“If you believe it will work out, you’ll see opportunities. If you believe it won’t, you will see obstacles.” ~Wayne Dyer
I’ve been part of a social meet-up group for the past few years, one that’s helped me through tricky times like quitting my job, dealing with anxiety, and having my first baby. When I first joined the group, there were three people who attended the events. (Yes, you read that correctly—three people!)
There were lots of people in the group itself, but only three of us would regularly attend monthly events. It meant that if one of us couldn’t make the meet-up, we would have to cancel the whole thing (or it would be a rather intimate evening).
And yet, in the last year, the monthly attendance has quadrupled. (Admittedly, that only takes us to twelve people… but that’s still a 300 percent increase!)
Not bad in a year (and anyone who’s organized an event knows how hard it can be to get people to actually show up). And we’re talking twelve “regulars”—people who love the meet-ups, and who come back time and time again, enthusiastic and inspired.
Plus, our attendance is still growing, and interest is mounting. Who knows where we’ll be in a year’s time!
As we tested out ways to increase our numbers, I realized that the lessons I was learning could be applied to life—not just to meet-up groups. I started using them in my own life, with great benefit.
I realized that anyone going after a goal or project could use these strategies (and most of us are going after a goal, in some form or other).
So here are five lessons I learned about getting what you want, as taught to me by our small (but ambitious) meet-up group:
1. Be patient; play the long game.
When we set out to increase numbers, we didn’t get disheartened if we didn’t see results straight away. We knew the long game was the most important thing. The first meet-up had four attendees. The next one had five. Then we went down to four again. It took a year for us to get more than ten regular members, and to really notice how the group had changed.
A year can sometimes seem like a long time when you’re pursuing a goal or dream. But the time will pass anyway! Why not spend it doing something you love or are really passionate about?
2. Do things that scare you every now and then.
One of the ways we increased attendance was by messaging every single member of the group—to say hi, tell them about the monthly events, and to ask if there were specific reasons why they hadn’t attended in the past.
At first, this felt scary. Are we bothering them? Will they tell us to go away? Or will we hear something bad about the events? It’s daunting reaching out to people you don’t know, and putting yourself out there.
And yet, more often than not, it’s the best thing we can do! Let’s face it, if the things you’re doing currently aren’t working, then you might as well change it up. Try something new. What have you got to lose?
Pressing “send” on that email, or saying yes to that call might feel scary for a few minutes, but imagine how great it would feel if you got the thing(s) you wanted. Are a few minutes of discomfort worth it for long-term progress or growth? I’d say so.
3. Remember that things grow exponentially (one thing leads to another).
The best thing about taking action is the snowball effect: your action sets off another action, which sets off another. And before you know it, you’re storming ahead.
With our group, as more members attended, we could post more photos of our events (that didn’t show the same three people hanging out!) And as more people saw our photos and started coming to events, they told friends about it and invited them too.
It’s the same with goals or projects. You might nervously share a few of your blog posts and think nothing is happening; you’re not gaining any traction. But you never know what’s happening out in the ether. Perhaps one of your posts resonated with a local professor, who shares it with her colleagues, who share it with their friends…
The fact is, you never know what’s going on behind the scenes. So take an action step, and then another, and let the momentum build!
4. Ask for help.
No one does anything worthwhile alone. There’s always a team involved.
The three of us emailed group members, posted on our Facebook wall, and spread the word however we could. We contacted friends. We held brainstorming sessions for ideas. We sought advice from peers and local event leaders.
The best thing about asking for help is that most people want to help. In fact, they love it! Think about the times that you’re asked for advice. Do you get annoyed by it, or does your chest puff out ever so slightly?!
Use the resources around you. Don’t be afraid to do so—because when the tables are turned, you may well be able to help in return.
5. Be passionate about it.
I’ve left this one till last because it’s the most important one, in my opinion. Be passionate about what you’re doing.
The three of us in the group really believe in what we’re doing. We love holding the events. We love the sense of community we’ve created. And we’re so passionate about what we’re doing that we work on it—willingly—in our spare time.
If you’re working on a goal or project and not feeling passion toward it at all, why are you doing it? Are you doing it for someone else, or to look good?
Things are so much easier when we enjoy doing them. So choose wisely. Choose things you’re passionate about. And then during the tough times or dips (which do happen) you’ll be more likely to keep going, and you’ll feel even more committed when you come out the other side.
Claire O’Connor works with people who struggle to get things done. They desperately want to make progress on their side-hustle, project, or business, but keep getting stuck. Through her accountability program, she helps them turn their feelings of overwhelm into progress and moving forward. Check out her blog at The Five Percent.
“Forgive yourself for not knowing better at the time. Forgive yourself for giving away your power. Forgive yourself for past behaviors. Forgive yourself for the survival patterns and traits you picked up while enduring trauma. Forgive yourself for being who you needed to be.” ~Audrey Kitching
I have always been an extremely glass-half-full kind of person. I always see the best in everyone, and not only the best, but also the unlimited beauty and potential. And my god, it is glorious!!
I met and fell in love with a charming man. I was on a trip to Alaska to visit a lifelong friend, and met Mr. Wonderful at a gathering. He was attentive, charismatic, and made me feel like a queen. I was hooked. We were married four months later, and five months after that I had my second daughter.
I didn’t see the red flags. Looking back, I ask myself how I could have been so naïve, so trusting, so blind. Slowly but surely, though, my world changed.
First, it was little things, like coming out to check on me at night when I was breast pumping milk, to see what “I was up to,” then there was the name calling and shaming if I wanted to dress up and go out with friends to a dinner. I wondered if other wives got called sluts too because they would wear a pretty shirt.
There came a day when it became difficult to see the beauty in myself, and in him. Everything changed that day. And it never was able to return back to how it was before. The person that had vowed to love me, to cherish me, to protect me, and be there for me, cut me to the core with words that will never be undone.
“Nobody else will ever want you,” he sneered, his eyes filled with scorn and disgust. “A mother with kids from two different dads,” he chuckled to himself. “You are a slut, a whore, a sperm depository.”
I curled up on the floor, in the fetal position, feeling as though he had stabbed me with a knife in the gut. I was sobbing, but I don’t remember hearing the sound.
“Why are you saying this?” I gasped.
“I read your journal,” he yelled, referring to an entry about my past lovers, as if that justified his cruelty.
Stress does strange things to a person. I had recently broken out in painful boils on the left side of my torso, and under my arms. They were excruciating. It hurt to lower my arm all the way down.
“You are a fat, lazy, boil-infested bitch.”
I remember at that moment shutting down. Going inward. A part of me disconnected in order to stay alive.
Days turned into weeks. I felt myself dying inside a little more every day. I became withdrawn, and as time went out it took more and more energy to smile and pretend life was normal.
Many friends didn’t understand. I remember them having shocked looks. “But I thought you were happily married?” one said, seemingly unable to comprehend the nightmare that had become my life.
I gave up trying talk about it, to explain. I felt it was my fault. Somehow I had attracted this, and perhaps somehow I could make him happy if I just did the right things and earned enough “Brownie points”—if, for example, I stayed home from social events and remained “on duty” with our baby almost 24/7. Eventually I learned there were never Brownie points. Nothing seemed to make him pleased.
One evening, he became angry with my older daughter, who was born blind in one eye, and called her a Cyclops. I remember wrapping one arm around my sobbing daughter while trying to bounce a baby on my hip. I was so exhausted from sleep deprivation and postpartum depression, it was all I could do to stay standing.
I had never felt so alone; so isolated, so hopeless.
I got the children settled to sleep and I made a choice that night that I was finished.
The next few days were a blur of his hateful and cruel remarks, as he knew I would not take him back; it was truly over. I knew I had to take a stand for myself, and if not me, for my children. They deserved better. I knew I did too, but I could not see it at that time.
It has been five years since we separated. I am resilient, and for that I am grateful.
I am still an optimist, and I still see the beauty in everyone. I take pause now, though, and I evaluate situations more carefully. My trust takes much more time to be earned now than it did eight years ago when I fell in love too fast, without knowing the real person behind the charming facade.
