Naming an Obstacle

I’ve been thinking more about the creative relabeling I brought up last time, when I talked about reframing ADHD as Big Wild Super Power.

I was reminded of a key tenet of the coaching I do — anything that’s true, an opposite is also true — when someone in my life emailed to tell me her son is currently being diagnosed for ADHD, and for them, having a label for something that has been an ongoing challenge is a relief.

Ah! It’s so true. Sometimes it can be freeing to find a name for a problem. And though it’s the opposite of what I was saying, it’s the flip side of the same reality: labels are powerful tools that we can use to change our experience of the world.

It can be powerful to reframe a bad situation as an exciting one. And it can also be powerful to put a name on something that is frustrating and challenging, to say out loud what isn’t working, what needs changing, what SUCKS.

And in the same way that praise can actually make you feel worse, giving a nice fuzzy sweet name to something that SUCKS can feel like avoidance, like sugarcoating, like bypassing.

Say you’re on a grand hero’s quest, and suddenly you come upon a raging river blocking your path. To continue, you will need to cross it. Calling it a stream and blithely stepping in will not help you cross it — in fact, it could be harmful. You need to give the obstacle in front of you a name that fits the challenge it offers. Maybe you sit for a while, watching the river. Maybe someone else walks up and tells you, oh they call that the River of Peril. You would be wise to listen to this name, as you prepare yourself for the arduous task of stepping into it.

Today my creative challenge for you is: give a name to an obstacle you are facing.

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Sit with your problem for a few moments. Let yourself feel it without pushing back, and see what name arises for what you’re feeling. Maybe a name already exists for this condition.

I have high blood pressure.

I am experiencing mom guilt.

This is my white privilege talking. 

Maybe it doesn’t, and you want to create one. Maybe the name that exists doesn’t fit what you’re experiencing, and you want to change it.

This isn’t morning sickness, it’s all day all night sickness.

This is not an awkward situation, it’s sexual harrassment. 

I am not a rockstar, I am burned out.

You could go deeper, and write down all your associations with the problem, then see what images, rhymes or alliterations appear and give those associations a name.

I’ve been trying to put into words the particular pain of watching your kid struggle with a thing you struggle with. Here’s my attempt to name it:

Associations:

Tantrums
Hearing my words come out of his mouth
Sinking feeling
Face drop 
Mirroring
Flashbacks
See his pain, feel pain
Ghost pain, phantom limb

Name: phantom parent pain?

This is close… I feel like a better one is around the corner of my unconscious but it’s a starting point.

What are yours? Feel free to share in the comments or on Instagram.

(And of course, as always… if you want some support as you name the obstacles in your path, you can schedule a free dreamtalk with me…)

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Give attention to the thing you’re embarrassed about

Hello from the other side of newborn mountain! Or in the middle of it? I’m not sure but I can tell you that this ridiculous bundle of sunshine is 2.5 months old.

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I’ve got a lot to tell you about my birth experience and maternity leave (or as I have been calling it, my artist residency in motherhood) but first I thought I’d share this creative exercise that came to me yesterday.

I made a video about it here (co-starring my newest collaborator, River Rowan Helma-Walters) or you can read on below if you’re more of a visual/verbal processor.


I had a quick idea for an exercise today and I wanted to share it with you while it’s fresh in my mind. Here’s the context behind it: so I was walking my son, Waylon, in to summer camp this morning, and I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in the window and had one of those classic moments of, ewwww, this shirt does not fit me well, my belly looks kind of weird… etc etc…  

Anyway, I continued on my way and hugged Waylon goodbye and passed the window again on my way out, and had a reflexive cringe as I saw my reflection again. And then I thought, hold on, hold on: why am I feeling embarrassed?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last four years, it’s that when I feel embarrassed about something, whether it’s physical or emotional or otherwise – it’s a good idea to slow down and pay attention to that feeling.

So I noticed that feeling of embarrassment and took a second to ask myself, hey, why am I feeling like I should hide my belly? Why am I feeling some shame here?

And then I thought, What if  decided to I flaunt it instead?

So I did. Instead of tucking it in and folding my body inward, I took a deep breath and stuck my belly out. And you know what? My embarrassment dissolved.

