Saturday, January 28, 2012

New Monthly Feature on HSP Notes: HSP Portraits

Starting in the not too distant future, I will be adding a new (hopefully monthly) feature to the HSP Notes blog: "HSP Portraits."

HSP Portraits will be an ongoing series of (hopefully inspiring!) vignettes and interviews with HSPs from a wide range of backgrounds and walks of life-- all of whom have in common that they are empowered Highly Sensitive People, and they are making a difference in the world, in people's lives, and even in their own lives.

I won't necessarily just be featuring "famous" or "known" HSP personalities-- but also "the person next door" type who's quietly going about making the world a better place. What these folks will have in common (aside from being highly sensitive) is that they are examples of how to be in the world, and active agents in their own lives. Their stories are intended to showcase the positive sides of being a Highly Sensitive Person.

With this series, I also hope to share the vast array of different creative expression and talent HSPs bring to the world, from spiritual coaching to art to healing and to simply spreading general awareness of the HSP trait. We contribute in so many ways, but we're often quiet and soft-spoken, and feel challenged by-- and even uncomfortable with-- the idea of "tooting our own horns." Sometimes, it takes someone else to help us "shout the message from the rooftops."

The first HSP Portrait will appear on these pages sometimes in the fall of 2012, with subsequent installments on the second Monday of the month.

(Updated 05/20/2012: Due to current personal workload and other commitments, the start of this feature has been postponed from February to the fall. In typical HSP fashion, I'd rather "do it right" than merely "do it," on insufficient time!)

I hope you will find the HSP Portraits entertaining, interesting, enlightening and inspiring.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Self-Employed HSP and the Importance of Planning

I am self-employed, and have been-- in one form or another-- for many years.

Even while I was working for various companies, I always had some kind of "sideline business" going.

Self-employment is quite common among HSPs, moreso that among the population at large. In her book "Making Work Work for the Highly Sensitive Person," (highly recommended, by the way-- useful book for all HSPs!) Barrie Jaeger advocates self-employment as one of the better chances we have at getting involved in work that truly is our "calling."

It's not surprising: most HSPs find traditional workplaces oppressive and filled with rules that squash creativity, as well as excessively competitive and not friendly to someone sensitive. The physical environment of many workplaces-- noisy, cramped, windowless-- also does not bring out the best in us.

Whereas self-employment typically offers the best opportunity for creative expression and freedom, it is not without its challenges, especially for a Highly Sensitive Person. When I consult with HSPs about their one-person businesses, the greatest challenge seems to be the "business end" of having your own business. This is not surprising: With so many of us being intuitive/creative right-brain processors, we find it difficult to deal with the distinctly left-brain "nuts-and-bolts" aspects of business: planning, record-keeping, accounting, budgets, etc.

Some might even say "Oh, I can't DEAL with that sort of stuff! I'll just figure it out as I go along and everything will just work itself out."

Not so fast.

Typically, such an approach is a recipe for disaster.

Or, at least, a recipe for getting yourself immersed in a sea of chaos, leading to HSP-overstimulation, possibly leading to frustration with being in business for yourself.

First, let's tackle the "I can't" myth-- as in "I can't deal with that sort of stuff."

Even if you are a "creative" and "intuitive" and "right brain" type of person, let's remember that it's simply not true that you "can't" use the left (logical, number crunching) side of your brain. Unless you happen to have had a lobotomy, you can engage the left side of your brain-- it's just not your dominant function. And you may feel resistance because "left brain activities" feel difficult, restrictive and boring.

"I can't" is just a story we tell ourselves when faced with something we don't like.

As it is the beginning of the year, I recently finished doing my business planning for the year (and years) ahead. When you are self-employed, having a plan-- and actually formulating and writing it down-- is very important, because it helps us define what it is we're trying to do, and then gives us a road map of sorts helps gauge whether we're "making it," or not. Just having the plan "in your head" is not enough!

As an HSP and a veteran of "doing this," I can't overstate the importance of taking the time to have a business plan, both for the current year, and for the future.

Before you panic, business plans don't have to be elaborate, or contain 40 pages of numbers in little columns. At its root, a business plan is no more than a written statement of "where you are now," and where you want to be (by some date, like "December 31st," or "Five years from now"), and even the most rudimentary statements about "what that entails."

The main things a business plan does is force you to "quantify" what you're doing.

"I want to be a successful author by 2017" is NOT a business plan.

"I want to write and publish three books in my field of expertise by 2017" is a business plan.

And yes, it can be "just that simple."

If you're feeling resistance-- for whatever reasons-- to having a PLAN (it feels "restrictive," it "limits your creativity" or "plans involve numbers and I HATE numbers!"), her's something important to remember. Once you've made it, you don't have to become a slave to it!

