Category Archives: Personal Growth

Tune in to the Joyful You Summit

Posted on March 19, 2017 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

When Joy Coach Catherine Walters called me to participate in her Joyful You Summit, my initial thought was, “I’m too busy.” Is life busy? Yes. Is life ever not busy for any of us? No. I realized that my initial reaction was just an excuse.

The theme of her second summit intrigued me–creativity and how to bring out your playful self. I love thinking of ideas and sharing them. I am just most comfortable doing so as a writer. Safely behind my computer monitor thank you very much. Her summit involves speaking … on video. While my husband will tell you I have zero trouble talking, I get uncomfortable in situations where the spotlight is on me. Thoughts that run through my head include: What if I say something stupid and it’s forever recorded? I ramble. You’re going to sound brilliant Sandra when your thoughts fall off a cliff and there’s dead silence. Then I remembered something else: When I avoid doing something because I fear it a little, I end up feeling worse.

Last year, I participated in Catherine’s Joyful You Summit for the first time. While it may not be a big deal to chat on video for some people, it was a fear conquering moment for me. And every time we say “yes” to something we fear, it may not banish the fear completely, but it does dissipate that fear. Being fearful and going for it anyway is the gateway to all sorts of glorious emotions–like euphoria (“Yes! I did it!), enthusiasm and self-confidence. In Shonda Rhimes book Year of Yes, she wrote, “Losing yourself does not happen all at once. Losing yourself happens one ‘No’ at a time.”  I knew I needed to say “Yes” to Catherine’s second Joyful You Summit and not hide out in my comfort zone.

The Joyful You Summit launches tomorrow, March 20, just in time for The International Day of Happiness. The theme is How to Bring Out Your Playful, Creative & FUN Self and Connect with Your Authentic Joy. It’s a free series of video interviews with 22 experts talking about aspects of joy, creativity, laughter, fun and play.

You won’t want to miss it! I believe my interview will be in early April. Tune in here to: The Joyful You Summit! 

The 9 Best Books to Spark Your Spiritual Enlightenment

Posted on June 28, 2016 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

These soul-stirring works will fill you with wisdom, healing, mindfulness and meaning.

Your spiritual life is personal, yet most spiritual books share a common theme—we are all connected. Immerse yourself in these books to live with a greater sense of community, to uplift your spirit, and to get a sense of mind-body integration. These nine favorite spiritual works are like a retreat for your mind and soul.Get your summer spiritual reading list here: The 9 Best Books to Spark Your Spiritual Enlightenment on Live Happy


8 Ways To Thrive in Midlife and Beyond

Posted on June 13, 2016 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

American society values beauty and youth. It’s a fact of life. Look at any movie—Hollywood or independent, it doesn’t matter—magazine (aside from AARP), or television show (Golden Girls went off the air a long time ago, people) and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a gray hair or wrinkled brow among them. And the portrayals you do see of older people are often hackneyed stereotypes of asexual, grouchy killjoys or someone having a midlife crisis.

Change the script about getting older

“Let’s change the conversation about what getting older means,” says women’s health expert Dr. Christiane Northrup in her book Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being. “Our culture tries to tell us how to move through time and tell us we only have so much time left,” she writes. She suggests rewriting the script by realizing chronological age just measures time, and by calling it getting older, not aging.“Getting older is inevitable, but aging is optional,” she writes.

Let’s look at how we can challenge what we are told about age in our culture to have a more positive mindset about getting older.

1. Stop calling it a midlife crisis

We should probably save the word “crisis” for the real deal and not for another pass around the sun. Plus, the bulk of research shows that there may be a shifting of gears in the 40s or 50s, but it’s often one of renewal and exhilaration, not crisis, writes Barbara Bradley Hagerty in her book Life Reimagined: The Science, Art, and Opportunity of Midlife.

Read the rest of my article: 8 Ways to Thrive in Midlife and Beyond on Live Happy.

Knowing Yourself Is The Key To Beating Depression

Posted on April 7, 2016 in depression, Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

I like to analyze things. My desire to dissect what I’m thinking and feeling stems from growing up in a confusing environment fueled by alcoholism, mixed messages, and instability. When things got tense in our home, I’d retreat with my journal to escape. I desperately wanted to understand what was going on around me and how I was feeling. I wanted to think I had some control when I had none.

Yes, analysis paralysis does exist. But sometimes analysis (combined with action) is exactly what you need to live a productive, self-aware life. When you are willing to take a hard look at who you are, the choices you make, and how you feel, you constantly raise your self-awareness. Knowing yourself well is essential to wiggling out of depression’s grip and finding happiness.

