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Constructive laziness part 2: the six principles

In part two of our thrilling series, we take a closer look at the building blocks of a Constructive Laziness practice. In the coming week’s we’ll apply this Constructive Laziness DNA to specific applications, like self care or creative work, but for now, here is the path to creating your own Constructive Laziness practice.

Full text is below the video.

So, here are the steps or basic tenets of the Constructive Laziness practice.

Step 1: Make some space

Whether we’re talking about creative work, getting your business off the ground, or getting serious about recovery or self-care, cramming something into an overfull life is only going to create more stress. And assuming that “it’ll just happen” because of all your good intentions…well, that’s not gonna work either.

So, the first step is to go into your calendar and schedule in blocks of time. Like, literally, schedule in space for this practice. You will not meditate if it’s not in your schedule and while putting it in your calendar doesn’t guarantee it will happen, it makes it far more likely.

The first step in Constructive Laziness is to make space for ourselves. Our lives are not going to make room for us, so we have to actively and consciously claim it.

Step 2: Do the bare minimum

This step is all about gentle outcomes and tiny actions.

Determine for yourself what is the bare minimum you can do today whether it’s at your day job, in the rehearsal studio, on the meditation cushion, or with your family. This is not a vague thing. This is not about phoning it in. This is about getting real and specific about the absolute least you can do in order to fulfill your commitments.

Why? Because you do too much right now. And it’s causing harm. So, in order to discover the full range of possibilities available, you need to tangibly and scientifically find out what the least amount of effort you can put in looks like.

We are not becoming deadbeats, I promise you. We are rigorously finding out what it means to do “enough.”

Step 3: Take breaks so long you get bored

This is where you stop. Truly stop. You come to complete stillness and you allow your body, mind, and spirit to rest and recover fully.

By committing to the bare minimum, you have bypassed the impulse to cram way too much in. Now, you double down by taking big, long, luscious breaks. Real breaks. A break where you eat lunch and all you do is eat the food instead of multitasking on your phone. Where you lie on the couch and watch the breeze moving the curtain. Where you don’t fill that hole in your schedule when a project ends, you just let it hang there, empty.

We are so spun up and spun out that we experience stillness and present moment awareness as boredom. We get really edgy really fast and we reach for something, anything, to distract us. The things we reach for are not helping us.

I’ve written about the magical magnetism of boredom before. But in this practice, I want to encourage you to let boredom (aka stillness aka present moment awareness) be the thing that pulls you forward into the next thing—not your anxiety, not your fear of empty space, not your need to appear productive.

Step 4: Do a bad job

Writer Anne Lamott talks about shitty first drafts and how necessary they are to getting to solid third, fourth, or fifth drafts. I’m a huge fan of Anne and and a huge fan of shitty first drafts. But I want to take this even further than that.

I’m talking about doing the absolute worst job. Like making the most hilariously, operatically bad version of the thing you’re working on. Why? Because perfectionism is paralysis. And doing your worst sets you free. I want you to try this. Be purposefully terrible at what you do. Write the most over-the-top shitty marketing email of all time. Make the half-assest Worst Parent Ever lunch for your kid. Design the most ridiculously bad research project known to humankind. Just trust me and do it.

If you did this well (and by well, I mean awful) you made yourself laugh. You liberated yourself from the chains of perfectionism and you saw very clearly that you did not die from doing a crappy job at something. You also learned something incredible, which is that you can fix it later. Your self-worth doesn’t have to be tied to your performance. You can suck for fun and sport. And then you can give it another go.

You are allowed to iterate and rewrite and have do-overs. You are allowed to be bad at something, try again, and do better.

Step 5: Let it go

This is the part where you step back at the end of the day or the end of the work session and you punch out in the spirit of Fred Flintstone and you run to your stone car and you yabbadabbadoo the hell out of there.

This is not the part where you analyze and evaluate and discover the seventeen ways you did not measure up today. Where you feel guilty for not doing the bare minimum. Or feel guilty for doing the bare minimum and sneak a couple extra hours of work in to make up for it. Or beat yourself up because you were so freaked out by the idea of actually doing something for yourself that you “forgot” to do that self-care or creative work you scheduled in.

Let it go.

Whatever you did today was enough. You did enough. You are enough. Let the rest go. Tomorrow is a new day. And today, you did good.

Step 6: Do it again.

