Always adore everything about method

Stop Asking Couples When They Are Having Kids

“So, when are you having kids?” my aunt asked me soon after I got married. At that point, I had just been married for a few months. I didn’t even know *if* I wanted kids, much less *when* I was having them.

Caught off guard, I replied matter-of-factly, “I have not decided if I want to have kids.” Little did I realize that I would spend the next hour listening to stories of women who put off having children until it was too late, as well as women who had difficulty conceiving for various reasons, with the implicit message being that I was going to regret it if I didn’t hurry and work on producing babies.

This would be my life for the next few years, where I would receive constant questions around “When are you having kids?” from relatives and random people, followed by a routine, almost ritualistic pressurization to have kids.

Lest you think that it ends after having a child, it doesn’t. The people who previously tried to tell you to have “just one kid” when you were indifferent to the idea, will now tell you to have a second one, along with reasons why you should do so. It seems like this questioning process never ends.

The problem with asking people “When are you having kids?”

I understand why people like to ask this question. Find a partner, settle down, get married, and have kids. This is the life path that we’ve been taught to follow since young. This is the life script that we’ve been told is *the* way of life, that would bring us ultimate joy and happiness.

This is especially so in the Chinese culture, where having kids is seen as the ultimate goal in life. There are even sayings built around this notion, such as 生儿育女 (shēng ér yù nǚ), which means to birth sons and raise daughters, and 子孙满堂 (zǐ sūn mǎn táng), which means to be in a room filled with children and grandchildren, used to signify the epitome of happiness.

Multi-Generation Chinese Family at the Park

A multi-generation family, often used to depict a vision of happiness in the Chinese culture

So after you get married, people automatically assume that you should have kids. “When are you having kids?” they ask, somehow expecting you to give them a straight answer to what is really a personal question.

The problem with this question is that it’s rude. It’s presumptuous. It’s also insensitive.

1) There are many different paths to happiness

Firstly, everyone has their own path in life. Some people want kids, while some don’t. Some think that having kids is the greatest joy in life, while some see them as a burden. At the end of the day, having kids isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. There are significant ups and downs that come with having a kid, and for some people, the ups do not justify the downs. For these people, it may simply be better to remain childless, rather than having kids just to fit in or to fit societal expectations, and then set their lives up for unhappiness. To assume that everyone should have kids, just because you think that having kids is great and important, is rude and disregards that person’s own preferences in life.

For example, Oprah Winfrey is an inspiring woman and humanitarian who chose not to have kids, but has instead dedicated herself to her personal life purpose of serving the world. Oprah hosted her talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show for 25 years, founded a leadership academy for girls and became a mother figure to the girls in attendance, and started her own television network. These are things that most do not get to do in their lifetime. Through the years, she has inspired millions and become a champion for people worldwide. As she says,

“When people were pressuring me to get married and have children, I knew I was not going to be a person that ever regretted not having them, because I feel like I am a mother to the world’s children. Love knows no boundaries. It doesn’t matter if a child came from your womb or if you found that person at age two, 10, or 20. If the love is real, the caring is pure and it comes from a good space, it works.” — Oprah[1]

Is she not being a responsible or purposeful person or woman by choosing not to have kids? Definitely not. In fact, I dare say that she lives a much more purposeful life than many in the world, including some people who choose to have kids.

There are many famous celebrities who have chosen not to have kids as well.

  • Chelsea Handler is a talk show host who chose not to have kids. She has said honestly in interviews that she doesn’t have the time to raise a child, and she doesn’t want her kids to be raised by a nanny.[2][3]
  • Betty White is an actress and comedian who chose not to have kids because she’s passionate about her career and she prefers to focus on it.[4]
  • Ashley Judd is an actress and politican activist who chose not to have kids because she feels that there are already so many orphaned kids in this world. To her, her resources can be better used to help those who are already here, and I respect her for such a noble choice.[5]

And then there are others, such as Cameron Diaz, Chow Yun Fat, Marisa Tomei (the actress for Peter Parker’s aunt in Tom Holland’s Spider Man film series), Renée Zellweger, and Rachael Ray. These people choose not to have kids for different reasons, such as because they’re already pursuing paths deeply meaningful to them, because they do not wish to be tied down with a child, or because they just don’t feel a deep desire to have kids.

Not having kids has not prevented these people from being happy in life, and there’s no reason to assume why people must have kids in order to be happy. People need to stop painting this narrative that one must have children in order to be happy. There are plenty of people with kids who are unhappy, and plenty of people without kids who have found inner fulfillment in life through other ways. There is no one path to happiness, and people need to realize that.

2) You may well cause hurt and pain

Secondly, you never know what others are going through.

Some people may want kids, but maybe they are facing fertility struggles. For example,

  • Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan went through three miscarriages before having their firstborn.[6]
  • The Obamas had a miscarriage before they had their daughters via IVF.[7]
  • Friends star Courteney Cox had a total of seven miscarriages before having her daughter, as she has a MTHFR gene mutation which raises the risk of miscarriage-causing blood clots.[8]

About 10% of women have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant,[9] while 13.5% of known pregnancies end in miscarriages, with the figure rising as the maternal age rises.[10]

For some people, the journey to conceive is fraught with deep pain, struggle, and losses as they experience miscarriages, undergo round after round of invasive fertility treatments, and wait in hope of the double blue lines on their pregnancy kit each month.

And then there are people who cannot have their own biological children due to issues with their reproductive system, which could have been there since birth.

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and family

Barack and Michelle Obama had a miscarriage before they had their daughters via IVF

While you may be think that you’re being helpful or funny by asking people when they’re having kids, your question may well trigger hurt and pain. As Zuckerberg said,

“You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child. You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience.”[6]

3) Not everyone is in a place to have kids

Thirdly, having kids is simply not a reality for some people due to their circumstances in life.

Some people may lack the financial resources to have kids, a reality in a place like Singapore.

Some people may be facing problems with their marriage, in which case their priority should be to work on their marriage, not to have kids.

Some people may be so burdened with caring for their dependents that they are unable to consider kids, at least not at the moment.

And then there are people facing chronic health issues, issues that you don’t know and can’t see, which make pregnancy difficult due to the toll it would take on their body.

4) Some couples could still be thinking

And then there are people who are neutral to the idea of having kids, like myself when I just got married. These people need time to think it through, because having kids is a permanent, lifelong decision with serious consequences. There’s no reason to assume that having a kid should be an automatic decision, because you’re bringing a whole new life into this world. This is a decision that will change your life forever, as well as the life of the child you’re bringing into the world.

For those yet to have kids, they need the space to figure out what they want, not have people breathe down their neck day in and out about having kids.

My experience

For the initial years after I got married, I just wasn’t thinking about kids. Firstly, having a child is a lifelong decision, and I wanted to enjoy married life with my husband before diving into a decision as serious as that. Secondly, both my husband and I were genuinely happy spending the rest of our lives with just each other — we didn’t feel the need to have kids at all, not in the way my culture obsesses about it. Thirdly, my husband was dealing with some personal problems, and I was fully focused on supporting him through these. These were issues that we needed to sort through before considering kids, if we were to want kids.

Yet I kept getting nudges to have kids, even though I never said anything about wanting them.

“So, when are you having kids?”

“This person’s baby is so cute, isn’t it? Why don’t you hurry up and birth a baby?”

It was as if I was some vehicle, some production machine to have kids, where my own views in the matter didn’t matter. The most frustrating thing was that I kept getting this question, while my husband would never get it (as a man), not even when we were in the same room together.

