*Disclaimer: This post is about the frustrating but benign and temporary anxiety that comes when you are worried about a specific event or feeling stressed/overwhelmed. Prolonged, chronic and/or excessive anxiety, anxiety that is accompanied by physical symptoms or anxiety that results from past trauma is something different and more serious and might require help from a medical professional or therapist, which I am not
As many of you know, we do martial arts as a family. Last weekend, we participated in a black belt test that started at 8 am on Saturday morning and ended at 1 pm. These tests are hard. We are going almost non-stop, with only short breaks to change, grab gear, hydrate and eat a quick bite. For a couple days after, we are tired and sore. It’s hard, but it’s also really fun.
The night before the test as we were eating spaghetti and preparing ourselves, the girls were talking about how nervous they were. We’ve done a good handful of these tests by now, so we know what’s coming, which is both good and bad, I guess.
As the girls were getting worked up thinking about how hard the next day was going to be, I said, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
This led down a rabbit hole of scenarios where people were passing out and breaking arms and losing their lunch during the test. The extent of their imaginations made us both giggle and grimace.
“Okay,” I said after a particularly morbid anecdote, “What’s the worst thing that might actually happen?”
My oldest daughter, Aleida, got serious. “Master Stites could ask us to do Twilight Zone.” Twilight Zone is an extremely difficult form that Aleida learned about a year ago. Set to the music of Twilight Zone, it is fast and furious with a double tornado kick and other challenging combos. It isn’t a form in the normal rotation, so Aleida hasn’t kept up on it.
“Okay, so what if he does?”
“I won’t be able to complete it. I won’t remember all of it. It’ll be so embarassing.”
“Yes,” I reply, “it would be embarrassing for you, but we’ve seen this happen to other people, and honestly, you wouldn’t be the only one in this situation if he does call it. I think many people have forgotten it. And if you forget that one form and do well on the rest--which you will--you won’t fail. You’ll probably just get told to practice Twilight Zone before the next text, right?”
She nodded, took a bite of dinner, and seemed a bit more at ease.
The day after the test (which went great--no Twilight Zone), she was worried once again, this time about a speech she had to give in class in front of her peers. Obviously, if public speaking is the number one fear of Americans, she is not alone in her anxiety. She practiced for the family and we all agreed she had an interesting topic and was prepared and well-informed. Still, she sighed and furrowed her brow, clearly scared and picturing disaster.
Again, I said, “Okay, what’s the worst that can happen?”
And once again, the family had fun with this one, imagining everything from passing out to farting loudly. When the hilarity settled, I again asked, “Okay, but what’s the worst that might actually happen?”
“I’ll forget what I’m saying or I’ll miss a big part of my speech. Or I’ll have to start over.”
“Okay, so what will you do then?”
“Look at my note cards…? Keep going…?”
“Yes! Exactly! The notecards are there if you get stuck. If you forget what’s next, just take a breath, look at your notecards, and keep going.”
She still looked worried, of course, but the furrow in her brow relaxed just a bit.
She rocked her speech, by the way. After school she even said, “I was really nervous right before, but once I started, it wasn’t so bad.”
We all know from experience that anticipation and not knowing is far worse than actually being in the middle of something difficult. Our minds almost always imagine a much worse scenario than what happens in reality. And even if the very worst happens, we just live it. Anxiety is never happening during...it happens before, when our minds mess with us.
This is my new favorite strategy for anxiety. Something about the question, “What’s the worst that can happen?” followed by “Okay, but what’s the worst that might actually happen?” puts things in perspective. First of all, once you imagine pooping yourself in front of your peers, forgetting a few lines doesn’t seem so bad. Often, our worst case scenarios simply aren’t likely. Secondly, when you verbalize the worst thing that might actually happen, you demystify it. It’s similar to naming your emotions. When you call anger “anger,” it takes a bit of the edge off and lets you move forward with presence and intention. Likewise, when you get to the heart of what you are afraid might actually happen, you can name it and understand why it is causing anxiety. My daughter wasn’t really afraid of forgetting her form at the karate test; she was afraid of the embarrassment she would feel if she froze up in front of her fellow martial artists and her instructors.
The other benefit of naming the worst thing that might actually happen is the ability to strategize and focus on preparation. Anxiety is the enemy of proactivity unless you allow your awareness to move you into action. If you are anxious about freezing up during a speech, think about what you can do to avoid that happening. Practice more? Write better notecards? Have a friend cue you if necessary? Role play what you will do if you do forget what you were saying? Role playing or talking through what you will do should minor disaster strike gets you one step ahead of the fear.
Anxiety has the habit of building like a snowball rolling down a hill, taking a little issue and growing and growing until it is unrecognizably huge. You lose perspective once the real issue is hidden in a ball of anxiety. As always, awareness is the first step. If you can catch it early, if you can recognize when your mind starts to skip like a broken record, returning again and again to an anxious thought, you can begin to break the pattern. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Have some fun imagining bodily functions and natural disasters. But don’t forget the important step of bringing your mind back to reality. “What’s the worst that might actually happen?”
Anxiety is a normal part of the human condition. We just have to make it work for us, not against us.
On Monday evening, I held my word of the year workshop. I went in thinking my word would be GROWTH. I want to grow my business and continue to grow as a person and coach and parent. I mentioned this idea to a friend and his reply was, “Wow. That sounds heavy.” He was right, of course. But I think that choosing any word to guide your year comes with some weight and commitment. I didn’t end up with growth as my word, however. As I went through the process, I changed my mind.
