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.

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-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.

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 annual 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 year 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 this year 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.

8 Ways to Hear a No Gracefully

The more you ask for what you want in your intimate life and daily life, the more you’re likely to hear both yesses and nos. Rejection can sting, but there’s also an opportunity to build connection when you can hear a no gracefully, especially in your intimate relationships.

Sometimes, the “No” is direct. More often, it’s difficult for people to say no directly and it may be unclear what’s going on. As an advocate for clear communication and consent, I suggest that you take ambiguity as a No. (This will either be received gratefully, or be a gentle reminder to your loved one to communicate their desires more clearly.)

Regardless of what kind of a No you get, here are some ways to HEAR a no gracefully:

Ways to Hear No Gracefully (3)

(Download a printable, poster-sized PDF version of this graphic here.)

Remember:

  • Accepting a no doesn’t mean you have to be happy about it.
  • You’re allowed to feel sad, disappointed, angry, etc.
  • When you can radically accept boundaries (your own and others’) a space for creating new possibilities opens up that didn’t exist before.
  • In the long run, gracefully accepting other people’s nos builds trust.

12 Ways To Say No Gracefully (Without Saying “Maybe Later”)

Grace: (n)simple elegance or refinement of movement; courteous goodwill.

We all want connection. Saying no can feel terrifying, especially if you are afraid of losing connection with someone you care about. Rejecting someone you love sucks.

In many cases, even if we don’t know the person, we want to avoid rocking the boat. But “not really saying no, and then hoping that the other person will somehow magically abide by it anyway” is not an effective strategy for maintaining your boundaries OR getting what you want.

Here are a bunch of ways to say no to loved ones, strangers, people selling you things, coworkers, lovers and everyone in between. Practice them all, and find the versions that work best for you.

No Thank You final

(Download a printable, poster-sized PDF version of this graphic here.)

Remember:

  • You don’t have to justify your no. Resist the temptation to explain why it’s not a good fit, why you feel stomach-churny, or why you need to build more trust. Avoid making excuses.
  • When you state what’s true about your experience, it’s harder to argue with you.
  • You get to have boundaries.
  • “No” is a complete sentence.
  • When you say what you do want instead, it gives you both something to work from (if you want that.)

21 Things to Stop Tolerating This Year

So we’re a few weeks into the new year, and by now your goals/resolutions/intentions are either sticking, or they’re not.

If they are, great! Gold stars all around!

If they’re not, it might be because you haven’t made room for them. There’s just too much stuff on the table. You know that feeling of overwhelm and too many demands?

Yeah that.

The easiest way to make room for what you want, is to stop tolerating things you don’t.

Toleration: (n) the people, events or situations that you put up with, that drain your energy.

Tolerating things is a waste of time and effort. They keep you from being yourself and enjoying life to the fullest. Generally, it’s a fast-track to anger, frustration and irritability, and almost everyone does too much of this. 

We do it because we don’t want to make a fuss.

We do it because it’s easier to just put up with it.

We do it because “Who has the time?”

But tolerations add up. They’re like holes your personal happiness cup. You put happiness in, but you end up feeling drained anyway. Every little thing that doesn’t matter that much, but makes you a little bit annoyed (or downright grumpy) is something you’re tolerating, and if you’re like most people, I bet you have dozens, if not hundreds, of them.

On top of that, we tell ourselves little lies to make it seem okay:

128H“It’s not a big deal.”
“He didn’t mean it that way.”
“I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Or big ones:

“I’m not good enough to have that.”
“I don’t deserve that.”
“If I were really enlightened, this wouldn’t bother me.”

So not only are you putting up with things that don’t work for you, you’re also confusing yourself about what’s actually reality.

From there, it’s almost impossible to know what you actually want, much less make it happen.

So, for the new year, here are 21 things to stop tolerating.

