It’s Okay to Change Your Mind . . . And Sometimes Doing So Is the Only Way to Stay in Integrity

It wasn’t too long ago that, if I had agreed to do something or be part of something, even if new information, insight or circumstances appeared causing a change of heart, I would have felt obligated to persist. I might have resented it, and there might be other negative consequences, but I would feel like I had to do what I said I was going to do. After all, that is my definition of integrity.

Recently, I was approached online, out of the blue, about an opportunity. This one felt different than a lot of the other ones I have received in the past several months. I was intrigued, so I agreed to learn more about it. The opportunity seemed to be a good fit, but it is my crazy time with my advising work, and Logan was getting ready to run at the State Cross Country Meet, so I deferred my decision until I could give it better attention. After a phone meeting following State, I meditated on the opportunity, asked questions and went through a thorough discernment process, including Marie Forleo’s decision-making strategy. I felt really sure that I was making a good choice to accept the opportunity. So, I had a phone meeting to finalize it and firm up the details. Once I went through the steps to formalize my connection while I was on the phone, a lot more material, multiple Facebook groups and additional information were opened to me. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed.

As soon as I got off the phone, I thought, “I made a mistake.’

Throughout the next day, I was too busy with work to give it much thought, but I took a peek at some information and group activity, and that confirmed my sinking feeling that it was not going to be the right fit. Still, I felt stuck. I said I would do it! I didn’t want to back down on my word.

Besides feeling stuck, I felt betrayed. Not by the people involved in the opportunity. The offer was very low key, and there was no deception. I just didn’t understand the full picture until more information—designed to be helpful—was revealed to me after I had agreed to the affiliation. During that conversation, I was overwhelmed—a tendency of my introverted need to process and let things sink in. So, it wasn’t that I felt deceived, but I felt betrayed by my intuition and my thoughtful discernment. I had felt like my decision was guided and clear. Could I not trust my intuition? I had felt so certain. It had felt so right. It was unsettling. How could I ever trust myself to make good decisions?

I didn’t really have time to process my thoughts after I got off the phone. I needed to wash dishes and prepare for the next workday by making my breakfast and packing Logan’s lunch. Kenny and Logan got home from Flying Angels practice shortly after I finished the call, so I put away my worry until I could process it.

As I was doing laundry after work the next day, I thought, “In order to be successful at this, I am going to have to take much more time than I realized from my writing, my coaching and my family.” That didn’t feel good. It didn’t feel like living in integrity. These things were priorities. I decided to sleep on it and make a decision after meditating the next morning.

My morning meditation sealed my decision. I needed to rescind my participation.

Being clear about my priorities and deciding to honor them helped me to feel calm and confident. I did some research to find out what rights I had, and then I sent a gracious and clear message stating my decision. I took the next steps and, after some technical difficulties, had put my separation in motion. Immediately, I felt a weight lift off my shoulders. I felt free and hopeful. I got on my bike and smiled, despite the 31-mph wind.

As I rode, several things became clear to me. I am sharing them here because I know I am not the only one who struggles with backing out of something we have agreed to do, even if it no longer feels right. Changing our minds can stressful and is often fraught with anxiety and doubt and guilt and shame. I see and hear this in my students, and I know it from personal experience. These are the insights I gleaned from this experience:

