6 Tips for Pushing Fear Aside So You Can Finally Reach Your Fitness Goals

I have always been a big girl but I haven’t always had big dreams—or at least I didn’t have the confidence to say them out loud. For many years I didn’t dare to dream big about anything. I mean, who did I think I was? Especially when it came to my fitness goals, I did the opposite and tried to stay small, flying under the radar to avoid drawing any attention to myself.

The goals I did have always came with an air of indecisiveness and lack of commitment. I chalk this up to an intense fear that I would fail. I thought that if I didn’t really commit, I couldn’t truly fail, so I was safe. Other times, I worried I’d be judged so why would I even tell anyone my big dreams and expose myself to potential criticism or laughter?

Ultimately, my fear kept me from dreaming big and achieving my biggest fitness goals. It stopped me from living the life I wanted.

I remember one of my big dreams was to become a runner. This was before the age of the “body positive movement” or liberated Instagram accounts giving diet culture the middle finger. This was before any size diversity was represented in fitness at all.

I remember being terrified about joining a run club because I’d never seen that someone with my body size could actually be a runner. I had no inspiration or mentors to show me it was possible; there was no proof of it anywhere I could see, and the unknown was scary.

But I did become a runner. I started to challenge my own beliefs and push back on my own mental limitations (more on the tactics I used to do that, below). Bit by bit I started to live my wildest fitness dreams. In fact, I’ve since run over 100 races and I am now a running coach.

The process of conquering my running dream was absolutely the catalyst that changed my life and became the gateway to my dreaming big as a larger woman and athlete. I learned that fear is normal, not something to run from.

You can do this too.

Yes, we live in a world that rarely celebrates larger bodies, but believe me: I know many women who are dreaming big and conquering big goals—in their big bodies.

Here are my best tips for moving beyond the fear of the unknown and making your big dreams a reality.

1. Develop a positive daily mantra that you can turn to when old thought patterns about your body arise.

The human body is amazing and can adapt to demand when trained incrementally and progressively. I’ve found that oftentimes, it’s our minds that struggle to perform, not our bodies. There have been so many times I’ve started to work with a new client and they tell me how out of shape they are, only to surprise the hell out of themselves when they realize it was their mindset holding them back.

Changing your mindset won’t happen overnight. Having a positive mantra that you can turn to when you need it is such a simple yet effective way to push the negative thoughts away. It sounds cliché, but in my experience positive thinking can really take you far.

2. Whenever you fail at something, use it as an opportunity to learn what you could have done differently.

I used to view failure as something to be ashamed of. But over time, and through many failures, I have been able to reframe that old thinking. Where I used to see failure, I now see opportunity. Here’s the thing, you may not be successful at your big fitness dream right away, or even after multiple attempts, but neither were Olympic athletes! Having to try over and over is normal and part of the athletic process. The difference is, they kept at it and viewed failure as an opportunity to re-strategize and grow. Every time you fail, take it as a chance to weed out what didn’t work for you so that your next attempt will bring you even closer to your goal.

3. Make yourself—and your dreams—a priority.

Many people don’t feel worthy of dreaming big because they don’t see their worthiness. One of the biggest things I teach in my coaching program is how to make yourself a priority. I’ve worked with thousands of women who find themselves last on the list of people who deserve their care and attention. The result of this behavior often sends a subconscious message that your health, dreams, and goals come last. You have to turn that behavior and thinking around if you want to dream big.

When anyone asks you to do something for them, instead of an immediate yes, tell them you will think about it and get back to them. This creates space and time to see if saying yes aligns with your big dreams and goals. Also, remember that it’s OK to say no!

4. Think about how your goals can inspire others.

Dreaming big can change the message. My friend Latoya Shauntay Snell just completed a 100-kilometer (62-mile) race! Yes, a big girl going the extreme distance. In the ultra-running world, you don’t often see larger women running that distance. It’s not necessarily that our bodies aren’t capable, it’s often that lack of representation discourages us from putting ourselves out there. Mirna Valerio also dreams big and has completed many ultra races. These women started from zero and just kept showing up and dreaming big. Not only are they achieving their big dreams, but they are also showing other big girls what’s possible.

When the going gets tough, and it will, think about the impact you can make by pursuing your dreams and showing others it can be done. Be the change you want to see in the world.

5. Remember: You have the right to pursue your dreams.

You, at any size, have the right to dream big and pursue those dreams! This isn’t a message our society often spreads, so many women who don’t have the typical “fit body” feel spurned and unwelcome by fitness culture.

Here’s the deal: You can’t wait for an invitation. Take charge of your dreams and pursue them on your own terms. You have the right. Of course, this is often easier said than done in a world where real stigmas exist against people with big bodies and societal structures are often working against you. But it has helped me to remember, when I feel sidelined by fitness culture, that I have the right as I am to show up and dream big!

6. Dream big, but start small.

While working toward some of my big goals, there were times I thought I couldn’t go on any longer. I thought I might combust if I took another step. But I didn’t. Instead, I realized my body is amazing and capable of great things, and through that process I have built a mental fortitude that takes a lot to shake. I now know that with the right training, anything is possible. I’m not going to get there in one day. It might take weeks or months, or in some cases, years. And that’s OK. The key is to start small and take one day at a time.

I’ve run my body through half-marathons, swam non-stop for what felt like an eternity, and cycled over 250 kilometers (155 miles). If this mind has dreamt it, this body has done it. The body is an amazing machine that will take you big places if you just get started working toward your dreams.

Louise Green is a plus-size trainer, founder of the fitness program Body Exchange, and author of Big Fit Girl: Embrace the Body You Have. Follow: Instagram @LouiseGreen_BigFitGirl, Twitter @Bigfitgirl, Facebook @louisegreen.bigfitgirl

21 Subscription Boxes That’ll Make Your Life a Million Times Easier

If online ordering took the “go” out of going shopping, then subscription boxes are taking the “shopping” out of it. Answer a few questions online, and a growing number of services will tailor scheduled deliveries to you based on what you want and when you want it. From meal kit delivery services to fashion and beauty boxes, tampons to fresh cut flowers, subscription services are basically one step away from having the stuff you need magically appear on your doorstep just when you need it.

Here are 21 subscriptions boxes to cater to your varied desires, whether you’re talking about the best work or workout clothes, laundry detergent to wash them in, or wine, books, candles, and snacks for the perfect self-care Sunday.

9 Awkward Questions You Probably Want to Ask Your New Therapist

Going to a new mental health provider can feel a lot like going on an uncomfortable first date (minus the romantic stuff, obviously). Before you meet in person, you likely have very little information about them. Maybe you saw their face online and thought, they seem nice. And you probably did a quick online search to find out a few details like where they went to school and what they’re focused on, which is also probably what encouraged you to set up a meeting in the first place.

When it’s time to meet in person, you’re likely feeling nervous and skeptical that this complete stranger could actually improve your life and have your best interests in mind at all times. But you’re also hopeful that something good might just come out of this and it won’t be a total flop. Maybe you keep your guard up and put out feelers throughout the first visit (or two, or seven) to see if you can actually vibe with this person. You know you should ask questions—and you have so many questions!—but you’re a little wary of coming on too strong and accidentally saying something inappropriate.

