Six Simple Mindset Tools to Make Peace With Your Inner-Critic So You Can Thrive

Life With an Inner-Critic

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We all have an inner-critic that if left to its own devices will constantly judge and negatively comment on the way we live our lives. If we pay attention, it's easy to notice that the voice of the inner-critic never shuts up! From the moment we wake up, the voice immediately starts spewing opinions and commentary:

"I'm so tired! Why did I go to bed so late again? Why don't I ever learn that I need to get to bed earlier?!"

"Did I get any comments on my Instagram while I was asleep? Only two likes...I guess people didn't like my post? Or maybe they just didn't care."

"Oh God, I just remembered I have to work late tonight! Ugh! I'm going to be so exhausted! I'll never make it through without coffee! I guess I won't be putting the kids to bed again tonight!"

To make matters worse, the inner voice also criticizes us for every mistake big or small:
"I can't believe I ate all those cookies! I have no self control! No wonder my pants are so tight!"

"I have no idea what to say in this meeting and people keep looking at me! They're probably wondering why I'm even in this position. I'm wondering that myself. Sometimes I'm so incompetent! "

"I'm so awkward! Why do all the other moms seem to get along great together and I never know what to say? They must think I'm so weird!"

And on and on it goes all day. We live our lives and the inner-voice (our inner-critic) criticizes, judges, and puts us down every chance it gets. If you're a highly sensitive woman, you can probably relate to the concept of the inner-critic because highly sensitive women tend to be very hard on themselves, perfectionistic, and also very sensitive to perceived judgment from others.

The Problem With the Inner-Critic

Take some time today to write down some of the thoughts you have that are mean, judgmental, critical, or hurtful toward yourself. You will probably be surprised by the sheer number of negative thoughts you have about yourself as well as what those thoughts are actually saying: things you would never say to your worst enemy, let alone someone you love. 

You might argue that though the thoughts aren't nice, they're true or that you won't make any positive changes in your life if you don't think "realistically" about your shortcomings and flaws.

I beg to differ. I've yet to see a woman shame herself into making a positive change in her life. And that's what the inner-critic is: the voice of shame whose core fear is that there is something wrong and unfixable within us, and if it's found out, we will be will be rejected, unloved, or will (metaphorically) cease to exist at all.

Though the inner-critic tries to convince us that it's just reporting the truth to us and that it's helping us to get to the life we want to live, the reality is just the opposite: the inner-critic robs us of living lives that are in integrity with our most authentic, highest selves.

The inner-critic tries to convince us that it's just telling us the truth, that we should feel bad about whatever it's jabbering on about at any given moment, but that's simply not true. 

We all have painful feelings in life: fear, anger, sadness, guilt, jealousy, and confusion, just to name a few. Those feelings are normal and an important part of the experience of being human. The inner-critic has the power to extend those feelings outside of the moment they occur to any time and any place in our lives. Thinking about an incident of missing a winning goal in 9th grade soccer can be just as painful in the moment as it is 20 years later as it replays in your mind. 

To make matters worse, the inner-critic can cause us to feel pain even on the happiest days of our lives.

For example, the day I graduated from my master's program at NYU, I put on my cap and gown as I got ready to leave for the ceremony only to realize I had ordered the gown too long. It was dragging on the ground and I couldn't walk in it without tripping and so with time running out before I was expected to gather with the rest of the graduates at Lincoln Center, I had to hastily pin it up with safety pins. I immediately felt frumpy and conspicuous in my poorly pinned graduation gown and couldn't stop berating myself for making such a stupid mistake in ordering the wrong length.

The moment I walked on stage to collect my diploma and shake the hands of the highest faculty in my graduate program, I wasn't thinking about the enormity of my achievement, I was thinking about whether the audience could see the safety pins. As I watched other graduates collect their diplomas, I noted that many had gowns that stopped several inches above their ankles and continued to silently obsess and criticize myself for my gown mishap. It got to the point where I realized that I felt jealous of my graduating colleagues who, with correctly sized gowns, could fully enjoy the day.

Though this incident is ridiculous and even comical in retrospect, it is also sad and painful. My graduation ceremony for my master's degree was a moment that should have been filled with pride, joy, and a feeling of great accomplishment. It was the culmination of thirteen years of grade school, four years of college, and two very intense emotionally and academically challenging years of my master's program. And yet here I was obsessing about the length of my graduation gown. My inner-critic had robbed me of a precious moment in my life -- but only because I let it.

