Feeling the feels – tired

Energy levels and what to do with them have been a big theme for my personal growth the past few years. (Oh hang on – is ‘personal growth’ a bit of a new agey cliché? By all means replace with ‘learning/ musing/ reflections/ new habits’ or whatever works).

What to do when I feel dead tired like a lump and have no oomph or get up and go whatsoever.

How to use energy when I have it.

What deflates me.

When I need to rest.

When I am tired in the mind versus tired in the body versus tired from a sugar slump versus tired from not enough sleep. When I feel icky from having absorbed complex emotional stuff that I need time to process. When I feel tired because actually I’m sad. When I feel sad because actually I’m tired.

Getting much better acquainted with what tired is.

I am finding my 100 words for tired like the fabled innuit and snow.

And finding a way to make space for it, accept it and make room for it without fear or judgement or ‘should’. Without fighting it and ‘pushing on’ or ‘soldiering on’ or ‘just doing it’.

I am trying to feel the rhythms of my body much more keenly and create a life that adjusts to them, respects them and works around them – not forcing my body to stick to routine and expected outputs that my mind makes up.

Because who am I to know what important work my body might be doing while I am tired and rest? Which cells might be tinkered with and replaced, which emotions are being sifted through, which memories stored, which ideas are growing in the subterranean dark of my subconscious. I am moving to respect my body’s wisdom much more – even if the Goddess of Efficiency and Productivity is no longer receiving her sacrifice.

Even if my sense of self (attached to energy, creativity and outputs) has to subtly shift over and adjust sometimes to make room for tired, not-creating, listless or idle me.

I practice expanding to embrace both. I practice feeling peace with it all.

Don’t wanna

It’s the end of the year and I don’t wanna!

I don’t wanna write the things I have too. I don’t wanna do my filing.

I don’t wanna pack my suitcase.

I don’t wanna wrap any more presents right now and find the freaking sticky tape AGAIN.

I dont wanna hear about other people’s end of year stresses and stressors.

I certainly don’t wanna deal with shopping centres where everyone else is annoying except me.

I don’t want to plan one more festive dish.

I don’t want to be alert and enthusiastic, I want to watch nordic noir over endless cups of tea and have my toes painted and dip them into the ocean.

I want long slow nothing to do summers.

I want go away and leave me to my paints afternoons.

I want quiet and slow and no deadlines.

I want social media to all go away just a little bit.

I want companionable afternoons working in the garden.

I want love and joy and peace on earth, and mince pies.

I wanna pop out in 2017 feeling refreshed and energised after Christmas elves have cleaned my desk.

Anyone else having waves of ‘don’t wanna’ as the year comes to an end?


On a more serious note:

For me a bit of a cry, foot stamp and some nice time with loved ones helped me find my mojo again after a stressful day. Mine is just a case of the ‘tireds’ and I am lucky enough to have time off on the horizon. I have a daily art practice and connection with some great creative communities to also keep me grounded. It reminds me to take some time out for self care in amongst the busy.

But…this can be a tough time of year for all of us, with extra expectations, costs, deadlines and social commitments.  Please consider speaking with a friend, your GP, a therapist, or a free counselling service to chat things over if you need someone to talk to. You are not alone, someone has been through or felt what you are feeling before – probably more of us than you think. Talking helps us feel less alone and feel more accepted.

Crisis support in Australia

LifeLine

Kids helpline 

Mensline

Information and resources

Beyond Blue

Black Dog Institute

Christmas related events and services:

Salvation Army Australia

Itty bitty sh**ty days

We all have them, don’t we?

When we have a dark taste in our mouth and feel fidgety. Like nothing of any use is going to come through these limbs today. Like you feel unsettled but some rarely felt mix of agitated, pained, stressed, urgent, and listless. You move around the house, wanting to get more done. At work you might shuffle papers around and not get far with anything.

What could it be?

What is plaguing you? Why is it awful and unproductive today?

The forecast is pointless, with chance of showers and a strong northerly pushing whiffs of wistful in through the afternoon.

You want to want to do something useful.

But you kind of don’t.

There’s plenty to be getting on with, but you can’t seem to get any minutes to stick together in a way that produces anything, they slip away like beach sand streaming out of your sandals in summer.

The day! The day! You can just see how it will bloom and fade without any great achievements or small accomplishments to decorate it with. Night time will come and you will be relieved because now you no longer have a day spanning out in front of you and expectations swarming you ears like flies.

Lost. You feel kind of lost.

Why? Why lost? Where is this coming from? For me, on the last day I felt like this I wondered…

  • Is it disappointment, a feeling of failure that has stuck to me like cold chip shop oil in your hair, slyly following you after that thing I did wrong yesterday?
  • Is it unsettled because of the moving and changing things around me, and the feeling that I can’t quite get a grip or rhythm with anything?
  • Is it some mix of hormones and non-sustaining food I’ve eaten this morning?
  • Is it just tired, and the senseless dreamy state that comes with that?

 

When you feel like this it can be hard to get a grip of feelings.

Try tapping into the feelings. Try pausing, with pen and paper and using metaphor to explain yourself to yourself in a rambly way, without knowing what you will say (write) next. Try pausing to feel and name those feelings. Maybe you write them, maybe you draw them.

I feel cloudy, foggy, lost, aimless, drifting. I feel walking in circles, I feel adrift.

