Happy No Matter What


The Rules

In our culture, we have unspoken “rules” when it comes to emotions…

  • It’s okay to cry in public as long as you’re at a funeral (but not too loudly).
  • It’s fine to be sad as long as you’ve suffered some obvious and appropriate loss (but get it together already will you?!)
  • Crying at weddings is okay too (again, not too loudly and make sure you wear waterproof mascara or you’re really screwed.)
  • You can cry if you’re a baby but once you hit four it’s not okay (lest they call you a baby).
  • Oh and you can cry at movies (but, again, not too loudly and only at the sad parts).
  • Always, always hide it when you feel angry (unless of course there has been a salient act of injustice done to you or someone else but keep your anger under control. If you express it too strongly, they’ll think you’re “too angry”).
  • If you envy someone else, just keep quiet about it and then find passive aggressive ways to sabotage them.
  • Fear is not something to brag about (remember, never let them see you sweat).
  • It’s okay to hate your boss but definitely love your neighbor.
  • Don’t worry. Be happy. (But don’t laugh out loud in public while alone. Laughing out loud is only to be done in the company of friends or people will think you are homeless.)
  • And remember, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Do you ever break the rules?

What do you make it mean about yourself when you feel angry, jealous, sad, irritated, or ashamed? Do you look to the power of positive thinking to wipe out a “bad” emotion? Do you even allow yourself to feel it? Or do you stuff it back down with food and wine? Do you create drama, maybe get into other people’s business, as a convenient way to forget there was even a hint of it?

What if you were just a person experiencing an emotion? Instead of resisting that emotion because of your cultural programming you got really curious about it?

Sadness after all can tell you where you are clinging too tightly. Anger can tell you when you need to stand up for yourself. Fear can keep you safe. Shame can teach you how to respect yourself.

But only if you listen.

(For more on this topic, check out The Language of Emotions by Karla McLaren)

P.S. Are you addicted to approval? Check out my latest telecourse!

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How to Handle Criticism

Last week I took my kids to a preschool event at Oaks Park where for $6 they got to ride the frog hopper and drive the kiddie cars to their hearts content. At the end of the event there was a massive story hour (picture 300 preschool kids, a swarm of guardians, one dairy princess and a giant squirrel mascot).

While the dairy princess was reading a story to the sea of preschoolers I noticed a little girl crying. She was obviously lost. I grabbed her hand and took her to the stage so the dairy princess could make an announcement. When I returned I noticed my 3 1/2 year old son was gone. I said to myself out loud, “Now where did Anthony go?” One mom turned to me and said “Well you just took off! He was following you but you didn’t even see him.” (Eventually I found him next to the squirrel.)

I was so mad at that mom for publicly criticizing me! On the way home, I stewed, trying to think of the perfect thing I could have said to her in retaliation. Then I remembered a trick I learned from Martha Beck.

It’s called You Make a Solid Point.

What do you do when someone criticizes you? Does it make you mad? Do you get defensive? Do you try to explain yourself? Do you send snide emails? Do you stew for days like me trying to think of the perfect comeback?

I think the reason criticism bothers us so much is because deep down we believe it’s not okay to screw up. We don’t want to face our own fallibility.

When that mom pointed out I “just took off,” leaving my own son to help that little girl, on the surface I was angry at her but underneath I felt ashamed.

If it were a friend who had done the same thing, I would have comforted her, saying something like: “Don’t worry about it! You’re so hard on yourself, jeesh. You found him right away and you were the only one who bothered to help that little girl. You should be proud of yourself.”

Which is so interesting. How can I be so kind when it comes to someone else but so unforgiving when it comes to me? Everyone makes mistakes so why shouldn’t I be willing to acknowledge and forgive my own?

Try it. Think of something someone has said to you that has you feeling defensive. Acknowledge the part that’s true and forgive yourself. Maybe even laugh about it! When you’re not busy trying to disown the criticism you might actually learn something. One thing you will find is that it feels a lot better when you can forgive your mistakes. An added bonus is that it defuses an argument fast (I call it verbal jujitsu).

When it comes to that mom at Oaks Park, I realized I did just take off. So what? I found him right away and I helped a little girl. And the next time I jump to help a lost child I’ll make sure I don’t lose my own in the process!

