Tag Archives: self-help

My Vision Board, Sans Perfectionism (and Plus Playlist)

12 Jun

My vision boardThis weekend, that fateful day finally arrived: my return to self-help. In the form of my friend’s vision board party that I excitedly, yet with some trepidation, RSVP-ed “Yes” to. Would I be triumphant, happily reunited with collaging as if we’d spent no time apart, and the past seven years since my last vision board were just an insignificant blip? I had my doubts.

As the day approached, collaging anxiety crept in. Plus, I had volunteered to make the party playlist and was starting to feel the burden of responsibility. I felt like I had to prep. Go shopping for an array of magazines that represented all the areas I wanted to cover on my vision board. Swing by a few home furnishings stores to pick up catalogs. Buy art supplies. Decide on a vision board base–should I put everything together on one huge piece of poster board, or break up my collages by category on scrapbook pages with labels? Then I’d have to print out category labels. And I couldn’t just bring labels for myself, I’d need to bring extras for the rest of the guests. I’d started a file folder a while ago of images I liked and wanted to use in a future vision board. But I couldn’t find the file anywhere, and felt like I’d lost part of my vision. A few days before the party, I made the mistake of looking at the last vision board I made seven years ago, pre-self-help detox, and it was A-MA-ZING (categorized scrapbook pages, labeled). A sheer thing of artistic beauty, I couldn’t believe I had created it. There was no way I could live up to my collaging past.

And then there was the playlist–all the new songs I wanted to buy on iTunes, and how to organize them for optimum flow.

What happened was this: my perfectionism was taking over, turning a fun afternoon with friends, glitter, and glue sticks into an oppressive list of tasks and To Dos. So I decided to scrap everything–all the planning and preparation (it wasn’t even my party!), and just do the absolute minimum. As if I was cramming for a final, I quickly made the playlist at 11pm the night before with nary a newly purchased song, or a second thought the order. I wanted the music to be uplifting, so I just did one round of edits where I stripped out all the codependent love songs about needing someone else to be able to live or breathe.

An hour before the party, I picked up three magazines–a yoga one, a home one, and a vacation one–and found the ideal compromise of half-sheets of poster board at an art supply store. I let go of trying to locate my image file, and embraced the idea of creating my vision afresh in the moment. Pounding an iced coffee for sustenance, I was ready to collage. Imperfectly, dammit.

Me with my vision boardAt the party, my friend read a few vision boarding suggestions before we got started, like keeping some white space in your collage to leave room for other things to come in, and so it doesn’t look chaotic and clutterred. Flipping through magazines, I still doubted my artistic abilities, but reminded myself that this didn’t have to be the end-all-be-all vision board, just one attempt.

I was a little behind, only on Phase 2 (deciding which images to use) when everyone else was on Phase 3 (gluing), but somehow mine came together quickly in the end. While I’d thought my vision board would be significantly career focused, and had even brought cut-outs of the New York Times Best Seller list and logos for places I wanted to write or teach, I tucked them underneath my poster board before I started and none of them made it on. Mostly my vision board wound up being about joy, relaxation, playfulness, fun–and a balanced life. And by the way, I love it.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that my playlist was a huge hit. Someone even said I should make playlists professionally, if that’s even a thing. Other than like, DJ. And someone else asked me if I’d publish the playlist, which was the inspiration for this blog post. Having recently met Maxwell, it’s a little Maxwell intensive. But as I told my friend who was hosting the party, it was a major accomplishment that my playlist wasn’t just: “Maxwell CDs.” So here it is, codependent love song free, and guaranteed to uplift!

