Feel calmer, focused, and accomplish what's important to you.

Your Gifts

I don’t know if it’s the hot, humid days sucking the energy out of me or just a temporary dry spell of creativity, but for whatever the reason, I have been met with procrastination and internal resistance when I have attempted to write an article or post of some kind.  I thought that maybe conceding defeat to a week already skipped, I might be ready to write again this week.  Apparently not.

So here it is Friday, and I was bound and determined to share something with you.  Because nothing had particularly shifted for me in the way of generating any new ideas, I began to get either panicky or creative and thought, “Hmmm, what might I already have written that might be helpful?”  Fortunately, I thought of something almost immediately.  Not sure why, but I was very grateful, instead of continuing to panic.

It’s something I wrote several years ago that I considered worth keeping.  It’s called “Your Gifts”.  At a time when I am feeling rather empty, remembering this poem is reassuring.  See if you might find some reassurance or even inspiration in it for you as well.

Your Gifts

So many gifts
Never received
Because never given.
Darkness, duty, fear or frenzy
Cloaks each gift
Meant to be shared, meant to be given.
Some don’t even recognize
The gifts they carry.
Others do but are stopped short
By too many obstacles:
Time, fear, guilt, embarrassment,
Shame, self-consciousness, preconceptions.

But the worst obstacle, perhaps,
Is separation —
Thinking we are all
Separate, disconnected beings,
Caught up in our own little worlds,
Afraid of reaching out,
Feeling it’s all too much,
Not appreciating the importance
Of connecting
Through the gifts carried.

Share your gifts.
Do what is required
To remove each obstacle,
One by one.
Or go around, or over, or through.

You are greater than your obstacles
Big as life though they may seem.
Do what is required.
It is essential
For sanity, for health, for peace,
Both yours and others’.

Remove each obstacle.
Do not hesitate
To ask for help when needed.
For not doing so can become
Just another obstacle.
Do not hesitate
To trust
That it is good, it is right
To share the gifts you carry.
It is always right.

You will know
When
To share your gifts
How
To share your gifts,
With whom
To share your gifts.

Share your gifts.
You need the blessing
As much as others need
Your gifts.

Christine Cloutier-Weddle

As I watched a mesmerizing performance by Missouri Contemporary Ballet a couple of years ago, tears came to my eyes.  Tears?  Why tears?  I experienced the simultaneous feelings of total bliss and deep sadness.  The bliss was very easy to understand because I love dance.  I love watching dance, and I have always loved to dance (although performing, for me, has been mixed because of the anxiety that goes with it.)  On the flip side, the sadness was in response to the loss I felt from not having had any dance in my life for the previous few years.  I hadn’t been to any performances, and I hadn’t danced or taken any classes for a long time.  What grief I felt as I watched those dancers, yet I also felt uplifted and joyful.  No wonder I felt so strange as I watched them move their bodies in exquisite turns, leaps and contortions of strength and flexibility!  Such total immersion I felt in the experience of witnessing those dancers perform.

Ballet Classes For Adults!

The dear friend sitting next to me at the performance noticed how strongly I responded and showed me the back page of the program, which advertised ballet classes for adults.  BALLET CLASSES FOR ADULTS???  I nearly jumped with joy as much as I was in disbelief at the idea.  Really??  I could take a ballet class?  But, would they really let me in when they discovered that I wasn’t a young 20 or even 30-something?  I had to find out.

I called the number and got the information I needed and found myself taking ballet again — many, many years since I had last taken as a child.  After my first class, because I worked so hard to do everything as well as I could and because my body had only faint memories of my childhood classes, I was literally almost unable to walk out without my legs buckling because they were so sore.  I burst into tears when I got in my car and wondered if I would be able to continue.

Hope For The Journey

That was two years ago.  Not only am I now taking two ballet classes each week, I have also ventured into a tap class, which is delightfully fun yet also quite challenging for me, and I am considering adding a class in modern dance.  That last one might push my schedule to its limits, but time will tell.  I love each class.  Sometimes I leave feeling frustrated that I have not been able to learn steps more quickly or that I am not as strong or flexible as I want to be.  But I work with what I have — the age I am, the body I have, and whatever my physical gifts or limitations may be, not to mention the focus and memory that is required!