I feel hopeless and alone and like I can’t make it, I don’t have what it takes and no one will rescue me. I feel disappointed in my self and cynical, like I was deluded and all was for nothing.

I feel like everything is chopped into tiny pieces and everything is crumbly, and nothing comes together to make a coherent whole. I feel pointless, and meaningless, and without direction. I feel like my compass is spinning around and around and I don’t know how to move. I feel weary and like hiding out.

I feel kind of angry for no reason and like everyone around me is hideously annoying and the whole world is full of jerks!

And now the tears come.

 

And on the movement of the tears our little boat slips forward, no longer quite so stuck. The water feels a little clearer, and we may feel a little more whole.

 

And then we yawn.

And then we wipe our tears.

And then we get on with however the day will be.

 

Image: is one of my collage pieces

What it feels like to be a scanner

Just before I start, let me clarify that I’m not talking about a heart wrenching look at a day in the life of my HP colour multi-copy device.  Although now I’ve thought of that it does sound kind of fun. No, I mean what it feels like to be a person who identifies as a ‘scanner’, a term coined by coach, author and speaker Barbara Sher to describe certain personality traits that are highly stimulated, motivated by a love of learning and seek novelty… and what that feels like.

“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Walt Whitman

For me:

  • EVERYTHING* is interesting. Not an object in my already cluttered room does not hold a multitude of ideas pinned to it. I look around to tidy up and a simple thing – hand carved stamp of a sunshine face – needs to be put away but as I look at it it reminds me of the project to make more stamps, the project to photograph the artworks I made using stamps in different combinations to show how easy they are to make and use creatively, and that reminds me also of the idea of making an online course to show how I use the stamps.   I deflate a little. I’ll never get all that done today. Not as well as all look at all the other lively objects in my room and the invisible plume of ideas and projects they trail around behind them. This one brochure that I collected from an art museum, it lists places to go in my town. I could put it in the recycling bin but now I want to go to those places, and also send the brochure to my friend who is getting to know this city after being away a while. Or wait, I could make a list and then send it to him. But wait, a few of the phrases and pictures would be great for collage. Oh, best not do anything with it I’ll just leave it here on this pile on my desk.
  • I have incredible concentration once I get started on something. I dive in so deep to this creative task that you wont see me for days… well hours at least. I forget to drink water. I forget to go to the toilet. I forget to do whatever else I had planned for today. I am engrossed and transfixed and this blog post/ collage/ list/ brochure design etc has me now and I will be glued to it for the next 2 or 3 or 4 hours in my happy place. I come out slightly dazed – huh? what time is it? where am I?
  • There is a sense of possibility and beauty and interest almost everywhere. I am constantly getting inspired – thwack – another project idea, thwack another idea for art making, oh gosh look at that amazing beautiful something with lovely shadows that just needs its picture taken, oh wow look at that book that I definitely need to read and learn all about and maybe later also study and maybe get a PhD in or maybe interview people about or maybe go on a field trip for. I catch the updraft of excitement more readily than some people.
  • My ‘materials’ collections (for art and craft) are wide ranging and grand in scale, my book shelf has some funny combinations (from textbooks to hand made zines, from trashy crime fiction to fabulous literature, from books about systems thinking and sustainability policy and psychopathology to books on goddess archetypes, and printmaking, and vegetable growing and cake decorating).
  • My career… well, let’s just say I have squeezed in as many disparate topics and projects and experiences as I possibly could under my last ‘umbrella career’ (of environmental / sustainability management-policy- education and research) that lasted 15 years and intend to do the same thing in my current one (art therapy and coaching).
  • There is a funny dance with time taking place – when I am interested and focused on something I am turbo charged, I can get a whole lot done in just a day, time expands. The rest of the time I am panicked that everything has to happen today and that I am falling terribly behind. I forget tomorrow or next week or next year. I underestimate tasks so that I find I have put a whole week’s worth of activities onto my plan for a day. I get caught up in my projects and find myself running late to meet people because I now just want to finish what I’m working on and feel desperate like if I don’t finish it now I will never ever get the chance to work on it again.  I sometimes feel hampered by being in a physical body like I am slowed down more than I want to be, like I want everything to happen just as quickly as I can imagine it. You wouldn’t always guess this is going on above the surface, I can appear calm and even slow on the outside.

When I am happiest I am unstructured, emergent, led by delight, messy, productive and generous.  I like structure around me to allow a safe haven for the wild, expansive dance inside my own mind.

Under stress I become despairing and the light of hope gets buried. If life gets too busy and I don’t get time to play with my projects and express myself creatively I feel despondent like all the juice has gone and I’m left with a withered dusty fruit to eat.

How about you? Do you relate? Do you have a zillion creative projects on the go? Are you sick of people telling you that you ‘just need to pick one thing and settle down’?

Unlike those people who seem to find and be satisfied with one area of interest, you’re genetically wired to be interested in many things, and that’s exactly what you’ve been trying to do. – Quote from ‘Are you a scanner?’ by Barbara Sher 

For more information on being multi passionate/ a renaissance soul/ jack and jill of all trades / polymath or SCANNER please do check out the work of Barbara Sher, especially her great book ‘Refuse to Choose’. You might also like the various Facebook groups for scanners including ‘Scanners Look What I just Made!’, ‘Scanners – check out what I just learnt!’, ‘Scanner Tribe’ and ‘Scanners and Renaissance Souls’. Might see you there!