The thing is, when it comes to finding a therapist—just like with dating—you deserve to know what you’re getting yourself into. As a psychiatrist, I often do get questions that you might think are inappropriate to pose to your new therapist. But I can assure you we welcome these curiosities, especially if they help you feel more comfortable and open to continuing therapy—or even going in the first place. It’s completely normal to feel distrusting of the process in the beginning. And it is more than OK to ask questions about the person’s professional background, your treatment, and any and all fears you have about the mental health services you’re getting.

Here are some of the most common, seemingly awkward questions I receive, and exactly how I handle them. Hopefully by answering these questions, I can help you feel at least a little bit less jittery about your first appointment with a new provider.

1. Is there a reason you’re a psychiatrist/psychologist/social worker/family therapist/etc. rather than some other title?

There are a lot of different types of providers in the mental health space, and this can make things pretty confusing when you are looking for someone to see. To start, the term “therapist” is ambiguous and could refer to any person who is able to provide therapy (or what some people colloquially call “talk therapy”). This list includes social workers (LCSW), nurse practitioners (NP), physician assistants (PA), mental health counselors (MHC or LPC), marriage and family therapists (MFT), psychologists (Psy.D. and Ph.D.), and psychiatrists (M.D.). (You can find a pretty comprehensive list here.) While all of these listed degree holders can be great options to see for one-on-one counseling or therapy, it really comes down to what your needs are and what specializations you’re looking for in a provider.

So the answer to this question will completely depend on the expert you’re asking and their personal reasons for going into a particular field. Someone who chose to, say, pursue clinical social work helps people cope with mental health problems and diagnoses and treats mental and behavioral issues, in many of the same ways that I do as a psychiatrist. But their career can also reach many other facets that I wouldn’t necessarily cover, such as helping a family in need find housing, helping parents navigate the process of adopting a child, and many other situations. Different degrees mean different job purviews and training focus, and one is not necessarily better than another. They are just different and allow the expert to cover and provide service in niche situations.

To speak to my degree specifically, psychiatrists and psychologists require the most years of training. They might also, subsequently, charge more, which may be a barrier for some people and a reason they don’t want to see a psychiatrist/psychologist. Psychiatrists, like me, are also the only group that goes to medical school, and as a result, are able to prescribe psychiatric medication. We have the same training as all other doctors prior to specialization, so we also understand psychological manifestations of physical illnesses (like experiencing depression as a result of a cancer diagnosis or cancer treatment) and what else to be looking and testing for (we often order lab tests).

Due to our ability to prescribe and our medical background, psychiatrists often see people with more severe mental illness (typically therapy alone is a first step for many illnesses and medication is considered as a next step if needed). However, the reverse is not true, meaning if you feel you want to see a psychiatrist, that does not necessarily mean you have a serious mental illness. We still see patients for psychotherapy alone.

So don’t be afraid to ask your provider why they chose their specialty and what makes them uniquely suited (or not) to care for you as a patient. You can even ask them this upfront, before your first visit, to make sure you are going to the right person. In my case, I chose to become a psychiatrist as I always wanted to have medical training, but I didn’t know what type of doctor I wanted to be when I went to medical school. I loved the ability to have time with my patients and get to hear their stories, while also still being a physician, ultimately leading me to psychiatry.

2. Can I actually trust that everything I say to you stays between you and me?

The short answer to this question is mostly yes. Everything you tell me (and other mental health professionals) in session is confidential, except in instances where you are an imminent danger to yourself, a danger to someone else, or are expressly unable to care for yourself anymore due to your psychiatric illness. In those circumstances, we are legally obligated to breach confidentiality to protect you or the person you want to harm.

The word imminent, however, is key. For example, a patient can have suicidal thoughts, which in theory implies they pose a danger to themself, without having a plan or intent. This is an incredibly important distinction. This means that just telling me you think about dying will not result in me breaking confidentiality. However, telling me that you thought about killing yourself today and bought something to help you to go through with it would lead me to break confidentiality. The difference is ever so slight, but very important.

Psychiatrists are also mandated reporters for things like child abuse and elder abuse and would have to disclose those things if they came up in conversation. Domestic violence reporting is more complicated and state-dependent, and often isn’t mandated.

We also do document each visit like other providers do with medical records, mostly for insurance purposes. These notes, again, are confidential. In most institutions, psychiatry notes are protected and require an additional level of clearance to even be seen by other providers. Psychiatrists often will put minimal details in the notes, particularly in regards to psychotherapy, to further protect the sanctity of the patient-provider relationship. For example, we might write in a note that a patient is “learning to cope with his abuse history.” Even though we talked in detail about that specific abuse being referenced, those details may be left out of the chart. We will always have to include a diagnosis, and this often will be seen on the chart by other providers.

3. If you have so many patients, how do I know you’ll be focused on and care about me individually?

I can only speak for myself on this one, but the training we undergo in this field teaches us to multitask, and to multitask well. It also teaches us to look at each individual person and their experience, and to not only associate them with a particular diagnosis or disease (e.g. you are not a schizophrenic, but a person who happens to have schizophrenia). I give each patient the same attention, empathy, brain space, and thought, and I place equivalent value on each and every interaction. But the only way you would know that, I think, would be to actually trust me, which is easier said than done when you just meet someone. But I tell my patients who exhibit this skepticism: Trust that I am doing the best I can to care for you as an individual and not another number.

If, however, you ever feel like your provider isn’t listening to you or doesn’t remember you or your presentation, it’s really important that you bring it up with them. You can say, “I’m feeling like you don’t remember my story or details about me when I come to our sessions,” or, “I feel like I’ve repeated a few things in our conversations together, and I hope that my story is not getting lost on you or confused with others.” It gives them a chance to know how you are feeling and what you are noticing in session. It also gives your provider a chance to do better as we are all human, after all. After that, if you still are unsatisfied, it is more than OK to try to find another provider who you connect with better or who seems to listen to you more.

4. Are you going to push medication on me?

This is by far the most common question I get as a psychiatrist, and also the most common stereotype of my field. Again, I can only speak for myself here, but if you are referred to me for a medication evaluation, the key word to me in this context is “evaluation.” This means that I will ask you a lot of questions about your symptoms, other possible connected symptoms, your psychiatric history (including medications, diagnoses, and hospitalizations), your family history, your social history (substances, support system, your education, your background), and your medical history. I then will try to use all of that information to decide if I think what is going on with you would be managed well by medication.

If I think that medication could benefit you, I will present my case to you for why I think medication would help, what medication in particular I think makes sense, the risks of that medication, the benefits of that medication, and the alternatives to that medication. Then, it is really up to you whether you actually want to take the medication.

You could go home and read about it some more, you could (and should) ask any questions you might have, and you could ask to start at a lower dose if you feel you are sensitive to medication and side effects. I typically lay out a good amount of options for my patients as I don’t want the relationship to feel paternalistic. I want them to feel like we are making an educated decision together, because we are. By doing so, I feel like patients will feel more motivated to take medication daily and will have more belief in their efficacy.

It is ultimately your choice, and I am just here to present the facts and what I think will be best for you and help you the most. There are very few instances where medication can be “forced” on any person, and they are all, by definition, emergencies.

5. Am I going to need medication forever?

This is another medication-related question I get frequently, and the answer entirely depends on what your diagnosis is, how long you have had it, and how many “episodes” you have had. Medication for bipolar and schizophrenia, for example, generally will require a person to stay on their medication plan long term or perhaps permanently. For people with these disorders, it is always my goal to help them land on a medication or combination of medications that they tolerate and truly feel like the benefits outweigh the risks.

