“Fail,” in all its incarnations, wasn’t a word used often in my house growing up. I’d love to attribute 100% of this to my parents and their excellent leadership skills, but I think a big reason we didn’t use the word because we didn’t use it in school. While kids on tv shows would stress about Straight As and moan if they “flunked” a class, my elementary school worked with an entirely different system:
E = Excellent G = Good S = Satisfactory N = Not Satisfactory
My first real introduction to Failure was in middle school, in seventh grade I remember thinking of how mean that was, to use such a harsh word to describe someone’s work and worth.
But this is usually our first exposure to the concept of failure, right? Not doing well in a class, with a final hard-stop grade at the end telling you so. No second chances, no helpful notes...just a big, red F.
I’m obsessed with words, so I did us the favor of looking up “fail” in the dictionary. What I found was not one, not two, but THIRTEEN definitions of the word. I was going to be all clever in this post and string together some prose turning the definition on its head, but honestly…thirteen????????????
When I switched from the E-N system to an A-F one in seventh grade, I was beyond frustrated. As a star student obsessed with learning, this was just WRONG. A bad grade just means there are things I need to work on! A bad grade just means my work isn’t satisfactory YET!
But that’s not the system I was in anymore. I made up words to coincide with the letters, since that’s what I’d been used to, and it made the transition easier. But the only ones I could think of for D and F were “Dunce” (remember the cone cap kids would wear in Saturday morning cartoons when they acted up in class?) and “Fail.” They became dirty words meant to shame and scare me.
Fear of failure is what stops most of us in our tracks while we’re on our personal quest towards self-actualization. We get hung up on the idea of failure and what we’ve been taught it represents: being less-than, being “the loser,” being robbed of something and left empty-handed. Failure, we’re taught, is a hard stop. And those outdated definitions are what get us stuck, what keep us from being fulfilled, and what make us put limits our own possibilities and potential.
But if I’m reading them right, almost HALF of those thirteen definitions involve something other than a locked door or closed chapter. Definitions like “losing strength,” “falling short,” and, my favorite, “to disappoint the expectations or trust of someone or something.” These aren’t hard stops – these are all fixable. These aren’t red lights – they’re yellow.
Think about the last time you “failed” at something. How did it feel? Try to take out the shame or anger…what are you left with?
A lot of times, failing can feel like flailing. I’vetalked about this before: how being an adult is a graceful flailof grasping for certainty and being at peace with not knowing all the answers.
And so I’d like to propose that most of the things you call FAILURES aren’t really FAILURES at all: They’re FLAILURES.
Because failing can feel like flailing, and flailing means you’re being blown by the wind into your next adventure.
Are there still things that are failures? Of course. But the blanket term “failure,” with all its thirteen-plus definitions, doesn’t apply to every single thing that doesn’t work out. A meme of Jackass-proportions (remember that show??) paired with a big bold Sans Serif EPIC FAIL is not the same as being rejected by a book agent (hello and welcome to my home, so glad you could make it). Red light, yellow light. A fail is a hard stop. A flail keeps going.
Sure, I still get scared of failing – or, rather, the Ghost Worry that I’ll do something to feel ashamed of later. But in the thick of that fear, I remind myself that I’ve got this. I remind myself that I’ve never felt right about something that’s wrong, or wrong about something that’s right. I listen to my gut and I act. I might be too much for some, but I am always just right for me…whatever that looks and feels like, whether I’m aware of it or not. I’m on a very specific path that’s all my own, and those little sparks of fear are signals that I’m about to hit another benchmark.
I just need to let the wind take me there.
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Let this serve as your reminder that #wellness and #weightloss have nothing to do with each other. You can want (or in some doctor-advised cases, need) to lose weight, but weight is not an indication of overall WELLNESS.
Good news! Talking about diets is going out of style.
Not-good news!Dieting is being repackaged in empowering words and being called “wellness.”
It’s a classic wolf-in-sheeps’-clothing situation. Up until the early 2000s, being “on a diet” was a status symbol and a sign of virtuosity. Look at the willpower I have! Look how serious I am about losing weight! Dieting was the road to a healthier You, and a healthier You was a smaller You. A diet wasn’t just a way of eating – it was a specific thing you did, for a specific amount of time, to lose a specific amount of weight. Which, of course, became less and less specific the more you did it. If I could just lose 10 lbs, I’d be happier. If I’d just lose 5 lbs, I’d be happier. I’m not happier, I must need to lose more weight.
But now, talking about all-caps “A DIET” and all-caps “WEIGHT LOSS” like that isn’t cool anymore. It’s not a status symbol like it once was – it’s a sign of not being with-the-times or awake to cultural shifts.
So what words are being used instead?
Lifestyle. Wellness. Self-care.
Beware of diet culture in self-care clothing. Beware of weight loss in wellness language. If you’ve been told by a product, a person, or a brand you NEED said product, a person, or a brand in order to “be your best self,” it’s worth questioning. And while you’re at it, take a look at how that person or brand talks about weight loss, or if they even do at all. Do they glorify a thin ideal (which usually also includes privileged and white, which is a WHOLE other thing to unpack and I encourage all of us to mull over why this is)? Even if they try and convince you otherwise…does their language and their actions speak otherwise, over and over?
No, not every brand that talks about lifestyle, wellness, or “your best self” is just word-swapping for “diet” and “weight loss.” But enough are that it’s making a difference in the way diet culture functions.
Best Body Ever language isn’t dead. Heck, why do you think I titled this post the way I did? SEO analysis is real. People are searching. And so I wanted to sneak attack them. If you’re reading this because you were searching for the secrets to your Best Body…well, I am so glad you’re here.
What if each trick to achieving your most awesome self was simple, accessible, and realistic for the life you’re living at this very moment? What if the decisions you made, the ones that had nothing to do with calories or reps, were the decisions that actually helped you get that figure you covet? What if – just go with me on this one – your best body ever was actually the one you’re in now?
You’ve read about all the fitness trends and diet tricks. Here are seven other ways to get your best body ever:
GO ON AN UNFOLLOWING SPREE.
