self-care, structure, and spontaneity: navigating the balance

navigating the balance

Kylie’s note: Today’s post is a special guest piece from Tanja Gardner. Tanja’s an introverted business owner who started business life online as a copywriter for difference-makers. Her newest passion project is Conscious Introvert Success, which she started to help introverts like her to build their businesses while honoring their introversion. I’m just delighted to have her dropping in today to share her own wisdom-filled self-care revelation.

. . .

I seem to have a serious problem with structuring my self-care.


I don’t know if I’m the only one whose mind works like this, but I’m not very good with structured, pre-planned self-care activities.

As an introvert, I have no shortage of self-care options that allow me to spend time alone and recharge my energy levels. And I actually enjoy many of those activities: journalling, meditation, reading a novel, taking long solo walks or hot, soaky baths…

They all feel wonderful to me if I do them spontaneously.


But something weird seems to happen when I schedule one or more of them into my day to “make sure they happen.”


Suddenly they go from being something I’m looking forward to doing, to — almost out of the blue — becoming something I should do instead.

The moment the word “should” starts creeping in, I can feel my inner toddler rebelling. I start to resent the activity instead of enjoying it.

And really: If you’re resenting your self-care, what’s the point?


That might not be an issue if I didn’t also have difficulty making spontaneous self-care happen.


It’s crazy, isn’t it? You’d think that someone who has such a problem with structure would blossom in its absence.

Not so much. Or at least, not always.


What actually happens if I’m aiming for 100% spontaneity is that all too often, I just don’t get to the self-care. I keep on working instead.


And even when I get to it, relying on myself to know just what to do in the moment can backfire.

I mean, yes, sometimes I’ll feel clearly drawn to picking up a book, pulling out my journal, or putting on my trainers and heading out for a walk.




Sometimes I’ll be so tired that nothing appeals.

Sometimes I’ll strongly intend to do some self-care after my work day, but all I seem to be able to spontaneously bring myself to do is play round after round of Criminal Case on Facebook.

Or occasionally, there’ll just be too much to choose from, so I’ll keep on working instead.


Until fairly recently, I figured that spontaneity was still the best option.


For the longest time, I believed that spontaneous self-care might not be perfect, but that it worked better for me than the structured, scheduled stuff.

As recently as a couple of months ago, I figured that my answer to self-care was simply to schedule blank “me-time” slots into my calendar.

If I blocked out the time in advance, I reasoned, then nothing else could encroach on it.  And when I actually got to the blocked-out timeslot, I’d decide how I wanted to fill it.

No, it didn’t work 100% of the time, but it worked often enough that it felt like the best option.

Then, last week, my coach said something that turned the dilemma on its head for me.


Surprise, surprise: I discovered I could combine the best of both worlds.


My coach pointed out that “structure” and “spontaneity” weren’t one-or-zero, black-or-white propositions.

I could find a way to combine the two in a way that worked for me, so that I was getting the best of both worlds.

She and I started by brainstorming a list of specific self-care activities that would feel nurturing for me. 

My eventual list had nine options: enough so I feel as though I have a range of alternatives, but not so many that I’m paralysed by the choice.


Now, when it’s time for a scheduled self-care block, I just go to my list and choose one of the options.


It’s like the perfect melding of just enough structure to keep me focussed, with just enough spontaneity to avoid triggering an inner toddler tantrum.

I have to laugh: I actually teach my introvert programme participants about planning techniques and accountability practices.

When I do, I always talk about structure as potentially being something flexible  – something that acts as “a support system, rather than a cage.”

It’s funny how I couldn’t see how the same thing might work in a self-care setting.


So what works best for you with self-care?


We’re all different, so there’s no one right way (of course!) to do this stuff.

But I’m curious:  How do you navigate the balance between spontaneity and structure to ensure you’re getting the self-care you need? 

For example:


  • Do you need to schedule exactly what you’ll be doing when in order to make it happen?
  • Do you prefer to do what I used to do, and allow yourself to be completely spontaneous?
  • Have you figured out a unique combination of the two that works for you?


