Immerse yourself in positivity — Aim to bring as much joy and positivity in your life as you can, with your mindset, the environments you live, work and play in and the people you surround yourself with. This is challenging and can be more difficult for people who struggle with depression, but it’s a challenge worth taking on. Some things to be on the lookout for in your own mindset are things like: how often you judge yourself and others and how often you focus on the negative instead of the positive. It also includes checking in with the relationships in your life and evaluating whether they bring you joy or not. It can involve creating boundaries and making new choices about how you live.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carly Mentlik.
Carly Mentlik is a licensed clinical counselor, therapist, and the founder of Inner Rainbow Project, a platform created to empower kids with powerful confidence-building tools. Carly’s mission is to equip the next generation of children with fun, creative resources for mental health, wellbeing and self-discovery. She envisions a world where every child grows up feeling connected to their true self.
Carly launched the Inner Rainbow Project to help break the all too common narrative that children experience around feeling the need to hide certain aspects of themselves in order to be loved. Her areas of expertise include personal growth, creative thinking, psychology, philosophical thinking, yoga, expressive arts and project-based learning. She embraces a holistic approach towards anxiety, depression, trauma, and relationships with her clients.
Carly has a dual degree bachelor’s in Special and Elementary Education and a Master’s in Counseling, both from New York University. She also took on extra PhD level coursework in adolescent development and social-emotional development. Carly is a certified yoga teacher with over 500 hours of training, including teaching and mentoring hours. She is certified in Reiki 1 and 2.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, always drawn to helping. I loved playing school with my little brother as my faithful student and felt a kinship with Lucy from Charlie Brown, as I’d envision myself popping up a ‘Doctor is in’ sign somewhere to regale people with my stellar advice.
I hadn’t really thought of education as something that could be internally motivating and exciting, until I transferred to NYU to find my passion in progressive education and holistic psychology. I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Special and Elementary Education, continued on to complete my Master’s in Counseling and begin my Phd in Developmental Psychology. It hadn’t yet occurred to me there could another path but going as far as I could in formal education.
I followed my spirit to take a semester off to live in Costa Rica. What I found was my own journey of self-discovery and healing. I found a freedom I had never experienced and examples of limitless ways to live, that proved to me there was so much more than the narrow path I had believed was the only possible route to happiness.
Talk therapy had helped, but my intuition led me to something deeper, something more holistic. It wasn’t until I discovered yoga and the chakra system, that I had the tools to overcome decades of depression, anxiety and struggling with low self-worth. I hadn’t realized at the time, I was also planting seeds to grow my life’s work.
When I moved to north San Diego in an attempt to ‘settle down’ and ‘start my career’, it became clear pretty early on in my job search that my ideas and philosophy didn’t fit traditional settings. So, I had to go out on my own. I started my first company, Mandala Learning in 2011, a holistic learning and counseling center in my neighborhood, where I supported people who didn’t fit into the traditional school system and shared topics like creativity, art, yoga and mindfulness, that helped light my students up from the inside.
In 2014, I learned I was going to be a mom and raising my daughter on my own, so I started the Inner Rainbow Project, as a way to bring my work online and work from home and to expand the potential impact to more people around the world. I’ve always been drawn to bringing balance, access and equality. When I started Inner Rainbow Project, the best way to do that felt like it was to focus on girls’ empowerment. More and more amazing women and organizations continued to enter that space and balance is slowly being restored. I kept hearing the call to be more inclusive, to help the boys and all children, however they identify. I developed the Chakra Boys characters throughout 2019 and introduced them in early 2020.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
The most interesting story that happened to me, began with an email from a devoted mom of a 35-year old woman with autism. Her daughter, Rebecca had become enamored with the Chakra Kids and convinced her mom she needed to participate in my newest online program.
It warmed my heart to hear that my work helped Rebecca open up more to who she is and to gain a new level of self-esteem. As exciting as that is, the most interesting part of the story is that Rebecca had also been developing her own chakra characters over the past ten years of her life. Her mother shared that the parallels to my work are astonishing.
Now, Rebecca and I have our own relationship through email. She writes with questions and comments that inspire me to expand my work and remind me of the power of the chakras, yoga and emotional intelligence, and she shares ideas for how to bring the learning to others with special needs.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from this story:
- Don’t place limits on the potential for the type and magnitude of impact you can make. Focus on the clarity, authenticity and heart of your message, and allow yourself to be open to the expansion.
- Be open to inspiration and teachers in all forms. Everyone has something to teach you if you’re open to listening without judgment.
- We are all connected. This concept can be tough to grasp, especially when we’re going through so much division and strife in our world. Yet, when I consider the reality that someone could come up with such similar, powerful ideas to support her with such similar purpose, it’s impossible to deny there is a power connecting us, that’s greater than anything I could conceive with my logical mind.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
To bring my characters, the Chakra Girls to life, I found an artist to work with who could help, and this led to a group collaboration on a bigger project featuring the characters. Initially, the collaboration was positive. It was exciting to consider the potential impact and that excitement clouded my ability to see all the red flags.
