Bragging Mad Libs

As I said in my last post, it takes a lot of ENERGY to own your power – to express your life’s journey with confidence – to brag.

Know what else takes a lot of energy? Creative expression. It takes time and effort to sit down and draw, to get up and dance.

But creative expression also GIVES a lot of energy. You sit down to draw and suddenly, hours have gone by and you’ve been wholly absorbed in the colors and lines and shapes of what you are creating, and your brain is sparking. You spend an hour dancing like crazy and you end up working out harder than if you’d gone to the gym, but you feel like you could keep going for hours.

Bragging works that way too: it takes energy to stand up and say, this is my story, this is my strength, here I am. But when you do it, you feel the energy flooding in. This is who I am. BOOM. YES. This is who I am.

This is why I encourage you to practice bragging – because you can feel the effects right away.

Here is a super quick and easy way to practice right now – bragging mad libs! Fill in the blank and see what comes up for you.

I like to write down the first thing that comes to mind, even if it doesn’t make sense.

Because if I stop to think, I’ll get stuck and my trolls will want to get in on the action, and then I’ll start wanting to get it right, and then there’s no hope. You can’t brag if you’re trying to be perfect.

Though (as with most things) the opposite is also true: you could also sit with this, testing it out, seeing what comes to you over time.

If you want, make up your own mad libs! I take inspiration from the king, Muhammad Ali, and also from musical divas, country queens and classic rock gods. Here are some lines you could play with:

I’m so mean I make medicine sick

I’m so fast I can turn out the light and be in bed before it’s dark

Here I am, rock me like a hurricane

I’m a loser baby so why don’t you kill me

I was born a coal miner’s daughter, in a cabin on a hill in butcher’s holler

I’m the sister of a hellraiser, the daughter of an old tomcat, I was playin’ the piano in a honky-tonk before you bragged about that (I just heard an interview with rock and roller Linda Gail Lewis which is where I heard that line!)

So easy to turn them into fill-in-the-blank brags:

I’m so ___________ I make ________ __________

I’m so _______ I can _______ and ________ before it’s _________

Here I am, rock me like a ___________

I’m a ________ baby so why don’t you _____________

I was born a _______, in a ________ on a ________ in _________

I’m the sister of a _________, the daughter of a _________, I was _________ before you bragged about that

Try it! Jot some things down, and why not: speak them out loud.

WOO HOO! Do you feel a rush? Do you feel a thrill? That’s your power, baby.


If you want to do this with others in a safe environment for practicing space-claiming and power-proclaiming, you can sign up for my free webinar, DYNAMIC BRAG

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Glory In Excelsius

(Or, more thoughts on excellence)


Note: I wrote this a week ago in a moment of breezy triumph, and then the mess of life — in the form of my baby coming down with a fever for five days and caterwauling whenever I put him down for one moment, and then passing the fever on to me — got in the way of me taking that extra 5 minute step of posting it here. Ah! The glory of excellence and messiness intertwined…


I’ve been thinking more about excellence and what it means. If my version of excellence is not perfectionism, if it includes messiness, what is it?

Magic is mess and order

Let’s break it down, starting with the word mess

= fertile
= lost
= too much stuff
= overwhelming, avoiding
= piling = stockpiling = hoarding
= natural
= creative = destructive = generative
= fertile
= neverending
= comforting

And there are some parts of that I want to keep and some I’d like to move away from. What are the qualities of this thing around excellence that I want in my life?

I want…

= a well tended garden
= room to expand
= the right tools
= something manageable = a little chaos but not all chaos
= doing = diving in
= to put things away
= to get out tools, make a big mess, then clean up and put away
= enough space to make a mess
= to let things go
= the key to survival
= to tend to nature
= to tend to myself

And what I don’t like about excellence is this idea of the BEST or the FINEST or getting rated or ranked or lined up and compared. This is the greatest, this sucks, this is hot, this is not. Yuck.

I looked up the word EXCELLENT to see where it comes from.

Ex = outside, beyond

Cellence = Celsus = lofty, high

I remember the term “in excelsius” from some hymn… which one, does anyone know? It means higher, loftier, more elevated, ever upward. Glory to god in the highest.

So to be in excellence is to exist to the utmost degree, to be high, to be praised for being what you are to the greatest degree – to celebrate that quality and that desire and that process.

When Bill and Ted say, Excellent! — they are saying, this is in alignment, this works, this is how things should be. When they say, be excellent to each other, they mean, bring out the best in each other. Enjoy each other. Treat each other well.

