A lot of times, we assume that feeling bad is, well, bad. That being angry, lonely, sad, disappointed, resentful, and the link is something to be avoided.
So, when those feelings rise up, like when children test your patience or a friend lets you down, we try to sweep our negative emotions under the psychological rug. We try not to notice them and definitely not feel them. They're too big. Often too scary. Too much to handle.
We say things like, "I shouldn't feel this way." "I'm making a big deal out of nothing." "I'm overreacting, as usual."
But feelings that are pushed down and covered up don't go away. Like guests who have outstayed their welcome, they're loud, irritating, and in the way, affecting every bit of your daily routine.
What would it be like to befriend your "bad" feelings? Maybe the feelings that get us riled up or battened down aren't bad at all. Maybe they're simply moody friends passing through.
By sitting with our feelings and noticing that resentment is here or anger is definitely in the room, we acknowledge our emotions. When we take time to be present with what is - not by picking a fight with a loved one or complaining to a friend - simply by sitting with the discomfort, we can notice and name the feelings without a story: "I'm feeling sad," "I'm lonely," "I'm really mad right now."
Then, like a friend sitting next to you on the couch, you can sweetly say, "Of course you're feeling sad." "It's fine to feel lonely." "Anger can be a sign that your boundaries are being crossed."
Sometimes, it helps to be creative with our feelings. Artists, musicians, dancers, and other creative folk entwine emotions into their work, creating art that connects us all.
You, too, can link your sorrow, fear, disappointment, even anger to your own art. Whether it's a scribbled entry in your journal, fingerpainting beside your toddler, or a freeform dance in your living room, you can use whatever art is available to be with what hurts, stand next to what disappoints, and put your arms around what doesn't feel good at all.
Then, once you and your emotions have had a little chat - or enjoyed a soul-clearing dance party - you can let your feelings go. Acknowledged and accepted, your moody friend can find their way out the door and be on their way.
And you can be at home with yourself again.
"... you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy,
to be filled with light, and to shine."
~ Mary Oliver
The holidays are coming - fast - and everyone has expectations of how the season is supposed to go.
What presents will be under the tree? Do you buy everything your child desires? Which set of grandparents will you disappoint with the holiday visiting schedule? How will you get your children to behave when they're up way, way, way past their bedtime - and not incur the rolled eyes and pursed lips from the relatives who obviously think you're not doing your best as a mom?
There are heavy expectations resting on your shoulders.
And even if you have help, the responsibility for putting the happy into the holidays is most likely mostly yours.
But what if you're already exhausted? Already stretched thin?
The expectations and responsibilities that fill your holiday season can take all the joy and fun out of it for you. Every autumn when my kids were little, I would dread what was coming: shopping, cooking, scheduling, baking, planning, managing, returning, wrapping, calming, scolding, reviewing, hedging, reality checking, standing in line, waiting in traffic, looking for parking...
I didn't know how to manage myself or my time and so the holidays were a long string of obligations I didn't enjoy. I couldn't wait for January, and felt constantly guilty for not having a happy holiday season.
It's different now. I figured out a plan that was a lot like fixing a string of holiday lights. Now the holiday season is a lot more sparkly for me - and my family, too.
I narrowed it all down to a three-step process:
1. Find the bad bulb (What's dimming your happiness?)
The first step making any kind of change is to notice what is and isn't working. Pay attention to the thoughts that careen around inside your head. Are you telling yourself stories that are making the everyday moments even harder? What are the obligations that you truly dread? Making a list is always helpful. Start with a prompt like "The things I really don't want to do" and see what ends up on your list.
2. Replace what isn't working (with new ideas, new self-coaching tools, or new choices to do nothing)
What showed up on your list? Can you brainstorm ideas on how you can drop what you truly don't want to do? Or, can you make what you don't want to do better somehow, like going shopping with a friend?
One of my girlfriends is overwhelmed with circumstances in her large extended family, so she's dropping the drama and celebrating the holidays in Mexico with just her spouse and children. A coaching client and her partner decided to shorten their holiday time with his parents to only three days instead of a whole week, spending the rest of their time on a ski trip with their kids. I'm working on ways to simplify gift-giving with my family which I hope will ease my stress significantly this season.
