Dr. Courtney Conley of ‘Expanding Horizons Counseling and Wellness’: “End your day in gratitude”

End your day in gratitude. I am sure your day was filled with ups and downs. Try focusing in on the positive aspects of your day no matter how small they were. Even if my kids were driving me crazy during the day, I try to look in on their sweet sleeping faces which always […]

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End your day in gratitude. I am sure your day was filled with ups and downs. Try focusing in on the positive aspects of your day no matter how small they were. Even if my kids were driving me crazy during the day, I try to look in on their sweet sleeping faces which always fills my heart with love and gratitude. The beginning and ending of each day provide powerful opportunities to improve your wellness.


Often when we refer to wellness, we assume that we are talking about physical wellbeing. But one can be physically very healthy but still be unwell, emotionally or mentally. What are the steps we can take to cultivate optimal wellness in all areas of our life; to develop Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing?

As a part of our series about “How We Can Do To Cultivate Our Mental, Physical, Emotional, & Spiritual Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewingDr. Courtney Conley.

Dr. Courtney Conley is an author, educator, and licensed counselor who is passionate about building a culture of wellness. Courtney has been helping clients achieve wellness for over 13 years. She teaches clients how to shift their mindset to impact deeply rooted thoughts and beliefs that are negatively impacting all areas of their life. She also works with counselors-in-training as an Assistant Professor at Lindsey Wilson College. Courtney currently resides in a suburb of Washington D.C. where she continues to serve clients in her private practice, Expanding Horizons Counseling and Wellness.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/74faff41ebd2be28346830def702bff6


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in a small, rural town in Northwestern Pennsylvania. My mother was a high school teacher and my father was a land surveyor. I had the good fortune of being the middle child. While my older brother and younger sister were 8 years apart, being in the middle allowed me to form close bonds with both of them. Growing up I was taught to value family and education, and to live by the “golden rule”. When I say small town, I cannot emphasize this enough. There is not even one stoplight in my town and my high school included grades 7–12 with about 60 kids in each grade. Growing up in a small town meant that everyone pretty much knew each other, and it was almost impossible to keep anything private. This used to drive me crazy growing up, however, as an adult, I look back at the small-town experience fondly.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

I have always been a social person and enjoyed helping others. So, I was naturally drawn to the helping professions. However, it was my own emotional turmoil as a teenager that helped me narrow down my options and choose to pursue a career in counseling. I struggled as a teenager with depression, self-esteem, lack of confidence, and weight. I may have been able to put on a facade for the outer world but inwardly, I was struggling. I was able to channel that pain and turn it into a purpose. I entered the world of counseling so I could support struggling teens and equip them with the inner tools they need to navigate those challenging years. I want to help teens avoid the emotional turmoil I encountered growing up and if it can’t be avoided, maybe at least help them get through it with less bumps, bruises, and lasting effects.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

I can’t say there is one person overall but several people who played important roles in my life at different times in my journey. In high school, a classmate encouraged me to pursue my counseling dreams when I was discouraged by the 6 years of schooling I would have to complete. In college, I was blessed to work in the career counseling center with some wonderful counselors and staff who served as friends and mentors. As I pursued my career, I was fortunate to work as a high school counselor for an amazing principal. He believed in my work and talents as a school counselor and allowed me to work with students in my own way. Perhaps most influential in my career thus far have been my counseling peers and colleagues, some of whom I met while pursuing my doctorate. So many people have shaped my journey in a meaningful way at each important juncture. It’s almost like one person walks me through one phase of my life and then lets go of my hand just as I am able to reach out and grab onto the next person. I continue to be blessed by the circle of people who cheer me on and only hold room for my success.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

