Get sh*t done: paths to finding flow

When I was a kid, my grandparents took me to Casa Loma. It’s an historic stone mega-mansion in the middle of Toronto that’s now a public attraction. I was immediately obsessed.

Obviously I took the visitor pamphlet with the castle’s floor plan back to my grandparents’ apartment. And to my great delight, my grandfather, who was an engineer, showed me how to pull out the drafting table that he and built into his bedroom wall and use his huge sheets of graph paper and a ruler to enlarge the floor plan to scale.

Despite being under ten, for the next few hours I did this work with the intensity of a surgeon. My brain was in heaven – meditative, systematic, switched on, dialed in, with laser clarity of purpose. It’s one of the first times I can consciously remember being in a state of flow.

You may feel like you have difficulty focusing, but know this: your brain is designed to flow and it craves this state of intense focus and clarity. The more you flow, the easier it is, and the more you will experience it. Here are some tips for getting there:

Make it matter  

You probably won’t find flow washing dishes (although I’ve heard it can be pretty zen #notforme). Find a task that really matters, where you’re invested in the outcome. It should challenge you, but not to the point you’ll get frustrated and quit. This is actually a great test for any work you’re doing. If it doesn’t matter enough to inspire you into a state of flow, how much of a priority is it?

Choose work times intentionally

Do your focused, creative work when you are most naturally focused and creative. If you don’t know, you need to experiment and figure that out. For most of us, we do our best work in the early morning or in the evening. Turns out, our brain activity mirrors the activity level of the animals at the High Park zoo (go figure).

Give yourself enough time 

You also want to give yourself a window of time in which to enter the state of flow and actually get somewhere. If there was a city called “let’s honestly think we can do two hours of work in the next forty minutes,” I would be mayor of that city. I’m working on that. What I’ve learned is that it is WAY BETTER to choose just one important thing, and give yourself the forty minutes to go deep with it.

Help your brain avoid distractions

Does your brain love to be in the state of flow? Yes it does. Does it need help to overcome distractions? Absolutely. Do yourself a favour and set yourself up for success.

Clear your desk space (or wherever you’ll be working).

Have everything you might need within reach.

Remove distractions (close the fifteen other tabs, or disconnect altogether, put phone on silent or out of the way (imagine!), let your dog out).

Catch yourself

A final tip: catch yourself just as you are breaking focus and challenge yourself to prolong focus instead. While writing this, I’ve literally reached for my phone, caught myself, and returned to typing at least four times. And look, I finished!

There it is. To recap: make it matter, choose work times intentionally, give yourself enough time, help your brain avoid distractions, and catch yourself. What will you accomplish today? Here’s to you, finding flow.


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Five lessons for chasing dreams

One of my favourite things about my morning quiet time (aside from the fact that it’s quiet) is that lately at the end, I shuffle my goddess card deck and pull a few cards for the day.

Today I’m sharing five big lessons learned from cards I pulled consistently over the last season of laying the foundation to launch this project. If you’re a busy person chasing big dreams, read on, because these lessons are for you too:

You are not a robot 

Obviously. But do you treat yourself like a robot, a little bit? Do you find yourself “powering through” when you should take a rest? Or rather than working with the natural ebbs and flows of your energy, you actively pretend they don’t exist? When I think about the unproductive hours I’ve spent in front of a computer screen over the past decade when I could have been working with my energy so much more efficiently, I just sigh. Starting now, wake up and work with your energy. Because you are not a robot. You are way better.

The card: Maeve: Cycles & Rhythms. Honor the cycles of your body, energy levels and emotions. 

Celebrate your independence

If you’ve parented small children, you know privacy is not a thing. Being alone is not a thing. That feeling of being stuck in and to the web of the people around you (whether it’s your family or colleagues or friends) can weigh you down and get in the way of you seeing your individual sparkle. Sometimes you need a little space around you to grow into, unencumbered by other people’s expectations or ideas. And on those days, it’s healing to just be alone.

The card: Bast: Independent. Your independence is a foundation for your strength and success. 

Get focused and positive 

You are a powerful person. Your dreams and desires are on your heart because you are meant to achieve them. Ever seen someone have a vision and then go after it and make it happen? Go and be that person. Just say a big “yes” to the whole thing and then let the path reveal itself along the way.

