steps towards resting and healing my tired soul and creating a life that better matched what I truly wanted and what was truly important to me.
I was on my way. Since then I’ve completely changed my life and I proudly call myself a trained life coach.
I also now know that life coaches come in many different varieties but there is always one consistent factor – you, the client. Make sure you find a life coach that feels right to you. Coaching should be a co-creative process between you and the coach. It won’t always be comfortable, change can be hard, but look for a coach that you feel you can trust and be honest with.
My style of coaching values finding your inner-truth, gently and courageously pursuing your dreams and using science as the entry point to the wonders and magic that life has to offer. How ‘polished’ I am very much depends on the day and has certainly decreased during these COVID times (hello stretchy pants!)
So if you have been ruminating on some issues without making progress or you have a niggling sense of wanting something more from life, perhaps a life coach may help. Message me if you’d like to chat more about this and my coaching style.
Do you want a sense of connection, more kindness and generosity, more optimism, sharper thinking, and increased positive mood? Research shows the emotion of awe can provide all this and more.
With this information, why should we leave awe as a random thing we encounter only on a rare holiday or a fleeting moment that catches us by surprise? We can consciously create moments of awe in our lives to help us heal and grow as individuals and as communities.
So what is awe?
It’s a complex emotion that can be evoked by both positive and negative experiences. Though it has long been studied by philosophers, psychologists only started to examine awe relatively recently. In fact, it was only 17 years ago that awe was characterised in a way that could lead to further scientific studies, so this is a very new field. Exciting!!
According to that key 2003 paper, awe requires ‘perceived vastness’ and ‘need for accommodation’. In other words, the thing that elicits awe is big, either literally big like the Grand Canyon or socially big in our minds, like a big celebrity or expert that is greatly admired.
The second element, the ‘need for accommodation’ means that the event or stimuli basically makes our brain say “does not compute” (I hope you did little robot arms as you read that) and our brain needs to reprogram itself to try to make sense of this awesome information coming in.
The effects of awe can be so significant it is described as a self-transcendent state of being. Mindfulness and flow are other self-transcendent experiences, so it’s in good company.
Multiple studies have found that awe leaves people less focussed on their own concerns, with feelings of connectedness and being in the presence of something greater than oneself. It enhances critical thinking and scepticism as the brain processes what is actually viewed rather than what is expected to be seen. And research has also shown that experiencing awe makes people more kind and generous, experience greater compassion and optimism, as well as decreasing materialism.
More research is required on this amazing healing emotion and I have more to share, much more than I can squeeze in here. But now we know the recipe to make awe, we can go out and deliberately put awe-inspiring moments into our day, week or month. And as we enter the home stretch of 2020, a year that has already kicked our butts and that promises more challenges ahead, perhaps knowing that awe is in our tool kit can help us not only make it to the finish line but to heal and grow into 2021.
I will be posting more on how to find awe in coming posts. Until then, take care and have an awesome day (yes, I unapologetically overuse and misuse this word)!
P. S More on awe to come but if you’re wanting more now, message me to book in a Free Discovery Call – a 20min chat about how coaching can support you. And please contact me if you’d like references to anything I’ve discussed here, happy to share.
For a long time, I had a foreboding sense that would rise up in me in quiet moments, usually as another unremarkable day drew to a close.
It was a question whose answer would always elude me: When will my life begin?
Obviously, the objective facts spoke for themselves. I was living; walking, talking, breathing and keeping busy every day. But there was something missing that left a hole that felt large and important.
An element of me that needed to be brought to life. This curious feeling was persistent and unsettling, and I didn’t have anything in my tool kit to soothe it.
Thankfully I stumbled upon an antidote to the feeling.
It isn’t a one-shot vaccination. Treatment needs to be administered daily but can be taken in almost countless variety.
The antidote for the feeling of ‘waiting for my life to begin’ is creativity.
Creating something from a place of joy and imagination and not obligation and duty takes this feeling away, often replacing it with joy, wonder and plain old fun.
But it would be remiss of me not to mention the disappointment, struggle, and general roller-coaster of emotions that I experience in the ‘creative process’ (a term which conjures up virtuosos musing their master pieces, but which very much also includes newbies and novices).
I was recently in the trough within my creative process, having encountered a project-derailing issue in the final stages. A gut punch. I felt so disappointed, I felt there was only mountain after mountain to climb, never reaching the final summit.
But then I stepped back and noticed everything I was feeling. I was also feeling alive, even as I sat with my disappointment. I marvelled at the feeling of being alive and pushing to create, in my own way.
