How to Live with Less

Less what?

Did you assume I meant money?

Okay, fine, that’s what I wanted you to think. But stay tuned.

The “American Dream” depicts a vision of success often represented by homeownership, a nice car, and a steady income with which to purchase the food of our choice, regular entertainment, and hopefully even vacations abroad, followed by a comfortable retirement.

We can pursue this “dream” in moderation, exercising frugality and eschewing whatever our means would categorize as excessive consumerism. And, when necessary, as so many in our country experienced as a result of the recession (and vast numbers experience on a more routine basis) we can pare down to the bare essentials and learn to live far more humbly so as to make do, until, ideally, we achieve financial stability. This is typically what comes to mind when someone suggests we “live with less.”  It can be done.  (That is, putting aside entrenched patterns of poverty in the US and our growing income inequality, which warrants a completely different discussion).

What if I instead suggested that we live with less meaningful connection to family? With fewer close friendships? What would it mean for us to purposely reduce our connection to community? Not as a result of clinical depression or debilitating anxiety, but as a matter of principle, based on values.

In other words, the belief that money is more important than people.

This is where I think, ‘well, of course, some people do actually believe this.‘ Such a perspective appears to be a dominant value in some circles, despite the existence of research showing that once a certain level of financial security is achieved, and all basic needs are met, further wealth accumulation does not increase happiness. Right? Because money does not nourish us the way that living beings do. Knowing this, I suspect that deep down, those who believe that wealth is life’s highest achievement may also be suffering from a poverty of love.

The portrayal of material values are everywhere we look. Many of us buy into this culture of consumerism and behave in ways that hint at material wealth as the pinnacle of success. Now, I imagine most people would shy away from saying outright that reducing human connection is their goal (I say ‘most people’ because, in this vast sea of humanity, there must be some who prefer isolation, for any number of reasons – and of course, introverts will always need frequent alone time to replenish their energy), but in effect, when we place a higher priority and primary focus on continual material achievement, we are necessarily placing a lower priority and less focus on deepening relationships. I think our culture pressures us to believe we “have” to pursue wealth in order to live well.

To be fair, I do believe that there are many people whose large fortunes were made without forgoing the importance of nurturing human connection, but I do question whether their relationships could have possibly been strengthened in any authentic way by their materialistic pursuits. I suspect they were more likely weakened, or at least put on the back burner for a time, rather than nurtured in a mutually supportive way. This is not to say that they were ill-intentioned or uncaring, and in fact, many are certainly great philanthropists. Yet it isn’t hard to find examples to confirm that the very wealthy are far from immune to emotional suffering and loneliness.

So, while I do have a wish to live in relative ease and comfort, over the years I have shifted my beliefs about what that means. In times of uncertainty and stress, what I want most is to have supportive connections with people I love. I also want to be there for them in meaningful ways. These social connections are literally life sustaining. I learned, over time, that for me, the competitive, highly compensated corporate environment in which I was working did not facilitate that in my life. It left me little time, energy, or depth to connect meaningfully with those I cherished. It also kept me routinely tethered to electronic devices, a tangible barrier to more nuanced personal connection.

This insight came to me in sharp relief a few years ago. I had what I later realized was a transformative experience in one of the largest slums in Africa, when I was, ironically, making a corporate salary and could travel there quite comfortably. A neighbor had connected us with her Kenyan cousin who does community work in Kibera, and Jack took us on a walk through the maze of shacks and shopping stands.

What struck me like a beautiful brick to the head was the immensely palpable joy emanating from that community. And a community it was. Jack told us about how they had addressed intra-community crime by forming groups of families who pooled their money and collectively funded whatever was most needed within that circle, be it medical care, school fees, uniforms, or food. How they watched one another’s children. How we could have literally walked through there with our wallets on our heads, and not feared having them stolen. This, in a city where I witnessed a closed jeep window being popped open and an iPod being stolen out of my wife’s hand while we were riding to the airport (albeit in virtually standstill traffic).