  • It is okay to change our minds. In fact, if we have agreed to something that we later realize does not align with our priorities, goals, values, passions or strengths, changing our minds may be the only way to stay in integrity. If we are really going to follow through on something that is truly important to us, and we realize something else is going to get in the way, we need to release the thing that is keeping us from what really matters. A quote I have long loved from Johann Wolfgang van Goethe urges us to uphold our priorities: “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”
  • It is better to back out of an ill-fitting situation than to stay in it and resent it. No one wins when resentment comes into play. In this post from 2019, I talk about the importance of setting boundaries. Boundaries help to make sure that we are serving our most important goals and not letting other things encroach on those priorities. And, as Brene´ Brown reminds us, “The trick to staying out of resentment is maintaining better boundaries—blaming others less and holding myself more accountable for asking for what I need and want.” We have both the right and the responsibility to change our mind and to take action when we realize that something is not right for us. To do anything other than that is to shirk our responsibility for our own lives. It is no one else’s job to keep us true to our priorities or to keep us out of resentment. That responsibility is ours alone.
  • Sometimes changing our mind is actually the point. As part of my meditation every morning, I state my openness to creative possibilities for abundance and to opportunities from unexpected sources. As I rode my bike, reveling in the freedom I felt after extricating myself from the anxiety-provoking commitment, I understood that the gift of the whole experience was actually the lessons I learned by recognizing my need to change my mind. I thought the “creative possibility for abundance and opportunity from an unexpected source” was the partnership itself, but what became clear on my bike was that the whole point of the experience was taking responsibility for holding true to my priorities. I felt amazing after I graciously, yet unapologetically rescinded my agreement.In doing so, I realized that I had stood up for myself and for what I know to be right and true for me. This was practice I needed. The betrayal I felt was really misunderstanding. I thought my discernment led me to accept this opportunity because it was right for me. Instead, I was led to it because I needed the experience of assertively owning my priorities and taking steps to honor them. I feel proud of myself for the way I handled it. I have no ill feelings toward the people on the other side of the offer. I hope they have none toward me. But it is not my responsibility to worry about that. I was respectful and gracious and removed myself with integrity. That’s all I can or need to control.
  • Changing our minds can fuel our commitment to our priorities and our sense of self-reliance. This is what it is doing for me. I stepped out of my comfort zone and honored my priorities, and that feels good. Taking the “risk” to do that (looking bad, feeling bad, seeming wishy-washy, etc.) was a declaration about what really matters to me. And I did it myself. I got myself into the bind, and I took quick action, once I had the information to realize that the fit was not there, to step out of the situation. I haven’t always stood up for myself like that. It feels good to have done it now, and it helps me to realize how much I want to finish and publish my book and to create a viable writing/coaching/speaking platform that will allow me the freedom and flexibility I desire, while sharing an important message with people who need it.

Ironically, right before deciding that I should accept this opportunity, I had reached clarity around how the JustWind mindset will run consistently through all my work. When we recognize that we have the POWER and FREEDOM to choose our perspective, we liberate ourselves from victimhood, optimize our lives and make the difference we are meant to make.  I realized that my coaching practice is really about this, too, and I have a clearer sense of how all the pieces tie together. I thought this new opportunity was part of that. Until I realized it wasn’t. And it would ultimately distract me from the things that are really important to me. After going through this upheaval, my commitment to my consistent message and my own methods feels strong. So, I am grateful for the experience and believe that I will be better, stronger and more committed because of it. I hope my lessons can help you to find the courage to step away from what doesn’t serve you and your highest priorities . . . even if you said you would do it.

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Releasing Judgment—2020 and Beyond

When things don’t go as we think they should (like all of 2020), it is easy to fall into a pattern of judging and criticizing ourselves and feeling bad about lack of progress where we think we should have progress.

This year, as parenting a teenager has collided with a pandemic, it has become clear to me that my priorities need to shift in this season of life.

For all of us, 2020 is happening on top of the rest of life. If you’re not parenting a teenager, you have something else that would pose a challenge even under less fraught circumstances than a pandemic. Odds are, COVID-19 has exacerbated your situation in some way, too. We’re all still learning as we go, but one of the most important things I have learned so far is that recognizing the need to shift the focus of my emotional and physical energy, as well as my time, stems from honoring the guidance, wisdom, direction and protection of the Universe. I can view myself with gratitude for choosing to honor and act on this guidance, rather than battering myself with judgment for not being able to do it all.

For those of us who are driven and determined to accomplish what we set out to accomplish, releasing ourselves temporarily from self-imposed time frames can be difficult and frustrating. It can feel like slacking.

