Category Archives: Inner Critic

Compassion v. Boundaries

We all want to be compassionate. Unless, of course, the other person doesn’t deserve compassion. Oh, wait, isn’t that exactly when we are supposed to be even more compassionate? But what if the other person is a jerk? What if compassion isn’t working?

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Boundaries can be beautiful and useful; you have to plan them that way.

That’s what boundaries are for. Boundaries are limits we set for ourselves and other people. It is completely unrealistic to think that you have unlimited compassion, patience, and ability to shift to please other people, even if they are family or friends.

Sometimes, people’s bad behavior, demands, or blame-game is theirs to own. Your job is not to fix, educate, or change them. Your job is to set a clear boundary and enforce it.

Boundaries are not a judgment of others. It is calling them to a higher level of discipline. If they can’t make it, or don’t want to, that’s fine. That’s why boundaries work so well. You can walk away cleanly from abusers. When they try to blame you, you point to the clear boundary.

When you set a boundary, make sure you can live with it.  Not enforcing

A line in the sand can be a ditch or a design; it's up to you.

A line in the sand can be a ditch or a design; it’s up to you.

the boundary is equal to not having a boundary and putting a doormat on your chest and saying, “please walk over me.”

Be clear about the boundary and enforcing it. No fair saying, “if you forget to put gas in the car one more time, I’m leaving you,” and then not leaving. Don’t create a threat you won’t carry through. Boundaries are not threats, they are reasonable lines that show the level of your discipline and self-care.

Saying “No” is your responsibility. When you set a boundary, you can expect your family and friends to think it doesn’t apply to them. When it does, learn to say “No” and mean it.

Steer clear of “If you loved me, you would. . . ” Don’t say it, don’t fall for it. It’s manipulative and untrue. People you love will disappoint you and you will still love them. That’s how you know you are compassionate. People who try to get around your boundaries will use it to push your people-pleasing button. Don’t fall for it. If you do, it will be the first in a long string of manipulative “if you love me. . .” demands. Be firm. “I love you, but . . no, I will not do this.” If their love is defined by how much you do for them that is against your values, you are learning about their definition of love. And it’s not yours.

Boundaries are healthy for your own well-being and help those around you be clear about what they can expect from you. Think them through and set them. Then enforce them. That is true compassion.

—Quinn McDonald is still learning the difference between “No” and wanting others to approve of her.

Kickstart Your Journal

Yesterday, my friend Marit said she was “waving from her journal page to mine,” and I thought, “what a great idea!” Need something to focus on? Need a jumpstart on writing?

Dialog can intersect and circle around, like this path in King's County (Washington)

Dialog can intersect and circle around, like this path in King’s County (Washington)

This is more than a journal prompt. It’s not a word to write about, it’s a whole technique. And it’s powerful. Let’s get started:

1. Warm up by focusing on your emotions: Right now, I feel [fill in the blank.] One word may be all you need.

2. The reason I feel [blank] in 20 words: [describe how you reached this emotion.]

3. Almost always, someone else is involved in this story about your emotion. Whether you are happy, anxious, excited, or skeptical, most of our emotions are connected to other people, often for reasons we don’t understand.

4. Use the next page to write a dialog between you and the other person. Writing dialog means you will make things up. That’s fine. You want to figure out a reason for the emotion and what your role is and what the other person’s role is. By putting words in someone else’s mouth (and you know you are doing this), you are resolving old issues, exploring new ways to happiness, or clarifying ideas.

Example: I’m feeling anxious. A friend has asked me to help her in a way that I feel uncomfortable with. I want to help my friend, but I want to hold onto my values.

Q: I’m not sure I can do this, Friend.

F: But it will help John and it will be a big favor to me, too.

You can also draw speech bubbles and fill them in.

You can also draw speech bubbles and fill them in.

Q: I think speaking up at the Writers’ Club and supporting John as another member isn’t a good idea. The club rules say you have to be a published writer, and John isn’t.

F: It’s not about you, Quinn, it’s about getting John into a place where he can find business. And the club is great for that. You’ve gotten business that way. John is a good guy.

