Feel your way to what you want...

“I believe in your power to manifest and visualize, more than anybody I know,” one of my best friends recently wrote to me.

Humbled that she felt this way about me, it also got me to thinking... Where did this ability come from?  How could I share it with others as part of my holistic approach to health and happiness?

As I started thinking more about it, I realized that there were two very powerful tools that I had been using more and more over the past couple of years. Both have helped tremendously with my own healing process and with creating the life I want to be living, every day. I thought it might be helpful to share a few examples of how these work, specifically with health and alcohol-related goals, however, they can be used in any situation for any desired outcome.

The first tool is taken from The Desire Map, developed by the brilliant Danielle LaPorte. It’s a concept called Core Desired Feelings which are also described as a means to achieve ‘goals with soul.’ The basic premise is to base goal-setting (and life!) on how you want to feel, rather than being attached to a particular outcome. 

While Danielle outlines a process for distilling 3-5 core desired feelings that are consistent and over-arching guides to your decision-making processes through life, I have also used this concept with more fluidity to adapt to specific days and moments.

An example. I find that we often focus on what we don’t want, versus what we DO want. My clients come to me saying things like:

“I don’t want to feel insecure.”

“I don’t want to feel stressed.”

“I don’t want to feel ashamed about my drinking/body/decisions etc...”

A more detailed example might be: “I have an event coming up. I usually drink way too much when there’s free wine and I don’t want to get drunk this time. At the same time, I don’t want to feel like an ass and the only one not drinking. I’m worried that I’ll be too shy and introverted and won’t be as witty and entertaining as when I'm drinking.”

With a gentle reframe and a focus on Core Desired Feelings for the evening, we can turn this negative self-talk into positive self-talk, which will magnetize positive results.

Think about how you want to FEEL throughout the evening and arriving at home after the event. Use the negatives (such as the examples described above) as teachers, they are the shadow-side (opposites) of the positives.

An example could be: I want to feel confident, charming, witty and wise, and I want to feel this way with ease and grace. When I arrive home, I want to feel accomplished, happy and peaceful.

After defining your Core Desired Feelings, it is time to experience an Embodied Visualization of these feelings - which is the second tool that I use. Many of you may already be familiar with the concept of visualization... embodiment simply takes the mental pictures a step further by locating the desired outcome, aka feeling, in your body.

Combining core desired feelings + embodied visualization = a powerful imprint to reset your patterns and achieve different outcomes.

Instead of spending time agonizing and stressing about all the things that could possibly go wrong, how hard it might be, how stupid you might feel etc, take some time to focus on all the thing that can go right.

Here's a step-by-step exercise in Embodied Visualization: 

  • Find a comfortable position, either sitting in a meditation pose or laying on the ground.

  • Start deep breathing, inhaling all the way to your fingertips, down into your toes.

  • After a minute or so, imagine a beautiful white gold light entering through the crown of your head, and with each breath, that light shines brilliance through your entire body.

  • Keep channelling light through the top of your head and now focus the light as if it were beaming from your third eye. Keeping your eyes closed, imagine the light as a projection, lighting up a silver screen suspended in front of you. The image will start coming into focus, and you will see the image of what you are preparing for.

  • Let’s say it is a networking event that has been causing you anxiety. See yourself there, embodying your core desired feelings. You move through the room with seemingly effortless confidence, you exude charm, you are quick with your witty repartee. You sip your spritzer made from fresh juice and mineral water, enjoying the effervescence of the bubbles and refreshing flavors. You delight in the fact that your senses are extra tuned in, you have a heightened awareness of everything and everyone around you. Perhaps you are more selective of whom you are speaking with, honouring your intuition in terms of when to engage and with whom.

  • The idea is to get out of your head and allow your body to experience these feelings as sensations in your body, as if they were already happening.

Have you ever heard the advice to “act as if?” This is the first step. The same way a professional athlete prepares for the championship game, visualizing every play in exquisite detail and allowing the rush of adrenaline and elation rush through their body when they score the final point and the sense of pure triumph as they hold up the trophy in front of thousands of cheering fans. Feel that, for you.

