Transitions are Trying — 5 Tips for Letting Go

If there’s one theme that’s followed all of my professional career, it’s this — transitions are trying.

Why Transitions are Trying

In reality, the best use of change management skills were surprisingly — or not so surprisingly — during the 15 years I worked as a real estate agent. Change stinks!

What I witnessed first-hand while working with hundreds of families is what William Bridges mapped out in his famous model that describes why transitions are so hard. A huge stressor in life is when you sit between two places — the way it was, and the way it will be.

The shift between the past and the future is a slow, shifty, unsettled place Bridges calls the ‘Neutral Zone’. Transition happens as Bridges describes it, in the process of letting go during your time in the Neutral Zone.

Tricky Transitions in the Time of Pandemic

In December I wrote for the Insight Timer blog about how the year 2020 engulfed us, without a moment to transition, and why that leaves an emotional challenge.

Now as spring begins, the days are getting longer, the daffodils are starting to grow, the vaccines have arrived. Hope is on the horizon again! But even a New Beginning full of positive things can be a challenging transition. Think about the bittersweet moments that come with huge milestones like becoming a parent or getting married or retiring. Benefits and excitement, absolutely. But also a lot of adjustments, and apprehension and the insecurity that comes with trying new things.

How To Ease Into Transition

In my 20s I lived in Chicago and played in a group tennis league with a great group of friends. The first season started in March, but I didn’t show up until May. Chicago is famous for its ‘cooler by the lake’ weather patterns which creates natural air conditioning in August, but makes for miserable spring tennis! The next season I showed up in March. I let go of my expectations of when summer starts. And to this day I still remind myself, ‘If you wait for the weather to show up in order to enjoy summer, you’ll miss the whole season!”

The incredibly taxing social, health, wellness, political and medical phenomena of the COVID-19 pandemic will take years for us to fully put it behind. But here are some ideas to help you start seeing what’s Ending, as we all begin to live in the New Beginning. These are ideas as we live right now in the Neutral Zone:

  • The obvious first — write in your journal. Keep the prompts simple, like:

What’s going on?

 

Or my internal weather report right now is…

 

  • Always end in reflection. Remember, transitions are not easy. Reflection Writing is a really simple way for self-care, self-soothing and self-growth in whatever combo you need those!
  • Watch for patterns. You don’t want to wait for the warm, perfect weather of summer before you start enjoying the summer! After a while, using simple prompts like the ones above on a regular basis will help you see the movement happening in your world. Like a daffodil sprouting you’ll witness and learn from your own transition as it unfolds.
  • Be patient. Transitions do not move in a logical line. As we shift into a post-pandemic world, some days will be full of hope and excitement, others will be stressful or discouraging. Be present to whatever is happening, remind yourself that the Neutral Zone is constantly shifting and keep a focus on what you are learning about yourself and your own resiliency.
  • Try. We’re all waiting for the all-clear from the CDC and other health experts that the time for safety measures is complete. We’re getting closer, but not there yet. In the meantime, it’s OK to start thinking about a wishlist for ‘normal’ experiences, or to start figuring out how to get back to some old activities again that work most easily within the safety protocols.

Assessing Where You Are

As you think about the Neutral Zone, here’s a way to consider where you are at right now.

Picture your favorite pair of ‘evening out’ jeans. Where are they right now? How weird would it feel to pull them out again? To try them on? To wear them out in public?

Isn’t that crazy how a simple pair of jeans can carry so much baggage right now?

Sorting through that sort of experience is what the Neutral Zone is all about.

The Cool Thing about Letting Go

friends focus futureWhat I remember most from my days selling real estate is that moment when I saw a client finally let go. Happens in a split-second. But then there is JOY!

The process was always something along the lines of starting with apprehension about finding a place that was ‘just right’. And then apprehension about packing, finding a new grocery store, meeting the neighbors, saying goodbye to cherished memories. And finally whether it was before a contract was even signed, or after settling in for a while, that moment of Letting Go, of taking more steps in the world of the New Beginning than in the Ending. And from that point, more and more steps into the New Beginning each time.

It won’t be easy, but the New Beginning is starting. The last year has aged us, but we’ve learned so much about being resilient. Be patient in the Neutral Zone. Use it for the springboard that it is. See you in the New Beginning, let’s shoot for sooner rather than later!

