What to do when every day feels like Groundhog Day

It's not a groundhog.  It's a nutria.  The Louisiana version of a groundhog.
It's not a groundhog. It's a nutria. The Louisiana version of a groundhog.

You know the movie, of course.   Bill Murray wakes up to the same day every day for a very very long time.

Ever feel that way in real life?  Like if you have to wash that pot, clean that sink, choose an outfit, go to the store again(!) or even bathe, that you'll lose it?  Ever feel tired of the routines of daily life?

Ever clear out your in box only to find it full twenty minutes later and wonder what the heck the point is?  Like when you reply to all the people you've been putting off replying to, and then they REPLY BACK and you're right back to where you started?

Ever wonder how to get to the main thing, the big ideas, the real meat of life, when so much of your time is spent simply going through the actions of general subsistence, like eating, sleeping and keeping yourself generally presentable?

Ever feel like you've done enough for one day by 8:30 a.m. and now it should be nap time?

I get it.  I crave a day of catch up for every day of life.

But that's not how it works.  So when you're feeling groundhogged out, try one or two of these easy strategies to reboot and refresh. (You know them - this is just a reminder, because I need a reminder too!)

Embrace the mundane.  Stop to really smell the dish soap, hear the water running. Feel the warm suds.  See the squeaky clean plate.  Use your senses to bring you to the present moment. Close your eyes and listen. To voices of kids, coworkers, sweethearts.  To breezes.  Feel textures, temperatures.  See the colors around you.  Locate the light. Breathe.  Try it right now for just thirty seconds.

Slow down even when you're sure you're behind.  Catching up isn't really attainable, because there's always going to be more.  So slowing down and enjoying might work just as well.  Trees don't say, "Oh good,  I'm caught up photosynthesising, finally!  Now I can relax."

Pretend you're an angel for a day and that your only job is to radiate gratitude, love and kindness.  Whether or not you get to your in box.  Or tackle that pile of projects, laundry, whatever. Remember how Bill Murray gets kinder, happier, and more pleasant by the end of the movie?  And you realize he could have chosen that option from the start?  Choose it.

Abandon your productivity goals and go outside.  Take a five minute walk. Ask the sky, birds, trees or flowers for some advice.  Chances are it's going to be good, and that it involves something about paying attention, gratitude, grace, happiness or love.

Notice that you are FINE right now. You're breathing.  Your senses work.  You are not in danger, most likely.  (Unless there's a land shark ringing your doorbell...)  Breathe into your okayness.  Notice if you're actually better than okay.  And even if you're sick, or close to death, or really really sad, or just fighting the common cold like I am today, remember that fundamentally, in this exact moment, you are still ok.

Do something different. If your routines are boring you, shake them up. Wear something you don't usually wear.  Go somewhere you don't usually go.  Talk to someone you wouldn't normally talk to.  Ask for something you don't usually ask for. Choose a radio station you wouldn't usually listen to.  Comment on something you wouldn't usually comment on.

Clear your space.  If you're overwhelmed by clutter, just sweep off a big area - a shelf, your desk, your nightstand --  and make a space.  Ahh.  Now you can see and think.  And decide one by one if whatever you cleared gets permission to return to the space or whether it's time to let it go.

Do it now.  Do something.  Take some action, even if it's not perfect.  Sometimes the best way out of a Groundhog Day-type rut is just to do something.  Set the timer for 15 minutes and get started.  Notice how great you feel and see if the momentum helps you continue.

Try again later.  Yes - it's the opposite of do it now.  Sometimes the best thing you can do is step away, abandon it all for an hour or two-- or a day or two-- and then come back with clear eyes.  Pick something pleasant to occupy your time in the meantime.  A nap, a walk, a piece of fruit, time with a pet, time to gaze out the window and watch the weather.

It's just life, people.  It's ok to drop the desperation for accomplishment and just savor the moment.  You know it, so let yourself feel it and really do it. If you're Bill Murray, you might even get the girl!

Spinning, Sauntering, Stuck, Still: How to tell if you're doing enough.