The process entails answering some important questions, meditating on your best day, brainstorming a long list of words and then narrowing down to three and contemplating each one before choosing your final. My three finalists were EXPLORE, CONNECT and CONTRIBUTE.
As I spent some time focused on each word, I realized that I already explore a lot and to be honest, my proclivity to explore has gotten me spread a little thin. If anything, I need to explore less (I won’t) and focus more (I’ll try). When I focused on connect, I felt a little spark and immediately came up with a half dozen ways to apply this word to my life. When I wrapped up with contribute, I realized that to do so, I had to first connect, so I chose CONNECT with confidence. Unlike last year when I settled on DECLUTTER, I feel excited and ready to make this my mantra.
Here are just a handful of ways that I will work on connecting this year:
I completed the requirements for becoming a certified life coach. This is a strange, young industry. Unlike counseling or nursing or teaching, in which you have to become licensed in order to do the work, coaches have to do the work in order to become certified. As a result, anyone can create a website and call herself a life coach.
In the time I’ve been practicing, a client has never asked about my training or certification. I’ve been a little uncomfortable with the fact that I don’t have a credential, and I was glad I never had to explain the process to anyone. But now, I’m pretty darn proud of my certification. Honestly, it’s like another masters degree. Here’s what I had to do to earn my credential:
I took and passed the test before the holidays, and I just recently got notification that I am officially a certified coach. The certifying body is the International Coach Federation (ICF) and they are one of two world-renowned coach organizations.
I now hold three credentials. My Associate Certified Coach from the ICF, my Equine Facilitated Coach from the HERD Institute, and an Adolescent Life Coach Certification from the Adolescent Life Coaching Center.
In the end, it doesn’t change much. I get added to the database of ICF certified coaches and I can change my description from a “trained” life coach to a “certified” one. I can add the little ICF ACC symbol to my website and marketing materials. Still, outwardly, the change is minimal. But it feels like a big deal to me. I’ve seen this through and the credential proves that I have knowledge and skills as a coach. So if you're looking for a certified life coach, I'm your gal. I'm taking new clients in 2020.
My word of the year for 2019 was “Declutter.” I chose it because I felt the need to declutter my space, my thoughts, and my life. I knew it would be challenging and hoped it would be motivating. If I give myself an honest grade, I would say 5 out of 10.
Earlier in the year, I did some significant declutter projects, and recently, my husband and I decluttered our storage area. It brings me great pleasure to walk in there and see all the camping gear and boxes of old photo albums stacked on shelves in an orderly fashion. We got rid of a lot of stuff and that is liberating too.
Emotionally I have continued to work on minding my thoughts and trying to cull out the ones that don’t serve me. And honestly, that has been helpful. I don’t spend as much time wallowing in negativity. I’m getting better at catching myself in a downward spiral and pulling back up out of it. That has improved my life more than a clean desk ever could.
I did learn a few lessons in the process. First of all, I need to pick a word I’m excited about. Declutter doesn’t exactly inspire. I thought the challenge would motivate me and to a point it did, but not enough to make me embrace the word and live my year accordingly.
Secondly, I learned that I’m okay with a certain level of clutter. I’m trying to get better for the sake of my family who shares my space and for the guests who come to my house, but if I’m being honest, I don’t love a pristine living area. It’s called a living area for a reason and you certainly can’t question if our family lives in our house. Evidence is everywhere. We are a busy, lively bunch. We have pets. We move quickly from one activity to the next, and sometimes, we leave a trail. We are all working on that and getting better, but I don’t mind seeing remnants of craft projects and board games and good meals because it shows that we are really living.
The third lesson I learned is that I have more to do. Our craft room/office/the-place-we-put-everything-we-don’t-know-what-to-do-with needs to be cleared out and organized. It is a great space and we use it a lot, but our time could be so much more efficient if we cleared out drawers, cleaned off work spaces and got organized.
Finally, I learned that little steps are still steps. I am not going to change a lifetime of habits without some time and struggle. Even though the Year of Declutter is coming to an end, I will continue to take steps to live up to the word.
On a positive note, I'm sitting at a clean desk. I cleared it off a few days ago, and it certainly makes me happy to see the surface and not piles of papers and forgotten things.
For local folks, I’m holding another workshop to determine your word of the year. It will be at the Golden Library on Monday, January 6 from 6:30-7:30pm. Join me for a fun and inspiring (and FREE) evening and leave with a small memento to remind you of whatever word you choose. I have an idea in mind for my word of the year, but I'm going to go through the process and make sure before I reveal it.
In the meantime, Happy New Year! I hope you have some time to reflect on 2019 as we prepare to move into a new decade.
I went to three Christmas parties last weekend. At each one, I ate a lot of cheese, drank a lot of alcohol and binged on cookies and sweets. It was wonderful. Even now, as I write this at 6:30 in the morning, I am eating a cookie from the cookie exchange party. One of my greatest pleasures in life is eating a cookie with my coffee first thing in the morning, and I’m not ashamed to say that I will probably do this every morning until the new year.