All it's there to do, is help you define and think through the process that gets you from "right now" to your dream of (for example) "successful author." The level of detail you want to put into it-- when each book needs to be finished, or how much you need to write every month/week-- is completely up to you. Just get "the bones of the process" down on paper. Make a few rough estimates ("guess-stimates") of the time you need vs. the time you have, any major expenses you might encounter and how you're going to fund them, research what one actually gets paid each time a book sells.

But don't overthink it or overdo it... as HSPs we often get bogged down in details, which can lead to "analysis paralysis."

I'll close by bringing up the "map analogy" again.

Your business plan is your road map. Indeed, if you need to travel by car from one side of New York city to the other, you may well be able to do so, using your intuition and "figuring it out as you go along." But odds are it will take you much longer, and you'll get lost several times, and burn a lot more gas before reaching your destination... than if you'd had a map. Having the map doesn't mean you're going to sit with it in your lap, the entire time... you're just going to pull it out now and then when you're freaking out a little and thinking "now... where the hell AM I?"

Talk Back! Are you self-employed? If you are, do you have a written plan? If not, why not?  If you are not self-employed, would you like to be? If the idea appeals to you, but you've chosen not to... what's holding you back? Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment!

Saturday, January 07, 2012

How do YOU "Identify" with the HSP Trait?

In a couple of past articles, I have alluded briefly to the somewhat unhealthy practice of "hiding behind the HSP label," as a means to avoid actively engaging in life. These people carefully and actively "cultivate" an image and aura of being "fragile flowers," sometimes making life insufferably difficult for those around them... who end up feeling like they are walking on eggshells.

This represents one end of a continuum of attitudes towards being a Highly Sensitive Person.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are folks I would describe as "HSPs in denial." These are people who are clearly HSPs but actively deny it; either by ignoring their sensitivities or by declaring the whole idea to be "nonsense." Along with them, another group "sees and rejects" their sensitivity: "Yeah, I'm an HSP... but SO WHAT???"

Extremes are seldom healthy expressions of life... and rarely balanced.

I am unapologetically open about being an HSP. I don't care who knows and who doesn't, and I really don't care what they think about it.

I embrace my sensitivity as a NEUTRAL trait, as Dr. Elaine Aron originally characterized it. Being "sensitive" doesn't "make me" anything. It doesn't make me "special," or "better," or "weak," or "gifted," or anything else... aside from "highly sensitive." It is part of a description of me-- like "blond hair" or "tall."

Just like I don't require anyone to give me "special treatment" because I am tall, I don't require anyone to give me special treatment because I am Highly Sensitive. That said, I also appreciate it when the counter clerk at the airport says "Let me see if I have any seats with extra legroom, since you're tall," and I appreciate it when someone recognizes and does something out-of-the-ordinary for me, because I am highly sensitive.

Just like I understand and embrace that "being tall" comes with certain benefits and drawbacks other people might not fully grasp, so I embrace and understand that "being highly sensitive" comes with certain benefits and drawbacks other people might not fully grasp.

This is my LIFE. I have two options: I can either "fight" it, and complain about it and impose my difficulties on others like a wet blanket... or I can honor it and make the most of precisely the characteristics I happen to have.

Acceptance also means we must be open to accepting certain limitations.

Because I am tall, flying is difficult and very uncomfortable for me... try sitting for eight hours straight, folded up like an accordion. Consider what it's like to shop for cars, knowing that those (about 10%) you can actually "fit in" might NEVER be the ones you "like best." Consider the number of times you might hit your head on something overhead-- from a doorway, to a branch, to a sign in a store, to a low stairwell-- knocking yourself to the ground... and people stare at you like you're stupid.

The above doesn't mean that I don't fly; nor that I don't own a car; nor that I avoid moving around. It just means that my "process" is a little different from most other people's.

As a highly sensitive person, I have certain limitations about me that I simply accept. I doesn't serve me or make my life better to either (A) endlessly complain about them or (B-- which I see a sadly large number of HSPs do) more or less "give up on life" because of these limitations.

As an HSP/empath, I will never be comfortable in large crowds-- the many energies bouncing around, the noise, the pushing and the shoving make me uncomfortable... and exhaust me. Whereas I genuinely like (quiet) people, company wears me out, rather quickly. I cannot do anything well (i.e. "perform") with someone looking over my shoulder. It has nothing to do with being shy, or socially anxious, or fearing failure... and everything to do with the proximity of that person's energy destroying my ability to focus. Loud sounds-- sudden, or persistent-- overwhelm me. They even hurt. Doesn't matter whether it's a jet engine, chain saw, an angry person screaming, a large dog barking or a rock concert.

The above doesn't mean that I don't go to crowded places, that I don't socialize, that I can't work when other people are around or that I don't go to concerts. It simply means that my "process" is a little different from most other people's.

