Bestselling author and mother of two Kate Northrup shares her refreshing perspective on how tuning in to nature (and listening to your body) can help you find the time and energy to devote to what matters most.
Your new book about time and energy management is called Do Less. When I first saw the title, it felt like one of those paradoxical verses of the Tao Te Ching: “The Tao does nothing but leaves nothing undone.” But in the book, you make a compelling case for the productivity and sanity benefits that come from actually doing less.
Actually a different but somewhat similar Lao Tzu quote was part of the inspiration for the book: “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” I resonated with it because when we take a step back, we can see the natural world quietly at work all around us. It’s really a gift to know we can rest in the pace of Mother Earth. Our bodies are made from her, and if she can do it, we can do it.
But, yes, a lot of people have something to say about the paradox of the title. “Do less? If I do less, my whole life will fall apart!” To be clear, “Do Less” doesn’t mean do nothing. It means do less of the things that don’t matter, or that don’t bring you joy, or that don’t get you results. So you can do MORE of the things that do.
You explain one way of following nature’s lead by using your menstrual cycle or the lunar cycle to help plan your schedule. Can you tell us more about it… and why we didn’t all learn this much earlier in life?
Yes! Women are cyclical creatures. Men are in some ways as well, but with women it’s more obvious because we have a menstrual cycle. And even if you don’t have a menstrual cycle, you’re still affected by the phases of the moon. Some people think this is weird or woo-woo. But it’s actually our biology. The moon has the same four phases as the menstrual cycle, and they’re happening whether we pay attention or not.
Basically, these energetic phases represent the four qualities of energy required to get anything done, and they are:
Follicular / Waxing crescent moon: Creativity, planning, new beginnings, and high physical energy
Ovulation / Full moon: Communicating, collaborating, attracting, and peak fertility or magnetism
Luteal / Waning crescent moon: Energy turns inward, focus, details, finishing projects, and putting in the work
Menstrual / New moon: Looking within, deeper connection to intuition, rest, and course-correcting
We’ve been taught to push against the ebbs and flows of our bodies and try to be super-energized and productive every single day. But women aren’t built that way. It doesn’t mean we’re less productive. It means we’re productive in a different way.
I find it’s helpful for a woman to track her cycle so she can support herself with the right activities at the right time. She’s able to be more productive and be more powerful because she’s following what’s already happening inside her body instead of pushing against it.
Years ago I read in your mother’s book (Dr. Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom) that “the veil is thinner” during PMS, and that’s why things bother you more.
Exactly! We’ve been taught as women we’re supposed to be happy all the time. So our culture tells us if we feel a negative emotion that means there’s something wrong with us. But it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us, it means there are things that are wrong with the world. You will often feel those things more acutely right before your period, or for some people right before the new moon.
It’s a similar energy to the postpartum period. Postpartum depression is energetically a similar to PMS and Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s cozy and sweet, but it can also be kind of depressing. My friend Deb said something very wise to me when I called her at 5am one morning in those early weeks of motherhood. She said, “You can trust your emotions right now. You just can’t trust the volume of them.”
It was such good advice. There may be a time every month when things feel terrible. It’s actually normal, and it’s very healthy because it points you toward what might need your attention during the next cycle. It’s just like a guidance system.
Speaking of a natural guidance system, can you talk more on this great concept of egg wisdom?
Biologically when a woman ovulates, the egg emits a signal that makes the sperm swim faster toward her. Metaphorically speaking, that is our feminine-energy-ability to attract what we want, and actually through our clear desire, speed the rate at which it comes to us.
Next, the egg decides which sperm to let in. It’s not up to the sperm. So we get to be the gatekeeper with our boundaries – deciding what is for us and what isn’t for us. Once the sperm is allowed in, if there’s something wrong with the sperm’s DNA, the egg has the ability to repair it.
The egg also has enough nutrients within her to feed herself and the sperm as they travel down the fallopian tubes to embed in the uterine lining where they’ll have a new source of nutrients. So, she attracts her desire, she approves her desire, she improves her desire, and she has the ability to nourish it.
Egg wisdom is an amazing model for us to manifest what we want in a way that doesn’t require us running all over the place, texting our girlfriends, freaking out that our desire is not coming to us and so on. There’s such tremendous trust, and knowing, and queen energy.
You talk about how the corporate world is a system created by men for men. Our team highlighted entire passages from that section, but this one especially resonated with us: “We need to lean out so that the systems that don’t support our well-being can collapse and new ones can be formed.”
That’s definitely my opinion. Some people are really interested in working within the system to shift it. And that’s perfect.
I think we need all kinds of people. I’m just not someone who’s going to create revolution within a corporate structure. So, I decided to lean out and create a career on my own terms. That said, I have friends who are very much committed to doing this type of work in the Fortune 500 World, in the venture capital arena, and in Silicon Valley. I think it’s beautiful. The more we shake things from within and without, the faster things will change.
Whether a woman works from home or works in the corporate environment or stays home with children, she often feels guilty or “less than” for asking for help. But you say it’s extremely important to ask for and receive help when we need it.
We have to ask ourselves what we’re afraid of when we don’t ask for help. The truth is – not asking for help just makes us lonely and tired and resentful. But asking for help builds connection and intimacy. We’re being vulnerable, and in turn we give others permission to ask for help when they need it.
It makes us more available to others because when we receive help, we are more replenished and then we are more free to give when others need it. Research shows that new mothers deal better with stress and are able to see their babies in a more positive light when they receive support from friends and family. They have higher self-esteem, feel more confident, and are more resourceful when it comes to problem-solving around raising their child.
We’re so busy making sure everyone else’s needs are met, but it’s vital to put ourselves on the list. Being willing to ask for help is a true sign of strength, because it means that we know our worth is not dependent upon our own ability to handle things. And we can fully understand that our strength comes from something so much deeper than that.