Seeking Humanitas: 19 ways to become the best version of yourself

Have you ever experienced the feeling of being stuck in life’s quicksand, feeling as if you’ve taken two steps forward and three back? While the experience can be discouraging, know that there are a few ways things you can begin to evaluate to make sure you’re not continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results, which we know is ultimately the definition of insanity. The pattern of trying to change can become futile if we do not take an honest look inwards and evaluate ourselves.

 

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This guy is thinking, “I thought it would be different this time, but everything is the same…”

 

While in my counseling practice, I tend to stay away from life proverbs and instead, adhere to evidence-based practices, sometimes making life changes becomes easier when you acknowledge that there are common experiences, and just plain old down to earth life lessons that apply to all of human kind and will help create a more well-balanced life and increased life satisfaction when you implement them.

And that is why I have created this list of life lessons or life hacks, if you will, that encompass beliefs that I strongly adhere to and have seen to actually WORK in evoking positive change. Some of these beliefs and lessons are absolutely backed by empirical data and research, however, I wanted to create a relatable list for you, not a research article! : ) A list that you can internalize and leave feeling empowered after reading.

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Every person that I work with professionally and know on a personal level, brings valuable contributions to this world, although sometimes being able to realize the valuable contributions you bring can become muddled under depression, feelings of low self-worth, a break-up…or whatever other negative life experiences may have or are occurring.

So let’s get started…

1.       The common denominator in life and in all situations you are in, is you. No matter where you go, who you’re with, or what you’re doing, you are always the consistent person who is present. If you don’t like your current situation or relationship, guess who is the only person that can change it? You guessed it, you. Not anyone else because we have no control over anything or anyone else. Feel empowered knowing that in a world where at times, we feel we have little control, the one constant that always prevails is that you are able to be in control of YOU.

2.       Grow where you are planted. Life continues to move no matter where we are or what we are doing. If you can learn to be happy with wherever you are, then you have unlocked one of the greatest abilities to create life satisfaction. I think specifically of our great military population when writing this life lesson although it could be applied to anyone encountering a move or major life transition. The only way for you to grow where you are planted in your new community is to get out there, make an effort to find your place, and cultivate an environment where you feel supported and are able to actively engage in your interests. Just because you are in a new environment does not mean that life has to be put on hold. Remember who you are and actively seek out activities in your new environment that will help you continue to flourish and nourish the best parts of yourself.

 

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If a flower can survive in a concrete jungle, then so can you.

 

3.       Accept where you are in your life but never become complacent-always seek to actively make positive changes. So maybe you’re working in a dead-end job but have a dream of attending nursing school? Why not set aside a tiny bit of money from each paycheck to put towards school or obtaining a certification that you want? Accept that you’re not exactly where you want to be but NEVER lose sight of your end goal.

4.       Embrace both the good and the bad experiences you encounter in life. Perspective will make or break any situation you encounter and have to overcome. Ever heard the phrase it’s all in your head? Well it’s absolutely true. The way we view a situation that occurs in life will make or break how we handle it. Developing resiliency has been shown to be a contributing factor to life satisfaction and contentment. So if you’re constantly feeling victimized, it’s time to reframe your thinking and view yourself as a survivor, using those negative experiences to help you realize what you are able to overcome. Which brings me to my next life lesson…

5.       Use negative people to propel you forward. Be defiant (in a positive way) and empowered to strive towards reaching your goals even more. Let those naysayer’s negative energy empower you to achieve the goal you’re striving towards.

6.       Let go of all negative temptations, people, and things that are in your life and holding you back from becoming the best version of yourself. Watch how far you’re able to go when you no longer give these negative pitfalls room in your life.

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7.       Allow your life purpose to help define the decisions you make. Have a strong sense of who you are. Life purpose is incredibly important. What do you believe you are here on earth for? Are you a natural helper, an artist, an organizer, or a math wiz? Find out what you excel at and run with it!

8.       Set boundaries. People will take as much as you are willing to give, sometimes by no fault of their own, but because you are willing to give until you feel depleted. Develop a sense of self-awareness, the ability to check in with yourself and evaluate how you feel. If you’re constantly feeling run down and taken advantage of, it’s a pretty clear indication that you may not have proper boundaries in place. Learn to say no.

 

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Think of setting boundaries as a no trespassing sign on what you will not tolerate in your life.

 

9.       Give consideration to the past, whether it’s childhood experiences, bad relationships, etc., but realize that you do not have to be defined by those experiences. Enough said.