Look at your "Don't Want to Do" list and see what you can do with dreaded tasks and obligations and either ditch the don't want to's or do something to make them better.
3. Shine, shine, shine
Once you've replaced what's dimming your happiness, give yourself permission to enjoy the bits and pieces of the holidays you love: lighting the candles, the quiet of Christmas morning before everyone wakes up, the sweet smell of your home once the tree is up and decorated, your kids' sticky fingers and faces as they decorate holiday cookies. (Mom tip: give each kid a sheet pan with raised sides to contain the cookie decorating mess.)
Shine the light on what's dimming your happiness and make your holiday season sparkle.
“The art of being helpful is behaving as if everything we do matters -
because we never know which ones might."
It’s been a crazy week. Whether you spent Thursday live streaming the Senate hearings or not, there was no avoiding the drama unfolding in Washington D.C. For so many women I know, getting through the week felt like trying to stay upright in hurricane force winds.
The crazier the world feels, the more I want to hunker down and wait out the storm in the safety of my home with family, trusted friends, and my beloved pets.
But that helps no one.
And I want to help.
I'm offering $30 off your massage or coaching session until election day.
If you need nurturing and a place to relax, come find your sanctuary with me in a life coaching session or a massage (use coupon code SANCTUARY when scheduling for your $30 discount).
Massage therapy appointments* are provided in San Mateo.
Life coaching sessions** can be in-person at my home office, over the phone, or via video conference call, whichever you prefer.
“From what we get, we can make a living;
what we give, however, makes a life."
Schedule your session here. Use coupon code SANCTUARY to receive your $30 discount.
I hope to see you soon.
* My life coaching/massage therapy practice is women-centered. I work with men who are referred by friends or trusted clients.
** In my life coaching sessions, we focus on current issues and find ways to work through obstacles that are in the way of making a life you love. If you’re feeling the need to process through old hurts, you may need the help of an experienced therapist. You can do an online search to find one here: findapsychologist.org
We adopted a dog in December, a little rescue poodle from DPS Rescue in Palo Alto, that we named Jasper. In her early explorations of our home, Jasper found Angry Bird stuffed animals, discarded and forgotten under the boys' beds. She carried the toys one by one to the family room, delighted by her discovery.
As Jasper made our home her own, she found balls, more stuffed animals (some determined to be off limits by their human owners), a rope dog toy that I had bought for a previous foster dog, and a cat toy discarded by Traviesa the tabby cat.
Jasper likes to collect her toys in one place. If I'm working in my office, she'll bring an Angry Bird stuffed animal upstairs with her. On her next trip up the stairs, she'll bring the cat toy. Then, the ball. One by one, all of her toys end up where she is, whether it's upstairs in my office, in the family room, or on the rug in the hallway.
Watching Jasper surrounded by her toys, joyfully launching an Angry Bird stuffy into the air, a long-time massage therapy client asked me if I had anything in my life that brought me as much joy as Jasper's toys bring her.
I had to stop and think. In my coaching work with moms, I teach them a self-coaching tool called the Five Delights to help them figure out what brings them happiness and joy. It's been a while since I've done the exercise myself, though, so here's my Five Delights list for today:
My Five Delights:
1. My bed at the end of the day with my two perfect pillows and warm comforter
2. Bergamot essential oil (its citrusy scent eases stress)
3. Rubbermaid stainless steel travel mug (it keeps my chai tea hot for hours!)
4. OverDrive app connected to the Peninsula Library System on my phone so I always have something good to read, for free!
5. My box of vintage buttons
Now it's your turn. What delights you? Take a moment and write down five things (or people, furry critters, or activities) that bring happiness into your life.
The Five Delights self-coaching tool is a gratitude practice, of sorts, allowing you to focus on the happy things that are already present in your life. Research shows that gratitude is a powerful shortcut to happiness. A gratitude practice can increase your happiness set point; make you more resilient to psychological, mental, and physical stress; and even improve your sleep.
A gratitude practice like the Five Delights is simple: take a few minutes a few days a week to discover what's already good in your life. Just like Jasper the dog uncovered joy in the stuffed animals hidden under the bed, your happiness, too, is waiting to be found, waiting to be brought into the light, to surround you with so much joy.
