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.

 

How to Deal With the Difficult Person in Your Life

Dealing with a difficult person in your life? Here are some ways to cope:


1. Realize that you are never going to feel peace when you are in the mindset of needing to justify yourself to someone else.

2. Remember that someone else’s opinion of you is never personal. They’re just treating you as they would anyone who represents whatever it is you happen to represent to them.

3. Be okay with the fact that not everyone will see you for who you authentically are, and you don’t need to spend time worrying about it. Don't waste valuable time and energy explaining yourself to someone who is never going to get it.

4. Use your feelings to guide you to a place of balance. Luckily, unlike the opinions of someone else, our feelings are one thing we can actually control.

If you're looking to feel joy and inner peace, focusing on the part of your life that you're not happy with is never going to help you to reach that goal - no matter how justified you are.

5. Use your thoughts to guide your feelings. Many people think that when they feel better, their thinking about the situation will improve, but the opposite is actually true: your thoughts create your emotions. This is good news because it means you have the power to improve your situation all the time - it’s all a matter of focus.

6. Look at the situation and see if there is any room for gratitude and appreciation. You might not like most of it, but is there any part that is positive? Focusing on the positive aspects doesn't mean you're ignoring the negative. It just means you're choosing peace in the moment!

New Article in Elephant Journal: "Why Inexperienced Men can make the Best Lovers"

I'm thrilled to have my latest article, "Why Inexperienced Men can Make the Best Lovers" in Elephant Journal!

In the article, I discuss men, women, and some surprising truths that I've discovered in my last decade as a counselor.

Learn how each partner can take responsibility for a satisfying sexual experience and the dos and don'ts of connecting with your partner no matter what his or her level of experience is.

If you would like to learn more about working with me or to set up a free phone consultation, please click the link below.

Going Home, Not Going Big

If you're an entrepreneur, you're most likely familiar with the world of online business coaching. You're probably inundated on a daily basis with concepts like "going big in business," "creating a life you love," "creating a "business you love," or "creating a business that funds your dream life".

We see these promises and hear the stories of those that are living these ideals on a daily basis in social media and in our inboxes.

But this is a different story. This is a story about my friend who invested thousands of dollars on courses and masterminds and hundreds of hours on social media trying to get traction on her business.

This friend is a former nurse who worked her way through college and graduated with honors and two majors. Excellence was a concept she was well acquainted with and that she strived to live every day. She aimed to apply the principle of excellence to her new venture - her coaching business.

She did this because she wanted to feel like she was a person of value. She did it because she wasn't living the life she truly wanted and pouring herself into her business was a way to drown out the barrage of self-criticism that she constantly inflicted on herself.

Deep in her heart, a wish was being carefully nurtured: the wish to be a mother. She and her husband tried for years to get pregnant and still it wasn't happening.

She was feeling stuck.

The months wore on and she continued to pour time and money into developing her business with little to show for it. She struggled on a daily, even hourly basis with feeling useless because her creativity seemed to be stunted on all levels: physical, mental and spiritual.

The harder she pushed in her business, the more stuck she felt on all fronts. She knew that subconsciously, what she really wanted was to be pregnant, to grow a baby, not a business. And to make that happen, she approached it from every angle she could: fertility testing, exercise and yoga regimes, visualizing, praying, special diets and supplements.

But she felt powerless to make it happen. She felt blocked from the flow of creation and she felt like there was nothing she could do about it.

Along the way, she came to an important realization. She needed to have faith that her baby was out there for her but was not ready to come into the world on her timeline and that she needed to have patience.

Using her business to distract her was only causing more frustration and heartache. So, reluctantly and tenuously, she loosened her grip on both her business and her timeline for her baby. She committed herself to honoring her inherent value and letting go of the notion that her value was contingent on making money or creating and caring for another human.

This spring, she applied for a scholarship to a high-end business course. She felt confident that she would get it.

She didn't.

Several weeks later, she took a pregnancy test and it was positive.

And for the first time in her life, she realized that she was exactly where she was meant to be. She decided to put her business on hold while she focuses on being present in this brief stage in her life.

Yes, she is extremely fortunate that she has the option to do this, and she's very aware of that fact. People also have no problem reminding her of it. In fact, her choice is the subject of judgment from strangers and sometimes even family members.

And still struggles constantly with feeling worthless because she isn't being productive in a quantifiable, measurable way. But this story isn't about who has it harder and why.

This is a story about how my friend came to realize that when she lives life from her most deeply held values, she comes home to herself.

For another woman, the values might look completely different. Living authentically for you might look entirely different. The point is do what your intuition tells you to regardless of what it looks like to others.

