a.k.a. The Blog – tools, ideas, and stories to inspire you to align your ACTIONS with your PURPOSE
You’ve probably heard a lot of people talking about their “word” or their “theme” for 2018. Some of you might be annoyed by all this chatter and some of you might be inspired by it.
Heck, by the time this is published, some people may have forgotten all about those words they picked for the year! Possibly not. You see, picking a theme or word for the year isn’t the same as a New Year’s resolution.
Resolutions are usually about stopping something or starting something. Something specific.
“No more chips for me!”
“I’m going to quit smoking.”
“I’m hitting the gym 5 days a week from now on.”
Resolutions are often about habit change.
Finding a word or theme for the year is about creating, through any means possible, the year you want to have. It’s about finding the word that will inspire you when you’re down, that gets you back on track when you feel lost and that you rally around when you achieve a milestone.
So, how do you do it? How do you find your theme or word? How do you focus your year?
As with most paths to success, it’s a matter of pattern discovery. Take a look at the patterns of your past. Look at the patterns of what you want to create and what you’ll need to do to make it a reality.
So, how do you find the patterns? You can’t get patterns without data. When it comes to creating your focus for the year, data can be the memories, thoughts, feelings, and goals rolling around in your head.
There are 3 questions I encourage people to ask themselves in order to surface the data they need to find the patterns that will point them to their word, theme or focus for the year.
But first, it helps to do a little dreaming.
The first time I came up with a word for the year was in January of 2016. I was fresh off the break up of my marriage. I had been separated for a little over a month and was sitting in a pew at Seattle Unity Church. Besides weddings and funerals, I had been to church only a handful of times in my life. On this crisp Sunday morning it was not lost on me that this was my third time in that church in three weeks.
My first visit was on Christmas Eve. Due to the separation, my ex-husband was with our niece and nephew at my sister’s house. All of my friends were out of town. I was alone. I had never been alone on Christmas Eve. Then, a new friend aware of my situation invited me to go with her to the Christmas Eve service at Seattle Unity. My limited experience with church meant that I was a little nervous, but I was glad to be around people. And to sing. The singing felt good. At the end of the service they invited everyone to the Burning Bowl Ceremony the following Sunday.
So there was I was the next Sunday. As we entered the sanctuary, attendants handed everyone a piece of papyrus and a pencil. There was a thoughtful sermon and then we were asked to reflect on our year and think about the things we wanted to release so that we didn’t carry them into the next year. We then wrote those things down on the slip of papyrus, walked up to the front, had the papyrus lit on fire by one of the attendants and then we dropped the flaming papyrus into the bowl. Voila. Release.
OK, releasing those things wasn’t that easy, but having the intention of letting things go was helpful for what they invited us to the following week. The White Stone ceremony.
Yup. There I was again. At church for the third week in a row! We were warmed from the glow of Christmas. We had cleansed the past year with flames. It was now time to think about what we wanted for the upcoming year. As we walked into the sanctuary this time we were handed a small white stone, the size of a domino, and a small pencil.
After another thoughtful sermon we were asked to close our eyes for a guided visualization. A little dreaming. The the exercise was one I have experienced before, but that didn’t lessen it’s power.
We were asked to imagine ourselves at the end of this new year. We were asked to look back and see what we had accomplished in those 12 months.
I can’t say that my vision was all that exciting. I mean, I knew that I was separated from my husband and probably headed to divorce. So my year was going to be full of hard conversations, finding a lawyer, tallying up our marriage on a spreadsheet and dividing things up, building my part-time business into something that could sustain me, opening new credit cards and bank accounts, etc. But I knew I wanted to get through all of that. I wanted to wrap up the year knowing that I survived all of that. I also knew I wanted to deepen my relationships with those that mattered most to me.
“So, what would you need to do or be in order to create that year for yourself?” the pastor asked us. We were then told to open our eyes and write our word on the stone in our hands.
I wrote the following words on my stone: “BOLD & BRAVE”
In order to get through the coming year with my most important relationships deepened I was going to have to be bold and brave. Bold enough to take the steps forward that I (heartbreakingly) knew I needed to take and brave enough to be real with my most important people. Even if “real” meant angry, sad, confused, broken down, depressed and scared.
And I made it through 2016. It wasn’t easy AND I had moments of fun, passion, excitement, pride, joy, and silliness. Bold and Brave brought me those things too.
The lessons I learned in 2016 led me to pick “EVERY DAY MATTERS” as my theme for 2017. As I made my bold and brave moves in 2016, I made room for goodness to happen in my everyday life. I realized that while the big events and trips and surprises are great, I wanted every day to feel good. Like cooking dinners with my girlfriend or reading books to my niece and nephew before bed. I also knew that getting where I wanted to go in my life and business was going to require me to have some every day practices like journaling, gratitude, reading books for growth, etc.
It takes reflection on your past to determine what you want your future to look like. I did just that at the end of 2017 to come up with my word for 2018. I looked at what went well, what I loved, and what was missing from 2017.
I looked at what I wanted to bring forward and create in 2018. In 2018 I will:
- Create spaces for people to learn and grow
- Find support for what I’m not good at and don’t like
- Increase stability in my income
- Find ways to stay connected with my people
- Shore up my systems
- Bring all the ways I work with clients into one place
The image that surfaced when I started searching for patterns was me in the eye of a hurricane with strands of ideas, projects and people all around me. I needed to bring all of these strands together. Alone, each strand might not make it, but if I could bring them all together, they’d be stronger together. They’d reinforce each other.
