Just because…

Just because someone failed to see the value in what you create, doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.

Just because someone said you didn’t measure up to some standard of achievement, doesn’t mean that they are right, or that standard of achievement actually matters.

Just because someone said it can’t be done, doesn’t mean that you can never do it.

Just because someone got angry at or judged you, doesn’t mean that you are wrong.

Just because someone believes you are not good enough, doesn’t mean that you are not enough already.

Just because someone said you can’t make a difference here, doesn’t mean you do not possess unique gifts and talents that only you can contribute elsewhere.

Just because someone couldn’t see the beauty within you, doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Just because someone doesn’t want you in their life, doesn’t mean that your presence is not the most amazing gift for another.

Just because someone isn’t willing or able to love you, doesn’t mean that you are not lovable.

The secret to having others see the world like you do

Is to develop the ability to truly see the world just as they do.

You see, when disagreement arises with others, we have a choice. We can choose to make it either:

  1. Us versus them, or
  2. Us with them.

And together, we get to decide which one.

When we decide it’s us versus them, we follow our current thinking, and challenge the others perspective.

We defend and debate, and ensure an outcome that can only ever be win or lose (or at the very best, a compromise, where we both win a bit and lose a bit).

But when we instead decide it’s us with them, we put our current thinking aside for now, and each try to understand the others perspective. Suddenly, we’ve opened the door for internal growth, and a different outcome to appear.

Together, we can now:

  • explore each of our different perspectives,
  • truly understand the key issues, assumptions and values that were pulling us apart, and
  • work towards the possibility of developing a shared perspective and solution. One that addresses the conflicting issues and needs that gave rise to disagreement in the first place.

When we start with listening, empathy and an appreciation for disagreement, we allow ourselves to move away from win or lose, and open the possibility for win-win.

I will be happy when…

  1. I get that pay rise.
  2. I have that house.
  3. I lose those 5kg.
  4. I win that award.

Of course, it’s all a lie.

Once we get that pay rise, have that house, lose those 5kg or win that award, we celebrate, but are soon right back to where we started. We just go looking for the very next thing that needs to be ticked off from our list.

The truth is, long-term happiness isn’t found from the outside.

It comes from how we view and interact with the world, not about what the world gives back to usScientific research suggests just 10% of our total long-term happiness is influenced by our life circumstances.

When we instead practice the art of embracing the strengths that we have today, cultivating the relationships that mean the most to us now, contributing to something greater than ourselves and having gratitude for what we have already got, we give up our search for happiness by looking into the future.

And this allows us to appreciate and find happiness in the present.

The problem with the pursuit of higher self-esteem

Higher self-esteem can only come when we judge our self-worth.

So when we decide to pursue higher self-esteem, we actually decide to follow a worldview that says, “Our self-worth can be changed and influenced by something external to us. Things like achievements and successes can determine our worthiness”.

The problem with this worldview is that it’s easy to live a life where we:

  1. Feel we are not good enough (low self-esteem), or
  2. Carry fear, anxiety or worry, because a future rejection or failure may mean we are no longer good enough (high self-esteem).

The alternative to self-esteem is unconditional self-acceptance.

With unconditional self-acceptance, we understand self-worth does not come with any terms and conditions. Instead, we see that we are already enough, and accept ourselves for all of who we are.

Finding unconditional self-acceptance

We move away from the pursuit of higher self-esteem and towards unconditional self-acceptance when we truly believe:

  • My self-worth can never be rated using external criteria. Doing so is illogical: I am already enough.
  • There is no rational reason for me to feel bad about or change the core of who I am. Any “imperfections” I have actually help to make me more unique, special and truly beautiful.
  • My actions, achievements and failures can be rated and improved when they help me to live a more fulfilling life. They can not be used to define me or my worthiness.
  • Mistakes are normal. Indeed, they are essential for my journey, growth and development.
  • I am so much more than the thoughts, opinions and judgements of others. Opinions and judgements can not define me, as they are only a reflection of the person who is doing the judging.

Change your beliefs, change your world

Make no mistake. The journey towards unconditional self-acceptance is a difficult one.

