How to Make It Through March

In 2012, I made it through this dreariest Ontario month with a healthy, happy glow thanks to a little experiment I undertook. One year later, I’m looking back at March 2012 to remind myself how to survive the end of winter. Here’s how I wrote about it then.

It started small.

First, I thought, “I want to spend more time focusing on taking care of myself.”

That led to my roping the love-of-my-life in on a commitment to buying and eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grains and beans and lentils, and less sugar, flour, and animal products.

“This feels good,” I thought. “Maybe I’ll make this whole month about doing things to take care of me!”

Next thing I knew, I’d stopped drinking coffee.

Then I splurged on an apartment-size mini-trampoline (if you call $45 a “splurge”, that is) because how could I possibly be miserable and/or dislike myself while jumping up and down on a trampoline? (It’s really the best thing anytime I have a mental block… I just go jump on the trampoline 100 times and by the time I’ve done that, my perspective has shifted or else I’ve come to a decision).

One of my teachers encouraged me to buy myself a little something to celebrate some of my recent business successes, so then I went and bought this darling little silver ring. And some of the Mistresses in my MistressMind group (because “Mastermind” group doesn’t quite capture our sexy, dominatrix-y, determined business minds) told me that with the next round of business successes, I ought to go buy myself the meditation cushion I’ve been wishing for. I’m sitting on it as I write this.

“But it’s more than all these external things,” I thought. “It’s about caring for myself internally too.”

And that’s when I decided that this would also be The Month of No Negative Self-Talk.

I’m fairly addicted to negative self-talk (see The Slot Machine of Negative Self-Talk), and telling myself to “Stop it!,” isn’t going to work. But what did work was telling myself that I was giving myself a vacation from negative self-talk. Taking a month off. Free to go back to it after a month if I want to.

Anytime I heard the negative self-talk start up, I said to myself, “Ha! Vacation! I don’t have to do that this month!”

And then I thought, “But it’s more than the absence of self-talk. I want to start talking to myself in a caring way.”

So I developed the mantra I was going to rely on for the month:

“I trust that I am doing the best that I can everyday, and the best I can is enough.” 

(Don’t think it’s enough? See above re: no negative self-talk!)

As you can see, once the process got underway it was fairly unstoppable. I’ve just had a glorious month of delicious smoothies, fantastic salads, walks by the river, “mental health break” days, acupuncture appointments, fresh flowers, early bedtimes, and loving invitations to the love-of-my-life to do the dishes / clean the juicer / go grocery-shopping with me.

Now, here’s the interesting part:

So, I had a great month. That’s clear.

But what surprised me was the ripple effects of being kind to myself.

I started being more kind to others.

Experiencing the joy of caring for myself led to a spontaneous outpouring of caring for my loved ones and doing kind things for them.

Although I was working fewer hours, my business seemed to take off this month — if I scheduled breaks for myself, it seemed that the client appointments practically scheduled themselves.

I found myself buying gifts for others — spontaneous generosity (a soul trait that I often struggle with… perhaps because I had not learned how to be generous toward myself?).

What’s next? I want to keep this going!

So, it’s been more than a month, and I have no desire to drop all of this self-loving. It’s brought too much goodness into my life.

During my last call with my MistressMind group, I focused on how to keep it going, and uncovered a little fear I was caring around:

A fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle all this love for myself.

How curious! Who knew that I carried around a fear of being loved?

Thanks to lovely Head Mistress Cynthia, I have this new challenge for the month:

How much love can I handle?

How much care and goodness can I take?

How much love before I reach the saturation point? Will I disintegrate?

(More likely, I will dissolve into some essential being-ness of love — which does explain some of the fear. Soul growth always requires some melting away of ego identity, and that’s scary.)

My invitation to you this week:

I invite you to get curious: What would A Month of YOU look like?

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And one last note: special thanks to the fabulous Danette Relic, who penpal-coached me through the lovely journey of the Month of Me! 
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That February Feeling

This post is an excerpt from the latest Ready for Change newsletter. To read the newsletter in full, head here.

Hello there, dear one,

It’s February, the deep cold slush of the new year, and the beginning of the two-month long seasonal rut of what I call “Farch”. As a wise friend once said to me,

“Farch is no time to make decisions. Don’t break up, or leave your job, or move away, or make any drastic life changes. Because it’s not you, it’s Farch.”

Perhaps. Or perhaps these two months are ripe for you to create change, and either way, you know I want to hear from you.

This past month I’ve felt a real shift in the energy we’re sitting in. Along with many of my clients, I started 2013 finding myself overwhelmed with heartfelt feeling — sadness, grief, loneliness — that arose in surprising ways and often for inexplicable reasons. As I’ve seen others having similar experiences this month, I’ve wondered what sort of bigger context might be behind this. Collectively, what might we be grieving? Societally, what sadness needs to be expressed? How might we be serving each other by leaning into our feelings of loneliness?

One of the beautiful aspects of the heart-centred work I do is that I get to create safe spaces for us to feel what we’re feeling, and to open up to those experiences as our teachers. Is this something you need right now? If so, please drop me a line. Let’s find a way to create the space you need, and to let you learn what you need to learn.

Warmly,
Laura

This post is an excerpt from the latest Ready for Change newsletter. To read the newsletter in full, head here.


 
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Conflict — Illuminated by the Enneagram

This post was originally published as an edition of the Morsels of Change newsletter. If you like it, you may wish to sign up here

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.

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

Hers:
“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.)

Questions for you to ponder:

What’s your default position when faced with a problem?

How does your position clash with the default positions of those with whom you come into conflict? 
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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?

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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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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!

Warmly,

Laura

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!