I wish I could say that this example is an extreme case but unfortunately, for most women it's the norm. No matter how good our quality of life, no matter how joyful our situation is on paper, all we need to do is listen to our inner-critic for a few second and instantly we're in pain.

Giving Peace a Chance

When we get stuck or tangled up in what our inner-critic is telling us, we wind up giving them more power and holding on more tightly. This is what happened in my graduation ceremony. The more I thought about my gown, the more power those negative thoughts had and the more they got stuck in the forefront of my mind, keeping me from being present on an important day. Here's what to do instead:

Get Present By Making Contact With the Moment

Making contact with the moment means being psychologically present: consciously engaging with whatever is happening. Our brains tend to find it very difficult to stay present. What happens most of the time instead is that we get caught up in our thoughts and lose touch with the world around us. Our inner-critic causes us to live in the past with our regrets and painful experiences or in the future with our worries and fears. 

We are usually not even aware that this is happening because we are going through our days on mental autopilot, going through the motions of interacting with whatever comes into our world without actually being present with it.

Making contact with the moment means actively engaging with both the world around us and our inner-world with openness, awareness, and non-judgmental presence. When we engage with whatever the present moment is bringing to us without judgment and without trying to change it, we can find peace in any situation and we can operate from a place of trusting that whatever happens, there is nothing we can't handle.

Watch Your Thinking

Making peace with your inner-critic means learning to separate yourself from your thoughts, mental images, and memories. This means that instead of getting caught up in your thoughts or even trying to determine if they're true, we step back and watch them go by like people walking down the street in front of our house or leaves floating down a stream. 

When we do this, we are able to see our negative thoughts for what they really are: just words and pictures in our minds.  This puts the power back in our hands.

Allow

Allowing means opening up and making room for all thoughts, feelings, sensations, and urges. The inner-critic's power comes from our judgment of parts of ourselves or our experience as bad, wrong, or unbearable. When we stop struggling against the painful or uncomfortable parts of life, running from them, resisting them, or trying to numb them, we can just let them be with openness and even curiosity. 

This doesn't mean we enjoy them or desire them. It just means we accept them so that we can also accept peace into our lives.

Become the Observer

In our everyday experience, we tend to forget that our minds are actually made up of two distinct aspects: the thinking self and the observing self. The inner-critic is part of the thinking self: the part of us that is constantly generating thoughts, beliefs, memories, judgments, fantasies, plans, and so on. Think of it like a fire hose of words and images always flooding your brain with information (which may or may not be factual). 

Th observing self, on the other hand, is the part of us that is purely aware of whatever we're thinking, feeling, sensing, or doing in any given moment. The observing self is the only part of us that stays constant throughout our lifetime. 

Think about it: as you go through life, your body changes, your thoughts,behaviors, and feelings change, but the "you" that's able to observe these things has been there your whole life. 

Making peace with your inner-critic requires switching your awareness from your thinking self to your observing self. In doing so, you recognize that your inner-critic is nothing more than words and images, not your true self -- who you really are at a deep, soul level. 

Get Clear on Your Values

Your values are what you deem to be most important in life: the standards of behavior that you believe would be a reflection of living your life as a reflection of your highest, truest self.

Your values are what you want your life to be about, what you want to stand for, and how you want to ideally spend your time here on Earth.

When we sit down and get very clear on our values, we are able to change our behaviors so that they match up with the call of our soul. The words of the inner-critic become less important and less impactful because we are living our lives according to what gives us meaning and fulfillment, not what the voice of fear is demanding or dictating we "should" do.

Take Values-Based Action

It's only when we live a life that's in integrity with our values that we begin to find inner-peace and self-love on a full, rich level. When we take action based on our values, we are likely to experience a wide range of thoughts and feelings both pleasant and unpleasant, both pleasurable and painful. It may require us to do things that are uncomfortable or that our inner-critic tells us we can't or shouldn't do because we won't be successful or because we're not good enough or because we don't deserve it.