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In Kibera, there was music, there were people conversing with excitement, there were children laughing, there were smiles on nearly all of the faces we encountered. No one asked us for handouts. What Jack had explained to us was that his work was focused on improving the quality of life for these ~750,000 people living within one square mile with no plumbing or electricity and deadly train tracks running through its center. He had described, and we saw, that a fair number of those who had been able to obtain an education now worked outside of Kibera, yet continued to live there because they loved the community. They wanted to contribute to lifting it up.

Were they lazy? Far from it! Their community was still striving. They wanted better living conditions, medical care, education, even the ability to join a soccer team. And yet, they already lived joyously. They found joy in their families, their friends, their deep community bonds. In living. They were grateful for what they had, not bitter about what they did not. They recognized the value of lives filled with love. They could transform that into laughter. Their lives were hard, but their hearts full.

Did they feel entitled to more? Did they resent those who had more? Jack didn’t think so. They admired and aspired. They worked to better themselves and their neighbors. They combined their efforts. And in doing so, they felt connected and protected and encouraged.

I have heard from other travelers that it is not uncommon to encounter such visible joy within poverty stricken communities in developing countries. Perhaps they have not yet been tainted by the descent into materialistic capitalist greed and fierce competition, that runs rampant here in the US.

It was hard to come back to the corporate world after that trip, and I resigned less than three years later. I became more willing to live with less, materially. I wanted the time and energy to focus on living more soulfully. Some people can do both; I chose not to.  For me, this is what life is all about. I strive most strongly to cultivate the human connections that sustain me. And I feel richer for it.

What matters most to you in your life, and how do you prioritize it?

Cultivating Confidence

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Me, looking confident despite the camera, thanks to Jennifer Graham, photographer extraordinaire!

…because when you believe in yourself, new possibilities emerge. 

As I’ve made the journey from corporate burnout, to work-life balance, and ultimately into a more deeply authentic and whole-hearted way of living, I’ve become aware that a key factor in this progression has been my increasingly clear sense of self. It has been (and continues to be) a process of coming into my own, recognizing that I am perfectly imperfect, and that it’s not only okay, but preferable, to be all of who I am. In every part of my life. The more I read, study, and practice as a coach and entrepreneur, the clearer this connection between whole-hearted and self-confidence living becomes.

As a prerequisite for whole-hearted living, the kind of self-confidence I’m referring to is closely linked to self-esteem. What’s the difference? Well, as I see it, confidence is often related to one’s known capabilities and expectations for success, while self-esteem is not reliant on external factors or skill levels.  Inherent in self-esteem is a level of self-respect and acceptance that supports risk-taking and growth. From this foundation, we can build the confidence necessary to take care of ourselves and be fully ourselves in all that we do. Thus, for me, the qualities of true self-confidence (as opposed to bravado) and self-esteem are reliant upon one another for growth.

The dictionary defines confidence as, “a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities.” I would break this down further to say that the element of self-assurance is what shows up as confidence, and that having an appreciation of oneself refers to the self-esteem that makes it possible.

For instance, I’ve come to believe that all those years ago when my life felt positively grueling, it was largely a lack of self-confidence that was preventing me from saying “No” to what didn’t serve me, and saying “Yes” to more of what did, even when I knew deep down what was best for me.  This arose because I also had insufficient self-esteem, which led me to believe I needed to speak, act, and even think differently than my true self, in order to be sufficiently valued and appreciated. Both my low self-esteem and my low self-confidence kept my inner-critic well fed and my nose to the grindstone doing what I thought I “should,” regardless of the negative impact to my spirit. Until I developed the confidence to prioritize my personal needs for well-being, it was impossible for me to achieve fulfillment.

Depending on your baseline, it can take years to develop deep confidence in yourself. Thankfully, there are ways to accelerate the process, if you’re willing to do the work. As with most personal development, it starts with increasing self-awareness and ensuring a solid foundation of self-esteem. Trying multiple methods of development at once enables greater integration, so here’s a small sampling of practices that could be paired with one another or added-on over time for maximum effect.

