14-ways-to-find-stability-marcia-baczynski

14 Ways to Find Stability When Everything Has Gone Bonkers

The world around us is bananas right now. Each day brings a fresh deluge of awful news, and it seems like the world as we know it is coming apart at the seams. Everywhere I look right now, the story is the same: Dozens of my clients, colleagues and friends have said they feel like they aren’t doing enough, while everything seems to be taking twice as long to do. Fear, uncertainty and doubt are clouding up our perceptions, and moving forward feels like moving through molasses.

You’re taking action. You may have added calling your representatives to your daily routine, or you might be marching for the first time in years (or ever). Maybe you’re taking extra care to clarify your values to your kids, or donating money or time to a cause you believe in. But none of it seems to be enough, and you can’t shake that deep sense of ungroundedness and uncertainty. For those tender souls who feel everything, stability and a sense of centeredness are especially hard to find right now.

Whether you’re reacting to the current political climate, or you are just trying to get through life with a pushy parent, a stressful job, a sick kid or any of life’s other major stressors, there’s not an overnight fix. When things around you have gone haywire, the last thing you might think to do — and the most important — is to give yourself some foundation to stand on.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Take a breath

Get into nature

Nature provides a different perspective. The trees, oceans, mountains and lakes have been here long before we were here and they’ll be here long after we’re gone. Plus, fresh air is good for you. Whether you wander into the woods near your house or just spend a few minutes on a park bench, a little time in nature, away from the concerns of people, might be just the thing you need. Watch some bugs, feel the breeze and take comfort that there’s an entire world that has nothing to do with human concerns — and you already live in it.

Renegotiate your relationship to social media.

self-care-social-mediaYou wouldn’t go to a party filled with people you didn’t want to see.

Why should social media be any different? Unfollow, unfriend or block people who leave you feeling unsettled after you interact with them. Hide news sources that overstimulate your emotions in order to get you to click. Cut back on how much time you spend on Facebook and Twitter and consider taking up an offline habit to replace them with. Unfollow anyone you are comparing yourself to on Instagram and start following things that inspire you instead (I hardly follow any of my actual real life friends on Instagram and my feed is mostly filled with pictures of nature, art, and cute animals. Instagram is my happy place, and I’m ruthless about it.

Notice how you feel after you use a social media site, and if it’s not good, immediately take steps to alter its role in your life.

Call a friend.

Call someone you love. Reconnect with someone from your past. Have a conversation with someone whose opinion you respect that goes beyond liking their comments on Facebook, or wondering yet again what they’re up to. Pick up the phone and call them.

If you have phone anxiety, try scheduling a phone date ahead of time or using Skype so you can see them. Ask questions about how it’s going. Be curious. Talk about what they’re seeing, what they’re noticing, what matters to them. There’s more to their life than what you hear through gossip or social media. Connecting in real time makes a difference and builds a relationship that matters to you.

Drop someone a note.

Since the election, I have started writing a lot more notes and letters. I’ve sent notes to people from my past thanking them for their impact on my life, a birthday card to kid with an intellectual disability, a note to an immigrant friend letting him know I’m glad he’s here, a thank you note to my congressman, and probably half a dozen more. It takes less than 15 minutes and it’s one of the best ways I’ve found to feel grounded and connected to other people.

You can send a private message to someone you admire on Facebook,telling them you appreciate them. Drop a card in the mail to a friend letting them know you’re thinking of them. Write anonymous love notes and leave them in your neighborhood. Thank a former teacher who affected you in a meaningful way.

Too anxious to actually call your reps? Write an email or send a postcard to your congress critters telling them about the issues you care about most.

Move your body

It’s easy to take the weight of the world onto your shoulders, so take a couple of minutes to move around. You could do a full-blown workout (it sure seems to me that a lot of folks are exercising more to cope with the stress), but just a minute or two of stretching can go a long way to making you feel like maybe you’re gonna be okay after all. (My foam roller is saving my life right now.)

After reading upsetting news, 20 pushups or jumping jacks can help reset your nervous system. Literally, actually “shaking it off” gives the adrenaline and fear someplace to go, and is really good for you.

Shake It Off GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Get more sleep.

Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Take naps. Let yourself unwind away from screens for an hour or two before bed. Keep the stressful stuff out of the bedroom. Go get some acupuncture and pass out in the chair. Or a conk out during a massage. Whatever gets you there.

Take care of someone (or something) else.

One of the best ways to get out of your own head is to put your attention on someone or something else. Now might be the time to make your garden extra nice or to adopt a pet. Show up for a sick friend, or start doing that volunteer work you’ve been thinking about for a while.

