What Do You Really Want To Do?

That is the question.

It is a question I grapple with a lot.

It sounds simple at first. Of course you know what you want to do. But do you, really? Can you separate what you really want from what you think you should want? Or more to the point, what other people think you should want and since you want other people to approve of you, you adopt that as your wish? Yes, you might have to read that through one more time.

My backyard Hammock

Complicated as it is, I would say that what most people want is for other people to approve of them. And there lies the problem. This is often something people are not consciously aware of. It’s so ingrained to want approval that we often make choices based on what we think others’ reaction will be, without questioning whether it’s something we deeply desire.

I haven’t written a blog post in months. I’ve thought about it often. Various topics have run through my mind. But I’ve been too busy. The nagging feeling that I “should” write a blog post has continued to bother me. Why? Because when you begin engaging with people online you “should” keep it up on a regular basis. And I admit, I have let things slip. The truth is, I’ve been trying to do too many things. I know I have to cut some things out and I’ve been at a loss.

So this question: What do you really want to do? This has been hanging over my head. Every day. For months.

The underlying topic of pretty much all my blog posts has been self-care. I love this topic. The importance of self-care never goes away. You never get finished with self-care, just like you never get finished eating or sleeping. It’s an essential part of life. There are so many layers to it. It comes up in big and small ways around everything we do.

It fascinates me because I am always craving more self-care. I fantasize about taking myself to the coast, going for a walk in the woods, lying in my hammock reading a book. But all too often, I put these things off because I’m trying to get other stuff done. And I’ll tell you, there is an endless amount of other stuff to get done. When I am exhausted, worn out, overwhelmed, even burned out, the question always comes up. What can I do to take care of myself? What do I really want to do?

The quiet spot in my driveway

One of my projects is writing a book on self-care. That’s one of the reasons I haven’t had time to write blog posts. My previous posts inspired the book. There’s a lot to this topic. It’s important for our health, for our well-being, our sanity. It’s so important to take care of ourselves because it’s so easy to get worn out and have nothing left to give. You are no good to anyone when you are burned out, including yourself. Especially yourself.

My favorite books are about people’s journeys. I love memoirs and self-help books. These books help me feel less alone when I realize how other people have struggled and how they coped. They give me ideas and inspiration. And they inspire me to write my own stories. It is why I am writing a book on self-care, as I spend every day and every week exploring the issues around this. I am also writing a memoir about two very difficult years of my life when I attempted a career change that was not right for me. It was the ultimate in doing something that everyone approved of but was not a good match. There were some big realizations I had that I want to write about as I tell the story. It was quite a journey and I will someday finish that book. But I have put it aside for the time being to focus on the self-care book. This is how I end up with too many projects.

Relaxing on my patio

The more I write about self-care, I keep seeing an underlying issue. And that is, we get very strong messages about what we’re supposed to do, how we’re supposed to look, what we’re supposed to want, what our families should look like, what the progression of our careers should be. These messages affect our choices. Whether the messages come from our parents, our teachers or even our close friends, everyone has an opinion on this. Whether the message is to conform or to be a rebel, people have very strong opinions. One only needs to take a quick look at social media, to the abundance of selfies to see how important it is for most people, to have approval. “Look at me! And for God’s sake, like this post!”

So, what happens when you want to do something that perhaps no one understands?

First off, it’s not necessary to tell people everything you’re doing. It’s perfectly okay to keep parts of your life private. In fact, it’s a good idea to have privacy around some of the things you do, just so you don’t have to think in terms of how you will be judged.

Here’s the thing. You are totally okay exactly the way you are. No matter where you are in your process, it’s okay. Whether you are on your way to developing a new skill, a new career, creating something, or choosing to take it easy and not do anything new, it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s your right as a human being to be however you want to be.

As long as you’re not hurting anyone, you have a right to living the way you want to live.