But for some conditions, the length of time a person stays on medication may vary greatly depending on the individual. A good example of this is someone with depression: If you have never had depression before and this is your first episode that has required medication, I may tell you that you can try coming off of the medication (with my guidance, not on your own) after you are stable in your mental health for about six months.

If, however, you have had an episode before and this is a recurrence of depression, chances are you will need to stay on that medication. In this case, I will encourage you to think of daily medication as a prevention method—taking medication is not a sign that you or your health has failed in any way. Think of cholesterol medication—a person may need to take this so that they can prevent a heart attack or stroke. Taking a medication to prevent an episode of depression is just as important to your overall well-being as using one to manage your cholesterol.

6. How do I know your advice is good enough for me to take it?

I hear you. It’s incredibly hard to have blind faith in a person telling you what you should be doing to “get better.” The cool thing is therapists aren’t actually in the business of advice-giving. Think of therapy more as a safe space to work through things you are struggling with. I might help give you tools (or help fortify or identify existing strengths within you), but you actually do all the work. You might practice some things in this safe space we create together, within our therapeutic relationship, but then you alone go out into the world and hopefully use what you learned to strengthen your connections and relationships outside of therapy. In other words, I’m never giving you some exact blueprint for how to solve an issue. I’m helping you examine yourself and your life and relationships, I’m a sounding board, and I’m a place of trust and security.

I also want my patients to know that you’re allowed to gut-check your experience with a new provider to help build that trust and sense of security. You are obviously welcome to read about the recommendations and/or medications your provider is suggesting before making your decision to follow their guidance or continue working together. But, I would caution you from blindly searching about psychiatric medication and methods on the internet, as there are far too many pages with misinformation out there. You want to make sure you are reading the evidence and studies that decision-making in psychiatry has been based on. You can always ask your provider where you can go to learn more or better understand where a medical recommendation or therapy method derives from. They may be able to provide you with specific studies or further academic reading. Or, the websites for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) are excellent, credible places to start.

7. If you’re already prescribing me medication, do I really need to see you for therapy too?

I wish we had some miracle medication that worked not just on its own for every mental health condition, but also quickly and flawlessly. But at the present time we don’t, and a lot of our medications take a good deal of time to work, and they don’t necessarily work by themselves without guidance and support and other forms of treatment to supplement them.

For instance, antidepressants can take six to eight weeks to start working, and many people notice side effects long before they notice benefits. Because of this, and also because studies suggest that medication alone is inferior to medication plus therapy, I recommend therapy to pretty much everyone.

I am also of the opinion that the majority of people, even those who don’t think they have a mental health-related reason to work with a therapist, can benefit from having an outlet outside of their friends and family to just talk openly and confidentially. Therapy can be useful for prevention and self-care. The type of therapy that you choose to do might be based on what your current diagnosis is and the evidence-based intervention for that disorder (exposure response prevention for OCD or dialectical behavioral therapy for borderline personality disorder, to name just a few examples) or based on what you prefer and/or how you like to structure your thinking (perhaps more open-ended methods, like psychodynamic psychotherapy or cognitive behavioral therapy fit your needs).

8. If I spot you in line at the grocery store, what should I do?

Run. KIDDING! This happens to me a lot, given that I work on a college campus. If I see someone in public, I typically don’t acknowledge them until they acknowledge me. This can sometimes make a person feel like I ignored them if we did not previously discuss the possibility of this scenario happening, which is why I try to talk about it first with my patients and let them know I will not wave and call out their name in public and will take cues from them on how to interact.

I err on the side of caution when interacting with patients outside of our sessions in part due to the stigma (that needs to disappear) associated with psychiatry and mental health issues. If, for instance, someone else on campus knows that I am a psychiatrist and sees that we know each other, I would never want this interaction to make you nervous that an outsider now assumes that you see a therapist or that you have mental health issues. It sort of “outs” you accidentally, something I never want to do to someone.

Believe me, I wish this wasn’t a thing and that I was viewed the same way as your primary care provider, but I get it, we are not there yet in our society. I also know the things you discuss with a mental health provider you may not discuss with anyone, so seeing your therapist in public can just make you feel weird or vulnerable, so I don’t try to emphasize that by making you acknowledge me in a different setting.

So, speak to your mental health provider about what they tend to do in a scenario where you spot each other outside of your one-on-one time, and tell them how you prefer they handle it.

9. No offense, but what if I just don’t like you as a provider—should I stick it out?

If you can afford it and there are other options in your community (mental health resources can be dreadful in many places and for many socioeconomic groups, I get it), you should absolutely leave a provider with whom you’re just not connecting.

Studies suggest that “fit” and the therapist-provider relationship are actually some of the strongest indicators of success in treatment. Because of this, I will often tell patients that we are using the first few sessions to get to know each other and that it is OK to not like me. The way I see it is, we don’t have some machine that can do therapy perfectly for every single person, so if you don’t like the “tool” (meaning the therapist), you should try another one to see if it works better. I would much rather someone leave me and find someone else and still get treatment than be scared out of mental health treatment completely.

That being said, keep in mind that the first few visits (especially the very first one) are pretty data collection-heavy, and you should try to give it more than one visit if you can stomach it.

Jessica A. Gold, M.D., M.S., is an assistant professor in the Department in Psychiatry at Washington University in St Louis. Find her on Twitter @drjessigold.


Domestic violence is widely accepted in most developing countries, new study reveals

Societal acceptance of domestic violence against women is widespread in developing countries, with 36 per cent of people believing it is justified in certain situations.

Using Demographic and Health Surveys conducted between 2005-2017, researchers at the University of Bristol analysed data from 1.17 million men and women in 49 low- and middle-income countries.

These findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE (Oct. 31) and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Future Research Leaders award, will help shape national and international strategies to prevent domestic violence.

Surveys measured whether people thought a husband or partner was justified in beating his wife or partner is she goes out without telling him, argues with him, neglects the children, suspects her of being unfaithful, refuses to have sex, or burns the food.

On average, 36 per cent of people thought it was justified in at least one of these situations. Attitudes towards domestic violence varied significantly across the 49 countries with only three per cent of people justifying it in the Dominican Republic, in the Caribbean, compared to 83 per cent in Timor-Leste, South East Asia.

Overall, the societal acceptance of domestic violence was higher in South Asia with nearly half the population (47 per cent) justifying it and in Sub-Saharan Africa (38 per cent), compared with Latin America and the Caribbean (12 per cent), Europe and Central Asia (29 per cent).

In 36 of the 49 countries, mainly in South East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, women were more likely to justify the behaviour than men.

Country-level factors, especially the political environment, played an important role in the acceptance of domestic violence. For example, this attitude of acceptance was more prevalent in countries which have experienced frequent and severe political conflict within the past five years.

Furthermore, the societal acceptance of domestic violence among men was lower in countries with more democratic regimes.

People in countries where women had more economic rights were less likely to justify domestic violence. These findings suggest that expanding women’s economic rights can serve to challenge existing social norms around gender roles and the expectations of women and men.

Dr LynnMarie Sardinha, an ESRC Research Fellow in Domestic Violence and Health at the University of Bristol, led the research. She said: “This is the first study of its kind and the insights it gives us into people’s attitudes towards domestic violence in the Global South and the influence of country-level factors and environment are invaluable if we’re to tackle this global problem.

