Want More Love, Joy, and Ease?                                                                                                Set Boundaries.

Want More Love, Joy, and Ease? Set Boundaries.

One of the most loving actions we can take for ourselves and those around us is to create clear and firm boundaries.  There are a lot of misconceptions about boundaries that cause them to be misused or misunderstood. I hope to clear some of that up in this post, so that you might give yourself permission to utilize boundaries as an essential tool for your well-being.

Let’s start by addressing a few myths:

Myth 1:  Boundaries are about other people’s behavior.   

Not so.  Rules about how other people should behave are called manuals;  you can learn more about manuals in my post here.  It’s so helpful to be aware of your manuals, your unconscious attempts to control others’ behavior, because they most often result in exhaustion and frustration.  Attempting to make yourself feel better through controlling others simply doesn’t work.

Boundaries, by contrast, are about you.  They are decisions; firm and loving decisions, about your values, priorities and needs, and what you will and won’t do in given situations.  Boundaries don’t expect anyone else to change.  When you set a boundary, you are deciding with yourself and for yourself what’s important to you, what’s harmful to you, and how you will show up for yourself – no matter what – based on these decisions.

For example, you may decide that cigarette smoke is something to which you do not want exposure.  You set a boundary:  if smoking is occurring, you will remove yourself from that space.  You will choose not to drive in a car with someone smoking, and you will not allow smoking in your car or home.  Notice that you’re not attempting to get anyone else to refrain from smoking; nor are you judging smoking or trying to convince someone to quit. You are creating a boundary for yourself and how you will behave if someone else smokes.

You can let people know your boundaries if you want. While this isn’t always necessary,  it works best when it’s done in the spirit of connection and clarity.  For example: “I want to connect and communicate with you about this, but I have a boundary around yelling.  If you yell at me, I will need to withdraw from my part of the conversation.”   Notice that this is not a judgment about yelling, nor is it a requirement of the other person; it’s clarity about your own boundaries, and what you will do to protect yourself.

Myth 2: Boundaries are selfish.   

Is it selfish to wear a coat when it’s cold outside?  Is it selfish to take your vitamins?  Wear sunblock?  Brush your teeth?  Not at all.  You do all of these things to keep yourself well and healthy, which enables you to contribute to your world and be there for those you love.  Boundaries are self-respecting, not selfish; they are an essential way in which we take responsibility for ourselves and our well-being.

Myth 3: Boundaries are harsh and create distance between people.

While there can be discomfort when setting boundaries, think of it as the same kind of discomfort felt during a good workout or when tackling a goal – there is so much positive emotion on the other side of the discomfort.

Boundaries are a prerequisite for connection:  it’s hard to genuinely be present with others when we are disconnected from ourselves.  When we say “yes” to everything and everyone, neglecting our boundaries, we often simmer in disappointment and resentment toward others and ourselves.  Resentment prevents connection, and over time, damages relationships.

In her book Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead,  Brené Brown notes that people with strong boundaries are more able to generate and feel compassion for others. A boundary is a way of filling our own cup with love and self-respect. Without that for ourselves, we will not have those things available to give.

Looking for a place to start?  Set a boundary around your most precious and finite resource: your time.

Boundaries make room in our lives for the things that really matter.  We can live our purpose, on purpose. Author Leslie Jamison writes about this in her recent New York Times article, The Mind-Boggling Simplicity of Learning to Say No. Jamison notes that by that allowing herself to say no to what doesn’t align with her truest values and desires, she can then “say yes more fully, less grudgingly – because I’m not living life like a pat of butter spread too thinly across toast.”

Boundaries work best when they are both loving and firm.   This means that when you set a boundary, it’s important to honor it, to stick with it.  When you don’t obey your own boundaries, you create confusion and uncertainty for others, and damage your ability to trust yourself.

As Cheryl Strayed writes in her masterpiece, Tiny Beautiful Things, “We have to reach hard in the direction of the lives we want, even if it’s difficult to do so.”

Boundaries are one tool for this reaching hard. When set from a place of caring, and providing clarity for others, boundaries are nothing less than an act of love: for yourself, for that which you want most to create, and for those with whom you want genuine connection.

If you need more boundaries in your life, I can help.  Let’s talk. 