Clarifying your sense of self and focusing on what’s possible can raise optimism and confidence in parallel. Journaling regularly offers one way to work towards this, with almost infinite options for structure. One such structure I recommend is to spend 10-15 minutes each morning or evening reflecting on your strengths and achievements as well as your intentions. Map out how you plan to overcome obstacles using your strengths. This can be a great tool for positively framing upcoming challenges and setting yourself up for success by having thought through possible scenarios.

Being part of a community with shared values provides a boost to well-being and can help you build confidence over time. Keep showing up in the same places, and you will begin to develop a sense of belonging. Better yet, volunteer your services early on to help with something specific, and you will have a role to play, which can help ease potential social anxiety about “how” to be with new people in a new setting. You will inevitably feel a sense of self-respect for exercising generosity, and this will serve to maintain a supportive foundation of self-esteem.

When we feel anxious or insecure, our bodies respond by activating our nervous systems and shifting hormone levels. What science has taught us in recent years is that this can work in reverse as well. Somatic, or physical, practices can shift our body chemistry and psychological outlook. We can use this knowledge to engage in practices that enable us to show up more confidently as our best selves. For instance, when we engage in deep, slow, belly breathing, it helps calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety. Even walking more slowly can have a soothing effect. Personally, I enjoy listening to uplifting music in order to shift my energy into something more positive and active.

Similarly, research presented by social psychologist Amy Cuddy indicates that adopting expansive poses increases people’s feelings of power and confidence. While the direct impact to hormone levels has not been effectively replicated by further studies, the effect of feeling powerful is a critical psychological outcome. As Columbia University professor Adam Galinsky and colleagues wrote in a 2016 review, a person’s “sense of power … produces a range of cognitive, behavioral, and physiological consequences,” including improved executive functioning, optimism, creativity, authenticity, the ability to self-regulate and performance in various domains.

Another smaller, but important skill that helps build confidence, is simply learning to accept a compliment. It’s ok to say “thank you!” and feel good about yourself. Likewise, when someone thanks you for doing something, try responding simply with “you’re welcome,” without diminishing their appreciation of you by brushing off their comment. When you practice honoring your contributions, it feels different internally, and you show up more confidently on the outside, too. Demonstrating humility means not engaging in bragging, but it doesn’t require that you dismiss others’ recognition of you. Accepting praise is an important step in reinforcing your self-worth and sense of value to others.

What practices have you found that help you build self-esteem or feel more confident? I welcome you to add your tips in the comments!

 

If you liked this, please feel free to check out my earlier blog posts on WordPress, here.  You might also enjoy following me on Facebook and Instagram for additional inspiration, or you can read more about my coaching biz and book a Free 30-minute Consultation from my website.

 

 

How to Get Better at Anything

As a professional Coach, I will forever be learning my craft. This brings me great joy! Not only is it satisfying to acquire knowledge and awareness and build new skills, it is doubly rewarding to notice how my development positively impacts my overall well-being. Growth is always possible. This mindset is what propels me forward […]

As a professional Coach, I will forever be learning my craft. This brings me great joy! Not only is it satisfying to acquire knowledge and awareness and build new skills, it is doubly rewarding to notice how my development positively impacts my overall well-being. Growth is always possible. This mindset is what propels me forward when I encounter obstacles or find myself engaged in activities in which I am not (yet) terribly skilled.

