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

What We Can Learn From Kittens

Animals have a way of focusing your attention. They are needy and yet they also provide so much love and joy. Pure joy—that is what I have been feeling much of the time while spending time with our new kittens Rose and Calla. Although it is sometimes difficult for me to focus on my writing when they are bouncing all over my office and me, I appreciate all that they offer. Kittens have very essential needs to attend to—not that much different from the needs we all have. Yet we often leave our own needs unattended. Kittens know a thing or two about living life to the fullest. So I thought I’d riff on the parallels between kittens (probably puppies too) and humans and what we can learn from them. Whether you are lucky to have kittens in your life or not, there is so much they can teach us.

Playtime—Kittens are pretty amazing in their ability to find play on their own. You can buy lots of fancy toys, but a simple string will do just as well. Or they can always play with their own tail. Kittens love to play with each other if you are lucky to have siblings like we do. In their high energy state, they love to tussle with one another, wrestling and running and jumping into each other. Yet they know to keep their claws retracted when they are play-wrestling and they like to lick and kiss afterwards. We could do a better job of playing hard then loving.

Kittens are just as adept at playing alone as they are with others. They’ll even grab a ball and throw it in the air themselves to play some more. So too can we find ways to be playful with others or by ourselves. Obviously I find it fun hanging out with the kittens and playing with them. But there are so many ways to find fun and play with people. Andy and I are learning to play golf and we regularly hit balls at the range for a quick burst of play time. Throwing balls is a simple yet underrated play activity. Recently I threw balls with Andy in the pool for added fun. Of course there are plenty of other sports and outdoor activities that are fun to do with partners like tennis, hiking and volleyball. Finding playful activities to do on your own is also important. Although many solitary activities seem low energy and serious like journaling or meditation, there is no reason why you can’t find play in those activities and other solitary endeavors. Dancing is a playful activity that I love to do alone to my favorite tunes. And swimming is awesome.

Cuddle time—Our kittens love to cuddle up with each other. The comfort and joy of cuddling is another activity that we humans can enjoy just as much. Cuddling in my mind usually includes comfortable clothes and really soft blankies and pillows. Kittens have built in soft fur blankies—perfect for cuddling. Fortunately cuddling is wonderful on your own or with others. For solitary cuddle time I love to snuggle under a soft cover and read a good book. Snuggled on a comfy couch in front of TV is lovely alone or with a loved one. If you are lucky your cats or dogs might join you too.  My kittens are snuggled on my lap right now making me have to type with one hand while keeping my other hand around them to keep them from sliding off my lap. And they are purring loudly. Which brings me to purring.

Purring time—Kittens show their appreciation through the vocalization of purring. We could learn a lot about expressing our love so overtly. You don’t have to purr, but it is wonderful to speak aloud to your loved ones to let them know how much you appreciate them.

Exploring time—Kittens are curious by nature and they tend to look to higher ground as their points of interest. Whether they are climbing up our high bookshelves or jumping up to windowsills, kittens love adventures. And they are amazing jumpers. They naturally get to know things thoroughly using all of their senses. They see, smell, touch, taste and listen to everything around them. You don’t need to jump like kittens jump (though if sky-diving is your thing, go at it) but testing your limits can be a good thing. Whether you are innately adventurous or not, you can stretch your capabilities and explore your world around you one step at a time through your senses.

Sleep time—Of course sleeping is a skill that kittens seem to have perfected from day one. Whether taking a quick cat nap or settling into a long deep sleep, kittens are sleep experts. I am not nearly as advanced as they are but I certainly do try to get ample sleep. Part of their method for getting a good sleep I believe is that they play so hard. After running around and leaping high into the air or bouncing off of every piece of furniture in the room, they are plum tuckered out. We could all benefit from some hard exercise for more sound sleep. A key difference is that kittens can play hard and immediately zonk out while we humans are better off getting exercise well before we go to bed. It helps if you are running around playing with your kittens who tire you out like mine do. May we all learn some helpful skills from the wonderful animals who cohabit our world.

