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Making sustainable changes in 2018 (and beyond)

As I’ve been taking stock of 2017 and pondering where I might to let life take me in 2018, I’ve been thinking a lot about how we make changes in our lives. You see, in the past I’ve always struggled a lot with New Year’s Resolutions.

I’ve experimented with other ideas, like setting an intention world for the year, but honestly those things never really worked for me either.

But something magical happened last year: I picked up some new habits and I deepened some existing ones in a sustainable and lasting way.

In 2017, I meditated more regularly and for longer than I had in any year previously.
In 2017, I practiced yoga more regularly and for longer than I had in any year previously.
In 2017, I studied Russian more days that not, sometimes only for 10 minutes, sometimes for an hour or more.

In a lot of ways, even though 2017 didn’t turn out at all the way I had hoped and was harder than I had expected, I feel really good about these small accomplishments.

My meditation practice has deepened into something really beautiful that nourishes me daily. My yoga practice in conjunction with other things is slowly improving my chronic back pain. And I can have some simple conversations in Russian these days and understand a lot of simple texts.

So, this year, I would invite you to not set any resolutions but instead to find a couple of tiny habits that would make your life better if you developed them or existing habits that you might want to deepen.

I think so often we see the New Year as an opportunity to tear down everything we don’t like about ourselves and we think that this will allow us to finally build the life we’ve been longing for. But in my experience it’s making tiny little shifts and taking tiny little steps towards the things that we love that makes more of a difference than anything else.

So, if this sounds intriguing to you, then here are seven things you can do to make sustainable changes in 2018 and beyond.

Choose the right goals

This one sounds easy, but it’s really not. So often in the past when I have set goals for myself I have set all the wrong goals for all the wrong reasons. So here are a couple of tips for setting the right goals this year.

Don’t set goals just because you feel that you “should”. Don’t set goals that don’t light you up inside. If you’re already dreading the effort it will take to achieve something then please do yourself a favor and find a new goal — trying to grit your way through something unpleasant because you think the end result will be “worth it” is almost never the kindest thing you can do for yourself. Make sure the activities required to pursue your goals are mostly activities you genuinely enjoy.

Do set goals that make you happy, even if they don’t make any sense. Learning Russian makes no sense; I don’t have any use for the language except for a vague interest in reading Russian literature in the original. But the truth is that I just really love learning languages and it makes me really happy — if this is your only reason for setting a goal, let it be enough!

Don’t set goals just because everyone else is. I feel like most New Year’s resolutions fall into any number of cliches: lose weight, watch less TV, be less distracted, meditate more, etc. None of these goals is necessarily the wrong thing, but make sure you’re setting goals that really matter to you, not just blindly following along with the herd.

Make the time to begin

Here’s a simple truth that I believe is often easy to ignore: you’re already using every minute of your days. There are 168 hours in every week and for the last month you’ve spent each and every one of them — I guarantee it!

It’s easy to overlook this when we think about setting new goals for the New Year. We think “oh, I should exercise more” and so we buy a gym pass, but we overlook the part where actually going to the gym means taking 3-4 hours a week (or more) away from something else that we were already doing.

Making time for new habits inevitably means saying goodbye to something old.

For every habit you want to create in the new year, make sure you’ve decided what you’re willing to let go of.

And keep an eye on yourself as you begin to implement because it’s easy to dismiss the hours we spend surfing the web or bingeing on Netflix as “time wasted”, but for a lot of us these activities fill a real need for rest, relaxation, and recharging.

Make sure you don’t inadvertently throw out all of your down time in order to make time for “healthier” habits.

Expect to make mistakes

In the past, I’ve gotten myself into so much trouble by expecting everything to be perfect right from day one.

The truth about life is that it’s messy: some weeks you get sick, some days you’re exhausted, or there’s just a lot already going on and trying to squeeze in anything extra would just add extra stress.

This means that your new habits are going to fly off the rails. You’re going to be doing well and life is going to intervene with something you didn’t plan for, and it’s going to cost you an evening or a week or three months.