So my word for 2018 is “GATHERING”. Gathering people. Gathering ideas. Gathering data. Gathering support. Gathering strength.
This year, whenever doubt or roadblocks get in my way, I will ask myself how GATHERING can help me through. When I get frustrated and tired, I’ll think about how gathering can restore my faith or energy. When it’s time to celebrate a big win, I’ll look at how GATHERING helped make it happen.
Did you catch those 3 questions?
1. What went well in 2017?
2. What did you love about 2017?
3. What was missing from 2017?
Answer those questions. In writing. Get everything in front of you and see what you discover. Look for patterns until you can find the word or phrase that will be your compass, your focus, and your anchor for the year.
There are more questions that can help you. Click here if you want a copy of my Focus Your 2018 worksheet.
Here’s to you and all you want to create this year!
I hate affirmations.
Now, “hate” might be a strong word. That’s usually a word I reserve for spiders and water chestnuts. And really neither of those things are all that horrible, I suppose. I do HATE hearing the sounds of people eating. It’s a thing. You can read all about it here.
Anyway, affirmations aren’t my favorite thing. They are something you learn early on in the personal development world and I just never took to them. There was just something about them that rubbed me the wrong way. They have always felt like a little too much talk and not enough action OR just enough talk to keep you taking action that might be helpful.
You know what affirmations are, right? They are “statements that we tell ourselves in order to spark self-change. They are designed to alter our beliefs about ourselves such that they are more positive.” People who use affirmations in their lives often use them daily.
Some examples of affirmations:
“My life is fun and rewarding.”
“I am smart and capable of accomplishing anything.”
“I am grateful for everything I have.”
Now it might seem weird to not be a fan of a tool that seems so positive. I mean, what’s the harm of saying those statements above?
If affirmations work for you, then I encourage you to keep using them. Stop reading right now and go back to your affirmations.
However, if affirmations have never been your thing either, keep reading. I have thoughts on a different approach. But first, let me explain why I don’t like affirmations.
1. Affirmations are not enough
That’s not to say that other tools in the mental health toolbox are enough all by themselves, but affirmations are so “easy” to do that they are often the only thing that people do.
Do you know that saying by Abraham Maslow?:
If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
When it comes to the self-help world, affirmations are one of the first things people learn. Everything else after that is much harder so often times people’s mental health toolbox just has the affirmation tool in it.
So when they approach problems, they just see another affirmation they have to say to overcome that problem when perhaps additional tools may be necessary or more useful.
Behind on your mortgage and foreclosure is pending? Try this one: “Money is coming to me with little or no effort.”
Broke up with your boyfriend? Try this one: “I know with every fiber of my being that the Universe is bringing me only the most supportive, loving and awesome relationships.
Unexpected and unwanted pregnancy? How about this one: “I welcome the changes in my body.”
While I made up the scenarios above, the affirmations are recommended affirmations for these kinds of topics. I mean, really? If I’m heading to foreclosure, I’m gonna DO something to make sure the money comes to me and it might take some effort.
Maybe these affirmations could be helpful, but there are lots of other tools that could be helpful to have in your toolbox to help you with these scenarios much more effectively:
- Personal reflection
- Asking for feedback
- Talk therapy
- Seeking the help of qualified professionals
Bottom line. Make sure you have more tools in your toolbox in order to make affirmations a more useful tool.
2. Affirmations reinforce the “you just need to change your mindset” myth
Sometimes your mindset is just fine and your circumstances are shitty. It’s ok if you don’t have positive feelings about your circumstances. That doesn’t mean you have a bad mindset.
If you are excessively beating yourself up in your head or excessively blaming everyone else for your problems (where excessive = any amount that is not productive) then mindset adjustments are necessary.
But if genuinely shitty stuff is happening in your life, it’s ok to not feel great about it.
I have a client going through a really hard time. If I listed out everything they were dealing with you’d be like “dang, I don’t think I’d even get out of bed”. And they were worried about their mindset because they weren’t feeling great about all the shitty stuff that they were going through. They were feeling sad, angry, scared and frustrated. And anyone looking in from the outside would say “Yeah, that totally makes sense, I’d feel that way too”.
Of anyone I’ve ever worked with, this client has one of the most positive mindsets I’ve ever encountered. Not because they are a Pollyanna looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, but because they are willing to try things, to fail and to learn and grow. They don’t judge themselves for their failures and they don’t blame others. They take responsibility for their actions.
In other words, you can have a great mindset AND still feel like shit.
You have to remember what our brains are doing on a regular basis. On the daily your brain is trying to scare the shit out of you. That’s it’s job. It’s supposed to keep you alive and that means that it’s going to blast doom and gloom messages at you all the time. For early homo sapiens it was screaming “Watch out for that saber tooth tiger” when you heard a noise. Now it’s screaming “They’re all going to realize that you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. You’re a fraud!!!”
And then you bring affirmations into the mix and it’s like blasting a “positive mindset” radio station with “Walking On Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves on endless loop in response to your brain’s doom and gloom radio. It just creates a lot of noise.
Lives worth living will have low points that will lead to hard feelings. When those low points hit, do yourself a favor and back off the affirmations. It’s ok to just feel like shit for a minute.
Which takes me to my third reason for hating affirmations…
3. Affirmations encourage you to keep charging ahead when a pause might be best
So you aren’t getting where you want to go in your job no matter how many times a day you say “I am smart and capable of accomplishing anything”?