I used to worry about myself over the holidays. I eat fairly well most of the time, so I feel the addition of an average of 5 cookies to my daily diet as well as an increase in drinking alcohol and consuming mounds of cheese trays and other rich, holiday-only foods. Even now, I feel a little layer forming around my mid-section. I’m still working out regularly, but with the colder weather and the coming and going of viruses, even that is not at the level it needs to be to compensate for my increase in calories. But still, I’m not worried about it.
You see, fitness is not an issue for me. I don't worry about gaining weight or getting weak. I don't question if I will motivate to work out and be active. I know I will do it. I value it too much and the benefits are so important to me that I know I won't let myself get lazy. In a pleasant way, I am addicted to it. If a few days go by without a workout, I get grumpy. And even if life gets crazy and a week goes by and I haven't been as active as I'd like to be (or if I’ve been eating and drinking with abandon), I don't worry about the slippery slope effect. I trust myself to get back to business.
This wasn't always the case. I didn't come out of the womb lifting weights and wearing a black belt. I was an active child and our family's move to Colorado when I was 8 certainly helped set the stage for a lifetime of being a doer. However, in college, I was prone to false starts and the New Year's Resolution gang that crowded the campus gym for a few weeks. I would ride cycles of motivation and slack, dreading and yet somehow knowing that I would succumb to fitness failure. When the inevitable valley came, I'd ride it out until I had the next motivator...upcoming swimsuit season or the new year or whatever. It was a frustrating way to live...wanting to be fit but not trusting myself to follow through.
Somewhere in my twenties, fitness became not just a nice idea to aspire to but a full-fledged priority. It helped that I married an active guy and that we motivated each other, meeting to mountain bike after work and signing up for triathlons and adventure races. We had kids and consistency became harder, but if anything, parenthood motivated us more. We refused to fall into the trap we were often warned about…”Oh, you’re in shape now, but just wait until you have kids.” Likewise, I stopped worrying that I would hit a certain age and my metabolism would slow down and exercise would be futile. 30 came and 40, too, and honestly, I’m in better shape now than when I was 20.
Staying fit isn’t easy, but because it’s the lifestyle I’ve chosen, it isn’t difficult either. I thrive on it and I know I will always prioritize it.
The holiday season is tough. It’s busy and often stressful, and temptations are everywhere. Between baking cookies, attending elaborate parties and eating large meals, it’s hard to stay on track. If you live in a place that has actual winter, you might find it harder to work out and you might just lack the time to do so with the demands of shopping and year end work goals and increased activities and the kids at home.
I don’t encourage the gluttony I described that was my weekend. Not everyone can jump off the track and back on again. My point is that I have spent years developing trust in myself. It has taken decades of proving to myself that when push comes to shove, I will get it done. And if you follow my blog, you know that while I have my health and fitness pretty nailed down, I struggle in other areas. So I understand that my reality is not true for everyone.
But here’s the thing, anyone can develop that inner trust. You can cultivate a lifestyle that supports your wellness. You can develop habits and thought patterns that set you up for success. Yes, it will be difficult in the beginning. Anything worth doing has its challenges, but it won’t always be a struggle. Eventually, you will get to a place where your priorities will change, your lifestyle will shift, and your actions will be in alignment with your intentions and you will trust that you can keep it up.
Christine and I created the Empower! Program for this very reason. We want to support adults and tween girls in creating an intentional lifestyle. We know it isn’t just about working out. We also know you can’t just snap your fingers and think in a way that will encourage healthy habits. We know that it is in the connection of the mind and body, the pairing of mental intention with physical habits that true and sustainable change is made. Our program isn’t about losing weight or looking a certain way, and it goes well beyond fitness. It is about developing habits that reflect your authentic self and encourage action and accountability in all areas of your life.
I’m looking forward to the program personally because i know it will help me start my year with goals and the motivation to achieve them. 2020...a new decade...what will you do with it?
My older daughter is in 5th grade. Last week, we went to a middle school information night. How did this happen? My feelings about this will show up in another post, but for now, just know that she is a lovely 10-year-old and I’m not ready to throw her to the wolves of middle school.
She had a great year in 4th grade. She bonded with her teacher and experienced a lot of growth academically and personally. 5th grade is different. She has 3 teachers and she rotates between classes. She likes her teachers, but the bond isn’t the same. And sometimes, she comes home with homework in 4 different classes.
She does homework and eats snack right after school. If she has a lot of it, she will sometimes stress out in the middle, wondering how she will ever finish and why she has to have so much in the first place. But she does it.
Inevitably, later in the evening, usually when she’s trying to go to sleep at night, her mind will start to mess with her. “What if I didn’t do all my homework?” she will ask. “What if I forgot something?”
Can’t we all relate to this? Don’t we all have areas in life that keep us up at night? We worry about what we did or didn’t do. We worry if we are good enough. We think about what we should’ve said or what we could’ve done differently or what people think about us.
The good news is that these thoughts are a sign that we care. My daughter works hard and she cares about how well she does. She wants to do well. She wants to please her teachers and get good grades and ace tests. In the rare event that she forgets something or gets a bad grade, she feels it acutely.
And that’s the bad news. Because we care, we feel things sharply and we often spend time thinking in a way that doesn’t serve us. We worry and fret. We question and doubt ourselves. While this is natural, we must realize it is also very unproductive.
My daughter’s nightly worries take energy. These thoughts sometimes keep her up at night, postponing her sleep, which is sooo important. These anxious thoughts certainly don’t help her prepare for a test or feel good about her abilities. On the contrary, they sow doubt and insecurity.
