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Should you treat yourself for “bad” behavior?

Here’s a question: what drives us to do things that seem self-defeating or self-destructive?

Now obviously, this isn’t a question that has a single simple answer. There are lots of reasons why we do things that aren’t in our own best interest. Some of which are more obvious than others.TreatYourself

We might be numbing ourselves to avoid feeling discomfort, or honoring a hidden agenda of self-protection that is in opposition to our stated goals and “best interest”.

However, I think there’s another common reason why we do this that’s less talked-about: you might be forcing yourself to do too many things you don’t want to do and not allowing enough time to do the things you really want to do.

In Martha Beck’s book, Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live, she introduces the idea that we each have two selves inside of us the “essential self” (the wild, untamed, impulsive, child-like part of us) and the “social self” (the grown-up, responsible, law-abiding self).

You can watch her describe these two selves and their relationship in this hilarious video. (It’s one of my favorite things on the internet).

The idea is that as we go about or grown-up, responsible, adult lives these two selves come into conflict with each other.

The social self tells us to get up or we’ll be late for work when our alarm goes off in the morning but our essential self is tired and wants to go back to sleep so we compromise and hit snooze for 10 more minutes.

At 11 am the essential self wants to buy a cookie but we’re on a diet so our social self buys us a grapefruit instead.

By 3 pm the essential self is ready to pack up and head home for the day but the social self tells us firmly that we aren’t allowed to leave for two more hours. The work day isn’t over yet.

If you are like me, your natural inclination is to follow the rules, to march along to the dictates of your employers and institutions, and to brush off your essential self’s desires all day long.

Particularly for those of us who are high-achievers, setting aside the social self’s dictates in order to follow the essential self’s whims can feel intensely dangerous and uncomfortable.

Our academic and professional success seems to have hinged upon our ability to set aside our own needs and wishes in order to dedicate ourselves to achieving someone else’s priority (a teacher, a boss, a parent).

However, there’s a hidden cost to treating our essential selves this way. 

What happens is I get home at 6 and I’m exhausted but I haven’t had any fun yet today so my essential self stages a revolt. Instead of going to bed, which would be reasonable under the circumstances, I find myself watching silly videos on YouTube until past my usual bedtime.

At the end of the night neither self is happy.

The social self is spiraling in a guilt trip and envisioning how dreadful work will be tomorrow when I’m tired. The essential self isn’t satisfied because the fun it got wasn’t what it was really craving and it’s busy sulking about how the only time we get to have fun is when we’re too tired to have fun anyways.

The solution, as best I can figure, is to treat your essential self to the real fun it craves during the day when you have the energy to play.

Maybe you need to pull out your journal at 3pm and noodle for a bit when your essential self feels ready to call it quits.

Maybe you need to go for a walk outside on your lunch break instead of eating at your desk and then returning immediately to work.

Maybe you need to take every second Friday off in order to let your essential self roam free for a day.

Only your essential self can tell you what you need to do.

But if you have a history of “self-sabotaging” behaviors and nothing you’ve tried to date has worked I’d encourage you to try consulting with your essential self and identifying some treats you can give to yourself throughout the day.

Until your essential self is satisfied there’s always going to be a war going on inside you. And it’s so much easier to get on with things when both your selves are on the same side.

Much love,
Jessica

 

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This does not affect your price.

Sometimes you just need to make a little space

Sometimes you just need to make a little spaceI reorganized my room this past weekend.

It wasn’t a project I’d planned, but one thing led to another and suddenly there I was with a tape measure in hand, dreaming of a way to increase my floor space and to make more room for my writing.

That was Friday night.

By the time I went to sleep on Friday I’d reduced the problem from a $5,000+ problem to a $500 problem which only required replacing just a few pieces of furniture and buying some new shelves.

But what I realized when I woke up on Saturday was that I probably didn’t need to acquire any new furniture to make my new dreams a reality… I just needed to be a little more creative with the furniture I already had.

Because here’s the thing — I’ve lived with this same furniture in this same apartment for more than a year and it wasn’t until yesterday that a video opened my eyes to a new vision of my living space.

Having that dream allowed me to believe in the possibility that I could live in my space differently.

For over a year, I’d just tolerated “the way things were” because I couldn’t imagine a better solution.