Expect this to happen. Let it be okay.

It’s important to have priorities and it’s important to be able to let go of what’s not so important when something truly urgent comes up.

Missing a day or two or three or four isn’t the end of the world. Just pick your habits up again when you can.

Practice self-forgiveness

Self-forgiveness is the secret elixir that makes it possible to fail at your goals over and over again without giving up.

Notice how missing a day or a week makes you feel. The truth is that feeling like you’re failing hurts: it’s disappointing, it feels like you’re letting yourself down, or those around you. And if you’re not careful, feeling like a failure deepens into the acrid bitterness of a constant self-loathing that lingers in the background, tainting everything.

So allow yourself to notice how it feels when the plan gets messed up. Notice if you’re judging yourself for not being good enough, notice if you’re hurting.

And then place your hands over your heart and feel their warmth in your chest and whisper to yourself, “Forgiven, forgiven.” You’re hurting, but nothing is irreparably broken that cannot be fixed.

It’s all going to be perfectly okay.

Learn to start over

Each time you fall off the wagon, practice noticing and self-forgiveness — and then, when you’re able, start over.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the idea that perfect execution looks like starting something once and then never failing, never stopping.

But this idea just isn’t realistic. So learn to start and stop and start over and over again. Just keep starting over whenever you need to, whenever you can.

Practice starting over by returning to the practice the same way we return to the breath in meditation. Don’t judge or make it into a big deal. Just notice and come back to the practice.

Every day is just another day to begin again. No big deal.

Celebrate how far you’ve come

The beautiful thing about this approach is that if you implement it diligently you really will make progress.

Focusing on the habits and goals that really matter to you every day and not expecting it all to go perfectly, but just forgiving yourself and starting over every time your habits get disrupted — it really works.

If you practice in this way, on the vast majority of days you do the things you intended to do. You make it to your yoga mat, your meditation cushion, and your Russian lesson.

At the end of the year when you look back at where you were when you started and where you are now you can see that real progress has been achieved, even though on any given day it didn’t really seem like hard work.

Let the cycle unfold over and over again

This practice doesn’t stop; it just keeps going. In 2018, I’m going to continue to deepening all of my existing practices and I look forward to seeing where those journeys take me.

And I’m going to start just one new thing: I’m going to set the intention to write more in 2018.

And, you guys, I’m starting so, so small with this goal because I’ve set this goal for myself so many times and disappointed myself so many times that I know that I need to be extra-gentle with myself.

So I’m starting not by writing more for this blog, or writing more poetry, or anything else.

I’m starting with my journal. Because writing in my journal has always felt safe and nourishing to me and I genuinely enjoy bringing my troubles to the page and finding my answers there.

And I’m not making any rules about how many times a week or how much I need to write. My intention is simply to honor the truth that my journal is a tool that supports me and makes me healthier and happier and that it would be a shame to overlook that.

My hope is that this journaling practice will begin to spill over into other kinds of writing, but I refuse to put that kind of pressure on myself right now. So for now, I’m starting here where my habit is so small and so enjoyable that it feels easy — and we’ll see where that eventually takes me.

I wish you the very best in 2018!

Much love,
Jessica

P.S. If this post resonates with you but you aren’t quite sure how to really apply it, I’d like to invite you to consider the option of private coaching with me. While the concepts that lead us to freedom are in some sense universal, the barriers are often very individual and working privately with a coach can be the most effective way to overcome your unique barriers and see real results. If this interests you, click here to schedule a free conversation with me and learn more about what I offer my private clients.

Choosing to stay with the struggle

Here’s an often unwelcome, but ultimately unavoidable truth: sometimes life is just hard.

I feel like 2017 more than other years has been a hard year for me — as evidenced by the fact that I’ve barely written anything for this blog. But in some ways I can see that 2017, more than other years, has also been a really good year for me.