You start your day every day with that affirmation and just keep getting after it just like you did the day before.
Maybe when you are trying really hard at something and it’s not working, just saying “I am smart and capable of accomplishing anything” while you keep banging your head against the obstacles doesn’t really make sense.
It might make sense to pause and take stock of things. Ask for help. Consider other solutions. Ask yourself if this is the path you really want to keep going down.
That client I mentioned earlier, they had to pause. They took a beat or two to take stock of their feelings. They let those feelings wash over them. It sucked. It didn’t feel great. It was scary because they didn’t know how long they’d feel that way.
They could have just pushed forward screaming out their affirmations in order to block out the “bad” feelings and “fix” their mindset, but that would have just been denial. Those feelings would surface eventually, so they might as well be intentional about feeling them.
This pause helped them move forward in a much more intentional way than they were when they thought they had to change their mindset and just push forward.
It’s OK to pause. You don’t have to keep pushing. Sometimes rest is best.
When it comes down to it, any tool could be ineffective by itself. Any tool could make you think there’s something wrong with your mindset. Any tool could lead you to think that pushing forward is best when a pause might be better. Affirmations are an easy target because they are often the first and, too often, the only thing people learn in their personal growth journey.
As I said before, if affirmations work for you, keep doing them. In fact, make them the best you can. There are lots of resources out there to help you write effective affirmations.
And if affirmations don’t work for you, it’s ok. They don’t work for people for lots of reasons. If you are one of those people consider another approach:
- Make room for the unpleasant feelings rather than suppressing them
- Take a moment to pause and take stock of your current reality…without judging what you uncover (If your current reality is big ol’ mess, consider joining me on the GYST journey)
- Tap into your values…who do YOU want to be regardless of how everyone else is acting?
- And then take action in line with those values
It can take time to learn how to pause and sometimes people need help uncovering their values and figuring out what it looks like to take action in line with their values. If you are already on this path of self-discovery and personal growth and need help with some of this, it you might be ready for coaching with me. You can go here to learn more about what that might look like.
Do affirmations work for you? Tell me all about it in the comments below.
At the beginning of this year I picked a theme for 2017: Every day matters. You can learn more about how I came to this theme here.
And with a theme like that, it probably isn’t surprising that I would be drawn to a quote like this one from Brene Brown:
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness — it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.”
I’m not going to pretend that I’m always the best at being present (I’m a bit of a dreamer and planner), but I do know that I am at my best when I am present. Because that is when the gratitude surfaces.
When I’m reading books to my niece and nephew before bed and the littlest one tucks her head into my neck or the oldest one giggles at a funny voice I do.
When I see someone pick up something a stranger dropped and chase after said stranger to return the almost lost item to them.
When the leaves of the maple tree in front of our house turn that amazing color of crimson so that even on the darkest Seattle days it looks as if it’s glowing.
When a smoothie and a plate of avocado toast magically appear on the kitchen counter on a morning when I’m running late and was tempted to skip my much-needed breakfast (Like seriously, I wake up hungry, people! I can’t skip breakfast.)
Being able to call my mom and invite her to a spur of the moment lunch and shopping trip.
Watching a client take the smallest of steps towards the biggest of goals.
It’s the everyday stuff that adds up to the happy life. Don’t get me wrong, I love big trips and new experiences. I love seeing my peeps get the big win! I love celebrating milestones (like my mom’s new house here in Seattle!!!). I am ever so grateful for those extraordinary moments, but those things don’t sustain me.
It’s the everyday wins, the everyday hugs, the everyday connections, the everyday dinners, the everyday chats that sustain me.
During this season of gratitude, I hope you are finding gratitude in the things you are doing and the life you are living…every day.
Tell me one everyday thing you are grateful for in the comments below.
Are you constantly unimpressed by how much you get done each day? Always expecting to accomplish more? Or maybe you are forgetting appointments. Or double booking yourself. Or not giving yourself enough time to get where you need to go.
If that’s happening it means that you don’t have a calendar you can trust. Or maybe you’re not using a calendar at all.
I don’t make promises very often and I promise you that having a calendar you can trust is key to aligning your day-to-day actions with your higher level purpose. It’s also the key to more peace and presence in your daily life.
Last week I had a blissfully full day. I had a 90-minute client session in the morning and then I was leading a half-day purpose discovery workshop in the afternoon. I got into the office around 8:30am that day. With my client session at 9:30am I knew I had an hour to get some work done.
My client session would wrap up around 11:00am and then I’d need to get to the workshop location by 11:45am to set up. It was going to be 30 minutes of drive time to get there. Which meant I had just 15 minutes between wrapping my client session and leaving for the workshop. And that’s it. The rest of my work day was going to be consumed by that workshop.
There was nothing else on my calendar except for a client appointment, drive time, and the workshop. Being able to look at that, I knew exactly how much time I had to do anything else, which then would allow me to go to my action list to see what I could get done in this hour before my first client, and then these 15 minutes between my first client and having to leave the office to go to that workshop.
So I got some good stuff done in that first hour. As for that 15 minute window? Realistically, what happened in those 15 minutes was I went to the bathroom, I heated up a burrito for the road, I packed everything up and got out of Dodge and headed to the workshop.
At the workshop I was all there, all in. Just one quick glance at my calendar in the morning and I knew exactly what my day looked like and exactly where I had time to work on things other than what was on my calendar. Which allowed me to let go of everything else. There was nothing else I could do that day. Which meant I got to be present with my workshop clients. I knew exactly what WASN’T getting done and that was ok.