To work with me to uncover your dreams and bring them gently into the light – no matter how quirky you think they are or how diverse and numerous they are – just drop me a line to arrange a free 30 minute introduction session, and check out my coaching packages for some options going forward.

* Ok not everything. Trains, and accounting and how to hook up the TV and many many other things are on my ‘not interesting’ list. Barbara Sher makes this point in her book ‘Refuse to Choose’ – that we often say or feel we are interested in everything (and therefore can’t possibly get around to doing all of them), but if we begin to really list our interests there are great big areas we usually AREN’T interested in – so this narrows things down, and reduces the feeling of overwhelm.

Everyone struggles sometimes

You might not see it, they might not speak it but they do.

Don’t be fooled by the white toothed images of advertising or the chirpy baby photos and cat videos of social media. Everyone struggled sometimes.
Everyone has days of blah, or ‘I’m not good enough, or ‘what am I here for, nothing makes sense’.

We do.

And sometimes those days remind us of forgotten parts of ourselves that cry out for recognition and are waiting to be given form.

Sometimes those those days tell us we have reached our limits (physically, emotionally, socially) and need some quiet time to regroup.

Sometimes those days remind us that we have forgotten to include joy in our days and we have oriented ourselves towards trudge and ‘must do’ and ‘should’ and to do lists and forgotten to laugh and sing and cry and dance as well.

Sometimes those days help us catch sight of our inner workings, like a reflection in a store window we are walking past, and we see that our inner messages on automatic loop have been quite harsh, hopeless or demorialising. We stop and gasp, and wonder quietlyif we can replace them.

So if you are struggling, just know that everyone struggles sometimes. It doesn’t make you a freak or a loser or somehow not good at life. We’ve been there. My clients have been there. I’ve been there too, and I will no doubt be there again.

So rather than say ‘what’s wrong with me?? Why can’t I get my shit together? I should be happy/ more efficient /more successful/ more organised/ more productive. Why does everything feel so hard right now?’ Feel free to say “I am struggling right now.”. I am struggling right now and I need my own love and kindness as I work my way through it.

And here’s to the kindness of the people in our lives: who encourage us, who ask after us with interest, who share ideas with us, who support us in practical ways, who mirror back our strengths when we can’t remember what they are. Here’s to our friends and support teams, our fellow group members, our therapists and coaches, our clients, our tribes and our mentors who make space for us to feel ALL our feelings, and accept us when we are angry, sad, lonely and confused just as much as when we are happy and productive.

Delight the senses this winter

Here in the Southern hemisphere we are heading into winter.

For some of us that means no real change: more hot, and maybe just less rain (hello people in the tropics!). For those of us in Australia however, especially those living along the South and East coasts we find the days shortening, rain coming and the sky pulling on that winter shawl that Europe does very well in Winter but we emulate as best we can.

And winter can mean drab.

Winter can mean black and grey as far as the eye can see.

It can mean struggling with rain and damp shoes and wet cuffs and inside out umbrellas during torrential rain.

Winter in Sydney can be that special brand of denial – pretending it’s not arriving and clinging defiantly to our lightweight summer clothes as long as we can and standing at bus stops feeling like the wind is an ice sliver stabbing you in the eye.

And all that.

So what will you do to warm the cockles of your heart when the temperature drops and going out seems a pain and getting around feels wet and cold and miserable?

Here are 10 fresh ways to add zest and colour to your winter days:

  1. Wear a colour you don’t normally wear and find a way to love it. I am embracing both brown and maroon (so so so not my normal colours) and having fun with it too.
  2. Dress to a theme that only you know about! I don’t mean fancy dress, unless you want to really create a stir at the supermarket, I mean a little nod to some fashion or theme that makes you smile. A marquisette brooch and a curled fringe for 1940’s understated glamour, lippy and a fluffy wrap for sexy 60’s starlet, a particularly nice tie pin or vintage bag for suave dapper gent, or maybe a dash of steampunk, 70’s newsreader or holiday maker from the Riveriera. Whatever makes you smile and you can discretely pop into your 9-5.
  3. Wear the brightest, funkiest underwear or socks you have.  For no reason, wear the ‘good stuff’.
  4. Pop with colour on the inside and give your tastebuds a treat as well – eat your greens, your blues, your yellows, reds and oranges. Try sizzling hot spices and warm yourself inside out. Time for a curry? A hotpot? Warm soup?
  5. Get a throw or some cushions that feel soft and cuddly, velvety and comforting. Get a snuggly scarf or splurge on some warm and silky tights. If you don’t want to buy more stuff just swap with a friend to get a fresh look. I’m serious; the sharing economy!
  6. Use fire to light up your inner flame – candles at the dinner table or tea lights in the bath room while you enjoy your hot bath (used safely! Never unattended, seriously, someone I know just had their house burn down because they forgot to blow one out.) If candles aren’t your bag what about solar powered fairy lights for the garden or some warm looking lamps indoors?
  7. People can be more isolated in winter. If you crave closeness or touch why not try a dance class or get an aromatherapy massage. If social contact of any kind is something you crave you could find a way to volunteer that creates contact with people or animals in a way that you find nourishing – visiting the elderly, reading for the sight impaired, walking dogs for a shelter, etc.
  8. Use smell to beat that icy cold blankness of winter – try an oil burner with lemongrass, yang yang, up notes of citrus (bergamot and limeade both favourites of mine), or sandalwood.
  9. If you feel bleak or melancholy try writing about it, or even look up some poems about the seasons to discover that people through the ages have been affected by and observant of the changes in the seasons. Document the sensations, the feelings of winter.
  10. If you can’t beat ’em join ’em – in nature winter is about rest and rejuvenation. The soil is conditioned by the fallen leaves, plants look bare while the work happens under the surface to build new buds and growth for spring. Embrace the cold and bare time to go deeper and process the year that’s been. What work can you be doing under the surface to help some new growth appear in spring? Maybe this is a time for rest and consolidation. Go with it!