This article was never meant to be about "practical advice" for dealing with specific HSP traits that make life more challenging. It was meant to gently challenge the paradigms of both the "very fragile embracing" HSPs and the "rejectionist" HSPs... and suggest that we need to find a balance; a balance that allows us to be IN the world, but on our terms. "Hiding" behind-- or rejecting-- what makes us HSPs robs us not only of the chance to live full lives, but also of sharing the positive aspects of being highly sensitive with the world.

Talk back! How do you feel about being an HSP? How do you identify with the trait? When you first learned about high sensitivity, did you reject the idea, regard it with skepticism, or wrap yourself in it like a warm blanket? OR something else? Has your attitude towards being an HSP changed, since you first learned about the trait? WHAT has changed? Be part of the dialogue! Leave a comment, and share your experiences.

Monday, January 02, 2012

HSPs, Goals and New Year's Resolutions

Happy New Year!

As I replace my 2011 calendars with new 2012 calendars, I can't help but think about the way we generally use the turning of the year to generate a series of "resolutions" for what we're going to accomplish during the year ahead.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking the idea of "setting goals." I'm just against skeptical about the value of these time-dependent resolutions, especially for HSPs.

Where we run into trouble is when we create these "resolutions" out of some sense of obligation, because everyone around us seems to be doing so. And where we run into double-trouble is when we feel subtly pressured to set unrealistic goals. Goals that-- upon reflection-- sound more like "wishful thinking" than actual accomplishable ambitions.

"Go on a diet and lose 50lbs."
"Climb Mt. Everest."
"Learn French."
"Get in shape and run the New York Marathon."
"Write and publish my first novel."

Perhaps these are worthy and inspiring resolutions. But for an HSP, just looking at such goals-- before even attempting them-- can make us feel overwhelmed. Where do we begin? We start to overthink and overplan, which perhaps will cause us to become immobilized ("analysis paralysis"), rather than motivated. And the sad fact is that 90% of ostensible New Year's resolutions are broken within 30 days, and very few people (HSP or not) actually reach their goals.

Of course, a large part of the problem is that most New Year's resolutions are "made in a hurry," because it happens to be the first of the year, and they bear little resemblance to the kinds of goals we reach for during the remainder of the year. So we get trapped in this "bigger and better goals" cycle... and then we almost inevitably fail.

These "failures" have specific implications for the Highly Sensitive Person because we "take things to heart" more deeply than the rest of the world. We end up feeling bad about ourselves because existing life was already stimulating enough... and even having the "diet goal" made us feel even more overwhelmed... and when we realize that we're "not gonna get there" it hits us hard. Perhaps we end up brooding and feeling it is was "all too much." Perhaps we assess and determine that we're actually worse off than if we'd had no resolutions, at all.

I have been much happier with life since I ditched "New Year's Resolutions," some 15 years ago... almost at the same time I learned about being an HSP.

Whereas I do "mark" the passing of a new year, it's mostly from a "retrospective analysis" perspective. What did I get done, during the previous year? Then I pause to be grateful and "feel accomplished" about that.

For the most part, I have given up on setting "large time dependent resolutions and goals." Instead, I set lots of small daily/weekly goals.

Let me use an analogy to illustrate: Instead of setting a goal called "This year I will organize and make personal contact with ALL my existing and past clients," I set a goal called "this WEEK I will organize clients whose name begin with the letter A." Odds are good I can do that, since it's not an overwhelmingly huge task. Then, by the end of the week, I might set a new goal called "on Monday, I will make contact with five "A" clients." Then I set a goal called "on Tuesday, I will make contact with five "A" clients," and so forth. Small, relatively easy-to-accomplish chunks.

This accomplishes TWO things, for me:

One, I get to celebrate "success" and "accomplishment" more often than not. Rather than getting overwhelmed by worry and anxiety about the sheer scale of "contact ALL your clients," I get to feel good about the fact that I DID organize the "A" clients this week.

Two, at the end of 26 two-week cycles, I will-- in fact-- have organized and contacted everyone in my entire client database. And I can go back-- at the end of the year-- and celebrate that my client database is now organized and current.

Of course, the above is just an example.

Bottom line-- Remember this: Nobody has to be "impressed" with your method of goal setting (and subsequent rate of accomplishment) besides yourself. As an HSP, part of living in an HSP-friendly manner is to structure your life (and "resolutions") in such a way they minimize stress and worry, while maximizing the end result. Often that will mean having to create your own system.

Talk back: Do you make "New Year's resultions?" Or do you avoid them, altogether? How often do you accomplish what you said you wanted to, at the beginning of the year? Do you find it stressful and overwhelming to consider LARGE life goals? Feel free to leave a comment about your experiences with resolutions and goal setting!

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