There are many things that can get in the way of self-actualization. Real world stuff, like earning a living, parenting responsibilities and health concerns can be obstacles on your quest to be your personal best. While there are valid reasons why you may be stalled in your efforts to be all you can be, be aware that there is no more formidable roadblock than yourself. If you’ve lost sight of your potential, stopped believing in endless possibilities or fallen into habits that don’t serve you, now is the time to get out of your own way and correct course.
Before we launch into an easy recipe to get your inner rockstar rolling, a brief caveat; you’re enough already. It sounds like horseshit, but it’s really true. While it’s exciting to contemplate accomplishing all you’re capable of, it’s important to realize that it’s not just what you DO that matters. It’s who you ARE. With that orientation, the doing is just an expression of your true self. Your contribution to society is an extension of your essence. So let’s begin by knowing and appreciating who you are and where you are now. Take some time to reflect on your awesomeness and look how far you’ve come! (Smile to yourself). Well done.
Once you take stock of your journey thus far and shower yourself with credit for the big and little things you’ve already done, you can afford to look honestly at what needs tweaking. Where might you be a little off track? Have you lost sight of your dreams? Like Thoreau said, “In the end, we only hit what we aim at.” Are you aiming? If not, choose your target. And aim high! You are capable of amazing things.
To connect the dots between where you are and where you want to be, here’s a simple 3-step exercise:
1. Get a clear vision.
2. Check your beliefs.
3. Align your actions.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
1. VISION: First, dare to dream. Remember what it was like to contemplate that question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” What was your answer then, if any? Most kids have no clue. But can you recall what inspired you? How you envisioned yourself as an adult? Be childlike in your exploration of what’s possible for you now. If you always wanted to be a forest ranger, could you volunteer at Muir Woods? If your dream was something harder to attain, like playing for the NBA, play basketball for fun- and often! Pick-up game, anyone? Let an exploration of your past interests prompt an awareness of what your passions are now.
Do you sometimes get stuck in the weeds of your day-to-day life and forget that you are creating your experiences based on your choices? Or worse, have you resigned yourself to the popular notion that your best days are behind you? Actually, that’s up to you.
“Never let your memories be greater than your dreams.” -Doug Investor
Invitation: Schedule an hour of uninterrupted solitude to contemplate your deepest desires. Brainstorm different things you’d like to attempt. Envision yourself enthusiastically enjoying your chosen work- whether it’s an upgraded version of what you do now, or a totally different career. Give yourself permission to imagine your perfect life, without any “realistic” limits. Consider all aspects of your life, such as: relationships, physical activity, leisure/travel, hobbies, home/environment, work/career, spirituality, etc. What would nourish you? What feels authentic? What really turns you on? Get in touch with your desires.
2. BELIEFS: Once you have hit “Refresh” on your vision for yourself, it’s time to dust off those old beliefs. What thoughts are getting in your way? How are your notions of what’s (not) possible holding you back? Don’t underestimate how good life can be. Shake off your doubts and fears and adopt a can-do attitude. In addition to knowing where you’re going and doing what’s necessary to get there, you must also believe in yourself. That life you envision IS attainable.
“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” -Dalai Lama
Invitation: Take a piece of paper and make two columns. Title the first one “Limiting Beliefs” and the second one “Updated Beliefs.” Then, make a list of thoughts that are coming between you and what you want to do or who you want to become. Once you write down a negative thought, consider how you can turn it around to a positive one. For example, a limiting belief may be, “I’m too old to learn how to play the guitar.” And in the next column, you might pen the realization that, “You can learn guitar at any age.” It behooves us to call our assumptions into question. Not only are they hindering us from higher heights, they are often just plain untrue. Out with the old and in with then new.
3. ACTIONS: Like most “human doings,” you probably DO plenty. In fact, I bet you are always doing. Do do do. Now it’s time to consider how what you do creates your reality. Our habits make us who we are. And you have control over those habits. Old ones that don’t serve you can be replaced with new ones that do. Time to take an honest inventory of how you spend your time.
“You cannot change what you refuse to confront.” – Unknown.
Invitation: This bit of self-reflection may feel like a splash of cold water on your face. I challenge you to do it anyway. It’s a necessary step towards that dream you envision. Consider your day-to-day routine. As you recount your typical behaviors, jot them down. Then, take a look at these actions one by one. In terms of your long-term objectives, is the habit supportive, neutral or counter-productive? For example, if your desire is to compete on “American Ninja Warrior” to hone your athleticism to the fullest, which of your habits support that goal? Walking the dog twice a day is a plus. Going to the gym 4 times a week is even better. Watching old episodes of “Silicon Valley” nightly? Not so much. List the habits that align with your dreams. Then add to that list. What more could you do daily to steer you in the direction of your desires? Make room for new habits by eliminating old ones that are getting you nowhere. Of course, you’ll want to build in time to have fun and “veg out.” Just don’t let unsupportive behaviors predominate. As you orient your small daily actions towards the life you want, you are slowly but surely getting there.
Here’s another inspiring tidbit from Thoreau:
“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
And off you go!