Self-help Books Are Bad for You

I'm seeing these articles do for you what self-help books used to do for me, and I'm sorry for that.

Self-help doesn't work like I thought it did.

I read a Brené Brown book 3 years ago. I read the same Brené Brown book 4 months ago and felt like I was reading it for the first time. That's because the first time around I wasn't ready for the insights and didn't know how to understand them.

This is the pitfall of self-help: we don't know what we don't know. I didn't realize I didn't really get words like "forgiveness" and "wholehearted." I just assumed as a native English speaker I was getting the full picture.

This happens all the time in the self-help world. Consider the word "peace."

Maybe you think of hippies or a wall decoration found at Target or some abstract ideal.

Now think of what it is like when you have actually felt peaceful, maybe waking up from a nap or sitting in a Jacuzzi after skiing. Think of what your face looks like when it is peaceful, how your interactions are with people you love.

I used to think the word "peace" was boring. There's nothing boring about being blissed out in a Jacuzzi when your muscles are tired.

I didn't realize that's what peace is.

Brené Brown couldn't help me because she couldn't get through to me.

I needed a coach to help me understand what peace means to me personally – how I know I'm feeling it in my body, what my life is like without it, my personal definition of this word. I needed someone to help me commit to bringing peace into my life. It isn't enough to appreciate the value of peace, I had to change my life a bit to make room for it.

This is true with everything.

Doing yoga in my house is totally different from going to a yoga studio, where a instructor creates a sacred space, gives me new ideas, and makes adjustments that I wouldn't have noticed alone.

Going on a run with a running partner pushes me to run faster and farther.

I have a mastermind with two friends. One is a musician, the other is a screenplay writer. The three of us talk once a week about our creative process, goals, and wins. Our work happens in separate fields, but we are all feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable in solidarity.

Without a therapist, I would not have identified my distorted thinking in college or realized my struggle with codependence in a relationship.

Self-help books, travel, and music have awakened me to pain and longing I wanted to ignore, but they haven't helped me move past these issues.

They cannot take me farther than I am capable of going alone.

I need to ask for help.

If you ...

read a ton of self-help books but just feel burnt out

tried different guided meditations but none of them seem to stick

started doing your yoga practice at home and eventually just stopped doing yoga

stopped seeing a therapist because you kept going over the same patterns of behavior without progress

feel worn-out or uninspired
feel like you are never doing enough

look around and think "this would be a good photo for Instagram" instead of "what a beautiful day"'s time to ask for help.

Want to go on faster runs? Stop downloading interval training podcasts — join a running group.

Want to understand your relationship with your parents? stop checking out books at the library— get a therapist.

Want more professional photos for your side hustle? Stop spending your energy trying to get the right photo and hire a professional.

Want to spend more time creating? Stop using all your energy on administrative tasks and get a virtual assistant.

Want to enjoy your body more? Stop liking body positive Instagram photos — get a monthly massage.

Want to publish your writing? Stop reading Stephen King’s On Writing — get a coach.

Self-help is the right place to start. But it's just a start.

I could not do all the deep work, and sometimes tedious and boring work, alone.

I had to actually go to a professional.

I started with guided meditations I found online, but eventually I had to go to a Zen center.

I made the leap to leave New York and travel alone, but I had to hire a coach to actually be honest with myself about my dreams and get uncomfortable enough to go after them.

I read astrological information and enneagram explanations of my relationship with my ex, but I had to get a therapist to understand what was going on and how to get out of it.

Even your plants don't grow alone! They need you to water them.

Would you rather do peyote solo or with a shaman?

Would you rather sit in a massage chair or go to a spa?

Would you rather watch instructional YouTube videos or go to a workshop?

Would you rather read a book on side projects or start an accountability group with friends?

I shouldn’t actually be saying "would you rather." That should say, "which would be more impactful?"

Here is where you can use self help: help yourself give permission. Give yourself permission to spend money, carve out time, get your hopes up, risk rejection.

I am emphatic about this because I see so many people trying to "heal" and "grow" through reading Instagram captions and listening to podcasts. And from reading my newsletter. These resources are meant to awaken your awareness about what you need. They aren't going to cure you. If all you do is consume resources, you're going to get burnt out and bitter.