A wise anonymous person once said “Unfollow any account on Instagram that makes you feel like you need to be someone else.” Take a browse through your “Follow” list. Go to each individual account. Sit with it, and, Kondo-style, ask yourself: does this account spark JOY for me? Or is it so aspirational that it’s making me feel like who and where and how and what I am isn’t enough? When this account comes across my feed, is my first instinct to celebrate it, or criticize it? And then – yep – unfollow.
If it’s someone you can’t bear to Unfollow for whatever reason – say, they’re a friend of yours IRL or a family member – Mute their account (they won’t know, and you can always un-Mute them later). It’s okay. It’s an unhealthy relationship. Maybe even a toxic one. And just because it exists behind a screen doesn’t mean it’s less so.
How does this relate to anything physical? Our bodies carry the load of all our doubts and insecurities. And because those feelings are so heavy, we’ll look for a scapegoat to displace some of the weight. Our body is an easy target: We’re walking around with it, it’s tangible, it’s something concrete we can bash. But after unfollowing the accounts that make you question yourself – your beauty, your talents, your success, your worth – you might just realize your body is “Best” just the way it is.
And yes, that anonymous person said it on Instagram.
What is just as unhealthy as an unrelenting drive-thru habit? A person who is so consumed with nutritional perfection that it affects every single aspect of her life – personal, professional, spiritual. This is disorder territory, and it’s dangerous.
Even if you don’t go down the path of anorexia, orthorexia, exercise compulsion or the like, we tend to freak out if we make a “bad” food choice and use it as a way to berate ourselves. Un-perfecting yourself makes it a whole lot easier to get right back to your usual routine when you slip up and to avoid binging on what you’ve deemed “bad” when you’re stressed out, lonely – because it was never about perfection in the first place. You are not living in extreme black-and-whites, therefore the bigger picture is clear. And it’s positive. When you’re nice to your body, it relaxes and realizes it doesn’t need to be on the defense, armed for your next attack. And a relaxed body is a happy, healthy body.
DO IT FOR YOUR SKIN. OR NAILS. OR HAIR.
Fun fact: What helps one part of you helps all of you. Skin acting up? It might be time to cut back on processed sugar (my personal skin saboteur). Nails spotty? Ask your doctor if it could be a mineral deficiency or allergy. Turns out, damaged dermis, brittle nails, or less-than-luscious locks are usually the outward, obvious manifestations of an internal imbalance. Maybe you’re not taking in enough calcium, or maybe your excessive soy habit has gotten your hormones out of whack. Whatever it is, once you make a change, you’re likely to see results once you make changes. This can be a welcome confidence boost and help you stick with whatever healthy habit you’ve adopted – whether it’s a supplement routine or using more natural, hypoallergenic products. You get the picture.
SLEEP ON IT.
It’s a common health tip, getting your eight nightly hours. It keeps your metabolism in check, aids digestion, etc. But what’s more important is that eight (or seven, or nine, or whatever you personally need) hours keeps you sane, confident, and ready to conquer the world. When you feel good about the energy you’re putting forth daily, that confidence starts to radiate from the inside out.
GET PUMPED. Think about your workplace: If you have cool projects to work on, an inspiring culture and the role of your dreams, are you more likely to stick with your job or look elsewhere? No matter how hot the newest craze is, no matter how many friends you have at Pure Barre, no matter how many free passes or Groupons you’ve racked up, if you don’t like the type of workout you’re doing, you won’t see lasting results physically, mentally, or emotionally.
Why? Two things: stress and investment. Exercise gets your heart rate up, triggers your fight-or-flight reflexes, and is physically stressful enough as is. When you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, your mind actually adds to and sustains the stress by equating it with a chore. With no positivity to combat this pressure, your cortisol levels stay high and your body resists change. Moreover, when you’re not invested in what you’re doing, it’s a sure-fire recipe for burnout and you’re way less likely to stick with it, much less make it a part of your lifestyle.
THE RUB DOWN.
So often we don’t bat a lash at being mean to ourselves – not because we’re inadequate, but because we’re removed. Just like we’ve forgotten what food tastes like, we’ve forgotten what our bodies actually feel like. Take the time to practice self-massage (Massagetherapy.com offers some wonderful starting tips), or simply develop a habit of applying lotion or body oil to your skin before bed each night. When we can notice the way our skin feels, relieve a tight muscle, feel the way each part of our body miraculously fits together, we become creatures to admire instead of objects to critique.
When it comes to self-talk, have you ever heard the advice, “If you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself”? Turns out, this advice works in the positive direction as well. When we compliment others, whether it be on a new dress or on their killer smile, we are training our brains to speak kindly. And as with anything else, practice makes permanence.
When your mind practices the art of reassurance and positive reinforcement, its wires get untangled and positivity starts to become your own vernacular. Your “best body” becomes the one you are in now, because you realize that even on the gloomiest days there is something wonderful about it that keeps you shining. Maybe it’s your strong legs that can take a brisk walk down the block, or your skin that no matter how stressed you get always seems to bounce back to its radiant self after a little extra TLC. Maybe you’re feeling run-down today, but how about that time yesterday you felt like you could conquer the world (and then Mars to boot)? When you’re nice to others, you’re nice to yourself, and you will start making decisions from a place of self love instead of loathing.
Let these words serve as your reminder that #wellness and #weightloss have nothing to do with each other. You can want (or in some doctor-advised cases, need) to lose weight, but weight is not an indication of overall WELLNESS.
Your mindset. Your energy. Your stress levels. How you respond to challenges. Your self-image. Your community. Your relationship with adversity. Whether you’re proactive or reactive.
Your blood tests and BMI (an archaic + flawed way to determine health) can check out perfectly, but if your mind ain’t right, your wellness levels are on a downward spiral. Your weight could be your “ideal” weight (whatever that is) but if you’re treating yourself like crap to get there and chalking it up to “self-care” you’ve been sold, you’re not set up for long-term success.
To live well, REALLY live well, we need to look at all the wonderful information that’s at our fingertips right now, and take this opportunity to educate ourselves. Never before have we had this kind of information at our fingertips.. Let’s use it to our advantage. And then we need to listen to our bodies, open up our eyes, and take what works for us to fit our lifestyle.
Just because your meal is not food blogger material or the nutritional value of your one snack isn’t as “clean” as the trends say it “should” be or you missed a workout today or whatever it is that’s making you wonder if you’re “doing it right”…I promise, as long as you are making an informed decision based on who YOU are, not who the world is trying to convince you to be, you are doing more than okay.
