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Your Power Tool for the Holidays: 6 Quick Steps to Holding Your Ground in Times of Crazy

Last Sunday my husband came in from working in our barn and took me in his arms to dance me around the kitchen, singing into my ear one of our favorite love songs. I saw my daughter watching (oh thank heaven, she sees our love and not just our friction). I said it might be her turn to dance with her father. My own father used to love to dance with me and I always felt my most beautiful and safe in his arms. Our daughter used to dance with her father all the time. Partner dancing they called it, and their dancing was modeled after the ballets she used to love to watch when I was putting our son down for his nap. Full of leaping and twirling and dramatic swoops, her shining face mesmerizing. Our daughter's always loved to ballet dance, and she is a natural- graceful, moved by the music. Now she takes ballet class and somehow partner dancing has slipped from our lives. But on this Sunday afternoon the music of Swan Lake filled the air, and father and daughter dazzled us again. As my son and I watched them dip and dive across the hardwood floor, her joy palpable, I felt tears fill my eyes. How I love to see her so unabashedly happy. In that moment I realized how constant and persistent my worry and the weight of her struggling has been on my heart these last months. That carefree happiness has been missing. It’s not that I didn’t know I was worried, I did. I didn’t realize how heavy the weight of that worry was.

It’s been a busy fall. My husband and I have had trainings and work travel, we’ve had visitors and an election, our children are playing sports and practicing instruments; we’ve had car repairs and home improvements to manage. And we’ve been working. I’ve started and tossed aside at least a half a dozen blog posts because I haven’t finished them in time for them to remain relevant. The next month promises to be just equally if not more bustling. My tears on Sunday afternoon reminded me of a tool that can be so very helpful, especially in times of busyness and overwhelm.

This tool can allow us to show up as the person we want to be no matter how busy our lives are, no matter how off base we feel. And we need a tool because as grownups we are insanely busy. I read recently that we make 35,000 decisions a day. On top of all the decisions, we now fill up any moment of space in between decisions with distractions. I’ve been listening to Manoush Zomorodi talk about boredom and the brain. Zomorodi says that it is during the quiet times—daydreaming, boredom—that our brains think about the future, integrate how we are feeling and chart a course forward. Neurologically, our brains connect disparate ideas and do what she calls “autobiographical planning,” deciding what’s important to us and what we want to do about it, when it doesn’t need to jump quickly from one form of input to another. Not only that, but all that super quick bopping between apps on our phone, dinner prep, work call, app on our phone, check email, take a call, check an app, read news article, check an app etc. depletes precious juice our brain needs for creative thinking. I don’t know about you but unless I intentionally put it away, I feel instantaneous opportunity/pressure at my fingertips to fill up any free moment Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Slack and all the other platforms whose names I don’t know. The average person checks email 74 times a day and switches tasks on their computer 566 times a day. Between making all the decisions needed to handle both the unexpected and our daily responsibilities and the pressure to fill each available moment with some form of input, days can go by without paying attention to the subterranean emotional experience of how we feel in our life. Still, life presents moments to tap into what we are experiencing underneath all the chatter- as it did when I watched my daughter partner dance. When I choose to seize those moments and pay attention to them, I become more of the person I want to be.

If we offer ourselves the time to feel what we are feeling, to notice what we notice, we can choose to have a fresh start. That’s what I’m calling the tool I’d like to offer this holiday season: the fresh start.

First let me say I’ve noticed two main types of circumstances for which the fresh start is particularly helpful. First, is like the one I described with my daughter dancing: we’re not wrapped up totally in our busyness- maybe we’re watching The Great British Baking Show or walking the dog- and suddenly we are triggered, unexpected feelings rise up.