Here’s how knowing yourself better can create a happier life:

1. It brings your needs clearly to the forefront.

My love for self-analysis led me to talk therapy. I wasn’t afraid of it because I desperately wanted to understand why my parents were the way they were and how to repair my damaged self-esteem. I wanted to know why I felt lost, angry, and empty. The process was life-changing for me. Talk therapy helped me realize I was strong and helped me practice turning adversity into insight. If you suffer emotional pain regularly, talk therapy could help you heal in a lasting way.

Read the rest of my article here on MindBodyGreen.


Want Less Stress + More Joy?

Posted on March 28, 2016 in Happiness, Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

What if you could discover ways to relieve stress, negativity and overwhelm, especially when life throws you a curve ball.

What if you could start creating a life filled with more joy, happiness, vitality, fun and even play?

Well you can, and it’s completely FREE!

Register now for the Joyful You Summit!

I have joined with Catherine Walters, host of an upcoming video series called Joyful You, in a discussion of the numerous ways life can be challenging and stressful, and the tools and techniques to create a life and lifestyle filled with JOY.

My comfort zone is writing, but I pushed myself out of my zone to chat with Catherine. We talked about the journey from depression to a joy-filled life.

Your life filled with more joy, happiness, vitality and fun is possible.

Join The Joyful You Summit to make your life the life of joy you deserve and be a Joyful You!

The Joy begins April 4th!

joyful you

Never Second-Guess Yourself Again

Posted on March 22, 2016 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

Use these 6 steps to find your own clear, confident voice.

Do you ever get together with friends or family, have a great time but later second-guess something you did or said? If you replay events and often wish you could have a do-over, second-guessing could be robbing you of joy and self-esteem. Ruminating about our choices can make us feel pretty miserable. Here, our experts weigh in on why we do this and how we can stop.

Build up your self-trust

Second-guessing is often caused by not trusting ourselves. Self-doubt can happen as a result of critical parents, perfectionist tendencies, low self-confidence or pessimistic thinking.

“When you are low in confidence,” says positive psychology expert Caroline Miller, “research shows that you are more likely to doubt your perceptions and judgment, and make you feel that you need the approval of others. This behavior can lead to depression, anxiety and procrastination.” (Caroline’s upcoming book Authentic Grit looks closely at this phonemenon and many others affecting women and power.)

“Lacking confidence in our judgments indicates a feeling that the world is out of control and that you don’t have the ability to ground yourself with your own positive choices, which is an indicator of pessimistic thinking,” Caroline explains.

Pat Pearson, the author of Stop Self-Sabotage, says we torment ourselves with self-doubt because we are mirroring the people we grew up with, but we can change if we shift from negative to positive thinking.

Here are six expert tips on how we can end the self-torment of second-guessing.

1. Notice and replace

“The first step is to notice your negative thoughts and then intentionally intervene with a better thought,” Pat says. “When you tell yourself, ‘I will be fine,’ your mind doesn’t believe it, so instead, start a sentence with ‘I choose’ and say something you can believe. For example, say ‘I choose to do everything in my power to create a positive outcome.’”

Read the rest of my article on Live Happy.


11 Ways To Shut Down Depression and Anxiety For Good

Posted on March 2, 2016 in depression, Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

Throughout my twenties, I was lost. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t believe in myself. My head was a jumbled mess of negativity and insecurity from a painful childhood. I lost myself in any relationship I found.

Despite my journalism degree, I worked as a waitress and an administrative assistant because I was scared to take a risk. I used food to fill my emptiness. My depression eventually led me to talk therapy.

While weekly therapy wasn’t a quick fix, it gave me lasting tools and coping skills that helped me fight my way out of depression and anxiety. I hope they’re of use to you, too.

1. Seek professional help.

I found someone who validated my painful past, who helped me understand why my parents were the way they were, and who called me out on how my current behavior was fueling my depression. We identified issues I had from growing up with an alcoholic parent — fear of abandonment, unexpressed anger, people pleasing — and how I could work through each of these issues. I tell anyone who will listen to find a good psychologist, because talk therapy can have an incredibly positive impact on your life. It could even save it.

2. Practice self-compassion.

Learning self-compassion means learning and choosing to be your best friend more often than your worst critic. Catch yourself. Interrupt negative thoughts. Stop them in their tracks. Forgive yourself quickly for mistakes. Set out to tell yourself kind things and coach yourself with positive pep talks when you need ’em. Ask yourself, at random intervals, whenever you think of it: Am I being a best friend to myself right now? Self-compassion builds resilience because eventually you realize you have your own back.