I open my door and walk out into the still-sleeping streets and they close in. The busses plow by and I’m hit with their force. Signing onto Facebook, tweeted out on Twitter. On fitness product placards and grocery story windows and spa practitioners and mega-store outlets.
I know them so well: the claims and calls to change your life.
They make it seem so easy – just sign up and go. Just buy this thing or set this goal, and once it’s yours you’re the You that you want to be. Simple as that.
Honestly, we’re the ones that should be laughed at. We’ve been duped, and it’s at no fault of the companies and corporations. I mean, maybe some fault…but it starts with us. They know where to hit us in our soft spots and seize every opportunity. We WANT change. We’re starved for it, even. They’re just giving us what we ask for.
Why is it, then, that with so many available outlets for change…we’re still endlessly craving it?
There’s this somewhat confusing, somewhat contradictory feeling that comes with big change. It’s excitement, it’s anticipation, it’s bliss…but it’s also a little fear, a muddle of oddity, a dash of discomfort. The contrast can be enough to frighten us away.
And that’s where they get us:
Offering us a place to go when the real steps are too scary.
Working out is too hard? Try this machine.
Eating well is too expensive? Buy this cheap box of massive claims.
Finding love in all the wrong places? Gurl, you totally need a new wardrobe, and also a facial.
Hello, just go to that class 3xs a week and watch your life fall into place! It worked for us, it’ll work for you.
We often associate discomfort with something bad – but what if we’re just displacing our true emotions? Discomfort merely means a state of non-comfort. And sure, sometimes that’s a by-product of a very bad place to be. A place of falseness, lies, of going against who you truly are.
But discomfort can also be the by-product of massive shifts and important changes in motion – the by-product of being affected by them.
To make lasting change, we must allow ourselves to be affected and moved.
We must allow ourselves to feel.
Sure, joining a gym or buying a new pair of jeans can be awesome. But they’re baby steps on the road to lasting change. Supporting players, not leading roles. Going to a spin class for the sake of checking it off your to-do list won’t get you the change you want, attending yoga so you can SAY you did won’t make you FEEL zen, and eating healthy foods for bragging rights won’t get you glowing. You’ve got to surrender yourself to the experience. Because there will be bumps in the road, and they WILL be uncomfortable. But that feeling won’t be because you’re doing something wrong. Nope – it’ll be because you’re breaking new ground on the way to doing everything so very, very right. Breaking through anything is uncomfortable. If you disengage from feeling, you disengage from change.If you slam down on the breaks, you miss the breakthrough.
Ever entered a room or started a conversation and felt an immediate coldness? That is what happens when someone disengages, when someone decides they don’t want to be affected: everything freezes.Connections remain on a surface level, interactions are completely on the outside. No wonder so many of us flip out when we’ve found a new soul-friend or a lustworthy romantic prospect! It’s not that the depth of character is so rare – it’s that too many of us fight against depth or freeze it out. Depth is uncomfy, depth means you can be affected. Depth means you feel things that sometimes will hurt.
But depth is also what warms us up from the inside out. It’s our internal thermostat.
Ready to have your mind blown? Change does not come from something. It comes from all things. The insides, the outsides, the marriage of the two. There is possibility for change everywhere, and you never know for sure where you’ll find it. Allowing yourself to be affected, to be moved, to feel, is to allow yourself permission to move into that change that’s so meant for you.
And so while the bus sign and Newsfeeds and grocery-store windows try as they might, their claims are no substitute for the magic that unfolds when we just open up and feel. We’re fine-tuned on the inside to respond to every effect and affect in a way that’s all our own. Taking a deep, long breath and opening up our insides to our outsides is way more effective than any claim you’ll read.
You don’t need a pill to see a shift. You don’t require rules to make a difference. And just going THROUGH the motions is nothing compared to what happens when you are shaken to the core by the way they make you feel.
Open your doors. This is all yours.
Now go and change your life.
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Zodiac. MBTI.Human Design. Enneagrams. We’re hyper-curious about ourselves, and there are so many ways for us to find out more about what makes us tick…and that’s not even counting all the “What type of artisanal ice cream flavor are you?” quizzes from Buzzfeed.
One of the most ancient – and most RELIABLE – ways to find out more about yourself is by determining your Ayurvedic “dosha.” According to Ayurveda, a dosha is one of three energy types within the body that define who you are. There are three types: Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. We each have all three in us…however, each of us has a unique combination of the three, and are usually dominant in one in particular.
Think this is just another personality test? Well, yes and no. Yes, figuring our your dosha can tell you a lot about who you are (just like that Buzzfeed ice cream quiz)…but it can also tell you about how to manage things like self-doubt, anger, and STRESS (unlike that Buzzfeed ice cream quiz). Ayurveda is about way more than the individual. It’s about living in harmony with the world around you, too.
Sahara Roseis an author, health coach, and Ayurvedic expert who is passionate about bridging ancient Ayurvedic healing and spiritual wisdom with modern western nutritional science/psychology. I love that Sahara blends the two so seamlessly, making it SO easy to incorporate these centuries-old healing practices into our day-to-day life that we’re left wondering why it took so damn long to find out about them.
Stress is high year-round, but during the holidy months it seems to runneth over. Sahara’s take on stress: find your dosha and go from there.
Tally up how many times you select A, B, or C to find your dosha (you may be dominant in two – I’m a Pitta-Kapha, for example), then follow Sahara’s ridiculously simple stress-busting strategies…
Ayurvedic Stress Relief 101
You have a deadline coming up. How do you deal? a) I’m totally overwhelmed and don’t know how I’ll manage. I want to run away and shut down. b) I can feel my temperature rising and my heart racing but sit down and get to work — NOW! c) I don’t let it get to me. I’ll finish when I finish and if it’s a little late, it’s not the end of the world.
Someone just sent you a text calling you out on something. How do you react? a) I’m so anxious reading through it. My mind is racing to all the things I should reply and am already thinking about what they’re going to say next. I can’t focus and feel like I might hyperventilate. b) I’m pissed. Who do they think they are to call me out on that? What they said isn’t even true. Bring it. c) I’m so upset. I immediately want to apologize and make it right again. I hate the feeling of someone being disappointed in me. I feel heavy and sad.