I could only do that because my calendar is one that I trust. It is one where only what actually has to be done that day is on there.
Really, a calendar is intended to show the hard landscape of your day. The stops and starts to your day. The hard edges of your day. The things that actually have to get done. It really should be the first place that you go to see what is happening in your day because it tells you not only where you should be and when, but it also shows you how much time you actually have to do anything else.
When your calendar is trustworthy, you can look at it and know when you’re going to be occupied, what actually needs to get done that day, and then any open space, is time where you can get anything else done.
Just like I did on my blissfully full day.
Let’s talk about how you can have a calendar that you can trust. It’s taken me years to figure out how to do this, which may seem silly to you. But, let me just give you my tips and see if they might help you.
Ready for my first tip?
1. Get everything on one calendar.
What the heck do I mean by this? Perhaps you have a calendar through your personal gmail account, an Outlook calendar at work, your calendar on your phone, etc. If you have appointments and reminders scattered across multiple calendar tools/apps/platforms, get them all into one app. Pick your favorite app and get everything synced with that app. I happen to like Google Calendar. Everything I do for work or the rest of my life goes on my Google Calendar. I can access it via the web or through the app on my phone or tablet. No more “work calendar” and “home calendar’. Sometimes life stuff happens during work hours and vice versa. Why go to two different calendars to figure that out?
It is really important to get everything into one place where you can see it all in one view. That could be overwhelming to see it all at once, but it is reality. And though I may be a dreamer, I know that dealing with reality is super important. Otherwise you are bouncing back and forth between calendars, missing appointments or always doubting how much time you actually have to get stuff done.
2. Color code your calendar.
Color coding is really helpful for me because I’m super visual. My client sessions are dark green, networking appointments are purple, personal appointments are yellow, etc. It makes it easy to look at my day or week to see what it holds.
Sometimes you need to have things on your calendar that you don’t need to attend, but you need to know about and be aware of. For example, my girlfriend is a massage therapist and sometimes works with clients in our home. I need to know when that’s happening so I don’t come home during those times for any reason. So, she lets me know when that’s happening and I put that on my calendar and color it gray. That’s a great color because it just fades that appointment to the background. I don’t have to be at that appointment, I just need to know about it.
And then there’s the color red. I use this to flag my travel time. Speaking of which…
3. Add travel time to your calendar.
I mean the time spent driving in your car from one appointment or event to the next. Adding travel time to my calendar has been something that I’ve been hit or miss on. But over the past couple of months I’ve been better about it. And it has been super helpful for a few reasons:
- It helps me be more intentional about WHEN I leave for an appointment because I’m blocking it off on my calendar. Doing that has led to fewer late arrivals on my part. And I hate being late!
- It helps me be more realistic about how much time I have in my day to work on other things. Without travel time I would have looked at my calendar on my blissfully full day and thought I had an hour between my client session and my workshop to get other stuff done. I mean, really, I would have known I didn’t really have a full hour but with travel time built on my calendar I had a stark visual of how little time I actually had.
- It can change your business. Even when I was inconsistently capturing travel time on my calendar, it became clear how much of my workday was spent driving. Ugh! This led me to start using Zoom for most of my client sessions. Which means I get to work with more people, impact more lives and grow my income.
Try it out. Add travel time to your calendar and see what you learn from it.
Are you with me so far? Getting everything on one calendar (including drive time!) and try so me color coding. Do this and your calendar trust score just went up 200%! (Um, I’m not exactly a math person, but I feel pretty good about that % increase!)
In other words implementing these first 3 tips will change your trust in your calendar for sure, but you aren’t done yet.
This next tip is a little bit harder for people to do…
4. Stop using your calendar as your to-do list.
I might need to rephrase that. Stop using your calendar as your “I’d like to do” list. You know what happens. You just fill your calendar day with a bunch of stuff that you want to get done. It doesn’t HAVE TO get done that day. You just wishfully think you will get it done. Let’s see if this sounds familiar:
It’s Friday afternoon and you are wrapping up your week and you think “I’d like to get this done on Monday.” So you add a bunch of things to your calendar on Monday. Realistically, you don’t know what Monday’s gonna look like, lots of things could happen which means you’re just shuffling things from one day to the next and that’s not helpful. And it feels crappy to constantly be reminded of all the things you haven’t done by moving them to the next day.
It’s a matter of getting your to-do list off your calendar and treating your calendar as sacred territory. As I said earlier, what is on your calendar should be the hard landscape of your day. The hard landscape (or hardscape) of a yard is the sidewalks, decks, retaining walls, etc, and then you fill in the rest of it with whatever plantings you want. Calendars are the same way. They show you the hard edges of the beginnings and endings of appointments and travel time. Those are the things that you have committed to. The blank places are where you pick the other things you are going to work on.
Let’s dig into this a bit more. We’ll start by looking at the hour-level of your calendar.
The only thing that goes in the hour level of your calendar is appointments. That’s it. Just the stuff you have to do at that specific time on that specific day.
In my line of work I get to see lots of client calendars and I have definitely seen on calendars “water plants” as an appointment at 10am on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. First off, that’s probably too much watering. More importantly, I doubt you must water your plant from 10-10:30am. Now, if you happen to have a super special plant that really does require watering at exactly 10:00 a.m. or at exactly the same time on every other day, then sure, that’s an appointment. But if not, then it should not go in that hourly level.