Ahh it feels so much better to just give myself a break.

In fact, the next day I was driving past a neighbor and, honest to god, I thought she gave me a dirty look. I just laughed and said to myself “You make a solid point.”

P.S. Are you addicted to approval? Check out my latest telecourse!

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An Open Letter to An Approval Addict

You don’t know what you want.

You won’t know until you face the fact you have a problem.

Emotional eaters struggle with extra weight. Alcoholics deal with blackouts and hangovers. Smokers smell bad and cough. Gamblers lose money.

But, you… You’re just stuck.

You decided to be a lawyer because dad wanted you to be a lawyer. You watch your kids play every day but you do very little of it yourself. You dread going to parties because of the sheer energy it takes to maintain a persona that is nothing like Who You Really Are.

It takes one to know one.

A long time ago I decided I needed to seem smart. So I learned to speak Japanese. I figured out how to write computer programming languages. I got a masters degree. I became a policy analyst.

The time and energy it took to accomplish these things served as a decoy from reality – what I really knew about myself on a deeper level. I had no interest in computer programming or politics or East Asian languages. I loved to dance and create art and read self help books. I couldn’t remember a number to save my life.

I was not smart in the way I thought I needed to be. So I rejected the real me and just worked harder at being more impressive in the eyes of others.

Face it. You just want to assist, amaze, inspire, impress, persuade, and influence. All in an effort to avoid knowing what it is you really know. And all at the expense of your dreams.

Take away all that time and energy, you face a big giant scary void. There will be time to think about what to do with the day when you’re not helping, complimenting, impressing, overanalyzing, comparing, measuring, projecting or self flagellating.

The time and energy you expend approval seeking distracts you from this truth. You may be stuck but at least you’re comfortable. Your approval addiction is convenient and familiar. But please know it’s a decoy.

Because as long as you keep doing what you’re doing, you don’t have to admit you have dreams. You don’t have to feel the pain, the yearning. You don’t have to move towards what you really want.

You can continue to hide behind the fact that you don’t really know what you want.

But make no mistake, the only one you need to assist, amaze, inspire, impress, persuade and influence is you.

And to do that, you need to know what you want.

If you liked this article, please join me for my upcoming free class!

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On Being Hot…

Ladies I’m talking about the social standard of “hotness.” If you live in the western world, you know it well. The airbrushed photos, the too thin frames, the big boobs, the perfectly proportioned eyes, lips and nose.

I used to buy into it hook, line and sinker. I used to run fast in order to match this ideal. I used to think everything would be well in my world if I could Just. Look. Hot. Enough.

But there is never an “enough” is there when it comes to this game? There is always more weight to lose. There are always more cosmetics to buy. There are always more diets to try. And more clothes to buy. Teeth must be whiter. Boobs perkier. Stomach flatter. The diet industry knows this. The fashion industry understands this. The plastic surgeons are well aware.

I could have just bucked the system. Gone the opposite extreme. Poked large holes in my earlobes, dyed my hair purple, said what the hell and gained 25 pounds. But this reaction even though it is against a dangerous and demeaning cultural standard – one that distracts women from their own true power – is still  fueled by the social self.

Taking on the opposite qualities of the cultural standard isn’t any more enlightened then chasing after hot. Either way you disconnect from Who You Really Are. The point is not to say that purple hair is bad or cosmetic surgery is bad. The point is to say that if you’re getting your boobs done because you think your world would be better or you are piercing your nipple as a reaction to an unjust cultural standard you are still letting your social self drive the car.

Once I stopped giving all my power away to a ridiculous cultural standard, I learned how to appropriate the word for myself. I now am an endlessly fascinating amalgam of unique qualities that make me 100 percent hot on my own terms.

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I have had a life long love of “gold stars.” The gold star was the most sought after in elementary school.  I wanted to win every spelling bee and ace every times table. My love for gold stars morphed into a passion for any kind of recognition. I chased after the elusive presidential fitness award, secretly longed to be named girl of the month, held the hope of one day becoming homecoming queen, studied diligently for a chance to be Magma Cum Laud, and honed my presentation skills in order to win a presidential management scholarship….

