Why this is not a self-improvement blog

The-curious-paradox-isThis may be highly disappointing or confusing at first glance but bear with me. The work of Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist and Buddhist, was one of my first introductions to the psychology of shame, acceptance and mindfulness. In her lectures on Radical Self-Acceptance, she talks about our culture of self-improvement and how these good intentions often just feed our belief that we are not good enough. Furthermore, this desire to always be better often comes from a place of insatiable unworthiness in which we are striving to reach an ever-shifting standard. So this is not a self-improvement blog but rather a self-acceptance blog. Our objective is to allow and open up to our experience in a loving way, to get off the hamster wheel of self-improvement and stop bombarding ourselves with messages that we are not enough. For me and for many of you, this approach to ourselves and our lives will be a change and perhaps you will feel that your life is improved by much of this work. However, we must keep the spirit of acceptance at the heart of our process. The changes that occur as a consequence of pulling back the veil of shame from our lives is fundamentally different than striving to be some “more acceptable” version of ourselves.

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It feels so good to be right…or does it?


In a controversy, the instant we feel anger we have already ceased striving for the truth, and have begun striving for ourselves.”

– Buddha

From a very young age, we are taught to value being right. I think we have all experienced the painful, sinking feeling of being wrong and the empowering rush of being right. While there is no doubt that knowledge is powerful, there is no good reason for our self-worth to be contingent on the amount of knowledge that we possess. Still, I often wish that I knew everything even though I know that my love of being right affects my relationships and robs me of the joy of the learning from others.

I went to a Hebrew day school when I was very young and half the class spoke Hebrew at home. We would play a game every day that required translating Hebrew sentences from the Bible and the teacher would fully extend her arm to point at a student when it was his or her turn. She would keep her arm outstretched in my face for what felt like an eternity, repeating the line several times as though I hadn’t heard her…She would eventually give up on me. I literally never had an answer. I had no idea what she was saying and I let my team down every time. I had a lot of experiences like this before I began to excel in middle school. I was wrong so often and made to feel ashamed because of it. It was so painful that I learned to hate being wrong. I learned that it was wrong to be wrong. When really, it was human to be wrong.

So many of us live with this mistaken belief that “being right” about things will win us respect, admiration, love, power, happiness and so on. On a game show or a university exam, it makes a lot of sense to be concerned about the right answer but it seems that we want to be right whether or not it even matters. In fact, our attachment to being right often backfires when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

The-world-is-divided I can think of so many instances where I’ve witnessed two friends go at it over a topic, where one or both of them seems utterly determined to not only prove the other person wrong but actually make them feel stupid and ashamed. It is uncomfortable to watch and, in my experience, no one is impressed by either person. Yet I have become an aggressor in this way at times and, without realizing, I have allowed contempt, self-righteousness and condescension into my voice. This type of behavior brings the conversation and communication to a halt. At the end of the day, being right is often a cheap thrill and it may not feel good at all if you alienated yourself and others in the process.

This happens all the time in romantic relationships where each partner is more concerned with being right than with understanding their partner’s feelings and thoughts. In romantic relationships, we often fight about things that have no right or wrong answer yet we grasp so tightly to our perceptions causing greater distance between us, when its validation and closeness that we wanted in the first place.

Why are we so attached to being right when it doesn’t even get us what we want?

As Buddha’s message teaches us, when we get angry and more concerned with being right than finding truth it is because we have put our self-worth on the line. We think, if I am wrong, then there’s something wrong with me. If I am right, then I am powerful and worthy of attention. I am safe, secure and worthy of love when I am right. When we set the stakes for being wrong so high, it becomes very difficult to take risks and we can become very rigid in our thinking. We stop hearing other people and we lose interest in being challenged. We disregard information that could have helped us grow.

So what do I/we do? I have two ideas…

Get in touch with your intentions. I try to think of Buddha’s message and I get in touch with my objectives in a given situation. Am I striving to be right or seek truth and perhaps learn a new idea? Am I trying to win/gain power or to connect with another individual?

