Image description: Across the top of the comic is the title Bridges and Boundaries.
In the first panel, a stick figure stands beside a box labeled Tools. There’s a little hammer and a few other items sticking up from the box.
The second panel is split horizontally. In the top panel, a stick figure stands on one end of a bridge, with a stick figure on the other end. The first stick figure says, “Do you want to come over?” In the bottom panel, a stick figure stands on one side of a double-dashed line (a permeable-at-will boundary), and a blurry figure stands on the other side. Text reads “Those feelings aren’t mine to manage.”
In the third panel, a stick figure stands with a double-dashed boundary on both sides and two bridges. Text reads “Connected AND Protected.”
2018 will be the first year that features all four core self-care courses – Emotional, Mental, and Physical Self-Care (which ran in 2017 with a focus on wholeness and will run in 2018 with a focus on hope), and, new for this year, Social Self-Care. I am so excited about the fourth and final piece in the quartet – it is one that I have struggled with personally, and the long process of planning and researching for this course has been such a valuable journey for me. I am excited to share what I’ve learned.
Social self-care is all of the self-care that we do around how we engage with other people.
It’s the self-care that happens at our points of connection (both wanted and unwanted) – those situations where our bubble bumps up against someone else’s bubble, voluntarily or not.
We engage with a lot of different people, and our self-care toolbox needs to be ready to handle them. The people who love us, and people who hate us. People who help us, and people who harm us. People who buoy us up, and people who weigh us down. People who sometimes are one, and sometimes are the other. People we wish we never had to speak to again, and people we wish we could speak to just one more time.
Social self-care is heckin’ hard.
Any of us with trauma histories, histories of abuse, or socialization to be the “good” whatever (the good girl, the good fat person, the good Black woman, the good crip, the good queer – any of us who have been socialized to shrink ourselves for the comfort of others) – we often struggle with boundaries.
It’s hard to know where we end and to advocate for what we need – to establish the boundaries that clearly outline where the other begins and where I end, and the boundaries that will keep us safe. Maybe we’ve been punished for trying to establish boundaries, or maybe we’ve learned to keep ourselves safe by keeping ourselves available. Maybe we’re afraid that nobody will love us if we establish boundaries. Maybe we’re afraid that nobody will be willing to help us.
And, similarly, we often struggle with bridges.
It’s hard to know how to reach out. If we’ve experienced abandonment, humiliation, abuse, or neglect, it’s hard to trust. It’s hard to let ourselves be vulnerable by reaching out, offering a connection that might be refused.
But it’s possible to learn how to build both boundaries and bridges. It’s possible to be connected and protected.
That’s what the winter online course is all about.
During the 6-week course, we’ll talk about:
- Self-awareness and self-compassion. Knowing ourselves, knowing our needs, naming our fears and desires. Before we set up boundaries and extend bridges, we’ll work on what we hope to accomplish with those two critical social self-care tools. We’ll also talk about attachment styles, and bring that lens to our social self-care work.
- Self-differentiation. We’ll talk about how to recognize where we end and others begin. Some of the challenges we run into in setting up boundaries and bridges have to do with differentiating ourselves from the people around us. Inner stories like, “they need me more than I need me,” “they probably hate me anyway,” “everyone feels the way I feel,” and “there’s no point, they won’t respect my boundaries/be interested in building a bridge” can stop us from even trying. We’ll talk about where we might be over-empathizing, projecting, or struggling to self-differentiate.
- Trust. We’ll talk about how to build (and rebuild) trust, earn trust, and determine trustworthiness. (We’ll be using a lot of Brené Brown, as well as the Gottman’s work!)
- Companionship. Finding it, caring for it, remaining whole within it.
- Isolation. When we choose it, when we feel trapped in it, how to challenge it.
- Involuntary social groups. Families of origin, workplaces, classmates, roommates, extended friend groups – sometimes they’re awesome, sometimes they’re not.
- Voluntary social groups. Chosen families, partnerships, collaborations – even when we choose it, we have to look after ourselves within it.
- Social self-care in crisis contexts. How to ask for help and how to offer help in an emergency.
Sounds great, right?!
When: January 22. 6-weeks.
Where: Entirely online! Work at your own pace, in your own space. Optional weekly Google Hangout.
How much: $150. $75 for Patreon supporters. Sliding scale available.