Gold stars, in my opinion, are best if offered in writing or on a plaque but compliments do nicely. On the job, I wasn’t interested in my paycheck, I was much more motivated by recognition or compliments.

Becoming a mom was a turning point for me. No matter how hard I worked at it, there were always differing opinions on how to do it right. My babies didn’t compliment me after a flawless diaper change. I had a book case full of parenting books that all seemed to give different, often contradictory advice. As a person highly skilled at getting the gold star, the early days of being a mom were rough. There were no good grades, no recognition for top achievement, not even the possibility of an honorary mention.

But motherhood made me realize that all my life I had been busy chasing gold stars but it never got me any closer to happiness. Every time I was recognized for something, it felt good at first, but inevitably left me feeling empty and unsatisfied.

Is this you?

In my work with approval addicts, I’ve come across various approval seeking personalities. I’ve categorized seven so far. I’ll be taking a closer look at each one over the next several weeks of blog posts.

Performers are the gold star chasers.

They are often really good at getting approval. So good, in fact, they tend to think (not always) they have a lot of confidence. The problem? Their confidence always hinges on getting gold stars. They get so wrapped up in chasing gold stars they completely lose themselves in the process. Take away the gold stars and you take away their confidence. This is what happened to me after becoming a mom.  Without gold stars to chase, I had to find myself. In the end it was an absolute gift.

If any of this resonates, here are 5 signs you might be addicted to approval:

  1. You confuse getting gold stars with being happy. Chances are you are so good at getting gold stars that you don’t even realize this. But ask yourself, how does it feel after receiving praise, an award, or recognition? If it feels short lived and unsatisfying, you might be outsourcing your confidence.
  2. You spend a lot of time chasing gold stars. I know, this seems obvious but you may not even be conscious of just how much time you spend doing it. Ask yourself this, what would your life be like if you didn’t care about outside recognition? If you find yourself facing a gigantic void that was once filled with gold star chasing, you know you have a problem.
  3. You devote a lot of  energy focusing on “the next fix.” Okay so you probably don’t do this consciously but if you are a performer you probably have several gold stars on your to do list. Maybe you hope your boss will mention your stellar filing skills at the next staff meeting, or perhaps you hope to triple the sales quota at your company this month or, a bit more sinister, you secretly plan to drop two dresses sizes before the next mommy and me get together. If you are doing any of this for public recognition you are probably a performer.
  4. The more people the better. There are some who would rather have their teeth pulled than to be singled out even when it is to be recognized for a job well done. Not performers. The more people there are to witness your achievement, the better. I used to love watching awards ceremonies like The Academy Awards because I secretly fantasized about receiving that level of recognition for something.
  5. More, more, more! Performers don’t stop at one gold star. If you are a performer, chances are you are constantly looking for more recognition. Oh and the more prestigious the gold star, the better. A performer likes a pat on the back, don’t get me wrong, but it had better be by The President of the United States.

The bottom line? Being good at getting gold stars is not a bad thing. It doesn’t make you vain, or self centered or inferior. Ironically you may think you have a lot of confidence but what you must realize, as a performer, is that you have very little trust in yourself.

The key is faith. Faith that who you really are is enough.

The key is to channel all that time and energy chasing gold stars into yourself. Figure out your passion and put your incredible talent to work for you. Trust me, there will be many gold stars in your future. The difference? You won’t be chasing gold stars. They will come and you won’t expect it. And when you receive recognition, it will just be icing on the cake.

If you liked this article, please join me for my upcoming free class!




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Why Approval Seeking Makes You Stupid

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”– Albert Einstein.

Approval Seeking.

The truth is everyone does it. The desire to belong is primal. Brene Brown says so, and I believe her.

It’s an evolutionary thing. In the days when we lived in caves, staying on good standing with the group meant food, fire and protection. As kids we learned pretty quickly we got what we wanted a lot faster when mom and dad were happy.

This is why, even today as adults living in the modern industrialized world, we still see disapproval as a threat. The brain triggers the body to go into a state of fight or flight. A snide comment by your boss; an under the breath chuckle by your sister-in-law, discovering you haven’t been invited to your friend’s wedding… the mere thought of disapproval can spark a physiological response that changes the body’s biochemistry.