Q: I have gotten business from the club. But I was a published writer when I joined. And John isn’t.

F: He writes his own blog, and that’s publishing. You are just afraid he’s a better writer than you.

Q: A blog is not publishing. And I want what’s best for John. But getting him into the club is not in his best interest.

F: What’s wrong with you that you won’t help this friend? Haven’t you needed a hand before?

Q: I’ll be happy to help John in some way that helps John. Being dishonest doesn’t help anyone. Least of all John, if he gets a job he can’t handle.

. . . .the dialog can go on as long as you need it to. In this example, I see my own stubborn character, but also my clarity in not being dishonest. Yes, it’s a small thing, but I can see that if I vouch for John, and he doesn’t do well, the lie I told will be the reason John got in over his head. What I am understanding from this dialog is that my need for approval is pretty big, not not big enough to lie for someone.

Is this the dialog the way it really happened? No, but by making up the other half, I’m giving myself the opportunity to dig into my own emotions in ways that help me see my own motives clearly.

The dialog exercise is a good way to find out more about yourself.

–Quinn McDonald is an explorer in her journal

Emotional Food Poisoning

Last week, after surviving the flu, sinus-infection, ear-infection-thing I had, we

Watercolor on paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2013

Watercolor on paper. © Quinn McDonald, 2013

went out to eat because neither one of us felt like cooking. And . . . I got food poisoning. No, I will not describe what happened next. You can imagine. Or you can look it up, but I’m not getting into graphic details.

I was amazed at how smart my body was, though. It was not going to allow, not for one minute, anything that was so harmful to stay in my system. My job was to stay in the house and drink water to keep from drying out. I dried out so fast my eyes had trouble blinking. The cure for food poisoning is counter-intuitive. After the first wave of death is over, you begin to eat a lot of fiber–red peppers, nuts, apples, celery. No clear broth for three days. You also eat yogurt to replenish the bacteria your digestive tract needs.

Why am I writing about food poisoning? Because I wish my emotional self were as smart as my physical self. How often have I known a relationship, friendship, client, job were not good for me and kept up the pretense. Wouldn’t it be great if our heart and emotional self were as good as rejecting what is bad for us, what will harm us, as thoroughly as our gut?

10403549_10152701851191439_940404957215462235_nWhen we do, we feel just as bereft and drained as our physical body does with food poisoning. But emotional poisoning is just as damaging, and there is no reason to clutch it to us.

The difference between emotional poisoning and food poisoning is that we can’t control our body’s defenses, but oh, what a bad job we do of holding on to emotionally damaging relationships. We are afraid of being alone, of change, or what we don’t know yet. So we keep clutching onto the bad relationship, hoping we will change enough to make the relationship work. The job is killing us, but we keep trying to prove we can do it well, because we don’t know for sure what we would do next. Although, if we listen to ourselves, we would hear what we want next.

So what’s the emotional fiber that restores us to balance? What’s the spiritual yogurt that puts us together again? It’s just as counter-intuitive as the physical fiber: trust your gut. Trust yourself to know what is not good for you. Don’t look at all the reasons you need to stay–look instead at their foundation. If all your reasons are based in fear, rooted in lack, or imagined attack, they are not real.

Your gut knows what you want, what is good for you, what you need. Look for what feels like freedom, joy, like breathing easily. Head toward that. It will restore you to the person you want to be.

Quinn McDonald learned a lot in the bathroom last week. And she is over the food poisoning, happier for having learned something.

The Creative Slump

While I’ve been sick (yeah, I’m real tired about writing about it, too),  I haven’t stepped foot in the studio. No interest. This is so unusual for me, I took a closer

Even a mosaic goes together piece by piece.

Even a mosaic goes together piece by piece.

look. I’ve been spending spare time doing my taxes, a chore I absolutely loathe. But the dumb repetition of finding dates on receipts (why in Bastet’s name do they not put the date in the same place on all receipts?) and putting the amount on a spreadsheet is something I can manage to do.