10.   People can change. But it takes vast amounts of time, energy, and most importantly, work. Example: if you’re in an abusive relationship and are staying because you are holding out for change, it’s time to take a step back and assess whether or not your partner is actively motivated to change. Are they attending counseling, classes, and accepting responsibility for their poor behavior? If not, it may be time to realize that change is not taking place. All behaviors can be unlearned, so even for yourself, consider what needs to happen for you to start making healthy changes

11.   Know your self-worth. What you accept in life is a direct reflection of how you feel about yourself. Allowing people to treat you badly only reinforces negative feelings about self, and gives the other person a pass on treating you poorly. When we believe that we are worthy of all that is wonderful, your tolerance on negative treatment will change. You will be able to see that “I AM deserving of better” and you will not allow for that negative treatment to continue. This is a process, but it can be done

12.   Learn to self-soothe and self-regulate emotions. You are in charge of how you feel, no one else, and nothing else is. Being able to find your center and calm yourself down without having to lean on anyone else or any substance (food, shopping, alcohol, drugs, etc.) is a freeing and empowering experience that will only exponentially increase feelings of self-efficacy and self-confidence.

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13.   Be independent and self-sufficient. Learn to stand on your own. Take care of yourself well, because when it’s all said and done, who else will?

14.   Be proud of yourself and your accomplishments, but in all times, remain humble. You may be a bona-fide genius but if you allow this to overtake you, it will alienate others. Accept compliments but continue to acknowledge that you’re human and not above anyone else. We all have wonderful contributions to give, and no one is better than the next—thinking that you are a cut above aids in narcissistic thinking and prevents real relationships to occur

15.   Expand your thinking. Let go of rigidity in your thinking. Nothing is black or white, there is a lot of grey. Research shows that individuals that are rigid in their thinking fair worse in life because often times, there is more than one answer to a question, more than one explanation for behavior, etc.

16.   Communicate your feelings and advocate for yourself. Speak up for how you feel, but learn to do so in a way that is thoughtful, calm, and rational. When we let our emotions overpower us, we can end up saying thing that are hurtful and “off the cuff”. Take a deep breath, wait for a period of time until you are calmer, and then use an approach that is thoughtful and caring to convey your feelings. Coercion elicits resistance so when someone feels backed up into a corner, they will push back. Remember this concept and use basic “I” statements to own how you feel. Not accusatory and hostile communication techniques that may intimidate.

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17.   Show empathy to others. Not sympathy necessarily, but empathy. Put yourself into another person’s shoes for a moment. Seek understanding before making judgments. We are all in this life together. You may have had more advantages in your life than the next person, but allow yourself to seek understanding on why that coworker is so angry, why your partner has difficulty in expressing their feelings, etc. Seek understanding of your fellow humans.

18.   Know thyself. Make a list of strengths and weaknesses you feel that you have. Embrace those strengths and accept the weaknesses while actively acknowledging them in day to day life and attempting to improve. Who are you? What defines you? What roles do you play in life? Discovering the answers to these questions allows you to develop better self-awareness and in return assists you in knowing thyself

19.   Lastly, create a life that you love. Create an existence where you feel empowered, fulfilled, and as if you are contributing to the greater good of both humanity and most importantly, yourself. In a grossly simplistic explanation, creating a life you love can be achieved by doing all of the above listed life lessons.

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Although this list is not exhaustive of self-help, use it as a starting ground for finding your happiness and checking in on yourself. If you are struggling and finding it difficult to deal with life and relationships, it may be time to reach out for help from a therapist.

One of my favorite parts of being a therapist is when I am able to witness the “AHA moments” or the experience of the lightbulb coming on that evokes clarity for a client. These moments, these life epiphanies, as I call them, occur in session when a client and I are able to connect the dots and make a life changing realization about relationships, behavior, drug use, whatever the case may be. Only then, does real understanding and change begin to occur.

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My hope is that by reading these life lessons, you are able to experience an aha moment as well, and develop an understanding of your own self that allows positive change to begin to take place. As cliché as it sounds, the evolution of self should always be occurring. Year after year, we change, we grow, we may slip back into old habits, but no matter what, you can always use these experiences to learn from and develop into the healthiest version of yourself—humanitas.

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.

—Aristotle

Wishing you clarity, growth, and happiness in your everyday existence,

Rachel Ann

Anger Management: Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers all wrongs

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh tongue stirs up anger”.

–Proverbs 15:1

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How do you respond when you’re angry? What mentality overcomes you—the “turn the other cheek” philosophy or the “eye for an eye” mentality?

