Sometimes in life we may find ourselves tired and frustrated by our jobs, our families and friends, or from social pressures put upon us. It can feel overwhelming and monopolize how we feel, think, and even how we behave. It can also affect how we sleep, perpetuating our cycle of frustration and feeling of despair. For example, have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you don’t even know where to start and thought to yourself:
“This is impossible! How am I supposed to do this? I can’t even…”
If you have, we have news for you…
You are not alone! Many of us struggle with this very feeling and thought.
The even better news: There is a way out from under this cycle! It does not have to be this way! We can shape our present and future.
No matter if we are looking for better work/life balance, advancing our career, or growing as a leader, we can create our own path forward as we already have everything we need inside of us. It’s simply a matter of bringing it out of us.
Starting Our Journey Towards the Life We Desire
Starting our journey begins with activating a deep visceral spark within us, propelling us to towards the life we desire, which comes from exploring what we truly desire to move towards, but also what we are moving away from. In addition, it comes from recognizing the way we currently feel, think, and behave, as well as, from accepting that it is okay that we feel, think, and behave the way we do. We are inherently designed to let ourselves know when something is off and a change in life is needed. These feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are just that. They are not to be shoved aside and checked at the door. They are what makes us us; what makes us human!
Exploring our current feelings, thoughts, and behaviors allows us to embrace the fact that we do NOT want to feel, think, and behave that way. It also allows us to see how we want to feel, think, and behave, and embrace that we have a choice in feeling, thinking, and behaving the way we wish to. Knowing we have a choice and there is a way forward towards the life we desire are powerful drivers which ignite our spark to create the change we desire in life and undergo our journeys to make that life a reality.
Believe It or Not, We Have a Choice When It Comes to How We Feel
Our feelings are a fundamental part of who we are. They can lift us up and propel us to great heights, or they can drag us down and keep us in despair. The choice, however, is ours! Believe it or not, we are capable of choosing how our feelings affect us.
Our minds and bodies seamlessly interpret the world around us at every moment of every day, generating how we feel. These feelings are natural and should be embraced! Even if … especially if … they are negative feelings.
Our choice of how our feelings affect us comes from gaining awareness of our feelings, acknowledging them, and actively deciding to let them serve us instead of letting them monopolize us.
When we are faced with feelings which negatively impact us, such as despair and anxiety, it can appear as if we are drowning in them and there is no way out. We simply can’t see past them. But there is a way, and we can break free from them.
The first step is being aware of how we feel. This means allowing our feelings to come forth instead of disregarding them. Once they come forward, we can acknowledge them and embrace that this is how we feel in this moment. And once we have embraced that we are feeling this way, we can then actively decide if we are going to continue feeling this way or if we are going to take action to feel in a way which serves us and helps us move forward.
When we make our choice to move forward, we take action to embody the opposing feeling of the negative feeling we are experiencing. Every feeling does have an opposite! Despair is opposed by hope and anxiety is opposed by calmness. Knowing our positive opposing feelings to our negatives ones greatly helps us overcome our negative feelings.
Self-Reflection: What negative feelings are you currently experiencing and what are their opposites? What activities, music, scents, images, thoughts, etc. makes you feel these opposing feelings? Use these to help you embody your opposing positive feeling, propelling yourself forward.
How Our Thoughts Affect Us Is Up to Us
Our thoughts are powerful and ever present. They can dictate how we feel about ourselves and others, as well as, how we behave. When they are negative, they can perpetuate a downward spiral which makes us feel despair, preventing us from seeing any hope of getting out from underneath of them. However, when they are positive, they can help lift us up and help us achieve new heights.
For example, if we decided to become a runner without having run before, we may experience more negative thoughts than positive ones about the first time we go for a run. We may possibly think “How am I going to do ever do this? I can’t even run half a mile!” This thought is automatically negative instead of embracing the positive of the experience; that without having run before we are able to run for almost a half mile. From this thought, we may then jump to the conclusion we will never be able to run half a mile, or we may label ourselves as someone who is out of shape. Both of which can continue to perpetuate negativity which ultimately prevents us from trying to run again.
On the other hand, by celebrating the fact that we set a goal to start running, and we took our first steps towards doing so by going for a run, we keep our thoughts positively oriented. Now, instead of having a negative outlook on this experience, we have a positive one which motivates us to repeat the experience and strive for the goal we have set for ourselves.