An alternative perspective is to recognize the restraint that it takes to channel our energy where it is most needed. This view also requires patience with ourselves and with the timeline of nature. It requires trust that we will get back to a place in life where we can focus again more vigorously on the projects that stir our spirits.

It has become clear that my son needs me most right now. Being a teenager is hard in any era. I believe that being a teenager in the age of COVID-19 presents unique and unprecedented challenges. The waters are uncharted for all of us. My most important responsibility right now is helping Logan navigate them. Everything else has to be put on the backburner for this moment. It was a struggle to acknowledge and internalize that and to decide to be okay with it. I’m writing my book, working to complete a vegan nutrition certification and had been striving to build my business, while working full time. All those things matter to me, and I will continue to make progress. Circumstances right now just mean that my already painfully slow progress will be even slower for a while. I must release judgment on myself for that and instead feel grateful that I recognized the need, rather than pushing ahead with blinders, which can be tempting when I am in pursuit of a goal.

Right now, my efforts and energy need to be with Logan—parenting him the way he needs to be parented in order to nurture our relationship, keep him safe and healthy and help him build character.

I have settled into this realization and owned it. I have made the conscious decision to release judgment of myself and make peace with focusing my limited-capacity energy on Logan right now. The signs are here—this is parenting crunch time. Logan is 16. Nothing is more important than giving him the energy and attention he needs right now because there is not much time left before he is a young adult. While parenting won’t end then, it will change, and I don’t want to have missed my chance to be the mom he needed during this stage of his development, in the middle of a pandemic.

Before I know it, I will be in a different season of life, and it will be time again to focus my energy on my personal and professional development projects. I don’t consider myself stalled now, just slowed and, in some cases, temporarily redirected.

I’m still writing—just more slowly. I’m still reading and learning and growing—just with less urgency. I’m still open to business opportunities and development—just in a way that leaves me the time I need to give Logan what he needs.

In this year of uncertainty and distress, all of us are bound to be hit with unforeseen demands that rise to the top of our priorities. The challenge is to recognize these needs and honor them, releasing judgment of ourselves and acknowledging that, not only can we not do it all, but we do not need to do it all. We only need to do what is most important in the moment.

We can see this pandemic and the needs that arise around and during it as an interruption of life, or we can choose to see it for what it really is—life itself. It’s not a version of life we would have chosen, but here it is. So, let’s rise to the challenge, recognize what priorities need to be adjusted and make those adjustments courageously, patiently and without judgment.

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Taking Action on Insights

In my most recent blog post, I highlighted some of my favorite questions. These questions–like “What do I put after the words ‘I am’?” and “What if?”—can lead to powerful insights that can give us direction on the next steps to take in life.

But insight is meaningless if we don’t so something with it.

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.”

–William Hutchison Murray

There was a time in my life when I chronically overthought and overplanned actions I intended to take. I would spend days, weeks, months or longer researching and making sure everything was in place before acting. Fortunately, I realized quite a while back that this was ineffective. I’m still a planner, but I no longer allow myself to get so bogged down by details that I don’t act on insight.

Taking action will look different in different lives and in different seasons of life. It is important to recognize this and give ourselves grace for this.

Sometimes what gets in the way of taking action is that a project or task or goal seems too daunting. It feels too big and intimidating to even get started.

In my current life, which is very full, I have learned to appreciate incremental progress. Most of my big goals cannot be achieved as quickly as I would like, in order for me to fulfill my responsibilities and to take care of myself the way I want. The reality is that there is only so much time in the day, so I have learned to be patient and to be content with often moving slowly, but moving, nonetheless.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” –John Wooden

When I achieve an insight through pondering valuable questions, if it feels important to incorporate into my life, I add it to my priorities list by including only the next step, although I often have another document where the whole process is delineated. I can give several examples for projects I currently have underway.

  • I am writing a book. I have outlined the whole book in a Word document, but I only write the next step (Yesterday it was finishing Chapter 22.) on my Priorities spreadsheet.
  • I am working on a Vegan Nutrition certification. Only the next module is listed on my Priorities spreadsheet.
  • I am redefining and rebranding my coaching business. I have a Word document with all the steps spelled out. My Priorities spreadsheet shows the next step.