The final step of the Constructive Laziness process is to start the whole shebang again from the top!

This is why ease and rest and lowered expectations are built into the practice. It’s so we have enough energy to do it again. And maybe to do it again and again and again.

Rather than launching yourself over the 60-foot wall your anxiety and perfectionism creates, you lower the bar to about six inches. You remove the panic and the trauma and the feeling that it’s all a huge ordeal. You remove the pressure to get it right the first time and pressure to finish it all in one go.

You make it so easy on yourself that you can do it again tomorrow. And so you do.

I’d love to hear about your experiences trying and applying Constructive Laziness! Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Watch Constructive laziness part 1: the origin story now!

On survival mode

Exhibit A: She unexpectedly got pregnant and then married. They were living long distance, until he moved to Canada when the baby was born. But his business was in the US, so they went down south, only to get “invited to leave the country” a year later. They arrived back in Canada with a toddler and $200. They made things work but just months before they opened their restaurant, baby #2 showed up. Surprise! But still, she felt guilty that she hadn’t moved forward creatively. She hadn’t made anything in years. Was she still an artist?

Exhibit B: She spent four years in a depression, facing down suicide several times, surgery, weight gain, eviction. She moved in with her mom and only just got her own place and a job three months ago. She was a finalist in a comedy competition a few weeks back—her first time doing stand-up—but the thought of doing it again is exhausting and overwhelming. She wants to work on her one-woman-show, but can’t find the energy. Is she self-sabotaging?

Exhibit C: Within one calendar year, they went from a three-week hospital stay to coming out as transgender, ending their marriage, starting a new relationship, parenting two kids through major transition, and navigating their own transition. So…how’s the novel coming along?

It’s easy to see from the outside, or with hindsight, but when we’re deep in weeds of survival, we rarely understand—or give enough credit for—how much of ourselves that takes.

There’s a huge difference between survival mode and creation mode. How do you tell which is which?

But first, a word about ableism

Our cultural obsession with productivity and the expectation that we all adhere to a continuous robotic level of output is deeply messed up.

It causes serious damage.

No person can be—or should be expected to be—consistent or competent or functional all of the time.

We are human. Shit goes down.

All of us experience periods when we don’t have the room for a single goal or aspiration—we are working our asses off just to stay above water. Sometimes, no matter how hard we paddle for breath, we sink and struggle. These times can last weeks; they can last months or years. For folks experiencing structural oppression, they can last generations.

But somehow, we all feel the pressure to constantly lose weight and get raises and travel the world and create masterpieces.

Sometimes, the masterpiece is making a hundred bucks last until Friday. Sometimes, the weight loss we need is to drop the pressure of unreasonable goals.

And I say this as a person obsessed with dreams.

Accepting the fact of survival

The main reason I could make my Paris dream a reality—besides unbelievable amounts of privilege—was surrendering to survival mode…for six years.

Dreams and creative work couldn’t happen until my divorce, depression, and cripplingly low self-worth were addressed. That meant learning about self-care and, more essentially, self-love, doing a lot of work in therapy, and rebuilding my life from the ground up. It meant getting sidelined by a rage that lasted two years and finding a way through that. It meant figuring out a balance between income-earning work and the hours and hours of unpaid labor it takes to stay mentally, physically, and psychically healthy (an ongoing, lifelong project).

Once I’d come to a place of relative competency with all of that, I had the psychic room to dwell on What Might Be. And I had the spoons to spare to make a start at it.

(If you have not heard about Spoon Theory, drop everything right now and read up.)

And now: acknowledge yourself

So. If you are in survival mode or are coming to suspect that’s what’s going on, I urge you to be gentle with yourself.

Instead of beating yourself up for being 40 and not having your novel done, how about acknowledging yourself for surviving debilitating illness, loss, litigation, career transition, or, for God’s sake, gender transition? Instead of looking at all you haven’t done and haven’t accomplished, how about giving yourself some credit for what you’ve endured, what you’ve been through and breathed through? Instead of measuring yourself against other people’s performances of success—the photos of babies, the awards, the show dates, the weddings—how about giving yourself a trophy for the valiant effort of paying rent and making it through today.

I mean it. This is not a consolation prize or a participation award.

This is a real and deep acknowledgement of the improbable act of survival. The heroic effort of staying here with us on Planet Earth. The majestic display of human resilience in the face of adversity, change, illness, oppression, catastrophe, and a culture who believes you should be a smiling robot.

