Real Self versus Fantasy Self

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Are there any areas in your life where you’re holding yourself to certain expectations based on what I call your Fantasy Self? The fantasy self is a version of yourself that doesn’t exist today ... but might ... someday in the future.

For several years I had a fantasy self who meal planned. I was always so inspired by the people who had every single meal written neatly on a beautiful little meal planning calendar for the week, along with sides, snacks, and sauces. Chicken fettuccini with kale salad on Monday, fish tacos with cilantro cream sauce on Tuesday. ‘How glorious would it be to be so organized and have this type of menu prepared?!’ my fantasy self thought. My fantasy self tried to get into meal planning for years. I always thought that I just wasn’t organized enough, or proactive enough, or maybe that I wasn’t doing it right.

And then it dawned on me: my real self hates meal planning! My real self finds it confining and suffocating. My real self has no clue on Sunday what she wants to eat on Wednesday. My real self loves the creativity that comes from looking around the kitchen and creating something with what’s there. My real self loves what I call Spontaneously Inspired Cooking. My real self doesn’t need a meal plan or a fancy calendar. All she needs is groceries. My real self finds creativity in the kitchen, and a rigid meal plan totally stifles that creativity.

This realization about my fantasy self who meal plans and my real self who loves spontaneously inspired cooking occurred to me only within the last year and has been wildly freeing and empowering.

My question for you: are there any areas in your life where you’re holding yourself to expectations of a fantasy self, when in fact you could tap into what’s true for your real self, to create more joy, more ease, and more alignment? 

Why Saying No More Isn't Always the Answer

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There’s been a lot of talk in the self-development space and the entrepreneurial space over the last few years about saying No more.

It can be an important thing to practice, especially for those of us who say yes too much, who over-extend ourselves, and who happen to be Obligers.  Obligers tend to meet expectations from others, and resist expectations of ourselves, which, if not proactively managed, can be a recipe for exhaustion, burnout, and even resentment if it goes on too long. (If you’d like to explore your own tendency, Gretchen Rubin has a free, and super quick quiz here, as well as a whole book about this framework. I highly recommend both.)

That said, if we focus only on saying No, we miss another, perhaps more important question:

What are we saying Yes to?

I believe this is the question that matters most of all.

Before we start saying No, we first must start saying Yes – to the things that matter most, to the things that align with our values, and to the things we want to create more of in our lives.

Then, from this place, figuring out what to say No to becomes easy. We have filled our time, our calendars, our weeks, and our lives with the things that truly matter. In this model, saying No is less of a difficult decision, and more of a natural outcome.

Here is a process that I find helpful for doing so.

  1. Write down your values. At the end of the day, what matters most to you? What are the things you hold dear? When you strip it all away, what is most important? Write these things down; make a list.
  2. What are the things you’d like to create more of in your life? What are the things that aren’t as present today, but that you wish were?
  3. How can you create the greatest impact? What are you doing when you provide the most value and are operating in line with your purpose?
  4. Now, for all three of the areas above, write down what these things look like in action. What do you do to honor your values? How do you know when you see them? What do they look like on your calendar or in your life? What will it look like when the thing you want more of is present? What will be different? And what do you see when you are aligned with your purpose?

Here are just a few select examples from my list of “things I’d like to create more of in my life.”


What I'd Like to Create More of In My Life

  • Ease

What It Looks Like in Action 

  • Asking “what would this look like if it were easy?”
  • Asking “how could this be simplified??
  • Being mindful about avoiding back-and-forth scheduling nightmares

What I'd Like to Create More of In My Life

  • Time with my family and my sweet nieces

What It Looks Like in Action

  • Combining work travel with family visits when possible
  • Blocking out family visits in advance, and not scheduling over this block
  • Impromptu “let’s meet in XYZ place” meet-ups

What I'd Like to Create More of In My Life

  • Spontaneity

What It Looks Like in Action

  • Avoiding coffee meetings scheduled 6 months into the future and instead meeting up spontaneously when schedules allow
  • White space on my calendar that allows spontaneity to occur
  • Texting girlfriends to say “want to go for a walk?” or “want to grab coffee?”

This year, for example, I have been focusing on creating ways to see my family and my nieces more. Without this intention, this wasn’t happening as often as I’d wanted it to. Last year, my mom and I tried to find a day to bake Christmas cookies together - something we’ve done on and off through the years since I was very little. I couldn’t find a single free day on my calendar prior to the holiday to do so; each day prior to the holiday was booked with something – meetings, client events, or travel. We even tried changing it to “baking Valentine’s Day cookies” and I had a similar challenge. Ultimately, we never baked the cookies together because I couldn’t manage to find one free/unscheduled day in December, January, or February. Around the same time, I had a similar experience when trying to schedule coffee with one of my best friends. I could not find an hour to have coffee on my schedule for weeks….with someone who has been my dear  friend since I was four years old. These situations were not okay with me, and they were a bit of a wake-up call; they prompted me to make some changes in the way that I’m working, the way that I’m scheduling, and the things I’m saying Yes to.

