Being Kind To Yourself

Lately I have been feeling challenged. I lost more than a month of productivity and energy to a bad sinus infection/head cold. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this period has been how hard I have been on myself emotionally. I am almost completely healed and most of my energy is back but I haven’t felt as motivated to do my work and do my art as I did before the illness. During the worst part of the illness I couldn’t do much other than sleep. Once I was in the getting better phase I often felt that I should push myself harder to get back to work! All of this points to my personal struggle with having to “do” all the time, rather than allowing myself to just “be”. But it also points to how hard I can be on myself. And that is a common problem I see with my clients and most of us.

What does being kind to yourself look like, anyway? Recognizing that there will be ebbs and flows in the body’s capacity is a big one. Sometimes we are ill, sometimes we have sore muscles, sometimes we are physically unable to do certain activities. Giving yourself permission to rest and restore is an important kindness tool for yourself. During my illness I slept in comfy jammies, kept the room temperature warm, snuggled with my kittens and when I had enough strength, unapologetically watched romances on TV.

For some it is very difficult to give oneself much needed TLC (tender loving care) in the form of physical comforts like sleep and hot soup. I find kindness deeds to myself are much easier than being kind to myself in my thoughts and attitudes. Although I was taking care of myself physically, I was beating myself up each day that I wasn’t getting better quick enough and wasn’t finding a way to get things done even if I was sick. I said unkind things to myself like, “You’re not really that sick—snap out of it!” And even worse, “You are being a baby and making excuses because you really don’t want to do your work or your art.”

If someone said those things to me directly I would be appalled at their meanness. But when you say such things to yourself, you rarely recognize how caustic the words are. If you are a perfectionist (or a recovering perfectionist as I like to call myself) it is common to set up huge expectations for yourself. Then if you don’t live up to your high standards, you are unkind and self-critical. Being kind to yourself takes practice but is truly worth it. At some level you might fear that if you are kind to yourself you will become too self-indulgent. So you keep yourself in check by creating high standards to meet. That creates a cycle of anxiety that can be broken. When you are compassionate about your own limitations, be them from being ill or simply the truths about your own capabilities, you will be more at ease. And you deserve compassion and kindness—from yourself and from others. The prescription from this doctor is to practice self-kindness every day.

xoxo Rachel

When Aging Changes Are Thrust Upon You

Change is inevitable. Change is welcome. Change is hard. Change for change sake is pointless. Change is a process not an event. Change is scary. Change is good. Change is ahead. And the phrases go on. Everything indeed is always changing even if we feel like we are in a static place in our life. I am a big fan of taking on change to learn and grow and to create the life you want. Change that you want is hard enough to handle for most people. When change is trust upon you, that is when the going gets tough. You might feel like everything it is falling apart and that you have no control.

All of us have to face an inevitable big change in life that you really cannot control: aging. Many of my friends and clients are deeply challenged with the changes that come with aging. Some of the choices that come with aging are relatively straight forward on the surface. Like should I let my hair go gray? Yet in the work place and society at large, hair color and style are not such simple choices. I am a huge fan of the Crown Act that allows everyone to wear their hair however they want without fear of discrimination. California was the first state to outlaw discrimination based on hairstyle and other states are following. Women of color in particular have had to face great prejudice about their hair and go through time consuming and painful treatments to make their hair conform to white norms. The Crown Act is a seemingly small yet very important step of recognizing the beautiful varieties of physical appearance in the world.

Hair color, just like style, often leads to discrimination. Although coloring hair can be for pure fun and decoration, often covering up gray hair is required to conform to youth standards in the workplace. Fortunately deciding to go gray naturally as you age is having a big gain in popularity among women right now. Some young woman are even dying their hair gray. The shift to embracing gray is a wonderful way of dealing with the natural process of aging. Instead of trying to control, just go with it. Dealing with changes in appearance due to aging, as difficult as it may be for some, is small compared to other realities of aging.

Many changes that arise due to aging are more complex because they don’t only impact you, they also impact friends and family. Living arrangements are one of the biggest and potentially disruptive changes that you will have to deal with as you age. Planning can help to ease the transition but no matter how much you plan, the change will have emotional as well as physical impacts. And looking into the future is a difficult task. Trying to anticipate what you will want and need when you are older isn’t like gazing into a crystal ball. It is more like playing a game of chance. You can’t know what the future will bring but you can consider possible scenarios and make some general plans for those scenarios. It would be lovely if we could all easily and gracefully welcome change. Although that might be hard to imagine, there is a way to soften your experience with change. Acceptance.

