Two Days That Have Made All the Difference, Again

I originally put this post up in March 2010, and I found myself thinking of it again this week. I have faithfully continued Reflection Days, every month on the 18th, for nearly two years. My computer-free days took a big hit during a volunteer stint that took up half of 2011, but I’ve invited them back into my life this year (not always on Sunday, but always at least once a week) and I love them now as unabashedly as I did in 2010.

I wonder what sort of weekly or monthly daylong ritual would make a significant difference for you?


I instituted two types of days at the beginning of 2010, and almost four months into the year (!), I feel convinced of their value.

First, I decided that I would designate a Reflection Day each month.

I chose the 18th, because it’s the day of my birthday. On the 18th of every month, I’ve set aside two to three hours to go sit somewhere peaceful with a notebook and a pen, and take stock of what I like to call The State of the Union.

During Reflection Day, I look over my intentions for 2010, decide if I want to update or change any of my intentions, and think about how they’ve become real in my life. I do a quick survey of all of the areas of my life using the Wheel of Life coaching tool. I think about the projects I’ve taken on, and my balance of work / rest / recreation / joy. I look for themes that are showing up, and for the successes I want to celebrate. And I zone in on a few things that I want to be aware of or change in the month to come.

The impact:

Knowing that I will pause on Reflection Day to think these things through has cleared some of my headspace during the month. I take on projects that feel right, I make decisions that seem like the right ones, and I don’t worry about it too much, because I know that once a month I have a built-in check for myself to determine how I’m doing. I feel reassured that things won’t fall off my plate – because once a month I check in on all areas of my life. I don’t have as many nagging doubts or worries, because I have space to regularly reflect. And my sense of purpose and self is becoming stronger, as every thirty days I recommit to who I am, what’s important to me, and how it is coming alive in my life.

Second, I instituted Computer Free Days.

One day a week, usually Sunday, I leave my computer turned off and avoid the internet. This change has been more subtle, and just as powerful. I’ve found a new rhythm on Sundays – cooking, cleaning, reading, and just being. Sundays feel like a day of soul nourishment. I’m almost loathe to turn my computer back on on Mondays – and this from someone who willingly spends most of her time in front of her laptop. Throughout the rest of the week, I feel less tied to the online world, and less addicted to the quick fix of email, twitter, or facebook. I’m down to checking each of them only one or two times a day (yes, even email!), which has freed up vast chunks of time to work on projects.

The impact:

I find myself more present to what I am working on at any given time. I have fewer adrenaline surges because I no longer see each and every email arrive in my inbox. I’m stunned at the time I am finding to spend multiple hours on particular projects once I have my browser closed. And I start every week with a clean house, a stocked fridge, and a sense of peace.

If you’d like to read more, I recommend:

A Provisional Guide for Observing a Weekly Day of Rest (from Sabbath Manifesto)

The Lost Practice of Resting One Day Each Week (from Zen Habits)

LeechBlock (LeechBlock is an extension you can add to Firefox. You can use it to block certain domains for your chosen times of day(s)).

Reflection 2011, Visioning 2012

Happy New Year!

For January only, I will be offering special Reflection and Visioning sessions for folks who would like an hour of coaching dedicated solely to reflecting on their 2011 and dreaming and envisioning their 2012.

After spending a number of years working with people to get clear on where they are, where they’ve been, and where they’re headed, I’ve grown to value the rituals of reflecting and visioning.

And I know that for many people, it’s easier to reflect and vision when you’re in conversation and have a thought partner to ask you questions, to actively listen, to echo back to you your themes, patterns, and enthusiasm.

If you would like to book your very own Reflection and Visioning session, please send me a note (laurajoanne |at| gmail |dot| com). Check below for the specific details.

And if you’re unable to book your own session but would still be interested in a Reflection and Visioning tool, I’d be happy to share with you a worksheet I’ve prepared that prompts you to reflect on 2011, take stock of where you are now, and look ahead to 2012. Just drop me a line (laurajoanne |at| gmail |dot| com) to get your copy.

Wishing you rich reflection and dreaming!



Reflection and Visioning Sessions: The Details

  • Dates: sessions will be available during January 2012 only
  • Length of session: 60 minutes, conducted by phone or Skype, or in-person (Ottawa area only)
  • Cost: $120 plus HST
  • Pre-work: you’ll receive a menu of questions to answer before our session, so that we are both clear on understanding what you would like to get out of the session.
  • Ready to book your session? Let’s talk!