After having my second child, I was running on no sleep. I remember dressing for work that morning feeling exhausted and like I was in zombie mode. I was getting ready to teach an all-day Saturday counseling class at the university where I worked. I taught from 9:00 AM — 12:00 PM then let the class break for lunch before our afternoon session. During the break, one of my students put a note on my desk letting me know that the class could see my underwear. Apparently, in my zombie state, I put dark underwear on under a light-colored dress. My immediate reaction was an embarrassment and my face turned red. However, after regrouping during the lunch break and dashing to the CVS across the street, I was able to see the humor in it. It reminded me that we are all just perfectly human and not to take myself so seriously. I was also thankful that someone else had the courage and heart to alert me to my blunder.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The book that has made the most difference in my life is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I never gravitated toward any religion or religious beliefs, yet in my early 30s I felt I was missing something in my life. The lessons and messages from this book resonated deeply with me and set me on a spiritual path that has made a significant difference in my life. It has taught me how to live in the present moment and gain more enjoyment out of life. I have recommended this book to numerous clients who suffer from anxiety. The teachings in the book resonated with many of them and served to help control their anxiety by shifting their focus to the present. I break the concepts from the book down and regularly use an exercise with my teenage clients that visually demonstrates how anxiety can only exist in the past or in the future. It is a powerful book!

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?

When you replace “why is this happening to me” with “what is this trying to teach me”, everything shifts. I think there are lessons in all of life’s ups and downs whether it’s locking your keys in your car (which I do about 4 times a year) or facing tragedy. Looking for the lesson helps people feel empowered rather than like a victim. This quote has always resonated with me but never more so than after the fall of 2019. I unexpectedly lost my brother and mother in less than two months. My whole world shifted in the fall of 2019. But when I look for the lesson, I see my strength and resilience, and my ability to truly put the spiritual practices that I embody into place. I learned it’s ok to ask for help and take time to heal. I also see their love still surrounding me even if it is in a much different way.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

I have three projects I am currently working on that I am truly elated and passionate about. My book Your Daughter Doesn’t Have To Be Miserable: An Approach To Supporting Your Teenage Daughter Through Depression will be released by Fulton Books this spring. I enjoyed writing this book for parents because I have seen how helpful the tools and strategies can be with individual clients. It infuses the power of connection with spiritual concepts that help parents tend to their own wellness while gaining tools to support their struggling teen. It’s hard enough being the parent of a teenager under good circumstances let alone trying to help a child that is experiencing emotional turmoil. I am excited that I was able to put my work in a format that makes it accessible for many people. Next, and probably what I am most excited for, is writing a book intended for teens that breaks down the spiritual concepts I regularly teach with one-on-one clients in a fun and engaging way through the power of story. The other projects currently underway and almost completed are two online companion courses. One course is based off my book for parents and the other is intended to help today’s youth expand their thinking, raise their awareness, and challenge their negative beliefs.

OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the core focus of our interview. In this interview series we’d like to discuss cultivating wellness habits in four areas of our lives, Mental wellness, Physical wellness, Emotional wellness, & Spiritual wellness. Let’s dive deeper into these together. Based on your research or experience, can you share with our readers three good habits that can lead to optimum mental wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

It is hard to separate these areas of wellness since all aspects of our wellness are interconnected on some level. Therefore, it’s easy to see how suggestions under one area of wellness such as mental health will also positively impact emotional wellness. This is a good thing because small shifts in a positive direction can make a significant impact in a person’s life overall. When I think of mental wellness and some of the more prevalent areas my clients struggle with, negative self-talk immediately comes to mind. It’s amazing how brutal we can be to ourselves. Most people are so accustomed to the negative thoughts swirling around in their mind that they don’t even realize it’s happening. Work on first identifying the negative messages you say to yourself then work on stopping them. When you make a mistake, miss a meeting, or decide to grab fast food after work, what messages do you tell yourself? Work on replacing these with kinder and more understanding messages that provide yourself with encouragement to try again. If you are sending yourself messages such as, “you are stupid”, replace that message with one like, “everyone makes mistakes”. This leads directly into developing self-compassion.

There is no end to the positive ways that self-compassion can impact your life. We are often so hard on ourselves and reserve compassion only for others. Beating yourself up for a mistake or error only serves to decrease your wellness and certainly doesn’t provide motivation to do better next time. Instead, try exercising self-compassion. What does self-compassion look like? Be nice to yourself when you make a mistake or don’t quite reach your goal, praise yourself for accomplishing small things, and recognize the slow and steady progress you are making. In short, be kind and gentle with yourself. If you set a goal to get to the gym 3 times a week and only make it twice, give yourself kudos for the two times you did make it and recommit to trying again next week. No one is perfect and everyone is trying. The problem is, we give our friends, family, and loved ones far more grace and compassion than we ever show ourselves. Each time you miss the mark, consider what you would say to a friend if they were in that situation. Then send yourself that same message of encouragement. Self-compassion not only fuels resiliency, it works to build a healthy and positive mindset.