Even though this particular plan had gone sideways, that empty feeling of ‘waiting for my life to begin’ was nowhere to be found. I felt alive in the struggle to create.
I won’t close this out with a report on how the project ended. Did I find a way through? What did I create? Because we have no guarantee of the outcome when we start to create. We work without a safety net, which is part of the risk and part of the fun. Luckily the antidote is in the process of creating, not the outcome.
Supporting and nurturing your own health and well-being is known as self-care. But when you pursue self-care without self-compassion you end up with another rod for your own back.
Our to-do lists heave under the weight of the “shoulds” placed on us by society and by our inner-critic. Every “should” that we take on adds to the weight of expectation that we set for ourselves, each one making the goal of self-care harder.
“I should meditate more”. “I should exercise more“. “I should eat more of this and less of that“.
We beat ourselves up not spending more time at work, at home, with the kids, or with our partner.
The “shoulds” go on and on.
Self-care can include many things and can take on many forms. Sometimes it will look like disciplined exercise and healthy eating habits, other times it will look like cocooning on the couch with a hot tea and fluffy socks on.
Gentle, kind, and genuine self-care requires an approach that is embedded in self-compassion: one in which you know what you need in the moment and permission to do that.
This isn’t a free pass to let loose on your healthy habits. I wager you will still want to maintain your healthy habits, not because you ‘should’ but because you value the goodness that they bring to you over the longer-term. But there is still room for you to adjust or drop your regime for a moment if your body is needing something else.
The rub with this more flexible approach to self-care is that it takes away the structured rule book. It requires us to get quiet and listen to what we really need moment to moment. And in a fast-paced world where hard work and exhaustion are still seen as status symbols, I don’t underestimate the challenge this presents.
But throwing out the rule book also means letting go of the harsh criticism we lay upon ourselves when it comes to self-care. Self-care isn’t punitive, it’s kind.
So I leave you with a question - does your self-care routine leave you feeling guilty or nurtured?
Two concepts which you will come across regularly in self-help/coaching circles is following your true path and being in the present moment. I hold both dear in my coaching and personal practices but there is an inherent tension.
The concept of a true path evokes an image like the yellow brick road. A continuous solid path that flows from your past into your future. The true path remains static, and you move around it, depending on whether you’re “on your path” or not.
This concept is useful when coaching people to move towards a richer and more fulfilling life. It lends a sense of certainty and solidness that can be reassuring when you are feeling lost in the wilderness of looking for more meaning in your life. The duality of being on or off your path is nice and simple. And it conjures up a sense of forward momentum, moving from the painful unaligned moment toward better times.
The present moment is exactly what it sounds like - now, now, now. Here for an instant, and then gone just as quickly. It doesn’t have a past or a future. Truly embracing living in the present moment means letting go of any particular future we might have imagined for ourselves.
The lack of a clear and continuous route forward can be unsettling. Instead of a solid path, you may end up with something that looks more like one of those children’s drawing aids, where the page is covered with seemingly random dots, and the picture doesn’t reveal itself until the dots are joined.
So what to do with this paradox?
Neither is wrong - the present moment is the only place you can sense if you’re 'on your path', and the present moment feels sweetest when you are on your path.
In his famous Stanford commencement speech, Steve Jobs said “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever...”
With patience, the present moment dots will reveal your true path.
Join me and two of my coaching buddies from the US for a Free Webinar: Friday, 29 May 10.30am (Sydney) or Thursday 28 May 8.30 EST for those joining from the US. Register by clicking below:
March 2020 was going to be many things.
And it sure was. Just none of the things I expected.
I’m beginning to get the sneaky suspicion 2020 is determined to teach me to really be in ‘perpetual creative response to the present moment’. I got this phrase from the wonderful Martha Beck. Let me unpack that as it might hold some gems for you too given the amount of uncertainty and change we’re all facing.
The present moment is all we ever really have. It’s just so gosh darn hard to stay there.
The illusions we create in our minds, reliving past events or imagining a (possibly catastrophic) future can absorb nearly all of our attention, not leaving much for the present moment.
This isn’t a flaw. The ability for the mind to take us back to past events and into the future is a strong evolutionary trait but it does have a cost: when we are not giving the present moment our attention we miss it.
We miss the opportunity to fully experience the richness of the present moment, be it a warm hug or the cool light at sunrise. Being in the present moment helps create a richer and deeper life with greater connection to your loved ones, your environment and yourself.
