Springtime Story Fondling

Spring is officially here: the vernal equinox has come and gone, the first full moon of Spring has come, and

Mockingbird in tree, early spring. © Quinn McDonald

the Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox is Easter. For everyone,  the world of hope and green and longer days is here. And for some of us, that sends us into a slump—we are somehow obligated to be happy. Ugh. Sounds like work.

I have a friend who hates winter desperately. Naturally,  he lives in New England. He can’t move because of “family obligations” so his whole family is obligated to buoy him up, jolly him through winter. He moans, “I hate the dark of winter. It’s so depressing. I’ve spent the last 30 years suffering in the dark of winter.” His family saved for two years, and this winter, took him to the Caribbean. While his neighbors were shoveling epic snow, he was wind surfing in sparkling blue water. I called him, expecting to hear gloating about this stroke of luck. Nope. “It’s so cold, I missed the pretty part of the snow,  now I have to look at the dirty, icy mess.” Wasn’t that week in the Caribbean a great break? There was a pause. Then he said, “It was only a week. I have to live through this winter just like I have for the last 30 years of my life.”

Martha Beck, the life coach and author of Steering by Starlight, calls this Story Fondling. My friend so loved the pity he got, and the soft comfort of hating his life, he is reluctant to take the tiniest step that will change his life.  He’d rather fondle that story and protect it–it’s his excuse for treating friends and family badly. He cannot possible feel the joy of having just been in the sun for seven days.  No, he closes the present moment out in order to enjoy his pat, comfortable misery. He will hurt no matter where he is because he drags his unhappy past with him until the baggage is so big it blocks out the joy of the present.

We all do this to some extent. We want our friends to lock up their dogs when we come to visit, so we remind them we were bitten as a child. Story fondling. We get to have special treatment because we have a horror story. We want others to fondle our story, too. Here’s a hint: other people do not want to fondle your story.

For a while, demanding that your family and friends fix your hurt works. But you need an ever-widening circle of friends to keep up the pity-party, because your friends don’t want to spend their lives fixing your past for you. You are going to have to do that yourself. Pick something from your past you hate, and do one thing to change it. My friend who has “family obligations” to stay in a cold climate could look for jobs somewhere else,  could find a hobby or distraction that takes his  mind of winter. He could read the travel section of his paper to see about another winter vacation and start planning it.  Nope, he loves his misery. Well, the people around him do not. And neither do your friends. Self-improvement is hard because we have to do it ourselves. And after we do the work, we have to be responsible for the consequences. That’s the hardest part of all–we give up the opportunity to blame others.

Start small. Enjoy one moment. Then enjoy the next. It’s a start. And it’s Spring. That’s a good match.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach who helps her clients stay in action. Two years ago, she hated winter enough to move to the Southwest. It hasn’t been easy, but she loves every day of her life. Because it might be hard, but it’s not cold.

When to Start Working With a Coach

Tornado from dearchicka.blogspot.com

“I want to start coaching, but my life is so messy right now. Let’s wait till things calm down.”
“I’m crazy-busy this month. Next month will be better. I’ll start coaching then.”
“I’m spending half my life fighting with my spouse and the other half fighting with my boss, as soon as I know things will be OK, I’ll call you.”

The perfect time to start coaching is when your life is a mess. Right in the middle of all that crazy-busy is the small heartbeat of sanity. Go after it while it’s still beating. It’s harder to start coaching when your spouse is gone and so is your job.

All of the excuses above are the same as the old joke about the leaking roof and the rain. You don’t want to fix the roof and get wet in the rain. When it stops pouring, the roof doesn’t leak.

If your life calmed down (and it won’t) and you found yourself under a tree with a stocked picnic basket next to you, you would think your problems had ended, perhaps magically. Life doesn’t sort itself out on its own. You have to do the work. The time to start coaching is when the world looks like it might fall down around you. Because that’s when you have the most choices and the highest motivation.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. She coaches people on change, transition and re-invention.

Online Group: Julia Cameron’s “Walking In This World”

You’ve almost survived the holidays. In just over two weeks you will be putting away the lights and wondering if it’s time for you now. Maybe now is the time to decide what you want to be when you grow up.

Julia Cameron's book is available on my website. Use the link on the right.

Time to make some meaning in your life. To do something creative. Creative work is nothing unless you start it. What’s important in creative work is that you start. And start means change.