The entire process of identifying your core desired feelings and practicing embodied visualization does not need to take more than 10-15 minutes. Of course, you can spend more time with this. You may also choose to make a daily practice of it.

While recently hospitalized, I used these tools several times a day, sometimes more. It was especially important as I found myself overwhelmed with fear and doubt. Of course, I couldn’t make myself magically “better” overnight based solely on visualization, nor did I immediately start feeling my core desired feelings specific as I was still hooked up to an IV and immobilized. However, I strongly believe that my committed focus on how I wanted to feel and the visualization of what needed to happen in my body sped the recovery process significantly. I focused on how I wanted to feel in the short term, how it would feel to be told that I wasn’t in critical condition anymore, how it would feel to have the IV taken out of my arm, how I would feel being discharged from the hospital... and the longer term of how I wanted to feel once I was strong and active again.

How do you want to feel? In your social life? work life? in your body? in relationship? after a date? after having sex? Let these feelings be your guide. You can use the tools I’ve described here for any circumstance in your life that you could possibly imagine.

I would love to hear how visualization has worked for you. Have you identified your core desired feelings? Let me know in the comments!


Are you ready to surrender?

Am I the only one who has a hard time releasing control?

I have more than a sneaking suspicion that I’m not. In fact, I know I’m not. For any ambitious woman who prides herself on productivity and perfectionism (and isn’t that pounded into most of us these days?), letting go of control is Haaarrrd.

For many of us, control is a learned behaviour. It was modelled to me by my mother, and is the dominant way of doing things in this  business-driven world. “You want something? Well, you’ve gotta work hard to get it, fight for it and make it happen!!” “Why depend on others to do something (and can you even depend on anyone else?), when you can do it yourself?)”

I don’t know about you - but this approach to life wore me out. I used to go, go, go, go goooo, push, pull, wrangle, achieve, produce, perform, until I crashed. For years, the only way I knew how to escape from this largely self-inflicted pressure was to drink myself out of it.

Years ago, a therapist pointed this out to me. “Your life is so controlled that the only time you give yourself permission to release is by drinking. Only then can you shut off, only then do you let yourself relax and get out of your busy brain.”

Yes, I could surrender control to alcohol, but it was more like a momentary giving up or giving in... a big F-you to the pressure I felt but without really trusting that tomorrow I wouldn’t have to wake up and be even harder on myself. Unless I was too hungover. Then it would be the day after. And the cycle continued.

I was not connected to my divine intuition. I didn’t feel aligned with the Universe or a power greater than myself. I certainly didn’t feel like God, or any spiritual force, “had my back.”

After suffering complete burn out (more than once) and feeling that any fun that originally came from these escapes now felt hollow, empty and pointless... I started seeing another way.

A more feminine approach, a softer approach... one that wasn’t so consuming and exhausting.

I started seeking another kind of surrender.

The theme of surrender came up again recently during a call with a mastermind group. All of the women in our group were being seriously challenged in this area, to the extent that our brilliant coach joked that she should start another program called the “School of Surrender for Ambitious Women.”

Somewhere along the way, many of us learned that surrender was like giving up. Throwing in the towel. A sign of weakness.

Yet as we launched ourselves deeper into our extremely personal work as entrepreneurs (all of the women in my mastermind have businesses that directly relate to our own struggles and evolution) we were being tasked with surrendering control at precisely the time when our years of “training” was convincing us to hold on more tightly.

Whether it came to balancing work and family life, the care of our children, creative inspiration, technological challenges, our own health and bodies, external forces... we were being shown a different path to the one taken before.

How does it differ from “control at all costs”? What I’ve learned is that it is a three-part process:

  • Show up for yourself 100%, do the work (the inside work) and then...

  • Stop trying to force an outcome!! Which involves a lot of...

  • TRUST!! Trust the process, have faith in the outcome.

Yes, I know. A lot easier said that done.

When I finally decided to really re-evaluate my relationship to alcohol and to stop using alcohol as a tool for escape and brief moments of freedom, so much changed for me.