I have a lot of difficulty allowing myself unproductive time. Wherever I got those messages that I should be getting things done, they are very deeply ingrained. One of my biggest self-care practices is to allow myself to do nothing. To simply rest. I have set up a number of resting areas around my house because this is so essential to me. Yet, I struggle to take advantage of them. I have a hammock strung up in my backyard, a chaise lounge on my porch and another chaise lounge under a tree, down my driveway. These are all very attractive places to relax. I am embarrassed to admit how rarely I take advantage of them. My goal is to spend some time relaxing in one of these spots every day, but honestly, I am doing well if I do so once or twice a week. Everywhere I look, I see things that need to get done. The garden always needs weeding. I’m always behind on my writing projects. There are too many papers on my desk than need sorting and discarding. My closets need to be cleaned out. My emails have not all been read. On and on it goes. I cannot wait until everything is done to relax. Otherwise I will wait forever.

What do I really want? Honestly, it’s to feel less pressure. And that pressure comes primarily from within me.

When I realized I didn’t feel like writing a blog post I gave myself permission not to write posts for a while. The world would not come to an end if I did not write a blog post. Instead I focused on the book when I had time to write. I have a great critique group where I get wonderful feedback. The process of crafting a good book fascinates me so this is clearly a project I want to keep.

All the books I have about writing say that you need to have a writing routine, so you can get so many thousands of words written every day. I do not have a writing routine. I don’t want one. I just want to write when I feel moved to. So that’s what I do. Maybe I will never finish my book. It’s okay. I am not depending on my writing to support me, so these things really don’t matter. Even though I can see the ghosts of writers shaking their fingers at me, telling me I won’t amount to anything if I don’t get my writing done, I know ultimately it doesn’t matter. I am not living to gain their approval. They are, in fact, my own spooky creation. I am not living to gain anyone’s approval. How freeing it is to say that! I am not living to gain anyone’s approval! I needed to say it again!

Each day that blooms is fresh. Each day is an opportunity to do what I really want. Or to not do things I don’t want. Regardless of the expectations.

My work schedule provides a little structure for which I am grateful. I am someone who needs a little structure. But beyond that structure I get overwhelmed trying to do way too much. My biggest challenge with time is narrowing the list down so I can spend more time lying on the chaise lounges, and rocking in the hammock.

What is your challenge? What do you really want to do that you have not yet made room for?

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Body Tweaking

My latest self-care practice, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, is that I signed up for a fitness program. Yes, the kind that you pay for. I was determined that my nemesis, those stubborn ten pounds, were not going to get the best of me. They have slowly creeped up over the past few years and I have dismissed them, excused them, helped hide them and accepted them as a new normal. Ten pounds may not seem like a lot to some people, but when you’re 5’ 2” it’s quite a bit.

Image: By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany CC BY-SA 2.0  via Wikimedia Commons

Image: By Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

I’m not fat shaming myself or being obsessed with a certain look. I could feel it dragging me down. I was losing my juice. I could see how easily we gradually succumb to sluggishness. As we age we need to take care of these little things before they become big and turn us into lethargic sloths.

I was about ready to find the tree limb on which to crawl and spend the rest of my days when this program popped out at me. I checked it out and it seemed healthy, in line with the way I live so I decided to give it a try. Clearly I was not succeeding on my own.

I signed up for the 8Fit app because it both includes meal plans, fitness workouts and the shining crown – a Personal Trainer. Yes! A real human with whom I can email and ask questions! There are short video workouts to do as many times a week as I can.  You grade each one as easy, perfect or difficult and they keep tweaking what they give you by your feedback. It’s pretty cool. The rest of the time I walk until I reach at least 8,000 steps, as the app has a built in pedometer.

I like the idea of a trainer I can actually work with. Reaching goals is so much easier when I have someone to be accountable to. It seemed worth a try for $79/year. They offer a money back guarantee during the first week, so I figured I didn’t have much to lose. Except hopefully a bit of blubber. I can squeeze that roll on my stomach with my fingers and I say nasty things to it, as I try to drive it away. Hopefully this will be more effective than that.

So, the plunge is taken and I am diving in and giving it my all. Everyone who knows me will think I already eat healthy, but one thing I’ve already learned is that I eat too much fruit and the excess glucose turns to fat. Who knew? Those sweet, heavenly mangoes, and my precious homegrown raspberries, turning to ugly fat? I shivered in horror. No, please don’t take my favorite foods away!