How Burnout Hijacks Your Identity

How Burnout Hijacks Your Identity

Burnout takes its toll in so many ways, and perhaps the most insidious is the way it can hijack your identity.

So often, when my clients articulate their experience of the stressors in their work, they jump from describing what’s happening in the environment directly to a judgment of themselves.

 

  • A physician, relating the overwhelming demands of his last shift, ends with: “I feel like I’m a bad doctor.”

 

  • A therapist, describing the needs and pain of her clients and her depleted reserves of compassion for them, shifts to: “I’m a monster because I don’t feel anything anymore.”

 

  • A leader outlines the multiple demands of a disrupted workplace, and in the next beat, concludes: “I’m ineffective.”

 

In all of these situations, a completely natural thought error is occurring.  Our human brains, often triggered into survival mode, are constantly seeking information about our place in the world and our mastery of our environment.  When circumstances feel out of control, it’s a reflex for us to make it mean something about ourselves.   Your brain jumps back and forth from a story about your circumstances to a story about you, and before long, the two separate and distinct entities become one.

This is so important because the story you tell yourself, about yourself, is your identity.

It’s the story of who you believe yourself to be: your strengths, your unique abilities, the standards you hold for yourself.  We often relegate identity formation to youth and early adulthood, but identity continues to evolve and develop all throughout our lives.

Your identity is the platform, the springboard for how you show up in your life – for your relationships, your roles, your work, yourself.    Nothing could be more worthy of your deliberate attention and creation, as opposed to absorbing it, by default, from your environment.

You are not the situation.  You are an individual navigating a [fill in the blank] situation.

Burnout is a stress injury, caused by stressors in the environment at such volume and acuity that they aren’t being successfully managed.  Burnout isn’t who you are.

You are not your circumstances.  Making this distinction is so important and it’s the first step in liberating yourself from burnout and keeping it at bay.

If this post resonates with you, I can help. Message me in the form below, and we can book a quick call to get started.

 

Now What?

Now What?

Pictured:  Fable’s goal for 2024 appears to be the daily practice of dog yoga.

It’s the end of January.  For many of us, it’s the time when those shiny-new, beautiful goals we romanced at the end of December have…well, let’s just say the honeymoon is over.

Quite often the entire relationship is done -– we’ve already broken up with our goals.  The fling burned hot for only a few short weeks.   Things didn’t turn out as perfectly as we’d imagined a month ago.  Or we didn’t show up as perfectly as we’d hoped, inevitably.  Doing real life with your goal just turned out to be too hard.  Too demanding, too high maintenance.

So, now what?  This most important question is often neglected, stepped over as we resume the old, well-practiced ways of being. Before you pack your things and leave your goal behind, pause and ask yourself: Now what?

Doing this part differently — the part where you want to give up – this is where real change happens. Not in the beautifully crafted plans and color-coded calendar entries. (Perfectionists, I see you.)

This moment, this end-of-January-thaw in the hot pursuit of your goal, is so important to your happiness, to your dreams, to the rest of your life.  This is where you can either learn and grow, or step back into the rinse/repeat cycle of default living.

We want change to be a straight, linear runway off into the horizon.  It’s not.  Real change is a messy, spiraling, circuitous passage. Sometimes it feels like a roller coaster.  Sometimes you’re bushwhacking and wondering if you’ve inadvertently circled back.  Sometimes you wonder: “Will there ever be a nice bench with a decent view on this trail?”  Real change is messy because it happens inside your real human life.

Real change is hard.  Growth can be scary, and exhausting.  But I’ll take it over the hamster wheel any day.

Now what?  If you can be curious, maybe even compassionate with yourself in this moment, there is so much to learn here.  For most of us, when we haven’t been able to stick with a goal, there’s only the opposite of curiosity and compassion.  There are only the jeers from the cheap seats in our brain.  The judgement, the beating ourselves up, giving up on our goals….and giving up on ourselves, again.

Now what?  If you were talking with a friend, even a stranger, about a less-than-perfect January with their goals, what might you say?  I bet it would be a whole lot kinder that how you’re talking to yourself right now.  There’s this fallacy that if we just find a way to be tough enough—if we find the precisely right combination of insults, berating, and self-reproach…this will finally kick us into gear.