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If you are a lifelong learner, you most likely share this mind-set. But how far into your life does it permeate? Do you remember to apply this thinking when you are asked to take on something new that is outside your comfort zone at work? Does it show up when your kids ask you to join them in an activity in which you think you will be terrible? Do you remember that it applies to relationships, communication, and self-care? What about that instrument you always wanted to learn, even though you have “no musical talent?”
Many of us tend to have fixed mind-sets in some areas of our lives, believing we simply weren’t born with the talent or the intellect to learn certain things, so why even try. However, research by Stanford Professor Carol Dweck illustrates that talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching, and persistence – everyone can get smarter and more skilled if they work at it.
This doesn’t mean that just anyone is likely to become a Nobel Prize winner, but it does challenge the notion that there are things we’re simply not good at, so there’s no sense expending our energy working on them. If there’s something you truly want to learn, you can develop your skills with good instruction and persistent effort.  This also flies in the face of the common belief that being hard on ourselves is what keeps us driven to improve. Kristin Neff, associate professor at University of Texas in Austin’s department of educational psychology, has done extensive research in self-compassion and has found that compassion is the biggest motivator for change, not being hard on yourself.
Sometimes it’s hard for us to know what our (unconscious) beliefs are, so spending a little time paying attention to our thoughts can help us recognize the limiting beliefs we are harboring about ourselves. What stories do you tell yourself? Why do you choose to believe you are not good enough in certain ways? How do you show up when you believe that?  Our thoughts create feelings, which drive our behaviors, which lead to results.
The next time you think, “I can’t do this,” ask yourself if that’s an accurate characterization. Perhaps what’s actually true is that you don’t want to try it.  Then, ask yourself why.  Maybe you actually do want to try it, but you’re afraid of embarrassment. If so, accurately identifying that gives you the chance to make a different choice. On the other hand, if you find the activity distasteful or unappealing on its own merits, then perhaps you simply prefer to set a boundary and say that you’re not interested in trying it. Either way, you are making a decision rooted in greater self-knowledge and clarity than if you had simply said “I can’t.”
Practice: I invite you to experiment with applying a growth mind-set to your self-talk every day for two weeks, and observe the impact on both your performance and self-confidence. At least once a day, look in the mirror and say a truth to yourself about what you are learning, practicing, getting comfortable with, becoming a person who is X, or who is working toward something you wish to achieve. For me, such statements feel more authentic than traditional affirmations that often don’t ring true. For instance, instead of an affirmation like “I’m amazing at this,” try “I’m practicing and getting better every day.” Or, rather than, “I can do anything I set my mind to,” try, “I am learning what I need to do this really well.” Turn negative self-talk such as “this is too hard,” into the more helpful, “this will take some time and effort.”
Try to pay attention to the questions you ask yourself as well, to ensure you aren’t beating yourself up. For instance, a fixed-mindset question would be, “what is wrong with me, why aren’t I smarter?” Ouch!  A much kinder, growth mindset question is likely to lead to a better outcome, and will feel better, too. Try asking yourself instead, “how would this be solved, how can I learn from this?”
Recommended resources: The Art of Manliness (it’s good, really!) Podcast with Carol Dweck on The Importance of Mindset, or her well-researched book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

What Brings You Home to Yourself?

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It was *almost* spontaneous. With less than a week’s advance notice, I loaded Buddy into the car and we went on a little road trip to spend this past weekend with my good friend and her fiancé and their three dogs.  They live on top of a mountain amidst the redwoods. It. was. gorgeous. The weather couldn’t have been more beautiful as we sat on the deck sipping wine and barbecuing, making s’mores, and soaking in the hot tub under the stars.

After some busy weeks filled with greater-than-usual intensity and mental swirl, it was exactly what I needed. I’d been aware that my stress levels were mounting. To cope, I had been squeezing in more meditation and doing some of my other practices to quiet and center myself, but they were only keeping the engine running, not actually filling the tank. I made sure to keep dancing and doing my volunteer work, both of which feed my soul and recharge my batteries, but it wasn’t sufficient. I needed to refuel.

I like to think of the process of refueling as coming home to myself, or re-connecting with my core essential being.

For me, that most often includes sinking into the powerful inner peacefulness that comes from being amongst the giant redwoods. Feeling the sun and the breeze on my skin. Smelling the forest. Hearing the birds. Just breathing and being.

Given the pace of urban living, corporate culture, and electronic information overload, it’s a wonder that any of us even remember to take care of our selves in a deeply connected way. In general, we are socialized to operate primarily in our minds, with occasional dips into physical awareness or spiritual connection.

It can leave many of us feeling disconnected from our true selves or dissatisfied with the quality of our lives. We don’t often stop to notice this state of being, and yet, it prevents us from being our best (and most productive and creative) selves.

What? Won’t I be more successful if I keep pushing myself to do more and keep going?

You won’t. Trust me. (or trust the data, your choice 😉 )

I’ve been able to stay clearly focused with a steady, centered energy all week. It feels as though I reset my nervous system and performed a brain reboot! That 24 hours spent feeding my soul became a gift that keeps on giving.