“The widespread justification of domestic violence by women in highly patriarchal societies suggests women have internalised the idea that a husband who physically punishes his wife or verbally reprimands her has exercised a right that serves her interest. They perceive this behaviour as legitimate disciplining, rather than an act of violence.

“Our findings highlight the need for tailored, geographically-differentiated and gender specific interventions targeting acceptance of domestic violence. There is need for much greater focus on addressing the acceptance of domestic violence through targeted initiatives in societies affected by political conflict. Although domestic violence is exacerbated during and after armed conflict it’s prevention in these societies has received little attention.

“Interestingly, our findings suggest that the commonly-used measures of countries’ gender quality scores, for example, women’s labour force participation, and number of seats held by women in national parliament did not significantly influence society’s acceptance of domestic violence. This highlights the need for international domestic violence prevention policies to consider that a sole focus on narrowly defined economic or political ’empowerment’ alone are not sufficient in challenging existing discriminatory gender norms.

“Given that, as estimated by the World Health Organisation, 30 per cent of women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime, the prevention of domestic violence is both urgent and vital.

“Domestic violence has serious consequences for women’s physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health, negatively impacts on the well-being of children and families and has implications for wider society’s economic and social development.”

This project resulted in the construction of a first-of-its-kind global meta-database on societal attitudes to domestic violence, and a comprehensive range of diverse high quality internationally comparable socio-economic, political and legislative metadata from UN sources and other topic-specific databases.

Researchers hope the findings will inform the development of effective prevention programmes, targeting the factors which lead to domestic violence being accepted by different societies.

Several multilateral organisations, including the World Health Organisation and the United Nations, have already expressed an interest in using the data to help monitor its goal of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls (goal five of the UN Sustainable Goals Agenda to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all) that includes the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls.

Baby-naming trends reveal ongoing quest for individuality

Greater media access, global communication and rising immigration have increased people’s exposure to different names, but also ensures these become common more quickly.

Using a tool originally created for understanding how genes behave, researchers from the University of Edinburgh analysed trends in the names given to more than 22 million babies born in the UK over almost 180 years, between 1838 and 2016.

Naming trends were linked to historical events or people in the public eye, experts found. Changes in tradition, multiculturalism and people’s ongoing quest for individuality also played a part.

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, name choices were relatively stable, dominated by biblical names such as John and Mary.

These traditional names became relatively unpopular in the years following the Second World War, when increased migration introduced names of Polish, Italian and Indian origin.

Spikes in popularity for certain names become more frequent in the 21st century, but these fell out of fashion owing to over-use.

Experts found that the use of hyphens and variant spelling to make existing names distinct — such as Amelia-Rose, and Rebekah instead of Rebecca — had increased substantially in recent years.

This demonstrates society’s shifting desire for recognisable, but rare, names they suggest.

The research is published in PLoS One.

Stephen J Bush, Research Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, said: “Collectively, shifting patterns of name choice provide a fascinating insight into changes in societal values, personal tastes and ethnic and cultural diversity from the Victorian era to the present day. The speed with which modern name choices fall in and out of favour reflects their increased exposure and people’s ongoing desire for distinctiveness.”

An interactive database of names created during the project is available: https://demos.flourish.studio/namehistory/

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Materials provided by University of Edinburgh. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Why polarized politicians can represent citizens best

Do ideologically extreme politicians deemed “polarized” misrepresent a more moderate populace? According to the article “The Delegate Paradox: Why Polarized Politicians Can Represent Citizens Best” published in the October 2018 issue The Journal of Politics by Douglas J. Ahler and David E. Broockman, that’s not the case. In fact, they argue, enacting campaign finance or election reform to reduce polarization in government would likely degrade the quality of political representation. The authors note that they are not arguing that increasing polarization would necessarily improve representation. “Rather, the level of elite polarization simply implies very little about how well politicians are representing citizens’ views.”

Using six years of data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study and input from 1,240 survey respondents, the authors developed new methods to assess how citizens evaluate potential representatives and, ultimately, polarization’s consequences for representation. The authors identify “the Delegate Paradox,” whereby constituencies comprised of citizens with idiosyncratic policy preferences are often best represented by politicians who appear ideologically polarized.

This runs contrary to polarization literature that often argues that citizens would be more satisfied with representatives with mixed positions. “However, when we presented citizens with politicians who met this criterion,” the authors write, “they did not appear to gravitate to them; they tend to prefer politicians who match their issue views, regardless of the ideology those positions imply.”

The authors point to the candidate Donald Trump, politically extreme on some measures but overall ideologically moderate. However, they write, “Trump’s issue stances and not his ostensibly moderate unidimensional ideology won him support during the primaries.” Trump voters were not drawn to his generally moderate views but rather his conservatism on immigration or liberalism on taxes.

The authors caution that scholars may be led astray if they focus on maximizing the measured ideological moderation of elected officials. “It would be facetious to anoint Trump as representing the vast majority of Americans very closely because his ideologically mixed pattern of views leads him to be measured as ideologically moderate.”

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Materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

The 8 Best Lessons I Learned Living the Lagom Life

I have a thing for extremes. One day I’m up, the next day I’m down. I go all in, or I don’t go at all. A year or two ago, I Kondo’ed my belongings—an incredibly stressful venture I don’t recommend—and tried to be a minimalist. Then I decided to dive into hygge and invested in an abundance of candles and fairy lights and a cashmere sweatsuit). I’m not even going to tell you how many crystals I own.

I’m basically willing to try anything in the name of living a happier, healthier life, which is why, after doing some superficial research, I was drawn to the Swedish concept of lagom. The Swedish population is consistently ranked among the happiest on the globe, and I wanted in on their secrets. Lo and behold, a life of lagom basically represents the opposite of mine. The term loosely translates to “not too little, and not too much, but just right,” according to Niki Brantmark, the author of Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Happy, Balanced Life. Backstory goes that the word “lagom” comes from the Viking term laget om, which means “around the team” and comes from the custom of passing a horn of mead around and ensuring there was just enough for everyone to get a sip. As a 2017 Guardian article puts it, “It’s about not doing what is unnecessary or superfluous, focusing on what is absolutely essential, knowing when to stop.”

Not too little. Not too much. Knowing when to stop. These are not phrases that typify my existence. This was going to be a challenge.

I read up on all things lagom to find out if I could use it to become more balanced. The thoughtful, careful approach to both work and life means less frivolity, more authenticity, and most importantly, happiness that isn’t related to the amount of money in my bank account. As Linea Dunne writes in her book Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living, “a lagom amount of money is enough; beyond that, our happiness levels depend on other factors.”

So, I dedicated myself to the lagom life for a full 30 days, no excuses. I challenged myself to adhere to guidelines that were hard for me, but also gave myself a pass to skip the things that didn’t feel right. (I mean, how lagom is that, am I right? No, seriously, am I right??) Here are some of the things I found made me the happiest—and you can try to apply to your own life if you feel like they could work for you, too.

1. Keep your house clean and uncluttered.

While I’d like to be neat all the time, the nature of my job—specifically, the high volume of beauty, skin-care, and fitness products I test within my home “office,” a corner in my one bedroom—makes me have so much stuff, all the time. So even with my best efforts to stay neat, I often find that there’s a bit of a mess more often than not. But one of the keys to a lagom home is minimalism.