For most of us, it requires a change to the core beliefs that we hold about ourselves. Beliefs that are very different to what much of society tells us is true. And indeed, I still struggle with it, almost every day.

But it is so important.

The benefits of self-acceptance

Unconditional self-acceptance is often the pathway for:

  • Letting go of comparison, and being mindful and grateful for what you have right now.
  • Overcoming the anxiety that comes from hiding who you truly are, and finding the courage to be your authentic self.
  • Rising above the fear of failure, and finding confidence and belief within yourself to pursue what you really want in this life.
  • Seeing that rejection does not ever mean you are unworthy, inadequate or unlovable, and helping you to find hope and resilience during difficult times.
  • Being vulnerable and open with others, and inviting the opportunity for you to cultivate a deeper sense of connection.
  • Letting go of judgement, and allowing the creativity, skills and talents that lie within you to be seen and blossom.

Self-acceptance: the gift that keeps on giving

The last (but for me, most important) outcome of unconditional self-acceptance is that it helps us to become more accepting of others, too:

  • When we see ourselves as enough, we get better at seeing others as enough.
  • When we do not judge ourselves, we get better at not judging others.
  • When we no longer feel bad or insecure about who we are, we lose the need to make others feel bad or insecure about who they are.

When we become accepting of those around us, we give them the most amazing gift: we help them to see that they are enough, and should be so proud and accepting for all of who they are, too. And with greater self-acceptance, they can also help to spread this gift.

The very first step to making the world a more accepting place is to be the change that you want to see in the world: become more accepting of you.

After all, you are enough. Exactly the way that you are.

The magic of simply sharing you

If there is one topic I have come across within the literature that has had the biggest impact on my own well-being, it is the topic of vulnerability. Having an intellectual understanding of its importance, as well as developing the courage to practice it daily in my own life, has made my life richer and changed the person that I am for the better.

What is vulnerability?

Vulnerability is the simple (yet extremely challenging!) act of being and sharing all of you. It involves stepping into the uncertainty and risk associated with sharing our true and imperfect selves with others, including our deepest feelings, doubts, fears and truths.

Understanding vulnerability and its importance starts with an understanding of what so often gets in the way of us being vulnerable more often: we want others to like us.

We all care so deeply about others liking us because this is essentially what makes us human. Connection with others and the sense of belonging it brings invites love, joy, purpose and meaning into our lives.

The really big problem with wanting everyone to like us

The problem comes when we sacrifice vulnerability and trade in who we really are to be someone we’re not, in an attempt to meet our need for connection and belonging. We can so easily fall into the trap of hiding our deepest feelings, fears, struggles and truths to be liked and fit in, presenting ourselves to others in the way we think we should be, instead of risking the possibility of being rejected for who we truly are.

Yes, I’m well aware that fitting in and hiding parts of ourselves feels like the easiest and safest thing to do. But there are two significant downsides we’re rarely told about that come with choosing this approach.

First, when we hide who we truly are and how we truly feel, we almost always experience either anxiety, depression, addiction, blame, resentment, grief, or a multiple of the above. These emotions and behaviours arise when we pretend to be someone we’re not, or do not fully open up and be vulnerable by sharing our deepest selves to those around us.

Second, when we sacrifice who we truly are in order to connect with others, what we actually sacrifice is, ironically, the opportunity to experience true connection.

The beauty of your imperfections

Being vulnerable and sharing all of you – including your deepest emotions, insecurities and imperfections – is actually at the very core of meaningful, human experiences. When we share all of ourselves with others, we create the opportunity to cultivate a sense of connectedness that is far deeper and richer than we would ever experience by substituting who we are for the hope of fitting in. And when we open up and share ourselves, we also invite and help those around us to do exactly the same, too.

Understanding and practising this has (and still is) changing my life. Before, I had spent much of my life sacrificing and hiding parts of who I truly was, using my achievements and ‘successes’ as a shield. The sad thing with this is that it was all in an attempt to build a sense of connection, yet all I was actually doing was restricting true connection from occurring.