Vision Board Party Playlist
1) “Imagine Me” – Kirk Franklin
2) “Ascension (Don’t Ever Wonder)” – Maxwell
3) “Superwoman” – Alicia Keys
4) “Beautiful” – Christina Aguilera
5) “Brand New Day” – Joshua Radin
6) “Declaration (This Is It!)” – Kirk Franklin
7) “A Star Is Born” – Jay-Z feat. J. Cole
8) “Closer” – Goapele
9) “Best Of My Love” – The Emotions
10) “Seasons of Love” – Original Broadway Cast, RENT
11) “Just Fine” – Mary J. Blige
12) “F**ckin’ Perfect” – Vicci Martinez and Niki Dawson on The Voice
13) “Party” – Beyoncé feat. André 3000
14) “Over the Rainbow” – Glee Cast Version
15) “Pretty Wings” – Maxwell
16) “My Love” – The-Dream & Mariah Carey
17) “September” – Kirk Franklin
18) “Ganapati” – Girish
19) “Guru Brahma” – Jai Uttal & The Pagan Love Orchestra
20) “People Everyday” – Arrested Development
21) “Lovely Day” – Bill Withers
22) “Lifetime” – Maxwell

What songs would be on your Vision Board Party Playlist?

I Want to Believe Again, Or Why I’m Ready to Go Back to Self-Help

15 May

Self-help books

I used to believe. Like really believe. In self-help. I read self-help books, took classes and seminars, recited affirmations, wrote daily gratitude lists, made and listened to inspirational playlists, and much, much more. Until, one fateful October night two and half years ago, I overdosed on self-help and had a total meltdown.

I joke with a friend that this was what my life used to be like: me, crying in heap on my floor, wearing ripped pajamas and surrounded by self-help books. But it’s not so much of a joke; that kind of actually is what my life used to be like. I worked really really really hard via every self-help avenue available to me to improve my life. But after years, I was still a broke, date-less, depressed administrative assistant, plus I was exhausted from compulsively reading about how everyone else was rising up out of their Dark Nights of the Soul to transform their lives and achieve greatness, and depleted from all the exercises and activities that were supposed to help me do the same. Except I seemed to be permanently stuck in my Dark Night of the Soul.

Sick of lying in a crying heap on my floor, I did the only thing I could–I shunned the self-help that had done me so wrong. I stopped perusing the Self Improvement section at Barnes & Noble, and if I accidentally caught a glimpse of some stylish, smiling, smug self-proclaimed guru who had it alllllllll together on the cover of some cheerful book promising me 5 easy steps to a new, improved me, I shuddered and turned away as fast as possible.

My gratitude lists had become an exercise in OCD and Compare and Despair. At the height of my gratitude, I wrote out 40-50 things I was grateful for a day, emailed my list to about 40 women, and received daily lists back from most of them. While I desperately wanted to be not-single, not-broke, not living in a studio apartment, and not an administrative assistant, I’d read others’ gratitude lists about the thoughtful things their husbands did for them, or how much they were enjoying a new duplex or phenomenal career success, and get plunged into a deep depression about how much of a failure I was. As part of my self-help detox, I gratefully abstained from writing and reading gratitude lists.

Earlier this year, someone invited me to join an email gratitude group. I had to decline, and explain my gratitude list trauma. Last month a friend told me that she was thinking of throwing a vision board party and asked if I’d be interested in going.

“Thanks for asking,” I replied, “but I’m recovering from an addiction to self-help so I can’t really collage.”

But here’s the thing. Before self-help failed me so miserably, it used to work. That’s why I believed in it. And it felt so good and hopeful to believe. Before my gratitude lists spiraled out of control, they brought me joy, and made me feel connected to and supported by the women I exchanged them with. To acknowledge what I was grateful for, to hope that things can be different, better, not always so hard, to have a vision and believe that it can come true, is an amazing thing. Before self-help made me feel like a complete failure as a human being for not being further along, having this kind of belief and hope had initially helped me enjoy my life as it was, and also brought more good things to me, which then made me feel even more hopeful and joyful.

After my self-help overdose, I threw the baby out with the bath water. I became so averse to all things self-help, and the expansiveness I used to have, pre-meltdown, contracted into cynicism and thinking that everything was nauseating bullshit. But now, two and half years later, I’m ready to shed that cynicism. I’ve been craving the hope and possibility that belief brings.