Sometimes self care means delighting the senses, honouring how we feel and creating a sense of delight for ourselves.

 

Navigating anxiety and the unspoken abyss

Some days I am a fizz of adrenaline and avoidance. I am like a bee buzzing around and doing everything but the things that need doing. You see, I suffer from anxiety. I can become anxious about public speaking, anxious about running workshops, travel or looming deadlines and anxious about social situations. Yup, all that.

It actually took me a long time to realise this elevated fear was not something everyone feels all the time and that it might be something I could do something about. In part because my feelings of anxiety lurk inside, and don’t always express themselves outwardly, it wasn’t something others could see or help me see in myself. I didn’t realise that 11 out of 10 nerves for some work tasks wasn’t something everyone has. It took a long time to realise that the mismatch between what I can do and what I believe I can do was so large, and that I was seeing a huge gaping abyss where others saw a jaunty bridge. ‘Competent but not confident’ someone once described it.

What a pain, right?

Who wants that?

Don’t we all want to be cool, calm and collected, slouching along our way like a yesteryear cowboy or lounging like a glamorous sequined screen siren – slick and relaxed, insouciant, luxuriating in life? Not a frizzy, buzzing, pained, hand wringing person.

So let me introduce you to my anxiety. My anxiety grows bigger and subterranean when the tasks I am facing appear too big for me (something ‘high stakes’ or new that I feel like I am not likely to do well at) or when they begin to be tinged with guilt. My anxiety has a habit of snowballing, especially when I feel like I’m letting other people down. A horrible cycle of fear – avoidance – guilt emerges when I start to feel I am letting someone down by not doing the task that needs doing (the task I am avoiding because I feel too scared to do it).

Left unchecked, anxiety leads me to avoidance, which leads me to guilt, which leads me to more anxiety. If I ignore it, and try to busy myself through it, I can get lost in the feelings of anxiety and my desperate wish to run fast enough that they can’t catch me.

So… what can we do to manage these feelings and function despite them? Can we learn to love our anxiety or quotient it or to work with it?

For me, one of the simplest things that I find works is twofold – naming and nurturing.

By naming I mean acknowledging to myself that I am feeling anxious, but beyond that, actually speaking the fears to someone else; a trusted friend, a therapist, mentor or coach. The more anxious I become, the less likely it is I have spoken with someone about the concern. Sometimes when we feel ‘silly’ for being worried about something that we perceive as trivial or not worthy of fear we censor ourselves and find the fears going unspoken. They persist, but forced underground they grow unchecked and can drive our behaviours in ways we don’t even understand. When I name it, and speak it out I often hear myself explaining it in ways that reveal to me why the fear is justified, normal, to be expected. I validate my own feelings by acknowledging them, and by hearing the other person accept them at face value with curiosity and empathy.

By nurturing I mean flooding myself with alternate messages that honour my feelings and bolster my mood. I tell myself things that make me feel safe and loved. I try to follow these up with nurturing actions of preparation and support for the task. My experience of anxiety is silent – just a silent wide eyed, unsupported and terrified feeling. On the other hand my experience of nurturing self talk is that I unclench, I breathe, I relax. My nurturing self talk might be acknowledging the situation (‘gosh, no wonder you’re scared, it’s a new thing you’re doing’, ‘wow, yes, this is a big week, take care of yourself’), reducing the perceived risk (‘oh well, so long as you go and give it a try and learn something it will all have been worthwhile’), and generally reminding myself that I am loved no matter the outcome, that I can live with the outcome (‘I forgive you for being flawed, and for procrastinating, and for being scared, I love and forgive you even if you are late, or that task is overdue, or you are avoiding things’). As I say it I realise it is true, and my focus enlarges from beyond the anxious core, teetering on the abyss, to a more expansive landscape with solid ground under my feet.

There can even be protective wisdom in our anxiety – a reminder to attend to our needs, or be wary of situations that have been uncomfortable in the past. In my experience though, anxiety is like a dog barking in the night at an unfamiliar noise, our self caring and nurturing aspects are like the adult who gets up to check what the noise is all about and decides what to do with it. Anxiety is loud information, but it can’t always tell the postman from the burglar.