What Do You Wish to Leave Behind? What Do You Wish for 2012?

This past weekend I joined Ashley Parsons of Sugarbum Designs, Julia Cross of Tender Thorn Productions, and a number of other Ottawa creatives at the Super Fabulous Sale, a local artisan fair.

It was a lovely opportunity to meet Ottawans one-on-one and to talk about coaching. I had a quick little brainstorm with Cynthia, and she threw her creative talents into a cross-country collaboration with me to produce the Ready for Change coaching booth.

coach, ottawa, what do you wish for 2012

The Ready for Change Wishing Tree


I wanted each person I spoke with to get a taste of what working with a life coach might get them thinking about, so – with Cynthia’s help, and Yoko Ono’s – I came up with the idea you see in the picture.

As people got curious about what was going on at my table, I handed them a marker and a paper heart and asked them to write down one thing they were ready to leave behind in 2011. I was moved by people’s honesty, and their readiness to name what they wanted to leave behind: “worry” came up a number of times; a few people wrote “self-doubt”; someone listed “being stuck and resentful.” I asked them to leave their heart at the bottom of the wishing tree.

Next,  I handed them a paper leaf and asked them to write down something they wished for 2012. Smiles broke out on people’s faces as they completed this part: they wrote wishes such as “more art!”, “patience”, “health”, “finishing my thesis.”

Once they’d written their wish, I invited them to tie their wish leaf onto the wishing tree.

By the end of the day, all of these coach-y questions (“What do you wish to leave behind? What do you wish for the future?”) had yielded a beautiful, blooming tree of hope.

What are you ready to leave behind as 2011 comes to a close?

What are you wishing for 2012? 


Self-Awareness Exercise: Beginnings, Endings, Guidance, and Creativity

The last self-awareness exercise I posted, the Four-Point Check-In, invites you to check in on yourself mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Today’s exercise uses the four cardinal directions to symbolically access what is arising, what is ending, what is guiding you, and what invites your creativity.

The exercise comes from the fantastic book How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving, by David Richo. I’ve provided the exercise below not quite word-for-word, but pretty close. I highly recommend his book — from start to finish, and with every reread, I’m learning from it.

Sketch a square that represents a room, as if you are looking down at the room from above. On each side of the room, there is a window — so one window faces each of the four cardinal directions.

Imagine yourself standing in the centre of the room, and turning one by one to face each different direction.

As you turn to face the east, reflect on what is arising in your life. What are three things that are arising? Make a note of them in the east.

As you turn to face the west, write down three things that are now ending.

As you turn to face the north, write three things in your life that stabilize and guide you, as does the North Star.

As you turn to face the south, write three things in your life that evoke your spontaneity and creativity.

Picture yourself in the centre of the room, mindfully turning to each direction: looking to the east with a willingness to take hold, to face the west with a willingness to let go, to face north by staying with your spiritual/grounding practice, and to face south with enthusiasm and creativity in the invention of your life.

You may want to notice who (or what situations/contexts) helps you open those windows. Who/what shuts them?

You may want to reflect on what your stance is as you face each of these directions — how do you face each of these areas? What’s your default approach to each?

Wishing you peace with all of your endings and beginnings.


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who views her clients holistically, with attention to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Would you like to explore in conversation your beginnings, endings, inner guidance, and creativity? Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and talk it over. Get in touch.


Self-Awareness Exercise: The Four Point Check-In

The Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Check-in

There are so many wonderful versions of this simple exercise to develop self-awareness.

At its most basic, all you have to do is take a moment to check in with yourself in each of four areas:

  • Physical
  • Mental
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual

At the moment I’m writing this, my check-in looks like this:

Physical: It’s early in the morning and I haven’t been outside or active yet today, but my energy feels pretty good and I’m looking forward to a quick walk. I’ve been noticing tension in my arms and wrists lately; I make a mental note to keep an eye on that.

Mental: I’m noticing that I’m sighing a lot, probably because I’m feeling some stress about our upcoming move to a new home. My mind feels calm right now.

Emotional: I feel a bit of tension anticipating a conversation I’ll be having today. I feel a lot of warmth and love when I glance over at the man I love. I’m relieved that even though it’s dark and rainy and autumn, I don’t – today, at least – feel any onset of seasonal affective disorder.