What Is Your Passion?

As is apparent, my passion is dance, and it is crystal clear to me that pursuing my passion has given me energy,  joy and confidence.  It has become such an essential part of my self-care, not only to go to performances, but also to participate in dance by dancing!  There is a life force and an engagement and a focus that comes from participating in what you love to do.  For me, it is dance.  What is it for you?  What is it that calls to you?  What is it that intrigues you?  What is it that makes you smile, or perhaps makes you cry because it has been missing?

Fitting In One More Thing

I wondered how I would find the time or the money to pursue dance classes.  As much as I wanted to try it out (although with a bit of nervousness about whether I could really do it), it felt rather indulgent and even frivolous to proceed.  It also seemed on the edge of overwhelming to add one more thing to my schedule.  But I also knew in my heart of hearts that it was the right thing to do.  I took the next step and made a phone call, even though I wasn’t really sure how it would all work out.

The amazing thing is that adding something that you are passionate about can create more joy.  And through that joy, the challenges and stress of life become a bit easier to handle.  Perhaps we gain a bit of perspective.  Perhaps we actually get better at coping with things.  I don’t really know.  What I do know is that life improves.

Put something joyful in your life.

Start small.  Make a phone call.  Do some research online to get more information.  Talk to someone who can tell you more.  Write down several ideas you have about it.  Let yourself dream, and also take some kind of action!  You may find that your life begins to improve in unexpected ways.  Your joy is an important part of self-care.  Taking care of ourselves is more than just eating well, exercising and sleeping enough.  It is also about including in your life the things that matter to you and that are important to you.

Let yourself matter enough to include joy!

Good Night?

Did you have a good night?  Are you having good nights?  Sleeping, that is.

When your nights are not good (or just too short…), your days tend not to be good either.  Up to a point you can exercise the old “mind over matter” strategy and affirm having a good day despite your sleep deprivation, then do all you can to engage yourself positively in the activities of your day.  However, night after night will catch up with you.  You might be getting through your days OK, but are you giving yourself and your body the sleep you need?  Do you feel rested and ready to go in the morning?  Do you have enough energy to sustain you throughout the day?  If not, it might be worth taking a look at your sleep and consider making some changes to get the sleep your body and mind may be craving.

Getting Enough Sleep

Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night.  Some seem to do fine on six, and others need as many as nine.  To add to the challenge, the quality of your sleep is as important as getting enough of it.  It’s a little easier to start with the length because that’s often the easiest to do something about.  Most people need or want to wake up by a certain time in the morning, which means that, for most of us, the part we have to work with is what time we’re going to bed.  And, for many of us, we often stay up late on Facebook or Twitter, or we’re texting or surfing the web or playing computer games.

You have to be very committed to disconnecting from your day and letting yourself go to sleep.

And even then, if being on the computer or your cell phone or watching TV was the last thing you did before you went to bed, you might have difficulty falling asleep or might have difficulty sleeping well.

Wow!  There’s a lot to this whole area, isn’t there?  It’s generally recommended that you disconnect yourself from your cell phone, computer and TV at least an hour before you want to go to sleep, to give your brain a chance to wind down from that kind of visual stimuli and processing of information.  Perhaps you might consider reading a book you’re enjoying (but not on your Kindle…) or listening to some music or journaling or perhaps even doing a relaxation exercise during that time instead.  It is generally much easier to replace an old habit with a new one, instead of just trying to do nothing.

Stimulants and Sleep?

On to another sleep stealer — caffeine.  One of my favorite beverages.  There’s a lot of individual variability with caffeine, but the same kind of recommendation holds true.  Don’t drink coffee or caffeinated tea or soda too close to your hoped-for bedtime.  What is too close?  I’ve seen recommendations to stop drinking caffeinated beverages as early as 3:00, and some people know that they need to follow that advice, or they’re not able to fall asleep.  Caffeine does affect your body for several hours so you might consider backing up when you stop drinking it until you notice that you can more easily fall asleep.  Three to fours hours would be a good place to start.

