Practical Ways To Love Yourself More

In my last article, I provided an overview of scientific literature, which supports that self-love plays a foundational role in our well-being.

But how do we begin to do the work of cultivating the quality of love for ourselves that can literally transform our lives?

If being hard on yourself has been “the norm” throughout the course of your life, it may seem impossible to imagine how you can transform the stance from which you typically tackle life.

This may be the case even more if being a drill sergeant to yourself has resulted in “status quo” success.  My commitment to excellence, at the cost of my work-life balance, allowed me to synthesize cancer drugs, lead teams from the bottom to the top in performance, and win a myriad of corporate and other awards. It was all great until I fell apart!

The truth is, when I burned out, far from feeling love for myself, I felt like a complete failure. I perceived my burned-out state as a sign of weakness and felt very disappointed in myself. How could a once top performer—someone who synthesized cancer agents and was an athlete— fall apart like I did?

Yet somehow, I allowed my discomfort to become my motivation and discovered the ultimate path to freedom. We can experience amazing joy when our efforts are fueled by self-appreciation and driven by our own values instead of by external approval. 

Here are some of the most effective ways, which I learned from prominent researchers, that we can use to tap into cultivating a better relationship with ourselves, flaws and all.

These science-based strategies not only helped me find my way back home to better health, but they also help me now to transform the lives of my clients when they became too burned out to succeed.

1. Become your own best friend. 

If your best friend came to you while facing a challenge, how would you support them? I am certain that you would speak to them kindly, listen to them attentively, perhaps make them a warm cup of tea, and hold their hand through their difficulty. Why can’t we be as compassionate to ourselves? The world’s most prominent researcher in self-compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff, has revealed that when a friend fails it presents no threat to us. However, our own shortcomings present as a real or perceived threat to our self-concept. And any threat short-circuits our thinking brain and activates our stress response, which compromises every part of us, including our compassion for ourselves.

But why not use this knowledge to instead make a commitment to extend the same love and support to ourselves as we would to a best friend? Become your own best friend!

According to Dr. Neff, we can teach ourselves to be our best friend by incorporating the three essential components of self-compassion, which are Mindfulness, Kindness, and Recognizing our Common Humanity.

To illustrate how this might work, let’s pretend you were just passed up for a job promotion. Or you could pick your own example of a current or past difficult situation.

The first step is to bring Mindfulness into the situation, recognizing how difficult the situation is.  

You can use any words that are comfortable and natural for you.  You could say, “This is really tough,” or “I am feeling rejected,” or “This is a moment of suffering,” or “It is not going to be easy for me to accept this.” The key here is to choose how we relate to the experience without taking it personally, so that we can deal with our emotions from a calm, balanced state. We need to avoid judging either the situation or ourselves. We would never respond with judgement and blame to our best friend, would we? 

The second step is to invite Kindness in.

This can be something as simple as setting the intention to be kind and supportive to ourselves. Think of the words and the actions you would use to comfort someone you love if they were going through a similar experience. Include terms of endearment, the warmth of human touch, and soothing vocalizations. For example, you could hold your face in your hands and say something like: “Aww Tzeli, I am so sorry you have to go through this right now, my love. But I am here for you.” Don’t worry about looking silly. No one is watching. Remember, your brain does not know the difference between what you are saying or thinking and what is happening in reality. By role-modeling compassion, your brain registers safety. This keeps all of your body’s organs and functions working at optimal performance levels, which allows you to respond beautifully to difficult life situations.

The third step is recognizing our common humanity.

As we go through the ups and downs of life, we may find it hard to be on our own side. This may be  because of the false perception that everybody else is managing life just perfectly and we are alone in our discomfort.  The truth is, not a single one of us is perfect and failures, mistakes or moment of self-doubt, are all part of being human. In moments of doubt, it is important to remind your self of our common humanity. You can comfort your self by telling your self something like, “It is normal to feel disappointed, but there are many others going through similar situations,” or “Discomfort is part of life. I am here for you. I’ve got your back.”

Research reveals significant benefits in investing your energy into becoming your own best friend. Some of these benefits are greater resilience in the face of challenges and faster recovery from physical or emotional traumas.