Taking values-based action means the inner-critic is allowed to say what it wants about our choices (and it will!), but we stand firm in taking action anyway because we love ourselves enough to gift ourselves with a life that is full of meaning and congruence with our life's purpose(s). 

 

Our inner-critics can be demanding, shaming, hostile, and aggressive. They're there because our brains are designed to protect us and keep us safe from anything that might be painful. After all, for our ancestors, doing things that were difficult or outside their comfort zone had the potential to result in catastrophe. Our inner-critic doesn't want to see us hurt. It wants us to keep our walls up so that we can survive. It does so because it loves us in the only way it knows how -- by keeping us playing small in the game of life.

But connecting with your observing mind and your values allows you to live life in a different, more aligned place. Fear can have a voice, but your heart and your values will always be making the decisions.

 

And now I'd love to hear from you: what tools work for you in making peace with your inner-critic? What have you learned about life with your inner-critic that might help someone else? Feel free to comment below.

If you'd like to learn more about how to apply these tools with individual counseling, my teen group, or my women's group, please reach out and call or text at 973-769-2401 or email me at amy@amybethacker.com

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When Life is Hard and the World is a Scary Place

The world can feel like a bad place when we're alone with our thoughts.

Our uniqueness can feel like a barrier instead of our most valuable asset, keeping us from feeling connected to the world, the ones we love most, even ourselves.

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When we find ourselves unable to get away from a place of feeling hurt or slighted or misunderstood by people, or by life, we start to experience the world in extremes where every sideways glance from a stranger is a direct attack on us, and every political headline is a confirmation that the world we live in is dangerous, unjust, and evil.

In other words, we either see the world through the eyes of an ant, picking apart the tiniest details of our lives to serve as evidence of our negative perceptions, or we see the world through the eyes of an eagle, personalizing the entirety of the world's pain and making it our own.

When we feel stuck, alone, or disconnected, one of the best things we can do for ourselves is to switch our view, and in doing so, switch our mindset.

When we are stuck in ant view, we are in a place where the most minor of disturbances can feel like a monumental devastation. Think of an ant in a rush to get food back to its nest and then coming to a tiny stream. To the ant, the stream will appear to be a massive obstacle to overcome, requiring massive strength and ingenuity to make it to the other side, if making it to the other side is even possible at all.

We feel this way when life is overwhelming. A cold response from a friend that might otherwise be barely a blip on our radar becomes an excruciatingly painful wound to be picked at and analyzed over and over in a futile search for relief. We dissect the minutia of our day looking for evidence to support the fact that our lives are unfair, painful, and just plain hard.

Now think of that same tiny stream from the viewpoint of an eagle flying high above the trees. The stream may not be registered at all to the eagle, or if it is, it's in the context of whether it holds anything of value, such as a fish.

Similarly, when we can step outside ourselves and look at a painful situation from a distance, we get to a place where we can start to find comfort and connection, and ultimately, peace.

So the cold response from the friend becomes much less about what you may or may not have done wrong and much more about remembering that you chose the people in your life for a reason, that people's moods and behaviors usually have nothing to do with you and everything to do with what's going on in their own heads, and that if your friend has a personal issue with you, you can trust them to communicate that to you. Otherwise you have no choice but to conclude that all is well.

Conversely, sometimes it is better to take the ant view. When the world feels chaotic, dangerous, full of one man-made or natural atrocity after another, it helps to take a step away from our social media feeds or TVs and instead take a closer look at the world we have build for ourselves.

There are good loving people everywhere because we are all born good and loving at our core. It's very likely that you encounter people who express their goodness and capacity for love to you on a daily basis, and who give you that love freely and unconditionally in return. 

Letting ourselves off the hook, even for a short while, from taking on the world's pain and suffering isn't selfish. If we want the world we live in to be a loving peaceful one, we have to live in the world with full acknowledgement and appreciation for the love and peace that already exist. 

You can always return back to ant or eagle view at any time, but the change in perspective will likely be valuable to you upon your return. The world's problems and our own struggles are valid and important. But somewhere in between, we can find peace, if only for a moment.

And this moment is really all there is.

If you'd like to work with me on changing perspective, please email me at amy@amybethacker.com, call 973-769-2401, or click here.

The Fear When Things Are Going Well

For many, life can seem like a constant see-saw between feeling extreme gratitude and appreciation for what we have and fearing the unknown. 