If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear what your self-care scheduling process looks like in the comments.

. . .

tanja gardnerTanja Gardner is the deeply introverted (but not even *slightly* shy!) biz owner behind Conscious Introvert Success: a library of introvert-friendly resources.

You can check out her introvert-related thoughts on her blog, or follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

Or, download “How to Keep an Eye on Your Energy Levels,” a free guide for introverted business owners who need help with energy management.


my recipe for dream fulfillment

creative dream

I love cooking. And I love baking even more.

Being in the kitchen, mixing and chopping and kneading, is one of the most surefire methods I use to reconnect with my soul when I’ve lost my way.

Because of that, I’ve decided to share more recipes here.

I’m not yet entirely sure how I plan to tie in cooking with life coaching and portrait photography, but I’m sure I’ll find a way. I mean, we’ve all gotta eat, right?


I’ll be starting off the recipe extravaganza with my recipe for making dreams come true.


I’m going to warn you (this is mostly for my fellow bakers): this is not the sort of recipe you can simply follow to a T.


You’ve got to use your intuition to make this recipe your own.


In fact, this recipe is unique in that if you try to make it just exactly as someone else did, it won’t turn out at all.


This recipe is a guideline, but the secret ingredient is within your soul.


The good news is that there’s no way to fail at making this dish. If it isn’t turning out to your liking, keep tweaking. Eventually, you’ll stumble upon the method that works best for you.


Dreams Come True Recipe

(Serves approximately 1 to infinity, depending on serving size.)


1 heaping T. permission to be imperfect

Steady stream of self-care, administered throughout

2 heaping cups imagination

1 3/4 cups loving support from yourself and others

1 cup suspension of disbelief

3 T.  discomfort

13 salty tears of frustration

Pinch of courage

Flexibility and experimentation to taste


Preheat oven to your favorite temperature for magic-making, and smear your favorite baking dish with heaping tablespoon of permission to be imperfect.

Into the largest mixing bowl you own, begin steady stream of self-care. As self-care flows into bowl, gradually add imagination, loving support, and suspension of disbelief. Mix until very fluffy and tripled in volume.

Gently fold in discomfort, tears, and courage, being careful not to break batter.

Haphazardly heap batter into prepared pan, and season liberally with flexibility and experimentation. Place in oven until it starts to smell done. Remove pan from oven, breathe in the aroma of the dream, and ask your intuition if it’s complete.

(If complete, allow to cool on rack, then transfer to your most cherished serving plate.)

If not yet complete, make any adjustments your soul suggests (it might need more flexibility and experimentation than you’d expect) and return to oven, repeating the process until your intuition registers dream as fulfilled.

Once cool enough to eat, serve to yourself and/or your most cherished supporters. Rejoice over every bite.

 . . .

This post is my contribution to the Give Your Dream Wings Blog Hop, a peek inside the process of how big dreamers make the magic happen. This blog hop is a celebration of the new e-course of the same name by Andrea Schroeder of the Creative Dream Incubator.

Click here to find out about the free e-course, and to read all the other super-inspiring posts.



bursting forth

spring bud

Well, gosh.

It sure has been a while, hasn’t it? I guess that’s what happens (at least for me) when you move across the country.

cherry blossom buds

Yep, you read that right: A few weeks ago, we packed up our Brooklyn apartment, shipped all our earthly belongings to the West Coast, and got on a plane. And now I’m in Seattle! (Why did no one tell me how unbelievably stressful and challenging moving is? It’s really hard!)


Things are still slightly up in the air. We’ve yet to find and settle into what will become our Seattle apartment. However, I have faith that we’ll be able to do it. Quite honestly, after packing the apartment where we spent the past five years into sixteen moving boxes, I feel as if we can do anything.

My optimism might be influenced by the absolute glory of experiencing spring in Seattle, after the most brutal New York winter I had in my ten years there.

