Do you ever notice a low hum of discomfort and anxiety when you do things that someone, somewhere along the line, told you that you shouldn’t do?

Like, say, eat carbs. Or take a nap. Or turn down a second date with a perfectly nice person that you just aren’t that into.

That feeling is a signal that your subconscious thinks you are doing something wrong. 

Even if you want to believe it’s fine, somewhere deep down you haven’t given yourself permission to do whatever you are doing.

It’s no surprise, because as women we’re constantly bombarded with messaging about all of the things we should do, the ways we should be.

We are taught from a young age that we are supposed to look a certain way, eat some things and not others, care about some things (mostly other people) and not others (mostly ourselves).

Those of us living in a capitalistic, puritanical society are also taught that we’re supposed to be productive all the time and that some ways of spending our time are virtuous, while others are slothful and sinful.

We’re taught to defer to literal strangers (with questionable qualifications, or none at all!) when they tell us what we’re supposed to eat or avoid eating this year.

We read articles that tell us how many hours we’re supposed to sleep and what we’re supposed to feed our children and who we’re supposed to fuck and how long we should wait to fuck them.

We are taught, essentially, that our worthiness is tied up in what we do.

How productive we are, how helpful we are, how fuckable we are, how “good” we are.

And that there are right and wrong ways to do pretty much anything a human might ever do.

So of COURSE we don’t trust ourselves to choose what to eat, how to live, what to do, wear, be.

Of COURSE we defer to the advice of friends, corporations, media, strangers…because we’ve been conditioned to see everyone BUT ourselves as the expert on our lives.

Which is why giving yourself explicit permission to do what you want is so powerful.

Because by the time we reach adulthood, many of us are consumed with anxiety and are trained to constantly question ourselves – to the degree that many of us are not even aware that it’s happening.

Sometimes it manifests as a strong anxiety response about eating something or resting or doing a certain activity.

Often, it’s at such a low hum that it takes practice to even learn to hear it. It may feel like a low level of agitation or  unease that you can sense is there.

Or you may find that it’s unconsciously motivating you to distract yourself or rush through whatever you’re doing. You may find yourself scrolling Instagram while watching TV, or eating dinner quickly instead of savoring it.

Whether you are acutely aware of the discomfort or it’s a background hum, the solution is the same.

You have to give yourself permission.

Giving yourself explicit permission to do whatever you’re choosing to do reminds you that you have the ultimate authority over your life.

If you’re watching Netflix and you notice a low hum of guilt that you’re not reading Proust instead, try saying:

“I have permission to watch TV.”

If you’re eating something delicious and you notice some old, self-critical thoughts emerge, try saying:

“You have permission to eat this.”

If you’re resting and you start feeling anxious about all the things your brain wants you to do, say:

“You have permission to rest.”

(I use both “you” and “I” interchangeably in this practice, you can do either or both depending on what resonates for you when you experiment).

The practice of giving yourself explicit permission is powerful because it speaks to the primitive part of your brain that is always worried about doing something wrong or getting in trouble.

It reasserts your authority over your life.

It empowers you to claim your role as the expert in your own life, and that will allow you to experience whatever you choose with more ease, relaxation, and pleasure.

But you have to do it IN THE MOMENT. It doesn’t work just to tell yourself in a general way that you have permission to eat when you’re not eating. You have to actively give yourself that permission while you’re doing the activity, so you can link it more directly for your brain. This also allows you to notice any emotional shift that ensues.

The next time you find yourself judging or doubting something you’re doing, try giving yourself permission instead – and notice how much more joy you get out of the experience.