Many people, including my parents, were disappointed in my failed marriage. Many sent prayers that it would be healed. For a long while, I felt like a failure.
I have come to realize there is no shame in ‘failing’ in a marriage, especially if that marriage is toxic and harmful to your soul. I appreciate those thoughts and well-intended prayers, but at the end of the day, an abusive person that is not willing to self-reflect is not likely to change. The best thing to do at that point is to extricate yourself while you have the strength to do so.
Recovering from trauma takes time. It has taken a lot of courage to look at my vulnerabilities and why I attracted such a relationship in the first place. This doesn’t mean I blamed myself. I just recognized that I had a strong need to feel loved and accepted, even if I was in an unhealthy situation, because I never felt loved and accepted as a child.
It’s taken half a lifetime, but I’ve finally leaned that everything I need is inside myself. I am complete on my own.
Still, I have to work almost daily at forgiving, acting with grace, and ensuring that I am not compromising my needs or my right to be treated with dignity and respect in order to make him happy. I am still learning to stand my ground and expect respectful treatment, when it comes to co-parenting.
I will forever be grateful to the supportive network of family, friends, and a counselor who saw me through that incredibly rough time. A broken heart, shattered self-esteem, and deep postpartum depression did not disappear overnight.
With the bravery it takes to self-reflect and learn from what appears to be a very unfortunate circumstance, comes unparalleled growth. The self-forgiveness opens up opportunities for deeper self-love and self-compassion, and a much deeper understanding of my own humanness and how my past shaped me.
But with time, self-love, self-forgiveness, and self-acceptance, I am a stronger and more empowered person today in spite of that experience. I am a phoenix, transformed by the fire. I will continue to see the beauty and unlimited potential in people, and I still choose to see the glass as half full. I do daily forgiveness work for myself and choose to move forward with love and grace, honoring my journey and my experience for what I have learned.
Angela is a registered nurse, colon hydrotherapist, health coach, Level 2 certified iridologist, and cellular detoxification and regeneration specialist. She is passionate about helping people heal themselves by tapping into their innate ability to do so by supporting the body with nutritious foods and effective cleansing methods. You can find her on Facebook here and Instagram here.
“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” ~Roy E. Disney
I got out of the car and could immediately tell that something was amiss. There were far too many glum-looking people milling around outside the building my meeting was scheduled to take place in. I worked for Yellow Pages at the time, and I regularly met with business owners who were interested in placing ads.
At that moment two burly men exited through the warehouse adjoining the office carrying a filing cabinet. A man who was carrying what looked like a paper shredder followed them.
There were probably ten men, most of whom were wearing coveralls, stood around smoking, talking in hushed tones and generally looking despondent
I turned around to look at my manager. She shrugged and motioned for me to go into the office.
At this point the veil lifted and I realized what was going on. The men carrying out the office furniture were repo men, or bailiffs as we call them in the UK. The other people outside were staff members who by now were starting to realize they were possibly no longer in employment.
I stopped in the office doorway and again turned to my manager looking for a cue that it was okay to pivot and leave, but I didn’t get one.
Instead, she nodded toward the clearly anxious business owner, leaned into me, and whispered into my ear, “Quick, get him to sign the order while he still has a desk to lean on.” She wasn’t joking and I was momentarily stunned.
I knew that the owner would probably sign because he had nothing to lose. If he went bankrupt he wouldn’t have to pay the bill. And if he managed to survive he would need to renew the advert he had previously placed with us to generate business—though he likely still wouldn’t pay, given the circumstances.
Many years ago, when I was about eleven years old, I was trying to fit in with some boys a year or so older than me.
It was near the beginning of my first year at a big, new school. I had few friends close to me because those of us who had moved up together had been split up in different classes across the entire year. As such, I was eager to please the other new boys in my class so I could feel included.
I had latched onto a group of about four others, and we were walking home from school one late afternoon.
As was already common practice, we stopped to go into a small convenience store that sold everything from fruit and vegetables to the more desirable candy.
In those days, we all wore school uniforms, and I had on a new blazer that was a bit too big for me, making me look a bit like Paddington Bear minus the marmalade sandwich under my hat.
I was wandering around the store, ruing the fact that I didn’t have any money to buy anything lovely and sweet, when suddenly I felt something heavy drop into the right-hand pocket of my blazer. I nervously looked down and could see an orange nestled neatly in the pocket.
I looked back up to see one of the other boys grinning at me. He put his finger to his lips and gently pushed me toward the door with his other hand, obviously wanting me to leave with the ‘free’ orange.
I immediately felt sick with nerves.
I’d never stolen anything in my life, and this didn’t feel good at all. Neither did the thought of my trying to put the orange back and getting caught. Or, even telling the store owner that my new friend was encouraging me to steal his produce.
I must have had guilt written all over my face because I was barely a half dozen paces through the door when I felt a large hand on my shoulder.
I spun round hoping it was my friend but deep down knew it wasn’t.
My worst fears were realized as I faced the angry storeowner, who immediately thrust his hand into my pocket and pulled out the errant orange. I was so anxious that I had to fight the urge to throw up all over the man’s shoes.
He brandished the citrus reticulata in front of my face and said, “What do you think you’re doing with this? Are you a thief? I’m going to call your parents.”
I could barely talk, I was so frightened. My fear intensified as I saw my new friends walk off laughing, obviously not in the least bit concerned by my predicament.
To the best of my knowledge, that was the first time I was introduced to core values and their crucial importance in our lives.
It was a chastening experience explaining to my parents why I’d done such a thing, after they had been called to collect me.
They felt let down, but probably more importantly, I felt I’d let myself down to such an extent that I vowed I would never allow myself to get dragged into such behavior again.
I value honesty and integrity, and I’d demonstrated neither. Of course, I had no idea at that age what core values were. I just knew something was badly amiss.
As I stood in the doorway to the office, years later, the orange stealing incident came flooding back to me in glorious technicolor. Only this time there was no desire to fit in and no need for external validation.
I was well aware why my manager wanted a signature on the order. She knew, irrespective of whether the guy would ever pay—he clearly wouldn’t—that she would still earn a financial bonus and the ‘sale’ would go toward her target for that campaign. It would be a great many months before our employer realized they were probably never going to get paid.
Enough was enough. I turned round and walked passed her, thrusting the order into her hand, and hissed, “You sign him up.”
I knew she wouldn’t. It was one thing having my counter signature on an order that defaulted, but quite another to have a manager sign off on it.
As I walked back to the car I knew I was done.
I was done with a manager who had zero integrity. Done with a company that only cared about its bottom line. And done with an entire industry that seemed interested in one thing and one thing only, generating revenue.
Prior to that day I’d had what many people would consider a successful career. I earned excellent money, won numerous sales awards, and was a team player who was always looking to help my colleagues.
From the outside looking in, I was a success.
But the problem with success is that it doesn’t have an objective definition. We define our own success, not other people. Unless that is, we foolishly allow them to.
Which would you consider a successful life: living in alignment with your values and doing work you truly believe is meaningful, or earning loads of cash doing work that leaves you feeling conflicted?
If you truly value family, should you really accept that job that will take you away on business half the time?
If integrity is paramount to your sense of well-being, should you really make false claims on your taxes or exaggerate your work expense report?
And thinking beyond work, if peace is critical to you, is it wise to get involved in petty online squabbles and neglect your meditation practice?
Commit today to figuring out your own core vales by asking yourself:
“What is important to me?”
Then, when you have an answer, follow up with the question:
“What does that give me?”
Write that down and irrespective of the answer make the same inquiry again:
“What does that (new word) give me?”
Then write that down.
And keep going until you cannot think of anything else or you start to give the same answers and end up in a loop.
Then start the process again by asking, “What is important to me?”
The reason you need to keep drilling down is to make sure you hit a value.
For example, if the answer to the original question is money, then that’s not a value. Money can never be a value.
If I gave you a million dollars under the condition you could never spend it, invest it, or give it away—you could only look at it—would you want it?
Of course not.
We all want money because of what we think it can give us. Maybe that is security, freedom, or maybe even peace of mind. They are the values.
