Relinquish “should”. One of my favorite phrases, pardon the visual, is “stop should-ing yourself.” If you tell yourself you should help with that project, you shouldn’t go to yoga because you should go to work early, you should spend three weeks on your mom’s papier-mache birthday present to be the perfect daughter…then let’s fact check all that. Should is often linked with people-pleasing, perfectionism, and negative self-talk, because it arises from the fear of not being good enough. Start taking “should” out of your vocabulary. When should shows up, kindly note it and ask yourself what you really want or need: should typically stifles true desires in attempts to keep the peace pleasing others and avoiding making boundaries, so try putting yourself first.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brittany Bouffard, LCSW, CYT. Brittany is a psychotherapist, speaker, and trainer in private practice helping professionals and millennial realize their enoughness. Brittany has worked and consulted clinically on three continents at universities, in community mental health and nonprofits, providing expertise on mental health, mindfulness in psychotherapy, suicide prevention, and wellness in the workplace. As an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), Certified Yoga Teacher, and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, Brittany melds mind and body into beloved yoga therapy groups while individually helping authentic professional clients heal from trauma, loss, childhood pains, and anxiety to live their most whole, authentic selves.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
Mypleasure! Sometimes we talk about wellness as though it’s a hobby separate from ourselves. I think everyone engages in very personal definitions of wellness, from making warm meals to daily walks. For me, I luckily found extensive hatha yoga practice in college, which then led me to Buddhist studies and mindfulness practice. On the career end, I started with a journalism background hearing people’s stories. I realized my empathetic nature pointed me to change the way I heard stories from reporting to psychology, which meant missing out on beloved writing and editing, but allowed me to delve deeper into what I found most fulfilling: people’s hurt and our resilience. During graduate school I also became a yoga teacher, which both expanded my own yoga practice and opened up to me the world of how body-based our mental health and well-being are linked. There was a lot of listening to my early life passions and gut to steer toward what felt like the truest me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I wager most therapists agree that honorably getting to hear about hundreds and hundreds of people’s lives over the years begets the most “interesting” thing, in that nothing feels more connective and inspiring. Something you quickly glean being a therapist, knowing countless people in this unique way, is how similar we all are in that we all want to be happy and we all have pain. You also see how the roots of suffering differ widely, from the barriers and systems and historical contexts therein. To be privileged to sit with people in the depths of their life, of their crisis, of their internal world and their “ahas” gifts so much to a therapist about this world and who we are. It is certainly beyond interesting to witness the richness and depth of a person — so unique how one’s thoughts form, what motivates or scares — and to be alongside while together weaving new understandings. It’s pretty rad, you could say.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
Yes! Thinking I had to know it all from the start gate. Hindsight shows how humorous that one is, although when we’re in it there’s nothing funny about it! During my graduate clinical training, I wanted so badly to be good and of course to do no harm that I worried about the perfect things to say or stumbled over the process. When I learned during that time that my work was perfectly developmentally appropriate, I loosened my tight grip and allowed myself to be present, show up, and remember that so much of what I do is about the relationship. It became being attuned to the person in front of me — yes knowing helpful things indeed, but also trusting the client’s fortitude and our collaborative wisdoms in the room.
I love working with professionals and millenials around imposter syndrome, where we start transforming self-criticizing via the philosophy “you don’t know what you don’t know.” Meaning don’t judge where you are, trust you are learning, and let go of the undue pressure on yourself. I’m grateful I have all my life to keep learning, and thankfully the field of psychology is forever evolving. Let your growth be an enjoyable and gradual fill, rather than an anxious pressure to arrive.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
So many of us are authorities in our knowledge base. I don’t believe I am moreso than most others in my field. In our generation of social media where likes and follows seem to constitute authority, I personally believe there are countless unseen, unsung authorities in every field every day. We might not know your name, but I hope you know and believe in the power of what you’re giving.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
We take in never-ending messages about how to be “healthier,” so no wonder it’s overwhelming! The fact that these are others’ suggestions of what healthy means can also keep us from asking ourselves what feels good and supportive in our own life. We’re shown diets and workout fads, yet science has proven since the 1990s that diets don’t work: the vast majority of participants gain weight back and generally feel worse in the process. Or parents are told to do all the “right things” while inundated with working and parenting. So honestly assessing what is desirable for your body and your life without comparing to others is a great place to start focusing. New patterns I encourage anyone to consider inviting in are: perhaps you want to start meditating to relieve anxiety, commit to kinder self-talk, prioritize your self care, be in nature, or even start therapy. Whatever the aim, the same mental experiences can hinder you:
- Lack of awareness: Ironically we often survive a day by ignoring what we need. You might not be aware during a hectic work day that your energy needs a break or to eat. You might have been running through your month such that you don’t know when you last talked with a good friend. The needs of connection, care, slowing down, and nourishment can all go unseen when we’re running on autopilot.