My excellence encourages your excellence. When I see you being excellent, I want to be excellent too. Our mutual excellence is a game, a way of taking care of each other.

I want to fly high to the limits of my nature. Which also will mean, failing. Failing and flying are both included in excellence, two sides of the same process.

It is the opposite of calcifying.

It is the process of alchemy, of change, of evolution.

It is stretching and morphing and molting and figuring out what you are now in this moment, which is impossible to figure out, which is why it’s so fun.

Fun is not COMFORTABLE.

But it feels right.

You’re glad on some level.

Like when the toys are scattered everywhere

And cleaning them up will take a lot of work and you don’t FEEL like doing a lot of work, you’d rather go to bed

But you take a deep breath and you put them all away

And it only takes five minutes

And it will only last about five minutes

And when they are put away you look around and feel a surge of goodwill, of pride, of rightness, of clarity

And you make yourself a cup of tea instead of the beer you feel like reaching for

And you feel cozy and comforted and strong and healthy

As you close your eyes and drift off to sleep

In alignment with yourself and the universe

In this moment

That is excellent

May you be excellent to yourself this weekend! Let’s all be excellent to ourselves and each other.

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.

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

Are you being too hard on yourself?

I’ve been thinking today about why it’s so easy to be hard on yourself.

I hear it from women I talk to all the time, and I catch myself doing it too: getting tired, getting overwhelmed and suddenly finding myself caught in a frenzy of self-criticism.

In fact, on Friday AS I WAS COMPOSING THIS POST ABOUT BEING TOO HARD ON YOURSELF, I got sucked into a vortex of being too hard on myself.

Here’s the short version of what happened — see if you can relate: I was writing in MS word. At 2:00, after about an hour of writing, I was 99% finished, so I closed my laptop to head home, thinking I’d finish there and post it before driving to pick up my son from daycare.

But when I got home and opened my laptop — the document had disappeared.

Word hadn’t crashed, I hadn’t saved it somewhere weird — it was gone, as if I hadn’t written it. This was baffling. I started questioning my sanity — had I written it? And then my inner critics showed up in force.

They started saying things like, Oh god, this ALWAYS happens, you ran out of time again. You should have kept it simple instead of making it too big to pull off LIKE YOU ALWAYS DO. Why can’t you get one thing done like a normal person?

I used the exercise I talk about in my new workbook to identify and give a name to one of the critical voices in my mind. He’s Randolph the pencil sharpener shark and he’s constantly barking at me to be stronger, smarter, faster, better.

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Randolph was upset. And after doing some dialoguing with him over the weekend, it’s clear to me now what he is scared of: being left behind, being unprepared, being eaten by bigger sharks, being swallowed up by the world.

This morning, after looking back on the wreckage I abandoned on Friday, I started over.

And ironically, by giving up Friday afternoon and admitting things were a jumbled mess and I couldn’t fix them, and by letting myself go through the process of being hard on myself and then pulling myself out of it — I achieved what Randolph the pencil shark wants. I now am feeling more clarity about why I am too hard on myself, and when it happens, and how to get out of it (I’ll write more on that later!).

Anyway — that’s what’s going on in my world. If you are being too hard on yourself too — know that you are not alone.

With love from me, Randolph and my inner champion, Wild Coach Helma — here’s to growing and stretching and learning to go easy on ourselves.

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Announce a mistake in advance

I made a video as part of a new series I’m doing, Quick Tricks for Creative Living (note: I can’t decide if the name for this series sucks, so I might change it in the future*) (I’m already demonstrating the power of this exercise by announcing a potential mistake in advance!) 

These are short, easy exercises you can try as you’re going about your day, to help you diffuse obstacles, reframe expectations and engage creatively and proactively with the challenges life is throwing at you.

Today’s trick: ANNOUNCE A MISTAKE IN ADVANCE

I don’t know about you, but I hate making mistakes. I’m a recovering perfectionist and an oldest child so I get stuck in “if I’m not doing everything right I’m LETTING THE TEAM DOWN” narratives.

That’s why I was so delighted when someone in one of my workshops had this idea (as a way to deal with stress at work), to pre-emptively neutralize criticism by announcing what you might do wrong before you do it.

So say you’re stacking a bunch of onions in a display case. You would announce to everyone around you, “I am about to arrange these onions precariously so it’s impossible to take one out without sending them all rolling.”

When this idea first came up, we all cackled at the idea, and then had a blast thinking up examples.

I am about to awkwardly introduce myself to that woman over there.

Hold on, I need to try and parallel park and end up 3 feet away from the curb.

