Kathryn Ely of Empower Counseling: “Live what you value daily”

Live what you value daily. It is not enough to gain clarity about what is important to you when it comes to your own spirituality. You must also take action toward it. Determine what actions will bring you closer to your values and go do them. When you do, you will experience satisfaction with yourself […]

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Live what you value daily. It is not enough to gain clarity about what is important to you when it comes to your own spirituality. You must also take action toward it. Determine what actions will bring you closer to your values and go do them. When you do, you will experience satisfaction with yourself and your spirituality. If you value giving to others, look at what action you can take to give. Maybe you don’t have extra money, but you do have time. Find a place that is aligned with what you value and give some of your time to it.

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?

We can gain clarity about what we value in each area or domain of our lives and intentionally take action toward these values. That is the way to achieve optimal wellness and satisfaction in life.

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

Kathryn is a former attorney turned licensed, national certified counselor and a recovering perfectionist. Through her Imperfect Thriving Podcast, counseling, consulting, and program development, Kathryn helps individuals let go of perfection and their limiting beliefs, and get clear on their values, so they can reach their full personal and professional potential.

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?

When I was a child my father told me that I must be able to provide for myself and I should not count on anyone else to tale care of me. I don’t remember my exact age when he told me this but it really stuck with me. The only professions I really knew of at that young age were doctor, lawyer, and accountant. So I thought about all three of these professions. I didn’t like the sight of blood so I ruled out doctor. I thought accounting sounded boring so that left lawyer. By 6th grade I made a commitment to myself to become a lawyer which I did. I went straight through college into law school. I graduated 3 years later, passed the bar, and began working as a deputy district attorney. The problem was my heart was not in it. Being a lawyer was not what I was meant to do.

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

The person who inspired me to pursue my current career is my husband. I quit my job as a part time attorney when my third child was young to focus on my three children. As much as I love and adore my children, I realized a few years into staying home full time, that I needed something else that was just mine. I was such a perfectionist in my new “job” of being the perfect full-time mom that I was losing myself along the way. I was thinking about my next move and what I wanted to do in my next stage of life, when my husband mentioned counseling as an option. Going back to school full-time with 3 busy kids, and a new part-time job back in the legal field, seemed like too much. But he encouraged me to try. I contacted the local university about their counseling program, they interviewed me and let me in. Now, I know I am where I am meant to be doing what I was meant to do.

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 have already told you about how amazing my husband is but he continued his support throughout a difficult three years, by doing whatever needed to be done at home when I had school. What amazed me the most about this time in my life was the support of my children. Two were in high school and one was in elementary school. They were my biggest cheerleaders. They did not complain on the weekends when I had a big paper to write or project to complete. They were proud of me and what I was doing. I realized that actually graduating and staring my own counseling practice, which was my ultimate goal, was no longer the most important piece of the puzzle. The most important aspect of what I was doing was inspiring my children and teaching them that we get to decide what we want at any given moment of our lives. If we are not happy doing what we are doing, we can choose not to do it anymore. We do not ever need to be stuck.

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?

I think my most interesting mistake occurred over a long period of time before my first career as a lawyer. My mistake was choosing to be lawyer in elementary school, putting my head down toward that goal and never looking up. If I had bothered to listen to my heart or pay attention to myself, I would have realized that I really did not know what I wanted to be. However, I really do not see anything that I have done in my life as a mistake as it has all contributed to where I am today. I would not be the therapist I am if I had gone to graduate school for counseling right out of college. My law school education taught me analytical thinking. That skill, along with life experience, has helped me become the therapist I am today.

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?

Hands down that would be James Clear’s Atomic Habits. Not only have I seen results from applying his theories about habits to myself, I use his theories every day to help my clients change behaviors that they want to change. I use Acceptance Commitment Therapy with my clients, which is a higher level cognitive behavioral therapy. Our thoughts are key to our actions or behaviors. So this is where I begin with clients, getting to the bottom of the thoughts which are causing their issues or distress. Then I look at behavior. Are there any behavioral changes we can make at the same time, which will help influence my client’s thoughts. James Clears theories help me help my clients adjust their behaviors so that they can begin functioning the way they want to in their lives.