You just got fired. What’s your next move? a) Omg, I just screwed up my whole life. How am I going to pay my bills? How am I going to eat? I will never make it to my goals. What caused this?! Well, I always have wanted to be a creative… b) Your just fired me?! B**** please. I am the one who does the firing! On to the next one! Screw it, I’m just going to start my own company! c) Omg I did not see this coming. I’ve been with this company for years. I’m so upset. The boss must hate me. I’m such a failure. How will I find a new job?
How do you deal with emotions? a) Buy a plane ticket and dip. Or at least spend the weekend by myself in my own world. b) Head to the gym to torch some calories and get my rage out. c) Eat my emotions in vegan donuts.
When something bad happens, how do you feel? a) Cold, weak, faint. b) Hot, enraged, angry. c) Heavy, depressed, energetically exhausted.
A — VATAS
Vatas’ minds, like the fall wind, are always racing. Vatas have a lot of air energy, causing their thoughts to constantly move, causing a tornado in their minds called anxiety. Vatas often waste countless hours worrying about outcomes that may never happen (sound familiar?) This is because vatas place their emphasis on the future, rather than the present or past, which can cause vatas to have trouble sleeping at night. Vatas tend to over-analyze, replay responses and make up scenarios on how situations can pan out. For vatas, it is important that they stay present, come back to their breath and ground.
Tips to reduce stress for Vatas… • Allow yourself to walk barefoot in nature. With the negative ions from the Earth, you ground yourself, rebalance your energy and bring energy into your lower chakras. • Stay present! Escape your head and enter your body. Be aware of what you see, hear, smell and taste. •Return to your breath. Anxiety occurs when we forget to breathe. Inhale and exhale to re-center your mind, spirit and body.
B — PITTAS Pittas, of all three doshas, become stressed most easily. Pittas have a lot of fire energy, causing a lot of pent-up energy within them. When something goes wrong, they can snap and erupt like a volcano. For this reason, it is important for pittas to cool down. Pittas can be too in the present, which causes them to disregard future or past backlash for their actions. This can cause pittas to say things they do not actually mean. It is important pittas regain balance by cooling down to put out that fiery flame within.
Tips to reduce stress for Pittas… • Spend by the water. Pittas are normally hot in nature, so they do marvelously when they are in cooling environments such as the ocean, a lake or a river. When you take a weekend trip near a body of water you will notice the stress disappear from your body. • Practice some cooling pranayama breathing techniques. Take some deep breaths shaping your lips into the letter “O.” This is known as sitali. Another cooling breathing technique to practice is sitkari.
Practice sitali by: 1. Sitting comfortably with your eyes closed in a meditative state. For several minutes return to your breath and focus solely on your breathing. 2. Roll your tongue lengthwise and extend it out of your mouth. Inhale deeply, like you are drinking through a straw, across your tongue and into your mouth. Breathe that breath into your abdomens. This breath will feel cooling on your tongue. 3. Bring your tongue back into your mouth then completely through the nostrils exhale. 4. Practice this for 2-3 minutes, gradually practicing up to 10 minutes.
Practice sitkari by: 1. Sitting comfortably with your eyes closed. 2. Expose your teeth to the air by pressing your lower and upper teeth together and separating your lips as much as you comfortably can. 3. Create a hissing sound when you inhale and breathe through the gaps of your teeth. 4. Close your mouth, then exhale slowly through your nose. 5. Practice for 2-3 minutes, gradually practicing up to 10 minutes.
C — KAPHAS Kaphas are the least likely of the doshas to become stressed. They’re very hakuna-matata and “slow and steady wins the race.” Since Kaphas have a lot of earthy energy, they are grounding, calm and collected. However, when kaphas do become stressed, they become overwhelmed with sadness. Kaphas bottle up their emotions and do not let anyone know, which can lead to sadness, emotional eating and isolation. Even though kaphas are the dosha that seems the happiest, they’re the most likely to fall into depression and not let anyone else know because they feel like they have to be the rock for everyone else. If you can relate to this, it is crucial for you to raise your spirits and get out of your kapha rut by shaking your body and stimulating your mind.
Tips to reduce stress for Kaphas… • Sweat! Sweat is medicine for kaphas, especially first thing in the morning. Do something that causes you to sweat and increases your heart rate before you eat breakfast, whether it is a cardio workout, hot yoga, barre, HIIT, boxing or anything in between. A great sweat sesh will instantly have you feeling extremely relieved. • Attempt something new! Kaphas can become bored and dissatisfied because they are creatures of habits. It is important for kaphas to get out of their comfort zone, whether it is in a new city, state or even country. Perhaps trying out a new dance or art class, being a tourist in your city, or enjoying a weekend trip in a nearby national park camping is just what your soul needs. Life is meant to be lived and experienced in full depth. Break free from your routine so you can return to yourself. • Eat smart and avoid snacking. Kaphas often release their emotions on food and make their eating decisions based on emotional reasons not from hunger. Try not to snack in between meals, eat only three square meals a day. Snacking throws off your hunger rhythms, affecting your digestion, metabolism, and nutrient absorption. Kaphas, of all three doshas, gain weight most easily. If Kaphas snack throughout the day, they will feel more heavier and sluggish. Kaphas need to make sure they get enough protein with their meals, to avoid wanting to eat two hours later — especially from the candy jar.
Stress is a natural part of life. Letting it overcome us is not. Learning about the doshas can help you handle and, most importantly, prevent stress, so you can live a balanced life.
Paying off debt: maybe not the most yogic topic you can think of, eh? Ariel Kiley would disagree majorly. Ariel Kiley is an NYC-based yoga and meditation teacher, teacher trainer, author, and IAYT certified Yoga Therapist. Ariel specializes in stress reduction andSomatic Experiencing® trauma resolution. Plus she’s kind of obsessed with “financial fitness.”
On WANT, we talk about shame, vulnerability, and seeing the light in the midst of the darkness. “How To Pay Off Your Debt” might seem like an odd subject choice for this site..but really, is it?