Normally, I keep a list of ideas I want to work on, but I can’t think of anything that interests me at the moment. There is work on the desk, ready to go. Not interested.

There’s clearly a connection about a stuffed head and an empty brain. And I’m not rushing it. True, I haven’t written in my journal in two weeks. Unusual. And it’s Spring, and usually I want to make note of the day the fig started leafing out. Nope.

Instead of worrying about this, I’m shrugging it off. When I feel ready, I’ll go back. I think it’s odd, but then again, I’ve learned a lot about my body and when my body is ready to pull itself together, it will. Meanwhile, I’ll drift, read, and celebrate the fact that the taxes are done about two weeks earlier than ever!

Quinn McDonald is getting it together, piece by piece.

The Seedling of Patience

Patience–wish I had it. At least more than I do now.  Impatience is my strong suit. The last time I was discussing a problem I wanted to resolve, my coach rootnsproutsuggested just letting it ripen for a while. For a Myers-Briggs “J” –the one who checks things off a list, who is always working toward a goal, who makes decisions and even if they are wrong, who cares, it’s better than not doing anything–well, letting a problem stew didn’t seem like a good solution.

My coach, wise woman that she is, said–“think of the solution as a seedling. It’s just broken out of the ground and is searching for some light. If you come along and pull it out to get a closer look, then stick it in the ground, then do that every day, the seedling won’t survive.”

I could see that poor seedling getting pulled up every day, examined, and stuck back in the earth. I could see my impatience doing just that.  And how quickly fatal that would be. Some things do better when left to grow roots and shoots.

The story reminded me of another gardening metaphor on patience. Sweet corn zea_mays_-_kocc88hlere28093s_medizinal-pflanzen-283takes about 75 days to go from seed to picking an ear. Yelling at it to hurry up has no effect on the length of time. It doesn’t make the corn sweeter, either.

Some problems, some answers just need time to ripen. Even if we want answers and solutions right now. Knowing when to turn things over, as another wise woman I know says, “to the operating system of the universe,” is good wisdom.

-Quinn McDonald is a gardener at heart. She is learning to be a gardener of the heart.

Timing, Timing

dandelionThere are days that I am in top form, ready to go, loving what shows up. And then there are days when I have a cold. It’s been a week now and the snot fairy has moved into my head with a long-term lease and the cactus is firmly ensconced in my throat.

Feeling sick is a normal part of life–no one is healthy all the time. I am tremendously lucky that I haven’t been seriously sick in many years. And a cold–even a bad cold–is just that. It’s not life-threatening. But there is something that does happen when I don’t feel well, and I bet it happens to other people, too.

I catastrophize. Small upheavals become giant, and small efforts don’t work. Everything requires huge effort. And yesterday, my Plan B because my only option. Because I let it look like my only choice. Although I know “you look where you go,” feeling sick made me look more closely at failure, at not making it, at playing small, crushed and defeated. And headed right into that direction.

So I stoked up on cold medicine and went to see the client. Ready to be defeated and go home and eat worms.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.05.58 PMThank goodness for smart clients. This one turned me away from Plan B and steered me right back to Plan A. The Big Game. Some sense seeped into my stuffy brain. I pushed back the highly polished Plan B and pulled out the A Game. And it worked. The client was pleased. Encouraged me. And way against my expectations, Plan A glowed and Plan B (what to do if I fail) crumbled.

So, one more time: when you aren’t feeling well, don’t let that define you. Don’t go for the worst scenario. Intense self-care, even if you think you don’t deserve it, if vital if you own the business, stand up for yourself or represent your work.

Don’t brush off your self-care. It will always reward you. I learned to ignore self-care from years of working in businesses where being sick was not an excuse to stay home. Now it’s my business. And self-care comes first.

—Quinn McDonald will be getting better any moment now. Please.