Beside each small step, I list the date that I will next work on that project, and then I prioritize all items listed for that date. If it is a day that I work my full-time job and have something planned (like a bike ride, grocery shopping or, in the days before COVID-19, a cross country meet) for the evening, there may only be one item on my Priorities list for that day. This list includes items like paying bills and putting together the family calendar for the week, but I try to make sure my inspired projects are given a high enough priority that they will get done.

The key is making the step small enough that it is doable. That way, I make progress and have the satisfaction of accomplishing an item on my list.

To recap, when we receive insights through pondering deep questions or ideas, we can use this process to ensure that we take action on those insights:

  1. Make note of it as soon as possible. If I am inspired by an answer I find on a bike ride, even if I can’t immediately flesh out the full concept, I will make a detailed enough note that I can fully develop it as soon as I get a chance.
  2. Identify the steps—or at least the first or next small step you could take—to implementing the insight in your life. Do this on paper, in your journal, in your notebook or on a device.
  3. Find a method for creating your Priorities list. (I use an Excel spreadsheet.)
  4. For your inspired project, take the first step from your detailed list and enter it on your Priorities list. I recommend dating the items you put on it and then prioritizing all items for the present date. For example, I have five items listed for today’s date. They are numbered in terms of priority. Editing this blog post is number three on today’s list. I have already completed the first two.
  5. Then, make it important. This may mean scheduling it for a specific time (in the case of something like working out) or knowing at what point in the day (after work, after my bike ride, first thing in the morning, etc.) you will take this action step.
  6. Act. Do what you say you are going to do.
  7. As soon as you complete the step, enter the next step for that project onto your Priorities list and date it.
  8. Be patient. This is not a fast strategy, but it is a way of not letting what you cannot do interfere with what you can do, as John Wooden admonished.
  9. Keep going and celebrate the progress you are making.

Lifelong learning and continual growth are so important to me. When I think about optimal living, those things are definitely part of the equation. In order to capitalize on my insights (which I believe are gifts!), this basic action strategy allows me to make consistent progress and keep growing.

How do you operationalize the insights you receive through introspection and deep self-questioning? Tell us in the comments.

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A Simple System to Increase Productivity and Freedom

I have long valued organization in my life—whether of my time or of my space. I feel better when structure is present in my calendar and in my environment.

One of the practices I use to stay organized in my personal life is a running to-do list, which I call my Weekly General Task Plan. I keep this in an Excel spreadsheet on my personal laptop and like this format because it is easily modifiable and allows for columns. My list contains four columns: Task, Date, Priority and Notes. I’m sure there are more sophisticated strategies out there, but this is simple, and it works for me.

I keep a list of tasks. Some items on the list may only appear once. For example, a list last weekend included assembling my new 6-cube organizer. This is likely to be the only time this particular task will appear on my list. Other items are perpetually on the list because they are done regularly or periodically, and I simply update the date column to reflect the next time I will work on those tasks. Tasks in this category include organizing the weekly calendar and sending it to my family or managing my finances each payday.

I like having this list because there are things that I want and/or need to do, but I may not be ready or able to do them right away. By capturing them on my list, I don’t have to spend mental energy trying not to forget. I know they are on the list, and I have assigned a date for tackling each project. Once it is on my list, I can let it go until the assigned date.

This basic system has worked well for me for years. In the past, my list has looked somewhat different. For several years, I kept it on paper and just transcribed it to a new sheet in the notebook each week. This worked okay, but it was more cumbersome and less efficient for capturing future projects. I have used the spreadsheet method for a couple years now.

Late last year, I started to notice that I felt a sense of fatigue each time I looked at my list, like a heavy, hopeless weight was dragging me down. I felt more anxious and less productive because of it. I decided to make a simple change that has made a surprising difference for me.