How to register: Send me an email!
Image description: A screenshot of a text post. Text reads: In order to become the supreme adult, you must perform the seven wonders:
· Public speaking
· Not being afraid of teenagers
· Calling the doctor yourself
· Arguing without crying
· Having a normal sleep pattern
· Having an answer to the question ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
(This is a Patreon reward post for Dave. At the $10 per month support level, I’ll write you a yearly post on the topic of your choice, too! Patrons at any support level get access to many posts about a week early, and are able to offer comments and suggestions, and see my, sometimes meandering!, process in action.)
This text post floated across my newsfeed again, and I laughed, as I always do when I see it, because it feels so true. But I didn’t share it, because it also feels deeply ableist. And, when thinking about it, isn’t Supreme Adulting an exercise in ableism, with its demand that adulting involves navigating capitalism and passing as neurotypical and normatively abled? The infantilizing of any of us who are neurodivergent or disabled certainly lends some weight to that theory.
The reason I saved the post today, rather than laughing and scrolling past, is because of the last point – in order to become the supreme adult, you must have an answer to the question ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
Months and months ago now, Dave said that the topic of his Patreon reward post should be “self-care and figuring out what you’re going to do with your life.”
Great, I thought!
“Great!” I said.
A month or so later, I sent him an email and told him it was going really slowly. I was running into internal friction. It’s a big topic! What you’re going to do with your life? HUGE! It had felt like a quick and easy topic, as these reward posts often do, but then I scratched the surface and got stuck.
He said not to worry. I kept thinking about it.
A month or so after that, I sent him another email with a proposal – how about “self-care and job hunting”? But he wasn’t feelin’ it, so I came back to this.
And every week when I wrote out my To Do list, “Dave’s Patreon post” showed up.
And every week, it didn’t get written.
This friction… I couldn’t quite figure it out. Was it friction because I worry about what I will do with my life? Was it shame or anxiety over the fact that I’m trying to build a new career for the third time in my life? Was it worry about giving directives to other people, taking on a role of expertise when I truly believe that we are each the experts in our own experience? All of those, but also not quite any of those. There was something else there, and all I knew was that I was stuck. I have learned (painfully and only with great effort) to trust the stuckness. When I’m stuck, there’s something there. It’s worth honouring the friction, even when I find it frustrating.
And then this text post floated across my newsfeed and, and the stickiness resolved, and I thought yes! Now I can write this thing, at long last.
Because what this post highlighted for me was the ableism and the individualism and the capitalist expectations buried within the question. That’s what I had been sticking on.
Because the struggle is not figuring out how to answer ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
We can often answer that.
If we let ourselves, we can often close our eyes and imagine a life that sounds good – maybe a life full of family? Maybe making art? Maybe gardening? Maybe building community? Maybe making music? A life of long walks, or mornings spent writing, or caring for younglings or oldsters? A life spent researching the Great Questions? A life of learning? A life of teaching? There is so much that we might want to do, and many of us can, if we let ourselves, answer that question.
If we let ourselves.
Which we often don’t, not past childhood, because that’s not actually the question being asked.
The question is usually not ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
The question is ‘what do you want to do with your life that will pay your bills, position you as a productive member of society, and fit into the (unreasonable) expectations of the society around you?’
And the reason I couldn’t write a post about how to answer that second question is because I think it’s a garbage question. It is inherently harmful and violent.
‘What part of yourself will you cut off in order to fit into this shoe?’
So, instead of offering suggestions for how to answer that question-within-question, I will offer this –
Yes, the pain you feel when the question is asked is real, and valid. Even if you know what you want to do, even if you have a vocation and a career in mind, the pain can still float up because of the uncertainty of our current economic climate. We are supposed to have aspirations, but not unrealistic aspirations. We are supposed to reach for success, but not overreach. It is an impossible balancing act. So, yes, the pain you feel is real, and valid.
Yes, it is unfair that the adultier adults in your life keep asking it.
Yes, you’re right that there is often something wounded behind the eyes of the people who ask the question. It is an unfair question for all of us, and the process of answering is often a process of self-negation.
Yes, your anger is justified.
Yes, your fear is valid.
Yes, your uncertainty is legitimate!
Of course that question hurts!
You are being asked not only to disclose (and decide) how you will fit your life into capitalism but also how you will devote your entire life to capitalism.
