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Zachary Phillips: “Because you are stuck with yourself”

Very important. I meditate for 20 minutes every day. That is in complete silence, focusing on the sensation of my breath at the nose. As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Zachary Phillips. He is a mental health advocate, who writes, vlogs and podcasts on […]


Very important. I meditate for 20 minutes every day. That is in complete silence, focusing on the sensation of my breath at the nose.


As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Zachary Phillips. He is a mental health advocate, who writes, vlogs and podcasts on the realities of mental illness, the recovery process as well as what it takes to follow your dreams regardless of where you are or what you have gone through. He is the author of ‘How To Get Your Sh!t Together’ and ‘Under The Influence — Reclaiming My Childhood’


Thank you so much for joining us! 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 am working on a project called ‘1 in 5 — Destroying stigma with statistics’. This book will act as a starting point for discussions relating to the realities of mental illness, equality, and other topical issues.
 
 By highlighting what is actually happening in society, people will get a good understanding of where their conditions and life circumstances place them. They will be able to recognise that they are not suffering alone with their mental illness, and therefore be able to move into a place of better understanding and self-love.

When I realised that I wasn’t abnormal or a freak for my traumatic past and subsequent mental illnesses, I was able to start the recovery process.

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 moved out of home at 15. My father was a drug addict and a dealer. Whilst he never harmed me directly (other than the years of emotional and physical neglect) the clientele he let into his house were a different story.

It was my job to entertain them whilst he ‘got the stuff’. My memory is hazy, but I do know that I suffered sexual abuse at the hands of one or more of these men.
 
 Recovery is a long process and coincides with self-love. The tipping point for me was when I was at my worst. I was suicidal. What saved me was the advice from a friend to ‘try everything first’. 
 
 That is, before I kill myself, I should try medication, meditation, counseling, moving out, changing jobs, dieting … everything. What did I have to lose that I wasn’t already about to take?
 
 Over time my mental health improved, along with my feelings about myself.

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?

The way that the media portrays beauty standards for men and women. There is a particular ‘look’ that is in, and that causes everyone to want to look like that. If you don’t or think you don’t, then you may be dissatisfied with how you look.

I am weary of these kinds of studies however, as it requires a level of ego to be able to say you are satisfied with looks. Personally I feel that I look okay, however, I do see areas that I would like to improve. Does this mean I am happy or unhappy? Or merely that I consider my body a work in progress — like everything else in my life?

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 you are stuck with yourself.

Honestly, I am going to be with me for the rest of my life, so I should really begin to appreciate and love who and what I am. This does not mean that I will stop taking action to improve myself. I will continue to exercise, eat well, meditate and do other forms of self-improvement. But I love myself now, as well as what I am becoming.

The other reason that self-love is important is that it is the only state that enables good stuff to happen in your life. When I started loving myself, I started trusting myself. When this happened, I was okay to take risks, go on adventures and truly start to live. Life is better when you love yourself.

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

Fear mainly. It feels far safer to stay in mediocrity then it is to risk it all and potentially fall.

I would suggest that they reflect on the fact that ultimately all relationships either end with break up or death. It sounds grim, but it is true. You will either break up or stay together long enough that one will pass. Ask yourself, where do you see your relationship heading with this person? If you are unhappy or leaning towards break up, take action now. It will hurt, but you will both be far happier in the long run. It is that or stays together in mediocrity forever.

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?

– Am I happy where I am now? No, then I need to take action.

– What do I actually value in life? Am I getting that now? No, then I need to take action.

– Do I have unaccomplished dreams? Am I working towards them as quickly as possible? No, then I need to take action.

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)?

Very important. I meditate for 20 minutes every day. That is in complete silence, focusing on the sensation of my breath at the nose.

This time allows the repressed and hidden thoughts to pop up and then leave. Over time, my mental state and focus have improved significantly because I am giving myself time to be with myself. Not just on a distracted surface level, but on a deeper level that you can only get to if you allow the space.

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 better I know myself, the better I will be able to connect with other people. I know my limits, likes, dislikes and what I am comfortable doing. This enables me to better gauge how I am feeling at any given moment.

If I know my own mental state, I will be able to read the situation and another person far better than if I was flying blind. My anxiety is reduced and I can be more present to the reality of the situation.

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

Individuals: Should all start a meditation practice. The benefits to mental state and self-understanding cannot be understated. I would also suggest that keeping and reviewing a daily journal for the same reasons — you can get a real good feel for what triggers you and what makes you happy if you look at your writing in a detached manner.

Society: Schools should teach the skills of introspection. The ability to turn your focus inward and to determine what you actually feel. This would give kids the ability to step away from media/school-based trends and work out the world and how they fit for 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?

I am on a constant search to discover what works best for me. Over the years I have started implementing different things into my day and morning routines and monitoring the impact that it is having on my mental state. If it is improving how I am feeling about myself it stays.

Each day I meditate, exercise, eat well, write and perform self-care.

I will continue to try new things and tweak what I am currently doing. I want to get to a place where I am continually improving!

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?

– Surprisingly I have found the most benefit from the ‘Jocko Podcast’. It is surprising because he is an ex-Navy seal commander who talks about war, leadership, and discipline. On the surface, this sounds almost polar opposite from what you would expect my response to be, but it is true.

This podcast has helped me to develop self-control and discipline enough so that I can start and maintain many of the self-help things in my life that have made all the difference (meditation, diet, exercise, sleep health etc).
 
 — ‘Running on empty’ — by Dr Jonice Webb was basically written for people with my past. Her book helps people who have had significant levels of childhood emotional neglect, to come to terms with their pasts, and then to work through it’s impact. I couldn’t recommend this book higher.

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…

Act based on the principle of charity. Rather than assuming the worst of people as a default state of being, instead, approach life with the assumption that people are generally good and mean well.

This will result in you having far more positive, happy and joyful interactions with people, and them with you.

Positivity for all will follow.

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?

Discipline equals freedom — Jocko Willink

In context, this quote basically suggests that what happens in life is ultimately up to you. If you work hard, you will get the results. This is true for exercise, diet, career and importantly your mental state.

The better I treat my mind, the more disciplined I am at guarding my mental state, the better I am that day, and overall.

In time, I am improving, I am becoming ‘free’ because I have learned to be disciplined in my life.

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

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