A natural outcome of saying Yes to more time with my family and my nieces is that there are certain things I sometimes need to say No to. For example, I have drastically reduced the number of “can-I-pick-your-brain-coffee-meetings” that I say Yes to (more on that here). While I love meeting new people and truly desire to be helpful, the truth is that by saying Yes to so many coffee meetings over the years, I was being forced to say No to my family and my best friends – an equation that was not okay with me. Today, I focus first on what I’m saying Yes to (the people closest to me in my life – my family, my friends, and my clients), and then, from there, it becomes clear where there might be alignment for another Yes, and where the answer needs to be No. It’s less about the act of saying No, and more about the values-based Yes.

These are just a few examples in my life. For me, this is an ongoing process and is always a work in progress.

The Resonant Yes and the Enlightened No

 

My invitation for you is to think about your lists. What are your values, and what do they look like in action? What are the things that you’d like to create more of in your life? What are you doing when you’re having the greatest impact? And, are there any areas where your equation is skewed, as it was for me with my mom and my best friend?

Through this process, we create the opportunity to focus on what I call the Resonant Yes and the Enlightened No. The Yes that aligns with the things that really matter, and the No that feels aligned and clear.

What do you think? Are there any Yes's you’d like to create more of in your life? And any No's  that need to take place to make them happen? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. 

3 Things that are Simply Uncool

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While most of us don't try to be assholes, there are certain things we can do that take us down that road fairly quickly. 

Here are a few of them.

1. Disparage Others on a Group Email Chain 

I have been appalled recently to witness well-educated, grown adults (many with masters degrees and even PhDs), publicly disparage each other via the dreaded "reply all" button on a group email chain. Snide comments, harsh criticism, and public shaming - aired as dirty laundry for a chain of 50 or so people to see.

Before wading into the dark waters of disparaging group emails, I invite you to ask yourself:

  • Should this be a "reply all" or just a "reply?"
  • Would I proudly say what I'm about to type, in person? 
  • Should this be a conversation or a phone call instead of an email?
  • Is this reply constructive and helpful? 
  • Will I be proud of the virtual footprint that this email chain leaves? 
  • Would I feel good about my (kids, partner, friends, loved ones) seeing this email? 
  • Is this email nurturing, or damaging, relationships? 
  • Have I walked away, breathed, paused, and thought about what I'm about to say before hitting "send?" 

Spend some time reflecting on these questions before hitting "reply" and certainly before hitting "reply all." I promise, you'll be happy that you did. 

2. Ask for a Favor, and Neglect to Say Thank You Once the Favor is Complete

I recently heard from someone who I hadn't heard from in about 7 years. He was a colleague who I had worked with for a short period of time. He asked for career advice, as he was looking to make a transition. I spent about an hour putting together a long, thoughtful email which included suggestions; resources and links; companies in the area to check out; and the best round-up of virtual support I could put together for his situation. 

I heard nothing. 

My two cents: when you ask someone for a favor and they go out of their way to help you, say thank you. At minimum, send an email or a text. Better yet, send a hand-written note. While I believe in abundance and I believe in holding a perspective of generosity for all that I do, I also believe in manners. Show some manners, and send a simple thank you.

Note: if you ask for a favor during a time of crisis - dealing with loss, dealing with grief, or from a place where you are focused on meeting your basic human needs, you are exempt from this rule. 

3. Ask someone, "Can I Pick Your Brain?" when Brain Picking is Not the Appropriate Action

The first few years of my business, I said yes to "can I pick your brain?" meetings very regularly. I'd hear from people who (similar to the above situation) I hadn't heard from in years, who wanted to "pick my brain over coffee." Wanting to be helpful, and genuinely desiring to be of service, I said yes. When we arrived at the coffee shop, I frequently learned that they specifically wanted to pick my brain on "how to start a business that looks exactly like yours." Often they used these words. 

Again - I'm all about abundance. I'm all about generosity. And I genuinely desire to serve others who are following their purpose in the world. 

And, to ask for someone's time, energy, and free advice so that you can go replicate their business as your own (which several of these people did, following our meetings - and who, in a few extreme cases, actually copied and pasted text directly from my website onto their own), is simply not cool. Additionally, by intentionally starting a business that "looks exactly like someone else's," we miss out on finding our own unique voice, our own unique purpose, and our own unique Why. 