It became clear that it was a toxic situation and it wasn’t going to serve the best interest of anyone to continue the project. In the exchange to dissolve the partnership, I felt attacked by things the others were saying about me. Instead of giving myself time to reflect and not to take those things personally, I used my energy to dispute them, to try and change their opinion, to justify myself. And, in my anger, I responded in a way that lacks the integrity I aim to bring to all my communication.
I learned some powerful lessons from this mistake:
- Always listen to intuition.
- Give yourself time to reflect and come back into balance with emotions before responding, making a determination or a final decision. Respond from a calm place.
- You can set boundaries and speak your truth without sacrificing integrity and compassion. You can disagree with how someone is acting and treating you and you can voice that disagreement with kindness.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I’ve been blessed to have so much amazing support along the way. I’ve learned from teachers, therapists and healers, who have the courage to share their voice and their challenges in their rawest form. My graduate school mentor, Niobe Way, is a pioneer in the field of boys’ friendship research. I’m grateful to have had the chance to learn from her and continue to be inspired by her efforts. My root yoga teacher, Shiva Rea, is the one who introduced me to the living power of the chakra system and for that and so much more, I’ll forever be grateful. Every student and client I’ve had, have shown me how I can be more open, more inclusive, listen better, and also to help me realize my unique voice and motivate me to keep going.
And yet, my highest gratitude has to go to my parents. Without their unconditional support, I wouldn’t have had the chance to follow this path. Whether it was transferring from my dad’s alma mater, to leaving my Phd program to travel the world solo, or preparing to raise a baby on my own, my parents have listened to the heart of my desires, managed their own fears and given me the opportunity to live the life I couldn’t have dreamed of otherwise.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Bringing access, voice and power to children is the way to change the world. And, you can’t do that unless you change yourself too. So, my work considers the important foundation of the adult taking conscious efforts to grow personally and continually engage in self-reflection and healing.
As an adult, you can see the negative influences your kids are immersed in on a daily basis — ones that still divide kids along gendered lines, where girls are required to be good and quiet and accommodating in order to be accepted, and where boys are required to hide their emotions and not show vulnerability in order to be accepted.
My work in the past five years, as a psychotherapist for adults has helped highlight all of the struggles and traumas so many adults are still carrying from their childhood. When I share a simple breathing exercise, self-care idea or reflection question to help them understand themselves more, it shouldn’t be the first time they’re gaining access to it.
We need to ensure that our children aren’t growing up with the same restrictions of self-expression, lack of equality and resulting traumas that so many adults are still struggling with today.
We need to set kids on a path of holistic wellness from the beginning — before they go through the challenging developmental time of tweens and teens. We need to reach them before they struggle instead of when they are already struggling and confused.
My work connects children with their inner power, so they can listen to their heart, share their voice, enjoy fulfilling relationships and build the tools and resilience they need to overcome their challenges, big emotions and life’s difficult times. With this foundation, they can develop their gifts, follow their dreams and create their own massive impact in the world.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Be present as much as possible — Coming from a recovering master analyzer and ruminator, I understand how difficult it can be to stay present and not to escape into your mind to replay stories of the past or create them about the future. But, when I found the power of bringing my attention back to the present, the more of my day I was able to spend in peace. One of the easiest and most powerful ways to be present is something I share with every client and student, and that is to simply focus on your breath. Take a full, deep breath and listen to the sounds of your breath rising and falling and use the sound to quiet your thoughts. You can also say, ‘I am inhaling. I am exhaling’ to yourself as you breath to support quieting your mind.
- Practice gratitude- Practicing gratitude has the potential to dramatically change your life. It’s also a good way to be present. When you consciously turn your attention to something you’re grateful for in the moment, you’re brought right into the present and also seeing it through a positive lens. I aim to practice gratitude as many times as I can throughout the day, especially when I’m frustrated. For example, when my daughter is being super loud and my nerves are shot, I’ll acknowledge something I’m grateful for. ‘I’m grateful that she feels free to express her voice. I’m grateful I’m a mom.’
Another way to begin a gratitude practice is to start a ritual of writing a list of three things you’re grateful for, every night before you go to bed. If you’re having a difficult time finding gratitude, try not to judge yourself and start with expressing gratitude for basic needs you have met in your life, for example, ‘I am grateful I have food to eat. I am grateful I have access to clean water to drink.’
- Value your self-care as your top priority — It can be especially difficult for women and mothers to prioritize self-care. I can speak for myself in saying it can feel selfish, and it also conflicts with the idea that in order to succeed, things need to be difficult. Yet, if you don’t give yourself time for self-care, you won’t have the energy to carry through with all the other things that are important to you. If you don’t value yourself, in life or business, others will follow your lead. If practicing self-care is challenging for you, start by taking one, small step to add in one act of self-care this week. Or, start with reflecting on what self-care means to you. Does it mean getting a massage? Spending time with friends? Watching tv alone? The important factor, is that you get to decide what self-care will help you come back into balance, not someone else.