Interested in learning more self-coaching tools to help you to build the life you love? Schedule a life coaching session with Kathleen Harper, certified life coach and author of The Well-Crafted Mom and Signs of a Happy Baby. Use coupon code NEW30 for 30 percent off your first session!
“Are you sure the wisteria is still alive?” I asked my husband, Bill, as I peered through the screen door, looking out to the backyard.
"I think so. It’s the plant next to it that’s dead, but the wisteria is okay,” he replied from the kitchen.
I let the dog out into the backyard and followed her to the back corner of the yard where the wisteria grows. The branches of the wisteria were dark and spindly, twisted around the pergola and tangled across the top. Cracked, empty seed pods hung down over the flagstone patio. I was accustomed to the wisteria looking barren during the winter, but this year, the plant looked like it wasn’t coming back.
Over the next two weeks, I started a little ritual of checking on the wisteria. Whenever I let the dog out in the backyard, I walked to the back corner to see if there were any changes to the plant, watching and waiting for signs of spring when the vine explodes in purple flowers and dark green leaves, an incredible, beautiful sign of the season.
Bill was right: the bush alongside the pergola didn’t survive the winter and it’s definitely dead; the gardener will have to take it out. Last week, however, tiny buds appeared on the wisteria vine, dotting the topmost branches that get the most sun.
Spring is coming, not just for the wisteria, but for all of us.
It’s been a long winter. Just like the wisteria vine, you may be feeling dark after unexpected (and perhaps expected) disappointments, hardships, or grief. You may be a bit twisted and hung up, knowing that it’s your destiny to flower but not feeling strong enough to blossom right now. Perhaps you’re not getting enough care – or giving yourself enough self-care – to grow into whatever comes next.
Here are three steps to give you a little more spring in your step and help you to blossom:
• Dream. Give yourself permission to daydream about what you want. Believe outside the tiny box of parenthood that your dreams are valid and important. Grab a notepad and keep a list of ideas that give you shivers of excitement, cupfuls of curiosity, and handfuls of joy.
As best as you can, turn off the part of your brain that wants to draw fat black lines through the items on your list that don’t seem practical, aren’t financially feasible, or will take up oodles and oodles of time that you just don't have.
Dreaming big and outrageously is necessary to create happiness right here, right now.
I’ve been dreaming about the Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Is this dream practical? Nope. Is it affordable? Not one bit. But unwrapping my big dream gives me ideas on small ways I can be happier now. I’ve realized that I’ve missed learning in a structured environment, like a school or ongoing class. I’ve always felt happiest when I’m learning, whether it’s life coaching school, massage therapy school, art classes, or university. My dreams are telling me to look for more learning opportunities besides tap dancing and Tai Chi.
• Set boundaries. It’s hard to grow a happy life when you’re busy taking care of everyone else. Taking care of everyone else’s needs before paying attention to your own is like siphoning off your water supply to feed all the plants around you (that already have their own sprinkler system).
“Feed my soul, feed my family?” is the question I ask myself when I receive a request for a speaking engagement, when the kids’ school asks for volunteers, when a commitment falls outside of my regular working hours. There’s only so much of me, and only so little time and energy to share. The answer to feed my soul, feed my family? shifts my response from ambivalent to unequivocal. “Each time you set a healthy boundary, you say ‘yes’ to more freedom,” writes Nancy Levin, author of Jump ... and Your Life Will Appear.
There’s no doubt that it’s hard to say no. Research shows that women have a harder time saying no than men do, a difference that is present even when personality factors like agreeableness and conscientiousness are taken into consideration. But if you do that hard work of saying no to what doesn’t serve you, you’re left with more time and energy for what unequivocally feels like yes. Determine what is necessary for you to grow into the life you want to live and figure out ways to say no to what doesn’t nurture you.
• Find pleasure. What can you do every day that brings you happiness, joy, delight, or pleasure? People often believe happiness needs to come in big chunks of time or that joy costs as much as a summer vacation. Delight can be as quick as a text to your dearest friend or as fulfilling as an interesting article from the New York Times.
