Los Angeles Life Coach Laura Asks: Do New Year’s Resolutions Work?

A Life Coach or Career Coach Can Make the Difference

You know the drill.  It’s the new year and you have a new resolve to lose the weight,  start exercising, quit smoking, begin meditating, etc.  Or maybe this year you’re resolved to finish the book you’ve been dabbling with, or get that promotion that’s overdue, or navigate a transition to a new, more meaningful career – one that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning.

You start off strong. This is the year you’re going to do it. After six weeks or so, you’ve built up some momentum and confidence. You’ve started to make some progress and you’re feeling good. And then March rolls around. Distractions surface. Stuff happens to usurp your time and money. It’s tax time after all.  Or maybe fear and doubt creep in. Old patterns of thinking sabotage your progress. You tell yourself this is temporary and when the weather gets warmer, you’ll re-double your efforts and start anew.

Now it’s summer and you’re back on it. The sun is out, the weather is warm and you’re feeling optimistic. You’re going to stick to it this time. You start to regain the momentum from earlier in the year. Then as the weather turns colder, stuff happens again. More distractions. Life gets increasingly hectic as the holidays approach. And when the holidays hit, you tell yourself:  “Just get through the holidays.”

You decide to table everything until the new year…and then the cycle begins again.

If all of this sounds familiar, then hiring a life coach, career coach or spiritual coach might be the way to go this year. One of the reasons why coaching works is that it’s a support structure that holds you accountable for your progress. Life coaching and career coaching (as well as other types of coaching such as spiritual, business, relationship, etc.) keeps you focused when will power waxes and wanes and distractions deter your progress. And on a deeper level, coaching works because it helps you to dissolve the soundtracks from the past which sabotage your future.  Since I began coaching in 2005, I have found that fear and doubt are the two biggest reasons why people don’t achieve their goals. Distractions are the third.

But life coaching or career coaching is not meant to be a permanent support structure.  A good life coach or career coach strives to coach you to independence – not dependence. So a skillfully trained coach works with you to create other, long-term support structures to help you not only attain your goals but sustain them, long after the coaching is over.

Resolve this year to make your resolutions work. Give yourself the support to attain and sustain your progress throughout the year so you can make 2011 the time in which you achieve the personal and professional success that has eluded you in the past.

Posted by Laura Svolos, Certified Professional Coach and Swami of Kriya Yoga specializing in life, career, relationship and spiritual/wellness coaching.

Take the first step in making your resolutions work, schedule a free consult with Coach Laura.

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For me, a life coach, the phrase self-discipline conjures up images of being strict, tough and perhaps even rigid to force myself to get things done. For the purposes of this article I use the phrase to describe the way we regulate and direct ourselves.  What self-discipline looks like to you may not be what it looks like to me.

How we do things is a deeply personal expression of our wants, needs, intentions, self-care, strengths, responsibility, beliefs and values, an outward reflection of what is important for us. I think of self-discipline as a continual recalibration and adjustment of what’s important in my life. All of us struggle with doing what needs to be done versus doing what we desire. None of us is immune from distraction. We live in an age of distractions that tempt us from good habits and intentions. How comfortable are you with your ability to balance competing needs and desires in your day?

Self-discipline is a balancing act. We are a collection of values, motivations, intentions, fears, potential, abilities, quirks, strengths and stories we tell ourselves. How all of this translates into self-discipline depends upon how aligned we are with our goals and how we balance priorities day to day. The balance you strike is reflective of your personal style of self-regulation. Are you happy with the way you balance your life or do you tend to let things slide a long time before you notice things are out of whack?

One thing I notice about people who are content with their ability to regulate themselves is that they are aware of their priorities, they are clear about them, they take responsibility for them, they take time to focus on them and they have a way of balancing competing demands on their time. My intention isn’t to judge or tell you that you should be more efficient, just be aware of how you feel about what you do in a day and notice if it works for you.