2. Reconnect with your values.

When our never-ending pursuit of happiness is driven by social norms and the wants and needs of others, we lose a really important source of power: The power of our own values!
When we are taking actions and creating things in life that are not aligned with our values, we experience discomfort and difficult emotions. This in turn leads to coping mechanisms that sabotage us. However, when we turn to what is most valuable to us, we can find strength, motivation, and energy to invest in meeting life goals that are rooted in love, rather than fear. 
To re-connect with your values, I invite you to run an experiment with yourself for the next seven days.
  • On the first day of your experiment, set your alarm ten minutes earlier and begin your day with a short, guided meditation. You can use a guided meditation of your choice, or you can receive one in your inbox by joining the Myndzen community-
  • Once your mind is clearer, give yourself few minutes to write a list of single words that represent what you value most in your life in the present moment. For example, some one-word values are adventure, community, love, friendship, integrity, tradition, equality, and so forth. What do you value most? When you have completed your list, review it and choose the three values that make you feel the most joyful, happy, and powerful when you think about them.
  • Then, at any point throughout the course of your day, when you recognize any of your actions causing you frustration or discomfort, pause and challenge yourself to identify what is driving your action. If one of your top three values is not behind your action, this may be the cause of your discomfort. Select a small step you can take to nudge your response to a new action that is more aligned with your values. For example, if your top value is family and you were asked to participate in a weekend work meeting, you could suggest that you participate remotely via an online meeting app instead of physically attending the meeting.
  • Focusing on the top three values you identified, repeat the process of aligning your actions with these values over the next seven days. You might want to keep a list of your new actions.
By the end of the seven days, you will have a list of different actions you can choose to keep you in sync with your top values. These new choices come from a place of self-trust and self-appreciation as opposed to self-judgment. You will be amazed at how much energy you will free up when you choose actions that are aligned with what you care about the most.

3. Befriend your inner critic.

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A part of you will always rise up to sabotage your efforts, especially when you are brave enough to step outside of your comfort zone. For example, you may have decided to improve your work-life balance to support your value of family by working less. Then your boss challenges your commitment to your work because you are not working late as much. At this point, you may hear an inner voice that sounds something like: “Who do you think you are challenging the status quo?” We call that voice our Inner Critic.

We have historically viewed the inner critic as an antiquated parental voice, which we have been advised to ignore. However, newer models of therapy such as Dr. Richard Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems model, suggest there may be a more effective way to relate to our inner critic. Instead of ignoring it, we can befriend and work with our inner critic. If you really think about it, our inner critic, as annoying and frustrating as he/she may be, is only trying to protect us. The voice and the inhibiting actions it tells us to take are attempting to protect parts of ourselves that have been hurt in the past.

For example, if speaking up and standing up for yourself was punished in your early years, you may experience a lot of resistance from your inner critic when you are braving assertiveness. It will criticize you to prevent you from taking any risks that might cause you pain. This causes discomfort and your inner critic may then lead you to numbing actions like eating or drinking alcohol.

To release ourselves from the voice of our inner critic, we can make ourselves less vulnerable to whatever it is that the inner critic thinks we need protection from.

For example, you can find a safe space to practice speaking up with no consequences, like joining a Toastmasters group. Your inner critic will soon learn that you are not in danger or vulnerable when you speak up. You can also begin recognizing your inner critic as a valuable part of you and engage in journaling practices where you can honor it instead of resisting it. You can use this new relationship with your inner critic to learn more about your vulnerable parts. Here are two sample journaling exercises to help you become friends with your inner critic.

Inner Critic journaling Exercise 1

Identify a recent challenging situation. Then take a few moments to talk with your inner critic in your journal about this situation. Let’s pretend that the challenging situation is that you are trying to decide whether or not to apply for a management position. The dialogue might look something like this.

Inner Critic: You can’t be serious about applying for a management position. You aren’t leadership material!

You: Look, I know you are worried about me struggling as a manager. What are you afraid will happen?

Inner Critic: Being a manager will be too much for you. You’ll become anxious and irritable and you will fail.

You: I understand your concerns, but I have grown a lot. I know how to love and take care of myself now. And I am not afraid of failing. Trust me.

