Develop Self-Compassion: 5 Tips to Stop Being Down on Yourself

Inner Light

“If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” ~Jack Kornfield

I never wanted to see a therapist. I imagined settling onto the storied couch and seeing dollar signs appear in concerned eyes as I listed the family history of mental illness, addiction, and abuse. I feared I’d be labeled before I’d ever been heard.

But after experiencing the emotional shock of witnessing a murder, I knew I needed a space to grieve. So I gathered all of my courage and laid myself bare to a very nice woman who had Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements on her coffee table. I trusted her.

Within moments of meeting me, that very nice woman shattered the world I knew. The characteristics I viewed as strengths—my drive, my nurturing nature, my strength under pressure—were neatly organized into a single neurosis: codependency.

As I leafed through the pages of the book she recommended to me, I saw myself in the narrative of the co-dependent: giving until I had given all that I had; investing myself deeply in the mental health of those around me; constantly trying to make others happy.

But rather than find comfort in the words on the pages, I found myself sinking into despair. All of those years I thought that I had escaped my past unscathed, and here I was, stuck with a label: codependent.

Week after week, I dove deeper into this idea that perhaps I needed to confront my past; perhaps I did need to grieve. I cried. I raged. I stopped eating. I ate too much. My health declined.

My therapist told me I needed to relax. So I woke up early every day, determined to be the most relaxed person I could be: always striving to relax harder, better. And yet I didn’t feel better; I felt worse.

By accepting a label given to me by a near stranger, I had unconsciously shifted my focus from living in the present to fixing something that I perceived to be wrong with my past.  And it had overwhelmed me.

My inner critic gained a strength previously unknown to me. Every day, I thought about how I might make myself better. I cursed at myself for being unable to let go, and then I cursed at myself for cursing at myself.

I was exhausted.

As I slowly came to realize that I could not keep up with that inner critic, something changed. I accepted that I couldn’t be perfect. I accepted that I was human.

Only by finding my edge—that place where I couldn’t take any more—was I able to finally let go. When my inner critic started to rear its head, I learned to stick up for myself as I might defend a friend: “I am only human. I am not perfect, nor do I need to be.”

With that simple acknowledgement—I am not perfect, nor do I need to be—I was finally able to free myself not only from the pain of past experiences, but also from the pain that came from reducing myself to a label.

By learning to practice self-compassion, I became comfortable with the person I am today, free of expectations.

The journey to self-compassion was a difficult one for me, but I believe it to be a journey that I will only need to take once. Today, I have the tools I need to practice self-compassion without having to first battle my inner critic, and these are tools that anyone can use:

1. Acknowledge challenges, and let them go.

I always remember, “I am not perfect, nor do I need to be.” When entirely normal emotions come up—frustration, stress, anger, fear—I remind myself that no one expects me to be perfect. I allow myself to feel whatever it is I need to feel and to then let it go.

2. Remember that you are exactly where you need to be.

When we start our journey inward, we may learn things about ourselves that shock us. I try to remember that every challenge has its purpose and I am exactly where I need to be today.

3. Practice self-growth rather than self-improvement.

Improvement implies that there is something to fix. Rather than attempting to “fix” what’s “wrong,” I focus instead on strengthening what’s right. Work toward personal growth rather than some idea of perfection.

4. Speak to yourself as you would speak to a friend.

As I faced challenges in my personal growth, I learned to be kind to myself. If a friend was struggling with an uncomfortable emotion, I would never criticize that friend with language like, “Why can’t you just learn to be happy all of the time?!” So I don’t speak to myself that way either.

5. Give yourself a hug.

Go on. Right now. Just do it. That felt good, didn’t it?

Self-compassion is an inside job. I’ve learned that if I am gentle with myself, the world becomes a gentler place. I invite you to experience it too.

Photo by Joseph Vasquez

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About Rachel Grayczyk

Rachel Grayczyk is a yoga teacher, an amateur happiness researcher, a traveler, and a student of life. Her mission is to spread a little brightness everywhere she goes.

Encouraging Love: Help Your Partner Grow Without Being a Critic

Showing the Way

“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” ~Thich Nhat Hahn

When you think you’re an evolved and conscious woman and your partner tells you in no unclear terms that you’re “hard to be with,” it does a number on you.

Those words landed like a well-aimed boulder, smashing the immaculate vision I’d created of evolving myself: an exemplary girlfriend who was “doing the work” to grow, to become generously loving, spiritually awake, and to wholeheartedly support and encourage her beautiful partner to open to his fullest potential.

We met under messy circumstances. Both just weeks out of intense breakups and deeply embroiled in “processing” our respective experiences, I had a laundry list of emotional baggage to shed, patterns to break, and new nonnegotiable standards for anything and anyone I’d allow into my intimate space.

I pinned the badges of Emotional Consciousness and the Evolved Feminine on my heart. I journaled, meditated, and prayed to the Goddesses: Quan Yin. Kali. Durga. Sati.

And as I learned, dove deeper, sailed higher, I held fiercely to his hand. I wanted to do this together. I begged him: join me. Rise. Dig. Excavate your stagnant places.

It’s the only way forward.

I believed it. And I think, to a certain end, so did he.

Then encouragement, collaborative growth, and tough love turned to jagged criticism. Instead of holding one another in our struggles, we sat on opposing sides of some false fence. I saw only his flaws and I believed I needed him to fix them.

I saw his potential. He was brilliant, deeply spiritual, an intuitive outdoorsman and incredible teacher. He had promise, gifts to bring to the world. I wanted him to reach for it—without fear.

And when he didn’t, when he paused to rest, when he stumbled, I saw failure. I saw an unwillingness to try. I saw a man gripped by fear, clinging to safety.

I used those words.

Why couldn’t he just work as hard as me?

It’s easy to say this now. To see where my ardent desires for his evolution—to shed the excess weight and step into his highest self—so quickly became toxic. How it clouded my vision of who he was, in the moment, without the changes I thought necessary.

Wrapped up in my own work and redefining of what it meant for me to rise, I transposed my journey onto his.

All I saw was his shining potential, his shadowed present, and the moments he wasn’t up to the challenge. When the stones the universe hurled at his foundation bested him.

