I want to start by asking you a question. How often do you set aside dedicated time to consciously think about who you want to be and how you want to show up in the world? By dedicated I mean that every day, or at least most days, you get up in the morning and spend some time thinking about who you want to be that day, how you want to interact with others, and how you can make a difference in other people’s lives? If you’re anything like me you’ve probably not ever really stopped to seriously ask, and answer, those questions on a consistent basis.
I’ve been thinking about this a great deal these past few weeks because I struggled a lot in 2018 and I wanted to try and get a handle on why it was such a challenging year for me. Why did I feel so much anger last year? Why did I feel so much resentment? Why did I feel sad and lost so much of the time when I had so much to be grateful for and happy about? It’s easy to want to run from the things that feel difficult, to try everything we can think of to numb those feelings so that we don’t have to deal with them, but facing them, while incredibly painful, has the power to change our life for the better.
It is the hardest thing in the world to keep going when you feel like you are drowning. Every day I talk to people who are finding it hard to keep their heads above water. I know most of you, if not all of you, reading this will understand that feeling of being enveloped in darkness. Sometimes it’s just for a few hours or days, other times it can last weeks, months, or even years. That’s what 2018 felt like for me so much of the time. I was very conscious that I was struggling with something important and that if I could just hang in there (and that’s exactly how I felt many a day) and honour the struggle that something transformative was going to come out of it – and that’s exactly what happened.
Each of us will go through periods of darkness and it’s likely that each time we do it will be for a different reason and to reveal a different lesson. For me, The Great Darkness of 2018 was all about forcing me to come face to face with that age old question – who am I? It’s only in the last few months as I’ve sought to find the answers to that question that the light has started to return. In the hope that you won’t have to endure the emotional pain that I did I want to explore with you why it’s so important not only to know who you are, but also to act in congruence with that. Only when we put those two things together, the knowing and the doing, can we start to alleviate so much of the suffering we feel in our hearts and souls that stems from acting out of alignment with who we know ourselves to be.
I love the idea that we need to learn to ‘live into’ the person we wish to become and the vision we have for our lives, that phrase, ‘live into’ acknowledges that becoming who we are is a process, not a one off event. So let’s jump right in and look at the two words that will make the most difference in moving the needle of our lives in a positive direction: clarity and intention.
If my experience has taught me anything it is this: if we do not consciously decide who we are, what we believe in, what we stand for, and what we want out of life, then guess what? The world, i.e., other people, will decide for us and one day, realising we’re living a life of reaction to other people’s needs and wants, driven by other people’s agenda’s, we enter full-blown identity crisis mode. If like me this has happened to you before, or you sense it coming, please take heart in knowing that you can both prevent it from happening, or, if it’s already happened, prevent it from happening again.
The first thing to understand is why it happens. For most of us, our days are spent on autopilot, at the mercy of a seemingly endless ‘to do’ list. Very rarely do we stop to consider if what we’re doing is getting us closer to who we want to become, very rarely do we think about who we’re being out there in the world. In fact many of us invest a lot more time in to thinking about what we’re going to eat for dinner, whether we’re going to get the new Samsung S10 or the iPhone 8, heck, we probably give more thought to what shampoo and conditioner we want to buy when we’re in the supermarket than we do to who we are, who we want to become, and just how we’re going to get there.
Is it just me or is that really crazy? That we so often give more time to things that don’t really matter, and so little time to the things that actually do? I’m not sure if there’s anything more important than deciding who we are and then going out into the world and showing up as that person, the fact that we spend so little time thinking about something that is so fundamental is a huge problem.
The world’s number 1 high performance coach, Brendon Burchard, has a saying: no clarity = no change. It’s very hard to be the person we want to be or get to where we want to go if we have no idea what any of that looks like. If you feel in any way like I did last year all of this stuff can feel so overwhelming that it can be hard to know where to start. Something that has helped me a lot is Burchard’s model of framing things around different kinds of goals. For this post I’m choosing to look at two of my favourites, being and relating goals.
I can pinpoint so much of the pain I went through last year to one thing – congruence, or in my case, a lack of it. Being a congruent person is about knowing who you are and showing up in the world as that person. It’s not just that you believe certain things or that you hold certain values, you also live them, every day, no matter where you are or who you’re with.