‘Perpetual creative response to the present moment’ is a practical phrase. On one level it says to hold your horses, to not respond until you know what you’re responding to. 2020 has demonstrated many times, in dramatic fashion, we don’t know what’s around the corner. Life can turn on a dime, so stay in the present moment and respond to what IS. (Of course, it doesn’t mean never make plans, but rather make your plans and then return to the present moment. Avoid ruminating and mentally executing your plans over and over.)
The phrase also holds a delicious space for some magic. It asks you to really drop into your own self, to look beyond the chatter and analytics of your mind, to determine what is the best way for you to respond from the present moment. This is where your intuition and true self can come out and play.
Intuition and cues from the body exist in the present moment. You need to come back to the present moment to detect this diamond dust to incorporate it into your decision making. The mind is wonderfully powerful and analytical, but I will always encourage my clients to listen to their gut, that nagging feeling or intuition (call it what you want).
Returning to the present moment is a skill that can be developed. The tools are simple although the practice is hard. I keep a number of tools in my tool kit to return me (over and over and over) to the present moment. I think 2020 will require I use all of them. Bring it on!
I hope you're all well and keeping safe xo
In my first blog I asked “Are you busy with purpose or just busy?”
But I neglected to tell you what makes the difference and how to spot it.
Living Your Values is the difference, and your body’s response to your to-do list is a good place to start to check how you’re going.
When you look at your to-do list, is there anything on there that sparks joy (sorry Ms Kondo)? Are there items that may be challenging but that hold a meaning for you that makes them worthwhile?
Or is the list long and dull, and set to repeat week after week?
Take a moment and a few breaths. Feel any sensations that come up in your body (not your head) when you consider your to-do list.
Sensations are captured with descriptive words and perhaps even a bodily locus like; fizzy in my tummy, tight in my chest, lightness in my shoulders, tingling in my fingers, heaviness, calmness etc.
If you find yourself using descriptors like anxious, excited, bored – these are coming from your head – your analytical mind is giving you conceptual descriptions. Take one more breath and see if you can pick up any sensations in your body.
Don’t worry if you can’t discern anything. Just noticing that is an awesome place to start.
If your to-do list has you feeling nothing or a bunch of negative sensations then there is a good chance you might be able to get more pep in your step by consciously introducing one or two activities that are aligned with your values - or tweaking the ones already there to make them a bit more spark-inducing 😊.
But what are my values Jen?!
Values shape the kind of person we want to be, are as unique as we are and are context-specific. This can feel like an inconvenient answer if you’re like me, and prefer things to be well-defined, clear and precise.
But the good news is they are also accessible immediately. You can better align with your values right now, and start getting a bit more of that warm sense of meaning in your life.
There are many ways to identify your own values. One I’ll share here requires a little imagination on your part. Imagine you’re at your 100th birthday (still looking fabulous). When you hear the speeches from your family and friends you feel great contentment because you have lived a full life rich with meaning. What are some of your attributes mentioned by family and friends in their speeches (TIP: look for character attributes not goals achieved).
This exercise is a playful way to start uncovering your values. Have a little play, and let me know how it goes (comment below or message me) I would love to hear from you!
If you’re in the Canberra region and want to talk more on Living Your Values as well as how to stay on target when obstacles pop up between you and your value-aligned goal, come along to my workshop in March – see here for details xo.
The Christmas and New Year break of 2019-2020 was not what we were hoping for here in Australia.
The fires still burn as I write, with no substantial rain promised in the forecast. I write from a place of safety within this unfolding disaster, my life and home have not been at risk, for which I am very grateful. Some have lost everything and others still fight to save what is left as the winds and fire fronts change.
Today I write to those of us that are bearing witness to this event.
The past few weeks have brought with them a heavy sense of helplessness and sadness. Perhaps you have felt this too?
These feelings may seem big and deep. It is only natural to want to make the unpleasantness go away as soon as possible but I encourage you to resist the urge to turn away from them too quickly.
The mind and body try to make things as easy as possible for us to go about the world. Avoidance behaviours may look like numbing out with our favourite distractions like TV, social media or online shopping. But it may also wear a trickier disguise and look like burying our attention in work, or even excessive rumination on the fires and perhaps anger.
I invite you to pause for a moment and focus on the feelings behind the distractions and beneath the anger.
Let them have their moment in the spotlight within your body. And then let them spur you to take action.
Take a little step to honour these unpleasant feelings. Maybe it’s putting water out for the birds, making a donation or writing a letter to your MP (of support or constructive criticism) or maybe it’s turning off the news for 24 hours because your heart can’t take anymore.
In my work as a coach I encourage people to find their truest life, and this involves feeling the whole range of emotions, not just the pleasant ones. With this honesty we can better determine where our own values truly lie and take action to live a life that is aligned with our own values.