Are you doing enough? Recently I've heard so many people - clients, fellow coaches, friends, me sometimes - despairing that they aren't doing enough.  They aren't as awesome as their peers.  Or as some internal ideal. Everyone else is so much more PRODUCTIVE. I've been reading books like Today Matters and Die Empty, which are inspiring and motivating and remind us to get off our butts and do something - to stop hemming and hawing and just go... But these books don't actually tell you to "just go." Because just going isn't necessarily what you need to do.  There are two kinds of "just going".  The first is desperate going so you can say you're moving.  So you don't have to feel like you're being too much of a lump.  So you can jog along and say, "See?  I'm doing something!"  It feels jangly.  It feels electric, but in an uncomfortable, static-y way.  It feels like too much caffeine.  It feels like an out of control spring, bouncing, bouncing, bouncing.  It feels frantic.  Sometimes it feels aimless - either like a hamster running in a wheel or like a pinball ricocheting off of lots of light-up bumpers, racking up "points" but getting nowhere.  Let's call this kind "spinning." Spinning can feel exhilarating at first, but it quickly devolves into unfulfilled exhaustion.

The second kind of "just going" feels fresh and adventurous.  Maybe there's a slight tinge of fear, but it's more like anticipation.  It feels solid and grounded but light at the same time.  Like setting out on a hike on a sparkling summer morning. Or picking up a paintbrush and beginning to cover a canvas with color. It feels like possibility.  It feels creative and it feels fun. It's connected to something bigger. Let's call this kind "Sauntering".  Sauntering is moving forward but without hurry or stress - in a relaxed, but purposeful manner.  Not frantic and fast, but at a comfortable pace.

What about not going, you ask?  When does that make sense? Is it always time to move?

Not necessarily.  There are two kinds of "not going" too. The first kind is fear-based.  It feels frozen, heavy and scared. It feels cut off.  It feels like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth, or tires mired in mud.  It wants to climb back under the covers. Maybe watch some TV.  Let's call this kind "Stuck."  Stuck is just how it sounds.  And it feels awful, even when we try to avoid the feeling by snacking, napping, hiding, or distracting ourselves.

The second kind of not going is peaceful and restful.  It feels clear and conscious. Being present and not doing makes more sense for the time being.  It's sometimes paired with planning or visioning.  It's sometimes gearing up for something big.  Let's call this kind "Still."  Still is quiet on purpose.  It's realizing that some of the best ideas only happen when we give ourselves time to percolate, marinate, meditate - time to relax and dream.

I've felt the effects of Spinning, Sauntering, Stuck and Still in recent weeks, and what I know is that I'm so much happier when I'm shifting between sauntering and still.  When I'm spinning and stuck, not so much.  Here are four simple steps to help you recognize spinning and stuck and move toward sauntering and still.

1. Pay attention. Look closely at exactly what you're doing.  Keep a log of your actions (or inactions) - in 15 minute increments, just for a day or two. Be honest!  I can get stuck in a Facebook vortex faster than you can say, "kitten video!" And if there's printed matter in front of me, I can read until an hour or two has drifted past.  It takes brutal honesty to confront where your time is actually going.

2. Ask yourself if you can align enough of your actions with your larger vision or purpose.  If not, then you're probably spinning or stuck.  If you don't even know what your larger vision or purpose is, it's probably time to get still and focus on that first.

3. Check in with your body and your emotions.  If your feelings are positive and your body feels light, you're more likely sauntering or still.  If your feelings are negative and your body feels heavy, you're more likely spinning or stuck.  *Warning:  Sometimes stuck and spinning can feel positive at first - kind of like the initial sugar high before the crash.  Be attentive to your overall emotional state, and the feeling in your body.

4. Reflect at the end of the day, each day for a week.  Are you content with the way you spent the day?  Can you point to some action or some experience that feels like it's connected with your big picture goals? (Back to #2!)  Do you have a nice mix of happy action (Sauntering) and relaxed recharging (Stillness)?