xoxo Rachel

Be Your Own President For Life

I joined my first book club in the early 90’s in New York City. It was an interesting group of young professional women about my age who met once a month to discuss a book. The club was organized many years before I joined as an investment group that somehow morphed into a book club. A friend told me about the group but warned I couldn’t join until someone died or moved away. Strange I thought but she said it was because they maintained the size of the group to 12 people, one to host each month of the year. Within a year someone moved away—thankfully they didn’t die—so I was able to join. The leader of the group dubbed herself “President For Life”. I’ve always laughed at that idea but then I got to thinking that president for life is a great idea for your own life. I mean, shouldn’t you be in charge of your own life forever?

Being your own president in life isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Although you might want to be the leader of your life, so many people and events impact your days in unanticipated ways. When you were a kid, parents and teachers probably had a larger leadership role in your life than you did. Other people throughout your life no doubt have had a big influence on your choices. But at the end of the day, I hope that you feel like you are the key leader in your life. If not, why not start now? Here are a few ideas for how to be the president of your life, the top dog, the big kahuna, the one in charge. If nothing else, these are a couple of ways to explore what is true for you and you alone.

Get to know yourself better than anyone else. This may or may not be a stretch for you. Some of us are very inward focused and that comes easily. For others who are more outward focused, getting to know yourself may feel uncomfortable. If you spend much of your life attending to the needs of others because of your role or your natural tendencies, it may feel selfish to focus on yourself. It is not selfish to get to know yourself. It is an essential step towards leading a life of your own choosing. There are so many ways to explore who you are on your own through personality and style assessments, self-exploration books and workbooks, journaling, and meditation to name a few. So much is available on-line these days for free and don’t overlook your library as a great resource. I set aside time each month for regrouping and thinking about who I am and what I want from life and I encourage my coaching clients to do the same. You deserve some self-attention.

Plan some alone activity time. One of my favorite recommendations for building creativity is also a great way to learn about what you need to be in charge of your own livelihood. Set aside some time periodically where you are by yourself in nature or at a museum or a movie or some other activity that calls you outside of your home. When you spend time with yourself instead of with someone else you are creating an opportunity to listen for your own reaction to your experience without interference from others. When you are with others, so much energy and focus naturally tends towards how the other person is reacting. Give your full attention to how you are experiencing the moment. What seems important to you and what is no longer important? Often we get stuck thinking and doing things that we have always done because at some point in the past we really wanted to do that thing. But what we like, what we want and what we need changes over time. Watch your reaction to experiences now and see what you learn about yourself when there is no one else around to shape your reaction.

Question everything that you do. Asking why is a very helpful exercise in life. You might find that there are many things that you do because they help and serve other people. That is perfectly fine and wonderful. And there is likely a deeper “why” in that. When you help others you are probably getting something out of it yourself. Being of service is a wonderfully fulfilling part of life for many people. Being of choice and aware that you are choosing to be of service is a way to honor that you are the president of your life. When you aren’t aware of the reason for doing something, you are letting go of your leadership reins. When you question why you are doing something and you don’t have a good answer, it is time to put on your president hat and take charge. Either find a meaningful reason for doing it or consider dropping it. If you hear yourself saying, “that is the way I always have done it” or “I have always wanted to…” then it is time to consider making a change.

Leadership is about clarity. When you are clear about who you are and what you want and need in your life, then you are able to make plans and preside over your life with purpose. You have the power to create the life you want and be your own president for life.

xoxo Rachel

Coloring Outside The Lines

I’ve recently taken up oil painting. The decision to paint just appeared from nowhere, although I certainly have expressed myself through arts and crafts of some sort throughout my life. I mentioned my desire to paint to my husband Andy and he surprised me on my birthday with a beautiful and functional easel that he built. I haven’t played with oil painting since I was a little girl. I dabbled a few times with my dad in his art studio and at my best friend Peri’s grandfather Presto’s studio. I also remember painting landscapes and especially trees with my great Uncle Jack who painted landscape primitives.