And I ignored the brilliant light already standing in front of me, showing up in his wholeness, wounds and all. So he learned to try and hide it, for fear that I would criticize the tenderest parts I saw to be flawed.

Nobody is perfect.

The funny part is that I’m a coach and a yoga teacher. I write about every angle of perfectionism, I preach about loving your tender and dark parts, I read endlessly about the divinity of this eternal growing process.

Stretching is uncomfortable. Peeling off the layers hurts. It’s a messy, messy adventure, this evolution. Blah blah blah. My brain knew all that. But that’s different from living it—and dammit if I wasn’t a full-on hypocrite.

So… nobody is perfect. Right?

His imperfections became my teachers. And as I crumbled, defeated in my epic pursuit of New Age Girlfriend Perfection, he taught me what it is to hold someone you love to their highest potential, with grace, love, and honor.

Your journey is not their journey. It seems straightforward, but requires a humble and gracious heart to resist imposing your own standards of evolution on another.

Just because you’re in love with transcendental meditation and it has blown your ego to pieces doesn’t mean your partner will find it moving in the least. And while you’re deeply questioning the meaning of “self,” the qualities of nonattachment, or the truth of your suffering, your partner might be doing battle with self-acceptance. Or body image. Or what it means to be masculine.

And that’s all perfect.

See the potential. Celebrate the present. That’s where I went wrong; I missed the second step. And he gently, kindly told me that he wasn’t feeling seen. Really seen—in his work, in his accomplishments, in the steps he’d already taken.

Spend more time celebrating the positive elements of how far your partner has already come—and then encourage them to keep going, because you see such beautiful potential and brightness within.

Let go of perfect. You know from your own excavations that the work never ends. There is always growth, always evolving, always new spiritual/emotional/soulful expanses to be explored.

When we think “highest self,” it sometimes feels like an end point—a “point a to point b” kind of goal. It’s not, and living from that mentality makes the experience of evolution feel hurried and time-sensitive.

As Osho says so simply, “Slowly, slowly.” Let that be your mantra, and honor each slow step your partner takes. Even more so, honor the pauses. The deep breaths. They’re part of the work, too.

It is not yours to push. You’re not his life coach. You’re not her personal trainer. You’re not mom. Position yourself on the same team—encouraging, supporting, celebrating, yes. Demanding? No. That creates a power dynamic that eventually becomes toxic and corrodes the integrity of your relationship.

When you find yourself becoming the teacher, check your motivations and rephrase. How can you encourage with tender and gracious love?

Your love will become freedom. You have this one role in your partner’s evolution: to hold the space, to fill it with love and safety and, simultaneously, the encouragement to expand—and your love will become their freedom.

Freedom to be exactly where they are on the path and to take the journey that is right at that moment and in that time. Freedom to fall. To screw up. And to try again, with unflinching faith in their own potential.

And that freedom, ultimately, is the only path to the highest self.

Photo by Nono Fara

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About Heather Day

Heather Day is a coach, yoga teacher, and wild soul traveler who works with women who long to overcome perfectionism and live for something more—body, mind, and spirit—but aren’t quite sure how to get there. She’s the creator of the Your (Im)Perfect Body Cleanse, and can be found online at

The Antidote to Criticism: Turn Others’ Doubt Into a Standing Ovation


“Criticism is something you can easily avoid by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” ~Aristotle

Gangly and skinny, I never attracted much attention from the opposite sex during high school. I was the friendly and funny sidekick to the popular girls—fun to hang out with but not to date.

When an older guy approached me during my last year of high school, I thought it would be a normal high school romance.

It turned out that our relationship wouldn’t be anything close to “normal.”

As I began to get to know him, everyone around me started to object to our interest in each other. My family, my friends, even people I hardly spoken to in years, they all opposed our budding relationship from the start.

One time, a friend of my parents came up to me at a restaurant and said, “He’s not for you. You’re a princess and you deserve a prince,” before walking off. It felt like a hit and run.

They said we weren’t right for each other. They said we didn’t run in the same circles. They said we were brought up differently. They said the long distance we’d have to endure wasn’t worth it.

They said so many things, but it didn’t matter.

Despite their objections, we continued our relationship on and off for four years, suffering under the weight of the rejection of our loved ones. We didn’t understand why they couldn’t see how simple and right our relationship was. We didn’t understand why it was such a problem for us to be together.

As much as we fought it, our relationship eventually buckled under all that judgment and fell to pieces.

Now, looking back on everything I went through, I can see just how much I gained from that suffering and criticism. Not only did I enjoy a beautiful relationship and friendship for four years, I also gained something else entirely:

I gained the opportunity to do something of my own, making my own actions and decisions based on my own criteria.

No matter if people’s criticism were right or wrong, what matters is that I learned to follow my heart and make decisions that are important to me.

I withstood the rejection of the people closest to my heart, all because I believed strongly in what I was doing. I was strong and steadfast—attributes I didn’t know I had.

Hindsight is 20/20, right?

All of those lessons are what I can see now, after everything has been over for years, but the moments when I felt attacked by their criticism were difficult to get through back then. It would’ve helped me understand it all better while I was going through it, so I started wondering…

Why do people criticize in the first place?

Through my conversations with friends and family that once criticized me, it seems to me that there are a few main reasons why people may criticize—all related to fear:

1. Fear of failure.

Most of the people that criticize our decisions are fearful of our failure. They want to protect us, and telling us their objections are their way of attempting to keep us safe from failure.

2. Fear of change.

Sometimes, the people who criticize us are afraid of how our decisions and actions will cause changes to the status quo. We like how things are right now, so why change them? Change means we don’t know what will happen next, what’s lying in wait around the corner.

3. Fear of action.

What this really means is insecurity. This is probably the most hurtful kind of criticism, but it’s very simple to break down.

Sometimes, people criticize us because they too wish they could make these decisions or take action similar to ours. They’re afraid that they don’t have it in them to pull off what we’re trying to pull off, and they turn to criticism to deal with that fear.

Most of these come from places of love—love for us or love for themselves. Identifying that would’ve helped me deal with what I went through years ago, but it helps me now, too, whenever I face criticism.

Sure, there are many more reasons for criticism and not everyone gives it from a place of love, but these few examples have helped me dive deeper into why criticism arises and how I can turn it into something great.