And that’s basically the exercise: take something you’re hiding, and try flaunting it. If there’s something you feel as a flaw, ask yourself, what would it feel like to show this off? And give yourself two minutes, whether it’s alone in your bedroom or out in the world, to do that.

This is especially potent to try on your belly, because man, the belly is such a loaded body part. I’ve heard it from so many women I know, this shame around having a tummy, like it’s not okay, it’s repulsive. Unless you’re pregnant, and then it’s gorgeous. Both times I’ve been pregnant it’s been striking how much love and admiration and worship is lavished onto my belly from other people. People encourage you to flaunt it! They want you to show it off, they compliment it, they ask to touch it. Some people find this intrusive, but I find it kind of lovely, this loving attention given to something that doesn’t usually get attention.

And then immediately after the baby is born, BAM – the exact same part of your body is suddenly NOT cute, it does not get any attention and if it does, it’s shameful. The worst insult a woman can hear is someone asking if she’s pregnant when she’s not, right? Oh god, the horror!

Why is this belly so horrifying when there’s not a baby, why is it no longer beautiful now that it’s just my body?

So the exercise for me is to pretend my belly is just as beautiful without a baby inside it, to act proud of it, to show it off the same way I did when I was five months pregnant.

I encourage you to join me in drawing attention to whatever body part you’re embarrassed about and giving it some love. Give attention to the thing you’re embarrassed about. This is like a Daniel Tiger song! Give attention to the thing you’re embarrassed about. Just give it some attention, that’s all I’m saying. This applies to physical parts of your life and also to the emotional things, which is trickier. Or maybe it isn’t! You could pretend it’s not trickier.

Anyway, that’s me reporting to you from my artist residency in motherhood, with creative ideas inspired by my own body and my own life, that I hope speak to you, in your body, in your life. I wish you well on your artistic journey and navigating the world in all it’s complexities and violence and joys, I hope you’re finding solace amidst the chaos.

Express Yourself: come up with an imaginary project

Lately I am feeling even more fired up than usual about awakening our collective creativity.

Maybe it’s because every day I talk to someone who shudders at the thought of dancing or singing in public.

Maybe it’s because our president wants to cut the NEA. (Not to mention Meals on Wheels).

Maybe it’s because arts funding in our country is already so laughable.

Maybe it’s because our education system — which in most places has bare bones arts education, if they have any at all — is gearing up to be gutted even more.

Maybe it’s because our national narrative, going back to the Puritans, is that artistic expression is a waste of time and money, a whimsical luxury, something that has nothing to do with survival or real life. And that’s a narrative that is powerful, one that most of us have internalized. I know I have. I catch myself dismissing art all the time. I don’t have time for that. There are more important things to do. Even though I know art has been essential to my survival and my growth and my health.

I can’t help but think there is a link between the scorn so many people feel for art, and the fear so many people have of expressing themselves creatively.

So, I’m feeling the pull to step up my efforts. I truly feel that every single human being has the capability to dance and sing and draw and write and tell the story of their life — and if you shy away from any of these things, it’s because somewhere along the line, someone made you feel not good enough to do it. That you should be ashamed of your natural expression. That the way your body moved was wrong, somehow, or the way your hand drew a line was too shaky,or the sound of your voice too grating, or the way you formed words too slow.

And I say this not to shame anyone further — we all have our fears, and they are worthy of our respect — but to counter that shame with some encouragement. You are a human being with a body and a voice and an imagination and the ability to use tools. You don’t need to deprive yourself of the great pleasure of using them.

It’s not something you can overcome with a snap of the fingers, I know. Hey, stop being afraid to sing! It’s not that easy. But if you are feeling silly or sheepish or small today, know that you are not alone, and it is possible to overcome your fear, and you have the capability to shine and shimmy and kick ass. You have the right to express yourself.

(My inner trolls are telling me right now that I am laying this on a little thick. Who do you think you are? Nobody cares about your encouragement! Oh, trolls. Don’t you see that this pep talk is 97% to myself? And if I could use encouragement, isn’t it possible that someone else could too?)

Well, if that someone is you, here is a video I made, a mini-lesson on one of the themes I cover in my creative magic workout:


… IF YOU DON’T LIKE WATCHING VIDEOS, HERE IS THE TEXT …

I’m going to share an exercise with you. I call this, imaginary creative project. We’re going to come up with a creative project, just for fun – and we’re going to dream up how we MIGHT pursue it if we WERE going to make it happen – and we’re going to take out any pressure or stress or critical mind shut-downs by telling our subconscious mind that this is for pretend, it’s not for real.