Look for good news.

marcia-baczynski-good-girlI’m not saying that you should pretend that everything is all rosy or that you should ignore that awful things that are happening. But it’s easy to get disheartened or to think that efforts at protest and pushback aren’t working if you don’t acknowledge them when they do. So pay attention when there is a small victory, when tens of thousands of people spontaneously protestwhen millions of women march to have their voices heard, when CEOs of massively influential companies take a stand in the streets, when a boycott works when there’s a win of any kind, even if it’s imperfect.

Collect bits of good news as though they are balloons and let them lift you up when you need it.

 

Say Thank You.

“Thank you” is an interpersonal form of gratitude, and it can really make someone’s day. Make a point to thank the people around you who make your life better. From your barista to your coworker to your Lyft driver or the person bagging your groceries, a brief, heartfelt “thanks” can make you feel connecting to others and remind you that everything is not all bad, and basic things are still working.

I recently called a big corporation that was doing something I liked to thank them, and the woman on the other end of the phone was absolutely delighted to hear from me. No one ever calls to say “You’re doing a good job.” It feels good on both ends. Try it.

Meditate (or something like it)

It seems like everywhere I look these days, people are using the Headspace app. So many folks I know are using it right now to get a grip on things, and it seems to be working. So if meditation is your thing and you could use a little help, check it out.

If, on the other hand, you prefer less traditional ways of meditating, try coloring or playing with boxes of sand. However you find your way to the present moment is a good one. Just 10 minutes will make a world of difference.

Let yourself rest.

marcia-baczynski-self-careIt can be tempting to try to stay up-to-date and current, but being emotionally keyed up isn’t the same thing as taking action to make a change. When you are wound up and can’t seem to get a grip, it’s time to rest. Get off the treadmill of needing to know what’s happening at all times. Turn off the news at 8pm and do quiet things until bedtime.

Take a 24 hour media break over the weekends.

Let your time be filled with companionable silence instead of trying to understand another slice of what’s happening.

Don’t worry, the problems aren’t going anywhere

They’ll still be there for you to pick up when you’re ready. For now, stop. Rest. It’s not your job to know all of the things.

Call your representatives.

Yes, I know everyone is telling you to do this. If like me, you have some phone anxiety, it may not seem like this is a grounding activity. But if you’ve been ranting on Facebook about your opinions, and feeling like no one important is hearing you, it can be immensely satisfying to call your reps and hear someone on the other end of the phone thank you for telling them what you want.

And you’re much more likely to get what you want when you ask the people who might be able to do something about it.

I found that 90 seconds of phone calls to my reps each morning is much more grounding than 3 hours of scrolling through the “news”. If like me, you need a little structure to lead you through, here are some guides to help:

Prioritize pleasure and joy.

self-care-pleasure-maria-baczynskiRemember your senses and tend to them. Run your fingers through wet grass. Inhale the scent of the flowers that are starting to bloom. Snuggle up with a loved one even though your mind is racing. Play games with your kids. Watch a comedy. Lose yourself in a good book. Wear the sexy underwear. Make art that makes you feel good. Make your favorite meal and dine by candlelight. Learn a new skill. Make an altar. Cozy up by the fire. Drink the good bottle of wine. Don’t let these things be taken from you. They are what make you feel alive, no matter what is going on around you.

Hang in there

If things seem extra hard right now, you’re not making it up. But that doesn’t mean you have to make it even harder on yourself. Developing practices to keep you centered and grounded will help you get through the hard stuff, whether it’s the fresh hell of daily “news” or the pile of pain that life has a habit of throwing our way sometimes.

As Audre Lorde put it, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” The road ahead is long. Plan for a marathon, not a sprint.

Give Yourself a Pat on the Back

Whether this year has been awful or glorious, messy or tidy, full of heartbreak or full of love, I hope you give yourself a pat on the back this week.

One of my most important annual rituals is making a list of accomplishments. Over the years, I’ve found this ritual provides something important to my recovering Good Girl: Letting myself see what I’ve actually gotten done.

It doesn’t matter if the thing you hoped for is incomplete still, or if it didn’t turn out the way you thought it would. It doesn’t matter if you wanted to do better or if it could have been some other way. It’s about writing down what you DID. And giving yourself some credit for that.

So whatcha got?

  • Did you make more money this year? (Even if it wasn’t as much as you hoped, it still counts!)
  • Did you set a boundary with someone that you needed to? (Even if you wobble sometimes, it still counts!)
  • Did you do something for your health? (It doesn’t have to be perfect to be moving in the right direction.)
  • Did you check something off your bucket list? Make a new friend? Do something that scared you? Do more of something you had wanted to do? Complete a 30-day challenge? Make art? Move? Keep your room just a little bit tidier? Learn a new skill? Were you more honest with someone? Did you keep your plants alive? Did you keep yourself alive?

It counts!