I recently picked up a scrapbook I made seven years ago during my self-help heyday. It was overflowing with my lists and visions and collages and dreams. Tentatively, I flipped through the pages. Some things in my vision had miraculously come true, like being a writer who writes for websites and magazines about the exact topics I write about today: dating, yoga, and spirituality. Some of the things in my vision had not (see: husband, child, brownstone, abundant bank account balance). In all fairness, though, it was a 10 year vision; I still have three years left to manifest the rest, so check back with me in 2015.

Page after page, whether they contained parts of my vision that have materialized or pieces of it that went by the wayside, my 29-year-old enthusiasm, hope, and belief leapt out at me at every turn. Holding the book in my lap, I felt like even though that hopeful girl may have been lost for the past several years, she still existed somewhere within me and I could find her again.

I also felt like parts of the scrapbook were somewhat hyper and manic. If I resurrect the me who believes in self-help, I’d have to do it differently today, with some discernment. Maybe I lost the all-encompassing, absolute belief of my younger days, but that’s what led me into destructive magical thinking. Instead, now I’d want to have a belief that’s more grounded and stable, that won’t mutate into desperation and despair, that won’t leave me crying in a heap on my floor.

Last month, after a long period (years?) of constantly ruminating about everything that did or would go wrong and stewing in catastrophic thinking, I felt compelled to start focusing on things I was grateful for. In list form. I started small, taking a baby step back into gratitude, sending my daily list of only about 10 things I’m grateful for to one friend who sends me her list in return. It felt so good to sit at my computer first thing in the morning and write my list. Like returning to an old friend. Who’d I’d forgiven for betraying me. No hard feelings. Maybe I’ll expand my list to include more things or more people, but for now, this feels right.

Last week, my friend who’d mentioned her vision board party sent out an email confirming the date. And I said yes! I even volunteered to make the inspirational playlist for the party! This feels good and right, too. After being so skittish about self-help for so long, I can’t believe I’m actually going to be collaging my vision again, and I really can’t believe how excited I am about the party and my playlist (I’m accepting any song suggestions in the comments below).

There are still some things about self-help that make me want to barf. Like those books with their extravagant promises (provided you do all the exercises and follow all the tips) that convey the message that you’re not good enough as you are and have to DO this, that, and the other thing to have more and be better. Like the stylish, smiling, smug self-proclaimed gurus raving about how AMAZING their lives are and that (for several thousand dollars), yours can be, too!

But I don’t have to throw it all out. Because other things about self-help, like the hope, enthusiasm, energy, and optimism it can provide, bring me joy. I’m finally ready, in my own grounded way, to welcome it back into my life. To write gratitude lists. To collage. To make the playlists and read the books. I’m finally ready to believe again.

My Self-Help Overdose Article on The Frisky!

6 Jun

Read about my self-help overdose, detox, and road to recovery in my article “How I Overdosed On Self-Help” on The Frisky!

The More You Love Yourself, The Better Your Life Gets, Or Why I HEART My Self-Help Water Bottle

2 Oct



“Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.” – Lululemon water bottle

My friend Karen got me the Lululemon water bottle with lots of inspiring quotes on it for my birthday last month.  I love my Lululemon water bottle.  I call it my self-help water bottle.  I love self-help.  I am a self-help junkie.  If I could mainline self-help, I would.  I like, and possibly need, to have constant inspiration and uplifting messages coming at me, because, my mind does not necessarily default this positive place.  Some places my mind likes to default to are feelings of hopelessness and victimhood and depression.  So I have to help it out as much as possible.