(Don’t tell your subconscious this, but by doing it like this, we might trick ourselves into actually doing it in the real world).

So right now, I want you to get some paper and a pen, close your eyes and take a deep breath. I’m going to play some contemplative music, and I’d like you to think about what you want more of in your life.

What are you craving? What fascinates you? What are you wishing for?

Ask these questions, but don’t try to answer them. Sit with them, and let your hand start to draw on the paper in front of you. Don’t open your eyes, just draw whatever you feel like drawing as you ask yourself those questions.

What am I craving? What fascinates me? What am I wishing for? What do I want more of?

If any words come to you, jot those down too, along with whatever you’re doodling. They don’t have to make sense, you don’t have to understand them, just let your hand draw and write what it wants. I’m going to let you do that for the next 30 seconds, and if you want to spend more time doing this I totally encourage you to do that, and you can just pause the video and start it up when you’re done.

Now open your eyes and look at what you drew and wrote. If you’re like me, it’s probably a ridiculous inscrutable diagram – but just for fun, let’s look at it and see how we could make it into a project. It might take a while, and there’s no rush. See if any patterns emerge.

 

For me, I drew a lot of circles and wavy lines, and I can make out the words magic, carpet, water, connection, elephants, sleep, Beyonce, fruit. Hmm. I guess I can see a pattern, maybe a desire to feel more connected to my dreams at night, to remember them and spend time thinking about them? (I’m leaving out elephants and Beyonce at the moment).

So how might I make this into a project? Here are four things I consider when I’m making something into a project – four things that take it out of the ether of my imagination and root it in the real world:

  1. Give it a name

In my case, I could call it the Dream Recording project.

  1. Make space and time for practicing it

What does practicing look like for my project? How can I include elements I wrote and drew into that?

For my Dream Recording project, I could keep a notebook by my bed and every morning, jot down impressions of dreams. Then twice a week I could schedule in some time to look over what I’ve written and do some freewriting to see if I can recall more about what I dreamed, and what I think it means. I could eat fruit while I do this to make it more enticing, and drink sparkling water.

See how we start to get practical here? We take these amphibious desires and start finding ways to anchor them, to practice them in our daily lives. So for me, that means I am going to schedule time twice a week, for fifteen minutes after I drop my son off at school and before I start working. I will make sure I have fruit and sparkling water with me and sit down to do my magical dreamwriting time.

Now remember: this is still imaginary! I’m not saying I am actually going to start doing this. But if I were going to, that’s what I could do.

  1. Find a way to share it with people

This can be as simple as deciding to tell people. I could tell people, I’ve started writing down my dreams every morning. I could ask them what they’ve been dreaming about. Or I could get all social media and post every day on facebook, here’s what I dreamed today, #dreamfruitproject. Or I could say, at the end of the month I’m going to throw a dream party and invite people over to talk about their dreams.

  1. Set up deadlines

This can sound scary, and part of me always balks at doing this – but all it means is, I’m setting things up to make it easy for me to do this for real. it would be easy for me to say, this is a fun project – and then never do it. but what are the actions I could take that would make it easy and inevitable for me to do this for real?

In my case – it could be as simple as saying, every week when I go grocery shopping, I will make sure I’m buying enough fruit and sparkling water for the week. Special things for me to consume during dream recording time. That also builds in some incentive for me to use them up, so they don’t go to waste.

If it’s a deadline that fills you with dread or takes all the fun out of this project, drop it. but if it gives you a thrill of excitement that scares you a little bit, that’s fantastic.

So I’d like you to do this. Come up with a name for a project, think up some ways you could practice it in your daily life, find a way to start talking about it, and see if there are some simple deadlines you could set for yourself.

And remember: this is all imaginary. This is just for fun. You are under no obligation to go do any of this. But here is the sneaky part: now that you’ve got this project in mind and some ways to make it easy to do, why not give it a shot? For myself, I had no intention of starting a dream recording project before I started this video, but now that I’ve said it out loud to you, it sounds like a great idea, it sounds fun and I think I might try it for a week and see what happens. I encourage you to do this too. Why not try it for a week?

