What would it take for you to be at peace with yourself and happy with your life?
In addition, what if you could also be transparent about who you are, what you are good at and what you stand for at work and in your community?
There is a very natural and authentic power that comes from being at peace with oneself and, rather than having to hide who you are from any one, instead enjoying communicating with people what you are about.
So to the how…
In a thousand word blog I obviously cannot give all the answers, but what I can give is an overview of what you need to do to be happy, at peace with yourself, authentic and naturally powerful. Then you can assess your current knowledge and practice about success, performance and happiness and work out how much of a gap there is between your current knowledge and behaviours, and the level of knowledge and behaviours that get these results. It is worth pointing out that knowledge, of course, is not enough. A key element of positive psychology is to find ways to put your knowledge into practice. We will see that happiness is not a given, it is something that we need to practice on a daily basis.
The way to be successful, good at what you do and happy has the following components:
1. Have a sense of purpose or Calling.
2. Know your strengths
3. Make your Calling and your strengths central to your career
4. Have an optimistic vision for your life
5. Keep returning to the present moment with mindfulness.
6. Practice resilience: how to bounce back quickly from difficulty.
7. Take your foot off the brake
8. Love Life!
Parts 1-3 are covered in our other blogs about Life-Calling which you can read here. My focus for this blog therefore will be on the transformative aspects of optimism, mindfulness and turning difficulties form the past into resources for the present and future.
Have an optimistic vision for your life
Positive psychology validates the obvious idea that having a positive and optimistic view of our future makes us happier. But just being optimistic is not enough. We need to act in a way that convinces us we are creating that positive future. One of the best methods for doing this is to create a vision of who we would be if we were the sort of person who could keep creating and inventing positive futures, and then take tiny steps towards it. For me, for example the vision of the future me is someone who does Yoga everyday. The secret however, is to define “yoga” as something so short and easy that I can do it every day without effort. So I have defined “doing yoga” as touching my toes a couple of times, an exercise that stretches my spine. I can do it in 2 minutes, but most days I have my timer on and I do 20 minutes. Once I have got the habit of 20 minutes comfortably installed, I might feel like stretching it to 25 minutes. With my commitment to 2 minutes per day, once I am started it is easy for it to become an enjoyable 20 minutes.
Spend time creating an inner movie trailer for your “healthy old age”. Imagine yourself old, beautiful, energetic, athletic, playful, wise and sexy, or whatever you like!
Now also imagine being the sort of person who can naturally blossom into this beautiful, healthy old age. Someone who learns, grows, is excited and optimistic about life, takes care of themselves, can handle set-backs well, and so on.
Now start doing small steps, 2 minute activities everyday, that take you on the path towards your vision. Start practicing being the person of that vision in little ways, and it will grow.
Keep returning to the present moment with mindfulness
‘Mindfulness’ refers to self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness.
Mindfulness may be the ‘flavour of the month’, and is increasingly used as a psychological, medical and even business intervention, but it has also been part of every ancient psychological tradition.
If you are pursuing a goal that will only be achieved some time in the future, then you are not satisfied now. If you change your goal to practising now what will make you successful in the future, then you achieve your goal now. Then you are happy to be improving the skills that will give you something in the future, but the goal is something you are doing today which therefore brings a sense of satisfaction or peace.
There is empirical evidence that mindfulness practice reduces rumination (negative thinking) and stress, boosts working memory and increases focus, cognitive flexibility and attentional functioning. People who practice mindfulness have less emotional reactivity and more relationship satisfaction. There is also evidence of improvements to well-being including increased immune system functioning. Your physical health improves if you practice mindfulness.
Have you had any mindfulness training? It could be a mindfulness class, meditation, or a practice that uses mindfulness such as yoga, Tai chi and Qigong.
Someone who has some experience in mindfulness can get to a state of peace within a short amount of time. However “peace” doesn’t mean getting rid of difficult emotional feelings. Difficult emotional feelings are part of the healthy repertoire of emotions that help us make sense of the world. What we are talking about is being able to be present with how we are in the moment, however difficult the feeling, knowing that “this too will pass”. With mindfulness practice, we realise that everything is changing and the more we pay attention to what is going on right now with compassion for ourselves, the more likely it is the current emotions will change.
Practice resilience: how to bounce back quickly from difficulty
“Life is great. Except when it isn’t”. Life has suffering, but the question is, how quickly do we bounce back from it? We will fail, we will be disappointed, relationships will end, we will have health issues, people will die; but how quickly do we recover and start to focus again on the positive elements of our future? Stephen Hawking, the theoretical physicist, has some major health challenges, but he has managed to keep his creativity and sense of purpose. Psychologists call this Resilience. We can divide resilience practices into 4 simple categories: body, emotion, mind and spirit:
Body: regular physical exercise helps us bounce back and creates well-being. Diet, hydration and sufficient sleep are also medically proven to make a difference.
Emotions: Self-care and self-compassion: reaching out to others to share what is happening in our inner life is proven to build resilience. In our modern age very often the people we can really share our deepest thoughts and feelings with are not our families, but our “tribe”, the community we have found where we can show our inner selves. This could be your platoon in the army, the people you dance with twice a week or fellow participants in the positive psychology group you participate in. Good family relationships really help as well. How much do you emotionally nourish yourself? How much can you reach out for emotional support from others?
Mind: positive mental attitude is the key here: “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”; “when you fall in the gutter, make sure you look at the stars”. What are the positive lessons you have learned from any situation? How can you support yourself in turning negative thoughts around?
Spirit: research shows that some kind of practice that gives you a larger sense of meaning than just your own life has psychological, happiness and health benefits. This could be a religion-based practice or could be as simple as walking mindfully in nature, increasing your awareness of the beauty of life.
7. Take your foot off the brake
Your optimism, your Life-Calling, your strengths and your vision for your life are “your foot on the accelerator”. But is your foot also on the brake? Do you have anxieties or feelings or old hurts, wounds and disappointments that hold you back, that stop you living life to the full?
You may not be able to rid yourself of the effect of these earlier experiences or influences, but you can transform them: you can discover how they have contributed to your Life-Calling and your strengths. For example, I didn’t bond with my mother as a baby, but was passed round many carers, and that is where I developed my strength of “winning others over”, connecting easily and well with new people. Emotional difficulties in my family during my childhood led to my passion about finding a path forward in my life and to my Life-Calling of “helping people make the most of their lives, starting with myself”. I couldn’t help my twin brother who died of a heroin overdose, so in my twenties I committed myself to helping other people. Helping people make the most of their lives is a gift to the world from my brother.
What are your early experiences which inform your current positive qualities? What support do you need to transform your difficulties and take your foot off the brake?
8. Love Life!
All the positive psychology practices are designed to balance the difficulty of life with a sense of the extraordinary beauty of life. One of the side effects of mindfulness practice is that you notice how extraordinary it is to be alive. Most of the time we are so busy in the day-to-day tasks and the drama of life, that we forget how amazing it is to be alive.
How could you focus more of your attention on the extraordinary beauty of life?
So, these are the components of having a life in which you feel both at peace with yourself and naturally powerful. You may find yourself drawn to exploring some elements more than others at this time so follow your instincts and do just that. You can always keep this as a rough guide to refer back to in future and look at other areas you may wish to expand in yourself further down the line.
And because of my Life-Calling, I’ll be only too happy to help you.
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