Again, the only thing that should go there are commitments you’ve actually made. Meetings that you have. A doctor’s appointment. Drive time. Buying Hamilton tickets as soon as they go on sale at 10am. Seriously. You don’t want to miss out on that!
OK, let’s move onto the day level. On a lot of calendars, like on Google Calendar, you have the hour level but things can also be saved at the day level. The day level is meant for two things:
- Day-level actions: Action that MUST happen that day, but not necessarily at a specific time
- Day-level reminders: Something you need to be reminded of on that day
An example of a day-level action might be that you told Cher that you would call her on Tuesday but you didn’t agree on a specific time. “Follow up w/Cher” would be added to the day level on Tuesday.
Things at the day level are actions that have to be taken that day, not action you would like to take that day. I’ll tell you where that stuff goes later.
A day-level reminder would be something you want to know about on that day but you don’t have to DO anything about it. For example, one that’s commonly on my calendar is “Barley and Baxie”. Barley and Baxie are my two dogs and I don’t have them all the time, they primarily live with my ex. So whenever I know I’m going to have them I put “Barley & Baxie with us” at the day level of my calendar. That way I’m careful about how I schedule my days so that I can get them out for walks (most days…let’s be honest) and be home to feed them.
That’s a day level reminder. It’s not action I need to take, it’s just something I need to know about. Another example is that we have a friend coming into town in a couple weeks so she’s at the day level of my calendar for each day that she’ll be staying with us. No action required. Just good to know so I can be careful about not over scheduling myself when she’s here so that I can spend time with her.
Again, the day level of your calendar is only for things that have to happen or that you want to be reminded of on that day, nothing else. When you do this, it allows your calendar to show you what MUST get done each day AND the blank spaces where you can actually get other work done.
Speaking of other stuff. Where does all that other stuff go? Stuff that doesn’t necessarily have to happen on a specific day or at a specific time goes on to a task list. The tool I use to manage my projects and tasks is GQueues. I talked about how I do that in a previous blog post. GQueues is where I capture any “to do” that pops into my email, text, my head or is requested by someone else. If there is no true deadline, it goes in GQueues.
So,here’s what my day looks like with a calendar I trust (and my complete task list):
- I look at my calendar and I see how much time I have before my next appointment.
- I look at the day level of my calendar and do what needs to be done there first.
- I go to GQueues and work on things there.
- Plus some checking in on my email inbox here and there. Let’s be real.
When you create a calendar you trust it allows you to become more realistic about what you can actually get done on any given day.
Like my blissfully full day last week. I had an hour at the beginning of my day and after that, I only had 15 minutes. Knowing this (trusting this!) allowed me to say, “Okay, nothing else is getting done today.” That’s it. I’m gonna meet with my client. I’m gonna have 15 minutes to transition. I’m gonna get in the car and maybe make a couple phone calls but after that I’m gonna be with my workshop group for the rest of the day. Which is great. It allows me to be present with them which is really important. That the whole point, right? To have be present with the people you are with.
The more you can turn your calendar into something that you can trust, the more that you can have some peace about what’s getting done (and what’s NOT getting done), and the more you can be present with the people that you’re with and the activities that you’re actually doing.
In order to do that, you gotta:
- Get everything in one place. Get it all on one calendar (including your travel time).
- Make it visually helpful by using some color coding.
- Make sure that your to-do list is NOT on there. Treat your calendar as sacred territory and only put things on it that have to happen like appointments at the hour level and must-do activities and must remember information at the day level.
When you do do these things you will then have a calendar you can trust. And with that you’ll be much more peaceful and present in your work and your play.
Tell me, what are you best calendar tips? How does your calendar help you? How could your calendar help you more?
PS: If I didn’t put all of this stuff in my calendar, it would have to be in my brain. And our brains weren’t meant for remembering all this stuff. So, I use my calendar (among other tools) as my external brain. That way my brain can be used for creativity, problem solving, reflection and dreaming. If you want help creating your external brain you should check out GYST.
I have a friend who has a bumper sticker that somebody made for him that says “Awareness is a bitch”. They made it for him after he expressed how frustrating personal growth can be. And I can totally relate to that. I have experienced that feeling personally.
My belief is that I’m never going to be done. I’m always going to be learning and growing. I’m never going to be done. And that isn’t depressing or overwhelming. It’s exciting. Sometimes it’s tiring, but it’s mostly exciting.
Ongoing growth like that requires self-awareness. Awareness of patterns mostly. The patterns of stimuli and reaction. Sometimes those patterns are beneficial. Often they are because I’m still alive, right? So they’ve been working for me so far. And at the same time, that doesn’t mean I want to stay where I am. And this is when becoming aware of the patterns that might not be so helpful can be frustrating.
Because once you truly become aware of something, you can’t become unaware of it. You’ve done the work to become aware of the pattern (yes!) but you haven’t broken the pattern yet so when it keeps showing up you keep feeling frustrated (fuuuuuuck!). Sometimes you want to be able to forget what you’ve noticed to avoid that frustrated feeling. But you can’t. You can’t undo awareness. You can numb it. You can avoid it. But you can’t truly unknow it.
I have seen my clients experience this frustration as well. I totally understand it not only becuase I’m doing my own work on this and have experienced it myself, but because I know they wouldn’t be hiring a coach like me if they didn’t also want to grow and this is just part of the growth process.
But it seems like people think that awareness IS the process. As if we just become aware and then we stop doing the stuff that doesn’t serve us, right?
Nope. Don’t I wish.