Yes, my health has been fragile at best and, yes, the daily news cycle has trampled my heart 3,000x over. But I’ve also mostly managed to stay reasonably cheerful and engaged in the face of adversity.

In some ways I consider this to have been my greatest triumph for 2017.

That life fell apart a bit and I didn’t spiral down into the depths of despair. That, slowly but surely, I’m learning to surf life’s sneaker waves instead of being bowled over by them.

Which isn’t to say that I never have days when everything seems like a mess and I can’t keep my tears to myself — because 2017 has definitely been enough to bring me to my knees from time to time. It’s just that the hard stuff hasn’t been what defines my experience.

I firmly believe that living this way is possible for all of us.

There’s no magic to it — and at the same time it’s still the most magical thing I know.

The secret is as simple as this: to the best of our ability, we choose to stay with the struggle.

This is a lesson I first learned on the meditation cushion, a lesson I first learned working with physical discomfort as chronic back pain often turned a simple meditation practice into an exercise in working with agony.

Sticking with the practice despite the discomfort turned out to be a useful training, even if I did not fully appreciate its value at the time.

The truth is that life is uncomfortable.

Reading the news breaks our hearts each morning. Disasters, big and small, plague our existence. We lose the people we love, we give our hearts away and have them thrown back in our face, we put everything we have into our dreams and fail anyway.

This truth is the very nature of what it means to be alive and human.

The only thing we get to control is our response to difficult circumstances.

Do we numb out and stuff our feelings down deep inside of us so that we don’t have to experience our own discomfort?

Do we lash out and blame others, pointing the finger anywhere but here, certain that our pain must be someone else’s fault?

Do we run — fleeing the job, the city, the marriage certain that if only we found the right job, city, or relationship that it would ease our discomfort and finally make us happy?

The truth, as best I know it, is that none of these strategies ever really work.

We can’t numb away our discomfort without numbing away our joy.

Blaming others brings no lasting peace because a part of the problem still in some way lies with us.

Running brings no escape because our demons follow us wherever we might flee.

The truth, as best I know it, is that lasting freedom comes only when we choose to stay with the discomfort, when we choose to stay with the struggle.

If I could wish one thing for you, it would be this: that you might have the strength and the courage to not abandon yourself in your moments of distress.

I believe that choosing to stay with yourself through the agonies of physical pain, illness, heartbreak, terror, or shame is the kindest thing you could ever do for yourself.

I believe that choosing to stay with ourselves through the storm is at its very essence the way we reclaim our true power.

Because when we practice living this way we develop the ingredients necessary for courage.

We develop the willingness to acknowledge that we are struggling, without judgement about whether or not it is reasonable for us to struggle.

We develop the capacity to engage with our difficult emotions instead of hiding, blaming, or running — to instead hold space for our struggle, to breathe with our difficulties, and to remember what it is to struggle and at the very same moment to feel safe.

We develop the capacity to bring our own kind attention to our hurts, to our heartbreaks, to our unmet needs. And in doing so, we learn that our own kind attention is the most basic ingredient of true healing.

We learn to engage with our struggle instead of trying desperately to escape from it and in doing so we develop the readiness, the skills we need to stand directly in the face of life’s fiercest winds and roughest seas and stand rooted in ourselves and ready — not to flee — but to transmute fear into aliveness as we laugh into the wind and the rain streams like tears down our cheeks.

It is my belief that this knowing is the essence of freedom and that, if you stand ready to face life’s fiercest storms, you stand ready for anything — awake, and alive, and firmly rooted in your power.

This is my wish for you.

Much love,
Jessica

P.S. If this post resonates with you but you aren’t quite sure how to really apply it, I’d like to invite you to consider the option of private coaching with me. While the concepts that lead us to freedom are in some sense universal, the barriers are often very individual and working privately with a coach can be the most effective way to overcome your unique barriers and see real results. If this interests you, click here to schedule a free conversation with me and learn more about what I offer my private clients.