It was as if my sole reason for existence as a woman was to have kids, and until I had them, I was regarded as unworthy or incomplete.

The decision to have kids

Yet the decision to have children is a personal one. It is also a complex one. It is a decision that will permanently change the lives of the couple in question.

It is not a decision that one should be pressurized into making because their mom wants to carry grandchildren or their aunt wants to play with kids. It’s a decision that a couple should make because they genuinely want to nurture another life.

Because when a child is born, the people bugging others to have kids aren’t the ones who will be caring for the baby 24/7, whose lives will be set back by years (even decades) as they care for a new life, or who will be responsible for every decision concerning the child for the next 18-21 years.

It will be the couple.

And the people who aren’t ready, who were pressured into having kids because they were told that it was the best thing to do, may have to deal with regret as they are stuck with a decision they cannot undo. Because there are people who regret having kids, and we need to be honest about that. These people regret, not because of the child’s fault, but because they were simply not ready to have kids, be it financially, emotionally, or mentally. Unfortunately, the children are the ones who eventually suffer, from living in dysfunctional households to dealing with issues of violenceabuse, and anger.

We need to recognize these realities, and not make parenthood seem like it’s some magical band-aid that solves a lack of purpose or life’s pressures. Things don’t magically get better because people have kids; existing problems usually worsen as having a child puts a big strain on a couple’s lives. Digging into people’s plans to have kids, and pressurizing them into one of the biggest life decisions they can ever make, will only stress them out and perhaps push some into depression. As this redditor shared,

“I have a friend who went through 6 years of miscarriages and fertility treatments before the doctors figured out the problem and she had her son. The nosy ladies at her work and her in-laws questioned her constantly. The depression from that made it harder for her to conceive.”

Stop asking couples when they’re having kids

So, if you tend to ask others when they’re having kids, it’s time to stop that. It’s rude, insensitive, and it disregards people’s privacy. It’s also none of your business.

The reality is that if people want kids, they will work on having kids. They don’t need you to prod them about it.

If they don’t have kids, it’s either because

  1. they really don’t want kids,
  2. they are not in a position to consider kids right now, or
  3. they want kids but they are facing some struggles.

For people in group (c), they aren’t going to share such deeply personal experience over some afternoon coffee chat, and certainly not by you asking, “When are you having kids?”

The best thing you can do is to give people their personal space. Understand that having kids is a personal decision, and people don’t have to share or explain anything. Respect that others have their right to privacy. Respect that people are individuals on their own path, and this path may not involve having kids. And this doesn’t make them incomplete or lesser in any way.

Instead of asking women or couples, “When are you having kids?”, talk to them like how you would a normal person. There’s no reason why conversations should suddenly revolve around childbearing after marriage; it’s not like a person’s identity changes to revolve around having kids. A person still has their own passion, goals, and dreams. Talk to them about what they’ve been doing. Understand their interests. Know them as a real person, not some random being here to fulfill society’s checklist.

If you’re really interested in someone’s plan to have children, you can simply ask, “Are you and your partner planning to have kids?” If they wish to share more, they will do so. If they give a generic answer, then take the hint and move on.

Ultimately, having kids or not doesn’t change a person’s self-worth. A woman is complete with or without kids. A marriage doesn’t need kids to be deemed complete. Having kids should be a conscious choice, not a result of external pressure. Don’t judge people by whether they have kids or not. Some people will have kids, and some people will not have kids. Some will have kids early, while some will have them later in life. All of these are different paths and there’s nothing wrong with them.

For Me

For my husband and I, we eventually had a few discussions and decided to have a baby, and had our baby girl this year (2020). 😊 Yet other people’s comments and nudges to have children didn’t make me want to have children; it only annoyed me and made me want to avoid these people, because having a child is a personal decision between me and my husband, that has nothing to do with them. It was after we had the space to settle down and enjoy married life without kids, and took some time to actively pursue our goals and interests, that we finally felt ready to try for a kid last year.

In the meantime, I hope all of you are doing well. There are other things that I’m working on, other things that are happening that I look forward to sharing in time to come. Sending lots of love to you, and remember that whatever life challenge you’re facing, you have it in you to overcome it. I’ll talk to you guys soon! 🙂

Who else thinks self-improvement is cool

By Leo Babauta

I’ve talked with several people lately who have tasks lists from the floor to the ceiling, and it just overwhelms them. They’re not alone — I can relate, and lots of people have this problem.

If we’re fairly organized, our task list has everything we could possibly want to do on it, and it’ll get longer and longer.

That’s the good scenario — most people don’t have everything on the list, and the tasks are scattered across different systems and lists, in email inboxes and messaging apps, in browser tabs and pieces of paper, and in their heads.

Either way, it eventually gets so overwhelming that many people will give up whatever system they’re doing and start afresh, because the old system wasn’t working. In truth, they just didn’t have a way to deal with the overwhelm.

So what can we do?

It turns out, several key things.

Get Clear on Priorities

Let’s call this Step 0 — if you’re already clear on what matters to you, you’re ahead of the game.

But think about this: if you don’t know what matters, how can you focus on anything? Everything will seem urgent and important, and you’ll be scattered in lots of directions.

If you know what is most important, you can focus on that. The rest can wait. It’s like if you’re a doctor in a hospital, and one person needs a life-saving heart operation, and a hundred people have ankle sprains. You’ll focus on the heart operation, and let the ankle sprains wait for a few minutes.

Get clear on what matters to you. Make a list. Write out why. It’s worth spending 30 minutes on this.

Get clear on what’s important this week. And what you need to focus on today.

If you can get clarity on what matters & what to focus on, it will make you so much more effective than jumping around from task to task as if you were putting out a thousand small fires.

Change How You Relate to Your Tasks

Think about your list of tasks right now — does it feel stressful? This is a sign that you think of them as burdens, as something stressful, or as a potential way that you’re going to let people down or fail or look stupid. Or maybe all of the above.

How I’ve often related to my tasks is something like, “If I don’t do this task, I will be deficient and let people down.” If I have a list of tasks that’s full of these kinds of potential failures … of course it will be stressful!

How do you relate to your tasks?

Is there a more empowered relationship you can create?

Some examples:

  • I’m fully committed to this task because it’s incredibly important to me, so I’m going to create a sacred space of 30 minutes today to be fully present with it.
  • This task is an opportunity for me to serve someone I care deeply about, with love.
  • These tasks are training ground for me to practice presence, devotion, getting comfortable with uncertainty.
  • These tasks are an adventure! An exploration of new ground, a learning space, a way to grow and discover and create and be curious.
  • This task list is a huge playground, full of ways for me to play today!

These are some examples from my life, but they don’t have to be your relationship — what empowered way would you like to relate to your tasks?

Find that, and practice it daily.

A Short List

I find it helpful to have a long list of tasks, separated by area (work, personal, finances, etc.) and project, if applicable. But this long list can’t be done today.

So I create a short list, of just stuff I’m going to do today. I call it  “Today’s Joy List”. I try to keep it to 5-6 things, though often I give in to the temptation to add more joy opportunities than I actually have time for. 🙂

If I have meetings, those are on the list, and the more meetings I have, the fewer tasks I allow myself to put on the list.

What things have to be done today?

What things would be a really powerful use of your day?

Just focus on those. The rest can come later.

Full Focus

With a short list of high priority tasks, and an empowered relationship to those tasks … the world is yours!

The final thing I would say is to focus on one thing at a time. If you can practice this regularly, the overwhelm starts to lessen.