- Immerse yourself in positivity — Aim to bring as much joy and positivity in your life as you can, with your mindset, the environments you live, work and play in and the people you surround yourself with. This is challenging and can be more difficult for people who struggle with depression, but it’s a challenge worth taking on. Some things to be on the lookout for in your own mindset are things like: how often you judge yourself and others and how often you focus on the negative instead of the positive. It also includes checking in with the relationships in your life and evaluating whether they bring you joy or not. It can involve creating boundaries and making new choices about how you live.
- Declutter — About a year ago, I started a journey to declutter all areas of my life. I started with clearing out all the objects in my home that I didn’t want or need anymore. I was shocked to experience the strong parallel between cleaning out my garage and feeling a renewed sense of clarity in my mind. Then, I learned there’s fascinating research on the connection between clutter and mental health, especially in women. The more we work on it and also declutter with old stories and ideas, the more it creates space for new energy, new ideas and new opportunities.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The one I started! I created the Inner Rainbow Project with the mission of helping break the narrative of how common it is for kids to grow up learning that they need to hide certain parts of themselves in order to be loved and have relationships. ALL parts of ourselves make up who we are and deserve to shine in their full spectrum. Just like the colors of a rainbow, they all make up one, beautiful, unique whole. The Inner Rainbow project is a movement to help keep all your colors alive and shining bright. It’s a movement to remove stigma and judgment from mental health and replace them with freedom and joy.
Imagine a world where every child grew up confident and connected to their true self? Where everyone believed that the power to cultivate their own happiness came from within?
This is what’s possible, when we give children access to emotional and social development tools as early in their lives as possible and focus on our own healing as the foundation.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- You can’t do everything yourself — When I started my business, I tried to DIY everything. I’m a smart, independent learner, I thought. How hard can it be? Even though I was able to gain basic knowledge in lots of areas, everything was scattered, half-done and didn’t have the benefit of an expert eye. Now, I seek out people who have as much detailed expertise in their field as I do in mine. It’s not only helping my business grow, but it helps free up so much creative energy that I can now apply to what I do best.
- Mindset is key — Focus on your mindset and personal growth and everything else will follow. I notice this the most when I’m stressed and approaching a work task with a sense of obligation, as something to complete so I can move on to the next thing in my to-do list. Instead of going deeper into that feeling, if I can shift my mindset to something else about the experience that is true, for example, that the task is something contributing to helping someone else, that it’s a task I’m privileged to even have, because of all the privileges that led me to be able to run my own business, everything shifts. I feel the resistance melt away and I’m a space of gratitude, rather than stress.
- Ditch perfection — Don’t waste any time trying to be perfect and don’t attach mistakes to your self-worth. When you do, it’s missing the lesson and stalling new action. I’ve dealt with the pressure to be perfect throughout my life, but it was a new experience when related to putting myself out there with my business. I’d spend so much energy lamenting over things like a typo in a meme, or a step I missed with setting up technology. Now, I work to embody one of the most helpful mantras I’ve learned since starting, as shared by Sheryl Sandberg, ‘done is better than perfect’.
- Instead of trying to seek success, seek all your obstacles around it — Another favorite quote is, ‘Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it’, by Rumi. It applies not only to love, but all positive things you want in your life. As I’ve been growing my business, I’ve realized that the things that hold me back from taking leaps forward aren’t things like needing to know more, or find a better strategy, it’s working on my confidence, my courage to share exactly what I think, bravery to accept that not everyone will like it and my self-worth that I deserve it all.
- It’s allowed to be easy — I grew up with the belief that in order to succeed, you needed to work really hard, to sacrifice certain joys and that your success is in direct proportion to the amount of work you do. When I started unpacking this, I realized that my subconscious belief that things need to be hard was sabotaging my ability to see the reality that it could be another way. It actually felt unsafe when things happened easily! That can’t be right! When you are doing what you love, when you are ignited from within by the power of sharing your truth and seeing the impact, it has to be easy! The words and creativity flow, there is no resistance in your energy and the potency of your gifts shines through. Now, I repeat this mantra to myself as many times a day as I need, to help me believe that things are allowed to be easy.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Definitely mental health. I struggled with my mental health when I was a teen. It was something I felt ashamed of and resisted help to improve, despite repeated attempts of family and friends. When I finally allowed some of the help in and started to experience the shifts that could happen in my self-worth with tools like self-awareness, overcoming negative thoughts and understanding the mind-body connection, my life shifted dramatically and I became even more passionate about helping bringing mental health into the forefront of our culture.
It breaks my heart to see children who aren’t being given the gift of prioritizing their well-being, often by well-meaning families who are trying to help their kids succeed and thrive. We need to ensure that our children aren’t growing up with the same restrictions of self-expression, lack of equality and resulting traumas that so many adults are still struggling with today, and a focus on mental health is the way to do it.
During COVID, the importance of mental health is amplified. There are new challenges, new family and relationship dynamics and new stressors.
With positive mental health, people have the resilience, emotional management and communication skills to be able to work together and make strides in the other areas. Our collective mental health is an indicator of the health of our culture, our potential for growth. Mental health is the fuel for our collective evolution.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!
It’s been an honor and pleasure! Thank you for the opportunity to share.