As self-discipline is so deeply personal, let me tell you about what I do and don’t do well. I learned some of my self-discipline from my mother, who has a lot of good habits and pushes through her resistance like a bull. Although I developed some good habits, I am not a creature of habit. I tend to do things as I feel like them. When I exercise good self-regulation, this feels good. When I’m not, the train slips off the rails pretty quickly. I tend to put off things like paperwork, collecting overdue accounts or cleaning. I have to face the fact that I may never ever feel like doing paperwork or making difficult calls.

I put these things on a weekly list of action steps related to my goals. I want to be financially responsible and have a neat house. So even when I don’t feel like doing paperwork, it goes into the hopper and usually gets done in the course of a week. When I face resistance to doing something onerous like doing my taxes I break it down into small achievable steps like sorting receipts, invoices and bank statements. I do my best to make it feel like something I want to do by listening to music, having a cup of coffee and having a time limit to get it done.

As I write this article I am aware of the tug of many distractions: checking email; wanting to have a cup of coffee; wanting to get up and stretch; feeling my neck is sore. Sometimes it’s tough to focus on my intentions.  If I am not responsible and I don’t hold myself accountable, I find myself emptying the dishwasher instead of doing what I intend, which is to sit and finish this article. The tug of distraction eventually proves irresistible so I use it as a way of taking a break and even rewarding myself for having applied myself and resisted distraction as long as I could. So let me tell you how I regulate myself …

I understand self-discipline as the practice of noticing what’s going on in my life, identifying and clarifying my priorities (my weekly list), balancing and making adjustments as I go along.  The best metaphor I can think of is it’s like driving a car. Imagine looking over my shoulder while I drive: I have a goal or an intention (to go somewhere), I get in the car and make myself comfortable, I check conditions, make adjustments, scan the road and set off.

While I am driving, I continually check the mirrors, stay focused, adjust my speed and watch for other drivers, all while keeping my eye on the road.  Not only am I interacting with other vehicles and responding to them, I am tempted by distractions and aware of other things I want to do. If I avoid distractions and stick to my intentions I will make it to my destination without turning into a fast food place or sending a text message while driving.

When I face a challenge, I take a deep breath then I check in with myself and notice what happens. I feel things moving around. What I notice is a dynamic balancing as I mentally move around priorities and make things fit together again. I might do this dozens of times a day, whenever I have to switch from one activity to another, to make sure I’m applying myself in the way I intend. I think of my brain as having a shifter. When I complete a task my brain is always asking, “what’s next?” The question, ‘what’s next’ is the shifter.

As long as I have a clear idea of my priorities and stick to them, shifting from one priority to another is effortless and clear. When that happens, I have a productive day and feel satisfied. When I am unclear about what’s next, I become prone to distraction. I’m prey to procrastination until I feel I know what’s next. This is where my list of action steps helps me figure a way out. Spending too much time in distraction mode gives me that sweetly sick empty feeling I had when I was a kid when I ate too much candy. That’s when I know it’s time to get back to doing something more satisfying.

I noticed that many distractions came up for me while writing this article because I found it difficult to wrap my head around this topic, making distraction and avoidance almost welcome. Now that the piece is almost finished I am beginning to feel a sense of accomplishment, empowerment and satisfaction. It takes focus, determination and persistence to push through resistance and avoidance. After all, I’m the only one who cares whether I write this article.

Let me leave you with one more element of self-discipline – self-care. I think it’s important to be responsible and balance my goals because it’s a way of caring for myself. If I don’t care enough about myself to do what I say I want then who will do them for me? I am constantly balancing self care with care for others. Think of a spectrum that ranges from selfish (extreme self care) to being in the service of others (an absence of self care).  I balance my needs, wants and desires, but not at the expense of others I care about. It takes discipline and self-awareness to strike a balance that’s right for you. I can care for others but not at my own expense. It’s a balancing act. It’s about you.

I think I’ll make some coffee and empty that dishwasher now…

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October 8, 2010

This week I found myself having to do something as a lawyer, that I tell clients, as an attorney coach, to do all of the time.  I argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals – in front of a lively panel.  Who knows if we won?  But, after living it and listening to it again, I feel like I did sound prepared and that I knew the law well.  So, I shared the experience with my clients and contacts – as an interesting experience in the litigation world!  Hopefully, they’ll appreciate me passing it along, and think of me when they face an issue like this! 