Mother Theresa said “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Start a practice of doing small things with great love for yourself every day. You’ll most likely find it will then be easier to do the bigger things for your family.
Just as the wisteria needs water and sunshine, you, too, need basic essentials. Dreaming, setting boundaries, and finding pleasure in your day-to-day routines will nourish you. Pluck the weeds of what creates unhappiness and nurture what generates joy. In the process, you’ll grow. You’ll bloom where you’re planted.
How many things in your life feel like maybe? The clothes that you'll maybe wear again when you've lost weight. The InstantPot that you'll maybe use when life settles down. The career that you'll maybe pursue when you have more time.
Holding the door open for maybe takes a lot of energy. You have to think about your maybes, sorting through them as you go through your physical and mental closets and cupboards. Maybes are a constant reminder of what you’re not doing, whether it’s not losing enough weight to fit into the clothes that sit in the back of your closet, not finding recipes for the InstantPot you got for Christmas, or not getting your butt in gear to get your resume finished so you can find a job that you actually don’t hate.
Your maybes come with a lot of baggage, too. What do you say to yourself when you see the expensive sweater in the back of your drawer with tags still on, the one that looked great in the mirror at the store but made you feel bulky and big once you got home? Do you tell yourself that you’re lazy for never returning it? Are you mean to yourself because you feel too bulky and big?
Maybe–in all of the forms it takes–steals energy and time away from what feels like yes.
I have closets, cupboards, and drawers full of maybes. A shelf of journals with mostly blank pages. Drawers full to overflowing with clothes I never wear. Windows open in my computer’s browser with articles to read, books to check out from the library, visionaries to follow in the hopes that maybe they’ll have answers to how I can grow my business, write my next book, and feel more joy more regularly.
One of my maybes was a purple sundress that hung in the back of my closet for ten years. I splurged on the dress from one of the vendors at the park where we go every year to celebrate my oldest son’s birthday. I changed into the dress at the vendor’s stall, wearing it back to our little plot on the park lawn. My husband looked up from where he sat in the sun, peering at me in the new dress. Money was tight that year. He didn’t say anything but his look said enough.
I never wore the purple dress again. It sat in my closet, a regular reminder of how badly I felt that day.
I boxed it up a few Saturdays ago, that dress and all of the other maybes. I sorted through my closet and pulled out the clothes I don’t wear because the waist is too tight, or the color isn’t right, or the memories that come with the dress/sweater/shirt are uncomfortable. I put all of the maybes in boxes and sealed them up, promising myself that I won’t throw anything away just yet–I’m just taking a break.
Now, my closet is quite empty (except for the stacked and sealed boxes). My friends and family are seeing me in the same outfits week after week. But the clothes I see my closet are the clothes I like–the purple dress is nowhere in sight.
Next, I’m tackling the maybe cupboard under the sink in the bathroom. Then, the box of tchotchkes that’s been taking up room in my closet since I reorganized my office a year ago. The medicine cabinet needs sorting. And then, I'll dive into the catch-all closet that’s full of craft supplies, saved baby clothes, office supplies, and who knows what else.
The more items I go through, the easier it becomes to say no. The garage is getting full. As my husband side stepped the piles of boxes filling the space, he suggested a garage sale. “Maybe Presidents’ Day weekend, if the weather is nice." In the past, I would have delayed making a decision, saying “Let’s wait and see what the weather’s going to be like,” even though I dread garage sale days and vow at the end of each and every one that I’ll never do one again. This time was different: “No to the garage sale,” I said definitely and firmly to my husband, practicing my new habit of staying out of the mental clutter of maybe to make more room for what truly feels like yes.
Want to learn how to clear your mental and physical clutter to make more room for your yeses? Join me and a handful of other moms at March's mini-retreat, Spring Cleaning Your Maybes. You'll learn strategies for decluttering and avoiding the risk of "recluttering," and how to handle the discomfort that often comes with letting things go. Go to thewellcraftedmom.com/mini-retreats to register.
Your brain is an evidence-making machine. When you have a thought, whether it’s positive or negative, your brain starts searching for evidence to support it. If you tell yourself that you’re not doing enough for your kids or that you're a bad mom or that you're lazy, you can probably rattle off a long list of the many ways that your thought is true.