Let's remember that anxiety is a throwback emotion. Our ancestors needed anxiety to survive. But in our world where getting food is an act of going into a well-lit building and picking something off the shelves versus hunting and gathering and survival isn't usually a question from moment to moment, most of our anxiety is unfounded. Yes, our world is full of threats, but if we are truly in danger, we are not sitting around and fretting. We are running for our lives or fighting back or actively hiding or calling the police.
Anxious thoughts are not a problem in and of themselves. In fact, they can serve the purpose of highlighting what is important. They can also help us figure stuff out. They become problematic when they occur beyond logic. My daughter, for example, will often have a conversation with me that goes like this:
“What if I forgot to do some homework?” she’ll ask.
“I don’t know.”
“Did you check your planner? Did you do everything you needed to do?”
“I think so...but what if I didn’t?”
“I saw you working on math and reading. And you spent some time on your science presentation. Was there anything else?”
“No. That was it.” Pause. “But what if it wasn’t?”
You see, our brains often work against logic, against evidence, against the truth. And if we aren’t paying attention, we become victims to this thinking, which absolutely limits us.
So what did I say to my daughter? What will I keep saying to her when these thoughts interfere with her wellbeing? Something like this:
“Did you do the homework that was assigned to you...as far as you know?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“Do you trust yourself?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you believe that--to the best of your knowledge--you did what you needed to do?”
“Okay, then you need to trust yourself. You can lay here and get all worried about what you might have forgotten, but you almost always get done what you have to get done. So focus on that. Focus on the fact that you haven’t forgotten a homework assignment in a long time. Trust yourself.”
She looked skeptical, but she was listening. “And,” I added, “even if the very worst thing happens and you forget a small assignment--I know you wouldn’t forget a big important one--then you talk to the teacher about what you can do to get it turned in or make it up. That’s the very worst thing that can happen, but remember, you almost never forget stuff, and when you have, it hasn’t been a big deal. Put the time in when you are doing your homework. Check off the list of your classes, and then trust yourself.”
She gave a little smile and nod, pulled her covers up to her chin, and looked more at ease. We said our good nights and she went to sleep fairly quickly.
Does she still struggle with nightly anxiety? Yes. Does her brain still think thoughts that go against reason? Absolutely.
Changing the patterns of thinking that don’t serve us doesn’t happen overnight. It isn’t easy to break these cycles. My daughter will probably always be prone to anxious thoughts. My goal with her (and my clients and myself) is to raise awareness around not only how we are thinking, but the idea that we can change how we think. Unchecked, our brains will run wild with thoughts that hinder our ability to live happy and productive lives. But once we start tuning in, we can put some resistance in the well-oiled gears of those thoughts and start building a pathway for better and more helpful thoughts to run in our minds.
A few nights ago, I was sitting with my daughter at bedtime and talking about the day. I saw her eyes cloud with the familiar worry. She looked at me and when she made eye contact, a light of memory struck and she smiled, somewhat grimly, but it was a smile all the same. Then, quietly and with determination, she started chanting, “I trust myself, I trust myself, I trust myself, I trust myself.”
A couple weeks ago, I went to a conference put on by Women In Community (WIC). It was held on Women’s Entrepreneurship Day and it was for “Purpose-Driven Women Entrepreneurs”. The title of the conference was Revenue Revolution with the focus of helping women make more money in their businesses. Sounds great, right? Who doesn’t want to make more money? I found it via a Facebook ad. It fell on a day I was free and my husband was available to pick up the kids, and it was a small investment for a chance to spend a day around inspiring women.
First of all, let’s talk about the term “Purpose-Driven Entrepreneurs.” I want to be THAT. I love that term and now have a beacon to strive toward...something to live up to. I feel like I have the “purpose-driven” part down pretty well. But I’m struggling with the entrepreneur part of it. So in all honesty, I felt a little bit of the imposter syndrome that I learned about when I was teaching children from low-income families or working with the scholarship program that funds and supports high-potential individuals from at-risk communities. The idea is that these hard-working, intelligent, highly-qualified students go to college--often the first from their family to do so--and they struggle with the feeling that they don’t belong, that they are imposters and somebody's going to discover them and send them back to where they came from. I was able to empathize with that feeling at the conference. I’m still getting my business legs and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is HARD! I often feel lost and awkward and uncertain, and I assume that other people building businesses are doing so much better at it and that because I lack business training, I can’t really call myself a business owner. The organizers spoke to this at the conference. So many of us are trained life coaches or artists or real estate agents or whatever, but few of us are trained in business; therefore, many of us don’t identify as business owners. However, as soon as we “hang out our shingle,” we ARE business owners and we have to own that and step into it.
Another purpose of this community and their events is to be instrumental in creating “Feminine Business Culture.” The founders weren’t happy with corporate America. They didn't like the competitive and judgmental culture. On the contrary, as more women become entrepreneurs, the founders of WIC want to make sure they feel supported and comfortable in what has traditionally been a man’s world.
What does that look like in a room of about 125 women entrepreneurs? Well, first of all, it was beautiful, physically and otherwise. The women were--without a doubt--beautiful, and all shapes, sizes and colors were represented. On top of that, they were passionate and inspired and excited, so there was a positive energy in the room. It was also not your traditional business conference. When I walked in, I had the option of being blessed by a Shaman Priestess (who would be on the panel of business owners later) and/or getting a spritz of essential oils and a hug from the founder of WIC. I opted for the blessing which was simply setting an intention and having water ceremonially poured over my hands.