Good luck to you out there. (And if you want to go deeper into coming up with creative projects to bring more joy and connection and fun into your life, this is what we spend six weeks doing in the  Creative Magic Workout. Join us!)

The kind of magic I believe in

Two weeks ago, I finished up the first round of my new solo show / creative expedition. It was incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, which is funny, because at every step along the way, I had doubts about its worthiness as a project and my ability to pull it off.

I can’t tell you how many times I almost cancelled it. And each time, the question came down to — is the risk that this will be a disaster a risk I’m willing to take?

And each time — BARELY — my answer was yes. So I did it. And lo and behold: it was not a disaster. It was wonderful! We performed a ‘What If’ spell to imagine a world where we have what we want. We named the trolls in the room and charmed them into helping us. We summoned champions and felt their energy. We dissolved toxic spells and enacted an ‘As If’ spell to imagine ourselves engaged in a beloved community.

Someone asked me after the show: well, do you believe in magic?

I was a little taken aback, because to me there’s no question. Are my feelings not clear? Am I communicating something subconsciously, some doubt, some deep lingering hesitation?

But then again, the reason I am working on a show about believing in magic, the reason I’m building a creative workout program around it, is because I frequently forget about it.

It’s easy to find yourself lost in a fog of forgetfulness about what magic feels like and how it works. To feel adrift, floating along at the mercy of elements you don’t understand or control.

For me, when I’m lost in that fog, the way back to magic is through magic. It’s like self care: when I get busy or tired or stressed out, I stop taking care of myself, stop paying attention to my self-talk, stop drinking enough water, give in to the desire to eat starbursts instead of eating actual fruit. I stop drawing self-portraits in my daily dream journal. I forget how important it is to check in with my friends.

And it starts to feel all or nothing. It starts to feel like what is required to get me back into alignment with myself is something huge and insurmountable. When in fact, the way in is through small gestures, small tokens, small footsteps. One drink of water! One drink of water is all it takes for my body to remember what being refreshed feels like. One text to a friend is all it takes to set a time to get together over coffee. Five minutes of sitting with a pen and a blank page of my dream journal is all it takes to draw a self portrait and feel that rush of recognition. Five minutes of walking outside to give all my attention to a tree is all it takes to see some magic at work.

Does that sound silly? I am serious: go outside right now and look at a tree. Or a plant or a flower or a bug. You start to notice things you didn’t see before. And in that noticing, magic starts to creep back in, possibility creeps back in. The awareness that the world is much bigger than you can imagine creeps back in.

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The key for me is this: magic isn’t a THING. You don’t snap your fingers and it’s there, easy to digest. It’s not a pill or a trick or a simple set of directions. It’s a state we can enter, an energy we can feel and a power we can sense.

 

It’s a process and a practice. Magic is both what we are trying to summon, and the way to summon it.

For me, for many years, the practice took the form of live theatre, which uses all the elements of true magic: you create a space. You dim the lights. You invite people to sit in silence. And then you enact a ritual within that silence. You spellbind. You cast spells together. You tell stories. You take people on a journey in their mind.

These days I’m still fascinated with these tools, and with what we can do with them, in or outside of the theatre.

Because I know that in my life – incredible things have happened since I’ve switched the focus of my creative work.

I’ve talked before (here and here and here) about the radical change that came about when I stopped thinking of my life as a vehicle for my creative projects, and instead turned my life into a creative project.

The transition into motherhood 3.5 years ago was a rough one for me, and in order to find my footing, I had to use all the creative tools I could think of to survive. I drew pictures. I wrote poems. I wandered into a zumba class down the street from my house. I made up little songs to sing to my baby son to try (vainly) to get him to sleep.

All these things helped me survive, and the big surprise was, I came out of the transition stronger. For the first time since I was maybe 9 years old, I felt comfortable in my skin. I felt comfortable with my taste and with voicing my ideas, no matter how corny or naïve or half baked they might be. Because for the first time, I wasn’t pursuing them to please or placate or impress anyone but myself.

Since then I’ve become passionate about helping other people do this, because I’ve become more and more aware of how desperately we all need creative work, and how little room we’re given to pursue it. When you’re left to your own devices, it can be hard to pursue – because as soon as you do, trolls start jumping out from under bridges and dragons rise up out of your nightmares to frighten you out of your wits. There are a million ways to sedate that creative urge and not many ways to step into it.