In her book, Brantmark offers five signs that you need to declutter your home, including reasons such as, “You have an entire cupboard or room for items you never use” or “It takes you more than five minutes to find something you’re looking for.” Check, check. Translation: It was clear I needed to do some serious excavation. Unlike the Marie Kondo method, which is a total home/life makeover project if done to the letter, proponents of lagom suggest taking things slowly, like tackling just one cupboard at a time.

This seemed like a great idea because it I didn’t have to take on my entire apartment, which would normally leave me overwhelmed and quick to give up. The lagom way has left my home far neater and more organized than I would have imagined. Particularly, I’ve been fond of the five-minute rule, and find myself cleaning out areas where I often misplace things. I’ve also created little homes for everything important, whether it be a cradle for my cell phone or a tray for my wallet. (I now have both.)

2. Make coffee breaks real breaks.

The Swedish are known for their coffee breaks, a social ritual known as fika, which translates to “taking a break for coffee and enjoying a small treat,’” says Brantmark. “But it also means so much more than that. It’s a moment to relax and catch up with others away from the stresses and strains of everyday life.” Similarly, Dunne writes that “fika can be a way to pause, relax and connect—with yourself, your loved ones, colleagues or a book.”

While I’m excellent at drinking coffee, I literally could not be worse at taking breaks in the middle of the day. I blame this on working from home as a writer and my laser-like focus. Even if I did tear myself from my computer screen, it’s not like I have colleagues or friends in nearby offices to take a break with.

Yet Brantmark is quick to point out that the beauty of fika is in its simplicity. “The beauty of fika is how uncomplicated it is. You can do it literally anywhere—at your kitchen table, at a local cafe, on the beach, or even on the side of the road. And you can do it almost anytime…all you need is a cup of coffee—or another hot drink—and a small treat of some kind,” she says. “The key is to stop whatever you’re doing and take some time out to enjoy the simple, good things in life.”

For me, fika breaks have turned into twice-daily walks around my neighborhood, settling on one of the six coffee shops within walking distance, and treating myself to some kind of beverage and, if I’m really feeling feisty, a snack. The combination of giving my brain some downtime and that bit of aerobic exercise is just what I need. I’m less frantic about my email as a result, too; not checking it as much hasn’t affected my work.

3. Working longer doesn’t equal working harder.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, as of 2017, the average Swede works 1,609 hours per year, compared with an average of 1,759 hours across the rest of the world. And yet Sweden ranks sixth in the global competitiveness index. Americans work an average of 1,780 hours per year—hovering above the global average— and rank second overall when it comes to competition, though I’m not sure those four extra spots are really worth the climb.

Could coffee breaks be partly to credit here? Maybe. Dunne pointed me to the 52:17 rule, which comes from a study done by a job-search site that found that the most productive people work for 52 minutes and then take a 17-minute break. Of course, not all jobs allow for this. Fueled by fika, I tried to swap in a work-then-take-a-break-then-work routine for my usual work-for-hours-on-end-until-you-break way of doing things, and though I can’t say I adhered to the 52:17 rule exactly, what I found was that by giving myself the OK to take breaks, I got far more done overall than if I’d locked myself up and expected myself to write for about six hours on end.

And honestly, that was a diversion from how I usually act. I used to say no to every work event during office hours or after in an attempt to bust out more content. But because I followed the 52:17 rule—loosely speaking—I found that I was able to attend events, make those good contacts and connections while also getting my work done in the same total amount of time.

4. Respect the life-giving powers of leftovers.

Living lagom is all about not being wasteful with all things, food included. Specifically, lagom adherents never let good leftovers go to waste. As someone who prefers eating her Chinese takeout cold the next day, this is a mindset I can get behind. And as Dunne writes, the popular Swedish dish known as pyittipanna (which translates to “small pieces in a pan”) was traditionally devised from a hodgepodge of leftovers.

So I figured, why not give it a go with the contents of my own fridge, incorporating this waste-not-want-not cooking ethos by eating a little bit of whatever I had left over in the fridge for breakfast and LOVING IT. My breakfasts, which previously consisted of heaps of coffee and a “sopper” slice of toast (soppers are my family’s affectionate name for slices of toast to sop up the morning’s carafe of coffee), became much more diverse, and it was a nourishing and dare I say inspiring way to kick off the day—especially with a fried egg on top, which Dunne cites as a true Swedish touch, along with beetroot, the latter of which I politely pass on.

5. Friday nights are best spent in sweats on the couch.

Through reading, I learned about the lagom practice of fredagsmys, or the honoring of downtime with loved ones: “It’s an evening dedicated to spending time together and unwinding as a family after a long week–you just need to find a show everyone can enjoy,” Dunne writes.

Likewise, Brantmark’s suggestions for successful Cozy Fridays include: Set aside your phones and clear your calendar for the evening; plan a simple, popular meal that all the family loves, such as pizza or tacos; select an activity you can all do together, like playing a board game or watching a film; and bring out snacks, such as popcorns and crisps, to share. Dunne suggests using plenty of candles, especially tealights, for an ambient vibe, while also cozying up in your favorite loungewear.

I already knew I’d ace sitting in front of the TV come Friday night in sweatpants, but I wasn’t sure if I could muster up the strength to cook the whole pick-and-mix taco buffet that Dunne suggests as a traditional Swedish option.

Aside from the face my husband shot at me at the thought of DIY tacos (he was not interested), I was honestly too tired to start cooking on a Friday. No matter how semi-homemade. I used my desire to partake in all things lagom to rationalize ordering McDonald’s for dinner.

6. A basic black wardrobe makes life better.

Two words: capsule wardrobe, a term that refers to a minimalist, highly practical closet featuring a limited amount of beloved, highly versatile garments that can be styled together in multiple ways. Because a capsule wardrobe makes it easy to pick an outfit, you take the stress out of getting dressed and spend less time and energy on shopping and laundry, says Brantmark. “It’s also more economical, and those who try it say it makes them feel happier.”

Swedish fashion is often gender- and color-neutral, “but dressing lagom is just as much about making it easy for yourself and feeling comfortable as it is about fitting in in the most sophisticated of ways,” says Dunne. Think loose shapes, a color scheme in mostly black with the odd, attention-grabbing print or statement scarf, some big jewellery, and comfortable, walking-friendly shoes.

Thankfully, I have a similar all-black style ethos (although I’ve gotten pretty wild recently and tried to fold in some more greys, beiges and whites, too). The idea of creating a mix-and-match capsule seemed daunting but feasible if I really was thoughtful about it. Huh, so it’s that balance, mindfulness thing again.

Brantmark suggested an exercise of taking everything from your closet out, removing five hangers, and then hanging your favorites up, with the goal being you’ll discard five items upon completion.

And I have to say, that worked. I thought I’d just edited the contents of my closet recently, but turns out I had at least five pieces to toss—I had no problem bidding adieu to a cap-sleeved blouse I hadn’t worn in two years, a black dress that’s about three sizes too large these days, and a few other I-forgot-these-existed-but-I-definitely-don’t-need-them pieces I had no problem parting with.
However, Dunne warns of passing on too much too quickly. “You might rediscover an old skirt and discover it now works perfectly,” she writes. So while I wanted to toss the old black Maje dress that’s a bit too loose these days, it’s such a beautifully tailored sheath that I know I’ll want (and fit into) it again eventually. This would be a no-no under Kondo rules, but lagom let me have this one.