So……what takes you home to yourself?

Is it watching waves crash on an empty beach? Floating down a river in an inner tube? Attending a silent retreat? a yoga retreat? Listening to live chamber music? Reading poetry in a hammock? Cycling thru wine country? Getting lost in the beauty of an art gallery? Bird watching? Painting? Gardening?

You may notice a couple of themes emerging. Nature and art have a way of touching our souls and fueling them with a sustaining kind of energy not available elsewhere. Identify what speaks to you, and find ways to incorporate it into your life.

And, every once in a while, when the busyness of life starts to get to you, find the time to partake of your “soul-food” in doses big enough to take you far away from the hustle and bustle, and home to yourself. Your ‘return on investment’ will be worth it.

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Stacey Miller is an Integral Life Coach based in Oakland, CA, and sole proprietor of Cultivating Possibility, her private coaching practice.

How To Cultivate More Self-Compassion

You hear a lot about being compassionate with yourself in the self-help research world these days. Kristin Neff, Brene Brown, every mindfulness guru and meditation instructor….there is a vast virtual library of information about self-compassion that is literally at our fingertips. So, naturally, given my interests, it crosses my mind fairly often. Having a strong […]

You hear a lot about being compassionate with yourself in the self-help research world these days. Kristin Neff, Brene Brown, just about every mindfulness guru and meditation instructor….there is a vast virtual library of information about self-compassion that is literally at our fingertips. So, naturally, given my interests and profession, this subject crosses my mind and desktop fairly often.

I don’t know about you, but given my strong inner-critic (as discussed in my recent post), self-compassion is something I’ve personally been working on for many years. And for me, it dovetails with so many other experiences: self-judgment, embarrassment (i.e. shame), heartbreak, anger, self-respect, vulnerability. Another big connection I draw is with our capacity for resilience. I’ll say more about this in a bit.

I strongly believe in the numerous benefits of self-compassion, because I have experienced how being kinder and more accepting towards myself has enabled me to operate with greater optimism in my own life, and to help others in developing their capacity for self-compassion. The ripple effect is that, as more of us do this work, kindness begins to spread.  And, as if that weren’t compelling enough in today’s cultural climate, self-compassion also enhances our effectiveness in achieving goals! The research has a fair amount to say about all the above, and I’ll share some additional thoughts that ring true for me on the subject. Perhaps they will resonate with you as well.

As I see it, most of us don’t really know how to feel bad.  I am not saying that we don’t feel bad. Of course we do. But we usually don’t know how to do so very effectively.  You’ll see what I mean, assuming you don’t think I’m completely nuts and stop reading here.

It’s my opinion that the majority of people in the U.S. grow up without being taught how to tolerate the experience of having difficult feelings. Often we’re discouraged from acknowledging our feelings, or even simply from having them. We may get the message, “you don’t have to get mad about it,” or “don’t be such a baby,” or “too bad, that’s life, kid.” I’m sure there are thousands of variations.

We even tell babies and children (and adults, too), “don’t cry,” as though there is something unacceptable about expressing emotions with tears. That’s likely not the intended message – we’re usually just trying to soothe and comfort, but how confusing must it be to a child to be told to stop having an emotional reaction that emerged involuntarily? Maybe it’s as confusing for them as it is uncomfortable for us to be with someone who is crying – because we haven’t been taught how to be with one anothers’ sadness or anger or hurt either.

How does this prepare us to ride out a lifetime of ups and downs?

It doesn’t. It teaches us to judge ourselves for having difficult emotional experiences. It teaches us to avoid, deny, deflect, hide, feel shame, escape, numb, resent, present with false bravado or cheer….this list goes on, too.  I think this is why so many people develop habits around using coping mechanisms that may not be terribly healthy for them. Bingeing on mindless television, junk food, alcohol, work, facebook, shopping, anything to keep the feelings at bay. How many more avoidance activities can you list? Personally, I have used all of these at times. Just to get away from feeling bad. And I’ve often done it without much conscious awareness of that fact. And guess what? When you don’t feel your feelings, you don’t work through them. They just keep surfacing in different ways without resolving (and thank god there are therapists to help us with those deeper struggles!).