So to answer my friend’s question: that is the kind of magic I believe in. The magic of the creative urge, and what happens when you follow it. It’s there if you start looking for it. It’s there if you take one small step towards it.

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(And if you want to join a Creative Magic Workout, we still have open spots! Heed the call, friend).

Giving (and taking) advice from your past self

A creative exercise for freeing yourself from panic, stress and overwhelm

You can watch the video –or– read through the steps below.

I don’t know about you, but I frequently find myself in the grip of panic and stress, especially lately. When there are overwhelming things happening in the world and it feels like there’s nothing you can do, try this:

  1. First, take a deep breath. I like to put my hand somewhere on my body, like on my forehead or over my heart. Somewhere that feels like a loving touch.
  1. Think back to a moment when you most recently felt overwhelmed by stress. Could be five minutes ago, could be last night. Put yourself back there.
  1. Notice everything around you in that moment – the air, the sounds, the smells, what you see, who is with you, what you’re wearing, what you’re saying. You might notice your body now in this moment feeling the sensations that you felt then, and that’s okay. Remind yourself that you’re here now, and you’re noticing those feelings without judgment. Only noticing them and feeling them.
  1. Take a deep breath, and send love to yourself in that moment. Without thinking of what you’d like to change, without judgment, send love and support. The way you would to a friend you love dearly.

Shake it off! Now we’re going to widen our focus.

  1. Think back to a moment ten years ago, a moment that caused you great stress or panic or overwhelm. Put yourself back in that moment when you’re consumed by stress, and look around. Where are you? Who is with you? What are you doing? What sounds do you hear, what do you smell? Are you throwing a tantrum? Are you yelling, are you crying? If it’s overwhelming to you now to put yourself back in that moment, remind yourself that you’re only noticing what you were feeling then, and you can always pull yourself back.
  1. Ask yourself: what do you see now that you couldn’t see then? How do you see the situation differently now? What advice would you give yourself then, knowing what you know now? What would have been helpful to hear? What did you need? Grab some paper and write it down.
  1. Take a breath, and send deep love to yourself in that moment ten years ago. Let her know you love her and believe in her, and you know she’s going to make it.
  1. Bring yourself back to the present moment. Look at the advice you wrote down. Does any of it apply to your current situation, to the thing that has most recently caused you stress? Can you take some of that advice now?
  1. Open yourself up to guidance and love and support from yourself ten years from now. Imagine she is sitting somewhere sending you a breath of deep love. Accept it, and open up to whatever she might know that you don’t know in this situation right now.

And remember:

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You are very brave!

 

 

What stands between you & what you want?

It’s a simple question: what do you want?

But in my experience, for women especially, it’s not simple at all.

Even SAYING what we want – to ourselves, in our minds – is difficult.

Try it right now. Ask yourself what you want. I just did it and my brain’s first reaction was to freeze up and go blank.

Then it did a little dance and said, Aghhhhh I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know!

And once I took a few deep breaths and encouraged my little brain to calm down – this isn’t a test, no one will judge you for saying to yourself what you want, you can always change your mind – it admitted that what it wants right now is to lie down in bed and watch Atlanta.

See? There. I admitted what I want.

So once you say what you want, ask yourself this: what stands in the way of what I want?

And then write down the reasons. It’s important to write them down – if you try to do this in your head, you’ll go down all sorts of rabbit holes and tangents and get lost and forget the question.

So write a list.

Here’s mine – why can’t I lie down in bed and watch Atlanta right now?

I’ve got too much work to do
I’m not at home
If I stopped working and went home, that would make me lazy
Too many other things going on
Watching TV isn’t good for me

OK. So you’ve got your reasons. Now turn the list over and ask yourself a third question: what elements of what I want are already happening?

In my case – I am not lying down in bed watching Atlanta. But I’m thinking about doing it, which makes me smile. I’m setting the intention to watch it later tonight when I get home – it’s settling deep into my bones. I’m savoring the moment when I can drop everything and chill out. I’m making the decision to allow myself space and time for that.

Try it yourself and see what comes up for you.