The card: Rhiannon: You are a magical person who can manifest your clear intentions into reality.  

Take imperfect action 

Take a chance. And another. And another. Keep doing it. See above.

The card: Aine: Leap of faith. Take a risk, and put your heart’s true desire into action. 

Relax 

Ha! But how? My list is a mile long. And besides I don’t even enjoy relaxing. Or I don’t know how. Deep breath. Trust. Very few things are urgent. And everything is occurring at the right time. So every now and then, give yourself a moment of not chasing. And see how it feels.

The card: Lakshmi: Bright future. Stop worrying. Everything is going to be fine.  

That’s it. Five lessons for chasing dreams, as told by a bunch of goddesses. Happy dream chasing xo


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Worrying is bad for us. Let’s stop.

This month the thirteenth fell on a Friday. I have a soft spot for those because I got engaged on Friday the thirteenth in September 2013.

Recently I was researching what older people regret. What can I say, this is just the kind of stuff I google on the reg. The answer? Worrying.

I can relate to worriers. I come from a strong line of worrier women (ahem, also warrior women, shout outs ladies!). And often the worries come from a good place – of love and concern and wanting the best outcome for everyone.

Five years ago I was a little worried. I was ready to move forward with my life in a bunch of ways and I wanted all the things at once – to get married, to kill it at work, to be my fittest self, to buy a home, to start a family. Sometimes I worried that none of it was going to happen.

The problem with worries is that they’re just imaginary negative thoughts about the future AKA the unknown. Um. Could anything be more useless?

The last five years have unfolded in ways I never could have predicted, full of ups and downs and blessings and challenges. They’ve been surprising, hilarious, painful, transformative and miraculous.

Newsflash: the worries were wasted energy. All worry is wasted energy!

Back to the old folks. The article specifically said these worriers (/warriors) wished they had thought more short term. Which made me pause.

Because in yoga we’re always saying “be in the present moment”.

I realized that if we just pull those future worries back in time, and if we think short term enough then we land in the present moment. 

Worries don’t make sense in the present moment. They’re for the future.

What does make sense in the present moment? Taking actions to align with desired outcomes. 

Worrying is bad for us. Let’s stop.

That’s what our elders are telling us. Let’s listen.

And now for the choice

This is the final post in the Career Cornerstones for a Lit-Up Life series 🙂 If you didn’t catch the other three, here they are: Values, Tools and Purpose.

It’s summer 2001. Cell phones flip open and don’t have cameras. AOL is the most popular website. Social and media are just two words. Britney and JT are an item.

It’s a while ago.

I’m living out of two Rubbermaid bins, moving between tiny plywood structures with no electricity on a weekly basis. I’m showering irregularly but swimming often. I’m singing my heart out every night at campfire.

I’m a camp counselor in a place where I was an overnight camper for a decade prior. Meaning all my dreams have come true. I’m a role model for kids, I’m responsible for their wellbeing (including supervising dangerous activities like water trampolining, ziplining, developing grit and independence from their families). It’s silly, it’s creative, it’s demanding.

I’m trusted. I’m growing into it.

I’m the most alive I’ve ever been.

More than once, on “night out” from my cabin (note to self: immediately implement regular night out policy in parenting life), I experienced a lapse of consciousness. I felt as if I was completely alone at camp. For just a few moments, I would see myself standing there under the huge sky, surrounded by trees and nature and all the camp buildings, but with no other soul for miles.

Like it was all there just for me.

Perhaps it was the silence, the expansiveness of the brightly lit sky. Perhaps it was an invitation to come into oneness with the higher power that brought me there, that united that community. To let all the distractions fall away.

I mean, it was eerie.

But it was thrilling too.

Have you ever felt that?

A while ago I took an inventory of all the jobs I’ve had, and it’s a lot. Retail, food service, garden centre, telemarketing, customer service, tutor, church musician, yoga teacher. And those are BEFORE I started my HR career as a consultant, manager, director of programs, educator and coach.

But that camp job. Until now it was THE ONE that led me closest to a lit-up life. All the cornerstones were there – it aligned with my values, it made use of the tools I had to offer, it gave voice to my purpose and – it had me walking down a path that felt right.