When I ask people how they got into yoga, they mention a studio or instructor who changed the game for them.

Marathoners swear by their running partner. My hands would be little stumps without my bodyworker. My voice would be thrashed without my voice coach. My business wouldn't exist without the coaches I have had, the mastermind I made with my friends, and the experts who have given me advice.

This week, don't write anything down or consider any questions. Don't sit and simmer. Ask for help.

And if you don't know who you want to ask for help, start with me. I offer free coaching consultations. (best of both worlds! Asking for help but not spending money.)

There is a reason you opened this newsletter. Practice asking for help.

We can make the conversation specifically about the areas of your life  where you need help and what kind of expert would be good for that thing.

If your first thought is, "I can't afford help,” we can explore that assumption in the call. There are plenty of ways to get free help, but there are also plenty of resources when we are ready to invest.

Challenge yourself to leave your brain and your books and say out loud to someone else exactly what you are struggling with.

We are social creatures. It is supposed to take a village.

These newsletters are the first step, not the only one.

And if you want a tiny next step, email me back what’s up and I'll help you clarify your next steps.

Peace to you all (the real kind. If this sounds abstract to you, it’s time to ask for help)



This Is a Fun Problem We All Have

I've been thinking about Marie Kondo's techniques versus Queer Eye's. They both come into a messy home and make it better, but Marie empowers her clients to take control of their own lives while Queer Eye makes fun of all the bad decisions their clients have made and then give their lives a facelift. 

I like to think of life coaching as part of the Marie Kondo school of support. 

I don't tell anybody how to live; people already know the best way to live for them. I help them hone their sensitivity to happiness so that they can access and act on that knowledge.

The thing is, most of us aren't building lives based on what we want.

Consider how much of your daily life is shaped by shoulds:
I should be eating more fiber, I shouldn't date someone when I just got out of a relationship, I should be having more sex, I shouldn't go on vacation to a place I've already been, I shouldn't read young adult fiction as an adult, I should pack lunch, I shouldn't go to bed so late, I should be grateful that they stopped by… 

No wonder we get decision fatigue. 

All our actions are wrapped up in guilt, advice from experts, and a sense of failure. We are just trying to keep up with all the demands.


We forget that what we want actually matters.
We forget how to know what we want in the first place.

I have an antidote to this. 

I've been using it with clients for the past year, but watching Tidying Up inspired me to share with you all.

This tool is perfect if you are:


resentful of the demands on your time

constantly feeling like your tank is low

jealous of how good other people seem to have it

nervous around stuff that is supposed to be fun (your birthday, parties, vacation)

This tool has helped me out of all those feelings:

It makes me feel in control of my life

it reminds me that I am the expert on me, so I don't have to check with other people before making decisions

it makes me more clearheaded about what I'm okay with and what I'm not okay with

it helped me redefine "fun" for myself, so that I don't do things other people think of as fun and then get annoyed that I'm not enjoying myself


so, here is the tool:

"What sounds fun?"


Like Marie Kondo’s "what sparks joy?", this question empowers you to be the expert on your own life. And it prioritizes your happiness.


You know how Marie emphasizes the importance of honing your sensitivity to joy?

That's a real thing. It's actually a skill to know what makes you happy.

I practice this question often so that I can hold my own awareness of what is fun for me. I've been surprised by my answers.

Asking what sounds fine is a way to check and let myself in the moment. It's as if I'm asking, what would energize you right now? What would fit with your mood?


It takes me out of victim mode.

Shoulds make me feel trapped and pathetic. I'm forced to choose between the cheapest item on the menu and the healthiest one.

When I focus on fun, I suddenly feel like I'm the author of my book – not just the protagonist. I might even think, "it sounds fun to order ramen, but we have a lot of groceries in the house, so what drink would be fun to order?” or “so what would be fun to make it home?” 


I preserve the focus on fun while honoring my commitments to myself.


I've noticed that when we come from a place of shoulds, fun becomes a mysterious energy that sometimes passes through us. We hope something will be fun but we feel like we have no actual control over whether or not fun happens.


When fun is a part of the decision-making process,  joy in inevitable. 

Yesterday was Valentine's Day. My boyfriend was sick and I was working late. Little  shoulds got  into my brain: "we should be doing something romantic! One of us should be making an effort!"