Before asking for a "pick your brain" meeting, I recommend asking yourself:

  • What does "pick your brain" really mean to me? Am I trying to use this in place of what should be time with a paid professional to figure out the strategy and core offerings of my future business?  Side Note: I personally hate the term "pick your brain." If I want help with the strategy and core offerings for my business, I call my coach (who I pay) or my executive mentor (who I pay). If I want legal advice, I call my lawyer (who I pay). If I want free advice, I check out the SBDC or the many other resources available online. 
  • Have I taken time to think about what feels authentic and true for me? Before looking at what everyone else is doing, have I taken time to get quiet, go inward, and think about what I want for my business? As I often talk about, we need to stop looking around and start looking within. This needs to be the first step in starting any new business, any new offering, and any new endeavor. 
  • Am I offering to buy someone a $3 cup of coffee when instead I should be asking to hire them for an hour of the services that they actually provide? Have a heart to heart with yourself. And proceed accordingly. 
  • What is my intention for this meeting? Am I clear on what I desire for the meeting? Too often, I see new entrepreneurs identify "meet with XYZ entrepreneur to pick their brain" as an early step in starting their business. When asked what they want to get from the meeting with XYZ entrepreneur, they say, "I don't know." This is a waste of everyone's time. 

All of that said, there are some great reasons to ask someone for coffee, which include: getting to know someone better; connecting and sharing; catching up; learning more about their business so that you can effectively point people their way; and simply enjoying a cup of coffee together. While the list of reasons to ask someone to coffee are many, "picking your brain" will not be one on my list. 

What do you think? Are there any items you'd add to the "things that are uncool" list? Or do you have thoughts on any of the items above? I'd love to hear from you.

The Books I Recommend Most

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Often, when leading a workshop or event, I provide large resource lists of my favorite books, podcasts, videos, and articles. People often ask, "but which are your absolute favorites? What would be your top 5?" So, as difficult as this question is, I'm attempting to share my list of favorites. While I first started with five, I realized that it meant that I forgot two, so I'm landing on my Top 7. 

  • Essentialism: I joke that I just keep reading this book over, and over, and over again. In fact, I just bought another copy last week. It makes so much sense - *and* can be difficult to implement in everyday life, especially for people who a) have a natural instinct toward saying yes (insert hand-raising emoji), or b) who like to do a lot of different things at once (insert hand-raising emoji again). When implemented, I believe that this book has the ability to be life-changing. I recommend reading it once, and then revisiting regularly to keep the philosophy alive in everyday life. 
  • Better Than Before: many of you who work with me know that I'm a big Gretchen Rubin fan and that I reference her research often. Better Than Before is one of my favorite books on creating, maintaining, or changing habits. It's also where she first introduces the concept of The Four Tendencies - a framework I've found to be game changing for many (including myself). 
  • Start with Why: I first read this book and watched the related TED Talk waaaaay back in the day in the corporate world. It's a concept I've regularly used, and loved, ever since. I believe that starting with Why is a concept that we can all apply to every area of our lives....and that if we don't know why we're doing something, it might be an opportunity to pause and tune inward before proceeding.
  • Peace is Every Step: this was one of the first books I read about mindfulness, many years ago, when I was still working in the corporate world. It is a beautiful, easily digested little book - great for reading a few pages at a time - and can serve as a helpful reminder to be more present in our everyday moments. 
  • The Big Leap: this is probably the book that I lend to clients most often (in fact, it's out and about right now!). While there are many great things in this book, the two concepts that I find most powerful are: The Upper Limit Problem (again - this has the power to be life changing if we truly work with this concept) and Einstein Time (weird in a good way, interesting, and highly recommended for anyone who struggles with calendar-related stress and feeling like you never have enough time in the day).
  • The Four Agreements: Disclaimer - I don't love Don Miguel Ruiz's writing style. However, if you can move beyond the writing style, the content of this book is pure gold. I have watched countless clients and workshop participants find game-changing/life-changing impact by implementing some of the concepts in this book. 
  • The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: an oldie but oh-so-goodie. I find that many popular and wildly successful books of today are (either directly, or indirectly) based on the concepts that Covey lays out in this book. This is another book worth reading over and over again. I recommend buying a copy and revisiting chapter by chapter, concept by concept.

What do you think? What are the books that you read and recommend most frequently? I'd love to hear your "top 7" list!

3 Ways to Create More Freedom in Everyday Life

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In celebration of Independence Day, let's talk about freedom. As those of us in the United States celebrate our freedom as a nation and the many freedoms we're afforded by living in the US, I've been thinking about what freedom feels like to me in small everyday ways. 

Freedom is not only something I'm grateful for, but it is also one of my values. When I feel free, I feel happy, and often when I feel happiest is when I feel most free. 

So how can we cultivate more freedom in our everyday lives? Here are a few things that I find helpful.