Financial fitness, as Ariel calls it, can sometimes feel like the final Adulting frontier. The one elusive thing we’re supposed to just *know* how to handle with ease, but few of us do. So we’re left to fend for ourselves, shying away from asking others for help because we don’t want to seem out of control or immature. We’re not out of control OR immature, though – we’re just doing the best we can with the information we have.
Ariel is a Doer: when she says she’s going to do something, she DOES it. So when Ariel first told me about her plans to tackle her five-figure debt, I knew she’d hit her goal. I just didn’t know how FAST she’d hit it. We’re talking eight months, folks.
Whether you’ve got massive bills to pay or want to spruce up your savings account, here’s the 33 (yes, thirty-three) step plan Ariel used to build up her financial fitness. Take the shame out of your money game and read on – then tell us in the comments what step you loved most and can start implementing TODAY.
On June 1st, I made the last payment on my last student loan. I thought I would be making payments on these loans for several more years, but last November I decided to do a full-scale attack and knock them out as quickly as possible. I teach yoga and meditation for a living, so it’s not like I’m swimming in dough, but there are still lots of ways to monetize this career, and I was ready to get super busy.
To my surprise, I was able to accomplish this much faster than anticipated. I totally wiped out over $25,000 in student loan debt within eight months. There was no magic involved, nor big financial gifts. It was a series of small behavior and attitude changes that added up to this big payoff.
After hitting “confirm” on my final student loan payment something wonderful happened — I got Bon Jovi’s song It’s My Life stuck in my head for days. It’s cheesy, but I feel like I have my life back. And it feels amazing.
So in case you’ve got lingering debt you’d like to annihilate too, I’ve made a list of all the most significant shifts that made this happen.
Upon reviewing my finances last year, and realizing I was still lugging around over 25k in student loan debt, I got increasingly angry. I was particularly angry at Vermont Student Assistance Corporation. VSAC’s website is all green and white and looks like it’s an ice cream shop or something, but IMO they are total financial scavengers. I was paying 6.9% on my debts to them and hadn’t made much of a dent in over 13 years. This anger reached a boiling point where I didn’t want to pay just a measly $10-$20 extra each month. I wanted to never sign in to their dumb website again. Anger is fire. It motivates. You can use it to fuel debt-removal!
2. I Decided To
This sounds obvious, but it’s very powerful. You have got to make the DECISION I’m going to do this. No really! I’m doing it. It’s like that quote by William Hutchison Murray: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too.” Decide. Commit. Don’t look back.
3. I Cut Down All Excess Spending
Here I must thank Mr. Money Mustache. He makes frugality a game, he calls it “badassity” to ride your bike instead of drive. Or in my case, ride my bike, or the subway, or walk instead of take a cab. I tracked my spending for two full months and I trimmed the fat EVERYWHERE. Yes, on lattes, on eating out, on impulse purchases like makeup and shoes… there is so much excess spending that many of us do that we don’t even think about. We want it, so we reach out take it, drop our money down and buy it. I cut a lot of that shit out.
4. I Questioned Every Expense
My desires can be very sneaky. For instance, I like to wear sunblock. I can validate my purchase of sunblock cause I’m pale AF and I need to protect my skin. HOWEVER, do I need to buy $45 La Roche-Posay sunblock? No. I can actually use the FREE sunblock that I got in a gift bag that’s been sitting under my bed since last year. And yes, I like binging on the odd Netflix series, I even consider my late-night nature documentary watching part of my education — what’s more valuable to study human behavior than watching animals? BUT, do I REALLY NEED this video streaming service? Upon examination, I found that the answer was NO. So it got canceled. My $90 phone bill got reduced to $40 by changing companies. I talked down the rate of my newsletter service. Questioning EVERY SINGLE EXPENSE that you have is wildly helpful when you want to reduce them.
5. I Created a Zero-Based Written Budget — and Stuck to It
Do you hate the idea of budgeting? Does the thought of writing down your limit for spending in every category of your life totally bum you out? If the answer is “yes,” then you haven’t given it a fair shake. Because BUDGETING IS AWESOME. Budgeting equals success and the freedom to spend wisely. A zero-based budget is when you “give every dollar a name” as Dave Ramsey says.
In the beginning of each month I added up all the money that was in my checking/savings/Venmo accounts, plus all cash, and that was my budget (aside from a few hundred dollars in savings reserved for the unexpected). Then I wrote out a list of each category of spending and planned ahead what I would pay in each one. The leftover money all went to debt payments. This extra debt payment added up to anywhere from $688 (month 1) to $5,073 (month 8).
Sticking to my budget proved to be a fun and satisfying game, not a punishment. I loved the feeling that I was the boss of my money, not at the mercy of my fleeting cravings.
Some people get really judgy about all the different financial “gurus” and “experts”. I think that the reason they are so critical is that they are looking for a reason to avoid their own financial issues. Instead of bitching about whether I liked the personality, political ideas, or facial hair of various “experts”, I just listened to all of them that seemed to have something valuable to say. I found that no one teacher had all the answers for me, but pulling from different systems brought it all together. That said, Mr. Money Mustache and Dave Ramsey proved to be the biggest influences.
7. I Used the “Cash Envelope System”
This system is brilliant. Basically, all expenses that you don’t need to mark as business expenses or keep track of, you just set aside cash for. My cash envelope system was very crude. I wrapped my stashes of cash for the categories of Groceries ($250), Dining Out ($100), Coffee ($40), Laundry ($25), Fun ($50), Giving ($25) in Post-its in my wallet. Apparently when you feel cash leaving your hands it registers in pain centers in your brain. This causes people who use cash to spend significantly less than those swiping cards, or god forbid, using something like Googlepay — which doesn’t even need a signature or a pin. When you feel your money leaving, you spend less. Setting aside the cash forces you to adapt to that budget. When the cash is out, no more buying.
8. I Made a Game of Accountability
When I decided to really DO THIS, I decided it would be interesting to post the journey on YouTube. Partly, because I figured that if I pulled it off, recording that journey could be informative and helpful to others. But even more so, I knew if I posted it live, I would have to be accountable to my choice. So by making it a game of making videos and sharing online, that upped my accountability and motivated me to save more and earn more so I could make a great uplifting video the next month.
