Monthly Archives: May 2014

Stuck and Overwhelmed? Just Clean Something

Chances are, when you’re stuck and overwhelmed, you don’t really want to add any more things to your to-do list. I’m guessing your to-do list is full to overflowing with sh*t that really needed to get done yesterday. Uh-huh, I’m feeling your pain here. Sadly, mine too. And I have been feeling a little stuck and overwhelmed. Not so much that life isn’t moving forward, it’s moving forward with great haste but instead of driving the ship I’m running behind it trying to pick up the pieces that pick up the pieces that are being left behind. It’s that kind of feeling. This weekend I stumbled on a great solution that has shifted my feelings of stuck and overwhelmed to something softer and more manageable and even given me a big dose of excitement about the future.

The Simple Solution for Feeling Stuck and Overwhelmed

It really is a simple solution – and I’m pretty sure it works universally.  It boils down to “Just Clean Something” but has far reaching implications for your psyche. For me, the something that I had to deal with was my back porch.  Please keep in mind this weekend I had a list of things to do that quite literally couldn’t have got done if I’d worked 24 hours and hopped myself up on red bulls. It was already piled up with stuff that needed doing.  Instead of tackling that whole list and getting bogged down in the heaviness of all of that task-management, I took a track that fed my soul a little bit more and has given me the mental room to make the to-do list look simple.

This Sounds Like Crazy-Talking

Yes, yes I know it does.  Here’s the thing – there is more to this cleaning thing than meets the eye. So here’s what I want you to do.

  1. Find an area in your space that has been driving you crazy – it could be a big area like your bedroom or your kitchen, or it could be the hall closet full of the random stuff that doesn’t go anywhere else. It might even be a place that used to be a favorite place but that has fallen into some serious disorganization (like the back porch).
  2. Put aside the rest of the to-do list that you’ve been spinning out about, and just get down to it.  Physically organizing a space is usually a whole lot more simple than organizing your life or your brain, so get to it.
  3. Get rid of anything that isn’t making you happy in that space (for me it was the dead plants, the empty pots, the half-started projects.) If it isn’t enhancing your life somehow then just chuck it.
  4. Make the space feel like you – this might mean adding some finishing touches or it might just mean looking at thing with fresh eyes and creating a space that suits you now (as opposed to the space that suited you whenever you last looked at this).
  5. Voila! Accomplishment – you have officially beat back the chaos in this one small area and re-asserted control over your domain.

    Feeling stuck and overwhelmed? Tackle a controllable project and unlock those mental gears.

    Feeling stuck and overwhelmed? Tackle a controllable project and unlock those mental gears.

Cleaning as a Metaphor for … Cleaning

Um… yes.  So – the cleaning that you’re doing is actually an act of taking-charge.  It is the literal act of making order out of chaos in one small area of your life (for me, the porch). By making order out of this one tiny area of chaos something in your brain recognizes that you, as a human, have the capacity to do this.  If you can make sense of one chaotic area of your life, then you can make sense of others too.  I know this sounds a little odd when I say it, but honestly your brain is very literal.  If you can do the thing, you can do it.   Your brain is clear on that.  Literally your brain does it again with other things because it knows it can – it knows it did it before. One chunk of chaos might be bigger than the other, but it’s still the same thing and the same puzzle and you’ve already solved it. So what are the psychological benefits here?

  • Your brain suddenly recognizes your amazing ability to solve the chaos problem, which ironically frees up a lot of mental space for actually solving other chaos problems.
  • You have solidly started and completed something, which generates some good satisfaction and productivity juju.
  • Clearing clutter and chaos out of your environment does actually help your brain to de-clutter too, simply because every thing that’s heaped all over your space takes a tiny bit of your attention. Fewer things and less mess means you have more free attention to spare.
  • You now have a lovely space to enjoy. Like my fabulous, serene, peaceful back porch. This alone creates joy and fulfillment. Even with the to-do list still rattling away in the background.
  • The to-do list suddenly starts to go down far more quickly because your brain knows it can generate order, and that’s a lovely thing. There is far less tire-spinning and far more just crossing things off.

I know it sounds too simple to work, and a little counter-intuitive because you’re actually neglecting your to-do list in order to make your to-do list easier to manage.  It’s just that this actually works so next time you’re feeling stuck and overwhelmed, find that one project you can totally tackle and just clean something – getting it done helps you to get it done. Voila! Instant un-stuckness.