May we all be heroes in the dark

heroes in the darkI’ve been struggling to find the right words since the election. I don’t want this blog to become a political forum, and yet I feel like the election is something that cannot go unaddressed — we cannot just pick up and go on with business as usual because what happened on November 9th means that business is no longer as usual.

For many of us the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States was devastating. I count myself among that number.

As a candidate, Trump espoused a platform built on hatred and intolerance that I find difficult to stomach. At this point, it seems increasingly clear that he intends to carry at least parts of this agenda forward into the White House and I fear what this will mean for those of us who are most vulnerable: racial minorities, immigrants, women, LGBTQ+ people, and religious minorities.

I do not want to shut out all possibility for hope, because I think that hope is crucial. Hope is what encourages us to keep trying, to keep fighting, to pick ourselves up and keep pushing on. So I remain willing to be wrong — but from where I stand right now it seems not overly-dramatic to say that dark days and hard times lie ahead of us, and that the next four years will likely demand more of us than did the previous eight.

In the absence of a government working to protect our interests we, the individuals, will need to stand up for the rights we believe in more vocally and more visibly than we did before.

We will need to be braver, to be stronger, to be kinder, and more compassionate than we knew ourselves to be.

We will need to be ready to stand up for each other, to stand beside each other, and to fight together for the rights we believe in.

We will, each of us, be called upon to be heroes in the dark.

However it may seem from where you stand today, this isn’t a fight we’ve lost yet. This is a fight that’s only just beginning.

So with that in mind, here’s what wisdom I have for you in these dark times.

First and foremost, care for yourself and your safety.

I can’t know what lies ahead for any of us and I don’t want to be prematurely alarmist, because I know how easy it is for the mind to slip into catastrophizing and catastrophizing (in my experience) only makes us panic and panic leaves us ill-equipped to face the needs of the present moment.

However, I also don’t want to tell you that you shouldn’t be afraid, that you shouldn’t pay attention, that you shouldn’t take whatever precautions seem helpful — because I think you should. You should prepare yourself in whatever ways you can for the days to come.

Do what you have to do to keep yourself safe.

Listen to your fear — it’s trying to get your attention.

Your fear has one and only one agenda: to keep you safe.

However, problems arise when your fear cripples your ability to act in a misguided effort to keep you safe. I have a theory about why and how this happens: I believe that fear cripples us when we are unwilling to feel scared, when we are unwilling to engage with our fear where we stand.

It is this unwillingness to engage with our fear that paralyzes us and leaves us unable to act.

So what to do instead? Be willing to be scared, be willing to listen to your fear when it’s screaming for your attention. When I ask my fear what it needs from me, most often I find that my fear just wants me to know that danger is present — it wants to know that I’m paying attention so that if action is required, I’ll be ready to act appropriately to keep myself safe.

Don’t try to push past your fear, don’t try to ignore it, and don’t try to shove it aside into an unused corner of your mind. Trying to set your fear aside usually only makes it scream louder.

Instead, honor your fear and invite it to make the journey with you — you don’t have to be fearless in order to act with courage.

Practice reconnecting with a sense of calm

Here’s a truth I’ve grappled with in my own life: while the urgency of panic may seem productive or even helpful, the truth is that if you spend your whole life swept up in a state of anxious urgency you dull your ability to discern the difference between true, helpful fear and the false, panicky urgency that naturally creeps in around the edges of our overly-scheduled, busy lives.

Because of this, one of the most important things you can do is to develop a habit of checking in with yourself, noticing what emotions and physical sensations you are feeling in your body, and offering yourself and your feelings compassionate witness.

My morning meditation practice is something I’ve turned to for support in recent weeks. Meditation is just a drill for this more important daily habit of exercising awareness and mindful attention to ourselves and our emotions: I spend 20 focused minutes practicing so that I can build the muscle I need to carry this skill with me throughout the day.

