Many years ago, my mother gave me a wonderful book: “The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path of Higher Creativity,” by Julia Cameron. Or, if I were writing the subtitle: “A way to find your best self.” It’s a workbook, filled with quotes, exercises, case studies and really good advice on nurturing our creative and true selves. Here’s something from the book that I forgot about, but am going to do today:
Go on “an artist’s date.” This means treat yourself to something you really would like to do, whether that’s quiet time at Starbucks or a walk in the park after work, or whatever calls to you. I’m going to my local bookstore. There’s a really comfortable couch there and I’m going to take off my jacket, look at books, pick up a pile that look interesting, and then sit on the couch and give myself time to browse through them. Just that.
I’m not going to rush. I have no “to do” list. I’m not doing research for a project. I might look at children’s books. Or novels. It doesn’t matter. Why are these dates important? And how might they cure our winter blues?
- We give ourselves credit for getting things done, but see if you can detach from that as these dates feed us, balance that activity with things that restore our energy
- We need solitude and time–quiet, uninterrupted time that is just for ourselves
- Julia writes about how we try to wiggle out of these dates–something is always more important–but her point, as I understand it is, build this habit and your life will be rewarding
- Get over the guilt of being nice to yourself and treat yourself as you’d treat a good friend
- Anytime we invest in ourselves, we feel better, stronger, see things in a more positive light
Here in New England there’s snow on the ground, but the days are getting longer. The sun feels a bit brighter. What could you do for yourself today that would be gift to yourself? I’ll be at the book store.
I know it’s a strange idea to think of the thing we try so hard to avoid, as a force that might help us. But over and over, in my work helping groups stop burnout and get re-energized, I’ve seen how burnout has helped people. It’s made them change. It’s clarified what’s important to them. It’s set them on a new course.
My past year has been full of activities surrounding the publication of my third book: “Joy Unleashed: The Story of Bella, the Unlikely Therapy Dog.” In fact, I’m speaking more now about the book than I am about burnout. At first I felt upset that my work had shifted. But now I see that my dog’s wonderful work comforting others, has deepened my understanding of why it’s so important to not let burnout eclipse our gifts. So, yes, burnout can be a friend, as long as it’s a friend you pay attention to. As long as you don’t get stuck.
Here are the key lessons I’ve learned about self-care from my energetic (that’s the nice word for “crazy”) working dog:
- Surprise yourself. Sit when you’d stand, stop when you’d go. Mix it up.
- Ask questions and the answers will come
- Small shifts lead to big changes
- Help comes from surprising places: a child, a dog, a stranger
- Pay attention
- Give thanks even when you don’t feel like it
- Grow in curiosity and giving back
- Travel light–see what you can get rid of and see how that makes you feel
- Cast off resentment–it just gets in the way
- Don’t be afraid of uncertainty or emptiness: wait, sing, a path will open.
Not bad lessons from a dog! Be brave and share your thoughts. That will help all of us have the best year ever.
Part of the magic of having a therapy dog and visiting rehab facilities, is that you never know what will happen. Just last week, Bella and I went into Martha’s room, as we have every Wednesday for the past year, and she was clearly in a mood. First she announced that Bella was “selfish” because she backed away from her. I said something diplomatic like, “That’s just Bella, Martha. I’m sure she likes you.”
Then she glared at me and said, “That dog has the wrong name!” Now both Bella and I were thinking of backing up. I didn’t want to encourage this line of thinking so simply waited to see what she’d say next. In a burst of energy from this petite ninety-year old, she announced: “Her name is Donald Trump!”
“What?” I said. “No way!” Then quickly realized I was in Alice in Wonderland territory and shouldn’t argue.
“So nice to see you, Martha,” I added before I could be told why my sweet dog had this new and inappropriate name. “We’ll see you next week.”