To recap, here are the three questions to ask yourself:

  1. What do I want?
  2. What stands in the way of what I want? (Write the reasons down)
  3. What about what I want is already happening?

There are all sorts of variations on this. You could give yourself two minutes of silence to sit with each question. Instead of writing, you could draw the reasons. Or you could go on a walk while asking yourself each question.


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And if you would like to do this in the company of others – it’s so much more powerful that way! – you have one week to join this fall’s incarnation of the Creative Workout Group.

Registration is open now. It starts Monday October 24. We meet for six weeks. This is a live in-person class (those of you not in Portland: I want to do an online version of this someday!)

It’s an experiment in asking ourselves what we want, then diving into that question, creatively. Think of it like going to yoga every week (or zumba, or pilates, or water babies). It’s a workout for your brain, body and imagination. It keeps your mind and body aligned and it’s also fun. And it costs about the same as a yoga class.

You don’t have to train or prepare or get ready ahead of time. If it calls out to you, you’re ready. Show up, and we’ll take it from there.

My daily ritual for centering & questioning

This is my daily ritual.

It’s not set in stone. And I don’t do it every day.

But when I do, my day goes smoother, my life feels grounded and my sense of humor is quick to the draw.

And when I don’t, my frustrations snare me quicker, my doubts creep in faster and life feels overwhelming.

Funny: knowing that, you’d think that when I start to feel overwhelmed, this ritual would be the first thing I turn to.

But often if I’m overwhelmed it’s too late — I am deep in forgetful mode.

I forget that my daily ritual will help.

I forget that it’s not hard to do.

I forget that life is one thing at a time, one moment at a time.

I forget that the past is the past and the future is the future and both exist mostly in my imagination.

I forget that no matter what is going on I have the power, right now, to take a breath and listen to my body, my mind, my voice.

I forget to listen to that little voice that says, hey, when’s the last time you checked in with me? Why did you stop doing your morning ritual?

For a while, anyway. Until I slow down enough to hear it, and listen to what it’s telling me.

That’s why I try to do this every day. So I can keep from getting to that overwhelmed, stressed out, frustrated place. Because it seems so small but doing my ritual for five minutes every day is what keeps me grounded, calm and light on my feet.

I’m calling it MY RITUAL like it’s a big fancy thing but my ritual is basically just taking deep breaths, listening to my thoughts and sitting with them.

I do this different ways depending on my mood. I can sit in a quiet spot, or go for a walk and do it on my feet. I can end with 2 minutes of dancing to Cyndi Lauper. I can write down words I want to remember in sharpie and stick them on my wall. But it usually goes something like this:

  • Stop what you’re doing
  • Put your hand on your heart
  • Close your eyes
  • Take 3 deep breaths
  • Ask yourself: what is stressing you out?
  • Write down one thought that is stressing you out
  • Breathe with that thought and let some questions in. Don’t fix it, don’t solve it. Sit with it and let questions come: is it true? How do you know? Are you sure?

And honestly, if all you do is the first four steps, that is the most important part. Giving yourself a moment to take three deep breaths with your hand on your heart. Trust me: spending a moment doing this will get you so much more than two minutes of scanning the New York Times or scrolling through Facebook.

I’d love to hear what your daily rituals are! And if you don’t have one, steal mine, or make one up yourself.

 

 

How to brag without sounding like a douchebag

I have a question for you. If I asked you to brag about yourself right now, what would you say? I imagine you would react by freezing up and mumbling and not doing a very good job. And you are not alone! Most of us find it difficult to brag. (By us I mean women, but if any of you dudes find it hard, this is for you too).

I’ve been thinking about why it’s difficult, and I think it’s this tension: on the one hand we want to feel respected and appreciated, to be seen as powerful. And on the other hand, we don’t want to sound like douchebags. We don’t want to bullshit people. It feels uncomfortable to make a claim about yourself that someone could knock down.

I have an exercise I use to get myself in a headspace to talk about my achievements without feeling that creeping horror of “they’re all gonna laugh at you” – one that helps me talk about my achievements without making it all about me. It’s a simple idea:

  1. Write down 3 of the hardest things you’ve ever done
  2. For each one, ask yourself: what was hard? What did you learn?
  3. Say it out loud: My name is [insert name], and I [did this hard thing]

That’s it! No elaboration required – you just SAY OUT LOUD THE HARD THINGS YOU’VE DONE. You aren’t lying or bullshitting. You are stating the facts, and sharing your growth, and letting whoever is listening draw their own conclusions.

