Learning to spot the exit signs

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We bought a house!

So far we are on our 70 billionth pin of bathroom tiles we like, are through the demolition stage of our renovation with no expensive surprises and we’re still on speaking terms.

I think it helps that we aren’t living in the house while the renovations are happening (understatement of the year. Oh wait, it’s 2016 aka The Year That Set Itself On Fire. So biggest understatement of the last 3 minutes).

I went through an intense phase of hating our rented place, reconciled myself to the fact we would be there longer than I wanted and stopped resisting it. But since we started the house hunt and found our own pile of bricks, my intense loathing for our gaff has returned.

I hate that it’s open plan. I hate that it’s under-heated. I hate the tiny kitchen. I hate that the insides of the kitchen cupboards are black. I hate that the bath is comically shallow. I hate the weird bulkhead in our bedroom.

The loathing is, obviously, a clear and present sign that an exit is called for. Our rented house unconsciously (and in other cases very, very consciously) triggers feelings and sensations that totally repel me.

This got me thinking about much more subtle exit signs.

I’ve started a 30-day trial for a boot camp style gym close my office. It’s pretty slick…they have branded merch and a smoothie bar and a iPad check in. The classes are busy, the trainers are energetic, the workouts are good’n’challenging.

I will not be signing up to continue going beyond the trial period. All the subtle exit signs are there.

The space, the people who work there and the people who train there all combine to create an embodied feeling of NO for me.

Learning to listen to the ever so quiet whispers my body gives me of “hhhmmmm, this calls for an exit” is definitely still a work in progress for me, but I’m getting better at it.

As ever, the most important tool for hearing my NO is my awareness. I bring my awareness to how I’m feeling and I ask if it matches up to how I want to feel.

Delight is a big one for me (#delighteveryday on Insta…hashtag it yo!).

When I’m at this gym, and I ask myself the question “does it feel delightful to be here?”, I am met with a clear and resounding no. There’s no friendly banter, the trainers enforce arbitrary rules and are kind of mean to people, everyone seems ever so slightly scared.

I got big, shouty NO’s from my body when I experienced a lack of respect for my autonomy. Feeling some pain in my right wrist (reminder – I broke it), I declined to demonstrate a move to the rest of class exactly as asked and got taken to task for it.

Fuck you, dude.

It’s my body and I live here. If I say I’m not doing the movement pattern because I’m experiencing pain (not discomfort…I realise working out is supposed to make you uncomfortable. There’s a reason you want to go eat pancakes after you do it) then I’m not doing it and that’s the end of it.

I don’t need, want, require, demand, expect, or anticipate your approval or permission to do as I see fit with my body, especially when it’s telling me it’s in pain.

Listening to the whisper that an exit is called for is one thing. Trusting them is another.

For me a lot of monster chit-chat starts up in my brain and sounds a lot like this: “But don’t make a fuss…don’t make a scene…don’t be such a diva…he’s a trainer, he knows better than you…but it’s not really a big deal…”

Sound familiar? To me it sounds like a lot of social and cultural conditioning to be a nice woman and not a nasty one.

Say something. I’m giving up on you.

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In a grim, low rise building that was part church hall part community centre in North London (you know the type…stackable chairs, horrible carpets, children’s art work, biscuit tins) I was going through my training to volunteer as a grief counsellor.

We were doing some grit-your-teeth-and-suck-it-up group exercise walking round the room and forcing ourselves to have sincere conversations with one another about our imagined losses.

Although the exercise was cringe-o-rama, it highlighted something really important.

Most of the time, people have no idea what to say to a bereaved person.

We mumble something about being really sorry for their loss and then make it the bereaved person’s responsibility to contact us in case they need something.

And then we never have to discuss it again.

But I don’t. I know what to say. I’ve had training. I’ve experienced loss. I got this.

Turns out, not so much.

On what seems like a now weekly basis, black people are being subjected to deadly force. I am horrified. I am saddened. I am going out of my way to understand how my own bias and white privilege implicitly colours my thinking about this.

What I had failed to do, until this week, was reach out to my black friends and say anything.

I don’t know what to say. I haven’t had any training. I have no experience of being black. I have not got this.