Martha shook her head, a dismissal. It’s Wednesday tomorrow and I’m wondering what will happen? Will she be the gracious Southern Belle who loves giving Bella treats, or will we be branded with a new name? I’ve learned from this wonderful dog, to take it all in stride. And like her, to simply show up, take the treats, and let go of what happens. To practice kindness. And that, by the way, is my wish for our country in this new year.
(photo of Trump courtesy of Getty)
My dog, Bella, was given a toy snowman for Christmas by the students at a local middle school where Bella is a regular visitor to the classroom. This is her favorite assignment as a therapy dog. Once the kids gave it to her, she swiftly began dismembering it and we sang a new version of the “Frozen” song: “Would you like to eat a snowman?”
Now that the holidays are over, we have bits of the stuffing on the rug, a carrot nose under the couch, and a toy that now looks like many of us feel after the holidays. Deflated. But if you could see Bella’s joy as she ripped the toy apart, the concentration and pleasure as she extracted the stuffing from its belly, you’d laugh and maybe agree with me that this phase is okay too. The preparation is done, the guests have gone home, the tree is shedding its needles, and today it’s overcast and gray. Bella doesn’t mind. She thinks it’s the perfect time for a nap, until she can find another toy to destroy.
Yes, I know, everyone has advice about resolutions, getting fit, eating better, reducing stress and so on. But my suggestion is different and it’s simply to step outside of your normal schedule and try something new. Just last week I added a spinning class and I wasn’t sure I’d make it back to my car. My legs felt like rubber! But the fun thing is that I felt energized by it, and yes, I’ve gone back.
What could you do and why would you do it? See what calls to you. Is it something related to music, or is it an idea that you’ve had for a while but haven’t done anything about? It could be as simple as trying a new recipe, taking a different road on the way home from work, visiting a neighbor. Why do these small steps matter? I don’t really know the answer except that for me, new things are energizing. They add sparkle to life. I read once that when we’re on a path that we haven’t taken, that we tap into an ancient response that makes us more aware and alive. So don’t make resolutions that feel like one more thing you don’t want to do, but instead shake it up. Have fun! You might surprise yourself.
(Image courtesy of Inc.com)
My best friend, Nancy, made this beautiful arrangement. She’s been studying Japanese flower arranging. So in this busy season, I thought I’d share it along with a short paragraph from Joan Chittister’s book, “The Gift of Years.” They go beautifully together:
“A blessing of these years is the invitation to go lightfooted into the here and now–because we spend far too much of life preparing for the future rather than enjoying the present.”
I had the great pleasure of speaking at the MASS-ALA conference last week and it was really special. Chris Foley and her team made it seem effortless, but went beyond that and made the conference welcoming and upbeat. I spoke on “Stop Burnout: Five Steps to Re-Energize Your Work for Your Best Year Ever” and we had a blast. Not only was it interactive, but the whole group was up on their feet dancing when we got to the slide: “Sitting is the new smoking.” It may seem silly, but a 15-30 second break where you move your body, enjoy music and refresh, is really a smart burnout buster. And for sure that will make you “Assisted Living Strong.”
Okay, I’m an author and I love books, but I was thinking it would be fun to share thoughts on a book that has made a difference to us, whether now or in the past. It could be related to stopping burnout, or tips on how to find your next job. Or, it could be fiction–a story that grabbed you and stayed with you. So here’s mine:
“Singletasking: Get More Done One Thing at a Time” by Devora Zack. First of all, it’s a riot. Here’s how it starts:
To my dearest reader:
You are hereby released from the temptation to overachieve. Your friend, Devora Zack
P.S. You’re welcome.
That gives you a sense of her tone, but her witty and light hearted approach is backed up by impressive research. She quotes major business leaders as well as neuroscientists–all to support the radical idea that we can only do one cognitive skill at time. (Yes, you can fold laundry and talk on the phone at the same time since the folding is not a cognitive skill.)
So if you want to do yourself a huge favor, read this book. Keep it on the front passenger seat of your car. Reread a paragraph before rushing into work. It could just change your life, and will help you stop burnout and have the best year ever.
(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)