7. The topknot makes styling hair a non-issue (or less of one).

Dunne says that many who live the lagom life choose a hairstyle that’s quick, easy, and versatile—not unlike the whole capsule wardrobe thing. She writes that many finish their looks with a high topknot, dubbed “the Lykke Li bun” a few years ago after the Swedish singer who popularized it. I’ve been rocking the high bun since my high school days (and its height was known to be directly proportional to my stress level while I was on staff at a few magazines), but I never thought of it as a look.

But because I’ve given up on blow drying after like over a decade of heat styling hell with my hair, the topknot is now my go-to look. And my GOD has it made my life easier. I’m talking like, hours of my life back. My hair is also way healthier thanks to the lack of styling products, tools, and toiling.

Here are my beauty editor tips on how to achieve the perfect messy top knot: Ensure your hair isn’t newly washed (it’s far trickier to achieve this style with silky smooth hair). Scrape your hair together and pull it straight up over your head. Twist it downwards towards the crown, stopping an inch above your head. Wrap the hair around itself to form a loose bun. Use as many hair ties and/or bobby pins as you need for a secure hold. Get extra and tease out a few strands to give it that “I’ve worn this bun all day and night” look.

8. If there’s one gift I got from living that lagom life, it was a sense of calm.

And let me be clear: I’m not exactly known for my placid attitude nor everyday dealings in life, in fact, I often get anxious just trying to not be anxious. (This, of course, I’m working on with my therapist.)

But until Tara and I clear things up, living lagom taught me that life doesn’t need to be so damn complicated; that I can say “stop” when I’ve done enough or taken on enough work without sloppily accepting every assignment and sending back half-assed copy. Because I should get to relax and enjoy life’s pleasures—living lagom is about enjoying everything in moderation; a more healthy, balanced way of thinking. Personally, I found that that experimenting with lagom and making subtle changes to your routine will not only bring a sense of equilibrium to your life; it will also bring you a greater feeling of calm and contentment.

If You’re Cooking on a Budget, You Need These Foods in Your Pantry

As someone who’s spent most of my adult life living in expensive cities, I’ve inadvertently become kind of an expert on budget-friendly cooking. While I’m able to spring for fancy farmers’ market finds and gourmet oils and salts every now and then, my grocery shopping is usually restricted to whatever tastes the best and costs the least. That means I end up relying on a lot of freezer and pantry staples, namely canned food, frozen fruits and veggies, and lots of different dried goods.

While canned, frozen, and dried foods might not sound like they’d make the most delicious meals, they totally can as long as you know how to be creative with them, Beth Moncel, owner of Budget Bytes, tells SELF. As the creator of a popular budget food blog, she knows a thing or two about cooking great food without spending a lot. Here you’ll find all the affordable pantry staples she and I both love, plus ingenious, healthy, and delicious ways to incorporate them into your food.

Canned tomatoes, beans, pumpkin, fish, and chicken.

Moncel doesn’t love all canned foods, because many of them aren’t very fresh or as good as their frozen alternatives (like canned peas or carrots), or they have their flavor compromised by a lot of added sugar or sodium. That being said, there are a couple canned products she always has on hand.

Canned tomatoes are one of those products. “Fresh tomatoes have their place, but for quick and easy weeknight dinners, canned tomatoes can’t be beat,” says Moncel. “They’re perfect for making quick sauces, bases for soups, or adding to rice dishes.” In fact, canned tomatoes are actually preferable to fresh tomatoes when they’re not in season, because they’re typically made with tomatoes that are harvested at peak season, meaning they’re usually more flavorful. At the store, whole canned tomatoes with no added sodium are your best option, because preservatives are often added to diced canned tomatoes to keep them from clumping. While these preservatives don’t necessarily affect the nutrient content, they do affect the flavor, sometimes giving the tomatoes a weird, metallic tang. If you want diced tomatoes, you can cut whole canned tomatoes yourself—that’s what I do, anyway.

Moncel also loves canned beans of all different shapes, colors, and sizes, whether they be black beans, kidney beans, or chickpeas. “Cooking beans from dry is great if you have time, but canned beans are a great for last minute meals,” she explains. “You can add them to pasta, soup, salads, casseroles, rice dishes, or just about anything,” she adds, “[and] not only are they incredibly inexpensive, but they’re packed with nutrition, and there is an endless variety of flavors, colors, and textures to choose from.”

Canned pumpkin is one canned ingredient that I love, because it makes cooking with pumpkin that much more accessible. Rather than having to roast a whole pumpkin every time I want to make something with it, I can simply pop open a can instead. And they’re available all year-round, so I don’t have to wait to satisfy my cravings until they’re in season.

Canned seafood, like tuna or salmon, are great because they’re already ready to eat when you pop them open. They’re also great ways to add protein to whatever you’re eating on a moment’s notice. Just be sure to reach for cans with little to no added sodium—that way you can season it yourself and know exactly what you’re eating. Same goes for canned chicken, which is the best kind of chicken to make chicken salad sandwiches with, IMHO.

Frozen spinach, peas, broccoli, and corn.

Even though frozen vegetables can’t technically be stored in the pantry, Moncel still considers them pantry staples because of how often she uses them. The nice thing about frozen fruits and vegetables is that they’re just as fresh and healthy as fresh vegetables, because they’re always flash frozen right after they’ve been harvested. That means all the nutrients they have from the moment they’ve been picked will still be there when you finally decide to defrost them.

Frozen spinach is one of her favorite frozen products, because it’s way cheaper than fresh spinach. Plus, you get more bang for your buck, because frozen spinach is already shrunken, so you know exactly how much you’re getting, unlike with fresh spinach, which can go from being a lot to a little in no time.

Unlike their canned counterparts, frozen corn and peas both maintain that satisfying crunch that make those veggies delicious. Moncel adds them to everything from casseroles to soups.

Moncel also loves frozen broccoli, which she says you can roast and it will taste virtually the same as fresh roasted broccoli. (You can find her recipe for that here.)

Dry goods like rice, quinoa, lentils, and pasta.

“Dry goods are usually the inexpensive base ingredient that I build my meals on,” Moncel explains, “and because they don’t require refrigeration or special packaging, they’re always going to be super inexpensive.”

Some of Moncel’s favorites are quick-cooking ingredients like rice, quinoa, and lentils. “You can use these as inexpensive bases for bowl meals, to bulk up salads, make casseroles, or add to soups,” she explains.

And of course, Moncel loves pasta, especially now that there are so many different kinds available on the market. “Today there are so many varieties of pasta available for specific needs,” she says, “and even though these specialty pastas may be more expensive than normal pasta, they are still far less expensive per pound than dairy or meat, so they will help bulk up a meal without costing you a fortune.”

If you were to buy all of these ingredients at the same time, odds are it would last you for quite some time and everything would probably cost less than $20. So head to the store and stock up on them if you haven’t already, so you always have excellent building blocks to make affordable and delicious meals.

11 Pieces of Advice for Getting Your First Tattoo, From People Who Have Tattoos

You may have a lot of questions before getting your first tattoo. What do I want? Where do I want it? Who is the right artist? Is this safe? Believe us, before you get permanently inked, these are good questions to be asking yourself. (And, by the way, we have [answers to your questions over here]TK.) But there’s a lot more to the experience of getting a tattoo—and coming up with the design, and taking care of it afterward—that you probably wouldn’t think to ask about before you go under the needle for the first time.