So my friend is "going big" with what has meaning to her in this chapter in her life. She's "creating a life she loves" even if it doesn't look like much from the outside. She's modeling true bravery and conviction in the face of massive social pressure to be more and do more.

In doing so, she's contributing to the world and in a way that living from a desire to achieve or please never can.

To learn more about working with me or to set up a free consultation, click the button below or email amy@amybethacker.com 

 

 

Interviews with Equitable Mediation

I, along with a panel of counselors, was recently interviewed by Equitable Mediation divorce mediators located in New Jersey and Chicago.  

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Click on the links to see the full articles.

What advice would you give to an individual whose marriage is clearly beyond repair, yet despite unhappiness and desire to divorce, they take no action to start the process and instead remain miserable for months, or even years, frozen in fear?

https://www.equitablemediation.com/blog/when-to-leave-a-marriage

My response:

It is understandable that it would feel in many ways more comfortable to remain in a broken marriage than to leave and have to deal with the unknown.

Instead of looking at it as a leap into a completely different (and possibly) worse life, it is helpful to see the change as one that can be leaned into deliberately with the goal of transforming that fear into greater freedom and joy in life. 

It is also important to remain clear on the reasons for leaving the marriage and let those lead the person in purposeful, conscious action. Individual therapy may be needed to address issues of self-esteem and self-worth that may be holding the person back.

Writing down all of the fears on paper in order to begin addressing them one by one in tiny, manageable steps can also be helpful.

Finally, getting a solid support system in place is crucial. Making a list of people that are currently supportive as well as those that may be of support, and how, can be extremely reassuring.

What are some signs that progress is being made in marriage counseling and the marriage is back on track?

https://www.equitablemediation.com/blog/how-to-know-if-marriage-counseling-is-working

The greatest barometer for how well couples counseling is working is how the partners are feeling both as individuals and as members of a whole. Can they identify new tools and techniques to communicate their needs effectively? Are they able to hear their partner out without feeling the need to defend or judge? Do they feel greater personal sovereignty and authenticity as a result of the inner work they are doing as a couple?

Oftentimes children are exposed to dysfunction in their parents' marriages and later in their own personal relationships. They enter their marriage without the skills to engage in the relationship in a conscious, just, open-hearted way. Counseling is a way to build the foundation they may never have had in the first place.

How would a couple know if the marriage isn't working and it might be time to end the marriage?

https://www.equitablemediation.com/blog/how-to-know-if-marriage-counseling-is-working

The decision to end a marriage is intensely personal. One needs to look at the benefits of staying in the marriage and how they compare to the benefits of leaving it.  In which scenario would the person feel more whole, more authentic, more free? Are the issues that are leading them to consider leaving the marriage insurmountable?

Many people enter couples counseling hoping to change their partner.  However, it is crucial for each member of the couple to take an honest look at their role in the conflict and the shame/blame cycle.

In other words, is this marriage still serving you? If not, and it is clear there is no way for it to serve you and fulfill you in the way you need to feel whole in the future, it may be time to shift the conversation to how to step away from the marriage.

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

An Act of Love

When you're a new mom, it is easy to oscillate- sometimes moment by moment- between complete love and gratitude for the new life you have created and complete overwhelment. It can feel impossible to meet even your most basic needs when all the time and energy you have seems to go directly into meeting the needs of your child. Sometimes it feels like too much to handle.

This was the case for a good friend of mine when her older son was three and her younger son was two months.

Forgetting

She called me one day in tears and told me she had done something that made her question her entire sense of self. I listened as she told me the story of what happened.

She was feeling excited and hopeful that day because she had managed to get some things done around the house while the baby slept peacefully in his swing. Toys that had been out for days were finally put away, laundry sorted and folded, and a load of dishes in the dishwasher. She even got in a shower before it was time to pick her older son up from school.

She arrived at her son's classroom feeling like she might finally have the whole mom of two kids thing under control, but that all came crashing down when his teacher opened the classroom door and asked "Oh, did the baby stay home with dad today?"

Her heart dropped. Panic washed over her. She had forgotten to take the baby into the school! She had left him strapped in his car seat!

A nauseating combination of shame, terror, and humiliation ensued as she pushed past the other parents to fetch the baby from the car where he was sleeping peacefully.

She was in disbelief that she could do something so grossly irresponsible. She never thought she could forget her own child. If she was capable of forgetting him once, she reasoned, it could happen again at any time. Maybe her own child wasn't safe with her. Maybe she didn't have what it took to be a good mom and this proved it.