As my good friend put it, you are being asked to assimilate, to become Borg. And that threat of assimilation is hidden in what seems like an innocuous question – what do you want to do with your life? What a lovely question, what an expansive question, what a perfectly innocent question… except not.
Our current economic climate means that the idea of vocation, of career, of calling – the idea of one job that provides a stable base from which to launch your life – only exists for the very privileged few. And you’re probably not one of them. And some part of you knows it. And it hurts.
So, what do you want to do with your life? Choose, and then be prepared to choose again, and to choose again, and to choose again, and to be pitied and rejected when you’re between choices, and to feel yourself segmented into selves who inhabit jobs but not careers, and not jobs that feed your heart but jobs that feed your body, to choose between those selves, to always be fragmented and unintegrated. What violence!
Our looming societal collapse means that many of us, Millenials and Xennials and later generations, are not planning much into the future. How can we? We are racking up student debt that we’ll never pay down. We are living with our parents and being slammed for it in article after article. We are eating too much avocado toast and we are failing at Supreme Adulting. And it is not our fault.
Truly, it is not our fault. The question is flawed. The system is hostile. There are rarely right answers because the answers that feel right don’t often answer the real question.
So, that’s not hugely helpful for those of us who need to answer the question.
(And, as I format this post to share publicly on my blog, I feel a flicker of anxiety about admitting that not only do I not have easy answers for anyone who comes to me for coaching help, I just straight up do not believe that the easy answers exist. What kind of coach am I, anyway?! The self-doubt is real, and it’s worth acknowledging. Here, and always, I lean on G. WIllow Wilson’s wisdom – “There is not always a way out, but there is always a way forward.” I am not the coach who will get you out of the struggle, I am the coach who will help you find ways forward through the struggle.)
The fact is, we do have to answer the question of how we will fit ourselves into capitalism, even though it’s a garbage question.
Even when we know the answer is not going to be right, because there are no longer any right answers, still we have to come up with it. We do have to find our way forward, because we have to eat, because we have to pay rent, because we have to make our way through this world even though the system is hostile, and it is often easier to move forward when that hostility is acknowledged and our struggle is honoured.
(And to support the idea of no right answers, look at burnout rates among doctors, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, and other professional careers that were previously considered the adultiest of all. Who is more adult than a lawyer? Nobody! And so, then, why are so many young lawyers burning out? Maybe our ideas of what it means to be “adult” – where adult is code for “productive member of capitalist society” – are fundamentally flawed.)
Let’s detour for a moment.
For a moment, consider the surface question, the first question, the better question – ‘what do you want to do with your life?’
Consider answering it from your heart rather than from your fear. Imagine a future where that is possible.
Consider this section from Donna Haraway’s Staying with the Trouble:
“Vinciane Despret thinks-with other beings, human and not. That is a rare and precious vocation. Vocation: calling, calling with, called by, calling as if the world mattered, calling out, going too far, going visiting. Despret listened to a singing blackbird one morning – a living blackbird outside her particular window – and that way learned what importance sounds like. She thinks in attunement with those she thinks with – recursively, inventively, relentlessly – with joy and verve. She studies how beings render each other capable in actual encounters, and she theorizes – makes cogently available – that kind of theory and method. … Her kind of thinking enlarges, even invents, the competencies of all the players, including herself, such that the domain of ways of being and knowing dilates, expands, adds both ontological and epistemological possibilities, proposed and enacts what was not there before.”
Vocation: calling, calling with, called by, calling as if the world mattered, calling out, going too far, going visiting.
Imagine, just imagine, if we could answer that question with our vocation, with our calling, with our calling out and calling in, with our calling as if the world mattered. If we could go visiting into various ways of being and doing, and if that could be a beautiful part of the process rather than a painful destabilization.
Just thinking about it opens me up in the way Haraway describes.
I want that kind of thinking.
I want to answer the question with that expansiveness, that generosity, and that space. Rather than an ableist question which demands that the answerer fit into a mold that is no longer (and honestly has never been) compassionate or helpful, I want to answer an anti-oppressive question that expands and creates competencies and potential, that brings curiousity, playfulness, and companionship to the table.
And then let’s come back to the question under the question – not ‘what do you want to do with your life,’ but rather ‘what will you do to fit your life into the system?’