- Judgments, Shoulds, & Expectations: For many of my clients, negative self-talk is such a habit they don’t even hear the voice as mean anymore; it just sounds true. It’s a huge block to your joy and success if your mind tells you: You’re failing at this. You aren’t doing enough. I shouldn’t eat that. I can’t say no to this task. I should be more like her. Self-talk creates the beliefs about ourselves, so if self-talk is unhelpful or cruel, it will also create the pressures and expectations that keep us from doing what we want.
- Not feeling enough: Berating self-talk relates to not feeling enough: good enough, smart enough, fit enough, friendly enough, lovable enough. I talk about enoughness because I’ve found over many years that most of what people bring to therapy whittles down to not feeling enough in some way, and while this likely started from external events, the internal environment needs support to see oneself differently in order to start creating the changes you want.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
- Check in. You’d be surprised how non-intuitive it is to pause during the day to ask how you are. A majority of people go through the day on autopilot, not realizing they haven’t eaten in 8 hours or have a big emotion impacting them behind the scenes. It’s not only basic needs that get met when you check in during the day, but when cultivated as a habit, you can also see moments as they unfold where you’d ideally slow down to say what you mean or to avoid simple mistakes. We can’t know our needs if we’re stuck on autopilot ignoring them. I constantly invite clients to practice checking in throughout the day, and when they practice it they report having the new space to make the changes we talk about in therapy. Place a sticky note with “Check In” on your work computer or bathroom mirror to remind you to take three full breaths and ask yourself how you are and what needs attending.
- Mindful living. Everyone has moments when they’re mindful. When you savor an incredible meal, listen to your friend say something important, during sex or watching a sunset. Dropping into autopilot trance happens when you’re lost in the daily hustle of tasks: it can be either the dullness or the busyness of the day that blurs attention. When you stop the hurry by mindfully, slowly walking to a meeting, you become more aware of your body, feelings, and needs. When you notice the warm water and bubbles while washing the dishes you can enjoy a task that is otherwise rushed through and seen as a nuisance. Instead of hurrying through life bypassing the doldrums or checking off a list, find joy by participating in what all is present. Walk and do more things slowly, with pauses. Feel textures, notice smells, and tastes. Sit or lay listening to an online guided meditation and maybe practice meditating on your own, noticing the urge to bolt up. Don’t miss your life — participate and be open to the wonders of it.
- Rewire your self-talk and core beliefs. How do you talk to yourself? Listen to the tone and words next time you feel embarrassed, like you’ve messed up. Countless people have negative, degrading self-talk they’re so accustomed to that they don’t hear it as the wagging finger of shame. If your mind automatically says mean things about you, try the quintessential test: would you say those words to a friend or child? When negative self-talk goes undetected, it affects your emotions and choices and can become a permanent internal fixture as a core belief about yourself — that you’re stupid or bad or whatever the mind has come up with. Likely (ironically) the mind does this in efforts to avoid mistakes and avoid shame from others. Watch if your own internal narrative shames you. This is not a fruitful maintenance strategy. Start kindly noticing the negative backlash, pause the thoughts, and start replacing the words with more helpful, compassionate and likely truer thoughts — even if you don’t believe them to be true yet! Practice this and explore these themes in therapy until you start believing the good, true view of yourself.