The opposite of this is constant switching between tasks. Doing quick emails, working on a task, but 30 seconds into that task you go check your favorite website or messages, etc.

Full focus is picking something important to work on, and then clearing everything else away. Make this the only thing in front of you. Notice the urge to go do something else, breathe, then bring focus back to the task.

Let it be your whole world. Be grateful to have this task in front of you, this opportunity to serve people you care about, this opportunity to play and be curious, this opportunity to learn and find joy and delight.

Now that I’ve shared these ideas of working with an overwhelming task list … how would you like to practice?

Who else loves self-improvement

I love marketing.

I love having conversations about marketing, planning marketing strategies, learning new techniques — because I believe in what I do and I’m not shy about getting out there and selling my products.

A lot of entrepreneurs are excited to start a business because of what they want to create or the people they hope to serve… but aren’t as enthusiastic about marketing.

But here’s the truth: you can’t have a successful business or make a positive impact without marketing.

Businesses must make money. To make money, you’ve got to sell. To sell, you need to tell people about what you do. That is marketing. 

If you believe that marketing is unethical, slimy, and salesy — and diminishes the beautiful and beneficial work you create — don’t despair. The most effective marketing is rooted in generosity, creativity, honesty, and transparency.

I’ve been in business for over two decades, and I’ve helped more than 64,000 entrepreneurs create their dream businesses with my online program, B-School. None of that could have happened if I kept quiet. And nobody wants to buy from someone who’s pushy or aggressive. 

In this guide, you’ll learn 12 authentic marketing strategies I’ve learned over the years:

  1. Meet people exactly where they are
  2. Inspire customers to buy with their hearts
  3. Stay connected through email
  4. Build a website that sells for you
  5. Be generous
  6. Give voice to their fears (without fear-mongering)
  7. Establish credibility
  8. Deliver value, for free 
  9. Deliver an outstanding customer experience
  10. Master copywriting
  11. Ask your customers what they want
  12. Know when to quit and when to commit

12 Authentic Marketing Strategies to Supercharge Your Growth

Ready to take your business to the next level? Here are the time-tested steps to marketing success. They come from over two decades of business experience and some brilliant marketing mentors.

Each strategy includes an Insight to Action step to help you move beyond thinking and into doing. Keep a notebook handy, and give yourself 5 to 10 minutes to work through the prompts in each step.

1. Meet People Exactly Where They Are

View Transcript

Do you think you know what your customers need — more than they do? 

As creatives, we fall in love with our products and services. But when sales don’t take off, it makes us want to scream, “How do you not know how amazing this is?!” 

Here’s what you have to remember: Your business exists to serve your customers. And the best way to do that is to meet them exactly where they are. Start by helping them reach the goals they want to achieve. Use the language their using to describe their pains, frustrations, dreams and aspirations.

For example, a new customer might not be ready for the advanced dance class that you want to sell (like Joana in today’s episode), but if you meet beginners with compassion and help them get results based on where they’re at, they’ll not only tell others how great you are, but be more likely to continue onto your advanced offerings.   

Approach your customer with compassion. Meet them exactly where they’re at. The golden rule of marketing is don’t fall in love with your product, fall in love with your customer.

Insight to Action: Think about your ideal customers and answer these questions with them in mind:

  • What are the biggest pains, concerns or frustrations your ideal customers are experiencing right now?
  • What can you do to demonstrate that you understand their emotions and that you can help them achieve results?

2. Inspire Customers to Buy with Their Hearts

View Transcript

Do you know what you’re really selling

Customers rarely buy what you think you’re selling, so you’ve got to get clear on what they really want.

For example, if I buy a garlic press, I’m not buying a kitchen tool. I’m buying future memories of cooking the perfect pasta dish for my friends. If I buy anything from CosaBella, I’m not just buying undergarments, I’m buying the extraordinary comfort, confidence and beauty of Italian-made lingerie.

The key to getting customers to open their wallets is getting them to open their hearts, imagination, and emotion. 

Insight to Action: 

  • In the center of a page in your notebook, write down the product or service you’re selling, and circle it.
  • Around it, write down the emotional benefits people associate with that item. What feelings — the non-obvious hopes, dreams, and aspirations — does it help them experience?
  • Circle the benefits you genuinely provide, so you can highlight them in your marketing.

3. Stay Connected through Email Marketing

A lot of businesses have an email list… but they do nothing with it.

If this is you, one of your best marketing tools is right under your nose! An email list means you have a slew of raving fans who’ve raised their hands to stay in touch with you. That’s pure gold, my friend.

These email subscribers are your potential customers. That’s why it’s important to make growing and nurturing your email list a core part of your business. 

The most effective way to grow your list is to offer a free opt-in, sometimes called a lead magnet. It’s a relevant, valuable freebie you give away in exchange for an email address. It’s usually digital (so it doesn’t cost you much to give away), and could be something like a:

  • Chapter from your book
  • Free PDF or online course
  • Coupon code

A great freebie establishes trust with your new subscriber, lets them get to know your brand, and demonstrates the value you have to offer. 

But here’s the key. You have to stay in touch! Once you bring people into your world with an enticing opt-in, follow up with an automatic sequence of welcome emails to continue to earn trust and nurture the relationship. Then, choose a frequency (every week, 2 weeks, 1X per month) and be consistent with your email marketing.

Insight to Action: Think about your customer, and answer these questions to make a plan for your winning opt in offer:

  • What do they need help with?
  • What’s a major frustration they’re struggling to solve?
  • What do they want most (e.g. money, guidance, time, a specific result)?
  • What tips would your customer benefit from learning?
  • What resources would genuinely help them?

4. Build a Website That Sells for You

View Transcript

A great website isn’t just about pretty graphics. It has to serve your business goals: getting people on your email list, delivering value to visitors, and generating sales.

Focus on getting people to opt into your email list, so the right people have a chance to learn more about your products down the road.

This is important: Don’t clutter your site with elaborate design or functionality that distracts from your top business goal. Don’t install every shiny new widget that doesn’t support that goal.

Everything on your site should convey a brand that’s real to you, inspires trust, and confidently sells what you offer.

Insight to Action: Choose a website platform to host and build your site. About a bajillion exist, but here are four that our students love:

  1. WordPress — for any kind of content creator.
  2. Shopify* — if you sell physical or digital products.
  3. Squarespaceeasy drag-and-drop builder for artists, ecommerce, podcasters, and more.
  4. Kajabi* — all-in-one platform to market, sell, and deliver online courses.
  5. MightyNetworks* — bringing together your website, online courses, and memberships in one platform.

*Note: We’re proud affiliates of these products and services, and we do receive a small commission from each sale.

5. Be Generous

Worried about being heard above the noise?

My friend and marketing master Seth Godin says differentiation, the way we traditionally approach it, is selfish — it’s about making a thing and convincing people they want it. 

Instead, realize the person you seek to serve has a problem they want to solve, and they don’t know who’s best to help them solve it. Your job as a marketer is to help customers get what they want, not to convince them they want what you sell.

“Differentiate” yourself by providing what people need and aren’t getting from other businesses in your market. In other words, be generous.

Insight to Action: Make a chart to find the hole in the market you can fill. 

  • Draw an X and Y axis, so you have four quadrants. Label each axis on a scale representing options in your industry.
  • For example, a florist might draw “romance versus funerals” and “cheap versus bespoke.” If businesses in their market already provide bespoke romantic arrangements, cheap romantic arrangements, and cheap funeral arrangements, but no one is offering bespoke funeral arrangements, the florist could fill that gap.
  • Which quadrants do your competitors live in? Which quadrants are underserved? Position yourself in the underserved quadrant to serve the needs that aren’t being met.

