Sonya Denton of weDstll: “Stop comparing ourselves to the standards of happiness other people set”

Stop comparing ourselves to the standards of happiness other people set. We are constantly judging ourselves by what others have accomplished, what they own, or by their appearance. I think it’s great to be inspired by people but not to the point that we use these things to judge our self-worth. As a part of […]

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Stop comparing ourselves to the standards of happiness other people set. We are constantly judging ourselves by what others have accomplished, what they own, or by their appearance. I think it’s great to be inspired by people but not to the point that we use these things to judge our self-worth.

As a part of my series about “How To Learn To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Sonya Denton. She is a former broadcast journalist turned tech entrepreneur. She founded weDstll™ (we-distill), a mobile platform that uses data analytics to match like-minded people with each other and natural beauty brands based on their shared values. After spending over a decade on Canadian television, Sonya learned that what she loves the most is contextual and immersive storytelling because it has the power to emotionally connect people.

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.

My love of storytelling started when I lived in Germany studying the German language at the University of Cologne. I was among many people from different parts of the world who all had amazing stories; from a Rwandan man who fled his homeland during the genocide, to a teacher from Mexico who wanted to learn the language and study at the university. These stories changed the way I saw people because they were so inspirational. I wanted to tell stories to empower and inspire others in the way I had been inspired. I loved doing this in journalism and technology enhances that ability. It offers the opportunity to create interactive and immersive storytelling experiences that can positively impact people and this was where I wanted to go in the next phase of my career.

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?

We are launching the weDstll™ mobile platform that uses data analytics to match like-minded people with each other and with natural beauty companies based on their shared values. The platform not only focuses on outer beauty but also inner beauty. People can create their personal definition of beauty and have other people and brands embrace that. There is a genuine sense of well-being and satisfaction when you know that you’re not trying to fit into anyone else’s mold and people accept you for who you are.

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?

I was diagnosed with ADHD during my graduate studies. At that time, I was having symptoms similar to when I was in the media. I’d have to re-read things multiple times due to a lack of focus, twisting my words and sentences and was extremely forgetful. I’d be in class and not be able to sit still during the three-hour lectures. I’d look around at my classmates to see that they weren’t as fidgety. When giving a presentation, I’d worry that I would forget what I was going to say as I had experienced many times during my journalism days. At one point I realized that some of the emails I was writing that should have taken five minutes would often take over an hour. I’d be so hyper-focused on a project that hours would feel like minutes.

Then, after extensive testing, I was clinically diagnosed with ADHD.

I was saddened but also relieved. For many years, I beat up myself because I couldn’t understand why I was unable to function like other people. I had ideas I wanted to express, but I was often afraid that if I opened my mouth that what I said would be far from what was intended. As a reporter, I once asked my executive producer what she thought of my performance after one of my live hits. “There goes Sonya, fishing for compliments again,” she replied. I was taken aback by her response because what I actually wanted was to know whether that fumble I made was noticeable. I remember working day and night on developing my other skills which included demonstrative storytelling and honing my ability to get that key interview for my stories, in order to compensate for my challenges in holding on to my words.

After my diagnosis, I reflected deeply on the daily anxiety that came with that career. I always thought I needed to be a certain ‘way’ especially in the competitive and often cutthroat world of news media. Throughout my journey, I realized that it’s important to know who you are and understand that we are not all the same, nor do we have to be. I was too focused on “an ideal” and not truly on me. I didn’t have the confidence then to tell people I was struggling and needed help. There is strength in facing our challenges and limitations, sharing them with the right people and asking for help. I know that if I had understood that then, I would have gotten the help I needed.

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?

This is not surprising to me in the least, especially given the tidal wave of influence that social media has over so many people in the past decade. It’s difficult for the average person to compete with someone who has thousands of followers, a killer body and a yacht with designer branded flooring. So people take it out on themselves every time they look in the mirror because we fall into the trap of allowing others to dictate what’s acceptable when it comes to 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?

There are a few reasons why I believe it’s important to love yourself.

If you don’t understand how to love yourself, you lose yourself and everything becomes about everyone else and not what you need or want.

We’ve all heard the phrase: “You have to do the right thing!” What does this even mean? Especially when you know that it’s not a life or death situation or you’re not hurting someone.

I once heard on a podcast that doing the right thing often means making someone else happy while sacrificing what makes yourself happy. Doing the right thing doesn’t have to mean saying yes to someone else at your own expense.

I believe that you teach people how you want to be treated. You can’t expect people to not take from you if you’re always giving nor can you blame them. You need to define your boundaries and learn to say no. If you don’t, then you end up creating and living someone else’s dream instead of your own.

I now turn that around on myself to ask if I am doing the right thing for me to be happy and evolve as a human being. If I am, then I do it, if not then I don’t.

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

First, I’d like to define what I consider to be the elements of a good relationship. These include: energizing and not depleting one another; being supportive and treating each other with both kindness and respect; Wanting the best for each other with no strings attached nor payback mentality.

I look at relationships as both romantic and non-romantic. I think three important reasons we stay in mediocre relationships are 1. We feel that this is as good as it’s going to get, 2. We remain out of some moral obligation and 3. The person has been in our lives for so long that it’s comfortable and the fear of ending it outweighs the desire to do so. Every time I’ve felt or done any of these things, I’ve ended up not following my heart, or making excuses for people who weren’t treating me well or deserving of my kindness.

Today, I measure my relationships by asking myself: 1. How does a person emotionally and spiritually treat themselves and others around them? 2. Does this person add to my evolving as a human being? 3. Do they energize and inspire me to want to become the best version of myself?

