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Author BJ Gallagher: How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself with Tyler Gallagher

Because happiness is an inside job; worldly success is an inside job; and peace of mind is an inside job. Love is an inside job, too. At the end of the day, we all live inside our own heads, in our own bodies, in our own hearts. If we’re not happy within ourselves, life can […]

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Because happiness is an inside job; worldly success is an inside job; and peace of mind is an inside job. Love is an inside job, too. At the end of the day, we all live inside our own heads, in our own bodies, in our own hearts. If we’re not happy within ourselves, life can be pretty miserable.


As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview BJ Gallagher, who is a popular keynote speaker and author with over 30 books to her credit.

Her international best-seller, A Peacock in the Land of Penguins (Berrett-Koehler) is published in 23 languages worldwide. Her women’s books include: Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Other Women (Conari Press), Why Don’t I Do the Things I Know Are Good for Me? (Penguin/Berkley), and Oil for Your Lamp: Women Taking Care of Themselves (Simple Truths). Her new book, Your Life Is Your Prayer (Mango Publishing) will be out in April 2019.

BJ has been featured on CBS Evening News, the Today Show, Fox News, PBS, CNN, and other television and radio programs. She is quoted frequently in various newspapers, women’s magazines, and websites, including: O the Oprah magazine, Redbook, Woman’s World, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Orlando Sentinel, Financial Times (U.K.), Guardian (U.K.), MSNBC.com, CareerBuilder.com, CNN.com, Forbes.com, among others.


Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

When I was a little girl, my favorite game was school. Today, it still is. I love everything about learning: books, binders, papers, folders, chalkboard, white boards, classrooms, conference rooms. I love being a student and I love being a teacher. I love writing books and I love reading them. I love discussion and debate, exploration and experiments in living. I delight in learning new things — especially about human nature — and I love helping others learn, too. So my entire career has been one of continuous learning, perpetual discovery, and non-stop growth and development.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

I have a new book coming out in April — “Your Life is Your Prayer” (Mango Publishing). My goal is to help folks discover the spiritual power in everything they think, say, and do. What you eat is a prayer; your conversations are prayers; how you spend your money is a prayer; your work is a prayer; self-care is your prayer; your driving is a prayer; your thoughts are prayer — in short, your life is your prayer.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self-acceptance?

When I was 51 years old, I adopted my first dog, Fannie Up until that time, I’d always been a cat person. One day I was out walking young Fannie when my neighbor Peter stopped for a moment to say “hi” as he was driving by. Peter is a spiritual guy, a member of the Self Realization Fellowship (SRF), and I’ve always liked him. We chatted for a few minutes and he commented on how cute the dog was. I told him, with new pet parent pride, that I had enrolled Fannie in puppy school. “I am committed to being a good dog owner,” I said.

Peter nodded and smiled as he said, “Just remember … dogs respond best to training with love — just like people.” Then he said good-bye and went on his way. But his words have echoed in with me ever since.

I thought about how often I had bee hard on myself over the years. My inner critic seemed relentless. I held myself to a high standard … but often fell short. I always berated myself harshly.

Peter’s words changed all that. I thought about his message. I realized, “I would never talk to my puppy the way I talk to myself. I would never yell at my dog; I wouldn’t verbally abuse her. I wouldn’t tell her she’s stupid or worthless. Yet I’ve done that to myself many times.” Peter’s words of advice made me realize that if I were wise, I would traing myself — and my dog — with love, compassion, patience, and kindness.

After that conversation with Peter, I began to change my self-talk. I discovered better ways to develop new habits. And I vowed to train myself with love — just like I was training my puppy.

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

There are several reasons for people’s anxiety about their appearance — some are hardwired, others are learned. Human beings are social creatures — pack animals, to be more precise. However, most people overlook our animal nature when trying to understand our own behavior. But if we study other social creatures — wolves, elephants, lions, dogs, dolphins, and others — much of our own behavior becomes much more understandable.

For instance, the biological imperative to perpetuate one’s genes in the gene pool, shows up in our mating behavior: the stronger the male, the higher his status in the pack; with females, the more youthful, healthy, and fertile they are, the higher status male she can attract — thereby ensuring her own future and that of her offspring. According to the hardwiring in our brains, certain physical features are associated with health, vitality, and longevity — so we are instinctively attracted to those features in the opposite sex. Those who do know exhibit those features are less attractive, reducing the number of potential mates they have to choose from, and lessening the probability that their genes will be carried on in future generations. This anxiety about mating potential is experienced as dissatisfaction with one’s appearance. It all makes perfect sense when you look at it from the socio-biological perspective.