It is also an acknowledgement of what you’ve given up. The dreams you’ve sidelined. The goals you’ve put on the shelf. The selves you’ve stripped. The things you had to let go of so you could face the job at hand.

The labor of survival

If you are in survival mode, it’s usually not because you want to be. Most of us working to stay level would love to aspire to great and glorious adventures. And so, there’s resistance to deal with, too. Or rather: acceptance that needs to happen. Grieving. Some anger.

But, I have to say, there is beauty, too.

There’s a liberating and radical simplicity to saying ‘fuck you’ to fitness plans and watercolor classes in favor of early bedtimes and focused recovery. I got a secret thrill out of relentlessly and shamelessly clearing my calendar during my year of miscarriage. Nope, nope, nope. Nothing that steals my energy gets to stay.

I no longer had room for bullshit. And if you’re in survival, neither do you.

The work of survival is beautiful work.

You do what’s best for you, no matter what. You put what is essential first and you ruthlessly remove the rest. You pare down. You get lean. You get real about self-care. Really real. You surrender. And there, you find a power you didn’t know you had.

You see who is really there for you. The numbers are small, but the people are extraordinary.

If you can release the energy-thieves of resistance and anger quickly, you might have a whisper of creativity to spare. Not, maybe to write screenplays or plan expeditions, but to let your survival be artful and a little lovely.

To find pleasure the 20-ounce coffee you need to get through the night shift, instead of guilt or self-recrimination. To find relief in the sleepless overwhelm of new parenthood. Liberation in no longer trying so hard to appear perfect and together and in control. Compassion in the midst of hard loss.

Survival is human work. The work of flesh and blood and souls. It is not the realm of shiny, smiling robots, but a path of warriors who have faced the enormity of this human life and, somehow, kept breathing.

How are you navigating survival? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Can’t stop, won’t stop

So, you get through a really rough, chaotic time where you did more than your fair share of heavy-lifting and you think, ‘Ah, I’ve done it. It’s over. I can rest.’ And then, exactly seven minutes later, the Next F*cking Thing hits and all your special occasion, top shelf uncharitable thoughts come out, along with some flying spittle.

Life as a grown-up human feels relentless. It seems there’s no respite, or not nearly enough. Especially for those of us who are bad at relaxing (raises hand).

Looking for rest in all the wrong places

We think that if we go through all this struggle and strain, the universe should balance out somehow and give us a break. And the thought of that rest, that dangling carrot of peace, is partly what gets us through the rough times, but somehow we never actually get a good grip on the carrot even if we get a chance to catch up.

Why? Oh, because we made it up. Yeah, the carrot isn’t a thing.

There’s no vacation on the other end. That’s the bad news. The good news is, there’s a whole other way to look at it.

Look for the spaces between things

Where we get hung up is this idea of Big Effort = Big Rest. We see things in these large chunks when really, it’s better to bring it down the pixel level or the molecular one.

Taking things down to the microscopic, zooming right in, we get to see all sorts of lovely space around and between things, like the gaps between cells under a microscope.

We see that A Stressful Day is not one thing, but many things. Many things surrounded by buffers of space, like commutes or bathroom breaks or waiting in line at the impound lot where you can rest your attention on a nice, long inhale and a big, beautiful exhale. Spaces where, because the trains are all effed, you need to walk to the appointment and move at a slower pace.

This can be a practice—looking for the spaces around things. It can be practice to place yourself consciously in those spaces instead of rushing through the transitions. To make something of them. To find peace within them. To rest all the way through the process instead of hoping it arrives at the end.

Get your finger off the trigger

Problem is, the mind wants to latch on to how small these spaces are, and how they are drudgery, too, like all the other drudgery. Going to the bathroom isn’t a break! How can I possibly find peace while squatting over a reeking john with toilet paper stuck to my shoe?!

And I say: Chill, dear mind. Use your powers for good.

We get to train our cute brainboxes to see about anything. And thus far, they’ve practiced seeing the solid block of intensity. They’ve practiced seeing lack and ‘here we go again.’ They’ve rehearsed the “I’m so stressed ouuuuuuuut” speech for so long, they’ve forgotten there are other scripts to perform…and to write.