With a little perspective, we may be able recognize that so-called “negative emotions” are not only normal and completely survivable, they can actually have some positive attributes. There are times when those dark thoughts can teach us things and lead to new insights. Sometimes, feeling heartbroken or defeated can lead us to pursue creative outlets or to try something new. Something we may experience as scary, like anger, can also be used as a force for good, fueling battles against injustice and enabling dis-empowered people to stand up for their own rights.

If we spend a little time exploring these feelings, we can also dig deeper and notice that, under what is often misplaced anger, there may be feelings of hurt and betrayal. Ouch. Those are hard to sit with. But what if we then consider what’s underneath that hurt and betrayal?  It’s quite likely there’s a feeling of vulnerability. Something tender, maybe shy or uncertain, perhaps worried that it won’t recover from being injured or that it will never be accepted by others. That fear of not belonging runs deep in our bones, and elicits all kinds of defense mechanisms.  It impacts our resilience as well.

So, I don’t know about you, but I can access and feel compassion for my own vulnerability, and that of others, far more easily than I can for anger or betrayal. If we can cultivate this mindset of recognizing and softening towards the underlying vulnerability, we can increase our self-compassion around our [insert your most difficult emotion], and our compassion for others’ challenging emotions as well. We can remember their humanity. We all have tender places inside of us. We just guard them differently and to different degrees, based on our internalized beliefs and past injuries.

And when we build greater capacity for being compassionate with ourselves and others in our common humanity, we necessarily become less reactive and more resilient to the ups and downs of interpersonal interaction.

To facilitate navigating our inner and outer lives with compassion, I believe we also need to cultivate respect for ourselves. This can help mitigate the inner-critic’s commentary as well.

Last year I attended a dinner at which Sharon Salzberg spoke, and she offered this gem: Practicing generosity helps cultivate self-respect. This stuck with me, because it immediately resonated. I know it has been true for me. It feels so good to give back, willingly and generously, of one’s time or talents. In fact, even if you’re doing it out of a sense of obligation, it’s hard not to feel a degree of respect for yourself for giving to others. As an added bonus, volunteering directly builds both connection and compassion.  It’s a triple hitter for well-being!  (I feel a few more posts percolating to unpack all of that.)

So, then, this. If we can practice being present and compassionate with ourselves and others more often, in the midst of the yucky emotional times as well as the good, it is a more poignant and real way to be “free” than by being reactive or escaping with some kind of heart and mind-numbing coping mechanism. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, by acknowledging and noticing our pain without judgment, we open to deeper connection with others, and this helps foster a greater sense of belonging. Feeling as though we belong can increase our resilience (and longevity, too!). It’s a veritable virtuous circle. One that I am continually making efforts to work on. Because the rewards are huge.

We are not one-dimensional. We might want to be, at times, when life’s difficulties feel too much to bear, but we are surrounded by a world of humanity, and if we can access that humanity, below the surface, in ourselves and in others, we can be fully present and experience the wonder of our multi-dimensionality as beings on this planet. That’s a really long sentence that sounds a little woo-woo, but I think it’s true nonetheless.

Just one last thing. I also believe this. Humor is an essential ingredient in life; we cannot take ourselves too seriously – not to minimize the fact that we have ginormous and completely valid feelings; yes, we do! – but/and, they are survivable, and if we allow them to surface with acceptance and compassion, we can develop deeper connections to ourselves and others, and then we can laugh together about this crazy little thing called life.

Now I must get out from in front of this screen and go be present on this beautiful day with my sweet pup!

With ever-growing love, respect and compassion for all of us,

Stacey

To begin practicing being present in a state of embodied mindfulness, which is essential to cultivating self-compassion, pause for a moment right now. Notice your posture. Sit upright and take a deep breath. Close your eyes. What sensations do you notice in your face and scalp? Your neck…shoulders…back…hips? Try to release any tension you are holding. Breathe in deeply for five seconds, then out for 5; repeat three more times. Notice your belly rising and falling with the breath. If emotion arises at any point, try to simply notice it, name it, and let it be. Can you also feel your heart beating?  Now place your attention on your arms and hands and feel whatever sensations are there. Slowly move your focus down your legs, and into your feet. What do you notice there? Can you feel the ground rising up to support you? Can you experience the stillness?