Now, what?  This is the moment to come alongside yourself, and lovingly pick yourself back up.

If you were helping a child learn to walk or ride a bike, you’d be gentle, encouraging, patient. You’d create the conditions for them to keep trying.  You’d know, intuitively, that the very muscles they need to walk are strengthened only by the falling itself, over and over again.

This is the moment to learn to coach yourself.

The Gift of A Reset

The Gift of A Reset

Will you be taking some time off during the holiday season? In the midst of whatever you have
planned, setting intentions about what you need physically, mentally, and emotionally is
perhaps more important than ever. Consider how your time off can actually be a reset, how it
can be medicine for you.

Have you ever felt, returning to work after a vacation, that you’re just as exhausted as when
you left? Have you ever felt unavailable to the pleasures of leisure or travel because you’re just
so very tired? When we’re in burnout or on the edges of it, we can end up sleepwalking
through life, not just at work, but on our own time, too. We squeeze too much into our
vacation time because the accelerated pace has become our new normal.

Burnout can feel like the world presents itself in the form of an endless to-do list. We begin to
see people, even the ones we love the most, only in terms of what they need from us: a
mundane, repetitive march of “shoulds” and “supposed-to’s”.

Those of us who are type-A, high-achiever types may find that our sense of duty and drive has
overridden all other aspects of our being. All the things we’ve wished for and sought out: a
career, home, even family – coalesce into an endless labyrinth of overfunctioning. We meet
everything in life in terms of what is required of us. Our days became a parade of tasks, which
only a checking-off would bring some whisper of satisfaction before we’re inevitably onto the
next task. We may find ourselves stuck on a “rinse, repeat” cycle on this treadmill, whether at
work, home on the weekend, or away on vacation.

Here are some tools to help ensure that you liberate yourself from your treadmill and get what
you need from your vacation, long weekend, or any respite. First, allow yourself to step out of
relentless productivity. Plan and block this non-productive time as you would any other
commitment. It will take intention and deliberate permission for you to shift into another gear.
Purposely set aside time to ask yourself, “What do I need?” If this question stumps you, you’re
not alone. Many of us are so programmed to take care of others and manage everything
around us, this question is a radical one. The answer might not be readily available – that’s
okay. That’s not a signal to jump back into taking-care-of-all-the people-and-all-the-things
mode. Let the question linger in your mind, without an answer, and see what arrives. As you
ponder this, consider your emotional needs as well. This time of year can trigger so many
memories and emotions. We may feel losses more acutely, even those we grieved long ago;
meanwhile the culture bombards us with imagery of celebration, cheer, and high spirits. Allow
yourself to feel and process both positive and negative emotions, with self-compassion instead
of judgment.

You are a living being who gives – and needs — energy. What energizes and replenishes you?
Pause there for a moment and ask again. At this time of year, what do you need?

Do you need a break from the relentless pace of your daily life? When you read those words, is
there a “Yes” resonating through your body? If so, think about where you can alter the pace of
some part of your weekend or vacation. Where can you let things slow down, let time open up,
and do something slowly? Is there a container of time where you can meander, dabble, putter –
with no agenda? If those words are music to your ears, that’s a signal to you— create a an
intentional space of time where the pace is slower.

What brings you joy? Often it’s the simplest things, right there within our reach. If we’re too
much in our heads, we aren’t present to the pleasures around us, and the positive emotions
available in savoring them. Many of us have become so addicted to multitasking, we’re not
fully present anywhere. We can’t relax when we do have down time, so we go into autopilot,
buffering and distracting ourselves with false pleasures: mindless eating and drinking, shopping,
scrolling. These activities masquerade as rest, providing a temporary escape from how we’re
feeling. They don’t replenish us in the long run.

The portals to presence – the portals through which you receive energy — are your five senses.
Deploy them intentionally, and they will take you out of your head and into your body. For
example, if you’re making coffee on your day off, don’t just get it done. Dial down the pace and
deploy your senses. Step away from To-Do mode and experience the miracle that is coffee.
Listen to the reassuring hum of water boiling, and that satisfying gurgle of liquid rushing into
the mug. Your cup is being filled, literally and figurately. Receive it. Inhale the wonderful smell,
connect with it. Wrap both hands around the cup and feel its warmth, warming you. Notice the
delicate curl of steam rising; follow it with your eyes. And of course: really taste that first sip.
You can apply this same conscious attention to any activity that you enjoy but usually must rush
through on a typical day. Wherever you can, slow down the pace and allow yourself to connect
to what’s around you. The more you can tune into your senses, the more you signal to your
nervous system that you’re stepping off the treadmill, that this is a time to refuel.