Here are some self-care ideas for navigating that process:
First, allow yourself to answer the surface question. Let yourself answer, even if you know you won’t be able to act on the answer. Do you want to spend your life in service? Do you want to spend your life baking pastries? Do you want to spend your life in gardens and on nature trails? Do you want to spend your life writing? Raising children? Raising goats? Raising the roof in party after party after party? Raising awareness? Raising each other up? Answer. Don’t worry if there’s no way you’ll pay the rent with that answer.
(And for the record, although we do have the persistent cultural myth of the self-made person who “trusts their heart and the money follows,” I think that it is mostly bullshit. Especially in the current economic and political climate. Especially for those of us who are marginalized or multiply marginalized. So, it may happen. You may answer that question, find a vocation, follow it, survive. I hope that you do! That’s what I’m hoping for myself, too! But if you don’t, that is not your fault. It is not because you weren’t positive enough, passionate enough, persistent enough. It is because the system is hostile.)
Second, allow yourself to dodge the question. When people who expect you to #adult ask how you’re going to do it, avoid/subvert/challenge the assumptions. What are you going to do with your life, they ask, as you enter your final year of your undergrad degree, fully cognizant of the lack of jobs in your field? “Well, I was thinking I would bake a pie this weekend!” You don’t owe them your answer.
Third, allow yourself to answer the question-within-the-question with whatever emotions come up for you. Bitterness? Yeah, fucking definitely. Anger? Yes. Fear? Yes. Curiousity? Yes! Excitement? Absolutely. Apathy? For sure. Whatever comes up for you, comes up for you. You’re allowed to feel whatever you feel.
And finally, know that you’re not alone in not being able to answer the question. It is an impossible and hostile question. It is cruel. It is unfair. If you don’t have an answer, that is okay.
Take a deep breath.
Keep looking for ways to tether yourself to yourself despite all of the alienation and distance that capitalism enforces.
I believe in you.
You will do so much with your life, and not all of it will be Supreme Adulting, and all of it will be yours.
Image description – The green leaves of a succulent with a pink flower. Text reads Self-Care Salon: Narratives of Self-Care. Dec 10 1:30 pm to 3:30 pm, Loft 112. RSVP today.
Welcome to the Self-Care Salon!
Each month, we’ll meet for tea and snacks and discussion – an opportunity to take a deep dive into a specific self-care topic, with space for your questions and insights.
Each self-care salon will include a short presentation by a community expert – someone who can speak from their own experience about a self-care related topic. “Expertise” in this context is a broad and inclusive word, not limited to folks with letters after their names or professional designations, and recognizing the expertise that we each gain over the course of our lives. If you’re interested in presenting, get in touch!
For our inaugural Self-Care Salon we’ll be talking about “narratives of self-care” – what the common perception of self-care is, how it’s discussed in mainstream culture and in activist circles, how marginalized communities can practice self-care and what our stories of self-care include, and what narratives of self-care we’d like to see more often.
Following the presentation by Tiffany Sostar, we’ll have an hour for discussion, including any questions you have about the topic (or about other self-care topics), and then time to chat, network, and work on our self-care plans. Each month you’ll get a resource pack with worksheets, suggestions for further reading, and a self-care plan for you to fill out for the coming month.
These workshops are intended to be as accessible as possible. The space is wheelchair accessible (through the back door), with a separate space for folks who are experiencing sensory overwhelm to chill out, and gluten-free and vegan snack options.
The cost for the workshop is $50 or pay-what-you-want. Nobody will be turned away for financial reasons. The first two workshops will be offered at a discount, because the holiday season is often a time of financial strain even for those of us who are not dealing with economic insecurity. Tickets are available here.
Sustainable and ethical self-care is not possible without intentional and compassionate community care, and the Indigenous communities whose land we live on are often forgotten. These workshops take place on Treaty 7 land, and the traditional territories of the Blackfoot, Siksika, Piikuni, Kainai, Tsuutina, and Stoney Nakoda First Nations, including Chiniki, Bearspaw, and Wesley First Nation. This land is also home to Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3.
10% of the proceeds from the December workshop will be given to the Awo Taan Healing Lodge.
What is this course?
This 3-week online course is an opportunity to work through Tim Desmond’s The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook with daily support and encouragement from a skilled self-care coach (that’s me!)
Together, we’ll learn each of Desmond’s self-compassion practices, and complete his “14-day day plan to transform your relationship with yourself.”