Recognize that being right or wrong happens in a larger context. This occurred to me the other day as I was sharing my knowledge of research in a conversation. I felt that surge of desire to be right and I found it funny because I wasn’t even arguing on behalf of my own ideas. So I’m trying on a whole new way of thinking about being right that is based on the notion that we cannot claim our ideas, beliefs and even the process of being right (or wrong). In order to have this experience of being right, others must be willing to hear and acknowledge your thoughts, emotions and ideas. Being right involves the individuals who validated your suggestion and also the people who gave you the knowledge and skills to develop them. Conversely, if you are wrong, you have been partly responsible for making someone else right by choosing not to be hardened around your ideas and hearing and affirming something or someone else. When I think of it this way, it starts to feel like we’re all just bouncing around ideas that don’t fully belong to anyone. I feel less personal attachment to my ideas because they seem like they emerge from a process and a collective experience. I start to feel a responsibility to share the stage and to hear opposing ideas.

Can you think of instances where you have been so attached to being right that you completely lost sight of what you were trying to learn or accomplish in a situation? What were you going to get out of being right? Why did being right seem so important? Share your thoughts and experiences and how you approach these situations!

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Sing a love song to yourself (and my Katy Perry confessional)


As I discussed in the post on mantras and affirmations, sometimes it’s difficult to find the right words to comfort ourselves. The power of a familiar song is hard to argue and my next shameless self-love strategy takes advantage of this.




I use Katy Perry’s Unconditional to declare unconditional love for myself. “I will love [ME] unconditionally…” and so on. I love this and I plan to hum this song to myself a lot over the next couple of weeks whenever I feel the urge to start attacking myself for making a mistake. This song choice actually adds an interesting layer because I often feel ashamed of loving Katy Perry songs like Roar or Part of Me. When I sing Unconditional, I’m transcending my fear of self-compassion and letting go of what other people think of me. So if the song that you choose has some “uncool” and “cheesy” connotation for you then it may actually be the perfect choice.

Now Unconditional might not resonate with you but the point is finding a love song for yourself. That is all about shamelessly being yourself, in all your shameless positivity and determination to radically accept who you are. I believe that half the battle is opening your mind to this idea and ignoring the self-sabotaging voices that tell you this is ridiculous. So give it a try before you dismiss it and come back to the site and let us know what song you chose or even dare to declare your love of Katy Perry’s.

Tips for finding and using your love song:

1. Pick a song with a tune or lyrics that make you feel loving and comforting toward yourself.

2. Engage with this song to cue a self-compassionate state of mind when self-punishing habits begin to threaten you. There are many different ways to engage so figure out what works best. You might dance to it, hum your favorite line or write down the chorus on a piece of paper. Experiment!

3. Take time to develop positive associations with this song. Perhaps make a list of all the things you love about yourself while listening to the song.

4. Be gentle and compassionate with any resistance you might feel while doing this work. Negative thoughts don’t have to undermine your good intentions if you respond lovingly. For example, you might say to yourself, “I keep telling myself this stupid because I am scared and I am used to judging myself. I am going to let these thoughts come and go as I hum my song.”

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As the snow comes pouring down today, I am grateful to have a warm place to watch as it forms a white blanket over my surroundings. I am grateful to have hot and delicious tea to drink and five senses that allow me to experience it all.

thanksI think anyone who has received a thank you note can agree that gratitude can have a major impact on how we feel about our lives and ourselves. I started my gratitude practice several years ago in an attempt to address a constant sense of lack in my life. I often felt like things weren’t enough – my actions, my ideas, the food on the table, the money in my bank account or the birthday gift I received. At times, my feelings of scarcity may have been more legitimate than others but I was failing to appreciate things that I knew I should and even wanted to. So I started to write in a gratitude journal regularly before bed. Some days I would write what I was grateful for and other days I would list things that went well in my day and why they went well. As I wrote, I would let the emotions – gratitude, joy, hope – wash over me as I held a clear image of the inspiration in my mind. This practice has helped me to make gratitude a regular part of my life and its impact continues to grow.