6. Give Voice To Their Fears (Without Fear-Mongering)

View Transcript

Appealing to fear is a long-established marketing strategy. Because it works. You might think it’s unethical, but effectively using fear in your marketing doesn’t have to mean fear-mongering.

If you use fear tactics with discretion, you’re actually practicing compassion. Great marketing strategies come from understanding and connecting with what drives your customer. Depending on the solution you offer, that might be fear or pain or frustration or excitement or aspiration.

Empathize with your customers and communicate through your marketing that you understand where they’re coming from. Give voice to their very legitimate fears and show them how you can assuage those fears — ethically, honestly and transparently.

Insight to Action: Pull up reviews from books, products, and media your target audience consumes. Copy and paste quotes that jump out at you and answer these questions:

  • What’s the biggest fear your ideal client has about their current situation?
  • How can you empathize with their concerns and fears, validate them and show them how to overcome them?

7. Establish Credibility — Fast

View Transcript

When you’re brand new to business, you’ve got a tricky task: You want to appear legitimate and trustworthy, so you need testimonials and success stories. But you’re brand new and don’t have a track-record — yet. It’s a real “chicken or the egg” kind of situation.

So how do you establish credibility to attract those first customers who will eventually evangelize your business?

Here are five easy ways to get street cred from the get-go:

  1. Improve your online image. A clean and professional website is a must in modern marketing. It doesn’t have to be expensive or award-winning — just functional, simple and clear. It shows you take your business seriously.
  2. Highlight your experience. Even if you haven’t sold anything yet, you still have experience that makes you qualified to offer the products or services you sell. Detail your experience on your about page to inspire confidence in customers.
  3. Communicate what you do clearly and confidently. Being confident about what you sell demonstrates professionalism and shows your faith in your offer. Don’t pull punches when you describe exactly what you do and how it can make a difference in your customer’s lives. Passion is contagious.
  4. Get client reviews early. Before you make sales, offer services for free or for a discount, and ask new customers for testimonials and reviews in exchange.
  5. Get press. Pitch local and online press, and do some guest posting. Once you’ve landed notable placements, stick those logos on your website — logos im-PRESS people, so don’t be afraid to brag!

Insight to Action: 

  • Choose one credibility-building step from above and do it now.

8. Deliver Value, For Free

We love a free sample, don’t we? Those little bites of smoked gouda on a toothpick at the cheese counter? Can’t resist!

Even though you might not buy a meal immediately after you accept that free sample, you’ll silently thank the restaurant for the bite that warms your belly. Most importantly, you’ll remember that restaurant and keep coming back for more. 

You can use the same strategy online. Even better, it’s a lot cheaper to give away something digital.

Tons of free tools exist to help you share your ideas with the world. I do it through this blog, MarieTV, The Marie Forleo Podcast, MF Insider emails, and even free products like my free training, “How to Get Anything You Want”.

I love sharing ideas with readers, listeners, and viewers, whether or not they ever buy from me.

Giving away value freely is the perfect opportunity to serve your target market and delight prospective customers. Plus, if something is good and free, it can spread like dancing parrot videos, so it’s an organic marketing strategy.

You can’t begin to make your impact on the world unless you have attention and trust from your audience. You earn those through customers experiencing your products or services, and you can expedite those experiences by offering a few nibbles for free.

Insight to Action: 

  • What can you offer for free that’ll genuinely help your customer get closer to their desired outcome? Be generous.

9. Deliver an Outstanding Customer Experience

View Transcript

Marketing doesn’t stop once a customer decides to buy. The experience you deliver is one of your most important marketing strategies.

Follow these four steps to go the extra mile with your customer service

  1. Make an A+ first impression. Be intentional about the first thing your new customers experience — whether that’s an ad, social media, your website’s home page, your email welcome sequence, or the front door of your retail store. What frustrates them about competitors in your industry? How can you solve those challenges? From the second someone says “yes” to your product or service, give them a royal treatment.
  2. Use your customer’s language. Your customer wants to feel like you get them. An easy way to let them know is to speak their language. What words and phrases do they use to talk about their problems and needs? That language is the jet fuel that’ll help your business take off.
  3. Details matter — go the extra mile. What perks will knock the socks off your customers? What extras are other brands stingy about that you can include for free? Think free wifi or snacks on a long flight or a free recipe book with your new blender.
  4. Have your customer’s back. Remember: Your job is to help your customer get what they want. Use all of your communication with your customers — from your sales pitch to troubleshooting emails — to help them achieve their goals.

Insight to Action: 

  • Draw two columns on a page. On one side, write down everything that’s dazzled you as a customer in the past month. On the other, write down everything that’s frustrated you. Now, think about your own business. How can you make customers feel more of the wow and less of the waaaah in your own business?

10. Master Copywriting

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No matter what you sell, you’re going to use copywriting. Copywriting includes the words you use on your website, emails, ads, video scripts, graphics, social media, product labels — in other words, everywhere you interact with customers.

Compelling copywriting is crucial to successful marketing.

Here are three key tips to effective copywriting:

  1. Keep it clear. If you confuse people, you lose people. Don’t use cutesy, clever words where plain language will do. Always opt for clarity and simplicity. Customers have to understand what they’re reading if they’re ever going to opt in or buy from you.
  2. Turn the spotlight on your customer. Focus your words on the problems, aspirations, and goals of the people you serve. Customers want to feel seen, heard, and acknowledged. Talking about yourself doesn’t give them that. You do that by talking about what they want.
  3. Don’t ramble. Effective communication doesn’t waste a single word. Keep your copy tight and right.

When it comes to website copy, clear and customer-focused beats clever and cute every time. 

Insight to Action: Use these copywriting exercises to write short, powerful sales copy:

  • Let it go… Write a long, windy, rambly first draft to get your ideas down without giving into perfectionism.
  • Write it rude. Write as if no one will be offended by what you’re writing. Screw all of the parentheticals and soft language that weakens your point, and just get your ideas down honestly.
  • Trim the fat. Now take your first draft and edit the bejeezus out of it. Cut as many words as you can to eliminate the fluff. Cut common filler words, including: that, just, you can, and start.

11. Ask Your Customers What They Want

You’re saying, “Okay, Marie, I’m with you that I need to speak to my customer’s desires and needs… but what if I don’t know what those are?”

Have you tried talking to them??

Seriously, get in touch with the people you hope to serve and the people who’ve already been customers. Ask them what they’re struggling with. Find out more about their fear, frustrations, dreams and aspirations — then incorporate that into your marketing.

This is vital: Telling customers you care isn’t the same as actually caring. You need to put in the work to demonstrate you care about making real change in their lives.

Do the creative work behind the scenes to keep innovating and delivering something that stands out from everyone else in your industry. Take the risk of being different. Offer what you know will truly serve your audience, rather than what you think will make you money.

Insight to Action: 

  • Engage with your prospects and customers now. Get them on the phone. Ask questions to get them talking to you via your email newsletter. Take time to really listen and find out who they are, what they’re struggling with, and what they want to achieve. Do it because you’re genuinely interested — we can all smell fake engagement from a mile away.

12. Know When to Quit & When to Commit

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How do you tell the difference between when to persevere and keep going — and when you need to cut your losses and give up on a specific marketing strategy or marketing campaign? 