Changing your routine is tough. Change alone is even harder. So here’s my plan:

1. Do something to explore your creativity. Something focused. Something you can do by yourself but still have group support.

2. If you’ve heard of Julia Cameron, you know that she wrote a book called The Artist’s Way–the beginning of creativity coaching. Cameron also wrote a book called Walking in This World–The Practical Art of Creativity. Like The Artist’s Way, it is a support guide for creativity. You don’t need to have read one to get something from the other.

3. I’m going to run an online reading group on Walking In This World. The book has 12 chapters. We will cover one chapter a week, starting on January 12. We’ll read the chapter, do the exercise at the end, and discuss what happened, what we thought, how we progressed each week. As a creativity coach, I can also tell you that it’s a good way to experience group coaching and support for change. You don’t have to be an artist, simply want to explore your creativity. Or your fear of your own creativity.

4. I’ll form a Yahoo Group for the class and open a PayPal window so you can pay on my website. The class will meet through the Yahoo Group. You’ll be able to discuss, post images, ask questions. The class will cost $30, but I’m donating $10 of each registration to the Craft Emergency Relief Fund, a fund for artists who have met with some disaster and need help getting back on their feet. Everyone benefits.

5. After you pay, I’ll send you an invitation to join the group. Be prepared for 13 weeks of work. If your first reaction is that you don’t have time, it’s a perfectly normal. We don’t want to do things for ourselves. We don’t want to commit. But this is not about a grinding class. This is about your creativity and finding some support for it.

The only thing you need to do is buy the book–there is a link to amazon.com on my website. (Or borrow it from the library, but you’ll want to write in it.) Still think it’s too hard? It’s your gremlin or negative self-talk. Gremlins kick up and tell you what not to do for yourself. You’ll come up with a thousand reasons not to do this for yourself. There is only one reason to do it: it will help you make meaning in your life.

This class also makes an excellent holiday gift. Combined with the purchase of the book, it’s a wonderful jump start gift for a friend’s creativity. (To keep it simple, give them the check or cash and the link to join.)

Please join us starting January 12 for this exciting, meaningful work that honors and supports your creativity.

Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who trains businesses how to communicate effectively with their clients and helps people who don’t draw or write to keep art journals.

Make a Decision: Tap Into Your Emotions

Anne was trying to decide whether to stay in a relationship or go. There were plenty of reasons to leave–she didn’t feel heard, she felt belittled, her boyfriend didn’t want to go for counseling and didn’t want her to go either. On the other hand, she had spent a year in the relationship and had put effort into making it work. Her boyfriend was funny and made her laugh, even at herself.

coin tossTo stay or to leave? Would leaving seem like giving up? Was she being a quitter instead of someone who worked out problems? Was staying in a bad relationship a sign she didn’t care about herself? Couldn’t admit she had made a mistake and move on?

Anne was tortured with her choices. And she kept piling up more reasons without knowing which direction to take. Watching this was torture. I suggested she might feel comfortable writing Carolyn Hax, who writes the syndicated column, “Tell Me About It” for the Washington Post.

“I should be able to sort this out by myself,” Anne said. “I don’t know how come I can’t make a decision.”

Sometimes making a decision is tough because with the decision comes the consequence. Either staying or leaving brings on a pile of consequences that you choose the instant you make the decision, and often you are afraid of consequences you don’t know about yet. So you put off the decision, and begin to drown in your own life.

I gave Anne a coin. “Heads you stay, tails you leave,” I said.
“You’re kidding, right?” she said, looking at me as if I were nuts.
“Well, this is the simplest way for you to get to a decision. It takes thinking out of the problem. Let’s see what happens,” I said.

She flipped the coin. Heads. Anne broke into tears. Hurts and agonies months in the making poured out. I handed her a Kleenex. At the end of the sobbing came the sentence, “I can’t stay. I’ll die if I stay.” As soon as she sobbed it out, Anne had her answer. By coming up with endless possibilities and choices, Anne has supressed the answer she already knew. By taking thinking out of the pattern that she had developed, she suddenly collided with her emotions and knew the answer she had been suppressing.

Anne left her boyfriend, and although there were many tears and a few hard days and nights, over time she knew the decision had been right. Looking back she saw that a lot of her indecision was rooted in not wanting to change because change made her feel as uncertain as she felt in staying.

