How To Take the Shame Out of Your Biggest Problem

Think of a circumstance you wish did not exist in your life right now. Something you cannot change in this moment. For most of us, this is easy. It's something heavy on our minds.

Perhaps life has thrown you a serious punch: the death of a loved one, an illness, injury or disability, the loss of a job or relationship, infertility, betrayal, a mental health diagnosis.

Or perhaps you are riding the stressful waves of everyday life: relationship discord, family drama, an unrelenting boss, a job that sucks the life out of you, unwanted weight, debt.

Notice what your mind makes this situation mean. Does your mind make it mean something about you? That you really messed up, are deeply flawed and somehow different from everyone else?

Our minds love to take a circumstance and make it mean so much about the kind of people we are.

Here is something to try.

Take your problem and see it through this lens: as a natural disaster. 

I learned this tool years ago from Dr. Christine Carter when she mentioned accepting her divorce as more of a natural disaster than something she could stop from happening. Her thinking went like this: I am what I am and right now I am getting divorced. The best I can do right now is to be present in this situation, and deal with it as it comes. 

What happens when you see your problem as a natural disaster?

You take the shame (and blame) out of the problem.

Brene Brown defines shame as the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we've experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.

Shame is not productive; it doesn’t help us improve or take effective action. It keeps us hiding and can lead to unhelpful behavior.

A natural disaster just happens. It can result in great loss and pain. But it doesn’t have the added meaning about the nature of the people involved.

Without shame, self-compassion and acceptance (essential steps in healing and problem-solving) come more easily.

When we offer ourselves a healthy dose of compassion (This is normal; I'm not the only one) and accept our situation instead of fighting and railing against it, we gain presence and take the most effective action.

We can ask ourselves:

"What do I want to stand for in the face of this?”

So stand tall, shoulders back. Love your people and do what you need to do. Don’t waste your gifts because you are caught up in a shame storm of unworthiness.

Show up for your life as the person you want to be (regardless of circumstances). That is all anyone can ask.

You Might Be Good Enough

You know that pesky "I'm not good enough" story we all have? Maybe your mind says you are not good enough to have a successful business, pursue a dream, put yourself out there, take on a project, accept yourself, help others, offer your ideas, accomplish a goal, or try something new.  Perhaps your body, your job, your home, your partner, your income, your life  is not good enough. If you are a parent, you are not good enough many times a day.

Maybe it's too much for your mind to believe that you are good enough right now. If so, say these thoughts to yourself, let them marinate in your mind, and notice if you feel differently:

  • I may be good enough.
  • I just might be good enough.
  • What if I am good enough?

Does that change anything for you? More possibility? Hope? Lightness? That Not Good Enough story is not helping any of us be and do our best.  Let's do what we can to get some space from it.

How to Say "YES" to Life

When it comes to your life, are you all in?

I recently wrote a guest post for Purpose Fairy about saying "yes" to whatever life brings - even the messy, painful stuff.

While you are visiting Purpose Fairy, you will want to read "15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy." This post was shared over one million times on Facebook. It's how I discovered the site. I just shared this post with some friends, and they joked that if they gave up those 15 things, there would be nothing left to do! :)

“When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument.

I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.” ― Mary Oliver

Did you miss your FREE Blueprint for 2013? Get it here.

when your life doesn't look like an ad

I had what I call an"ugly phase" this past February. I was due to give birth to my daughter. You're probably thinking it was pregnancy that caused this ugly period, but actually, that wasn't it. Other than a ginormous (my husband's word) belly (which is one of those things you sort of expect when you're expecting), my body seemed relatively intact. Here is what happened.

I was home all day, working very little, alternating between resting and slowly checking nesting items off of my to-do list. I would literally complete one simple task (start a load of laundry) and have to sit down for a few minutes to recover (see belly description above). And (here's the key), I had the TV on for hours a day. The line up started with the Today Show and ended with Dr. Oz in the afternoon. So as I walked around the house and sat for short spells, I caught snippets of segments and...plenty of ads.

Unaware of what provoked my thinking at the time, I noticed myself going to my shopping lists and adding beauty and health care items like eye cream (I wasn't sure what to use but felt certain I needed something) and supplements.