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

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” Maya Angelou. I keep this quote front of mind daily as it is important to me in every interaction I have with another human being for that person to walk away feeling better than they did before our interaction. I can not control the other person’s reaction but I have learned that when I focus completely on the other person in the equation with my words and actions that goes a long way toward a positive experience for the other person.

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 gained a brilliant new business partner in 2020. We are creating a complete wellness program for industries that have higher than average suicide rates. This program will include several books and resources we have written to support the mental and physical wellbeing of the manual worker all the way up to the CEO. Our goal in this project is to help as many individuals we can to achieve the highest level of wellbeing they can achieve, leading them away from anxiety, depression, and suicide and toward more satisfying and fulfilling lives. Our belief is that when employees are satisfied with their lives, the company’s they work for benefit as much or more than the individual employees do. Satisfied employees are more efficient and safer on the job, which means only good things for retention and the bottom line. So it’s a win win-less anxious and depressed individuals, now educated on ways to improve their satisfaction levels in life and businesses thriving because their workers are well.

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.

  1. Importance and satisfaction assessment in your 8 domains. The 8 domains are the 8 major areas of life, including; Mental & Physical Wellbeing, Intimate Love Relationship, Parenting & Family, Friends & Community, Spirituality & Faith, Pursuit (Career) & Finances, Learning & Self-Growth, Adventure, Artistic, Expression & Leisure. I created these 8 domains in conjunction with Acceptance Commitment Therapy and what I have learned from my clients. Begin by assessing how important each domain is to you. Then assess how satisfied you are in each. Then look at what actions you can take in the important domains that you are least satisfied in to become more satisfied in that part of your life. This exercise will help you gain great clarity as to why you are less than happy with your life.
  2. Weekly mindfulness routine. Now take what you have learned in your assessment of your domains and journal weekly about what is important to you in these domains-what you value. There are over 100 studies out there touting the benefits of journaling about your values. Journaling about your values has been proven to increase your mental and physical wellbeing. Journaling every week about what is most important to you right now and the actions you can take toward these values will help you focus on what will make you life look more like you want it to look.
  3. Morning mindfulness routine. Now that you have the values you want to take action toward this week, through your weekly mindfulness routine, use your morning routine to become laser focused on living what you want to live today. I ask myself 4 questions each morning to stay focused on exactly who I want to be each and every day.

1. How do I want to show up for those I love today?

2. How do I want to treat myself today?

3. What do I want to accomplish today?

4. What actions will get me there.

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

For me it is the weekly and mindfulness routines I explained above. It is important to me to revisit my domains and my values in them each week because even though my values do not change, how I want to prioritize those values will change based on my level of satisfaction in the different areas of my life. My own physical and mental wellbeing is always at the top of the list of importance but if I do not remind myself weekly, I tend to work too much and not listen to what I need to feel my best. Some weeks I might want to spend more time reaching out to friends. Other weeks, my family needs my entire focus. Revisiting my domains weekly, allows me to be flexible and pivot.

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.

  1. Morning routine. Hands down, my morning routine sets the tone for the day. What works best for me right now is having a green drink, and a smoothie filled with blueberries, flax seed, protein, coconut oil, and turmeric. Showing my body respect at the beginning of the day makes it more difficult to insult it with less than optimal fuel later.
  2. Checking in with my body. I have a tendency to work until I drop because I love what I do and I am always looking to improve. If I don’t check in and listen to my body, I will let myself work until exhaustion, which benefits no one.
  3. Exercise. I have to release some of my energy through movement of my body. If I do not, then the energy stays in my brain and becomes anxiety. I schedule exercise time on my calendar so that I don’t let myself get so busy that I neglect what I know I need for optimal physical wellness.