More Tools for Transition

I teach Insight Writing as a method for journaling that is inspired, efficient and insightful. Whether for general self-care or in a time of transition, Insight Writing is an amazing way to tap the wisdom within you. For more information, find free samples, free mini-podcasts or a list of available workshops on my website. Or find me on Dabble where you can sign up for mini-workshops or drop-in for a free class! My featured class on Dabble is called, “Transition Time | Leaving 2020 in the Rearview Mirror!”

Giving Mindset Journal

Create a Giving Mindset: The Power of Your Journal This Holiday Season

I’m thrilled to be featured once again on the Insight Timer Blog with a special article about mindfulness this holiday season.

Copy below or click to on their website.

Create a Giving Mindset: The Power of Your Journal This Holiday Season

The holiday season approaches, and it will be one like no other. Amidst a global pandemic many connections and traditions we look forward to may be a bit different this year. While not a replacement, the blended practices of meditation and journal-writing can be a beautiful alternative for this moment. And perhaps some can inspire new traditions for you going forward.

It’s no coincidence that many of the world’s major religions have traditions of connection, and of light, in what is the darkest part of the year in the northern hemisphere. And lack of connection is one of the most challenging sides of living through this pandemic. This holiday season lands at a time some believe may be in the ‘third-quarter phenomenon’ – a trend that has been noted by those that study experiences of extended isolation, such as living on the International Space Station or at the research campus on Antarctica. No matter the overall timeline of the isolation, around two-thirds to three-fourths of the way through, moods and morale hit a low-point.

With the caution of COVID-19 numbers hitting new records in many parts of the world, but the promising news of vaccine rollouts seeming imminent, it could very well be that the holiday season and the lows of the ‘third-quarter’ of the pandemic will overlap.

So what are some new ways for right now we can use to connect to traditions and others, create a giving mindset for ourselves, and celebrate what is a season of light in so many cultures? The combined practices of meditation and mindful journal-writing gives us a pathway.

Mindful Journaling In The Holiday Season

The practice of meditative and mindful journaling is a simple three-step process:

Begin — Be present: take some deep breaths, listen to an audio journal prompt, take a walk. Let your writing prompt find you.

Write – Shorter is better! 5-10 minutes is just enough.

Reflect – Take a few deep breaths, read and be present to what you have just written. What surprises or insights stand out? Now write yourself one last line of reflection.

You can learn more about reflection writing in the talk below:

Reflective Writing In Your Journal, by Laura Stukel

 

Ideas to combine meditation and mindful journal-writing in this holiday season:

Linger in a few moments of beautiful candlelight

Many different traditions draw from light in the darkness. Enjoy some deep breaths as you feel your body relax. Sit and be present to the stillness. When you are ready, begin to write, using this meditative beginning and then following your pen wherever your writing takes you.

You might want to try this candle breathing meditation by Sara Rabinovitch, Ph.D.

Use images or wording from cards given or received as a springboard into writing

Extend the tradition and the exchange by being present to any inspiration. Reflect on a selected card for a moment and take a few relaxing breaths. When you are ready, use a few words from the card as a starter and then follow your pen.

Connect in a deep way, without limitations of time or space

A Character Sketch journal write is a description of someone dear, using a moment of meditation to be together in your mind (anyone special – perhaps even someone who has passed on). Close your eyes and picture your dear one approaching, then standing near. Finally, be present with them, using all of your five senses. When you are ready, describe your dear one in your journal. To really experience a moment of a giving mindset, you may choose to conclude your session by writing a special holiday card to this person, and mailing or delivering it symbolically to a loved one passed.

Capture special holiday moments

Similar to the technique above, a Captured Moment journal write begins with quiet meditation, and an observation in your mind, using all five senses. Seasonal scents or essential oils add inspiration. To try, simply sit in quiet with your eyes closed, and picture a blank, white screen in front of you. Allow yourself to call forward holiday memories from the past, watching them pass like a movie, or as if flipping through a photo album. Then let one be fully present to you, and enjoy that moment again using all five senses. When you are ready, write, describing this holiday moment in time as if you are enjoying it again in slow motion.