Daffodils are everywhere, and I imagine them smiling at me with their cheerful, yellow faces. Crocus are standing up proudly, having erupted bravely through the soil weeks ago.

cherry blossom petals

And the cherry blossoms? They’re absolutely bursting forth, as if they’ve been holding in the secret of their beauty for too long and just can’t take it any longer.

cherry blossoms

Each day, when I take a walk, I’m grateful for the evergreen trees, the abundant moss, the sea-scented air, the crows crying out from the tops of telephone poles.


And the mountains. Oh good heavens, the mountains. They’re stunning.

So here I am, in Seattle, exploring this beautiful place and meeting lots of new people. I’ll be writing here much more often than I have been (yay!), and also spiffing up this space and hopefully even planning some local Seattle workshops in the coming months.

seattle clouds

Thank you all so much for your encouragement and patience during my absence. I’m delighted that life is settling down a bit now, and that I get to be back here, in this little online space, with you.

cherry blossoms


where coping and thriving overlap


Recently, Hannah of Becoming Who You Are asked me to contribute a post to celebrate her upcoming course, From Coping to Thriving. The course looks lovely, and I was, of course, delighted to share my thoughts on what in means to transition from simply coping with life to thriving through life.

One of the possible topics that Hannah suggested as a jumping-off point was to share my own story of shifting from coping to thriving. This is a story which I’ve shared before in bits and pieces, and which I’ll continue to share.

But today I wanted to talk about the places where coping and thriving overlap one another. Because while the narrative I’ve constructed for my own adult life is one where I spent many years just barely getting by, then gradually shifted to years of feeling (for the most part) as if I was flourishing, that narrative isn’t linear.

It doesn’t just travel in one direction: from bad to good.


Points of light and darkness.


During those years of struggle, of being at war with my body and myself, points of light peeked through.

In the midst of one of my worst years, I still remember sipping a mango bubble tea with Anjal, who is now one of my most treasured friends. I remember how joyful I felt, sitting at that table in the little tea house which is now long gone, savoring conversation.

I remember that first truly warm day in April, when my dormmates and I hauled blankets to Central Park and soaked in the sunshine.

In the more recent, thriving sorts of years, I remember getting so overwhelmed by the many tasks of small business ownership that I felt paralyzed and distraught.

I remember falling into yet another bout of depression and wondering how I could possibly be back in what felt like the same place, after all the struggling and hoping and fighting I’d already done.

My experience has been that even when you’re just barely coping, you can still experience pockets of thriving.

And even when you’re thriving, there are times when the very best you can possibly do is cope: just make it through to the next day, with all your body parts intact.

As I’ve pondered this, I’ve started to understand that what seems to characterize thriving, for me, is feeling as if I am supported and as if I have resources.


Resources and support.


Thriving means that when I stumble (or fall deep into a pit), I have people around who can help me back to the light: friends, family, mentors, doctors, coaches, therapists.

I also have resources: the curricula from classes I’ve taken in the past, my most beloved books, recordings of coaching sessions, skills I’ve learned in therapy, meditations, comforting blogs, wisdom-filled podcasts.

It can take a while to build up those sorts of supporters and resources. But wherever you start, whether it’s with a blog post or a book or a twelve-step meeting or a coaching session, is the right place for you.

I assure you that there is a path from coping to thriving for every single one of us. Your job is to seek out and follow yours. 

. . .

From Coping to Thriving is a six-week journey that will teach you how to turn your coping strategies into self-caring behaviours, leaving behind struggle and learning to thrive. This post is part of the Thriving Blog Tour, which is spreading self-kindness to the masses. To learn more and join, click here



In case you couldn’t tell (though I’m pretty sure you could), I haven’t been here a whole lot lately.

I’ll tell you why, but not just yet. In a bit.

Here’s what I will say: I’m probably going to continue to be away for the next couple of weeks. It’ll most likely depend on how many naps I get. Or maybe how many animal crackers I eat.