The stories that you tell yourself about your life end up creating your life. They can keep you in the pit of despair, in the same room with resentment, and holding hands with unhappiness.
When you change your story, however, you change your world, one little bit at a time. If you can reframe your stories to turn yourself into a heroine who overcomes daily challenges, your brain begins to recognize the truth – you are a superhero.
I have a feeling that you don't believe me so I'm going to give you a homework assignment. At least once a day, I want you to complete this sentence, “Today, I was a superhero because …”
Find a time that you can answer this question regularly. You can add it to your bedtime routine, like right after you've brushed your teeth, or you could answer the question when you're in that mid-afternoon slump when it seems like the day will never end. You could also make the question part of dinnertime with your family, giving everyone a chance to talk about their superhero moment of the day.
Here are some examples from everyday superheroes:
Today, I was a superhero because …
• I managed to prepare dinner even with an unhappy three-year-old hanging onto my ankles.
• I fought my way through rush hour traffic without losing my cool, even when an idiot cut me off and nearly caused an accident.
• I mastered a shopping trip to Costco (with kids in tow), loaded and unloaded the car singlehandedly, and put nearly everything away in the span of one day.
Let this be your superpower: changing your life, one story at a time.
Join me and a small group of moms at The Well-Crafted Mom's mini-retreat for moms. In October, we’ll focus on how to go head-to-head with your inner Mean Manager who keeps you mired in mommy guilt. The Mean Manager is the voice in your head that says it’s selfish to want what you want, the chores need to be finished before you can take time for yourself (and when are the chores ever finished?), and how everyone else needs to be happy before you can pursue your own happiness. In a unique coaching + crafts workshop for moms, you’ll learn how to grapple with mommy guilt and outsmart your inner Mean Manager so you can build a life you love. For more information, visit thewellcraftedmom.com/mini-retreats.
Years ago in my life coach training when my life was feeling over full and unbalanced, I was re-introduced to the PERMA model of well-being. Developed by the founder of the Positive Psychology movement, Martin Seligman, this model includes five buckets - Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Achievement - that comprise how we create a well-balanced life. Seligman recommends that you deliberately choose how you distribute your time and energy into the five PERMA buckets. When you feel unbalanced – when you're spending too much time in Achievement as you're meeting a goal at work, for example - you use the PERMA model to redistribute your time, energy, and attention back to what feels better.
Here’s a description of each of the PERMA categories:
• Positive Emotions - Making room in your life for what makes you feel good. Creating positive emotions, like contentment, peace, happiness, pleasure, joy, and excitement through what you do and by feeling optimistic.
• Engagement - Having opportunities to get into what psychologist and author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow: becoming so absorbed in an activity that you lose sense of time.
• Relationships - Spending time and committing to relationships that sustain and fulfill you.
• Meaning - Creating opportunities that matter to you. Focusing your attention on matters that are greater than yourself.
• Accomplishment - Working on activities and projects that give you a sense of achievement. Setting and achieving goals.
Everyone is different with how they distribute their “units of happiness" into the five buckets. If you have a strong drive to succeed at work, you might have more happy points in the Achievement bucket. Or maybe you find joy in helping others in your community, so when you allocate more time toward activities that bring Meaning in your life, you feel happier.
I had originally learned about the flow state in college classes but hadn’t realized its importance to my happiness until I lost the time to be engaged in flow, and then found it again. The awareness of how I felt without flow compared to my happiness while in flow changed how I managed my time, and what activities I filled my time with.
Making the PERMA Model Work For You
Here’s an exercise so you can do to see how this works.
• Download this handout of the PERMA buckets.
• Now, count out 20 small items – like pennies, M&Ms, Cheerios, goldfish crackers … These items will be your “units of happiness.”
• Think about a time in your life when your life felt balanced, when you felt happy.
• As you think about that time, imagine how many units of happiness were going into each of the PERMA buckets. Distribute your 20 small items into the five different categories.
• Make a note of your PERMA well-balanced score on the lines under the PERMA circles.
• Move your units of happiness out of the way and think about your life as it is right now. How do you allocate your 20 bits of happiness? Where are you putting your most time and your most energy regularly?
