Everyone has a unique life story.
We learn from personal experience and take it wherever we go. Your dad had a business, and you go into the same business. Your mom had a subservient relationship with your dad and you tend to repeat the pattern in your relationships. Our history is a road map through life. The downside is that it sometimes keeps us stuck in old patterns that hold us back.
Your Past & Your Future:
What if you took the road less travelled? Consider these five basic tips for success from Heather Edwards, a New York based therapist and life coach.
You needn’t be stuck in the past.
Take the best from your upbringing by mindfully acknowledging your extraordinary individual strengths and nurture those. Some you got from your parents or teachers, others you developed yourself. Now, notice your most challenging moments as opportunities for growth and consider doing something new. A new behavior can raise anxiety; that’s normal. Clarify your strengths, challenges, and life goals. Overcome those that stifle you. Begin to design your best life. It's never too late to start creating the life you want. In the words of John Cage, "Begin anywhere.”
1. On Top of the World! Notice when you feel your best, most confident and prolific self. Fully absorb the gratifying feelings that happen in those moments. Look for opportunities to experience successes and accomplishment often. Spend a few minutes each day encoding positive feelings, sensory and cognitive information. This can gradually improve and change your brain structure over time.
Daniel J. Siegel describes this neuroplasticity of the brain in his book, Interpersonal Neurobiology. By choosing to focus on positive experiences, you can manage and regulate your neural firings. The more you take in the good, the more naturally your brain will spontaneously notice it unfolding around you. You can reap the benefits of positivity that otherwise may have been overlooked. Or, from a slightly different angle, Rick Hanson also talks about this in his book, Buddha's Brain—The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom.
2. Scared and Alone. Certain circumstances or challenges seem overwhelming. They take us outside our familiar comfort zone or back to a previous stressful time. They can create insecurity and threaten our self esteem. Being faced with a seemingly impossible task can stop us in our tracks. Trigger and response, and you feel vulnerable.
Here are a few ways to accept the challenge and assert your new empowered self! Take "baby steps" toward your goal and celebrate your progress every step of the way. This will reduce your fear gradually over time with each new successful experience. Jump right in! This is a method that typically results in finding out your worst fears didn't come true …and were likely exaggerated from the start.
Notice your internal monologue about those intimidating situations. Challenge those automatic negative thoughts by rating their validity on a scale of 1–100. Chances are they are pretty irrational and invalid. Mindfully notice your body, breath, and surroundings. Breathe slowly. Deliberately shift your attention between your immediate bodily sensations and the surrounding stimuli. In doing so, you can regulate physical reactions that feel like panic. Notice the inner child holding onto fear in moments of self doubt. What is he/she experiencing? Soothe him/her. Use your wisdom to inform and calm that inner part of yourself.
3. Bring on the Love. Positive energy breeds positive energy. Laughter is contagious. Notice your company when you are feeling your best. The more time you spend with positive people in a supportive environment, the better you will feel. Positive relationships are one of the essential elements of well-being in Positive Psychology, according to Martin Seligman. Well-being has been determined to be even more fulfilling than happiness. It's comprised of positive emotion (pleasure, ecstasy, comfort, etc), engagement (in an activity or moment), positive relationships, meaning (belonging and serving something larger than yourself), and accomplishment. Spend time with those you love and cherish. Participate in meaningful activities in which you are industrious.
4. Goodbye, Chaos! New studies in neuroscience show that we are capable of achieving much of what we want. The trick is to truly want it and believe you can do it! We're born with an amazing brain capable of learning and mastering more than we even understand. It's not because we can't achieve it, but because we don't fully tap into our brain's potential. Fears and anxieties might convince us that we can't do math or we aren't an artistic type. Brain studies demonstrate this to be untrue.
Now more than ever, it's evident that practice DOES make perfect! Tony Buzan talks about this in his book, The Mind Map Book. The more time you spend repeating the same exercise or thought pattern or challenge, the better you will perform it over time. With practice, you are strengthening the neural pathways responsible for those thought and behavior patterns. So take a painting class or learn a new sport or language! If you believe you can do it, you will.
5. Hello, Dreams and Aspirations! Consider the dry wit of Mae West, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” Make the most of your life! Imagine it as you want it to be. Notice what gives you energy. Get started on setting clear, achievable goals. If at first they seem too lofty, then break them down into smaller ones. Establish daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly targets. Remember that everything is a process. If it's worthwhile, it probably takes a lot of hard work and a steady dose of time. Practice patience and flexibility with yourself while holding true to taking forward steps.
Choose the high road, the low road, or the one in the middle. Just be mindful of what works and what doesn't. There's no one-size-fits-all answer to creating the life YOU want, but through mindfulness you can choose the actions that create positive change for YOU. Leave fear at the door. Embrace your future self. In the words of St. Ignatius Loyola, "Go forth and set the world on fire.”
Heather Edwards, MA, LMHC is a therapist and life coach located in New York City. She can be reached for consultation at:
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