I am heading out to a meeting, and will take the most roundabout, least straightforward way and hopefully get stuck in traffic on the way.

The more examples we came up with, the more I started to think it might actually be a brilliant idea. So I’ve been trying it out since then, and without fail, it lightens the energy, relaxes the (self-imposed) pressure and more often than not, helps me to NOT make the mistake!

I’ll walk you through it here — give it a shot and let me know how it goes!


 

*UPDATE: I have indeed changed the name, it’s now Quick Ideas for Creative Action!

How to Fail, part 2

We had our workshop last Sunday and it was a great success. Meaning, we failed fantastically. Here are some of the things we did – and good news, you can try these at home.

WORST FEET FORWARD

We picked our least favorite body part, and instead of hiding it, we drew attention to it. (Interestingly, for most people the body part of choice was their belly. I know for me, it felt cathartic to stick my belly out instead of sucking it in, to take pride in its softness). Try this when you’re walking around your house by yourself – emphasize the body part you usually hide, and see how it feels to show it off.

I APOLOGIZE

We apologized to the group for everything we had done wrong this week, big or small.

I think this exercise is especially powerful for the ladies. If you’re a strong, smart woman, I bet you spend a lot of energy stopping yourself from apologizing. It’s good to stem the tide of reflexive apology, but it’s also nice to give yourself room to go the other way. Clearly we have a great need to apologize, so why not get it out of the way? Apologize for everything, even if it’s not your fault! Apologize profusely, apologize way too much, apologize from the bottom of your heart.

To do this on your own, try this: get some paper and write down everything you did wrong this week. Made the coffee too weak? Forgot to call your Mom back? Snapped at your partner? Felt like the vibe at work was weird and maybe it was because of something you did? Write it all down. You can use this format if it helps:

I apologize for _____.

I [wasn’t thinking / didn’t prepare / got angry…] and I [messed up / bungled the presentation / hurt your feelings…].

I apologize about that.  

When you’ve filled up a page, read them out loud. Add in “I am so, so, so, so sorry” or “please forgive me” when/if appropriate.   Then rip it out and throw it away. You’re done! Apology accepted.

BAD POETRY

We wrote bad poetry, which included odes to phlegm, folding chairs, red leather chaps and the winning entry:

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If you want to write bad poetry, it’s easy: pick a thing (could be something abstract like love, or mundane like a granola bar). Write ODE TO [THING] at the top of a sheet of paper. Now write the worst poem you can about that thing.

Some techniques to try: bad rhymes, going on way too long or not long enough, stating the obvious, reveling in self-indulgence, making bad jokes, using “I” as much as possible, dragging a metaphor into the ground… there are SO MANY WAYS! Start and find out what your personal worst is.

BIG PROBLEMS / STUPID SOLUTIONS

We brainstormed stupid solutions to big problems, like racism, climate change and feeding hungry kids.

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You can try this too, with either a big global problem or a problem in your life. Pick the problem, set the timer for 5 minutes, and come up with as many dumb solutions as you can.

Here’s an example from my life: a problem I’m experiencing lately is how to get my 19-month-old son to sleep at night. Here are some stupid solutions:

  • I could write a 5-page essay on the merits of sleep and read it aloud to my son
  • I could perform an interpretive dance every night called “Bed Time”
  • I could walk outside in the middle of the night and cry to the heavens, “WHY?!!!!”
  • When he wakes up in the middle of the night, I could just cry with him
  • I could give him a shot of whiskey [remember, these are STUPID solutions, not things I would actually do!]
  • I could play him these ‘power of positive thinking’ tapes someone gave me
  • I could find a boring financial podcast and play that on repeat
  • I could post a question about it on facebook [full disclosure, I know this is a stupid solution because I have done it]
  • I could make flyers that say HELP ME GET MY SON TO SLEEP and post them around town with my phone number

You get the idea.

FALLING

We practiced falling, and then practiced doing a big confident walk across the room with a spectacular fall in the middle.

If you want to fall right, here’s how: count to ten, and do a slow motion fall so you’re on the ground by the time you get to ten. Then count back from ten to one, and get back up on your feet in slow motion.

Do it again, but with a five-count. Now do it to a count of 3. Look at that! You’re falling!

BAD ELEVATOR SPEECH

We ended the workshop with super awkward, meandering, oddly confrontational elevator speeches.

Want to try? Imagine someone you deeply want to impress. Someone you would love to meet and get a chance to talk to – maybe it’s a leader in your field, or the boss of your boss, or the hot guy you keep seeing around town.

Now imagine that you walk into an elevator in a building, and GET OUT OF TOWN. They are standing right there. Now is your chance!