It’s YOUR Story

Last week,  I was talking to someone whom I understand deeply–someone with a bit of an attitude about authority. Maybe even an authority neurosis. Someone who doesn’t like being told what to do or how to do it. I know this feeling. What we hate in others is what we hate in ourselves. What we admire in others are our own good qualities. And that gives us a hinge to authority troubles.

dsc_0457Authority figures show us our own unclaimed power. The part of us that didn’t make it to the top of the heap, the part of us that, our Inner Critic tells us, just doesn’t quite cut it. And we become angry at those  in leadership who are not as bright, talented, disciplined as we are, but who made it to the top anyway. They got discovered. They had mentors.  And since they don’t deserve respect, we don’t give respect. And that’s where thinking trips over its own shoelaces.

dsc_0454Some people believe what authority figures tell them to believe. A few more believe what their friends tell them. But everyone believes their own story—the one they tell themselves. And once you believe it, you tell it to others and they believe your story, too. The one where you never got the breaks. About being overlooked and under-appreciated. And then others don’t give you breaks, overlook you and under-appreciate you. Because you told them to.

Tell yourself that cape is yours. Then iron it and put it on. It’s time for you to step up and re-claim the powerful bits of yourself you stored away, hoping people would disagree with you.  Being a leader doesn’t mean being given power. It means working with people who believe in you.

Be the person people can believe in, and you’ll have your power. If you believe in it yourself.

—Quinn McDonald is a believer. In herself and in others.

Images from: A Pretty Cool Life.com

Facing Down Fear

About the time I left the corporate world, I had to make some big decisions on how to run my business. What my core principles would be. I decided to use the same principles I use for my personal life. When you own the business, it looks a lot like you anyway.

Some of the values were easy to choose: Be fair. Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t make up what you think something means, ask. Listen.

"Her wings were only falling leaves, yet she could fly." © Quinn McDonald 2005

“Her wings were only falling leaves, yet she could fly.” © Quinn McDonald 2005

Then came the giant one: No fear. Do not make business decisions out of fear. Don’t make any decision out of fear.

It’s hard to keep that one. I had made business decisions based in fear for a long time–fear of my boss, fear of not meeting the team goals, fear of the competition, fear of getting fired.

A decision based on fear is frequently loaded with other weak motives. Revenge, neediness, lack of control. If you take fear off the table as a motive, your life looks different.

So this week, I made two huge choices that would normally strike fear into me. First, I hired a consultative comptroller–someone who can tell me which line of business is most profitable, and how I’m progressing month to month and year to year. I’m bad about keeping track of expenses, and this business consultant already pointed out two big truths that I have not wanted to consider.

The second decision was to hire a real ad agency to build a website that makes sense for my business. Right now I have a placeholder website and that’s not enough.

In other words, I have decided that growth is something I want to choose. I want to expand the business training I do. I want to do coaching programs. I am amazed that after all the talking I do about the Inner Critic, I have not only been listening to mine, but backing away from playing big. Yep, I have been deliberately playing small because it became my comfort zone.

I was doing too many things to pay attention to any one of them. So I cut back to what I do best: helping people get better at what they like to do. For me that means writing, teaching writing, and coaching people who want to have the life they wish they could deserve.

The whole plan is big and bold and oddly, scary. That means I have to trust that I can do this, write the check to get the process started and leap. It’s what I talk about–being bold. I’m telling you, because you are coming along with me–I’m starting to walk this talk. Stay tuned for late-breaking developments.

Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach. She teaches what she does.

Non-Attachment to the Outcome

If my creativity coaching clients had to choose their least-favorite task, it would be completing an application for a juried art show or submitting a grant proposal.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.30.03 PMThe application for a juried show includes the dreaded image-selection process, a choice that either will make judges smile and say “Yes!’ or push an application into the rejection stack. Artists rarely know exactly what the jury is looking for. Often the jury’s background isn’t released in the application, so some of the jurors may not understand the descriptions carefully crafted by the submitting artist.

It feels a lot like running across a rope bridge, blindfolded. In the rain.

Writers have the same struggle with grant applications. If the application has stringent rules, the writer has to second-guess what the review committee means  when the instructions are unclear or use jargon. Recently, I helped an applicant figure out that “disruptive practices” is now the buzzword for creativity.

The language is just one hurdle. The instructions for submitting the application is often confusing and complicated with no additional, simplifying help.