The fourth career cornerstone is the path you choose to walk. Your values are well established, even your tools are largely your natural gifts. Your purpose is your unique contribution to the world.

Your path is different because it’s a choice. It’s the context. It’s the wrapper. It’s the industry and workplace and job that usher your offering into the world. It’s the scenery around you while you’re making your magic.

So what’s been the job that gets you closest to a lit-up life, and how do you know? Was there a sign? Like the vast wilderness holding its breath just for a moment, just for you?

And now for the choice: what path do you belong on now?

Me, I’ll take what I’m doing right this minute.

…with a few more starry nights and campfires thrown in. ♥

 

 

A letter to baby F

One night last week you ended up in bed with us. I brought you there. Because lying down was more important to me than making sure you know your crib is where you sleep. You know that. 

You know so much. 

When you’re in the bed I don’t sleep as well. I’m aware always of where you are, that you have space to breathe , no pillows in the way. Not too close to the brick wall behind the bed. Sometimes you cuddle close and then you flop around. I think you’re restless too, in bed with us, at least at first. But you tend to be quiet there. You know you’re safe. With your people. 

Watching you wake up in the morning I think of baby animals. It’s a process. Stretching and little cooing sounds. Back to sleep for five more minutes. Hips in the air, then feet flung over one of us. And then finally, sitting up with a big smile. “Uh oh”. Softly. Your favourite word these days, at fourteen months. Sometimes you get the context right. Other times you unintentionally hit on adult irony. Baby’s up… uh oh!

Yesterday I came home from work and you said the other word. “Mummy”. For the first time! All through dinner and bath time and bedtime mischief.  “Mummy”. 

Sometimes I get down and I think the world is leaving me behind while it makes plans for Saturday night, or exotic vacations, or career advancement. Or anything. When I’m exhausted and uncertain and overwhelmed. But then you say my name in your sweet little voice, you cuddle in close in my bed where I held you the day we brought you home (and in utero for nine months before that). And everything is right and perfect. 

I guess I’m realizing something about the world: that it’s too big anyway. And the best thing I can do is concentrate and creating my own little world. That matters to me. And right now you, my darling, are in the centre of it. 

What a moment to myself looks like

Baby F is sleeping and I have a moment to myself. I finish folding laundry. I think about cleaning the kitchen counters but instead I brush off the bits of dirt that came loose when I unwrapped the potted tulip that’s sitting there. All red with yellow insides, opening coquettishly.

Last weekend a friend told me about how tiny dogs are being bred to fit into purses but are developing terrible health problems in the process. I already knew this but she seemed pretty rocked so I went along.

“That’s terrible”.

It is though, actually. These dogs are just not meant to be that small.

Did you know that human newborns are the most vulnerable, under-developed mammal at birth? Our little brains are only 25% developed when we come out of incubation. It’s because of the mother’s physiology – as upright walkers, we can only grow the baby so much and still be able to safely birth it.

No other animal needs to care for their young in the way that humans do.

I want to love my red and yellow tulip, but I have this ominous feeling it will die in here. My Valentine’s day roses fell and wilted in a matter of days. This can’t be good.

I’ve become comfortable with the untidy mess of my house. On account of I’m caring for a human infant twenty-four hours a day. And I’m used to disappointing my partner who will come home and see the counter I brushed off but didn’t clean and he will just see a slightly dirty counter. I imagine that he imagines this is some negative reflection on me, but to be honest I don’t know if that’s true.

Another friend recently told me about her experience getting on anti-anxiety medication. She’s been on it for about eight months. Is that past the honeymoon stage? I thought so, but I don’t know. She says the meds have profoundly increased her enjoyment of life.

She’s a mother, by the way.  I wonder how I would do with a little medication…

I wonder how it went as we evolved to upright walkers – as our physical bodies put limits on the development of our babies, did our emotional intuitiveness expand so that we could care properly for our newborns? Or is it possible that we gradually developed this immense capacity for caregiving, and that meant we could start to stand on two feet?

I googled “are tulips naturally two-toned?”. Nothing but ads for tulips.