Review what you have written. Pay attention to what words your inner critic uses to criticize you. What is she afraid of? What does she want to protect you from? And how does your current self tell her that you are no longer vulnerable or afraid?

Inner Critic journaling Exercise 2

Use Dr Neff’s three components of self-compassion to let your compassionate self approach your inner critic. Remember that the components are Mindfulness, Kindness, and Recognition of Common Humanity. In your journal, write a letter to your inner critic. It might look something like this:

“Dear Inner Critic,

My dear, I understand that you are telling me that I will fail if I take on this new promotion because you are trying to prevent me from make a choice I will regret. But however well-intentioned you may be, you are causing me pain, which is not helpful to me. All of us make choices that sometimes don’t work out. But I am confident that I will be able to determine the best course of action if things don’t go according to plan. Do you want to work together as I pursue this new promotion.”

Working with your inner critic and not beating him or her up is a great way to reinstate a sense of trust in yourself, which is required to break the spell of the past.


Final Thoughts  

I know all too well how hard it is to shift responding to life in ways that honors you and your values first. – Especially if being hard on yourself has been your “lifetime companion.” It was mine too!

However, by becoming your best friend, getting to know your inner critic, and re-connecting with your own values, you can reclaim precious energy that you are currently losing to unnecessary stress.

You can then use that energy to light up the path to a life that is meaningful to you and aligned with your true values and purpose.

And that light, my friend, will not only allow you to live a life free of the cumbersome symptoms of stress, but will also illuminate your relationships, your workplace, and your world.

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Five Ways Our Mind Trips Us Up and How To Change That.

Mind Trips

In my last article, I invited you to join me in celebrating the amazing capabilities of our mind.

Thank you so much for all your love, comments and engagement!

In response to all your invaluable comments, I decided this week to write an article that addresses what is on your mind: Why does our “untamed” mind lead us to behaviors that trip us up and what can we do about it?

By “untamed mind” I mean the thought processes that we habitually engage in based on past experiences although they sabotage us today.

Are you frustrated with any habitual thought patterns that sabotage your relationships, your career/finances, or your health? Why not consider guiding your mind to take alternative pathways so that you can arrive at different destinations?

Your mind may be distorting your view of reality and tripping you up without your even realizing it.

The truth about our mind’s involvement in self sabotage. – It is not your fault!

  • Our thought patterns are very powerful, but have been established through experiences we had no influence over.
  • Our mind has been trained to take certain pathways to make sense of challenging aspects of life and help us cope with the internal discomfort that accompanies them.
  • Threatening thoughts, (mind trips) place us in a compromised state because they activate our fear circuitry.
  • Our wise mind shuts down and our body systems veer off balance to address the perceived “threat”.
  • We then grasp for any ways to activate the reward centers in our brain and release “feel good” hormones, to mitigate the sense of unease.
  • Our pathways to rewarding activities that have also been set in our past, may or may not be aligned with our current goals.

Food may be a pleasurable, rewarding activity for someone like me, raised in the Mediterranean, where so many positive values are cultivated around the dinner table.  However, allowing food to be the default pattern of reward center activation during stressful times may over time lead to obesity.

Eliminating the thought patterns leading to Self-Sabotage is within our control.

It is not our fault if the thinking patterns and reward activation pathways which were established in the past do not serve us today.

However, it is within our control to change those patterns in the present.  

We can carve new thinking and reward activation pathways and displace the “defaults” which  consistently mess things up for us.

Here is what you can do next time you feel an internal thought-based discomfort and you are considering an action that sabotages your goals:

  1. Pause– Challenge the thought, its origin and the trigger.
  2. Ask– What it is that I really need right now? Often when we binge watch Netflix we try to numb our unmet need for connection and support.
  3. Choose– Replace old thought with a new alternative thought and rewarding activity that is aligned with your values today.

Trick your way out of Five Common Mind Trips

Here are some suggestions on ways to trick your mind out of five very common mind trips that mess things up for many of us, although they are not based on reality.

  • Mind Trip # 1 — “I am not good enough.”