But I remembered that I can make my own fun. So I asked myself what sounds fun?, and the  answer was "by Betty Crocker mix, make cake, ice it with Nutella.” Do-able. Fun.


Then the oven broke.


Okay, what sounds fun now?


Guacamole and lighting a candle.


I actually get chills as I write this because it is wild to discover that I have an answer to this question every time I ask it. And if I don't actually ask the question, answers that don't come.

Of course, sometimes this question isn't right for the occasion. But if you are having fun on a regular basis, you'll feel more gracious and generous. You won't need to prioritize fun when a loved one wants to have a hard conversation or you have to do administrative tasks at work. Your cup will be full.


What's more, you are the expert on you. If you have been prioritizing your desires all day, a difficult conversation won't feel thrust upon you, it will be something you are choosing.


Try it right now. After you close this tab, what sounds fun?


I'm going to do it with you. To me, what sounds fun right now is dancing to the song Delicate by Taylor Swift after I end this article because I am home alone for the next 10 minutes.


Comment below and let me know what answer comes up for you!


I hope you have fun today,



Live Your Worst Life

When I was solo traveling, I had a couple months where I was  cynical, reckless, and ungrateful. But weirdly, I thought I had an awesome life. I wasn't happy, yet I thought my life was awesome.


That's because I had a weird definition of life. I thought it was something we have, not something we experience. I thought of life essentially as a product I could buy at Target.

Don't we all do this a little bit? Consider these phrases: you only get one life, I love her life, I have a great life, get a life.


Now let's replace "life" with the word "tote." You only get one tote, I love her tote, I have a great tote, get a tote.

We are from a capitalist society.

Of course we objectify life.

But I wonder how that impacts our experience of life and how we value it. 

When I was feeling cynical and ungrateful in Central America, I thought my life was awesome because I saw it as the combination of what makes someone cool in my culture. 

I wasn't thinking about whether I was happy or sad in my life, I was thinking about how my life made me look in my social sphere. 

That's where I would derive my happiness. Not from experiencing my life, but from getting accolades for it.

I saw other people's lives the same way, which made it easy to compare myself with them. Scrolling Instagram was just a game of, Who Has the Best Life?

When we distill life down until it's a little product we all own, it becomes easy to compare.

things have changed for me since then: I have started to see life as a being, not an object. And I’ve cultivated a relationship with that being.

Here's what I mean when I say life is a being:

  • life is a separate entity from me

  • I can show up and experience life, but I can't tell it how to unfold

  • my life isn't a reflection of who I am – it's just interacting with me

  • I don't "have" a life; I partner with life

It's like the moment a parent realizes their child isn't a part of them; their child is her own person.

Or when you get in a fight with your partner for the first time and realize he is his own person. He has thoughts and motivations you don't know about. He is separate from you.

Life is like that too! It interacts with you every day. But it is not you.

it kind of sounds like I'm talking about a supernatural deity. Maybe I am. if you saw your life as a supernatural deity who was interacting with you,  would you see it differently?

This is actually an exercise I started doing.

I do this exercise with myself when I start to take social media personally.

When I do  the exercise, the impulse to compare my life to others just falls away. Comparison no longer makes sense.

The need to prove myself to others falls away too.

If you have been feeling:

ashamed about the state of your life right now

scared about where your life is going

worried that you aren't keeping up with your peers

regretful about your life choices

jealous about the lives of the people around you


… This exercise is for you.

Sit for a moment and actually imagine that your life is a separate being— a goddess or God or a superpowerful ancestor.

  • This supernatural being has been with you from before you were born and has been  experiencing your life alongside you.


  • Your whole life has been an interaction between you and this goddess.


  • She has been invisible and beside you at every stage – rooting for you and comforting you.

  • right now, you get the chance to talk to this goddess--your life.

what do you thank her for?

what do you apologize for?

what do you want to tell her?

what does she want you to know?

Really take a moment to do this exercise. It's intimidating; you might encounter resistance.

Notice the resistance and let it be there. But don't let it bully you out of the exercise. Stick with it and see what comes up for you.

This exercise made me realize that comparison and the need to prove myself to others both stem from objectifying life. 

When we turn life into an object, we start to see it as something that should be shinier and more impressive.