  1. Relationships that drain you
  2. A work environment or career that you hate
  3. Work that isn’t aligned with your worth
  4. Uncomfortable beds, shoes or chairs
  5. Not having the right tools for the job
  6. Making plans with people you don’t really want to see, or to do things you don’t really want to do
  7. That voice in your head that tells you “you suck”
  8. Other people’s negativity
  9. Not getting enough sleep
  10. Sitting too much
  11. Not drinking enough water
  12. Trying to make everyone happy all the time / what other people think of you
  13. Keeping up with the Joneses
  14. Thinking that perfect exists
  15. Bad sex
  16. Unfinished business
  17. Dishonesty
  18. Lack of intimacy
  19. Constantly managing your emotional state to “okay”
  20. Not getting the help you need
  21. Not saying what you need

Because we’re so used to putting up with stuff, it may be hard to even see it at first. I invite you to lean into your self-honesty here, and ask yourself:

What am I tolerating?
What is this costing me?
Why have I been tolerating it? (i.e., What’s the payoff been?)
What’s actually true about what I want?
What is one small but powerful step I can take toward the truth?

Then write it down, and post where you can see it:

I will no longer tolerate …
Instead, I choose to…

 

For more on tolerations, download my free ebook: Good Girl Gone Bad (where I share over 50 things I’ve been tolerating.)

Embodiment for Brainiacs – An Interview with Leela Sinha

rodin-thinkerDesire. Bodies. Feelings. Pleasure.

Some of us look at these things with a skeptical eye.

Others run screaming in the other direction.

For a lot of us, phrases like “Listen to your intuition,” “Trust your body,” and “What does your gut say?” sound like gibberish at best, or an invitation to disaster at worst.

But for heady people who have learned to listen to their bodies, the intuitive and gut-level is additional information that can help you navigate your world more gracefully and intelligently.

It’s just information. It’s all information.

And we all know that knowledge is power.

0622130850My friend Leela Sinha and I know this, because we’ve been there. Coming from families of engineers, mathematicians and medical professionals, we both learned from an early age to value the life of the mind, and to “figure things out.” As adults, though, we’ve each come to discover that there’s a lot more to creating a life you love than you can “figure out.”

Sometimes your gut has a lot to say, and it’s worth listening.

We recently got together to talk about this and got into the nitty gritty details of:

  • What it means, practically speaking, to be “embodied” and why it’s useful
  • How to use your body to figure out what you really want (in life, love, work and in the bedroom)
  • Simple practices for listening to your body and figuring out what it wants
  • What “intuition” is really about
  • How to use your body’s wisdom to help your mind make better life decisions
  • And loads more…

It was awesome! Lucky for you, we recorded it.

You can listen right here (right click to download)

16 Ways to Talk About Consent (That Are Pretty Sexy…)

yesbymadhavaHere’s a stack of wonderful ways to check in with your partner, to find out more of what they want, and to communicate your own desires. Try some today!

  1. “Do you like when I…?”
  2. “I like when you…”
  3. “Will you…?”
  4. “How does this feel?”
  5. “Do you want me to…?”
  6. “Do you want to…?”
  7. “Is there anything you want to try?”
  8. “Show me what you like.”
  9. “Do you want to go further?”
  10. “Do you want to stop?”
  11. “Can I…?”
  12. “Does this feel good?”
  13. “Are you happy?”
  14. “Are you comfortable?”
  15. “Are you having a good time?”
  16. “Is this good for you?”

* I found this floating around the internet without citation. If you know who gets original credit for this, please let me know!

 Mighty fine thanks to Madhava for the pic.

4 Questions to Help Your Survive Your Crazy Family This Holiday Season

The Donner Party.
The threatening hordes.
The family hurricane.

What do these words have in common? They’re all terms I’ve heard my clients use in the past week, referring to their families and the holidays.

319693504_bd75a21dfaNo matter how much “work” you might have done on yourself, spending several days in close quarters with people who really, really know you (but also kinda don’t) can be crazy-making. There are explicit obligations and implied “shoulds.” You may find yourself slipping back into old behaviors like people-pleasing or not speaking up. You might have spent all year practicing asking for what you want, but when it comes to the last Christmas cookie, or making sure that you and your partner get some alone time, “what you want” slides to the bottom of the priority list and you find yourself curled up in a ball wondering what the hell happened.