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?

I think self-value or lack of it is to blame. Many of us think have the limiting belief that self-value equals selfishness. Instead we often believe we should always put others first. If you are consistently running out of time and not getting to exercise or eat right, that means you are not prioritizing yourself or valuing yourself enough. If you work on self-value, it becomes easier to prioritize planning for, shopping, and preparing healthy food for yourself, as well as, time for exercise.

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

  1. Clear communication of needs. I have so many clients who tell me they are not getting what they need out of their relationships. So I ask them, “Have you communicated what you need from (this person)”. Most often the response is, “Well I think so but I am not sure”. Emotional wellness is tied to feeling connected to others. The way to experience the connectedness we want is to be clear about what we need.
  2. Let yourself feel everything. Don’t avoid your emotions. If you avoid what you see as negative feelings, they will just keep chasing you until they catch up. It is the avoidance that creates misery. Many clients who come to my office for anxiety treatment are telling themselves they cannot handle feeling the way they feel. That is simply not true. We can handle every emotion as long as we realize we can.
  3. Ask those important to you what they need from you. We often try to mindread when it comes to others, guessing what they want and need from us. Just ask instead, “is there anything you need from me that I am not currently giving you?” And “Is there anything you need less of from me?”. If you do this, your relationships will be better, which will have the effect of emotional wellness.

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

Any behavior we do that is positive helps train our brain to move away from the negative. Smiling is one of those behaviors. If you smile more on purpose, eventually you will smile more accidentally or automatically. If you have a smile on your face, you will be more approachable to others. If you are more approachable, good things will happen that would not have otherwise happened to you. More good and less bad leads to improved emotional wellness. It is that simple sometimes.

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

  1. Examine your “shoulds”. Take the time to look at whether there are any rigid rules or “shoulds” you are attempting to follow when it comers to your own spirituality. We cannot achieve our optimum spiritual wellness trying to fit into the mold someone else has created for us. Clients consistently come to my practice struggling with spiritual issues because they are trying to live up to the rules created by their families for them. Figure out what your “shoulds” are and let them go.
  2. Gain clarity on your values. Now that you recognize what you have been telling yourself you should do or rules you should follow, get down to the truth about what you think is important. When my clients gain clarity about what is most important in their own spiritual life, they drop the struggle and feel peace.
  3. Live what you value daily. It is not enough to gain clarity about what is important to you when it comes to your own spirituality. You must also take action toward it. Determine what actions will bring you closer to your values and go do them. When you do, you will experience satisfaction with yourself and your spirituality. If you value giving to others, look at what action you can take to give. Maybe you don’t have extra money, but you do have time. Find a place that is aligned with what you value and give some of your time to it.

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

Absolutely! Being in nature can help us connect to something bigger outside of ourselves. That is one thing I have noticed in my practice, is that almost everyone craves a connection with something bigger than ourselves. No matter what higher being, if any, you believe in, being outside, walking on newly cut grass with you bare feet, is grounding, calming, and reassuring.

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.

Higher self-value. So many limiting beliefs get in the way of all of us achieving the highest level of self-value. Here are some of them: “i should always put others first”. “Self-care is selfish”. “If I love myself, I am being vain.” When we truly love ourselves and believe we deserve the best the world has to offer, we are not afraid to go out into the world and share ourselves, our talents, and our gifts with others. If we can all share our unique gifts, unencumbered by negative self-talk and low self-esteem, our world becomes a much richer place.

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 would definitely be Greta Thunberg, 17 yr. old environmentalist. She clearly places no limitations on herself and what she can accomplish. At age 15 she used her voice to start an environmental movement, positively influencing others and governments. How cool is that?

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://empowercounselingllc.com Is my private counseling practice and Imperfect Thriving is my podcast, in which I help you realize your limiting beliefs, get out of your own way, and take daily imperfect action toward a life you will love.

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

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