3 steps to being vulnerable

Of course, the journey from fear and fitting in to risk, uncertainty and vulnerability is a difficult and scary one, and one that I still constantly struggle with. But after much thought and reflection, I think that it begins with these 3 steps:

  1. Learning to be completely okay and accepting of all of who you are, and reminding yourself that you are enough, exactly as the person that you are right now. You must remember also that once you see this, others will easily see it, too.
  2. Remembering to define yourself as so much more than the image someone else may have of you. And if you are judged, remember that it is only a reflection of the one doing the judging, and does not mean that you are wrong.
  3. Letting go of the unhelpful belief that you need to be loved, or well liked, by everyone in your life.

The gift of rejection

It is essential to understand that when we share our deepest feelings, fears and truths that some people may like us less, or even run away, and that this is perfectly OK. After all, just because someone rejects you for who you truly are, does not mean that there is anything wrong with you. And just because someone is not willing or able to love you as you, does not mean that you are not loveable.

And the magic of this rejection is that it opens the door to connecting with another because of, and not despite of, who you truly are. And I think that connecting with another because of who we truly are is possibly the most magical experience that there is in this life: it trumps any achievements, awards, money or fame that we will ever have, and feels so much richer than when we connect with another only because we are hiding a certain part of us.

One final thing

When you are next faced with the opportunity to either hide a part of yourself, or to be vulnerable, authentic, and share who you truly are and how you truly feel with someone that is important to you, I find that it helps to remember this:

The more of your true self that you share with another, the more of you that there now is for them to connect with and love about you.

And when we have people around us that do truly listen, empathise and love us unconditionally and without judgement when we are being all of us, it’s important to not take them for granted, and to tell them just how much gratitude we hold in our hearts for knowing and having them in our life.

For people like this are surely the greatest gift that we can ever receive, and my experience is that it hurts deeply when they are no longer around.

[Note: Hat tip to Dr Brené Brown and Jules O’Neil, whose research, work and teachings have collectively inspired this post. If you want to learn more about vulnerability and connection, I highly recommend Brown’s text Daring Greatly. It’s a brilliant, insightful and thought-provoking read.]

The single most important thing you can do for your happiness

Is to connect with others.

Connection is likely the most important factor of life satisfaction and emotional well-being.

When we connect with others:

  • we experience positive emotions such as joy, hope and love,
  • we grow as people,
  • our physical health improves,
  • we cultivate greater meaning and purpose within our lives, and
  • we do exactly the same for their lives, too.

I think that one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to spend all our time on work or the pursuit of greater status and power.

Because no matter what we achieve here, it still somehow finds a way to feel insignificant when compared to building a connection with the people we most care about.

The 12 steps to setting (and achieving) your New Year’s resolutions

Step 1. Brainstorm your dream list. Write a list of everything you may possibly want to achieve this year. Think big, without limits.

Step 2: Link each goal to your core life values. For each goal, ask yourself: Why is this important to me? What is it (exactly) that will make the sacrifice, discomfort and effort that’s required to achieve this goal truly worthwhile? If you don’t have a good answer, cross it off your list.

Step 3. Re-frame your remaining goals to capture your motivation. For example, the goals “Go to the gym” or “Lose weight” might become “A strategy to improve my fitness in an enjoyable and sustainable manner, which will be evidenced by having more energy and being able to enjoy playing with the kids when I get home from work.

Step 4: Decide on what’s most important to you. You can’t be an Olympic marathon runner and our Prime Minister at the same time. Of the goals you have left, decide which are most important. I suggest choosing your top 4, that you truly believe can be achieved together over the course of 1 year.

Step 5: Ensure there is a balance. If all 4 goals are about climbing the corporate ladder, is that really how you want to spend your year? Research shows our well-being is highest when we find a balance between relationships, religion/spirituality, work and generosity/focusing beyond ourselves.

Step 6: Re-check before you commit. Ask yourself: are these goals really, truly how I want to invest much of my time this year? (Hint: If you’re not screaming out yes, the answer is probably no.)

