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