I felt uglier after watching all of this TV. And don't get me started on the makeover my house needed.

Society via the media has expectations not only about how we look, but everything about us: how much money we need, how to spend it, how to decorate our houses, what activities to choose for our kids, what food to eat, how to spend our time...

According to research by James R. Mahalik, Ph.D. at Boston College, society’s top expectations for women are to be: nice, thin, modest, and use all available resources on appearance. To conform to norms, men need to: be in emotional control, put work first, pursue status, and be violent.

These expectations wear us down and set us up for believing we are not enough as we are, that we are the only ones who don't have it all together. They get in the way of our self-confidence. When we believe these expectations are the "norm," they trigger shame.

According to Brene Brown, Ph.D., shame is "the intensely painful feeling or experience that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging." It drives us to work hard to keep everything just right on the outside so we will fit in and people will like us. And we all experience it.

Dr. Brown offers an antidote to shame: critical awareness. Think of it as a coaching tool to apply to all of those "have to" and  "should" thoughts. Here's how you do it.

Notice what triggers shame for you. Including "appearance and body image" (an "almost universal" shame trigger), Dr. Brown has identified 12 categories in which women, in particular, struggle with feelings about themselves:  motherhood, family, parenting, money & work, mental & physical health, sex, aging, religion, being stereotyped & labeled, speaking out & surviving trauma.

Reality-check your expectations (those "should" thoughts) in your trigger categories by questioning them.  Dr. Brown lists different sets of questions in her two books, I Thought It Was Just Me and The Gifts of Imperfection. I combined and adapted her questions:

  • How realistic are my expectations, especially considering my life circumstances? Is what I am seeing in the media (magazines, TV, movies, Facebook, photos, music) showing real life or fantasy?
  • Can I be all of these things all of the time?
  • Do the expectations conflict or compete with each other? Can they really exist together?
  • Do these expectations reflect who I want to be (what matters to me) or what others want me to be?
  • How do I try to manage other people's perceptions of me?
How realistic is it for you to lose 60 pounds as quickly as Beyonce did (unless you have nannies, personal trainers, chefs...)?  Can you really simultaneously have small children and pets running around a house that looks like a Pottery Barn catalog? Or work full time and care for your teenagers & aging parents? For a man who has been laid off, how is he supposed to look invulnerable, put  his non-existent job first, and climb the ranks?
We think we should look confident, but how can we feel confident when we internalize expectations that are unrealistic, competing, and of little or no value to us?
And don't forget that it's all supposed to look easy, even if it wears you out on the inside.
I remember Oprah stating at one point, that she decided not to have children because she couldn't be the parent she wanted to be and career woman she was .  She must have realized that she couldn't be both at the same time.
I know critical awareness has helped me feel more compassion toward myself when I am caught up the unrealistic, competing expectations - when I think I should have been able to cook a healthy, homemade dinner, sweep the dog hair from the floor, and paint my toenails (Who am I kidding? That doesn't even make the list these days!) after addressing the higher priorities. I hope you see right through your "shoulds" too.

For more about what gets in the way of confidence and how to let it go, join The Confidence Course. Starts June 12!

what keeps you up at night?

My 5-year-old recently asked me to read her a book that turns out, belonged to my husband when he was a kid (that explains the yellowed pages).  In the book, There's a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer, a little boy tells us how he handled the nightmare in his closet.

The boy was afraid to even look at his closet, but one night, he decided to get rid of the nightmare once and for all.

The boy shot the nightmare, who began to cry. The nightmare wouldn't stop crying, so the boy took him by the hand and tucked him into bed.

And the nightmare stopped crying and fell asleep next to the boy.

Of course, I couldn't help but see the parallels between the boy's nightmare and the thoughts that keep us up at night. And just like the story, when we fight and struggle with our fears and think they shouldn't be there, they persist and get louder.

In Simple Abundance, Sarah Ban Breathnach, refers to the "dragons" in our minds:

Women have always known how to deal with the dragons hiding under beds or lurking in closets. We turn on the lights and reassure worried souls with love. We need to slay the dragons in our minds the same way.