When we see life as a separate being, we are able to appreciate that it is constantly changing, full of depth, and unique to us. It isn't supposed to look  or unfold a specific way.


Whew! Thank you for being open to some woo-woo vibes today.

Let me know what comes up for you in this exercise: what does your life look like when it takes shape as a supernatural deity?  For what it's worth – mine becomes a celtic warrior goddess.

May feel loved by your life today,



Don't Listen to Your Body

"Listen to your body." I'm hearing that advice a lot right now. I love this advice. I practice it.

When I was in an anxiety inducing relationship, I realized that the anxiety was telling me to get out. So I left (not as smoothly as I am making it sound). When I went on a date with another man and this same anxiety came up, I knew what to do: leave.

That's the joy of listening to my body. I don't make the same mistake twice.

But there are caveats.

I also get anxiety right before I surf, when I'm in a new group of friends, in the midst of conflict with a loved one, opening work email… 

So it's not really as simple as listening to my body and doing what it says. Sometimes my body is wrong. And often, my mind misinterprets the message.

Our bodies aren't always reliable.

  • Trauma impacts our body's default state and can make us feel constantly in danger.

  • Our family dynamics have taught our bodies what is normal and can mistakenly put us in danger.

  • Evolution can have us convinced we are about to die when we are standing safely inside the top floor of a tall building.

  • Our minds can override our body’s message without us even realizing it.

For me, adrenaline can be so uncomfortable that I misinterpret it as fear. It's been a long road for me to differentiate between nervous excitement and straight up fear.

And sometimes my anxiety is lowest in dangerous situationsI sometimes misinterpret an easy dynamic as a safe one. This usually happens when we are with people who remind us of family members. 

if I were to listen to my low level anxiety, I might interpret it as a good sign. And I would interpret my high anxiety before surfing as a bad sign. 

But it's more complex than that.

I have spent a lot of time examining my body's relationship with anxiety: what is it telling me? How do I know when I am in real danger? How do I know when safety is stifling?

Figuring out how to listen to my body has liberated me:

  • It's easier to take risks while surfing

  • I know when to stand up for myself versus when I am being defensive

  • I stopped beating myself up for not wanting to hang out with people who are nice but make me feel weird

  • when it's hard to sleep, I know it's just my body helping me stay on top of adult responsibilities


weirdest thing of all? I feel less anxious.

And more importantly – I feel less reactive when I am anxious.

Below is an infograph I made for myself on how to listen to my body’s anxiety messages.
Here's how it shakes out for me:

jo infograph.jpg

 If anxiety seems super low, it doesn't mean I conquered it. It means I am avoiding all risk and suppressing my own desires. This lowers my self-esteem.

If anxiety seems super high, it doesn't mean I have transcended fear and am an adrenaline junkie. It means I've been feeling anxious for a while and am now having trouble differentiating between healthy risk and self-destructive ones. This makes me feel on edge and critical of myself.


I am at my best when I feel nervous excitement; I am dipping my toes in the water just outside my comfort zone and slowly wading in. I know I can always get out of the water if I need to, but I am surprised and excited to find out how much I can handle. This makes me feel confident and proud.

Want to experience anxiety as a signal instead of an alarm?

Make a diagram for your own body's relationship with anxiety. 

It might not be a Venn diagram, like mine. It could be a spectrum, a graph, or a beautiful metaphor involving mountains and the ocean. It will help you understand the signals your body is sending you so that you can take advantage of your body's wisdom.

This exercise will make you more decisive, clearheaded, and confident. You won't feel the need to justify your actions or get permission. You'll be fully aligned with what is right for you.

If you are getting stuck, ask a friend to do this exercise with you. It's easier (and more fun) to explore anxiety when you are with someone else.

1. Sit for a moment with each of these words and pinpoint where you feel them in your body. I have some questions to jumpstart the process:

  • adrenaline  (where do you see yourself? On a ski lift? About to go on stage? Now notice where you feel that in your body)

  • anxiety (are you opening work email? About to miss the flight?)

  • excitement (how is the scenario different from the anxiety scenario? Adrenaline scenario?)

  • safety (who do you feel safe around?  how does your body feel when you are around this person?)