I really started to know myself, deeply. And with that authentic self-knowledge and clarity (which is what I mean by showing up for yourself), came the trust. And with trust, I was slowly able to start surrendering control.

I am still unlearning the lessons that were 30+ years in the making. I still get handed whopping learning opportunities that show me that I have a lot more to learn about surrender.

I can tell you that I’m loving the process. I’m loving getting to know what real presence feels like. What it feels like to wake up and go to sleep with the same me. I’ve stopped distracting myself from me. I’m not afraid to let go. I’m not afraid because I know with every ounce of my being that I am sending clear messages to whomever is listening (and yes I also mean Spirit, The Universe and God) that I am more ready than ever to receive grace, abundance, ease, love, inspiration and growth. Sometimes the gifts are unexpected, sometimes the outcomes are not what I might have predicted. Sometimes it is even better than the results I may have forced if I was still more attached to “making it happen.”

Showing up for myself and doing my part allows the Spirit/Universe/God to show up and provide. This is true divinity in action.

How does the concept of surrender resonate with you? Let me know in the comments!


Why I hate the word relapse

Very recently, more recently than I even really want to admit, I “relapsed.” I really despise that word so I didn’t call it that. Exactly what happened is that I let myself down. I fell back on the commitments and intentions I had set for myself, and relived old patterns.

I’ll write more on my own personal experience a little later, but first I want to talk a little bit more about the word relapse and what it’s important to find alternatives.

I can’t remember when I first developed a distaste for the word relapse- but I do remember a specific instance about 12 years ago that solidified the feeling.

I was working at a Safe House for at-risk teens. I was in the final semester in my Child and Youth Care Counseling certification, and had been specializing with youth substance use/abuse and street youth. There was teenager of about 16 or 17 staying at the Safe House. She had already lived a rough life by then, having been on the streets and heavily using methamphetamines (crystal meth). In the past 5 months, she had made huge progress. She had stopped using drugs, was regularly attending recovery meetings, she was a healthy weight again and was beginning steps towards reconciliation with her family.

One night she came back to the Safe House very distraught. “I F’d up! I went downtown and I smoked weed. Now I have to go back to day 1 again. I had almost 5 months sober days and now I’m back to zero.”

We talked about the incredible progress she had made in the past 5 months. We talked about the fact that she had been downtown, where her former friends and dealers were, and that she had decided not to use her drug of choice. She had come so far and I encouraged her focus on the positive. But she was so hung up that she had relapsed and would have to announce this in her meetings and go back to “day 1” as if all of the personal growth and awareness she’d gained along the way didn’t mean anything.

This bothered me, and looking back, I’m sure this contributed a lot to my personal path of seeking out alternatives to traditional recovery models.

To me the word relapse negates any positive progress or growth. We grow, we live, we “make mistakes,” we learn, we change, we make some more “mistakes,” we learn some more... we EVOLVE. 

This is why I seek out and base my practice on alternatives that honour awareness, that value the journey as much (or more) as the destination, and that take into account the fact that we are all individuals, and as such, we each will have our own path to follow.

I was so proud of a client of mine who recently experienced a “relapse.” She had set clear intentions for herself around her drinking (max 2 drinks in an evening) and had been doing quite well honouring her intentions for more than a month. Last week she went through several really big and emotional changes in her life and on the weekend decided to go to a party. She consciously released her agreement to herself until she drank to the point of not having to be think anymore, about anything, blissfully checking out for the evening. The next day, she felt a familiar anxiety rise as she tried to piece together conversations and events from the night before.

Instead of getting stuck in regret and shame around the “relapse,” she quickly reframed, instead using it as re-affirmation of her commitment to herself. During our session a few days later, she said to me: “You know, maybe I needed that experience to confirm that I really don’t want to feel that way anymore. I don’t want to wake up hungover, and not remember all the details. I really don’t want this in my life anymore. I want to be fully present. ”

That is why I am proud of her. We talked about bringing awareness to the intention behind the behaviour, that she still had work to do around her tendency to want to “check out” when things got hard. We talked about alternatives for her to use to calm and relax her mind, and work through emotional times, instead of getting wasted. We celebrated the positive change I had witnessed in the 1.5 months since our first 1-1 call together.