Acceptance recognizes that you may not be able to fight all changes. Rather than struggle against the changes, with the practice of noticing the changes as they happen in your life and with the practice of accepting those changes, you will feel more in control. Some of the changes will be emotionally shattering and even still, acceptance can dull the suffering that is accompanying those difficult changes. Acceptance is best practiced all the time with smaller issues to give you practice for the bigger issues. Over time it gets more automatic and easier. Whether you are working toward accepting the wrinkles that emerge on your face and other physical changes of aging or you are working to accept that you can no longer live in your current home, may you find a peaceful resolution and live with ease.

xoxo Rachel

Finding And Following Your Own Truth

Lately the readings that stick to me, the interviews that get me thinking, the issues that stand out most seem to point to the same thing: finding and following your own truth is essential for leading a meaningful life. It starts with getting clarity on what is important to you. My journey through the years has revealed what’s truly important to me, often in retrospect. Each choice I made along the way was shaped in part by society and also based on my personal wants, needs and ethics. My history and personal story is different from your history and personal story so our paths are very different. Yet because we are all humans on this planet earth you and I share many experiences and are shaped by similar forces.

We are all socialized beginning at birth. What matters to your parents and caretakers and educators typically becomes what matters to you. As you take work positions in the world what matters to the leaders in your organizations becomes what matters to you or at least your work livelihood. So much so that you might be doing work that really doesn’t matter to you but the paycheck does. Or you might be are working in a field that you care about yet the company you work for doesn’t share your values. Are your truths more important to you than your position? Perhaps this is the first you have even thought about this.

It is not unusual to be 40 or 50 years old before you realize that you have been following someone else’s script for how you want to live your life. You went to school, got a job, got married, bought a house and a car and had children. There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong about any part of that. If you were making those choices for your life because they were aligned with your values and truths then bravo. Unfortunately for so many of us we went along with the social norms and didn’t question whether these decisions were aligned with our own personal truths. We never even thought about what we value and find is true for ourselves.

There are so many ways to live your life. For me, thinking about what is compassionate for me, for others, for the environment, and for all the creatures on our planet sets the focus of my way of living. I am in no way perfect in my implementation, yet I strive to do the right thing in line with my personal code. Being of service is part of my DNA and yet I know that not everyone else shares that trait. The beauty of your individual life is that your own history has built who you are. As your experiences accumulate you develop your own lens from which you view the world. You make choices that in turn lead to other choices and if you are awake to what you are doing, you learn about your own personal truths.

If you haven’t given this much thought, it is not too late. It is never too late to make adjustments to your life. Take some time now to figure out what is true and right for you. Here are some questions to consider and some different wording to spur you on. What drives you through your day? How are your actions shaped by personal beliefs? Are you going about what society has shaped you to believe but don’t care about? What are your personal ethics? What issues do you consider critical enough that you want to live by them? Are you passionate about certain causes? Passion is a difficult word for many. You needn’t be passionate or have causes to be aligned to your truths. Your truths can take so many forms. They might be passions. They might be causes. Or they might be everyday axioms for how you want to live. Perhaps it is important that you enjoy the people you work with, receive compensation in line with what you provide, create deep connections with a life partner or friends, or share your talents with others.

There are tons of ethical and personal issues, but it can be difficult to adhere to strict codes on everything. Figuring out what’s most important to you is the first step which may feel hard enough. The more difficult part might be living by those tenants. Often it is easiest to implement your truths when you are on your own, but among others and at work it can be very difficult. For instance I have clarity on my choice to not eat animal products. At this point the truth is easy and embodied in me. And yet when I go out into the world, the restaurants don’t necessarily offer food choices that align with my truth. Depending on who I am dining with I don’t always have the ability to choose an establishment that has my food options. I usually can come up with a salad and bread at most restaurants though I often feel uncomfortable among the other diners because my choices stand out as different. That isn’t easy and yet I don’t waver because the vegan life is my truth.

Perhaps you do certain things because you feel you have no choice. Remember that you do have many different choices throughout your life. Determine which choices are essential to living your truth and you will have a clearer path ahead. It takes courage to stick to your personal edict. However it is freeing when you do make choices and take actions that are aligned with your own truth. You will feel more centered, complete and at peace.

xoxo Rachel

Organizing Your Life For Greater Fulfillment

September is the back-to-school month, the reboot moment, the get your ducks in a row time. Though I have to admit that I love to organize, I am not raring to go at the start of September. It takes me some time to ease into that “get back into action after the summer” approach. The unusual warm spell we have been having lately doesn’t help. Nonetheless, around this time of year, whether it is clothes in my closet, papers on my desk or files on my computer, I enjoy getting everything in order. Even more I love to organize my thoughts and actions—and that’s the stuff that really drives life. Not surprising that I’m a life coach. Life coaching is all about organizing your life from the inside out. You can pick any aspect of your life and organize to make your life more fulfilling. Here are some organizing themes to get you started.