I feel sad when I think of all the times I’ve faked it over the course of my life, not because I was a bad person or that I was deliberately setting out to deceive people, but just because I didn’t have the confidence to project to others the person I know myself to be on the inside. Instead, I gave them the person, thoughts, and behaviour I thought would make them like me. I am honestly cringing writing this because it is hard enough to admit that to myself, let alone all of you but I want to because I believe deeply that so much of our suffering comes from being incongruent, from not acting in alignment with who we know we are and who we know we can be.
Whether it’s in the realm of social media or out there in the real world we all too often trade our integrity for likes and followers and you know what? I don’t blame us for falling into that trap because society puts so much pressure on us all to be a certain way, you have to develop an unshakeable strength of character to be able to resist that but it can be done.
We can’t keep going through the motions, we have to dig deep in to our hearts and souls and really get to know who we are and then we have to go out in to the world and be that person, no matter what others say. That is what I believe to be the key to living a life where you feel fully alive as opposed to just existing.
I’ve come to realise how little thought I often give to how I’m actually showing up in my relationships with others. In fact if I’m being completely honest what I’ve noticed about myself is I often wait for others to set the tone of the interaction, that is, I have historically allowed myself to be a passive, rather than active, participant in shaping my relationships.
Do you ever find yourself doing that? Waiting on others to see how they’re going to behave, what mood they’re going to be in, and then find yourself either consciously or unconsciously adjusting your behaviour and mood to fit theirs? I suddenly thought ‘hang on a minute, not only am I giving my power away to someone else and allowing my mental and emotional state to be dictated by their mood, I’m actually absolving myself of the responsibility I have in this relationship, in this interaction.’
That’s been a bit of an eye opener for me, that it is my job in each and every interaction, in all my relationships, to find ways to bring the joy, to create a connection, and to deepen that connection, despite what others might be thinking and feeling or how they might be behaving. It’s so easy to fall into the habit of thinking ‘well they’re not being very loving towards me so why should I be loving towards them?’ or ‘well they didn’t help me wash the dishes so I’m not going to help them wash the car.’ I know these probably sound like ridiculous statements but it’s amazing how often our minds will veer towards operating in that way.
Most of us want our relationships with others to feel real, we want to have that deep connection with other people but I think our ability to really experience that hinges on one simple thing that we often forget to do: we have to stop waiting on other people to lead the way, we have to be the role model for how we want our relationships to look, we have to be courageous enough to love fully.
Learning To Live With Intention
Something we’ve probably all noticed is just how much our society is obsessed with consumption. Most of the time we shop quite mindlessly buying a ton of stuff we don’t really need, often in an attempt to numb feelings or perhaps to fill a void, an emptiness inside of us that we can’t quite describe but know is there. It’s like we’re hungry and so we go off in search of things that we think will feed that hunger but we never feel full because we’re turning to the wrong sort of ‘food’. We don’t need more things, what we’re really after, what we really need, is to feel differently.
The way to feed the hunger we often feel so that we do end up full is to live with intention. I know, I’m sure some of this all sounds a bit woo-woo but stick with me here! Living with intention is making conscious decisions about who we want to be and how we want to show up in the world, it’s about deciding what we want to stand for, what we’re going to create, what we’re going to put out there in the world as our contribution. It means that we’re the captain of our own ship, we’re at the helm, we’re steering that ship that is our life rather than being at the mercy of the waves, i.e., other people.
Living with intention means developing daily practices that keep us on track so when life happens, as it inevitably does, it doesn’t derail us, we can get back up again. Have you ever had one of those days when you’ve been eating really well for a few weeks, trying to lose weight or just be healthier, and then you have a really stressful morning at work, decide to have a piece of chocolate cake at your colleagues birthday party that afternoon and then come home think ‘screw it, I’ve already had a piece of cake so the day’s a write off, I may as well have two glasses of wine, a whole pizza, and a Kit-Kat while watching Bridget Jones’ Diary for the hundredth time? We have no doubt all been there!
Learning to live with intention means learning to take back the control of our lives. It means when something we perceive as bad happens (eating that chocolate cake) we write off that moment, not the whole day. We need to learn that when we feel we’ve made a mistake (and just so you know, in my mind chocolate cake is NEVER a mistake!) that’s not a reason to derail our whole plan of action and just give up and give in.