We started the conference with a whole-room blessing and meditation and throughout the day we had movement and singing breaks, both led by women entrepreneurs who had been through the program. It was refreshing; it was interesting; it was unique; it was lovely. Did I like it? Absolutely. Did I love it? I don’t know yet. I didn’t feel like I was 100% with “my people.” I met lovely ladies and had some wonderful conversations, but I wasn’t fully comfortable and I’m still trying to suss out why.
Let me be clear...the whole day was a big long sales-pitch for their 90-day business training program, which has helped thousands of women grow their businesses. The conference didn’t feel salesy and I gleaned valuable information for a small price tag, so I’m unsure why I didn’t leave feeling 100% excited and inspired. Perhaps I have trouble accepting that people can be genuine while also trying to sell me something. That underlying belief has implications for my own business so I plan to give some time to thinking about it.
I walked away with a to do list. I learned about the “engine” of a business being four interconnected parts: A Revenue Model and Goals, Product Development, Marketing, and Sales. The good news is this: If these four things are working, your business will work. The bad news: NONE of it is optional. Marketing and Sales=NOT OPTIONAL!
They also said, and I really love this, that “Math is the husband to your intuition.” To allow for the fun and creativity and the following of your heart, you must do that math. You must set a goal and consider your pricing and make projections and fill in the spreadsheets.
I have work to do. If nothing else, this conference made me reassess what I’m doing and what I need to do. In the midst of the holiday season, I’m taking time to plan and create for a push in the new year. I want to grow in 2020. I believe in what I do, and I want to reach more people. Marketing and sales might not be my specialty, but I can learn and grow in that area. Spending a day with driven and creative women did inspire me to step up and step into my role as a business owner. Stay tuned. 2020 is going to be a great year.
I had an interesting encounter several weeks ago. There’s a woman in our neighborhood who walks her dogs off the leash. They run up into people’s yards, but they pretty much stay with her. I have mixed feelings about dogs off leash because while I am a rule-follower, I also love to see dogs galavanting without a tether. My opinion is beside the point, however. Let me continue with the story.
We live in the neighborhoodiest neighborhood there is. We have sidewalks and cul-de-sacs and an HOA. We wave to each other as we walk and drive through the streets, even if we don’t know the person we are passing. The neighborhood is comprised of a couple of loops, so when I walk my dogs, I almost always see other people walking their dogs. We have a lovely park at the center of the neighborhood and I will sometimes go let my dogs chase frisbees and each other in the large field there.
So this woman (and sometimes her husband and neighbor and a 3rd dog) walks her dogs up our street. Our dogs are often out on our front porch where they have full view of the street. They bark at passing dogs, sometimes passionately. Occasionally, the noises will escalate until I fear injury or death is a possibility. This started happening about once a week or so. I would run out to the front porch to find my dogs growling and barking and snarling at this woman’s dogs who have run up into our side yard so they are barking back at my dogs from right below the porch. Forget that they are on my property...they are on my dog’s turf. Not cool.
So this has been happening for several months now. I always run out, bring my dogs in, grumbling under my breath (but loudly enough for the neighbors to *hopefully* hear about how rude it is to let your dogs harass other dogs on their own turf.) The five dogs fronting with each other sounds terrifying, so my adrenaline gets pumping and I’m all shaky and agitated.
Well, it might have gone on like this indefinitely. However, several weeks ago, the brawl sounds were even louder and more obnoxious. I ran outside and these dogs had run up our stairs and were barking face to face with my dogs at the gate to our front porch. I see snarls and spit flying from the muzzles and I start yelling at my dogs to come in, but they are drawn to the conflict because they want to protect their family and their place.
Now, I think if all these dogs could meet in a field and romp around, they’d be good buddies. So I have no beef with the dogs. But they were clearly escalating, and coming up to the entrance of our house seemed like a hard line to me.
I started by reacting the same way. Pulling my dogs inside while talking to them, “I know buddies. It’s so rude for those dogs to harass you. You’re my good dogs, good dogs. I don’t blame you for barking.”
This time, 4 adults were walking these three dogs. I can’t say whether or not anybody yelled an apology or not because we were all too busy trying to get our dogs away from the drama.
I went inside and sat back at the table with my girls. My hands were shaking lightly both from the adrenaline of dealing with agitated dogs and my anger that I had to. I was so mad; I had that knot in my stomach and I couldn’t eat.
“You know what,” I said to my girls. “I’m going to have to say something.”
“You’re going to go talk to them?” my daughters asked, looking worried.
“Yep. I have to tell them that I’m not okay with this.”
Several excruciatingly long minutes passed as I waited for the walking party to stroll up our street, around our cul de sac and back down the other side. When they got close, I walked down my steps. One of the dogs saw me and ran into the street to greet me. I said, “Hey buddy,” and gave him a scratch behind the ear before the owner called him back. Then, as calmly and as nicely as I could, I said, “Hey there. Can you please stop your dogs from running up to our yard when my dogs are outside?”
One of the women looked at me and said, “That’s the first time they’ve come up there.” She meant directly up to the porch, and yes, that was correct. However, it seemed inaccurate to me in the grand scheme.