Sometimes we confuse our behavior with our quality as a person, leading to inadvertent self-doubt and self-criticism. For example, notice the difference between “I am a failure” as opposed to “I fail sometimes.”

You are not your behavior. You can choose to change your behavior if it is not serving you well.

 Trick your mind out of this Mind trip by resting your attention on this thought instead:

You are perfect just the way you are and you have all that you need to meet and exceed every one of your goals in every area of your life. This does not mean that you do not have room for growth. You can use every mishap, moment of self-doubt, or encounter with your inner critic as  guides to uncover qualities that YOU would like to cultivate.

You are more than enough. I think it’s about time you embrace this!


  • Mind trip # 2 — “Material things will increase my value as a person.”

We literally kill ourselves to reach a six-figure income level, buy a certain brand of car, or upgrade our home. Yet research is clearly showing that beyond a certain income level, ($75,000/annually), wealth and assets have no impact on our happiness. 

Trick your mind out of this Mind trip by resting your attention on this thought instead:

No material asset will make you more amazing than who you already are. When you catch yourself worrying about the size of your bank account, consider instead the astonishing thirty-seven trillion cells at your disposal to manifest abundance in your body, mind, and environment.

An imbalance in your bank account simply requires your attention in determining how you will go about increasing the deposits and minimizing the withdrawals. But increasing your wealth will have no impact on increasing your sense of self-worth.

Only you can improve your sense of self-worth by using your mind to reinstate balance in your life. From that calm and centered state you can access your body’s amazing resources for greatness.


  • Mind trip # 3 — “I can’t help the way I am. I was born this way.”

As George Elliot said, “Its never too late to become who you are meant to be”.

Your brain shapes your mind and your mind shapes your brain throughout your life.

In essence, whatever your mind rests upon becomes your reality.

Advanced imaging techniques now allow us to see from the inside exactly how our thoughts shape our brain and hence our reality.

Trick your mind out of this Mind trip by resting your attention on this thought instead:

 Where you choose to rest your attention induces the growth of different brain regions. Different brain regions are associated with traits and characteristics, some of which are positive and some negative. When you‘re dealing with a challenging situation, if your attention goes to feeling helpless, the neurons in the region of the brain that register helplessness will fire and wire together. This then strengthens the pathway to feeling helpless. When something becomes problematic, why not acknowledge the complexity of the problem and simply ask, “How can I solve this riddle?” Asking your brain to come up with the resources to solve problems is key. This redirects your energy and activates the problem-solving region of your brain, as opposed to the region that registers defeat. You can change any traits that you don’t like about yourself that you inherited from your environment. You can do so by consciously choosing to focus your attention on experiences that cultivate traits you would like to enhance instead.

And yes, my friend, your mind has the power to do that.


  • Mind trip # 4 — “Others will not like me if I let them see my vulnerabilities.”

We spend a whole lot of our energy hiding our humanness in an effort to be admired and respected more. We can witness this behavior in elementary school students all the way to our current political leaders. However, adopting the fake belief that perfection equals power deprives us of our real power—the power of connection.

Trick your mind out of this Mind trip by resting your attention on this thought instead:

You are an amazing, complex system with a myriad of strengths and vulnerabilities. However, part of being human involves having characteristics that have room for improvement. This can  threaten our feeling of needing to belong. Fear activates our stress response, which shuts down the part of our brain that helps us relate to others. 

The best way out of this trap of fear is to resist your tendency to let fear isolate you. Why not respond to fear by opening up to someone you trust? Andadd a hug while you’re at it. Human contact induces the release of oxytocin, a wonder chemical with so many positive effects. Why not focus your attention on the power of your body’s oxytocin to reduce your perception of fear and increase feelings of safety and trust?

A hug is a wonderful way to soothe the internal discomfort of feeling vulnerable. It is also a powerful way to train your mind and brain to keep your relational center open to connection— one hug at a time.


  • Mind trip # 5 — “My problems are not my fault.”

Do you blame your former spouse or your manager for your lack of career advancement? Do you attribute your debt to the economy? For many of us, our mind trips us up into wasting our energy blaming someone else for our reality when that reality is not the one we wished for.