Write it down. A year is a long time, and you did some amazing things this year, as well as things that aren’t maybe all that impressive to others, but they matter to YOU and deserve credit.

So write it down and congratulate yourself. However it went, you deserve to acknowledge what you’ve done. These guys can help:

via GIPHY

I’d Rather Be Crazy

“What’s worse? Looking jealous or crazy? Jealous or crazy?
Or like, being walked all over lately, walked all over lately,
I’d rather be crazy.”

This lyric from Beyonce’s album Lemonade (which she performed at the VMAs on Sunday) has stuck with me since the I first heard it in April.

Jealous or crazy? This pairing is painfully frequent. And not just “jealous.” You can substitute any strong, potentially messy emotion and get the same equation: Angry or crazy? Violated or crazy? Sad or crazy?

I can’t even count the number of clients I’ve worked with who lay out precisely how they feel about something, and then, at the end, tack on “Or am I just crazy?”

“Crazy” is an ableist term that is used disproportionately on women to describe and discredit their emotional reactions, particularly when a woman’s boundaries are crossed. So often a woman’s feelings are written off as “craziness” as she is told, basically, to behave herself in the face of something that is not okay with her.

People use the word “crazy” when they want to keep women and femmes from putting themselves at the center of their own emotional experience. It is also an effective way to introduce doubt in a woman about what she is experiencing. How often do we hear “Oh she’s crazy” as a way of saying “Oh don’t take her or her feeling seriously”? How often are women and girls told “Don’t be crazy” as a substitute for “Don’t feel that”?

How often do women tell themselves not to be crazy when they have an emotional reaction to something that isn’t working for them?

One of the core expectations of being a “Good Girl” is that a feminine person remain calm, manageable, emotionally pliant, and willing to set aside her feelings in service of other people. She is not to bring her messy, hard emotions to the table, as it might upset someone. Her emotions are a threat to the service of taking care of other people’s feelings. We’ve internalized these ideas of who we are supposed to be, and we call ourselves and other women “crazy” when we don’t comply.

What I love about Beyonce’s lyric is that she starts with the familiar binary: EITHER having a truly honest emotional reaction (in this case, jealousy about her husband cheating on her) OR writing that reaction off as crazy. But then she looks at the bigger picture. “Hey, wait a second. You’ve been walking all over me!” There is a REASON for her emotions, and she’s NOT crazy. And she will not be gaslit. If having an emotional reaction to her partner disrespecting her boundaries gets her labeled “crazy,” well then, so be it.

And the album proceeds from there.

In my coaching practice and in the Good Girl Recovery Program, I see women and people raised as girls constantly wrestling with fear of being seen as “crazy.” When we work together, I encourage my clients to get honest with their feelings and specific with their fears:

  • Who, specifically, are you worried about upsetting?
  • Who, specifically, are you trying to take care of by not being emotional?
  • Whether or not it’s “reasonable,” what are you feeling right now?
  • What might happen if you were to feel that fully?

By getting honest and specific, we can then look at how a particular situation needs to be handled. There are more options than only having big emotions or dismissing those feelings as “just crazy.” When you accept your emotions as legitimate, even if they are potentially messy for other people, then you can choose how to engage with the world from a more honest, empowered place. And that isn’t crazy at all.

Self-Love Takes Practice

There are two memes I’ve seen go around in the last little while that got me to thinking about self-love.

The first goes…

“If I asked you to name all the things you love, how long would it take for you to name yourself?”

When I saw this, it stopped my in my tracks.

I have a pretty high opinion of myself (which by itself is something we’re not supposed to admit, but it’s just us here, right?) and yet, if I engaged in this question of naming the things I love, earnestly and for days, I bet it would have taken me a really, REALLY long time to put myself on the list.

What about you?

This isn’t a criticism, by the way. We’re taught to think of ourselves as inherently unworthy, needing of fixing up, and maybe someday, finally, if you do enough “self-help” or buy the right things, perhaps then, we’ll be good enough to love unconditionally.

So it’s no wonder it might take us a while to add ourselves to a list of things we love.

The second meme was a bit more manageable to chew…

"Name five things you love about you"My dear friend Kendra tagged me in it and I took it as a challenge. Could I, the advocate for recovering Good Girls and champion of Asking for What You Want, publicly name 5 things I love about myself in front of a bunch of people I don’t know on the internet? Kendra went first, which helped.

Here’s what I wrote.

After I posted it, my mind swam… what would people think? Was it arrogant to say that? Was I inviting trouble by talking about my boobs? The self-doubt monsters growled their growls, but I didn’t let them take over.

Self-love, as it turns out, is a practice — one I recommend you engage in at every possible opportunity. It can feel intimidating at first, but it’s so worth it to practice. See what I shared, and share your 5 self-loves here.

Self-Care Is Not Optional

“Do you know the difference between indulgence and self care?”

