Many of us love to prescribe the origin of challenges we face to outside forces. While a portion of our circumstances is beyond our control, in most instances the majority of our lives fall directly within our sphere of influence. With that in mind there are some very specific ways we can make sure we are leading the types of lives we want.
Below are 10 non-radical, but game changing ideas for living life on your terms.
- YOU are responsible for your feelings. Ever heard someone bitterly express how a person or situation made them mad? The answer is a surefire yes for most anyone who’s had contact with another human being. We all fall into this trap of letting other’s words or actions directly affect our emotional state.
To live life on your terms you have to let go of the notion that anyone can directly affect your emotional state. Think about it—they would have to inject you with some form of drug that directly impacts the region of your brain responsible for the chemicals/hormones that produce that feeling. Barring drugs or physical torture, we cannot factually say that someone outside of ourselves is making us feel a certain way.
The only factual statement you can make is that you are choosing to react with this emotion and thought. I understand that at many times our emotional reactions can sort of be like a reflexive impulse, even instinctual in nature. But this doesn’t excuse you from the responsibility of maintaining your emotional integrity.
There are steps you can take to address emotions on your terms. Next time you find yourself reacting in an emotionally negative way, remind yourself that only you are responsible for your emotional system then permit yourself a moment—maybe a minute or 2—to fully embrace the feeling you are having and passively observe your thoughts about that emotion. Once that moment is over, gently remind yourself that it is time to get back to reality. Take long deep breaths as you do this—focusing on breathing helps to refocus and calm you down emotionally.
- Whether you believe you can or can’t, either way you are right. This saying has long been attributed to Henry Ford, although there is some residual uncertainty about its actual source.
Regardless, the premise of it is a fundamental belief that your ability to accomplish a thing is largely limited by self-imposed barriers. A lot of people suffer from inadequacy syndrome—the feeling that they are insufficient for someone’s affection, have inadequate skills for their job, or lack the willpower to complete an objective.
There are and will surely always be plenty of critics of us. Why add to that fuel? Why be your own worst critic? Don’t get me wrong, it is important to examine ourselves in a critical manner—that’s important for self-discovery and self-development. But we have to be careful to be objectively critical of our own self and abilities and to be sure not to veer into the territory of cynical criticism. It’s a fine line and we have to conscientiously keep ourselves from crossing it.
One of the best tools for combating self-doubt and criticism is to develop an empowering mantra. Every time you find yourself thinking you can’t, repeat the mantra. A personal favorite of mine comes from Tony Robbins I think. It is goes something like this: I can and I will. Every time I see a sliver of doubt, I remind myself that I can and I will. This statement empowers me by reminding me I have the mental and emotional resources to do what I set my mind to.
This is a highly elevated level of thinking and if you can get to this state of strong self-belief, you begin to discover ways and means through challenges you previously thought couldn’t be overcome. It sends your subconscious—your personal military system—to work on obtaining the creative breakthroughs you need and the resources you require to achieve your goals
- Your subconscious is your personal military. It obeys your commands and reinforces your beliefs.
It can work in your favor or against your best interests. It all depends on the commands it is fed. The commands come from your day-to-day thoughts. If you constantly see problems and think negative thoughts, your subconscious will go into overdrive creating situations for you to see more problems and think more negative thoughts.
But if you constantly feed your mind with empowering thoughts about your accomplishments, your goals and your potential then it puts its ranks to work enabling more circumstances for you to create new accomplishments, achieve your goals and realize your potential.
So, next time you find yourself up against a wall remember to flood your mind with thoughts about obtaining a solution. You’re going to find out that in the next hour or next day, you come up with an inspired idea. That is the result of your subconscious military unit winning battles for you.
- Choose your friends and acquaintances deliberately. The people you surround yourself with either contribute to your empowerment or hinder your progress.
It is a nearly inescapable fact that you pick up the habits and mannerisms of the people you spend the most time with. It is a human social adaptation tactic and it’s so subtle that most people don’t even realize it. Clear evidence of this fact exists in what psychologists call mirroring. When you are in conversation with someone you get along with you unconsciously begin to mirror their body language. They cross a leg, you cross a leg. They pick up a glass, you pick up a glass. All of this happens so subtly that few people notice they are mirroring each other. Even on an emotional and intellectual level, people will many times mirror each other’s thoughts and feelings the more time they spend around each other.
You can use this knowledge to surround yourself with people who stimulate your intellectual curiosity, rouse your ambition, and inspire your creativity. It is one of the greatest gifts to be able to surround yourself with people you respect and admire and to do the same for others.
- Embrace change. The most constant reality of life is that change happened, is happening and will continue to happen. Often people get apprehensive about change and the unknown. But imagine a life with no unknowns—how cruelly simple and unexciting it would be.
Imagine change like going to see a new movie. You’ve seen the trailer, so you sort of have an idea of the plot. Yet, you are excited to see it because now you will get to see exactly how that plot unfolds and the creative means—special effects, dramatic dialogue, set locations, martial art fight scenes—that give it a grand cinematic feel. Who knows it may even be a groundbreaking movie in terms of the technology and directorial style used.
Change should be approached with the same vigor. Your plans and ambitions are the trailer preview and the twists and turns and surprises are the unfolding of the plot. Just like in movies, your story may take you to a great conclusion but it may have unexpected means by which it gets you there.