What can criticism turn into?

When I suffered from the judgment of my loved ones (and the scorn of people I hardly knew, like the lady in that restaurant), I followed my heart and did what I thought was best, despite the hurt. I wasn’t aware that those few years of steadfastness would turn into what I now call a “standing ovation” of sorts.

Recently, I was at a party with friends when an acquaintance approached me and said, “Marcella, I know we’re not close or anything, but I wanted to tell you that I admire you for standing up to everyone when you were in love. You stood up for what was right, and that was a beautiful thing to do.”

The very people who criticize us are the same people who later on applaud our efforts.

While it’s wonderful that someone saw the value in my struggle, I’ve recognized even greater value the more time goes by. Facing criticism and following what felt right with my first love trained me to do the same as I grew up.

Dr. Brené Brown says, “If you’re not in the arena getting your butt kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” I’d add to that with the following: I hope that me being in the arena getting my own butt kicked can inspire others to enter the arena, as well.

Photo by Martin Fisch

You’re Not Behind; You’re Just on Your Own Path

Man on a Path

“To wish you were someone else is to waste the person you are.” ~Sven Goran Eriksson

Endlessly comparing ourselves to others, idealizing their best qualities while underestimating our own are self defeating thought patterns, and they hurt our self-esteem. Yet in the competitive nature of our world, many of us do this.

As a result of my own self-defeating thoughts, throughout my life, I’ve repeatedly felt like I was five years behind where I “should” be.

After high school graduation, many of my peers went away to school and into a new wave of relationship and social experiences.

I stayed home, worked, and went to see a lot of bands play, and when I started gaining more life experience of my own, I felt like I was in catch-up mode and ashamed that I hadn’t gotten some of these experiences out of the way earlier.

I had a rocky college career, bouncing between, in, and out of schools, finally completing my English degree when I was twenty-five and feeling absolutely no further toward a career than I had before I’d started.

Attracted to web development because it offered the possibility of working remotely, I learned on the side and eventually landed a job at a small web shop. I was twenty-eight, but felt behind compared to those who had their career paths charted early on, and stacked resumes.

I decided to start freelancing with only one solid client and hoped that I’d be able to sustain myself enough to stay location independent.

After a few years of this, though I still loved the flexibility freelancing offered, I started feeling the need for my work to not only provide for myself, but to also contribute something positive to the world. Now in my mid thirties, I feel like I need to reevaluate again, but compared to others whom are solidifying relationships and buying property, I feel behind.

In the examples above, I’m comparing my path to others that aren’t my own.

If you can relate, try reframing these thoughts as a more accurate reflection of yourself and celebration of your own personal journey.

What did you want? Often when we compare ourselves to others, we are comparing ourselves to an ideal that might appear to be favored by society, media, or whatever, but it’s really not that interesting to us.

After high school, I remember distinctly not wanting to go away to school to dorm and thinking it was a manufactured environment that didn’t represent real life. I wanted to hang out with my best friend and go see live music.

As I’ve become more self aware, I realize that anti-dorming position probably reflected my high levels of social anxiety and that the experience, though difficult at times, would have had a positive impact, though I would have probably missed a lot of awesome shows.

What you wanted from life then might not be what you want now, and that’s okay because throughout life, we change and gain insight. The decisions you made likely reflected where you were in life at that point. Maybe it was the “right” decision or maybe it wasn’t, but celebrate yourself either way.

Look at the positive side of your life path. Read between the lines and don’t focus on the negatives of what you didn’t do.

When I was fourteen, my father took me to England for a couple weeks and it left me with a lasting desire to enjoy traveling beyond the confines of the “paid time off” policies at many jobs in the United States.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted out of school, so it’s probably no surprise that while I bounced between academic institutions, I also spent some of that time period traveling abroad and hence, nurturing and developing a huge part of who I am.

Choices made to appease what you perceive others think you should be doing rather than what nurtures you are self-negating, and though they may seem like shortcuts, they will often not bring you any closer to fulfillment.

Focus on what your unique cocktail of nurture and nature enabled you to accomplish.

While others found their career path early, I was sweating inside the back of a 3000 cubic foot truck, working 5am merchandising shifts at a major retailer with a group of people that ended up feeling like a family, and I know I will stay in touch with some of them for the rest of my life.

The work felt honest and the people even better, and those are two of the most valuable things in life to me.

While others were sculpting their career, networking, and building relationships, spurred on by my earlier travels, I started to freelance and accomplished a lifelong dream of working remotely abroad.

I spent two months in Europe and two years later, I spent over five weeks in South America. While my career development suffered most likely, traveling was a priority, and I created memories that I will always cherish.

Take a moment and you can probably think about when you took a less traveled road and accomplished something beautiful.

Celebrate what you love about your personality and how those qualities have contributed to your life experience.

It’s easy to confuse what it is you want to work on with those qualities that you’re quite happy with.

If I go to a large social gathering, the introvert in me will spend time processing, observing, and taking everything in. I can be pretty quiet initially, but I’m okay with this because the attributes that make me identify as an introvert also have enabled me to form deep friendships, be sensitive to others and the world around me, and to feel on a very deep level.

At that same social gathering, I might be hanging out in a small group listening when I think of a relevant story that I’d love to share, but social anxiety renders me quiet because I’m afraid my storytelling will not hold their attention.

Introversion and social anxiety can sometimes be confused, but they are different concepts. Being introverted has enabled me to experience life in a unique way, but only social anxiety has held me back at times from participating in life like I want to.

Sometimes, two aspects of yourself produce similar symptoms. When you make the decision to work on a behavior, make sure that you’re targeting the right one.

I still catch my mind comparing myself to the ideals we are constantly subjected to by society and feeling like I will never catch up, but then I center myself and realize I’m comparing myself to an ideal that is not necessarily applicable to me, and that I need to stay true to my own path. Life is much more personal, complex, and nuanced.

Perhaps there are times when you feel five years behind? But really, you’re constantly learning about yourself and sculpting a life that is a reflection of that, and that’s exactly where you need to be.

Celebrate the path of others but most importantly, celebrate your own path because you’ve likely been living a pretty honest existence all along.