Also, for those of us taking ADD meds, be very careful to take them as prescribed.  If you’re taking short-acting Adderall, for example, you want to make sure that you’re not taking your last dose too close to your bedtime!  Otherwise, you’re likely to lie in bed and want to go to sleep but not be able to!  It’s a yucky feeling.  I’ve tried it for naps.  Very frustrating!

A Relaxing Drink Can Backfire

On the other end of the spectrum is alcohol.  We usually drink it in the evening to wind down or enjoy time with friends, but it has a rebound effect that occurs several hours after we’ve imbibed that can wake us right up, sometimes making it hard to fall back to sleep!  If you do drink, please be moderate, and keep in mind both sides of the effects of alcohol, the initial relaxation and the delayed rebound effect.  When you’re aware of this, you’re in a better position to make a good decision for yourself about whether to drink that evening.

Checklist

* Am I getting seven to eight hours of sleep?

* Am I allowing some time before I go to bed to let my brain wind down from the computer, TV and cell phone?

* Am I doing something relaxing before bedtime that helps my brain and body wind down?

* Am I being careful to stop drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages a few hours before bedtime?

* Am I conscientious about taking my ADD meds as prescribed so they don’t interfere with my sleep?

* Am I remembering that even though drinking alcohol can be relaxing, drinking it in the evening can cause me to wake up in the middle of the night?

There are so many things that can affect our sleep, in either a helpful or a detrimental way.  By answering these questions, you have a good starting point to assess your own sleeping habits and see if you’d like to make any changes.  Sleep is something that can dramatically affect the quality of our days, and it is worth our time to do what we can to enjoy our days as much as possible!

Sleep, glorious sleep, why are you so elusive?  For me, anyway.  How about you?  Are you getting enough sleep?  Are you getting quality sleep?  I don’t remember sleep being so problematic when I was a kid.  But, it does seem to be problematic now, so it deserves my attention to make it the best I can.

“Getting enough sleep allows you to feel more rested and be more focused.”

No doubt.  But I’m not getting enough sleep.  Are you?  What can I do to improve this important area of my life?

The obvious answer is to get more sleep!  Yeah, right.  I know I need to get more sleep.  You probably know the same thing.  But you’re not, are you?  Why not?  Oh, for probably a hundred reasons or so.  OK, I’m exaggerating.  But, clearly, if it were easy to get enough quality sleep, we’d all be doing that, right?  One of THE MOST IMPORTANT things I learned in grad school was this.

“We’re always doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”

Credit goes to Dr. John McGowan for having repeated that sentence enough times during his counseling class that it stuck with me.  And I am so grateful because it provides a compassionate view of the way we’re doing things.  He didn’t say, “And we can’t do any better.” What would have been the point of being a helping professional?  It bears repeating.  “We’re always doing the best we can with what we’ve got.”

So, if I go with what I learned from Dr. McGowan, somehow I must be in need of something I “don’t got,” right?  What is it that I might be missing?  The first thing to recognize is that it could either be internal or external.  Internally, it might be something physical, such as feeling too hot or too cold, or having some pain that I’m not able to ignore.  Or it might be something on my mind that is worrying me.  It could also be something external, such as my old, in-need-of-being-replaced bed, or loud thunder or a dog barking or needing to care for a baby or a sick child.  The list could go on and on and on and on…  But you probably already know what your reasons are.  So let’s follow up on that.

Acknowledgement and Compassion

The next question is, “Have you really acknowledged all of those things that are making if difficult for you to sleep well?  Really acknowledged them?  Like a wonderful friend would do if you actually told them all of the things you are contending with on your path to sleep?  They’d say something like, “Wow!  That’s really a lot!  That sounds really tough!”  They wouldn’t say, “Buck up and deal with it!”  But I bet you are telling yourself that.  Or perhaps you fluctuate between, “Buck up and deal with it,” and “Oh, there’s no hope; it’ll never change; I’ll never get more sleep!”  If so, just tell yourself, “Oh, that’s right.  I’m human.  I forgot for a while there.”