Don’t get me wrong, awareness does lead to growth but it’s just the beginning.
But let me digress for a moment so you can understand how I came to believe this.
Besides therapy, self-help books, coaching, classes, etc, a lot fo people can gain a lot of awareness through personality assessments. They can be a kind of jump start to self awareness.
Personality assessments can be really helpful in fostering awareness.
There are behavioral assessments out there, like the DISC. While they can provide some awareness, they are primarily used and introduced to people in the context of hiring and job placement. They are meant to identify “predictable actions and personality traits within human behavior“.
And then there are personality assessments. These assessments are more focused on fostering self-awareness. They are intended to help you understand your core personality and how you are wired regardless of circumstances.
My two personal favorite personality assessments are the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is an assessment that helps you look at your hard-wired preferences across four dichotomies. Here’s how the Myers & Briggs foundations describes these dichotomies:
- Favorite world: do you prefer to focus on the outer world OR on your own inner world?
- Information: do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in OR do you prefer to interpret and add meaning?
- Decisions: when making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency OR first look at the people and special circumstances?
- Structure: In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided OR do you prefer to stay open to new information and options?
This can be really useful information to help you navigate life, navigate relationships with others, et cetera. It can be like a fast forward button on fostering awareness in yourself as well as appreciating the differences in other people. This is why a Myers-Briggs discovery session is the first session I have with my new monthly coaching clients.
There’s something interesting that happens when I do MBTI discovery sessions. Once we zero in on someone’s MBTI personality type, we go through and look at the description for that type. And I’m always really excited for this part because I know that we now have just pressed the fast forward button on fostering their self-awareness. We have something they can look at, respond to and refine.
The description starts with a basic description and then goes into a section called “You at your best”. And a lot of the time people respond to the information with an almost emabarrased “Yup, that sounds like me.” It doesn’t matter how I approach the content. Whether they were consciously aware of what I’m sharing with them, the initial response is sometimes just “Yup. Sounds like me.”
I’m always blown away by this because I think each description of each type sounds so amazing and sometimes people respond in such a resigned kind of way.
And then I remind myself that I responded the same way, when I first did some of this work myself. I was like, “Oh, yeah, that sounds like me.” Sigh. I downplayed the positive and only saw the drawbacks of my personality type. It was really frustrating.
It took time for me to realize that I needed to not just jump into that zone of being frustrated by aspects of my type, I also want to celebrate some of it too. And even for the parts that frustrated me, I needed to grow some acceptance of myself.
When I started my career as a coach, I was excited about sharing this awareness stuff with clients. But over time I realized that the work I really was doing with them was around fostering acceptance. I wasn’t just helping them become more aware of who they are and what some of their hard-wiring is, I was also helping them to accept what we uncovered without judgement.
For all of my love of the MBTI, it took learning about the Enneagram to really lock into the belief that awareness is not enough.
The Enneagram is a personality system that describes nine fundamentally different ways of “thinking, feeling, and acting that arises from a deepr inner motivation or worldview“. Each of us developed one of the 9 patterns to protect a specific aspect of our self that felt threatened as our own personality was developing.
Sometimes people feel like personality assessments are about putting people in boxes. What I like about the Enneagram is that it’s not about putting you in a box, but, instead, describing the box that you’re in so that you can get out of it.
Anyway, my growth process led me to the Enneagram and I did some study under Dr. David Daniels. He is one of the co-founders of Enneagram in the Narrative Tradition. He also co-developed a model called the Universal Growth Process, also known as the 5As.
It was through this work that I understood why I knew awareness wasn’t enough. What his model shows us is that awareness is actually just the first step.
That image I shared earlier isn’t wrong, it’s just not complete. Awareness leads to growth, but there are other As that you need to really grow.
Based on the UGP model, Awareness if the first step. Then you have Acceptance, Appreciation, Action and Adherence. Let me share a little bit about the 5As model, or the Universal Growth Process model more in Dr. David’s terms, okay? You can learn more here. In the meantime, here’s the overview:
- Awareness – Having a practice to increase our receptivity and grounded presence.
- Acceptance – Opening our hearts in non-judgment to accept whatever arises in the moment. This includes befriending our reactivity and working with the critical mind or superego.
- Appreciation – Requires realizing that the positives in our lives often get neglected and require our re-experiencing them in order to help us use appreciation as a great resource. Appreciation is exactly that and more; it’s an appreciation for “what” is revealing itself, in the moment, in another, and/or within ourselves.
- Action – Noticing → pausing → collecting energy → containing not suppressing. Mentoring with the “inner coach” into conscious conduct. Conscious conduct includes two interrelated forms: releasing into acceptance and taking action.
- Adherence – Committing to regular practice and the process itself.
The model was developed as something you use moment-to-moment in your life. Being Aware of something that triggers you. Accepting what arises within you without judging yourself for it. Appreciating the patterns that were created to protect you. Containing the reaction so that you can channel your energy toward conscious Action. And sticking to, or Adhering to the model.
The model is a super helpful model to be implementing in your day-to-day, moment-to-moment life, and I also realize that it works at a higher level, too. When you gain awareness about yourself at a broader level, if you can accept what you find there, find appreciation for your patterns and be intentional about the actions you take, you can go anywhere you want to go.
My ideal clients are already on the self-awareness journey, they just aren’t always happy with what they find. They think they want a deeper level of awareness, but what they really need is acceptance. And that’s what I help people do, is gain a level of self acceptance that’s really empowering. And then the appreciation comes, and then we identify the more conscious purposeful action they can take in the world, so that they can show up in the ways that they want to. And that is what leads to growth.