It becomes really easy for an applicant to second-guess choices, to put out work that is safe and popular instead of innovative.

All that is just the beginning. The part that comes next is the most difficult part: waiting for the reply.

If you are a normal human being, you will begin to worry, then doubt yourself, then think you surely submitted the best work, then be absolutely certain that you are not worthy of any consideration. All in one coaching call.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.31.43 PM

Crown used at coronation for the monarch of Denmark.

Worse still is believing that the choice of the jury or review team is a reflection of your artistic talent. A rejection does not mean you are a talentless slug who should be banished to a life of assembling watercolor brushes by hand, bristle by bristle. An acceptance does not mean you are the shining star of your field, and get to wear the crown of fabulousness.

A rejection is just that—a turndown by a group of people you don’t know. An acceptance is approval, also by people you don’t know. This is not a judgment of your character, your future, or even a universal statement about your art. It’s an opinion.

A writer’s job is to submit an application that is clear, well-written, free of grammatical mistakes, logical and representative of the best thinking, writing, and creative work.

Your best approach is to write book or class descriptions while you are working on it and have your audience and outcome clearly in mind. It’s impossible to remember the important elements of your book when an application is due tomorrow.

Once the application is sent, the hard work of non-attachment starts. You are not in control of the judging. You have done your best. Take pride in your growth and ideas. Take pride in submitting your well thought-out work.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.35.11 PMInstead of celebrating only if you get accepted, plan a celebration for the day you submit an application. Submitting your best work is the focus of the celebration, not the approval of others.

When the reply comes back, take a deep breath and remind yourself this is not about you. Non-attachment doesn’t mean you don’t care. It means you know you did your best, presented work that you believe in, and are not defining yourself by the decision not in your control.

Non-attachment to outcome may be the hardest work you have ever done, but it will build your confidence in the deep part of you that makes meaning as an artist.

Quinn McDonald is waiting to hear about a grant application.

Pace Yourself

poplars

Trees and the moon, Fort Worden, Washington. © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved.

The long and winding road (including airplane aisles) has gotten the best of my exercise routine. If I’m getting up at 5 a.m. in Dallas, my body thinks it’s 3 a.m. I’m not going to push my luck and run on a treadmill.

When I’m in Flagstaff at dawn, I’m not walking in freezing weather in an unfamiliar neighborhood. But I’ve been home for three days, so it’s back to the discipline of to-do lists and travel laundry, chores that didn’t get done while I was gone, and answering accumulated emails. And walking.

When I started out this morning, my knees protested. They began to convince me that a short walk around the block would be enough. I told them that the airplane rides and teaching yesterday had been long, so they might be creaky today. Halfway around the park one of my knees began to send threatening messages–serious pain every step. I thought of turning back. And then I had another idea. I slowed down. Stopped. Stretched by standing on my toes. And began to walk slowly ahead.

The other knee chimed in, encouraging me to turn back, go home. I took another step ahead. Slowly. No longer in aerobic territory. Hardly classifying in the exercise category at all. But it was forward motion. I continued at this snail’s pace around the rest of the park.

Cloud stepping-stones. © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved

Cloud stepping-stones. © Quinn McDonald. All rights reserved

At the intersection, I stepped off the curb. No pain. I walked deliberately across the street. Worked just fine. With each block I stepped it up a speed–first purposeful,  then stride, then arm-swinging walking, then aerobic walking. Letting my knees catch up with my determination had done the trick. No complaints from them for the rest of the three-mile walk.

When you face creative work, you may hear the same complaints from your heart–it’s too hard, you need a rest, it’s not great timing. Don’t leave the studio. Slow down, put hand to paper in an exercise, then begin to move slowly ahead. Push ahead to do some thinking about what you are creating, pick up the pace, and keep moving. Pushing ahead clears the road, and the mind. You can push through the frustration and reluctance. You can. If you leave the studio, it will be that much harder to come back to it.

-–Quinn McDonald talks to her knees frequently. She keeps them in action pretty much the same way she encourages her coaching clients to stay in action.