Life is Short – Live NOW.

Life is short, and sometimes you come to a crossroads where you have to choose what really matters moving forward and what really doesn’t. I am at just such a crossroads now in my life and when that happens I usually wander back through my journals, blogs, etc… to see if I can get any clarity about the arc of my life. In doing so, I found this post from my previous blog and it struck a cord in me about what actually matters in life, and when it comes to the most important questions, what I might truly value.  This post was written in 2011 and I’ve left it in it’s original form. I hope it inspires you to think, just a little, about what really matters to you today.

I wish I could say that the inspiration for this post is a happy one, but it’s anything but.  I found out today that three colleagues, two of whom were dear friends from graduate school, have passed away recently.  Eli was a completely hilarious, quick witted, sarcastic man who kept everyone around him laughing and would go out of his way to make people happy.  Susan was a beautiful, vibrant woman who was somewhat quiet and always smiley but when she did speak up it was always with something unexpectedly funny that would take everyone by surprise.  She was one of the kindest, warmest people I’ve met. Stacey was in school after I was, but we worked together and I was impressed by her positivity and drive.

These three were all young (30s and 40s), vibrant, and did everything for their health. They had great relationships, children, careers and busy lives. I don’t think any of them would have anticipated leaving the world so early. I can’t begin to fathom that they are gone.

Life is short - Live NOW. Photo by Ian Britton,

Life is short – Live NOW. Photo by Ian Britton,

As I sit in my house, surrounded by my stuff and reminders of the things that normally weigh heavily on my mind I am struck by the sheer madness of my entire existence.  That I am here and whole and healthy is such a miracle – such a gift.  I feel so ashamed at the amount of time I waste worrying about things that don’t matter. When I look around today, after learning of these three deaths, my worries are so trivial and tiny and neurotic.  I have everything I need, I have wonderful friends, amazing family, a house I love and good food on the table. What does the rest of it matter? Where is there any kind of problem?

I’m also ashamed of the time I waste doing things that don’t truly make a difference in the end.  Sure it’s a good idea to make sure my business keeps running and my house is in good repair. But what about the time I fritter away on the internet or with some kind of escapism like TV or movies or books?  Doesn’t that just amount to watching other people live instead of living myself? Am I willing to spend some of these precious moments that way when I know that life is short? There is nothing like the stark reality of death to make a whole bunch of silliness just fall away.

This also throws light on the social and emotional stuff that can become issues in my head but are utterly meaningless.  Remember, life is short. How many times have I not called a dear friend because I was too busy or had to get one more thing done at work? How many people have I failed to keep in touch with, or not shown my feelings for  – for some ridiculous reason like laziness or shyness or inconvenience.  How many activities and events have I missed because there was something that really needed doing, or work, or I was so tired from work that I couldn’t muster up the energy, or some other equally small excuse.

At moments like this it is so hard not to look at my life and feel like maybe I’ve missed something somewhere. If Susan or Eli or Stacey had just a few more days – would they spend them working? Taking care of responsibilities? Or would they smile with their loved ones, maybe go to a park, pick flowers for their bedside table, eat chocolate or watch the sunset. Or maybe something totally different and fun and wonderful – who knows? The point is – they’d probably make joy and love and laughter a pretty high priority. And shouldn’t we all? I’m not saying we should ignore real life and let everything go – but what if work and money and stuff mattered just a little less and life and people and friends and joy mattered just a little bit more? Your life is short too – what do you choose to do with it today?

life is shortlife is shortBoth of these gorgeous images are from – Thanks!

Are You Emotional Eating?

To some degree emotional eating is just part of being a human – we all do it now and again because the bottom line is that it works. Food really does translate into comfort in the human brain and that comfort feedback can get out of hand. It’s easy to use food as a reward, as a treat, or as a way to calm down when you’re anxious, depressed or angry.  It’s easy to do because a lot of the time it works – food does help you feel better in the moment when you’re emotions are getting the best of you.  It can also hurt you in the long-run because then you have to struggle with weight, self-image, powerlessness and body issues. This is a no-win cycle, but there are ways out.

Candy!! A great emotional eating trigger food. Take Five!

Candy!! A great emotional eating trigger food. Take Five!