Do you understand now why sometimes awareness is a bitch? Why it’s not enough? If you are feeling frustrated by your awareness journey, hopefull you now realize that you gotta get to acceptance. You have to work through the self-judgment that comes up. And when you do that, amazing things can happen.
Let me give you a super quick example. In Myers-Briggs lingo, I’m an ENFJ (I prefer Extroversion, iNutition, Feeling and Judging). While I’m a mediator and harmonizer, I’m also highly structured. I like to have decisions made, I like to come to conclustions and move on, I like to have a schedule, I like all my little systems.
And throughout my life, through a number of different people and experiences, I didn’t always feel valued for that structured part of me. In fact I felt like it was kind of a bad thing, like I was uptight. I’d get teased about how structured and organized I can be. This was one of those traits in the “you at your best” section of my ENFJ description that was listed as a positive and that I saw as a negative. I felt like it was a trait that I should maybe be less of. It was usually valued in me in professional situations, but in my personal life and in important relationships, not so much.
I’ve always done this kind of work in all the careers I’ve had. With my coaching clients, I have always helped them through a process to understand themselves and take action in a way that’s sequenced and structured so that they can keep it up and maintain it.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve developed more personal and professional relationships with people who really appreciate my preference for organization and structure. They like that I can see the next step and also get all the next steps lined up after that.
In aligning with people who valued traits so inherent and hardwired in me, I came to accept and appreciate these parts of me as well. Which, of course, led to conscious action, different choices and a different way of showing up.
And that’s why I have added a whole new dimension to my coaching work over the past couple of years. Especially with my Get Your Shit Together (GYST) program, where I help people develop their own work+life productivty system. Where productivity means moving the things forward that you want to move forward. Not busyness, productivity. And I love what I’m doing even more than I ever have before.
And it was because I went beyond awareness and learned to accept and appreciate the part of me that is structured, likes to have systems in place, likes to sequence and categorize and organize. I really fully accepted that part of me, and then took conscious action around moving that part of me forward in a way that felt good, and in a way that was valuable to other people.
Whether you come to your own awareness through coaching, self-help books, therapy, or assessments, when you hit the frustration point, remember to push forward. Remember the 5 As. Keep going until you can reach the empowering experience of acceptance and appreciation. Take conscious, puerposeful action. Because that is where the growth is. In the actions you take and the awareness that comes from those actions.
What is your experience with self-awareness? How has it led to growth for you?
We all have lots of things on our minds. They range from things like “Schedule Dr. appointment” to “Remodel house” or “Start marketing to new zip code”.
Plus a hundred or so other things in between.
And some of these things stay on our minds for a long time. Even if you are a list maker, these things can stay on your lists for a long time.
There’s lots of reasons these things stay on your lists. Sometimes they are just ideas and aren’t meant for you to act on right now. And that’s ok. Have a place to store those ideas. Visit that place often so those ideas know you’re paying attention.
And for the stuff you definitely want to move forward? What about that stuff? What about the projects that you want to get rolling? What about the idea that you don’t want to keep on the shelf anymore?
In other words, where are you stuck? Take a moment and think about that. Seriously. Right now. Because I want to help you get unstuck.
It just takes one question. But that question needs to be taken seriously. You can’t dodge it. You gotta be willing to really think about it and answer it.
OK, here it is:
What are you going to do to move this thing forward?
I use this question all the time to get me and my clients unstuck.
It sounds pretty basic, but it’s really helpful and powerful when you take it seriously. I actually ask this question in the way that I learned it from David Allen in his book, “Getting Things Done”. Ready for the real version of the question?
What is the next PHYSICAL, VISIBLE thing you will do to move this thing toward completion?
As in, what could I walk in and SEE you doing to move this forward?
This project, this task, this idea, whatever it might be, this question helps you transform a “to do list” into an “all done” list. It takes a random list of stuff that is in your head and turns it into a list of actions or tasks that you can actually get done. It gets your stuff unstuck.
And it also helps you take something that seems too big to tackle, and make it doable. Because what I’ve noticed is that people often think that they need to leap tall buildings in a single bound, like Superman. And you just don’t need to do it that way, but you think that way, you think in terms of projects. Even if you are a detail oriented person, you are often thinking at least 3 actions ahead of what the next action really is. Some of you think 100 steps ahead!
In short, we think of terms of “stuff” that we want to get done, but not how it’s actually going to get done, or what we actually need to do it.
And so, what I want you to do is think about that thing that’s on your mind that you haven’t made progress on. The thing that gnaws at your conscience. Now ask yourself, really, what is the next physical, visible thing you would do to move that thing forward?
Perhaps a couple examples could help. I did a brain dump of real stuff that’s on my mind that I’m going to apply this question to. Here’s the list:
- Send proposal
- Call dentist
- WHY workshop
- Kitchen light
- Client recap
When you do brain dumps like this, isn’t this what it looks like? You come up with a random list of stuff. Work, personal, home, etc. Some of the things on our brain dumps are immediately do-able, cross-off-able and others aren’t.
Let’s apply the unstuck question to a couple of these.
- Call dentist.
“Elise, what’s the next physical, visible thing I would do to move this thing forward?” Well, I would call the dentist, right? That makes sense. But this particular thing has been on my list for a while now. No action taken. So there must be more to it. That’s when I pull out a couple of helpful follow up questions.