“Nothing is more exhausting than the task that is never started.”—Gretchen Rubin

I decided to limit the number of tasks that I assigned to and prioritized on a given day. As a general rule, I will assign no more than three tasks to a work day with no evening activities, one task to a work day with an evening activity and five tasks to a weekend.

This is not a foolproof strategy, nor is it an exact science, for several reasons. First, not all tasks are equal. For instance, updating my website takes considerably longer than planning the calendar for the week. Not all days are equal either. A night with a haircut leaves more time than a night with a Scholars Bowl meet. However, this small adjustment in my strategy has been tremendously helpful.

Immediately upon implementing this new approach, I felt a lightness come over me. Before paying attention to how many tasks were on a given day (A weekend day might have a list of 13 items!), although I had no real expectation that they would all get done, they all felt like obligations hanging over me. Not completing them all felt like some level of failure. Now, not only did I have the possibility of the success of completing all my tasks in a given day, but I also had the possibility of something amazing—free time!

It had been a very long time since I really allowed myself free time. Since my daily lists seemed endless, I felt like I always had to be working on the items on the list. Taking time away from them, except for exercise and family obligations, felt like slacking off.

Suddenly, although the total number of items on the list may be similar to what it was previously, they are spaced out more realistically, and each day appears much more manageable. And, once I complete the tasks on my daily list, rather than start on tomorrow’s list, I give myself permission to read, watch a movie with my husband and son or do something else for enjoyment.

This may not seem like an earth-shaking idea—putting a realistic number of tasks on the day’s to-to list—but it has been transformative for me. It has led me to consider the importance of time and space and of creating space in time in our lives. Being organized and getting things done does not require being busy every moment of every day. And, putting an achievable number of projects on the list for the day does not mean that I am lazy. It means that I value my time, and I value the items on my list enough to work on them in a span of time that allows the reasonable possibility of accomplishing them.

Sometimes, items still get pushed to the next day or to the next week, depending on their urgency, but I work on them in order of priority, so this is not usually a big deal. They are still on my list, and they will still get done. I am respecting the fullness of my life, while still moving forward with activities and projects that are meaningful to me.

It has been surprising that something so simple has made such a big difference, but I am getting more done, and I feel less stressed and weighed down by the things that need to be completed.

It is easy to implement a system like this for yourself.

  1. Use your favorite method to create your list. The modifiability of an electronic system appeals to me, but you might like something else.
  2. Make a list of all the recurring, short-term, and long-term tasks that are on your mind or on other lists. For me, the order doesn’t matter because I prioritize them in another column.
  3. Assign a date that you will work on each task.
  4. Each evening, prior to going to bed, assign a priority ranking for the next day’s projects, from one to five on weekends, one to three on work days without additional activities and just one for workdays with other activities happening.
  5. If you find that a day has more than the appropriate number of items–five, three or one—depending on the type of day, choose other days for the lowest-priority tasks.
  6. Work on your projects each day, but have a cutoff for bedtime because sleep and self-care are important, too.
  7. Whatever is not done at that time gets moved to the next, or another, day.
  8. Check-in nightly to prepare for the next day.

I think you will be surprised—both at how liberating it is to limit the number of to-do items each day and at how your productivity increases.

Certain projects may be more involved and require multiple steps. The steps can represent items on your list. If it is really important or a very big project—for instance, a course proposal that I recently put together—I break the project into steps and then block out a certain amount of time each week to work on it. On the given day, the project functions as one of my task items, possibly the only one if it is a work day evening.

While I may tweak my system over time, I am happy with the changes I have made and have seen a noticeable improvement in both productivity and quality of life. It is incredible what creating a little space in my schedule can do.