Six Signs of Emotional Eating:

  1. You often eat so quickly or so much that you feel over-full, uncomfortable or bloated
  2. You find yourself eating ‘for no reason’ or ‘because you’re bored’
  3. You eat more when your schedule becomes tighter as a sign of stress
  4. You gain weight in stressful times or in emotional times
  5. You feel ‘addicted’ to food or to certain foods
  6. Your cravings are compelling and changeable (ice cream for sadness, chips for boredom, snickers when you’re feeling lonely)

Fixing Emotional Eating:

Emotional eating isn’t easy to fix, but it isn’t hard either, there isn’t a complicated technique or months of waiting, just some honest emotional processing.  The hardest part is being willing to actually sit down with yourself and feel exactly what you’re feeling instead of self-medicating. Sort of like an eating meditation, or a food contemplation. There is not really a big difference, grand scheme of things, between hiding from your feelings with food and hiding from your feeling with heroine. These are both just ways of escaping from what you really feel, even if one is a little more dramatic than the other.  It sounds really easy to admit that you’re feeling crummy and sit with that; maybe cry or get angry or be scared but this is honestly one of the hardest, most wonderful and most terrifying things you can ever do as a human. Real, honest emotions can be genuinely world-changing. This is some of the scariest, most honest work you will ever do along with some of the most rewarding, so let’s get to it.

The Cure for Emotional Eating: Take Five

  1. Take a tour of your kitchen and pantry and find your emotional trigger foods.  Chances are you know what it is you go for when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed or sad or lonely.The usual list includes things like brownies, snickers, sweets and candy, ice cream, chips, pop corn, etc…
  2. Write on the outside of those food containers with a sharpie to “Take 5” in big letters so that when you’re in a vulnerable place you don’t have to try to remember whether or not that’s a trigger food for you, you can just read the package. Make sure that when you go grocery shopping you label your trigger foods when they come into the house.
  3. When you grab something out of the pantry, check the package to see if it says “Take Five”
  4. Sit down as usual, but set your kitchen timer for five minutes.
  5. In that 5 minutes, just sit and look at your food but don’t touch it yet.  Just sit, and look and pay attention to how you feel. Not how you want to feel, but how you really feel. If emotions are hard for you to get in touch with, then just focus on your body. How does the air feel in your lungs when you breathe? Is your stomach tight? Do you feel relaxed? Are you hurting anywhere? What does it feel like to be inside your body?
  6. In that 5 minutes, you may feel angry for having to wait, impatient, frustrated, sad, or irritable.  You may burst into tears, start thinking about a fight you had with your partner or have a grand realization about your life.  You also may not notice anything, or think about the toe you just stubbed on the chair as you were sitting down. Just pay attention to however it is that you feel and when the buzzer rings then eat like you normally would.
  7. As you’re eating, notice what the food feels like in your mouth, why you chose the food you did and how you feel as you’re eating it.  Really think about whether or not that food is making you feel any different.  Really think about if that food is giving you what you thought it would or not. You don’t have to change anything else about the eating other than just paying attention to it. Honestly, if you’re paying attention to how you really feel the compulsive eating will resolve itself.

That’s it! That’s all you have to do – is just wait five minutes and really be in your body before you eat and while you’re eating. This is an exercise in finding out about yourself.  Emotional eating is different in every person because we all have different hurts, fears, traumas, anxieties and life situations.  The only way to fix it is to notice that you’re doing it, notice when it happens and acknowledging those feelings in a healthy, honest way. The idea behind this is that you can’t deal with whatever is under there, unless you know what it is. Pretty simple, right?

If you work through things on paper, like I do, then keeping a journal about what you’re feeling can be really helpful.  If you’re more of a talker then finding a food buddy can be helpful or talking with a counselor. If you like to read about the idea then the best book I’ve found about this subject is Geneen Roth’s Women Food and God.

Women Food and God is just a great resource for anyone who really wants to get to the root of their emotional self, and the book uses the idea of food as a pathway to everything – life, beliefs about yourself, and god. Essentially her idea is that your relationship with food is your relationship with life, so if you’re eating for comfort or solace or escape, then what does that say about the rest of your life? Emotional eating is a challenge for sure, but it is also an opportunity for growth and a tool that you can use to explore yourself more deeply.  Of course there are many health reasons to do this, but the most important reasons are about happiness. After all, nobody self-medicates happiness.