9. I Paid my Debts Smallest to Largest*
This is a Dave Ramsey thing. He says that our psychology is much more significant than “the math” so he actually recommends paying off your debts smallest to largest, regardless of interest percentage. So even though I wanted to pay my biggest student loan debt first (the one from VSAC that made me so angry!), I had to pay off two smaller ones (originally they were Sallie Mae, but were sold to Navient). Seeing this progress really helped fuel and motivate me.
10. I Found ‘Pleasure Workarounds’
I enjoy a new $500 dress just as much as the next gal. You know what else I like? Dinners out at world-class restaurants with iconic chefs where I don’t look at the price of anything and order whatever I want. You know what else I like? Impulsive trips to exotic and glamorous places. Plus I really enjoy fancy hotel rooms. But you know what? That sh!t wasn’t going to get me out of student loan debt anytime soon. So I found ‘pleasure workarounds’.
This meant that instead of going out for a whole meal, I’d go to a beautiful hotel lobby and order a really nice cup of tea (I am partial to the Meadow Tea at Ace Hotel). Or instead of planning a trip overseas on my own dime, I used the Law of Attraction to create an opportunity to teach in London where all my expenses were paid. Instead of new clothing, I decided to take extra morning time to get ready mindfully and really appreciate the clothing I already own. The takeaway? Pleasure workarounds work!
11. I Stopped Magical Thinking About Fantasy Income
I’m actually curious if you have this issue too, or if it is particular to my mind. I’ve got this idea in my head that the really big-income opportunity is always right around the corner. I have this thought that if I just invest in that program, or write that book, or whatever, suddenly my “ship is going to come in” and like, half a million dollars is going to drop into my lap. This has caused me, over the years, to invest tons of time and money into things hoping that they will produce gobs of income. And to be honest, none of them have worked out. If anything, it’s the learning I did while pursuing them that led to other, more organically and gradually growing aspects of my income. So I stopped magical thinking about fantasy income over these months and decided to focus on where my money was ACTUALLY coming from. It was a total relief.
12. I Got Humble and Stopped Feeding My “I’m Special” Ideation
Facing debt and doing the cost-cutting/extra-buck-earning details to get out of it quickly is humbling. While taking on this process you have to admit, once and for all, that you are not a princess. You have not been “discovered” and swept into a life of fame and wealth. You are just regular old Joe/Jane who is sick of being in debt and there are many ways to earn that money that will really help you get there, but they aren’t all fancy-pants. For me this meant teaching more yoga classes at hours I’d rather be sleeping. It meant saying “yes” to work I didn’t feel like doing. It meant getting un-special and just getting the job done.
Admittedly, I did have a major program that I “starred in” come out on Daily Burn during this time, I taught at Yale with radical chef Elizabeth Falkner, and I did get to do a few glamorous things like travel and do photoshoots. But juxtaposing this glamour with those early mornings and extra private sessions, kept it quite real.
13. I Did What I Know How to Do to Make Money
This is related to #11. Instead of getting in my head that I needed to create the “next big thing”, I just buckled down and did what I know how to do: I taught yoga classes, taught meditation, I led trainings, I worked as a blog editor, I put together yoga programming, I did coaching, I helped people get stronger and more flexible in private sessions. I just did what I know how to do. That was enough.
14. I Maximized My Earnings by Also Doing What I’ve Been Wanting to Do
Yes, I did the regular stuff to keep my earnings up as stated in #13. But I also took action on projects I’ve been wanting to do, but hadn’t gotten around to. Like my Business of Yoga Success Course. I’d been thinking of doing that for years. Plus putting a therapy ball training on the books. My financial freedom journey helped me pull the trigger and actually do what I’ve been thinking about doing. This also included special workshop themes, trauma resolution work, and other coaching approaches.
15. I Took My Business Seriously
Here in the yoga world things can get a little mushy-gushy, gooey-spewy. But once I got on my budget and made the decision to do this, I got more clear about my business. Sometimes people reach out to me wanting to do privates but don’t actually schedule until months down the road (if at all). I don’t have time for this. I do a call with them immediately and schedule if they want to schedule, and if I sense it’s murky, I let it go. Plus I don’t care to tiptoe around money talks with studio owners. I don’t have energy for vague rules around space rental. I have a business and I need to take it seriously. In the past few months when I’ve encountered other systems or people that I can tell are wishy washy or unprofessional, I’m OUT. It’s a waste of my time.
16. I Said YES to Unexpected Ways to Make Money
During this time I was contacted by my dear friends/colleagues at Tune Up Fitness about joining the blog editing team. I would not have considered this were I not on my debt-free bender. But given the fact that it’s kinda draining to ONLY teach yoga, I considered it. Then I took it. And you know what? I LOVE IT! I’m having so much fun in this position. Who would’ve thunk it?
17. I Sold Stuff
Dear Craigslist, you’re so cool. I didn’t think I “had anything to sell”. But you know what? I was wrong. As it turns out, a family in Queens really wanted my plant pot collection. And a lady in Crown Heights was happy to take the grill that I had inherited from a friend off my hands for $40. Plus some furniture went out the door. I actually would’ve sold a lot more stuff if I had more time. I got rid of a lot of clothing and tchotchkes. But I did the math and figured I’d make more $$ teaching than selling small items.
18. I Unloaded the Past
Part of making this shift to being debt-free, was also making the shift to let go of the material stuff that was weighing me down psychologically. For instance, I have been carrying a “boyfriend box” of old stuff from exes for a while now. I’m a Taurus which means I’m a bit sentimental and a bit of a hoarder. But I decided enough was enough and got rid of not just the boyfriend box, but hundreds of other things that had been given to me that carried energies I didn’t want to carry into the future.
19. I Gave Gifts and Showed Gratitude
Apparently part of attracting wealth is having an “abundance mindset.” And part of having an abundance mindset is being generous. During these last eight months I have felt very, very grateful. First, I’m grateful to several incredible individuals at Daily Burn, Equinox, Tune Up Fitness, Yoga Sole, Dou Yoga, Prema Yoga BK and more who gave me great opportunities and discounts. I’m also grateful to people in my life like my family and friends who bring so much wealth of spirit and heart to me. As such, I wound up sending out lots of flowers, thank-you cards, and “I appreciate you” texts. NOTHING I have done, I have done alone. Everything has been because someone gave me that opportunity and gave me support to do what I do. I feel that more than ever now.