When you have figured out your top eight or more values, the easy part is over because now you need to start asking yourself some tough questions.
Does my job align with my values?
Do my friends (for the most part) align with my values?
Do my habits align with my values?
Do my thoughts align with my values?
If the answer to one or more of the above is no, then some work is called for because there is little point knowing your values if you don’t live them.
As an eleven-year-old I didn’t appreciate core values. I couldn’t have told you that the reason I was so distressed about Orangegate was because integrity was super important to me.
I also didn’t realize the situation was exacerbated by the fact that I highly value independence and following my own path.
But, I didn’t have the excuse of youth as a forty-year-old. And I knew it.
Even though in my mind I was done with sales on that day, it took me another year or so before I finally found a new career that aligned with my most important values.
And, it would take another decade of working for myself before my income would be back up to my previous level.
Nevertheless, I didn’t care, because, even though I didn’t have the disposable income I was used to, I had something much more important and much more valuable.
And that was a profound feeling that I was successful based not upon income, but on being true to my values.
We all need money and most people like status, but nothing gives us that innate sense of peace and contentedness like living in alignment with our core values.
Tim Brownson has been a life coach since 2005. He specializes in core values work for most of that time and now teaches it to other coaches. If you’re interested in understanding your own values and how you can use them to make better decisions and lead a happier and more fulfilled life, check out his book, The Clarity Method.
Allow me to rephrase: I don’t have an affinity for murderous ladies, and I’m also not a fan of murder as a practice. I am decidedly pro-loving people and anti-killing them. And yet I enjoy the show Deadly Women and watch it with my sister, who shares my interest in true crime, whenever I’m home.
I don’t share this with many people. Why? Because it’s weird, or so I’ve thought. Maybe it’s more that it’s tough to explain.
I wouldn’t want people to judge me or somehow think less of me because I’m drawn to documentaries and books that dig deep into the psychology of criminal minds.
I wouldn’t want anyone to assume I’m dark, twisted, and sadistic.
As you may recall, I’m currently producing a new podcast called Next Creator Up, with my partner in many things and show host Ehren Prudhel.
This week’s interview focuses on the idea that less is often more, both in general and specifically in business. And there’s a lot of emphasis on deciding for ourselves what it means to live a successful life.
While the whole interview spoke to me as a creative person, a minimalist, and an entrepreneur, I keep thinking about this story he told in the beginning about finding his “rat people.”
Paul has pet rats, and he unabashedly shares his affection for them even though he suspects 99 percent of the population find them dirty and disgusting.
He posts pictures of them on Instagram. He’s dedicated books to them. And he could care less if some people think this is weird. Because 1 percent of the population gets it, and he’s okay with speaking to just that 1 percent when he shares his love for his rodent family.
He wrote an email newsletter about this many years back, using this story as an analogy for finding the people who’ll get our creative work, and it ended up being one of the most popular emails he’s ever sent out.
The message: Find the people who will appreciate what you do and love you for it, and ignore the ones who don’t. They don’t matter. They’d never support you, so stop trying to win everyone over and focus on connecting with the people you don’t have to try hard to please.
Be okay with the majority of people not getting what you like and what you do. In fact, don’t just be okay with it; relish in it—because it’s far better to be supported by a few who really see and appreciate you than to be accepted by many who don’t and never will.
If you google me you will find a lot about my work in the self-help world. If you follow the digital breadcrumb trail, you may come to see me in a particular light. And I have to be honest, I’ve wanted to be seen in that light. I’ve wanted the majority of people to like me and see me as someone who cares and aspires to help people.
It’s not that those things aren’t true. It’s just that they’re not the whole picture. I’ve unintentionally fed into a certain persona in an attempt to appeal to the majority, as this is what I’ve always done, in all aspects of my life.
I’ve tried to be all things to all people. I’ve tried to be palatable to all. I’ve aspired to be the human equivalent of pizza, because I want to be loved, and who doesn’t love pizza?
While it feels good to imagine most people see the best in me, I don’t want to be only partially seen. And I don’t want to limit what I’m able to do and create based on this narrow idea of who I am and what I have to offer.
I don’t want to forever pigeonhole myself because I only share certain parts of myself. I want to wave my freak flag high—no f*cks given—and be okay with the fact that many of you might think it’s too bright, too big, or too eclectic.
And yeah, I wrote f*cks, which I know some people find offensive. Sorry not sorry. I’m literally terrified to publish those words, but oh how f*cken liberating!
I swear, a lot more when speaking than you’d imagine if you read my writing.
I like true crime.
I read celebrity websites.
I enjoy tarot card readings, even though I don’t believe anyone can predict the future, and simultaneously write about the power of staying in the now.
I spend too much money on expensive facials.
I love an excuse to wear a costume and would be totally into King Richard’s fair and steampunk, though I’ve yet to delve into either.
And as for my creative work? I want to break through the walls I’ve built around myself over this last decade and expand beyond the world of self-help.
As you may know, I’m an aspiring filmmaker. But I also want to paint—not landscapes or anything peaceful, but weird, Tim-Burton-esque images that are more interesting and surreal than beautiful and serene.
I want to write stories about quirky people and dysfunctional family dynamics—think Napoleon Dynamite and Little Miss Sunshine.
And I also want to write a murder mystery someday, either a novel or film. Something dark and compelling and intriguing. Something I’d watch with my sister when the Deadly Women marathon’s over.
And this means I’ll need to be okay with the fact that my work will only speak to some. Which has probably been true all along; it just hasn’t felt that way.
So going forward, whenever I’m tempted to water myself down—to serve you the cheese version of my pizza instead of the vegan wild mushroom pistachio pesto with tofu chèvre—I’m going to remind myself of the following:
I don’t need everyone to like me. Just the few who genuinely appreciate me once they see me for who I really am.
I don’t need everyone to like what I like. Just the ones who share my unique brand of weird and want to tangle our freak flags for a while.
I don’t need everyone to like what I say and write. Just the ones who get what I’m getting at and would never ask me to tone it down or rein it in.
And I don’t need everyone to like what I create. Just the ones who are drawn to what I want to draw with the messy palette inside my mind and my heart.
So my rat people, where are you? And if you’re not my rat people, who are yours? What’s your brand of weird? And what do you want to do and create?
I realize not all Tiny Buddha readers are interested in creativity, but I know you rat people are out there! If you’re a creative trying to make a living off your work, I highly recommend checking out Paul’s interview. It’s jam-packed with tips and insights that can help you do what you want to do and live your own version of success.
“Wake up today knowing that whatever happens, you can handle it.” ~Unknown
Tears filled my eyes, and an angry wave of despair washed over me. I just wanted to wear the jeans I had worn for a couple years. The cute ones with the jewels and deep pockets.
I’m guessing many of you can relate; clothes don’t always fit the way we want them to.
Four years ago, a doctor told me I was dying because of anorexia. It’s been a long journey, a story for another day, but I am here and I am alive.
This past year, I finally reached the weight that doctors had been urging me to reach for four years. I dug in, worked with a life coach, and I did it! I finally healed. But wait, shouldn’t the healing process feel great? Shouldn’t I feel proud instead of pudgy?
I should be proud, and I am; yet I still find myself battling with the voice that whispers, “You’re not good enough. You’ll never be enough.” And perhaps that’s what frustrates me the most about my negative attitude some days. Everyone would be proud if they knew why I put on twenty pounds this year, but I am neither eager nor vaguely willing to disclose everything.
It would be convenient if everything were permanently sunshine and roses after we reach a goal, but this is just not the case oftentimes. We reach a goal, and then more challenges arise. That’s okay. That’s life.
In my moments of shame, when I want to crawl under my bed and hide from the world, there are three thoughts that pull me out and help me find hope and perspective. The more I live, the more I am convinced that living fully is a just a matter of perspective. It’s not about taking certain actions or reaching specific results; it’s about experiencing life through an open and positive perspective.
You are a fighter. Whatever you’re going through, may these three thoughts bring you peace and help you find strength.
1. This is temporary.
My mom always told me, “You will not always feel this way.” And she was right. Happiness, sadness, anger—it all passes.