And once I had, it took me a night of sleeping on it and an hour’s labor to move the furniture around and create a room that feels very different to live in. A room that is much better suited to my needs.

It is not lost on me that this is exactly what we do in coaching — we look at where your ideas about what you are capable of might be narrower than reality or where maybe you are unable to see some new possibility.

We break your rules about how your bed fits into your bedroom and test your unquestioned assumptions about relative dimensions (metaphorically speaking, that is).

We do this so that you can rearrange the furniture of your life and create a new space (a new life) to live in.

I’ve written before about my troubled relationship with rules, and it’s because they cause exactly this kind of perceptual blindness that I both love and hate them.

After all, rules are good — the help us eliminate decision fatigue which makes life simpler and more convenient.

However, rules also have an unfortunate tendency to become artificial limitations on what we believe is possible — exactly the way my bed had become an artificial limitation on how I could use my room because I had assumed (without measuring or verifying!) that it simply wouldn’t fit any other way.

So this week I want to give you permission to dream about the things that aren’t working so well in your home or your life right now. If you had a billion dollars, infinite free time, and a magic wand that could create anything, how would you want those things to be different? What would your ideal solution be?

The trick is to dream without rules or limitations, as much as possible. To really let your creativity run wild.

If you can’t think of anything better, try looking online for inspiration. You might just find your answer is a random video about furniture that transforms seamlessly from a desk into a bed and back again.

Once you’ve hit upon an ideal solution, keep puzzling out ways to downsize it until it’s something that fits within your budget (for time, money, and energy!).

How might you create the ideal effect, but do it unexpectedly?

Perhaps you don’t need a bigger desk in order to create more space for your writing — perhaps you just need to move a nightstand next to your desk so you have more space to store things.

Perhaps you don’t need a smaller bed — you just need to make some measurements and discover that your bed fits in the room in an unforeseen configuration.

Perhaps you discover that you already had everything you needed to make your wildest dreams come true and that the answer has been there all along — wanting only a vision for a better future and a little applied creativity to make it a reality.

After all, as Marie Kondo writes in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, “The amount of storage space you have in your room is actually just right. I can’t count how many times people have complained to me that they don’t have enough room, but I have yet to see a house that lacked sufficient storage. Once you learn to choose your belongings properly, you will be left with only the amount that fits perfectly in the space you currently own.

So, perhaps the answer is just waiting for you to put aside your assumptions and see it.

Much love,
Jessica

 

Disclaimer: This post contains Amazon affiliate links. I make a (very) small referral commission from purchases made using my links. This does not affect your price.

What to do when things go sideways

Here’s the thing. Life isn’t always the smooth and joyful ride we’d like it to be.

In fact, it’s usually not.

Generally, life is more like a turbulent roller-coaster of crises and fears and anxiety. (Or maybe that’s just me…)

All of which is to say that things are likely to go sideways sometimes.

When they do there’s a few things that will help.

Apply the brakes

When things start to slip into dangerous territory it’s a good time to ease up on everything. When things feel like they’re falling apart the best thing to do is to stop and take a breath (or two or three or six thousand).

Have compassion for your struggle

The thing about struggle is that the only thing that is guaranteed to make hard times worse is piling on self-judgement about your struggle. You’re allowed to struggle. You’re allowed to be unsure. You’re allowed to make mistakes. You’re allowed to be all of these things.

Give yourself permission to be ok, even if nothing else is

Just because everything else might be falling apart doesn’t mean you are. When we learn how to be ok in the messy middle we find our truest strength. We learn how to weather the storm without taking a beating. We learn how to take shelter in the gentle warmth of our own open hearts. We learn how to breathe even when it feels like we’re under ten feet of water.

Because here’s the truth.

Each and every one of us navigates dark days and we don’t do anyone a service by pretending to live always in the light.

So why not admit it? Why not allow ourselves to struggle?

Why not give ourselves permission to struggle and still be ok. Permission to screw up and go on with our lives.

Life goes on until it doesn’t.

You’re going to struggle until the day you don’t.

There is no way out but to muddle through each and every messy minute in the middle.

It works better when we allow ourselves to muddle through the middle. When we allow our mistakes and our miseries to be a part of the process — instead of another item to add to our list of “things we did wrong today”.