Remembering

After several solid hours of freaking out, she talked to some friends who all had stories of similar situations happening to them, which reminded her that she, like all other parents in the world was a human being having a human experience.

When you have an experience that threatens your core beliefs about yourself, your ability to forgive yourself is what will determine whether you are able to move forward or remain stuck in a shame spiral. I have found that the quickest way to forgive yourself is to remember yourself.

Remember that you are your own harshest critic but that your deepest core is always love. You just need to allow that love in. Imagine the "flawed" part of you as a small child begging to be treated with love despite her imperfections. See how badly she is hurting.

See that you aren't able to fully love those around you including your children when you don't fully love yourself. After all, you can't give something you don't have.

Turning it Around

I said these things to my friend as she breathed into the phone. When I was done, she replied, "I know I need to work on loving myself and forgiving myself more. But how?"

"You already know," I told her. "Start taking care of yourself and letting the outside and the inside be reflections of love. Start small and all is coming for you in time."


"You mean taking care of my body?" she asked.

"Yes, taking care of your body is an act of love that you want for yourself and that you want to model for your sons. You also need to care for your mind and spirit. You need to treat yourself like the whole person you are. It's not that complicated, I promise. And I promise every mother on the planet has been exactly where you have been. Forgiving yourself for being imperfect is a journey but it's one you don't have to take alone.

My heart went out to my friend whose confidence as a mother was so shaken by her mistake. We have all been there in one way or another as women because as women we are all creators of fragile things, whether it is a child or a piece of art or a new idea. The universe is always expanding and so are we. It's a journey for sure, but it's one we can take together.

 

If you want to learn more about the next steps in your journey, call me for a free phone consultation at (973) 769-2401.

 

Five Conversations You Need to Have With Your Gay Teen

Recently, a friend told me that he feels it’s much easier for gay teens to come out to their parents now than it was fifteen years ago when he came out to his parents.  

“However”, he went on, “most ‘coming out’ literature still does ignore the fact that it’s about sex.  Any time you come out, you’re also saying what genitals you’re into...and we all know, sex talks of any variety with parents are f--ing awkward.”

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This conversation got me thinking about clients I've worked with over the years that have come out to their parents.  There are some families in which the ‘coming out’ conversation is the first and last discussion of the child’s sexual identity, and other families in which it’s a jumping off point for an ongoing dialogue.  

According to current statistics, between five and twenty percent of people identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.  If you’re a parent of a gay teen that recently came out, you are probably working through a huge variety of emotions right now from shock to grief to pride, all of which are understandable and expected, even if you have had strong suspicions for some time.

You may also have a seemingly endless list of unanswered questions that you’re not sure how to broach and very real fears about how this could negatively affect him as he navigates a society where he will encounter people that are unhappy about his sexuality.

At the same time as these questions are running through your head, your teen is likely going through some inner-turmoil as well. She is coming to terms with her own sexuality, which is difficult enough for any teen, but especially difficult when it carries the weight of potential rejection by the most important people in her life.

The “coming out” conversation can be tough for all parties involved, but the awkwardness is the very reason it shouldn’t end there. An ongoing dialogue is essential to keeping the lines of communication and making sure your teen gets the support he or she needs.

Here are some open-ended questions that can keep the dialogue going past the first conversation:  

  1. What are the best ways for me to support you right now?  Understand that your teen may or may not be able to articulate concrete ways that she needs your positive involvement right now, and that’s okay. This question is also an important statement that conveys your love for him and your desire to be there for him on whatever terms are most helpful. It is our job as parents to actively seek out ways to reinforce that we want our children to be who they really are at their most authentic

  2. What’s been happening in your life that made you decide to come out now? As my friend pointed out, telling a parent that you’re gay is always going to be awkward because you’re telling your parent not only who you are emotionally attracted to, but also what you’re sexually attracted to.

Any conversation with parents about a sexual topic is never going to be easy.  But this question can also be a jumping off point for a broader look at how your teen feels about communicating with you on important topics in general.

3. Who is supporting you and what has it been like for you at school?  Unfortunately, bullying    of LGBT teens is still rampant in schools and online. Coming out to friends can be even more difficult than coming out to family because a peer group is such a crucial part of a teen’s identity. It’s important to know what’s happening at school while your teen processes what’s going on.

Is he or she joining the Gay/Straight Alliance and being met with complete acceptance from friends or avoiding entire groups of people for fear of being harassed?  Oftentimes it’s some combination of both.  LGBT teens are at increased risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors, and feeling isolated or experiencing violence at school can be major catalysts.  

