Wooing Inspiration

inspiration_signThe past few weeks I fell into a habit of playing games on my cell phone in my free time. “Just one quick game,” I’d tell myself. Then I’d find that I had been playing for thirty minutes, and now I’d lost the motivation and time to do anything else, so I’d just keep playing until bedtime. The next thing I knew I had quickly fallen into a nightly habit of zoning out that way, and I’d lost all inspiration for meaningful, purposeful action (or intentional inaction).

A few days ago, I listened to Mark Nepo’s audio program Holding Nothing Back while doing household chores. As I was listening, I immediately felt things shifting inside of me. It snapped me out of this going-through-the-motions rut I had been in and inspired me to live life more fully. Since then, I have been making more conscious choices about how I want to spend my time and energy.

I wish I could just decide to feel inspired and it would happen, but it doesn’t always work that way. We can’t force inspiration, but we can, as my dear friend and teacher Tobin Hart says, woo and welcome it, as happened to me with the audio program. We can cultivate the ground in which it grows. Below is a list of things that woo inspiration, creativity, and joy for me. It’s helpful to have a list so that when I get in a rut, I have multiple ways I can invite inspiration back in. I share it in the hopes that it will help you connect with what inspires you.


1. Listen to an inspiring audio program or podcast. There are many inspiring free programs available online and at the library. One of my favorites is Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Tara Brach’s weekly dharma talk, which is accessible as a free podcast. I am also a Ted Talk junkie.
2. Music. Listen to music or, even better, make your own. Also helpful is listening to bilateral sounds that stimulate both hemispheres of the brain. This quickly helps me shift into a calmer, more whole-brained state, ripe for wooing creativity and joy.
3. Go outside. I especially love a walk in the woods, camping, and lake swimming. But when those things aren’t accessible, something as simple as sitting on my back porch or walking through my neighborhood help cultivate the ground for inspiration.
4. Move your body. Movement regulates blood flow in the brain, stimulating creativity. When I exercise with this intention in mind it helps even more. Some of my favorite kinds of movement are yoga, dancing, walking, swimming, and jogging.
5. Ask. Sometimes I just ask for inspiration, much like an intention or a prayer. I invite all parts of me to open to the creativity and joy that is already within me. Once I ask for inspiration, I let go and stay on the lookout for it, because I know it will be there if I am willing to receive it.
6. Play! I know I don’t play enough. I spend far too much time focused on my to-do list. But the truth is, in order to feel inspired and creative we need to play and for significant amounts of time. Play is so limited in my life that I know I would benefit from making an additional list of ways to play. That list might include speaking in silly voices, a dance party in my kitchen, board games that make me laugh, throwing a ball, hula hooping, stilt walking, laughter yoga, etc.
7. Journal. Having a place to express myself fully, even if self-expression means complaining about feeling completely uninspired in my life, helps me become more conscious of what is really going on. Often times processing my feelings, struggles, and experiences in writing gives rise to inspiration. Sometimes just giving it a voice helps it shift.
8. Meditate. Being still and quiet invites inspiration and creativity.
9. Spend time with someone inspirational. I’ve learned to pay close attention to how I feel after my encounters with different individuals in my life. When I am in a rut, it is a good idea for me to seek out the people with whom I tend to feel enlivened and inspired. And it’s better for me to avoid too much contact with individuals with whom our interactions leave me feeling depleted and uninspired, ready to head straight to bed with my cell phone game.
10. Make healthy food choices. When I eat a healthy diet of natural foods, I feel more alive in general. This helps with inspiration.
11. Say no to things that keep me feeling uninspired. There are certain things that I know do not in any way woo inspiration. For me that list might include too much screen time, too much busy-ness, junk food, inactivity, and certain relationships.
12. Psych-k ®. Psych-K is a set of “belief-change technologies” that rapidly shift limiting beliefs to more supportive ones. It can be used to address beliefs that may be limiting us from accessing inspiration, expressing creativity, and feeling joy.
13. Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT). EFT, or Tapping, involves tapping with your fingertips on meridian end points that are used in acupuncture and acupressure, and can be extremely effective at quickly reducing resistance to creativity, inspiration, and action.