It’s not the tossing of the coin that helps you make a decision, but the emotions that follow it. Emotions often inform clear decisions, because they allow you to focus on what is important to you. We often block our values because we are scared of honoring them. The coin toss works, even if you know about its purpose, because it make your own feelings clear to you. Our ability to provide many scenarios of the future blocks a clear view sometimes, and tapping into raw emotions provides the only clear view. A coin toss will put you in touch with what you are hiding from yourself. The coin isn’t leading you, the coin gives you permission to see one decision and gauge your choices instead of balancing one pro with another con.

It clears the way to sorting through the issue at hand instead of the fear of making a decision.

—Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach. She knows that choosing can be as hard as admitting a bad choice. And she loves the thought of the sufi poet and fool, Mullah Nasiruddin, who said, “Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment.” (c) 2007-9 All rights reserved.

Why Your Coach Makes You Work

Adults learn by doing. Most people don’t learn much by simply reading or listening. We forget about 80 percent of what we hear in eight hours after hearing it. That’s why I am not enthusiastic about computer learning that guides you through blocks of texts and asks questions. You’ll get a lot of answers right an not remember a thing.

Jill (not her real name, this is a compilation of conversations from several clients) hasn’t reached many of her goals, and wants to quit coaching. While clients always decide when to leave, I like to discuss the reasons for leaving and make sure the client has some tools for the weeks ahead.

I asked Jill what she could use from our coaching sessions.

“Well, I really didn’t get a lot out of it. That’s why I’m leaving.”

“What was missing, Jill?”

“I don’t feel better. I still have all the same problems. I’m going to have my chart done by an astrologer. I think my Mars is in retrograde.”

“What steps will you take if Mars is in retrograde?”

“I don’t know. But it will explain how come I am not solving my problems.”

“Jill, I did notice that you didn’t do your homework very often,” I said.

“Well, you didn’t make me, you never yelled at me, so I thought it was OK not to,” Jill said.

“You often told me you were sick or too busy with work. Did you not get anything out of the homework?”

“I don’t think I should have to do homework. It takes time. I’m paying you to help, and then you give me homework, ” Jill said, suddenly explaining more than she had in weeks.

“Homework is part of coaching. Most of the coaching understanding comes between the sessions, because you work on your homework and have flashes of insight.”

“But I hired you to tell me what to do.”

“No, Jill, we talked about that early on. I don’t give advice, and I can’t fix people because I don’t think they are broken. Our talking leads to discoveries that you want to follow. Homework allows you to experience what you discovered in coaching and act on it.”

“Well, but it’s a lot of work, and I don’t have a lot of time. And I have anxiety attacks at night, so I watch TV to calm down, and I can’t do it then. I don’t understand how come you just didn’t tell me to read a book or something.”

“Have you read a lot of self-help books?” I asked.

“Sure, and you don’t even know a lot of the authors that I’ve read. I wonder why you don’t read all those books,” Jill said.

“Do those books help you?” I aked?

“Well, yes. Of course. They are smart people. Those books help millions of people.”

“Jill, what change have you made and kept for more than three months from one of those books?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t remember. But that doesn’t mean the books weren’t good,” Jill said.

“Those books could be very good. But to change your life, you need to choose a goal, break down the steps to get there, and work on it regularly. Working with a coach keeps you in motion toward those goals. The responsibility of doing your homework works better if you have someone to report back to.”

“I still think if I’m paying you, I shouldn’t have to do homework, too,” Jill sighed.

“I’m not an emotional or spiritual plumber that you call when your plans spring a leak, Jill,” I said. “I can’t come in, patch up your heart and soul and send you off to be happy. Being happy or fixing your problems is work you have to do yourself. I can help you look at goals, show you how to weigh them, find out what success and happiness mean to you, and ask you questions that will result in understanding as you work with stumbling blocks, but I can’t patch up your spirit. I’m not a magician, just a coach.”

In the weeks to come, Jill visited different spiritual workers, hoping for an answer. But for Jill, even an explanation is not an answer. Working with a coach is a mental and spiritual exercise, work you have to do for yourself. You have to care enough about yourself to want to help yourself. A coach is a guide, a map-reader with a compass. If you don’t know where you are heading, you won’t notice when you get there.

-Quinn McDonald is a life- and certified creativity coach. Read more about her coaching practice.

Why Does My Life Coach Do That?

If you are a life coach, you will have a list of policies and procedures that your clients won’t understand. Here are some of my working ways and why I do them.