You know what? I will keep this tulip alive because it might be a genetically modified mutant. And that seems unfair. I’m going to water it for all those poor tiny dogs.

I can do this because I’m the master nurturer of the animal kingdom.

Even when unmedicated.

And for this, I don’t know whether to say thank you or you’re welcome. I think both.

Young hearts run free

 

Teaching mama and baby yoga has had me questing to discover the best yoga postures for energy. Because sleep is hard to come by when mothering a baby. I’ve learned that back bends, twists and deep breathing can help.

Inhale. Exhale.

And time apart. Which is why I’m camped out at my local independent coffee shop. Alone with my americano and my words. Blending in with the regular crowd, I think. And all of a sudden a swarm of moms and babies are entering. Unkempt, earthy, tired. Noisy. I feel like I’m undercover – I’m one of you but you can’t tell. My baby is at home with her granny. I miss her. But I love being here on my own.

Inhale. Exhale.

I’m so excited to talk about things outside of baby. To scale my life in a bigger ecosystem. To say we’re ordering in and not feel like I somehow failed to fulfill the duties of Home Life President. As defined in a different time, for a different woman. A job I’ve learned is not for me.

These Mondays though, they come with pangs. A pang of future Mondays. What will it feel like? To get dressed and leave the house without her? To leave her in the care of another? Another who doesn’t love her like I do. Who won’t sing her our songs.  My eyes sting.

Inhale. Exhale.

I have often remarked, if it was the 1950s we mothers wouldn’t sit around planning our childcare, agonizing over daycare wait lists and nanny shares and transitioning back to work. I have said this out loud to rooms of new mothers, in these safe sisterly communities we are always trying to create, for me in vain. No one has picked up the conversation. Is it too painful? Confusing? Overwhelming? A foregone conclusion? A stupid comment?

I don’t wish myself back in time. Not for a second. The fight for gender equality has barely started in my view, and I won’t give one inch back. But sometimes these choices don’t feel like choices. To spend the bulk of the week working outside of the home, or, caring for my young child. Now my job is to make an impossible choice I can live with.

Inhale. Exhale.

Podcasts, walks, fatigue, anxiety, cuddles and overwhelming love. These are the ways I will remember maternity leave. A warping, tinting, melting, of the glass walls through which I see this world. They say the years are short but the days are long. At ten months Baby F astounds me. She knows her home, her toys, the best vents to bang on, where the baby monitor is kept (favourite thing to throw across the floor). I let her because I secretly want it to break, its random beeping for no apparent reason one of the most elusive and frustrating mysteries of these past ten months.

The greatest mystery of these past ten months though, remains: what does the future hold for me? Unsolved.

Seeking strength and wisdom now and always. To lead a life I can look back on with pride and joy. And that I can embrace and exalt in along the way.

Inhale. Young hearts. Exhale. Run free.

 

Moving on

My family is neck deep in endings. Dismantling the homes of two grandmothers at the same time. On the English side, the condominium at Yonge and Wellesley was systematically stripped bare and decked out in fresh carpet and paint. But all I see is the ghost of its former self, comfortably worn in and smelling of lamb shanks and vigorously steamed broccoli while we gather over cherry tomatoes and beer. My grandfather’s beer stein said “Please bother me, I’m studying.” He earned a PhD in his seventies.

The place is empty now but I see the corner cabinet with the game of Othello inside and remember my grandmother’s hands so deliberate as she flipped the pieces. In my earliest memories I was curiously aware of the skin of her arms, fine and lined as tissue paper reused a third, a fourth, time. My grandfather was an engineer, apprenticed in his teens in Cornwall, and each room bore out his genius through quirky practical inventions: the homemade clock, the adjustable drafting table, the handy mechanism for storing plastic bags.

On the Portuguese side, the sidesplit in Etobicoke was well preserved until after its sale, a shrine to the family that came across the Atlantic in pieces to call it home. The fruit trees in the backyard flourished under the gentle supervision of my partner’s grandfather. His Pomeranians lovingly terrorized the neighbourhood with their puffy zing. This was a man I never met but imagine my husband to be like in many ways; I wish I had known him. The prominent family portraits on the walls proclaim the importance of family, of traditions. The recent Christmas nights I spent there, watching nature programs, chatting casually, enjoying cake and tea, I didn’t know how fondly I would remember those moments until now that they are firmly, gone.