Pass along your good works!


My portion begins at 14:00 minutes.

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bradley foster

I saw Richard St. John present a talk on his new book: 8 to be Great: The 8 traits successful people have in common. He interviewed hundreds of successful people to find out what they all had in common (spoiler alert: I’m going to tell you what they are). He distilled the interviews down into various qualities these people (who include Warren Buffet and Bill Gates) and figured out what they all had in common. He discovered that they all had 1) passion, 2) They had fun working and spent a long time at it; 3) They had the ability to focus on just one thing; 4) They had the ability to push themselves harder; 5) They had great ideas; 6) They got good at what they did through constant improvement; 7) They all believed in the idea of service; and 8) They persisted, even in the face of failure.

I believe Richard has done his homework and has a lot to tell us about how to be successful. I have to quibble with his notion of success though. He takes it for granted that these people are successful, yet he never defines what he means by success which I felt was a bit odd. His subjects are all well off and in some cases, ridiculously so, and they are all good at what they do but it’s a bit of stretch to attribute success to them without saying what he means by success. Richard believes that it’s okay to get out of balance, to work long hours, to sacrifice time with family and friends, even skipping the gym all in the name of being successful. That’s not my definition of success. It sounds more like being a workaholic in my books but then one of my definitions of success is to lead a balanced life.

So what is success? I believe that we all succeed on our own terms and it’s key for each of us to be able to articulate our conditions of success. How else will we know when we have succeeded? After all, using Bill Gates as a measuring stick for success is bound to make us all feel depressed. One way to measure success is to set goals, both short and long term so we know what we are shooting for and we know when we’ve arrived. We can certainly take a page from Richard’s book to help us on our way but why not measure success on our own terms?

By the way, I think there are a couple elements key to success that Richard ignored, maybe because they are not identified as traits. Luck and timing are just as important to you as they are to the multitudes interviewed by Richard St. John. After all, how successful would Bill Gates be if he founded Microsoft in today’s business environment? Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Having good luck is really a matter of doing the groundwork and keeping your eyes open. Timing is a little more ephemeral but it requires perspective and a bit of strategy to make it work. Luck and timing can give you a leg up the ladder. May luck be with you and your timing be right!

Bradley Foster

Feroce Coach

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In my coaching (and in my practice), we are driven by the bottom line results – whatever the goal may be – whether it is achieving balance between work and play, increasing revenue, becoming an equity partner, etc.  When it comes to bringing in new work, the results are easy to measure.   Either you got a piece of new work or you didn’t.

Good Lawyer Marketing Requires You To Set A Clear, Tangible Goal.

With all of my clients, we set many different goals in several different areas.  But the goals are never ambiguous, never easy to run away from.  There is always accountability.  As you know, without it, we keep with our big picture goals of “building my book,” “increasing revenue,” “achieving balance,” without any real or permanent progress.  That is because – just like our New Year’s resolutions (mine anyway), we have bitten off more than we can chew – without little steps, and without a little help.

To avoid this common problem, I often like to set the goal of getting a new piece of work in a week’s time.  (Of course, the bigger accomplishment from a bottom line view is the goal of getting a new client every 4 to 6 weeks, which I work with many of my clients on during the coaching process, as it is obviously more involved.)  This short term goal is helpful because it takes you actively through the marketing process in a shortened time frame, is pretty exhilarating when you achieve it (and you will), and it increases your revenue.

In my experience, though it sounds difficult, this is not as difficult to accomplish as one might think.  In fact, most lawyers (at all kinds of different levels) can succeed at it.  Then, why you ask, don’t people do it, and keep doing it?  I think it boils down to two reasons – first, as lawyers, we are overwhelmed with our day-to-day work and know that we have to “increase our book” but we have to do that “next week” or “next month.”  It seems daunting, overwhelming, and easy to put off.  Of course, as a coach, we make this a machine that is built in to your practice – requiring very little effort on your part – yes, effort, but not nearly as much as you are imagining right now.