The holidays are often a challenging time, and the shame gremlins can be out in force during family dinners, office parties, and the forced merriment of the season. Spend 30-45 minutes a day for three weeks tending to your own needs and developing your self-compassion skills so that by the time we hit that difficult window at the end of the year, you’re feeling more stable, grounded, and able to respond to emotional overwhelm with calm and compassion.
Tending to Ourselves: A 3-week course in self-compassion
December 1 – 22, 2017
$50 for Patreon supporters and returning students
You will need to purchase the book The Self-Compassion Skills Workbook.
(Available at bookstores, or in e-book format.)
Email to register.
This course is entirely online, with an optional in-person chat for participants in Calgary.
What is self-compassion?
Self-compassion is the ability to see ourselves as loveable and worthwhile regardless of what is happening in our lives – regardless of our failures and successes.
In times of joy and ease, self-compassion is the ability to celebrate and enjoy ourselves without worrying that we’re going to “jinx” it or that we don’t deserve it and it’s going to be taken away. Brené Brown refers to “fearful joy” in her work, and it’s the idea that we don’t let ourselves fully experience our joy because we’re afraid of how much it will hurt when the other shoe drops. But by embracing self-compassion, and allowing ourselves to feel our joy, we can actually build our resilience and strength.
When things are going poorly, self-compassion is the ability to treat ourselves with kindness, gentleness, and forgiveness, rather than blaming, shaming, or attacking ourselves.
Rather than ignoring, avoiding, dismissing, or rejecting our pain, a self-compassionate response acknowledges the pain and looks for ways to ease it. It is exactly the same as being compassionate with other people in our lives, though it often doesn’t come as easily.
Self-compassion means being an ally to ourselves – to our weakest, saddest, loneliest and most challenging selves. It means having a strong compassionate voice within ourselves that can counter the self-hate, self-blame, and internalized shame and guilt that so many of us live with on a daily basis.
Self-compassion means allowing ourselves to be fully human. Reclaiming the parts of ourselves that we have been cut off from, and welcoming them back.
It means welcoming back the parts of ourselves that have been rejected by colonial beauty standards, ableist expectations of physical and cognitive function, and by heteronormativity, patriarchy, and other forms of oppression that cut marginalized individuals and communities off from our own hearts and selves, histories and stories.
It’s a path to integration and wholeness. Wholeheartedness.
It’s pretty great.
And it’s pretty hard, too.
Let’s practice together.
(Image description: In the lower left the cover of Avery Alder’s brilliant RPG Monsterhearts 2 is visible. In the upper right another RPG book is partially visible. There is a character creation sheet between the two books, and a pile of various sizes, shapes, colours, and types of dice. Photo credit to Scott Foster, who inspired this post.)
This is a Patreon reward post for Scott. At the $10/month support level, I’ll write a post on the topic of your choice for your birthday, too. My Patreon supporters allow me to continue this work, and I appreciate them so much. You can join that small (but growing!) community, if you want!
Scott requested a post on self-care and new projects. They asked me to focus on projects that you’re not excited about, or that you’re afraid of.
Scott is a consummate gamer – when we started dating, they told me that they needed to have one whole evening to do nothing other than gaming at least once every few days, because that’s how they recharge and decompress. I have learned a lot about the value of gaming from Scott! They have also DM’d multiple tabletop roleplaying games, including D&D, Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts, Mouse Guard, Goblin Quest, and more. When they game, they’re in their element. And they do a great job of making gaming spaces safe and accessible for the people they game with. (Someday I’ll interview them about that process for this blog.)
So, this post focuses on approaching new projects gamefully – not only because that’s a good idea in general, but also because of who I’m writing this post for.
For this post, I really appreciated Jane McGonigal’s work on gameful living, which I’ve been deep-diving into for the upcoming Gaming and Self-Care series that I’ll be launching on the Facebook page next month.
In the introduction to her book SuperBetter, Jane McGonigal writes:
You are stronger than you know.
You are surrounded by potential allies.
You are the hero of your own story.
She says, “This book is…about learning how to be gameful in the face of extreme stress and personal challenge. Being gameful means bringing the psychological strengths you naturally display when you play games – such as optimism, creativity, courage, and determination – to your real life. It means having curiosity and openness to play with different strategies to discover what works best. It means building up the resilience to tackle tougher and tougher challenges with greater and greater success.”