But, the first step is noticing what storylines are running on automatic. And how they’re contributing to your overall freaked-outedness. And if there’s a way to just delicately lift the needle off the record player and start looking around for other tunes to play.

Create consciously

And now, having practiced seeing lovely empty spaces, having raised a sceptical eyebrow at habitual storylines, having shifted the onus of great power and great responsibility onto your capable, muscular shoulders, you become an artist.

You peer into these variously shaped spaces with curiosity and creativity—and you think, ‘What shall I make in here?’

Is this a moment where I make a ritual of observing the trees I pass on the way to the subway? All the different tree personalities? How green they look in in the rain? How the wind moves them and shapes their branches?

Is this a moment where, in the in-breath between the kids leaving and the work email binging, I take up a pen and write several sentences all in a row? Whether it’s a journal practice or a novel or a I-dunno-I-just-have-this-idea.

It might even be the kind of moment where you see a pattern you’re ready to stop. A boundary that it’s time to build. A hole you patch up, for real this time, instead of leaking your precious life force out of it and giving away your power.

And I should tell you there’s no limit to possibility here.

A dear friend of mine and I have created an imaginary escape hatch for days that are Entirely Too Much. It’s a magical place called Fuckthisshit Island and no one is invited there but us. We have BBQs and fancy cocktails and dig our toes into the warm sand. We leave all the bullshit behind and take a moment to catch our breath.

Choose again

So then, the task is to gently build a little muscle around making these conscious choices.

We don’t need to make an epic project out of it. It’s just seeing, ah, I can do this again. And if you can do it again then it can become a real thing in your life. You create a habit, you make something, but more deeply affecting than that: you build trust.

Trust starts to knit itself between the part of you that really needs a rope to hang onto when things get squirrelly and the part of you that knows, now, how to make that happen.

Because it isn’t necessarily Life And The Universe keeping you from rest or from the space to create, it’s that subtle, fragile trust in yourself. That when the opportunity comes, you won’t sell yourself out.

That you’ll allow yourself to notice the spaces and to bring gentleness into your experience. That you’ll fill the spaces well and for your highest good. That when the chance to fill the spaces comes again, you’ll build the muscles you really want to build. The present, creative, funny ones.

The muscle to hold a spacious moment in your hands like a tiny bird and ask, “Should we sing now? Should we sleep? Or should we fly?”

Finding your way back to center

I launched a book two weeks ago. A few days before that, I wrote a different book in an intensive three-day workshop process, while co-facilitating said workshop. All told, it was two or three weeks of solid work without a day off. Followed by a week of emotional fall-out (aka constant crying) from some Unexpected Interpersonal Drama the popped up along the way.

Not the worst it’s ever been by any stretch, but definitely a taxing time.

At the end of it, facing my first free day, I felt this tense combination of urgently needing to relax and a complete inability to let myself rest. It was like my engine was still revving alarmingly high and I’d forgotten how to shut it off.

Before my own personal self-care awakening, I spent years in this state. And based on many conversations I’ve had over the past few weeks, many of us do.

Relaxation is a skill

We think it should be innate and obvious—but we practice the opposite so rigorously, running ourselves into the ground with stress and overwork and a compulsion to Go and Do, that relaxation becomes forgotten wisdom. Rest, recovery, relaxation, self-care. All of these things are actual skill sets that we get almost no encouragement to practice. Until it’s too late.

So, how do we find our way back to center when we’ve spun out of balance?

Look it in the eye

The first step, as always, is awareness. A little self-check of ‘hey girl, looks like you’re off the rails’ is often enough to start the process. This isn’t an invitation for a bunch of criticism and recrimination. We don’t need to dogpile punishment on top of a white-hot engine that has momentarily forgotten how to gear down. We just need a gentle, Psst, It’s Time from the little internal voice who always knows what’s what.

A reminder that even if we’ve forgotten how to kill the ignition, we can at least take both feet off the gas pedal to start.

Remember what worked before

In my case, I had this hilarious blank. I’ve spent years building up a massive personal toolbox of self-care practices, but at the moment I needed them, I forgot every single one.

So, just take a minute and calmly think back to what has worked in the past. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal—you don’t have to concoct a huge lavender-scented antioxidant recovery strategy for yourself right now.

You just need to remember one or two things that worked to settle you, and do them.

For me, it was a bath. A 20-minute bath with some sea salt and a couple drops of essential oils. I did this two or three days in a row and it was enough to start the process of unravelling the parts that were wound-up tight.