I learned that sugars, even natural sweets found in fruit, need to be balanced by protein in order to be used by the body. Otherwise they will turn to fat. That was quite a revelation! At night I frequently grab a handful of figs or an apple, thinking I’m staving off hunger responsibly. Now I balance fruit with nuts or cheese.

I thought I was doing a good job tracking my calories with the MyFitnessPal app on my phone, but I cheated. I did not track all my fruit. Or that occasional piece of dark chocolate, or the slice of cheese and cracker that I ate in a ravenous stupor when I came home from work famished. I was definitely having an affair with undocumented foods.

By The Numbers

My delightful 8Fit coach, Alice tells me not to focus on the numbers but to pay attention to how I feel. Is she serious? I know she means well, but I have so many feelings going on at any given time, all I can say, is that they are extremely unreliable. Bloated, blubbery, excited, hopeful, disappointed, frustrated, exhausted, despairing, fierce, resilient, hopeful (again), grateful, alarmed, worried, relieved, elated, sleek, fat, acceptable, unacceptable, fit, hippo. Basically every body image and emotion possible, depending on my mood. Each of these feelings takes only a second to come and go, meaning that in any given minute I can cycle through 60 of them. They are highly unreliable.

When I turn a certain way I can look at myself in the mirror and my waist looks positively thin. And at 26 inches it’s not bad. But right above that is a roll of blubber, which I never had before, an unwanted guest in my body that has definitely overstayed its welcome.

Whereas the numbers are scientific. The number on the scale gives me a data point. It can be 128 pounds of fat or 128 pounds of muscle, but it tells me what I weigh and over time I can watch those numbers go up or down.

Same with food. I track my calories and I have used the 8Fit meals as a guideline, but being fiercely independent I ultimately design my own. The program has given me some new ideas, like blending Greek yogurt with uncooked rolled oats at breakfast, something I never thought of before. I like that I get oatmeal combined with protein. I add some fresh fruit to that for sweetness, chia seeds, flax seeds, and some chopped almonds. Nine almonds. 63 calories of almonds.

If I walk at least 8,000 steps the app tells me I burn 250 calories,. This is in addition to the calories it takes for me to run my basic bodily aliveness. Since there are 3500 calories to a pound, if that’s all I manage I will at least lose ½ pound per week, or eight pounds by New Year’s. The app’s brief workouts also burn a couple hundred calories so that will help, too. What I love about the workouts is the strength training. I’m using muscles that I normally do not challenge and I realize how weak I’ve allowed myself to become. I don’t really like standard exercises. I would rather walk or dance. But it feels incredibly good to be getting stronger and fit.

The really rewarding thing about this? It’s something I have control over. There are so many things I have put effort into that did not yield the results I was hoping for. Most of my creative endeavors are like that, especially the ones where I tried selling something I made. But this is something where it’s scientifically laid out. If I take in a certain number of calories and burn a specific number of them I ought to get results.

Without a clear plan we fool ourselves.

We tell ourselves lies. We sweet-talk ourselves into falling in love with our fantasies, into those things we want to be true. Especially when we feel lost and don’t have the energy to make changes. We know exactly how to turn our heads and not look at the parts we don’t want to see.

But now I have Alice. I even sent her a photo (I took “before” photos as another motivator to keep on track) so she knows just what that belly roll of fat that I want to get rid of looks like. She is incredibly supportive and helpful and we are slowly getting to know each other.

So we shall see.

Radical Self-Care Step Six – De-Clutter

Get Rid of What You Don’t Want to Make Room for What You Do Want

Are you full yet?

yard sale declutterExcess stuff is like having clogged arteries of the soul. Having to sift through accumulated clutter to find what we’re actually looking for takes up our limited time and space. It can keep you from having the environment and the life that you want.

I’m not just talking about clothes you no longer wear and things from 12 years ago sitting in the garage that you don’t use anymore. I’m also talking about people who bring you down or don’t give you joy. I’m including things you do out of habit that no longer give you pleasure and take up your time. Everything and everyone that no longer serves the person you are or the person you want to be is something unnecessary that you need to get rid of.