Human males compete with other males for the most attractive females; and human females compete with each other for the highest status males. So we are all acutely status-conscious. We are chronically concerned with how we measure up against others in our pack. It’s part and parcel of who we are — painfully status-conscious and anxious about our social standing.

Various aspects of modern human society simply reinforce our natural anxiety about our physical appearance — advertising, career ambitions, social pressure, etc. So we have both biological hardwiring and social forces combined — leading to feelings of anxiety and worry about our appearance.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

Because happiness is an inside job; worldly success is an inside job; and peace of mind is an inside job. Love is an inside job, too. At the end of the day, we all live inside our own heads, in our own bodies, in our own hearts. If we’re not happy within ourselves, life can be pretty miserable.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

Oh gosh, there are probably a million reasons why people stay in mediocre relationships — financial reasons, emotional reasons, social reasons, family reasons, spiritual reasons, and combinations of those.

Probably the biggest reason people stay in less-than-fulfilling relationships is inertia — a body at rest tends to stay at rest. It takes energy to leave a relationship, especially a long-term relationship. It take energy, time, determination, and persistence to extricate yourself from a relationship. Often, it’s easier just to stay put and not make a change.

Social pressure also plays a role — worry about what others will think can keep you in a relationship you’d like to end.

And fear keeps many people in mediocre relationships — especially fear of the unknown. Many folks believe, “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.” If you end your relationship, how do you know that your next relationship won’t be even worse?

Your tolerance for pain also plays a role. If you have a high tolerance for pain, you may stay in an unhappy relationship a lot longer than if you have a low tolerance for pain. As a wise friend once said, “Some people change when they see the light … but most people change only when they feel the heat.” For many folks, the pain of staying put has to become intolerable before they will make a change. It’s pain that ultimately pushes them out the door.

When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

Whenever things aren’t going well, the first place I look for answers is in the mirror. I ask myself:

  • How did I participate in creating this situation? What’s my role?
  • What is the conversation going on in my head? What stories am I telling myself?
  • What kinds of people am I attracting into my life? In what ways do they mirror aspects of myself … aspects that perhaps I’m not aware of?
  • What can I learn about myself in this?
  • Who can I turn for help with this problem?
  • Are there ways I make this situation work for me, rather than against me?
  • Are there blessings and gifts here that perhaps I’m not seeing?
  • What steps can I take to begin to rectify this problem?

Those are just some of the questions I would be asking myself. I also would pray for insight and guidance. And I would reach out for help from trusted advisors.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

Human beings live with a lot of existential anxiety. Deep inside, we all have three primary fears: (1) the fear that we’re incompetent, (2) the feat that we’re insignificant, and (3) the fear that we’re unlovable. We experience those fears all the time, whether we’re alone or with other people. But for many people, solitude exacerbates those fears. If they don’t have friends, family, coworkers, or others around to keep us engaged in interaction, their fears seem to grow, making the anxiety unbearable. So these folks go to great lengths to make sure that they’re never alone.

There is nothing wrong with being uncomfortable with solitude, or to have a strong desire for companionship and connectedness with others. But it might be worth examining one’s aversion to solitude, simply in the interest of self-knowledge. The more we know ourselves, hopefully the more we can grow in self-acceptance, and the more comfortable we’ll be in our own skin.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

The more comfortable we are in our own skin, the more comfortable we can be in authentic relationships with others. We won’t feel the need to wear a mask or armor, or to people-please, or to protect our thoughts and feelings. We can be vulnerable, for we know that there is strength in vulnerability. We don’t feel the need to protect our hearts. Because we have learned to tell ourselves the truth about who we are — and who we aren’t — we can more easily share this truth with others, and to help them do the same.

In your experience, what can a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

Over a thousand years ago, the Oracle at Delphi exhorted people to “Know thyself. “ Today, we are fortunate to live in a time and place where we can take any number of routes to self-knowledge and self-acceptance: therapy, self-help books, psychology courses, workshops, seminars, wise teachers, support groups, hypnotherapy, journal-keeping and other types of writing for understanding and insight, dream analysis, art therapy, silent retreats, travel experiences, therapeutic pharmaceuticals, spiritual advisors, and more. Individuals and societies can pursue whatever forms of self-exploration seem most likely to be the fruitful and beneficial.