It's hard to let ourselves experience fully the good in life when we're constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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When will it all be taken away from me, we wonder. 
Can I allow myself to let my guard down knowing that nothing lasts forever?

Hard things will happen. Anyone who has been alive for any amount of time knows that much. 

But think about something that is precious to you right now in your life. Something with indescribable value in your heart (a degree, a loved one, a sense of peace, for example). Chances are you went though at least some fear, pain, or inner-turmoil to have it. You wouldn't have it if you hadn't. Maybe you went toward this thing with the knowledge that it would be hard-earned but worth it. 

Or maybe it came seemingly from nowhere, an unwanted, unwelcome trespasser in your life that stretched you and grew you in ways you never would have chosen on your own.

Sometimes the fear leads us to more asking in our lives, and the asking leads to growing, and the growing leads to love. Or peace. Or joy. Or mastery. Or all of the above.

"But!" We say, "What about the people who had something unexpected happen and it didn't lead to growth, it led to the loss of a loved one, the loss of health, the loss of livelihood? That could be me too. We don't know that it will always work out for the best."

But the truth is we also don't know that it always won't. And we can't judge the journey of another person before it's over, especially from our vantage point. We can make assumptions and draw conclusions, but we really have no way of knowing what is true for someone else.

Most people are looking for the same things in life: expansion and growth. Peace, joy, and a sense of inner and outer love. They want to live with authenticity, integrity, and sovereignty. We can't judge the paths that get them there.

We can only reflect on our own path and see that things are ultimately always working out for us. 

Look back on your own life and see the truth of that statement. Maybe the difference between devastation and abundance in life is nothing more than perception.

 

If you would like to talk more about the connection between fear and growth in your own life, call me at (973) 769-2401 or email amy@amybethacker.com or simply click here.

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How to Cope With a Divorce You Didn't Want

I was recently invited to collaborate on an expert panel and share some insights on how cope with divorce. Here are my best tips:

Remain openhearted.

When our hearts are broken, our instinct is to protect ourselves by closing off to prevent further injury. We become angry and fearful, and we may lash out or shut down, which only makes us feel more helpless and more in pain.

This is the opposite of what is needed to maintain connections to people who can support us, grieve as much as needed, and move forward as peacefully as possible.

Discover your wholeness outside the relationship.

Let go of the need cling to the illusion of control by blaming yourself or your spouse. See what aspects of this unwanted situation you can find gratitude in.

For example, there may be places in this relationship where you lost sight of who you are and what you really want out of life.

The ending of the relationship may be an opportunity to rediscover who you are outside the context of the other person.

Give yourself everything you thought you needed from your spouse.

Don’t allow the divorce to lead you to believe you are somehow messed up or unworthy of love.

Don’t use it to come up with examples of all the ways you’re not kind, lovable, and desirable. Use it instead as an opportunity to come to a new understanding with yourself that your essence is innately lovable.

Demonstrate this to yourself on a daily basis by learning to love yourself without condition and engaging in a process of radical non-judgment and self-discovery.

You can read the full article here: How to Cope with Divorce

9 Signs of a Highly Sensitive Woman: Do You See Yourself In This List?

Many of my clients are highly sensitive women. They go through their lives hearing the same cliches: 

"You're too sensitive. Lighten up."

"You always take things the wrong way!"

"Oh, she's just shy!"

"Why can't you go with the flow?"

What it Means to Be Highly Sensitive

My main goal in working with highly sensitive women is to help them realize they aren't terrible people or tragically flawed. They are simply part of the 15-20% of the population who are genetically predisposed to be more aware of and affected by subtleties in their environment, inclined toward deep reflection and rich inner-experience, and more easily overwhelmed by what's going on around them.

Being highly sensitive is not a personality flaw or a choice. It's in fact a genetically inherited way that the nervous system functions and it affects everything from the most important relationships to how much coffee it takes to become completely wired.

In a world where being outgoing, attractive, easy going, and open to new experiences is considered to be the most desirable of traits for women, highly sensitive women often feel shamed and isolated by their sensitivity.

Are You a Highly Sensitive Woman? 