So I replied, “Yes, but they’ve come up alongside the porch into our side yard a bunch of times.”
She was not pleased with me. I continued, “I don’t even mind when my dogs aren’t out, but when they are out, I’d really appreciate it if you’d keep your dogs from running up there.”
The man walking with her who I assume is her husband cut off her next comment by saying, “We’ll take care of it.”
“Okay, thank you.” And I walked back up my stairs and into the house.
At first, I felt dissatisfied by the interaction. Perhaps I was expecting an apology or at least a recognition of culpability. Or perhaps I wanted to have more of a conversation or debate. I wanted to walk away with a feeling of neighborly understanding. Instead, I felt like the bad guy. I was outnumbered, and I got the impression that this group, especially the woman who talked to me, felt entitled to let their dogs run wherever they wanted. I didn’t get any sense of compromise or empathy for my dogs who are clearly driven nuts by the intrusion of theirs.
Let me be clear. I don’t like confrontation. This was not the easiest route for me to take. My heart raced and I felt agitated after I came inside. I related the story to the girls and I sat with it for a while before it became okay.
As a life coach, I find a few common themes in what I work on with clients. To name a few, they are 1)Set and keep boundaries. 2)Examine your assumptions and expectations. 3)Show up in a way that allows you to sleep at night. And this situation highlights all three.
First of all, this was a boundary issue. Clearly, this woman and I have different boundaries when it comes to our dogs. I could get frustrated every time she breaks my boundary (and I was!), but I can’t blame her because she doesn’t even know the boundary exists. Now, sometimes we feel that boundaries are obvious. For example, I think it’s pretty obvious that if your dogs are running free on someone else’s property, getting the dogs that live there all agitated and riled up, you should stop allowing your dogs to instigate that. I’m not saying this facetiously; I’m using it as an example about how we can be so attached to our own perceptions that we fail to realize that someone might have a different opinion. And this was the case for certain. I believed I was right to my own detriment. Every time the dogs had a confrontation, I was getting angry and incredulous, but I wasn’t saying anything (except under my breath, which is passive aggressive). So my decision to talk to these people was a conscious decision to verbalize a boundary.
Secondly, I had to examine my own assumptions. In my anger, I was projecting all kinds of stuff onto these people. I caught myself thinking that they are rude and unneighborly. I thought, “they probably let their dogs poop in other people’s yards without picking it up, since they let them run free and all.” I have not witnessed this, so it is an unfair assumption. I don’t know them except in passing, so it is easy for me to make stuff up, and it is oddly validating, too, when I can villainize them. We see that happening so often in our world today. We disagree with one aspect of someone’s character or belief system and we invalidate the whole person just so that we don’t have to have a real conversation about our differences.
But honestly, if I look at what I can safely assume about this person, it’s this: Lives in Golden. Loves dogs. Takes long walks around the neighborhood. That’s it. And honestly, that’s a friendship classified that I would likely answer. We probably have more in common than not, so spiraling into hate town over one difference doesn’t serve me.
Finally, I had countless choices about what I could’ve done in this situation. Once I decided I was going to confront the group, I still had countless choices. I could yell. I could threaten. I could cry. I could argue or beg or demur. Or I could ask nicely.
And I’ll be honest; in the moment, the result of asking nicely wasn’t very satisfying. I was amped up and I think I almost wanted a fight. Or maybe I wanted some apologizing and groveling. All I got was a bit of attitude from the woman and a “we’ll take care of it” from the man.
That was over a month ago now, and I haven’t seen those dogs on my street since then. I can’t know what the other party is thinking about the whole interaction, but ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I am proud of how I showed up. I was civil and neighborly, but I verbalized a boundary and so far it has been respected.
This was a fairly small thing. Even so, it was difficult. It was a lot to process. I know that everyone (including me) is dealing with challenging situations that leave us with a choice about how we show up and how we verbalize our needs and boundaries. And the more personal it is, the harder this process will be. But it's worth it.
If you struggle with setting boundaries, you have to practice. If something isn’t sitting right with you or if you are feeling challenged by a situation in life, start with a conversation. Come from a place of calm. Decide what you ideally would like to happen and verbalize that. And then be okay with it. Rest in the knowledge that you showed up with honesty and best intentions. If the conversation falls on deaf ears or if a verbalized boundary keeps getting broken, then that becomes a new decision point. But you have to start somewhere, and it could be as simple as a short and honest chat.
Last week was a little rough. My youngest daughter is brilliant...funny and smart and socially adept. She has always been the more organized of my two children. If we lost something around the house, we would say, “Ask Cici!” and more often than not, she would know exactly where to find the lost object. When she started preschool, without being asked, she would lay out her outfit for the next day in the shape of a flat little human, often complete with jewelry and other accessories. Recently, though, she has regressed. She’s not a morning person, so simply waking up can be challenging. She eats extremely slowly, which is a problem with every meal, but it’s especially frustrating at breakfast when our time is limited. The worst problem in the mornings, however, is socks. First of all, we have a very active sock monster in our house, so finding matching socks is nigh impossible. But Cici is also extremely picky about her socks. They can’t be too big, too small and definitely not too itchy. If the toe seam is too intrusive, forget about it. If they slump down in her shoes, she’s been known to sit down and cry about it. So even on the rare mornings when we are running on time and getting out the door without issue, socks become the bane of our routine and we spend precious minutes running around the house trying to find socks that fit. Then we are all flustered and annoyed and snippy and the morning is off to a less than ideal start.