As an art therapist, this is ongoing work I need to do for myself, for my own self-care, and to create a flourishing base from which to work with others. Anxiety is a very familiar way of being for me, and while I have much longer periods now when it lies dormant, when it reappears I have to work through it anew each time, using tools I continue to practice. It also means my experience and understanding of anxiety is fresh and 3 dimensional – not just a word and theory I have studied but a flesh and bones experience. The gift of this in my work is that I understand how scary it can be to come to a group for example, or how unsettling the first meeting with a new therapist can be for one on one sessions. I also understand how there can be ‘good weeks’ and ‘bad weeks’ that seem to appear like the weather, or periods when we are more unsettled and prone to reacting in an anxious way. I strive to make the therapeutic process accessible and gentle, so that clients feel safe and can relax enough to share something of themselves in an authentic way.

In art therapy we talk about developing the witness, the inner voice of the witness who can observe what we are doing with kind impartiality, right alongside that part of us that feels deeply. We also work with clients to develop new thinking cycles that are affirming rather than negating. Importantly, in transpersonal art therapy, we make space for the feelings to be heard, and for the client to be lovingly accepted exactly as they are, with anxious feelings and self judgement and all. We help create a more nurturing inner voice by providing space for them to get beyond the daily chatter and into a place of contemplation and reflection. We model a stable and accepting self, we also empower the client to find this in themselves.

 

Resources:

For immediate help for anxiety or depression if you are in Australia you can contact Beyond Blue or Lifeline day or night. ReachOut is also a great resource for young people on a variety of mental health and life challenges, with resources about bullying, friendships, relationships and issues like anxiety. This helpful information sheet describes a range of anxiety disorders. In Victoria there is also the Anxiety Recovery Centre that runs specialised groups on different types of anxiety. It may also be useful to speak with your Doctor if you have concerns about your health or mental health.

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Offerings:

I currently have some spaces becoming available for one on one coaching and art therapy clients.

  • In coaching I support you to work towards your goals, making changes that you want to make in your life.  In coaching we approach the practicalities of getting things done – with clever tricks to get around anxiety and lots of support and encouragement (aka a personal cheer squad) so you feel less afraid to tackle the difficult tasks. See here for more information.
  • In art therapy I help you process and express feelings in ways that let you see yourself and your situation in new ways. We make room for the feeling dimensions of life and explore your inner world using symbols and metaphor and creative expression. We can do art therapy face to face if you are in Sydney, or by distance if you are elsewhere around the world. See here for more information and contact me here to get in touch.

Reader question: How to keep on keeping on

I was SUPER excited to hear from someone who sat down and read my entire blog from front to back last month, every last post, AND found it inspiring AND took the time to tell me. She also shared some ideas for future posts, in the form of questions that she has about the creative process and going after your dreams. I am very grateful special reader (you know who you are).

So, here is the first of a series of ‘reader question’ posts that I plan to scatter throughout this year’s programming. Let me know if you like the format, and if you also have questions of your own you’d like addressed in a blog post, PLEASE let me know.

I will now rest my excited caps lock button and proceed.

1) How to keep doing something. I love the idea of doing something a little bit every day, but not coming from a family of doers, and being the kind to completely blob out in front of the telly every night, I find it easy to be inspired and get started but impossible to continue. So, pointers/carrots/sticks would be lovely.

Thanks for the question, I think it’s one that many people experience – the initial wave of excitement that can come with a new idea and the fading and slightly stale or sad feeling that may follow. Many people also struggle with their habits, recognising that it can be hard to learn new skills that we didn’t pick up in childhood, or to step out and ‘go against the grain’ of what our families like and admire. Barabra Sher has great stuff to say about this in her books – see the bottom of this post for a mini reading list.  So yes, great question.

My very short answer is eliminate the obvious, recognise resistance, sidestep the perfectionist, ride the waves, check for interest and build your support structures. More about these below.

Eliminate the obvious

So, to begin with, eliminate the obvious: exhaustion, depression, ill health can make it hard for us to muster energy and follow through with plans. It might sound obvious but I would always suggest checking in and making sure that at this particular point in time you are well rested, not overworked, not in a life transition that is extremely stressful, not suffering from depression, or struggling with an immune disorder or some other condition that might be sapping your energy. I think this is important because our culture so values activity over rest, and we can sometimes forget that pushing harder on the accelerator while our body has the brake on is a sure fire way to burn out our engines. So check in first and make sure there’s no underlying reason why activity might be hard for you right now. If there is a good reason to be tired, maybe respect that for the moment and focus on getting all the rest and help you need to be physically and emotionally well.

Recognise resistance

Next I think it’s important to recognise resistance. Instead of thinking ‘why am I so lazy and stupid?’ it is a lot kinder to think ‘wow, could I be scared of something here?’. Resistance is a natural digging in of the heels that you do when you feel fear. Fear is usually of some kind of change – and that can be linked to EITHER failure or success…even a change that might bring success can be deeply scary. Barbara Sher talks a lot about resistance, and how it is a perfectly normal biological response to change, and is designed to keep us safe.

Fear of writing a bad poem or embarrassing ourselves at that dance class we say we want to go to registers in our bodies as fear of something life threatening. Acceptance of ourselves, and by our ‘tribe’ is a key goal for most, so it is completely understandable that we should fear being rejected or judged. Recognising resistance is the first step to then finding ways around it. If we just keep something as a vague dream and then get angry at ourselves for never magically waking up and feeling like doing it, we wont get very far. It is like a horse rider getting angry at a horse that wont move, rather than recognising that something is probably scaring it, and figuring out what that is. So if you have a nervous ‘icky’ feeling attached to something that you also really want to do, and you notice you just can’t get started, chances are it’s resistance. It’s normal, it’s human, try not to waste valuable time and energy beating yourself up about it. You’ll need that energy to do something about it instead!