I’m also proud of her because I KNOW how easy it is to let a relapse negate or somehow cancel out progress. This happens when we focus on the behaviour and allow it to define us.

This *almost* happened during my last "relapse." After drinking very little to nothing for months, I had what I considered to be a major regression. I was in a big city for a health coaching conference and I found myself sliding rather rapidly into some old behaviours. I went out drinking with some friends (drinking friends) and hid my drinking from others (health coaching friends). I had previously joked with the friend I was staying with that I was so happy my “partying until getting on my early flight” days were done, then I proceeded to do exactly that. I forgot my telephone in the bathroom of the bar I was in, thankfully realizing in time to go back and get it, then I forgot my phone charger and favourite travel mug in my friend’s apartment, and I don’t really remember checking in at the airport.

Hazy and hungover on my flight home I had resisted the urge to be completing self-shaming. It was hard not to slide into that regret and to start questioning my purpose and ability to be coaching others on this topic (even though I KNOW I'm a fantastic coach and that ALL of my experience is valuable). I resisted this urge because and reminded myself that I know am armed with an incredible amount of self-awareness, which I didn't have before when I was in my heavy drinking days. I consciously made the choices that led me directly into repeating past patterns, and I wanted to understand why. 

I was about to launch my business online, therefore outing myself and my experiences, and I realized that was scaring me shitless. I was afraid I wouldn't live up to expectations (largely my own) and that I wouldn't be able to be vulnerable. I was resisting being a leader and role model, for one more weekend acting out in a way I thought would make me feel “free.” Not surprisingly, instead of allowing me the false freedom I had previously accessed through that wild child part of myself, I wanted more than ever to free myself from alcohol.

I was recently discussing  my distaste for the word relapse and my desire to find a more meaningful term with my friend Maylene whom I also consider to be be one of my spiritual teachers. Here’s what she had to say:

“The mind (ego) wants us to feel like we ARE our behaviours and we do not change, which is completely untrue. Awareness automatically alters the power those behaviours have over us.

I think the most critical thing is to emphasize that it's not a punishment or a failure but a sign that there is more to work with and examine in that behaviour, there's more that wants to be seen before we get free of it. It's a reminder to be mindful and present with the actual feelings that underlie the actions. We don't just 'act' mindlessly, there is an emotional seeking or avoidance under it. If we are courageous enough to really look and feel it, we can get free. If we ignore it or pretend it's not deeper than the action, it grows and requires avoidance of some kind.”

We started trying to come up with other terms that take into account the accumulation of our experiences and evolution. A few that we thought of were “temporary regression,” “temporary set back,” “reminder,” “wake up call from the Universe,” “growth opportunity.”

What do you think about the word relapse and the experience of relapse? Do any of these terms resonate with you? I loved having this conversation with my friend, and would love to continue the conversation here.

Let me know what you think in the comments!


Why the "why meeeee?" doesn't serve YOU

Have you ever noticed how some people just seem to have "bad luck." Shitty stuff happens repeatedly - for seemingly no reason at all. You find out about it from them, because they are usually so quick to point out all the negative stuff happening in their lives. 

I have a friend, a lovely person, who recently took her surfboard to the face and broke her nose. As if that wasn't bad enough, her nose had only just healed from the last surfing accident, when she broke her nose the first time. And in between, while moving houses, the corner of a giant mirror came crashing down onto her ankle, slicing it open. "Why does this stuff keep happening to meeeeee?" She wailed. Yet the question seemed rhetorical, because she never really slowed down enough to receive the answer. 

I have an ex, who always expected the worst from people. Looking at her past, it was easy to see why. She had been let down by some of the people who were supposed to be there no matter what, from a young age. Her distrust of people grew over the years. Her belief that everyone in her life was going to eventually let her down always came true, yet she couldn't see that she was at the centre of this. Instead of slowing down, digging in deep and asking herself tough questions about why these patterns kept repeating themselves, she charged forth with her deeply held belief centered around the question, "why is the world against me?"

