Quieting the Inner Critic

The beginning of a year intimidates. It overwhelms. Well, if you let it.

We have to break the beast down to consume in smaller bites. It’s just 52 weeks and you handle it one day at a time.

The “new year, new you” and all that business should not be the focus. Yes, it’s a new year but why does it have to be a whole new you?

We should all evolve with time and so Jan 1 is not a reset on who you are or how you live.

Jan 1 is an opportunity to continue expanding on what you have already built. The project may take a different turn with a new year but no need to scrap the project altogether and start over.

I cannot, will not and did not throw away 2015 as soon as 2016 arrived. Instead I choose to build on it. It is a new 365 day journal that will have ups and downs, victories and failures. But having arrived at the beginning of the yearlong journey I cannot help but think of the saying, “How do you eat an elephant?  A: One bite at a time.”

Every year we express bewilderment in how quickly 365 days go. I was just toasting champagne at the final countdown into 2016 with what feels like 3 hours ago but in reality we are already 3 days into January.

We must mentally prepare for everything that lies ahead of us. The mind is brilliant and amazing. It works well for us but sometimes the mind seems to work against us.

We intimidate and limit ourselves at times with just our thoughts. Do you find yourself being your biggest critic? I know I do it far too often but it never does me any good.

The time I spend complaining or being critical of myself, I could be making real changes or positive impact in my life and others. I get some of it is human nature and not easy to turn off or walk away from our inner critic but we have to learn to quiet it so we can be productive.

As necessary as it is to be kind to others, it is also so important for you to be kind to yourself. You already have to fight so many battles and the courage to do so can best be found in the most trying times if you are kinder to yourself.

When the critical voice gets loud, tell it to be quiet or get lost.

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The Body Issue

Body image is such an interesting subject right? It is a topic that cannot necessarily be exhausted because there is always a need to be reminded of the importance of positive body image. 

In the time we live in, positive reinforcement on what is actually valuable and important and worth the fuss is as necessary a daily practice as eating, sleeping, working and living in my opinion. It is so important because it exists in every one of those other areas.

Over the weekend, a few things happened that drove this point home for me. This concept of body image and how you can create two sides to the same story is intriguing. The way you view yourself can be empowering and beautiful or quickly become ugly and twisted if you look at the same picture using a different lens.

On Saturday, I joined hundreds of Chicagoans, suburbanites, tourists, lolla-goers and whomever else was in the crowd for a summer workout in Millennium Park.

I always go to the front so I can see what is going on and not have to rely on the people in front of me to know what the instructor might be doing. I typically break a sweat for 3 hours of yoga, pilates and Zumba #backtoback. For Zumba there was a professional guest  photographer snapping up shots of the dynamic, gorgeous, fit dance teacher we had. Well seeing as I was in the front, I was in more shots than I imagined.

Afterwards the photographer came up to show me a few. “Well that one is great but that one…could be deleted. I look ridiculous,” I told him on a few. I gave him my email so he could send me them all to view up close. I was unfairly critical of myself like I often am in photographs then I was like, wait. My goal wasn’t to look great in a photoshoot. My goal was to work my butt off while working out and I did that. Some shots I may look ridiculous but I am proud of the way I look because I was out there working hard.

Saturday was gorgeous but also quite hot so after I worked out, I decided to head straight to the beach. If you want to give yourself a lesson on body image go to a beach. I mean honestly. I love to people-watch anyway. There were thin, big, curvy, old, young people everywhere with all different body types. I love the confidence of people to just be who they are. It can be tough to not compare myself but I remind myself how much better it is for me to love myself as I am, work on whatever I can instead of comparing myself to others. Of course once you get out of your own head, things are back in perspective. I enjoyed myself and stayed at the beach over 5 hours.

Recently UFC Champ, Ronda Rousey made some pretty intense statements about body image for body shamers going after her. I am all for women taking pride in their body back. My body is under my command and no one else’s so no use allowing someone else to dictate when it’s right, perfect, beautiful. It is best to focus energy on getting your mind right.

