Three hundred and one days ago, I embarked on a journey to change the trajectory of my life.
Gradually and unknowingly, I exited my permanent fog and discovered I had been residing safely and warmly between the crossroads of dissatisfaction, anxiousness, depression, and self-pity. As a permanent resident, I had grown accustomed to the rollercoaster that was my mental and physical health. I had grown used to endless disappointment and claimed them as an inseparable essence of my being.
I was an anxious person. Therefore, I avoided places where my triggers would be present. I was a depressed person. Therefore, I would stay at home until the feeling passed. I was an insomniac, so I turned my nose to the idea of sleeping through the night. I was a pessimist disguised as a realist, so I planned for the best but knew the worst wasn’t too far behind. In claiming these titles, I had given myself the unlikely chance of finding residency anywhere else.
Instead of discovering how to notice my triggers and work alongside them, my social anxiety got worse in seclusion. Resulting in panic attacks that would sometimes ease me into unconsciousness. In hopes that my depressive episodes would pass, I isolated myself, only prolonging its run. In my negligence to find manageable ways to fall asleep, the fog I existed in only grew thicker. In my disguised pessimistic approach, the thoughts I held always became my worst enemy.
I was stuck in a vicious cycle of noticing the hell I had placed myself in and continued to find redundant ways to get myself out. The process was always the same: (1) I’d find a new therapist, one who was affordable, and encouraged me to rant or unnecessarily relive past trauma, instead of one who was receptive and gave advice; (2) I’d create new goals, goals that would make life somehow much better than it had been now, though unobtainable without effective systems; (3) I’d reach out to my support system, only to listen to advice that was similar to what I wanted to hear; (4) and I would wallow in self-pity when I noticed my fruitless ways brought nothing sweet to fruition.
Like clockwork, three hundred and one days ago, I had prepared to run the same course, see the same scenery, and experience the same damn disappointment. But as I readied myself to bear my monotony, a question bore itself to the forefront of my mind: Don’t you get tired of being in your own way? God yes. I had grown so tired that until that moment, I believed going through the same motions would somehow result in different results.
This time around, for once, I was determined to change my course. So, after days of consideration and prolonging my journey, I created a new plan. This time around, I would do everything within my power to save myself. To move out of this crossroads, and finally find a residence in an environment where happiness, peace, and love can grow.
So, for the next year, I challenged myself to attack the root of the problem: I would learn how to love myself and live wholeheartedly. In this quest, I read various novels and listened to endless audiobooks and podcasts where experts provided tools on how to live happily and sincerely. Now that I’m just a few months shy of a year, I wanted to share some wisdom that has saved me and molded me over the past few months, in case you’re someone who happens to find yourself standing in your own way. I read all of it, so you wouldn’t have to.
In the “I Read It, So You Don’t Have To” series, I will provide you with a collection of self-help and lifestyle novel reflections. This is meant to be a collection of suggestions on how to live a happy, wholehearted life, though it is by no means a “how to guide” on how to live life. Instead, this series will be a toolkit of takeaways, and tips that are meant to assist you in finding the best life one can live. Take what works for you, and leave everything else where it is.
1.Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think
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The first guideline of living wholeheartedly is cultivating authenticity. What keeps us from being our true authentic selves is the fear of shame and embarrassment from our peers. To live authentically, we must let go of what other people think of us, challenge the narratives they choose to bestow and embrace our true selves. In this step, it is important to remember that letting go of what people think is not limited to negative perceptions.
This includes those moments where we ask others, or "take a survey," on what we should do when the need to make a decision arises. In constantly seeking other viewpoints before making a decision, we can unconsciously value the opinions of others more than our own. This eventually leads to moments of second-guessing and blaming others when something does not work out as planned.
2.Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism
The second guidepost is cultivating self-compassion. It is known that we are our own worst critics. We punish ourselves for inaccurately predicting the future and ridicule ourselves for decisions made in the past, which ultimately leaves us feeling terrible about our present. Quickly shifting from cheerleaders, we become crueler to ourselves in self-talk than we would ever be to our worst enemies. This is due to our constant need for perfectionism. Despite knowing that perfection is a beautiful seduction, we punish ourselves for not being the 'perfect' version of ourselves in moments where we could have never predicted the outcome.
Instead of being upset that we did not handle everything 'perfectly,' we must allow room to love ourselves in the moments of flaw. To cultivate self-compassion, we must offer compassion, and understanding during self-criticism. Ask yourself, "Would I talk to another person this way?" If the answer is no, remind yourself that you are in fact a person and worthy of speaking to yourself in a warmer light.
3.Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of Not Being Enough
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In his inaugural speech, Franklin D. Roosevelt claimed "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." In this next guideline, we need to learn--as a culture--how to let go of scarcity and fear in order to cultivate gratitude and joy. In today's day and age, we have cultivated a sense of scarcity. We are so consumed with the idea of lack that there is simply never enough of anything, despite there being plenty of everything. We wake up thinking we could have slept longer, we question every action with the belief that there is more than we can do.
This feeling of 'never enough' only awakens our need to prove that we are more than, which results in more fear of others noticing that we might not be. Instead of trying to be everything and shaming ourselves for falling short, we must accept that we are enough and be grateful for what we have. This means practicing gratitude and embracing joy. Daily, we must actively work to shift our mindsets to one of gratitude, and begin to acknowledge the things that make us enough. This means leaning more into moments of joy, appreciating and acknowledging what you have during times of turmoil, and finding moments where you make decisions separate from fear.
