Aliveness

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? 

My Current Weekly Review Process

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Those of you who know me, or who have been following along for awhile, know that I love all things reflection-related. Journaling, visioning, intention setting, morning reflection - I love it all, and I do most of it regularly as part of my daily and weekly rhythms. 

That said, I'm not an incredibly structured person - meaning that I often do what I feel like doing, when I feel like doing it, within a general framework that I'm committed to, when it comes to these things. Sometimes it's my favorite notebook and a pen in the morning. Other times it's the Desire Map Planner or the Five Minute Journal

One thing that I haven't been terribly diligent with recently is an in-depth weekly review. I've done various forms of a weekly review over the years, but I hadn't found one that really stuck. Inspired by this article, which my friend Megan sent to me, I decided to revive my weekly review in hopes of creating something that a) would be deeply impactful and b) I'd look forward to doing each week.

I'm feeling quite excited that so far, it seems that my revived weekly review process is a winner. I've typically been doing it on Sundays, and it includes deep reflection on the week prior, as well as planning and visioning for the week ahead. 

Some of the key reflections in this weekly review include:

  • Successes and Things to Celebrate 
  • Things I Wish I'd Done Differently
  • Things I'm Stalling On and Why I Might Be Stalling 
  • Brutal Honesty about Things that Didn't Get Done 
  • Progress on Top 3-5 Priorities from the Week Prior 
  • Identification of Top 3-5 Priorities for the Week Ahead
  • Project Check-In: Are All Projects On Track?
  • Logistical Check-In: Have I Taken Care of All Logistical Items for the Week?
  • Values Check-In: How Have I Honored Each of My Values This Week?
  • Things I Learned
  • My Why and My Stake for the Week Ahead

I've been amazed at the way in which this process has helped me to simplify my weeks, and also get more done, in the time that I've been using it.

Do you have a weekly review process that you like?

Or would you like a copy of the worksheet that I am using for this process? If so, feel free to drop me a note at sarah@zingcollaborative.com and I'll happily send a copy your way. 

Happy Reviewing!

 

 

Reflections From a Week (Mostly) Unplugged

Last week, I (mostly) unplugged. For the first time since starting my business, I left on vacation without my laptop, with the intention of Zing Collaborative being closed for a full week. I was inspired to do this by Danielle LaPorte, Marie Forleo, and one of my clients - each of whom shuts down the businesses 1-2 times per year, where the office is fully "closed" and everyone has an opportunity to relax and unplug. 

I say "mostly," because I did use my phone for a few things. While we printed out paper maps prior to departure and used them about 90% of the time, there were a couple of questionable situations due to road construction that I checked on Google Maps. I also sent a couple texts to my house sitter to confirm logistics, to my mom, to a girlfriend who I'd be meeting up with later in the trip, and to reply to two girlfriends who had texted with life-changing news. 

Otherwise, my phone was typically off, on airplane mode, or left behind. Below are a few things that I noticed from this small experiment.

1. It was hard. 

I love my work and therefore love being plugged into it. Being plugged in doesn't really feel like work; it just feels like what I do as part of running a business and serving my clients. As a result, unplugging felt unnatural. I snuck a few peeks in my inbox while Jake was inside a gas station about halfway through the road trip toward our first destination, trying to get just "one more look" before arriving - where I felt that the unplugging rules really applied.

Not checking social media was hard, too. These days, Instagram is my social media platform of choice, and there are just so many pretty things to look at in those tiny boxes. The boxes are seductive and tempting. During my last few scrolls prior to leaving, I noticed my ego, which paid a lot of attention to other people who were going on trips and posting about every single detail of every awesome thing they were doing.

2. Until it wasn't. 

The first day was the most challenging - especially since it was a travel day and I therefore felt straddled between my "normal" world and my "unplugged" world. However, I noticed that after settling in and getting through those first 24 hours, unplugging became easy. We rode our fat bikes through incredible trails along crystal clear, roaring streams with absolutely stunning views. We ate delicious food by the campfire and at little restaurants in town. We did, we saw, and we engaged with our worlds with an occasional photo or two on the old-school "real camera" that we had packed, but that was it. And it was lovely. 