Second, and pretty puzzling, we as lawyers are generally pretty nervous at failing, and don’t want to do one simple thing – just ask for the work.  Now, it is not a direct ask – generally – and requires timing and tact (okay so we all know someone that won’t be able to pull it off), but it is pretty simple when you change your mind set a bit. 

During our assessment and your coaching, we would determine what the best approach for you would be.  But for a vast majority of lawyers, I would ask you to think of a current client that is a mess (not personally – just in a business sense), and preferably one that you have recently achieved a good result for.  You may be handling a piece of litigation for them or a trademark, etc. – and you know they have a ton of other problems unrelated to what you’re doing.  Now, instead of that client’s litigator or IP lawyer, think of yourself as their business partner.  Your goal is to look out for their business, make it as profitable as possible, and avoid future exposure and expense.  So, of course, you are going to let the client know about what you have discovered, the negative impact that could have on their business (money – bottom line is what they care about), how the issue needs to be taken care of, and how you would suggest doing it.  Now, you might suggest that you can do it or a partner of yours – but you should always suggest an alternative method too (whether it be that you could find another lawyer for them or them handling it internally).  This impresses upon the client how you are looking out for them – not you.  And, they rarely, rarely take the alternative.  You will generally get the work.

There are a dozen other get work in one week methods that I employ, and I’m sure a few will fit for you – but the bottom line is you just have to do it – and you will succeed when you put your mind to it.  Then, we can tackle the bigger goals!   

Use An Experienced Lawyer Marketing Coach That Has Been Successful in Practice.

As you know, we advocate marketing coaches as a way to achieve this accountability, help you see the forest and the trees, and help you put steps in place to accomplish your goals.  When I built my business, my biggest successes were either while I was directly using a coach or while using steps that my coaches taught me.  But to truly understand what you need to do, and how you need to do it, you want someone that has the training and experience to get you there.  Not someone that teaches well, but can’t do (because not sure it that really exists).  In any event, when interviewing a coach, make sure you are hiring someone that knows the lingo and the challenges – someone who has encountered it and succeeded.

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Coach Bradley

Our days are just not long enough and when many of us are working upwards of sixty hours a week, good time management skills can make the difference between feeling successful or feeling like a failure, between feeling satisfaction or disappointment. Despite having access to a vast range of time management assistance some of us remain unable to use our time well.

In working with clients the first thing I do is look for the obvious. So when Mary came to me asking for help with time management problems, I asked to see her agenda. Although Mary is a bright, highly motivated and self directed woman she has been unable to finish her dissertation and complete a certification she has spent several years working on and thousands of dollars of her money.

The thing that stood out about her agenda was that she had put all the things she claimed she wanted to do at the bottom in tiny print, not as agenda items, but floating off in a space by themselves. Tasks she is performing for others is up at the top of her agenda in large, bold letters. The obvious thing to me about her agenda is that she unconsciously sidelines herself. Because her work is not high on her list, on some level she doesn’t consider it to be important.

Mary is a very confident woman with high self esteem, but she shows a lot of resistance to getting her dissertation done. To get her back onto her own agenda, I had her write “Me First” at the top of the page in large letters. It’s not enough just to write the words, my client had to come around to the idea that her time was valuable and take responsibility for it. This didn’t happen over night.

The second obvious thing I noticed about my client’s time management habits was that she was doing a gazillion things. At first I thought she must be successful and extremely well organized to get so much done until it struck me that she was using this busyness to avoid doing her own stuff. Pretty creative eh?

Mary admitted to me that a lot of what she does all day is a distraction from doing the work she really wants to do; she even distracts herself from her distractions. She also has a bad habit of starting things she is unable or not interested in finishing—which led us to something even juicier but I don’t want to get off topic. The point is that she began to realize how much energy she puts into avoiding her own work—energy that she could put to better use elsewhere.

I asked Mary if she could put herself first. Move those tiny agenda items up to the top and write them in large letters. To make some space for her to get her work done, I asked her to prioritize the other work and if possible chop out the work she identified as busy work. She was able to drop several projects when she realized that they were distractions from what she really wants to do.