1. Ask Yourself: What Makes Me Feel Free? Write it Down. 

For me, I feel most free...

  • In nature
  • During the summertime - and in the presence of sunshine and warm weather 
  • When I have time and space on my calendar to breathe, zoom up, think strategically, and be creative 
  • When I have some level of flexibility for impromptu plans throughout my weeks and months
  • When I create time early in the morning to think, plan, reflect, and write 

I have found that I feel least free when I feel trapped by my calendar, trapped by commitments that don't tie to my values or my higher purpose, or trapped by too much back-to-back work-related travel. Identifying what makes me feel free (and what makes me feel least free) allows me to make choices that align accordingly. For me, my feeling of freedom ties directly to my feeling of creativity - and ultimately helps me serve my clients in a more impactful way. 

2. Free Yourself From Your Inbox

Over the past 5 years, I've had the opportunity to offer leadership-based workshops and courses to thousands of successful professionals across many different industries. Regardless of role, tenure, or working style, one of the most common things I hear is that people feel trapped by their inbox - a constant flood of incoming emails each day, taking their attention away from the things that matter most, and causing them to feel as though they can never catch up.

I believe there is a better way!. And this better way involves putting ourselves back in charge of our inboxes. Here's how:

  • Determine how often you need to check email each day in order to be effective and responsive. I've found that for most roles and industries, people self-identify that the sweet spot is around 4 times per day. For some it is more, and others is less. 
  • Determine, based on the above number, the optimal times to check email. I typically recommend morning - but not first thing, late morning/midday, mid-afternoon, and end of day.
  • Schedule 20-30 minutes at each of these times to check email. Pull out any tasks, to-dos, or follow-up items into a separate list. 
  • Start your day free of intake (this includes your inbox!). Give yourself at least 10 minutes each morning to reflect on your highest priorities for the day before opening your inbox. 
  • Turn off all notifications for your email and your inbox. In this new model, you are now in control of when you check your email; those notifications are no longer in control of you!
  • When you're finished checking email during your pre-determined blocks, close out your inbox entirely, and back away slowly.

I recognize that this entire process may sound terrifying - especially if you're accustomed to having your inbox open all day long, and responding to emails individually as they come in. The process of checking emails all day everyday can have a huge hit on our productivity; research from Gloria Marks at the University of California-Irvine has found that we are distracted, on average, every 11 minutes - and that it can take us 25 minutes to return to our original task after interruption. If we think about this data in the context of our inbox, we can quickly start to understand why it's easy to feel like on some days, we go to work for 8-10 hours per day but get nothing done. 

I've had many clients go through this process, and the impact has been tremendous. (even for clients who were very resistant at first!) Almost immediately, my clients have noticed decreased stress and frustration, and an increased feeling of productivity. 

3. Get Rid of Commitments that Feel Like Obligations 

Do you dread going to committee meetings for the volunteer group that you're a part of? Did you renew your position on the board because you felt obligated to, rather than because you wanted to? Have you filled your calendar with meetings, scheduled months into the future, that don't actually align with your highest purpose at your job, in your business, or overall?

Time is our most precious and valuable resource. It's a resource that we never get back once we spend it. And yet often, we give away our time in ways that we would never give away our money or other resources. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, when we are doing things out of a feeling of obligation, we are simply not having the greatest impact possible - because we are not operating from a place that is aligned with our passion and our purpose. 

When saying "yes" to things that we put on the calendar, I invite you to reflect on the following:

  • Is this a "hell yeah?" In the words of Derek Sivers (and many others since), "if it's not a hell yeah, it's a no." 
  • Does this commitment align with my values? 
  • Does this commitment align with my higher purpose? Am I creating some sort of positive impact through this commitment? 
  • Do I know why I'm here? This is especially important if you're working within an organization that is facing meeting overload. When planning meetings, each participant should have a clear understanding of why they are being asked to participate in the meeting. If you receive an invitation to a meeting and you're not sure that you need to be there, I invite you to be empowered to ask! Several of my clients have been able to reduce meeting fatigue within their organizations  by consistently asking this question for every meeting they schedule. 
  • What is the cost? If I say "yes" to this, what is the trade-off? And am I okay with that trade-off?

If this is hard for you (it's still incredibly hard for me too - even after practicing this diligently for the last five years), I recommend reading the book Essentialism. And then, if you're like me, reading it again...and again. :)

Note: May we remember, as we celebrate our independence, that we are, and always have been, a nation of immigrants.  If you are looking for ways to support families separated at the border, you may consider reading this article for ways to get involved and concrete steps you can take to contact your representatives, and/or supporting one of the following organizations. 

I hope that these strategies are useful to you as you consider ways to create more freedom in your everyday life. I'd love to hear from you if you try some of them out, or if you have other strategies that you find useful.