Archive for the ‘Life Skills’ Category

social anxietyThis is the fourth in a series of posts about my experiences with social anxiety and finding my voice. Find the first post here, the second post here, and the third post here

In the first part of this series, I talked about how social anxiety has impacted my life, and the things I did that made it worse. The second post was about all the ways that I've been working on changing my mindset from fear to openness, and the last post was about the things I've done to push my boundaries and leave my comfort zone. Today is the final post in the series and I'm going to share where I'm at with the process right now and where I see myself going.

How I'm using my voice more than before:

  • Giving my opinion - I have a clear understanding of what I believe and am often able to articulate it instead of feeling fuzzy and unsure.
  • Speaking up in large groups - I used to always feel overwhelmed and like I was fighting for attention. I still do sometimes, depending on the group, but I'm more ready to put my hand up or just jump in when I see an opening. I feel like what I have to say is just as important as anyone else and I try to make myself heard.
  • Blogging and being vulnerable on the internet - While my personal Facebook doesn't see much from me, here on this blog and over on Instagram I am frequently opening up about personal things. If I think it will help someone, I'm less afraid to share it.
  • Idle chit-chat - I used to always marvel at why it took people so long to leave meetings or classrooms. I would pack my stuff up and be the first one out, usually because I wasn't stopping to talk to anyone on the way out. I also used to always dread breaks during meetings. Now I'm reasonably comfortable initiating small talk and filling time. And I'm rarely the first person to leave a room.
  • I trust that I always have something to say, even when I'm anxious - usually it's just a matter of taking a breath and seeing what comes up. I don't filter myself like I used to, judging every thought as too stupid or uninteresting to say out loud. Now I'll say whatever I think of to keep the conversation going, and I don't blame myself if it stalls.

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social anxietyThis is the third in a series of posts about my experiences with social anxiety and finding my voice. Find the first post here, the second post here and look for the final instalment in two weeks.  

In the first part of this series, I talked about how social anxiety has impacted my life, and the things I did that made it worse. My last post was about all the ways that I've been working on changing my mindset from fear to openness. Since having a healthier mindset doesn't change anything without actually putting myself out there, this week I'm covering some of the actions, behaviors and situations that have pushed me outside my comfort zone, and helped me become stronger and less fearful. If you haven't already, make sure you read last week's post on mindset shifts, since I've found that pushing myself to do scary things without bringing a ton of mindfulness, softness, and self-care to the table just makes me feel worse about myself.

As I did last week, I'll also try to share some ways that you can apply what I've learned to your own situation, however different it may be from mine.  (more…)

overcoming social anxietyThis is the second in a series of posts about my experiences with social anxiety and finding my voice. Find the first post here and look for the next instalment in two weeks.  

In my last post I wrote about my struggles with social anxiety and all the things I did that made it worse: obsessing over what was wrong with me, trying to fix myself, reading endless books about communication and social skills, putting my tale of woe on repeat, and letting other people define me. In this post and the next one, I want to share what I've done that has helped, and how you can apply what I've learned to your own life.

For me there are two components to loosening the bonds of social anxiety: changing my thoughts and changing my behaviors. I've learned that one doesn't really work without the other.

I've always been one to put myself in scary situations, sometimes with the goal of forcing the anxiety out. While this can help, without doing the mental groundwork, it often just made me miserable instead.

This week I'm covering ways that I have been able to change my mindset: to go from feeling like there was something wrong with me that needed to be fixed to finding ways to accept myself and work with what I had. (more…)

Social anxiety - Finding my VoiceThis is the first in a series of posts about my experiences with social anxiety and finding my voice. Look for the next instalment in two weeks.  

For most of my life, I have felt like someone who doesn't speak up. Dozens of people have told me that I am quiet, aloof, standoffish, cold and too introverted and over the years I absorbed those words as being an essential part of who I was.

I had a hard time dating because I could never think of anything to say. I got lost in big groups because I didn't want to fight for attention. I never raised my hand in class - even when part of my grade depended on participation. I never stayed to mingle after a class or meeting - I would grab my stuff and leave - even if I was surrounded by friendly faces.