Embrace the symbols, inspiration and perspective of holiday traditions

From images of the sun on the Winter Solstice, to the story of the oil lasting for eight nights, to the journey of the three wise men, we have rich connections to culture, history, traditions and nature in this time of year. Secular and pop culture adds more layers. Using music, stories, family heirlooms, religious texts, or similar inspiration, find perspective and in your journal. Travel space and time as you need to. Write as another person if it suits you. Quietly center yourself amidst your inspiration, and then write.

For example, imagine yourself being among the peoples who placed the columns at Stonehenge, then write as that person observing the season present. Or maybe enjoy the classic song, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and then write from the perspective of Bing Crosby himself, with whatever wisdom he may be able to impart into your journal. Or, Ebenezer Scroorge perhaps? Take in bubbe’s latke recipe, noting the careful way she described the steps, and then write from her perspective as if she was experiencing the present moment in time. You get the idea.

Dialogue with a Grandparent – Meditation for Journal Writing by Laura Stukel

 

Create a Mindset of Giving

Yes, this holiday season will be unlike any we have experienced before. And yes, there are challenges. Remember to take time to be present, and to create new, mindful ways to connect with traditions and loved ones during this season. Blending the practices of meditation and journal-writing will allow us to experience holiday traditions in new, creative and heart-filling ways.

 

Coping COVID-19

Coping with COVID-19 – Tools from our Journals

In the past four weeks I’ve worked with over 45 students in online journaling workshops as each looked for ways to process the impact of the COVID-19 crisis individually and as a learning community. Nearly 75% of the way complete, it’s fascinating what we’ve shared together. And the lessons I’ve learned. My big takeaway comes down to four coping categories, and eight simple journal techniques.

As groups, we’re using journaling as a means to cope with this crisis. But the categories apply no matter how you approach self-care. The important thing is to do what feels right for you — and do something every day, just don’t overdo it.

Key Lessons from our Journals

From rocket scientists to sleep experts I’ve been chronicling the benefits to journaling, especially right now, here on my blog. I’ve also been keeping tabs on the leading thinking coming out of places like the Mayo Clinic and the Center for Disease Control. But it’s my students who had the wisest, most simple wisdom to share from their examples:

Be Present. Present to Emotions, Uncertainty, Gratitude.

Routine. Do something basic every day to Boost Immunity, Sleep Consistently, Journal.

Release. It’s hard enough to take in so much change and so much bad news at once. Let alone to process it. Release in the way that feels right to you through things like Hobbies, Books/Music, Moments of joy.

Connect. At this time of separation we need as many ways to connect as still possible. Focus on Loved Ones, Helping Others, Nature, Faith.

And through their own courage to learn new ways to connect with their journals right now, these students have reminded me of the most simple and effective tools for this moment.

Journal Tools in the Time of COVID-19

Based what I’ve observed with my students these past few weeks, the best approach is to try something simple, with the intent of addressing at least one of the four categories every day. (Colored fonts below indicate a link to additional resources on most techniques.)

Be Present:

  • 5 Minute Sprints – Set a timer for 5, add “What’s going on?…” as your prompt. Write.
  • Reflection Writing – Whatever you end up writing, reread it (aloud if you want to), take a breath, write for one more minute about whatever comes to you. You are your own best coach and advocate.
  • Stream of Consciousness – Take a long walk, focus on your breathing for 3 minutes or daydream for 5. Then open your journal. Write.

Routine:

  • Topics du Jour – Find seven topics that mean the most to you right now. Select one topic per day of the week and assign each to its own page in your journal. Do one quick write on each day’s topic. Repeat each week. For example: Mondays – ‘Managing Stress’, Tuesdays – ‘Healthy Habits’, Wednesday – ‘My Kiddos’, etc.

Release:

  • Clustering – Write a focus word in the center of a journal page and circle it. It could be an emotion you wish to process, a word that represents something that brings you joy, or inspires you. Take a few deep breaths as you consider your word. Then doodle and sketch with branches with whatever comes to mind. When you finish, describe your doodle in words.
  • Dreams – Many of us have been dreaming more often, and we’re remembering more of our dreams, and they are more vivid right now. Dreams are the subconscious mind’s way to process what happens during our day. A journal is a beneficial way to complete that processing.