I’ll show you what’s on my list. Off the top of my head, here are 3 hard things I’ve done:

  • I gave birth to my son after 44 hours of labor.
  • When I was 22, I moved to Oregon with my best friend. We had no plan, barely enough money and only knew one person out here.
  • 12 years ago, I took a show to Poland with my theatre company. We performed in many crazy situations, the craziest of which was doing the show in an open field at sunset while the set caught fire and burned down around us.

So let’s look at that last one. What was hard? It was grueling. I put myself in some dangerous situations. We could have died. It was scary. What did I learn? How to keep calm when the world (or set) is crashing down around you.  How to dodge fire. How to think on my feet. That I could handle the worst case scenario. And after that, performing onstage without fire seemed like no big deal.

From this, I can put together a pretty good brag. Like this:

I am Faith Helma, I worked for 15 years as performance artist. I made 20 shows. I performed in some crazy situations. Once I did a whole show while the set burned down around me. Two years ago, I hatched an idea to channel that creative energy into a coaching business. And instead of dismissing that idea, I took it seriously, and now I am running this business. I am failing and learning every single day. And I am being honest about my failures which scares the shit out of me but you know what? One thing you learn when you are performing a show while the set burns down around you is how to keep calm, how to think on your feet, and how to dodge fire. 

So now it’s your turn! Go through the steps, dig deep into what you’ve overcome in your life, and practice saying it out loud. And then if you’re up for an extra challenge: see if you can sneak it into conversation with another human being.

p.s. I wrote about this topic over a year ago, here: BOASTING PRACTICE . Back then I shared clips from two masters of the boast, Nicki Minaj and Muhammad Ali. Both of them start with something hard they did — making stupid mistakes when starting out, getting knocked down in fights — and spin that out into some righteous, braggadocious poetry.

 

Playtime with my inner critics (a lesson in failure)

OK. So part of this experiment I’m running called my business is making a practice of being honest. I may not always shout it from the rooftops — sometimes I want to hide, and there’s no shame in hiding — but I’m owning my truth and living transparently.

So here is the deal. I put together a workshop called Playtime with Your Inner Critic. I showed up tonight to lead the workshop. And nobody else showed up.

That’s tough. But the bright side is, I had planned to lead a group through exercises in turning your critical energy around and playing with it — so I am well prepared for the critical thoughts that I am now having. And I’m in a beautiful room with big paper and markers and all the tools I need to work through my critical thoughts.

So I might as well share that process. A virtual workshop, in a way. A workshop of one.

First, I am going to write down what sucks about this situation.

  • I suck at promoting workshops
  • I suck at picking one thing and repeating it. I’m pretty sure if I’d picked one workshop topic a year ago and did that once a month for a year, people wouldn’t be so confused about what I’m doing and when and why.

What is the opposite of those things, that is also true?

  • I am great at hiding out. I am great at bursts of inspiration at the last minute. I am great at under-promising and over-delivering.

I mean, I really did have a great two hour workshop planned:

  • I am great at offering wildly divergent things. I am great at improvising and never doing something the same way twice.
  • Maybe I could find a way to offer that wildly divergent zone regularly. Would anyone show up for that? Maybe if people knew SOME of the why and what, and if the when and where was always the same, it would be clear enough to stick.

Let’s go deeper into my frustrations with this situation

  • I’ve been through this before
  • I knew this would happen
  • I’m tired of this pattern
  • I feel embarrassed: where are my fans, where is my momentum?

Have there been things that did not follow this pattern?

The answer is: yes. And ironically, the events that I’ve had the most success promoting in the past are my failure workshops. Two questions arise:

  • Do I want to lead a regular workshop on failure?
  • Would I have come to this workshop today, if I weren’t leading it?

I think the answer to both is: no. I love my failure practice workshops — but I don’t want to lead them every month. I want something bigger, more open — I want failure to be part of what I’m leading us through, but not the only framework.

And if I weren’t leading this workshop tonight, I am pretty sure I would have found an excuse to not come, because the idea of dealing with my inner critics when I’m tired and cranky and hungry does not appeal to me. (Oof! This is hard to admit, but it’s true).