Lastly, focus on setting boundaries. When most people consider self-care, they think of bubble baths, a glass of wine, or an occasional date night. The problem is those small occasional indulgences are just that and not a self-care or wellness routine. For most people, they are not enough to effectively deal with the stress and pressure of work, life, and family commitments. Instead, we need to focus on functional self-care that helps restore your emotional reserves on a continuous basis. For many people true self-care and wellness starts with developing and enforcing boundaries. So often, we overextend ourselves or say yes to added commitments because we don’t want to let people down. When we are overwhelmed and our emotional reserves are depleted, we are no good to ourselves or anyone else. Weigh your commitments, figure out what things are optional or can be shifted around and work on setting boundaries with the people in your life. How much energy do you have to give without overtaxing yourself and what do you want to put that energy toward? Asking yourself these questions will help highlight the important areas in your life that you need and want to focus on.

Do you have a specific type of meditation practice or Yoga practice that you have found helpful? We’d love to hear about it.

I try to start most of my mornings with a daily inspirational reading. I ask the universe to bring me the message that I need to hear that day. I then pray that I am able to share my message and put some good into the world each day. I ask that my message reaches someone who needs to hear it. My meditation practice is not complicated and takes only 5 minutes, but it helps me start my day grounded in gratitude and in a positive way.

Thank you for that. Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum physical wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Eliminate all-or-nothing thinking. Most people approach New Year’s resolutions or any goal for that matter with an all-or-nothing mindset. They set unrealistic goals then get mad at themselves when they fail to reach them. Michael Bernoff, personal development coach and author, introduced me to the phrase more-often-than-not. I absolutely love this because it helps eliminate the all-or-nothing thinking. Saying you are going to eat healthy more-often-than-not still allows you room to enjoy a meal out or a weekend away without beating yourself up. It means you are still being mindful of what you eat at least 4 out of 7 days. If your goal is to become more healthy and you chose nutritious meals for 4 out of 7 days, you will surely see slow and steady progress and probably enjoy the journey towards health much more than saying you will stick to a diet every day. So, consider your goal and then reshape it by eliminating unrealistic expectations. I am a busy mom of two, soon to be three. I enjoy reading and want to get back to my nightly reading ritual. If I say I will read every night, it’s probably not going to happen and will leave me feeling defeated. However, if I say I will read for 10 minutes a day more-often-than-not, that is achievable and leaves room for the nights when I hit the bed and just pass out or opt for a scroll through my Facebook feed.

Slow and steady progress beats never. Many people want to see immediate results when it comes to physical health. Think of your path to physical wellness as a journey instead of a destination. You will not just arrive at physical wellness one day. It is a continuous work in progress. Celebrate small incremental changes. Those small but steady changes create lasting results and form positive habits. People tend to give up when their expectations are unrealistic. If you set realistic goals you give yourself time to achieve them at a reasonable pace while still enjoying life. Often, people will exceed the goal because they actually enjoy pursuing it.

Why wait for Monday? I can’t tell you how many times I talk to people who are starting their diets or getting back-on-track on Monday. Try shifting your focus and recognizing each day as a new beginning or opportunity. If you follow the advice above about eliminating all-or-nothing thinking, you won’t need to fill your weekend with indulgences or think of it as a last hooray. Instead, you will have created a mindset that allows room for you to enjoy some of your non-healthy favorite foods and drinks here and there. This eliminates the feeling of deprivation.

Do you have any particular thoughts about healthy eating? We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, 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 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?

People don’t put the information to use because of the mindset they have developed around dieting. Most people turn dieting into a dreadful exercise in deprivation. Starting to initiate the habits I discussed above will help shift your mindset and approach eating healthy in a positive and manageable way.