1. Why do I have to call my coach, why doesn’t my coach call me? Much of the reason is the same thinking behind going to the dentist, the mall, or a hair appointment–the client makes the effort. If I phone clients, I discovered that they weren’t ready, asked me to call back, were not in a place they could talk. If the responsibility of coaching communication is left to the client, they are focused and ready to talk when they make the call.

2. Why do you bill me if I miss a call? I was [fill in good excuse here.] My agreement says that if you miss a call without 24 hours notice, I will charge you for that call. I do make exceptions. Lots of them. But I do have clients who are scattered, not used to sticking to a schedule, resistent to timetables, or simply avoiding the accountability of coaching. Often these clients haven’t done the homework we agreed to. That becomes a separate issue.

At the end of each call, the client and I agree on a time for the next call. I save that time for that client. I schedule my activities around that call, including giving up other work. When the client doesn’t call, I’ve lost work. In addition, I have to contact the client and set up a new time–and that means that a missed hour of coaching results in a minimum of two-and-a-half hours of my time–the missed hour, the real hour, and a half hour spent in setting up a new appointment and juggling other priorities. If four clients miss a call, it’s an entire wasted day of my time, and I need to recoup the financial loss.

3. If I call five minutes late, why don’t I get a full hour of coaching? My coaching time is booked for a few weeks in advance. I give myself 15 minutes between calls to clear my head, take care of physical needs or check emails. When a client calls late, we still end on time, so the next client won’t be inconvenienced. I do the same for you.

Additional blog posts that answer coaching questions:
10 Questions to Ask Your Coach
What Does Coaching Do for Me?
Why Coaching Isn’t Therapy
Coaching: Price and Value
Get The Most From Your Coaching Session
Coaching and You, Change and Career

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She has a business site and an art site that explains different kinds of coaching on each site. She offers free sample coachings. © 2009

It’s Not God’s Fault

“If it doesn’t happen, it wasn’t meant to be.”  I’ve been hearing that phrase a lot lately. Or, worse, “If it’s meant to be, things will fall in place. If not, God didn’t want me to have it.” I don’t understand this whole way of thinking. And I don’t

Want tomatoes? Water your own plants

Want tomatoes? Water your own plants

believe in it, Although I do believe in God. I don’t believe our every tiny whim is a deity’s responsibility.

If that way of thinking were true, I’d never have to water my garden (God would provide rain at the necessary times), prune the fig trees (they would grow perfectly to grow their fruit) or work hard for something I wanted (because if it’s supposed to happen, it will drop it into my lap).

Blaming God for our lack of initiative doesn’t seem right. It negates our free will and allows us to blame failure on God. It doesn’t allow us  responsibility for our own mistakes, or the wisdom to fix them.

Worst of all, that kind of thinking makes God the victimizer. Most of us have gathered a lot of evidence that we are victims in life–think of how often we say, “If only. . .” If only our parents had given us what we needed, we would have had a better career. If only we’d gone to a more prestigious school, we’d get that promotion. If only our boss had played fair, we wouldn’t have been laid off. The list goes on into eternity.

When we become victims–of a deity, of others, even of ourselves, we become powerless. We lose. It’s an excuse to give up, to blame others.

We usually reach for drama. When we are the star of our own drama, we can make other people sorry for what they did. Except they aren’t. And their refusal to accept all that responsibility fuels our anger and victimhood all the more. As long as we don’t let anyone off the hook, we don’t have to pull ourselves out of our mess.

There is an amazing way to change your life. Let others off the hook. They aren’t suffering over hurting you. You are. If you stop blaming them, stop creating drama, stop showing them how awful they are because your life is a mess, and spend that energy in righting your rocky life, and putting it together, you will use your own creativity to heal yourself.

You don’t have to wait for anyone. You can do it on your own. Your own creativity is waiting to be used. No one else can use it for you. No one else can want a happy, prosperous life for you. But if you want it for yourself, and want it more than blaming others—from your parents to God—you will be able to find the gifts in your life and use them to build a future of your own creation.

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life– and creativity coach. She helps people through big changes in their life.

Getting Unstuck

Havi Brooks, over at The Fluent Self, was talking about getting unstuck today. For a coach, a client is stuck if they can’t finish a creative project, keep having the same problems at work or at home, choose the same damaging relationships, or can’t move toward a goal.

Getting stuck is common, getting unstuck requires some help. That’s what coaches do–help clients find a way to get over, under, around or through the stuck-ness.

Havi is an expert at stuckedness, and getting away from it. Her article is wry, useful, funny.