It works better when we can meet ourselves with a kind of gentle grace — with the kind vision that says: I see you. I see your struggle. And I know that you are doing the best you can right now.

And then we get to the really hard part: you have to believe it.

You have to believe that it’s ok to struggle enough to live it. To allow yourself the space you need, the care you need, the love you need as you muddle through the middle.

We have to navigate the hard times with tears and laughter and anger and naps after the long, anxious nights that find us along the way.

We have to navigate the hard times with hot showers and flowers and cashmere and whatever it is that makes us feel cozy and safe.

We have to navigate the hard times with all the kindness and grace we can muster — and, yes, that means taking care of ourselves first.

Because navigating the hard times with kindness and grace is only possible when we trust that even though we are messy and imperfect we are still infinitely deserving of love and kindness.

And we have to give that love and kindness to ourselves. We can’t wait to receive it from anyone else.

I’ve been stuck in the messy middle more than I’d like recently and these are the things that have helped me through:

Long naps after sleepless nights.
Hot showers.
TV that makes me happy when I’m tired.
Really good books.
My brilliant coaching clients and coach friends.
Morning pages.
Meditation.
Creativity.

Your list may look entirely different than mine. But it’s important that you make one.

Because the hard times are coming.

And you’re going to need that list.

Much love,
Jessica

A new theory of getting things done

This story starts with burnout.

You see, I’ve been trying to recover from burnout for what seems like forever. Some days it feels like sleep I lost a decade ago still haunts me today. Some days it feels like I carry a weight of exhaustion so heavy it will never be lifted.

And on other days I feel great. Sometimes I even feel great for several weeks in a row.

But always, inevitably, it seems like there comes a point when I crash again. When the sweet zing of excitement wears off and I come staggering back into my body to discover how deeply, truly, and utterly tired I am.

Maybe you have this problem, too. Maybe you, too, have the skittish, delicate kind of energy that can take you oh so far — but only if you treat it oh so gently and carefully. And only if you put it to bed often and for longer than any body should reasonably “need” to rest.

Or maybe you are nothing like me and your energy is strong and robust, in which case you should tell me all your secrets in the comments below. For years I longed to have the kind of strong, robust energy that I so admired in others.

But the truth is that I don’t — I have the quiet, delicate energy of a dreamer. And my constitution requires a lot of rest, a lot of time for night-dreaming, and a lot of time for day-dreaming and quiet contemplation.

Which is why I need a new theory of getting things done — because my old way was clearly not working.

My way of pretending my energy was strong and robust. My way of gritting my teeth and digging my heels in and just pushing through. My way of shouldering should-dos and have-tos until I felt like Atlas with the weight of a life lived by other people’s rules resting on my shoulders.

For the past couple of months I have been experimenting with a new way of doing things.

It’s a way that I shan’t take credit for inventing, but it’s new-to-me and it seems to be working — so this week I’d like to invite you to try it, too.

The new way involves not-doing more than it involves doing. The new way means sitting down and resting when my back hurts even though the cooking isn’t done yet. The new way means typing out this missive to you because I felt the words pattering in my heart even though I didn’t “have time” to write to you today. The new way means trusting that I will find the time I need, that I can write this missive and that things will work out anyway. And, most of all, the new way means sleeping — it means a lot of sleeping.

The new way looks nothing like “working” the way I’ve always conceived of working — the slogging away, the grinding through I’ve always envisioned and pursued.

But here’s the thing. For the first time in possibly forever, I achieved everything I set out to do in March.

Since last summer I have set goals at the start of every month, and at the end of every month I reflect on what I achieved and what I didn’t achieve and I recalibrate and set my goals for the coming month.

Every month I note that I failed to achieve roughly ⅔ of what I set out to achieve.

But in March I did it all. Even the wishy-washy, maybe-if-I-get-around-to-it stuff I thought would be nice but didn’t really plan to achieve.

In the spirit of total honesty, my top priority in March was to rest — so maybe some of my success is just that I’m getting better at setting more attainable goals.

I don’t think that’s the whole story.

I think there’s a kind of magic to living this way. Free of rules and have-tos and should-dos. Free to rest when you’re tired. Free to do whatever you want when you’re not. Free to play and go for a walk and take a nap and write a book.