3. We talked to people. 

One of the things that strikes me most about this little experiment is how many people we met during our trip. We often meet people here and there while traveling - but on this trip we met so many people. We met Matt and Tonya within 30 seconds of walking up to Black Rocks Brewery, and talked to them for a good hour about biking and life. We met Brian, who has taken 17 extended road trips in his camper van, and is currently in the middle of a year-long stretch. During this year-long stretch, he's never once stayed at a campground and instead finds free places to sleep in his van: parking lots of libraries, police stations, Cracker Barrels, and churches, he shared. We met Craig, who loves Natty Light and once had to drive the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile through the hippest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, which increased his already-strong feelings of hatred toward the large, long, and awkward vehicle. We met John and Susan, when John came knocking on the camper to share some info on a bike route while Jake was in his underwear, causing quite a bit of hilarity. We met Michelle, who started a tiny business on Etsy which has now blossomed to the point of being featured in Target and Martha Stuart Living. We met Justin and Jason, who we hope will come visit us in Madison someday. We met Sarah, who started the coolest restaurant I've been to in a long time, and Randy who moved from Brooklyn to start a super hip little coffee shop in Ephram. The list goes on.

Being unplugged created more space and openness to engage with others. Of all the things I noticed while being unplugged, this was the most powerful and unexpected. 

4. I became more aware.

A few days into the trip, we walked into a bakery where every single person in the bakery was on their phone. Specifically, they were looking at Facebook. An older couple sat in silence, each scrolling independently through their Facebook feeds. They didn't say a word to each other for the entire time we were in the bakery eating our cookies. There was a father, engrossed in his Facebook feed while his kids talked to each other, and tried to talk to him. And there was the young woman behind the counter, scrolling away in her idle moments. There isn't, of course, anything bad about using Facebook or about spending some quiet time checking social media. However, the air of disconnection in the bakery with every single person's face looking down at their feed was palpable. I noticed myself feeling a bit of sadness as I looked around to connect or smile or look another person in the eyes (it was a very small bakery), without any eyes to meet.

5. Coming back was easy. 

After being away for a week, jumping back in felt easy and exciting. I was happy to get back to my rhythms, my clients, my kitchen, and my projects. What surprised me, though, was how easy it was to catch up. Being away for a week allowed me to come back to my inbox with excruciating clarity about what was most important and how to address it. I spent a few hours catching up the evening of our return, and a couple more the next day, and that was that. I've had more energy this week back than I've had in a long time. I feel refreshed and clear. 

6. Carrying it forward. 

Unplugging for a week is great, but what about in everyday life? I believe there are many things we can do to bring a bit more presence into our worlds that don't require a week in the woods. 

  • Leave your phone in your [bag, backpack, purse, glovebox] when you're engaging with others/engaging in activities. A number of studies have found that the mere presence of a cell phone on the table during dinner can negatively impact perceptions and the quality of conversation, even if the phone isn't being used.  
  • Practice experiencing something [gorgeous, cool, incredible, breathtaking] without taking a photo of it. I've been amused lately to pull up to popular, gorgeous places in nature to be met with a row of cell phones, lined up to capture the perfect shot. Once again, taking a photo of something isn't bad, but there's also power in just experiencing it, noticing it, and allowing it to sink in. 
  • Ask, "why am I posting this?" According to a number of articles I've read, people report that seeing vacation photos, of all photos on social media, make them feel the worst as they're scrolling. Now, of course, this doesn't mean we can't share a photo or two from our vacation to capture our memories and our moments for ourselves, but posting every detail of everything we do, see, and eat is just plain obnoxious. This article has some good tips (and is also hilarious because it's true). 
  • Consider a sabbath. One of the happiest and healthiest places on earth is Loma Linda, California due to its large Seventh Day Adventist population. Adventists take a 24-hour sabbath each week, taking time to focus on family, faith, and nature. We can do the same by taking a day each week to disconnect from our technology and connect to the things that matter most. 

7. Just for fun - resources and favorite things.

We spent our week unplugged camping, fat biking, and spending time in nature. After much experimentation, we've found a few favorite camping staples:

  • Kodiak Cakes: The perfectly fluffy, protein-packed pancake (just add water)
  • Aero Press: The rumors are true. This makes the best cup of coffee I have ever had. Plus it's light, small, easy to pack and store, and is loving toward the environment with its tiny paper filters. 
  • Action Wipes: Vegan, cruelty-free, wipes for times when showering isn't an option. The wipes can be recycled/re-used for other purposes. 
  • Dr. Bronners Soap: socially and environmentally responsible soap that I love to take camping. I like the travel-sized lavendar scent, which makes me feel like I'm at a spa in the campground shower.
  • Eno Hammock: perfect for sunny, breezy days 

Do you have any favorite ways to unplug, or to bring more presence into everyday life? If so, I'd love to hear! 