Talking to people has been my biggest challenge and the biggest obstacle between me and my dreams. I always believed that I would never get what I wanted because I couldn't make connections. I've never found a mentor because I never asked for help or advice from anyone. The only time I ever applied for something that required reference letters, I nearly gave up because my teachers said they didn't know me well enough to write a reference.

Until a few months ago, I still believed that being quiet would be my downfall. That despite all the celebration of introverts that has been happening in the world, I was still hopelessly flawed.

Recently, however, I noticed that something had changed. After all the years and all the wishing and hoping to be different, I could suddenly see that I was different. (more…)

Goat sticking out tongue - Moving mindfully through mistakes

“A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.”
― George Bernard Shaw

“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
― Albert Einstein

“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

We've all heard variations on the above quotes about mistakes, about how inevitable and even important they are. They mean that we're growing and moving forward. But as I was looking for inspiration to write this post, I found that these quotes were the opposite of helpful. I can know intellectually that making mistakes is all part of the process and that it doesn't reflect on who I am, but in the moment it sure feels like it does. All the glib quotes in the world won't make rear-ending someone or hurting a friend feel okay.

When I realize I've made a mistake I can feel my stomach drop, like the floor just fell out from under me. Depending on the severity, a slow burning panic might start to spread across my body and I feel like I'm flailing - attempting to grab at the edges of reality like it's a page I can turn back to when I was doing things right, or a sheet I can pull over my head. And then the stories start spinning, telling me that I'm stupid or selfish or a terrible driver who doesn't deserve to be on the road.

When it comes to mistakes,  I'm interested in figuring out two things:

1. What do we do with the pain it causes?

2. How can we avoid letting the negative stories take control and shape our vision of who we are?

There are many reasons we make mistakes: we're not paying attention, we're tired or overwhelmed, we're overconfident, we're pushing our limits, we're trying something new and don't know enough yet, or we're suffering from straight up bad luck. Each of these has something different to teach us, as long as we don't let the pain carry us away.

Here are some ways that I'm learning to be mindful about my mistakes: (more…)

simple truthsThis has become another annual tradition of mine: going through my journals and lists from last year to find simple nuggets of wisdom. These are the aha's that shaped my year and that I hope to bring forward into a new year. So many of these seem like common sense, but they're good reminders of the basics. Hopefully they spark some learning for you as well. (You can see lists from past years here and here.)

Creativity:

  • Do household chores after creative work. I don't know how many times I caught myself doing laundry or dishes on my art days, and then wondering why I didn't get anything done! Now I've made a firm rule that I won't do any chores until I've finished my art for the day.
  • Sometimes you have to start writing before you know what you're writing about. (True for most creative pursuits!)
  • Setting aside a minimum amount of time to spend on art in a day helps me stay focused. Last year it was four hours, since that's the max that I can focus on any one project in a day.
  • Judgement is what separates us from our creativity. Learning to observe that judgement can help to move past it. I learned this while I was teaching my Creative Adventuring class: I asked the students to observe their surroundings without judgement and we got into a great discussion about mindfulness and creativity!
  • If you stop creating, the ideas get jammed up and have nowhere to go so they stop flowing. Keep the taps open. My mom shared this with me and it's totally true.
  • Don't expect satisfaction from creative work. Sometimes it will feel good and sometimes it won't - the point is to just keep doing it no matter what. (Martha Graham said, "No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”)
  • The creative process is not linear. No matter how hard you work at it there will always be bad work now and then.
  • Making stuff eases my anxiety. Getting lost in a project can be a huge help.
  • Every mark is a learning experience.
  • Distractions and mind wandering are part of my process - I don't need to be so hard on myself.
  • I need to schedule time to clean up after projects to keep my space functional.
  • Don't over-practice. I had more fun at my last dance recital than I have in years because I was more focused on enjoying the dance than making it perfect. I practised just enough to learn the steps and then let it be.
  • I refuse to be grumpy because of art. Stress is inevitable but grumpiness has no place in my art practice.

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rejectionA little while back I watched a video (after the jump) that completely changed the way I think about rejection and failure. Marie Forleo was interviewing actress Bryce Howard and Howard told the story of her grandmother's advice to her when she started her acting career. Her grandmother said that most working actors will go on an average of 64 auditions before booking a job. 64! That number is even higher for people who are just starting out or are returning to the industry after a break.