By having a good handle on your child’s peer situation, you will know if intervention such as getting the school involved or seeking the help of a therapist that can provide additional support.

4. Would you feel comfortable introducing me to a boyfriend/girlfriend? This is potentially awkward situation that can be made less awkward by discussing it way before it happens. It’s okay to be real and admit to yourself if there is some part of that scenario that might make you uncomfortable.

But like any relationship gay or straight, if a person goes into it with guilt and shame, not feeling that who they are is okay with their parents, the relationship can be filled with guilt and shame as well. That is a recipe for a dysfunctional relationship that no parent wants for their child.

5. What’s been making you proud of yourself lately? In the end, pride is about feeling good about who you are at your core, and getting your teen thinking and talking about what she feels are her best qualities and achievements is a surefire way to help nurture that feeling.

Being gay is one aspect of who your teen is as a whole authentic person. It’s a piece of her identity, but not the entirety of how she sees herself. It’s important to communicate that you still see your child as a whole person too and that you are proud because she’s your daughter, not in spite of the fact that she’s gay.


Coming out is a time of massive change and growth for a gay teen, and when one family member changes, the family dynamic can change too, leading to some growing pains. Keep in mind that it’s normal for those growing pains to happen, but that keeping the dialogue going can help you get through it together. No matter what, the message you want to convey is the same as it’s always been: that your love has always been and will always be unconditional.

The Problem With 'Make Him Love You Forever'

I was recently asked by an old friend for my opinion on companies that run Facebook ads with promises like "make him love you forever" or "how to make a man fall in love with you." She said she thought she was being targeted because her status is "single." She wanted to know my thoughts on the ads and I agreed it would be a great idea for a blog post.

Side note - I love to hear suggestions for blog posts from my readers, so if you have one, don't be shy!

When you're single, it can be almost impossible not to constantly think about the ways your life would be better if you were in a relationship. You may feel lonely and left out and you probably started wondering a long time ago what's wrong with you that you can't find (or keep) a relationship.

If you're mid-20's or older, you've most likely been in at least one "major" relationship and so you know what it feels like to have someone loving and committed in your life which makes the contrast of not having it all the more intense.

We're hard wired to connect with others and seek out intimacy. Of course a company that promises to help you end the feelings of loneliness and isolation would sound intriguing: they are appealing to one of your greatest pain points and offering an easy solution. 

Full disclosure: I've been in a relationship with my husband for 10 years . That being said, one thing I can say for sure is that if you feel lonely, isolated, or stuck as a single person, you will continue to have those feelings as someone in a relationship.

The bottom line is that the areas where you are most unhappy in life are the areas where you are giving away your power.

If you are waiting until you're in a relationship to feel good again, you are giving your power away- in this case to an idealized but imaginary significant other. Inside, your subconscious will resist you getting into a relationship with someone else when at your core, you're not okay with yourself.

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The main objection I take with those ads is the word "make." It implies there is some secret formula to being in a loving, committed relationship and that you don't have it. It also implies you can control someone else's feelings, and of course, you can't. It's as if love is something that can be achieved, when the reality is that love is something that is received.

Here's the truth as I see it: our value as women doesn't come from doing, it comes from self-worth and self-love. When you criticize yourself, when you place your value on external factors like the love of someone else, you disempower yourself.

If you are single and wanting to be in a relationship, here are my suggestions:

  • Continue to put yourself out there but don't attach yourself to the outcome. I know this sounds easier said than done, but enjoy the process of getting to know new people with no expectations or strings attached.
  • Let it come from a place of wanting, not a place of needing. As you put yourself out there, take note of the things you enjoyed about each experience. For example, maybe you met someone who you don't really feel a strong connection with per se, but who you found has a great sense of humor. Put the sense of humor - or more specifically, how you felt around the sense of humor on your list. Use this time to really think about what your preferences for a partner in a future relationship are.
  • Enjoy the process. You cannot have a happy ending to a journey that has not been enjoyable. Though not every interaction with a potential mate will lead to a lasting relationship, the thing you are really seeking is union and connection. Focus on the ways those feelings already exist in your life and the feeling of gratitude and appreciation that they bring to you.
  • Realize that opportunities for connection and intimacy are always there and that it is entirely within your power to focus on them now.

Ultimately, you want a partner who loves you for who you really are, but unless you yourself truly feel that you're enough, your subconscious will never allow it to happen. Heal the parts that are critical, that believe you're flawed and in the meantime, enjoy the process of learning more about what you are looking for in a potential partner.

Paradoxically, as you focus on ways that true, passionate, intimate connection already exists in your life, especially with yourself, you will expand its potential in other areas of your life as well.