Can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum emotional wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

People spend a considerable amount of time worrying about the past and the future. This impacts their emotional wellness because it takes away from the everyday pleasures in life. If you are worrying about what’s to come, you can’t be enjoying what is currently happening around you. Try to recognize when you are not focused on the present and gently remind yourself to enjoy what’s happing now. Put your phone down and commit to being fully present with your friends at brunch or your family during movie night. If you are practicing yoga enjoy the movement of your body, the music, and the feel of the mat. I promise the grocery list can wait. Connecting with the present moment will help you experience more joy and satisfaction.

Define success for yourself. We are programmed with so many societal beliefs and expectations. I have clients who don’t feel successful because they aren’t yet married, don’t have kids, or aren’t in the field they want to be in. When we get to the root of why this makes them unsuccessful, it always comes down to messages they have received from media, parents, society, etc. Take the time to define success for yourself. What makes you feel happy and proud? What do you enjoy? Why is a certain achievement important? Defining these things for yourself will increase your emotional wellness. When you measure your life against someone else’s yardstick, you will always miss the mark. Live your life according to your own expectations and watch yourself blossom.

Lastly, take inventory of the people you surround yourself with. You should feel loved, supported, and valued by those around you. If you feel judged, uneasy, or have a difficult time being yourself, you may want to limit how often you invite that person into your life. Surrounding yourself with people who celebrate your successes and encourage you to keep going can significantly add to your emotional wellness.

Do you have any particular thoughts about the power of smiling to improve emotional wellness? We’d love to hear it.

I think smiling and laughter can significantly improve your emotional state. It lifts your spirits and allows you to feel lighter. The act of smiling creates positive momentum throughout your day. Try smiling when you are stuck on a problem, in a blah mood, or irritated. See what happens.

Finally, can you share three good habits that can lead to optimum spiritual wellness? Please share a story or example for each.

Spiritual wellness is such an individual journey for everyone. However, I think there are three really important elements in enhancing the spiritual wellness of most anyone. Take the time to connect with source (God, the universe, higher power, etc.) on a daily basis. This practice is best initiated in the morning if at all possible. I start my day with a daily spiritual reading and a quick prayer. This starts my day in a positive way and allows me to be reminded of my worth, value, and how much I am loved.

Think with your whole body. Connecting to source is important as you look and listen for guidance throughout your day. Your instincts and gut feelings are not coincidences. They are your body’s smoke signals. I have a rule that I won’t commit to anything that isn’t a full-body yes. That means that my heart and mind must be aligned on the decision. How many times do you commit to something that you feel conflicted about? Try listening to your mind and body and honoring the message you receive. It’s amazing how the spirit has a way of guiding us if we listen.

End your day in gratitude. I am sure your day was filled with ups and downs. Try focusing in on the positive aspects of your day no matter how small they were. Even if my kids were driving me crazy during the day, I try to look in on their sweet sleeping faces which always fills my heart with love and gratitude. The beginning and ending of each day provide powerful opportunities to improve your wellness.

Do you have any particular thoughts about how being “in nature” can help us to cultivate spiritual wellness?

I think nature is one of the best ways to cultivate your spiritual wellness. In nature, you are surrounded by the splendors of source. I always feel closest to the universe when I am in nature enjoying the fresh air and many beautiful splendors.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I am passionate about bringing important spiritual lessons to today’s youth. The ideas of self-acceptance, mindfulness, being present-focused and recognizing ego have been life-changing for many of my teenage clients. I would love to see schools replace character education with spiritual education. When I experienced my spiritual awakening in my early 30s, I immediately thought back to how my adolescents could have been vastly different and wondered why I was never introduced to any of these important messages. So my mission is to answer Eckhart Tolle’s call to bring ego disidentification and enlightenment to our youth.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we both tag them 🙂

It’s probably obvious from reading my interview that I would love to sit down with Eckhart Tolle. His writings have made a huge difference in my life and in turn the lives of the clients I serve. I would love to thank him in person and have a chance to get to know him outside of his written work.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I would love to stay connected with any readers who might benefit from my work. The best way to stay connected is by subscribing to my newsletter and following me on Facebook.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success.

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