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.
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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.
Last month I was lucky enough to train with Dr Russ Harris (author of The Happiness Trap). He describes the mind as a ‘don’t get killed’ device. A lot of our unpleasant, anxiety inducing, stress-making thoughts are just the mind doing its job.
The mind has evolved over the last 100,000 years with selective pressures favouring minds that were best at analysing past negative events and anticipating future ones. Positive events didn’t impact evolution as much as the life-threatening negative ones, so there was a negative bias in this process. Both physical threats and social threats were the focus of the mind, because survival of the individual was dependent upon not being eaten as well as not being kicked out of the social group.
Your ancestors and mine must have been good at this as their genes have survived and been passed on to us. Go ancestors!
But jumping forward to today. For most in our society, the basic needs for survival have been met but our mind is still on alert for threats. Our keen ability to analyse the past and anticipate the future, with a negative bias, can leave us feeling anxious, stressed and awake at 3am with a mind full of worry and a gut full of angst.
In addition, because we have placed the mind on a pedestal we’ve been left at the mercy of our thoughts. This means that our (very normal) negative thoughts go unquestioned. They are considered as truth and reality, and we might not even recognise them as a thing to be examined or questioned.
But by seeing the mind as a ‘don’t get killed’ device, we get a new perspective to our thoughts. We can observe them, question them, and importantly we can choose how we respond to them.
I can help you observe and choose how you’d like to respond to your thoughts in a way that aligns with your values. Choosing action that takes you towards your goals, and towards a more purposeful and joyful life. I love this stuff and could talk about it all day – but I promise not to!
Have a lovely December. Please stay safe and well hydrated!!
Time and attention are our greatest assets.
Bill Gates is apparently always punctual because the one thing he can’t buy is more time. Tech companies feverishly vie for our attention through more and more sophisticated means.
How discerning are you with your time and attention?
I won’t judge anyone who loses time on Facebook or Pinterest etc. I am a sucker for kittens on the internet.
But what if we got a little more deliberate about putting some time and attention on what brings us purpose and joy?
I would be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t value a purposeful and joyful life – the kicker is we aren’t given much guidance on how achieve it. Or even how to identify what it would look like - it’s as individual as we are.
“I don’t know what I want, but it’s not this…”
Sleuthing for things that bring you a greater sense of purpose and joy is well worth some time and attention. Even small changes can help nudge you towards a more satisfying life.
I say sleuthing because sometimes it is a bit of a hunt. Not everyone gets smacked in the face with a passion (kudos to those who did, I wasn't one of them). And if you’re exhausted or burnt-out, you may well not be feeling good about anything at the moment, much less passionate!
I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to not be able to answer the question: “What do you like?”
So I started small and came back to my body. I put a little bit of time and attention on my senses and noticed what felt good; the smell of that hand cream; the sound of that bird’s song; the warmth of Sun on my back…
With a little bit of deliberate time and attention, I started to reawaken what felt good to me and nudged the needle towards more purpose and joy.
I now have no trouble listing things I love to do and feel excited about getting out of bed in the morning (*most days)!
With so much vying for our time and attention, taking a few moments to direct this most precious asset towards our own purpose and joy is definitely worth the effort.
In a Meritocracy an individual’s progress is based on their talent, energy and achievement, as opposed to say social class or wealth. That’s a good thing but it’s not all skittles and rainbows.
Merit-worthy achievements are determined and recognised through various social structures (parents, friends, social media etc) not necessarily by ourselves. This is a slippery slope to a busy but unsatisfying life.
In a public service town, examples of achievements may be meeting the project deadline, pushing through the urgent policy change and getting the briefing pack to the Minister by Sunday afternoon. If you tick these boxes, go to the top of the class in the Meritocracy. You are achieving, you are productive. Yay for productivity!
But how are YOU feeling when you do this? Are these achievements leaving you exhausted, uninspired and dreading going back to work?
I love being productive. I love ticking things off my to-do list. Feeling productive is so important for the sense of self.
But it’s important to pause and question what meaning the activities hold for us. Are we keeping ourselves busy and productive, but doing activities that hold no meaning for us?
Is the status bestowed by the Meritocracy upon productive people enough to keep us satisfied?
From my experience, it isn't. It sure is seductive but the inescapable truth is it isn't enough.
So let’s dig a little deeper and re-examine our to-do lists.