Connect:

  • Character Sketch – Think of one special person in your life and observe fully in your mind what they mean to you emotionally, as a physical presence, the lessons they have for you, any inspiration or memories. Sit and be present with them for a few moments. Then use your journal to record a vivid description. When you are done, pick up the phone, send a card, or hop on a Zoom call. Share the highlights of your write, or just enjoy the interaction. If this loved one is no longer with us or inaccessible right now, find a ritual to share the highlights — perhaps whisper them to the first star you see in the evening sky.
  • Captured Moment – Let a joyful moment come to mind and then experience it again in your mind using all five senses. Linger for a moment. Then record it in your journal.

Remember the Overall Wisdom

I hope this framework for thinking about coping and self-care is helpful in this moment. Remember to keep it simple, but do something to support yourself each day. Being present, finding routine, releasing and connecting are powerful tools whether your work on them through your journal or in other ways.

 

All of these techniques are presented in the Journal to the Self workshops I teach. Given the current situation, I’m running only online classes right now and finalizing a schedule. Please contact me as I may be able to open a class for you!

 

Photo by Lisa Fotios, Pexels. 

dreams

Understanding Dreams in the Time of Coronavirus

Since social distancing due to coronavirus has started I find myself incredibly tired so early on some nights, completely crashed out on others, and sometimes I just toss and turn and toss and turn.

And man, regardless of the type of sleep, I’ve had some crazy dreams.

Dream Insight

I’ve since learned that this is common around the world. Sleep experts think there is a combination of forces at work. In some ways the daily stress is so much it’s making us sleep lighter or more soundly than usual. With dreams, sleeping so soundly encourages our brains to dream more vividly, while sleeping erratically causes us to wake up and recall them more easily.

According to an article by Psychology Today called, “How Dreams and Stories Handle Emotional Chaos” offers a note of reassurance, even if our dreaming is unsettling now:

…one of the reasons we dream is to make sense of what happens to us during the day, even the worst dreams we have are still plot-driven, still make some sort of emotional sense, and still clean some of the psychological litter box. They allow us to function better in our waking lives because they clear out emotional, spiritual, and intellectual detritus. 

In an LA Times article entitled “You’re not imagining it: We’re all having intense coronavirus dreams” Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., explains this process further:

When we observe something normal, our brains don’t need to “digest” it, he says. However, when something out of the ordinary happens — like a pandemic — our brains may process the experience through dreaming. That’s why “difficult-to-digest” experiences may give us dreams, Naiman explains.

Dream Work in Your Journal

Your journal can be an excellent tool to process these vivid dreams. Some can pull at you later during waking hours. Some tips:

  • Capture very basic facts immediately when you wake in the morning (or even very gently at night so you don’t further disrupt your sleep)
  • Keep a pen, notepad and even a small flashlight on your nightstand
  • Once you are fully awake take a moment to look at your quick sketch and recall your dream in more details; giving it a title can help
  • Remember that any dream you recall is a story from your subconscious; it can be a source of inspiration and release for your thinking brain too

Some options for processing your dreams:

  • Write your dream title (from above) in a circle and then brainstorm all the ideas, feelings, details, symbols that come. This is a journal technique called Clustering.
  • Write the name of a symbol or character from the dream inside the center circle and try a Clustering that way.
  • Close your eyes and take in a central character from the dream or one that repeats in your dreams and take a few deep breaths. Then write what’s called a Character Sketch in your journal. Describe everything about this character from your five senses. Be open to what more this character may have to share with you, what they represent.
  • Try an Artmaking activity with a collage of magazine clippings, drawings or doodles to represent what you experienced in a dream.

For me, one really vivid dream stand out. It was a giant monarch butterfly telling me to go back to sleep. She had to return and remind me two more times during that one fitful night of sleep.

The next morning in my journal I was able to connect her reminder to the ‘butterflies’ I’ve been feeling in my stomach during the day. I constantly have that nag in my gut like when my little guy played soccer goalie and I just closed my eyes until the penalty kicks were all done. I became aware of the transformation symbolism of the butterfly — it’s hard work to change from a caterpillar, but we’re working together to save lives in our community and that’s a beautiful thing.

 

Clustering, Character Sketch, Artmaking and Dreamwork are a sample of the techniques I teach in Journal to the Self workshops. Given the current situation, I’m running only online classes and finalizing a schedule. Please contact me as I may be able to open a class for you!