New projects are all about challenge. Whether it’s an exciting project, a terrifying project, a project you chose or a project you’ve been dropped into, it’s almost guaranteed to be a challenge of some sort. And gamefulness is all about stepping up to challenges.
So You’re Starting A New Project: A Brief Guide to Being The Boss of Your Project (and Practicing Sustainable and Gameful Self-Care While You’re At It)
Okay, so you have a new project about to launch. You want to make sure you get through the planning, launching, and in-process phases of the project without burning out, crashing into a wall of self-doubt, or losing track of your own needs in the process.
Start with some assessment
Take a minute, take a breath.
Close your eyes and picture that project on your inner horizon. Think about what the project will look like, feel like, and how much of your life will be wrapped up in the project. Imagine yourself beginning the project, working through the project, and completing the project. Picture yourself right in the thick of it, and picture yourself surveying the final result.
How do you feel? (You can check multiple.)
a) I feel amazing! This project is gonna be so good!
b) I feel hopeful. This project has a lot of potential!
c) I feel anxious. This project is gonna be a lot of work.
d) I feel terrified. This project is gonna be a disaster.
e) I feel something else.
Whatever you feel is okay.
Projects that make you catch your breath in excitement and anticipation are awesome. But not every project is one that we want, or that we would have chosen. Projects that you find yourself thrown into unexpectedly, projects you would never have chosen for yourself, and projects that terrify you can also be approached with self-awareness, compassion, and intentional self-care and you can get through them.
You might even end up gaining valuable skills, insight, and experience in the process.
Knowing how you feel about a project, and being honest with yourself about that, can help you plan for the project and for the self-care you’ll need to focus on in order to get through it. In this moment of assessment, try to let go of your expectations for yourself, and other people’s expectations for you. You may be embarking on a project that you ‘should’ be really excited about, and you might actually be terrified. You might be starting a project that you ‘should’ be terrified about, but you know you’re going to rock it. You know yourself better than anyone else, and you know how you feel. Trust that knowledge. You are the protagonist of this story. You are the narrator. This is your story to tell.
And it’s also okay if you don’t really know how you feel, or if your feelings change over the course of the project!
Once you’ve given some thought to how you’re feeling about the project, it’s time to…
Identify your available resources
Think about resources in a broad and inclusive way.
This isn’t just the money, time, and space that you’ll need for the project. It’s also the social resources – that friend who is always available to tell you that you’ve got this who adds to your resource list, or the family member whose skepticism is always lurking at every family gathering who is a drain on your resources. It’s the internal resources – your sense of resilience, hopefulness, and self-efficacy (your belief in your ability to take action and to have your actions positively influence the outcome).
Sometimes it’s also domestic resources – help with laundry and the dishes, or the ability to order in when the project gets heavy, or the knowledge that you’re on your own to carry your own weight or the weight of the family, and needing to plan accordingly.
It can help to make a list of all the resources you have available, and to let that list be expansive and even silly.
Do you have an inner Elf Commander who can marshal your internal troops for a big productivity push? List that as a resource!
Do you have a family member or friend who will be your cheerleader? List that!
Are you creative, curious, compassionate, or committed? List them all!
Let yourself sit with this for a while, because often new resources will float up to the top of your mind the longer you let yourself look at yourself and your life through that lens. Keep the list open for at least a few days, and just keep adding to it as you think of things to add.
It can also help to make a list of the resources you might need. Are you going to need money, time, or energy that you don’t currently have? Be honest with yourself about that.
Finally, it can help to make a list of the things that will drain your available resources. This list is important because it can help you decide where to set boundaries and how to protect yourself as you move through the project.
If you end up adding a lot of the people in your life to that list of things that will drain your resources, chances are, you feel bad about it. Take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. You are not a bad person for recognizing the way that some relationships and some social interactions drain you. And that drain does not mean that you’ll cut those people out of your life or stop being a support to them. It just means that you’re recognizing your own needs.
Assessing our resources, and being honest about what we have, what we need, and what drains us is always an exercise in vulnerability. It’s tough! And it’s also really valuable.
Once you’ve assessed your feelings and your resources, it’s time to get your hands onto that project!