So instead of trying to get rid of your worries & fears, get to know the nightmares and dragons who are just doing their job. Shine your flashlight on those thoughts and see them for what they are: words and pictures in your mind. Love and thank your mind for being normal in its endless production of worries. Show yourself compassion for caring about your life and the people in it. Then the dragons won't bother you as much. Then the nightmares will fall asleep. And so can you.

What keeps you up at night? Is it money worries? Work stress? Feeling like you are wasting time? Relationship problems? Uncertainty? Not knowing what career to pursue? Too much to do? Over-analyzing the day's interactions and wishing you could change what you said or did?

I really want to know because I want to use my coaching knowledge & experience to help us all sleep better. Comments welcome below or here on Facebook.

The Confidence Course

How would your life be different if you had more confidence?

There is a Confidence Revolution here at Blueprint. Next in a sequence of offerings is The Confidence Course starting June 12th.

This telecourse is designed to help you develop genuine confidence to perform better in your career & relationships.

Perhaps you would like to be more effective working with clients, building your business, seeking a relationship, starting an important project, parenting, or socializing.You may have an upcoming interview, presentation or event, or are considering a change. Perhaps you would like to be more focused & engaged, self-accepting, or authentic in your relationships.

Confidence helps you to be more of the person you want to be.

The 4-week course addresses the following:

Class #1 (june 12)

  • Identifying how your life would be different if you had more confidence ("The Life Change List") and pinpointing which of the five main causes of low self-confidence may apply to you in a particular area
  • Uncovering your thoughts that cause worry, self doubt, shyness and fear
Class #2 (june 19)
  • Practicing a variety of tools to detach from thoughts that sabotage your confidence
  • Clarifying your values, the person you want to be in your life, what matters most to you
Class #3 (june 26)
  • Handling fear and anxiety so they have less impact on you
  • Building shame resilience
Class #4 (june 28)
  • Being present, mindfully engaging
  • Taking confident action
The Confidence Course includes: four live calls (60-90 minutes each) on three Tuesdays and one Thursday at 5:00pm PST, mp3s recordings of calls (so no worries if you can't make classes), e-mailed worksheets, and lists of additional resources for the investment of $97. The first three participants to register receive a complimentary individual coaching session ($110 value).
How to register? Simply e-mail me ( with subject: Confidence Course).


Questions? I would love to hear from you:

Preview: This course is not about controlling your feelings, thinking positive thoughts or "faking it." It's about pulling your time & energy from managing perception and putting it into doing what matters.It's about being who you want to be and making your life work. And it's going to be fun!

"Your approach to confidence is very innovative and groundbreaking/paradigm-shifting" -Kim, lawyer in Ontario, Canada

Small Change, Big Impact

A friend recently asked me how I stay so calm. I am certainly not always calm (just ask my kids), but one change I have noticed since training as a coach is that things don't bother me as much.

What I mean is that the little things (a messy house, fighting kids, the long list of unfinished tasks, drama, a broken car) don't stress me out like they once did and even big, scary fears aren't as powerful.

When I consider what has helped me, there is one simple thing I now do automatically that I know has made a big impact.

I have learned to be very aware of what I am thinking.

It  may not sound like much, but simply noticing the thoughts going through your mind gives you some space and detachment from those thoughts. And if those thoughts are unhelpful (you know the type - What will people think...I don't have enough money...I can't get it together...I'll never be able to leave this job...I can't handle this), they will have less power to cause you anxiety, stress, and fear.

To increase your awareness, become a detective or  scientist who is objectively studying your mind. When you feel stress or tension, observe the words in your mind with curious interest, not judgement. Oh, I'm thinking that if I say the wrong thing, my boss will regret hiring me. It's that same old "she doesn't like me" story. Isn't that interesting (Naming your thoughts/story like this creates even more distance).

To uncover deeper thoughts causing you stress, take the situation that is bothersome and ask yourself, What am I making this mean? Why is that a problem in my mind?

Simply just notice what comes up.