I also make a point to thank all of the waste removal workers in NYC that I encounter. Especially people changing the garbage in the subways. I stop and give them a little bow and say “thank you for your hard work.” There is almost always a great moment of warmth and uplift between us when I do that. I am really grateful to these people for keeping the city clean and beautiful. They work really hard doing something low-status and potentially dirty and they should be shown gratitude and appreciation.
20. I Refocused My Intention Every Morning
There is a reason I’ve been dragging this debt around for SO LONG. It’s because society normalizes it. Lots of voices talk about “good debt”. All the time people promote “treating yourself” and say dumb stuff like “you deserve it” about expensive items and empty-calorie foods. I deserve what? To be broke and chubby? I deserve to be financially strapped and unable to zip up my favorite dress? No. I don’t deserve that. And I don’t want it. But those messages are STRONG, man.
So every single morning I get up and write out my goals. I refocus on what I’m trying to accomplish by writing it down. Then as I move through the day I’m able to discern those voices I don’t want to listen to from my own voice within.
21. I Listened to Tons of Podcasts and Read Tons of Blog Posts
Yo. There is a shit-ton of inspiration out there. And I’ve been soaking it up. I may have dropped my Netflix subscription, but YouTube is free and I watch all kinds of videos of other people paying off their debt. It inspires me. Mr. Money Mustache’sblog posts are hilarious, full of amazing frugal ideas, and super motivating.The Minimalistspodcast gives so many great ideas on how to “live better with less.” Dave Ramsey has dozens of callers each week into his radio show sharing their financial issues and receiving live advice — also telling the stories of their success. Over these past eight months I have kept a steady stream of ideas and inspiration pouring in to keep my motivation up.
22. I Ate Really Good Food… At Home
My dining out budget each month was $100, which doesn’t get you far here in NYC. So I made sure, with my $250 grocery budget, to buy really great ingredients like fresh fruit & veggies, nut butters, hummus, herbs, sauces, cheese… stuff that I was excited to come home and eat. Yeah, I’ve eaten a ton of oatmeal too. But I like oatmeal. It gets the job done.
23. I Let People Take Me Out to Eat
I have some very sweet friends (and family members!) who have been totally supportive of my debt-free mission, and super generous over these months. As such, I have been taken out to some absolutely delicious dinners and lunches. These meals were even more special than past meals out. Partly because they were rare. Also because of the deeply kind gestures of the people close to me. They were fortifying on so many levels.
24. I Created a Support Network
I have not been alone in this. First, there is the mysterious group of people (between 100-1,000 per post) that watch and encourage me on YouTube. Then there is the killer circle of whip-smart witchy girlfriends with whom I did a formal financial coaching group for several months. Then there is my sister who is a rockstar earner and also on a major mission towards financial freedom. My mom, who has never been one to pour over financial spreadsheets, has hopped on board and also started becoming more excited about money and budgeting with me. Plus my dad, who is kind of a numbers geek, has patiently (and seemingly with genuine interest) waded through numbers with me on looong phone calls. My support network has helped me feel really, well, supported. It’s awesome.
25. I Took Others’ Encouragement to Heart
Sometimes on YouTube I get a really simple comment like “great job! You’re doing awesome! You got this!” Instead of just brushing past it, I take it to heart. Someone I don’t even know took a couple minutes out of their day to write that. So I fully receive the message and send them a big thank-you out over the sky to wherever they live (often across the world). This gives me a real boost!
26. I Imagined a Better Future
What will life be like when I’m financially free? Is a question I regularly pondered. Then I took the time, either in my imagination or a journal, to play it out. When I’m financially free I will be able to be more brave with my career moves. I will feel confident speaking boldly and honestly about my beliefs and values. I will take time to study more books and participate in more trainings. I will feel a greater sense of inner worth, as opposed to inner deficiency. I will have much more freedom to think about where I want to live, what I want to do, who I want to do it with… I will be able to be generous towards organizations and individuals who need help. This imagining was intensely motivating. By painting an inner picture of why I’m doing this, all the harder stuff like budgeting and working longer days felt positive instead of like a drag.
27. I Smiled at Money and Thanked Every Bit of it That Showed Up in My Experience
You know that thing people seeking wealth do where they pick up a penny off the street because they don’t want to say “no” to any money? I think it might’ve come from that book Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Or maybe it was in Think and Grow Rich. Anyway, I rarely do that. When I see a dirty penny on the street, I do not have the urge to pick it up. But you know what I do instead? I look at it and think to myself “amazing! There’s money all around me! What an abundant world I live in!” Then keep walking.
The other thing I do, is every time I get a paycheck or a small fistful of cash from a private client I smile at it and enthusiastically thank it for showing up in my life. I also thank the person who gave it to me. Both when they gave it, and when I’m home filing it to be deposited in the bank.
28. I Ignored Wussy Whiny Messages
As mentioned in #20, there are surprising amount of people who will try to talk you down from your badassity when working extra hard and “depriving” yourself of stupid things like lattes. There are people that think you are doing too much and burning out. When I encountered wussy whiny messages like this I paused and did a little inner reflection, having thoughts like this:
I make many thousands of dollars each month strolling around barefoot in plush, warm, beautiful high-end environments inviting people to stretch their limbs and breathe more deeply. I listen to music of my choosing, I wear incredibly comfortable clothing. I have deep and pleasant moments with absolutely wonderful, evolved, intelligent people. When I’m not at yoga studios I’m in lovely homes throughout this city with working toilets and all the fresh water I can drink. I sleep at least 8 hours each night in a soft, warm cozy bed under a leak-free roof. I eat fresh organic vegetables and grains. When I feel a little blue I have layers and layers and layers of support both emotionally and financially to fall back on. I think I’ll be okay. Now let’s get back to work!
(There is a teeny bit of wisdom in the caution about not burning out, which is why it’s good to diversify your earnings — so you aren’t overly taxing yourself by doing the same thing constantly.)