And then I’ll be back.

While I’m away, here are a few of my favorite reads. May they keep you company in my absence.

Mel’s writing about her personal yoga practice feels like a big sigh of relief.

Tara makes me think about value and money and being enough.

Havi’s archives are a goldmine of self-honoring wisdom. Scroll through ‘em (especially the older ones!).

Esme’s writing. And her call to radical sincerity. Always.

Hello, Month. It’s a real delight.


a 24/7 party of kindness

prospect park

I had every intention of popping in today with an insightful post about this well-timed mistake. (Talk about teaching what you need to learn, eh?)

But then I got completely overwhelmed (in the best possible way) by all the goodness that’s happening in Unencumbered.

As one participant aptly described it, the group’s private Facebook group has been like a “24/7 party of kindness.” How great is that?

So I am not here with an insightful post. Instead, I’m here to say, hi, I’m still alive.

And also that if you’d like to join us for this free week of Unencumbered, you still can.

Sign up over here, and I’ll send you the materials and get you up to speed.

I’ll be back on Friday for our regularly scheduled fun, and hopefully next week, I’ll bring you something deep and insightful, in written form.

Sound good?



fun friday: the unencumbered sharing circle

unencumbered: fly free

I love Fridays. They’re spectacular days, filled with excitement and expectation. So I’ve decided to label them Fun Fridays, and to share something delightful each week in celebration. Happy Friday, friends!

. . .


Well, my dears. Well.


I’ve been moved, swayed, and rocked with emotion this week as I read your sincere contributions to the Unencumbered Sharing Circle.

I had no idea how much I’d love reading about your personal experiences of the journey between self-loathing and self-love. It’s been so healing, so wonderful.

As we get closer to Unencumbered (which starts on Monday — it’s free, and I’d love for you to join us if you haven’t yet), I’ve used the tools I’m teaching in the course more and more.

The week-long course that’s starting on Monday is a preview of a longer, eight-week course that will be a deep, comprehensive dive into self-love.

It’s a big, new thing for me to offer, and lots of fear has crept in as I’ve been planning it.

(This happens when we’re doing a thing we really want to do. Yes, even for life coaches.)

So I’ve been using all my best tools, all the tools I’m including in the course, to lovingly get this thing out into the world.

Reading these pieces has done a marvelous job of reminding me why I created Unencumbered, and why it matters.


Here’s a peek at some of the incredible, heartfelt words and images that have been shared this week:


For me, painting is all about showing myself unconditional love.  Without it, I never would have shored up the courage to share my work so publicly.”

- Adriana


“Sometimes, the burden of having to teach ‘the other’ that I am a human being is too much and leaves me struggling to get out of bed. Yet, it’s a pressure that I juggle everyday. I was raised believing that I had to work twice as hard to get half as much. That mantra is part of my race story. Then in my journey as a queer woman, I inherited a similar story around my sexuality.

- Marsha


Self-love is knowing that these sorts of feelings happen and knowing why they happen and knowing that they suck. And just letting them pass through. And trusting that they will pass, even though it sure as hell does not feel like it at the time.”

- Kat


“I remember the midwife teaching me that I was to always feed myself first, then breastfeed baby. ‘You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.’”

- Lou


“The key turned out to be self love. I had to learn that ‘selfish’ was not a bad word, not at all. I had to reverse everything I was taught, everything I observed, everything that our society tends to demand in so many ways.”

- Christa


“Self-love, for me, is about making ample space for desire and allowing all of myself to show up in my life.”

- Mara


“By doing all of these things on a daily basis, I *was* practicing self-care. It wasn’t just a lie I told myself, I was really doing it. I learned that it wasn’t just ritual or a habit of thinking for the short-term. This is how you practice self-love all day, every day, for the rest of your life.

- Vanessa


“This is the ground in which love is growing: Behaving as though I were worthy of my own attention and tenderness, consistently taking time to converse with the former stranger living in my skin.”