Photo by h.koppdelaney

Avatar of Kevin Sandness

About Kevin Sandness

Kevin lives in Oakland, CA. He enjoys connection, culture, calm and chaos and things that make the world seem small. He might blog in the future, or he might not, but if he does, it will live at

The Labels We Take On: How They Limit Our Potential

Looking into the Horizon

“Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” ~Alan Watts

We live in a society of labels. Everyone will try to label you, including yourself. It’s been happening since the beginning. It takes some honesty and objective reflection to see it, but take a moment or two and really think about it.

Eventually, we each begin to subconsciously believe those labels and we start to feel as though to be whole, to be someone in this world, we need to appease our egos and the voices around us by “fitting-in somewhere,” preferably within those aforementioned labels.

Over time, it becomes the foundation for our lives: “I am this person”…. “I am not this person”… “I can do this”… “I can’t do this.” Our entire persona and sense of reality are sculpted by these labels.

In elementary school, we are quickly classified and reinforced with the ideas that we are smart, not smart, a good student, a bad student, a good reader, a bad reader, too hyper, too shy, athletic, uncoordinated… The list goes on and on. We begin to believe these ideas and take them on to be unquestionable, objective-reality truths.

Fast forward to the present day. Now, more than ever, we begin to believe we have tested ourselves on nearly every level; we know who we are.

While you may or may not still believe and buy into some of those labels from your childhood, I can almost guarantee that you still believe in and adhere to the holy idea of labels. Whether they are intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual, or political, you still label everything, including yourself.

For most of us, our adult selves are a more concrete and self-actualized reflection of our childhood/teenage selves.

Stepping Out of the Box & Into Your Limitless Potential

When you realize the limits your family, your friends, your teachers, and your ego have set for you, you can take your power back and choose to go beyond those limits. You can become whoever you wish to become, or do whatever you previously and falsely thought you couldn’t.

First, we must each come to terms with what is real and what isn’t real—what is a self-imposed limitation and what is something we know, in our heart of hearts to be true. That, my friends, is the first of two difficult steps to freeing yourself.

Most of us have spent our entire lives, up until right now, believing that most, if not all of those labels are tangible parts of our being, inseparable from the fabric of who we are; they hold everything we are and ever will be.

Even if we know deep down that these labels and ideas are wrong or limiting, we are constantly faced with the subconscious war with fear.

This is and will be the second, and most likely the hardest, obstacle you face as you; as an empowered human being with free will, you must consciously decide to step outside of the familiar box and into the unknown.

In general, we fear the unknown and change. We each fear not being good enough, we fear rejection, we fear failing, and we fear not knowing what is going to happen to us. Life is short; don’t waste it living in fear of failure or judgment. We are here at “earth school” to learn how to live in love, rather than fear—to live as empowered beings, not victims.

You are not a victim of your past and your labels. You are a human being capable of anything you set your heart, mind, and soul on.

Once you have firmly decided who you are and who you are going to be as a human being, you have closed the door to endless possibility. This is how the “labels” begin to consume our sense of reality; we become set in our ways and in our beliefs.

Hold onto your character, integrity, and morals, but leave every other part of yourself open to the universe of possibilities. Stay open, stay present, meditate, self-affirm.

Do the work needed in order to surround yourself with positive thoughts, emotions, and people—people who will support you and align with you as you shed the old beliefs and leave the confining box of comfort, expanding and evolving the way you are meant to as a human being.

My Box

I spent my entire life, until I was twenty-two, living in a well-crafted box. As I grew up and went to school, I was unable to focus my mind on anything but sports. I was praised as a great athlete and labeled a poor student. My teachers and my parents couldn’t get me to focus, and I barely got by.

I was placed in alternative schools, private schools, and boarding schools; nothing helped. It only reinforced the belief that “I am not smart enough or good enough.”

After having beliefs pounded into my head for years and struggling from elementary through high school, it was clear to me then more than ever: “I am a terrible student; I could never actually get my college degree and do well. I’m too unfocused; I’m not smart enough.”

I took the labels on as objective-reality truths and struggled all the way through my early years of college, only to drop out at twenty-two in the pursuit of bigger and better things.

As I got older, I had to figure out what I was good at. All I knew was that I was good at sports and bad at school. I couldn’t do anything that required focused attention in a structured setting.

From the age of eighteen until twenty-four years old I struggled trying to find my way. I knew I was good at business and I knew I was smart, but at the same time I knew school was out of the question: “I am just not good at school.” So, I started a small tech company with a friend.

When I reached the age of twenty-five, my life changed forever. I realized and had come to terms with my intuitive abilities—ones I had possessed my whole life but never really knew about until looking back on it in that moment.

I was faced with fear. I began an inner battle with all of the labels I had lived with my entire life: How could I become a professional intuitive and follow what felt right without shedding all of the ideas about who I am and who I am not? Will people judge me? Does this new me line up with who people think I am? Will my friends still like me?

The list goes on and on. I was faced with all of the fears and questions you could imagine.

As of today, I have spent half a decade overcoming a lot of my fears and peeling away the many layers of labels and self-imposed beliefs about my potential and who I am.

I am back in college full-time, finally finishing my degree in health and counseling with nearly perfect grades.

I have found healthy relationships and have overcome the fear and anxiety that previously limited the love I had for myself, and I now work as a professional intuitive and life coach with a successful business doing so.

Was it where I ever thought I would be? No. Was it easy shedding the beliefs, ideas, and labels? No. Was it worth it? Yes. It has been the most freeing thing I have ever done, and even though it has closed some doors to my past, it has opened up new ones to my future I would have never thought possible before.

Once I opened myself up to the endless possibilities of who I am and can be and listened to what my heart and soul were saying, I was free.

Most importantly, I am no longer a victim of my past or my faults. I know I can overcome anything, simply by doing the work, facing my fears, and staying open to the endless possibilities this life has to offer.

There are countless other labels I have taken on in my personal life, each one just as difficult to shed as the ones I have mentioned. Yours will be similar or completely different; it is your work to identify and release them.

I am where I am today because I constantly push myself through the two steps mentioned above. It takes time and effort to overcome years of conditioning, but we all have the power to do it.