This is presence. Every once in a while, we need to just be. Try it for 10 minutes once a day for a month and see what happens.

 

5 Steps to Finding Fulfillment

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Full disclosure: I am not necessarily a believer in the idea that everyone has a singular purpose in life, and that we would all wake up excited to go to work every day if only we could find our purpose.

Besides being a very privileged perspective, I think it’s a risky proposition. I mean, let’s be real. Most people work to live, not the other way around. And most are doing extremely valuable work that needs to get done, and there is great honor in that. So I’m not knocking it. Not one bit.

But what if you were in a position where you were feeling chronically disillusioned and discouraged by the daily grind, and it was beginning to take its toll on your psyche, and perhaps even your physical health? And what if you had the means to do something about it? Should you?

Well….perhaps. That’s a personal philosophical question that you can only answer, so I’ll just leave it there.

What I can do is tell you the steps I take with clients who are ready to find more fulfilling work and live in a way that is more consistently and authentically aligned with their personal values. A life that feels more balanced and intentional. Work that makes a positive impact in the world that they can feel excited about. And it necessarily requires addressing the whole person.

Because I like to make things easy to remember, I crafted my approach into 5 C’s that I use as an integral framework for guiding people to achieve greater fulfillment. It’s what worked for me, and I’ve seen it work for clients, too. Here’s my “secret sauce” (obvs not secret at all, but definitely zesty and nourishing).

  1. Connecting to self – spend some time reviewing your beliefs, feelings, sensations, desires, and interests. Engaging in honest self-reflection and using mindfulness techniques are helpful practices for this foundational step.
  2. Clarifying what’s most important to you – examine your values and needs, and work to identify the purpose that best aligns with who you are and how you want to live your life. What speaks to you and allows you to bring your best self to the world?
  3. Community building – find your tribe, those who share your chosen purpose, for ongoing support and to enhance your well-being with a sense of belonging.
  4. Cultivating the skills you need to align your life to your purpose – these may include developing your curiosity or creativity, setting boundaries, asking for help, or cultivating a growth mindset. They may also include specific job skills.
  5. Creating the life you want to live – set priorities, make a plan, create a supportive environment, and commit to living authentically as you grow into your next chapter.

I believe we each have access to numerous avenues that can offer a sense of purpose and meaning. What’s most useful is to identify the one that calls to you in a particular way, that you can realistically bring within reach. This is why I call my practice “Cultivating Possibility.”  We can’t know what else is possible until we choose a new direction and start doing things differently than before.

It sounds so simple, right? Ha! Not so much. The truth is, many of us make partial efforts to move towards what we really want, only to get sidelined by life’s inherent complexities. Sometimes it takes repeated efforts before we find the determination to make it stick. Trust me, I know!  And generally, even when we are ready for it, we need some help in traversing the rocky terrain and completing the journey. This, too, I am intimately familiar with. That’s why I’m always happy to offer my thoughts on where to start if you’re struggling to generate forward movement. But I’m not here to sell you on my services. Really.  There are lots of ways to get the support you need to make a change. If you’re serious about living a more fulfilling life, I feel confident that you will find what you need – both internally and externally – to make it happen.

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Note: If you are considering working with a coach, make sure you find a good fit. And if you think I might be that fit, take a look at my website and let’s have a chat to find out. A coaching program is a significant investment in yourself. It will be important to work with someone you feel comfortable with to ensure that mutual trust and respect can be established.

 

 

Why Are We So Hard on Ourselves?