Monday of last week was particularly bad. While I don’t think my daughter was consciously trying to make us late and drive me to the nuthouse, it certainly seemed that way. Everything was a struggle and all of my reminders and time checks fell on deaf ears. The result was a conflict-ridden morning and a walk to school in which I lectured about halfway and we all felt crummy about it, including my older daughter who had been on top of things that morning but got caught in the slow moving wake of her younger sister. “We are only as fast as our slowest person,” I said with a pointed look at Cici, who was by this time feeling extremely sorry for herself and visibly pouting and yes...walking even more slowly...to show it.
Not a pretty picture and certainly not one of my shining mom moments. At the door of the school, we gave hugs and said sorry and promised to figure things out. In fact, as part of my lecture series on pleasant mornings, I asked for ideas about what might work. We came up with three: 1)Set out clothes--including SOCKS--the night before. 2)No books at the breakfast table. 3)Cici will take it upon herself to check her attitude in the morning and try to be more pleasant upon waking.
I’m currently taking a Family Life Coaching class, and after that rough morning, I met with my peer group. Our task was to take turns coaching each other on a family life issue. I decided to bring our chaotic mornings to the group. It helped to process and solidify my plan of action. My coach agreed that putting in some more systems was a good place to start. I felt better and ready for the next morning.
Tuesday started well. Cici woke in a good mood, put on her pre-decided outfit with socks, ate her breakfast quickly and was on track to leave on time. At some point between taking her dishes to the sink and going to the bathroom, our well-laid plan started to unravel. I was again doing time checks and Cici was again mostly ignoring them. At one point, she was sitting on the kitchen floor and it seemed to me that she was brushing one strand of hair at a time.
Try as I might, I once again lost my cool. Cue the replay tape of the previous morning walk...lecture, pouting, grumpy faces, no fun, hug at the door, guilt and frustration for the rest of the day.
What the heck? Wasn’t our plan a good one? Hadn’t I done everything I could do to set us up for success? And yet....the morning ended in shambles.
What now? I know and I often tell my clients that if you keep doing the same things you will get the same results. So even though I thought the plan should work, it didn’t.
“I’m out.” I told my husband. “I’m done micromanaging the mornings. I’ll wake them up and make breakfast, but that’s it. They can tell me when they are ready to leave.”
I threatened to set an alarm to completely remove myself; that’s how done I was. But once my annoyance softened a bit, I decided I would continue to wake them up gently. I also made a chart that outlined the timeline of the morning. 7:00 Wake up. 7:15 Breakfast, etc. I showed it to the girls, told them the plan, felt a bit dubious that it would work, but knew it was worth a try.
Can I tell you what a lovely morning we had? Cici was a bit hard to wake up and she wasn’t exactly a ray of sunshine, but she came down dressed, ate breakfast, did what she needed to do and we were out the door at 7:45 sharp. I even sat down and had breakfast with them. We talked and smiled and I didn’t feel the need to speak one sentence of lecture.
The next morning was the same. It had snowed, and we even left early enough to swing by the sledding hill for a try. We made it to school on time and with our sanity.
What’s the lesson here? Well, first of all, it reminds me of one of the golden rules of education: “Keep standards high.” If you raise the standards and ask the students to step up, most of the time, they will. Likewise, I put more responsibility on my child and she stepped up. This is a bit counterintuitive, right? Doesn’t it make more sense to help her out and soften her load so that she can get out the door? Well, that didn’t work. She became reliant and then ultimately resistant to my frequent reminders. On the contrary, when I stepped back and gave her some independence, she took it upon herself to get everything done and we all benefited.
Secondly, I had to be creative. On Tuesday, I had a plan in place that felt right. I was confident it would work. And it didn’t. Part of me felt like a failure. How can I be a life coach if I can’t even help my own children get to school on time and in good spirits? (Yes, that thought actually crossed my mind). After our second crummy morning on Tuesday, I was stumped. I couldn’t think of anything else I could do to assist the situation. I had to shift my whole mindset to decide to walk backwards on my morning involvement. Again, it wasn’t intuitive, but it made all the difference. I had to change it up to get a different outcome.
I do not share this to brag or flaunt superior parenting skills. Believe me, for every moment of success, I have multiple moments that felt like failure. Parenting is the hardest and sometimes most demoralizing job on the planet, and I say this understanding full well that my children will someday be teenagers, so I ain’t seen nothing yet.
But I think that one thing we understand better as parents than we do as human beings is that failure does not mean we stop trying. As parents, we have a bad day or show poor judgment with our kids and we don’t give up being parents because we can’t. Fortunately, our obligation to and emotional bond with our children ensures that (most of us) will keep parenting despite the fights, despite the trainwrecks of mornings, despite the public meltdowns. We keep doing it and eventually, (most of) our children become respectable adults.
As parents, we see that each day is a new day. Heck, each moment is a new moment to try something different and to be a better parent. If we could translate this to our health, relationships and business endeavors, imagine how that “I have no choice but to keep trying” mentality could serve us! Didn’t get your workout in? Try again tomorrow. Ate 5 donuts in one sitting? Eat better tomorrow. Failed to land a client? Reach out to another client tomorrow.