Keeping your center and staying grounded, even in the chaos, can make for the best holidays yet. In that spirit, here are four questions to help you navigate the holiday season, whether you’re spending them with your blood family, chosen family, or some crazy batch of strangers you haven’t decided if you’re going to keep yet.

Question 1: What can I let go of?

Around the holidays, there are tons of rules and things you “should” do, many of which fall under the heading of “tradition.” The problem is, as you go through life and come into contact with more and more people, the traditions, obligations and expectations multiply. The pressure to participate sometimes comes from other people, and sometimes comes from ourselves. But ask yourself: Do I really HAVE to bake 4 different kinds of cookies? Could I let go of some of the decorations this year? Would the world REALLY end if I don’t go the Boxing Day brunch? What would actually happen if I took a nap instead of going to the movies this afternoon with 12 relatives?

Simplify your holiday season by opting out of the things you are doing for no good reason. Check out what you can legitimately just let go of. Ask the people around you how it would be for them if you did things a little differently this year. Remember too, that a no to one thing is a yes to something else.

Question 2: What can I accept is so?

Your ex has always been a bit of a space cadet.
Your mom knows EVERYTHING. (Or at least acts like it.)
You know your dad is going to grumble about making dinner.
This is the third year your partner has tried to quit smoking for New Year’s and he’s ALWAYS a jerk for 3 days.
And the kids never fail to wake you up at 5am Christmas morning.

iStock_000002245591XSmall

Getting angry with people for being who they are, and not being what you want them to be is a massive source of stress, especially over the holidays. Wishing they were different is one thing. Getting angry because they’re the way they are is like getting angry because it’s raining when you want to go on a picnic. If you find yourself saying that so-and-so “always” or “never” does something, then maybe it’s time to consider that that’s how it is, and make an alternate plan or adjust your expectations.

Much like a rainy day picnic, accepting what’s so is about finding workarounds and alternative plans. Which means – get creative! If your dad is going to grumble about making dinner, maybe it’s time to find a different chef. If the kids will wake you up at 5am, plan for quiet time after all the presents are opened and squeeze a nap in. If your mom wants to tell you about all of the things, be curious and ask her questions about things she actually DOES know a lot about. And tell your partner that you support his non-smoking, but you’ll be taking a little space for a few days.

Question 3: What can I do for me?

It’s so easy to get swept up in the spirit of giving that your bank account shrivels, your waistline expands, and you start to feel haggard and grinch-y. Before long, you’re snapping at the people you care about, and you’re wondering if it’s too late to return all those gifts and buy a ticket to Tahiti (or Tallahassee). Alone.

It’s time to do something for yourself. Take a page from my dad’s book and buy something you really want and wrap it up with a note from Santa. Or, take a deep breath every 20 minutes. Schedule a real vacation for a few months down the road. Go to a yoga class. Trade babysitting with the neighbors to get a night alone. Go for a run. Set aside some of those cookies you made into a special “me only” tin for you to enjoy after the hordes descend.

(If you find yourself saying, “but there’s no time!” may I refer you back up to the first question: What can you let go of?)

Question 4: What will I opt out of next year?

Much of the time we end up doing stuff over the holidays because someone else set it into motion before we had a chance to figure out which way is up. You can get sucked up into another person’s vision for the holidays, and before you know it, you are trapped in a three-day “It’s a Wonderful Life” marathon.

This is really about setting expectations early and often. If it’s too late to salvage the holidays this year, plan for next year and start setting boundaries now. Appreciate what’s good about being here or doing this thing now, while you’re in it, and then, tell the relevant person that you won’t be participating next year. Think about what you’d rather do instead. Set up a reminder for yourself for next year, so that it pops up between Halloween and Thanksgiving.

(Note to self: DON’T commit to Aunt Edna’s Handel-Messiah-sing-along-and-all-you-can-eat-buffet next year. DO schedule with Jamie and Casey EARLY.)

Best wishes for a very happy holiday season and a spectacular New Year.

 

Mighty fine thanks to Dylan Tweny for the elf pic.