Sankalpa

When I awoke around 3 a.m. a couple weeks ago and couldn’t go back to sleep, I decided to use Insight Timer for a guided meditation to try to quiet my mind. I chose a yoga nidra meditation for rest & sleep, by Diana Warlick.  In the meditation, Warlick introduced the concept of “sankalpa.” I was intrigued by what she said about it—probably too intrigued, given that I was trying to go back to sleep. While the meditation was relaxing, hearing about sankalpa for the first time was energizing, rather than sleep-inducing. I wanted to know more. So, immediately upon rising, after my alarm sounded at 5 a.m., I looked up the concept of sankalpa and found an excellent article by Kelly McGonigal, in Yoga International.

In my first reading, I learned enough to understand that sankalpa is somewhere between a life purpose and an intention. This reminded me of an idea from Deepak Chopra and Rudy Tanzi’s  Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being—that of an overarching umbrella goal, or theme, that each of us needs in our lives as a guiding aspiration that informs every choice. After reading McGonigal’s article and several other sources, I certainly don’t consider myself an expert, but I feel like I have a better understanding of sankalpa and how it differs from a theme, purpose, mission or goal.

I benefit from having discerned how all these concepts, as well as my deepest values, inform my life. Over the past week, sankalpa has become a meaningful addition to my regular reflections.

I haven’t been able to identify the primary source, but I found Richard Miller quoted in several articles (including McGongial’s) as saying, “A sankalpa isn’t a petition or a prayer. It is a statement of deeply held fact, and a vow that is true in the present moment.”

According to McGonigal, Miller also teaches that sankalpa involves three types of listening: 1) having the courage to hear the message behind our deep desires, 2) welcoming and honestly reflecting on the message and 3) being willing to act in accordance with the message we receive. All these stages of listening are best accomplished from a place of mindfulness, such as can be achieved in meditation. Personally, I also find the bike to be an outstanding place to hear the true callings of my heart and spirit.

As I have learned to do with intentions over the years, it is important to state the sankalpa in the present tense. Just like intentions, when we use the present tense, we operate from a place of abundance and trust that we already have all that we need. This is far more empowering than operating from a place of lack and need.

One of my favorite concepts in the reading I did about sankalpa is Rod Stryker’s teaching that we are all both being and becoming, universal and unique. He explains that there are two parts to our soul or spirit, called atman in the Vedic tradition. Atman means “essence.” The two parts are para atman—“supreme, highest or culmination”—and jiva atman—“individual or personal.” So, the para atman is the part of our spirit that is being—who we already are. It is universal. The jiva atman is who we are becoming—our unique destiny. I love Stryker’s exhortation to “Live as contentedly as possible in between the goal and realizing the goal.”

I think this is a wonderful aspiration—to live contentedly in the knowledge that we already have all that we need to fully live our deepest calling, while we take the actions and put in the work that will allow us to live that calling. It is a very comforting and encouraging idea to me.

So, my reading of the teachings about sankalpa lead me to aspire to a sankalpa that takes into consideration both states—the being and the becoming, the universal and the unique. Because there is an element of becoming, I must remember that my sankalpa will likely be a dynamic, evolving truth.

As I pondered my sankalpa on the bike last weekend, I felt called to this truth: “I am a unique expression of the Divine Mystery, contributing to the creation of a healthier, more compassionate world with every thought, word and action I choose.” I will sit with this in my mindfulness practice and on the bike regularly to discern if and/or when my sankalpa needs to evolve.

I am excited and energized by new ideas that cause me to think. Sankalpa is one of those ideas, and I am grateful for my nocturnal introduction to it. Despite the sleep disruption to which it contributed by igniting my mind, learning about sankalpa is a gift because it is a new instrument to assist my aspiration to live my Highest Good, Greatest Self and Grandest Life.

Sankalpa will be an additional centering tool for me. My core values—compassion, excellence, integrity and fitness—underlie everything I do. Sankalpa helps to remind me where those values initiate—from my para atman, the universal part of me that is being—and to what action those values call me—my jiva atman, the part of me that is becoming, living my unique destiny.

In addition to my core values and theme, my purpose, mission and priorities guide my decisions and my actions. Sankalpa is related to all these, providing a deep, solid foundation, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to employ it to enhance my growth and guide my evolution.