I looked into her tear-stained face.

“No,” she said. “My whole life, it’s been about working my ass off, and then, when it gets to be too much, give myself a ‘treat,’ which I always regret later. No one ever taught me how to take care of myself. The only way I can do anything nice for myself is if I do it for someone else, or for my dog.”

My heart broke for her. Here was my brilliant, funny, smart, sarcastic, big-hearted, talented friend, who regularly gives joy  to more people than I can count, completely falling apart. For months, I’d watched her work and work and work, and today, she was about to throw the towel in on everything she had built.

By every measure, she was a “success:” Owner of a kooky, whackadoodle dream business, adored by thousands of people who frequently thanked her for her work and for changing their lives, doing the thing she loved most in a gorgeous city with a loving partner and an awesome dog. But no amount of talking about “self-care” could override the programming she got as a child that she was worthless, and didn’t deserve to be taken care of.

Especially by her own self.

We’ve all had moments of reaching for the sugar, the no-good lover, the trashy novel, the junk food, the new gadget, the porn, the expensive shoes or the chocolate. And we’ve all had times when what we needed was a nap, someone to feed us or touch us lovingly, a walk, some sunshine, or to get out of our own head.

Some of these are indulgence, and some of these are self-care. The messages we get about them are confusing. Marketing is full of women laughing while eating yogurt and chocolate being equated with sexual abandon and men stuffing themselves full beyond belief. We’re sold relaxation at hundreds or thousands of dollars a pop, as if taking a nap in your own bed is verboten.

How many ads for vacations, food or massage have you seen that include the phrase “sinful” or “indulgence” as if taking a break, eating food, or being taken care of wasn’t valuable in and of themselves?

We are encouraged to “work work work” and any deviance from that is labeled “selfish.” It can be nearly impossible to tell whether it’s okay to prioritize yourself, and if you do, how to actually take care of yourself instead of just having a “break” that leaves you feeling worse than you did before. So let’s break it down a bit.

What’s the difference between self-care and self-indulgence?

Self-care: Leaves you feeling nourished Associated with feelings of well-being May be hard to do at first Regular and consistent Addresses core needs Builds you up Self-Indulgence: May leave you feeling depleted or hung over Associated with feelings of guilt Often surrounded with language of shame, sinfulness or indulgence Happens inconsistently Doesn’t address underlying needs Costs you Can be fun

Now let’s be clear: there’s actually nothing wrong with indulging from time to time. Sometimes, being excessive can be fun. It can be a nice break from everyday reality to have too much wine or sugar, to chase after someone who’s not a good match for you, or to run away from your responsibilities for an afternoon. I am, in fact, unabashedly unapologetic about my enjoyment of the occasional hedonistic experience.

But as a substitute for self-nurturing, indulgence will always fall short. Because indulgence costs you, after you indulge, you may feel icky, tired, blown out or even more overwhelmed than when you started.

Self-care, on the other hand, helps you build your energy reserves. It leaves you feeling balanced, sated, clearer or more grounded. It’s listening to your body when you need a nap, or drinking a glass of water when the sugar cravings hit. It’s turning down a date with a needy-but-entertaining friend and exercising instead. Or Inviting that friend to go on a hike with you, so you can get your exercise in.

Self-care is not working for the sake of working, but working toward your goals, which are in alignment with your values. It’s knowing what your goals are in the first place, and how those goals support you as a person. It’s setting yourself up to win, not at the expense of other people, but by pro-actively creating an environment around you where you (and others) can rest, recharge, and evaluate.

Self-care is asking for help, letting others know your limitations, and picking your battles.

Self-care is not selfish.

When you’ve been taught that your job is to take care of everyone else around you, when you are expected to be responsible for other people’s emotions, when you’re the person in your family who is literally responsible for the survival of everyone else, taking care of yourself may seem selfish. It may seem like you are putting yourself before the family or the community.

But the thing is, self-care is what enables you to continue to be of service to others. It is the precise opposite of selfish. Without self-care, you are not able to continue caring for others. As Jada Pinkett Smith puts it, “You cannot be good to other people if your health is declining. You cannot be good to other people if you’re miserable. You cannot be good to your children if you have them, to your spouse if you have one, to your job and your career if you are not emotionally and mentally and physically healthy.”

What does self-care look like?