Turning your attention toward your needs isn’t self-indulgent – it’s strategic. Consciously
attending to your own energy is what allows you to sustain all that you give to others and the
world. Your mind and body can’t power down into rest and repair without your deliberate
permission, and this season is an especially important time to rest, reset, and renew.

The Life-Changing Gift of A Great Book

The Life-Changing Gift of A Great Book

 

Charlotte’s Web was my first self-help book.

At age seven I read it over and over, during the chaotic year of my parents’ divorce.  It was then that I first discovered the incredible power of words and of stories.  EB White’s novel transported me from the turmoil of my broken household into a barnyard full of new friends.  Of course, I loved Wilbur, and of course, I wanted to be Fern.  But the imprinting on my soul came from Charlotte.  I can trace a line, albeit a circuitous one, between her words below to my decision to become a counselor, and then a coach, to my writing these words to you today.

We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.

There are few gifts as meaningful as a book. No other gift allows us immediate escape to another world or helps us feel a little less lonely in our own.  We can be inspired by the life of another soul.  We can think more deeply about what it means to live.  We can find a road map to the next version of ourselves.  A book is a life-changing gift, whether it makes a challenging time a little easier, teaches us to see something through a different lens, or becomes an inflection point in our growth.

Here are some of the life-changing books that I’ve read and loved recently.

For the people on your list who are overcoming adversity and doing hard things:

The Choice: Embrace the Possible, by Dr. Edith Eger

Dr. Eger’s memoir of her life, from her childhood in Budapest to the horrors of Auschwitz to her calling as a psychologist is simply one of the most inspirational stories I’ve ever read.  Dr. Eger somehow manages to be uplifting on every page, while never flinching in the telling of her trauma-filled life story.

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah

In this memoir, Trevor Noah tells of his adventures, both hilarious and harrowing, growing up as a biracial child in apartheid South Africa.  He takes us along for the ride, and there is so much to learn as we witness his resilience and his mother’s unconditional love.  Narrated by the author, this is a great gift as an audiobook.

For your loved one who could use a little wisdom in navigating life, love, and relationships:

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed

This book is a compendium of essays from Cheryl Strayed’s “Dear Sugar” online advice column. The author delivers tough love with spot-on emotional intelligence, humanity, and honest stories of her own misadventures.  This is also a great choice as an audiobook.

For anyone contemplating their next chapter in life:

Untamed, by Glennon Doyle

With humor, honesty, and astounding vulnerability, Glennon Doyle chronicles her awakening to her authentic self, and how she found the strength to walk away from the life she thought she was supposed to live.

For those going through the isolation and loneliness of grieving:

Crying in H Mart, by Michelle Zauner;  and H is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald

Grief can leave us feeling lost, adrift, and cut off from the world; a memoir about grief can be a lifeline.  Both of these memoirs take us on the journey as the author finds their way back from devastating loss.

For the one on your list who takes care of everyone and everything:

Real Self-Care, by Dr. Pooja Lakshmin

For those of us wired to be caregivers to everyone except ourselves, this book is a reckoning.  Dr. Lakshmin calls BS on the false promises of the wellness industry, and more importantly, offers an insightful and actionable path to genuine, authentic self-care.

What about the person on your list who just doesn’t have time to read?

Page-a-day books can be a great choice for the busy people on your list, offering them a daily dose of wisdom or inspiration without the pressure of book.

Some of my favorites are:  A Year With Rilke, The Artist’s Way Every Day, and A Year With Rumi: Daily Readings.

 I hope that these recommendations are helpful.   I also hope that somewhere in the midst of your shopping and holiday to-do’s, there’s time for you to lose yourself — and find yourself — in a great book.

Are We There Yet?            The Importance of Our Sense of Progress

Are We There Yet? The Importance of Our Sense of Progress

“I stopped listening to myself and started talking to myself.” – Ocular Surgeon Dr. James Gills.