But we have to say something, don’t we?

Here’s what was stopping me:

“I hate misunderstandings! What if they take it the wrong way and get offended and then hate me?”

“I just don’t know what I could possible say to make it better…probs best not to say anything…”

“Conversations about race make me feel uncomfortable. I’d rather not have them”.

But, oh my god, all those excuses are bullshit.

Yes, ultimately, they are the voices of my monsters whose constant worry is that I’ll do something stupid that makes me look like an idiot. I am on board with that mission. I, too, do not want to look like an idiot.

What I’m not on board with is their methods.

Me, me, me. I, I, I. Sometimes it’s just not about you, Tam.

Vulnerability is the cost of entry to feel connected to the people you love.

I want my black friends to know I am an ally. I want to own my ally-hood. And I want to do those things even if it means risking bungling my words and not getting it quite right.

I would rather say something out loud that’s 80% right than compose something that’s 100% perfect that’s never said.

So here are some copy and paste things to say (repeatedly) to your bereaved friends and your black friends:

I don’t know what you’re going through but I love and I care about you and I’m so sorry. I’m here for you in whatever capacity you need.

Here’s to imperfect words spoken in love over perfect silence maintained out of fear.

Delight. Everyday.

#delighteverydayMy own little contribution to the world of hashtags on Instagram is #delighteveryday. I love the feeling of delight, I love being delighted, I love delighting others.

Delight feels bubbly and giggly and bright. It’s totally present in the here and now.

Last week, a writer I admire shared a photo she’d spotted on Twitter. It’s an extract from a new book in which people of note describe things that delight them and bring them joy called Modern Delight.

It was written as a new take on the 1949 JB Priestly book Delight – a that shone a spotlight on life’s simple pleasures, I’m sure a much needed balm in the years after the war.

I am utterly enchanted by the fact that both these books exist and they’ve reminded me that life happens in the mundane and the everyday and that finding delight in those moments might just be the secret to happiness.

So, inspired by Dolly Alderton who was the book that was inspired by JB Priestly…I’m sharing with you a week of the things that delight me.

We’re starting with food. That’s {at least} three times a day to #delighteveryday.

A perfectly roasted chicken with satisfyingly crispy skin. Chicken stock with the leftovers.

Toasted muffins with lashings of butter. Saying “lashings of butter”. Slowly stirring risotto (always in the same direction, to get rid of evil spirits apparently).

Cinnamon rolls, pretty much of any sort.

An almond croissant eaten with a strong coffee. A plain croissant with black cherry jam. That slice of cherry pie I had in North East Portland that I can still taste…and still chase after.

A mild hangover with a cup of strong tea and white toast with Marmite. A bowl of Heinz tomato soup with a white bloomer for dipping.

Dunking biscuits in tea and having very long, very involved conversations about the various merits of the dunkability of different biscuit brands.

Sunday nights after long, action-packed weekends when you can’t be bothered to cook and that call for hummus, baba ganoush and toasted pita. Or French bread, cheese and pate. Eaten will sitting on the floor around the coffee table watching bad telly.

A crisp Granny Smith apple eaten by slicing off a bit at a time with a sharp knife while standing in the kitchen chatting to him. Walking in the hot summer evenings to get ice cream together as a family.

The Dessert Surprise at Rose and Sons which is the perfect mix of sweet, fatty and salty, eaten while bantering with bar tenders and singing along too loudly to the tunes. Really good BBQ.

Stopping for pick and mix at the newsagents on the way home and closely comparing notes with my sister (a delightful memory from childhood).

Cooking something “grown up” for my step son and having him love it.

The smell of coffee, natch.

When he makes us naff Aunt Jemima’s pancakes on Sunday mornings, which is almost never, but I love it.

Amazingly ripe tomatoes turned into luscious pasta sauce and eaten in the dead of winter when a little bit of bottled summer is just what the doctor ordered.

Inspired? Tag what’s delighting you on Instagram with #delighteveryday so we can all check it out and follow me there.

Tune In: Podcasts I’m Listening To Now

Podcasts to download now

I have become obsessed with podcasts. I mean, I’ve been listening to shows like This American Life for years now, but recently my need to listen to interesting stories or learn something new has become almost limitless.