That’s the kind of compassion I’m talking about.  The kind that recognizes that you do indeed have your challenges and that you are indeed doing the best you can with what you’ve got, and that

You deserve compassion and TLC.

Just because.  Just because you’re human, not to mention that we all function more effectively with a bit of compassion.  So, perhaps you could offer yourself some, or ask a dear friend to listen and let you cry on their shoulder because it’s been really hard…  Having that compassion can give you a bit of relief and can often help you towards figuring out what it is that you might need to do to get more sleep.

If you just jump to making a change, it doesn’t always stick.  Why not?  Lots of reasons, but one is that it’s important to make sure that you

clearly appreciate and understand the problem

so that you have a chance of

choosing the best solution for you!

What works well for me may not work well for you and vice versa.  In 12-Step meetings there’s a reminder to practice

1) Awareness

2) Acceptance

3) Action

They’re in that order for a good reason!  You first need to be aware of a problem before you can come to some acceptance of it before you can take appropriate action, not just any action, but action that is appropriate for you and for your situation!

Next week I’ll take a look at possible slumber strategies. Perhaps this week you might practice awareness or acceptance of your sleep issues so that you are one step closer to taking the action that is appropriate for you to get more of the sleep that you may be dreaming of!

Well, well, well…  Look at these thoughts I scribbled down a few weeks ago for a draft of an article.  How ironic that today they are a perfect reminder of what I need to do to get back to a steadier place of self-care, so that I am giving myself a decent chance to be other than a crazed parent of a teenager!  Here’s what I wrote.

“The wonderful thing about self-care is that it builds on itself.  Progress in eating healthier food helps you feel better.  Getting enough sleep allows you to feel more rested and be more focused.  De-cluttering and getting organized can not only give you a sense of relief but also more energy and clarity.  And engaging in stress-management or relaxation practices has positive physical, mental and emotional benefits!”

By giving you an intimate look at my current state of self-care, you may be inspired to look at your own self-care and maybe even consider making a small, doable change that can have that positive domino effect!

This week I’m focusing on the nutritional part of my current self-care checklist.

Am I eating mostly nutritious foods?

Well, I am on both sides of the fence on this one.

  • Fruit?  I do love and eat fruit on a reasonably consistent basis.  Check.
  • Veggies?  Well, I love and eat spinach and tomatoes frequently and throw in other veggies here and there, but I am sure that I am not eating the recommended three servings of a variety of veggies most days.  Maybe half a check.
  • Whole grains?  I love the Nine Grain bread that one of our local restaurants makes.  I also buy whole wheat bread.  But I also love English muffins, the plain old white kind.  Maybe three-quarters of a check.
  • Dairy?  Probably only drinking a cup of milk a day.  I do love cheese, however.  Good for dairy requirements but not so good for low-fat fare.   I take Vitamin D and Calcium supplements to round out this category.  Close enough to a check.
  • Protein?  I love deli turkey, tuna and smoked salmon.  So far so good.  Also love sausage and bacon.  Good for protein.  Not so good for the high fat content.  Love beans also.  They help to add some substance to this category, plus beans are great for getting in some fiber!  Some days I skimp on the protein, but overall I do OK.  Giving myself a check here.
  • Fat?  Oops!  Probably more than I need.  Love half-and-half in my coffee.  Also love margarine on my toast and lots of mayo on my sandwiches and in my tuna salad.  Also love peanut butter and nuts, which are called good fats because of their high nutritional content.  This is a category for careful attention and for flexibility.  If I’ve had a ton of margarine at breakfast, then, instead of tuna salad with lots of mayo at lunch, it’s better to go for a spinach salad with mandarin oranges and a few walnuts for lunch, which I also love!
  • Fat and Sugar?  It’s not actually a category per se, but it seems important to mention if I’m taking an honest inventory, right?  I love chocolate.  And I love an occasional cookie.  For some reason, I have developed a particular love for chocolate-covered cherries lately.  Depending on the day, I may eat none of these, or I may indulge in a few cookies or chocolate-covered cherries.  It’s not really a category to check or not, but to be aware of and notice what’s going on if I’m indulging too much or too frequently.

