5 Questions That Will Help You to Focus on What Truly Matters in 2014

“New Year’s Eve is like every other night; there is no pause in the march of the universe, no breathless moment of silence among created things that the passage of another twelve months may be noted; and yet no man has quite the same thoughts this evening that come with the coming of darkness on other nights.”
Hamilton Wright Mabie

We are standing at the doorway to a new year.

So I’d like to end this year by first thanking you for all your support. Your kind words have lifted me up and pushed me forward and into action and optimism pretty much every day.

I’d also like to share a few simple questions that have helped me a lot to focus on what truly matters in the past 364 days. And I know will be just as valuable next year.

I hope these questions will be very helpful for you too during 2014.

1. Is this useful?

I have found that it is very easy to spend a lot of time on things that do not really matter much. To spend hours or days or even weeks on being angry at someone, replaying a mistake or failure in one’s mind or to dwell on something negative and feeling more and more like a victim.

You can waste a big chunk of a year on that.

So I try to ask myself this question as often as I can to question and confront my own thoughts.  To catch myself and to wake myself up when I get stuck in negative thought loops going round and round.

By doing so I suffer less. I waste less time on going round in circles. And I spend more of this very valuable resource on finding a practical solution.

2. What is the most important thing I can do right now?

If you get lost in what to do in your day, week and life then this question can be very helpful.

It might not always give you the answer you want, because the most important thing you can do right now is often one of the harder things you can do.

But it will help you to truly focus on the few things that matters the most in any area of your life. And if it feels too hard to get started with that then just ask yourself…

3. What is one small step I can take right now to get the ball rolling?

This is my favorite question for when I want to get started with something or if I want to get going again with something that I have let fall to the side for some reason.

Because it makes things easier. Makes them feel lighter.

This question prevents me from trying to escape into procrastination and helps me to avoid the side-effects of that such as sinking self-esteem, self-loathing and simply a lot of time being wasted on trying to hide.

4. Is there anyone on the planet having it worse than me right now?

This question does seldom deliver enjoyable answers, but it sure does snap me out of negative thinking or feeling sorry for myself.

Now, I think it is natural to sometimes feel sad or sorry for yourself for a little while. If you don’t take the time to process such natural responses to negative situations then those feelings can pop up later. And so you feel explicably sad or you might get angry or irritated at other people for no good reason.

But my experience is also that these things can go too far. It is easy in getting stuck in these disempowering thoughts for too long and let them suck the life and joy out of you.

So I like to use this question to zoom out when I feel that my perspective has become too self-centered and narrow.

And it has over the years taught me a lot about the things – that I may too often take for granted – that I can be very grateful for in my life.

5. Will this matter in 5 years? Or even 5 weeks?

This one helps me to simplify.

To let go.

To not make a mountain out of a molehill.

To find the healthier and happier perspective.

To not lose my focus and energy to crippling worries.

To find a lightness in life where I do not have to carry around 5 tons of unnecessary mental baggage.

It is a truly wonderful question.

Image by Atli Harðarson (license).

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Why You Should Do That Thing You’ve Always Wanted to Do

snowboarding

“Better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing flawlessly.” ~Robert H. Schuller

In March this year, I did something I had wanted to do since the age of nine: I had my first piano lesson. At the time I was nearly thirty-five, so it had only taken me twenty-six years to get around to it.

Why the delay? Well, when I was little, we couldn’t afford lessons, but looking back I see that was only an excuse until I got my first part-time job at sixteen—which means that the last nineteen years of procrastinating were entirely down to me.

Over those years, thoughts of playing the piano had come back to me on quite a few occasions.

Whenever I talked about it with anyone, we would usually end up agreeing that either it would be too expensive or that I was now just too old. After all, piano lessons are for kids, and posh kids at that.

Then, one day, I heard that the TV presenter Jonathan Ross was learning to play. He wasn’t posh! And he was older than me! If he could do it, surely I could too. After hearing this, I decided I’d really have to start thinking about having lessons.

And I did—think about it, I mean. I thought about it a lot. Every time I saw Jonathan Ross on TV, every time I met someone who could play the piano, every time I saw a piano, every time I heard the word “piano.”

“One day I’ll learn,” I’d think, “when I have more money.”

Then, when I was teaching in Italy, a golden opportunity came my way: one of my students was a piano teacher. I was very excited when she told me this and instantly told her that I’d love to be able to play.

Guess what? She offered to give me a lesson. For free! I leapt at the chance and rushed to her house first thing the next morning. Of course, I didn’t really do that. That’s what I should have done.

Instead, I told her I thought it would be easier for children and asked her if it would be difficult to learn at my age.

“Maybe,” she said, and that was that. We quickly forgot all about it and the idea was pushed aside once more, with me safe in the knowledge that there really was nothing I could do about it.

Fast-forward about seven years and I was teaching a group of mixed nationality students in Bournemouth, England. At one point a student asked me if I played an instrument.

I gave him my usual answer: “No, but I’ve always wanted to be able to play the piano.” He smiled at me and asked, “What have you done to make your dream come true?”

I was slightly stunned by this question. Not only did I realize I had done nothing, but I hadn’t really thought of it as a dream before; I just thought it was something that I’d quite like to do, if only I could.

But it was a dream. It had come back to me again and again. Why hadn’t I done something about it? Why couldn’t I do it? What was stopping me?

I would like to be able to tell you that I ran home and found myself a teacher right away, but I didn’t.

It wasn’t until a few months later that I finally went for it. I was writing a list of all the things I’d like to start doing in my free time and again, piano lessons were on my list. My student’s words rang in my ears: “What have you done to make your dream come true?”

“Right! That’s it!” I thought. Turning to my trusty friend, Google, I did a search on “piano teachers in Bournemouth” and found one who lived five minutes from my flat.

What’s more, she gave free trial lessons. I had nothing to lose. I emailed her right away and booked a lesson for later that week.

Eight months and a few “good job” stickers later, I am quite amazed by how much I’ve learned in such a short space of time. But one question still bothers me: Why did it take me so long?

It wasn’t the money; I could have had free lessons in Italy. It wasn’t a lack of a good teacher; I hadn’t even tried to look for one before. When I finally did, she lived a stone’s throw away from my flat.

What it really boiled down to was this: I was scared.

I was scared that I wouldn’t be good enough, posh enough, young enough, confident enough, and Lord-knows-what-else enough to learn how to play a musical instrument. People like me just didn’t do that sort of thing.

How many of us do this? How many people put off doing the things we want to do through fear of failure or being ridiculed?

What was the worst thing that could have happened? I would have been a rubbish piano player, that’s all. And only my teacher would have known.

Why do we do it? Why are we so afraid of stepping out of our comfort zone?

Because that’s just what it is. It’s comforting; we know what’s going to happen. There’s minimal stress involved; we’re safe.

We’re also most probably, bored rigid. Staying in our comfort zone doesn’t allow us to grow into the people we were meant to be.

Why is it so important to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do?

Learning to play an instrument is hard, but not as hard as I thought it would be. Seeing that you have the ability to do something that you didn’t think possible helps to boost your confidence and leads you to think, “Hang on a minute; what else could I do?”

Nowadays, I’m busy taking my first baby steps toward self-employment and getting my writing out to the world. I’m fully invested in going for my dream.

While that’s not entirely because of the piano lessons, they have helped give me the confidence to see that I can do whatever I put my mind to.

It’s never too late (except that sometimes, it kind of is).

I was originally going to title this post something like “It’s never too late to…” but then I realized that’s not entirely true.

The truth is, none of us know how long we have, or what condition our health will be in if we do reach old age.

You never know when the chance will pass you by completely.

And while I’m happy with my progress, as I practice my latest masterpiece in the hope of another sticker, I can’t help but wonder what I could be playing by now if I’d started earlier.

So my message is simple: Whatever you want to do, go for it, whether it’s pottery, rock-climbing, tap dancing, or knitting.

Think of the worst thing that could happen, which will probably be that you’ll be no good.

So what?

You have everything to gain and nothing to lose.

There’s no reason not to go for that thing you’ve always wanted to do.

Photo by Alex Indigo

Avatar of Louise Watson

About Louise Watson

Louise Watson is currently busy putting the finishing touches to her first book and setting up shyaltitude.com, which she hopes will become a fun-filled blog about shyness and introversion. When she’s not scribbling away, you can probably find her doing yoga or trying to play the piano.

Change Your Life: Be Honest with Yourself and Make Conscious Choices

Standing in the Sun

“If you do nothing unexpected, nothing unexpected happens.” ~Fay Weldon

During the last year I have made significant changes. I have changed my habits, values, thoughts, and perception of life. It has been an amazing journey and I have learned some valuable lessons that I want to share with you about happiness, motivation, and standing up for decisions you believe in.

I have always loved attention and I have always loved to party. In Denmark, it is not unusual that students drink two to three times a week, and I used to do that, as well.

Last year I went to Australia for six months to study and travel. I continued this insane habit of drinking, and sometimes we ended up drinking five to six times a week.

I started to realize the profound negative effects of drinking excessively.

Concentration became a challenge sometimes and I could feel my brain was slowing down. That made it harder to speak English (as a non-native speaker), and I was never motivated to work hard on anything. Furthermore, I sometimes felt stuck in an endless cycle of emptiness.

On October 31, 2012, I made a conscious decision that would change my life. I had been drinking for six days in a row and I decided to go for a walk one morning. I walked twenty kilometers in the most beautiful rain forest in Australia, thinking about what I wanted to do with my life.

I once read a quote that read, “Set a goal so big that if you achieved it, it would blow your mind.” I was trying to figure out what that goal was for me.

When I read that quote again I realized that I had the potential to live a far more dedicated and purposeful life. I wanted to realize my potential and become proud of who I was.  

I decided that I would stop drinking alcohol for a year and I would do Ironman Copenhagen in 2013. I had never been on a road bike before, I did not know how to swim, and I had bad knees.

Despite the tiny chances of success, I had a desire to begin this adventure to become more and prove that I was capable of anything.

Making a conscious decision had a powerful impact on me and I was convinced that I could do it. After that, I started looking for ways to accomplish my goal and people that could help me.

I went to the swimming pool the following morning and approached the most experienced swimmer there.

I asked him for the best advice for a beginner, and after three months of intense training, I could swim. I sought advice everywhere and learned new lessons all the time. I was developing and my habits were changing for the better.

I was training six days a week, sometimes several times a day. When my friends were out partying, I was either training or resting. When my friends were running ten miles, I ran twenty. Everything I did was a reflection of my priority to reach my goal. Nothing was more important to me.

Even though I felt like snoozing in the morning, I refused and said “no.” Voices kept telling me to stay in bed but I didn’t ask their opinion anymore. Instead, I listened to the voice saying there was a reason I’d set my alarm in the first place.

I was out running ten miles on New Years Eve at three in the morning, and I felt a motivation that I had never felt before because I was moving toward a goal so challenging, and at the same time running away from the old me. I had a desire to become a better version of me.

On August 18, 2013, I crossed the finish line of Ironman Copenhagen in eleven hours and twenty-two minutes, finishing forty-three in my age group. I had been sober for ten months and I had never been in a better shape.

I experienced an increase in focus during those ten months, and I had never experienced that level of happiness before. The feeling of staying true to the decision I made felt amazing.

Twelve months ago I was capable of drinking a case of beer in eleven hours. Now, I was capable of swimming 3.8 kilometers, biking 180 kilometers, and running a marathon in the same period of time.

I developed from being a boy, depending on approval and attention from other people, to an Ironman, staying true to the decisions I made and being comfortable about taking my own path.

I have learned several important things about life over the past twelve months. Today I want to share the three most important lessons I learned:

1. Others will respect you for making your own choice—and you will respect yourself.

Going from drinking six times a week to training for an Ironman is a radical change. I had to give up some of the things I used to do. In addition to giving up alcohol, I had to decrease the number of social activities I attended.

In the beginning, I was scared that people wouldn’t accept my choice and would talk me out of it.

Some tried to do this, but most of my close friends supported me because they could see that I became happier pursuing this dream.

Others may accept you if you choose the usual way of life. However, people will respect you even more for making your own choices and sticking to them. More importantly, you will start to respect yourself more, as well.

2. Success is a choice.

I was nowhere near the shape of an Ironman when I decided to compete in one. I had never tried to ride a road bike before and I couldn’t swim. How did I accomplish this anyway?

I made a commitment to myself that no matter what I had to overcome in order to complete an Ironman, I would overcome it. I made sure that success was a choice and not a wish.

If you commit to seeing something through, you accept no excuses but only results. When people start giving up, you keep going!

Always remind yourself that with one step comes the decision to take another. Believe the voice that says you can run a little faster and work a little harder.

When we commit to do this, success is no longer a wish but a choice. Keep in mind that success is not equal to winning or being the best. You are the one who defines what it means. Regardless of what you achieve, waking up every morning and doing what you said you’d do can equal success.

3. Be honest with yourself.

After completing an Ironman I was convinced that every success starts with a conscious, honest decision. I made a conscious decision about doing it because I had an honest, deep desire to show myself that I was capable of anything.

Don’t fool yourself into pursuing goals that do not make sense to you. Chasing goals that align with your values and priorities is what brings happiness.

I always aim to keep in mind that motivation is like a fire within. If someone else tries to light that fire in you, chances are that it will burn briefly. When we are the ones to ignite that fire inside, we will experience more happiness and increased motivation.

You can only ignite that fire by being honest with yourself about what needs to change and which choices supports your values.

I experienced that something temporary can become permanent because we love our new situation more than the previous.

What I thought would be a year without alcohol is now becoming a more and more permanent choice. I did something unexpected and something unexpected happened. I changed from a boy to an Ironman.

Living a happy life is about taking responsibility and making conscious decisions. When are you going to change for the better? When are you going to experience more happiness? Start today.

Photo by fromthevalleys-

Avatar of Anders Hasselstrøm

About Anders Hasselstrøm

Anders Hasselstrøm is a motivational speaker and athlete from Denmark. He completed Ironman in 2013 and has won the following awards: “Talent of the Year” and “Most Outstanding Student.” He’s a dedicated and enthusiastic person with massive dreams. Based on implementing healthy habits and experience I show you the way to your personal success.

Make Peace with Your Past: Find the Good and Embrace the Lessons

Deep Thought

“It’s not the events of our lives that shape us but our beliefs as to what those events mean.” ~Tony Robbins

Daughter of an alcoholic. Welfare recipient. Teenage mother. Non-college attendee. Poor decision maker. Unhealthy relationship participant. Financial disaster. Evictee.

All of these statements described me. They also propelled me into action, transforming me into an over-achieving perfectionist. Yet they still weighed me down because I felt like I had to constantly prove I was better than my past—better than the circumstances from which I came.

It took a lot of effort.

It took a lot of energy.

It was a burden.

I gained a lot of knowledge, built a tremendous skill set, and developed expertise. I was successful on the outside but on the inside I felt like nothing more than a fraud. 

I avoided events where the question of what college I attended may surface.

I avoided situations that would put me in the company of highly educated people for fear that their vocabulary would be beyond my understanding and I would appear stupid.

I avoided conversations about any topic that I did not feel a level of expertise in discussing.

I avoided talking about my past and my history.

Avoidance became a whole new skill set—one that I executed with a level of mastery. At some point I began to realize this game of charades was not in alignment with my core values of honesty and integrity.

I began to realize that the energy I was putting into creating a false image of myself was taking away my ability to live my life fully and openly.

I began to realize that in order to move forward I had to come to terms with my past, to extract the good, to carry forward the lessons learned, but to leave behind the all of the garbage I’d outgrown.

Good like…

The kindness and generosity shown by to me strangers, neighbors, family, and friends when I was in the greatest need. The people who cheered me on and believed in me when I did not believe in myself. The few who knew my biggest, darkest secrets and loved me anyway.

Lessons like…

Understanding that no matter how much you want something for someone else, the only person you have control over—that you can change—is yourself.

Accepting the fact that when you blame other people for what is wrong with your life, nothing is ever going to get better.

Realizing that no matter how bad a situation seems in the moment, someone else is surviving, sometimes even thriving, in much more difficult circumstances.

And also…

What you believe about yourself and your limitations will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And, it doesn’t matter how “successful” you seem on the outside if you are miserable on the inside.

When my perception shifted, so did my life. Today I embrace who I am—all of me—the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

I am grateful for all of the experiences I’ve encountered.

I realize that I was judging myself far more harshly that anyone else ever could.

I let go of the belief that I had to hide from my past.

I let go of the belief of being “less than.”

I let go of the belief of not being worthy.

I no longer pretend.

I share openly, and in claiming my story it not only helps me, but also helps others on their journey. It gives them the courage to share their truth, to stop hiding and start living.

Recovering perfectionist. Student of life. Woman of strength. Overcomer of obstacles. Seeker of growth. Embracer of truth. These are the descriptors I’ve added to my life story. The rich and messy truth of my past makes possible the true success of my todays.

What beliefs are you clinging to that are holding you back? Where in your life are you feeling like a fraud? What are the tough and painful lessons that you can be grateful for today when you look through this new lens of perspective?

Reflect. Journal. Dig deep and find the answers. It’s in this process—in your truth—that you will find true happiness, success, and self-acceptance. It’s where healing begins. It’s where you will find peace.

Photo by Bianca

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About Lanette Pottle

Lanette Pottle is the founder of the Maine-based non-profit, Positivity Nation, and is affectionately known as Positivity Lady. She is a facilitator of breakthroughs and helps women claim their dreams as reality so they can live the rich, fulfilling lives they deserve.  Learn more about her journey & work by visiting her website: www.positivitylady.com

Be Happier with What Is by Letting Go of How Things Should Be

Embrace the Moment

“What you do today can improve all your tomorrows.” ~Ralph Marston

Have you ever been stuck and felt like you’re spiraling around the same space over and over? It’s just like Groundhog Day.

Every day, you have new intentions about how it will be different only to be left with the same hollow feelings at the end of the day.

You feel sadness for the dreams of what could have been and maybe even what should have been.

At forty-five I found myself unexpectedly in this place, stuck like my feet were almost tied to the ground. All the usual ways of getting through it weren’t working.

I couldn’t run away from it. I couldn’t push through it. I couldn’t go around it. I couldn’t pretend it wasn’t there.

It just was there. It wouldn’t budge.

I felt overwhelmed and burned out, and no books, courses, or friend’s advice seemed to have an effect.

I just kept coming back to the same point of inertia, always left sitting on the edge of my power.

I had this nagging doubt that as a coach I should know better and somehow be exempt from the stories of resentment, blame, self-criticism, imperfection, and failure that chattered away in the background of my mind. As if I shouldn’t have a low mood because surely I should have figured this one out by now.

They say the only way out is through and that was definitely true for me.

I reached a point where I just had to be in the center of my experience and be with the vulnerability that I was so desperately skirting around the edge of.

It happened by chance while I was on an early morning run with the dog.

It was a fresh, crisp autumn morning, the kind where the blueness of the sky just takes your breath away. My feet were soaking from the wet grass and I was struck by how warm the sunshine was on my face.

I felt the impulse to stop running, sit down on a bench, and close my eyes. I followed my breath and imagined that I was breathing in the sunshine through the top of my head, down into my body, and then out down through the soles of my feet. Then, I reversed it.

I sat doing this, and suddenly out of nowhere an image came up. It was a life plan that I’d written many years back when I was stuck in my last corporate job and trying to figure a way out. 

It was on one piece of paper and it had my ages moving up to the age of sixty (anything beyond was considered bonus), alongside my husband’s and kids’. There weren’t many specific landmarks other than the when the kids would take their exams and some dreams I had to run my own business.

What struck me as I saw this image in front of me was how perfected it was.

There were implicit assumptions that I could suddenly see clearly displayed in front of my eyes. There I was through all these ages, the perfect earth mother, always patient, creative, consistent, kind, and loving. 

I was a role model holding down a career, coaching, writing, running a successful business, and making a difference in the world. I juggled and balanced with grace and ease. I was a gorgeous wife who looked great, handled all the household stuff without complaint, and was still able to be a sexy goddess.

I never lost my temper or argued. I travelled and adventured through life, felt good about myself, and experienced peace and happiness.

I was perfect in every way and got things right all the time.

Staying with the breath I noticed that I felt really emotional. The emotion was sadness, and for once I allowed myself to be with it. I just sat with my dog sitting next to me on this bench, in the middle of nature, with a mixture of sunshine and tears on my face.

About five minutes passed and I felt a shift. I had an intense clarity that what was keeping me stuck was the tightly held grip I had on how I believed it all should be.

The perfected image that I was holding for my life that was causing me to push against who I truly am. The incessant push to keep improving myself and be anything other than who I actually am.

You see, my real life is messy and very imperfect.

As a mother I’m spontaneous, which often means I’m not consistent and I prickle and get impatient when we don’t attend to the routine things, like homework or tidying up. I get frustrated when it feels like everyone else is making demands and my needs don’t feature.

I often feel like I’m caught in a system where I believe my girls need to be children, discover their passion, and follow their own light spots; but they’re in a school system and culture that believes and reinforces that you need to be above average in everything and learn information that feels irrelevant to them.

I want to praise but I catch myself criticizing when it all piles up and I feel overwhelmed.

I know I open and close my heart in my relationships, and I’m only just beginning to get my head around this whole notion of unconditional love.

Our house moves from being neat and tidy to disorganized and cluttered.

One of the most regular arguments is about where the car keys are and why there’s no petrol in the car and how there’s no time to fill up on the way to drop the kids at school!

These two images—the perfected and the reality—were where my struggle came from.

Every time I bumped up against the perfected image of how I thought I should have been as opposed to how I am, I got twitchy and self-sabotaged by being self-critical and creating my inertia. 

It was easier to reach to be anything other than who I am because it reinforced the old familiar story that I am not enough as I am.

It’s this insight that helps me to release and let it go.

What’s left in its place is the reality of my imperfection.

I now see how my desire to be perfect has me lose the very thing that I’m seeking, which is to feel happy and at peace with myself.

The real work, my soul’s work, is to stand in the center of myself and open up the vulnerable part of me that’s scared I really am not enough to make the difference I want to in the world.

The part of me that reaches to be shinier, bolder, smarter, and any other “er” that could help. The part of me that worries I repeat patterns and don’t get it right as a mum. The part of me that so desperately wants to be enough and perfect, which has me react against others that display the perfected image I think I should be. The part of me that feels scared and alone and so separates rather than leans in.

To listen to my soul calling requires me to begin the work of self-acceptance and self-compassion and change my old story of not being enough.

It requires me to let go of needing my work and life to look and be a certain way, and instead be present to how it is now and what wants to unfold.

What I did on that day will improve my tomorrows because I learned to open up my vulnerability, lean into the emotion, be with it, and see it as guidance.

The sadness was there to move me and as soon as I stopped avoiding it, I could hear its wisdom.

Your vulnerability is your biggest permission slip to change your tomorrows. It’s the doorway in to what you’re seeking. It doesn’t make you weak. It gives you strength. It helps you see your limiting story and find your empowering one.

Photo by Hartwig HKD

Avatar of Vanessa Anstee

About Vanessa Anstee

Vanessa teaches self-empowerment because it’s what she knows and loves. She’s an executive and personal life coach with a passion and commitment to helping you find your confident grace within. Visit her atVanessaAnstee.com

Why Screwing Things Up Is Crucial to Your Well-Being

Head Down

“Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.” ~Ben Okri

Somehow I’d gathered my courage and volunteered from the audience during a local improvisational theater show. And before I knew it, I was up on stage with the troupe, being welcomed, supported, and seamlessly gathered into the scene in a way that only professional improvisers can do.

I left the stage high as a kite from the adrenaline rush, returning to my seat and enthusing to my friend that I wanted to start taking improv classes right away!

What I didn’t realize until I was several weeks into my first class was something I have since accepted as a truism:

Improv theater is basically boot camp for perfectionists.

A group of which I am a card-carrying member in good standing.

In class, I understood intellectually that I was supposed to relax and go with the flow, but I didn’t know how to actually do that. All my life I’d learned to do the exact opposite—to prepare thoroughly and know exactly what I was doing whenever I went into a new or challenging situation.

At first I managed to fake it, mentally choosing a few potential characters and situations before every class so that I could appear to be spontaneous in a pinch. Clever me! I was always ready with a funny line or interesting story.

The problem was, I was also always stressed about it.

At first I chalked up the rapid heartbeat and shallow breathing to the rush of performance, until I found myself obsessing after class about what I could have done better. Wondering where I could have been funnier, or reached deeper to bring out more poignant emotions, so that I could make sure that everyone liked me and thought I was a fantastic improviser.

It was okay for everyone else to be fallible, merely human. I had to be better. In fact, I had to be perfect.

Like so many perfectionists, I’d internalized the message that my self-worth was based on what I did, not who I was. And if what I did wasn’t good enough—well, then, obviously neither was I.

At its heart, perfectionism is rooted in feelings of shame and inadequacy.

Those of us who suffer from it are afraid that we’re not worthy of being respected and loved for our natural, unedited selves. There are many reasons why this happens, but the consequence is that we always feel the need to justify ourselves and our actions.

We also feel we must prove ourselves, over and over again; we’re never good enough just as we are.

Talk about a recipe for depression, stress, and burnout.

A 2008 Psychology Today article titled “Pitfalls of Perfectionism” states, “[T]he biggest problem with perfection may be that it masks the real secret of success in life. Success hinges less on getting everything right than on how you handle getting things wrong.”

What if we really got that?

What if we practiced the pursuit of passion rather than perfection?

When we are very young, everything is play. We don’t worry about failing because we’re so excited about trying. As kids, we haven’t yet learned that we’re supposed to think of ourselves as being on trial before the world.

Think back to the first time you rode a bike. Or jumped off the high dive. The thrill you felt probably far outweighed any curb-slamming or belly-flopping you might have done.

You didn’t do it perfectly, but you had a blast making the attempt. And because you had so much fun, you did it again, and again, until you improved. But the improving wasn’t the goal. The fun was.

That’s why it’s so important for us all to mess up once in a while. We must re-learn what we knew as children—that screwing up is not the end of the world. That we can recover, and keep trying, and get better.

We must learn failure resiliency. We need to know deeply, not just mentally, that we can always bounce back.

And maybe even have some fun in the process.

If your sense of security comes from trying to be perfect, or even just “the best”—king or queen of the hill—you’ll be disappointed either when you never get there, or when you do and some newcomer knocks you off your throne.

In other words, if your sense of self-worth is synonymous with your performance, you will never feel safe.

Now what happens if you allow yourself to appear fallible? A few pretty nifty things:

  • The intense pressure is suddenly off. You can relax a little. Or even, with practice, a lot.
  • You now have room for improvement. If you score 100 percent right from the start, how can you ever hope to do better than that?
  • People will not expect 100 percent of your effort all the time. Now you’ve got some leeway when you’re operating at less-than-normal capacity for any reason.
  • People will feel more connected to you because they’ll feel you’re one of them, not up on top of (or trying to climb) some kind of pedestal.

Now please understand that I’m not arguing for deliberate mediocrity here. I’m not saying that you should be lazy, or that you should stop setting and striving toward goals. That’s probably not in your genetic makeup anyway. After all, here you are reading a life-improvement blog, right?

What I am saying is that if you can surrender your need to appear so relentlessly perfect (to yourself as well as others!) then you’ll be able to loosen up and enjoy the ride a whole lot more.

When you leave perfectionism behind, you also get to define success and happiness by your own internal measurements rather than society’s external benchmarks.

Granted, this takes practice. A lot of it. You can’t shuck all of your conditioning with a single shoulder-shrug.

But you can gradually learn through experience that it’s okay to be imperfect—like I did on the day that I finally froze up in front of my entire improv class.

I ran out of stories. I choked completely. Everyone stared at me, and I couldn’t come up with a single thing to do or say. I got dizzy; I felt my face flush and my pulse pound. I finally looked up, helpless, convinced they all thought I was a loser.

“Sorry,” I mumbled. “I’m out of ideas.”

And my entire improv class responded, as one, in the way we’d been trained to do from the first day. When a scene or offering flops, everyone throws their hands in the air and lets out a celebratory whoop, as if to say, “We screwed up, and it’s okay!”

There I was, convinced that because I wasn’t the perfect improviser I expected myself to be, I was a failure. Then I dared to look up from my feet and out into the audience at my classmates.

They all smiled at me, threw up their hands, and yelled “Whooooo!!!” at the top of their lungs.

And in that moment, I understood that I was fine exactly as I was.

Just like you are.

Photo by Craig Cloutier

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About Michelle Russell

Michelle Russell is a recovering perfectionist who is slowly learning that it’s okay to be beautifully, fallibly human. You can read more and share her journey at www.Enoughist.com.

When You’re at the End of Your Rope: 7 Tips to Help Yourself

Hard Times

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” ~Bernice Johnson Reagan

During my first year away at college, I struggled with depression and anxiety. I felt broken, hopeless, and lost, and I didn’t know how to cope.

At times, I thought about jumping out of my fourth floor dorm room window.

Thankfully, I didn’t.

It all began on the day I moved into my dorm in August of 2008. My parents took me out to dinner, and right before they dropped me off, they got into an argument.

For most of my life, they were always arguing about something. Many times I chose to simply brush it off and ignore my own hurt feelings. But something about leaving home for the first time made me realize that their turbulent relationship really did bother me.

My roommate hadn’t arrived yet, so I spent my first night at college alone in my dorm room, crying and worrying about how my parents would get along while I was away.

During the first week of classes, I was raped—only I didn’t realize it until weeks later.

I went out with some new friends, and we met two guys who invited us back to their place, where we had a few drinks. My friends left, but I decided to stay.

I told the guy that I wasn’t going to have sex with him, but he didn’t honor my request. At the time, I didn’t see what had happened to me as “rape.” I reasoned that I had let a guy take advantage of me while I was intoxicated.

My denial gradually shifted to self-blame. If only I hadn’t stayed. If only I hadn’t been wearing such a short skirt. If only I hadn’t asked him to cuddle and led the way to his room.

I felt angry and disgusted with myself. I thought it would be easier if I pretended that the rape had never happened.

Throughout my first semester, I also struggled with adapting to a new life away from home.

The shock of being in a new and unfamiliar environment with thousands of people I didn’t know made me feel anxious, overwhelmed, afraid, and alone. I had so much free time, but I felt paralyzed by anxiety and didn’t know what to do when.

I made a few friends, but I didn’t have a solid friend group. I felt lost in a sea of too many faces, and I doubted that anyone even noticed me or cared.

I didn’t feel connected to my university, and I definitely didn’t feel like I belonged. At one point, I thought: I don’t even know who I am.

I had transferred from a community college to a large university to study magazine journalism in a top journalism program, but I was having major doubts.

A few weeks into my classes, I discovered that I hated deadlines and could care less about the news. I also felt intimidated by other journalism students and unsure of my own skills and abilities.

I felt depressed about so many different things at once—the rape, my parent’s toxic marriage, my lack of identity and sense of belonging, and my uncertainty about my major.

I isolated myself inside my dorm room as a way of coping with my struggles. I spent many weekends crying, feeling sorry for myself, and trying to sleep away my pain.

This was not the enjoyable college experience I had envisioned.

I tried to act like everything was okay, but on the inside I was falling apart. I did not want to talk to anyone about any of my struggles. I couldn’t because I felt too ashamed and did not want to be judged.

I avoided my friends and family from back home. I felt vulnerable, and I didn’t want any of them to know what I was going through. I had too much pride to show any weakness.

The only thing that I could do was write. I started a new journal, and I wrote down everything that was bothering me. Writing helped me to identify, explore, and confront my struggles. Most importantly, it gave me a voice.

Eventually, I made a few friends and grew to trust them, and also met a wonderful, supportive guy who is now my boyfriend. I managed to confide in them about a few of my struggles. Speaking out loud about them strengthened my voice and gave me power.

I graduated from college six months ago, and I can’t say that I have completely overcome all of my struggles—but I did manage to confront every one of them.

I wrote until there was nothing left to write; I let my parents know how I feel; I changed my major; I talked to two counselors; I became more involved in college life; I let others in.

It took me years of seeking, exploring, and learning how to help myself in order to get to where I am now. I had to sincerely want to help myself.

Learning how to navigate and help yourself is one of the most important things you can do in life. Only you can truly help yourself—no one else can fix your problems for you. It takes a huge amount of courage and determination to confront your struggles.

Sometimes it will seem easier to ignore them and pretend they don’t exist.

When they begin to surface, the pain might seem like too much to bear. You may just want to give up on yourself and your life.

But in your moments of greatest hardship, you have the ability to pick yourself up and carry on. Knowing and believing that you are worthy of a long, happy existence, you have the power to help yourself.

These are some steps you can take to confront your struggles and help yourself:

1.  Admit to yourself that you’re struggling.

So often we lie to ourselves and pretend that we are fine. By admitting to yourself that you are struggling, you acknowledge that what you are experiencing is real. Adding a positive affirmation can also help.

Stand in front of a mirror and say out loud: I am struggling right now, but I know that I can make it through.

2. Write down everything that’s bothering you (even if it seems trivial).

Identify your struggle(s)—what is it specifically that you are dealing with?

Identify your feelings—how is this struggle making you feel? Depressed, anxious, terrified?

Identify your needs—what do you need to feel better and overcome this struggle? How can you take good care of yourself? You may need time alone, or you may need to be around others who are supportive.

3. Allow yourself to feel.

When we experience negative emotions, we often try to resist or ignore them. We think to ourselves, “I shouldn’t be feeling angry” or “I don’t want to feel hurt.”

This harmful resistance comes naturally to us, and we do it to protect ourselves, but it only masks the truth and creates more suffering. Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel however you are feeling for as long as you need to.

4. Know thyself.

Be aware of specific events or emotions that tend to trigger stress, anxiety, or depression in you. How do you react to stress, pain, loss, etc? When you feel overwhelmed and unable to handle a situation, pay attention to how you deal with it and determine if your coping mechanisms are helping you or hurting you.

Do you smoke to relieve stress? Do you drink or use drugs to escape your problems? Do you withdraw from people and activities? Replace negative coping strategies with positive strategies, such as meditating, exercising, spending time with loved ones, or listening to music.

5. Talk to someone you trust.

Talk to a close friend, spouse or girlfriend/boyfriend, counselor, or family member. Sharing your struggles with someone can help you release negative emotions, process what you’re going through, and ease your heavy burden. No one will think less of you for struggling or asking for help.

6. Create a self-help plan.

Make a list of actions you can take the next time you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed. Choose what works best for you for each emotion.

For example, write down: When I feel overwhelmed, I am going to take five deep breaths, paint, and play basketball. Or: When I feel depressed, I am going to listen to uplifting music, write, and talk to a friend.

7. Write a letter of encouragement to yourself.

Use a gentle tone and kind words, as if you are writing to a dear friend. You might be surprised at how comforting it can be to read your own words of hope and encouragement. Tuck the letter away in a special place, and read it the next time you are struggling.

Remember that you are never, ever alone—even though you may feel that way. And know that it’s okay to open up to others; you don’t have to handle this on your own. Opening up requires courage and vulnerability, but it truly is a testament to your inner strength.

One of my favorite quotes from a Tiny Buddha contributor is: “Pain is temporary, but growth is permanent.”

Remember that your struggles only make you stronger—they help you grow and become better prepared for more of life’s challenges.

Photo by Hartwig HKD

Avatar of Cathy Black

About Cathy Black

Cathy Black is a recent college grad and writer who is fascinated by inner peace and personal growth. She is creating a website for college students and hopes to help them help themselves. She lives for self-expression, stories, connecting with others, exercising, adventure, and loved ones.

How to Really Embrace Yourself (Even in the Face of Criticism)

Arms Open

Above all, be true to yourself, and if you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.” ~Unknown

Sitting at a party minding my own business, I wasn’t expecting it. I had no reason to. A comment filled with sarcasm and authority shot out at me from a across the room.

“Shut up Kathryn.”

It hit me like a bullet aimed straight at my heart.

I wasn’t even aware I was being particularly quiet. I was simply being me. Taking in my surroundings, quietly observing, listening to the conversations that encircled me.

But someone had noticed I was in a quiet mood. And for reasons that I will never fathom, they felt the need to bring it the attention of the entire room.

“Shut up Kathryn,” they smirked.

The comment instantly consumed my thoughts as all eyes turned toward me and sniggers of laughter filtered through the room. As my mind went fuzzy, I grappled for an appropriate response.

But what possible response is there?

As my insecurities were highlighted to anyone who would listen, I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me whole. Right there and then.

They thought they were being funny. But I found little to laugh about. The pricks of tears welled up as I fought hard to push the pain away, deep inside me. But I had to play along. Had to pretend. Had to smile. Had to laugh. As if all was okay.

But it really, really wasn’t.

And when I got home I cried. Then I cried some more.

I was haunted by three little words that represented everything I felt insecure about: my quiet nature. My introversion. My shyness. The things that I wished I didn’t have to deal with. The things I wished I could change.

When I look back at that day as a teenager, I want to comfort my younger self. To hold her close and whisper in to her ear that it will all be okay. To tell her that she will look back at this day and gain strength from it.

That she will learn to grow, embrace herself for who she is, and feel so empowered; that even though she didn’t dare share her feelings with anyone at the time, as an adult she will find the courage to share this story with you today.

To really embrace your natural persona, to live life in a way that’s completely and utterly true to who you are, and to let go of the words of the critics that may shroud your thoughts, here are three pieces of advice that have worked beautifully for me and which I hold close, if ever I falter.

Surround yourself with support.

Here’s the thing—you aren’t on your own. We all have insecurities, we all face challenges in our lives, and we can all find support if we reach out for it.

Move yourself away from the critics and release their scathing comments from your world. They come from people with their own troubles and you don’t need them in your life.

Instead, surround yourself with the people who make you feel alive—who provide you with support, inspiration, and words of encouragement.

And then turn to these people in times of need. They are the ones you will help you grow, thrive, and learn to love every inch of who you are.

Work out where you shine. 

We are all born with wonderful strengths that, if used on a daily basis, can help you find your true calling.

Give yourself the time and space to reflect and then begin to develop a self-awareness and understanding of situations where you feel completely content and comfortable.

These are the moments when you are in ‘flow’—when life feels easy as you start doing the stuff that you were born to do.

By bringing more of these moments into your life, your confidence in your abilities will flourish and your insecurities over time will fade.

Listen to your body and give it what it needs.

I truly believe we all need to listen to our bodies more. If you start your day feeling exhausted and drained, then think about what that means.

You are only human, so give yourself a break. If you feel like resting, then rest. If you crave time and space by yourself, then don’t feel guilty about turning down an invitation to go out with friends.

Nurture your mind, body, and spirit in whatever way it craves, and your strength will surely grow.

Learning to embrace yourself is a journey that can hold many challenges. And if you’ve had to face unhelpful criticism or scathing comments throughout your life, then it can be all the more tricky.

But do you know what? There are amazing ways that you can help yourself and find peace with who you are.

You’ve just got to give yourself the time to grow.

Photo by pshegubj

Avatar of Kathryn Hall

About Kathryn Hall

Kathryn Hall is a QCG qualified Careers Coach, founder of The Business of Introverts and avid writer. She’s big on helping people to embrace their introversion in all its glory, while creating a life they love. Sign up to receive a regular dose of introverted inspiration, guidance, and business tips.

What It Means to Just Be Yourself and 3 Ways to Do It

Be Yourself

“Waking up to who you are requires letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” ~Alan Watts

I’ve heard the statement “just be yourself” so much. It sounds like an amazing thing to do, and I have wished many times that I could just do that. What I’ve wondered, though, is what in the world does that mean?

What if someone is a jerk to other people? Is it okay for them to just be themselves and go on being a jerk to everyone? How about people who are fearful of being around others and live a hermit-like life, avoiding people?

In my quest for answers I’ve found that it is very much possible to just be yourself. The person who is a jerk to others and the person who is afraid of social situations are, in actuality, not being themselves. Their real self is just being covered up with conditioned, fear-based thinking.

Our true self is who we really are when we let go of all of the stories, labels, and judgments that we have placed upon ourselves. It is who we naturally are without the masks and pretentiousness.

It is who we really are when we let fall to the floor the cloak of other people’s stuff that we have taken on.

Everything else that we claim to be when we say, “This is who I am!” is only a story.

Below are some steps that have helped me in uncovering my real nature, which is that being outside of the accumulated thoughts and beliefs that I have collected over a lifetime.

1. Get in touch with your inner child.

If you ever watch small children, you will notice just how free they are and how little they care about what other people think of them. They are happy and in the moment.

They are their true natures. They have not yet been socialized to “fit in” to a society that squashes that. They don’t care if people think that they are silly while they dance in the front yard for all of the neighbors to see.

Children are just pure love and light. If you really want to get in touch with your inner child, become freer. Play, have fun, enjoy the moment, do cartwheels in the front yard.

My son has taught me this more than anything. He has helped me to see just how stiff and serious I can be. Thanks to him, I have tapped back into something that was forgotten.

We play roles to fit into society and we suppress our true nature out of fear of what others think. If you find yourself worrying about being judged, remember that is merely just the socialized you, not the real you.

2. Become more aware of your thoughts.

You may be shocked by the number of negative thoughts that run through your mind on any given day. After so long, our reality begins to take shape based on all of these conditioned thinking patterns.

Become more aware of the quality of your thinking. Allow yourself to sit quietly every morning before starting your day for just five to ten minutes.

Yes, thoughts will come and go, but just allow them to do that without getting attached to them. Just observe them. When you are finished, continue observing the mind throughout your day.

We have so many unconscious beliefs that we have taken on over the years that were probably handed down to us from somebody else, and that we believed to be who we are. Becoming more aware of the quality of your thoughts, letting go of the old beliefs, and becoming more present can help in revealing your true nature.

We are all so much more than those old negative thinking patterns would ever allow us to believe.

3. Follow your intuition.

This is probably one of the most important factors in being yourself. I ignored my intuition for the longest time because I felt so obligated to others. Their happiness was more important than my own.

I lived at home until I was twenty-five, ignored my urges to move to a new city, and stayed in unfulfilling jobs because I was so afraid of what other people would think of me, of failing, and of stepping out of my comfort zone. Because of this, I was incredibly unhappy.

I will tell you this, from my own personal experience: When you start following the little nudges and urges that you get, you will have hopped onto the magic carpet ride of awesomeness.

It doesn’t mean that you will never have bumps in the road again, but when you are in alignment with your soul, you will always be steered in the best possible direction.

For me, it started when I followed my intuition out of a job where I was miserable, which was way out of character for me. I had nothing lined up, but thanks to my intuition, I landed back on my feet within a few months in an awesome new job.

Now, before you go quit your job, you can begin with small things, such as following through when you feel the urge to make a phone call, send an email, or take a different route to work. When you get into the habit of doing this with small things, it will make it easier to say yes to the big things, and to trust.

How do any of these things help you to just be yourself? Because they help you to be in alignment with your true nature.

Your authentic self is the real you that is beyond all of those conditioned beliefs and thinking patterns that you have accumulated throughout your life.

I was once a shy, reclusive, depressed, angry person—but I wasn’t “being myself.” While it is important to love and accept ourselves for where we are at the moment, looking back now, I see that I suppressed my true nature in order to please others and to fit in.

I began going within and doing spiritual study and practice in my late twenties, and have since become more aware of how much I was identified with my victim story, how I would play roles depending on who I was with, and just how much I cared about other people’s perceptions of me.

I had lost touch with my natural self and stuffed it away in a box. Whenever I would notice myself getting attached to the stories and labels in my head or would catch myself playing roles with others, I would just breathe and relax into the moment without any labels or judgments.

It was a challenge because I cared so much about being accepted by others. So I would ask myself, “How would I act right now if I had no cares of what others thought of me?” I realized that who I naturally am without anything else added is perfectly okay.

When you let go of the old ways of thinking, follow your bliss, and do what you love, you begin to align with happiness and peace. These are all indicators that you are connected with your true nature. You are then allowing your real self to shine forth in all its glory.

Photo by vana

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About Victoria Ayres

Victoria Ayres is a Certified Life Coach and writer. For inspiration on living a life of presence, passion, and purpose, please visit www.VictoriaAyres.com. Check out her newest blog that is all about empowerment after tragedy at www.TheVictoriousYou.com. Look her up on Facebook and Twitter, too.

A Small Act of Kindness Can Make a Big Difference

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ~Dalai Lama

I had an old trench coat that was balled up on the floor of my garage, gathering dust near the washing machine. It was raining. It was unusually cold (for California, anyway).

I was driving home when I saw a man in a short sleeved shirt wandering through our neighborhood, pushing a shopping cart. He was walking painfully slow. He was dripping wet.

I paused at the intersection to my street and watched him for several minutes, thinking. My heart was heavy seeing him move so slowly, so wet, so cold. I suddenly remembered the crumpled-up coat. But what if I needed it sometime in the future? A story I had once heard at a church conference came to mind.

An Inspiring Story of Kindness

Two boys walked down a road that led through a field. The younger of the two noticed a man toiling in the fields of his farm, his good clothes stacked neatly off to the side.

The boy looked at his older friend and said, “Let’s hide his shoes so when he comes from the field, he won’t be able to find them. His expression will be priceless!” The boy laughed.

The older of the two boys thought for a moment and said, “The man looks poor. See his clothes? Let’s do this instead: Let’s hide a silver dollar in each shoe and then we’ll hide in these bushes and see how he reacts to that, instead.”

The younger companion agreed to the plan and they placed a silver dollar in each shoe and hid behind the bushes. It wasn’t long before the farmer came in from the field, tired and worn. He reached down and pulled on a shoe, immediately feeling the money under his foot.

With the coin now between his fingers, he looked around to see who could have put it in his shoe. But no one was there. He held the dollar in his hand and stared at it in disbelief. Confused, he slid his other foot into his other shoe and felt the second coin. This time, the man was overwhelmed when he removed the second silver dollar from his shoe.

Thinking he was alone, he dropped to his knees and offered a verbal prayer that the boys could easily hear from their hiding place. They heard the poor farmer cry tears of relief and gratitude. He spoke of his sick wife and his boys in need of food. He expressed gratitude for this unexpected bounty from unknown hands.

After a time, the boys came out from their hiding place and slowly started their long walk home. They felt good inside, warm, changed somehow knowing the good they had done to a poor farmer in dire straits. A smile crept across their souls.

Inspired by the Story

I drove home took my coat from the garage and went looking for the old man in the rain. I spotted him. He hadn’t gone far. The rain had let up some. I pulled up alongside him and asked him to come over.

He hesitated, then walked closer. I asked if he had a place to stay. He said he did and was close. I offered him my jacket. He looked stunned, like I was violating some accepted code of conduct. I urged him to take it. He slowly reached out and took my old coat. He smiled.

So did I.

We all have poor farmers toiling in the fields of their trials and difficulties along the roads of our lives. Their challenges might not be known to us. But their countenances often tell a story of pain. We have opportunities to hide shoes or hide silver dollars in them.

This day, this time, I removed a “silver dollar” from the floor of my garage and slipped it in an old man’s shoe. A life was blessed for having done it. And I think the old man’s life may have been blessed by it as well.

When I hear of stories of kindness being done to others, I’m inspired to do the same. I think most of us are like that. We need each other’s inspiration as we travel life’s highways, trying to figure it all out.

So please share your experiences with us. We need them. They help make us better people.

What acts of kindness have you performed?

What kindnesses by others have blessed your life?

Please share your thoughts.

Photo by eflon

Avatar of Ken Wert

About Ken Wert

Ken Wert is a teacher and personal development blogger at Meant to be Happy where he inspires readers to live with purpose, act with character, think with clarity and grow with courage. Sign up for his free eBook, A Walk Through Happiness and newsletter! Connect with him on Twitter.