Mary is working against her resistance which is hard work. For homework, I asked her to be aware of how she distracts herself. Every minute taken to fold socks or rearrange the files takes valuable minutes and energy from the most productive part of her day. Since then, she now makes a point of seeing each part of her day through without seeking distractions, well almost.

Because the task of completing her thesis seemed overwhelming, I asked her to break it down into smaller pieces that can be managed in a few hours. Mary still distracts herself but she is aware of it and much more focused on her goals.

There can be many reasons why you are not at the top of your agenda. In most cases coaching can help you become the number one person in your life. A good coach will help you identify the patterns in your life that no longer work for you so you can achieve your goals and lead a happier and more productive life.

Coach Bradley is a Gestalt trained coach based in Toronto.

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Requiem for a Certain Era

Published on October 30, 2006 by in Writing Coaching


From: ” Hotel Rubschen Braunwald”
Sent: Fri, 20 Oct 2006 16:26
To: Tedd Determan

Salü Monique & Tedd,

Danke das Mail und Eueren Beitrag eine Suche nach einen Investor.
Doch, die ist jetzt vorbei, Heute haben wir den Vertrag abgeschlossen.
Das Rubschen geht jetzt in andere Hände und wir sind ab 01. November Privat.
Neueres wissen wir im Moment nicht. 

Viele liebe Grüsse aus Braunwald

Horst und Rosli,

My friend Tedd forwarded me this news the other day. “What?” Mieshelle asked, some time afterward, upon seeing my face. She admitted later that she thought someone had died. She wasn’t far off.

“Rubschen,” I said. “It’s sold.”

That’s all I needed to say to her. For readers, however, I will add the following deciphering: the email was addressed to one of my best friends and a Feroce entrepreneur coach, Tedd Determan, who lives in Washington, D.C. I was with Tedd, crashing a World Bank party in DC, when he met his future wife, Monique. This was about 1998. Later that year, I was delighted to be able to share with Tedd the Hotel Rubschen, and Braunwald, a village in the mountains in the canton of Glarus, Switzerland. Tedd fell in love too; there was more than enough to go around.

The authors of the email, Horst and Rosli Pfannenmueller, are — were —  the owners of the hotel. Onkel Horst, wise-cracking brother of my German mother and now a Swiss citizen, came to Switzerland when he was 17 to be an apprentice chef, and bought the hotel in the early 1970s. He is, until November, the virtuoso Michelin-starred chef of the Hotel Rubschen, and Tante Rosli is the Tasmanian Devil-like whirlwind of energy that handles —handled — everything else. For me, in a life full of moving from place to place, seldom to look back, and after a decade, in the 90s, of losing one German relative after another, the Hotel  Rubschen had, until now, held the distinction of being the longest continuing place of return in my life.

My aunt and uncle’s email was a reply to Tedd and Monique, who had once again written Onkel Horst and Tante Rosli, as part of Tedd’s efforts to find a buyer for the hotel whom we would know, as opposed to a buyer we would not. Efforts in which I did not participate. Why not? Perhaps because I wanted to allow my aunt and uncle to let go, in private, of the container in which their very lives had been lived. Perhaps because I had no ideas. Perhaps because denial is a sure way to avoid feeling pain and as long as I stayed out of it I could be largely unaware of anything troubling happening.

Rubschen, light of my life, grill of venison loins, My mountainous dream, my child-like self. Rrrrrub-schen. The tip of the tongue, to further paraphrase Nabokov, sputtering Teutonically on the palate till the R elides into the ub as preface to the schen so like the chen (I see at last) that makes diminutives of Germans’ beloveds. A secret I was always eager to share with my closest friends.

So often have I gone there and seen in the unchanging mirror of those mountains, those paths, that place, how I have changed and not changed. If I could bottle the optimism and good-feeling I have felt over and over, on every arrival, as I glide from train to funicular and then begin the gravelly walk from Braunwald village to the hotel, I would be a rich man, even if I was the only person ever to nip at the bottle, before secreting it back in my desk drawer.