Photo by Ewen Roberts

How to Stop Overthinking Everything: 9 Simple Habits

What is holding people back from the life that they truly want to live?

I’d say that one very common and destructive thing is that they think too much.

They overthink every little problem until it becomes bigger and scarier and it actually is. Overthink positive things until they don’t look so positive anymore.

Or overanalyze and deconstruct things and so the happiness that comes from just enjoying something in the moment disappears.

Now, thinking things through can be a great thing of course. But being an overthinker can result in becoming someone who stands still in life. In becoming someone who self-sabotages the good things that happen in life.

I know. I used to overthink things a lot and it held me back in ways that weren’t fun at all.

But in the past 8 years or so I have learned how to make this issue so small that it very rarely pops up anymore. And if it does then I know what to do then to overcome it.

In this article I would like to share 9 habits that have helped me in a big, big way to become a simpler and smarter thinker and to live a happier and less fearful life.

1. Put things into a wider perspective.

It is very easy to fall into the trap of overthinking minor things in life.

So when you are thinking and thinking about something ask yourself:

Will this matter in 5 years? Or even in 5 weeks?

I have found that widening the perspective by using this simple question can snap me quickly out of overthinking and help me to let that situation go and focus my time and energy on something that actually does matter to me.

2. Set short time-limits for decisions.

If you do not have a time-limit for when you must make a decision and take action then you can just keep turning your thoughts around and around and view them from all angles in your mind for a very long time.

So learn to become better at making decisions and to spring into action by setting deadlines in your daily life. No matter if it is a small or bigger decision.

Here’s what have worked for me.

  • For small decisions like if should go and do the dishes, respond to an email or work out I usually give myself 30 seconds or less to make a decision.
  • For somewhat larger decisions that would have taken me days or weeks to think through in the past I use a deadline for 30 minutes or for the end of the workday.

3. Become a person of action.

When you know how to get started with taking action consistently each day then you’ll procrastinate less by overthinking.

Setting deadlines is one thing that have helped me to become much more of person of action.

Taking small steps forward and only focusing on getting one small step done at a time is another habit that have worked really well.

It works so well because you do not feel overwhelmed and so you do not want flee into procrastination. And even though you may be afraid, taking just a step is such a small thing that you do not get paralyzed in fear.

4. Realize that you cannot control everything.

Trying to think things through 50 times can be a way to try to control everything. To cover every eventuality so you do not risk making a mistake, fail or looking like a fool.

But those things are a part of living a life where you truly stretch your comfort zone. Everyone who you may admire and have lived a life that inspires you has failed. They have made mistakes.

But in most cases they have also seen these things as valuable feedback to learn from. Those things that may look negative have taught them a lot and have been invaluable to help them to grow.

So stop trying to control everything. Trying to do so simply doesn’t work because no one can see all possible scenarios in advance.

This is of course easier said than done. So do it in small steps if you like.

5. Say stop in situation where you know you cannot think straight.

Sometimes when I am hungry or when I am lying in bed and are about to go to sleep negative thoughts start buzzing around in my mind.

In the past they could do quite a bit of damage. Nowadays I have become good at catching them quickly and to say to myself:

No, no, we are not going to think about this now.

I know that when I am hungry or sleepy then my mind sometimes tend to be vulnerable to not thinking clearly and to negativity.

So I follow up my “no, no…” phrase and I say to myself that I will think this situation or issue through when I know that my mind will work much better.

For example, after I have eaten something or in the morning after I have gotten my hours of sleep.

It took a bit of practice to get this to work but I have gotten pretty good at postponing thinking in this way. And I know from experience that when I revisit a situation with some level-headed thinking then in 80% of the cases the issue is very small to nonexistent.

And if there is a real issue then my mind is prepared to deal with it in much better and more constructive way.

6. Do not get lost in vague fears.

Another trap that I have fallen into many times that have spurred on overthinking is that I have gotten lost in vague fears about a situation in my life. And so my mind running wild has created disaster scenarios about what could happen if I do something.

So I have learned to ask myself: honestly, what is the worst that could happen?

And when I have figured out what the worst that could happen actually is then I can also spend a little time to think about what I can do if that often pretty unlikely thing happens.

I have found that the worst that could realistically happen is usually something that is not as scary as what my mind running wild with vague fear could produce.

Finding clarity in this way usually only takes a few minutes of time and bit of energy and it can save you a lot of time and suffering.

7. Work out.

This might sound a bit odd.

But in my experience working out – especially with lifting weights – can help me to let go of inner tensions and worries.

It most often makes me feel more decisive and when I was more of an overthinker then it was often my go-to method of changing the headspace I was in to a more constructive one.

8. Spend more of your time in the present moment.

By being in the present moment in your everyday life rather than in the past or a possible future in your mind you can replace more and more of the time you usually spend on overthinking things with just being here right now instead.

Three ways that I often use to reconnect with the present moment are:

  • Slow down. Slow down how you do whatever you are doing right now. Move slower, talk slower or ride your bicycle more slowly for example. By doing so you become more aware of how you use your body and what is happening all around you right now.
  • Tell yourself: Now I am… I often tell myself this: Now I am X. And X could be brushing my teeth. Taking a walk in the woods. Or doing the dishes. This simple reminder helps my mind to stop wandering and brings my focus back to what is happening in this moment.
  • Disrupt and reconnect. If you feel you are getting lost in overthinking then disrupt that thought by – in your mind – shouting this to yourself : STOP! Then reconnect with the present moment by taking just 1-2 minutes to focus fully on what is going on around you. Take it all in with all your senses. Feel it, hear it, smell it, see it and sense it on your skin.

9. Spend more of your time with people who do not overthink things.

Your social environment plays a big part. And not just the people and groups close to you in real life. But also what you read, listen to and watch. The blogs, books, forums, movies, podcasts and music in your life.

So think about if there are any sources in your life – close by or further away – that encourages and tends create more overthinking in your mind. And think about what people or sources that has the opposite effect on you.

Find ways to spend more of your time and attention with the people and sources that have a positive effect on your thinking and less on the influences that tends to strengthen your overthinking habit.

Image by Davide Restivo (license).

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How Simple Mini Habits Can Change Your Life


“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.” ~Alan Watts

It was late 2012, just after Christmas, and like many others I was reflecting on the year.