Overall, I’m doing reasonably well in the nutrition area.  I do need to be watchful of the fat and sugar combos and also be careful to eat small healthy snacks in between meals so I don’t get too hungry or tired or spacey from not having the energy I need to function at my best!  I love dried fruit and nuts or a single serving of yogurt for those snack times.  Delicious, and I feel better!

What Works For Me

For this part of “beefing up” my self-care, I’m doing OK.  It could be argued that I’m doing really well, or it could be argued that I’m doing terribly.  That’s OK.  It’s all a matter of perspective.   At this point in my life, I know what kind of eating makes a difference in my energy and mood.  For me, I always do better if I add food, rather than attempting to tell myself that I can’t have this or that.  Denying myself particular foods only results in me craving them more.  If I am really determined to banish a particular food from my diet, that’s a whole different ball of wax.  For now, I am interested in balance and making small changes that can add up to a big difference, like making sure that I have nuts and dried fruit on hand to eat between meals so that my energy stays more steady.

Then I have a chance to use that steadiness to be a calmer, loving parent.

Next week we’ll peek into a different area of my self-care to see how I’m doing and decide whether another small change might be helpful.  Then you can use those questions to determine how you’re doing with your self-care!

Getting Things Done?

When it comes to getting things done, how do you proceed?  Do you take the “eat-the-biggest-frog-first” approach and do the biggest or most difficult thing first?  For some people, that approach can work very well.  The idea is that by tackling the “biggest frog” first, you not only get that project done, but you also free up the energy that you might have spent thinking or worrying about getting it done.  If this idea appeals to you or works for you, go for it.  Use it to get those items on your to-do list checked off!

Moving With The Flow

However, if that has not worked so well for you (or has not worked at all), there is another, completely opposite approach which can be equally effective for getting things done.  It’s the idea of “the path of least resistance.”  As the name implies, you move with the flow, not against it.  I have known about and appreciated this idea for some time now because it fits for me philosophically.  However, I attribute a better understanding and more practical use of it to Jennifer Hofmann of Inspired Home Office.  I participated in a class she offers called “The Wish Kit” in which she guided us to create not only a vision for, but also the initial steps to creating an office or studio or workspace that works for us and even nurtures and inspires us.  (Please check out the link if this sounds intriguing at all.  It’s very reasonably priced!)

Path Of Least Resistance

In “the path of least resistance” approach, the idea is to generate energy and build momentum for what you want to accomplish.  Instead of going for the “big frog,” you begin with the task or project that has the most appeal, that sounds like the most fun and/or is the easiest.

“What?”  You may say, “That won’t work!  I’ll just do easy stuff and won’t get the hard stuff done.”  Perhaps.  However, the brilliance behind this approach is that it tends to clear the way so that you can get stuff done!  Doing the easy or even the fun task has a way of lightening our mood and increasing our energy, thus creating a better environment to do those very tasks that we may be putting off or even dreading.  This approach is like oiling a rusty or squeaky part in our home.  The part becomes smoother and easier to move.  And we often feel an “Ahhhhh” sense of relief.  Using the path of least resistance allows our own process to move more smoothly and easily.

Let It Be Easy!

Next time, instead of gritting your teeth and pushing through something, why not give this approach a try?  Purposefully decide to experiment with this way of getting things done.  Pick something that you’d like to do, something that you want to do, something that is easy to do, then notice if you feel less stuck or if you have more energy or your thinking becomes clearer.  Any and all of those results are possible.  It is a tried-and-true approach!