 
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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.

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

Hers:
“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.

Warmly,
Laura

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Laura McGrath is an Ottawa-based life coach and therapist who conveys her own journey of growth through the Morsels of Change newsletter. 

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.

 
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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.

Background:

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.

Example:

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.

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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.

  
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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!

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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.

  
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In Search of a Better Way

So I got a little down about the world last week.

I was reading bleak articles on the left, despairing that a bunch of countries have decided again that firing missiles makes things better, watching the Canadian government make excuses for inexcusable actions, and trying not to think about nuclear reactors.

Thinking a change of scenery and some spring air might do me good, I went for a walk and ended up at a coffeeshop reading the local weekly. I hadn’t taken a look at the magazine in years, and it made me discouraged to look at the event calendar and see the same organizations hosting the same events, the same teach-ins, the same calls to action, and it seemed to me on that day that I don’t think society has made a lot of progress recently. I could be optimistic that all those groups are still active, or discouraged at the lack of change. More discouraged at the disturbing images that pass for American Apparel ads in the same magazine. More discouraged at the articles calling for environmental lifestyles next to articles designed to increase our consumption of crap. More discouraged that pharmaceutical companies are still advertising for human guinea pigs to take drugs for money.

We’re not getting this right, I think. Can’t we do better? As humans, can’t we do better?

I’m exhausted by the religious answer, which divides everything into good and bad categories and promises me an apocalypse.

I’m exhausted by the anti-capitalist / radical left answers, which are filled with anger.

I’m exhausted by all sides of the political spectrum treating dissenters with contempt.

I’m exhausted by the self-help industry, and the less-scrupulous folks in my own profession who make money off people’s pain and desperation.

There must be a better way, I think.

At times like this, I remind myself of The Presencing Institute and Theory U, “a set of principles and practices for collectively creating the future that wants to emerge (following the movements of co-initiating, co-sensing, co-inspiring, co-creating, and co-evolving).” That’s working towards a better way.

I remind myself of all the people who, along with me, are alumni of the three year Transpersonal Therapy training program, an experiential and non-sectarian program “designed to facilitate healing and spiritual growth.” That’s working towards a better way.

I remind myself that 400 leaders in Co-Active coaching (the style of coaching I’m trained in) recently gathered at the first Co-Active Summit and emerged from the Summit with a collective promise:

We believe the human community is at the critical time to change the dream of the world, a dream we have created together, a dream that leads to the destruction of the planet through overconsumption, the wasting of our human environment through social injustice, and the loss of spiritual fulfillment through disconnection and fear.

We believe that by uniting together, we can make the critical difference. We are committing ourselves to changing the dream to one that envisions a sustainable environment, spiritual fulfillment, and social justice for all people and beings. We hold that by taking this stand, our decision can provide the tipping point that the world needs now.

Each in our own way, we will help change the dream: in our selves, in our families, with our children, in front of our friends, inspiring our communities. Because we are leaders, we are coaches, we are human activists. Our weapon is love.

We have less than four years to take decisive action. To change our own life, to change our world, to change our collective dream, to alter the Earth’s destiny.  For the sake of our humanness, for the sake of our grandchildren’s grandchildren. In the words of Henry Kimsey-House, we must act from the paradox of Love AND Power, Feminine AND Masculine energies, Co AND Active. We can’t pick sides any more, coming from one OR the other. We must act from both.

That’s working towards a better way.

In Search of a Better Way

I want to have conversations about a better way.

I want to hear from you–readers who comment, subscribers who email, twitter people, facebookers–about what you remind yourself of when you’re in search of a better way.

I want to work with coaching and therapy clients who are in search of a better way.

I want us to create better ways together. 
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Lowering Tolerance for Emotional Pain

In Toronto at the end of February, with the exhaustion of winter so apparent, what I’m most conscious of on public transit is the pain of the people around me. Seats full of folks who look tired, worn down, lonely, sad, or just disinterested and disengaged.

On a southbound Dufferin bus last weekend, looking around at my seatmates, I noticed that my own tolerance for emotional pain has diminished, and for once I feel grateful for being less strong.

For most of my twenties, I had a high tolerance for emotional pain. I spent a lot of time feeling agonized, feeling like the world had sharp edges, feeling like everything had the potential to hurt me. My method for coping was to continually increase my pain tolerance. I had a dysfunctional pride in how much I could take. I could hurt and hurt and hurt before I would break down and reach out for help. I needed to be in crisis before I would crack enough to let someone else in.

What strikes me now is that I break much sooner. My emotional pain doesn’t have to be at 98% before I reach out for comfort, call a friend, go to therapy, talk to a coach, soak in a bath. The overall effect is that my average emotional pain level is much lower. I used to coast along at, say, 80% as my base level. When it spiked up to 98%, I’d ask for help. When it lowered back down to a 90% or 80%, I’d carry on. And all the while be perversely proud about how much I could handle.

I think my base level is now closer to 20%, and I reach for help when it gets to 30%. It’s taken a solid three years to lower my tolerance and build the habit of reaching for help early on, and now that I see the results I wish I had learned this sooner.

How much happier might I have been if I had learned earlier that I didn’t have to do it all on my own? If I had learned that others could provide support and care for me before I was in crisis?

I invite you to cast a glance at your own life and tendencies, and ask yourself:

  • What do I believe I have to do all by myself?
  • What level of pain do I reach before I seek out support?
  • How might my life change if I reached for support sooner?

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One of the reasons I love working with coaching clients in an ongoing relationship is that our regular conversations and continual learning illuminate the need for support and self-care early on, before the client reaches crisis. If you’re interested, I invite you to contact me to learn more. 
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