If you’re not seeing results, ask these questions to figure out whether you should quit or commit to your marketing plan:

  1. What metric are you measuring? What are you trying to increase or improve in your business? Email subscribers? Sales? Website traffic? If those numbers are heading the direction you want them to go, keep going. If they’re not, change your strategy.
  2. Why are you really doing it? MarieTV grew into a smart marketing strategy for my business, but it didn’t start that way. It started as a fun experiment. Creating something because you enjoy doing it provides enormous personal ROI, and often the marketing metrics will follow. 
  3. What’s the opportunity cost of staying the course?  Everything you say yes to means saying no to something else. What projects or strategies are you not getting to because your time is invested in your current strategy? If staying the course keeps you from spending time and energy on something more valuable, don’t be afraid to quit.

Insight to Action: 

  • Write down your answers to the above questions to determine the goals, motivations, and benefits of your current marketing strategy.

14 Digital Marketing Platforms to Boost Your Business

Digital marketing is vital whether you run an online or brick-and-mortar business. Your exact strategy will depend on your customer and your goals, but here are some channels to consider: 

  1. Blog: Post content to connect with your audience, share your ideas, and offer free value to potential customers. Here’s how to generate a year’s worth of content ideas.
  2. Email newsletter: In content marketing, your list is your business. Use your email newsletter to deliver exclusive, top-notch content to wow prospective customers — and make the occasional sales pitch.
  3. YouTube: Videos and shows, like MarieTV, deliver enormous value to your audience and show off all your unique YOU-ness to potential customers.
  4. Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms are places to open the door and connect with your customers on a more personal level.  
  5. Search engine optimization: Help new prospects find your content and products on Google by using relevant search keywords.
  6. Guest blogging: Tap into other people’s audience by writing on established sites.
  7. Affiliates: Incentivize supporters to spread the word about your products and services with a commission.
  8. Advertising: Go old-school in a new-school kinda way by advertising through Facebook, Google AdWords, video and audio commercials, and programmatic ads that find your target customer automatically wherever they are on the web.
  9. Influencers: Work with people who run popular blogs and social media accounts to create content that boosts your brand awareness.
  10. Text or chat: Just like email, you can ask customers to opt in with their phone numbers or through Facebook Messenger, and send occasional messages and promotions.
  11. Webinars: Especially if you sell a premium product, a free webinar is a genius way to help your audience move closer to their goal and give them a taste of your expertise.
  12. Ebooks and digital downloads: A free ebook, PDF worksheet, or audio or video download can entice visitors to opt into your email list AND show them exactly what kind of value you provide.
  13. Referrals: Enlist existing customers to help spread the word with a referral bonus, like a free month of a subscription or a discount on your services.
  14. Forums: Reach out to power users on forums like Quora and Reddit, and offer them free access to your product or service. Once they fall in love with it (and YOU!), they’ll naturally recommend it in response to questions they answer when it’s a fit.

6 Offline Marketing Strategies to Spread the Word

Traditional marketing strategies let you get up close and personal with your customers. These methods are often more expensive than digital options, but they help you reach a different audience and can lend street cred to your business.

  1. Trade shows: Great for product-based businesses who want to connect with retailers. 
  2. Free swag: Have you ever asked a friend about a sticker on their laptop, bumper sticker on their car, or stress ball on their desk? Swag is a fun way to help fans spread your brand around.
  3. Get quoted in the press: Show off your expertise and your business by offering yourself as an expert source or feature story to local newspapers and TV. Connect with reporters through Help A Reporter Out (HARO), ProfNet, or a database for diverse experts.
  4. Publish research: A brilliant way to showcase your expertise and get press coverage is to share insights from surveys and other research you conduct at your company. 
  5. Flash mob: Get creative, and book a flash mob! Be sure to record it, so you can use the video for online marketing, too.
  6. Mailers: Mail flyers to customers in a target location to introduce them to your brand and include an exclusive discount or offer.

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Insight to Action: Your Marketing Strategy Checklist

Growing your business is no cake walk. It takes consistent attention and action.

However, if you truly aim to serve, marketing your products and services can be one of the most creative and fulfilling aspects of running your business.

Below are all of your insight-to-action steps from this guide. Crack open a fresh notebook, and commit to checking one or two off your list anytime you’re ready for a fresh marketing strategy.

  1. Meet people exactly where they are. Shine a spotlight on your customers, and write down the ways you can help them achieve their goals.
  2. Inspire customers to buy with their hearts. Draw a mind map to recognize the true benefits customers get when they buy from you.
  3. Stay connected through email. Devise a winning opt in offer that’ll move your potential customer closer to their goal.
  4. Build a website that sells for you. Research top website-building platforms, and pick the one that’s the best fit for your business.
  5. Be generous. Make a chart to find the underserved quadrant in your market and create an offer to fill the gap.
  6. Give voice to their fears (without fear-mongering). Mine reviews of products in your industry to become familiar with customers’ emotions, needs, fears, and aspirations.
  7. Establish credibility fast through a professional online image, clear communication, and freebies for reviewers. Choose one tactic, then do it TODAY. 
  8. Deliver value, for free. How can you offer genuine value for free to your potential customers?
  9. Deliver an outstanding customer experience. Make a list of the best and worst customer experiences you’ve had in the past month — and strive to be the best!
  10. Master copywriting. Write glorious copy by letting go or writing rude to get down a first draft, then trim the fat to punch it up.
  11. Ask your customers what they want. Engage with your prospects or customers in person, via email, or on social media. Listen, then deliver the best offer to help them achieve their goals.
  12. Know when to quit and when to commit. Determine the goals, motivations, and benefits of your current marketing strategy to decide whether to continue.

Above all, remember this: Marketing is about making change, not making dollars. Your marketing strategy is a success if it touches the hearts of the people you aim to serve and delivers the amazing gift you alone can offer the world.

The post Marketing Strategies: 12 Secrets to Marketing Success That’ll Supercharge Your Business appeared first on .

Anything about this is so important

Take a moment and think about something in your life that you are terrified of anyone knowing about you. It could be a belief, a personality trait, a sick desire, or some horrible failure in your past that you’d rather pretend never happened. Whatever it is, the thought of this thing being exposed mortifies you. It causes you to want to curl up in a ball, pull a blanket over your head and hide from the world.

This feeling is what psychologists call “shame,” and we all have it to some degree.1 Deep inside each of us, there is some unsavory part of ourselves that we camouflage from the world and pretend is not there.

Shame can fuck us up. Feelings of shame are associated with all sorts of awful stuff like depression, uncontrollable anger and hostility,2 poor physical health,3 and being a narcissistic asshole.4

It’s for this reason that shame has become a sort of boogeyman in the self-help world. Expose your shame. Eliminate your shame. Liberate your shame. Invite your shame to junior prom and dance with it to some sweet, soft Barry Manilow tunes.

John Bradshaw popularized the evils of shame in his 1988 self-help classic, Healing the Shame that Binds You.5 Since then, many other researchers and self-help authors have picked up the shame-obliteration mantle, most notably Brené Brown, who points to shame for “our inability to change,”6 and Deepak Chopra, who has weird pseudo-scientific theories about shame, inflammation, and a “falsely colored reality” or something.7

And so the key to the promised land of super-awesome love and totally rad happiness, we’re told, is to eradicate shame and guilt from our lives, to blast it out of our psyche with a proverbial bazooka—usually involving some sort of hug circle or a really, really expensive seminar.

Some thinkers even go so far as to say that shame isn’t “real”—that it’s invented by society or religion or your super-evil parents to, as the filmmaker Blake Edwards puts it, “exploit the human race.” Or even if it’s not exploiting you somehow, it is, as Anaïs Nin said, “a lie someone told you about yourself.”