3. Take responsibility for your choices and your circumstances.

When I was in my twenties, I thought I had bad luck. A possessive boyfriend with lots of drama, credit card debt, a job below my skill level, toxic friends, etc. Then I realized I was the common denominator between all my problems. As I made began to make healthier decisions — about relationships, finances and my career — each area started to improve. Take responsibility for your decisions and their consequences. If you don’t like the outcomes, choose differently.

Read the rest of my article on MindBodyGreen.

10 Ways To Put Happiness Into Practice

Posted on February 23, 2016 in Fulfillment, Gratitude, Happiness, Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

Write things down, listen with empathy, and when all else fails—take it to the playground.

How can we feel happier on a day-to-day basis? Practicing gratitude, unplugging and living in the present moment come immediately to mind. Sometimes we know all the right answers, but putting those ideas into practice is the tough part. To help you fully embrace life as it unfolds before you, we’ve put together this list of helpful practices. (Happiness overachievers can click on the highlighted links to learn even more about each practice.)

Strengthen self-control.We don’t have to exhaust our willpower or decision-making quota for the day when we make healthy habits automatic. Make one or more of these fundamental habits a regular part of your daily life in order to help you set and keep other healthy habits: 1. Get seven hours of sleep; 2. Go for a 20-minute walk; 3. Don’t let yourself get too hungry; 4. Take time to unclutter; 5. Give yourself a healthy treat.

Get some sleep. According to sleep expert Michael Breus, Ph.D., sleeping less than seven hours each night can negatively impact your outlook, make you crave unhealthy foods and even kill your productivity. For those with serious trouble sleeping, he suggests you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, take the TV out of the bedroom and get out of bed if you can’t fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes.

Build up your emotional toolkit. If you struggle with depression or bouts of anxiety, build up your emotional toolkit. Use the tool of self-compassion to treat yourself with the same loving kindness you would extend to a friend. Silence that inner critic and give yourself a soft place to land when things don’t go right or you are working through a challenging experience. Fill up your mind with kind thoughts about yourself.

Read the rest of this article on Live Happy. 

Start A Journal, Change Your Life

Posted on February 9, 2016 in Fulfillment, Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

If anyone asks me for my number one tip to reduce depression, anxiety or stress, my answer is always the same: Keep a journal.

Journaling is life-changing.

When you journal, you slow down and check-in with yourself. As you write down your thoughts, you become connected with what you are thinking and feeling, and the process increases your self-awareness. You can journal to identify problems and iron out solutions. You can vent. Express gratitude. Or you can just share your thoughts in your journal’s safe nonjudgmental pages.

Journaling is an easy way to practice self-compassion–giving yourself a comforting place to be yourself.  When we are more self-compassionate (think inner best friend, not inner critic), we build up our resilience for life.

Discover what journal is right for you in my Live Happy article:

Start A Journal, Change Your Life

5 Ways Self-Compassion Can Turn Your Life Around

Posted on January 25, 2016 in Personal Growth by Sandra Bienkowski

I was in a weekly session of talk therapy when my psychologist said, “You didn’t learn about self-compassion in your childhood.” Tears welled up in my eyes. Just hearing that sentence soothed me. My head was like a boxing match — me against me. And he understood. I was in my mid-20s at the time, and my mind was a hostile place of self-criticism, brooding, and self-loathing. Unfortunately, my inner critic accompanied me everywhere.

I had this incredible talent of quickly identifying the best traits in others, while knocking myself down with the worst traits in me. My parents were extremely critical and now they were in my head. “You aren’t even close to kind to yourself,” my psychologist said. He helped me realize my ability to comfort myself didn’t even exist.

It was a pivotal moment for me in therapy. Of course life felt hard. I was beating myself up all the time! Why did I easily have compassion and kindness for others (including my own pets) and have none for me?

Living without self-compassion is like driving a car you never take in for regular maintenance. Eventually your car won’t work right and it breaks down. Self-compassion is an emotional tool that builds resilience and mental toughness. With practice, self-compassion can build up your inner strength and ward off depression and anxiety.

Here are five ways self-compassion can turn a painful life into a happy one.

1. Your head shifts from foe to friend. Compassion is kindness. When things don’t go right, you coach yourself back up again. You are gentle with yourself. Don’t replay events endlessly in your head to make yourself feel crappy. You talk to yourself in kind ways and say things like, “I did the best I could in the moment with the knowledge I had at the time.” Give yourself support and encouraging words. Drop the negative voice who scrutinizes your every move, and be a friend to yourself. Most of us operate better when someone believes in us. Let that someone be you.

Read the rest of my article on Huffington Post.