  • bored (what thoughts come up when you feel bored? What physical sensations?) 


2. Consider how your body feels around your parents. Which of the above words come up?

3. Consider a previous relationship. Which of the above words come up? 

4. Consider your favorite way to spend a Sunday. Which of the above words come up? 

5. Think about going to work Monday morning. Which of the above words come up? 

6. Write down anything else coming up for you: sibling dynamics, how you feel on vacation, if my word choices don't resonate and you want to replace them, etc.

7. It is time to make your infograph. What do you want your mind to know about your body's messages?

Play around here. When do you have swirling energy in your chest? When do you have butterflies in your stomach? When does it feel like there is an elephant sitting on your chest? Which of these sensations are a signal that you are about to have fun? Which sensations are telling you to get out fast? How can you turn this into a diagram?

Share your infographics with me on Instagram, tag @johannahbogartcoach

I know thinking and talking about anxiety is really unpleasant. Sometimes just typing the word makes me feel a little anxious.

But these sensations are here to help us.

And the better we are at recognizing the sensations, the more we can receive the help.

I am processing all of this with you. I will let you know what else I discover too.


Love to you and your bodies,



Complain All You Want

Do you remember that trend when people would put a hair tie around their wrist and if they complained they had to switch to the other wrist and the goal was to last for 21 full days?
I never made it past two. 

I struggle with complaining. I think I'm making a neutral observation and only realize it was a complaint after the fact: "this coffee is weak,” "I'm so sick of winter", "there is never any parking here."

I'm just observing! Sorry the observations are a buzzkill!

I know complaining is scientifically proven to shave years off your life.

Just kidding, I don't know that, but it can make you focus on what you don't like more than what you do like, which makes the world seem bleak.

I thought gratitude would fix this. 

Gratitude makes me focus on what's going well in life – the exact opposite of complaining. If I am thinking, "this coffee is weak" I can follow that up with, "I'm so grateful that the café is cute and I am here with a friend."

I have tried this for years. It doesn't stick and sometimes it actually makes me annoyed with myself. It feels like I'm forcing myself to pretend I'm enjoying something when I'm actually disappointed. 

There is a word for this! It is called bypassing. Instead of dealing with my negative emotions, I slap some positive emotions on top of them and pretend everything is fine. I am bypassing the uncomfortable truth instead of working through it.

I have been working with a coach, Elizabeth Dialto, on themes around acceptance and forgiveness.

And it hit me: forgiveness is the response to complaining, not gratitude.


Let's try this coffee situation again.

The coffee is weak. I acknowledge that the coffee is weak and that I'm disappointed, and then I forgive the coffee for not being what I wanted. Instead of pretending it's fine, I admit that it's annoying and then acknowledge that it's okay.

The coffee example is pretty small. But complaining is also pretty small. When something is truly wrong, I don't complain, I get mad or hurt. And guess what? Forgiveness, though difficult and slow, is more powerful than gratitude in those situations too.

This forgiveness technique is handy literally all day every day. I am dog sitting right now. The dog woke me up early to go outside. I felt a complaint about having to take care of this dog come on, and met the dog with forgiveness: you are being annoying, little buddy, and I forgive you and am going to take care of you.

I took a walk to the farmers’ market only to realize I left my cash at home: now we have to do this walk all over again, Johannah.. I forgive you. Let's head back.


This practice has made me realize something – complaining happens when I feel like a helpless victim. When I am saying what bothers me out loud, I am wanting to be saved from the situation. I am stuck on the problem and don't think about solutions.

When I hear the complaint and respond with forgiveness, I take responsibility for my situation. The dog wakes me up early, but I forgive the dog, which allows me to move past my annoyance and do what I need to do. I forgive myself for forgetting my cash, so I let go of my initial surprise and move into problem-solving for myself.

Complaining is also a blame game: this coffee is weak therefore these baristas messed up. 

It is this dog's fault that he wants to go outside when I am asleep.


Forgiveness takes blame out of the equation while acknowledging my negative feelings.


It's your turn!

What do you find yourself complaining about on a regular basis? Is it the
public transit,
domestic responsibilities,
dietary restrictions,
or how you look in photos?

How would it feel to forgive these inconveniences?