I remember myself there as a young boy, scampering up boulders during walks, reveling in being likened to a goat. I remember driving there at ten, with German friend of the family Harry, who thought my mindless repetition of a sentence I’d spotted in his pfennig Westerns, Zum Teufel damit – “To hell with it!” was the height of hilarity, and I recall the pride I felt in being entrusted for two weeks with the job of bartender – bartender! I returned with cousin Mike at thirteen, the pictures (rather than my memory) showing us riding like princes on the electric cart, and capering about with my uncle, none of us of course aware that Mike had nine more years, seven of them good.

At sixteen, reading outside as I suntanned my vanity in the liegestuhle, falling in love with the waitress Claudia, notwithstanding the obstacle posed by the endearing mutton-chopped waiter Hermann, who watched me demonstrate Chinese push-ups in the restaurant, went into the kitchen, and returned rubbing his nose, his tiny black eyes gleaming. At twenty-two, I was just done with college, bracing for a very large change.

At twenty-six, I was back after the disappointment that was a federal judge I’d clerked for, writing almost non-stop the story of now-gone Mike and I, praying for cloudy days on which I could stay inside with my manhood and adventurousness unimpugned by my aunt, on better days solo-climbing in just a few hours the serrated symbol of Braunwald, Ortstock mountain, realizing quite late that the pretty young Portuguese woman, a seasonal worker at the ritzier Hotel Bellevue, a friend of the Portuguese who worked at Rubschen, was a lonely newlywed and had seen in an American an exotic glamour, even rescue.

I wrote a short story after this trip, my second. “An American at the Hotel Rubschen,” it’s called. The narrator is Jorge, one of two brothers who works at the Hotel Rubschen. He meets the eponymous American when Herr Pfannenmueller asks him to go down to Braunwald village to fetch his nephew, who has just come up on the funicular. It is raining, but the American declines the offer to ride in the electric car, insisting on the longed-for walk, knowing that in the morning “the mountains will come out to play”. The first half (or two-thirds?) of this paragraph is representative of the place, the rest the license of fiction:

The hotel was smartly dressed, like an obedient Swiss child, with maple-colored wood-leaf shingles and red storm shutters. There were two floors of rooms above the restaurant. On sunnier days the sonnenterrasse was full of hikers who lounged at tables in the shade of the umbrellas that now stood dormant in the rain, and children who ran around them, and dogs who collapsed to sleep beneath them with their sides heaving. The American was greeted with a happy red face from Herr Pfannenmueller, who had just left the kitchen and was still holding a handmixer from which batter slowly dripped, and with a great storm of energy by the aggressive Frau Pfannenmueller, who hugged him tightly and clucked her tongue and welcomed him to the Hotel Rubschen where, she said to him, “you can rest your broken heart.” I struggled to understand more of their German, but the bastard Swiss dialect, like most bastards, resisted closer inquiry. I watched the American’s sure gestures and wry smile and wondered what the others would think. Rita and Rui, who loved American rock singers, Joze, who preferred the bottom of his beer glass to social discourse, lovely Emilia, who so loved new things.

I never saw any of that summer’s Portuguese workers again, but each visit back proved that between the Portuguese and Rubschen there was a match made in heaven. I returned when I was thirty, taking a break from working unhappily in the law, accompanied by my supportive and patient friend Rachel; I recall feeling grateful when she cut short a hike to the green, snow-fed lake Oberblegisee, leaving me to a memorable experience of solitude as I sat by the lake in the fog, feeling I was looking at my life from a great height.
At thirty-one, there I was again with Tedd during my first Braunwald in the snow and my first torn-up knee too, and a few years later to watch Tedd and Monique consecrate that ground in marriage, and finally last October, with Tedd and Monique and Mieshelle, who said it was like the place of her childhood dreams, that she didn’t know such places existed, and has ever since supported my dream of returning to live not far away.

Braunwald. It’s worth pointing out that when I have wanted to envision in my mind a scene of calm and happiness, or feel in my body peace, I have referred to that state of inner peace and happiness as “the Braunwald of my mind.  I loved it in a rare way, I loved it unreservedly.

And so the sense of loss I felt reading that email. Braunwald will always be there, at least, as long as I am here to be conscious of a there, but the absence of my relatives and my uncle’s food and a place that has always been mine means things will be different now.