Even if you aren’t parents, I imagine you can relate to this. In what areas of your life do you try again no matter what? In what areas do you give up too easily? Where does failure become a lesson, and where does failure become an excuse to beat yourself up? We do not treat all life endeavors equally. Some of us are great business people but struggle with intimate relationships. Some of us have great relationships but don't put effort into self care.
Take a moment to think about an area of your life where you have let perceived failure slow you down or halt you completely. What are you not doing because you are convinced you can’t? And then think about an area of your life where you have experienced success. How did you have to think, feel and act to reach those triumphs? How can you apply that process to the weaker areas of your life?
You have the capacity to be successful in all areas of your life. It just takes some perseverance, creativity and thought control.
A few weeks ago, I was having a session with a mentor coach as part of my training in Equine Facilitated Coaching. We were talking about something fairly benign...how to describe what I do for marketing purposes or how to pinpoint my target audience...and I started crying. Hard. I tried to swallow it and pretend I wasn’t having this upsurge of fear and doubt and anxiety, but it was too powerful. It had to come out. So I sat there in a public coffee shop across from a woman I admire and became a blubbering mess. I said, “I’m not sure what’s happening. I don’t know why I’m crying.” But it turns out, I did know.
You see, my life coaching practice is just me. I started a business and I am my own boss. As awesome as that sounds, I don’t have anyone to impose deadlines or assign projects. I don’t have a marketing team or an accountant or a secretary. Every aspect of the business is my responsibility and if I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.
Well guess what? A lot doesn’t get done. Even though I’ve never missed a deadline in school or at work when I had to answer to a boss, when it comes to being accountable to myself, I don’t trust myself to get the job done. I hate that. I know I CAN do it, but I want to know I WILL do it. In that moment in the coffee shop, when we started talking about something in the business that should be fairly easy but sounded really hard, all the doubts and distrust and inconsistency surfaced. I want it to be easy. In fact, I realized in a flash that when things get difficult in my career endeavors, I start to look for a new shiny object to throw my passion at. When the reality doesn’t match up with the fantasy (and let’s be honest, it never does), I find my inner voice whispering that maybe it’s not meant to be or maybe there’s something better out there for me. This only happens in this part of my life. I’m totally trustworthy when it comes to fitness. I know I will work out hard and eat well and only indulge in moderation. And I’ve been married for 17 years and I’m committed to staying so even though it can be hard work sometimes. But with my career, I get stuck so easily, and honestly, I’m tired of it.
Here’s what I know: I want meaningful work. I want to leave a positive mark on my little corner of the world. And here’s something else I know, I believe in life coaching and equine-facilitated coaching. This is work that I’m passionate about, work that’s meaningful and powerful, work that ticks all my boxes for what a job should be. Yet the fear of not being able to push through the hard stuff to get it going threatens to stop me in my tracks. In that moment of self discovery, I felt so vulnerable and maybe a little ashamed. However, at the same time, I felt like I had opened a box inside myself, exposing this ugly nugget of resistance that I had denied was even there. Now that I see it, I can smash it. As I say so often in my life coaching sessions, awareness is always the first step.
I would’ve been more embarrassed about my meltdown if my coach hadn’t been so kind and so skillful at holding the space for me to work through that explosion of self doubt. But she was, and I worked through it and I’m better because of it...one more testament to the power of coaching.
Here’s what I’ve done as a result of that conversation:
-I sat down and pushed through the stuff I was hesitating to do out of fear or doubt. I found a place--an awesome place!--to do the equine work and I had the conversation around facility and horse fees. And guess what, it wasn’t so bad.
-I settled on a name and worked with an artist to create a logo.
-I defined my rates and put them on paper. Again, not so bad.
-I found an insurance policy. This was another small obstacle that I had made into a huge wall, but once I sat down and just did it, I stepped over the wall and moved on.
-I’ve started waking up earlier to write. I was already waking up early to meditate and keep a gratitude journal, but now I’ve added 15 minutes of writing. I listened to a podcast that recommended this. Just start a little bit of whatever creative endeavor you haven’t been making time for, and you will unlock a part of yourself that would’ve stayed shut up otherwise. Sometimes I write blog entries; sometimes I work on a coach yourself workbook I’m writing; sometimes I toy around with marketing materials. I’ve only been doing this for a couple weeks but I’ve written pages that I wouldn’t have gotten done while sleeping. And it’s getting easier to just write each morning, even when I don't feel like it.
-I’ve started to mind my mind, especially when I come up against resistance. I know what I want to do and I know how important it is to me. When I start to make excuses or feel those fears, I take note and I ask myself, “Now what is this all about?” That simple pause and question does wonders. Just noticing my attempts to self-sabotage (and we all have them) takes the power away and allows me to reroute my thoughts to more productive ones.
-Most importantly, I’ve started doing the equine-facilitated work. I’ve had a few clients. Even though I know I have a lot to learn, I’m doing it. And I love it, just as I love working with my current life coaching clients.
My trust in myself to get the job done is not where I want it to be, but I’m building it. From that moment when I felt so exposed and brittle, I have grown and changed and come out stronger. As uncomfortable as it felt to face that truth about myself, it opened up a door to a different way of being, and I have walked through it. So when you come up against a moment like that, try not to resist it. Feel the discomfort and ask yourself, “Now what is this all about?” Lean into the answer and really allow yourself to learn and grow.