Here’s a list of my current favorites.

Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History

Dan is a veteran journalist and broadcaster so knows how to produce and edit a compelling show. I can, hand on heart, say I learned more about World War 1 listening to his serialised podcasts on this awful period of history than I ever learned at school. And I’m English so we studied this A LOT.

I got through all four episodes in this series while lying on the beach in Mexico…maybe not your most relaxing beach listen but that’s how compelling I found it. Each episode is typically 2 hours long so they keep you satisfied for a while.

Invisibilia

An NPR podcast that explores the invisible things in our lives that effect us profoundly. Like expectations…our own and other peoples. Like computers and how technology affects us or how social norms determine our behaviour. If you have even a scant interest in human behaviour, this is podcast for you.

Savage Lovecast

Veteran journalist, editor and agony uncle starts each episode with his take on an issue du jour. On the verge of tears after the shootings in Orlando; feisty and directive on the coming US election. He then goes on to proffer advice on all things relationship. And I mean ALL thing.

From threesomes to coming out to your religious conservative parents to sex club etiquette, he weighs in on it all. I don’t always agree with his advice but I love that he helps me shape my own thinking on some of the challenges facing his listeners.

Surprisingly Awesome

From the crew at Gimlet Media, this show takes subjects that should be boring and tries to discover if they’re actually interesting. Like broccoli. And mould. It’s a fun easy listen and bit by sneaky bit you actually learn stuff.

On Being

A Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration and a publisher and public event convener. Yup.

On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? A recent episode, looking at ambiguous loss and the myth of closure could not have come at a better time as we’re now in these post #brexit times.

The PanDolly Podcast

Melvin Bragg this is not. It’s a new(ish) podcast from two charmingly posh Sunday Times Style writers Pandora and Dolly. Could you hope for two more public school sounding names? It’s fluffy, silly and sort of reminds me of home.

Women of The Hour With Lena Dunham

Offering a wonderful insight into women’s lives, with contributions from everyone from Emma Stone (who doesn’t love her?) to a Brooklyn metal sheet worker. This mini-series is worth getting stuck into.

Arrvls

Inspired by his own personal crisis (recently married, new to New York and stuck in a job he hated…can anyone relate? … Anyone?) presenter Jonathan Hirsch documents the stories of people from around the world who find their lives utterly altered by events big and small.

On feeling bittersweet

Feeling bittersweet

Sitting on the plane flying back from Dubai I felt happy and sad.

Happy to have spent time with my beloved sister and with my new obsession, my perfect niece.

Sad to be flying away from them.

Happy to be flying back towards a man I love and who loves me.

Sad to be flying away from my sister and sad that I didn’t have more time to see her or the ton of friends I have in Dubai.

I’m pretty sure that’s the ultimate embodied experience of feeling bittersweet.

It’s that feeling parents get as their children seem to get bigger and bigger before their eyes. The feeling of good and exciting change that’s still change (and therefore hard nonetheless). It’s that poignant moment coupled with the realisation that the world is still turning. Sadness tinged happiness.

I like what Neghar Fonooni says about bittersweetness:

When we experience these bittersweet emotions, we’re feeling simultaneous gratitude and loss. It’s painful, and yet it feels strangely calm, all at once–and in this hurting calm we find a unique perspective. We learn to let go without forgetting, and remain open without falling apart; we understand what it feels like to be at life’s whim, and rather than lament and cling to what has come to pass, we grow into presence. 

Bittersweetness is a feeling that has the power to help us live with more ease, should we lean into it when it arises.

In high praise of low expectations

Back when IBM was the standard and we still all though that apples were just a fruit, they had one of the most successful sales teams ever. Phenomenal numbers, smashing it month in and month out.

A core reason for this success wasn’t the greatest product on the market or superior sales force training.

It was the simple effect of setting laughably low sales targets.

Set a target for, say, two sales a month and when you close five sales you’ll feel like a rockstar.

This has a practical application to you, but thinking about IBM and sales targets triggers all sorts resistance around CORPORATE and BORING and CUBICLES and OHMYGODSHOOTMERIGHTINTHEFACE.