Find The Challenge
Jane McGonigal writes, “A challenge is anything that provokes our desire to test our strengths and abilities and that gives us the opportunity to improve them. Crucially, a challenge must be accepted. No one can force you to tackle it. You have to choose to rise to the occasion.”
Regardless of how you feel about your project, you can choose to accept the challenge and to meet the project on your own terms. That’s the first step in turning the project from a threat into a challenge. Any project can be a challenge that you choose to tackle, even if (especially if) it’s a project that you don’t want to start, are afraid of, or don’t have a choice about. Gamefulness will help you avoid the hopelessness and the feeling of powerlessness that can accompany a project that we don’t want and don’t have a choice about.
What you’re doing when you find the challenge is switching from a threat mindset to a challenge mindset, and the reason that’s valuable is because it shifts the narrative and opens up new ways of engaging with the project. Threat mindsets focus on the risks, the potential losses, and the potential harms. It’s important to recognize those things, but when you’re about to tackle a project (or you’ve been dropped headfirst into a project), a threat mindset can get in your way.
(And, at this point, I want to make a super important point. Many of us are habitually in a threat mindset because we have consistently faced loss, risk, and danger. It makes sense to view everything as a threat when everything is scary! Shifting your mindset is not about blaming yourself for seeing everything as a threat, and it also isn’t about gaslighting or victim-blaming yourself. If you struggle with this, that is okay. It takes practice! And it works best when we start with shifting our mindset in areas that are low-threat, rather than trying to shift something that feels like it’s life-or-death.)
In contrast to a threat mindset, a challenge mindset focuses on the opportunity for growth, and brings realistic optimism to the table.
From SuperBetter, “In a threat mindset, your fight-or-flight instinct kicks in, which activates your sympathetic nervous system. If your sympathetic nervous system is engaged continuously for hours, days, weeks, or longer, your immune system can become compromised, and you may experience more illness. With a challenge mindset, however, your nervous system finds a better balance between the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) and the parasympathetic (calm-and-connect) responses. This balance helps you avoid nervous exhaustion and burnout.”
McGonigal also says, and this is really critical, “a challenge mindset does not mean living in denial of potential negative outcomes. It simply means paying more attention, and devoting more effort, to the possibility of positive outcomes or personal growth.”
So, how do you do it?
One way is to frame your project as something you’re moving towards, rather than away from. Find a potential positive outcome, and use this project as a way to get to it.
These potential positive outcomes might be increased resilience, increased independence, increased creativity, increased health. However, these potential positive outcomes are not always apparent or available. When that’s the case, another way to find the challenge is to identify (or create) “the unnecessary obstacle.”
From SuperBetter, “The key is to identify an obstacle that you feel capable of tackling within the larger obstacle, an obstacle that other people might not choose to tackle.
Use your imagination to answer this question: What would be the worst possible, least helpful reaction that you – or anyone else in your shoes – could have to [this project]? You don’t have to be completely realistic here. Let your mind go to extremes for a moment.
Now: What is the opposite of that worst reaction?
Whatever the opposite of your “worst possible, least helpful reaction” is, consider adopting that as your unnecessary obstacle. Challenge yourself to do something that requires more strength and determination than what someone else might do in your shoes.
Why it works: When you imagine the worst possible reaction you could have to the adversity, you highlight your agency in the situation. You do have options. And as long as you’re not doing that worst possible, least helpful thing, you can challenge yourself to do something better. It may not feel like total agency and choice, but it involves some agency and choice – and that’s enough to activate a challenge mindset.”
Once you’ve found the challenge and decided to tackle it, it’s time to…
Break Your Project Down Into Steps
Set yourself small, achievable goals along the way to your big end goal. Think of ways to reward yourself along the way, and consider how you can find the challenge in each of the smaller steps of the project.
When you feel overwhelmed by the enormity of your project, take a breath (again! Gosh, so much breathing in this process!) and find a smaller goal to accomplish within the larger goal. You have choices about how this project gets done!
Design Your Self-Care Plan
Lean on all of the work you’ve done leading up to this.
Take a look at your resource list, especially the parts of it that are vulnerable – the places where there’s lack, or where there are significant drains on your resources. Think of self-care tools or activities that can help recharge you in those areas.
Remember that community care is a big part of self-care. Build social self-care into your plan! Ask a friend to be your cheerleader, or find a professional cheerleader in the form of a coach or counsellor.