Highly sensitive women tend to have the following traits:

  • Extremely in-tune and aware of the details and subltleties in her environment, especially those that affect the senses such as the smell of someone's perfume, the sound of a coworker crunching on carrots, or a minor shift in light or temperature in the room.
  • Easily overwhelmed by a lot going on around you.
  • Easily affected by other people's moods or energy.
  • Feel re-energized by withdrawing or isolating yourself when you feel overly stimulated.
  • Worry about making mistakes, being less than perfect, or forgetting things.
  • Seen as sensitive or shy as a child.
  • You are very intuitive.
  • You love to research, think about options, and reflect.
  • Physically sensitive to things like medication, changes in diet, caffeine, or alcohol. 

More Alike Than Different

Being highly sensitive can make you feel like you're completely different than everyone around you, or that you'll never be understood -- by yourself or others. The truth, however, is that being overstimulated doesn't feel good for anyone.

Unrelenting loud noises, impossibly hot rooms or unruly crowds can make anyone feel uncomfortable.

Highly sensitive people just have a different threshold for where that point of discomfort begins.

All people take measures all day every day to maintain a comfortable level of input from the world around us.

We pick up our phones to decrease boredom. We end a conversation when it becomes too upsetting. We take a scratchy sweater off to decrease physical discomfort. We eat ice cream to feel the pleasure of coolness and sweetness in our mouths.

The Positives

Though being a highly sensitive woman can be seen as a negative thing -- especially in today's culture which values hyper-masculinity, rationality, and logic -- being highly sensitive can actually be a huge strength and asset.

Highly sensitive women will fight for what they believe in. They are generally aware of and concerned with issues such as social justice, the environment, and human rights. They want to make the world a better place and put out ideas to make it happen.

They generally make choices and take action based on creativity, imagination, and conviction.

They tend to have a talent for sensitive language and making others feel safe and loved.

Because they like to look at all angles of an issue, they are insightful, able to see the connections between seemingly unconnected things, and able to get to the heart of the matter.

What Highly Sensitive Women Need

Highly sensitive women are like orchids: they can bloom with incredible complexity and beauty given the right conditions. 

If you're a highly sensitive woman, it's crucial to create an environment that works for you and allows you to feel and be your best self. 

Here's What That Looks Like:

  • Learn what makes you feel overstimulated and then take steps to avoid it when possible.

Practice saying no without guilt to events or situations that you know are going to be too much for you. If your friend invites you to a bar and you know it's going to be loud and crowded, suggest another way to spend time together, like going out for coffee or meeting at your house, and let go of the obligation to be all things to all people.

  • Learn to recover from overstimulation when it's over. 

Sometimes overstimulation is unavoidable. If your baby is crying, you're going to stop what you're doing and figure out what's wrong. This may result in minutes or hours of screaming directly in your ear.

When that's over, have a plan already in place to decompress. That may mean sitting alone in a quiet room for a few minutes or calling a friend to vent or watching an episode of your favorite TV show.

Whatever works for you is fine, just know what it is and be ready to go and do it as soon as possible.

  • Get information about your sensitivity.

Most highly sensitive women love information, and love to understand themselves more fully and deeply.

Books like The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive In a World That Overwhelms You by Elaine Aaron and Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain are great places to start.

Talk to friends or family who are sensitive like you, and if you don't know any, look for Facebook groups or even hashtags that will connect you with like-minded women.

  • Look at your past with an understanding of your sensitivity. 

That time you exploded at your partner at the mall: was it because you were being unreasonable or was it because you had been surround by noisy strangers for hours?

That time your teacher called you shy in front of the class: was it because you really didn't like talking to people or was it just that you preferred to spend your energy talking to people you felt a true connection with?

Counseling can help you look at your past actions with fresh eyes and a deeper, more compassionate understanding of who you are.

  • Increase your sensitivity to your own needs and dial down your sensitivity to others.

Remember that our society tends to praise sensitivity in women mainly when it leads to "unselfishly" caring for others. But caring for others all the time while putting your needs second or even last will ultimately end in resentment or burn-out, and then you're of no help to anyone.

Be selective in who you give your time, energy, and attention to. Don't waste it on office gossip or your overbearing mother in law and then have nothing left for the people you really value, or even worse yourself!