Kiss Your Monster On The Nose

Then you are in a more effective position to “kiss your monster on the nose.”  (Doesn’t that sound preferable to eating a big frog????)  If you think about “kissing your monster on the nose,” it has a sense of peace and resolution to it, not a sense of having to “gear yourself up for battle.”  Kissing your monster on the nose may just be a matter of breaking down the project in front of you into the tasks or steps that will allow you to accomplish it.  It may be that you just haven’t stopped to take the time to think through what may be involved or that you need to do some research to get more information for what’s in front of you.  You want to make sure that you have the necessary information and resources you need to accomplish your task or project!

If you think about being your own best friend, you want to encourage yourself with positive motivation as much as you can instead of forcing yourself or giving yourself grief when what you’re doing isn’t working!  And, aside from being a “kinder, gentler way,” the path of least resistance is very effective!  You do get done what you’re wanting to get done, but you go about it in perhaps a very different way.

If you’ve been looking for an approach to increase your productivity without being mean to yourself, give this one a try.  You may very well be surprised at how incredibly effective it is!

The Order of Things

“Go do a little yoga,” the still, small voice in my head gently whispered.

“But I’m tired, and if I get online, it’ll help me wake up!” the competing voice argued with authority.

Guess which voice won out?  The louder, argumentative voice scored a victory this time.  However, not really a victory for me.  Oh sure, it’s a reasonable thing to check email and online networks and website.  But the timing was important here.  Instead of getting centered and grounded for my day, I began by dispersing my energy.

The order really matters.

It is important for me to connect with other people in person or online, but when I do that from a place of not being grounded and present and clear about my own priorities, I tend to jump willy-nilly from one thing to the next.  Perhaps it is a priority for the day, or perhaps it isn’t.  Perhaps it is something that needs to be done, or perhaps it really could have waited so I could have done something that really mattered for me that day.  Stopping to do even 15 or 20 minutes of yoga or  some other self-care practice is so small time-wise relative to the return I get for that time investment.  (And the form of yoga that I do requires more willingness than energy…)

Do you find yourself doing the same kind of thing?  You may have a vague sense or even a clear idea of how important it is to do something you know is right (often involving some kind of self-care…), but instead you end up choosing to do something else.  It may even be something that does need to be done or taken care of, but it is often something that could easily wait until you’ve given yourself the time that you need.  It’s the same idea that financial advisers use when they suggest paying yourself first, before paying for all of the other things that your money needs to take care of.  Give to yourself before you give to all of the other people and things that need to be taken care of!  The benefit of this is that you come from a place of solidity and increased focus versus feeling more scattered or unclear.

Getting Lost vs. Knowing the Way

What happened when I decided to get online instead of stopping to do some yoga first?  Well, I did check my email and wrote a couple of replies and checked Facebook and LinkedIn…but I know from experience that I need to be so careful when I venture into those tasks that I don’t get lost in doing them!  When I first do some yoga and/or journaling and give some centered thought to what I most want to accomplish that day, then it is easier not to get “lost” online!  (Or, if I do get “lost”, I find my way out more quickly than I would if I had not taken the time for myself.)

What is a self-care practice that you could engage in at the beginning of your day before you “jump into your day”??  Have you tried journaling?  What about taking a short walk or going to the gym?  Perhaps it is something as simple as having a few moments of quiet to sit and think about how you’d LIKE your day to unfold, rather than, “Oh my gosh, I need to do _________ and __________ and __________!  I better get going before I get behind!”

Can you feel the difference in the energy between the idea of the quiet moments to reflect on your day in a centered, positive frame of mind versus the anxious energy of the “behind before you begin” kind of thinking?  There really is something to this.  I have done my own personal experiments with it, and each way of thinking at the beginning of the day tends to set the tone for the rest of the day.  However, even if you start out feeling frantic or anxious about your day, there’s a saying that “You can start your day over any time you want!”  It’s not set in stone.  But you do need to stop to take the time to create some calm, peaceful energy to create a day that unfolds more smoothly.

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