Trust your tools

Is a sea salt bath the silver bullet that’s going to save your entire life and solve all your problems? Nope, but it’s going to be the One Thing that reminds you of All The Other Things that really work to bring you back into balance.

That bath is going to remind you that you haven’t spent time around big trees and silence in awhile, and you’re going to get yourself to a park or a forest. It’s going to remind you about eating well and drinking enough water. It’s going to let you know that it’s totally okay to book an extra therapy appointment or acupuncture treatment. That what you need is a really great hug and an afternoon reading young adult novels.

It reminds you to make conscious choices on behalf of yourself.

These individual practices bring the big picture back into focus: that going deep with self-care has always served you, and it’s safe—and appropriate and necessary—to do that now.

Clear some space

This is where I tell you to say no. This is where I ask you point-blank if that other person’s needs are really and truly more important than your own well-being.

This is where I ask you how far down the Minimizing Your Own Health road you really want to travel. And where I ask you, gently but firmly, to not go to that barbecue party and not acquiesce to that unreasonable deadline and not offer yourself up as punching bag and serving wench to anyone who walks by.

I want you to nope out on anything that asks you to draw fumes from your already-empty tank for someone else’s benefit.

Does this mean you are offloading all adult responsibility and becoming a self-serving hermit? Uh, no. It means you’re taking a hot second, a solid week, or as long as it damn well takes to feel like yourself again, which is the adultest thing I’ve ever heard of to do.

Chill out about chilling out

There’s a thing that can happen where because you risked a lot to actually take care of yourself for a minute, you feel like you have to Achieve Ultimate Wellness And Personal Transformation.

I give that a no.

It would serve you way better to do a half-ass job at relaxing. For you to stare off into space and completely forget that you were planning to make a decaf almond milk latté, listen to Bach, and read the Dalai Lama’s writings.

Try doing nothing and see how difficult that actually is.

Rest and recovery are not things to accomplish or perform. They aren’t boxes to tick. This isn’t status-update-worthy stuff.

It’s sweaty pajamas and asking for help with the dishes. It’s making it to the farmer’s market, not because you’re going to post about it on Instagram, but because holy God those strawberries are so shinyredsublime they heal a part of you. Because pressing your forehead to the trunk of an ancient oak grounds you. Because watching a bird take a bath in a puddle is so simple and beautiful, it unwinds some of the burdensome complication you didn’t know you were carrying.

Get permission if you need it

Years ago, my psychiatrist would advise me to do the bare minimum. I loved her for that. Now, I keep a couple of friends close to me who, when I can’t seem to let myself off the hook, will do it for me.

These “permission slip friends” are folks who know how hard you work, who see how you put a hundred-and-ten into everything you do, and how deeply you serve everyone in your life. These are people who have your highest self in mind at all times. These are the people who you call when you need permission to phone it in for a second in order to get yourself right.

One of my dearest friends created a beautiful hand-painted sign that reads: Permission granted.

We could all use a sign like that.

What do you do when you can’t seem to slow the spin cycle? Share your strategies in the comments below.

 

The dream chaser’s manifesto

I am a singular and necessary element in this vast, creative universe.
I am necessary.
(I will say it again and again, until my cells resonate with the sound of that truth.)
I am needed here.

I walk a path toward a purpose all my own.
That task is mine.
Some may walk with me, but none can tell me which way to turn.
My life is a gift from something much larger.
I am here to honor it.

This who I am: I am love. I am loved.
No matter the circumstances of my birth, my childhood, and what happened after.
If I have forgotten this, I need only be reminded.

My dreams matter.
They are my soul’s calling, my heart’s longing, my truest self in the process of becoming.

They are to be honored as reverently as I am to be honored.
They are to be nurtured as tenderly as I am to be nurtured.
They are holy. They are sacred.

I am sacred.

Dreams are pure expression of the world’s authentic self:
the sun’s light and heat,
the flower’s scent,
snow on the mountain.

If the flower is not watered, it wilts and dies.
No one disputes that.
And so I reject the idea that I must empty myself out.
That I must place myself and my work well after everyone else’s needs.
That I must fit into dusty, rigid systems.
That the value of my dreams is measured in the number of dollars they produce.