Embracing the unknowable with curiosity and excitement will liberate you from the fears of tomorrow and help you focus more fully in the present.
- Be brutally honest with yourself. One of the most challenging things we endure is coming to terms with our own worst fears. We run away from truths we dare not contemplate and even convince ourselves of the opposites. Some people run away from these realities through excesses—overworking, overeating, oversmoking—and indulging in other distractions.
The real irony is that to overcome your fears you have to face them head-on. You will notice that having a direct dialogue with all your worst fears has the effect of releasing the mental and emotional stronghold they have on you.
I challenge you to take the time to mentally go through each fear you may have. Here are some guideline questions to guide you through this exercise. What is the absolute worst that could happen if it came to life? What is the next worst and least worst that could happen? How would it make you feel? What is the likelihood of each of these scenarios happening? Could you potentially recover from all these scenarios in one form or another?
Most people are surprised when they truly contemplate the possibilities of each circumstance coming to pass, but even more so to discover how livable and/or recoverable life could be under those conditions.
This can provide a large modicum of relief from your fears, but to truly annihilate them you have to probe yourself about their origins by asking the following: Why is it that I have this fear? What behaviors have I engaged in or seen others—parents, friends, role models—engaged in that have led me to believe that this a strong and valid fear to have? Why is it that I react in this manner to these types of circumstances and scenarios? What can I learn from the past that can empower me to react more appropriately to these concerns?
These are by no means a comprehensive set of questions, but they will get you started on the path to truly closing the wounds that bind and hinder you from achieving your full potential. Remember that even bold and courageous people have fears, but they choose to not let it define them. Be brave friend!
- Always look for challenges. Facing and overcoming challenges is what develops our personal character and strength. It is also the source of true happiness. You see the joy and satisfaction you get out of life cannot be sustained by accomplishing goals, rather it is sustained by the journey we undertake to accomplish them. These are the source of our happiness.
A life unchallenged is a life wasted. We become stronger emotionally, mentally and physically in the process of overcoming our challenges. There have been studies that show that once a person retires from work life, their lifespan dramatically goes down. A lot of compelling arguments have attributed this to not having a daily challenge to wake up to like work. This is why they recommend for retirees to find new causes, engage in volunteerism, and other activities to continually stimulate and reinvigorate their mental, physical, and emotional faculties.
All this goes to show that challenges are the lifeblood of a meaningful life. So embrace them, seek them out, and do your darn best to outfox them.
- Forgive, but don’t forget. One of the best quotes you can find to adequately describe forgiveness is by Dr. Lewis Smedes. It goes something like this: forgiveness is setting someone free and discovering you were the prisoner.
Forgiveness is a gift to yourself. The resentments and grudges we hold against others has a more consequential effect on us than it does on others. These dark matters of the heart often hinder our best judgement and prevent us from living fulfilling lives.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying go out to that person and tell them you forgive them. You can if you truly feel the need. Forgiveness can be as simple as deliberately deciding to let go of the resentment, hurt and anger.
Oftentimes people will mistake forgiveness for naivety. It might be naïve to forget something that hurt you, but it is also certainly foolish to continue letting that thing cause you pain. I advocate the middle road: forgive, but do not forget. Let go of the emotional baggage, but be wise enough to learn from what caused the hurt so as to deal with similar situations better down the line.
Perhaps a better adage to use is “forgive and learn.” This is how we become wiser, emotionally stable human beings. Give it a try next time you find yourself developing resentments. You’ll be happy at how liberating it is to live a forgiving life.
- Stay tuned to the now. Life flies by when we are not paying attention. Try this exercise: what are your most vivid memories? What were you focused on at the time? What thoughts and emotions were running through your mind?
I am willing to bet that for a good number of those memories you’re main focus was on what was transpiring at that very moment. Perhaps you were on a roller coaster, maybe it was your birthday or wedding, or perhaps it was a traumatic event like a car crash. Whatever the case, our memories are most vivid for instances where we were fully engaged in the present and feeling intense emotions.
For too much of our short lives we are either focused on what was or could have been and what could be. Rarely are we actively engaged in what is most important: now. Make it a priority everyday to focus your mind fully on what you are doing. Notice the people around you, the feel of the sun that afternoon, the taste of your morning drink, and the feelings you are having about these things. In retrospect you will love it.
- Respect yourself. This is another irony in life—you can’t expect or even attract people who truly respect you if you do not respect yourself first. As a matter of fact, most things in life are this way; we have to become that which we want to see in others or others to see in us.
At the root of most self-esteem issues is the fear of inadequacy. We see too many flaws in ourselves and many more perfections in others. The reality is that we all have flaws and perfections. Instead of focusing on the perfections in others, focus on those within you. Put deliberate focus on the fact that even though you always want to improve, you are enough as you are for the moment you are in.
When you respect yourself and your time, you will begin to notice that people pick up on it when they are interacting with you. They in turn will respect you and your time.
Over the next 30 days deliberately focus on internalizing these 10 ideas. Maybe focus on 1 or 2 of these per day. Remember it takes 3 to 4 weeks to form new habits. Give yourself the courtesy of this trial period and see what happens. Once you have fully internalized them, brace yourself—your life is going to change.