While on my trip to London in June, I became familiar with such a handy phrase. When that voice saying of doubt, over-analyzing, stress, negativity, self-criticism creeps in about anything. For example a voice inside that my body isn’t alright. It’s too much of this and not enough of that, that voice has to be cut off. Say, “You don’t serve me.” Refocus and keep it moving.

There is nothing wrong with beauty, feeling beautiful, being beautiful and being told you are. As long as it is not everything you live for. It has always been more important to be a genuine, real and fun person who is beautiful because you believe you are and you act accordingly (read humbly).

Another example of taking beauty to another level: I was running late for a show over the weekend so I had to hop in a cab. Towards the end of my ride, the driver says, ‘You’re not like Chicago girls. Pretty girls aren’t usually nice.’ It reminded me of a few years ago I took a trip to Miami and got the same comparison to Miami girls. That is really too bad. Of course, the blanket comparison is not totally accurate but I wish it did not even have to be a statement.

If throughout my life the best thing someone can say about me is I’m beautiful in the asthetic sense only,  i think I’m missing the mark. Beautiful is a fantastic attribute but we can all stand to strive for more.

In Chicago, at the corner of Ashand and Foster, there are these huge ‘You are Beautiful’ signs. I am sure on a tough day those reminders mean the world to someone who just is not feeling it.

In the meantime, I am going to keep working on self-awareness, self-love, self-acceptance because one can never have too much of it. In aha moments like this weekend, I believe I’m winning.

Remind yourself of your greatness by reinforcing your positive body image. Be beautiful/handsome AND make it hold more weight than physical appearance.

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I took the road less traveled now where the **** am I?

Throughout many stages of my life, I was teased a lot for the way I speak. I was told I spoke too proper. I was often accused of ‘not sounding black enough’. I say it was accusations because it made me eventually open my eyes to the ludicrous statement that really makes. How I read that when I was young was “I’m different. I stand out but this is who I am so I just won’t fit in.” How I read it now makes me believe such small mindedness was introduced to box me up. Good thing I hate boxes.  I don’t want to fit in and do only what is expected. Live beyond the stereotype. Once I got older I thought about how those words used to hurt my feelings and was like wait, so I read books and sounded educated so was being smart and sophisticated not acceptable in my community?? Well of course not but that was how I felt. How dare anybody try to tell me that who I am is not enough.

I could launch into how I was raised in tough neighborhoods and even though my family made many sacrifices for me to have opportunities, we struggled at times. I’m grateful for how I was raised and where I come from. Yet It’s unnecessary to launch into those stories because my struggles and triumphs should mean nothing if the reason I am bringing them up is to prove who I am. I’ll pass, thanks.

For me and where I’m from, I made a lot of choices different than the norm. I played golf and made friends with many beautiful diverse human beings and lived abroad and kept choosing less traveled roads.

I accepted myself instead of trying to change who I was. I march to the beat of my own drummer and that’s okay. People can adapt.

I could have forced myself to conform when I was growing up but instead I chose the road less traveled in those days. I chose me over other people’s opinions of who I should be. I have been happy being me ever since. I found empowerment in my voice. I am skilled at knowing what behavior is appropriate in different situations because I have been in all those different situations. Now I hear all the time how people love my voice and how intelligent and mature I sound when I speak. I have been requested as a speaker on many occasions. I did nothing different. It reminds me of a quote by supermodel Iman “I don’t change the way I think; I change the environment.”

Along the way in this life I have taken wrong turns and u-turns but that is the beauty of this life’s journey. The hurtful words I used to hear in my youth don’t serve me. What they taught me was how being uniquely who I am – a beautiful mess at times – was how I would bring impact.

I have been called brave by many people’s definition for the roads I have chosen. To me, I’m just living my life and I’ve got a long way to go in figuring out even more things but I’m glad to live a life that serves me. I have no apology for that.

One of my goals is to poke holes in the boxes we place others/ourselves in. There is no ‘one way’ to speak, dress, travel, work, love or live that dictates who you are or should be. Be You.

It is amazing. I went to the Pride Parade for the first time today and the running theme through much of it was just that — Be You. Tonight I watched the BET Awards and the 3.5 hour show was filled with various entertainers, educators, business people and everything in between. Any award show provides a good examples of those who stand out amongst the crowd as unique. You have something to bring to the table that no one else does. No one has your story. May no one rob you of the confidence to live your story just as you need to.