I love working with people who know nothing about coaching. If you are unfamiliar with life coaching, but are open to powerful, practical tools to increase calm and handle stress & anxiety, I have a 3-session Declutter Your Mind program for you.

Hand Over Your Worries

A friend of mine recently told me about "worry dolls." According to the story, when the Mayan people have worries, they tell them to the dolls and place the dolls under their pillows at night. In the morning, the worry dolls have taken away their worries.

Sounds like a coaching tool! Any strategy that helps give you space from your unhelpful thoughts (worrying is never helpful) contributes to your presence, peace of mind and well being (and sleep!). Lately, with so much on my mind, I have imagined placing my thoughts on my nightstand before bed or seeing my worries contained in a bubble in the air. You might see your worries (the actual words of your thoughts) going by on cars driving past your home or hear your fears to the tune of Jingle Bells or Happy Birthday (try it).

I bought some worry dolls at Cost Plus as stocking stuffers for my girls, but I think they can come in handy for us adults, too. Sweet dreams.

Troubled? Then stay with me, for I am not. ~Hafiz, ancient Sufi

Photo by Geoff Captain.

How To Have a Fit Mind

How would you like to be psychologically healthier and more flexible? That is, how would you like to be in the present moment, open to your experience, and able to take action toward what is most important to you, while handling life's problems & challenges more effectively?

I've designed a series of tele-classes based on my training as a Martha Beck coach, my experience coaching clients, and the research and techniques of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. I use these tools in my own life and I'm excited to share them because I believe they are useful to everyone. The first two classes in this series (Clear Mind Clutter and Clear Emotional Clutter) are held this week and next (February 24th and March 3rd). The classes will help you identify and detach from unhelpful thoughts and accept difficult feelings so that the thoughts and feelings have less impact on you. So you can live your life with more freedom from fear, doubt, stress and anxiety. So you can take steps in a direction that is important to you, that fills your life with meaning and purpose.

The cost for each class is $20 or you can join both classes for only $30. Sign up here.

I hope to see you in class!

In case you're not yet a newsletter subscriber...February 2011.

The Year of Doing Less & Living More

It's that time of the year when we reflect on the closing year and look ahead to the new year - what goals we want to reach, what changes we want to make, where we want to be a year from now. I love this stuff - new beginnings and change - but I feel like there's this pressure to decide right now, quick, before the clock strikes midnight, what we will work on, where our focus will be, as if it will be too late to become the people we want to be if we wait to start until, say, February 6th.

I have been putting this pressure on myself, wondering where in my schedule I will fit the yoga I want to do twice a week, thinking about where I want to go with my business, how I can be useful to all of you, what to focus on in my newsletters.

Then it hit me that I want to focus on doing less and living more. Living more...fully, completely, authentically, fearlessly, a way that's engaged with life, even a messy, imperfect, uncertain life (as all lives are, right?).

How to live more and do less? I am glad you asked because I have been thinking about this.

One of the keys is to do less of the things that get in the way of living this way, thereby freeing up time and energy to do what is most important to you. The things that get in the way may not be so obvious because they have become so ingrained in our ways of thinking & living. They include habits of mind, like believing  we can control what other people think about us, comparing ourselves to real and photoshopped others, mentally streaming the "shoulds,"  "shouldn'ts" and "supposed to"s, repeating that pesky word,  "enough" (According to our minds, we are never doing enough, being enough, exercising enough, eating enough green leafies,  sleeping enough, having enough time, making enough money...). They are the thoughts that we need certainty and control for everything to work out, and that we need everything to work out to prove we are worthy of love and acceptance. They are the thoughts and habits that feed perfectionism that overlap with the actions we take to avoid feeling our uncomfortable feelings - staying busy, eating, seeking approval, cleaning, shopping, checking e-mail, lingering online - that end up numbing us to the comfy feelings, too.

All of this judgment, resistance, subtle irritation and mental tug of war saps our energy and gets in the way of living and engaging authentically.

Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are. - Marianne Williamson

So this year, I'd like to help you re-organize your patterns of thought & action to reflect your true self and what is most important to you to fuel your joy, energy, meaning and success. And I will be experimenting & practicing right along with you.