In my own battle with body image and feeling discouraged by my bigger jeans or curvier figure, this thought gives me so much hope. As real as discouraging feelings feel, they are only part of the picture.
At other moments, I could care less about what my jeans look like, much less the number on the tag (which no one sees by the way). I’m too caught up in enjoying the sunshine outside, hiking on the weekends with friends, focusing on my job, and planning lessons for my students.
There are moments when I feel comfortable in my skin, when I feel at peace. These moments give me hope that any temporary feeling, no matter how strong and painful, will pass. That feeling will pass. Afterall, after a good workout, or a refreshing night’s sleep, or a good shower, don’t you feel like a new creature?
Everything is temporary. Every hard week at work, every hellish project, or stressful trip to the in-laws… it will pass. You are resilient, and you can ride this wave knowing it will wash on shore to the sandy beach eventually.
2. Expect good things.
This thought has changed my mornings. I wake up and tell myself to expect good things for the day. Maybe this seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a far stretch from how I formerly approached life—expecting the worst and battling with anxiety and fear about going to work or accomplishing everything.
Repeating “Expect good things” to myself has helped me notice the good things in my life.
I think awareness is powerful. If we remind ourselves to “expect good things,” we’re more apt to consciously look for them (for example, the sunshine, the flowers blooming, that stranger who held the door open).
Beyond noticing good things, we more likely to create them when we expect them to happen. The expectation makes us braver, more compassionate, and more love-filled.
If you don’t believe me, try it. I’ve found that it takes a certain pressure off my day when I trust that good things will happen. I feel more space for love, for creativity.
As a teacher, I tell myself to “expect good things” in the classroom. It helps me create more authentic dialogue, to trust that my students will be engaged and have valuable ideas to offer.
Finally, expect a healthy relationship between your mind and body. Maybe you’re asking, how? Sure, you can wish you were a different weight. A different jean size. Naturally hourglass-shaped. Whatever your ideal shape is.
But what if you expected to have a good relationship with your body and an enjoyable life right now, not after you’ve reached a certain size or diet? You get to pick the kind of attitude you cultivate with yourself, much like you cultivate a certain relationship with the people you love.
I can fight myself for gaining weight to be at my body’s natural set point, or I can “expect good things” at this (or any healthy) weight. More love. More adventures. More mental energy to do the things that I truly care about: learning, teaching, laughing, spending time with those I love.
We get to choose. Expect good things.
3. Find something to be excited about every day.
Sometimes, when I’ve been told to focus on gratitude, I feel guilty. Wow, I have an amazing partner, family, job… yet, I feel so ungrateful or unappreciative. When I focus on the things that excite me, however, I feel less guilty and just plain happier.
When I focus on what brings me joy, I’m able to focus less on my body and more on what I value. Again, learning, teaching, experiencing the community I’m in, spending time with the people I love. Memories that will last longer than jeans.
Maybe you’re excited about an upcoming vacation. Maybe you know you can go home and walk your dog. Maybe your children bring you joy. Maybe it’s a beautiful day and you can see the flowers blooming. There’s something that excites you in life. Focus on these things and you’ll likely feel less weighed down by your struggles.
I know that’s been true for me. Though I sometimes fixate on my size, what I really want isn’t to fit into those jeans. I want to feel strong and confident, and to have a perspective that embraces life and shares joy with others.
I don’t know what your story is, but I promise you’re not alone. You can face whatever you’re going through. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. You don’t have to feel like a superhero. In my experience, the healing process is messy. It doesn’t have an uplifting soundtrack like in the movies. But you can do it. I promise. Anchor yourself in hope. You will not always feel this way. Expect good things. And think about what excites you.
“Until you heal your past, your life patterns and relationships will continue to be the same; it’s just the faces that change.” ~Unknown
First of all: honey, you are not broken. We are all works in process. There is nothing inherently wrong with you. We all end up in a loop here and there. Sometimes it’s because we haven’t healed pain from the past. And sometimes it’s because we’ve healed our pain but still hold on to past habits. When we do this, past habits will promote the replaying of past events and, therefore, the pain will return.
This happens at a psychological and practical level. The type of beliefs we have about reality will shape the way we perceive it, react to it, and interpret it. This is a neurological reality that has been proven scientifically: the brain creates concepts and finds ways to validate them.
This is the way prejudice is built, but is also the way you expect sweetness and tartness out of an apple.
The moment you read the word “apple,” you already started generating the necessary enzymes to digest one and enjoy its flavor. You already started reacting to something that isn’t even here, based on the concepts (beliefs) the brain (mind) has constructed on it according to previous experiences.
This is one of the many ways science has validated that “life is an illusion.” This is great news. It means we can choose, in a way, what kind of illusion to believe in and, consequently, co-create in our lives.
Past experiences—especially our childhood experiences—inevitably shape this concept-system in the brain. They create what we refer to as a value system in the mind. These, in turn, determine our thinking habits. The thinking habits will define how we speak and act.
In other words, the way we perceive apples will determine how we react to them or even the idea of them.
If you believe that you should expect sweetness out of apples, you will seek apples that provide sweetness, and you will react by preparing to enjoy the sweetness, which will allow you to do so at a higher level than if your body didn’t salivate and prep your taste buds for it. By expecting sweetness, you get to experience it with heightened senses when you get it.
This idea also applies to unpleasant concepts. This is also a neurological reality and was designed as a survival mechanism.
Go get your ears pierced and you will see what I mean. When you get ears pierced the first one is barely perceivable. However, the next one hurts quite a bit. Why? Because the brain was expecting pain; therefore, it reacted to the second experience with a concept of pain.
You think, “This will hurt,” and, therefore, you experience more pain. The tool is still the same. The pressure did not change. Reality is the same as with the first one; however, your brain constructs a concept of pain, so that’s what you get.
Your earlobes will heal within six weeks. But when you expect unpleasantness out of other life experiences, that’s what you will repeatedly get. In order to produce change, we must let go of a value system that constructs realities of pain and difficulty. This truth is evident in relationship dynamics as well.
The Loop: What We Think About Relationships Defines How We Experience Them
I want to make a disclosure about what you are about to read: taking responsibility for your thinking habits and how those affect what you expect from relationships does not mean that anything is your “fault.” It also should not be used to justify abuse.
Abuse is not justifiable. However, as a survivor of abuse, I can say from experience that it’s actually empowering to realize how much is in my power. I can change how I think, how I talk, how I perceive situations, and how I react to them. I can co-create my relationships.
I happened to grow up in a culture of fear. I grew up thinking work had to be hard, people had to be in a bad mood when they got home, marriages are meant to be hard, and you should not expect the best, ever; you needed to expect the worst.
I was married for almost eight years and got divorced a year ago. Since then, I’ve found myself making similar mistakes in the way I seek partners, and all of my relationships have ended up leaving me drained and resentful. But why? I was doing what I thought was supposed to be done: I was being of service in a relationship where one person needed to be saved and I could be their savior.
There are so many memes out there with the phrase “You saved me” phrase on them. It’s supposed to be romantic! Well, that did not go so well for me. It bred unhealthy and unbalanced relationships, and an environment of codependence that led to pain for both people.
So I went on a quest for my own healing and discovered why I was constantly trying to save the people I date (more on this later). Finally, I was ready to get out there again. But this time, there was no saving involved. Because I was ready for a healthy relationship. I was at peace.
I went on a first date with a wonderful man I’d met on a dating app. Before leaving, I called a friend to share how excited I was. She suggested that I calm down, keep “low expectations,” and keep my guard up. I decided not to follow that advice. It comes from a place of good intentions, but it’s really a chain of fear.
On a vibrational level, to act that way would not allow me to attract my highest good. On a practical level, it would set me up to not look for the best in this person, which would produce a reality where I would be unable to see it even if it hit me in the face.
I went in there with the same attitude I approach everything currently: at peace. No negative or positive expectations. Just being in the present moment.
I ended up having the best date of my entire life and building a deep connection with my now-partner.
We cheat ourselves out of wonder if we tiptoe around in life afraid to get hurt. We must be strong and self-confident to allow ourselves to expect goodness. I did not get here right away. It does take practice to make progress. But it really doesn’t have to be considered an “impossible” in our brains.