29. I Remembered My 13-Yr-Old Inner Hustler
When I was 13 my dad said I should earn my own money so I got a job at the local farm pulling weeds in a pumpkin patch for 4 hours each day at $5/hour. When I was 14 my best friend Christyn got me a job at the local Italian restaurant for $5.25/hour washing dishes. A year later I was promoted to prep cook and I made $5.75 rinsing the flies out of the lettuce, cleaning and slicing up calamari, prepping giant mounds of pizza dough and all kinds of other random tasks. And I loved it. I took great pride in my hard work. Maybe it is all the episodes of Sex & The City I watched in my 20’s, but sometime between then and now I got soft. I developed a distaste for scrappy uncomfortable hard work. But this debt-annihilation stint brought me back to that scrappy teenager who mopped many, many floors to get a taste of the great freedom and opportunity that money provides.
30. I Broke My Lease With No Penalty and Moved to a More Affluent Neighborhood
It is usually not advised to move while hauling ass to get out of debt. Moving can be extremely expensive. But I knew my lease was coming up for renewal, I knew the price would go up, and I also knew that I wanted to move to a more affluent and socially vibrant part of NYC. I had been living in a small apartment on the far side of Prospect Park long enough. So I scoured list serves and wrote my ideal apartment attributes: view of the East River and Manhattan skyline, cool funky loft space, living with three funny/interesting/inspired guys (cause I like that show New Girl).
Then I found it. A big funky loft space in DUMBO overlooking the river with three young funny fun brilliant men. To move in I had to break my lease. But I didn’t want to pay extra rent, and I wanted to get my deposit back. So I wrote a totally kind and open email to my building manager 10 days before I planned to move, and he agreed. The deposit check is in the mail right now. Very little financial loss for a huge neighborhood gain. Boom.
31. I Let the World Provide
As previously mentioned, I was offered some really lovely things over these eight months, trips, meals, tips, trades for other services I could benefit from. The last night of April I recall my grocery budget was drained, I had nothing good to eat, and I came across a business giving away free vegan dinners at Equinox where I had just finished teaching a class. Yes please! At the end of a yoga private the student offered me a giant round loaf of sourdough bread from She Wolf Bakery — I’ll take it! Plus many more free offerings crossed my path. I trusted that with a goal this clear, the world would provide. It did and I said “yes”.
32. I Practiced Contentment
In the Yoga Sutra there is this word “santosha” which means “contentment”. Instead of entertaining the parts of me that wanted more/better during these months, I regularly returned to this idea of santosha — of being content with what I have. And when I did this every single time I looked around I saw that I have SO MUCH. What more could I possibly want?
33. I Trusted My Ability to Change My Reality
I’ll be honest, you didn’t need to read all the points in-between. The two most important ones are #2 and this #33. If you don’t believe you can change, you can’t. If you believe you can, you will find a way through every single challenge, every roadblock. You will see a world of interesting opportunities and fascinating quandaries to solve. This debt-freedom happened because I decided to do it, and believed it was possible. Period.
UNLIKE MOST KIDS, I don’t remember EVER dreading the first day of school. I might have had a mini panic attack before starting my senior year of high school (first and lasts always get me), but even those years when I switched schools and had to find all new friends, all that ever bubbled up was excitement and enthusiasm.
Maybe it was my naiveté, maybe it was my upbringing, maybe it was just my personality. But there was something about backpack shopping, picking out my outfits, and pouring over the introductory paperwork all the students at my schools were sent pre- Day One that made my heart so very happy. The impending challenges of a new grade – or in some cases, a new school altogether – never really entered my head. Back To School season was the BEST season of the year.
No matter what our lives looked like in those formative years of kindergarten through 12th grade, once September hits the ground running, we’re thrown back into that mentality of going “back to school.” We prepare for a new start, hope for positive change, and cross our fingers that we’ll be able to handle what life dishes out in the coming months.
Without summer vacations and required reading, though, it can be hard as an adult to draw the line between where summer ends and fall begins. Because although we’d love to have an endless summer, and although the first day of Autumn isn’t technically until September 23rd, we can all feel a shift from the moment Labor Day weekend comes to a close. It’s “back to the grind,” even though most of us have been grinding all year long. And so it can just seem like more of the same – like we lost track of time, and the time of year so associated with taking a breather completely passed us by. Couple this with a built-in programming from childhood to register this time of year as transitional, and it’s easy to feel a little bummed out by the seasonal shift.
While January usually gets the attention when it comes to resolutions, I’d like to argue that September deserves just as much attention as the 01/01 mark.
Autumn is the perfect time to evaluate where you’ve been, where you’re at, and where you’re going. It’s a time for us to bring back that childlike enthusiasm, relentless joy, and even those first-day jitters we had as kids. Because all worthwhile and exciting changes in life bring up first-day jitters, really.
It’s called “Fall” for a reason: just like the leaves break from the brances so the tree can begin its process of renewal, we too should let our old energy-suckers fall off our backs to make way for this new season of growth.
This month – and this Fall in general – I encourage you to look at what’s worked, what hasn’t, and what your heart truly desires in this moment. Maybe you’ve been skimping on self care and getting a 15 minute sweat in before work is just what you need. Maybe you’ve been so wrapped up in work that your social life isn’t what you’d like it to be. Call a friend you haven’t checked in on in a while. Evaluate what you’ve accomplished this year so far, and how you want to feel by the time the clock strikes midnight on January 1st of next year.
Some thinks I’ll be thinking and questions I’ll be asking myself – feel free to steal them for your own musings:
Who can I look up to who is doing the REAL work, not just what is trendy, popular, or the easy way out?
How can I both grow my business and make my community ATYPICALLY authentic and meaningful?
Mornings. Middays. Bedtimes. What are some ways to tap into my energy levels during each season of the day and maximize my potential, even on those days I’m feeling down in the slumps?
What things are the most important to do each day…and what things are just “routine addiction”? (ex: if I have a podcast interview at 9AM but wake up at 7:30AM, is it more important for me to fit in a workout like I do almost every morning, or take the time to get centered and prepare for a successful conversation?)
Things that make me nervous. If those nerves are created by stories I’ve been telling myself, it’s time to rewrite the narrative by just going for it and doing the damn thing.
There will be challenges in the coming months, of course, and the newness of Fall and Winter will bring all kinds of highs and lows we could never have predicted. But if we shift our perspective to refocus our minds, refresh our hearts, and renew our commitments, there’s no telling what kind of miracles the rest of this year has in store.
Pick out your outfit, grab your backpack, and let’s get on this bus together.
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