Step 7: For each goal, write a (very) specific action plan to get you there. Decide on the small and simple behaviours you will commit to regularly that will get you to your goal. They should be things to do (go to the cycle class on Saturday mornings) as opposed to things not to do (stop eating chocolate). Consider also any extra skills, knowledge and support you’ll need, as well as the potential barriers that may come up.

Step 8: Create a clear timeline for your action plan. Divide your behaviours into steps you can do on a daily (or at least weekly) basis.

[Important: if you’re not extremely confident that you can do the action plan, read this post, or change it so that you are.]

Step 9: Plan exactly when and where you will do the actions. Choose both a time and a place that you will come across every day (or week).

Step 10: Each day (or week) you encounter that time and place, do the action. I highly recommend creating a chart that you can mark off every night before bed so that you can see your progress.

Step 11: Put a monthly reminder in your calendar to review your progress. Don’t wait until the end of the year to realise that what you have been doing hasn’t worked. If you find that at the end of the month you are not making consistent progress towards your yearly goal, revise your action plan (and double check that it’s truly an achievable goal).

If the problem is that you are not doing your action plan, either i) make the action plan easier, ii) understand and question your thoughts that are holding you back, or iii) make changes to your environment to better support your desired behaviour. (Note: Don’t beat yourself up here. It’s normal to fail – the trick is to learn from it and change accordingly.)

Step 12. Celebrate! Decades of research shows that when you do this process, it works.

That is, if you have the courage to face the possibility of failure, you also have the ability to make your dreams come true.

Why what you are striving for matters

Research shows that the goals we strive for tomorrow have a powerful effect on the person that we are today.

When we strive for power, a control over others or the pursuit of material things, we typically languish. We get caught in a rat-race that we can never win, and can become easily distracted from what’s truly important in this life.

When we instead strive for connection, a sense of spirituality or generosity towards others, we typically flourish. Our well-being is high, our physical health good, and we find a sense of meaning, purpose and value within our everyday lives, allowing us to also enjoy the here and now.

If you want to be happy and flourish in this life, it’s not about asking what you can get from the world.

It’s about asking what the world can get from you.

The problem with pursuing happiness

Happiness is simply an emotion that arises from events external to us. When we get, achieve or do something we desire, we experience happiness.

Happiness is a pleasurable part of life, but the thing about happiness is that it almost always fades with time.

Well-being, on the other hand, is so much more than a single emotion. It is a construct that attempts to describe a life in which we flourish and thrive. Well-being includes the experience of positive emotions like joy, hope and love. But well-being also arises from:

  • growing as a person and accomplishing our goals,
  • pursuing challenging work that leverages our strengths,
  • developing deep and meaningful connections with others, and
  • giving back to them and the world in order to cultivate greater meaning and purpose within our lives.

The thing to remember is that if well-being describes the goal, happiness is usually not the path.

Rather, the path often involves hard work, failure, sacrifice, pain, risk, sadness, ridicule and heartbreak. These are almost always the prerequisites required for the personal growth, connection and meaning that allows for us to truly flourish and thrive.

Sometimes, it’s not about pursuing happiness or avoiding distress. It’s about learning to embrace the diversity of human emotional experience that comes with living the good life.

[Notes: i. Long-term happiness is defined and measured in the literature as life satisfaction. This too is more than a single emotion, and there are some ways to reliably increase life satisfaction, one which I have already mentioned. I discuss the others in future posts.

ii. The purpose of my blog is indeed to cultivate good health and well-being, which very much includes life-satisfaction, but also more. The use of the word happiness appears in my blog outline and numerous other posts as a substitute for well-being or life satisfaction, for simplicity’s sake.]

5 common beliefs that undermine our happiness

  1. I should be concerned about my fears and dwell on the possibility of them occurring.
  2. It is easier and best to avoid my life’s difficulties, than it is to face them.
  3. I must be loved, or well liked, by almost everybody in my life.
  4. I must achieve, be or have this for me to be worthy, adequate or loveable.
  5. It is always bad when things are not the way I would have liked them to be.

Notice it is not the external events, doings of others or our own shortcomings that directly result in our unhappiness.

Rather, it is how we perceive and understand these to be, that is the primary problem.

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