Self-Reflection: What negative thoughts do you currently have and how rational are they really? What do you know to be true in opposition of those thoughts? Our negative thoughts are not to be discarded, checked at the door, or thrown out the window; rather, they are to be accepted and embraced. We, as human beings, are naturally going to have these types of thoughts. It’s part of our nature. What we do with these thoughts, however, is what makes the difference. By recognizing our negative thoughts, we are then able to choose to either let them dominate us or question their rationality and move forward in the opposite and positive direction which we know to be true.
Changing Our Behavior to Reach our goals is possible
Have you ever done something you immediately regret, such as eating an entire bag of potato chips while watching tv, or wasting hours searching the internet instead of running errands you now have to cram into half the time and a lot of traffic? How we behave can have a great baring on us; especially when our behavior keeps us from achieving the goals we desire.
The first step towards changing our behavior which hinders us is becoming aware of it. Sometimes it can be obvious, for instance “I know I waste way too much time on social media and watching YouTube.” But sometimes, it may not be that obvious, for instance it may take a friend pointing out to you that you change the subject every time someone talks about healthier eating habits. Either way, becoming aware that we engage in these behaviors helps us understand when we engage in these behaviors and how they affect us.
Once we understand these behaviors, we can explore if they are helpful or a hinderance towards the goals we have for ourselves, such as losing a couple of pounds. Losing weight can happen from eating less calories than you use in a day, burning more calories in a day through exercise than you eat, or a combination of both. Our behaviors above of eating an entire bag of potato chips and changing the subject when anyone talks about healthier eating habits are a hinderance towards our goal of losing weight. Additionally, the time we spend searching the internet is time we could spend more actively to burn more calories. Keeping our goal in mind when we assess our behaviors helps us recognize the behaviors we wish to change and the steps we can take to start creating that change.
Self-Reflection: Change takes time! Starting with small modification to our behaviors, which create small wins, gives us a hope and experiences which motivate us towards our goal because we know it is possible to achieve it! What behaviors do you notice which prevent you from achieving what you desire? What small steps can you take to start changing these behaviors?
Do Your Relationships Help You or Hold You Back?
The people in our lives greatly impact the way we feel, think, and behave. Whether they are family, friends, co-workers, significant others, or acquaintances, the way they treat us affects us when we are with them AND when we are not. How many times have you walked away angry from a conversation which stayed with you all day and made you miserable? How many times have you received praise from your boss which made you feel good all day? Both of these interactions not only affected us in the moment, but also affected the way we felt, thought, and behaved well after the fact.
When we are reaching towards a goal in life, we may find our relationships either help us or hold us back from achieving it. There can be many reasons a relationship holds us back from achieving what we desire, such as, a lack of belief in us or calling us names. We may start to believe they are right when we hear these over and over again, preventing us from trying to move forward towards our goal.
The good news is these relationships do not have to be this way! We can choose to leverage these relationships as motivation to achieve our goals instead of letting them hold us back. Sometimes all it takes is a conversation with those individuals regarding what you desire and asking for their support. Other times, it may take limiting the type of interactions you have with those individuals. And other times, it may take simply knowing that those individuals are wrong about you and you are going to prove it! Either way, understanding how each of our relationships affects us helps us achieve the goals we desire and strengthen the relationships which support us in life.
Self-Reflection: Who are the relationships in your life which impact you negatively and hold you back from achieving what you desire? How do you want to change these relationships? What conversations will you have? How will you turn these relationships into motivation to achieve what you desire?
Understanding Our Environments
Whether we know it or not, the environments of our lives dictate the way we feel, think, and behave. Our environments are our homes, places of work, communities, clubs, and more. They contain both physical characteristics, such as artwork, sounds, and smells, as well as, have various individuals associated with them. The people within these environments can affects us negatively or positively but, it’s not just those relationships which affect us. The physical characteristics of our environments can have just as great of an impact on us as the people within them.
Our senses help us interpret the world around us. What we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste all become a part of what we experience each moment of every day. Experiences which naturally get compared to our past experiences and our feelings and thoughts from them. For instance, if the walls and cubicles of our office are a dreary color, we may associate them to our past experiences of dreariness such as a gloomy cloudy day which made us feel unmotivated and lazy. Subconsciously this can become a part of how we feel each time we go to work, creating a dread of going to work.