I truly believe in the power of gratitude to transform how we perceive our lives and this is why I started the “GratiTUBE” page on Shameless Inspiration. GratiTUBE is a place where you can declare your gratitude for others, moments, ideas or any other inspiration.

To help motivate us to use this space, I’d like to introduce you to the work of Dr. Robert Emmons, the leading gratitude research in the world. Emmons has found that gratitude positively impacts our physical, emotional and social well-being. Gratitude brings us into the present moment and affirms everything that is going right in our lives. As Emmons writes, gratitude also acknowledges “the humble dependence” that we all have on each other in this life. This reminds me of the collective humanity that Kristin Neff describes in her definition of self-compassion. It’s so important to recognize that so many of these empowering states of being (self-compassion, shamelessness, gratitude, etc) require a recognition of our connection to others rather than a comparison. I think this is a critical thing to highlight in our culture where competition and self-comparison is rampant.

Gratitude and self-compassion actually have a lot in common. For example, I think it’s easier to be grateful for help when you are self-compassionate. Have you ever resented someone for helping you when you should have been grateful? I have. I was ashamed of myself for needing help and I felt hostile rather than appreciative that the other person was able to help me. If this has happened for you, then you know this feels awful and is a useless attitude that comes from perfectionism.

Self-compassion also requires gratitude for the self. For me this has been powerful. I have used gratitude to honor everything that is going well including my resilience when faced with mistakes and challenges. I find that the thing I am most grateful for lately is, in fact, my growing self-compassion.

So join me in developing an attitude of gratitude. I believe it is an essential step on our journey to cultivating compassion (for self or others) and, ultimately, shamelessness.

Check out GratiTUBE on Shameless Inspiration by clicking here!

Emmons has a bunch of great resources on his website.

Why Gratitude is Good

Ten Ways to Become More Grateful

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What is shamelessness? With a little help from Brené Brown

heartinhandWe have established our collective goal of embracing imperfection and letting go of shame but what does that look like? I’d like to draw on the work of one of my influences, Brené Brown, to help us envision our goal.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brown talks about wholehearted living, which is very similar to the shamelessness that I promote on this site. According to Brown (2012), “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place worthiness.” (p. 10) Brown also provides a very useful list of what wholehearted people work to bring in to their lives and what they work toward letting go. I’d like to use this list as a starting point for envisioning shamelessness. I then share some of my own examples and ask you to do the same.

Brene Brown’s Ten Guideposts to Wholehearted Living (p. 9)

  1. Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
  2. Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
  3. Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness
  4. Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark
  5. Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
  6. Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
  7. Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth
  8. Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as Lifestyle
  9. Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and “Supposed To”
  10. Cultivating Laughter, Song and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and “Always in Control”

What shamelessness looks like for me…

  • Wearing a huge smile as I walk down the street
  • Trying something new that I may not be good at. Ever.
  • Showing myself compassion when I make a mistake
  • Being the first to say “I love you” or “I’m sorry”
  • Looking someone in the eye and breathing as I speak to them
  • Listening. Really deeply listening to another person without judging their words.
  • Starting a blog
  • Wearing my Orthotics shoes because that’s what my body needs even though they are bulky and unattractive
  • Singing Katy Perry in the morning to  get pumped
  • Admitting that I feel sad and hurt rather than getting angry or vindictive
  • Humming to myself because it makes me feel better
  • Believing in myself.
  • Dancing and singing with my friends
  • Celebrating someone else’s success without worrying about and comparing myself
  • ….

What does shamelessness look like for you? Can you think of a moment that you’ve moved toward cultivating self-compassion or play and rest? When did you last let go of self-doubt or the need to be cool?

If you haven’t read Brene Brown’s TED talk, then drop everything and watch it. It just might change your life 🙂

The power of vulnerability

The price of invulnerability

Her book Daring Greatly is also a quick and fabulous read! Click below to go to Amazon and buy it.

Works Cited

Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. Gotham: New York.

