The Two Year Transformation

Let me say a few words about two years ago.

On my 30th birthday, my house was full – FULL – of people I loved and who loved me, and I was hiding huddled in my room, feeling like a blight on the planet and like the loneliest person alive.

Breakup-illness-leaving a job-hating graduate school … the details aren’t important, but it did all happen within the space of a year, leaving me a confused, directionless mess who could barely eat or leave the house.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to have one of those experiences which stopped me in my tracks and pointed out how different I am now, just two years later. I walked into a coaches training course, just about two years after I had taken my very first coach training, and I noticed how differently I showed up. Two years ago, I walked in terrified and uncertain. I was uncomfortable in groups. Everyone else seemed so much more professional and knowledgeable. I felt like the only person who was lost. I held back and barely spoke. I didn’t know what I would be doing the next week, or next month, or next year.

This time, I walked into the class feeling my confidence, and knowing I love my life. I have found work that I love and in which I flourish. I have built a business. My training in therapist skills has transformed my ability to connect to people individually and in groups, and how to show up with presence in a group. Two years ago I was desperately looking for something to be optimistic about, and this time around I walked in already loving what is.

So, all of this has made it into a blog post for two reasons:

1. It’s important for me to mark the differences, and to note what’s changed, for myself. To remember to celebrate.

2. To prompt you to experiment with thinking: How different might your life be in two years? What if it could be different beyond your wildest dreams? How would you love it to be? And – it’s just two years away.

Two Days That Have Made All the Difference

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)).

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April 8th, 2010, is your chance to try a 30 minute coaching session with me, at no charge and no obligation. To find out what coaching could do for you, drop me a line (laurajoanne[at]gmail[dot]com) to schedule your free sample session on April 8th.

My hatred of SMART goals, and other 2010 resolutions

A much better way for me to set intentions

Few things make me want to rebel the way SMART goals do. Specificity and Measurability frustrate me. Achievable mocks me: “Can you ACTUALLY do that?” Realistic bores me. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in three decades, it’s that Time operates on its own schedule, not mine.

I’ve discovered that setting intentions does work for me, so I’ve turned my energy there. If I pick a few words or images to guide me, I tend to accomplish far more than I thought I could, and do more than I would have gauged as “achievable”.

The only measurable thing I’m planning on committing to in 2010 is sitting down for 10 minutes everyday with my list of intentions. I’m going to trust that spending 10 minutes everyday with my intentions will shake its way out into actions and goals and accomplishments, in new and surprising ways, in natural ways, even in energizing ways.

I share here the intentions I’ve been sitting down with for the past four days, and which I’ll continue for the year:

I honour my body and my health.
I am confident that I am on track to eliminate debt and generate wealth. I am responsible.
I am open to possibilities, and I am grounded in my own focus.
I am successful and I am making valuable change in people’s lives.
I am open to friendships and I nourish my friendships. I am learning to practice generosity.
I show my family, through my actions and my words, that I love them.
I recognize my habits and patterns and actively experiment with new ways of being.
I stand, speak, and act with confidence.
I laugh everyday.
I make time to create.
I value peace and beauty.
I can love and be loved.

Everything is Dying, So Why Not Put Something to Rest

leaves

I live on one of the most beautifully treed streets in Toronto. Last autumn, as I sat working in front of the window, I felt like I was watching gold fall from the sky all day long.

In the last week, autumn has set in again. The leaves are turning orange and red and gold, the weather has turned windy and rainy. I hear the sound of cars on wet streets, watch the branches fall down in the wind, and arrive home with dead, mucked leaves stuck to my shoes.

“Everything is dying,” I think to myself. I wonder how to face another round of things turning grey and lifeless.

It might be the coaching – spending so much time hanging out in possibility – or it might be reading books with titles like “The Answer to How is Yes”, or sentences like “Sometimes the best thing to do is to hold a kind of silent vigil beside the part of us that is going through the depths of a difficult transformation.” Whatever it is, something switched in me today, and I wondered what I might find if I stopped psychically fighting the natural season of things shutting down.

The earth is tilted at 23.5 degrees in order to allow three months for things to have their circulation cut off, turn colour, fall to the ground, and die. What am I willing to cut off? What in my life is ready to die in a glorious blaze?

Suddenly autumn is an opportunity, and I’m eagerly looking around to cut something off at the branch.

What are you ready to put down, to put to rest, to bury?

Uncomfortable Luxury

What luxury do you wish for?

I sat in on a Picture Your Passion teleclass this week. Jamie suggested a simple, simple way to test out visioning: Get off this call, she said, and go find a picture of something you want to bring into your life. Find a picture, write the word on it, put it in your wallet, and carry it around with you all month. And see what you notice.

All right, I thought, I’ll give it a shot. I found pictures that represented things I’m wanting in my life right now: love, beauty, passion, and money.

And watch for what you notice, she said.