I am always open to new ideas and reminders to help me live a more inspired life. I welcome you to share your ways of wooing inspiration below. 

Practicing Self-Compassion

As a recovering perfectionist, I am intimately familiar with my inner critic and what it feels like to be hard on myself. I know I am not alone in this. Being kind and compassionate to ourselves just the way we are seems to be very difficult for many people. Fortunately, it is possible to make changes in the way we treat ourselves. In my own life, through mindfulness practices and psychotherapy, particularly Internal Family Systems therapy, I have learned to practice self-compassion and have felt liberated and transformed though the process. I still have regular encounters with my inner critic, but our relationship has shifted tremendously. I now understand that my inner critic is always trying to serve me and have negotiated more effective ways for that part of me to help. I have also found other ways to be kind to myself. And, cliché as it may be, I truly have much more to offer others when I am compassionate and kind to myself. Below are a few of the practices that I find helpful in the journey towards self-compassion.

Recognize. The first step is becoming aware of our pain and suffering. So much of the time, we are so disconnected from our emotions and inner experiences that we don’t even recognize the pain we are walking around with. Our unconscious pain may manifest as snapping at our loved ones, not wanting to get out of bed in the morning, or numbing out with internet, food, or alcohol. When we get stuck in self-criticism, self-loathing, or shame, it can be hard to see outside of that suffering. But as soon as we recognize we are in pain, we can do something about it.

Create space. If we can take time for a conscious pause and some conscious breathing, that can help create space inside and create a bit of distance around this part of us that is suffering and our bigger Self, who we really are. In Internal Family Systems, we talk about asking that suffering part to “unblend” or “separate” a bit from us, so we can see the whole of ourselves with more clarity.

Use the breath. We can use our breath as a tool to convey self-compassion. Imagine your breath carrying loving-kindness to your suffering. Let your inner parts feel the calmness that comes from breathing deep, slow breaths.

Touch. When we are suffering, we can give ourselves some soothing touch—put our hand on our heart or rub our own arm, just as we might soothe a suffering child. This simple act can be quite powerful. Our touch alone can convey so much care and compassion. As mammals, our nervous system is designed to respond positively to warm, soothing touch, even if it comes from our Self.

Talk to yourself. It may seem strange at first, but we can practice extending loving words of support and care to our suffering, just as we would talk to a child or close friend who was hurting. “I see that you’re really hurting. You’re really feeling a lot right now. And I’m here with you. I’m breathing here with you. Feel the calmness of the breath. Feel the love I am extending to you with the breath.”

Honoring inner needs. We can ask our pain, “What do you need from me right now?” Maybe this part of us needs a warm bath or permission to do nothing. Maybe some larger action is needed. Finding a way to respect and honor our inner needs is another act of self-care and compassion.

Going deeper. Often times, offering some self-soothing is enough. But sometimes more work is needed. Sometimes our inner parts have more they want us to understand about them. Journaling or talking to someone we trust about our thoughts and feelings can be a helpful way to explore our inner world.

Getting help. It is easy to get lost when navigating our inner world, and a skilled counselor can help guide us through this process. Psychotherapy is one of the best methods I know of to cultivate a sense of self-compassion.

Self-compassion is a practice that feeds on itself. The more we treat ourselves with kindness and care, the more we will want to continue doing so. However, changing our behavior is not easy. It’s helpful to be as gentle with ourselves as possible and know that we can always try again.

Kristin Neff: The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion – TED Talk

Reflections on a Year of Shame Resilience Training

I was moved to tears the first time I watched Brene Brown’s first TED talk on the power of vulnerability. So moved that I felt strongly called to start teaching and working more directly with the concepts she talks about most—vulnerability and authenticity. Not long after watching that talk I began facilitating groups based on her Connections curriculum, which helps participants enhance authentic living as a foundation for shame resilience. Over the past year, I have facilitated the Brene Brown Connections curriculum five times in various settings, including my private counseling practice, the University of West Georgia counseling center, and as a workshop for therapists. Richard Bach says, “You teach best what you most need to learn,” and as a facilitator, immersing myself in this work has been immensely beneficial to me personally. Below are a few things that have been most impactful for me from this shame-resilience work.