It can be scary to let things go because we become so deeply attached to the things we acquire. Look at it this way. What if you narrowed your belongings down to just the things that you really love. How would that change your life?

When was the last time you cleaned out a drawer, a closet, your garage or your filing cabinet? It is way too easy for us to accumulate stuff. And yes, it can be incredibly tedious and boring to pore through it and discard things that are no longer necessary. But boy, it can make such a difference! And wow, does it feel good to turn a messy room into a tidy, organized space! An excess of stuff can really weigh you down.

There’s a reason that the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo has become a bestseller.

De-cluttering is about creating space of all kinds. And the thing is, that once you make some room in your life, you then have an opening for something new, something better. For example, if there are activities you are doing that you no longer enjoy, such as things you promised to do, or getting together with people that you no longer feel a connection with, giving those things up makes room for something more satisfying. De-cluttering can be about time as well as space.

I was helping a friend who was selling her house. She was moving to a much smaller place and she knew she had to get rid of a lot of stuff. She also knew that she couldn’t do it alone. She got lost in the memories that her things evoked or felt guilt about getting rid of something that had once been a gift from a dear friend. The thing was, she had a lot of dear friends. And when she added up all the birthdays, holidays and other important occasions from her childhood all the way to the present she agreed that it was ridiculous to assume she could hang onto everything that had ever meant something to her. She had certainly tried, and owning property with room for storage sheds and an attic definitely enabled her to pile it up. But now she had to take a really good look at limiting her belongings to the few things she really loved that she’d have in her new place.

We made piles. There was a pile of things to donate, one pile of things to throw away and a small one of things to keep. There were times when it was wrenching for her to let something go, but it also became obvious how silly it was to hang on to toys she’d had when she was five years old because a beloved cousin gave them to her. It helped that we planned to donate these items to places where they could do a lot more good than clogging up her storage bins. And it felt so good to finally have some nice, clean emptiness.

Let there be a void.

This is the truly magical part of letting things go. When you have empty space in your home, or blocks of unscheduled time, first of all, just enjoy the rest and the emptiness because that in itself is a pretty rare thing. Beyond that, you now have room for something new and wonderful to come into your life.

Try it. Clear something out. Make some room. And then see what happens.

 

 

What is Radical Self-Care?

Part of the secret to radical self-care is knowing exactly what the right recipe is for your unique, particular needs. If you think of your life as a dish at a fabulous culinary feast, what are the ingredients that make it as delectable as possible? What spices and seasonings are going to make it taste both delicious and satisfying.

Someone asked me the other day, “Why ‘Radical Self-Care?” “What do you mean by the worwoman relaxing on grassd ‘radical’?” The word ‘radical’ means extreme. And I choose to call it radical self-care because sometimes it really takes an extremely big effort to take good care of yourself. Particularly if you are in a profession or play a role in your life where you are taking care of others, it can be almost wrenching to stop giving, step back, take a breath and figure out what it is that YOU need in order to recharge. And the next step is to set aside the time to do something just for you. It is very easy to get burned out when you are giving all the time and even though intellectually we know this, it still remains a challenge. So how do we do this?

I’m sharing with you what I have learned on this wild trip through life. Please take everything I say with a grain of salt (pink Himalayan sea salt, of course) and tweak it so that it works for you! Know that your life may require different ingredients but what I hope you get from these posts is the importance of knowing what your unique flavors (needs) are. And that it’s really essential to give that to yourself. This may sound simple on the surface, but we spend a lot of time doing what is expected of us. And we can get caught up thinking that our entire value has to do with living up to everyone elses expectations. This can be so deeply ingrained that we don’t even realize it.

After quite a few decades of working very hard to please others – clients, partners, friends, family, you name it, I started realizing that I had to take control of my own well-being. Because no matter how much I did it never felt like enough. I had goals that were difficult to attain and even when I did they didn’t satisfy me like I thought they would. Basically I had bought into our very driven culture, even though I had carved out a professional niche in the field of relaxation. Ironic, isn’t it?

I began making a point of doing simple things to slow down, disconnect from my own self-imposed hamster wheel and started treating myself with the same quality of care that I have given to others. And here in these posts I have broken it down into steps.