In situations where we experience anger, our reaction to the situation can often times be the deciding factor that either fans the flames or diffuses a situation.

When I worked in the inpatient psychiatric hospital setting, I taught a behavioral management course to incoming staff. Amongst many techniques, the technique that deescalated a situation almost every time was remaining calm in response to a heated situation. Remembering to keep your voice low in response to the angry person, body language relaxed, and eye contact continuous but not overbearing, were the key responses in bringing a person’s anger down to a reasonable and communicative level.

It is in our biological make-up to mirror the actions of another human being (i.e. mirror neurons in action!), especially when we like that other person. So by remaining calm and lowering our voices, it has the ability to cause the person that you may be in opposition with to instinctively lower their voice, and in turn, calm them down.

While you and the other person may not have a positive relationship, the key here is that one person’s reaction to the other has the ability to completely calm the other person down or oppositely, incite them. Next time you are in a heated situation, I encourage you to try this.

When we lash out at another person in response to their anger, it only adds the proverbial fuel to the fire. As in the Proverbs verse above, our response to a situation is very powerful. How we choose to conduct ourselves has great bearing on almost any situation that we are in.

Consider this scenario. Your child is misbehaving. They’ve torn the house apart and are not listening to you when you’re telling them to take a bath. You have two choices here. One, you can scream at them until the cows come home which will most likely result in tears and a spanking—and you losing your cool. Or you can take a deep breath, approach them calmly, offering choices and speaking quietly.

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A child’s response to the situation will become directly influenced by how you respond to them. While the first option I mentioned may be effective for the short term, it will most likely help your child develop a maladaptive set of behaviors and they will learn that “screaming gets stuff done”. The second option, although more time-consuming and requiring more patience, will inadvertently teach your child how to handle a tough situation. See the difference?

Second example. Your partner has just really angered you. They forgot to pick up milk and laundry detergent on the way home, are now totally engrossed in that “stupid video game” they like, and their dishes from breakfast are still sitting on the counter.

Once again, you have two choices. The first choice is to give into that disproportionate rage you may feel as a result of working all day, not getting enough sleep the night before, and feeling brain fried-lashing out at your partner and screaming “You can’t do anything right!! What a loser! You are so lazy!”. Or you can calmly make your way to where your partner is, sit down to ask them to clean up after themselves, and or ask them to go with you to the store to get the items that they forgot, turning the anger into a proactive response where you actually get to spend time with your partner reconnecting.

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I’ve seen the first reaction play out time and time again with the couples I work with in therapy and I will tell you that after a time, the angry partner ends up causing the other partner to shut down. When the screaming starts, the other partner either leaves or slowly begins to detach from the relationship—losing the desire to make their angry partner happy.

Remember: You have no control over what the other person’s response will be to your calmness. But by you taking the responsibility of staying in control of your emotions and reacting calmly and assertively to a situation, it will diffuse your own anger and allow you to become more approachable in the long haul. Not to mention, your blood pressure will stay at a healthy level and after continuing to practice peaceful communication, it will become second nature to who you are!

Developing and cultivating a calm response to situations takes time, energy, and practice. For many people, it is not an intrinsic response. Perhaps you grew up in a household where you watched your parents yell, fight, and slam doors to prove a point. Perhaps over the years, the only way you felt heard was to yell. Either way, when we continually exhibit a negative set of behaviors, they will become engrained pieces of our personalities—humans are patterned creatures with a propensity to gravitate towards the familiar.

Being the best version of ourselves and making healthy choices in responding to anger calmly can be very difficult! Especially if you feel that your newer healthy responses are not as effective as your previous angry self.

Anger has the ability to corrode even the healthiest of relationships. Disproportionate anger especially. Taking out our own personal stress on the people that we are closest to and not giving them a pass for those simple shortcomings (forgetting to buy groceries, leaving the bed unmade, forgetting to take the trash out) are the quickest ways to alienate your partner or children.

The next time that you can feel the rage start to bubble up, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” Seeking to understand yourself and what is causing you to react in a certain way is a powerful key in behavior change. I encourage people to use the Alcoholics Anonymous acronym HALT for a quick assessment on what’s going on. Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and or Tired? If you answer yes to any of those questions, chances are you are not in a good place to begin with.

Attempt to alleviate the HALT issues that are occurring and then tackle your grievances—calmly.

Food for thought: if you have “lost your cool” today, remember that you are human and tomorrow is another opportunity to practice peaceful communication and anger management.

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“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” –Proverbs 12:18

Encouraging you to practice calmness and peace in your interactions today and everyday,

Rachel Ann