- Relinquish “should”. One of my favorite phrases, pardon the visual, is “stop should-ing yourself.” If you tell yourself you should help with that project, you shouldn’t go to yoga because you should go to work early, you should spend three weeks on your mom’s papier-mache birthday present to be the perfect daughter…then let’s fact check all that. Should is often linked with people-pleasing, perfectionism, and negative self-talk, because it arises from the fear of not being good enough. Start taking “should” out of your vocabulary. When should shows up, kindly note it and ask yourself what you really want or need: should typically stifles true desires in attempts to keep the peace pleasing others and avoiding making boundaries, so try putting yourself first.
- Be compassionate with yourself! All of the above tweaks invite you to be kinder to the person you are around every second of every day. You! You hear each thought in your head, so it may sound counterintuitive or even unfathomable to picture being gentle with yourself. It’s not compassionate to “motivate” yourself via mean thoughts; it’s not compassionate to compare your life to the shiny version of someone else’s. Write down the realms where you could be kinder to yourself: doing less, comparing less, making boundaries to protect your needs. If work or family life have you pulling your hair out, don’t double up on the stress by being down on yourself. Find where you can tune into your needs and meet them. Speak kind words even if it’s so uncomfortably new that it feels silly to be nice to yourself.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
Exercise, whenever you can get it, ought to be a pleasant gift to your body, and one not bound by changing weight or shape. As a therapist who works with food and body concerns, I avoid putting rules around exercise. In fact, perhaps the better “exercise” is a self-inquiry of asking what your body needs. Rest might be the answer! Gentle yoga or stretching, walking, dancing, playing with your children, swimming because you love the water, biking because the motion feels amazing. Love the body you’re in by asking what is pleasurable for this body today, rather than asking what it should look like or what your workout watch says. The benefits here can evolve into feeling at peace in your skin, loving your shape and size and thusly not having to be anything different. Our bodies like to move, but it doesn’t have to be on a treadmill or a in a HITT class. Find your methods and motions so that your body can feel good and ready to help you live out your values and hopes.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I love this question. I read Peace Is Every Step by Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Master and peace activist Thích Nhất Hạnh when I was 20. It has had more impact on me than almost anything. Nhất Hạnh, or Thầyby his students, writes in beautiful, digestible chapters in Peace Is Every Step about the multitude of ways we can bring mindfulness, compassion, and understanding into our daily lives, both internally and with others. While he is Buddhist of course, most all of his prolific books and teachings can be seen as secular when looking at the practices of simply how to be aware and present.
When I first read it, I had never heard a belief system espouse such goodness and simple, personal ways to cultivate peace. After graduating college I pilgrimaged to Thầy’s home monastery Plum Village in southern France to practice with him and the sangha there, and have done the same at his other monasteries in the years since. I find in his practices a profound teaching in and validation of the yearning to live intentionally and slowly, which the greater culture many of us live in certainly does not emphasize.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Enoughness! I focus a lot on enoughness because I’ve seen in thousands of clients that this is at the core of much emotional heartache. I’d love to start a movement around the belief that, “Just by being you are perfectly enough.” This is my favorite phrase and a core foundation of my therapy practice. It does not mean that you strive to be perfect; in fact I mean it as an opposite of that. It means there is nothing wrong with you to fix; you needn’t strive or compare or be anything other than as you are, already perfectly enough. It connects to one of my favorite quotes, “Be Yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. Thereisno needtorun, strive, search, orstruggle. Just Be.” — Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Look closely at your anxiety or depression and you will find a some not-enoughness there. A lack of enoughness emerges from unique experiences for each person, yet there are similar threads such as growing up being put down or not getting emotions validated, being in an abusive relationship, having a parent with mental health struggles, navigating the world with marginalized identities, and the list continues. Just as there are countless individualized sources for not feeling enough, there are also many wonderful ways to change this for the better. I may be biased! But therapy is a beautiful place to help with this, to receive professional support in discovering the answers inside yourself.
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Tara Brach, the phenomenal teacher, author and kindness leader. If you haven’t heard her podcast teachings or read her books, please do give yourself the gift!
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Visit me at: www.BrittanyBouffard.com and sign up to follow my posts on tons of topics tailor-written for authentic professionals and millenials.
(this is like therapist social media!)
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!