What's on your puppy checklist?The details of what self-care looks like will be different for each person, but it can be helpful to start with what my pal Q calls “The Puppy Checklist” — that is, doing for yourself the things that a puppy needs to be happy and healthy:

  • Eating appropriate amounts of healthy food on a reasonable schedule
  • Drinking enough water
  • Moving your body, even if it’s just a few walks a day
  • Spending time sniffing around your neighborhood and noticing things
  • Playing with toys and with others
  • Being petted
  • Getting to bed at a reasonable hour and getting as much sleep as you need.
  • Taking care of your basic health needs, going to the doctor and taking your meds on time
  • Listening to your body and doing what it tells you it needs

Other self-care approaches may be impacted by your health or what you do for a living. For example, someone who experiences frequent migraines may take steps to adjust the lighting in their workspace and home. At work, self-care may be about leaving your desk at 5:30 sharp, or setting clear boundaries with clients about when you’re available. (Boundaries in general are an important self-care tool.)

Take Action

Wherever you’re at in your self-care journey, I invite you to take a look at one thing you could do today to take better care of yourself. Think of one habit you’d like to build (the simpler the better) or one thing that you will say no to. What’s on your puppy checklist?

Remember that although you get to indulge and be selfish when you need to, that self-care is not selfish. It is vital and necessary for your wholeness and your ability to be a light shining into the world. Please take care of yourself like you’re someone you love.

Even if that someone is a puppy.

Making Friends with Fear

Of all the reasons why people don’t ask for what they want, #1 is definitely fear. Our fears consume us, and make it next to impossible to say our desires out loud.

Fear of rejection, fear of it not being what we hoped, fear of not getting what we want despite our partner’s efforts, fear of being laughed at, fear of being judged… The fears, it seems, never end.

But “fear” as an answer alone isn’t enough to be useful. If you want to start getting what you want in your relationships, in the bedroom, and in life, it helps to notice why you don’t ask in the first place.

In other words, what is that fear, and where does it come from?

When you notice a fear come up, pay attention to your emotions, then step into the “fear shower.” Are you afraid? If so, of what? Turn the faucet of your concerns, worries, apprehension and nervousness on as far as it will go. What do you think might happen? What will happen after that? Ask yourself these questions and write down as many of the answers as you can.

Put as many of your fears into words as you can. Then…

Don’t judge yourself for the answers that come up. Many times the fears are irrational given the current situation. For instance, you might be afraid that your partner might reject you if you ask for some change to your sexual repertoire. Your mind might go straight to “That’s ridiculous! They’re always open to conversations like this!” It’s important, however, not to dismiss your fear. Take a step back. Imagine what it might be like to ask for this change you want. Sit with it and be patient, because whatever comes up for you is trying to tell you something. Feel it all the way through. Let the answers wash over you.

Then, take a deep breath. This can feel really scary sometimes, but you won’t drown by standing in the shower, and you won’t get hurt by simply feeling through your fears.

Now, think back. Does this situation feel similar to something else in your life? Was there a time when someone did reject you for making a sexual request? Perhaps it was a past partner? Or maybe someone in your past dismissed you when you asked for something that felt vulnerable to you?

By noticing where the fear comes from, you may be able to see what it’s trying to protect you from. Sometimes the protection is unrelated to the situation at hand. Sometimes there might be something to it. Regardless, knowing what your fear wants from you is an important step to being able to speak about your needs.

Finally, do some comparisons. Look at: how is this situation similar to the past? How is this situation different? It may be the case that your partner ignored you or dismissed you in the past. Is that likely to still be true? If it was someone else who dismissed you, why are you expecting the same from this partner? How up-to-date and true are your beliefs about this current situation? How are you different than you were before? Is it possible that you have more skills and awareness than you did before?

Sometimes our fears are based in an accurate assessment of current reality. But more often, they have to do with things that happened years ago, with someone else, or to someone else. By getting intimate with your fear, and distinguishing it from what’s happening now, you have an opportunity to choose how to interact with your fears, instead of just assuming that the worst will happen.

 

 

New Year, New You?

joy1New Year New You? That’s what all the advertisements say right now.

It’s a new year, you should lose weight.
It’s a new year, you should make more money.
It’s a new year, it’s time to finally find a partner.
It’s a new year, better buy a house. Or a car. Or some bedding or something.

The ads say once you do all these things, then you can finally be happy.

What. A load. Of crap.

I love the new year, but I hate all the emotional manipulation that goes with it.

You don’t need to change who you are to be happy.

And you DON’T need to accomplish a bunch of stuff that may not even be what matters to you in order to deserve happiness.

In fact, trying to achieve happiness through goals that aren’t even your own is the surest path to dissatisfaction.

Now I’m not saying don’t set goals. I love goal-setting and right now I’m in the middle of setting my own 2016 goals and intentions.

But your resolutions, goals, and intentions for the new year need to be about who you are, what you want and what actually lights you up and turns you on. When you include the things you care about — not what you were told to do or what you should want — your goals may be odd and a little surprising, but they will lead you to a kind of happiness not found in the gym or with a financial planner.

So as you figure out what you want your 2016 to be like, here are some questions to consider:

Is this goal based on a felt desire within myself? One that I can feel in my body? Is there an internal yearning for this? Or is this a goal I’ve been told to want, feel like I should want or feel like I should do?