My significance is much older and greater than commerce or industry.
My value is that of rushing rivers.
My worth measured in deep breaths of cold morning air.
Watch the trees reach skyward.
Watch the sun rise and paint the sky with sweeping, vivid color.
That’s me.
That’s my work.
My impact will not be diminished by small thinking.

I am here to heal and be healed.
Teach and be taught.
I am here to shine.

I am more powerful than either of us know.
My wisdom older than either of us can conceive.

I feel the world.
I sense its pain and the suffering of its people.
Don’t tell me lies about What Matters and What Is So because I feel the world so acutely, I can describe to you the harmony of its cries.

I hear where I am needed.
Even if others aren’t listening.

There are more of us than you can see.
More powerful than you can imagine.
We are necessary.
We are sacred.
We are gathering strength.
We walk our paths, seek our purpose, hear our callings, chase our dreams.
We dismantle old structures, create room enough for all.
We do not separate.
We need no validation, no permission.
We find our way to ourselves and each other as sure as the light finds the leaf.

We are the dream chasers.
The water-finders.
While the walls crumble to dust all around us,
we slake the thirst of the world.

 

Take back your day: creating a morning ritual

Unless you begin the morning consciously, your ego is in control of your day.

Oof. Didn’t pull the punch, did I?

You know how in the morning, your mouth is covered in a layer of crap that somehow collected throughout the night? Same thing happens with our minds. As we move through the world, we collect bits and pieces of debris. Habitual thoughts, emotions, images from the outside world, experiences, psychic dross. We collect stress and it hangs around our bodies and minds unless we consciously and intentionally clear it away.

A morning practice is an internal shower. Intentionally starting the day in a clear and congruent state.

Rather than automatically reaching for your phone, checking your email, or scrolling through Facebook (which allows fear, anxiety, and tension to slip in before your feet hit the floor), you start your morning with practices that ground you in your higher self.

I am extremely rigorous with my mornings. For me, it’s out of necessity. First thing in the morning, often before I’m even fully awake, anxiety knocks at my door. For weeks this autumn, I woke up with twisted guts and a racing mind. Getting myself out of that state required a lot of heavy lifting throughout the day. So, I took control of my mornings, and now I can’t remember a day when I woke up afraid.

So, how do you build a morning practice?

First, create an environment of quiet solitude.

This might mean getting up earlier. It might happen after everyone else has left the house. It might even, and this is the case for a friend of mine for four-year-old twins, take place on your morning commute. Read last week’s post on carving out time for yourself. Even 20 minutes daily can make a huge difference.

Next, fill this sacred span with practices that fill you up.

These actions should be simple, repeatable, and enjoyable—we’re trying to cultivate happy habits. You don’t want to dread your morning practice. Exercise, for example, can inspire deep resistance. It can also be much easier to do first-thing in the morning. Creating a morning practice can often be about finding the sweet spot between resistance and motivation, which seems to have a retreating horizon as the day marches on.

A morning ritual is a very personal thing, but here are some mix n’ match ingredients to stir up a sweet beginning to your day.

Mindfulness

Ooo, I want to tell you to meditate so bad. I want to shout from the rooftops that I stake my life on it changing everything for you. So, imagine me doing that in a non-oppressive way. I’m casually wearing a t-shirt that says Got meditation? and I’m cheering you on in whatever mindfulness practice you choose. Mindfulness is simply any activity that brings you into the present moment and cultivates present moment awareness. It can be folding laundry. It can be knitting. And if you want it to be meditation, here’s some stuff: Download a free app like Stop Breathe & Think. Grab a copy of Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness. Join our Facebook group for resources, support, and loving community.

Movement or embodiment

This might be a gentle morning walk or a more involved activity like yoga or going for a run. When I do indoor cycling training, I love it first thing in the morning. It might even be a hot shower. Anything that gets you present in your body. Locating your awareness in your body shifts your consciousness from an analytical/logical (and often tense or obsessive) place into a more grounded, expansive intelligence. Movement can also open up your breathing and release endorphins, which makes you feel so damn good.

Connection to something greater than yourself

This can be religious or spiritual, if you are so inclined, or not at all. But tapping into something larger first thing in the morning firmly moves your ego (the small self, the doubt, the fear, the grasping) into the back seat. Understanding that you’re a small piece of something vast and beautiful—and that you’re connected to that source, be it Nature, Life Force, the Universe, or the Divine—helps dissolve isolation and separation.