So, we asked over 200 people for bits of wisdom they’d pass down to someone considering a tattoo. What did they wish they knew? What advice would they give? Any secret tips? Below, a guide to having the best tattoo experience possible, with a little help from some friends.

1. After-care is key.

“Keeping it clean after it’s done can be a pain in the ass but it’s so, so important. An infection can get very, very serious if left untreated. And, of course, keep it out of the sun—UV rays degrade and fade the ink.”
—Quinn W., 19

2. Bring a friend.

“Make sure you have a buddy that can hold your hand and look at it while it’s happening. Chew gum. It helps take away the pain.”
—Tristen L., 18

3. Do your homework.

“Make sure to do your homework on reputable shops and artists, and be willing to pay a pretty penny for a pretty tattoo. Overall, just have fun with it and make it YOURS. Tattoos are a personal and beautiful thing!”
—Marissa M., 18

“It is a permanent decision, so make sure you’re ready for that commitment. If you’re getting something in another language, verify it with a native speaker (Google translate isn’t fully accurate!). Do your research regarding tattoo artists and find one that specializes in your style of tattoo. It may be pricey, but if you want a lasting tattoo, it’s worth it!”
—Taylor M., 23

4. Take your time.

“Take your time. Think about things that are meaningful to you, words of wisdom, people that inspire you, or even a piece of art that speaks to you! But also, have fun with it! Don’t let anyone decide what a ‘good tattoo’ is. It’s a personal decision, and just like with your clothes or makeup, it’s a form of self-expression. And please, please do your research on the tattoo parlor you want to get yours done at. You do not want a bad parlor experience to ruin tattoos for you!”
—Brooke L., 21

“Tattoos can be absolutely beautiful, but they can also hold so much regret. My advice would be to wait at least one year before getting a tattoo. If the idea is still in your head a year later, and you still like the tattoo, chances are you’ll like it 25 years from now. Just remember they’re permanent. Like, legit permanent. And I would also suggest not getting any names of significant others because I’m convinced they jinx relationships. But if you and your honey want to get one, I recommend getting a symbol. A small symbol. This way you can come up with a cover story if the relationship ever hits the toilet!”
—Ambrosia L., 23

5. You get what you pay for.

“RESEARCH YOUR TATTOO SHOP! Let me reiterate: You have this tattoo for the rest of your life. You pay for what you get. Don’t be daunted when they tell you what the minimum is for a tattoo—that can really indicate how good it will turn out. The minimum is really the price of the ink itself, and having been to another shop where the minimum was much less, I can say that I would rather save up and have an $80 charge (before labor and tip) than a crappy tattoo where the ink is splotchy and faded.”
—Julie M., 20

6. Remember, it’s a personal choice.

“I think the most important thing to consider when getting a tattoo (and this is extremely cliché but nonetheless true) is that you’ll have that ink on your body for the rest of your life. The art doesn’t have to be grand or have a captivating story behind it; I am a huge supporter of getting tattooed for the present memory itself. Getting tattooed is solely a personal choice—yours and no one else’s. That being said, be sure that it is your choice and you are 100 percent committed to that tattoo.”
—Molly S., 18

7. Make sure you feel comfortable.

“You need to feel comfortable in the tattoo shop that you are planning to go to as well as be comfortable with the person who is giving you that tattoo. The place that I went made me feel comfortable and worked with me to make sure that I was getting exactly what I wanted. If the atmosphere of the shop is making you uneasy, then I would suggest looking elsewhere.”
—Ally P., 18

8. Eat before you go. (And tip at then end!)

“Definitely eat something before you go. I almost passed out AND threw up because I hadn’t eaten anything that day, with just this tiny tattoo. And always, always tip the artist!”
—Abigail K., 20

9. Start small.

I would say go with what your heart tells you and to also start small. This piece of art will be on your body for the rest of your life. Make sure you’re happy with the design beforehand and have added your own flare. I have two smaller tattoos that I got previously and it really helped prepare me for this larger one.”
—Madison S., 19

10. Think carefully about placement.

“To anyone who says that it won’t hurt, they’re lying. It’s a needle being poked into you a bunch. What do you expect? But it’s not the sensation of someone impaling you, so in the long run, the pain is worth the product. With that statement, you get what you pay for. Expect to pay more than what you’d expect, and sit down with your artist to see what would be appropriate. Lastly, be 10,000 percent sure of what you want to get, where you get it, and how it may affect you in the future. I get LOTS of comments on this tattoo because it’s on my forearm. Remember, everyone has their own opinions and enjoys different styles of art. Respect what people put on their body, because it’s theirs!”
—Emily S., 20

“I would say that if you can’t stop thinking about the image, just go for it. Also, my thigh tattoo really helped me love showing off my thick thighs in shorts, something I didn’t always have great confidence in. You forget about the pain, but you get to smile every time you catch your reflection for years.”
—Stefanie P., 29

11. Ask others for advice.

“My parents took me when I turned of age for my first tattoo. They wanted me to see what a clean shop was, learn what questions to ask, and not be afraid to say, ‘No I want it to look more like this.’ My mom told me to get it in a place where I can hide it or show it off when I want. Now that I’m a teacher, that was really great advice!”
—Rachel B., 33

8 Things You Should Definitely Know Before You Get Your First Tattoo

So, you’ve decided you want your first tattoo. Welcome to the club! No matter why you’ve decided to join—to commemorate a person or place, to honor yourself, or just because you think they look super cool—it’s important to do your research first.

Although it seems like everyone and their mother has gotten inked, the world of tattoos, shops, and artists can still be an intimidating place. Below is our beginner’s guide to entering it, with what you need to know about the before, the during, and the after. To get the best advice for newbies, SELF spoke to veteran tattoo artists Yoni Zilber, who started his career in the U.S. at New York Adorned in 2002, and Tamara Santibañez, an artist at Saved Tattoo in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

1. If you like the idea of getting a tattoo but aren’t sure what you want, press pause.

If you don’t have a specific design in mind, but still think you want a tattoo, Zilber recommends you hold off for now. Going into a shop without an idea can make things difficult for the artist, and, more importantly, may not be best for you in the long run. If you have a general idea in mind but want to spend some more time brainstorming your vision, you can set up a consultation. At that meeting, you’ll walk through your vision for the tattoo with the artist. Then, the artist will come up with a sketch based on their style and your wants, so you can see exactly what your future tattoo will look like. During this process, you can give your input as much as you like, pointing out minor details you like and others you don’t until you together come up with a final design. Depending on the tattoo and what you’ve decided on with the artist, your sketch may be super detailed or somewhat vague—its most important use is to properly map out proportions and create a framework for the artist. (Make sure you’re on the same page as your artist when it comes to what will be freehanded and what will be more pre-planned.)

Depending on the parlor and the size of your tattoo (and thus the amount of time your artist will need to tattoo it), your artist may be able to start tattooing right away. However, at popular shops, artists often are booked in advance, meaning they won’t be available on the spot. In that case, you’ll have to set up a separate time to come back and get tattooed. If the tattoo you want is small and simple, you can skip the consultation and just set up an appointment to be tattooed. A good artist should also be able to contribute their knowledge about how the tattoo will heal and age to make it look even better.