Just having these four categories helps me be honest with what I'm doing.  Once I'm aware, I can choose to make a change.  It feels great to climb into bed after a day of engaging Sauntering mixed with restorative and reflective Stillness. And it feels like enough.  Days like that remind me of the quote I used to have on the wall of my classroom: "Vision without action is only a dream.  Action without vision just passes the time.  Vision with action can change the world."

How about you?  Where do you find yourself spending more time - spinning, sauntering, stuck or still?  When you're spinning or stuck, what strategies do you like to use to move back into sauntering or stillness?  How do you like to address the voice that says you haven't done enough?  Share your ideas in the comments, or email me, and let's continue the conversation!

Tame your to-do list with the 4 Bs!

091013 todo list
091013 todo list

We’ve all got to-do lists a mile long. Sometimes something languishes on my to-do list for months.  Or years!  There are just those tasks that I never get around to, and the to-do list starts to feel like a big shame list.  How can it be a week/month/year later and I still have those things on my list?  Ugh. What does your to do list look like?  Does it make you go, “Ugh”?  Then it’s probably not working as well for you as you’d like.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to cross things off a list – it feels great!  And I bet you love checking stuff off too. But strangely, as soon as I cross something off, there are three new things to add.  It’s never done.  It’s never empty.  There’s always more to do.  It’s like the little brooms in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice that keep multiplying and multiplying.

So I have some tips for taming that to-do list, since it’s probably not going away.  These come from my mentor, Martha Beck – and she’s one smart cookie!

They’re easy to remember – the Four Bs.

1. Bag it.  This is a really good one.  We have a lot of shoulds – I should go to yoga, I should go to that party, I should should should rearrange the towels in the linen closet.  Sometimes we even tell ourselves we have to.  I have to join that committee.  I have to do this myself so it gets done right.  Actually, you don’t have to do much of anything.  There might be consequences if you don’t, but it’s very freeing to know you don’t have to.  You can choose to.  Choose to join the committee because it’s important to you.  Or bag it and say no, you just don’t have the capacity to do that right now.   You have a choice!  And if you’re sleep deprived like most humans on the planet these days, maybe choose sleep.  I regularly bag all kinds of activities in order to get the rest my body craves.  And so far the world has not exploded because of it.

2. Barter it.  See if you can find someone who loves to do that thing you can’t stand.  This works great both at home and at work.  I do all the dishes, but my husband does all the laundry. I feel like I’m getting a great deal!  Someone else at work might love to organize, and you love to write and edit.  Can you barter certain tasks?  Can you trade?  You can also hire out tasks as well.  If it’s not getting done, and it’s stressing you out, maybe it’s worth it to have someone take care of it for you.

3. Better it.  This is my absolute favorite.  This works for anything.  Face it, there’s a lot of stuff on our to-do lists that we don’t want to bag, and that we haven’t figured out how to barter.  We’re gonna do them ourselves.  So how can we better it?  Think about your task and something you can do before, during or afterward to help you enjoy it more.  Can you play music?  Take a walk in a park before or afterward?  Buy yourself a little treat when you finish the task?  Oh, and here’s the cool thing about treats: Our mind processes all treats about the same.  A treat is a treat.  So a pack of gum or a magazine at the checkout to better your trip to the grocery is just as effective as something much bigger that might cost way more money, like a new pair of shoes.  Lots of small treats all day long are super-great for your brain, and help you stay happy while you’re doing your regular routine.   Take the dogs for a walk.  Enjoy a hot bath.  Play a game with your kids.  Look for ways to make others smile while you’re getting your work done.

4. Batch it.  I love this one too.  This is great for getting a whole lot of similar tasks done, like emails or bills or some other project.  Sometimes it’s helpful to block out a chunk of time and just do it all in one fell swoop.  Take a Saturday morning to straighten your closet. Block out an hour to clear up your desk.  Set a timer.  Avoid distractions. And then reward yourself with a treat when you’re done!

I love to help people with big dreams, but the reality is that most of our daily life is full of regular tasks, so enjoying those and really savoring all the little stuff makes such a difference in our energy levels and then gives us the boost we’re looking for to accomplish something big like writing a novel or changing careers.  So give these simple 4 Bs a try – let me know how you do by emailing me at carla@livingwildandprecious.com or leaving a comment below.  I’d love to hear from you!