The 3 Most Important Questions to Answer Before Doing Anything

I spent the weekend staying in this adorable little rustic cabin in the woods, sitting my butt on a cushion, practicing a bit of gentle yoga, breathing, and feeling my feet.

I went on retreat because I was craving spaciousness and slowness. While I attempt to create this feeling as part of my daily rhythm whenever possible, as we all know, it can be hard - and can even feel impossible at times. 

We have meetings, events, tasks, places to go, stuff to get done, and seemingly never enough time to do them all. 

Spaciousness is both seductive and elusive. It winks at us from the 30 minutes of white space on our calendar between meetings, before disappearing into a sea of back-to-back appointments for the rest of the day. It flashes us a big smile during the rare completely unscheduled summer weekend, only to vanish into a sea of Saturday morning classes, weddings, weekend visitors, trips, baby showers, and reunions. 

Spaciousness can be confusing. On one hand we yearn for it, yet on the other hand, the things that fill our calendars and our weekends are often full of fun, love, community, and connection. We want to do it all. 

Spaciousness can feel scary. Often, upon connecting with colleagues or acquaintances who I haven't seen in awhile, the first question they ask is, "How's business? Are you busy?" We live in a society that associates "busy" with "good" and "successful." While this is slowly starting to shift with the growing popularity of books like Essentialism, The One Thing, and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as a whole, our western society operates on the principle that "more is better." 

And sometimes, it is. For me, the "good" kind of "more" involves: more positive impact, more connection, more community, more generosity, and more creativity. And I've discovered that this type of "more" requires space.

Creating space doesn't always require going on a weekend retreat. What it does require, however, is constant intention and attention about the things we say yes to and the things that fill our minutes, hours, and days.

Derek Sivers famously said, "if it's not a Hell Yeah, it's a No." While I love this quote and concept, I find that our Hell Yeah isn't always abundantly clear. For example, "doing laundry" is never a Hell Yeah for me. Does that mean I abandon it altogether, leaving my clothes in a defiant heap on the floor? And while "saying no more" is often touted as the answer to cure our society's disease of busyness, I believe that the answer is often slightly (or largely) more complicated. 

As a result, I've created three key questions that help me to make the best possible decisions about what I say Yes to, and what I say No to. 

  • Does this come from a place of gratitude?

  • Is this aligned with my highest purpose in the world?

  • Is this 100% aligned with my values?

I use these questions whenever making a decision about what to do or how to spend my time. 

Making an Important Decision

Several months ago, I was trying to engineer a very complicated system for determining which out-of-town engagements I would say "yes" to, and which I'd say "no" to. I was traveling too much at the time and was feeling burned out. My system involved analysis, spreadsheets, and complicated self-created formulas which would help me determine the right answer for each of these requests that came in. Excited, I explained my new system to my coach. She replied, amused, "or, each time you receive a new request, you could just take a breath, and ask yourself, 'what would make this opportunity worth it?'" Damn it. Her advice was always so simple, and always so spot on. In that moment, I threw out my spreadsheet and embraced this new approach.

  • Step One: Take a Breath.
  • Step Two: Ask Myself the 3 Key Questions

This simple process of breathing and reflecting on my 3 key questions led me to let go of two of my largest pieces of business at the time. While both were projects that I enjoyed, and both involved working with some incredible people, the cost for each had become too high. Taking a breath and tuning into the key questions allowed me to set aside the voice of my ego (But...they want you to do it! But...money! But...what if you don't find anything to replace these two enormous projects?) and tune into the voice of my intuition and my deep inner truth. These were two of the best decisions I've made in my business in the past year. 

Responding to a Request

I get a lot of inquiries from new coaches and potential new coaches who want to learn more about becoming a coach, starting a coaching business, and becoming certified as a coach. I love helping new coaches; I believe that coaching skills make the world a better place and that we could truly create world peace if only we knew how to talk to each other and ask questions from a place of curiosity.  I am eternally grateful to Chariti and Darcy, the two spectacular Madison-based coaches I called up on the phone when I was a new coach starting my coaching business. 

However, there was a moment about 6 months ago, when I realized that I was spending so much time in meetings and on phone calls with other new coaches that I was doing my own client work exhausted, at 1 in the morning. This was not okay. My core 'why' for my business is Impact. Clearly, I was not having the greatest possible impact on my clients or in the world if I was doing my most important work in an exhausted state at 1 in the morning.