The overriding point here is that shame is like, really, really bad. And we should get rid of it. All of it. Every last ounce of it!

Okay… stop the train.

While it’s pretty clear that most of us struggle with shame and guilt, I think we took the shame train a little too far into Woo-Wooville and I’d like to back us up a few stops, re-evaluate why we feel shame in the first place, and maybe come to some more nuanced conclusions about why so many of us often feel like a bag of dog turds and what we can do about it.

Feeling Shame and Guilt

First, let’s start with the obvious: shame and guilt are human universals. They are present in every culture, from modern, large-scale societies to small-group hunter-gatherers who’ve never seen a Calvin Klein underwear ad in their lives.8

So while there are a lot of people in this world who will take advantage of your shame and guilt, it wasn’t invented by some modern shady actor. Shame and guilt are an innate part of the human experience.9

Shame is the feeling of disappointment—or even worthlessness—you experience when you fail to live up to expectations that define your “core self.”10

When we feel shame, it’s as though a spotlight is shining on all the shadowy, ugly parts of ourselves. Shame is like a magnifying glass for the hideous nether-regions of our identity. Our instinct with regard to shame is to therefore hide that which we are ashamed of.

And it’s the hiding of ourselves, not the shame itself, that fucks us all up psychologically.11 (But more on that in a minute.)

If we’re ashamed of our feelings, our urge is to hide our feelings. If we’re ashamed of our body, our urge is to hide our body. If we’re ashamed of our passion for Teletubbies collectibles, we uh… try to hide our collection of Teletubbies collectibles?

Don’t make fun of me—they’re all I have in this world.

Guilt, of course, is a close cousin of shame, but with an important difference: if shame is feeling terrible about who you are, guilt is feeling terrible about what you did.12

There’s a subtle distinction between guilt and shame that is important. Either can arise when you do something wrong. But guilt results if your attitude is, “I can fix this; this isn’t who I am,” whereas shame is the attitude that, “this is who I am; there’s no going back.”13

As a result, guilt, if left unremedied, will eventually morph into shame. 

Not helping your friend move or not calling your mom on her birthday can be seen as a one-time mistake. We feel guilty. But what we do in response to that guilt has wide-ranging implications for our identity and self-esteem. If we apologize and promise to do better next time, we alleviate our guilt and move on with our lives. But if we bury our mistake and pretend it didn’t happen, or blame our friend for moving too often, or our mother for being born on a particularly inconvenient day of the year, then our guilt festers and turns into shame. It becomes something horrifying and gross and must be concealed and defended from anyone who would otherwise expose it.

And it’s this hiding that ultimately hurts us. Because what this hiding looks like in real life is deflection of responsibility. It looks like passive aggression. It looks like manipulation and unwillingness to trust. It corrodes and poisons our relationships and destroys our ambitions. And as any addict will tell you, overwhelming amounts of shame can slowly murder us from the inside-out.

This is why there’s such a crusade against the emotion going on in the self-help literature. And rightly so—like I said, shame can fuck us up. Once we’ve internalized some aspect of ourselves as evil and malignant, we produce all sorts of maladaptive behaviors and dickish tendencies to cover for ourselves, to mute that horrible truth about ourselves that we don’t want anybody to hear.

But that’s not the whole story about shame. Like all emotions, shame can cut both ways. Just as there can be a dark side to happiness and great meaning can be found in loss and sorrow, there’s a certain usefulness to guilt and shame that doesn’t get talked about much.

So, before we saddle up our psychological horses and join the crusade against shame, let’s take a deeper look at why this emotion evolved in the first place.

Shame and Guilt: The Glue of Civilization?

It’s a sad fact of human existence that there is and will always be an inherent tension between the individual and society. I want to take the afternoon off and drive somebody else’s car. I want to be able to buy and sell crack however the hell I want, when I want. I want to ski naked and post the videos on YouTube. But if everyone acted on such impulses, then the world would be a chaotic mess.

As a result, human societies require compromise. You and I learn at a young age to forgo some of our desires because by doing so, it makes for a more functional society that we then all benefit from. This is essentially what cultural and social norms drive us to do. Don’t say this. Don’t wear that. Say “Thank you” after your friend bails you out of jail. These are simple practices that grease the wheels of society. And while they may require bits of sacrifice for individuals, in sum they make the rest of our lives much better.

But how do you convince people to give up their own impulses and desires for the greater good? How do you inspire people to avoid certain behaviors that are bad for the group, even if they may be good for the individual? Where do these norms come from and how do you make it clear to people what’s expected of them?

That’s right. You shame them.

The Evolution of Self-Conscious Emotions

Psychologists distinguish between “basic emotions” and all other emotions. Basic emotions are the most fundamental emotions that directly aid our survival. Fear is an obvious example: being afraid of certain things like snakes and cliff edges imparts a huge survival advantage over having no fear of these things because, well, do I really have to explain that one?

Basic emotions are innate. Everyone has them from day one.14

But as we grow older, something begins to change and our emotional palette starts to expand. We begin to realize that there are other individuals in this world and their perceptions and ideas and judgments affect us. In fact, they affect us a lot and we will spend much of the rest of our lives wishing they didn’t.15

This cognitive realization gives rise to what psychologists call the “self-conscious emotions”—shame, guilt, embarrassment, and pride.16 These self-conscious emotions are emotions based on how we believe we are perceived by others and how we are perceived by ourselves. The self-conscious emotions evolved for a subtle but important reason: they help individual humans cooperate and live together in groups.

Feelings Wheel
The “Feeling Wheel,” a therapeutic tool developed by Dr. Gloria Wilcox.17 The center includes the six “basic emotions” which then become more specific and socially-dependent emotions the further you move out. Notice the self-conscious emotions—shame, guilt and embarrassment are all extensions of sadness, while pride is an extension of happiness.

Let’s say we’re children and I hit you over the head with a toy truck and steal it from you. If I have not yet developed self-conscious emotions—like, say, if I’m two years old—I won’t feel bad about this. Why? Not because two-year-olds are assholes (well, they kinda are), but because I simply haven’t developed the ability to intuit the thoughts and feelings of others’ yet.

But let’s say I’m older and I do have self-conscious emotions. I will feel guilt and perhaps a little bit of embarrassment or shame. I will give your toy truck back. I say I’m sorry. In fact, I give you my toy truck and tell you you can have it. We become friends and play with our trucks together. Now I feel pride. I’m a good boy. Yay.

Boy playing with truck
The root of my childhood shame.

These self-conscious emotions gently steer people towards more prosocial behaviors. We need them because they help us cohere into functional groups and societies. There’s a reason the phrase “have you no shame?” is considered an accusatory thing. If you go around trying to sleep with everyone’s spouse, or you take a juicy dump in the middle of the aisle at the supermarket, you clearly lack a healthy sense of shame and that lack of shame destabilizes, well, everything.

And here we see that the same way an overwhelming amount of guilt and shame can be crippling and destructive, a complete lack of guilt and shame can, in many ways, be just as bad, if not worse.

You (hopefully) don’t go around sleeping with your friends’ partners and shitting in supermarket aisles because you fear social punishment. And that is a healthy fear—that threat of feeling ashamed keeps you, your genitals, and your bowels in check.