Write a list of self-care tools that you know work for you most of the time. Put the list somewhere accessible, so that when you get tired or discouraged, you don’t have to think too hard before you can implement some self-care.
Turn self-care into a game, by setting yourself self-care goals and giving yourself points or rewards along the way.
Make a list of “power ups” – drinking a glass of water, texting a friend, walking around the block, whatever works for you! – and try to power up at least once a day.
Fill in the blanks!
What’s missing from this post?
What kind of self-care do you find helpful when you’re starting a new project?
What other advice would be helpful here?
October 23 – December 4
$125 / $60 for Patreon supporters or returning participants (sliding scale available)
Online course – all content delivered in PDF and email format, with an optional weekly Google Hangout and a closed Facebook group for participants.
Email me, comment here, or message me through Facebook to register.
This course is for the heartbroken, the burnt out, the sad and the afraid. It is a course for bruised and bleeding hearts. It was not originally supposed to be – when I mapped out year of content, Autumn was always going to be emotional self-care, but I had intended a more lighthearted course. But the world, in the 10 months between designing the year of courses and running this course, has turned more overtly and explicitly brutal. There are a lot of broken hearts in my community.
We are grieving, collectively, for what feels like the loss of our future. Climate change, far-right ideologies, economic instability, and the chaos that existential dread can create within relationships – so many of us are dealing with so much. Loss, and the loss of hope, and the loss of joy, and the loss of stable ground under our feet.
Six weeks is not long enough to heal a broken heart, transform a trauma into something bearable, refill the cup or relight the candle that’s been burned out. Six weeks is certainly not long enough to address the great grief of climate change, political upheaval, economic collapse. So this course is not about healing our collective, or our individual, grief.
Instead, this course is about feeling our way into the grief, loss, trauma, and heartbreak so that we can do the long work of healing individually and collectively over the next months and years. The goal of this course is to offer tools and skills and a safe space for talking about how we begin to recover. How we find our way back to ourselves, so that we can find our way back to community, so that we can find our way back to hope.
This world needs us.
Those of us who have broken open and broken down in response to the pain in the world and to the losses in our own lives – our empathy and sensitivity is needed. Self-care and community care and deeply linked, and sustainable self-care is only ever the result of awareness, compassion, and intention in our actions. Those of us who feel deeply and who are struggling right now have already been practicing emergency self-care. That’s how we got here, searching for tools and answers and skills. We already have the ability to bring awareness and compassion and intention to the self-care that we practice individually and that we model and share within our communities.
My goal for this course is to help foster that awareness, compassion, and intentionality in your self-care practice. To give you a few new tools and a solid base of support and scaffolding to continue healing, growing, and renewing yourself.
The course has two sections.
In the first three weeks, we will work on mapping out our current emotional state, identifying our emotional needs, and finding the edges of our remaining positive emotions. For many of us, heartbreak, trauma, and burnout cut us off from our feelings of joy, hope, and self-efficacy (our belief that we can make positive changes within our own lives). The first three weeks will focus on connecting back to those feelings, without demanding that we “stay positive” or find the “silver lining.”
In the second three weeks, once we’ve established a thread of connection back to our joy, hope, and self-efficacy, we’ll start working on recognizing and responding to the needs that originate in our feelings of loss, heartbreak, trauma, and grief.
The course will use three core strategies:
Narrative – If you’ve taken any of my previous courses, worked with me one-on-one, attended my workshops, or read my writing, this one won’t come as a shock. Narrative therapy is my jam. I believe that using narrative – understanding our lives through metaphors of story, seeing ourselves as the protagonists of our own stories, and giving ourselves the space to tell our own stories – can be life changing. We will definitely be talking about narratives of loss, grief, heartbreak, and healing in this course.
Mindfulness – The self-awareness and compassion piece of the self-care puzzle requires that we spend some time being present with ourselves, observing what’s happening and what we’re thinking, feeling, and experiencing, without judging ourselves for it. In order to tell our stories effectively, we need to know what we’re trying to tell. That’s the mindfulness piece.
Gamefulness – This one is new to my courses, and I’m excited about it. We’ll be using some of Jane McGonigal’s research into how “living gamefully” can facilitate healing and growth, and trying out some of the games, challenges, and exercises from her book SuperBetter.
Over the six weeks, you’ll develop stronger self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-care skills.
It’s going to be great.