It’s not just you. It’s present in people who exude confidence, too. We all have an internal voice that chastises us for not being good enough at certain things, and lets us know when we have screwed something up. The question is, how much do you let it run the show?
Although I have done a lot of work on taming my own Inner Critic over the years, it remains an ongoing process. It still pops up when I am feeling unsure of myself, when I make myself vulnerable, when I don’t reach the level of success I’d hoped for in a particular endeavor. After all these years, it still hasn’t moved out. We’ve been talking in my coaching consultation group about why this is. I mean really, what is the deal?! Well, here’s my understanding of it, which I hope will offer some helpful insight.
In one sense, our inner critic is trying to help us. It wants to push us to do our best, and to prevent the potential negative impacts of making mistakes. It thinks it’s being motivational. In reality, however, that is rarely the case, because it goes about it in a way that tears us down instead of giving us a boost.
Most often, that internal voice reinforces our fears of inadequacy and results in us feeling badly about ourselves. It generally takes a fair amount of self-reflection to recognize just how ubiquitous this self-judgment can be. Often, we compound its effects by comparing ourselves to others – so easy to do in our critical and competitive culture – and our self-esteem takes the hit. Ironically, despite its best intentions, this inner voice tends to reduce our confidence, and therefore diminishes the way we show up and makes us less effective.
So what are we to do?
First, we must learn to recognize it, so we can begin to catch it while it’s in the act of delivering a critical remark. One way to do this is by practicing mindfulness to increase present awareness. In the quiet stillness of sitting with yourself, it is easier to hear the thoughts bubbling up and to simply notice them without embracing them as true. It doesn’t take long! They are often right there near the surface, causing you stress. Once you can notice them during a few minutes of sitting still, you become more skilled at noticing them when you’re going about your day.
Okay, great, you may be thinking. I am more aware of my critical self-judgments. So what? They still feel like crap.
But what if you offered your Inner Critic a little compassion and asked what it wants from you? Is it worried about you and wanting to protect you from others’ criticism? Is it angry that you aren’t perfect because somewhere along the line it internalized the belief that you should be? Does it need to be comforted because it’s feeling embarrassed by something?
I suspect it is honestly trying to help in some way. It just has a rough way about it. It is not skillful in communicating with kindness and compassion. You have to teach it by treating it in such a manner. You already know how to treat your friends with compassion. You don’t tell them they are stupid when they make a mistake, do you? (if you do, please call me right away for an emergency coaching session!) So try being gentle with your Inner Critic, too. Even the Grinch needs to be loved.
You can also work to set some boundaries that can limit its impact on your psyche. One way to do this is to recognize where you developed this internal voice.  Does it ever sound like someone else in your life? A relative or instructor? Peers who reinforced your self-doubt to defend their own? Can you hear those echoes and call your Critic on it? “Hmm, I see who you’re channeling there. Nice try! I know you feel bad, but you are not helping. We’re going to get through this. I am enough.”
Your approach may depend on your relationship with your inner voice, and different strategies may be more effective at different times. You can’t know until you try employing them. For most of us, harsh self-judgment is a deeply ingrained habit that isn’t easily shaken. It may help to get some support, and I offer two books below as resources.
While it takes effort, mitigating the effects of your Inner Critic can yield great benefits. Among other things, it can help boost your confidence, make you more effective in relationships, and open you up to new experiences in life. Because you really are perfectly imperfect. Just like me.
Wishing you deep self-compassion and self-acceptance on this journey called life.
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Recommended Resources: There are two books I highly recommend for working on managing your Inner Critic. If you’re a new-comer to such work, I suggest Taming Your Gremlin, by Rick Carson. He even makes it fun, and it has great illustrations. For a deeper dive, try Soul Without Shame: a Guide to Liberating Yourself from the Judge Within, by Byron Brown. To ensure practical application, Brown concludes each chapter with Points to Remember and an exercise to supplement your knowledge.   
 If you liked this, please feel free to check out my earlier blog posts on WordPress, here.  You might also enjoy following me on Facebook and Instagram for additional inspirati
on, or you can read more about my coaching biz and book a Free 30-minute Consultation from my website.
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I’m Stacey Miller, blogger, entrepreneur, and professional coach. My private coaching practice is centered around helping busy professionals cultivate work-life balance, engage in the career transition process, and develop leadership skills no matter their role. As a certified Integral Coach® with HR expertise, I offer both a business perspective and a holistic approach to development that will support your personal and professional growth in ways that can serve you for the long-term.