- Mel


“It might be dancing or skipping, or just moving in whatever awkward way felt right for me on that day.  That playfulness has always been the key for me stepping out of the cage of self-hate.

- Vivienne


“It’s not about being luxurious or indulgent or fancy (although you certainly can be), it’s about noticing + shifting, in tiny ways, until things feel a little better.”

- Tara


“Why should my stumbles be any less worthy of love?”

- Elizabeth


“Love is a practice, a state of mind, not something that needs to be fulfilled by one specific person or romantic relationship.”

- Therese


“I am a daily practitioner of the quiet courage the comes from not giving up.”

- Robin


“In addition to being students of ourselves, we also have the power to become the doctors of our own souls.” 

- Monica

I’d held myself (internally) distant from them – thought of them as the unwelcoming “other”, but when my thoughts and feelings changed I had a soft spot in my heart for them.

The shame was gone.”

- Karen

. . .

Wow, right?


I know.


Join this brilliant group of humans for Unencumbered, and plunge into self-love.


(I can’t wait to see ya’ in there!)

Happy weekend, darlings!


unconditional self-love

unconditional self-love

As I’m not yet a parent, I don’t know a whole lot about parenting.

But I’ve heard that one of the things that’s important about being a parent is unconditional love, and I believe it.


Always loved.


I know it’s important for children to know they’re loved, even when they misbehave.

They need to know that even if you don’t approve of an action they took, you do approve of (and love) them.

The action and the child who took the action are separate, and children need to know that they’re always worthy of love, even when they make a mistake or get in trouble.


Shame is a destructive force. 


When you send a child the message that you don’t love them because of their actions, shame can result, and shame is a destructive force.

Guilt allows us to separate from our actions: even if we did a bad thing, we’re still a good person.

Shame lumps us in with our actions: if we did a bad thing, we’re a bad person.

There are lots of problems with categorizing people according to their behavior.

When you believe that you’re a bad person doing bad things, instead of a good person who happened to do something bad, you’re more likely to continue your poor behavior.

You’re more likely to do things that will confirm the familiar belief that “I’m a bad person.” It’s unlikely that you’ll believe in your ability to change.

Just as parents need to let their children know that they love them even if they don’t always love what they do, we each need to learn to love ourselves unconditionally, even when we make mistakes or do things we’re not proud of.

It’s possible and important to accept ourselves, even when we’re less than pleased with our actions.


Countless ways to show unconditional self-love.


I’d imagine you’re now wondering how, exactly, to do this unconditional self-love thing.

The great news is that there are countless ways to love yourself unconditionally. We’re going to be practicing a bunch of them in Unencumbered.

Things like self-forgiveness. Letting people see you without makeup. Declaring that you’ve done enough for the day, even if there are still items on the list. Letting yourself bloom.

There’s truly no end to the ways in which you can show yourself unconditional love.

There is no gesture too big or too small to qualify. There’s no right time to start, and there’s certainly no end.

Unconditional love means exactly what you’d guess:

Love without condition. Without limits. No matter what.

. . .

Join us for a (free) week-long immersion into unconditional self-love. Sign up for Unencumbered: Fly Free.


fun friday: douglas fir spring tips

douglas fir spring tip tea

I love Fridays. They’re spectacular days, filled with excitement and expectation. So I’ve decided to label them Fun Fridays, and to share something delightful each week in celebration. Happy Friday, friends!

. . .

Hi, lovelies.

I am so glad it’s Friday. Are you?

This week was rather hard. As I mentioned on Facebook, I’ve had some extra depression visiting (depression is something chronic that I manage, but that tends to get worse in the winter and summer), so I’ve been committing to doing the things that help: midday walks, balanced meals, extra exercise, sticking with routines.

But, as always, there were also wonderful things that happened this week. Like the Unencumbered Sharing Circle, which you’re invited to participate in, in preparation for Unencumbered. I’m thoroughly excited to see what everyone shares.