So what IS the workshop that I would drag my lazy ass out of the house to attend every month?

As soon as I ask this, 3 ideas pop into my head. Ideas that are open enough for me to go wild but have a simple structure that speaks to a clear need (I think). I have no idea if anyone else would like these, but I know I would.

I’m getting too heady, so I take a break to draw my critic

This is Beebee Eye Roller, rolling her eyes at all this WACKINESS which she is sure everyone will think is SO STUPID.

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BeeBee Eye Roller is basically 15 year old me, frozen in time. (Wearing a weird hat and with yarn for hair). And I’m making light of this, but I also want to say: her concern comes from a real place. Her fear of humiliation is real. I can still remember the fear I felt in high school — so don’t think I’m not taking Beebee seriously. It’s just that, I’m 38 years old now, and I am wearing a unicorn shirt, and a headband, and taking selfies of myself jumping in the air, and what’s the worst that could happen?

Then I put on Cyndi Lauper and we dance it out

I dance like I am Beebee Eye Roller and no one is watching.

I dance like I am a ballerina even though I am not.

I dance with white girl abandon even though my greatest fear is dancing like a white girl.

And I am going to share the video I took with you, even though I promised Beebee we wouldn’t share it.

She thinks it is a TERRIBLE idea. Actually what she thinks is something like this: This is not how you run a business. Who would ever hire you to do anything based on this video? Oh my god you are going to embarrass yourself.

An opposite which I can also find a way to believe is: This is an inspired way to run a business, one that other inspired lunatics will respond to. I would love anyone who hired me based on this video.

So here it is:

Oh yeah, and here are the 3 ideas for future workshops:

  1. Dance with your monsters, critics and fears: a hilarious dance party with our monster selves. I bring a playlist that takes us on an hour-long journey and throw out prompts to inspire us to dance with our monster energy.
  2. Failure storytelling circle: share stories about your mistakes and messes, get practice bragging about them instead of hiding them, and get active backup and support from the group for doing hard things.
  3. Big crazy idea clinic: bring your big crazy idea and we’ll brainstorm ways you could make it happen. (You can bring in ideas you think are terrible or would never work and we’ll still give it our best shot. All ideas are taken seriously.)

I would love to know which (if any) of these you would come to.

How to turn self-criticism around

To continue in the vein I started down earlier in the week, I thought I’d share one thing I do when I find myself in a firestorm of self-criticism (like the one I was in last Friday). It can come on you so suddenly, can’t it? That’s why it’s important to be aware of your own signals — because you are the only one who can tell when your body is slipping over from “I’m a little hungry” to “EAT NOW,” or from “I’m not feeling so great,” to “I HAVE A HORRIBLE CASE OF THE FLU,” or from “That didn’t go so well” to “I AM A MISERABLE FAILURE.” Because when you catch yourself at the first signs, it’s easier to turn it around gently.

In other words, try not to do what I did — try to catch the signs before the storm is raging around you. But you know what? That is another thing I have to remind myself of all the time — that this is not a game of self-evolution, not a thing to win or do once and be done. This is something we are working on all the time. It’s an ecosystem, with checks and balances and weather systems that fluctuate.

So. Here is how I pulled myself out of the frenzy:

STEPS TO REVERSE THE SELF CRITICISM

Step 1: Write down what your inner critics are saying

Here’s what mine were saying last week: 

  1. You’ve got too much to do
  2. You wasted your day AGAIN
  3. You can’t get this right
  4. You are a stressful person
  5. You suck at managing time
  6. You made a mess of it
  7. This always happens  (this = trying to do too many things
  8. You can’t get anything done
  9. You couldn’t even do ONE thing right today!
  10. WTF is wrong with you

Step 2: Make a list of things that are the opposite of that (and that also feel true)

Here were some opposites that felt true to me, and/or made me laugh out loud:

  1. You have just the right amount of things to do.
  2. You did good work today
  3. You can get this right
  4. You are a calming person. You want to help people.
  5. You suck at wasting time. You could be better at it.
  6. You get too focused on organizing
  7. This does not always happen
  8. You can get things done
  9. You did lots of things right today
  10. WTF is not wrong with you. Why the fuck is nothing wrong with you?

Step 3: Read that list out loud