For years, I set financial goals for myself that I failed to meet. “Pay off all your credit card debt. Save 20% of your income.” Reasonable stuff like that. It took me a while to realize that the reason I failed wasn’t because of some horrible flaw in myself. It was because I hadn’t connected my financial goals to the rest of my values and my life. Once I set financial goals that were connected to things that genuinely excited me (instead of just doing what I was told I should do), my finances suddenly and sharply improved — because my reasons were intimately connected to my values.

Similarly, I never got much traction on any “exercise more” goals, but when it became about “having fun in my own skin,” suddenly dancing, hiking, swimming and sailing on a regular basis naturally followed.

What do I want my goals to feel like when I achieve them? Are the things I’ve written down for 2016 things that will lead to me feeling that way?

Have you ever accomplished something, and when it was all over wondered, “Is that all there is?” Sometimes we become so focused on WHAT we’re trying to accomplish that we lose track of why we even started in the first place, or whether we should have changed course in the middle. Connecting your goals with how you want it to feel will keep your life from just being a giant checklist.

Do my goals encompass all parts of me? Or just the parts that I feel are acceptable to pursue?

It’s easy to be ambitious about things that your family, your friends or your society rewards you for. But what about the things that the people around you don’t understand or don’t ever talk about? Over a decade ago, I decided my annual intention-setting needed to include goals about developing my relationship to my own sexuality. At the time, I knew no one who did such a thing and it felt incredibly risky to even write it down in my own journal. But now I enjoy so much spaciousness, self-knowledge, autonomy, pleasure and freedom that I want to go back and give my younger self a giant high five. What parts of yourself (sexually, creatively, financially, relationally) feel similarly risky to have goals or intentions around? What baby step can you take this year to include that in your goal-setting?

Dream big this year if you want. Or don’t. Try something bold this year. Or don’t. It’s not about what it looks like on the outside, and it’s certainly not about pleasing other people.

Make a life for yourself this year that is about you and your heart… I bet it will be extraordinary.

 

Mighty fine thanks to Martin Talbot for the photo.

27 Alternatives To Asking “Is This Okay?”


When it comes to sexytimes, we all want to know if what we’re doing in bed is working for our partner. Unfortunately, knowing what or how to ask doesn’t always come as second nature. You fumble, try to read clues and more often than not, “Is this okay?” tumbles out of your mouth.

Last week I wrote about why “Okay” is a four-letter word and encouraged you to break the habit of asking about it. To do so, you need different, more precise questions to ask, ones that actually get at the thing you want to know.

Pair a good question with a sexy voice and some genuine curiosity, and some serious magic will happen.

Next time you and your sweetie are about to get down, try these instead:

Yes/No questions

As we discussed in the last post, “Okay” is a maddeningly unclear (and rather low) standard for your sex life. If you are asking yes or no questions, be sure to ask about what you actually want to know. Much of the time, we want to know if we’re doing a good job, but “good job” is also not particularly well-defined. When in doubt, center your questions around pleasure, satisfaction and desire. If nothing else, it lets your partner know that you really want them to have a good time. Here are some examples:

Before

  • 8180474158_495134d66c_zWould you like it if…?
  • Would it please you if…?
  • Would you enjoy it if…?
  • Would it rock your world if…?

During

  • Are you enjoying this?
  • Do you want more of this?
  • Is this good for you?
  • Does this work for you?
  • Do you want something different?

After

  • Did you enjoy it when…?
  • Was it pleasurable to you when…?
  • Did it work for your when…?

Personally, I’m not a big fan of Yes/No questions, because I like to find out more about what makes my partner tick. But these kinds of questions can be handy if your partner isn’t good at articulating what they like, when you’re caught up in the heat of the moment, or when you just need a quick snippet of feedback to see if things are on track.

Either/Or questions

Most people are not very good at saying what they want. If you are trying to find out what your partner likes, trying something and then asking “Is this okay?” is unlikely to tell you what they prefer. But an open-ended question may cause your sweetie to freeze like a deer in the headlights. This is a great chance to give your partner options!

decisions-patrice-koerper-life-coach-motivational-speakerEither/or questions can help you and your partner figure out which general direction to head in, without having to over-think things or be able to articulate everything in advance.

  • Do you prefer a firmer or gentler touch?
  • Do you like it when I move slower or faster?
  • Do you want sexy snuggles or sleepy snuggles?
  • Do you want more tongue or less when I kiss you?
  • Would you like the rope tighter or looser?
  • Do you want me to be more allowing or more assertive [in this activity]?
  • Do you like spankings to be more “golf clap” or more “rock concert”?*

Either/or questions can be particularly helpful when trying out a new activity, when you’re trying to figure out the flavor of something your partner has asked for, or when you really want to dial in exactly what turns them on.