Please note: I don’t believe that meditation is always right for everyone. I spent years trying to “make myself” meditate because I thought it would be good for me. And until recently, it wasn’t. I think you have to be ready to begin a meditation practice and not wanting to is generally a sign that you’re not ready. This is *especially true* for anyone dealing with unresolved trauma, as meditation can unlock old traumas and can be re-triggering and damaging if you’re not prepared. I’ve written more about this here (scroll down to the note at the end of the post for my thoughts on trauma).

Regardless of whether or not a meditation practice is the next right thing for you, cultivating habits that return you to a calm and peaceful sense of being grounded in yourself (this could be writing, a hot bath, going for a walk, making art, etc.) will be a crucial mental and emotional support for each of us in the years to come.

Don’t disdain the power of small actions

I’m so guilty of this, so I want to make sure to mention it. Please don’t disdain the power of small actions. I know how easy it can be to feel that as an individual you have so little power, so little ability to influence anything of significance, that you might as well not even try.

And from where I stand, this belief is a lie my fear-based thinking tries to sell me in order to convince me that I shouldn’t bother risking failure. For me, that’s what it’s really about: my ego hates to fail, my ego hates to lose — and so my ego would rather quit than the run the risk that I might try and not succeed.

Do what you can and let that be enough.

If all you can offer is five dollars or five minutes, then do that — and let that be enough. If you can offer more, that’s amazing — but don’t hold back because you feel that whatever you have to offer isn’t enough.

Don’t discount the power of small actions taken in aggregate. Do what you can, especially if your mind is trying to tell that a gesture so small must surely be meaningless.

It’s really, really not.

Take action in whatever way is right for you

In the days, months, and years to come there will be many people who want to tell you how you should take action. “Come march with me in Washington”, they’ll say. Or “Sign this petition!”. Or “Donate to my favorite charity!”. Or “Call your congressperson about X!”

Not all of these actions that other people will want you to take will be actions that are right for you.

I, for one, will not be participating in marches. I dislike crowds and loud noises and I find the energy of large, excitable, angry groups of people to be utterly draining and exhausting. It’s not a way of making my voice heard that is right for me — I’d much rather sit behind my computer and type words.

I love that people want to march to express themselves — to take a public stand for what they believe in. But I will not be joining them.

This is absolutely okay.

There are other ways I can contribute to this fight: I can donate money to organizations that will fight for our rights, I can sign petitions, I can call my congressional representatives, I can use my voice to speak about my beliefs with others, I can read the news and stay informed, I can bear witness.

Here’s another thing I can do: I can listen to people whose opinions differ from my own, I can challenge my own assumptions about people who are different from me, I can work to build bridges between people who have competing interests, belief systems, or priorities.

There is no one right way to fight injustice. There are always many paths to the same goal.

You don’t have to let other people pressure you into acting in a way that isn’t right way for you.

If you want to explore some different ideas about how we move forward from here, this post might be a good place to start.

Be patient, be kind, be gentle with yourself

This, perhaps more than anything else, is the most important thing I have to offer. The world right now is asking us to step up, to become braver than we have ever been.

This is not something that will be easy.

Over and over again I catch myself in the belief that not only should I be able to do hard things, but I should be able to do them easily, effortlessly, gracefully.

This is not true.

As a former ballet dancer, I know that the appearance of grace is always the result of thousands of hours of hard work and sweat. You have to put in the practice, you have to push against your own edges, before you finally master something new.

The same is true of courage.

If you’re not used to being brave, if you’ve spent your life feeling small, silenced, hidden, or afraid — don’t expect yourself to become someone different overnight.

It’s not going to be easy. It’s might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.

So be patient, be kind, be gentle with yourself. You’ll get farther faster if you treat yourself with kindness and compassion than you will if you try to beat yourself into bravery with 10,000 judgemental sticks.

Courage is a muscle you build; it doesn’t happen overnight

Courage isn’t always something we’re born with. Courage is something we develop, it’s something we cultivate.

We grow our courage in the teeny-tiny steps, small acts of daring that slowly accumulate into the ability to move mountains.