How to Hijack Your Way Out of the Loop and Start Flowing Upward!
These are some of the things that helped me heal and rewire my brain before I finally downloaded the dating app, posted a cute picture of myself, and hoped only for the best.
1. Observe your thoughts. What are they based on? Which beliefs no longer serve you?
I was having trouble as an adult voicing my needs. I would be terrified and would be physically unable to communicate what I needed.
During my work with myself I discovered that when I was four years old, I was so terrified of being physically and emotionally abused by my caregivers that when I was hungry, I would not dare voice that need. I have memories of hiding in a cabinet eating raw rice from a bag in order to feed myself without being a “bad girl” and bothering my caregivers.
I recognized then that this was why I fell into a pattern of focusing on my partners’ needs and trying to save them: I was expecting that it would be painful if I voiced what I needed.
So, I recognized the source of the problem, now what?
2. Release the vibrational memory of emotional baggage.
Once you recognize the roots it will be time to release their emotional baggage. That way you won’t be triggered by old stuff in your new relationship. In other words, you won’t fall into the same old patterns because you’re driven by emotions from the past.
There are many ways to release emotional baggage, including meditation, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) tapping, Mental Emotional Release (MER) therapy, and journaling. Explore, experiment, and find what works for you.
I went to an Emotional Release Body Balance therapy specialist. It’s the best investment I’d ever made in my life.
I also engaged in regular cleansing rituals with sage at home.
Finally, I used release affirmations and prayers daily. One that especially worked for me was a Unity prayer that states: “I release from me all energies that are contrary to what I am creating for myself. I cut them off and release them to the Universe to transform into beneficial forms of energy. I now fill myself with love, peace, and perfect health.”
Okay, I am no longer controlled by emotions from my painful past, what’s next?
3. Learn new skills.
This is the ongoing step. It requires our willingness to learn new skills. New thoughts. New ways of communicating, new brain constructs about relationships, and new ways of having faith in ourselves and others. In my case, this meant learn to voice my needs instead of stifling myself in fear.
To accomplish this, I attended virtual classes. I enrolled in a communication workshop and practiced those skills. It was just like learning how to read: practice, review, assess, practice again. You will need support here. Someone to practice with. I do so with my best friend. We exchange notes and debrief with one another.
The skills you need to learn will depend on what you ascertained about your beliefs and expectations and what pattern you fell into as a result of them. It doesn’t matter if you attend classes, read books, practice with friends, or join a support group. What matters is that you do something to learn and strengthen the skills that will help you break your pattern.
Now, why go through all this? Baby, ‘cause you are worth it! Plus, there is no magical soul mate in the Universe who will heal your low self-worth concepts and create positive expectations of healthy relationships in your brain.
You either do the work you need to complete on yourself before you get out there, or you will be stuck in an ongoing loop of pain, with a list of exes that turn out the be the same dog with a different collar, calling them “toxic” instead of owning your own need for growth.
I’m rooting for you. I bless your journey. The best is already within you. What you want in a partner is out there looking for you as well. May you find each other at the right time and may you have the skills to enjoy your union. Ashe!*
*Ashe is a West African philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to make things happen and produce change.
Oñi Adda is a teacher of children with special needs, a mother to a five-year-old walking piece of sunshine on Earth, and a legendary bathtub singer. She believes our journey on the material plane has one purpose: to grow. That growth leads to light and that light leads to unity in our communities. You can join her parenting facebook group here.
“Seeing is not believing; believing is seeing! You see things, not as they are, but as you are.” ~Eric Butterworth
I didn’t always understand this, but I now know that my beliefs shape my experience of the world.
As I learned from Tony Robbins, our beliefs guide our choices, which ultimately create our results.
Our beliefs can either be a prison, keeping us trapped in negative thinking and behaviors, or they can be empowering and lead to courageous action and new possibilities.
For example, if you believe people are fundamentally bad, you may live life guarded, close yourself off to new relationships, and end up feeling lonely and bitter.
If you believe people are fundamentally good, you’ll try to see the best in them, develop close bonds with some of them, and end up feeling connected and supported, even if people occasionally disappoint you.
If you believe good things never happen for you and they never will, you’ll likely sit around feeling indignant and never make any effort.
If you believe the past doesn’t have to dictate the future, you’ll probably keep trying different things and eventually create possibilities for passion and purpose.
Same world, different beliefs, different choices—totally different results.
Knowing that I can choose what I believe, and that this can either fill my life with meaning or leave me feeling empty, I choose to believe the following:
1. Life happens for me, not to me.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” ~Steve Jobs
Sometimes, it’s near impossible for me to believe this. I don’t expect anyone reading this to easily adopt this belief either. Because in those moments of pain and suffering, boy, it feels like life is happening to me, and it’s not even remotely helpful to think about how life could be happening for me. However, in time, as the clouds disperse and the pain passes, I’m able to look back and connect the dots.
Were it not for my mental health struggles, my personal development journey may have never began and I would never have grown into the strong person I am today.
Were it not for my string of failed romantic relationships, I never would have learned the power of loving myself first.
And although I sometimes struggle to see that life is happening for me, a deeper part of me knows it benefits me to believe this is true.
This deeper part encourages me to look back and connect the dots, and sometimes, in the midst of suffering, look for meaning in the moment by asking questions like: What lesson could this be teaching me? And what is the opportunity here?
This deeper part of me knows that, no matter what happens to me, I can choose the meaning I give to what’s happening and how I respond.
As Viktor E. Frankl wrote in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
When I believe life is happening to me, I feel like a helpless victim. Although there is no shame in feeling like a victim, I don’t want this to become my full-time identity.
Undeniably, life is hard, cruel, and tragic, but life is also beautiful. By choosing to believe life happens for me, I’m sometimes able to move from victim to victor.
2. More is possible than I currently think.
“Just remember, you never know what’s possible until you risk finding out.” ~Jasinda Wilder
When it comes to knowing what’s possible for me in my lifetime, I know nothing.
How could I? How could anybody else? Knowing requires me to be certain, and I know I’m certain more is possible than I think.
Human history teaches us the boundaries of possibility are forever being pushed. Or perhaps, it’s more accurate to say that our willingness to discover what is possible is forever being pushed.
Just think about how many Ideas were once considered impossible, even crazy!
Electricity, the Internet, putting humans on the moon!
As I look back over my own life, much has happened that at some point I thought was impossible, like speaking another language and being able to play the piano reasonably well.
This belief empowers me because it makes life feel like a never-ending adventure, a game, where I get to discover and challenge the boundaries of possibility for myself.
3. My life is about “we,” not just “me.”
“As we lose ourselves in the service of others we discover our own lives and our own happiness.” ~Dieter F. Uchtdorf
A wise friend of mine once advised me to “give away freely the very things I wish to receive.”
At the time, it seemed counterproductive. I mean, to give money even though I want to receive more. To offer praise to others when it was me who wanted to be praised. To make an effort to be more understanding when it was me who wished to feel understood.
Having faith in my friend, I decided to live life this way for a while, and so I gave away freely the very things I wished to receive without any expectations or hypotheses of what would happen.
I gave more money—to the homeless and sponsoring friends for events.
I gave praise—reaching out to people I love and admire, just to share my appreciation of them.
I gave my ear—listening non-judgmentally so I could better understand people.
I gave and gave and gave, and true to my friend’s advice, I received—so much more than what I’d given away.
I received a sense of connection to the world and to the people in it, a deeper connection than I’d ever felt before. I realized the idea of separation is, as spiritual teachers often suggest, an Illusion. We’re all connected to one another—tied together by something the eye can’t see but the heart can feel.
Through giving, through living in service of others, I received back abundantly, which helped me to form my third empowering belief, that life is about “we” and not just “me.”
What makes my belief so empowering is the sense of connection that comes from knowing my life is connected to yours and to every other life, tied and woven by forces greater than I know or understand.
This sense of connection alone gives my life meaning.
My life is better because I choose to believe these three things, and I act on them. Which beliefs make your life better?