I realized that I had ample room for improvement in too many areas of my life, but knowing that New Year’s Resolutions have a poor 8% success rate (University of Scranton research), I wanted to explore some other options. I knew I wanted to start before January 1st too, because arbitrary start dates don’t sit well with me.

On January 28th, I decided that I wanted to get in great shape. In the previous days and weeks, however, I hardly exercised at all and felt quite guilty about it. My goal was a 30-minute workout, and it seemed impossible.

I wasn’t motivated, I was tired, and my guilt was making me feel worthless. Feeling stuck, I remembered a technique I learned from a book, and little did I know that this technique would change my life in a big way in 2013.

The technique is from the creativity book Thinkertoys, and it is to consider the opposite of an idea you’re stuck on. So I looked at my 30-minute exercise goal, and my giant fitness plan to get in great shape, and I thought about the opposite.

You could say the opposite is eating fast food and sitting on the couch, but the opposite that came to my mind was one size.

What if, instead of carrying around this overwhelming fitness anvil on my shoulders, I just did one push-up?

Initially, I scoffed at the idea. How absurd to do a single push-up and act as if it means anything! But when I continued to struggle with my bigger plans, I finally gave in to the idea and did one, and since I was already in push-up position, I did a few more.

After that, my muscles were warmed up, and I decided to try one pull-up. Just like you guessed, I ended up doing several more. Eventually, I had exercised for 30 minutes.

My mind was blown—did I just turn a single push-up into a full workout? Yes, yes I did.

The One Push-Up Challenge Is Born

From here, I challenged my blog readers to do at least one push-up per day for a full year. People have had great success with it, and here’s what it turned into for me: For the last 3+ months, I have gone to the gym three to six times per week to exercise and I’m in great shape because of it. Now I know why it works.

I have always held a keen interest in psychology and neurology, and I study them for my writing. So when I read about the studies on willpower that show it’s a limited resource, everything started making sense.

I couldn’t do my 30-minute workout because my willpower wasn’t strong enough or was depleted. But I could do one push-up and segue into a 30-minute workout because it only required a tiny amount of willpower to start, after which my body and mind stopped resisting the idea.

Of course, this concept does not only apply to fitness, but to any area of your life you wish to change. And I believe I’ve found the perfect way to leverage this technique – habits.

What’s More Important Than Your Habits?

Nothing. Habits form about 45% of your total behavior, according to a Duke University study. Not only that, but they are behaviors that you repeat frequently, which compounds their significance in your life. Habits are your foundation, and if this foundation is weak, you won’t be happy with the way you live.

The reason people fail to change their lives, and fail to instill new habits, is because they try to do too much at once. In simplest terms, if your new habit requires more willpower than you can muster, you will fail. If your new habit requires less willpower than you can muster, you will succeed.

The calculation can’t just be for one instance, however, but also for when you’re tired and your willpower is zapped. Can you continue it then?

One thing I’ve been wanting to do more is write. It’s therapeutic for me and I write for a living, so it’s fairly important that I practice. When I found that I wasn’t writing as much as I should, I found out how to combine the power of The One Push-Up Challenge with a habit plan.

How To Change Your Life With Mini Habits

Mini habits are exactly as they sound. First, you choose a desired habit or change you’d like to make—it could be thinking more positively, writing 1000 words a day, or reading two books per week. I’ve had success doing three at once.

Next, you shrink these habits down until they are “stupid small,” a term I made up because when you say the requirement out loud, it is so small that it sounds stupid. Here are mine:

1. Write 50 words per day (article, story, etc.)

2. Write 50 words per day (for the habits book I’m writing)

3. Read two pages in a book per day

Easy, right? I could complete this list in ten minutes total. So far, I’ve met these daily requirements 100% of the time, and then much more.

I’ve actually written one to two thousand words and read 10-30 pages per day, for these 12 days in a row and counting. Prior to this, I wasn’t reading at all and writing very little.

It works because your brain falls for the bait.

“Oh, only 50 words? I can write that.”

And then you start. And you’ll find, like I have, that one you start, good things happen.

Ten Daily Mini Habit Ideas

1. Compliment one person

2. Think two positive thoughts

3. Meditate for one minute

4. Name three things you’re thankful for

5. Do one push-up

6. Write 50 words

7. Read two pages

8. Do ten jumping jacks

9. Go outside and take 100 steps

10. Drink one glass of water

You can change nearly any area of your life; and at one mini habit at a time, it’s easier than you think.

When you remove the pressure and expectations, you allow yourself to start.

What mini habit(s) will you start today?

Photo by Digo_Souza

4 Ways to Know if You’re Ready for a Simpler Life

Woman in a Field

“Be who you want to be, not what others want to see.” ~Unknown

Growing up in a consumer society has its obvious advantages—technology is abundant, restaurants are everywhere your eyes can see, and grocery store shelves are always full. All of this leads to the illusion that everything is available, in quantity, all of the time, and for the most part it is.

I was born and raised in a consumer culture and I thought I had it all; the ability to buy whatever I wanted and needed was deeply ingrained in my psyche. In my childhood I had toys, stuffed animals to decorate my bed, Nintendo, a swimming pool in the backyard, a unicycle, my own little black and white portable TV, and a closet full of shoes.

My tastes changed over time, but until I became an adult at the age of twenty-eight my perception about shopping and acquiring stuff was on the naive end of the spectrum.

It didn’t matter where things came from, so long as they came and there was a temporary happiness associated with each and every purchase.

Change. Something must change. I heard whispers in the night.

The things I had accumulated were not bringing joy; what was more, they weren’t even being worn or used. I thought about the excess, my excess, others’ excess, the excess from stores that never gets sold and has to go somewhere, then I considered for a moment the environment.

My husband and I moved from a one bedroom apartment in Seattle to the plains of southeastern Hungary to immerse ourselves in quiet country life.

We had a strong desire to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. We purchased a five hectare farm with cob buildings, built without foundations and just silt under the tile floors. Electricity, but no running water.

It was ours—the trials, the warmth of the fireplace, the peace and quiet to reflect on life.