And I would offer one suggestion: As you pursue self-knowledge and cultivate self-acceptance, ask for help. Enlist the help of people you trust and whose wisdom you respect. Remember … no one can do it for you, but you can’t do it alone.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

  1. I meditate for 20 minutes every morning and every afternoon. I practice Transcendental Meditation (TM). After my morning meditation, I also read some spiritual literature. And I offer a prayer of thanks as well as a prayer asking for guidance throughout the day.
  2. I participate in several support groups. I have learned: “that which is shareable is bearable.” Sharing my life with others helps to lighten the load, especially with painful events and feelings. Support groups also give me the opportunity to learn from others’ experiences and perspectives.
  3. I do a lot of writing — especially when I’m angry, resentful, or struggling with other negative feelings. After writing, I usually call a friend or spiritual advisor and read aloud what I’ve written. I ask for feedback; I ask for insight; I ask for additional ways of looking at my situation.
  4. I have a great sense of humor and use it every day. When I make a mistake, get myself into a pickle, pr do something dumb, I tell myself, “Oh BJ, you sure have a funny way of doing life.” Then I laugh at myself. I see how deeply flawed I am, how foolish I can be sometimes, and how often I make mistakes. And I laugh some more. I love this quote: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” I take myself lightly … very lightly.
  5. I set myself up for success. I set small, achievable goals for myself. No big, grand, impossible goals — those will doom me to frustration and failure. I set modest goals that move me in the right direction. I treat myself like I would my dog — I use “successive approximation” to achieve my goals. Example: Some years ago, my friend Karen made a commitment to go to the gym. She got in her car, drove to the gym, parked the car, got out, then walked to the door and looked in the glass window. She saw all the skinny women in their leotards, then turned around and went home. When Karen got home, she patted herself on the back and said, “Good girl! You went to the gym. Maybe next time you’ll get in the door.” Baby steps in the right direction — that’s the name of the game.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

Over the years, there have been a number of books that have influenced me deeply and altered the direction of my spiritual/emotional journey:

– Drama of the Gifted Child, by Alice Miller

– The Hiding Place, by Corrie ten Boom

– Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl

– Night, by Elie Wiesel

– Women Who Love Too Much, by Robin Norwood

– Co-Dependent No More, by Melody Beattie

– Women Who Shop Too Much, by Carolyn Wesson

– When Society is the Addict, by Anne Wilson Schaef

– The Wounded Healer, by Henri Nouwen

– Happiness is a Choice, by Barry Neil Kaufman

I’m also a huge fan of Byron Katie. I attended a weekend workshop with her a few year ago. She gave me the keys to unlock the prison of my own stories — about my parents, about the men in my life, and about the nature of love. I highly recommend Katie’s books, CDs, and workshops to anyone in search of emotional freedom. I love her question: “Who would you be without your story?”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

I wouldn’t start a new movement. I’d recommend people join a worldwide movement that has existed for decades — the 12-step movement. The best therapy, the deepest insights, and the most healing I’ve ever experienced came from attending weekly meetings of Co-Dependents Anonymous (CODA) — for people who grew up in dysfunctional families — and Al-Anon, for anyone who has a parent, spouse, child, sibling, or close friend who is alcoholic or addicted to drugs. The world is full of emotionally damaged, deeply wounded, stunted, deformed, insane human beings — and we all have to deal with them — at work, in our families, and in our communities. CODA and Al-Anon are the best sources of wisdom and guidance I’ve ever found for living in our crazy world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

Oh gosh, there are so many “life lesson quotes” that I use in my life. One of my favorites is: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.” by G.K. Chesterton — it reminds me to take life seriously, but to take myself lightly — to lighten up and laugh — and to not sweat the small stuff.

Another favorite: “Happiness is a choice” by Barry Neil Kaufman — reminds me that in any and all situations, I can choose happiness — always.

When life presents me with a pile of horseshit, I remind myself that “There must be a pony in here somewhere. Look for the pony.” That was Ronald Reagan’s advice to his staff when things were bad: “Look for the pony.”

When someone criticizes me, I like to remember that “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Ken Blanchard taught me that feedback is always helpful — whether it’s good, bad, or downright ugly. Every bit of feedback other people give me is an opportunity to learn something about myself — and about the other person. It’s all grist for the personal growth mill.

“Those who deserve love least, need it the most.” I saw this on a church marquee in North Carolina many years ago. It is the hardest thing to live by — but worth it. People in my life who are difficult are those who are in pain; those who are acting out in objectionable manners are those who are struggling within themselves. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (Plato)

And Tolstoy’s advice: “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Life is an inside job — I start with myself. I must BE the change I wish to see in the world.

It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I do love: “Celebrate what’s right with the world!.” It’s a quote by Dewitt Jones, who travels the world for National Geographic, photographing Mother Nature’s marvels. When I focus on what’s right with the world rather than what’s wrong with it, my day my world changes.

And a life lesson quote I saw quite often: “Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.” Don’t put off the good stuff until later. Enjoy life now. Travel now. Splurge now. Savor the sweetness of life now.

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

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