Let’s try something else, yeah?

I love the amazing Barbara Sher’s technique called CWUs. It stands for Complete Willingness Unit, and what it means is that you only do tiny things that don’t trigger resistance.

Like setting hilariously low sales targets, I just set hilariously low life targets. And set off confetti cannons when I smash them.

Like…? I’m glad you asked!

Despite being in a pretty good habit of going to the gym regularly, I often don’t feel like going.

I’m tired. It’s been a long day. Billions is REALLY good with some fucking solid writing and if I go home NOW, I can cram in three episodes and still be in bed by 10.30pm. I used up all my willpower tokens for the day avoiding donuts in the kitchen.

Whatever.

You get the picture.

My CWU for the gym when my day is going like this is just to go there. That’s all I have to do. Show up with no expectation of doing anything else. I get a billion sparklepoints for just THAT.

The next unit is put my leggings on. Don’t even have put all my workout gear on. Just the leggings.

But I still get sparklepoints.

I keep going like this, knowing full well I can bail at anytime without feeling bad. And I’ve never bailed.

I’ve been applying this approach in my coaching work too, and it’s consistently one of the most useful and successful conversations I have with clients. Except instead of applying it to behaviour change, we’re applying it to feeling state change.

We’re asking how would you feel if this was only 12% better.

Because here’s the thing about doing things or going places that trigger the resistance – just deciding that it isn’t going to be dreadful and that it’s going to be so incredible that being licked by puppies while being cocooned in cashmere couldn’t even come close is insane.

And it will give you so much cognitive dissonance you’ll be reaching for the ibuprofen and heading upstairs for a nap.

It’s no beuno.

Here’s what it looks like. Imagine you took a business trip and while you’re there you got some bad news. A family member has been admitted to hospital, nothing life threatening but no clear diagnosis.

You’re far away and super worried and it completely colours the rest of your trip. Obviously.

Two months later you find yourself heading out on the same business trip. Your brain, helpfully, goes into overdrive. You’re stressed, freaking out and worried. The whole trip is triggering memories of getting bad news.

There’s no way we’re making this uh-maz-ing. Just isn’t going to happen.

But we can make it 12% better. Because 12% is totally do-able. Because 12% is absolutely achievable. 12% gives you juuuust enough space.

If I were in this scenario here’s a couple of things that would make it 12% better for me: bringing some treats, making sure I stay well hydrated, downloading podcasts I enjoy listening to for the flight, having some lavender oil to splash about, planning something nice for when I got home.

And, crucially, having laughably low expectations.

Iguana wishing and you

A mess of iguanas via Woop Studios

Iguana’s are vegetarian. They are cold blooded. They are good swimmers. They have a really cool way of getting rid of sea salt from their bodies, they sneeze it out.

Iguana’s sneezing. Just think about that for a second because it’s sort of broke my brain.

They really like papaya and hibiscus plants.

I know all this because on the first day of our holiday in Mexico, we walked back up the hill to our room after breakfast and there, basking on a rock, was a massive iguana.

(Well, actually I know all those things because I became obsessed with iguanas and looked them up).

He was all “s’up, guys? I’m just keepin’ real.”

He definitely worked in architecture or graphic design because we was wearing black. Totally a Mac guy, too. No PC’s or Android phones here.

And then I had a moment.

Standing there staring at a wild iguana I had a moment. A moment of thinking “oh my fucking god, I live in a world with palm trees and cactus and bougainvillea and iguana that just hang out on rocks. Let’s just stand here for a minute and allow this to really be as amazing as it sounds. Because it is really fucking amazing.”

One of the things I like most about being me is how I still let things utterly fill me with awe. Go out and seek awe. It’s the best kind of reset button.

Right then and there I decided I would see an iguana everyday. I just told the universe.

“Universe. I see iguanas everyday in Mexico. Just so we’re clear.”

And I did. Everyday. Even on the day we drove an hour and a half up mountain to a coffee plantation (which isn’t prime iguana territory, as far as I can tell).

I was beginning to lose heart that I wouldn’t see one that day, I felt a disproportionate sadness relative to the situation. As we were driving back into the resort at dusk, the driver spotted an iguana keeping it real on the wall on the driveway and pointed it out to all of us.