After five years of spending mornings in silence, listening to the sounds of pheasants, guinea, and owls, our closeness to nature started to become rapidly apparent. Simplicity crept into our lives as an inkling of an answer of previously soft-spoken whispers.

Drawing water from the well, bucket by bucket, spinning wool, and preserving fruit, the introduction of self-reliance into our lives was profoundly exciting and exhilarating at the same time.

Paring down and wising up, we slowly became eco-minimalists.

There are downsides to being “different”: We have lost friends along the way, our parents don’t quite understand our determined stance on living a simple life, and it isn’t easy being green. So, is living an unconventional simple life worth it? By all means, yes!

The rewards are beautiful when you truly accept gratitude into your heart. Gratitude for the little things in life: the meaningful conversations, the love, the laughter, the roof over your head (never to be taken for granted), the ability to cook for yourself and sew your own clothes.

How do you know if you are suited for a different kind of simple living? You are ready to live life on your own terms, for your own pursuit of happiness.

Distancing yourself from society may be necessary to get out of the brain smog, so that you have the ability to think for yourself without the white noises of traffic, bells, and life on the street. Spending time in silence does wonders for restoring the soul and giving you time to emerge into a new persona, a more intelligent version of your former self.

1. When memories become the real worth in your life, not things.

Think about your past, your childhood. What memories stand out? The number of toys you owned or the family and friends that you shared those special toys with? That you got to go hiking in a canyon or shopping in a cityscape?

Chances are good that it was the experiences that made life enjoyable, not the stuff—the people that you remember, the good times and the bad, the memories that last a lifetime.

2. When connecting with nature is a desire, not a chore.

Getting outside for fresh air daily is not only good for your lungs, it may help to simplify your life. It gives you the opportunity to walk, ride a bike, and move your limbs, a natural way to keep fit.

Connect with the earth by walking barefoot, laying in the grass, looking up at the sky and by allowing yourself to feel small in the vast universe.

3. When you are tired of the chase.

A life lived slowly is a life well lived. When we rush we miss expressions, we miss flowers in bloom, and we miss moments that will fly right by. Slow down!

Life is not a race. There is no competition; there is no need to whiz by. There is however a need to enjoy the details, to smile at the clouds and have the ability to wait. Patience is an esteemed virtue that we can all strive for.

4. Interest-led learning excites you!

Simple living is all about self-reliance. The ability to learn things on your own shows your determination, flexibility, and open-mindedness. When you learn new things out of your own interest, you are sure to embrace new ideas and take them far.

We didn’t become the architects and engineers our family and friends wished us to be, we didn’t even become who we thought we would be. Instead, we became us—and we are extremely joyous and grateful for that.

Wherever you go, be the change you would like to see in the world.

You don’t need to change addresses or move mountains to discover simplicity. You don’t even need to travel. You can find it right in your own home. Create new memories, go for a walk and connect with nature, explore self-reliance and be open to taking your new life in, slowly.

Photo by Kara Allyson

Finding a Good Match: Know What You Want and Need in a Relationship


“I now see how owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” ~Brené Brown

I recently left a relationship that I was not happy in. Although my ex was definitely an unconditional lover, it painfully bothered me that the man I loved was not taking care of his responsibilities.

Since I’ve entered my twenties, I’ve been looking for more than just a good time; I need a stable partner who will be able to meet our shared expenses and obligations in the future. So, I was faced with the crucial, inevitable decision of calling it quits.

I cried the first few nights, but every night after was a learning experience. I realized that no matter how much he loved me, I needed more from the relationship than he could give.

While I was still in it, he kept telling me that I made the entire relationship about me, saying, “You are only worried about your happiness. What about mine?”

Although he was right about his happiness being important, I realized something: my happiness is just as important, and I cannot—and should not have to—sacrifice mine for his.

Half of a couple can’t be happy while the other half is miserable. If neither is happy, then the relationship is already over.

A few weeks after the big break, I began asking myself what I wanted out of a relationship. Who am I? What do I need?

I wrote down a list of my nice-to-haves and my non-negotiables. This allowed me to see my past relationship for what it was: not what I really wanted. And thus, I experienced little pain and was able to move on gracefully.

Don’t get me wrong, I felt incredibly terrible for breaking his heart. I have always been the one to break things off, but I wasn’t so sure if I ever broke a guy’s heart until the day I broke his.

But I had to learn to forgive myself, because I knew the relationship wouldn’t last. And it was better to break his heart now than to stay in it for far too long and inescapably break it later.

He eventually told me I was his only source of happiness, but just as you shouldn’t sacrifice your own happiness, you shouldn’t be responsible for another’s happiness either.

Happiness should come from within. If you have it before you enter the relationship, once ties are severed and the mourning phase is over, you will surely have it again.

The greatest lesson I learned is that you have to know what you want before the relationship starts.

When people say, “I don’t know what I want, but when I see it, I’ll know,” they are usually the ones who stick around in a relationship longer than necessary because they weren’t sure of what they wanted from the beginning. This causes unnecessary trial and error and a lot more pain.

It doesn’t take long to ask yourself what it is you desire and write it down. You may not know for certain right away, but you should at least have a rough idea. Getting to know yourself better can help with this.

Dating can also help refine your list, but making a serious commitment before really understanding your requirements in a relationship can be detrimental.

Typically when we go into a relationship without truly understanding our requirements, we end up trying to change our partner, which never ends well.

A loving relationship is meant to be the reward of knowing what you wanted and receiving it. Getting into a relationship in order to figure out what you want is backwards.

Ask yourself what it is you appreciate in a partner. What will cause you to write off a potential partner (perhaps not having the same goals and dreams)? This is important because if we don’t determine what we will and will not accept, we end up accepting anything.

But even more importantly, don’t forget about yourself. Get to know your own personal likes and dislikes. This is the one time where everything can be about what you want.

When we’re in a relationship, we’re always so busy trying to learn about another person’s wants, needs, goals, and aspirations that we oftentimes forget about our own.

During this time you don’t have to ask anyone for affirmation. All of your decisions are your own. No one can tell you who to be.

And while in a relationship, you still have to remember that you complete yourself. The man or woman you’re with does not define who you are, and you do not need him or her to be complete. Your self-esteem should not begin or end with how that person feels about you.