Imagine what you would like to say to them in the two minutes you have in the elevator – the words you would use, the way your body would move, how they’d look at you.

Now stand in front of a mirror, and do the opposite of that.

Say exactly what you would NOT like to say, using words that you would not like to use, doing things with your body that are embarrassing or awkward or weird, and imagine their face looking back at you in horror.

Bonus round: do your best confident walk, and say the best version of your elevator speech, but halfway through launch your spectacular fall.

There! Doesn’t it feel good to get all that out of your system?


Hey! Want to work some of these ideas out in person? I’m available to do one-on-one sessions, or you can hire me to lead a workshop for your organization!

practice failing

Everyone knows that the way to innovate, grow and become smarter is to fail.

Fail more, fail better, fail smarter, fail wisely – experts agree that if you want to succeed, you need to be willing to fail.

Which is great. I get that, intellectually.

But how do you actually DO it?

Because no matter how strongly you believe in it’s importance, or how many strong words you put next to it, the fact remains that actually failing is scary as hell. We are socially wired to avoid failure at all costs for fear of being banished from the tribe and left out in the wilderness to die (though if you find yourself in that scenario, reading Clan of the Cave Bear and asking yourself, what would Ayla do? will go a long ways towards assuring your survival).

From author Jean Auel’s website:

In Ayla’s story readers find what very well may be the story of human survival, for it is by wit, instinct, adaptation, and gathering knowledge that Ayla thrives among a people who are not like her, in a society that sees her as strange, in a world where elements, animals, and the enmity of others make surviving each day a challenge.

Anyway, point is, many of us avoid failure in high stakes situations, because when the stakes are high, you are in survival mode, and survival mode tells you it is imperative that you not fail, that you fit in, that you win. But as Ayla would tell you, this is exactly the situation when having a good relationship with your fear of failure can help you. Because here is the thing:

Failure is a potential – even likely – outcome, no matter WHAT you do.

You can’t control when and where it will rear it’s head.

What you can control is your response to it.

So for instance, if you find yourself alone with a bear and your slingshot misfires, you are in much better shape if you have experienced a misfire many, many times before. If you have only operated your slingshot (I have no idea what a slingshot is exactly or if it can misfire, but let’s stay with this metaphor anyway) under optimal conditions, then you will have no idea what to do when it doesn’t work.

It is avoidance of failure that can get you killed, and it is being on good terms with failure that can help you survive.

So, back to our original question: HOW to get on good terms with failure?

I think the way to do this is to practice failing when the stakes are low. To embrace it when you aren’t, say, starting a new job or putting your savings account on the line or moving to a brand new city.

This Sunday, I am offering space to do just that, in my “I’m the Worst” workshop.

We are going to not merely be OKAY with failure, to TOLERATE our mistakes. We are going to try our hardest to make them, in the biggest, boldest, dumbest way possible.

 We are going to celebrate failure.

We are going to fail over and over again.

We are going to see what it means to win at losing.

We aren’t going to do this because we enjoy looking like jackasses (though we might enjoy it a little bit). We are going to do this so we can encounter that fear, dance with it, and get to know it. We are going to do this so we are well acquainted with falling.

Have you ever watched a baby learn how to walk? There is a LOT of falling involved. Like way more than seems reasonable. A lot of tipping over and lurching and bumping into things and tripping and getting stuck. And then, slowly, they learn how to balance their weight, how to right themselves, how to measure their footsteps, when to jump and when to shuffle, how to recover their balance gracefully – how not to fall.

That is what we are going to do! Spend two hours falling and failing. (And if you can’t be there in person, you can play along at home by failing at something low-stakes this week and seeing how it feels. You could tell a bad joke at a party. You could wear an ugly outfit around the house. You could wear it out dancing. You could dance like Elaine. The options are limitless.)

Then maybe next time we find ourselves in a high stakes situation, we can go into it thinking, hey, I’ve failed before, it’s not so bad.

I’m going to spend two minutes being awkward at this party and then I’m going to find someone I like talking to and we will hit it off.

I’m going to sweat too much, talk too fast and make a dumb joke in this job interview, and then I’m going to ask some good questions and show them I know what I’m talking about.

I’m going to spend 6 weeks (or months) having nightly panic attacks in my empty apartment and going to random coffee shops and the wrong bars before I find the right ones and figure out where my people are.

See what I mean? If you’re ready for it, it’s a little less scary. If you’ve experienced flop sweat and survived, you know it’s not as life threatening as you think it is.

So let’s do this!

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