 Trick your mind out of this Mind trip by resting your attention on this thought instead:

You are 100% the creator of your reality. The beginning of getting your power back is the realization that you, and only you, have control over your circumstances. If you are not where you would like to be, it’s time to take charge.

The mind map technique.

Here is a technique that you can use to begin this process. You can create a “mind map” of where you are compared to where you want to be. You will need a blank sheet of plain paper and three pens with different colored inks, green, red, and orange. Using the green color, jot down a list of all the things that you do that help you get to your desired destination. Using the red color, jot down a list of all the things that you do that hinder you from getting to your desired destination. Review your lists and then using the orange color, jot down one or two things that you can commit to doing every week that will help you get to your target. Make sure to focus only on things that are within your control.

Each one of those small things, repeated over time, will slowly but surely help you create the life you wish for.

Final thoughts

Although your mind is simply the focus of your attention, it has a lot of power.

Your thoughts are responsible for how you feel and how you act.

Your thoughts are also responsible for the architecture of your brain, which determines how resilient you are.

Thus, if you are unsatisfied with any aspect of your life, you can begin to make changes with the power of your mind.

When you catch yourself engaging in actions that do not support you, pause, question your motivation and make a new choice. In this way, you actually begin building a new pathway to feeling good during difficult times that eventually will all together displace the defaults that trip you up.

Switching the focus of your attention will not only improve the way you feel in the moment, but you will also begin to carve a new path, using your mind, to take you to where you want to be.

If you need a guide to hold a lamp to light your way down your path to re-uniting with your best self, I am here for you. You can contact me at tzeli@myndzen.comto set up a free consultation.

It Is Time to Change Our Minds

mind power

If you want to improve the trajectory of your well-being, you may consider starting by changing your mind.

Because I am a former cancer researcher, healthcare industry veteran and stress-resilience evangelist, people often ask me:

“What is the one thing I can do to mitigate stress and improve my health?”

Can you imagine if one thing, like a magic genie, could take away all our pain? What if this one thing would allow us to do all of the following?

  • Bounce back when we fall.
  • Enjoy every moment without regret about the past and worries about the future.
  • Open doors to abundant health, happiness, success, love, and anything else we wish for.
  • Instantly turn the volume down on anything that steals our energy away.
  • Feel deeply connected to the present moment as opposed to being overwhelmed by the ups and downs of life.

My friends, one thing has all these powers: Our mind!

I want to take a few moments to acquaint you with the most potent antidote to almost everything that holds you back. This includes depression, anxiety, relationship problems, poor performance, insomnia, hypertension and other issues.

“Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, you’re right.” Henry Ford

Your mind gives meaning to everything in your life.

 Do you ever wonder why you cringe when you see a spider, feel uncomfortable with change, or feel nervous at a party? Everything you think, imagine, dream, fear, and desire are all by-products of your mind. From conception all the way to this moment, your mind has been developing patterns. These patterns are representations of the meanings of sounds, words, sights, or even scents. Their purpose is to establish a blueprint of how you approach rewards and avoid dangers. Nerve cells firing and wiring together develop different regions of our brain to form these patterns. What we call memory is the systematic organization of events, classified by their assigned meaning in relationship to a corresponding emotion and action. Most of these memories cannot be consciously recalled, yet they run our life on autopilot. Many of them are limiting beliefs.

The more we engage in a specific thought pattern, the more nerve cells fire and wire together making that pathway stronger.

If you sacrifice work/life balance and self-care to work harder and harder, perhaps your subconscious programming has linked hard work to success. Or if you defer your own desires to please others, perhaps pleasing others has linked to your feeling worthy.

Try paying attention. Can you spot any limiting beliefs that are tripping you up?

“The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” Aristotle

Your mind is responsible for your emotional state.

 My understanding of the human mind has been greatly enhanced through the incredible work of Dr. Daniel Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute.

Mindsight is the ability to see and shape the activity of the mind behind the thought, memory or behavior. It has been shown that cultivating mindsight, results to a better integrated, more balanced and healthier brain.

Studying mindsight, has taught me that our mind is the system that processes and regulates information and energy flow. We can see our mind at work in the 60,000 thoughts we have every day about life situations that we encounter.