I heard a young girl say something last week in London that really resonated with me. She said “You’re the person you have to live with your whole life. Make it count.”

So it turns out I know exactly where I am. I am opening up new doors. I am figuring out new paths. I am blazing new trails. There is no formula for life. There is no ‘one way’ to live it either.

Have you ever struggled with being yourself or finding your own voice? How did that impact you?

The best, most challenging thing you will ever give up

I saw Billy Elliot the Musical last night so the soundtrack notes are still pretty fresh in my head. There were lots of plot points in the story line that do not relate to me. I have never been part of a coal miners strike or desired a career in boxing or ballet but the general “Be You” theme that resonates throughout the telling of Billy’s story was great. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Billy Elliot is a kid who decides he would rather join ballet over boxing. His dad, a hardcore coal miner challenged by workplace union issues, is VERY resistant at first until he realizes how dedicated his son is to this path.

The greatest life lesson Billy Elliot the Musical reinforced for me was the importance of individuality. They even had a song about it. That leads me to the best, most challenging thing you will ever give up…the comparison effect.

Stop comparing yourself to others. Sounds so easy right? Well if it were easy, everyone would do it. I know I would but I don’t always. I made a decision months ago to intentionally minimize the comparisons. I still have to coach myself occasionally that I am pretty damn great as I am. The only person I need to compete with is me. Not in a “I am never content or I’m my worst enemy” kind of way but instead to be steadily progressing myself.

You have to give yourself space to be yourself. Give up on being someone else or trying to be like them. Maybe it sounds ridiculous that this could be an issue but that is what it is.

Social media can be a comparison trap that way. Can’t it? Then I gained new perspective on it. I realized that social media is in many ways a chance to put out what we want the world to see. We control the narrative so people show the fab vacays, flawless selfies, best assets, expensive purchases and happy times (mostly). I found myself comparing myself to people I know but in many other cases, people I didn’t know well or didn’t know at all.

Balance of the internet and real world doesn’t always happen. Though not always the case, in many ways life online is like our own version of reality tv. What happens when you know people are watching? It would be crazy not to believe some things our tv housewives, survivors, bachelors and Kardashians have to say aren’t at least a little motivated by the public involvement of others. Which is why it is not fair for you and me to make the comparisons to them or the non-celebs in your life that you secretly admire. And jealousy is just a bizarre form of admiration.

Reminding yourself that ‘being you is okay’ is so important. A great way to maintain balance is to keep up with your friends, family and significant other relationships offline with the care that people use in posting online. Also actually be authentic online even if you just make happy posts. Be the same person on-screen and off.

My personal privacy policy has always been strict but that changes whenever I recognize people in my life who love who I am. They can handle that I am sometimes loud or sometimes quiet or usually sarcastic or an introvert and always a nerd.

I also began to invest more attention in learning who I am, how I am, how I like to communicate, what my love language is, what being a Sagittarius means for me, what my personality type is, what my weaknesses are, what my strengths are and many other things. I should not have to explain why I am the way I am but occasionally people do not understand my differences. I talk when I have something to say. I struggle with expressing myself out loud. I am internally really happy. I get extremely annoyed at rude people. Laughing is my favorite. I smile a lot but get mad sometimes too. I am a curious person that listens intently and questions a lot. Although I also do have bad days, I do not like overwhelmingly negative/dramatic people in my personal space. No shade. I just prefer sunshine over here.

We all get sick quick of the people who make it seem like everyday is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mantras are… Give unto others only what you can afford to reap in karma. Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a battle. Be better to the world than it is to you. Live out good energy and Give good vibes. All solid, tweetable tips to live by.

It takes 21 days to make something a habit. My challenge to you is…Don’t compare yourself to anyone for a week then take it from there for another 7 days. Then another 7 after that. If that means you take a break from your fave sources of online energy, so be it. If you do not know and believe in yourself, no one else is going to. Be you, not anyone else.

How do you practice your individuality?