This realization forced me to reevaluate how I handle these requests. Now, instead of shifting around my calendar or eliminating my independent working time to "squeeze in" these meetings, I schedule them around my existing appointments or independent working time. Sometimes this means that these meetings need to take place a month or more in the future. Sometimes this means I need to send a link to a blog post in the meantime. While this is still incredibly hard for me (I want to say yes! I want to be helpful! I want to squeeze in just one more thing on my calendar and make it work!), my three key questions help me know that this is the right thing to do. 

Managing our Calendars

It's easy to feel as though our time, our inboxes, and our calendars belong to everyone else but us. Often, from the time we wake up in the morning to the time we go to bed, we are fielding calendar requests for our time and presence, email requests for our input and review, and in-person requests for our attention, car keys, or knowledge of where the paper towels are stored. 

If we aren't deliberate and intentional, our minutes, hours, and days are quickly gobbled up by the requests of others. And as Annie Dillard says, "our days become our lives."

I like to frequently spend time looking at my calendar and appointments, and "cross checking" my calendar with my three key questions. If I don't have time for my most important, purpose-filled work, I add blocks of time to focus on key projects. And if there are "rogue" meetings or appointments that are filling my hours and my days and distracting me from the things that truly matter, I'm forced to think carefully about how to proceed. 

I recommend doing this "cross checking" yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, and daily. It sounds extreme - I know. And, for most of us, it's one of the most difficult, yet most critical things we can do to ensure we are living in a way that aligns with our values and our highest purpose in the world. 

I hope that these questions are of service to you as you look for ways to create more spaciousness in your life, in service of the things that matter most. 

With Gratitude,

Sarah

Perspective

How we hold things is often how we experience things.

When we hold things as "obligations," often they feel like obligations. When we hold things as "hard," often they feel hard. Many times, we can shift our experiences by shifting the way we hold things.

A project I once led had a big project management component - we're talking spreadsheets, project management software, multiple budgets, proposals - all the stuff we think of when we think of project management. There's a part of me that holds this work VERY intensely and wants to turn everything on the project plan green - like, right now. And, unsurprisingly, when I hold the work in this way, it feels incredibly intense. While intensity can be good, it's unsustainable for 6 straight months (the length of this project). As a result, I practiced holding the work as incredibly *important* and incredibly *impactful* but in way that felt lighter and more easeful. When I do, the work feels lighter and more easeful....and it's way more fun.

Another example is training for a big race. I often catch myself viewing my training as an obligation. Once again, unsurprisingly, when I hold the training in this way, it feels like an obligation. I like to practice holding it as a privilege - that I have a body that allows me to move, and that I have a schedule that allows me to get outside in the middle of the day (if I'm organized enough to do so). Whenever I hold my training this way, it not only feels like a privilege, but I am able to fully enjoy the ducks and the beavers and the squirrels and the birds that I encounter along the way.

What do you think? Are there any things in your life that you're holding in a way that doesn't serve you? And, what might it look like to hold these things differently?

BEing + DOing

Intention and BEing combined with Action and DOing can be a really powerful combo. There was an organization that I had driven by many, many times over the course of 2 years - and each time I had, I had thought "I'd really like to work with this organization." Sure enough, I received a call "out of the blue" with an invitation to work with this very organization. It took me getting clear on what I wanted (and perhaps equally importantly, saying NO to what I didn't), and then taking action accordingly. I find that for me, when intention/being/action/doing are in alignment, things flow and the magic starts to happen. When the flow is missing or the magic subsides, I can typically find that part of the equation is off and that some adjustment is needed on my part.

Invitation for the next week: how's your intention/being/action/doing equation looking? Are there any adjustments needed, large or small?

 

Paradox

Something I've been playing with a lot lately, inspired by a brilliant mentor of mine, is paradox: holding both extremes of what is possible in any situation. This means rigor *and* ease, it means seriousness *and* laughter, it means giving myself hardcore feedback for where I can improve *and* holding a space of gratitude.

Even when I'm working on a big client project, I still strive to enjoy myself by stepping into all the fun and laughter along the way.

What about you? Are there any areas in your life where you want to challenge yourself to step into *both* extremes of what's possible in a given moment?

Imitation Vs. Creation

Sometimes, it can seem tempting to look around at what everyone else is doing and do the same thing. To a certain degree, it works. It allows us to create something that's been field tested by others and that at least some people want. It's also what provides consumers with multiple options to select from. It's happening in every industry every day, from wearable devices to cereal.

There's another option though, and that option is creation. To stop obsessing about what everyone else is doing and to start obsessing about what our heart longs for. To stop consuming everyone else's message and start crafting our own. To stop comparing and start creating. When we use this approach, we almost always create something better - something that's born from deep within us and something that's completely our own.

If given the option, choose creation.