Whether you are at a job interview, on a date, or having a difficult discussion with your teen, it is your mind that determines how you feel and what you will do.

Life situations themselves, or people, don’t have the power to make us feel defeated, helpless, or depressed. Our thoughts about a situation lead us to negative emotions and inhibiting actions.

I invite you to consider: “How do you want to feel? “You can change the way you feel by recognizing choice points in your thought process in any situation and altering the focal point of your attention. Then you can choose actions that serve you well and help you arrive at your desired outcomes.

“The mind is a powerful force. It can enslave us or empower us. It can plunge us into the depths of misery or take us to the heights of ecstasy. Learn to use the power wisely.” David Cuschieri

A healthy mind-body connection is key for your optimal performance.

 What your mental activity rests upon will determine the energy available to meet your life’s demands. Your embodied brain, which is linked to all of your body systems, is the CEO of your energy. Your brain works with your cardiovascular, immune, and endocrine systems to keep you safe.

But your mind is the operating system of your body. If being asked to lead a meeting means “disaster ahead “to you, your stress response will steal all the energy you need to perform well.

When someone says something critical to you and you feel your stomach tie up into a knot, that is your energy being stolen from you through the shenanigans of your untamed mind. Your stress response will compromise the optimal performance of your body every time you encounter something, no matter how small, that your mind has assigned as a threat. Your thinking brain is shut down, which will undoubtedly compromise your work performance as well as your health.

Next time you experience physiological changes like your heart rate increasing, pause and check in with your mind. You may ask a question like, “What about this situation makes me feel this way? “Your lower brain does not have enough data to answer this question. You can redirect your energy back to your more highly evolved thinking brain, which can reinstate the balance needed for optimal performance.

 “The human mind is the last great unexplored continent on earth. It contains riches beyond our wildest dreams. It will return anything we want to plant.” Earl Nightingale

Changing your mind is within your control.

 Science has proven that our thoughts can not only change the way we feel and act, but also the structure and function of our brain. However, you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to embrace your incredible capacity to train your attention and use your mind to sculpt a more resilient brain. You and I can strengthen our ability to monitor information and energy flow, one thought at a time.

But often we don’t know where to start.

You can try these processes as a beginning.

  • Every time you have a thought that leads to an automatic response that does not serve you, observe it and let it go. Recognize that it is just a thought.
  • Create space between an event and your reaction to provide yourself with the opportunity to choose the meaning you give to something.
  • Question emotions that do not serve you. This allows you to create new patterns and update your subconscious mind and your brain. Consider the impact of this practice, for example, if you chose to replace contempt with affection when having a difference of opinion with a loved one.

Would you like to learn more about how you can actually turn your thinking brain back on when stress has overwhelmed it? If so, I offer a practical way in the form of five questions you can work with. Click on the link provided to join my community to receive this tool and start the process of taming your mind today!

Final thoughts

Not that long ago I believed that the notion that we can transform our life simply by using the power of our mind was “new age hype with no scientific basis. “I believed that relentless hard work is what leads to optimal performance and ultimately success.

Failing to maintain my own well-being, despite doing what I thought were all the right things, proved me wrong.

Plenty of scientific evidence exists that shows that our frame of mind is a profound predictor of our health.

In fact, a 2012 study that examined the relationship between stress, the perception that stress affects health and actual health outcomes concluded as follows: “The study subjects that experienced a lot of stress and also believed that stress impacted their health had a 43% increased risk of dying prematurely.”(Keller. al, (2012), Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? NIH, Health Psychology.)

By taking an active stance in choosing the focus of our mind’s attention, we can select the state from which we will face the inevitable challenges of our existence.

We can then handle life’s stressors in a coherent manner, without having the sense that every adversity is the “end of the world. “Beyond feeling good on a daily basis, maintaining an inner state of calm through our thoughts actually prevents wear and tear on our organs. When we don’t waste our inner resources for unnecessary defense, we have them available to help us perform optimally.

You see my friends, there is one thing, like a magic genie that we can do to improve our health.

We can become our own genie and embark on the wonderful journey of training our mind to develop a happier, more resilient brain.

When we are ready to embrace our own power, we can work with our mind to transform our life, one thought at a time.