A break in the routine

Hurricane Isaac completely spoiled my routine - every bit of it.  Sure, there were all kinds of productive things I could have done for four days without power.  Like write about a half-zillion thank you notes.  Or my memoirs.  Or a plan for the half-dozen cool tele-courses that are still in my head instead of out in the world where people might actually be able to sign up for them and enjoy them! Nope.  I didn't do any of that.  I didn't draw.  I didn't sit in the grass.  I didn't journal. I didn't read the books I usually read as part of my morning routine.

Instead I took long naps during the day since I kept waking up at 4 a.m.

I played Backgammon and Pictionary and Boggle and Trivial Pursuit by candlelight with my sweetheart. We laughed a lot!

I made pancakes and bacon and a blueberry pie.

I did a lot of cleaning up in the yard once the wind died down.  And before the wind died down I listened to the AM radio station for news about the storm.

I read people's posts on my phone.  I posted my own updates and texted and called family.  I sat in the car and charged the phone.

I worked with my sweetheart to take down and store all the hurricane boards for the windows and doors.

I went on missions to find ice.  I cooked all the rest of the fish before it defrosted.

I went with my sweetheart to an impromptu blue moon pool party at the neighbors'.

I sat on the porch with the cats, trying to catch a breeze.

I walked up the street with my sweetheart to get ice cream at the local place - they were selling it before it all melted - yum!

I finally read and enjoyed Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  More about that later.

I purged and reorganized several closets, cabinets and drawers.

I chatted with the neighbors while we watched crews chop down the hundred year old crape myrtle tree at the end of the block.

When the power came on, I felt a weird mixture of elation and wistfulness.  No more excuses to drop the routine - no more reasons to play board games by candlelight, or hang out in the street with the neighbors.  Everyone quickly shut their windows, cranked their air conditioning and went back into their own worlds.

I think we all love a "snow day" or a hurricane or some other external factor to give us permission to clear our calendars and do something completely different.  I wonder why we're often less able to clear our calendars ourselves -- to block out a few days or even one day and see what transpires.  Oh, I know what you're saying - that's called "vacation" and sure, we do it!  But vacations are different - they often require a lot of planning and foresight, and sometimes they can be as exhausting as regular life because of all of the cramming in of fantastic activities (that's another blog post, methinks.) Clear days are different.  They're days where you just wake up and see what you feel like doing. Follow your whims.  Sounds delicious, doesn't it?

My general plan is to make Fridays clear days, but I just peeked at my calendar and realized I've been a bit remiss.  I've been doing a lot of catch up work on Fridays.  I've been scheduling meetings, calls, all kinds of stuff.  In fact, I had to go all the way back to February before I found a true "clear day" on my calendar on a Friday - one that wasn't wrapped up in a vacation or trip.  Hmmm. Maybe that's why I so willingly dumped my routines when confronted with four electricity-free hurricane days!

I think it's time to reinstate some clear days on my calendar.  How about you?  Where do you need to make some unstructured space for yourself?  Where can you sneak some completely blank time into your days?  Even if you have tons of obligations and appointments and people counting on you for this and that and the other, where might you find one small sacred chunk of time that you don't decide what you do with it until just before it happens?

Try it.  There's just one rule - pay attention right in that moment and do the thing that feels best then, whatever it is.  I'd love to hear what happens, and how you spend the time. I'm starting up my clear Fridays again on September 14, maybe even September 7, if I can get caught up a little from my four "clear days" off from the hurricane!  I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

30 Day Challenge: Day 26 - fast and fun

Three fast and fun things today: 1. A quick Yogurtland visit with a friend - the second in two days - I'm so pampered!

2. A very quick dip in the pool just minutes before it closed - I think I got in six laps and it was well worth it - channelled my inner Olympian - except I can't do anything resembling Olympic swimming - not even a flip turn!

3. 20 minutes on a quick New Orleans house sketch.

It is such a lie to say we don't have time.  There is plenty of time for whatever we want to have time for!  Including grass time with the cats.

What kinds of fun do you realize you can always have time for?