While we may not be able to paint over the walls of our offices, we can choose to bring in items we know will help uplift us and combat the dreariness we feel at work. The choice is ours! It starts with understanding how our sensory perceptions of environments affect us. Understating their affect upon us AND what creates the opposite affect upon us, can help us shift our environments to support us while striving for what we desire in life.
Self-reflection: How do the environments of your life affect you? Do they impact you negatively or positively? What can you bring into these environments to positively shift their impact upon you?
Igniting the Spark of Change
Every change in life starts as a desire; a desire which grows within us and motivates us to choose a new course in life. Often, we find ourselves running away from unhappiness or pain rather than running towards happiness or pleasure. However, both can serve as strong motivators to make a change within our lives.
Are you currently unhappy and wish to make a change in your life because of it, or do you wish to make a change because of the happiness it will bring you? In other words, are you running away from something or running towards something? Either way, the next question remains the same…how do we ignite the spark within us which will help us create the change we seek? And the answer is: becoming aware of and embracing the pain which will continue in our lives if we do not change.
Becoming aware of what will stay the same in our lives if we do not create change helps us understand the pain we will continue to feel if nothing changes. And embracing this awareness further solidifies that we will remain unhappy and it won’t change unless we take action. This recognition is what ignites our spark; it motivates us to move forward away from our pain.
Pro Tip: Self-reflection is very helpful; however, reflection coupled with creating a written list is even more helpful. Not only does it make us think, it also further solidifies our thoughts through our motor functions while writing them down. And it creates a great reference we can continue to draw from.
Beginnings and Ending
Changes in life bring with them new beginnings but, they also mark an ending for what has come before. Whether it’s taking a new job, moving to a new city, changing schools, or having a child, one aspect of our lives starts and another ends. Endings come with a sense of loss for what we are leaving behind; a sense of loss which could range from missing the comradery we had with coworkers to missing the time for ourselves we had before having a child.
When we are faced with losses like the above, we may feel anger, sadness, fear, and/or anxiety. Which, left unaddressed, can hinder our efforts to move forward with our new beginnings. Only by bringing forth our sense of loss and the affect it has on us can we begin to embrace it and move forward. Understanding our losses allows us to see what it is we value from our past. Once we know what we value, we can rebuild that value into our present and future.
Self-Reflection: What changes are happening in your life? And what are you losing from them? What is it you value which you wish to recreate in your life?
How Do I Figure Out What I Want in Life?
In life, it is often easier to describe what we don’t want rather than what we do want. How often do you find yourself thinking negatively rather than positively?
Did you know it is estimated there are approximately three times as many words in the English language to describe negatives than positives?
This may be one reason we have an easier time describing what we don’t want, or perhaps, we simply find it too hard to describe what we want so we stop trying. Either way, there is a way to figure out what we want in life, and it starts with what we don’t want.
Self-Reflection: To get started, explore what you don’t want in life. This may be feelings, thoughts, or behaviors regarding how you, feel, think, and behave; or this may be from observing how others feel, think, and behave. You may also explore, how others behave towards you, or how you see others being treated. And you may also explore what you don’t like about the culture at your place of work; a club you a part of; the communities you are a part of; and even your home.
Why Having a Vision Leads to Success
Knowing what we want in life is immensely complex and it continually evolves over time. However, most of the time we focus solely on a single aspect of what we want in life, leaving out the rest, because of our current circumstances which make us unhappy, bringing to the surface the single component of our desires we are focused on. During these times we are blinded by our focus and it is difficult to see past our “tunnel” vision. This is where a vision can be truly helpful and reorient us along our journey to creating the life we desire. They can bring us back to our path and keep us focused on the big picture of what we want. Did you know having a positive solution-focused mindset has been proven to be more effective than a negative problem-focused mindset?
The most successful visions outline a detailed depiction of what we want in life and what our journey looks like to achieve our desires. They cover not only ourselves, but those around us, and the environments around us. They are also strategic in nature and outline reasonable time frames and milestones for us to achieve along the path to our desired life. A true strategic vision of this nature takes time to create and starts with simply knowing what your basic vision consists of.
Self-Reflection: Can you describe your vision in a clear paragraph or statement? If not, you may not be clear yet on what it is you want. And that’s okay, there is time to figure it out! On the other hand, if you can describe your vision in a clear paragraph or statement, you’re well on your way to creating a strategic vision. Dive in! Explore your vision further to find its details and the steps which will truly help bring it to fruition.
Pro Tip: No matter where you are regarding your vision, having one will help focus and motivate you. Especially if you have it committed to a visual you see every day, carry with you, or can be easily accessed.