An aspiring minimalist, I am punch drunk from witnessing the physical stuff of these flagging lives flashing before me – in bins to go to my parents’, the Salvation Army, the dump; in trucks to come to my house, or my uncle’s, or into storage.

For our part we have outfitted our current space – a rented nest in the Junction neighbourhood – with an appropriate number of our grandparents’ things. We’ve hung their art and replaced the environmentally questionable glue-and-chipboard dining set with their much nicer teak one.

Keeping these things feels right. They’re a tribute to the spaces they formerly inhabited, to the people who chose them, loved them, and lived there. And something to show our baby daughter when she asks about the great-grandparents she never got to know. She and her great-grandparents are ships passing, as the saying goes.

As for Toronto’s insane real estate market, the endless headlines that used to depress me are now amusing. I am no longer surprised when acquaintances relaunch their careers as realtors and developers. But these financial assets, these plaster, brick, wooden structures are also containers for our everything. Watching my family unload a century’s worth of history on anonymous strangers without so much as shaking hands feels, well, odd.

We’ve cleared the rooms like a film set after all the actors have gone home. But there is still something left in there. A shadow that can’t be scrubbed out. A lingering feeling, a late grandfather, left behind.

And so to the buyers of these homes I tell you: good and kind people lived here. There was a baby grand piano over there. My grandfather used to play on Sunday mornings while my grandmother went to church. His answer to religion perhaps. As you settle in with your boardgames and portraits and enmesh yourself with the wood, I tell you this: the late afternoon sunlight is glorious. Just lower your blinds if you want to protect your furniture. And don’t challenge the local ghost to Othello – she is crafty and she will win.

Surrender

I’m taking a refresher on how to write. Things like: tell an interesting story, have a conflict that gets resolved, include self-discovery. Be a little bit scared about each post.

J is always telling me to shake up my routine. As a way to shake up my thinking.  I look at baby F and think about all those neural pathways that have yet to be formed.

Actually, one unexpected benefit of baby F’s early wake ups is that all she wants is to get up at 6 am and play with her cup collection and edible book. So while she’s doing that  I’ve started meditating.

In other words, she forges neural pathways while I attempt to clear mine. Continue reading “Surrender”

Get your blossom on

Ya, I know it’s fall not spring. You know something I’ve learned since writing this blog? That season names are not capitalized. I guess I talk about seasons a lot, which is appropriate seeing as we’re discussing radical evolution here…aka change. And seasons are the ultimate symbol of change.

It’s fall and everything is dying ( I exaggerate – many things are  just going dormant for a few months). But today’s message is to get blooming, because, well, we live  in a globalized world and you can procure flowers any time.

That, and I’ve started an exciting journey. Reading You are a Badass by Jen Sincero.

And the day came when the risk to remain  tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. 

That’s a quote from the poet Anais Nin that JS shares in the introduction of her book.

And I think I’m epiphanizing here. A very obvious truth, but one I maybe haven’t seen until now because I’m just too close to it.

I’ve been seeking most of my adult life. I’ve been reading and meditating and seeing therapists and looking for ways to blow up and radically evolve my life for so long. And I recently looked at a friend of mine who’s been with me for a lot of it. And I thought: how come my friend isn’t on this journey too? This friend doesn’t want to read You are a Badass with me. Not interested.

Now,  truth be told I’m a personal development enthusiast. ENFJ that I am, no surprise there  (just ask the one and only Ops Win).

But there’s something else. I need more. I want more. Whatever it is that I’m doing, this is not it for me. Because if it was, well, I wouldn’t still be looking to change it.

I would be like my friend. I would do other  stuff, read other books.

SO simple,  right?

Well, admitting that is huge. It means that if I don’t get things in motion to really create and live the life that I know I’m meant to live,  then I’m knowingly holding myself back.

Like an enormous non badass. Like a scared, tame-ass, withering, weak little puddle.

Versus a bold, badass, thriving, big strong  tower.

Signing off now to go and, you know, get started with that.

As for you, thank you for reading this.  And get your blossom on,  too!