Hey, I write these posts as much to remind myself as I do to remind you.

Please come along with me and use these posts to jump-start your own loving practice of radical self-care. Let these thoughts be the catalyst to give yourself the life you deserve. In essence it is very simple. And this means that true inner contentment is totally within your power.

Radical Self-Care Step Four – Authenticity

“Be Yourself. Everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde

Our world is like a department store. There are so many choices, so many different aisles we can walk down, we hardly know which way to turn. And there is such a wide variety of items we can buy. So how do we choose? Which way do we go? We usually have more possibilities than we often realize.

tea party grrlOne of the hardest things we face can be making the choice to be different. By this I mean following a path that radically diverges from the one that is expected of us. For instance, we might go to school and get a degree in something and then decide after a great deal of work that it’s not the right career for us after all.

I once had a friend who was an MD who used to refer a lot of patients to me for massage. She told me she was looking for another doctor to share her office. A month later she said she had found someone she really liked but just when the lease was about to be signed the doctor told my friend that she changed her mind and was leaving medicine to study with her spiritual teacher. I was quite surprised by that. You can do that, I thought? When I considered the time and expense of going to medical school and becoming a doctor, giving that up seemed like an awfully big decision. But It also sounded incredibly brave for someone to change their course because of a deep longing for something else. To choose self-discovery rather than a safe, solid career was an act of pure courage. It made me curious. What does it take to be that confident?

I have been studying self-development for a long time. Since, as a massage therapist and hypnotherapist, I am in the relaxation business, understanding what makes people feel good (or not) has been of special interest to me.

This same doctor friend told me that if I became a psychotherapist she would fill my practice, since she was looking for good therapists to refer patients to. She even told me what school I should attend to get my Masters. I followed her advice and enrolled in a Transpersonal Psychology MA program. About two years in, due to an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, I left the graduate program and moved my massage practice into a shopping center and turned it into a day spa. I made a very similar choice as that aforementioned Doctor. I suspended my education, where I had spent a lot of time and incurred considerable debt to pursue a different career path. The circumstances to do this made sense even though it was a difficult decision and one that many people might not understand.

Sometimes when I’m faced with a tough choice, I imagine myself on my death bed, looking back on my life and I ask myself, what do I wish I had done?

It takes me away from the immediate situation and the expectations of my peers, my family, and our cultural paradigm. I ask myself, what choice would really make my soul feel good? What is the memory I want to have when I look back on my life?

It really helps.

There are so many expectations and pressures we carry from our upbringing, our friends and teachers, that it can be extremely challenging to even know what our hearts want to do. What would we do if there was no one else we had to please? Sometimes it can be a challenge to even dare to consider a path that would greatly diverge from what would be considered, by many, the logical next step.

And yet, it is this very way of thinking that honors our most authentic self. Sometimes this can be the beginning of a most amazing life journey.

Authentic choices don’t only involve major life decisions. It’s a way of thinking that affects choices you make every day in both small and large ways. What you decide to eat, where you shop, how you spend your day off are all opportunities to make authentic choices. Ask yourself what you would do, if you could have total freedom to do anything you want. What makes your whole being want to say “Yes”?

Living as closely as possible to this ideal is honoring your truest self, an important practice of Radical Self-Care. The more you can live like this, the more you will see your life transform. You’ll find that you’ll attract different people and different opportunities.

You will also notice that regardless of anything else, you will be a lot happier, because a great weight of trying to fit into the wrong shaped spot will be lifted from you. And this will not only transform your energy, but it will change the entire way you experience your life.

Radical Self-Care Step Three – Indulge Yourself

Life is Short. Buy the Shoes.

We are basically puppies and we need our treats. Right? We crave rewards for our efforts and who knows better how hard we are working than we do? We need soothing from something really wonderful every now and then to bring us back to that “life is good” moment. In fact, we need these spritzes of positive energy pretty darned often.

Radical self-care is being your own best friend and making sure you get what you need. Indulging yourself in what will help restore you is good medicine for the soul.

The enraptured face of a woman close-up while she is having a massage.