Spiritual: I’m full of gratitude for my practice of spending at least half an hour each morning engaging in some sort of spiritual activity — often reading, sometimes meditation. Even as I recognize some mental anxiety, spiritually I feel grounded and centered.

It’s as easy as that! Took me all of two minutes.

Variations on the Four Point Check-In:

  • A few years ago I participated in a First Nations workshop where we created our own medicine wheel. As I wound the buckskin in each quadrant, I reflected on the areas each quadrant represented. Thanks to Sue Freeman for leading this exercise.
  • Ask a loved one to let you know what they’re observing in you in each of the four areas.
  • Create a space for each of the four areas on the floor. Ask a partner to step, one at a time, into each of them, and spend a minute noticing what arises in him/her as he/she steps into the representation of this aspect of you.
  • Talk to Cynthia Gunsinger about how art journalling can help you explore the four points.
  • Take four photographs, each one representing one of the four aspects of you.
  • Sketch an image that represents to you your current state in each of these areas.
  • Draw a card from a symbolic deck (I like the OSHO Zen cards) for each area. Let the symbols illuminate the area for you.

Do you have your own variation on this exercise? I’d love to have you share it.

Wishing you physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who views her clients holistically, with attention to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Would you like to do your four-point check-in in conversation? Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and talk it over. Get in touch.

Personal Tidbits for Personal Growth – delivered to your inbox on alternate Wednesdays

I’ve recently started a newsletter that feels like a labour of love for me: on alternate Wednesdays, I send out Morsels of Change — personal tidbits for personal growth.

The people who sign up for this list — and you can sign up here — are, in my head and heart, MY people — the people that I am most wanting to speak to in my work and life. The people who are always reaching out for ways to grow, and who have found that my way of speaking about personal growth resonates with them.

Here’s the first issue of Morsels of Change. If you like what you read, perhaps you’ll join me by signing up here (click the “Morsels of Change” checkbox).

Morsels of Change #1

Underlying Approaches to Conflict, Mashed Up with the Enneagram

Morsels of Change question to ponder:

What’s your default position when faced with a problem? How does it clash with the default positions of those with whom you come into conflict?

This week I’m combining conflict, which I’m really bad at, with the Enneagram, which I love.

The Wisdom of the Enneagram book (Riso and Hudson) has this neat little table that outlines how the different Enneagram types are likely to react to a problem.

Here are the 9 different reactions (NOT in order of type), according to the book:

-“What problem? I don’t think there is a problem.”
-“You have a problem. I’m here to help you.”
-“There may be a problem, but I’m fine.”
-“There’s an efficient solution to this — we just need to get to work.”
-“I’m sure we can solve this like sensible, mature adults.”
-“There are a number of hidden issues here: let me think about this.”
-“I feel really pressured, and I’ve got to let off some steam!”
-“I feel really hurt, and I need to express myself.”
-“I’m angry about this and you’re going to hear about it!”

Which reaction sounds most like you?

Now, notice how these reactions will play out in relationships. For example, when my niece and I are facing a problem together (or engaging in conflict), our reactions go head-to-head.

“There are a number of hidden issues here: let me think about this.”

“I’m angry about this and you’re going to hear about it!”

If we both stay true to type, neither of us gets what we need. I don’t get to spend time thinking about all the different aspects of the problem if she’s going on about how angry she is. If I do get to go spend time thinking about the problem, she doesn’t have my attention to listen to her talk about how angry she is.

For the two of us to engage in conflict together, or face a problem together, we’ve both got to be accommodating to the other’s needs. (Or, more accurately, I need to accommodate her needs, as I’m the adult, but you get the idea.)


Morsels of Change question to ponder:

What’s your default position when faced with a problem? How does it clash with the default positions of those with whom you come into conflict?

If you ever want to reach out for a conversation about something you’ve read in this newsletter, or something in your life that you are wanting to explore more deeply in conversation, please be in touch. We are all on a journey of learning and discovery together.


Five Powerful Questions A Life Coach Loves to Ask

When I coach, I’m drawing on training from the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) in coaching principles of fulfillment, balance, and process. I’m drawing on training from the Transpersonal Therapy Centre in Gestalt, Jungian, and transpersonal approaches. And I’m pulling in my own life experience, intuition, learning, and creativity.

Even with all that, though, I often bring myself back to the basics by revisiting CTI’s Five Powerful Questions. At its simplest, a coaching conversation takes you along the path these questions outline:

  1. What do you truly want?
  2. What about this is important to you?
  3. What will you do and when will you do it?
  4. What else?
  5. What’s next?