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“Positive Thinking and Affirmations are New Agey and Naive”

Think-positiveSound familiar? There was a time many years ago when I might have said this. I was resistant to a lot of ideas and tools that were supposed to enhance optimism. When someone would recommend them, I might utter a forced thank you out of a fake smile but inside I was rolling my eyes. I was just scared. I was scared that I would never be able to be positive and I didn’t want the tools to fail. I didn’t even want to need any tools! Most of all, I was fundamentally afraid of positive thinking. It seemed naïve and unsafe.  I would often conceal my positive thoughts from other people about projects I was working on… just in case they didn’t work out. I thought it would be too embarrassing to be positive and then fail. I guess I didn’t consider how silly it may have appeared to be working on something I didn’t believe in. It was the same story with self-criticism; I would judge myself before any one else had the chance.

Over the past year, I’ve made a formal commitment to positivity. It’s not always easy and I often fail because negativity is so familiar and safe. This doesn’t mean that I’ll sugar coat painful situations and experiences, but I will try to focus on the positive whenever possible. It just feels better and braver to be positive. So I’m working to let go of my “protective” negativity and reset my default to a positive rather than negative attitude.

This is where affirmations come in. I find affirmations very difficult but they are a great opportunity to deal with negativity head on. I often have thoughts that affirmations are silly and self-indulgent but that’s my fear talking. For me, the content of the affirmation is as important as the act of making one at all. When I post an affirmation on the “I am” page, it’s my way of confirming my commitment to loving myself and that I am not ashamed of that goal.

What is your default attitude?

Do you engage in protective negativity?

How did you respond to the idea of making affirmations?

How do you feel about affirmations?

For more information on affirmations, check out last week’s post here.

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Tapping into the best version of yourself

sadworldHere’s another tip as part of my “No shame in being blue” series. Earlier today on the Tiny Buddha blog, Andrea Holt of the happybrainmovement.com shared a great approach to getting in touch with various aspects of the self as a means for getting unstuck. She suggests asking yourself, “What would the happy/healthy/brave version of me do at this moment?” I love it because it’s a way to remind us that we are so much more than a single feeling in any given moment. We have so many ways of being and so much potential but it’s easy to lose sight of that and let sadness or negativity color our whole world.


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Maysoon Zayid: i got 99 problems palsy is just one

maysoon zayidMaysoon Zayid is a Palestinian-American comedian, screen-writer and activist with cerebral palsy who believes anything is possible despite having the odds stacked against her. In her talk at TED Women, she tells her story and explains that her father’s message of “yes, you can can” was critical in her success. I love her infectious optimism and her message to promote diversity through social media. After hearing her talk, it will not surprise you that she has performed in the Middle East “uncensored and uncovered.” She is hilarious, intelligent and 100% herself.


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Breathe. Period.

breatheI went to a voice/monologue/movement session yesterday and the sole task I was given was to make sure I was breathing every time I spoke. My thoughts and impulses tend to forge right ahead of my breath and this compromises my ability to be grounded and embody the truth I am expressing as an actor. My experience yesterday highlighted how I’m more concerned with getting my opinion or ideas out than I am about breathing half the time. So for a few days, I’m going to work really hard to make breathing my number one priority. Interesting things have already come up like yesterday at dinner I found myself worrying that I would lose the person I was speaking to in the time I took to breathe!!  So give it a try, see what comes up and come back to share your experience. I’ve also included a link to a site with some great info about opening up the breath and voice.

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The “I am…” Page

1669672_285554028268514_2094545939_oI’m excited to announce the addition of the “I am” page on Shameless Inspiration. It is very powerful to share our affirmations/mantras with the world and the “I am” page is the place to do it!  “I am” is about offering a public space for us all to get shameless and inspired by sharing ourselves. The point of this is not too seek validation from the community but rather to have others bear witness and to take a risk and see how it feels to share these thoughts and feelings with the world. This is a great opportunity to practice showing up for ourselves and practicing vulnerability! Check out my earlier post on mantras and affirmations if you are new to these tools. And get started by clicking on the “I am” tab above or clicking the link below!

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