I carry my Lululemon water bottle around with me almost everywhere – to yoga, meetings, and prop it up on my desk during the day.  Since I got this water bottle, I feel so good that I am saving so much money now that I am not buying bottled water, am helping out the environment, am drinking so much more water now than I used to pre-bottle, and also, I am face-to-bottle with positive quotes all day long.  I like to pick up my water bottle at random times and discover a new quote.  This week, for the first time I saw this one:  “Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.”  This is my new favorite quote.  It struck me as so simple and yet so amazingly true.  And if this is true, then if you want a better life, you just have to like yourself more, and why not really go for it, really go for the full, awesome, big, bold juicy life of your dreams and desires, by LOVING yourself.  Like, a lot.  Like, more than anything else in the whole-wide-world.  Just totally, completely, absolutely, cherish, nurture, and adore yourself, and see what happens…

Let me just say that I have had moments, long moments, of being pretty self-loathing.  And when I am in that state, it is really hard for me to handle anything; even the smallest disappointments like just missing a subway can feel like the most painful affront to my soul.  What I am learning is that self-love is at the core of building a super-strong foundation for yourself so that you can handle the ups and downs of life, without feeling like you are at the mercy of the world, being tossed around by some crazy topsy-turvy and mean roller coaster ride. 

What I have seen, through teaching my classes and talking to friends, is that we are all so unmercifully hard on ourselves, we can all love ourselves more, and there is always more love, and compassion, and forgiveness that we can bestow on ourselves.  And loving yourself means being on your own side, even when you make mistakes, even when you are a flawed imperfect human being, even when you feel like you are filled with darkness when you wish you were always bright and cheery, even when you are at your worst, and lowest, and feel like a fucked up mess and are scared that you always will be.  Loving yourself means that you can expand your heart enough to hold all of yourself in it – the light and the dark, the joy and the pain, the beautiful and the ugly.  Knowing that no matter what, no matter what the roller coaster of the world, and circumstances that can be shitty, and other people, throw at you, you will never ever betray yourself or turn against yourself.  You will remain centered and secure, safe and strong in your own self-love.

I have worked hard at loving myself and have come a long way.  I still have moments of disliking myself and all that comes with, but they are fewer and farther between.  Recently I had some disappointments that a few years ago, and possibly even six months ago, would have taken me out, would have left me curled up under my covers crying for days, and exercising my right to take mental health days off from work.  But I love myself so much more now than I did then, that I don’t get wiped out so easily anymore.  I can feel the sadness and disappointment and pain and still love myself, and know that I can take it and I will be OK.  I can hold it all in my heart and not let sadness and disappointment and pain convince me that I am unlovable, or not deserving of love, from others and most importantly, from myself.

And here’s the thing:  when you love yourself, you can handle everything more, the bad and the good.  When you dislike or disapprove of yourself in any way, it is extremely difficult to be resilient and rebound from life’s challenges.  But also, when you dislike and disapprove of yourself, it is extremely difficult to allow great things and people and circumstances into your life.  Because you feel on some level that you don’t deserve it, so you sabotage yourself or push it away or terrorize yourself with thoughts of worry and unworthiness so much, that even if whatever that great thing is does squeak through your self-hatred and into your life, you don’t let yourself enjoy it for one second.

So practice loving yourself.  Love yourself a little more today than you did yesterday, a little more in this moment than you did a moment ago.  Be ever generous with the love you give yourself.  Be kind to yourself where before you would have snapped at yourself, be soft and gentle where you used to be hard and harsh, forgive yourself where you used to be unforgiving.  Practice and grow your love for yourself stronger and stronger all the time.  This love will waiver, and harshness and hate will try to sneak back in and still, love yourself then, and through that.  Go back go back go back go back to it always.  And watch yourself become strong and stable where you used to feel weak and insecure, and at the mercy of others and life.  And watch yourself being able to handle the sadness, disappointments, and pain better, and being able to handle more wonderful things in your life, and allow them in, and enjoy them, knowing deeply that you are worthy of it all.  And watch…with anticipation, excitement, and joy…as your life just keeps getting better…and better…and better….

Wishing you a magnificent October, and so much love for yourself!

Lots of love!

Jen xoxo

Copyright © 2009 by Jennifer Garam