Once I started answering these questions truthfully, I realized that I wasn’t being fair to myself. When I started taking steps to create space for people more suited to how I want to feel and show up in the world, I felt more at peace.

When I talk about self-love and understanding I 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?

That safe space of comfort that allows us to settle for people who take away more than they add to our lives can be detrimental to our well-being.

I’ve learned to reflect on the time I spend with people and look at how they treat other people as an indicator of how they will treat me. Can they celebrate the success of others or are they always putting others down?

I ask myself how I feel after being in someone’s presence. Do I feel energized or have I just been drained of energy? Do I feel uncomfortable around someone? Do I feel like I can be myself? How do I feel in my gut? We are taught to focus only on what we can see and ignore that gut feeling that helps keep us from making poor choices.

People show you who they are, and we just have to be willing to believe what we see.

When I was in school, I used to hang out with a small group of people. We took the majority of our classes together, did our school assignments together, went out for dinner together. Despite all this, I realized that rarely did they have anything positive to say about other people. One day, one of the women started making jealous comments about the other one behind her back. A few months later, I discovered that the same person was making jealous comments about me. I knew I could believe the person who told me. In the end, I left that friend group and a heavyweight that I hadn’t realized was there disappeared.

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)?

I think it’s very important to learn how to love your own company. It can be difficult and confusing to wade through the outside influence of other people when you’re constantly around them.

The most spiritual growth I’ve ever had was when I was on my own. I was able to practice self-reflection and understand how to focus on what I wanted. My self-confidence and inner strength heightened during these times.

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?

If we don’t know who we are and we don’t treat ourselves the way we want to be treated then we become resentful and unable to be happy for others. We need to watch how we speak to ourselves, especially when we make mistakes. We need to establish personal boundaries that prevent people from taking advantage of us and understand that you can’t give to others what you don’t have yourself. A big part of that is learning how to trust and have the faith, confidence and bravery to go after your own dreams and believe you will get there. I believe that when we don’t do these things we end up becoming resentful toward the people who are. When we give to ourselves, we can connect and deepen our relationships with others.

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

Stop comparing ourselves to the standards of happiness other people set. We are constantly judging ourselves by what others have accomplished, what they own, or by their appearance. I think it’s great to be inspired by people but not to the point that we use these things to judge our self-worth.

Our society embraces a win/lose mindset. For one person to win another person has to lose, which breeds jealousy, negativity and hate. I think that sharing our experiences to build collaborative communities is important in helping people better understand and accept themselves.

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. Boundaries/ Learning how to say ‘No’

As strange as it might seem, I never knew how to set personal boundaries. I always felt badly when I said ‘no’ to someone. One day I was listening to a podcast and I heard a great explanation that resonated. When someone asks you to do something and you say yes, if you don’t feel good about it after you’ve said it then you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Nothing feels worse than doing something you don’t want to do. Now, I always take a few days to think it over before I make a decision.

2. I ask myself “Would I be satisfied if I were in a similar situation next year?

If I’m unhappy in a situation, I get to a point when I ask myself: “if I’m in a similar situation this time next year, would I be okay with that?” It’s funny because that question usually leads to one of two reactions, either I’m at peace or I make changes immediately.

3. I ask myself, am I showing up for people who rarely show up for me?

I believe you teach people how to treat you. Allowing yourself to be mistreated is not practising self-love. I once had a friend who I hadn’t seen for quite some time, so I was happy to see her when we reconnected. Soon after, she asked me for a favour which I had no problem doing. Once she got what she wanted, she disappeared. Lesson learned. When she came back again and wanted to get together, I knew that the likelihood was she wanted something else, so I was prepared and said “no thanks.”

4. I’ve found that listening to how people speak about others is a pretty good indicator of how they speak about you. I used to know someone who would say many unkind things about the appearance of other people. Despite our years of friendship, I always felt uncomfortable around him, and eventually I ended the friendship to maintain my own well-being.

5. After spending time with someone, I do a self-check-in to see if I’ve been energized or depleted of energy. I remember I once met an acquaintance for lunch, and he dominated the conversation with such negativity that I left with a headache. When I compare this to spending time with people who are trying to have a positive impact, I feel much different. I leave so full of energy that when I get home, I’m pouring myself a glass of wine and playing music because I don’t want the night to end.

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

I love spiritual and inspirational books. Two of my favourites are:

“The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle and “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success” by Deepak Chopra.

The Power of Now is such a remarkable book about understanding how to achieve inner peace through practising mindfulness. I always found myself focused on what was or what could be which affected my well-being. I learned how to observe my thoughts rather than give into unpleasant notions about how things should be based on societal expectations.

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra is a small but powerful pocketbook that has become a staple read. I refer to it, especially when I’m feeling anxious. It’s one of many books that have strengthened my spirituality and helped me realize that we are all one being and everything on the earth is connected.

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 believe that the world could move toward finding more common ground. Things have become so adversarial that the gap between people of differing views continues to widen and I fear that it may one day pass the point of no return. We need to move far away from the idea that humanity is a zero-sum game with only winners and losers. This mentality drives people farther apart and in the end, no one really emerges as a “winner.”

Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” ~ Maya Angelou

Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

There have been many times in my life that people have exhibited eye-opening behaviours that I managed to rationalize away. I learned that ignoring signs and refusing to believe what someone shows you can have harsh consequences. That rarely happens to me anymore because I pay attention to the words and actions of others. This comes with a great sense of empowerment knowing that whoever you’re spending time with you’re having a positive impact on each other.

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

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