I’ve been wanting to try this douglas fir tip tea for ages, so when it came in our last Mantry box, I was beside myself with glee. It’s like drinking a Chrismas tree! (Which probably doesn’t make it sound very appealing. But it is. Just trust me.)

Um, I think this article was written for me: Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show.

Miso-creamed kale? I must make this.

Let’s all support Jessika Hepburn of Oh My! Handmade. She is wonderful, and her family’s dealing with hard stuff right now.

I am in love with this puppy.

I can never get enough of Adriana’s sunny, colorful outlook on life (and painting).

This article was so engrossing: Life as a Nonviolent Psychopath.

Life (and creativity) shrinks or expands in according to one’s courage.

Phoebe Wahl‘s “be your own valentine” cards are badass.

A treasure trove of creative delights.

Stacy shared this video, which explains depression in a straightforward way. Great reminder that we people with depression aren’t alone.

In a similar vein, Elizabeth gives us eight ways to beat the winter blues.

Andrea has a great explanation of what it means to own your emotional reactions. Empowerment!

Wishing you a glorious weekend, and plenty of sunshine of your own.


your deprivation isn’t serving anyone.

kylie then

I used to have a really big problem with buying myself lotion.

And razor blades.

And haircuts.

And clothing.


Let’s be honest: I had problems with giving myself lots of things.


I didn’t buy bottles of water for myself when I was thirsty.

(Reasoning: Plastic bottles are bad for the environment.)

I didn’t get myself a MetroCard to get downtown for my internship.

(Reasoning: If I walked really, really fast, I could make it there juuuust on time, for free.)

I didn’t pick up a snack for myself when I got hungry.

(Reasoning: Lots of people in the world go without food for far longer. If they had to live like that, I should suffer, too.)

I went without air conditioning for one very hot New York summer.

(Reasoning: Again, bad for the environment. Plus, I was certain I’d acclimate to the oppressive heat after four months of it. Right?)


As you can see, my reasoning was poor.


(Perhaps, looking back on this list, due to malnourishment, exhaustion, and dehydration?) 

But in my mind, I needed to make up for the fact that I existed by taking on the troubles of the world.

I had to suffer in order to make the most miniscule impact imaginable on global warming, a problem created by billions (literally billions) of people.


Did I make the world better through my suffering?


What do you think?

I’m imagining that my lack of air conditioning and plastic bottles did exactly nothing to counteract global warming.

And yet I suffered greatly because I made those choices.


Did my suffering make the world worse?


In my own small circle of influence, probably.

My work performance suffered, I’m sure, because I got very little sleep that un-air conditioned summer due to the heat.

The people at my internship probably experienced me in a slightly sweatier, stinkier, less-confident state after I’d walked twenty blocks to get there.

Those I was closest to suffered in my company, because all the pain I was in made me cranky, snappy, depressed, and unstable.

I, in turn, deepened the cycle of hardship by attempting to meet my unmet needs ineffectively.

I looked for affection in the wrong places, I gorged myself to the point of pain on sugar, and I watched movies alone, wishing I could escape into them.


All of this with the original intention of making the world better.


This is hard to write about.

I don’t like to return to how I felt back then and who I was back then.

But I’m writing about it in case you’re living in intentional deprivation, thinking that you’re making the world better by doing so.


When you suffer, the world around you suffers. But when you meet your own needs, you’re able to be a better version of yourself.


When your needs are met, that’s when you have the ability to impact the world positively. 

When you’re adequately fed, clothed, watered, and pleasured, you have the capacity to do that volunteer job you think about.

You have the strength to organize your community, or to advocate on behalf of your friends.

You gain the ability to be a support for others, perhaps to make the art or writing that will touch hundreds or thousands of people.


None of this can happen, though, if you’re depriving yourself of what you need to live.


The you who thrives is the you who will change the world.


. . .

If you’re in a state of deprivation right now, I’m sending you a big virtual hug. And also inviting you to join us for Unencumbered. This (free) course is made for you, and it will help.



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