This hyper alert state that prepares you to fight or flee is quite helpful in times of famine, drought, war, or physical attack, but can set us latte drinking modern day softies into a perpetual hyper alert state called “narrow focus.” When in “narrow focus” we’re constantly scanning the environment for “threats,” always apprehensive, always fearing attack.

When we live our lives in perpetual emergency mode, when we’re overly focused on fighting or fleeing external “threats,” we’re much more likely to overreact, get angry, become rigid, dogmatic or worse, violent. Let’s just say, we’re no fun to be around (kind of ironic, approval addicts, is it not?).

And when in narrow focus we get stuck. We focus on the problem – as if  hyper focus on the problem will help us arrive at a solution. It rarely does.

When we’re in narrow focus, no one in our lives gets the benefit of our full attention. We snap at our kids, we overreact to what our partner says, we avoid leaving the house in favor of sitting in front of the tv, we don’t bother checking in with mom.

What we want, most of the time, is to live in “open-focus.” In the words of Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins authors of The Open-Focus Brain,

“When we pay attention in a flexible way we are more accepting, comfortable, energetic, aware, healthy, productive, and in the flow. Full attention leads to creativity, spontaneity, acceptance, faith, empathy, integration, productivity, flexibility, efficiency, stress reduction, endurance, persistence, accuracy, perspective and compassion.

And this, my friends, is why your approval addiction is making you (no offense) stupid.

Do something about it.

The world will thank you for it.

P.S. Are you addicted to approval? Check out my latest telecourse!


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The World Needs You

“Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
—Steve Jobs

“Anybody pretending to be anything other than who you really are—you will never, ever reach your personal potential.”

You are a powerful potion of talents, dreams, interests, quirks, likes, dislikes, opinions and perspectives.

This powerful potion of you-ness has never existed before and will never exist again.

It is your “Original Medicine.”

Your original medicine can heal the world.

But when you hide,

When you play small,

When you worry about what the neighbors will say,

Or what your sister will think,

When you compare yourself to other people,

Or abuse yourself,

Your medicine is lost forever.

YOU are whole.

YOU are here.

YOU have a purpose.

And YOU can do it.

Don’t hoard your original medicine.

The world needs you.

P.S. Are you addicted to approval? Check out my latest telecourse!

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That Was Then. This Is Now.

I used to want to lose weight. It didn’t matter how much I weighed. I always wanted to lose a few more pounds. I thought other people were nicer to me when I was thin.

Now I’m at my natural weight. I got there by treating myself nice. (And who wants to be around someone who treats you nicer because you’re thin anyway…?)

I used to buy clothes to impress a really stylish friend. If she liked my outfit then I could consider myself stylish too.

Now I buy what I like and what makes me happy. I could care less what she thinks. (Plus I was getting sick of wearing high heals.)

I used to expect my husband to buy me things. If he didn’t get me gifts, he didn’t care, I thought.

Now I know there are hundreds of ways he shows his love for me all the time – I couldn’t see this before when I was so focused on my expectations of him. (And nagging him until he finally bought me a present always felt like shit anyway.)

I used to take an inventory every year on my birthday. Who called? Who sent me a card? I believed it was a good year when a got lots of attention on my birthday. When I didn’t, I felt horrible.

Now I feel loved no matter what. I don’t worry when someone forgets my birthday because I don’t make it mean they don’t love me.  (And I always have a great birthday!)

I used to spend a lot of my time doing volunteer and humanitarian work so people would respect and admire me.

Now when I do something nice for someone else, I do it out of love. ( And I don’t care if another soul knows about it.)

I used to be a “perpetual student,” working my ass off to earn the highest grades. I loved to impress my teachers because I thought it meant I was smart.

Now I don’t waste my time trying to impress my teachers and mentors. When I worry about their impression of me it distracts me from being myself. (And I just end up using big words I don’t really understand.)

I used to love speaking Japanese in public places because I thought other people would think I was smart if they heard me speaking it.

Now I  enjoy studying languages but I speak to connect with other people not impress them. (It was too much work trying to find the most visible spot at the coffee shop anyway.)

I used to obsess when someone didn’t like me. I got angry and worried about what I did to make a bad impression.