Sidestep your inner perfectionist

Perfectionism to me is the fear of just not doing a very good job at whatever task you are stepping out to do. Do you have an inner perfectionist? Goodness knows I do. There are times when it is paralysing for me to think about starting because I *know* I can’t do a wonderful job of a particular project (say its new to me, or I know I don’t have much time to do it in, or I know I’m a beginner and don’t have great skills yet, or worse yet I know that I have no benchmark or wont get any feedback and wont know if I’ve done a good job or not). In this case I suggest sidestepping the perfectionist. Acknowledge the inner perfectionist, listen politely for a while and then do whatever it take to politely step around them and keen on moving.*

Things I like for getting around this block are: giving myself permission to do a bad job (‘ok then perfectionist, I hear you, and I agree that it is unlikely I’ll do something great so stuff it, I wont make ‘proper’ art, I’ll just scribble a little bit on this page and let off steam.. oh look at these pretty colours.. oh now I’m adding layers.. oh what do you know I like it’). I also remind myself that in learning new skills we need time to not know, to try, to get things ‘wrong’ and to do an awkward and slow job of things before it starts to feel second nature. The phrase that reminds me of this is ‘a bit like the first pancake’ (you know, when the pan isn’t quite warm enough but you cook the first pancake anyway and it’s a bit bodgy, but that’s ok because the next one is better).

I try to remember that even masters of their craft were beginners once too. Be completely radical and give yourself permission to be just average – or even to do a shoddy and half-arsed job. Sometimes you can do this by building in time to your project for a ‘rough draft’ or ‘concept map’ or ‘first go’. Or build in early rounds of collaboration, input, reviews or checks by others’ who you think are pretty skilled at this thing (whatever it is you are trying to do). It lowers the pressure, lowers the stakes and tells your perfectionist to go take a nap. Once you’ve sidestepped the perfectionist you can wander about and find you inner cheerleader or the part of you that’s actually fascinated with what you’re doing instead.

Body surf on your inner waves

In riding the waves what I mean is to look for and make use of whatever patterns and rhythms your body and energy levels tend to have. Are you a morning person or or night owl? Do you find you have weekly or monthly cycles of greater energy and activity? Do you feel more energised after physical activity? After listening to inspiring podcasts? Do you notice an up welling of enthusiasm after you’ve cleared the kitchen and wiped the benches, or does some energetic music and a dance around the house get you moving? Does a morning coffee get your mojo rising?

Living in a land of clocks and clockwork, we can feel sometimes like we MUST have a measured, even, consistent contribution to be productive or efficient. And maybe that works for some people, but quite frankly it doesn’t for me, not one little bit. My energy levels are like waves and tides – there are little cycles of more and less energy through a day or a week and then larger tides come in and out. I know that sleep, nutrition, time outside, natural hormone cycles, caffeine, contact with people (either inspiring or draining), noise levels, my fear about failure, whether my creative well is full, the amount of daylight, the weather, and sometimes which way the wind is blowing (joking. I think) can all effect how enthused I am about my projects and how much ‘energy’ I have to spend on them. For me, ‘energy’ is this intangible thing which is hard to measure or see externally but boy does it make a difference. I can get a week’s worth of work done in a day if I am feeling inspired, upbeat, and energised, and get it done without ‘pain’ and dragging of heels. Part of the trick then is to schedule the tasks to make use of the energy when you have it, and to feel OK with a more ‘organic’ pattern of creating, that might not be the same amount every day – and maybe that’s OK.

Check for interest… and ditch it or try to make it fun again

Do you really want to do this project? Or did last year you want to do it but today you are sick of it entirely? Sometimes our ego self gets very excited when we start making useful pretty things, and wants us to keep making them over and over to get whatever ‘goodies’ (material or emotional rewards) it sees these outputs can bring us. We can assume that this project will make us satisfied because it did the first time we did it. So our head says ‘make more! do your project!’ while actually our creative self says ‘I’m bored with this and want something new’. If you identify as a scanner this might be particular relevant.

If the project isn’t actually fascinating or exciting to you anymore (even when you imagine doing it with ease, not being able to get it wrong, and having nothing but acceptance and encouragement from everyone else) then chances are you’ve just lost interest and maybe you just need to erase it off your to do list. Try stepping away from it. If the idea of never doing it doesn’t cause a pang of loss you are probably ready to leave it behind. If it feels sad to never do it chances are you want to do it but are just suffering from some garden variety resistance and need to try some of the tips in the sections below.

If on the other hand you are a bit bored with the whole thing but committed to it and need to get it done anyway, do whatever it takes to make it fun and interesting again….