My dad was a very talented and successful artist in a number of mediums. Perhaps my favorites are his large and colorful abstract oil paintings (though some of them were painted with acrylics). He passed two and a half years ago and I am pretty certain that I my urge to paint wouldn’t have been revealed while he was alive.

Every day after the easel arrived in my life but before I actually put brush to canvas, fear had been gripping me. Fear that I can’t do this; fear that there is a right way and a wrong way to do this; fear of the unknown. When I finally started painting, much, though not all, of the fear dissipated. As I began to mix the colors and play with the brush stroke techniques, I felt a release of tension replaced by a great freedom to let creativity flow from my hand. My first piece is abstract. I didn’t have a single thought or plan in my head as I allowed the painting to completely unfold from nothing. I needed to let go of any restraints in order to move through the uneasy feeling of starting something when I have no training. I even found the experience pure fun.

And so I am coloring outside of the lines. I am not taking a class that prescribes what to do. I am not setting up goals and timing for outcomes. I am not establishing rules for how or what I create. Coloring outside of the lines means that I am not holding tightly on the reins as I paint. I am allowing creativity to explore the canvas through me and my brush. I am letting the ideas flow even if they aren’t in line with anyone’s thoughts on what makes a good painting. And coloring outside the lines also means that I am letting go of whatever expectations I have built up in my mind that my dad would have if he were alive. I suspect a big part of my sudden rushing need to paint is knowing that he can’t judge my paintings—even though I am sure he would try to be kind and loving in his reviews. I am letting go of the desire to fit in. I am welcoming whatever arrives. It’s a great way to approach everything.

xoxo Rachel

Bringing Yourself Back To Balance

I am taking an adult ballet class and not surprisingly there are lots of balances on tip toes. Not having taken a ballet class in many years, I had forgotten how often one is in relevé. Whether doing soussus across the floor, pas de bourrées or just holding a relevé for a long time, it can be difficult to maintain balance.

There are a few helpful approaches for keeping yourself balanced in a pose. The easiest is to not lose your balance to begin with. To find your strong balance at the start, begin with a positive belief, take it easy rather than forcing it, find a mid-distance anchor point to put your soft focus on and envision yourself being pulled up into balance. If you falter, it takes a tremendous amount of strength to try to get back to the center place. Often it is not possible to regain balance while you are in the midst of losing your hold. Instead, better to start over again by re-grounding yourself before you go back into your balance stand.

I find that starting over again when you lose your balance is a great technique in general when life throws you off. Yesterday I was feeling off-balance and I tried to push myself into a centered place without any success. I kept on trying to force my emotions back into balance when what I needed to do was to start over. And by start over I am talking about shifting expectations and re-engaging as if you have a blank slate. Go back to the ground before you attempt your balance again. Basically, reboot and re-balance.

One way to reboot is by stopping whatever you are doing and trying something completely different—best if that something different comes easy to you and feels good. Moving the body helps. I took a swim in a cooling pool on a hot day for a burst of feel-good re-centering. Another way to re-balance is by reading a passage that gives you a different perspective on your situation—perhaps a favorite book that makes you laugh or gives you hope. Writing or journaling also works for me. Pushing yourself back into balance rarely helps. Easing back into a good place is so much more compassionate.

And giving yourself some compassion, if you aren’t familiar with it already, is an amazing elixir worth trying when you are out of balance. In fact, compassion is an amazing balm that not only you can give yourself but is equally balancing when you give to others. When you offer compassion to others who are out of sorts, not only are you encouraging their re-balancing, but you will likely feel more in balance too. Compassion is a heart-opening process that gently serves to re-center. Think about that language a bit. The heart is in the center of the body. Bringing energy and focus to it means that you are quite literally going to your midpoint of physicality. And with that heart-centered focus, there is a natural softness and ease that allows you to regain calm and balance. Not unlike the soft focus I use to hit a relevé balance pose in ballet, having a soft focus and compassionate approach towards life helps to smooth out imbalances that are a natural part of life.

xoxo Rachel