While it generally brings highly sensitive women great relief to understand and define their way of experiencing the world, understanding is no substitute for therapy in identifying and healing the wounds that can come with it. Highly sensitive women can be at higher risk for depression, anxiety, and trauma due to the intensity that they experience both positive and negative events and emotions in their lives.

If you suspect this might be the case for you, email me at amy@amybethacker.com or call 973-769-2401 to set up a free phone consultation.

 

All About Your Intuition

Our intuitions are our birthright.

Intuition is a gift we carry with us all our lives. Though we sometimes lose touch with it, we can never be completely cut off from it.

Our lives are proof of its existence. Our existence is a mirror reflection of its.

When we are connected to our intuition, we are inspired, creative, we know what we must do next (not should do next).

When we are separated, we feel stuck, alone, directionless.

Intuition is a part of ourselves that we can develop a relationship with over time, at any time.

As we hone that relationship, we learn to trust ourselves. We develop a deep, inner knowing about when to hold on and when to walk away, when to speak out and when to keep our boundaries.

In other words, we own what we are and what we are is whole.

When we are out of touch with our intuition, we are cut off from our natural instincts: the ones handed down to us by generations upon generations of women.

This happens when we become consumed by a culture that values the end result, not the journey; the rational mind over the emotional, the liner over the cyclical.

And yet we can never be fully cut off.

Your intuition is the voice that says "this way" or "turn in the other direction and run!"

It is the voice that urges you forward when you think you have nothing left to give.

Our intuition comes from both the past and the future to find us now, here in this moment and to quietly urge us to a new frontier of love, joy, peace, and freedom.

How does your intuition communicate with you?

New Article in Psych Central: Warning Signs of Perfectionism (and How to Fix Them)

Perfectionists believe that there is no such thing as "good enough." There is either "fail" or "don't fail." Perfectionists never feel successful because there is always more to be done, more to be improved, more to "fix". In my latest article, out today in PsychCentral, I discuss the warning signs of perfectionism and how to fix them.
You'll learn:

🔺How to let go of judging yourself and others with compassion and grace.


🔺Why perfectionists often feel disconnected from their feelings and how to get connected on a day to day, moment to moment basis.

🔺Why perfectionists tend to have an all or nothing mentality and how to start living in life's gray areas.


Click the link below for the full article!

http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2016/09/04/warning-signs-of-perfectionism-and-how-to-fix-them/

If you want to learn more about working with me to drop your perfectionist mindset for good, click the button to set up a free consultation:

The Quickest and Easiest Way to Self-Care

When you're already overwhelmed and overloaded and your to do list is a mile long, it's easy to see self care as another source of stress. It becomes another thing you're supposed to be doing, another thing to feel guilty about not doing.

Pretty soon it becomes a source of self-criticism:

"I'm not taking good enough care of myself."

"What's wrong with me?"

"I should meditate or something, but I just don't feel like it."

I used to see self care as something to feel guilty about not doing. It was another thing on my to-do list like laundry and taking out the recycling. But as I've gotten more in touch with my feminine energy, I have come to realize that self care is a gift that only I can give myself.

It's not something that inhibits my freedom by taking up time I don't feel prepared to invest. Self care actually gives me the gift of pleasure, the gift of comfort, the gift of expressing love to myself.

As women, it is our birthright to experience pleasure and joy on a daily basis. I make time to do this by waking up at 4:30 in the morning and taking an hour and a half before the rest of my family wakes up to spend loving time with myself.

Here's how that looks:

::I wake up and wash my face with warm water to help energize me.

::I look up at the moon to see where it is in its monthly cycle

::I honor the gift of my body through stretching and exercise.

::I give myself the gift of clarity through meditation

::Finally, I make myself a quiet cup of (decaf) coffee and spend devoted time with my journal

When I do these, things, I feel filled before the day has even begun for my family. If nothing else gets accomplished that day, if the rest of the day gets away from me, I still carry with me the gifts that my morning routine brought to me.

Of course, I always have the freedom to decide that a 4:30 wake up call just isn't worth it and sleep in. But most days, I truly do see it as a gift to myself, nourishment for my soul that only I can provide for myself.

So experiment with making sacred time for yourself a priority as important as getting to class or paying a bill. Experiment with making it a non-negotiable.

Make your presence with yourself your present to yourself.

 

To learn more about my services or schedule a free phone consultation, please click the button below: