“Stay strong, make them wonder how you’re still smiling.” (Buzzfeed)
How to find the self
Here’s a two-step framework to help you…uh, find yourself. Each day, choose one of the options from step one and another from step two. To keep things healthy, try to vary your choices from day to day. Practice, enjoy, and find yourself!
STEP ONE: embrace the now.
This is about seizing the moment, and turning the negative moments into something worthwhile.
Option A. Have fun!
Sometimes life is so overrun with family problems, work stress, and reading the not-so-uplifting news in the newspaper that we forget to stop and GOOF around every now and then. Find time to enjoy life. Do things just for the joy of doing them. Try to do this at least once/week, if not every day. Don’t know what to do? As ridiculous, off-kilter, or useless as they may sound, here are some activities to try:
–Let’s start with the unusual and childlike. Create a secret writing code with a friend or colleague. Come up with a formula to alter each word just enough to render it unrecognizable. For example, move the word’s first letter to the end and add “ay” afterwards. Oundsay oableday? In the future, you can use this language to “encrypt” important written information, like passwords. Have fun!
–Need something else unusual to do? Invent your own board game, practice writing with your left hand, or make a silent movie using an i-phone and poster-boards for words. Don’t forget setting up an obstacle hunt for the kids (if you have kids), baking a cake from scratch, going to the pet store to hold a puppy, or googling interesting stuff like “how to do magic tricks” or “becoming a foster grandparent when you don’t have kids.”
–Secret codes and i-phone movies a little too off-kilter for you? Consider going window shopping. Hoo and haa over all the colorful, intricate, cheap, or incredibly expensive stuff you’d never buy but love anyway. This could be those cutsie stickers and toys you always wanted as a kid. It could also be that massive barbeque or the latest BMW on the market. Look for the kind of stuff that stirs the little kid in you. Take photos of what you find so you can take it all home with you.
–Still too much work? Try binge-watcing TV. Turn on Netflix or something comparable and overdose on >six episodes of your favorite series. Buy malt balls and a soda, invite a friend, and splurge. Not sure what to watch? Consider Monty Python.
–For more fun stuff, check out the article 150+ fun things to do.
Option B. Learn how to use mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of what surrounds us without being overly reactive, allowing calm against… well, whatever faces you. Mindfulness enhances resilience and life-satisfaction, but it also puts us in contact with our inner muse. It’s about creativity. If you haven’t tried mindfulness, it’s worth taking a look.
One example is listening mindfulness. Relax your body, breath evenly and comfortably, and focus on listening to what’s around you. Listen to each sound individually and nonjudgmentally. Do you hear the buzz of the AC? Birds? The slip-slip-slip of your pants’ legs moving as you walk? Your breathing? Distant cars, dogs barking?
Each time a distraction arises, like a worry or negative emotion, acknowledge it, “That’s a thought, that’s an emotion,” then let it go, relax, and go back to your listening.
Stay with the sounds for 5-10 minutes, or longer if you have time. When you’re ready to finish, stretch your body, offer yourself a smile, and go on with your day. Check out this article about mindfulness for more examples.
Option C. Rewire the negative.
We all have negative ticker-tape thoughts circling in our heads. Some people call them internal critics. That’s the voice that tells you you’re not good enough, that you have no right to be proud or happy or deserving. Nothing you do ever satisfies your internal critic. Even when you do something right, it criticizes you for not doing it earlier.
Your goal: turn off the negative ticker-tape. You can do it. You talk positively to people you love , an automatic switch from “critic” mode to to “you’re cool and I care about you” mode…so why can’t you talk to yourself that way? Next time you find your internal critic taking off, pause and consciously switch to “you’re cool and I care about you” mode. If anyone should treat you with kindness, it should be yourself.
Option D. More rewiring the negative.
Another source of great heartache are past mistakes and regrets. We avoid them at all costs (perhaps distracting ourselves with secret codes and Monty Python reruns), and miss out on great opportunities in the process.
Don’t be afraid to look at your past mistakes and regrets. You’ll see they’re just chances to grow, to stand up and try again. So you were mean to your boss’ secretary last week? Think, “what can I learn from this experience?” Recognize that you’re more vulnerable to irritability when overwhelmed (like most people), and use that information to consciously turn on the “you’re cool and I care about you” mode when you’re stressed and talking to others. Also, ask yourself, “is there a healthy way to fix this?” In the above case, consider apologizing to your boss’ secretary. “I didn’t mean to come across that way, and I’m sorry,” or “If it happens again, you have my permission to thump me on the head and tell me to wake up!”
If the mistake can’t be fixed, take a deep breath and radically decide you’ll do your best to learn from and not repeat it. Use the experience to make you into a better person. Whether there’s a healthy fix or not, put your mistakes into context, use them to point you in the right direction, then let them go.
Finding it hard to let regrets go? Keep telling yourself: “I made the best decision with the information I had at the time.” (Consider checking out the article, Overcoming Guilt for more ways of dealing with guilt and shame.)
STEP TWO: embrace the past and future
Put a finger on your achievements & goals and pursue what life wants you to.
Option A. Get to know your abilities.
Focus a moment on the past. Start a secret list of your strengths, and keep that list going. Add something new each day. Include accomplishments, healthy connections, lives you’ve touched, temptations you’ve avoided, all of it! This list is about what you’ve done.
Pat yourself on the back for your strengths. Allow yourself to be proud. Remember that giddy, happy “Look how awesome I am” feeling you used to get as a kid when you did something good? That’s where you want to be.
Make a happy fuss over small wins as much as big ones. Even small steps take you in the right direction. What tiny thing have you done today that is worthy of a “happy fuss” reception?
Focus your strengths into your future. How can they help you grow? Can your abilities save the world, or maybe make the difference in one other person’s life?
Option B. Go after your passions and goals.
Focus a moment now on the future. Create a list of goals, interest, and passions. What stirs your heart? What makes your fingers tingle? Get that all on paper. This list is about who you want to be.
Then do your best to become that person.
Not an easy task, not something done in one day, but each tiny bit of movement in that direction counts. You want to be a famous musician? Break the goal down into small steps, and start with the first one. (1) Google “how to play violin,” (2) Once you have the right vocabulary, research violins in greater detail, (3) Shop for a violin, (4) Buy a violin, (5) Look into lessons, etc. Prefer to become an accountant? (1) Buy an “Introduction to Accounting” book. (2) Sign up for accounting classes…
Everyone has a glimpse of sun behind their eyes, whether you call it imagination, thinking outside the box, or a new way of seeing things. This is passion, and stick with it at all costs. Do whatever it takes to make it happen: study quantum physics, solve complicated math equations, paint or sculpt or write, start a skateboarding business, or come up with a never-tried recipe. Just do it.
Here are some unusual questions to help you know yourself better:
- If you could change your name, what would you call yourself?
- If you could ask your pet three questions, what would you ask? (If you don’t have a pet, think of a puppy you saw at the pet store.)
- If you could know the absolute truth to one question, what question would that be?
- In your life, what’s the closest thing to real magic/wizardry you’ve ever seen?
- What’s the most useless talent you have? How could you use it to benefit yourself or others in a good way?
- What’s your greatest weakness? How could you use it to benefit yourself or others in a good way?
Thanks for reading.
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