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How to get clarity when your brain feels like a muddy puddle

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A few weeks ago I felt completely lost. My motivation, inspiration and passion had deserted me sometime around the time I ran my 100th corporate stress reduction workshop on Zoom last year. It had been MIA for a couple of months since.

I took myself camping alone near a national park to try to get some clarity on what to focus on next.

I felt totally uncertain about two huge areas of my life: my home and my work.

I’d started feeling like Melbourne was no longer the place for me, and I wasn’t sure anymore whether it would be possible for my new(ish) love, Bloody Good Bloke and I to move to where I was hoping to move.

And, after running over 100 corporate workshops (mostly on Zoom!) last year, I had completely burnt myself out without realising. I’d kept working even as my energy started to decline, coaching my awesome 1:1 clients, running a few workshops and keeping things ticking over, but I could no longer muster any enthusiasm for doing anything new or exciting in my business.

In moments, I seriously wondered whether I should pack it all in and go and live in a yurt.

I love, love, love my business, Project Self. I love working with my awesome team who do such an incredible job, I love the corporate workshop participants I get to have a laugh with, I love coaching my incredible 1:1 clients to get clarity in their own lives, I love the epic feedback we get from our online and group programs, I love writing blog posts and getting so many replies from people who resonate saying “WTF, ARE YOU READING MY MIND?!” I’m really proud of all the hard work I’ve put in over the past 8 years to get Project Self to where it is today.

But sometimes, when I’m exhausted and unmotivated, it feels like a lot of responsibility to carry alone.

On a bad day, I can’t just show up for work and pickle around and still get paid. My success and impact rely heavily on me staying inspired and motivated.

And sometimes, like a classic overachiever-perfectionist-control-freak, I accidentally overdo it on the work front and run myself right out of mojo.

Hence the solo camping recovery mission.

I cried, yoga-ed, meditated, slept more than normal, watched the waves of loneliness and confusion, sat by the fire by myself at night, got pissed off with the howling wind folding my tent in half while I was sleeping.

I went on many beach walks along some of the most stunning beaches I’ve ever seen – but my mind, Neville was far too busy trying to solve the “lost and confused” issue to notice.

No matter how many times I consciously tried to take in the beauty and actually FEEL how lucky I was to be able to take time off to recover, Nev couldn’t give a damn about the turquoise water or the white sandy beaches.

Every week I coach my clients to get clarity on big decisions, but when it came to my own clarity, this time, I was completely stumped!

I also had a coach (two for a lot of last year!), but I’d gotten myself so in a pickle that even they couldn’t help me fully untangle my blurry head.

I know for sure that using the rational mind (Neville) in these pickle situations doesn’t usually (or ever?) work. In my experience, insights require time and empty space and letting go of trying to rationalise and control everything.

As my mate Alan Watts says, “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

If we leap into the pond and start meddling and overthinking, we make things a whole lot more muddy. Which I’d already done plenty of.

“It could be argued that those who sit quietly and do nothing are making one of the best possible contributions to a world in turmoil”

“It should be obvious that action without wisdom, without clear awareness of the world as it really is, can never improve anything.”

I’m with you, Alan.

So I meditated and sat on rocks staring at the water swelling up and over rock pools.

But clarity doesn’t work on a deadline, and I was getting antsy.

So I tested out the bingeing-on-Maccas-chips strategy instead. No luck.

Towards the end of my solo camping trip, after many days climbing over rocks to stare out over the water, and many hours of meditation racked up, I was sitting on a sand dune after going for a run and I started to feel really light and joyful. Finally I felt I was starting to be able to focus on the present moment with more ease again.

The sun had started to move behind the dune so I got up and walked 100m down the beach, then nestled back into the soft white sand again and stared out at the waves.

I couldn’t seem to get any insights on exactly what to do next in my business, but I started to feel somewhere deep in my left pinky toe (probably) that I needed to start taking things less seriously, and bring more joy and ease back into my life.

Out of nowhere came the thought “if life were just a game, how would I play differently?”

The answer was clear immediately. I’d spend WAY more time in nature. I’d bring more play and fun and spontaneity into my work. I’d stop forcing myself to sit at my computer for ridiculous hours a day. Maybe I would get a van and work from it, to help me let go of some of my overachieving task-master tendencies. Maybe I’d find a way to move somewhere with more nature and less concrete.

I felt a warm sensation building in my chest as I thought about focusing more on bringing more joy and ease into my life and work and relationships. I know this feeling well – it happens every time I get a nudge from my gut instinct that feels 100% on the right track for me.

In the 6 days to decisiveness challenge (which you can sign up for for free), I call this an insight or lightbulb moment.

I also know that when I take steps to follow these nudges, even without knowing the details, things seem to work out in unbelievable ways. (Even when there are challenges and fear and obstacles along the way, which are an inevitable of change.)

Just as I was having this moment of clarity and excitement, I saw a shadow in the water 10 metres from where I was sitting. I shaded my eyes to see what it was, and suddenly a dolphin jumped out of the water right in front of me! Then another, and another, and another.

I squealed (a bit like a pig, to be honest). Nice one, life!

A pod of maybe 8 dolphins surfed the waves in front of me, jumping and playing. I leapt up and ran along the beach right next to them, a huge grin on my face and tears of joy sliding down my slightly sunburnt face.

My sceptical self didn’t use to believe in “signs”, but I’ve found life to be a whole heap more fun when I look at the world through the lens that everything in my life is here to show or teach me something. Whether it is orchestrated or random, who knows, but this way of looking at things feels so much more fun – and certainly much more useful for growing from challenges, even when they suck.

So I’m taking the dolphin’s word for it – more joy, more ease, more play.

Since then we’ve found a way to move to northern NSW, where there’s a lot more nature than concrete, and a lot more smiling, warm, unfeasibly tanned faces than stressed corporates.

I’ll still be travelling to the big cities a fair bit to run workshops for my corporate clients and to catch up with friends, but that feels fun now that I get to spend more of my downtime near mountains, rainforests, and these epic, neverending beaches!

Cheers for the advice, dolphins.

Pstt - enjoyed this blog post? Splendid news! If you fancy getting these snippets of self-deprecating radical honesty delivered freshly to your inbox moments(ish) after I take them out of the gluten free oven (every week or three-ish), subscribe over here.

I have an online workshop coming up (details TBC) called How to be Less of a Dick to Yourself (AKA Self Compassion for Sceptics)! I would love you to join us — It’s going to be bloody splendid! Click here to register your interest.

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