Choose one of them and try it out. Like this, "favorite bra, I forgive you for having broken elastic." Or, "commute, you are long and boring, and I forgive you."

if you don't have something to practice on right now, first of all, good for you.  I mean that sincerely.

But stay aware of the next complaint that pops up and respond with forgiveness. I've been surprised to discover what a big relief it is to forgive. It's like I'm giving myself permission to move on. And, like our conversation last week about looking for fun in your life, forgiveness actually opens me up to be creative and silly. I don't focus on what just went wrong because I have let go and moved on.


As I have been typing, my smoothie melted. And you know what? I forgive it. It's juice now, y'all!


May your complaints feel silly today,


Resistance is Futile...No, Really

People usually come to me when they want to change an aspect of their lives or themselves. And the strategy goes like this: I do this thing, I wish I didn't do it, I'm working really hard to stop doing it by getting frustrated whenever I do. it. Can you help me?


Does this sound familiar? I'm guilty of this too. I think pushing against reality will change it. I have spent years of my life in a state of resistance, thinking I am creating change. I'm actually digging a hole.  Here's the thought process:

if I get mad at myself everytime I sleep in, I will wake up earlier tomorrow.

If I dislike my body enough, I will do more weight training.

if I complain about all the plastic in the ocean, I will work to help the environment. 

If I compare where my side hustle is now to where I want it to be, I'll will work harder to grow it.


There is fear there: if I like anything the way it is, I will become complacent and will never improve. THIS IS BALONEY. Imma tell you why.

Acceptance allows me to see clearly and move forward. I like to think of it like this: there is a cow in the road. When I resist the cow in the road, I stand next to it and shout at it to get up and move. When I accept the cow and the road, I walk around it.

We have to acknowledge the cow to be able to walk around it! 

Here are some real-life examples of acceptance working its magic for me:

In high-pressure moments:
I drive a stick shift. There is a specific intersection where I tend to stall out. When I respond with resistance, I get mad at myself for stalling out and try to force the Jeep to cooperate with me quickly so that no one has to drive around me. It doesn't cooperate and I get frantic. When I respond with acceptance, I take my hand off the stick shift and steering wheel and just sit back for a second and acknowledge that this has happened while cars go around me. Then I try again— and re-enter the stick shift flow. 


In the midst of illness:
I acquired a hand condition last year. I couldn't cook or do administrative tasks for my business. Then I went through a couple months of grief and healing. I still have the condition, but I have accepted it. I cook – I just ask my boyfriend to chop the vegetables and open the jars beforehand. I made a list of administrative tasks and hired a virtual assistant to do them for me. It feels miraculous! Resistance kept me frozen in the state of frustration. Acceptance has allowed me to move forward.


In the midst of bad vibes:
 Sometimes acceptance is super meta. A woman yelled at me yesterday while I was surfing. It put me in a funk. I wanted to be far away from her on the waves, but somehow we kept ending up next to each other. I tried to accept that she was being unpleasant. It didn't help. Then I realized that my resistance wasn't towards her, it was towards my own feelings of discomfort. I was trying to resist the funk she had put me in. So I accepted it! I accepted that I was going to have a weird surf session. This actually allowed me to enjoy the rest of the evening. I didn't magically recover from my funky mood, but I also wasn't obsessing about it. I moved forward.


In pursuit of social justice:
As a budding feminist, I was all about resistance in college: I judged, labeled, complained, protested. I probably popped blood vessels. I thought it was my duty to resist all evidence of patriarchy. But getting mad every time I saw proof that I lived in a patriarchal culture didn't feel good, it made me tired. And it didn't lead to change! Not to say protesting doesn't help – it does. But getting worked up every time I read a sexist article or overheard a degrading conversation didn't. So I accepted that I live in a patriarchal society. And that opened me up to see what I actually can do (find myself sexy, befriend and support other women, be assertive in the bedroom,  learn history) instead of feeling helpless. It helps me see things clearly: I can respond intelligently and thoughtfully because I am acknowledging reality instead of fighting it.

This can happen for you too.


Acceptance is to the mind what yoga is to the body. It will make you more flexible, open, and relaxed. And it doesn't make you weaker! You'll discover a deeper well of strength.


What are you resisting right now? 

Can you try something for me?