Here’s what I noticed: I’m distinctly uncomfortable with those pictures.

I look at the money one and I think, “Oh, I don’t need that. I don’t need nice things or pretty things or fine wine. How materialistic.”

I look at the love one and I think, “Oh, that’s just some made up notion of romantic love and the real thing is often more trouble than it’s worth.”

I look at the passion and beauty one, and my Puritan upbringing rings scripture in my head: let’s not be caught up in the outward adornment, nor the showy things, nor the external.

I’m noticing that there’s a lot of just-below-conscious messages in my head that are probably directing me away, rather than toward, love-money-passion-beauty.

So when Jamie asks today, “What luxury do you wish for?”, I’m going for the luxury of being comfortable with all of those pictures and all of what they represent. The luxury of believing that love and wealth and beauty and passion can be and will be – and already are – a part of my life.

What luxury do you wish for?

The Tender Turning Point of September

I’ve seen a lot of people crying this week.

A friend consoling another friend who is leaning against a wall in tears; a woman and a man looking at each other, hand-in-hand, and crying; a shaky voice on the phone.

My heart twinges every time I see this – I remember my own times when I could not stop crying, whether I was on my bike or on a streetcar or at my desk in an office.

September is a tender time. There’s a sense of newness and energy and beginnings. And at the same time, there’s a sense of loss, of impending cold, a point in the earth’s revolution around the sun where there is no turning back. Winter is on its way.

For all those who are feeling their way through tears in the midst of this transition, I offer one of my favourite quotes, from Pema Chodron’s Comfortable with Uncertainty, p.195:

Life is glorious, but life is also wretched. Appreciating the gloriousness inspires us, encourages us, cheers us up, gives us a bigger perspective, and energizes us. We feel connected. But if that’s all that’s happening, we get arrogant and start to look down on others. We make ourselves a big deal and want life to be like that forever. The gloriousness becomes tinged by craving and addiction.

On the other hand, wretchedness – life’s painful aspect – softens us up considerably. Knowing pain is an important ingredient of being there for another person. When you are feeling grief, you can look right into somebody’s eyes because you feel you haven’t got anything to lose – you’re just there. The wretchedness humbles us and softens us, but if we were only wretched, we would all be so depressed and hopeless that we wouldn’t have enough energy to eat an apple. Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.

Risking Spring

The risk it takes to remain tight inside the bud
is more painful that the risk it takes to blossom.
Anais Nin

There is a dim possibility that spring is on its way. I saw a robin this morning, bearing its red breast to the world, and my front yard is starting to come alive with birdsong. I am aching for some green to appear – Toronto has been brown and grey for too long.

I am watching for flowers to blossom. And as we come out of hibernation, I’m paying attention to the blossoming of people around me. The warmer weather has put more smiles on faces. Wearing fewer layers has taken a load off our shoulders and we stand straighter. My street is an expressway of spring joggers on a weekend morning, and we’re all turning our faces up towards the sun, just like the flowers – the flowers that I know are going to be here soon, soon, soon.

Is there something true for you in Anais Nin’s quote about being trapped tight inside a bud? I know there is for me. I wonder: What have you been building around yourself to protect you through the winter? What’s the bud you’re wrapped up so tightly in now? What could you let go of in order to blossom?

a-perfect-flower

Overcoming Inertia

The Wheel of Life helps people articulate areas where they would like to see something shift. The wheel can provide a starting point for coaching, and a way to assess progress. Sometimes one area on the wheel serves as a leverage point: directing energy to that area leads to shifts in other areas of your life too. I felt this wheel effect a few weeks ago while working with my own coach.

Inertia was threading through many areas in my life, I told her. I couldn’t get started on one of my work projects, I intended – but never got around to – practicing the piano, and I hadn’t been to a yoga class in a month. I needed to break the inertia.

My coach pointed out that starting movement in one area would lead to ripple effects. She asked me which area I wanted to get moving first, and I chose physical inertia. A half hour later, I had committed to asking a friend to join me twice a week for a morning walk to kickstart my day and get me feeling that my life was in motion.

It was such a small step. It was even an easy step. And it has broken inertia in multiple areas for me. Once I started moving, I basked in the feeling of motion. I got the outside air and sunshine that I had been craving. My feeling of connection and friendship shifted, as I shared conversation twice a week with a good friend. I started arriving home from my morning walks ready to get to work and with the momentum to tackle projects. I started walking every day, and going back to yoga classes and getting back to running started to seem like possibilities again. I even resumed my piano practice, much to my teacher’s relief.

The funny thing is, I had been avoiding exercise and social time because I was worried they would take time away from what I thought I needed to focus on: “getting stuff done”. But once I started moving in one area of my life, I started getting more and more done across all areas. A few weeks after feeling completely stuck, I now have flashes of unstoppability.

Have you checked out your wheel of life lately? Which area would you like to see shift? Where will the leverage point be for you?