I think that getting things done works like this:

Motivation + inspiration = joy

Motivation – inspiration = toil

Inspiration – motivation = guilt

If we want to get things effortlessly and joyously we have to align our doing with our inspiration.

And in order to do that we need to give ourselves permission to rest. Because no one feels creative and inspired when they’re tired.

We need to give ourselves permission to tend to our quiet, delicate dreamer-energy and care for our bodies and our needs. We need permission to break the rules. Permission to be imperfect and flawed. Permission to suck at it — to fall back into our old patterns and habits and to realize we were still following rules without realizing it.

Because permission is the key to everything.

And when we give ourselves permission to live like this we unlock the door to getting things done in a way that feels easy, playful, and joyous instead of hard, burdensome, and exhausting.

After all, who wouldn’t want to live their life like that?

Much love,
Jessica

P.S. If this sounds brilliant but you’re not sure where to start, I’d love to invite you to work with me as a private coaching client.

Searching for my natural rhythm

What would your life look like if you didn’t live by any rules?

What would it be like if you moved fluidly from moment to moment instead of planning and scheduling your whole life out in advance?

Does the possibility sound tantalizing or does it sound a little weird, a little wild… perhaps even a little bit dangerous?

The thought of living life without rules always seemed a little dangerous to me.

Without my rules what would I do and who would I be? I didn’t have answers to those questions.

At the same time, I would read about people out there in the world — breaking the rules, doing their own thing, doing it differently. And I would wonder, why can’t I be brave and bold like that?

The answer, of course, was fear.

You see, our brains use certainty to make us feel safe — we mistakenly think that when we finally achieve the moment of absolute certainty that we will have finally achieved our deepest desire.

But it isn’t true.

The more afraid we are, the harder it is to be brave because courage always involves an element of feeling unsafe — and for those of us who are highly sensitive (i.e. me!), doing the brave, bold things that make us feel unsafe can seem impossibly scary and hard.

This doesn’t mean we can’t be brave, those of us who are sensitive, and easily startled, and quiet. It just means that we move through the world differently — and that our courage looks different too: quieter, more inward looking, more slow, more steady, less bold.

Life will never be certain. We’ll always be winging it, and always when we feel certainty beginning to creep in, the tides will turn and something will fall apart.

It’s a simple fact of physics that all systems tend toward chaos and I am convinced that this is no less true of a human life.

The only way to create certainty is to work relentlessly against the tide of the unknown, a levee perpetually threatened by rising waters.

To live like that seems to be exhausting and ultimately unsustainable.

When we pin our hopes of happiness on safety and certainty — we set ourselves up for disappointment.

And yet, I do not think that this means we should despair.

Which is why I’ve begun an experiment in what I have decided to call “lawless living”.

By which I do not mean to suggest we should live illegaly, but rather that in choosing to live “lawlessly” I have chosen to remove the structured rules that used to shape my life.

When I’ve written about this before I’ve called it “cancellation” — the cancellation of all the things I put on my own to-do list.

But with lawlessness I’m taking it deeper — beyond the level of things and tasks and to-dos — all the way down to the level of identity.

Because here’s the ultimate truth: there aren’t any rules to live by.

There are only the rules you create for yourself: the behaviors and patterns you cling to because you think that they make you a “good person” or keep you safe or make you of service to others, or [insert your reason here].

And often it is those exact same rules that keep us feeling stuck and miserable and uncertain of what we really need to do.

Because the opposite of a “good person”? It isn’t a bad one. The opposite of always trying to be good is showing up as someone who is more authentically you.

It’s about finding your natural rhythm — the ebb and flow of tasks and to-dos and emotions and choices that you naturally return to when you free yourself of rules and return yourself to you.

It’s about living a life that’s less “good” and more you  — because that is kind of the secret to everything:

More happiness
More rest
More laughter
More courage
More compassion
More love

It’s all already there — locked up inside of you.

Much love,
Jessica

P.S. If you’d like to read more about finding your natural rhythm, check out this post from Martha Beck which landed in my email inbox recently

P.P.S If you think living lawlessly sounds brilliant but scary and you’d love some support in exploring what lawless living might look like for you, I invite you to work with me as one of my private coaching clients!