Take a deep breath. As you breathe in, imagine that acceptance is filling your body.

You are not condoning the situation. You are not embracing the situation. All you are doing is acknowledging that the situation exists exactly as it does. 

The moment we resist the situation, we are putting a story on it. It's the difference between, “my wedding cake tastes bad" and “I can't believe my wedding cake tastes so bad." 

Resistance makes us get mad at reality. Acceptance allows us to see the humor and opportunity in each moment.

May you see reality as it is today,



How to Overcome Anxiety

I want to talk about pain. Yewww! I’ll try to make it fun. But if I don’t, a painful read is a great opportunity to practice these new approaches to discomfort.

"Pain" is a loaded word. In this post, think of it on a spectrum from discomfort to agony. We’re all on the scale somewhere.

The whole point of this post is to say discomfort is an opportunity. We use pain to defend, harden and increase our ego. But we could use it to realize how connected and free we are.

I've been trying some new practices for handling pain and they're working for me!

I want to share them with you, now.

The past couple weeks I've been trying to walk towards my pain points.

It’s a Buddhist concept based on the idea that discomfort can control us or liberate us.

When I shut a relative down for having a different opinion or avert my eyes when a person living on the street asks for change—I’m trying to lessen my discomfort.

There's a practice that has rewritten my relationship to pain.

Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun who really does know suffering, teaches a breathing practice: breathe in discomfort and breathe out comfort.

It sounds counterintuitive but that’s the point. On autopilot, we are always trying to breathe out our pain. This is how we end up controlled.

The practice of breathing pain in shows us that we can handle it. 

We have space inside for our shame, anxiety, and anger. We don’t have to try to expel it from our consciousness the moment it touches us.

Before a difficult conversation, I breathe in fear and breathe out trust.
Scrolling instagram, I breathe in judgment and breathe out acceptance.
When I zone out while working, I breathe in boredom and breathe out interest.

Tara Brach, psychologist and meditation teacher, says that we assume pain means something is wrong. If my friend makes a comment that hurts, I wonder why I can’t be cool with everything or why she has to be insensitive.

Pain feels like a problem to solve.

This breathing practice teaches us to breathe in discomfort because it is not a problem. It is an aspect of being alive. We can welcome it.

When we breathe out comfort, we show ourselves that we have an endless amount of comfort inside of us.

There is trust, acceptance, and peace to spare.

We do not create our pain. We don’t choose what goes on in our bodies. Thoughts and feelings and painful sensations just come.

Knowing that pain isn't my fault is freeing. If I have a headache, I used to think I should be taking better care of myself and I'd feel too ashamed to tell anyone I felt bad. If I see that pain comes and goes, I don't take it out on myself and amplify the bad experience.

I've been noticing where I feel emotional pain in my body.

Tara Brach says to focus specifically on the throat, chest, and stomach.

Noticing physical pain reminds me that I'm not creating the whole physiological experience of pain—it’s a waterfall flowing through me that I can freak out about or notice as part of being alive.

So in the moment of noticing discomfort, Tara Brach suggests speaking to that experience.  I have said to my anxious self, “Tight throat and heavy stomach, what do you want me to notice?”

The answer: “That I might be wrong and vulnerable.”

Then I breathe in, “Being wrong and vulnerable” and breathe out, “Being right and safe.”

You really have to try it to feel the power of it.

You could even do it in this moment. If you’re bummed that it is Monday, breathe in, “Resisting” and breathe out, “Embracing.”

Let me know what happens.

Here's to finding a new relationship with pain,


Are You Sure You Need a Morning Routine?



I've been seeing downloadable morning routine guides, nightly journals, and habit-forming planners all over the internet. It's made me anxious to form my own routine -- until I realized I've always had one. Routines are billed as something we have to go after and create. But they're not out there in the world - they're innate to who we are.

I lived in an old volcano crater in Panama for two weeks. It was a weird time. I did yoga each morning and journaled about abundance each night. When I left Panama, I thought I'd found the perfect ritual to center me. Nope. The next time I had a routine was three weeks later - I walked to the beach in Costa Rica each night and swam during sunset. A bus-ride later, I was running in Costa Rica's capital every afternoon.