While shame functions to keep you from doing stupid or awful things, guilt similarly motivates us to right our wrongs. When we feel guilty about something, we often set out to make it right. We apologize and in some cases, we offer ways to fix it.18

This feels bad. But this is also healthy. Expressing guilt for our transgressions and setting a course of corrective action shows others that:

  1. We know the rules and we know we broke them, and
  2. We care about others in the group enough to try to fix things.

In short, shame and guilt solve a big problem inherent to living in larger social groups: they help regulate the behavior of the entire group at the level of the individual.19

They are part of what has made cities and countries and economies and birthday parties possible. And that’s an incredible thing.

The Paradox of Shame and Guilt

So you might be sitting there thinking, “OK, Manson, if shame and guilt are so good at keeping us from being terrible people, then why do they also emotionally screw us up in so many other ways?”

Well, again, emotions—all emotions—cut both ways. It’s worth saying this again:

There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” emotion; only good and bad reasonsfor having an emotion.

Person with head against the wall outside

For example, happiness is usually considered to be a good emotion. Many say we should maximize happiness as much as possible.

But if I’m at my happiest while torturing the neighbor’s cat with a BB gun… uh, then my happiness is not a good emotion.

Similarly, if my shame is around my appearance—if I have an irrational belief that my body is ugly and I try to hide it as much as possible—that’s an unhealthy form of shame. But if I feel ashamed of the fact that I cheated rampantly on my college girlfriend and that shame helps to prevent me from breaking trust in my current relationships, well, then that shame can actually be a good emotion because it keeps me in check.

Yes, shame hurts us and causes us to dislike aspects of ourselves. But it’s also a kind of emotional deterrent for bad behavior. I fucked up an important relationship in my life years ago. Now the shame associated with that fuck-up helps me not fuck up my current relationships. That’s a healthy form of shame at work.

The reason shame gets such a bad rap is because so many of us internalize shame for poor reasons. Most of these reasons are due to the culture or family we grow up in.20 We are judged harshly as a child for our funny nose, so we grow up with a weird complex about our face and end up getting eleven types of plastic surgery to try and cover it up.21 Or we’re ridiculed for being sensitive, so we grow up hardened and emotionally calloused. Or we grow up in a strict religious sect that shames us for any and every sexual thought, giving us intense shame around our sexual fantasies and desires.

Individually, we must look at the roots of our shame and judge whether they are useful or not. If so, we must come to accept them and live by them. If not, then we must tear them out and start anew.

We go through this process on a cultural level, as well. For centuries, homosexuality was seen as shameful. Then, within the last couple generations, brave individuals have stood up to assert that no, they shouldn’t be ashamed of their sexualities, nor should society shame them for it. And it’s worked. The cultural norms have shifted. We’re becoming more accepting, and for most people in western, developed societies, homosexuality is no longer seen as something taboo or shameful.22

So, how do we do this process in ourselves? How do we uproot our sources of shame and throw off the shackles of self-loathing?

Glad you asked… But before we get to that, I want to take a quick detour to talk about an associated issue that’s both important and relevant. Yup, it’s everybody’s favorite dinner table topic: narcissism.

When Shame Becomes Narcissism

There’s an interesting twist to shame that doesn’t seem to exist for any other emotion. Pretty much every other emotion dissipates over time. Maybe you’re embarrassed of that gaffe at work today, but by next week you’re laughing with your coworkers about it. Maybe you’re happy you won at Bingo last night, but by lunch time, you’re already over it.

For better or worse, emotions never seem to last. Yet, somehow, our shame lingers. For years. Decades. An entire lifetime.

Sad man sitting by wall
Confused alone man

And not only does it linger, it festers. Like a deadly fungus, it somehow grows more corrosive and toxic as time goes on.

This is because shame is not merely an emotion. Shame is also partially defined by our self-definition—it’s dictated by how we see ourselves. If we see ourselves as horrible and unworthy, that perpetuates the feeling of shame indefinitely into the future.

Another aspect of this lingering self-definition is that, as time goes on, we begin to convince ourselves that our shame is somehow unique and special. After all, for years we have felt that we are somehow hideous in ways that others are not. Therefore, it follows that we have somehow been cosmically chosen to bear this curse, the one chosen out of the many.

This self-perception that we are uniquely faulty or deficient in some way is a hard psychological burden. It tires us and saddles us with constant feelings of anxiety and guilt. As a result, our mind desperately looks for methods to cope. And it typically does this in one of two ways. It starts to believe that either:

    1. “I am a piece of shit and the world is better off without me.”
    2. “The world is a piece of shit for doing this to me and I’m going to get them back for it.”23

Narcissism occurs when we believe that we are somehow uniquely entitled to special treatment in the world because we are fundamentally different from everyone around us. Narcissism can be based on an irrational belief of superiority, but it can also be based on an irrational sense of inferiority.24

They may be opposite beliefs on the surface, but the result is the same: an abiding self-centeredness that collapses all perception and empathy into an insatiable egoic self. Like a black hole, narcissism consumes all light around it, never itself illuminating or unburdening its intense gravity of despair.

Once shame has morphed into narcissism, it becomes increasingly difficult to dislodge it, primarily because the narcissist is able to convince him/herself that their shame is not really shame at all—that it’s actually what makes them so special and unique and deserving of attention and sympathy in the first place.

The result: church ministers that urge the oppression of homosexuals who are secretly homosexual themselves; sexual abuse survivors turned sex addicts; bullying victims who believe in the justification of violence. All the seemingly two-faced, paradoxical human beliefs and behaviors that you and I see so often, if you rewind the tape far enough, they revert back into some experience of shame.

Dealing with Shame and Guilt

So, we’ve learned that shame itself is not necessarily unhealthy, it’s the context around shame that makes it unhealthy. It’s the reasons for our shame, as well as how we choose to cope with our shame that makes it toxic.

The unhealthy way to process shame is to bury it, to hide it, to pretend it’s not there and that it never happened. Burying emotions, in general, is bad for you.25 But burying your shame is what gives it power over you.

Instead, what we want to do is the opposite: to expose our shame, to share it, to open ourselves up about our flaws so that they no longer hold us hostage. This can then lead to a healthy processing that increases self-esteem and improves well-being.26

If your shame is irrational—that is, if you’re ashamed of things that you shouldn’t be ashamed of—by sharing those feelings you will experience how unnecessary they were. You will see that people don’t ridicule you, that the world doesn’t hate you, that time doesn’t stop and the sky doesn’t cave in around you.

But if you did do something shameful, then sharing it does something else: it opens the pathway to forgiveness—an ability to live with one’s mistakes and shortcomings in a way that improves your future actions, rather than hinders them.

So, what does that path to self-disclosure look like? How do you forgive yourself for your perceived failures? Here are some tips to help:

1. Separate Who You Are from What You’ve Done

Look, we all do stupid shit. We all let other people—and ourselves—down sometimes. We’ve all had regrets.

But just because you fucked up doesn’t mean you are a fuck up.

You can learn from mistakes, no matter how terrible they are. You can use your failures as motivation to be better in the future. You can even leverage your failures as a kind of cautionary tale and help others who are going through similar struggles.

Failures and mistakes have value. They are also inevitable. None of us are necessarily terrible people for committing them. So work to replace “I am bad” with “I did something bad.” For example, “I ran over the neighbor’s cat” instead of “I am a cat-murderer, destroyer of felines.”

2. Empathize with the Real Motivation Behind Your Actions

Once you’ve separated your actions from your identity, you can start to uncover the real reasons why you screwed up.

You didn’t torpedo that work project and screw over your colleagues in the process because you’re a terrible human being. Maybe you did it because you’ve felt underappreciated at work and had enough disrespect. Maybe you were overcome with anger and became impulsive. Maybe you hadn’t slept in three days and just lost all will to live at the worst possible moment.