Love

Also known as compassion, self-love, and even gratitude. My mother begins every morning drawing up a memory of my baby nephew playing in the kitchen sink. It fills her with the warm wash of love and that is (partly) how she chooses to start her day. I begin with compassion or lovingkindness meditation, sending a wish of wellbeing out to all sentient beings. Some folks cultivate a gratitude practice, listing all the things they’re thankful for in their lives. I used to do self-love affirmations in the mirror every single morning. Regardless if it’s love for self or love for others, beginning your morning by stoking the fire of appreciation can only benefit you and everyone you meet throughout your day.

Writing or drawing by hand

There is something viscerally magical about moving a pen across paper. Whether it’s journalling, morning pages, gratitude lists, creative writing, or sketching, I’ve come to believe pen-in-hand is a vastly underappreciated form of embodiment and even meditation. It’s just not the same on a electronic device. The particular friction and flow of a pen or pencil on the paper’s surface seems to pull our attention into the present moment and a particularly healing focus. Try it. I make monthly calendars by hand using Crayola markers to track my daily practices. I swear making the calendar is as beneficial as the practices I’m tracking.

Connecting to your intuition

You will come to know that intuition is one of my favourite topics and most passionate causes. Shifting your inner guidance system from your head to your gut is a radical act. One of the simplest and most effective ways to do this is a practice I developed several years ago. At night just before sleep, mentally list off everything you’re grateful for, and then ask for clarity. Who are you asking? Your insides. In the morning, pull out a notebook and start writing. Get your hand moving faster than your mind. It will likely be illegible scribbles, but eventually, information and clarity will start to emerge. Stay tuned, darling friends, I will say so much more about intuition as we roll along.

You don’t need all of these ingredients; experiment with a few and see how it feels. Keep the practices that work for you and let others go, until you create something that fits you, your life, and your circumstances. Remember: this isn’t a fixed, rigid thing. It’s fluid and it’s iterative. My morning practice in the chilly darkness of winter is different from the early morning sunlight and warmth of summer. My ritual in crisis is different than in peace. Give yourself the time to solidify the habits, but allow a breath of flexibility as things inside and outside shift and change.

And now it’s your turn. What practices make up your morning ritual? How do you create space to start your day on the right foot? Post your answers in the comments below.

6 ways to make time when you have no time

A while back, I had a really strong morning practice going. Every single day, I was up at the crack of dawn meditating, journalling, making smoothies. All the adorable little boxes in my calendar were filled with adorable little check marks. And the part of me that is obsessive looked at the part of me that is competitive, and they both decided that this streak should never, ever end. And if it did, the world would end with it and I would be A Failure.

But then, I got pregnant and my sleep pattern changed drastically. I was so exhausted I felt drugged and, in spite of that, I wasn’t sleeping through the night. My morning practice streak blew up.

I faffed around for a couple of weeks wringing my hands. I would still meditate, but it felt half-assed. My practice slid around my day, untethered and unintentional. I no longer knew where to place it. Journalling stopped. Exercise sulked in the corner, while my creative work and my paid work duked it out for what few hours remained. Meanwhile, Fatigue ruled them all. It rolled in like a prairie storm in the late afternoon, leaving me unable to move by 7:30pm.

My day, which used to begin at 5 a.m. and end around 9:30 p.m., was now 7-to-7 if I was lucky.

I spent some time in resistance—rejecting the reality that things had changed, and I was going to have to change with them. I battled the rather dramatic feeling that everything had fallen apart. I looked accusingly at the social obligations sitting in my calendar, stealing my time.

And then, some powerful questions emerged:

  • What am I willing (or unwilling) to give up?
  • Who am I trying to please?
  • What beliefs are operating?

What I discovered in looking at those questions were things like feeling bound to things I had already said yes to, maintaining a certain level of productivity, fears of saying no (which is linked to a need to be liked). I uncovered a belief that surprised me: I believed I should act the same as before I got pregnant. That pregnancy shouldn’t change a thing.

I immediately recognized that as ridiculous. But rooting it out for examination was absolutely necessary. Otherwise that gnarly little belief would still be operating today. Digging around in those questions allowed me to find the wiggle room in my exasperation and my schedule. Here are the tools I uncovered.

