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How Shirley Riga Replaced the Negative With the Positive by Using the Power of Words and Connection

I had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing Shirley Riga, an inspirational person who is very knowledgeable about positive self-talk, how to push past your fears, and how to treat yourself like the amazing person you are!

Shirley has gone through many ups and downs in her life. From growing up in an alcoholic and abusive household to raising her inspiring daughter of two liver diseases. She's had low self-esteem, she was a follower and she grew up scared. Scared all the time even for her own safety.

With her daughter as her teacher and a book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers, she has found her true self. Experiencing an awakening, energetically, and spiritually. An awakening that most others don't experience.

Shirley is now an advocate for caregivers, the author of Tools for the Exceptional Parents of a Chronically Ill Child, a spiritual director, a Feel the Fear instructor, and a co-producer for a play called We Did It For You!, a play that is focused on empowering women by teaching them about the power of women in the past.

Habits and Fear

Wellness With Ash:

What're your thoughts on being able to push past your fears and habits? Do you think they tie together?

Shirley Riga:

Absolutely. I have no doubt. The biggest awakening of someone doing this work is becoming aware of their self-talk. Self-talk is habitual. So habitual that when I started becoming aware of my self-talk, I wasn't even aware that I was calling myself all these names, bullying myself, putting myself down, and doubting myself. My whole inner language was really keeping me in a corner. As I became aware of what I was saying, I started changing it.

I see time and time again how surprised people are when they become more aware of their self-talk. They didn't realize that they talked to themselves so negatively. So it's a huge wake-up call to become aware of our self-talk. As I'm out and about in the world looking at people, everybody has body language, you can really tell who is just shredding themselves inside. The way they talk, walk, stand, sit, everything. You can tell they are limiting themselves in so many different ways.

The Power of Words

Wellness With Ash:

Do you practice affirmations and gratitude for positive self-talk?

Shirley Riga:

Absolutely. I teach affirmations in fact. I used to think affirmations, it's just words. What's the big deal? But actually, words are extremely powerful. I can go on and on about affirmations. I use them all the time. And again, I've gotten to the point that when I run into something that's giving me grief, I realize, okay, what did it, what is it? I look at it and then I create an affirmation about it. Then, I put a sticky note up on my bed, I put one up in my car and I work on it until I don't need it anymore. It becomes automatic.

I was at a conference with over 300 women. I asked for a volunteer to come up on the stage. I first checked out there were no shoulder problems and then I did what’s called a muscle test, asked her to hold out her arm sideways and straight. I asked her to resist me pushing down and she was very strong. Then I asked her to say 10 times out loud, “I am not a worthy woman.” When she was done, I tested her again with her muscle strength and she couldn’t resist me. Her arm flopped down. I have a 100% failure every time. The negative self-talk diminishes body energy. I then asked her to repeat “I am a worthy woman” 10 times and her strength was back. That's how instantaneous the power of words can be.

What Does Meditation Do for Us?

Wellness With Ash:

So do you think meditation is good for positive self-talk?

Shirley Riga:

Absolutely. I used to hate to meditate. I thought there's so much else to do and I can't keep my mind off all this stuff. I got into a meditation about four years ago. I downloaded a meditation app on my phone that I could listen to. On the app, people talk softly or nice soft music plays. I could sit still to that and say I was meditating. Since I became a spiritual director, part of my training was I had to learn to meditate. Over the last four years, I have found that meditation gives my headspace in order to feel my feelings, to find clarity, to just feel, feel like I have time to breathe inside. Meditation is hard when there's a lot of emotions in there that people don't want to feel. It makes them not want to do it or even try it.

I'm actually teaching a meditation class this spring. I'm creating one through our Unitarian Universalist church community because of the need for people to feel calmer, that they are there for themselves. Meditation helps people build a relationship with themselves. So they're not relying on everything outside of them to make them happier. Technology nowadays is so in our faces, distracting us from ourselves. People get caught in that thinking that is where they're connecting with themselves, but they're not. I think as they continue to feel more and more miserable, they get reminded that it's themselves they have to connect with.

Spiritual Guidance

Wellness With Ash:

As a spiritual director, you teach affirmations, gratitude, and meditation. Is there anything else you do as a spiritual director that empowers women?