Open Ended Questions

Sometimes, you just need a lot more information than “Is this okay?” or “Are you okay?” will give you. You might feel emotionally adrift in an interaction, or totally unable to read your partner’s cues. In this case, open ended questions are the way to go! They can be good to ask during a lull in the action, when something seems to be off-track but you can’t tell what, or during a sexual debrief after sexytimes.

193853038_bc19cfb4a2_zHere are some examples:

  • How do you feel about what’s happening right now?
  • What would rock your world right now?
  • What would feel good to you right now?
  • How are you doing?
  • What’s going on over there?
  • How would it be for you if…?
  • How was that to hear?
  • What’s your level of interest in that?

The answer you get to a sexual question depends on what you ask. Sexual communication (like all communication) is a bit of an art form, and you’ll discover what works best for you and your partner over time. Experiment with all three kinds of questions until you discover a new standard of sexual satisfaction for you and your partner. 

* Thanks to my pal Midori for the golf clap suggestion.
Photo credit.
Photo credit.
Photo credit.

“OKAY” Is A Four-Letter Word

nookayTalking about what you want in bed (and for that matter, in life) is scary, tricky business. Admitting something you want takes guts, and no one wants to be laughed at or rejected for sharing something tender with a loved one.

Sometimes though, the pull toward intimacy and connection wins out and you get up the guts to ask for the thing you want. You share a secret desire. You make your move and then…

“Is this okay?”

“Was that okay?”

“Are you okay?”

That dreaded four-letter word rears its head. When it comes to sex and intimacy, I absolutely, without a doubt, hate the word “okay.” What’s so bad about okay? Let me explain:

1. It’s unclear.

When you ask if something is okay, it is maddeningly unclear what you’re asking. Are you checking for permission? To see if you’re still loved? To find out if your partner is willing to tolerate whatever it is you want or are doing?

What do you mean by “Okay?”

Usually, it’s some combination of the above. There’s a lot of complexity wedged into that four-letter word. And only two answers: “Yes” and “no.” (I guess silence or “um…” would be other options.)

What the heck are you actually asking?

And what is it that your partner is hearing?

You might be checking to see if your partner is on board with doing the thing, but they might be hearing that you’re asking if they will put up it.

Or, you might be needing reassurance, and their brusque “yeah” isn’t exactly doing the trick.

You might be asking if a thing is allowable in the context of your relationship, and your partner might be hearing you ask if they think you are okay, as a basic human being.

This lack of clarity leads to endless fights involving the phrase “but you SAID it was Okay!”

Sure. But nobody actually knows what that means. Asking about “okay” sidesteps more honest questions. Figure out what you really want to know, and ask about that instead.

2. It encourages gatekeeping.

“But what about consent?” you’re wondering. “How am I supposed to know if something’s okay, unless I ask if it’s… okay?!”

I’m thrilled with the attention that consent culture is getting lately. There are many people out there educating and advocating for clearer and more open expressions of consent out there, and it’s awesome.

We’ve already covered how “okay” is unclear, but there’s another problem with it.

When asking “is this okay?” one person is asking permission and the other person is acting as the gatekeeper. It’s like one person wants the sex and the other person has sex to give out. (Mainly in our culture, we act like men want sex all the time and their manliness depends on being able to get it, and women have to act like the guardians of chastity and virtue, and certainly not like sexual creatures with agency of their own, capable of co-creating a fun sexy time with their partners.)

This sets both people up to lose.

Consent is about agreements between equals about how they want to play together. When one person is trying to “get” something from another who “has” it, it’s more like applying for a permit in a bureaucracy. It’s like you sort of assume the person on the other side isn’t having any fun or pleasure.

And so we ask if it’s okay. Which leads to my third reason for hating “Okay.”

3. It’s a sadly low standard.

“Okay” is a really, really low standard to hold your relationships and sex life to.

If all the time you’re asking if thing are okay, and your partner says yes, then over time you have an … okay relationship. And an okay sex life.

You deserve better than this. So does your partner.

A whole lot better than this.

Most couples have never taken the time to talk about how they want their relationship or sex life to be. What if the standard was pleasurable, or enjoyable, or fun, or good? What if you made a game of finding things that rocked one another’s world, instead of aiming for okay?

Breaking the Habit

I still catch myself asking “Is this okay?” “Was that okay?” “Are you okay?” a few times a week, particularly with people I’m just getting to know, or when don’t know where I stand with someone. But it’s getting easier to notice and to ask something else instead. When you feel unclear or unreassured after an “okay” exchange, it’s a clue to stop, and be more precise about what you (or the other person) is asking for.

Up next: 27 Alternatives to Asking “Is This Okay?”