So, the first follow up question I often ask myself is,
Do you have everything you need to do complete this next step?
With regard to “call the dentist” I actually don’t have everything I need. You would think I do. Couldn’t I just look up my dentist’s phone number and call them? I’m actually thinking about changing dentists, and so I know somebody who has a dentist that they’d recommend and I need to ask them for the dentist name and contact information.
So really my next action isn’t call the dentist, my next action is to it’s to contact my friend and ask them for this information, right? So that’s the next action.
- Call dentist —> Text Sue and ask for name of her dentist
I can do that in 2 minutes or less, so I just do it. Done.
Now, my next action is “Call dentist”. I can’t do that right now, but I add it to my “@9am-5pm” task list. (My list of actions that must happen during business hours.)
Let’s take another one that’s on my list.
- Send proposal.
I’m just going to jump right in with that first follow up question: “Elise, do you have everything you need to complete this step?”
Well, actually no I don’t. I need to make some updates to the proposal and that requires me getting some information. So in this case, the next physical, visible thing I would actually do is pull up this person’s website and get all the information I need to update the proposal.
- Send proposal —> Look up client info for proposal
I don’t have time to do that right now. It’s going to take more than 2 minutes to do that. So I need to add it to one of my task lists. But which one?
This is where another follow up question is helpful:
WHERE do I need to be, in order to be most successful at accomplishing this task?
“Where” is really important for a couple reasons.
One of the biggest reasons is that it forces you to really think about you physically doing this activity that is necessary, which helps confirm that you’ve truly identified the next action.
Back to the proposal, where do I need to be in order to be most successful at getting the information for this proposal? Well, really I need to be anywhere that has internet access, right? Anywhere where I can get on and search for this contact information. Ideally though, where I would best do this work, would be in my office.
So suddenly this project called “send proposal” not only has a really nice clear next action — Look up client info for proposal — that’s going to move it towards completion, but it also has a place where I’m going to get this done.
This is called “context”. Where’s the best location for this action to take place? That’s what context is all about.
I have task lists set up for every main context in my life.
- @Couch browsing (stuff I can do on my laptop while watching mindless television)
Once I’ve identified the next action, I add it to the appropriate task list based on the WHERE the next action will happen.
Let’s take another example.
- Why Workshop.
Now that isn’t very actionable, is it?
So, what’s the next physical, visible thing I need to do to move this why workshop thing toward completion? Well, I need to create the next email template to send out to this group. That’s the very next thing I need to do.
Do I have everything I need to do that? Yes I do, I have all the information I need to do that. So…
- Why Workshop —> Create next email template for Why Workshop.
Where’s the best place for this action take place? —> @Office
This task goes on my @Office task list.
By using the ONE question I’m able to take the stuff that’s on my mind and turn them into actual next steps that can usually be complete in a matter of minutes. David Allen calls it Clarifying or Defining your work. It allows you to move things forward because we don’t always have hours on end to hammer out a project from beginning to end. We don’t always have what we need to leap the tall buildings in a single bound.
Let’s take one more example. Another life example.
- Kitchen light.
Our kitchen light turns off inexplicably right now. We turn it on. We start chopping veggies for dinner and after a minute or two it will flicker and then blink off off. What do I do about that? We’ve already done some minor troubleshooting and didn’t find anything obvious. Now what do we do?
“Elise, what is the next physical, visible thing you’ll do to move this thing toward completion?” Well, we know an electrician but I don’t have his contact info.
The next physical, visible thing I’ll do is text Kim and ask her for John’s contact information.
- Kitchen light. —> Text Kim and ask for John’s info
I can do that in 2 minutes or less so I’ll just do it.
Then I’ll add a task to my @Waiting for list indicating that I’m waiting for this information.
Are you seeing the power of this question? Can you see how investing time answering this question about projects big and small can help you move them forward?
What about the power of having task lists set up by context?
Doing this means that when I’m at the office I can just pull up my @Office task list and only see the tasks that I can actually do at the office instead of seeing every task for every project that is active for me right now. It gives me a lot more focus.
Watch this video for more examples of contexts that I use.
I’m a big fan of the big picture and big ideas. I love hanging out in that space with people, helping them identify their purpose, who they want to be, and the kind of impact they want to have in the world. And at the same time none of that work means anything if nothing ever comes out of any of it it.
Yes, we need to get clear on those big picture things. We should absolutely dream big. But our purpose, our dreams and our goals? They happen at the ground level. The day-to-day level of next actions. That’s why identifying what needs to happen next and capturing it in a way that allows you to be as productive as possible is really important.
Spending all of our time up there in the land of dreams and ideas isn’t enough. We gotta get down to the ground level, to the day-to-day actions that are going to move your dreams forward. The ground level stuff is where we do all of our learning. It’s where we make our mistakes and it’s where we learn our lessons and course correct.
It’s about steps. Not leaps. Because if you’re thinking you have to do big leaps all the time, you might not ever do anything. Bring it back down to what’s the next physical, visible thing you would do to move this thing forward.
Whether your brain is cluttered up with all sorts of to-do’s and tasks in your head, or whether it’s this big project, big idea, or this big dream that’s been just sitting there, and you haven’t done anything with it, I challenge you to ask yourself this question. And then capture that action in your task list.
What is the next physical, visible action I need to take to move this thing toward completion.
Remember that there is no leaping required. You can just take those little steps and move it forward. One action at a time.
Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear how you get unstuck.
If you need help, you might consider this.