Now I realize that half the time, most people really could care less. And the other half? Well now I don’t even worry about it – they’re not my tribe and that’s okay. (And I can be a lot more relaxed when I forget to wear deodorant.)

I used to make excuses — I’m too busy; I’m too overwhelmed; I don’t know how to do it; I have to do it perfectly — when I was afraid to fail. I believed that if I failed other people would judge me.

Now I know that failure is not scary afterall. It’s how we get to where we want to go. Instead of worrying about how other people will see me, I feel proud of myself for having the courage to take a chance. (And if I happen to look silly jogging around an indoor mall with a baby stroller, so be it.)

I used to base my career choices on how much prestige was associated with the job. I thought that other people would look up to me if I could flaunt an impressive business card.

Now I have the job of my dreams (And I realize that any respect or admiration I would have gotten from a business card would have been based on a big fat lie anyhow.)


How would your life be different if you were not addicted to approval?  Check out my latest telecourse!

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Written Sunday, March 13, 2011. By Anna Kunnecke

As I write this, I am in Tokyo. It’s been 48 hours since the biggest earthquake that’s ever been recorded in Japan. Ever since the sheer terror of those five minutes in which our building shook and swayed and groaned, and I didn’t know if my daughter and I would make it out alive, I have been glued to the public lens—tv, facebook, text messages, photos—with a surreal combination of horror and paralysis. The devastation north of us is shocking. The normalcy of Tokyo is shocking, too, except that water, rice, and batteries are disappearing from the supermarkets. And looming over everything is the very real chance that a nuclear reactor will melt down and release unfathomably toxic substances into the air, water, and land.

I have been afraid—terrified, really—for 48 hours.

People, I am here to say, that is long enough.

Here is where my fear got me: my head aches. My shoulders ache. My jaw aches, from clenching it. My breath is short and shallow. My heart aches at every sad photograph, and my nervous system is at the mercy of every authoritarian voice broadcasting worry.

In that condition, I am no more useful to the world, my family, or myself than a very anxious marmoset.

So here is how I am changing my frequency. If this stuff is working for me today, it will work for you too—whether you are afraid about your finances, your future, your failing left tail light, or your embarrassing flail in yesterday’s meeting.

1. I turned off the news. I can receive up-to-the-minute information via text, and my heart is already with those who are suffering. When I read information, it goes to my brain and not straight to my primal fight-or-flight response. The music and images of TV news are geared to trigger panic and an empathic flood; I’ve decided not to let myself get triggered.

2. I cleaned my house. This grounded me, calmed me, and got me back into my body, which is a much more reliable navigation system than my shrieking reptile survival brain, what Martha Beck calls my ‘lizard.’ My lizard tells me that we are DOOOOMED. My body tells me that we need to stretch, to sing, to self-soothe with quiet rhythms. (Folding laundry works nicely.)

3. I faced the worst-case scenario. My partner and I came up with a plan for what we would do if the reactor begins to spew, or if there is a serious food crisis in Tokyo, or any of the other frightening scenarios that have been haunting me. Now that I know what I will actually do if any of those events come to pass, I can dismiss them when they clamor for my attention. And the last line of every plan is: “And if none of that works, we wing it as well as we can.” This is actually a pretty good plan.

4. I questioned my scary thoughts. My underlying thought, the one that was making my heart palpitate and my fists clench, was: “We are in danger right this very second!” I asked, “Is this true?” And the answer is, Who the heck knows? We could be, for sure. But then any of us could be in danger at any minute of any day. But what I know right now is that I am sitting in my apartment with running water, electricity, heat, and very fast internet. My loved ones are safe. We are getting the best information we know how to get. So I choose to live in the blissful sense of safety that most of us inhabit when we’re not acutely aware that the sky could fall at any moment. Believing that I am safe is no more arbitrary, at this particular moment in time, than believing that I am in danger, but it feels a lot better and it makes me more insightful, more courageous, and more wise. It lets me think more creatively and compassionately. And all those things, paradoxically, will work to keep me and the ones I love safe. If I am in real physical danger, my system will flood with adrenaline and I will be able to act on the terror I’ve been feeling and suppressing these last two days. I will run, or fight, or negotiate, or do whatever I need to do. Until then, I choose to keep breathing deep, calming breaths (Thanks, Terry DeMeo) and asking myself, “Is that scary thought even true?”