  • Connect with inspiration – read about someone who’s done it, look at great images of the work of other designers, go to a hardware shop and let your fingers trail along the pieces of wood
  • Mix up your materials – try a new colour, new combination of yarns, a new app, a new format, something to add learning into an already familiar task
  • Give yourself a limited structure or set of constraints that you’ve never worked to before – if you’re a novelist try haiku for a few days, if you’re an illustrator try only doing paper cut outs this week, if you’re a pianist try playing one handed today
  • Join a challenge – e.g.. to make and share something every day for 30 days. It often reduces the expectations and encourages you to try new formats. The time pressure alone can make things feel more exciting.
  • Shift your project just little a bit – I used to like taking photos of a new flower every day on my morning walk. At first I loved it. Then it felt a bit ‘expected’. I started to feel like I was looking for and seeing the same things. Recently I’ve started a new daily photographic project where I photograph small objects I find to use in art making while on my walk – arranging them on my kitchen bench when I get home. I still get the benefits of a daily photographic practice linked to walking, but it feels fresher and more authentic now it’s a new topic.

If you can’t make it interesting, and your safety or material wellbeing is not hanging on this project, then don’t do it. Find something else that is fascinating – even if it means icing a cake rather than writing a symphony, or learning to repair shoes rather than writing a short story.

Build your support structures

OK so you’re not sick, you are interested in the project, you’ve recognised resistance and perfectionism and found some ways to step around them, and you’re aware of the way your energy comes and goes and are OK to work with that. Great! Now comes the fun stuff – building your practical and tangible carroty – sticky support structures.

Here are some I use at different times:

* parallel task – do boring tasks like filing or tidying alongside a fun task like listening to music or a podcast to distract from the aversion I feel for it ( I *know* this is the opposite of being fully present and mindful in the task, but to be honest I just find it so hard to fold washing mindfully, I would much rather fold washing distractedly while learning about a topic I care about). This isn’t the same as multitasking where you flick backhand forth between tasks, and lose concentration and efficiency along the way, you just do the two side by side as a way to fill up your concentration and associate something fun with something less fun.

* sneak something useful* into down time – Barbara Sher talks about setting up your easel in the loungeroom and painting in the ad breaks right alongside your family. I do similar, working on multimedia art, cutting out pictures for collage or knitting while watching TV, or sketching at airports in the waiting lounge. A friend had a writing routine while commenting on a train. Even doing 15 minutes of something creative that you love will brighten up your day, and you’ll feel more connected to your dreams. You might just need to let go of any rigid rules you have like ‘I have to work on my project for 3 hour blocks when no one’s around, in a silent tower with only iced lemon tea to drink and a wet washcloth infused with the scent of jasmine on my forehead’. (* Yes I know, doing nothing and resting is also useful. I have an inherent and sometimes unhelpful bias towards activity.)

* lift my mood first – sometimes I lift my energy some other way first and then ride that wave through the hard or boring task – e.g. go for a brisk walk in the sunshine, have a coffee at my favourite cafe and then come back with a bounce in my step and tackle the hard task.

* do it with a friend – I have an art project I make that requires hours and hours of manual photocopying of my original artworks at a printshop – I find it smelly and confusing and hard – BUT I LOVE the final product and get such a strong sense of satisfaction when it’s done, so the best way I’ve found is to get a friend who likes arty stuff to come along with me – we finish up with wine and dinner and I get the whole thing done in a day. And I can’t then chicken out and avoid it on the day. You can even invite a friend over while you make the scary first steps of a new project, or get through the tricky bit. Sometimes just having someone to complain to (er, sit with) really helps. Whatever it takes.

* new environment – sometimes doing things in cafes feel more fun than doing them at your desk and you have less distractions and other tasks to procrastinate with.  Only you know whether you’d like a quiet haven or a hustly bustly busy hum in the background. Some tasks are nice done under a tree, or with the ocean as a backdrop. I even find some tasks are great done with a very short deadline (‘send that overdue email right now at this bust stop before the bus arrives’).

* do it with company – a craft or making project might be something you would enjoy doing with others around say in a share space like a Men’s Shed or Women’s Shed, or a local ‘drop in’ art space. If you are a writer and feel like a change of scenery and some company might help try Write Together or its offshoot Create Together. Going to a course or workshop on something you kind of know how to do but just want an excuse to do more of (e.g.. cooking, printmaking, drawing, web design, meditating) can be a great choice if you can. Participants in my weekly Women’s Creative Wellbeing group tell me they find it so much easier to make time for creative expression when they’ve signed up to a regular event and have a small group around them all working on the same thing.

* make deadlines – personal projects often don’t have deadlines. I work well with the finality of a deadline to push me through my resistance. Committing to another person or public forum to submit a draft / have something ready also helps. For example, I often finish designing my workshops and doing all the logistical prep work AFTER I have a date set and people booked in, because then it feels real and I don’t have a choice. Can you create an ‘exhibition’ or sharing of your work that will give you a deadline? Can you join an event that requires you to have worked towards the goal in advance? Could you work with a friend or coach to create a plan with mini milestones?

* bribery – some people finds this works. It doesn’t really work for me as a general rule but very occasionally very occasionally  I will make myself do something I don’t like if I get to do something I do like afterwards. Usually I’ll just skip straight to eating the carrot.

* pomodoro technique – do you know it? A way to hack time to get more done in short bursts. Works a treat, I work much better with a sense of urgency, this helps create one even when there’s not one. In my online groups and one on one coaching I also use Barbara Sher’s ‘blockbuster’ method to help people get things done in short bursts of time.

So there you have it. A quick romp through some different approaches to doing things you want to do more often. Most of them link to increasing the joy in the task and decreasing the feelings of isolation and fear of failure that keep many of us stuck.

Do any of these resonate? What have you found also works for you?