Shirley Riga:

A lot of the meditation that I do, one of the places that I go when I meditate is I go to a fire, like a campfire. That fire represents the essence of me. What's burning there is what I believe lives on beyond my body. It is me as an adult, but beside me is my kid. I've seen her many times I can look and say, how old is she? And I can't get an exact age between seven and 10. And she's sitting beside me, equal to me, with a fire. And she's doing stuff that she likes doing, maybe coloring or once she was roasting marshmallows. That type of meditation, I don't know where it came from, but it really honors both of us, which I think is very valuable for honoring our kid within because so many of us have wounded children inside.

I had a man come to see me the other day who I encouraged to envision a little boy in front of him who is maybe lost or scared. I asked him, how would he treat that little boy. He wouldn't say go shut up and be quiet. He would say, what do you need? And so I said, treat yourself like that because that little boy is in you. When we can project it outside of ourselves, it's actually very surprising. People can be very nice to a stranger, but when it comes to themselves, they beat themselves up. I help people understand what is triggering them.

Recommended Habit to Help Push You Past Your Fear

Wellness With Ash: What's the first habit you recommend to someone who is having troubles pushing past their fear? What should they start?

Shirley Riga:

I definitely think becoming aware of the self-talk is important. I've done some writing with some clients, free free flow writing, and often times what comes out is a lot of negative at first and it helps move things along. It's helpful to prompt with some questions. I'm feeling frustrated because... and then they just write. Often times when we do affirmations, negative feelings come up with them. Some people can't even say affirmations, let alone come up with an idea of one.

Another technique that I use, which was my wife's technique that she taught me, is when I become aware of negative talking, that I immediately sit down with a piece of paper and write 10 good things about myself. What it's doing is interrupting the negative self-talk. It got to the point of becoming a habit because I didn't have to write it on paper because the minute I heard myself, my mind went to, okay, 10 good things. They don't have to be big. They could be like, I love to cook. I love dogs. But they're all positive things that I experienced and it changes it, it literally changes the thought of negativity. I'm big on the idea of trying to interrupt a negative by replacing it with positive.

Unbreakable Habit

Wellness With Ash:

What is one habit that you haven't been able to break yet?

Shirley Riga: Dealing with food. As a child, I was highly sensitive, feeling everybody's emotions. I numbed the sensitivity out by overeating or eating foods that weren't good for me. I've struggled with that all my life. I've gotten a lot better in dealing with not hurting myself and I have a ton of food intolerances so I get sick if I eat certain things. Sugar is one of them. Sugar sets off my inflammatory process and then I have pain in my body. I created affirmations around it actually to help me with it. I need to respect and love myself through the process instead of beating myself up about it.

Signature Question

Wellness With Ash:

If you were only allowed to add one more positive habit to your daily lifestyle, what would it be?

Shirley Riga:

I think I would add some sort of exercise and I don't know what it would look like. But exercises that would help me love my little kid inside as an adult. Years ago at a woman's workshop, I heard about an exercise I'd like to try. The exercise was the woman would lay down and they would trace her body on a big piece of paper. She'd get up and see what her body looks like. It's a body loving exercise. The body that I hold now is the body that I had when I was a kid. It's different. It's the body that I had when I was pregnant. It's the body that I will have when I become a very old woman and it's MY body. It's MY vessel. This came from the affirmation that I created around sugar, this is my vessel that I am using in this life. I want to treat it with reverence instead of forgetting about it all the time.

How Shirley Helps Others

Wellness With Ash:

The interview is coming to an end, Shirley. Remind people what you do for them and how you help?

Shirley Riga:

I help people in understanding what their fears are and giving them tools to help them move past them. I help people with wanting to build a deeper relationship within themselves. I help people with not losing themselves through caregiving. I help people who are dealing with a loved one with a chronic illness and how to not lose yourself. As this world deteriorates, there's a stronger and stronger need for people to connect to themselves and to acknowledge that they have a soul. I have the ability to connect with people on a deeper level. This helps me to communicate with people's souls in order to speak to them and speak to their personalities. I can work one on one with people and face to face. I work with people via zoom because it's very effective. I do groups and I speak. I am a motivational speaker about overcoming diversity because that's what I have done. I'm a big believer in modeling.

Looking for Answers?

Go check out Shirley Riga, follow her, check out her play, read her book or sign up for her training right now! She's inspirational and extremely knowledgeable in her field. If you are struggling with fear, negativity or building a loving relationship with yourself, she's your person. You can find her in many places; her main website, her training website, Facebook, Twitter and her play website.


Feel the Fear training website:

We Did It For You! play:

Go check out the play We Did It For You!. Shirley is the co-producer of this empowering play for women.

Your Certified Brain Health Coach,


Owner of SustainaBRAIN


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