These are two extreme examples that get at a similar point. Shitty stuff happens in life. Sometimes we get hit over the head with a surfboard (or something else), sometimes we are the victims of random and senseless crimes, sometimes loved ones let us down, sometimes we get fired, broken up with, defrauded, diseased... and we get stuck thinking, "why the F is this happening to me? why meeeeee?"

Sometimes the “why” will be clear, sometimes not. The important thing to remember is that it’s not so much about what happens to you, but how you decide to respond. Because you do have a choice. You cannot control what happens around you, but you can control how you deal with it. And you can take comfort knowing that you always have control over YOU.

A lot of women come to me because they feel a lack of control. A lack of control over their drinking, their weight, their relationships, their habits. In our first conversations I often see a tendency to externalize a lot. Blaming external circumstances or people for their unhappy state. "Well if my boyfriend would just..." or "It's cause I'm in the city that I..." or "once I lose the weight I'll feel..." or "If it wasn't so busy and stressful at work I would..." The thing is, we can externalize our lives away until we die, because there will ALWAYS be something else outside of ourselves. It is only when we stop looking outside ourselves and shifting blame that we can finally gain control, and create lasting change.

This topic in particularly relevant to me right now because I am experiencing huge health challenges. I will write in more detail soon, however right now since I am very much "in it" I need to respect my own process in terms of finding my own peace with the why. I say finding peace because I may never understand exactly "why" something happens but I will need to accept it and be at peace with it.

The key to finding peace with the sometimes unanswerable why involves a huge amount of trust in the divine plan for us, and a willingness to learn. I've had a number of "whys" thrown at me in the last few weeks of being in and out of hospitals. "But you are so healthy, why is this happening to YOU?" is a common one. Yes, those questions have been circling around my restless brain away well. "Why me, why now?" I'm the healthiest I've ever been, I've worked so hard to heal and to let go of what doesn't serve me, I've just recently launched the online portion of my business.

Despite the temptation to get stuck here, I try to quickly shift my perspective by remembering these 5 thing I’ve come to know are true:

  1. The universe never gives me more than I can handle

  2. There is a divine plan and in that I trust

  3. It's not what I'm given, it's how I chose to deal with it

  4. Some of life's greatest lessons come as mysterious surprises and/or some of our greatest challenges

  5. It's all research

The last one was given to me by a dear friend, who is an art therapist and coach. Years ago, she help me approach everything with curiosity, knowing that the answer may or may not reveal itself soon or ever... the importance lies in the investigation.

I’d say, “What the F?? I really messed up.” or “This is so shitty, why did this happen”

And she’d say, “It’s AAAALLL research. That’s what we’re doing here in life, research.”

This means reframing the victimized "why meeeeee?" into something more along the lines of "This is interesting..." or "I wonder about the timing" or "What a curious thing..." or "Oh life, what's up with this surprising turn of events?" or “This is really painful and awful and I can’t really see beyond the pain right now, but I hope that one day I’ll be able to accept this and grow from it.”

The brain uses repetition to learn, searching for patterns and consistency as a way to make sense of the world around us. If we stay stuck in the hapless victim role, we reinforce to ourselves that we are powerless victims. Energetically, and in keeping with the Universal Law of Attraction, if you keep sending that message out, it's what will come back at you. Ie, If you keep repeating to yourself and others that you are always a victim, the Universe will keep handing it to you... “So you wanna be a victim? Well here you go, victim.”

If you reframe, and shift your perspective to one of curiosity, it is possible to stop externalizing and start becoming more empowered. And as brilliant coach Liz Dialto writes, “Reframing allows us to find blessings and perspective in all situations.”

So what in your life requires a reframe? Does any of this resonate with you? How can you shift from “bad luck” or being a victim, to an empowered life researcher? I’d love to hear from you in the comments! :)