Will helps people around the world to feel more confident, calm, and fulfilled, without them having to fake it. He is the author of Becoming Unstuck: Your Step by Step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Life. Learn more at willaylward.com
“Our ‘inside critics’ have intimate knowledge of us and can zero in on our weakest spots.” ~SARK
We live in a world that often glorifies the power of positive thinking and affirmations.
Don’t get me wrong, affirmations can be a powerful tool to help us acknowledge our self-worth. We need to learn to look for the positive and to be grateful for all the beautiful things in our lives if we want to be happy. Befriending your inner critic may seem to be in contradiction to these goals.
A couple of years ago I began to pursue the creative life I had always dreamed about. I wanted to be happy and change the circumstances that weren’t bringing me joy. I had always wanted to be a writer, but I struggled with blocks on every level. Every book and blog I read seemed to agree that I needed to practice gratitude. They offered affirmations to help me get unstuck. But it didn’t seem to work.
I struggled to be grateful. I couldn’t bring myself to believe the things I wanted to affirm in my life. My inner critic had long been in control of my thought patterns; trying to ignore the negativity seemed only to make it louder and more insistent.
My inner critic is, at times, a little kid who will do anything to get the attention it craves. Sometimes it is a bitter old woman, muttering to herself in the corner about all the ways life has wronged her. Until I began to pay attention, I had no idea just how constant this background noise was in my brain.
And it turns out I couldn’t learn to be a happier, more positive person without learning how to talk to my inner critic first. She was whispering in my ear all the time, trying to hold me back. I had to learn to listen to her fears and start to talk back and challenge what she said.
The more adept I got at the process of befriending my inner critic, the more gratitude started to come naturally. It had been there all along but had been drowned out by all the negative noise I had been doing my best to ignore.
Who or What is Your Inner Critic?
Scientists tell us that we have a negativity bias. We are hardwired to anticipate danger and take action to avoid it.
In the days when big brown bears were out to eat us for lunch, this was a useful adaptation. But when it comes to writing or any other creative pursuit, we are rarely in mortal danger.
No one will die if I take the risk to write about the things in my heart. But my inner critic is aligned with my negativity bias and will do her best to tell me all the dangers that await me when I step out of my comfort zone and open myself to the creative possibilities of my life.
Within my body the dangers can feel the same; it can feel as if I might die every time someone points out a missed comma. My inner critic is something of a drama queen, blowing everything out of proportion. The fear of criticism, the fear of judgment for every misspelled word, and the fear of rejection when I put myself out there all feel like they could be the end of the world.
Your inner critic may also sound a lot like a hyper-critical parent or sibling or friend. Someone who let their own fears have too much power and tried to project them onto you. But it’s not helpful to blame others, or yourself, for negative thinking. Treating your inner critic with compassion and understanding does not mean you have to believe what she says.
Once I knew this, I could see that my inner critic meant well but was misguided in her approach. She was trying to do her best for me, not wanting me to get hurt or disappointed if life failed to live up to my dreams. But I didn’t have to give her any power over whether or not I pursued my writing.
Before I understood who my inner critic was and how to respond to her, the dialogue in my head went something like this:
Me: “My writing is important, even if only to me.”
Inner critic: “No, it isn’t. Who are you to create anything? Stop wasting your time. You don’t have what it takes.”
And before I even get to be grateful to have the time and resources to be a writer, I’ve been stopped in my tracks. I may as well go check out cat videos on YouTube and distract myself back to feeling okay. What’s the point in wasting my time on this writing thing?
And I was blocked and unable to move forward.
What is it that you want to pursue in this life? How is your inner critic holding you back?
What to Do About Your Inner Critic?
In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron calls these critical thoughts “blurts.” They seem to come from nowhere and blurt out. I am calling the voice of my thoughts my inner critic; I find it helpful to personify the critical voices in my mind. Others use the phrase inner tribunal, or even your inner mean girl.
In The Artist’s Way Cameron suggests that you make a list of all your blurts. First, find an affirmation about who you want to be, i.e.: “I am a creative being who has the power to create the life of her dreams.” Then write down all the negative things your inner critic throws at you when you think about the creative work you long to do.
We often think giving too much attention to our negative thoughts amplifies them. But our aim is not to dwell on those things. And trying to push them to the back of your mind rarely makes them go away. Knowing what your inner critic is telling you gives you the power to turn those thoughts around.
So once you have a list of all the things your inner critic is telling you, the next thing you need to do is gently approach each thought and ask if it is true.
Maybe it could go something like this:
Me: “I have the power to create the life of my dreams.”
Inner critic: “But you never finish anything, and you’re disorganized, and you just don’t have the talent.”
Me: “Thanks for the positive feedback. But yeah, I mean you may have a point, I’m always starting new things and….WAIT! That’s not right. I finish the important stuff. I finish the things that matter to me; not every idea I have is worth pursuing. And I’m organized enough. I can learn to be more organized if I need to, but I achieved x,y,z and …”
Inner critic: “You’re wasting your time trying to write.”
Me: “Am I? Watching cat videos on Facebook, that is wasting time. Although cats are cute. But trying to write? That’s growing, learning, and doing the thing I keep saying I want to do. How is that wasting time?”
You get the picture. You can talk back to your inner critic. You don’t have to believe anything it says. Your power comes through questioning every negative thought and asking if it’s true. Once you know it isn’t true you can start moving forward with your plans.
My inner critic is a needy child who wants attention. But I no longer believe what she says, and I don’t let her negativity control what I do and don’t do with my time.
Stop Fighting Your Demons and Make Peace with Yourself
We are often told to fight our demons, or slay the dragon of our negativity and break up with our inner critic. I no longer find this way of thinking helpful, for two reasons:
1. It puts us to war against ourselves.
2. It doesn’t work. My inner critic is amazingly tenacious!
I have found it more helpful to befriend my inner critic. She really is just doing her best and trying to save me from me. The problem is she has no idea how to do this. I am learning to treat her like we all want to be treated—with kindness, understanding, and curiosity.
She is free to believe whatever she wants even though it doesn’t make her happy. I’m listening but not letting her define the way I think anymore. Maybe she needs reassuring that everything is going to be okay. She lives in the most primitive part of our brains, the lizard brain that has no reason or logic, just fear.
Her fears are just that, fears. What’s the worst that can happen? You work on your dreams, and it doesn’t work out. That’s going to hurt, but no one will die. You’ll be fine, and you will get over the disappointment. Besides, you’ve faced setbacks before and come out of them stronger.
Which would bring you more regret? To have let your inner critic have the upper hand and never have tried? Or to have tried and failed and tried again?
Kamsin Kaneko is a writer, mom, teacher, and traveler. She writes about living a wholehearted life of depth and meaning. You can find her on Instagram most days capturing small moments of beauty in the urban sprawl of her home in Japan. Get your free gift: I Believe in the Magic of Everyday Moments. Kamsin Kaneko's Website: the-slow-path.com.
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” ~Henry David Thoreau
Have you ever looked at the path you’ve chosen and questioned if your sacrifices have been worth it? If you’ve prioritized the “right” things, pursued worthy goals, and ultimately, made “good” choices?
Have you ever wondered if you’ll one day look back on your life and regret not only what you did, but also what you didn’t do, because maybe you’ll feel you wasted your time or somehow missed out on something important?
If you answered no to these questions, you’re my new hero. I admire anyone who lives with such presence they never question what they’re doing because they’re too busy living it.
But I, a consummate over-thinker, am not that person.
I started thinking about this just recently after listening to the second episode of Next Creator Up, a podcast I’m producing with my partner in many things and show host Ehren Prudhel.
In this interview, LA-based actress and filmmaker Melissa Center talked a little about what she’s had to sacrifice for her dreams. And though she got emotional when discussing the very different lives her friends and family are living—lives with houses, children, and financial security—she ultimately concluded that, for her, all the sacrifices have been worth it.
She explained her reasoning, and I admired her sense of certainty. Because I know how easy it is to doubt yourself in a culture that not only promotes the idea of “having it all” but also bombards us with images of people pursuing alternative, seemingly better paths.
I also know how hard it is to feel confident in our decisions, particularly because of many of us are disconnected from ourselves. If we don’t know what we stand for, it’s awfully hard to ascertain what’s worth prioritizing and what’s worth giving up.
With this in mind, I decided to create this list of ways to know if your sacrifices are worth it. A lot of this comes down to knowing yourself.
If you’ve been questioning your path, perhaps this will help you fully commit to it—or make the tough decision to change directions.
7 Ways to Know if Your Sacrifices Are Worth It
1. What you’re doing aligns with your values.
We all have different core values—things we stand for and regard as crucial for our overall life satisfaction.
When we live in alignment with our values, and honor them through our choices, we feel a sense of peace, even if our lives are sometimes challenging. When we we’re out of alignment, we feel internal conflict.
For example, my top values are family, freedom, creativity, adventure, and integrity.
I could never sacrifice my integrity to make money. Sure, I’d love to roll around on a bed full of cash, but the pain of acting without integrity would override the joy of financial security.
I could never choose a lifestyle that leaves little room for spontaneity or limits my ability to visit my family. No matter what the rewards of said lifestyle, I would ultimately feel conflicted and dissatisfied.
If your choices require you to sacrifice the things that matter most to you, regardless of the potential rewards, you will ultimately feel unfulfilled. If your sacrifices don’t threaten what’s most important to you—or at least not beyond the short-term—then they’re far more likely to feel worth it.
2. You’re living your own version of success.
Much like we all have our own values, we all have our own definition of success. Contrary to what our culture might suggest, there’s no one-size-fits-all scenario.
My grandmother, who was one of my greatest heroes, lived a life very different from mine to date. She lived all of her eighty-two years in the same city, married young and had four kids, and devoted every bit of her free time to her family.
She rarely traveled, didn’t have much money, and seemed perfectly content—ecstatic, even—to live the same day over and over again.
If you gave her a table crammed with her loud Italian kids and grandkids, and a big pot of pasta to feed them, she was happy.
Because she valued family, she never complained when caring for my grandfather, who ultimately lost both of his legs to diabetes. Caring for him took much of her time and energy, and she rarely did much for herself.
But this—this love, this loyalty, this generosity of spirit—this is what defined a successful life to her, so ultimately, it was all worth it.
Ask yourself what success looks like to you, and why. What do you do? What do you give? What do you gain?
If you’re living your own version of success, then the satisfaction of enjoying what you have likely far outweighs the pain of accepting what you lack.
3. You’re not trading happiness today for the hope of happiness tomorrow.
You may have read the story of the Mexican fisherman before, but if not, here’s a condensed version:
An American investment banker ran into a local fisherman in a small Mexican village and, seeing the several large tuna in his boat, asked the man how long it took him to catch them.
When the fisherman said it didn’t take long, the banker questioned why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more. The fisherman said he had enough to meet his family’s needs.
When asked what he did with the rest of his time, he answered, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.”
Hearing this, the banker offered the fisherman his help in creating a business—so he could buy more boats, catch more fish, and eventually be at the helm of an empire. This would require him to relocate, but in fifteen to twenty years, he’d be rich.
The fisherman asked what he would do then, to which the banker responded, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”
I think of this often when making life choices. If there’s nothing about an opportunity that excites me and fills me passion and purpose—if it’s solely about creating some ideal life down the road, or worse, meeting an ego need for success or validation—it’s most likely not worth my time and energy.
Stop and ask yourself: Is this is a process I can throw myself into with enthusiasm? Or am I sacrificing potential joy now in the hope of finding joy later?
4. You could be satisfied with your choice even if you didn’t reach your ideal outcome.
Building on the last point, you know your sacrifices are worth it if you could be content with your choices regardless of where they lead you.
If you need to make a certain amount of money, or reach your ideal goal exactly as you visualize it, to justify what you’ve given up, then you’re setting yourself up for potential heartache. Because there are no guarantees in life.
No matter how hard you work, how much time you devote, or how smart or talented you are, you could one day realize that your efforts didn’t pay off in the way you hoped they would.
Or, they could pay off for a while, and then something might change—you might have to switch gears to care for a loved one, or could lose everything due to circumstances you couldn’t possibly have predicted.
If you could look at the time spent and conclude it wasn’t wasted—because you enjoyed yourself, felt a sense of purpose, or made a difference for other people—then in the end, your sacrifices are more likely to feel worth it.
5. You’re still able to meet your needs, despite your sacrifices.
When asked what surprised him most about humanity, the Dalai Lama said, “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
No rewards—monetary or otherwise—are worth sacrificing our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
If you’re working so hard that you have little time to eat well, exercise, and get sufficient sleep—and you end up overweight, exhausted, and on track for a heart attack—would any reward or glory really justify it?
There are many things I would sacrifice for a cause I believe in or a dream that excites me—I don’t need luxuries, I don’t mind buying used, and I also don’t care if I own a car or a home.
But I won’t sacrifice the things I need to function at my best. I can’t be present, and I’m no good for anyone or anything, if I’m physically weakened and so stressed that I’m constantly ready to snap.
6. You only or mostly question your sacrifices when you compare yourself to other people.
Though I’ve sacrificed a sense of community because I’ve chosen a free-spirited, nomadic life of adventure, I don’t often regret the path I’ve taken for all the reasons listed above.
But every now and then I compare myself to other people and question if perhaps I should have what they have.
I see people on Facebook who are a lot like my grandmother—lifers in one town, well connected to many, dialed into local causes—and I wonder if I’ve prioritized the wrong things.
I’ve lived the life George Bailey fantasized about in the 1940’s holiday classic. But wasn’t his life lauded as somehow more wonderful than the life of an adventure-seeking dreamer and wanderer—and also far more meaningful?
I see old friends on Instagram having adventures with people they’ve hung around with for decades, and lament that, unlike them, I’d have a hard time creating a large bridal party if I were to ever get married.
Aren’t connections the most important thing in life? And do mine really count if they involve less face time—if I’m not at every family dinner, every holiday, and every milestone?
But when I put my phone down and dig my heels into my own life, I remember that no matter what I choose, it’s a choice not to do something else. No one has it all. And those who have what I don’t likely envy and glamorize what I have at times, just like I sometimes romanticize their circumstances.
If you feel happy on the whole when you’re fully present on your path, and only question it when you take your eyes off the road, then odds are, your sacrifices are worth it.
7. Your current path brings you meaning.
We are all wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain—what positive psychologists refer to as hedonic happiness.
This is what we feel when we do something that boosts our mood, and it’s why we often chase varied highs. We sometimes think “the good life” means abundant leisure time, fun, and excitement. And those things are definitely awesome, which is why we’re often willing to make sacrifices in the present in the hope of having more of them in the future (see #3).
But there’s another kind of happiness that doesn’t depend on hedonistic pleasure. It’s called eudaimonic happiness.
This is what we experience when we have meaning in our lives. When we devote ourselves to something bigger than ourselves. When we take on new challenges, grow, and use our strengths to contribute to the greater good in some way.
If you’re doing something that feels deeply meaningful to you—if you’ve dedicated your life to a cause, you feel engaged in your devotion to it, and you feel proud of the impact you’re making—it will be a lot easier to make peace with sacrifices.
This might mean working at a non-profit that pays you very little but enables you to make a tangible difference in other people’s lives.
Or volunteering during your free time, which limits some of your social options but fills you with a sense of pride and purpose.
Or raising children and going without sometimes, knowing your sacrifices are directly benefitting them and enabling them to grow into strong, healthy people.
Ask yourself: Do I feel a sense of meaning? Am I proud of the person I’m being? Am I doing something that matters not just to me but also the world at large? Odds are, if you answer yes to these questions, you’ll look back without regret for what you gave up in order to give what you gave.
The number of realities we each could be living is absolutely mind-blowing if you think about it. Change any one choice and, through the butterfly effect, our lives could look completely different.
And each of those little worlds would have its own gifts and challenges. In every possible scenario we’d have some rewards, some sacrifices, and some occasional doubts about whether the former justifies the latter.