Be willing to give the person you love the shirt off your back, but your self-worth? Never give them that.

You have to honestly know that you will be happy with or without them. This little piece of knowledge makes it easier for you to leave a relationship that causes you anguish, and find one that better serves you.

That’s not to say that relationships are perfect and no one will ever hurt you; that’s certainly not the case. Every person will come with his or her own flaws, and every relationship will require a little work. You just have to know what you’re willing to work through and what you’re not.

Some words of advice my wise mother once gave me: you are the prize. How big of a prize you’re worth winning is defined by how much you love and respect yourself. You determine how much you are worth. Nobody else.

Sometimes love can turn into a battle that we want to win but can’t. Many relationships aren’t meant to be. That doesn’t make it your fault, and it doesn’t make it the other person’s fault; it just makes it life.

Whatever the case, you should never sacrifice your dignity at the expense of a futile relationship.

As for me, I couldn’t wait for him to be who I needed him to be. And I couldn’t change him either. I had to do what was best for me and for him as well.

If it were meant to be, it would’ve been right from the beginning.

I just have to go out into the world and find someone who better suits me. In the meantime, I am discovering a lot about myself; things I would’ve probably never known otherwise.

You must never get so caught up in your other half’s happiness that you forget about your own, and what matters most to you.

By the time I get into my next relationship, I will have better clarity of what I want and what I need.

But for right now, I am the love of my life. I am hoping that eventually I can share my love and happiness with another being, and he can share his with me.

Romance does not only consist of loving another, but also finding it easy to love oneself in the process. And I have to remind myself to never lose sight of that self-love.

Photo by Kara Harms

Avatar of Ariel Hairston

About Ariel Hairston

Ariel Hairston is a college student at Valdosta State University in Georgia and aspires to become a professional writer. She enjoys exercise, yoga, and putting smiles on people’s faces. Follow her @uhhangel on twitter and add her on Facebook.

A Lasting Romance Is Built on Flaws: 6 Tips for a Strong Relationship


“Let our scars fall in love.” ~Galway Kinnell

We all bring our own baggage to any relationship. I know that my past relationships have shaped my approach to love and romance. When we seek out that special someone to share our life, the disappointments of our past relationships tends to get in the way of new discoveries.

It’s human nature to size up a potential partner by drawing from past experience.

There are so many ways to catalog the possible flaws: He’s too short. She’s too tall. Too fat. Too thin. Not enough education. Too much education. Or you become judgmental about how much your date eats or drinks or how they interact with other people.

The perceived flaws get in the way of making a connection.

It’s like the three bears’ approach to dating, looking for that partner who is “just right.” Too often we make the mistake of looking for a mirror of ourselves in a partner.

After a while, I realized that the perfect mate doesn’t exist. There is no “right” person who has everything on my perfect mate checklist. And even if I found someone with everything I was looking for, wouldn’t that relationship become dull with time? They’d be too much like me.

I finally figured out that it’s better to seek out a partner who understands and shares my failings; someone who would complements my worst characteristics. To find my soul mate, I first needed to be able to look inside, examine my character defects, and change them or embrace them.

As I got older, I stopped trying so hard. I started to relax, be myself, and invite women to accept me for who I am, flaws and all.

I can be geeky. I can be arrogant. I can be aloof. I can be a real know-it-all. I can be selfish. I have any number of character defects. But by taking my own inventory and laying my faults on the table for all to see, I could invite someone to accept me for me.

I finally married at age 50. It took me that long to figure out that I had to be true to myself in order to be true to a partner. And now I have a beautiful wife and two terrific stepchildren who love me for me—flaws and all.

Like any family, we have our fights. When we forget how to tolerate the other’s defects, my wife and I can get into a real shouting match. It’s at those moments that I have to remind myself to embrace our flaws and follow some simple rules:

1. Communicate.

I tend to live too much in my head, and when I listen to my own inner voices too long, I lose touch with what’s real and start imagining the worst. Good communication solves that problem.

My wife and I share our feelings, our anxieties, our hopes, and our dreams. We communicate, but we try not to take on each other’s problems as our own. Just simply saying “I’m having a bad day,” or “I don’t really want to talk about that now,” we can stay connected and leave the doors of communication open without getting into a fight.

2. Respect each other.

Even when we disagree I always try to give my wife the respect she deserves. When we do fight, we try to practice fair fighting, being respectful of the other party and hearing their side. If you are considerate of your partner, it’s easier to find a middle ground.

3. Respect each other’s space.

And we make sure we give each other space. We each have friends and activities we pursue on our own.

My wife will go out with her girlfriends to hear a local band or see a ballgame, and it’s understood that I’m not welcome. I also work at home and we have set ground rules around my hours and my workspace. For example, my wife keeps our house spotless and she knows that, even though I am a slob, my office is off-limits; it’s my space.

4. Rely on each other.

No matter what we are doing or how busy we get, we know we can count on each other for support.

I try to call on that support when I really need it, so I don’t take it for granted. And if my wife needs help with a technical problem or is worried about the kids, I make time to assist or lend a sympathetic ear.

As we have grown together we have become better at triaging crises; if a problem can wait, we set a time aside to deal with it when we can both give it our full attention.

5. Take your own pulse.

I try to stay in tune with my own moods and feelings to make sure my inner demons don’t affect my family.

When my inner voices start to whisper to me, I can start blaming my family for my own failings. It’s then that I pause, take a deep breath, and try to distinguish what is real and what is imagined. It’s eliminates a lot of family drama.

6. Keep the romance alive.

Despite busy schedules, my wife and I take time out for each other. Friday is date night and it’s sacrosanct. We go to dinner, take in a movie, or find some activity we can share and enjoy together. We also work to make time on weekends for joint activities, even if it’s grocery shopping or a trip the hardware store together.

After many years of self-examination and soul-searching I understand that I am the only constant in any relationship. When I found a partner willing to love me for my flaws as well as my good points, I knew I had found the right mate.

Even when I screw up, the foundation we have built tolerating and even celebrating each other’s faults and foibles, our humanness, is strong enough to withstand anything.

Photo by Brett Brooner

Avatar of Tom Woolf

About Tom Woolf

This is Tom’s first post on Tiny Buddha.