Either way, coming to terms with the why of your actions, allows you to learn the necessary lessons to improve yourself. And once you’ve improved yourself, it’s almost impossible to regret whatever led to it.

And also: just have a little empathy for yourself. Like if a good friend fucks up, more often than not, you’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and see it for what it is: a colossal screw up, and that’s it. You don’t condemn their character. Yet, we often do that with ourselves. We all deserve a friend to tell us it’s okay, and that friend can actually be us.

3. Do Better Next Time

The next step is to leverage your shameful and guilty feelings for the future. Shame and guilt can be strong motivators for self-improvement. They nudge us to do better. They tell us what we’ve done wrong in the past so that we might not repeat our mistakes.

In that way, shame and guilt can be wise teachers—even if they’re the totally unpleasant kind who slap your wrist with a ruler for talking during class.

4. Share Your Shame Even If—Wait, No—Especially If It Hurts

But there’s another facet of opening up about your shame and guilt that we haven’t talked about yet. And that is the fact that contrary to what our instincts tell us, expressing shame and embarrassment generally elicits empathy from others, as well as generates a sense of intimacy in our relationships.27

That’s the counterintuitive part of all of this—it’s by sharing what we believe we should hide the most, that we actually receive the love we desire—not by hiding it.

Crazy shit, right?

This is the core benefit of things like therapy or counseling or just getting plastered with a good friend on a Friday night and sobbing quietly into your quesadillas while they rub your shoulders. It’s in these moments of collapse that the strongest relationships are inevitably built.

There’s no therapy like quesadilla therapy.

5. Choose Your Shame, Choose Your Values

But perhaps the most important lesson shame and guilt teach us is that they are reflections of our values. By choosing better values, we liberate ourselves from unhealthy shame and invite the right kinds of insecurities into our lives.

If you feel ashamed of flaking on a friend when they really needed you and feel awful about it, that’s a good indication that you value being a friend someone can count on. Shame helps you to act on this value by motivating you to have an honest conversation with your friend, to apologize, and to be there for them in the future.

On the other hand, if you’re ashamed of not wearing the right shoes around your co-workers, then that signals that your values are misaligned—that you’re more concerned with appearances and the approval of those around you, rather than respecting yourself and your own tastes.

This is a bad value because not only can you not control what others think, it’s ultimately manipulative: you will alter your behaviors in order to make others see you differently. It’s in this way that shame infects our relationships, interfering with intimacy, thus causing us to feel even more alone than before.

Ultimately, our values determine our shames. Good values produce good, healthy shame. Bad values produce a self-loathing mess. And as always, our emotions are not the root of our problems, but rather merely the entry points to our solutions.

And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.


  1. Well, except psychopaths… but we’ll ignore them for the moment.
  2. Harder, D. W., Cutler, L., & Rockart, L. (1992). Assessment of shame and guilt and their relationships to psychopathology. Journal of Personality Assessment, 59, 584–604.
  3. Feiring, C., Taska, L., & Lewis, M. (2002). Adjustment following sexual abuse discovery: The role of shame and attributional style. Developmental Psychology, 38, 79–92.
  4. Harder, D. W. (1995). Shame and guilt assessment, and relationships of shame- and guilt-proneness to psychopathology. In J. P. Tangney & K. W. Fischer (Eds.), Self-conscious emotions: The psychology of shame, guilt, embarrassment, and pride (pp. 368–392). New York: Guilford.
  5. To be fair to Bradshaw, he differentiates between “toxic shame” and “healthy shame.” It’s just that everyone seems to forget about the “healthy shame” part.
  6. A lot of Brené Brown’s work comes to this conclusion. But I believe her definition of shame is much too limited to what Bradshaw refers to as “toxic shame.”
  7. I should note that I’m a big fan of Brené Brown, even if I’m not quite the shame zealot that she is. Deepak Chopra on the other hand… uh, not so much.
  8. Those poor souls…
  9. For a neurological review of self-conscious emotions and their brain correlates, see: Beer, J. S. (2007). Neural Systems for Self-Conscious Emotions and Their Underlying Appraisals. In Tracy, J. L., Robins, R. W., & Tangney, J. P. (Eds.). The self-conscious emotions: Theory and research (pp. 53–67). Guilford Press.
  10. Tangney, J. P., & Dearing, R. L. (2002). Shame and guilt. New York: Guilford Press.
  11. Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual Differences in Two Emotion Regulation Processes: Implications for Affect, Relationships, and Well-Being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(2), 348–362.
  12. Keltner, D., & Anderson, C. (2000). Saving Face for Darwin: The Functions and Uses of Embarrassment. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 9(6), 187–192.
  13. This is another argument for the benefits of a growth mindset, as it would theoretically help us transfer our feelings of shame into guilt, which is a much more manageable emotion. See: Dweck, Carol (2006) Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
  14. In addition to fear, the other basic emotions are anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise.
  15. This advancement in cognitive development is known as, “Theory of Mind.” See: Wellman, H. M. (1992). The child’s theory of mind. The MIT Press series in learning, development, and conceptual change. The MIT Press.
  16. See: Tracy, J. L., & Robins, R. W. (2004). Putting the Self Into Self-Conscious Emotions: A Theoretical Model. Psychological Inquiry, 15(2), 103–125.
  17.  Willcox, G. (1982). The Feeling Wheel: A Tool for Expanding Awareness of Emotions and Increasing Spontaneity and Intimacy. Transactional Analysis Journal, 12(4), 274–276.
  18. Guilt is like the ledger on our emotional balance sheet: you fucked up (negative balance), now you go fix it (back to positive balance).
  19. Beer, J. S., Heerey, E. A., Keltner, D., Scabini, D., & Knight, R. T. (2003). The regulatory function of self-conscious emotion: Insights from patients with orbitofrontal damage. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(4), 594–604.
  20. In fact, you could argue that cultures are largely defined by what they choose to shame and what they choose to tolerate. For example, Chinese and US students react with varying levels of shame and guilt among a number of experiences. See: Stipek, D. (1998). Difference between Americans and Chinese in the circumstances evoking pride, shame, and guilt. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 29(5), 616–630.
  21. See: Michael Jackson.
  22. Obviously, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the issue of gay rights. But I think it’s a good example of a cultural shame issue that has clearly shifted in the last 10-20 years.
  23. There’s actually a strong correlation between the propensity to feel shame and the propensity to feel anger. See: Tangney, J. P., et al. (2007). “What’s Moral about the Self-Conscious Emotions?” In Tracy, J. L., Robins, R. W., & Tangney, J. P. (Eds.). The self-conscious emotions: Theory and research (pp. 21–37).
  24. These are referred to as “grandiose narcissism” versus “vulnerable narcissism.” See: Freis, S. D., & Hansen-Brown, A. A. (2021). Justifications of entitlement in grandiose and vulnerable narcissism: The roles of injustice and superiority. Personality and Individual Differences, 168.
  25. Greene, K., Valerian, D. J. & Mathews, A. (2006) Self-Disclosure in Personal Relationships, The Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships, Chapter 22, pp. 409-428.
  26. Saxena, P., Mehrotra, S. (2010). Emotional Disclosure in Day-to-Day Living and Subjective Well Being. Psychological Studies, 55, 208–218
  27. Keltner, D.,& Harker, L. (1998). The forms and functions of the nonverbal signal of shame. In P. Gilbert & B. Andrews (Eds.), Shame: Interpersonal behavior, psychopathology, and culture (pp. 78–98). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.