The good news is, as long as we’re still breathing, it’s never too late to change directions. If ever we recognize we’re not being the people we want to be or doing what we really want to do, we can take a new path, or even pave one where there is none.
At any time we can decide to rebuild our lives around what we value, live our own version of success, and create a life of joy and meaning.
If you’re interested in listening to Melissa’s interview, about her experiences with her short and first feature film and the sacrifices of being an artist, you can find it here. And if you haven’t heard the first episode yet, with singer/songwriter Kelley McRae, you can find it here.
“The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.” ~Pema Chodron
After you come out a meaningful relationship that you didn’t foresee ending, you begin to think about everything you did wrong.
If you were not the one who wanted to the breakup, you may spend a lot of time blaming yourself and wondering about what you could have done differently.
You might begin to believe you’re solely responsible for what went down and that you deserve to spend years in relationship purgatory by yourself, mourning the loss of the person you loved.
You might take all the responsibility and blame as you spend months and years alone.
You may tell yourself terrible things about yourself and what a monster you were in the relationship.
Then you’ll probably feel guilty about everything you did and assume that the relationship ended only because of you.
And you may feel ashamed, unworthy, and unlovable because the other person was so good and you weren’t.
This kind of unhealthy thinking puts all the blame on you and removes all responsibility from your ex.
Your ex moves on and maybe even finds love soon after, while you spend an inordinate amount of time reflecting, hurting, and punishing yourself for what you did.
These are all things I experienced when my marriage ended.
I was such a mess after the marriage, carrying a big brunt of the responsibility, blame, and guilt.
I felt like I had committed a crime against my ex for how badly I’d treated her, how intensely we’d fought, and how dramatically the relationship had unraveled at the end.
If I had been better, wiser, kinder, and more giving, I believed, we could have stayed together.
These feelings and thoughts kept me hiding for years, replaying the events of the past. I mentally attacked myself and felt bad about myself for years afterward.
I stayed home, locked myself up, and suffered silently, believing that no one would ever want me again and I was unworthy of loving or being loved.
I didn’t think there was something wrong with her, the relationship, or both of us. I took the sole responsibility for everything that went wrong. I put all the blame squarely on myself.
Everything I did, I magnified in my mind and scolded myself for. Everything she did, I excused, justified, or found ways to blame myself for.
I later realized this was all a figment of my imagination, these self-harming thoughts. Sure, I had played a large role in the way this relationship had ended, but I wasn’t solely at fault.
If you’re blaming yourself for everything and feeling guilty about a relationship gone wrong, I want to remind you of the following seven things so you can stop punishing yourself for the past.
7 Ways to Stop Punishing Yourself for Your Breakup
1. You were doing the best you could.
If you knew better, you would have done better.
You were acting on the tools you had at the time. You likely were not intentionally or purposefully sabotaging the relationship or your partner.
We each do our best under the circumstances we’re in.
If you had the ability to be more understanding, less critical, or more forgiving, you would have done that, but you couldn’t have at the time.
At one point in my life, I thought that feelings were terrible, so I wasn’t willing to open up about how I felt about things with my ex. I thought stonewalling and shutting down were more effective at resolving issues than talking them out (trust me, they’re not).
I also thought it was effective to threaten a breakup when things weren’t going right or casually suggest a divorce in the middle of an argument (it wasn’t).
This wasn’t right or fair but it was the place that I was at in my life. If I had known a better way, I would have done that. If I had the skills to communicate better, I would have used them.
You and I grow, develop, and improve as people and partners over time.
The good news is that partner you were yesterday doesn’t have to be the partner you are in the future. I’m not the person of yesterday, and I am thankful for that.
You can be better the next time around.
2. You are not solely responsible for what happened.
Remember, there are two people in a relationship. You did your part and your ex did theirs.
You can’t take the blame and responsibility for both of you.
It takes two people to dance, two people to make a relationship work, and two people to make a relationship come to an end.
You may put your ex in a completely positive light and view all your actions with negativity and judgment. Try to see the situation more objectively. Give credit and blame equally to both of you. You and your ex contributed positively and negatively to the relationship.
You can’t take 100 percent of the responsibility when you were only 50 percent of the partnership.
3. You deserve the same forgiveness you’ve given to your ex.
You deserved to give yourself as much of a break as you gave your former partner, if not more.
You’ve likely been unusually harsh and critical of yourself, absorbing all the blame for what went wrong.
You may be used to being hard on yourself because loved ones were hard on you when you were growing up, but instead of harshness and blame, choose compassion.
You may have done things without knowing, unintentionally, and without trying to hurt your ex.
You are a human, growing and making mistakes like all people do.
Your past errors do not have to be life-long regrets.
You can use the things that you did unconsciously as learning and growing tools to become a better version of yourself.
4. Get more curious about what happened.
Instead of blaming yourself, get curious about the experience you had with your ex and identify the root cause of what happened.
I began to get curious about my upbringing, my past wounds, and why I showed up in the relationship the way I had.
I gave myself a break when I got more curious about how I became the person I was in that relationship and why I behaved and communicated the way I did. Instead of blaming, I got help through counselors and friends to understand myself more.
Become a student of your pain, suffering, and blame so you become wiser about yourself.
You can’t do anything about the breakup, but in the aftermath, you can do the work to understand why you showed up how you did so you can do better in the future.
You can find self-awareness and wisdom in the past. .
5. Release comparisons and judgments.
We’re taught from a young age to compare ourselves to others and to judge ourselves. These self-sabotaging habits are especially hurtful after a painful breakup.
Comparing your life to your ex’s life and comparing yourself to friends who are in relationships won’t help you move on.
Neither will judging yourself and putting yourself down for what happened in the relationship.
Instead of comparing yourself to others, think of this as a path of growth.
Compare yourself to yourself. Observe how you’re stronger, wiser, and smarter about relationships today than when you were in your past relationship.
Also, flip self-judgment into gratitude. Instead of judging yourself harshly, be thankful for your development. Be thankful for the experiences that helped you evolve as a person and a partner.
6. Affirm your worthiness for being who you are.
You’re feeling as badly as you are about the previous relationship because it’s opening up wounds about your own worthiness.
Instead of beating yourself up, can you cultivate and reaffirm your self-worth? Can you remind yourself that you’re more than your relationship and what happened with your ex?
Regardless of what happened between the two of you, you are worthy for just being yourself.
If you don’t believe that, then maybe your relationship was an opportunity to recognize the feelings of unworthiness you had before it even started.
Once you see the wounds more clearly, you can begin working on them.
You can remind yourself that you’ve brought so much good into the world, have been helpful to many people in your life, and you likely exude compassion and kindness to many.
Remind yourself that you are more than the narrow shoebox of being a partner in a relationship.
7. Take credit for the good that came out of this relationship.
No, it wasn’t all perfect, and there are some things you can take responsibility for in your past relationship, but what can you take credit for?
If you blame yourself for all the bad things, don’t you also have to take some credit for the good things that happened?
What positives came out of this relationship?
How did you grow as a person in your past relationship?
How did you mature and become a better version of yourself?
In my relationship, one positive thing that happened was that we both helped each other achieve our professional goals and advance in our careers. We also both recognized self-sabotaging patterns and behavior and went on to work on ourselves.
Through our partnership, we exposed each other’s wounds, which enabled us to do the work to heal them. We could now show up better for ourselves, our loved ones, and future partners with more self-awareness and understanding.
You too deserve just as much credit as the blame you’re assigning yourself.
Reflect on the high roads you took in the relationship and, after it ended, the good you did. Think about how much both of your lives have improved, if they have, and whether you both came out as wiser, kinder, more open people.
You don’t have to punish yourself for the rest of your life and take all the blame for what happened. You don’t have to go about filled with guilt and shame for what you did to your ex.
If you can see that you were doing the best you could, look at the many good things came out of the relationship, and see your past as an opportunity to grow, you’ll be able to release the heavy weight of your past and move forward with a wiser and more open heart.
Vishnu is a writer and coach who helps people overcome breakups to rebuild their lives and live with purpose. He blogs at www.vishnusvirtues.com For Vishnu's latest book, 10 Sacred Laws of Healing a Broken Heart, visit his Amazon page here.