Sunday, February 5, 2012

Taking Back Control of Your Life

Last year, because of the questions I commonly get asked by clients, I decided to make an instructional video on how to live a happier life. Even so, a lot of the traffic that I get seems to point to the notion that some folks are so discouraged with their situations that they have no idea where to even start!

It can be a difficult thing when your life is so overwhelming. You look at each part, seeing one mess after the next; figuring out which place to roll in your sleeves and get working. If you tweak one part, the rest may just fall to pieces. Fear and negativity keep us stuck in the comfortable, yet unhealthy, present, and both emotions make us reluctant to move forward into the unknown. If you feel that you're experiencing a spiritual crisis, you need to stop worrying and figure out how to regain control of your life. It can be difficult -- let's face it, it'll very likely be hard as hell in the beginning -- but stick with your goals. The end result will be worth all of the pain of growing.

Try following these 9 pieces of advice for just a week. They certainly cannot hurt you, and will very likely help. 

1. Take care of yourself physically. This doesn't mean that you need to spend every second at the gym and only eat carrots and celery for the rest of your days. But it does mean that you have to start treating yourself the way you try caring for everyone else in your life -- your spouse, kids, parents, or even your family pet! Would you deprive them of adequate sleep? How about healthy food and lots of water to keep them hydrated and nourished? These little things can be hard to remember to do when it's you, but you simply cannot take control of your life without catering to your basic needs. Appropriate rest, food, and exercise will put you in a far better frame of mind. This is especially true if you have health problems; working on improving your overall health may not cure the worst of what ails you, but it will maintain (and probably improve) your functioning parts.

2. Practice daily gratitude. This is the most vital thing that you can do for yourself on an emotional level. If you're constantly criticizing and finding fault with your surroundings, then you will get just what you ask for. However, if you open yourself up to gratitude and appreciation of what you do have, then more will flow your way. Each day, make it a point to think of what the universe has blessed you with, and enjoy it. There are people who have a lot less than you do.

3. Don't make assumptions about people. It's common for our fears to color the way we see ourselves, and other people. You may be afraid of not being liked or accepted by others, worry about being gossiped about, or feel concerned that something you've done has upset or offended someone. If these things are bothering you, it's better to get proof. Better yet, you can open your mouth and ask people if something is wrong. Your worrying is most likely for nothing. Wouldn't it be nice to relieve yourself of that kind of burden?

4. Stop black-and-white thinking. Most of the people and things in your life aren't all just "good" or "bad." Making generalizations about your environment and the people within it is a sure-fire way to keep your world very limited, and your mind small. But when you open your mind and realize that a million shades of gray exist between the good and the bad, you're opening yourself up to a new world. Rather than allow preconceived notions to control you, you are taking control of your own thoughts and putting yourself in the driver's seat.

5. Eliminate negative self-talk. We all have that nasty little voice inside our heads that can't seem to shut up when we're at our most vulnerable. This voice is nothing more than a fear-based illusion, trying to hold us back. While some fear or apprehension is a healthy thing, negative statements that we make to ourself can hurt our feelings just as bad as, if not worse than, if someone else were to say the same things to us. (And in fact, some negative self-talk is based on things that we have been criticized for in the past!) But if you're patient with yourself, and keep pushing forward despite that snarky inner dialogue, eventually that voice will fade. Until the time when your positive voice is the stronger of the twi, try not to pay attention to the negative stuff. It will get quieter and quieter with each small success you achieve, and the positive self-talk will grow. 

6. It's not always about you. Like negative self-talk, negative reactions can hinder your ability to see things clearly. This is less about a voice in your head, and more of a knee-jerk reaction in a stressful situation. For example, if your boss or teacher wants to speak with you privately, you may assume that you're in trouble about something. Or perhaps people around you are laughing, so you worry that you're the subject of some joke. Occasionally your mind may go there, even if there isn't any evidence to support a negative theory. Try to put the situation into perspective and realize that there are many possibilities that you haven't even considered. Take the focus off of yourself, and realize that everyone has their own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. Yours may not even enter into the equation.

7. Enjoy physical contact as often as possible. Now, get your mind out of the gutter; I didn't say you have to jump on top of everyone you meet! But don't underestimate the healing power of big ole hug! Participating in physical contact with other people -- friends, family, and pets -- will soothe and heal you in a way that words never can. If hugging is awkward for you, start slowly by shaking hands, patting people on the back, and giving high-fives. There are many, many studies which have been done on the benefits of physical contact, so make it a point to enjoy those benefits as much as you can.

8. Be a social butterfly. Solitude can be a wonderful thing. But too much alone time can put you at risk for loneliness or awkwardness when it does come time to interact with others. The more people you can surround yourself with, the happier you will be. That doesn't mean you need to go out clubbing every night of the week. But, expanding your social circle by a couple of people -- and going out of your way to keep those contacts participating in your life -- is a reward in and of itself. Being around healthy, positive people will make your own life feel much more positive too.

9. Help others, volunteer, and give of yourself. This has so many benefits that I'm only going to list a few. First and foremost is the obvious benefit to the one who's receiving the help. Additionally, you'll feel good for doing something wonderful and helping someone else. The psychological and spiritual benefits are great as well, because you're practicing #6 at the same time, and taking the focus off your own problems to address something else entirely. Helping others can open up your world in ways that you've never thought possible, and expose you to people and experiences that will enrich your life.

These are only a few tips that can help you feel stronger and more empowered in your life. Remember that happiness is not always going to just fall into your lap. Relationships are always going to require work, especially the relationship that you have with yourself. Make the effort to make lasting positive changes, and you will enjoy a newer, richer life experience.

Photo Credit: Thanks to (aka tibchris on Flickr) for making this picture available under a Creative Commons License. The model is the lovely and and inspiring Nikita Patel. Thanks to both of you for sharing!

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