I bring you this post in mid-November when many of us find ourselves having a harder time of it.  The world is darker, and the holidays are around the corner.  It’s a time when we may be more prone to melancholy, more apt to regress into old patterns, and marking the milestone of another year passed.

In this, perhaps challenging, time: Can you start with being gentle with yourself?

So often I hear my clients say, “I thought I was done with this!” or “I thought I was further along,” when they find themselves grappling with an all-too-familiar theme in their self-development.  It might be some long-discarded reactive tendency or old struggles with a certain family member, or even moving through grief and loss.

What I’ve come to believe in my work as a coach, counselor, and recovering perfectionist, is that there are themes in our lives, in our beliefs about ourselves, in our family-of-origin stories, that will come up for us again and again.  And again.

There are sentences we’ve repeated in our thoughts so many times, they’ve become the soundtrack to our lives.  This is just the way of it – we have central struggles that make up who we are and how we are.  And our work on ourselves leads back to these themes, in different ways, from different angles; back, in order to move forward, as we grow, develop, and mature through all the seasons of our lives.

All of this is completely normal and human and okay – until we make it mean something about our progress and how we haven’t come as far as we “should.” In answer to the age-old question, Are we there yet?  Yes and No.  We’re never there… and we’re already there… and there is no there there.  (This is actually good news.)

In their book, Burnout, Emily and Amelia Nagoski describe this “Are we there yet?” reflex. They refer to this mechanism in our brains as The Monitor, a sort of sentry that constantly tracks our progress in all that we endeavor, whether we’re climbing a mountain, tackling a project, or simply driving to pick up our kids. This Monitor knows our goals, watches our progress, and has some very insistent opinions about how much headway we should be making, relative to our efforts. The Monitor tends to skew negative, its voice a combination of a drill sergeant and our most judgy critic.  Does this ring a bell?  Are you familiar with this voice?  It’s actually coming from inside the house – and we get to moderate, modulate and work with it, instead of letting it berate and belittle us.

Whether we’re focused on a big goal, the daily grind, or any kind of task — if we let our Monitor tell us we’re not making adequate progress, this ushers in a host of negative emotions: exhaustion, overwhelm, and frustration, to name a few.  It can spur on burnout and cause us to underperform or to give up.  Organizational psychologist Adam Grant notes that “the strongest predictor of engagement at work is a sense of daily progress.” This tendency to monitor our progress (or lack thereof) and incorporate it into our narrative about ourselves is pervasive, powerful and so worthy of our attention.

In whatever goal you’re trying to pursue, especially in this work of self-development, be gentle. Be generous with yourself.  Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and mark your progress with the most positive data available to you.  Let the graph of your journey be an oscillating spiral or a zigzag – and still notice the positive trajectory. Allow yourself to double back and revisit old issues.  In our growth as humans, we often need to learn things in many ways, from all different angles, to truly evolve and integrate that learning.  What if you just let that be okay?

I know, I know – my perfectionist sisters out there are gasping at this advice, worried that if they actually gave themselves a break, they might become – dare I say it? – slackers!

So often we think that if we’re just hard enough on ourselves, mean enough, critical enough – we’ll locate the sufficiently swift kick that finally gets us in high gear.  We’ll finally achieve the perfectionist fantasy.  Nothing could be further from the truth:  this self-critical approach in any endeavor is so painful. It’s not sustainable, and we inevitably give up.  How many times have you abandoned your effort toward something you truly want, because it just felt too hard?  Now ask yourself: who was making it so hard on you?

What if we meet ourselves out on the path, in whatever chapter we happen to be – with patience, kindness, self-compassion?

What if we told ourselves the truth: that perfection is a lie, a fantasy, a distraction — and progress is almost always slower than we think it should be, but it is forward motion nonetheless.

I promise you: this is not a “think positive” platitude; it’s actually very pragmatic.  It’s about telling yourself the truth rather than recycling an old story.  It’s about moving yourself forward rather than giving in to self-sabotage.  All growing things need to be nurtured, fed, and tended to gently; not undercut.

Ironically, when you allow yourself to be “enough” right where you are, that’s what creates the will, the strength, to go further.   Stop giving so much airtime to your harsh Monitor and tell yourself the loving words of encouragement you need, and deserve, to hear.

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