How to Give Feedback During Sexytimes

So there you are, in bed, having an…. okay time. It’s not that there’s anything wrong exactly. It’s just not… right either.

Telling your partner you want something different during sex than what they’re doing can be terrifying. You don’t want to criticize. You don’t want them to stop. What if they think you’re too much? What if it sounds demanding? It seems “good enough.” They’re trying. “Why rock the boat?”

But good sex only happens when your partner knows what you want. And sometimes, the only way they’ll know is if you speak up and say something. Here’s how to use your words without killing the mood:

Start with the positive.

No one likes to hear that they suck at something. Even a comment as innocent as “Hey, can you move a little to the left” by itself can leave your partner wondering if you’re enjoying yourself. Start with what’s what’s working. Even an “Oh my god, yes!” before “Oooh, a little to the left,” can clarify where you’re at and what you want.

The challenge for you is to notice what feels good. Too often when something isn’t quite right, our attention only goes to “what’s wrong.” By putting your attention on what is giving you pleasure, the focus stays on pleasure. And, when you let your partner know what’s working, they will know what to keep doing. Otherwise, they may stop altogether, and that’s not the goal at the moment.

Say what you want.

Slower. Different position. Less tongue. More lube. Pin me down. Doggy style. Look me in the eye. Breath with me. Smack my bottom. Get a condom. Hold me. Harder. Softer. Faster. Less. More. Here. Like this.

Tell your partner what you want so they know what to do.

Not what you don’t want.

It’s tempting to tell your partner what’s not working for you, but if you do so, you run the risk of 1. killing the mood and 2. not actually getting what you want.

“That’s too much tongue.”
“Stop touching me like that.”
“I don’t want to do missionary.”
“Too fast.”

None of these let your partner know what you want. On top of that, they just sound like you are complaining. Your partner may try to guess what it is you’re asking for, but activities don’t always have a natural opposite, so there’s a decent chance your partner will just end up at a loss.

Affirm the attempt.

It’s pretty common for lovers to miss the mark the first few tries, especially when you’re trying something new. Whether or not your partner “gets it,” each time you speak up, give them positive feedback for trying.

This is sometimes the hardest thing to do, especially when you don’t want to give your partner the impression they’re doing what you want when they aren’t there yet.

But sex is vulnerable. Imagine the roles were flipped. Hearing that you aren’t doing something your partner wants can be scary. Say “Yes” or “Thank you” or “mmHmm…” or “OMG EXACTLY LIKE THAT” after your partner tries to please you is both good manners and more likely to lead you to where you want to ultimately be.

This is what it sounds like.

“Oh my god, yes… A little to the left…. yes. Yes.”

“That pressure is so good. Mmm hmmm… can you go a little slower? That’s great.”

“Ooh I like that look in your eyes. Pin me down? Mmm… fuck yes.”

“I sooo want to fuck you right now. Grab a condom…. Thank you.”

“I like that whimper… If you like what I’m doing, keep making noise.. yes, like that….”

Rinse and repeat, as needed.

Sometimes, you just have to keep asking to get what you want (and even then, asking doesn’t always mean you’ll get it.) There’s nothing wrong with speaking up a lot, slowing down as needed, taking breaks, shifting to something different and otherwise mixing it up. By beginning and ending with positives, even asking over and over for something can be sexy and hot.

What it sounds like:

“Your hand feels so good on me…. More pressure please?… mmhmmm… yes… Oh, I love being close to you… a little more pressure… Yes, yes… that’s it. … … … Oh god your fingers feel so good.. Yes.. Even more pressure. That’s it.”

“Ooh I like that look in your eyes. Pin me down? Mmm… I like that…. I like you on top of me. Pin my wrists tighter? Yes. Thank you. Yes.”

“I like the way your fingers are skating over my skin. That feels so good… ooh, less scratching please… oh that’s good…. You make me shiver…. I love the lightness of that… fewer fingernails… yes… mmmm… yess… THANK you… mmmm….”

Afterward

If you’re new to speaking up like this in bed, you may be feeling insecure about how it went, or what your partner was thinking. It can be helpful to check in afterward to find out. Ask open-ended questions (not “Was that okay?”) and listen for the answer. Both sides of sexual communication are vulnerable, so give your partner space to share their side of things.

What it sounds like:

“So I was talking more in bed this last time… how was that for you?”

“I love being close to you during sex and I want to make sure that you know I’m having a good time and when something’s not working for me. How do you like to hear feedback?”

“Talking like that was pretty edgy for me. I could use some reassurance, and also, what did you think about that kind of talk?”

Practice, Practice, Practice.

Communicating well during sex takes practice, but as you continue to explore, you’ll find that not only are you getting more of what you want in bed, but you’re both having more fun as you go.