When you find yourself stuck, struggling, dissatisfied, or wanting something to shift, I invite you to start with the basics: ask yourself, “What do I truly want?”



Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who loves to ask people what they truly want. You can get in touch with her by signing up for the Ready for Change newsletter. If you select “Morsels of Change”, you’ll receive biweekly tidbits to fuel your own personal growth.

If you’d like to talk more about powerful questions and how you can use them to grow, Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Get in touch.

Exercises for Self-Awareness (part 2) – the “should” exercise

Last week, I talked about self-awareness tools such as the MBTI, the Enneagram, and the Via survey of signature strengths. This week, I’d like to offer you a description of another self-awareness exercise that I’ve found powerful and illuminating. And more exercises will come in future blog posts!

The Should Exercise

I learned this one in Gestalt training at the Transpersonal Therapy Centre.


We all have internalized rules and messages that we carry around inside us. In Gestalt, these messages are known as introjections — something we swallowed whole and haven’t “chewed on” enough to see if it’s truly our own desire/rule, or if we’ve just absorbed it from the outside world.

Every time you hear “I should” in your head/voice, it’s a sign that you might be dealing with an introjection — and thus it’s an invitation for you to take a closer look.

Step one: “I should”

Spend ten minutes or so writing down all the “I should”s or “I shouldn’t”s that regularly come into your mind.

Here’s what my list looked like the first time I did this exercise (November 2008 – I still have the piece of paper!):

  • I should pay off debt.
  • I should have more money.
  • I should be on time.
  • I should do something for my sister.
  • I should get more done in less time.
  • I should have fun.
  • I should have passion.
  • I should be loving and accepting and spiritual.
  • I should organize my time better.
  • I should chill out.
  • I should practice the piano more.
  • I should get a real job.
  • I should make some friends.
  • I should meditate.
  • I should stop worrying.

Step two: “You should”

One statement at a time, ask someone you trust to read your list back to you, reading it as “You should…”.

So, my partner would say, “You should pay off debt.”

After each statement my partner reads to me, I take a moment to:

  • notice any internal feelings or emotions that come up in me as I hear the statement.
  • notice whether it feels like my own voice, something I truly want to do, or whether it’s someone else’s voice (e.g. often someone has a “should” statement that really belongs to a parent, and as soon as they hear someone else say “You should…” they recognize that this statement is their parent’s voice, not their own inner guide).

Step three: Decide and Take Ownership

After each statement my partner reads to me, I decide if “I will” or “I won’t”, and then I report the new statement back to them.


My partner: “You should pay off debt.”

Me: “I will pay off debt.”

(Or, “I won’t pay off debt.”)

(Or, “I will pay off debt within five years.”)

(Or, “I will not focus on paying off debt until I finish school.”)

Whatever you choose — whether you will, or won’t, or under which conditions — is fine. The key part is that instead of carrying around an unexamined “I should”, a statement weighing you down with judgment, you are now carrying around a decision that you have made and owned yourself.

It can be incredibly liberating to move from, “I should practice the piano more,” to “You know what? I don’t want to. I won’t.”

It can be empowering to move from, “I should organize my time better,” to “I will be highly organized from 8am-12pm everyday, and after that will work in an unstructured way.”

Whether you’re already smitten with this exercise or not, I invite you to give it a try and see what you discover.


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who works with clients all over the world. She and the love of her life do a kick-ass job keeping “shoulds” out of the house.

If you’d like to talk more about self-awareness exercises designed just for you, Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Get in touch.


Three Exercises for Self-Awareness (part 1)

People who choose to work with a coach are yearning for more self-awareness. One of my favourite things about working with these clients is being able to design individual, customized exercises for self-awareness for each client.

Although the exercises/quizzes below aren’t individualized, here are some of my favourite self-awareness exercises or quizzes around the internet.

The Enneagram

The Enneagram is a psychological-spiritual personality system. What I like most about it is that it doesn’t just describe your personality, but also gives you clues about where your type often gets tripped up, what your areas of growth are, and tips for growing in that direction. I’ll often ask my clients to complete the Enneagram test and then we’ll use the description of their type to help understand how they are reacting to what’s going on in their life, and how they can choose a direction of growth.

Here’s a link where you can complete a few sampler Enneagram quizzes, and learn so much more about your Enneagram type.

Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

I use the MBTI less often — my sense is that it provides a helpful description of one’s personality preferences, but provides less in the way of understanding how to grow. Still, it’s a neat introduction to thinking about how you might show up in the world, and what that might mean for how you interact with others.

A quick MBTI google will turn up a number of free versions of the MBTI assessment, although – as always – those freebies come with the caveat that the most accurate results will come from taking the official MBTI assessment and reviewing the results with a certified MBTI practitioner.

(And if you’d like to go the official route, I know a most talented woman, Sandy McMullen, who literally “painted the book” on the MBTI, and who offers MBTI assessments and coaching).

The Via Survey of Signature Strengths

Particularly when I’m working with a client who struggles to see his or her own strengths, and who is blinded by, perhaps, an overly acute awareness of his/her weaknesses, I like to invite the client to complete the Via Survey of signature strengths. The survey helps you identify your strongest character strengths, building an appreciation for what you bring, rather than a focus on what you may believe you lack.

In a future post, I’ll describe a few other self-awareness exercises that I believe are particularly helpful. Enjoy exploring what you discover!


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who works with clients all over the world. She’s an Enneagram Type 5 (with a 4 wing), has trouble deciding if she’s an INTJ or an INFJ, and her top five signature strengths are judgment/critical thinking/open-mindedness, caution/prudence/discretion, honesty/authenticity/genuineness, leadership, and modesty/humility.

If you’d like to talk more about self-awareness exercises designed just for you, Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Get in touch.


How to Create Your Own Wheel of Life

The Wheel of Life is a tool often used by life coaches. For the first year or so that I used it, I loved it. After that, I got a little restless and decided to mix it up. I created my own Wheel of Life, which is more individual and more fun.

Wheels of Life: What’s Already Out There

If you’ve never seen or used a wheel of life before, a quick google search can show you a number of different versions. I’m partial to the ones provided by The Coaches Training Institute (personal wheel and professional wheel). There’s even a cute little Wheel of Life app.

Creating Your Own Wheel of Life

If the categories provided on the standard wheels of life don’t speak to you, then I encourage you to create your own wheel.

  • What are the important areas in your life? What matters to you?
  • What areas do you want to track and check in on?
  • Pick ten adjectives to describe the life you dream of: perhaps each of those adjectives can become an area on your wheel of life.
  • Pick ten images that capture how you want your life to be. Each image becomes a section of your wheel of life.
  • Pick ten songs that express the different energies you want in your life. Each song can hint at a wheel of life area.

Using inspiration from what’s really important to you, music, images, etc., you have the tools to create your own wheel of life.

My Wheel of Life

My wheel changes over time. I check in on it once a month and journal a bit about each of the areas, where they’re at, and what I’d like to see change.

Right now, my wheel of life categories are:

  • Joy and Doing Good in the World – to what extent is my life’s work bringing me joy and filling me with a sense of purpose, contribution, and service?
  • Debt vs. Savings – what’s the financial picture my partner and I are seeing this month? In which direction is it moving?
  • Sense of Possibility – do I feel like things are bubbling? Am I sensing opportunity? Is there enough space in my life for new ideas to arise?
  • What’s My Part in this Partnership? – how well am I engaging with this ongoing inquiry of what it means to me to be a wife and a partner?
  • Future Self – the future me, the woman I am becoming — where in my life am I sensing her presence? Am I continuing to move towards her essence?
  • Here and Present, Being – am I showing up to my life? Or am I caught up in my thoughts, or caught up in the internet, or otherwise distracted in a way that keeps me from being alive and present to myself and those around me?
  • Energy and Initiating – how are my energy levels? Do I have it in me to be the one who suggests and initiates activities? Am I active, or just reactive?
  • Open, Honest, Loving, Caring Relationship – are my partner and I continuing to create and maintain this gorgeous love of ours?
  • Mystery – am I willing to be surprised? Am I open to the synchronicities, beauty, and mystery around me? Am I engaging with the sacred and the unknown?

For me, the beauty of creating my own wheel of life is that this wheel inspires me and lights me up. It connects me again and again to what truly matters to me right now, and reminds me of what I am creating in the world.

What do you use to remind yourself of what matters to you? How do you engage, and re-engage, with the questions of how you want to live?


Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who works with clients all over the world. If you’d like to have a chat about how working with a coach can help you reconnect to what’s most important to you, Laura is more than happy to pick up the phone and have a conversation. Get in touch.