• Write your current PERMA score underneath your well-balanced score.
Maybe there’s a disparity between your Meaning scores. If your best balanced time came when you were volunteering each week for a cause you felt passionate about, you might feel happier now by adding more meaning into your life. What tiny, beautiful thing can you do to create more purpose in your life right now?
You might see a big difference between your Positive Emotions scores. Perhaps there aren’t many options right now to create positive emotions; you’re too busy or too overwhelmed. Rick Hanson, psychologist and author of Hardwiring Happiness, says that recalling positive experiences from the past has the same positive benefit on the brain as creating new ones. Take 30 seconds once or twice a day to re-experience a positive memory, diving deep into your recollection of the event to make it vivid in your mind, allowing the positive emotions warm you up from the inside out.
For me, creating more well-being in my life right now means finding time for more Engagement. Preparing the craft project for my upcoming coaching + crafts moms group helped raise my happiness quite a bit and I'm marking off time in my calendar for more creative endeavors. I'm delighted with the linked test tube vases I made. They turned out a lot like how I see my happiness and well-being: wonderfully imperfect and a bit wobbly, needing my attention to make sure they're balanced just right.
The Well-Crafted Mom's gathering for mothers this month is focused on finding, losing, and returning to balance again and again. The mini-retreats are made up of small groups of lovely moms who come together for conversation, compassion, and creativity. To save your spot in the Wednesday evening or Saturday mini-retreat, register here.
I think it's pretty safe to assume that your inner COO is exhausted.
Each of us has a part of ourselves that's responsible for building new habits, sticking with the old ones, and figuring out how to fit everything into a day.
I call this inner manager the Chief Operating Officer. She's quite good at her job. She has to be. She's the one who developed the systems for you to build all your habits – the good ones and the bad.
Think about all of the things you do now that take very little conscious thought, like pretty much everything in your morning routine: going to the bathroom (when you're potty training kids, you realize how much of a feat this is), getting all the shampoo out of your hair in the shower, putting on eyeliner... The list of “mindless” habits is long and continues throughout your day.
But your daily habits are far from mindless – your COO has created programs for your habit, each in its own slot in your brain, ready to repeat again and again.
At the beginning of the year, you might have made a long list of new habits you wanted to build. Maybe your list included adding more exercise, changing your diet so you and your family are eating better, going on more date nights so you can see your spouse as more than just a co-parent, getting a new job (or figuring out how to actually like the one you’re in). Maybe you added some self-care desires to your list, like getting a massage once a month, spending more time with your girlfriends, or taking a fun art class once a quarter.
How’s it going with all that?
About right now, I’m thinking your COO is more than a little overwhelmed. She’s no slacker but there's only so much she can do. And she has only a little bit of help – Willpower and Dopamine.
Willpower is determined to help but she’s a bit of a delicate flower. She gets very tired very quickly and then slinks off the job to the break room. And when you go looking for her, she's half awake scrolling through Facebook with one hand with the other deep in a bag of Cheetos (even though she's the one in charge of managing the new diet).
Dopamine is quite perky. Hair in a high ponytail, toothy smile, lots of clapping and bouncing. I know you know the type. When you're building a new habit, like going to the gym, Dopamine is by your side: You put on your workout clothes! Yay, you! Look at you in the new Crossfit class! This is so exciting!
It feels good to have Dopamine with you, like you’re drinking free shots of happy juice at the smoothie bar.
But Dopamine is easily bored. She’s not so upbeat on Day Two at the gym. Weren't we here earlier in the week? she whines as you tie your shoes. She half-heartedly claps as you complete your set of burpees, but she's clearly not as impressed as she was on Day One.
Dopamine is only interested what’s new, so she soon wanders off and you’re left to trudge through your workout alone.
Meanwhile, the COO is trying to manage all the new habits you’re trying to build. Her biggest challenge by far is handling the barrage of incoming messages like …
• You've worked hard today. You deserve to have an easy night. Let’s order Chinese food and have it delivered.
• Your daughter hates the daycare at the gym. Are you really going to be that mom that puts herself before her child?
• One cookie won't make a difference in your diet.
