Are you living life or is life living you? Do external events or people push you into a negative state difficult to escape from? Or is it you who determines your experience of life? What happens in life cannot be controlled. Many things in life are imposed on you whether you like it or not.
However, just as a competent surfer does not control the wave but masters the art of riding it, you too can determine how you deal with challenges. How to direct your own course and travel life’s currents in ways that are meaningful to you?
1. Use your free will.
It is easy to be carried along by automatic reactions rather than determine your own responses to life’s challenges. But whatever happens, you have free will how to respond to the situation. If you react without taking control, events and other people have the power over your emotions, thoughts and even actions. But if you choose your responses, the rewards are great — inner freedom and self-mastery.
2. Be present.
It means being wholeheartedly engaged in what you are doing and what is going on, right here, right now, physically, mentally and emotionally. This might seem obvious, but especially when doing routine tor familiar tasks like driving or washing up, it’s easy for attention to drift away into dwelling on the past or future, imaginary scenarios or non-specific automatic mind chatter. When that happens, your awareness of what is going on and what you are doing is reduced. You spend time in your head rather than in the actual experience. But the here and now is your real home and being there has many benefits.
3. Cultivate mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the way to presence. It includes being grounded, aware of yourself, your surroundings and the people in them. As your horizons are expanded, multiple impressions provide useful feedback about what is going on, allowing you to make better decisions and take more effective action. You can be more confident as you are actually ‘there’ to deal with issues and apply yourself fully to what the situation requires. Being mindfully present and giving other people your full attention is also important for establishing and maintaining good relationships. But above all, it gives you the ability to live a conscious self-directed life.
4. Adjust your expectations.
When people or situations disappoint, you need to assess the reality of the situation and revise your expectation accordingly. Perhaps you misjudged the person or situation or were unprepared for a surprising turn of events. Reviews and reconsiderations of what can reasonably be expected are part of normal life.
But some people try to ward off potential shocks by censoring their expectations in advance: I always expect the worst so I won’t be hit so hard when bad things happen. Other people avoid optimism because they are afraid of not being able to cope when things turn out badly: If I don’t expect much I won’t be disappointed.
It’s a strange logic with a touch of superstition: expecting to feel bad later, they’d rather not feel good now. Such attitudes often become self-fulfilling prophecies. With so much attention given to negative expectations, how could anything positive find its way in?
5. Appreciate your uniqueness.
Do you appreciate the You that is you? It is a combination of many facets that make up your unique You. When you truly appreciate your special characteristics there is no need for feeling bad about being different. You do not need to conform to how others do things if that is not a good fit for you. You are the centre of your life and the more you are your true You, the more you are able to walk your own path.
6. Assess what is really important to you.
Purpose provides a direction for life; you know what you want to express or achieve and look for ways of doing that. Purpose is different to goals. A purpose relates to the road to be travelled, whereas goals are the stops along the way. When the direction you are taking is significant and worthwhile to you, your life has meaning.
The search for meaning and purpose can be triggered by internal questioning or by dramatic external changes. Usually, people are very sure of what they do not want anymore, but have not discovered yet what it is they want. For example, a tradesperson, who worked hard for financial stability and when achieved, sells the business. Travelling the world is fun at first, but then the questioning: What does he want to do with the rest of his life that gives him fulfilment?
Imposed situations can also lead to reviewing how life is going. For example, after traumatic experiences many people seek to share their knowledge and insights for the benefit of others. They set up charities, do volunteer work, give talks, create art or write a book. Focused on issues greater than themselves, they seek to contribute something valuable to the world and themselves.
7. Find your own meaning and purpose.
Your ideas do not have to be spectacular, public or even specific. They can be a feeling, longing for something better, a sense of overall direction and destination. It may be something bigger than yourself, a vision that energises and fills life with interest and challenge. Or you can be like an athlete working to improve her PB — personal best — and become the best version of yourself you can be. Whatever you choose will be important for expressing who you are and what is of value to you.
Other people might try and tell you the direction to take and what your purpose should be. Don’t be distracted or diverted but find what is right for you and makes you feel good about yourself. Choose your own road to travel even if is not a smooth ride. To find your way towards new meaning and purpose, consider some of the following questions:
What is it that makes my life worth living?
What do I want my life to be?
Who do I want to be?
How can I express my special gifts and characteristics?
What can I introduce into my life that will give me fulfilment, joy and a sense of direction?
What would I like mentioned about me in a funeral service or edged into my tombstone?
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