On the best day, I saw 15 of them along the sea wall.

It got me thinking about goal setting. And wishing. And wanting. And the qualities of wishes.

I got excited about my wish, even though it was ridiculous. I am very serious about experiencing delight in my life. A core quality tucked inside my wish to see iguanas every day was, for me, about getting my daily need for delight met.

Because, sneezing iguanas *giggle*.

Declaring my wish taught me about marshaling my resources to make it happen.

I told the bloke and the kiddo that I was going to see iguanas everyday so they were primed to look out for them too. It was bloke and kiddo who discovered the prime iguana spotting spot along the seawall.

My ridiculous wish got me thinking about your wishes.

I don’t know anyone who grew up having their wishes welcomed and adored. Our culture doesn’t really work that way. We are told that we are greedy for wanting, or that our wishes are inappropriate, too much, impossible. Wishes get trampled on early.

But wishing is good for you.

Not just cultivating wishes of your own, but actively letting other people have theirs.

Without trying to change the wishes. Not needing to fix them or do anything with them.

Just giving them legitimacy. Room to exist.

So here’s to wishing more. More wishes for me. More wishes for you. Because it is my year of more.

 

Why our metaphor for change is fatal

metaphor for change

My first go round of therapy in my early twenties, I did the hard and necessary work of piecing things together and picking my way through my story. I grieved, I cried, I forgave.

I started my counselling and psychotherapy training and with it, a lot more “personal work”.

I started seeing another therapist, I was in supervision for my case load, I was acting as a guinea-pig client for my fellow students talking about real stuff that was really affecting me.

This shit again.

I don’t remember who I said it to – therapist, supervisor, fellow student – but there I was processing the same shit. Again. Again. Again.

I’ve done this already, I wailed.

I thought I was over it, I moaned.

What the actual fuck, I raged.

It dawned on me, slowly and grudgingly, that the progress of process isn’t linear. I’ll never be over it. And neither will you. Our metaphor for change sucks.

I’ve seen this over and over again with clients, too. They had some kind of a-ha moment about the thing or went on retreat or spoke to some other coach or counsellor about it. Why, for the love of god, is this shit coming up again?

The fatal metaphor of progress, which means leaving things behind us, has utterly obscured the real idea of growth, which means leaving things inside us. – Gilbert K Chesterton
The universal metaphor for change, for making progress is linear. And yes, it implies that we leave things behind us.
And that’s what made me (and maybe you?) crazy. The better metaphor for progress on your process is ascension.
When I started to think of my stuff as being in the middle and my progress with it as being like a spiral stair case that ascended around it, everything changed.
I am always going to be with this. It’s inside of me. It formed me and shaped me. I can never leave it behind me.
Now, as I stay with my stuff and do my best to be with it instead of trying to leave it behind me, I can interact with it from a different point on the way up.
There it and there it will always be; in the middle. I’ll never be “over it”, just at a different point in being with it.

And then I split my trousers

If you do a foolish thing

I meant to take this upside down. OK?

Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society. – Mark Twain

Like most English kids, I had a school uniform growing up. A navy blue pinafore dress over a pale blue shirt, navy cardigan and a navy beret in winter. A pale blue and white striped dress with a straw boater in summer. All hallmarks of going to a posh school.
I grew to hate having to wear a school uniform. I wanted to be like those cool American kids I’d see on TV shows who got to wear whatever they wanted. I wanted to rock my white high top Reeboks, velour leggings and slouchy jumpers. So sue me, it was the 80’s. Deal with it.
I did not want to look the same as everyone else.
Oh how I look back and long for those uniformed days now. The days when you had no choice but to just get dressed and go to school.
Now I rage against the tyranny of having to come up with a new outfit every day. Why can’t I just wear pajamas? I came up with a brilliant outfit yesterday, you can’t really expect me to do it again today, can you?
The bloke has probably lost count of the times he’s edged past me standing in a towel in front of my wardrobe.
“You look you’re waiting for divine inspiration”, he’ll quip. “I. AM.”, I will usually yell back and then mutter phrases like oppressive and dictatorial.
I have taught my step-son the word “tyrannical” because, once, he mused that he’d prefer to stay in his pj’s instead of getting dressed. (I know, he totally won in the step-mum lottery, don’t player hate…mmmmmk?)
Knowing all this, you can imagine my distress at having to get dressed for an job interview. In winter. With fresh snow on the ground ready to spatter the backs of my legs and salted sidewalks ready to destroy any nice shoes.
I picked over the skirts, the blazers, the blouses.
I took some nice, grounding deep breaths. I pulled out some leg lengthening black trousers, a well cut black jacket with a waterfall collar and a favourite top.
I paired the whole thing with some black heeled boots.
I felt confident and pleased with myself. I felt ready.
I ignored the fact that the last time I properly fit in these trousers I was 20lbs lighter.
I went to washroom one last time before leaving the house and broke the zipper doing them back up.
Bollocks.
Fuck.
Shit.
You can see how this could throw a girl off her game, can’t you. With minutes to spare I had to scramble to find either a replacement pair of trousers or a new outfit.
Cue freakout.
Nope. Not this time. This time I laughed. Because I knew I had a choice. I could either allow my thoughts to spiral out of control, declare this an obvious bad omen and then spend precious time I didn’t have struggling to regain my composure.
I always want to feel delight. It is probably the most desired of my core desired feelings. But feeling the way I want to feel is a choice. It’s up to me.
So I stood there, laughed at how hilarious this whole situation was and pulled on another pair of trousers.
Stop acting like you don’t have a choice about how you want to feel now, later, tomorrow, next week. Keep choosing towards what you want, actively. Constantly. Inch by inch. Choose.

Less isn’t more. More is more.

Minnie mouse

This time last year I’d had a shocking first week at day-job, I’d finally put a pink fade out in my hair which I’d been dying to do for years and was wearing all my clothes on the regular because Toronto had one of the coldest winters on record.

Things feel so very different right now.

The year that’s just closed out on us was a question year for me. That’s a cute way of saying it was hard, it demanded a lot of me, it required that I change profoundly. Moving countries, becoming a step-mother and irreversible surgery (still processing that one, story for another time) will do that to you.

Me an’ him chatted over what we wanted for ourselves for this year and for the next 18 months. I thought about what I wanted to be, do and have. Let it percolate, marinate and swirl about my being.

More

I realised there has been a beckoning from this word for a while now, but on a cold January morning padding downstairs in my new slippers and looking forward to steaming hot cup of coffee, this word was just there in my mouth and on my lips.

More seems to be showing up in all kinds of ways. Maybe because I’m ready for it.

I want more for my body. So I’ve joined the Maximum Barbell’s powerlifting team and I’m booking my first meet in for early summer. I’m training three times a week and looking to hit at least 300lbs in my deadlift.

I want more creation to balance out the consumption. Look, I love a Netflix binge as much as the next person but I notice when that’s all I do, I feel less. Or empty? Whatever it is, it does not bring me closer to my core desired feelings. I want to get back to writing here more. I have a fun email/Instagram challenge I’m working on (more on that soon) and I’m spray painting dinosaurs neon colours.

Because my idea of a good time usually involves kitsch. See above photo.

I want more connection with new friends near and old friends far. Whenever I speak to my sister and my oldest and dearest friends, I feel full, happy, seen and recharged. And yet I am truly shit at calling them. This year I commit to calling them more.

I also want more connection in my life here in Toronto. More belly laughs, more three course meals that mean I have an excuse to browse through my recipe books, more raising our glasses.

I want more travel. So far, we’re going to Mexico in March, I’m going to Dubai in late spring and we’re looking at getting all Anne of Green Gables in the summer. Plus, singing sands people. I don’t know what they are but I’m pretty sure it’s going to magical and giggly. Magiggly, even.

I want more reach through my work here. If you want more too, see if we’d be good at making more together.

There are more mores. They feel good and scary, which is exactly how I like my goal-wishes (gwishes) to feel.

Already this year feels very different to last year. I can’t help thinking that this Monkey is feeling the energy of this Monkey year.

Whatever it is, I’m excited to grow, evolve and find out what this year has for me.