Cheers to removing the blocks to full out living and uncovering the beauty & riches already there!

Happy New Year!



Ready to become the Best Version of You?

Photos from the Captain Family 2010 iphoto book

Want to Lose Weight? Eat From a Blue Plate.

Would you like to know more about how your living space affects how you feel and what design features are suited to your personality? Here are some tidbits from Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture by Sally Augustin, PhD:

  • When people around the world are asked to name their favorite color, blue wins. Yellow comes in last, right after orange.
  • Studies have found blue plates and lights to decrease people's appetites.
  • A straight horizontal line (think: top edge of a table) tends to be calming. However, multiple horizontal lines in a room make us tense.
  • Extroverts tend to use more couches in their living rooms while introverts may favor movable seats.
  • Extroverts prefer open floor plans with fewer walls while introverts may prefer living spaces that are more divided.
  • If you've taken the Myers-Briggs personality test, you are either a "judger" (a planner, concerned about living an organized life) or a "perceiver" (an improviser, prefering to live more spontaneously). In general, planners like spaces that assist with organization & efficiency. Improvisers generally have more casual, original, lighthearted spaces. Since improvisers may not be naturally organized, they keep physical reminders. So in their spaces, they may need white boards, magnet boards, counter space for piles and space for the stuff they keep.
  • A classic study found that people who feel in control of their destiny prefer straight lines in their space while people who feel they are controlled by fate prefer more curved lines (We have nothing but straight lines in our house. Can you say control freaks?).
  • Your floors should be a darker color than your walls, which should be darker than your ceiling. This reflects the order of nature - darker soil and lighter sky.
  • Of all types of light, we like dappled light (like sunlight shining through a tree) the best and find it soothing (This light looks great in photographs).
  • Light comes in warm and cool colors. You can look at the Kelvin units on your light bulbs.  5000K (sunlight at noon) tends to be neutral. Lower K is warmer, higher K is cooler. Candlelight (1000-2000K) is warm. Shade or very overcast sky (9000-10,000K) is cool. We tend to be more relaxed in warm light and more alert in cool light. In cool artificial light, we tend to experience more stress than in warm artificial light.

The recipe for this super easy, spiced chicken is in my December newsletter. You can serve it on a blue plate. :)

Photos by Geoff Captain

You Can't Change Your Life Without Changing Your House

And you can't change your house without changing your life. I've heard Martha Beck speak these words on multiple occasions and you can read her words in print in Steering By Starlight. I've always found this concept interesting because I love both life design and home design. I am fascinated by where the two intersect. Martha also says that the way we do one thing is the way we do everything. So who would have guessed that your career or life's purpose had anything to do with what bathroom soap you choose or where you hang that velvet painting of Elvis.

In my home office, I happen to have lots of paper, which can represent thoughts. The paper and the thoughts can, at times, create physical & mental clutter (I have more books & paper than I have storage space and I have more ideas than time to execute them). If you have too much stuff in your space, you may be too busy in your schedule. Perhaps the kids' toys in your bedroom means that it's time to set some boundaries. If you're hoarding objects, you may be clinging to excess weight on your body.

Here is an exercise that asks you to make a tiny change in your living space that may result in a big change in your life. Think about it: A tiny step in a different direction on the path called life could completely change where you end up years from now. Back in 1999, I purchased a book called Expecting Adam by Martha Beck. The book had nothing to do with life coaching (Martha was not a coach at the time, nor did the term exist) and I admit that I bought the book because I liked the cover. Little did I know that the purchase would lead me to a completely unexpected place in my career nine years later.

These steps are adapted from exercises in Steering by Starlight and information from classes I have taken with Martha.

