In this blog, I’m sharing what I wished I’d known when I was younger. I imagine this information would have offered support and reassurance at the time. Whilst I’m still learning every day, I hope that sharing this information might be a helpful reminder to you today or useful for somebody that you know. If you find this helpful, please sign up to my email list in order to receive future quarterly newsletters as well as information about any important events from me.
Life is a Learning Curve
I want to expand on my introductory point that life offers a rich learning experience – I am still learning every day. I remember believing when I got to a certain age I would know the answers – this had the impact of making me doubt myself and deferring my decisions to people who I perceived did “know” the answers. I’ve finally realised that the answers are inside of me, that life offers continual opportunities for growth and that, often the richest experiences come from the more difficult times. Knowing this sooner may have helped me to start asking myself for the answers and learning to trust myself a lot sooner. I also now realise that when something goes “wrong” that it’s not necessarily something I’ve done wrong but rather an opportunity to grow. Like the tide or the seasons, life has continual ups and downs and every difficult phase passes eventually.
Going with the Flow
Working with these natural phases of up and down is a much better strategy than trying to control or avoid them. Doing the latter can lead to a deeper and more longer-lasting “down”. By acknowledging that difficulties are part of life and happen to everyone, it can help you to give yourself less of a hard time and move through the situation more easily. Focusing instead on improving your awareness to recognise situations, problem-solving how to deal with the situation and drawing on the support to do so is a better use of your energy. You then learn to respond rather than react to situations and also build your confidence to cope with the inevitable cycles of life.
Know Your Value
You are incredible just as you are. It can be hard to see this as we get caught up in stories that we are not good enough or likeable and this can lead us to only see the evidence of the stories and ignore anything to the contrary. These stories are so powerful that they can become self-fulfilling. Just because they feel true doesn’t mean that they are true. It may take a leap of faith to believe anything to the contrary but investing effort and time towards self-acceptance can help you to feel differently. Marianne Williamson’s definitions of potential (even though I heard this on an audio talk decades ago it has always stayed with me) – You can either imagine jumping hurdles to reach your potential or take away the blinkers that stop you from seeing you are already there. Pay attention to your stories, notice their impact on your mood, productivity, relationships and self-esteem. Become aware of patterns, explore their origin, challenge their assumptions and validity and focus more on the stories you would like to have in your life.
Build Self-Compassion and Happiness
Every human being has strengths and opportunity areas, experiences success and failure and feelings of courage and vulnerability. Working towards self-acceptance offers greater odds of success towards a happier and healthier path than most strategies we adopt subconsciously such as overworking, pleasing others, perfectionism and so on. Building self-compassion, having strong self-care, putting yourself forward for opportunities for success, having appropriate boundaries, learning to be assertive, develop a nurturing inner voice and learning to measure yourself by your efforts and intentions rather than the outcome can help you.
Also work actively on your happiness – identify what makes you happy and devote time to this, check how realistic and healthy your expectations are of happiness, focus on happiness in the present moment rather than postponing your happiness to the future e.g. when I change my job, when I am in a relationship et cetera. Otherwise it is always something beyond your grasp and you are ignoring the opportunity for happiness in the present. What blocks you from happiness? Challenge beliefs and stories that may get in the way.
Embrace Your Feelings
Your feelings have important information for you. In an ideal world, you would know what emotion you’re feeling, understand what it might be telling you (sometimes there is no reason why), have a healthy outlet to release it if required and act on any information. Imagine instead that you have a saucepan inside of you with a lid on top. Every time you don’t want to feel an emotion or don’t realise you’re feeling it, you add it to this metaphorical saucepan. Short-term it can be effective but long-term, imagine a gentle heat underneath the pan which compresses the lid. Feelings may burst out like an outbreak of tears or rant or, boil over the edge like a simmering numbness, low mood or anxiety. Ironically you are less in control of the emotions in the pan and yet this is likely to have been the intention for putting them inside the pan in the first place. Also when you feel a particular emotion in the present, you will probably feel every other time in your life that you experienced this emotion (from the pan) which can make it feel disproportionate to the situation and therefore confusing. Learning to acknowledge your feelings as a natural response to life and finding healthy outlets can make a significant difference to your happiness, productivity and also prevent mental health difficulties.
If there is something traumatic or complex that you may have stored in your metaphorical saucepan, you may benefit from seeking counselling to explore this. Always seek professional support i.e. GP, counsellor or equivalent if your symptoms are severe or you feel at risk of harm in any way.