Giving yourself small gifts of pleasure does not need to be expensive or fattening. It can be a candlelit bath, a drive to a beach, a park or the woods.

It can also certainly be a splurge, because sometimes that’s exactly what you need. We have a culinary school near our house and every once in a while I treat myself to something from their bakery. My favorite items they make are their savory pastries. Last time I went there they had galettes made of puff pastry filled with caramelized onions, goat cheese and butternut squash. I can still remember that buttery taste and the texture of the flaky dough.

The other morning I gave myself the gift of reading in bed in my pajamas, getting up for breakfast and then crawling back into bed for another hour of reading. It felt very indulgent. Maybe you do this all the time, but for me it was a special treat. My day usually begins by consulting my to-do list or getting ready for my scheduled appointments.

I rarely eat out, but instead I save up for getaways on the coast. These recharge me more than anything in a myriad of ways. I figure, a month of not buying lunch or fancy coffees covers a night at my favorite beachside cabin. We are always making choices, so make wise ones.

More than anyone else you know what restores you and helps you find your center again. The more you pamper yourself, the better you can be to others.

My greyhound, Maggie, teaches me about this every day. A walk through the neighborhood is her treat. I try toMaggie with afghan indulge her as much as possible. It’s also a time for us to bond so that’s a reward for us both. After the walk she calms down and will curl up on her favorite cushion for a nap, no longer bouncy and overly energetic, as getting her walk puts her at peace. Maggie is one of my happiness gurus.

It’s important not to put treats off to the point where we are hardly ever getting them. When we do that our lives become drudges that consist of mainly dealing with our responsibilities. It can make us pretty grumpy and give us bad attitudes. Think of this as giving yourself frequent joy blessings. Think of it as medicine. Think of it however you need to. I think of it as Radical Self-Care.

The other day I was walking past a small boutique that had a sign outside which read, “Life is short. Buy the shoes.” Yes, I smiled to myself, eyeing the stylish collection as I strolled by the open door to the shop. Exactly!

What are some of your indulgences?

Radical Self-Care Step Two – Time

Our Most Precious Resource

Can I borrow some of your time? I’m a little short.

It doesn’t really work that way, does it? Whereas I have a savings account with money that I can accumulate until I’m ready to spend, time is always passing. It is constantly being spent, whether it’s on something I absolutely love, dealing with necessities, indulging in a bit of foolishness or even on things I don’t like.

How do you spend your time?

Young cute girl sleeping on pillow in fresh spring grassDo you save it up for juicy experiences of pleasure? Do you manage your life efficiently so that you have the most amount of time for the things you really love to do? Do you sit quietly, observing the slight breeze making the leaves dance in the trees, so you can feel its slow, gentle passage?

Or do you blow it frivolously, not even realizing where it went until you notice that suddenly you are all out of time.

This is something I am becoming acutely aware of. It’s like a secret treasure that has been there all along that I never even paid much attention to.

This became very obvious to me recently, when I was struggling to fit in all the things I wanted to do: all the projects I wanted to accomplish, the friends I wanted to keep up with and the realization that I had very little breathing space. There was so little unscheduled time. I rarely had days where there was no agenda, no appointments, no errands. In fact, I almost never have days like that.stream

I started thinking about that being an unmet need. And how luxurious it felt whenever I had a few hours just to myself, with nothing in particular I had to get done. How insanely delicious that was. And the way I would try to hang on to it, as the minutes slipped by, until it was over and I had to move on to the next thing. I would look into the future, wondering when the next block of uninterrupted privacy would emerge. And that’s when I started regarding my time as a very precious resource.

So now I set aside blocks of time where I take getaways by myself, with two or three days at a time that are just for me. Sometimes I stay in bed until noon, lost in a good book. It’s hard to even describe how heavenly that is!

Once I started going away I found myself becoming greedy, wanting to do this more and more often. I think I value this sacred time almost more than anything else.

I am more aware now of how valuable time is, and how easily it can get squandered before we even realize it’s gone.

This is really about honoring our relationship to ourselves. No one cares when you run out of time. Nobody feels it but you. No one can give it to you but your own careful planning.

And it costs us absolutely nothing. Except mindfulness.