When I was reading it, I realized that getting stuck is very much like having hard water. Hard water, if you don’t have it, is strange. It leaves stains in sinks and tubs, and deposits calcium carbonate–a white, scratchy residue, it its wake. Water is considered hard if it has a measure of 3 grains. In my area, the Sonoran desert, our water has about 2o grains. That’s hard.

I’m thinking that getting stuck is sort of like fighting hard water. Dissolving ‘stuck’ is hard–like getting hard water stains off the water faucet. Lemon juice  works well, but leaves scars on metal faucets.

Elbow grease–scrubbing hard water scale off– works, because you don’t mind working for such a necessity as water, but all that scrubbing can be exhausting, because you have to do it often and you know it will always come back.

Shutting the door and not looking at it is great, but it doesn’t get rid of it, just hides it. It’s still there.

I’ve found a kind of interesting way to get unstuck that I’m trying myself before trying it on my clients: letting it go. Not focusing on it. I got this idea while I was scrubbing the faucet down to the nub, while the kitty litter was needing scooping, the rug needed vacuuming, and I needed to call clients. But the faucet was in front of me.

I was scrubbing the faucet because I could, because I knew how, had done it so often before. Because I was so focused on it, it was way more important to me than anything. (Only slight exaggeration here).

So I let go of the hard-water scale obsession. I purchased a tool that solved the problem–a water softener. Yes, it was expensive. Yes, it requires maintenance. But like any tool we use, the maintenance is not as bad as the scrubbing.  The tool also brought savings–soft water uses less soap–about half as much. Half as much dishwashing soap, laundry detergent, shampoo. Clothes last longer and the color doesn’t strip out of your hair as fast.

The tool that solves getting stuck is coaching. It may cost you a bit, but you learn how to build your own unstuck tools, and you’ll save a lot of time, effort and heartache in not repeating the same mistakes again, and trying to figure out why you  did it this time.

Coaching is an investment, no doubt, but it is well worth the getting unstuck and the benefits of moving ahead in your life.

-Quinn McDonald is a life and creativity coach. She teaches people how to write clearly. She also teaches people how to keep an art journal even when they don’t know how to draw.

Coaching for Uncertain Times

Reinvention: A Special Phone-Coaching Offer
If you are concerned about the future of your job or your partner’s job, if you wish you were worrying less and enjoying life more, sign up for three special personal coaching sessions on reinvention and stress reduction. You’ll discuss ways to manage stress, discover ways to explore your skills and create ways to survive if your job isn’t as secure as you thought.

For details and more contact information visit QuinnCreative.

Journal Prompt: Negative Self Talk

When you sit down to write in your journal,  meditate or write morning pages, what happens? Does peace flood into your mind, stillness settle in, and the sun rises just over the horizon of your deep inner peace? Liar. It does not.

Your head fills with yakking.  Monkey mind starts right up with a to-do list, “Right after this I need to go shopping, but before that I need to stop at the ATM and get some money, but before I do that I have to balance the checkbook to make sure I have enough money to take

Gremlin of Negative Self Talk, Pitt Pen on paper (c) Q. McDonald 2009

Gremlin of Negative Self Talk, Pitt Pen on paper (c) Q. McDonald 2009

out. Where is that checkbook? It was in my desk drawer yesterday, and now it’s not. That desk drawer jams, maybe it’s the checkbook. Or maybe I need to wax the runners. . .” On and on goes monkey mind, hopping from topic to topic while you are seeking quiet.

More likely, negative self talk cranks up. The critic or the judge, one in a red velvet jacket and one in a powdered wig show up and start in on what isn’t right, what hasn’t been right, and why you don’t have talent, dedication or time. If they are really active, they will ask how you will ever make enough money to support yourself as an artist.

So now you are poised over your journal page, frozen. You try to push monkey mind and negative self-talk from your mind, but they persist. Of course they do. Instead of pushing them from your mind, sit down and listen to them. What, exactly do they have to say after the first sentence? You will probably find that there isn’t an original though there. Monkey mind and negative self-talk aren’t original, they are simply persistent.

On your journal page, draw the slide bar you use to turn the sound up and down on your computer. Take your pencil, drag it down to where it’s silent and draw the bar right there. It’s a lot quieter in your head now.

Start writing.  .  . what is it that you don’t remember but wish you could?

Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She teaches writing and journal writing through QuinnCreative. (c) 2009 All rights reserved.