 

*Deeper work with a trained counsellor, psychotherapist or art therapist on uncovering the critical voices in your head and replacing those with more encouraging ones can also be very powerful, alongside using the tips above, especially if your attitudes to yourself are highly critical and unforgiving.  

What goes up must come down – handling post event blues

Anyone expect to be dancing on sunbeams after an event only to find themselves tired and wanting to hide on the couch the next day? Have you ever wondered if it’s something other people experience too? And where does it come from? Is is perfectionism? Resistance to the next steps? Restorative? 

Putting it to the brains trust! This week I spoke to a number of coaches and trainers in my networks about whether they ever feel inexplicably ‘down’ the day after a workshop/ lecture/ training seminar, why they think that is, and how to handle it.

If you’ve ever experienced this and wondered if you were alone – you’re not!

They had some great tips on how to handle this and create space for it – what I now like think of as making down time for the ‘down’ time.

What they had to say….

This is totally and completely normal! It’s part of the creative cycle, especially when you’re running an event yourself – you put so much of yourself into making it amazing, OF COURSE you’ll be drained afterwards. When you know to expect it, you can plan for it so it doesn’t hit you so hard. Not just in the sense of scheduling down time after an event, but also in making sure that you amp up your self care *before* and *during* the event (so you don’t need quite as much down time). – Heidi

I think it is very nomal. Its an energy phenomenon. You give your energy to thers, but then suffer from a lack, which is why you are tired and have to fill yourself up again. The more workshops you have done, the less tired you will get, as you will learn to handle your energy. Take a look at master presenters like Barbara Sher. She seems to not to get tired as a result of her training, as she seems to get into a flow while a workshop. She deals perfectly with her energy. So maybe it would be a good think to learn something like energy balancing. but yes, it is definitely normal, while you are still learning to make workshops without losing your energy, but rather to to keep it or double it (like masters do). – Lisa

I think just like every actor needs to be a little nervous before each performance, in order to be good, so do presenters. Similarly we all will be a little worn out afterwards.  I guess it also has something to do with recovering, getting your strength back. – Carolina

I know this feeling, the after-workshop-blues. When I give a two-day-workshop I often feel sad in-between the two days. The day after the workshop is finished I leave completely free: I am only allowed to do crochet and I often book a massage. At the beginning I could barely speak after workshops (me!! someone who loves to speak), now it’s much better. I think that’s because I used to have to work much more to prepare and I had to deal with a great load of insecurity. I have also learned with time to let the participants do much more during sessions so that I am not 120% ‘on’ all the time. – Maria

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Thank you so much for bringing the topic up Jade! I always thought I have personal problem here. My after workshop blues is always a massive feeling of depression which I could never explain especially when things went very good and felt right! After a recent 2 days seminar in Germany I could hardly do anything the day after it finished, I felt very sad and sleepy at the same time. – Hajo

I have a similar experience: feeling completly empty after a success … and super excited and/or very tired. I meanwhile learnt and accepted the yin-yang-principle: after a lot of work you need a rest, after stress you need to relax – so after a weekendworkshop, I block Monday (and sometimes even Tuesday) as “day off” – and after a day-workshop in another town, I am too tired to drive home, so I will often sit in a cafe, do some windowshopping – even real shopping. After high performance you need a rest to recover, after a lot of stress, you need also a rest or another activity to reduce stress-hormons in your body, otherwise you risk your health longterm (burnout). It’s just like when you do sports to get more muscles – they grow in the rest period. The best would be to have better energy-management, to avoid getting too exhausted by being in a flow :- ) – Astrid

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An ex colleague of mine made a wordgame in German long ago. I said: after a training (Lehre) I feel so…so… And she finished my sentence: empty? (leer?). So in German, teaching and emptiness sound exactly the same (Lehre/leere). Although I don’t tend to interpret too much in that, it is a good reminder that you have to fill your tanks up again after standing in front of a group. – Maria

I’m afraid, it is normal and you should only be proud of yourself and good to yourself, do what ever you love and celebrate your success. It is also important to let all the problems go, which are not yours. I sometimes shower with a little salty water or do other things to clear anything I may be holding onto from the group our participants. – Gabriele

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YEP! The same here! After a workshop I always need some time off. The “day after” is good for doing some small things and rounding up the training (How was it?) and that’s about it. – Claudia

It’s the same for me: after a challenging workshop I keep the following day free: too many new thoughts looking for a place and circle around – it must be quiet around me to sort all the new impressions I always bring from days like this. It’s like cleaning after a party – Hilke

Conclusions

It’s a common experience and you’re not alone! It’s certainly a pattern I’ve noticed personally after delivering training sessions or guest speaking, especially if there has been a lot of preparation or excited nervous energy – e.g. a new audience, or when it’s breaking new ground for me in some way. Coaching clients have spoken about the same thing, especially clients who identify as introverted or highly sensitive.

I think the fear that arises is that it may mean we’ve done a bad job or that we secretly haven’t enjoyed the experience (because if we did we figure we’d be feeling great), and the worry that this may reflect on our skills or abilities as trainers, speakers or facilitators. Instead it is helpful to consider the physical / energetic aspects of the post event slump. Be kind to yourself, cut yourself some slack, and see how everything looks a day or two later once you are well rested and your hormones and energy levels have evened up.