Organize Stuff
This is the work of professional organizers and Feng Shui masters who know that a physically cluttered world will clutter your mind. Going through all your belongings and making chaos more functional can have huge ramifications on your everyday life. Think about all the little frustrations you encounter in your day-to-day. Like when you can’t find something you need or when it takes you twice as long to do something because your materials aren’t organized orderly. You can fix this with or without professional help. Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and her TV show and videos are all the rage. Check her website for more info.

Organize Around Time
Days can go by so quickly that one of my favorite recommendations for organizing is around your time. Organizing helps to make your time more efficient. For instance, you can organize your activities in your working day to maximize your energy level. Try blocking out chunks of time in your calendar for your most concentrated thought work based on your own body. I always find I am most successful at writing in the morning so I keep that scheduled on my calendar. You can also organize your time by day-of-week. Maybe you find that you are most excited about working on tough projects on Mondays and prefer light work on Fridays, so schedule accordingly.

Organize Using Goals

A great rule of thumb that helps to organize your priorities in life is to consider short, mid- and long-term goals. I like the 3-3-3 rule. What are the three short-term goals you have for the day, the three mid-term goals for the week and the three long-term goals for the quarter?  You can substitute months and year for mid- and long-term if that suits you better. Then organize your activities for the day, week and quarter to help you meet those goals. Make sure that you revisit and revise your timing based on your outcome. For instance I review my goals on Mondays and if I haven’t completed something from last week, I get it on this week’s calendar. As you can tell, I rely heavily on a calendar to organize my life. It is a structure that works for many people so you might want to give it a try.

Organize In Your Own Style
Being organized doesn’t mean that you must stay in the bounds. While having an organizing principle will help you to get things done and help set a direction, you shouldn’t feel constrained by it. Treat these as guidelines not rules. Unless you find rules easier to follow. There are huge individual differences when it comes to following instructions. Some prefer detailed rules and regulations while others are more rebellious. For instance, I keep open and unscheduled time on my calendar and I am not rigid about getting something done at a particular time or day. Get to know yourself and follow what works best for you. Some people love to have post-it notes everywhere and a large calendar on their wall for visual cues.  Others prefer electronic calendars and audible reminder bells. Find what suits you best. If you struggle with getting organized on your own, ask for outside help. Whatever approach you take, being more thoughtful and organized in how you go about your days will help you to stress less while you enjoy life more.

xoxo Rachel

The Comparison Monster

It can happen in an instant when you are around other people or on social media: the comparison monster shows up. Monsters typically aren’t very nice and the comparison monster is no different. The comparison monster lives in most of us and rarely offers very positive information. The monster loves to remind you that you aren’t as smart, creative, talented, beautiful, serene, mature, youthful, wealthy, flexible, thin, tall, strong, or whatever as someone else. Lately I have noticed that the comparison monster also comments on how others choose to live their lives; what big choices they make compared to your choices. “She lives in the city. Maybe I’m supposed to live in the city too.” “He travels to exotic places. Oh, I never do that. I should be more adventurous in life.” “Wow, I forgot to have kids!” Not very helpful at first glance.

Then a good friend visited and during our conversation about retiring and what to do when you aren’t working full time, I had a big realization. It occurred to me that one of the biggest reasons why comparing yourself to others is useless is that what one person likes to do is often very different from what another person likes to do. Why be envious of their life if you aren’t even sure you want it? Well that sounds rather obvious, but the negativity of the comparison monster rarely lets you off the hook so easy. The comparison monster is adept at making you feel bad when you see someone else doing something awesome. But just because someone else is doing something amazing doesn’t mean that you should do it too. Instead you can use the comparison monster to motivate you to figure out what you really want to do. Perhaps the comparison monster does have some value.

When you find that you are negatively comparing yourself to someone else, ask yourself if what they are doing really holds any meaning to you. If yes, then consider how you might seek a similar path. And if no, then find a path that gives you meaning, regardless of the other person’s choice. When you hear the comparison monster saying, “You aren’t as talented as she is,” thank Mr. or Ms. Comparison Monster and then ask yourself, “How can I discover and nurture my own talents?” It is usually the case that when you have a strong reaction to something or someone, there is some piece of truth you can glean from your reaction. The trick is to look for what is important to you and not try to live up to some external reference point.

The understanding that we all don’t like the same thing was further reinforced this past weekend when I got together with a group of friends to celebrate the Autumn Equinox (a week early due to schedules). While discussing how the seasons affect us it became very clear that some people like the dark, some people like the light, some people prefer the hot summer, others prefer the cool but not cold fall. Viva la difference. To each their own. Mind your own business. Everyone has two eyes, but no one has the same view. These expressions all speak to the same notion. Just because someone else is doing something and is happy doing it doesn’t mean that you are right, wrong, good, bad, better or worse for not doing that same thing. You are just uniquely you and best served by finding your own way in life. Don’t let the comparison monster run your life. Acknowledge what it has to say then decide for yourself if it has anything truthful to offer you as you create a life of your own choosing.

xoxo Rachel