“Think about what you’re going to want to look at when you’re 30 or 40 or 50,” Zilber tells SELF. “I’m 42 years old, and the stuff I wanted two years ago, I wouldn’t get today.”

2. Your tattoo artist should feel right, both aesthetically and personally.

Look for an artist whose work you like and whose style would go well with the design you have in mind. Instagram can be great for this. “If you want a lion or a dragon, look at artists that actually do those really well, and see that you really like what they do,” Zilber says. The next step is to meet your artist. Both Zilber and Santibañez say that it’s important that you like your tattooer—not just their work, but as a person. Santibañez advises, “Pay attention to their vibe. Are they happy to answer your questions? Are they open to your concerns, or are they acting like you’re rude because you want to know how it’s done and how artists work?”

While getting your tattoo, your artist should make you feel comfortable, as it can be a pretty intimate experience. “I try to make sure that I offer my clients privacy screens if they feel overexposed, vulnerable, or need to get undressed to get tattooed,” says Santibañez. “If I have to move someone’s clothing, I’ll tell them I’m going to do it or I’ll ask them to do it themselves.” It’s important to find an artist you’re comfortable around so that you feel good about communicating during the process.

3. It’s important that the shop is clean.

How a shop looks and feels to you will impact how comfortable you are with the experience. But what matters most is that it’s hygienic. “Look to see if the place is clean, and look at the tables you’d get tattooed on. A lot of tattooers are slobs, and they think it’s cool because they’re an artist, but it’s very important that the place where you tattoo all day, every day, will be very clean, because we still deal with blood,” says Zilber.

Tattoo parlors are regulated by state (not federal) government, which means laws, standards, and certification requirements vary depending on where you get your tattoo. In many states, tattoo parlors will need to apply for and receive a license from the health department to operate. To get this license, tattoo artists will often need to provide proof of completion of a variety of training courses, like those in bloodborne pathogens, tattoo infection control, first-aid, and adult CPR. You can always ask your artist or parlor for any of these licenses or documents.

“Any shop should be using single-use needles and medical-grade tubes,” Santibañez tells SELF. Needle reuse is dangerous, putting patients at risk of contracting hepatitis C, hepatitis B, and other blood-borne illnesses, according to Mayo Clinic. She recommends watching your artist unpackage their equipment in front of you to be sure that the tools are new and/or sterilized. Many states actually require that your artist unpackages their equipment in front of their customer.

4. Be aware that tattoos can be pretty expensive.

Tattoo costs vary depending on the size of the artwork and how intricate it is. Most shops will have a minimum price of around $50 to $80 for teeny tiny designs, but they’re more often hundreds (or thousands) of dollars. “What I always tell people is that if you don’t pay for your tattoo now, you’ll pay for it eventually,” Santibañez says. In other words, if you’re quoted a price that’s too high, and decide to settle for a cheaper artist or parlor, you may wind up paying the difference in other ways later—by having the tattoo removed or tattooed over by someone else, by being left with a design you don’t like, or with scarring or infection. “If you want a tattoo, and what you want costs $600, and you only wanted to spend $200, I wouldn’t get the tattoo. I would wait until I had $600,” says Zilber.

5. Yes, this is going to hurt.

Before starting, you’ll have a chance to review the sketch you and your artist came up with and make any tweaks or changes. They’ll make sure it’s well-sized for the area of your body where you’ll be getting it and will put the design on a piece of carbon or wax paper, which will then be used to transfer the sketch to your body. They’ll clean and shave the skin where the tattoo will go before making the transfer. Once the sketch has been transferred to your skin, you can get up, walk around, and look at it from a few different angles. Make sure you’re happy with the placement and size. If there’s anything you want changed, your artist will take the sketch off your skin, edit it, and do the transfer again. Make sure you do this until you’re sure you’re happy with the way it looks and feels.

When you get down to tattooing, the artist will get you in a comfortable position—which could involve lying down on a table (like you would at the doctor) or sitting upright in a chair depending on where your tattoo will be. Comfortable is something of a relative term—if you’re tattooing under your arm, say, you may have to sit or lie still with your arm up for minutes or even hours. And, oh yeah, it’s going to hurt. You’re getting repeatedly stabbed by a needle, after all. Some of the more sensitive places include the face, lower back, ankles, and feet. There’s also a chance you may bleed.

Generally, artists will tattoo the outline first, and then continue by filling in and adding detail. That also may mean starting with black ink and then moving on to colors or shading—and for large, intricate designs, it might require several sessions before the tattoo is 100 percent complete.

Be prepared: Once your artist is done, they’ll wash the area and let you have a look at it and it will almost certainly be more red and irritated-looking than the final product.

6. Sadly, you can’t make it hurt less.

“It’s gonna be painful,” says Robert Anolik, M.D., a board-certified celebrity dermatologist tells SELF. “You can take things like over-the-counter painkillers, but the sharp pain you have at the surface of the skin will still likely be felt during the procedure.” You can take acetaminophen (like Tylenol) or ibuprofen (like Advil) can help with any soreness that occurs in the hours after you get your tattoo, but there’s little you can do to make the actual process more of a breeze. As for the myth that fatty areas of the body are less painful—not necessarily true.

7. Not everyone is the best candidate for a tattoo.

People with dermatologic conditions like psoriasis and vitiligo should consult their dermatologist before getting tattoos. There’s also a chance that getting a tattoo can trigger an underlying condition in someone who’s shown no symptoms before, according to Dr. Anolik. If you have a history of keloids—large, hard scars that grow around a wound—“the entire area that’s being tattooed could essentially turn into a massive scar,” says Dr. Anolik. Check your family history for all of these conditions, and be aware of any allergies that may come up as well, says Susan Bard, M.D., a board certified dermatologist and a fellow of the American College of Mohs Surgery. “Dyes can be very allergenic—they’re one of the most common allergens that people encounter. Something I encourage people to have a little test spot of the different pigments to make sure they’re not going to have an allergic reaction,” she says. Sherrif F. Ibrahim, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of dermatology at the University of Rochester, says he sees this happen to patients relatively often. “Because different chemicals give the dyes their color properties, you can develop an allergy to just the red, for example. So I see patients who have multiple color tattoos, and all of the red sections are raised, itchy, and scarred over. Sometimes we end up cutting the whole tattoo out surgically.”

8. Aftercare is key.

Getting a tattoo is an “invasive procedure,” says Dr. Bard. “There’s multiple stab wounds to the skin, there’s multiple trauma. The skin is open. So I like to treat it the way I would an incision, or any kind of trauma to the skin.” There are two main things to keep in mind, she says: keep it clean, and keep it moist. Dr. Bard recommends using Vasoline on the wound. Zilber agrees: “Put on a very thin coat of ointment. The first couple days are the most important. If you keep it clean, it will heal great for the rest of the two weeks it’s supposed to.”

Your artist should wrap the tattoo in something protective before you leave the shop—like plastic wrap—and may suggest keeping your tattoo covered in plastic for the first several days. You can put the plastic wrap over the Vasoline. Dr. Bard warns against using over-the-counter antibiotic ointment, which can be highly allergenic.

“Don’t wear tight clothes over it, and maybe avoid the gym for the first day or two,” Zilber adds. “The sweat is fine, but if you lay on a bench with dirty bacteria on it, it can get infected.”