Allow yourself to start small, to stretch your comfort zone out slowly. Don’t expect to be able to carry the world on your shoulders overnight.

But if you start small, if you build your courage slowly by taking actions that are just the tiniest bit outside your comfort zone and then the tiniest bit farther than that, your capacity to act bravely in the face of fear will grow and someday soon you’ll be brave enough to move a mountain.

And together we will need to move mountains.

Much love,
Jessica

You have to be willing to wobble

By Frode Inge Helland [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Image by Frode Inge Helland [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Someone clever once said that “fear is excitement without the breath” (either Fritz Perls or Robert Heller, according to Google).

There’s a lot of truth to that statement — and I’ve spent a lot of time in the past week in that place, suspended between terror and exhilaration as I begin the process of finally, officially launching my coaching practice.

Which is to say that it’s been a great week. It’s also been a hard week, and in many ways an exhausting and stressful week.

For reasons which also have to do with things besides launching my coaching business, I’ve been living on the ragged edge of excitement.

I notice in myself the urge to flee the discomfort of standing balanced on the knife edge between fear and excitement.

I notice the urge to stop breathing, to hold tight to the breath I have as I power through and through and through until I reach the end of this discomfort.

Until I break free into the light.

But there is a wiser part of me that knows that this discomfort won’t pass quickly — that I will have to learn to breathe, to find my balance in this delicate place.

What I am trying hard to remember is that balance is an act of movement.

We think of balance as a moment of perfect poise, a place of stability — and this does occasionally happen momentarily when we balance. But what thirteen years of ballet taught me, is that real balance is a hundred million tiny adjustments as one tips left, right, front, and back. The wobble is an essential part of any balancing act.

True balance has more to do with allowing the wobble, than achieving a perfect, motionless moment.

Anxious. Happy. Scared. Delighted. Thrilled. Restless. Exhausted. Resting.

I’ve been wobbling all week, but I haven’t collapsed out of balance. I’ve just been teetering, teetering, teetering…

It would be easy to forget that this is what an act of balance looks like.

It would be easy to call my week of teetering “failure” and to tell myself that I should be managing to live my life more gracefully. But I think we do ourselves a disservice when we forget the the balancing is in the wobble.

In fact, the best way to guarantee you’ll fall out of your arabesque is to be unwilling to wobble.

The best way to fall out of balance is to hold tight, to stop breathing and tense up. We think that rigidity equals stability but in fact the opposite is true.

In trying to achieve that moment of perfect stillness, we lose the loose the willingness to wobble that is, paradoxically, the very foundation of our stability.

So if you, too, are struggling to maintain balance in the face of it all I’d like to invite you to notice your own willingness to wobble.

And if balance is feeling elusive, here are a few things that might help.

  1. Remember to breathe. It can be easy to think that holding onto the breath will increase stability, but in truth this never works. You can’t balance if you’re rigid. When you are truly balanced the balance moves with the breath — the breath becomes the rhythm that settles you toward stillness.
  2. Keep your focus. It’s much harder to balance if you don’t keep your gaze softly focused on a target. If you feel yourself beginning to topple, resist the urge to look wildly around for a way to save yourself! Remain calm. Remain focused. Breathe. You might need to set an intention to keep you focused in the right direction.
  3. Practice. You’re going to wobble. You’re going to fall off balance. The important thing to remember is that this is a part of the process… and that you’re going to get better with practice.

Much love,
Jessica

Permission to break the rules

Here’s how it happens. It starts when everything is humming along smoothly.

You’ve identified your goals, you’ve broken them down into next steps, you’re plugging away, you’ve got your self-care dialed in and everything is rosy.

Your schedule is full, but not too full. You’re feeling energized, excited. You’re having fun.

And then there comes a moment when it starts to shift.

Maybe it starts at work. Maybe your job becomes a little more stressful than it was before. Or maybe the shift starts at home. Maybe you get sick or someone you care about gets sick or maybe a friend asks you to help them with a project you hadn’t planned for.