Developing A Daily Practice
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed right now I can completely relate because I felt exactly the same way, and often still do. A lot of these ideas I’d heard before and like you I understood a lot of them from a logical point of view but I was a bit stuck on how to put them in to practice. I’ve been fortunate to have read some fantastic books lately and listen to some really powerful and inspiring videos by people in the personal development field who I really admire. It’s exposed me to some tangible ideas on how I can move from thinking to actually doing.
The thing I’ve found to be the most effective over these past few weeks is taking control of my mornings by developing a morning routine. Why is a morning routine so important? Well for me what I was finding was I’d get up, check social media, my email, and messages, have breakfast, get ready for work, and then find that I’d feel a bit flat throughout the day and lacking in focus. I did some research around all of this and found that having a set morning routine is one of the most powerful tools we can use to ensure we’re able to go out into the world as the person we want to be.
If one of the first things we do is check social media, email, and messages then the first thing our mind is exposed to in the morning is other people’s problems or agenda’s, the awesome holiday’s people are having (which is bound to bum us out!) or whatever latest disaster is happening out there in the world. We wake up and immediately lose control of our minds by allowing the external world to come in before we’ve set the intention for our internal world.
While I know these ideas won’t appeal to everyone, here are a few things you could try that I’ve found helpful:
1) Devote the first 30-60 minutes of the day to yourself – so no checking emails, social media, or messages. This one has been the most beneficial for me and also the hardest. The first few days I was very tempted to check my phone before the 60 minutes was up, which highlighted to me that I’m a lot more addicted to these things than I thought I was!
2) Develop a visualisation/meditation practice – sitting for 10 minutes (you can work your way up to longer if you want to), clearing your mind and visualising the person you want to become and how you want your life to look in the future is something I’ve been practicing the last few weeks, both in the morning and in the evening before I go to bed. While I know it may sound a bit out there, I’m continually amazed at just what a powerful tool our minds can be in helping us turn thoughts into things.
3) Taking 5 minutes each day to write down our dreams and goals can help us stay on track. The more we repeat something, the more our brains come to see it as reality.
4) This is a big one – spend time with people who are going to lift you up, support and encourage you, and a lot less time with those who drag you down. With regards to social media – unfriend, unfollow or mute anyone whose presence in your life does not contribute to the above or whose posts simply don’t make you feel good. Life is too short.
5) Before you go in to that work meeting, before you have to go see that friend or relative who you feel always manages to wind you up or push your buttons, before you see your spouse or partner, think about who you want to be in that situation and try to be that person, regardless of how others show up.
There are a lot of people out there who would say that all you have to do is figure out who you are, get your mindset right, and then go out there and make it happen. On a logical level in lots of ways, I agree with them. I’m a big believer in having a positive mindset, in the power of visualisation, getting clarity, and living with intention. I wouldn’t have written this piece if I didn’t believe, that in seeking clarity and living intentionally, we have the power to transform our lives and our relationships.
However, I also have an understanding of the complexity of the human mind and human behaviour. I know how hard life can be sometimes, how easy it is to get knocked down, how difficult it can be to get back up, how often our minds work against us. I believe that we all want to live fulfilling lives, to develop and sustain deep connections with others, to be kind and loving, to live our dreams but it would be misguided of me to downplay how challenging I know it is to move from the thinking to the doing.
Sometimes I feel a bit like I did in the photo above, a tiny dot in a very vast world. There are days where I skip up the mountain full of positivity, optimism, self-belief and secure and confident in who I am. Then there are other days where I feel like I’m hanging by my fingernails from the side of the mountain trying desperately to pull myself up. I wish I could say that I have this clarity and intention thing in the bag, that I know who I am and that I’m living in congruence with that every single day but I’m not there yet, in fact, I’m a long way from being there but every day I’m trying.
So my final words are these: if we’re able to develop clarity around who we are and to intentionally try to live in alignment with who we know ourselves to be more often than we don’t then that’s a pretty amazing thing. We need to be kind to ourselves, forgive ourselves when we don’t get it right and trust that not only are we all doing the best we can with what we know but that as we come to know better, we’ll do better. If we’re gentle with ourselves, if we learn to ‘live into’ the person we wish to become then one day we may just awaken to find that person that has lived inside us all along has become our reality.