1. Make everything smaller (except your dream)

Sometimes when you look at everything that needs to get done, it’s overwhelming. Fear and avoidance can team up and stop you from moving forward on any of it. The key is to make everything smaller. Much, much smaller.

Chunk it down to the tiniest action steps you can possibly do. Like an action that moves you one inch forward. And if that is too scary, one molecule.

No matter how small the step is, it’s progress. You write a novel one sentence at a time. You climb a mountain one step at a time. You make dinner one ingredient at a time. A dear friend of mine is getting through some serious overwhelm by working in 10 minute chunks. Ten minutes of effort feels doable, and getting over the mental hurdle of starting is often the most difficult part.

2. Rally support

A new friend of mine just joined this online mediation group I’m part of. She’s a single mom with three kids. She works hard to make it all happen, but adding a contemplative practice was important for her. Immediately, she asked for (and got) an accountability partner. She checks in with them daily, once she’s meditated, and her partner does the same. They keep each other from sliding into perfectionism and abandoning their practice.

Bolster yourself with support in the form of an accountability partner, a group, or a supportive friend who knows what goals and dreams you’re working on. Choose your supporters carefully and with intention. Take a moment to get yourself centered and calm. Reflect from the perspective of your highest self, not your wounded or self-sabotaging self. Who will best support you in your process?

3. Look at your schedule with the dewy eyes of a newborn fawn

Right now, your schedule and daily rhythm probably feels like an airless, locked system. I assure you, it’s not. There are, buried within your calendar, minutes, even hours, possibly days waiting for you to fill them with dream work and self-care.

What’s likely holding you back are your assumptions, habits, and beliefs. Pay close attention to beliefs around achievement, productivity, and perfection. Are there places where you believe you have to do everything yourself? Where can you ask for more support? Are your work and break hours fixed or can you carve out 30-60 minutes in the middle of your day? Explore waking up earlier or going to bed later. Examine your schedule with fresh, curious eyes and see where the wiggle room lives.

4. Root out energy leaks, part one

This is the part where I tell you that Facebook (and other objective time wasters) are actively stealing from your dreams. Social media is a time suck. That’s its job—these sites want you to spend as much of your time as you can on them. And I do mean spend. Your time (and energy) is a finite resource.

You have some control over how and where you spend it.

Much of the time spent on social media is out of boredom, resistance, avoidance, or again, habit.

These states often come when your passion isn’t being fully realized or intentionally focused. Your life force starts to leak out and manifest as boredom, fatigue, or at worst, depression. Taking control of your time can help contain and focus this energy toward what you actually want.

If you haven’t done one, I highly recommend a social media fast. Do it for a week and you’ll want to do it for a month. If that’s extreme, just try limiting your daily exposure. Remember that checking Facebook is a habit and building a new one takes patience and commitment.

5. Root out energy leaks, part two

Okay, this is the tough one. These are the energy leaks that exist in relationship to other people. That volunteer thing you agreed to because you felt guilty and want to be A Good Person. The friend who calls too late, asks too much, and bulldozes your boundaries every chance they get.

This is your people-pleasing. Your inability to say no. It’s all the times you don’t listen to your insides.

These are the things that will start to eat at you. These are the things that begin to feel like agony, which, oddly enough, is a good thing. Anything that pushes you to the breaking point of changing unworkable habits that undermine your self-worth and your ability to go after your dreams is okay in my books.

It would be sweet, though, if we didn’t have to get to the breaking point. Bring as much awareness as you can to areas in your life where you give your time away or allow it to be stolen. Ask yourself the difficult question of whether being “a nice person” is more important to you than time for yourself. Gently but firmly practice taking your time back.

6. Allow yourself to be in progress

Sometimes it’s not how much or little time we have, it’s what we feel pressured to accomplish. Like, if we did all that work and caused all those problems to carve out an hour three times per week, whatever we make or do needs to be amazing! and worth it!It needs to totally justify whatever discomfort or chaos it caused.

This is deeply unfair to ourselves and our tender, nascent dreams.

Learning how to make time for ourselves is the work of dreams. What you do within that precious hour, even if it’s staring at a wall while listening to Nina Simone, is also the work of dreams.

All dreams start from a foundation of self-care and self-love. Creating time for yourself is a courageous and radical act of love. It is a small but powerful way to say to yourself and those around you: I matter. I’m worth this.

How do you create time within an over-full life? What are strategies that have worked for you? Place your answer in the comments below!