Your COO can usually handle these messages when they come one at a time, masterfully batting them away like they're irritating salespeople with inferior products to sell. But now she's can’t handle the deluge while developing the systems for all your new habits.
There’s a final straw – an argument with your spouse, a really bad day at work, or a call from the principal’s office at your daughter’s school – and your COO is done for the day, maybe for the month. Definitely, she’s done for now. She's got a bad case of the "screw-its," and the diet, new exercise routine, even the motivation for planning the next date night is gone.
So what do I do? I hear you cry. When there’s so much that I need to do to improve my life, be happier, be a better mom/wife/daughter/sister/employee/manager… Your list really does go on and on.
You might believe that going all-in is the way to get you where you want to be, but it’s often the sure fire way to set yourself up for failure.
Here's what to do instead: Pick one small thing. That’s it. One small thing from your long list of self-improvement, life-improvement, parent-improvement, work-improvement goals. Start there.
What’s your one small thing? Losing 20 pounds is too big. Eating healthfully is too vague. Choose a goal that’s you think is too small to make a dent and start there, like eating a healthy lunch three days a week.
When you start small, here’s what happens.
• You learn to trust yourself.
When you work on change bit by bit, you build self-confidence because you’re less likely to get the “screw-its.”
• You’re more likely to stay on track.
If/when you fall off the change train, it’s much easier to climb back on board because you’re only carrying one habit along with you, instead of a pile of self-improvement luggage.
• You learn a lot about yourself – which helps you get better at building new habits.
When you focus on building only one habit at a time, you can see where you’re getting in your own way, like when you listen to your thoughts that try to convince you to eat ice cream at 9:15 at night or pay attention to your inner critic’s voice that tells you that you’re not strong enough or smart enough to follow through with your plans.
• You’re better able to achieve your goal.
When you build a new habit step-by-step, you’re also making sure that you’re giving your inner COO the time to build strong systems that can support the new habits so they become an unconscious part of your routine. When you start small, you make sure Willpower has enough energy and Dopamine stays on board with each small step along the way.
As you climb aboard the Change Train, pack light – one small carry-on habit at a time.
Do you need some help figuring out what change you’d like to make and how to break it down into lightweight but powerful steps? Schedule a coaching session with me and we’ll create a do-able plan for your inner COO – and her assistants Willpower and Dopamine – to build. To schedule your planning session, go to The Well-Crafted Mom’s online calendar here. Use coupon code NEW50 for half-off your first coaching session with me!
If anyone had told me last year that I’d break up with Chardonnay in 2016, I would have probably laughed. Chardonnay and I had a great relationship. She soothed me when I felt frazzled. She supported me after a long day of work when dinner preparation, homework overseeing, and more work awaited me. She encouraged me in social situations when I felt awkward or dull. Perhaps I leaned on Chardonnay more than I probably should but … didn’t lots of moms? I certainly didn’t have a problem. I got everything done (and more!) than I needed to. I had stopped drinking many times in the past. It wasn’t like I needed Chardonnay. I just liked her. Very, very much.
But something felt off in my relationship with Chardonnay, especially as I grew older and my hormones changed. My sleep patterns had fallen apart years before and even though I didn’t sleep any better during the nights when I drank wine in the evening and the nights when I didn’t, I wondered if my sleep would get better if I stopped drinking altogether. The amount of white wine that I drank increased, too. Only one glass became two, and sometimes even three, over the course of an evening. A few years ago, I had to let go of my friendships with Pinot Noir, Cabernet, and Merlot because of the headaches that would invariably come later in the evening after spending time in their company. But I really didn’t miss my red friends. Chardonnay was there for me.
Last summer, a life coach who had a podcast I often listened to while out for my weekend walks started a program to help people stop over-drinking. Her program appealed to me because I didn’t want to stop drinking forever and ever; I wanted to be in charge of how much Chardonnay I had in my life, rather than feeling like it was the other way around.
I learned a lot in the program, like how alcohol stimulates the dopamine response in your brain, so that you get a powerful reward when you drink, increasing the likelihood that your brain will want more. I learned that if your brain has a choice between what you think is best and what you crave, the cravings will always win - unless you have a compelling reason why you’re not drinking (or not drinking more than you want) and a plan to manage how much alcohol you’re consuming.