Slowly, insidiously, the “extras” creep in — until before you know it, you’re not humming along smoothly at all. Instead, you’re running on a treadmill that just keeps going faster and faster and faster and things are suddenly not so rosy any more.

Or at least that’s how it happened to me.

Cue new year, new goals, fresh energy, and bright plans. Cue increasing work stress, an extra course I signed on for, and a radical commitment to show up differently in the world in 2016.

Lights, camera, action, and… epic fail.

I started off 2016 with the very best of plans and intentions. I was looking forward to taking big, bold actions and really showing up in the world in a more courageous way.

But, as usually happens when one makes a grand plan, a combination of unintended consequences and unforeseen circumstances conspired to help me fall flat on my face.

It wasn’t so much that I’d made a bad plan (in fact, I think it was a great plan!), it’s that plans never work out they way we expected them to when we made them.

My mistake was not in planning, but in failing to ditch the plan immediately when it first became clear that it wasn’t working. My mistake was that I struggled valiantly on.

I grappled with stressful deadlines all day at work and then came home to coach clients on the phone. I stayed up late writing blog posts and beat myself up for letting my meditation practice slip when it was pushing 11 pm and the choice was between meditation and rest.

My failure was my choice to engage in the struggle. And I’m going to admit that the results were less than pretty.

Due to heightened stress at work, I became less able to handle the stress of a packed coaching schedule outside of work. As my time filled up, my commitment to the routines and practices that replenish me waned, and as my ability to care for myself faded I got angry.

I got angry first at “everything” outside of me, my job, other people’s demands, and so on. I numbed my anger by staying up late catching up on TV shows I stopped watching years ago.

I transferred that anger to myself for “making bad choices” and for “not taking care of myself”.

And finally I got really upset with “the rules” — the systems and structures that I had created in my life. Systems and structures which I had put in place to support me suddenly began to take on an ominous and gloomy feeling.

In the end, I did the only sensible thing I could see to do. I took a page out of Brene Brown’s book, Rising Strong, and wrote myself a freaking permission slip which read “Permission to break the rules”. And then I cancelled everything I had “committed” to.

I cancelled sending out my weekly newsletter last Friday. I cancelled keeping up with the telecourses I’m taking. I cancelled some of my available coaching hours. I cancelled everything that felt stressful and aggravating and horrible in my body.

I spent some evenings watching TV, yes — but when I’d watched an episode or two I went to bed instead of staying up until the wee hours. I went to bed before 9 pm some nights and I slept a few ten hour nights.

I started exercising again. I started meditating again. Because I was going to bed so early I actually started waking up in time to meditate in the mornings before work (which I have never before managed to do).

Suddenly I can breathe again. I’m writing again and exercising again and meditating again. I’m sending out my newsletter on Monday instead of Friday and you know what? I gave myself permission to break all the rules but in the end, I’m only three days late.

If there’s a lesson in this, I think it’s that there’s no shame in quitting. Sometimes the only way to start moving forward again is to stop trying so hard for a while. Sometimes the only way to figure out what you need is to stop everything you’re doing, so that you can get really quiet and tune in to what it is that you’d actually like to be doing.

I think we get so muddled in the rules that sometimes we wind up missing the forest for the trees. We tell ourselves painful lies about how we should be able to keep our shit together when we feel like we’re falling apart, about how we should be able to handle our situation gracefully, and about how it’s bad of us to skip our meditation or our physical therapy exercises or, or, or.

The kinder, more honest truth is that sometimes life gets ugly and murky and we don’t handle it as gracefully as we’d like to. And that’s perfectly OK too, as long as we’re not telling ourselves a story about how we’re bad people because we fell flat on our face and scraped our knees and now we’re feeling a mix of anger and shame and the petulant need for a cry.

So if you’re like me and you’re off to a shaky start in 2016, I humbly invite you to write yourself a permission slip that reads “Permission to break the rules” — and then go ahead and cancel everything.

I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what happens next.

Much love,
Jessica