Shame is universal. That statement alone is empowering. When I feel shame, I often feel alone in it. This realization helps me remember that I am not the only one who has thought there must be something wrong with me or, as Brene Brown defines shame, had that intensely painful feeling or experience that I am flawed and therefore unworthy of connection or belonging. Everyone has felt that feeling. It’s part of the human experience.

Developing mindfulness around shame. Part of the curriculum involves learning to recognize shame when we’re in it. How does shame show up in our bodies? What do we tell ourselves when we’re in shame? Developing more mindfulness about my personal experience of shame has been very empowering. I like to think of myself as a self-aware person, attuned to my feelings, my body, and my thoughts. But, over the past year I have discovered that shame is one of those feelings that can sneak up me and hijack me pretty quickly if I’m not mindful about it. This shame resilience work has helped me become more aware of the earliest signs of shame, so that I can recognize it and do something about it. Since I have begun facilitating this curriculum and developing my own shame resilience, I have become aware that undercurrents of shame are much more prevalent than I previously realized, in both myself and others.

Recognizing vulnerabilities and triggers. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but one of the things I’ve become aware of through this process is how much energy I can put into what other people think of me. I was a bit surprised by this, as I have prided myself in the past on being independent and not letting society’s expectations or other people’s opinions get in the way of how I live my life. But through the process of some of the exercises in this curriculum, I have discovered that my desire to be seen a certain way has an impact on the choices I make in many areas of my life. And, even more surprising, I realized that at times I put more psychological energy into impressing people I don’t even really know (and who may not even exist) than attending to the relationships I care about the most. This realization helps me to shift my focus and intention to the relationships that matter the most to me.

The antidote to shame. One of the biggest shift in me personally as a result of this work is that I have begun actively and quickly applying what Brene teaches as the antidote to shame–compassion and empathy. Silence feeds shame, and empathy and compassion transform it. So, once I recognize shame, in order to shift it, I must get some compassion and empathy. I can get that from myself, through sending myself some loving kindness and speaking gentle, assuring words to myself. And, I can also practice reaching out and sharing my experience with someone I trust. I am eternally grateful that I have some extraordinary, compassionate, skillful listeners in my life. And I know that not everyone has that. One of the things I love about this work is the focus on learning how to recognize and ask for what we want and need in order to create more supportive relationships in our lives. And that can take time and practice. So, sometimes we may be best served if we get our compassion and empathy from a professional. Counselors are trained at offering empathy and can also help us learn to connect with our own self-compassion. Being in a group focused on this theme is also a beneficial way to feel the shared humanity and get support with issues related to shame, vulnerability, and authenticity. It doesn’t really matter where we get it, but remembering and acting on the idea that empathy and compassion, including self-compassion, are the best ways to transform shame has definitely deepened my own path towards living with more authenticity. I have found this to be an incredibly healing and relatively fast-acting antidote to the most painful emotions, including shame.

Authenticity is a daily practice. I love the idea of authenticity being a practice. We’re not always perfect at it, but every moment is another opportunity to practice. Maybe what excited me most about Brene Brown’s first TED talk was when she said that vulnerability appears to be the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging and love. The days I believe this, I am more motivated to take risks and let myself be vulnerable. But often it feels more like an act of faith than a true knowing. I’m hoping and praying that if I choose authenticity it will lead to deeper joy, but many times I’m scared I’m going to fall on my face in front of a crowd. One of the biggest gifts of facilitating this work has been witnessing group members share their authentic moments and seeing the joy and courage that develops from that daily practice. Over and over again, as I see others choose authenticity and I choose it in my own life, the more data I am amassing in favor of her statement, and I seem to be developing an embodied knowing that it’s true —vulnerability truly is the birthplace of joy, creativity, belonging, and love.