  • Walk through your home and notice your body's reaction to different rooms, objects, shelves, corners, spaces. Notice what part of your home gets the most negative reaction from your body.
  • Write down three adjectives to describe that part of your home you like the least. Ask yourself, "What else in my life can be described by those three adjectives?" You can address this later.
  • Now, go into your memory or imagination and think of a space that you love. It could be a place you have been or seen in a movie (Diane Keaton's home in Something's Gotta Give), catalog, or magazine...You can even cut out pictures and make a collage or vision board of your ideal space. Lately, I've been perusing Dwell Magazine and the SimpleLovely blog. I also love the  Manhattan Beach, CA home shown above & below (photos by my husband). Write down three adjectives to describe that ideal space. Notice the difference between your current space (three negative adjectives) and your ideal space (three positive adjectives). Knowing what you like and don't like helps you create your ideal life.
  • Go acquire an object that is described by at least one of your positive adjectives and bring it into that least favorite part of your home. It could be small or big - bedsheets, a plant, a piece of fabric, a tech gadget, a paint chip, a mug, a laborador retriever...Make sure it helps you create the life you want. This weekend, I am switching out photos on my desk.
  • For each object you bring in, remove one thing from that space.
  • Rinse and repeat until you love that space.

You can follow the same steps above with other areas of low satisfaction in your life, like your career or relationships. Instead of bringing in beautiful objects, think of helpful communication skills or patterns of action or thought you can use to replace unhelpful ways of doing things.

All photos by Geoff Captain of geoffcaptainstudios. Would you like to see more photos of this particular house? They are right here.

Now available for instant download: The Best Version of You

New tele-class coming in early 2011: Extreme Career Makeover. Details announced in my newsletter.

How Your Imperfection Makes You Beautiful

I have written before about the belief  "I'm not good enough." I have been fascinated by the fact that this thought seems to be in all of our heads. And, as a mother, I have also been wanting to figure out how to keep this limiting belief from forming in the minds of my beautiful little girls. Then last night I watched a Ted Talk by Dr. Brene Brown (A few of my wonderful coaching friends posted this video on Facebook) that spoke to my fascination (and desire to fix this). It's 20 minutes and well worth the time. I watched it twice to get a full understanding. Whether or not you watch it, I'll attempt to summarize Dr. Brown findings and mix it with my coaching perspective:

Dr. Brown believes that connection is what it's all about; it's why we are all here. Connection refers to meaningful, authentic relationships.

What unravels connection is shame. With shame, we believe we can't let others see pieces of ourselves, because if they do, it will cause disconnection. We keep others from seeing us because we believe we're not enough (not good enough, not thin enough, rich enough...). There's some irony here: Not opening ourselves to others (because we fear rejection and disconnection) keeps us from connecting.

On the opposite end of shame is empathy. What allows us to empathize with others is opening up and making ourselves vulnerable. We have to be vulnerable to experience connection.

Dr. Brown found that the difference between people who have a sense of worthiness, love, and belonging (people who connect) and those who don't is a belief: that they are worthy of love and belonging. Believing they are not worthy keeps people out of connection.

From the belief that they are worthy, these "wholehearted" people live like this: They have courage to be imperfect, compassion to be kind to themselves first,  and connection as a result of having authenticity to let go of who they "should" be in order to be who they are. They embrace vulnerability - putting themselves out there and taking risks in relationships, asking for help, losing a job.

The thing is that we don't like to be vulnerable. It makes us uncomfortable. So what do we do? Dr. Brown uses the word "numb" - we spend, eat, consume. I often use the word "resistance." We fight, ignore, distract ourselves from uncomfortable feelings. I have been talking a lot about resistance with my coaching clients, as it seems to the root of so much psychological struggle, not to mention the toll it takes on our bodies.

But as Dr. Brown points out, when we numb ourselves to the difficult emotions, we numb ourselves to the others - joy, gratitude, happiness...Then we miss out on feeling alive. This sends us into the search for purpose and meaning, but that makes us scared and vulnerable, so then we go back to numbing.  You can see the downward spiral.

This leads me to a place I didn't necessarily expect when I started this post. What I do in many coaching sessions is help clients work on those beliefs (I'm not____enough) and process/make room  for those uncomfortable feelings. When we do these things, our unhelpful thoughts & feelings have less impact on us. Then we can connect and do what's important to us. I plan to teach some classes on this in the new year, but if you'd like an excellent book for getting started on coaching yourself, I recommend The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris, MD.

Photo by Geoff Captain. Words written by me (I will not tell you how many times I erased and re-wrote "perfection" in order to make it perfect).