Another circumstance when this tool is a savior is when we are totally caught up and stressed out. Take, for example, me the other night when I arrived home with my two hungry children 15 minutes before I wanted to have dinner on the table and realized we were without power. A circumstance totally out of my control (I freakin’ hate those) and I quickly twist myself into a knot- ordering my children around, wracking my brain for the best solution, jumping ahead in my mind to us being awake all night in our freezing house, pummeling myself for only allowing 15 minutes for me to pull together dinner. And then came the worst feeling: a tight mixture of regret and wrongdoing that can make me start acting worse. Then you know what happened? My daughter looked at me and she said, “You’re doing a great job Mama- I love you.” Her sweet compassion offered me a moment to separate myself from my experience. Now sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes someone throws you a line but if not, you can use the moment you recognize the swell of shame, frustration and regret you feel at not acting the way you want as your doorway. She snapped me right out of my head and gave me an opportunity to see outside my own internal dialogue into how I’m feeling and why. Something unexpected happened at an inopportune time and it’s stressful for me. I can see that, and I just need that moment of clarity to realize I have options. I can handle this. I can choose to have a bunch of regret about acting like crap for a bit or I can start acting the way I know I want to.

Now I wish I’d made a complete switch into my best mother self, but I didn’t. I did for a few minutes and then I spiraled out again. But a little while later I really caught myself. Again I felt the weight of wrongdoing, promising myself I’d do it better next time. Then I thought, “Next time can be right now.” Repairing well is more important than doing it perfectly the first time. I can make amends right now and start fresh. I don’t need to let this become one more example I use to prove to myself I’m not good at this. I took a breath. I apologized again. I started afresh. I changed my tone. I reengaged. The power still wasn’t on when we got home, but we lit candles and bundled under quilts and we were happy.

In true Corinne fashion (I do love a good plan.) I’d like to break down the steps for you of putting fresh start to use. STEP 1: Recognize that you are feeling or doing something that needs your attention. Often something external can give us a clue. What the emotion unearths can be woven so tightly into what feels normal that haven’t noticed it’s there until something unlocks a well of emotion. STEP 2: Breathe. Feel your breathing body. STEP 3: Feel what you are feeling. Don’t try to push the emotions way, discredit them or beat yourself up. STEP 4: Say out loud to a loved one or to yourself with clarity what you are feeling. Unpack it. STEP 5: Own it. Do you need to say something out loud? Apologize? Come clean to someone in your life about what is real for you? Do it. Whether it is out loud or just in your mind. [I can’t overemphasize how liberating and important this step is, and what courage it takes to allow yourself to be vulnerable here. It sets a neurological pattern for health and resilience that deserves a discussion all its own.] STEP 6: Begin afresh. When we feel and say out loud how we are feeling, the burden of the things we carry becomes lighter and space for a new way of being emerges. When I said out loud to myself how worried I was about my daughter somehow I saw clearly some actions I could take. There were some simple steps my husband and I could take to engage more directly with making sure she is supported fully.

When we allow ourselves to feel how we are feeling, we are able to see and take actions that are more directly aligned with who we want to be and what we’d like to happen. You may have people in our lives who are not the easiest to apologize to (I know I do), coming clean feels virtually impossible. That’s ok. This tool can be used entirely internally. Not everyone deserves the intimacy and trust of your feelings and experience and that doesn’t change the value in giving yourself the gift of seeking deeply into feeling and acknowledging your emotions and creating a space for re-calibrating and remembering how you want to show up no matter what.

The invisible burdens we carry weigh us down, they make us more disengaged, easy to anger, sadder. We have diminished capacity to be present in our lives the way we want to be when we don’t allow ourselves to pay attention to our emotions. I know this from personal experience and I know this from the women I work with. Women from all over, at all different stages of life—married, divorced, mothers, preparing to mother, newly partnered, ready for a partner, beginning new work, managing their business. Each one completely unique, and yet we universally carry around a giant Santa bag full of ways to beat the crap out of ourselves. My approach to coaching is to use our time as one big fresh start: What are all the pieces alive in me right now? How do I feel about what I am doing and what’s happening? Where do I want to go? How do I get there? Each of these women know the answers for themselves. We draw it out, clarify and chart a course. Our biggest obstacle is thinking we’re doing something wrong or thinking we don’t know what we’re doing. This tool, this fresh start, it shortens the punishment of this mindset. It wakes us up to this precious, alive moment in front of us; it opens a doorway to possible actions we haven’t considered before, and lets it be ok to not get it right and start again. And I’ll be honest, at its essence, this is a mindfulness tool for learning to love well. To love yourself and to love your people deeply and well. When it is at work in my life, I am awash in peace and joy. I wish you such peace and joy this holiday season.

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