4.Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty
I will be the first to tell you that I could not make a decision without overthinking it one to two thousand times. In the desire to be certain, I would create plans down to the minute, only to spiral the second they derailed from their predetermined track. This mindset inevitably led to constant anxiety, stress, and endless frustration. Therefore, the next guideline is letting go of the need for certainty. Alongside cultivating authenticity, we need to cultivate trusting faith and our intuition.
Unlike how it has been marketed, intuition is more than just a "gut feeling" that arises when "something doesn't feel right or off." Instead, intuition is the feeling we get that we've experienced this situation before and know exactly how it is going to end or can at least predict something similar to it. Instead of ignoring this feeling, we must trust and listen to the warning signs that we provide for ourselves based on past experiences. Then, we must trust--faithfully--that our intuition is right. We cannot be certain that our intuition was 100% right, but we can lean into the fact that we cannot be that certain about anything.
5.Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison
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According to Brene Brown, we feel the need to compare when we notice others are doing things that we would consider to be extraordinary. We believe the person we compare ourselves to is contributing more to the world than we would ever be able to or have. Believing that the grass is always greener, or something would be better than what you have now, only creates an environment where dissatisfaction can fester.
This mindset does not consider the paths you have taken to get to where you are, nor the obstacles you have overcome to achieve what you have. It discredits you and the person you're making comparisons to, and the growth you have made between point A and now. Let comparison go, instead, cultivate creativity. After all, "the only unique contribution that we will ever make in the world will be born out of our creativity." To cultivate creativity, we must find a creative outlet--through trial and error--and make time for it. Simple as that.
6.Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status of Productivity and Self-Worth
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In addition to American culture creating a population that breeds scarcity, we breed exhaustion. Unlike other cultures, we glorify working 40 hours (at minimum) a week and shame those that rest while off the clock ("quiet quitting" I'm looking at you). If you tell anyone you did nothing with your weekend, there is always a look of pity for the time wasted or astonishment for the time taken. We see productivity as one's self-worth, and if you are considered unproductive you are not worth the consideration. This needs to end.
Instead of working a certain amount of hours before taking a much-needed break, surprise yourself and just take the break. Contrary to what is sold, rest is not earned, it is deserved; and necessary for anything to get anything done effectively and proficiently. Rest however you'd like, whenever you like, for however needed, and don't feel one ounce of shame about it. In addition to resting, find a moment to play and have fun. Like children, we grow bored and tired of the day-to-day when we are stuck in the same routine. Add moments of play where you can relax and just be completely and joyfully enamored in the freedom child-like play offers.
7.Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle
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From the moment we open our eyes, to the second our feet hit the ground, every moment is go, go, go. There is no wonder 40 million adults have been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and many more suffer from mild forms of anxiety throughout the day. Strangely enough, our anxious lifestyle can even force our bodies to start to crave the anxiety we feel on a given day. So, our next guideline is to let go of anxiety as a lifestyle and cultivate a lifestyle of calm and stillness.
This means meditating more, becoming more aware of ourselves and our emotions, and being less reactive. This means becoming more mindful and choosing to address situations from a standpoint of clarity. Just like the anxious lifestyle developed over time, the calm lifestyle needs to be developed intentionally over time, too. With apps like Headspace, Calm, and The Mindfulness App cultivating calm can become as easy as adding it to your morning schedule.
8.Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and "Supposed To"
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If 'would of' and 'could of' had done as they 'should of,' we'd all be where we're 'supposed' to be. But because they didn't, we blame ourselves and end up where we've always been. There is nothing beneficial in thinking about the ways life should have gone. When we compare where we are to where we want to be or should be, we get nowhere and fast. This feeling of expectation only evolves into self-doubt when we cannot obtain something that might not have been meant for us at all. Or worse, it evolves into anger and later laggardness, when we believe something is owed to us or "supposed to" be for us.
To counter these feelings and to stop furthering our doubts within ourselves, we should focus on creating meaningful work. Instead of looking for a sense of meaning elsewhere, we should focus on finding meaning and purpose within our talents and our gifts. This can be done in the form of creating a side business, or it could be done in pursuing our passion projects. Regardless of what it is, we need to find moments where we reconnect with our sense of self outside the perception of others.
9.Cultivating Laughter, Song, and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and "In Control"
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This guideline speaks for itself. Stop trying to be in control. The only thing we can control is ourselves, and we have only unlocked limited levels of our control of self. And unfortunately, there are plenty of more levels above our mastery and skill sets that we are unable to accomplish. So, instead of trying to be so cool that we are numb or so in control that we are erratic, focus on laughing more, singing more, and dancing more. Notice I didn't say do any of that well, just more. You'll thank yourself for the loosening of the rein and the freedom to embody just being.
10.Speak out Shame and Embrace Empathy
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Finally, none of these guidelines to living a wholehearted life can be accomplished without speaking out against shame and embracing empathy. It is easy to say to 'be vulnerable,' but if we do not address the reasons we try not to be, we will continue to live on the outside of our lives. We spend the majority of our time secluded in our own personal hells because we are too filled with shame to allow others to feel just the brunt of our flames.
Nevertheless, if we just spoke our shame into the world, acknowledged it, and confronted it with our support systems, we might just find the empathy we are looking for to fully extinguish the inferno.
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