“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.”― Aristotle
As I move into my 39th year, I have reflected on the lessons that have impacted me in my thirties. Living through the Covid-19 pandemic has also fast tracked some serious nuggets that I would like to share with you – not as pieces of advice but critical questions that I have used to challenge myself and get me through some seriously tough times. As Tim Ferriss says ‘All that stands between you and what you want is a better set of questions’.
Hindsight is amazing as you can look back and join the dots to understand that life didn’t happen to you but for you. When you are the dot and don’t have the perspective in the moment, use these questions to steer you through it:
How can I be kind to myself today?
“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection”― Sharon Salzberg
There is no-one or no-thing that can energise you; you have to be responsible to fill your own tank. Your tank is fuelled by daily acts of kindness to yourself. It is the currency of unconditional self-love and self-acceptance. Kindness isn’t only about self-indulgence or splurging on material possessions. It is about ceasing to empower your inner critic, silencing the destructive self-talk and stop placing impossibly high standards on yourself.
In the words of Julia Cameron ‘take yourself for an artist’s date’ – go somewhere special to write and celebrate the awful first drafts. Give yourself permission to spend time on a manuscript when you have no idea where it will take you. Give yourself the freedom to invest time in the little things that may not have a direct outcome other than fueling your soul and bringing you joy. I’m sure Paulo Coehlo didn’t second guess himself when he wrote his books and question ‘is this just a waste of my time?’. I’m by no means comparing myself to his work but that analogy always makes me smile and encourages me on my writing journey.
When you are feeling like your battery is in the red, take a step back and reflect on how you have been treating yourself – both in words and actions. If you haven’t been showing up enough in your calendar or if you are but not on the activities you truly want to explore, then give yourself permission.
What do I want to do today?
“Either you must control your thoughts or the outside forces will control them and be warned that the outside forces usually consist of fears, worries and doubts.”― Maddy Malhotra
You are probably wondering how this is advice. Let me tell you, this one is crucial to your happiness. You often fall into the trap of allowing ‘mind sneakers’ to creep into your vocabulary. You know what I’m talking about – words like ‘ought to, should, have to’. These words create instant anxiety because you immediately think ‘what if it’s the wrong decision? What if I miss out on another opportunity?’ When you operate from this space, you are signalling self-doubt. And the more you buy into this story, the more you begin to question if you can trust yourself and ultimately hold back.
When you begin your day asking yourself ‘what do I want to do today?’ you start to show up to your creative self and more importantly not your perfect self. Words like want, can, choose – these tap into the energy of love. The intention becomes about something that brings your authentic self along for the ride and this is where you really flourish.
Mind sneakers tap into a fear energy and you land up sending your perfect self along. Although she does an amazing job, something gets left behind and she can’t always deliver her true authentic value.
Do things your way – have the courage to bring your own unique spin and ideas. There are no absolutes, anything and everything is up for grabs. There is no ‘should be’ way of expressing who you are – just trust yourself.
What am I still believing?
“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers” – Thich Nhat Hanh
When you find yourself feeling stuck, frustrated, and anxious or in overwhelm –look deeper into this. Explore it by asking yourself ‘What am I still believing?’
In the beginning of lockdown (which would make no sense trying to explain it to you in this letter), I had an expectation that I would have more time available to myself but quite quickly I realised I had less time and the amount I could do in a day was dramatically reduced too. After 13 weeks of resisting the situation with daily phrases like ‘I should be doing X or this is not how it should be’, I knew it was time for some serious introspection. We are as A-type as it gets, a 1 on the Enneagram and it was time accept that this situation was way beyond my control.
I sat down and meditated on the question ‘What am I still believing?’ It turns out, I was measuring my self-worth on my work achievements and outputs only. This unique period of time required me to shift my priorities and accept I have a limited number of hours available to me. The bulk of my time had shifted into managing my kids schooling so naturally I could accomplish less than before.
My beliefs had to shift in order for me to appreciate that this role is equally powerful and I am still adding tremendous value. I didn’t stop my work commitments but the volume had been affected.
I was believing something that didn’t serve me and unless I altered the belief, I would hold myself hostage to an unrealistic outcome. I had to re-evaluate what value means and ask myself some serious questions:
- Who do I want to be during lockdown?
- How do I want to show up to my family?
- How do I want them to remember this time?
Then I gave myself permission to shift my beliefs and embrace my new way of being and how service, contribution and worth can be derived outside of work too. It was also accepting that my self-worth couldn’t be based on an external locus of control like finance or workshops or talks. I had to get into a space and it sounds so clichéd but there’s a reason for every cliché – it holds deep truth. This was moving into a space of unconditional self-acceptance and being enough. Now. Today – with or without the work achievements. There are going to be times where you succeed and times you feel like a complete failure, accept yourself unconditionally irrespective of the outcome and keep appreciating the lessons that it brings.
Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about the value of ‘inaction’ in his beautiful book, The Art of Living. He says how sometimes we perceive people as not doing anything because they appear inactive. Yet the power and influence that person holds can be so powerful. He explains how just their presence can yield a sense of calm, empathy and serves as a diffuser for the energy of the house and their absence would impact the situation negatively.
I had to adopt the same belief – not that I was being inactive in a literal sense. But that being able to operate from a space of calm confidence as opposed to stress and overwhelm could significantly influence the mood and energy in the house.
When you move through your journey, remember there will be times where you may feel inactive or that you are not doing enough but remember the power you yield and how this role can bring great contribution and value.
Does this contract or expand me?
“Spend your time on those that love you unconditionally. Don’t waste it on those that only love you when the conditions are right for them” – Unknown
When you aren’t sure what to do about an opportunity, this is the benchmark question to identify what you should say yes to and what you should politely decline. Very simply – if it energises you, do it. If it depletes you, find the courage and compassion to walk away and say no. This is not only about opportunities but clears up who you want to spend time your precious time with. They either deplete you or help recharge your battery. Surround yourself with the people who grow you, encourage you and support you. Reciprocate back and be that person for someone else.
“We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize” – Thich Nhat Hanh
There is one more piece of advice I want to share with you. It isn’t a question but a daily reminder. Although I know this concept and it has served me well, I often forget about it when I need it most.
You tend to live in your head and default to operating in a state of doing. There is nothing wrong with this but true recovery and stillness requires being. This took me a long time to grasp – being means allowing yourself to be in the present moment without trying to control it and without this constant sense that you should be somewhere else.
I want to share this quote with you by author Tim Grimes. Remember it, write it on your desktop and put it into your calendar as a daily reminder:
“Everything is already perfect, whether you like it or not. You become at peace with the moment by recognizing that there’s nothing better than it. And you’ll feel and know this intimately because there’s a deep satisfaction when you’re just here now and not wanting anything else.”
Peace is to be found in this moment. It isn’t something we attain. When we go out looking for it, we miss the point. It isn’t meant to be sought out, at least in the way we traditionally believe. It’s what we allow ourselves to be”.
When you get to play dolls with your daughter or play tag in the garden with your son – remind yourself there is nowhere else you should be. There is no better moment that is ever going to top this one. Enjoy and it and appreciate it fully. This is the same for life – when you are working, be fully in it and when you get to spend time with the family – savour it without the guilt.
I look forward to the next chapter of my forties and can’t wait to share it with you.
Here’s to continuous growth and savouring the magic moments,