Here it is again in English:

The era has now passed . . . Rubschen will go now into other hands . . .

Many loving wishes from Braunwald,

Horst und Rosli

For more information, see www.braunwald.ch.

Who’s coming with me?

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The New York Times today published a fairly lengthy (six pages online; is that lengthy?) abstract from the journals of the late Susan Sontag (whose Against Interpretation either influenced me more than I imagined 15 years ago or I’ve just lately been coming independently to the same conclusions).  In her journal, Sontag writes, in 1966, of an acquaintance asking her how she feels when she discovers

say, three-fourths through something I’m writing that it is mediocre, inferior.  I reply that I feel good and plow on to the end.  I’m discharging the mediocre in myself. (My excremental image of my writing.)  It’s there.

I want to get rid of it.  I can’t negate it by an act of will.  (Or can I?)  I can only allow it its voice, get it out.  Then I can do something else.

At least, I know I won’t need to do that again.

This is interesting not just for writers.  The fear of making a “mistake” paralyzes anyone and everyone who is considering a relationship or a career.  Even as I suffer from the same, human fear, I’m fascinated by its irrationality.  A mistake?  Based on what criteria?  Compared to what standard?  I’ve never met anyone who could articulate why taking a job that lasts three years and then ends, or a relationship that lasts fifteen months and ends, ought to or even could be framed as a “mistake”.  It seems to me a reckless yearning toward efficiency and perfection.  And utterly paralyzing.

Sontag’s view here will be most easily comprehended by writers who often don’t even begin to write (as others don’t even begin to live) for fear that the results will turn out displeasing to them and therefore be — wait for it — “wasted”.  But anyone should be able to draw the analogies with his or her own life.

How unfortunate, to have such a limited and impoverished view of how we spend our days.  A world of “waste” versus efficiency, notions of time well spent versus perceptions of a slip in the march of allegedly forward progress.  If we can’t consider the idea that all that we do is a learning and opening up, if our story is, rather, that by acting we can only expose our mediocrity, well, it’s best not to act at all.  At the same time, if we can’t feel in our bones that there is not, in fact, any hurry to get to a place (that there is actually no place called happiness to get to), we feel compulsively compelled to act.

Thus begins the inner war.   

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Coaching the Writer in You

Published on September 1, 2006 by in Writing Coaching


The Zen of Writing: A Coach’s Perspective

Memory, as Milan Kundera has pointed out, and as anyone who has attempted a memoir knows in his bones, is not recollection, it is reconstruction.

Recollection is, on the other hand, what we do in any creative act. Robert Burdette Sweet, author and teacher of writing, tells us in Writing Towards Wisdom: The Writer as Shaman that “all creating is a form of recollection — not a discovery but a rediscovery.”

In this respect, writing is indistinguishable from any spiritual discipline. The path is narrow, but rewarding. In Writing Down the Bones, or perhaps it was in Wild Mind (Natalie would understand), Natalie Goldberg talks about the day her Zen master told her that she must choose: her Zen or her writing. In his eyes, they were both a real discipline, a practice.

“Only by artificially channeling dramatic energy can the natural revelation of the unconscious reveal itself to the conscious.” Sweet again. And so, Sweet advises you, in perhaps the best advice to writers struggling past writer’s block, procrastination, and self-doubt, you must struggle

to trust what your unconscious is up to, no matter how bizarre, how forbidden, how complex. The main characteristic of creative persons is an enormous tolerance for ambiguity. Permit yourself not to know. You are writing the story to find out what happens and why. Since the story is writing itself, you can’t know the ending. You can’t know the middle. You might not know the beginning.

Helping you to trust yourself, your instincts, and the wise unfoldment of your unconscious is what writing coaches do. At a client’s request, we can also add accountability: X words per day or week, Y pages, Z hours — the way to measure what you will commit to doing for yourself is up to you.

In this Writing category, I invite writing coaching clients to meet and to share, to discuss their creative problems, to offer advice and encouragement, and, of course, to do whatever your intuition (aka the subconscious) tells you to do, without any backtalk.

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