When Howard started auditioning she said, "I started counting. And I promised myself I wouldn't get upset if I didn't book something before 64 because that would be deluded thinking."

Everyone always says that it's hard to make a living in the arts. And it's true. The odds are against actors and artists and musicians because there are so few jobs and so many of us who want to have a go at it. But this interview showed me that making it in the arts isn't necessarily about luck or being more special than everyone else who's trying: it's about sticking with it through the countless rejections until someone is willing to hire you or pay you. Most actors give up long before they hit that 64 audition mark so if you're willing to keep trying when everyone else has quit, your odds will improve. (more…)

create more spaceWith the holiday season descending, it's easy to start feeling overwhelmed by everything going on. With the sparse daylight at this time of year, it often seems like my days are compressing and I feel tight and rigid rather than open and free. I start to feel ruled by the calendar, thinking constantly about what needs to be done and what event is coming up, rather than appreciating the moments as they come and go.

It's not just at this time of year either. I generally tend towards feeling constricted - by time, by anxiety and fear, by my abilities, by my beliefs, by what's in my bank account. I used to think that I could avoid this feeling by doing less - by clearing my calendar and hoarding my money and time. But that just left me feeling empty and sad.

I've since realized that space is a mindset, and a choice. All the pressure, heaviness and constriction is in my head. I get to decide how I feel and I've decided I want to live a life that's full to bursting, while still staying open and finding ways to expand.

If you're feeling constrained and need some space in your life, here are some things that tend to help me open up:

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making a decision

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”
― William Hutchison Murray

Have you ever noticed how powerful it can be to make a decision? How focused you become when you go from the uncertainty of multiple options to the clarity of one single choice? It can happen with decisions as simple as where to go for dinner or which art project to start on first, to as complex as what city to live in or whether to have kids or not. Once you make the decision, all the other options fall away and you can focus on enjoying your meal, or packing your bags.

A few weeks ago, I had to decide whether I wanted to participate in or opt out of a class-action lawsuit. My gut was telling me to opt out but I kept debating with myself about it right up until the deadline. At the last moment, I finally faxed in the 'opt-out' form and felt a sense of freedom. Whether or not it was the 'right' choice, I had made the decision and cleared away the fog of confusion. I was able to move on with my day.

The thing that I've noticed is that there is often no way to know what the 'right' decision is in the moment, or if there even is a 'right' decision. Often we just have to make a choice and deal with the consequences, whatever they may be. Sometimes you can change your mind, sometimes you can't. Sometimes we have a lot of information, sometimes we don't. Sometimes the decision is over something concrete, like which paint colour to choose for the living room, and sometimes it's a little more nebulous, like what do I really want to do with my life? (more…)

meditation retreat

Running Away

As I sat there listening to the teacher speak, I could feel pain radiating up my back. My face grew hot, my throat felt thick and sore, and my eyes started to burn. I had started crying during the last three meditation sittings and was about to start again. Even after he had wrapped up and sent us off to have lunch, the urge to cry wouldn't go away. My nose was running like crazy and I kept my head down to hide the redness around my eyes. Surrounded by people, I felt completely alone and weird. Why was I having such a negative reaction? Everyone else seemed to be feeling peaceful and content. 

I finished my lunch quickly, then decided to go for a walk. First, though, I mustered up the courage to go talk to the teacher. I would let him know how bad I was feeling and see if he had any advice. He was signing books for other participants and I struggled to compose myself as I waited in line. When it was my turn I stepped up and said, "I don't have a book, just a quick question," with my voice shaking. He looked behind me and very gently asked if I could wait while he finished signing the other books.

I stepped to the side and a flood of emotion surged, threatening to drown me. I hurried away and fumbled with the laces of my shoes before stumbling outside, tears pouring down my face. My rational mind knew that he wasn't rejecting me, I knew that he was just being fair to the other people, who had been told that this was the time to have their books signed. But it still felt like every other time I had asked for help and been pushed away. I felt like I didn't belong, like I couldn't possibly be around people anymore. (more…)