Have you ever found yourself saying “That was no big deal,” or “That’s just who I am,” or “That was nothing?”
We often use phrases similar to the above when we dismiss something we’ve done when someone gives us a compliment for doing it. Sound familiar? These are not the small things in life we discard, it is part of who we are that we discard. And, they are important parts of ourselves. Too often we don’t give ourselves enough credit because we are used to who we are and the way we are. We forget the amount of time and effort we have naturally put into ourselves over the years. It is important to recognize where we started from and how far we have come in life. When was the last time you sat down and really looked back upon where you started?
Maybe you once felt there was no possible way out; or you could not physically run a mile; or perhaps, you constantly doubted yourself. But now, you have completely changed your situation, you run several half marathons a year, and you have a lot of confidence in yourself. These types of changes in life truly take time to take hold but can feel like nothing is happening because we don’t see a difference right away or even on a daily basis. Today, we search for instant results but forget true change and development takes time. Because of this, we again, too often dismiss and do not recognize how far we have come.
Self-Reflection: Asking ourselves the question “How am I different today than I was…” six months ago, a year ago, or even 3 years ago is a very powerful question. It helps us recognize what steps we have taken and how far we have truly come. Moreover, it helps us understand how far we are along our journeys to achieving the life we desire, and where we are headed. It gives us confidence, hope, and safety in knowing what we want is possible!
How Small Wins Create the Foundation of Success
When we, as human beings, set out to do something new, we may find ourselves becoming timid, nervous, and/or even fearful because what we are setting out to do is unknown to us. Often, the unknown has a mythical aura about it we can’t quite seem to understand because we do not know what the unknown contains. This view of the unknown is daunting and overwhelming; affecting how we think in a negative way, which can create a self-fulfilling prophecy for when we go through our unknown experience because we expected the worst.
On the other hand, if we go through the unknown with an open mind, we can create something far more powerful: a small win which creates the building blocks for our future success. When keeping an open mind as we go through the unknown, we realize that the experience was useful and it was not a big deal. And, there was not a mythical vail about it. The experience now becomes part of a key mental foundation to take us to new heights.
The primary source for our belief in our abilities comes from our experiences. The greater the amount of experience we have in achieving what we set out to do, the greater the belief in ourselves to do it becomes. Building our list of experiences of small wins helps build our belief in ourselves. In addition, these small wins strengthen the neural pathways associated with the behaviors we engage in during our experiences.
Our brains are made up of approximately one-hundred billion neurons which can “talk” to each other. When we engage in a behavior, certain neurons talk to each other and form a neural pathway associated with that behavior. As we engage in that action more and more, the connection between those neurons (the neural pathway) becomes stronger and stronger. So, in addition to gaining a greater belief in ourselves, we strengthen the neural pathway associated with the behavior giving us belief in ourselves.
Newton’s third law states, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. What that means in this regard is: when we are trying to form a stronger belief in ourselves, we also have to weaken the lack of belief in ourselves. For instance, if we want to create more confidence and lessen our lack of confidence, we have to strengthen our neural pathway associated with our confidence while weakening the neural pathway associated with our lack of confidence.
The shift and building/weakening of our neural pathways takes time and does not happen overnight. This is why small wins are so pivotal to creating our success. They help to build and weaken, respectfully, our neural pathways. And when this happens, something magical occurs. We start seeing what was once seemingly impossible is now possible. We have gained enough belief in ourselves through our experiences that taking the next step is now just a matter of putting our foot forward; rather than, taking a giant leap.
Are You Ready to Get Started and Bring About the Life You Desire? You Already Have!
It can be scary and overwhelming to take the first step in creating the life you desire! However, by reading this, you have done just that! You have actively sought out help to understand what you want in life AND how to bring it about! That takes courage! Congratulations, you’ve now done the scariest thing – you’ve stepped into the unknown and you’re still standing! Embrace what you’ve done. You deserve it!
The self-reflection and pro tips outlined above are great places to start taking your journey towards the life you desire. Feel free to leverage them and let them guide you. If you are looking for more though, don’t worry, we have you covered! We’ve crafted tried and true exercises that take the above to an even deeper level and WILL help you get started and more!
Dive deeply into your feelings, thoughts, behaviors, relationships, environments, and more to clearly identify what it is you want and create a plan of action to bring it about using our Getting Started Workbook.