I followed the coach’s steps and immediately cut down on how much Chardonnay I was consuming and then cut back even more a few weeks later. I developed a drinking protocol and a plan to follow, which meant I decided what and how much I would drink 24 hours in advance. The program was working, but I was exhausted. I was thinking about drinking even more often than before.
In late October, I decided that Chardonnay and I were no longer in step and I broke up with her completely.
Drinking Chardonnay had always felt like turning on my favorite Pandora station to help make the unpleasantness of my life less unpleasant. Like listening to a soundtrack that livened up my predicable routine, bolstered my discomfort, and soothed my anxiety. Drinking alcohol was like following the beat of the bass drum in the band – I didn’t notice how much something outside of me had determined the rhythm of my life until it was gone.
In the quiet, what I heard, when that rhythm stopped, was this: You can't do this without Chardonnay.
THIS could be anything, like getting through a noisy nighttime routine with the family after a long day of work; attending a social event with people I don't know well (or do); sitting through an excruciatingly boring obligation; or going out with girlfriends when I felt tired, depressed, and dull without Chardonnay to liven things/me up.
You can't do this without Chardonnay.
On the one hand (the one without a wine glass in it), I knew this statement wasn't true. I have accomplished so much without a drink in my hand or alcohol in my bloodstream – early motherhood with both of my kids, for example. Alcohol barely made an appearance while I was trying to get pregnant, was pregnant, while breastfeeding and then going through the process again with my second son. My second child nursed until he self-weaned at 20 months old, so there were years that I didn't drink.
But the voice was persuasive. With Chardonnay, I could do pretty much anything. I didn’t have to wonder if I could do this without alcohol because – after 5:00 p.m. on most nights – I didn’t have to.
Once I broke up with Chardonnay, the voice became determined and loud. I heard You can’t do this without Chardonnay when the election didn’t go the way that I hoped and I started worrying about what potential changes to the Affordable Care Act would do to the availability of health insurance for my family. When the other adults around the Thanksgiving table were drinking and getting merrier by the minute and I sat there, feeling stupid and dull. When an indoor snowball fight was launched at the dinner table on Christmas Eve and my sober self brought the vulnerable glassware to the sink and blew out the lit candles on the table instead of joining in. When it was time to take down the Christmas decorations, because it felt like a big, boring project and I really wanted to be doing something, anything else. When it was time to celebrate the New Year with friends at our traditional dinner on New Year’s Day and sparkling cider didn’t feel celebratory enough.
I didn’t fight the voice. That was one thing I learned in the stop over-drinking program is that the more you argue with the urges, the stronger they get. Instead, when I heard the familiar rhythm of the desire to drink, I chose not to dance along.
Instead, I sat still, asking myself in the kindest voice possible, the one I reserve for clients, friends, and children: What’s going on, sweetie? Why do you want to drink right now?
The answers were varied: I’m bored, I’m nervous, I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m worried, I’m overwhelmed, I’m uncomfortable …
Instead of blotting out the feelings, I let them be. Interestingly enough, the discomfort didn’t get bigger. It stayed a while, happy to be listened to, and then it left.
Last week, I counted how many weeks it’s been since Chardonnay and I have been together and it’s been nearly 11 weeks now. I wish I could say that my sleep is amazing and wonderful and deep and restorative. It’s not and that’s not really a surprise.
What’s different for me is even better than sleep (which is a surprise because what’s better than sleep?) – I’ve learned that I’m stronger than I thought. Every time I choose to not listen to the voice that tells me I need Chardonnay to go to a party, spend time with people, get through a rough patch, or help me to feel better about my life, I grow stronger. I made it through all of the stress and social functions during the holidays without any wine. I welcomed in the New Year with sparkling grape juice shared with my family. I did hard, boring, uncomfortable things – and plan to do many more in the year to come – without Chardonnay by my side. I’m learning to like the sober me, the one who listens, marches, and sometimes dances to the rhythm of my own music. This is the soundtrack I choose to play.
Happy New Year to you all.
P.S. Sometimes, someone else's perspective, ideas, and support is just what we need to get to a new place where we feel stronger and happier. Let me know if I can create that support for you.