5. I took constructive action. I made up a backpack full of emergency items and our important paperwork. Maybe your constructive action is making a phone call or getting something checked out. Maybe it’s opening the scary envelope or looking at your online balance. You’ll feel better if you just do it, I promise.

6. I let my body release. Because I was with my daughter during the most frightening part of the quake (lying on the floor of our 16th-floor apartment as it pitched and creaked like a ship in a storm), I spent significant energy holding it together for her. We talked a bit about how scared we both were, and she seemed okay, but later she had a major sobbing meltdown about something inconsequential. Then she was perky again. Little kids are very wise that way. I waited until I was alone in bed that night to sob and shudder. With each heave of my shoulders and shuddering quaking tremble, I let some of my fear and tension release. Animals tremble and shudder to shake off trauma; we need to do it too, even when the trauma is only visible to us.

7. I consciously flooded myself with beauty. I listened to music that makes me want to move my body and heal the world. For me this means Christine Kane, The Dixie Chicks, and other things too embarrassing to write here. I also bought flowers today, a big gorgeous bouquet of them, in a flagrant act of flipping the bird at fate. I am buoyed and nourished by their blooming faces as I make my way through my home.

8. I grounded back into my purpose. I had a brief panic about a class I’m teaching in a few weeks, The Queen Sweep. I wondered if clearing clutter would seem frivolous in light of global tragedy. I questioned its ultimate value in the world and the worth of the work I do. In other words, I freaked out. Many people are layering their immediate fear with scary thoughts like this about their future worth and their careers. Screw that. In a crisis like this, I’m more glad than ever that I know exactly where to find my passport; that my papers are in order and I’ve declared a guardian for my daughter; that we all have clean underwear and clean sheets to sleep on; and that my home is an oasis of calm and beauty. Whatever the crisis, the world needs people who are sharp, who know their stuff, and know what they can contribute. Be ready to bring what you can to the table.

9. I gazed at my daughter. She is so beautiful. She is so alive through her fear, her joy, her rage, her desire—she doesn’t shut any of it down. It’s all right there, messy and inconvenient at times, but gloriously awake.

10. Most importantly, I remembered that I am the boss of my own energy. I kept waiting for someone to make me feel better, to reassure me, to tell me what to do. Guess what? No one can declare dominion over my life besides me. I have to be the leader that I was waiting for. Chin up, deep breath, flowers on table. Here we go.

Reprinted with permission by Anna Kunnecke

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How to Love Yourself

I love my son even when he uses my arm to wipe his nose.

I love my daughter even after she throws a fit at Cosco in front of the pharmacy line and won’t get off the floor.

I love my baby even when she throws up in my hair at 3am.

I love my son even though he said “I don’t like you,” to me first thing this morning.

I love my  daughter even though she wiped her muddy boots on my clean pants the other day as I was loading her in the car.

I love my baby even  when she poops through her clothes as soon as I’ve finally gotten everybody ready and we are walking out the door.

There just isn’t enough poop, pee, vomit, snot, mud, or bad behavior for me not to adore them. So…in the same way I can adore my children even when they challenge, infuriate, publicly humiliate and exhaust me, I can love myself.

They came from me after all!


Forgive yourself.

Accept yourself.

Love yourself.

Adore yourself.

I love myself even though I sometimes yell at my husband while we’re loading the kids into the minivan and the neighbors hear me.

I love myself even when I drink too much champagne and don’t want to get out of bed the next morning.

I love myself even when I throw out a big word to try to impress someone.

I love myself even when I accidentally go through a red light and total the car (everyone was alright).

I love myself even though I don’t balance my checking book.

I love myself even though I often forget to floss.

I love myself even when I don’t meet a writing deadline.

I love myself even when I can’t fit into my jeans.

I love myself even when I forget to use deodorant and smell really foul.

I forgive me.

I accept me.

I love me.

I adore me.

So repeat after me:

You don’t have to be any better than you are in this moment.

Accept yourself for who you are. The good and the bad. Give yourself the same kind of unconditional love you would offer your children, your partner, your best friend or your cat.

That’s how you love yourself.

P.S. Are you addicted to approval? Check out my latest telecourse!

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