I thought routine shapes me. It turns out I shape the routine. I do not have to force a habit into being - no one does. We are creatures of habit! Routine is our birth right!


routine in Oaxaca: night surfing in that bay with these women

routine in Oaxaca: night surfing in that bay with these women

Instead of willing myself to continue a yoga habit that made sense while living in the woods, my routine adapted itself to another environment. And another. And another.

Yorckh and I noticed that we have different traditions in each country. We played card games at every bar in Laos. We went running on the beach each evening in Malaysia. We took extravagant lunch breaks everyday in Indonesia. We took long walks in Japan. We tried to bring our old routines with us into new countries - they never stuck.


Card games in Laos

Card games in Laos

Anyone who has gone on a week-long vacation knows how quickly a new routine is built and fostered; you find your favorite taco spot or beach or nightly bar and stick to it. Embedded in each of us is the desire for something both familiar and inspiring. This is what routine gives us. I don't have to create it or force it -- I can just acknowledge what I am already doing and value it.


What I Didn't Know About Self-Care



I landed in New York City after my first year of solo travel. It was a direct flight from Nicaragua's tropical airport to the Brooklyn subway. I was overwhelmed. I stepped onto the wrong train, realized it, and said to myself outloud, “I love you, girl.”

Talking to myself isn’t new. 

But the content of the talk changed while I was alone in Latin America.

Getting mad at myself didn’t change me. Worst-case scenarios did not chill me out. Tactics for handling discomfort on my own—partying, evading, dating—had diminishing returns. 

One day in the midst of resenting a Tinder match, I admitted to myself that I just needed a friend. So I became that friend. I stopped telling myself I wasn’t as good at traveling as people I met and instead said I was crushing it. I gave myself pep talks, hugs (literally wrapping my arms around myself while looking in the mirror), and permission to leave wherever I was (bar, town, country) whenever I wanted. The more I told myself these things, the more I realized that there was someone doing the telling and someone doing the listening. There is the me who knows I can handle it and the me who would really appreciate hearing that.  


We are all two people inside one body. Hear me out. When we are embarrassed by our own tears, get mad at ourselves for hitting the snooze, make deals with ourselves at the gym, there are two beings: the attacker and the victim. But it doesn’t have to be two equally harried voices. Conversations with myself have developed so that there is the Johannah overwhelmed on the train and the Johannah that knows how to calm her down. You could say it is the ego and the observer, devil and angel, best friend and worst enemy, whatever you want. I don't need a peer-reviewed reason for it to be. I just know that my life is better when I acknowledge that I am two people.

All emotions are a positive and negative in one bundle. I’m never nervous without being excited, scared without being curious, or sad without being grateful. 

My mind (which creates the thoughts that lead to the emotions) has two states at all times. It is tempting for me to say there is a higher state and a lower state. I don’t want to put that judgment on the lower state, who really is doing the best she can. But this knowledge that each emotion is dual can be extrapolated so that even when you think you are ruining your life, there is a part of you that maintains that you're a small dot in the Universe doing just fine. That part of you could even take it a step further and say you are the Universe and the Universe just is.




My relationship with myself has evolved with this partnership. 

I feel into my observer self, which feels like an energetic cloud of strength in my belly, whenever I want. She doesn’t clear out feelings, she just broadens my perspective to the point that there is plenty of space around the feelings. When I want to be scooped out of a dark thought, I visualize a white place in my mind where my confused self sits on the floor with her head on the lap of my knowing self. And that image is a complete picture of Me: a reactionary girl and a wise old woman, a baby soul on her first reincarnation and a guru on her last.

To be clear, I am not saying that my two selves actually have two separate physical bodies. I'm just saying the mind can do very cool, cathartic things.

Instead of texting friends my anxious rants or closing off from my boyfriend, I take my reactive self to get a pep talk from my chill self, who is just fine all the time. This means that even when I am sad and anxious, I know there is a part of me who is completely well, safe, and content. That knowledge in itself can lessen the intensity of my emotions.


This knowledge also means I have a responsibility to take care of myself. It isn’t “self-care” as I used to think—part of me is always okay and doesn’t need the care. It is more like checking in on my travel buddy. I am not making sure I am good, which has always seemed weirdly redundant to me, I am making sure my lowest, most easily exhausted self is good. And I’m using my best self to do it.