Last week, I posted the image below on my Instagram feed, and people seemed to really love the concept. It's one of my most popular posts -- and, though the concept is positive, the lyrics I wrote about aren't typical of what I usually share on Instagram (aka, not the most inspirational!).
The attention this photo received definitely piqued my interest so I thought I'd write about the process of what I like to call Song Lyric Therapy (or SLT, for short). Even though it's fairly obvious how it works -- find lyrics, write it down, reflect -- sometimes it's helpful to have all the steps in front of you to motivate you to actually do it.
Music is an incredibly powerful force in my life, and lyrics in particular have always had a profound impact on me. For 20+ years I've been practicing SLT and it's pretty amazing. And it works no matter what emotional situation you're in. I've done it when I'm falling in love, when I'm going through a break-up, when I'm trying to figure out what I want to do with my life. I've also combined with Quote Therapy, which follows the same general process, but instead of lyrics, you use quotes. Sometimes I even get crazy and combine the two, haha!
If you're a lyric lover like I am, here's how you can use SLT to get in touch with how you're feeling:
STEP 1: COMPILE A PLAYLIST
You might already have some songs that you're listening to on repeat, or you might want to create a special playlist just for your specific situation. I originally to made playlists in iTunes, focusing on specific situations, like: The Positive Breakup, Staying Sober, Single at Christmas, etc. I then started making my weekly playlists on YouTube so you guys could listen too, and now I've finally gotten Spotify and I'm making lots of themed playlists over there (some recent ones include: Autumn Woods, Be Here Now, Hang in There, Love Yourself, Positive Vibes, etc.). Where you create your playlist is up to you -- just make sure it's somewhere you can listen often and easily add songs if needed.
STEP 2: GET INTO THE GROOVE
This step is all about listening closely to the words. Listen to your playlist over and over again. Some people (like me!) are super lyric-focused and can't help but listen to the lyrics and try to apply it in some way to their own lives. But some people aren't as into lyrics and in this step they've gotta step up their listening game. There are no right or wrong lyrics to look for; the key is to pay attention to the words that speak to you, that give you a feeling of, Wow! that sounds just like what I'm experiencing right now! If you pay attention to songs you're drawn to, you'll realize that you love them so much because you relate to them in some way.
STEP 3: WRITE THE WORDS
After listening to your playlist frequently, it's time to document those words. I prefer to handwrite the lyrics and add color, doodles, etc. to make the process a bit more fun, but you can write yours in an form you like: in a notebook, on your computer, in a note-taking app on your phone. Whatever method is easiest and most inspiring for you, do that. As you're listening to the songs, aim to pinpoint one or two lines from that song that really speak to you. While you can write down huge chunks of a song (or the whole thing!), I've found it most useful to really narrow my focus to one or two lines so that I can go deeper on those in Step 4.
STEP 4: MAKE TIME TO REFLECT
After writing down your lyrics, set them aside for a bit before coming back and re-reading them. You can highlight words that really speak to you (as I did above). As I'm reviewing the lyrics, I ask myself, Why did this line resonate with me? What about these words makes me feel something? What does this particular phrase say about how I'm feeling? Sometimes I just answer these internally and reflect on them, and sometimes I write down my replies. Either way, reflecting on the lyrics provides not only better understanding of the situation, but also of how you feel about the situation. And knowing your feelings is key to choosing how you think, act, and react.
I've been using SLT for as long as I can remember, and I find it incredibly useful. If you're looking to do some soul-searching, if you're feeling uncertain about some aspect of your life, or if you're just curious about connecting with your feelings, I highly recommend giving this a try!
Want me to make a playlist for your situation? Leave me a comment below or send me an email, and I'll create a Spotify playlist for you!
So many people moan about getting older (and I've been known to do so on occasion...), but the other day I had this thought: There's no greater gift than another birthday. It's a tad cheesy, yes, but it's so true. What could be better than being given an opportunity to be here, to keep living, to experience the highs and lows of life, the unexpected twists and the comforting consistencies?
There have been many times, for many reasons, that I wasn't certain I would celebrate another birthday and so, while I'm not always this obsessively grateful (though I'd like to be!), I do feel particularly thankful as my birthday rolls around each year. I am here and, while it's certainly not all sunshine and rainbows, I am so glad to be adding another candle to my birthday cake.
In celebration of the big three-three I've rounded up a list of 33 things that I've learned over the past three+ decades. Below is a video in which I chat about these lessons (click here if you can't see it), and, if you'd rather read them, they're written below that!
#1 You have control over your attitude.
External factors play a huge role in how you feel, but it's so important to remember that you -- and only you -- control your attitude. At every single moment, you are able to choose what you focus on. And what you focus on can have a huge impact on how you feel and act.
#2 The "wrong" thing is sometimes right.
I've learned from trial and error that "good" and "bad" or "wrong" and "right" isn't always as clear as we'd like it to be. Sometimes the "wrong" thing is actually the right thing to do. And sometimes...
#3 The "right" thing is sometimes wrong.
... what seems "right" is actually wrong. Just because someone (or society) tells you something is the right thing to do, that doesn't mean it is. I've learned to take the right / wrong dichotomy with a grain of salt. It's up to you to choose what's right and wrong.
#4 Keep your mind (and heart) wide open.
Open-mindedness is absolutely vital for making the most of life. You don't have to agree with everyone or everything, but I've found that listening to others (with an open mind!) makes everything easier (and more interesting!).
#5 Figure out what you really love doing.
I'm fortunate enough to have figured out what I love -- writing and creating -- at a very young age, but I've seen way too many people just floating uncertainly through life. Figure out what you love doing (even if it's weird!) and do it as much as you possibly can.
#6 Try as many new things as you can.
Admittedly, I'm not the most adventurous soul, but every time I've ventured outside of my comfort zone and tried something new, I've learned something about myself or the world. I'm still working on this lesson, but I know it's so important!
#7 Have a goal other than "to be happy."
I've talked about this before, but happiness shouldn't be your goal. You cannot and will not be happy all the time. Chasing happiness will not make you happy so find a goal or a purpose that's not your own personal happiness.
#8 Finding the good in a situation pays off.
Optimism has always been a challenge for me (which is why I started this site!), but every single time I've chosen to focus on the positive in a situation, it's made things better. Look for the good. Always.
#9 It's okay not to like what others like.
One of the most important lessons I've learned in life is that it's okay not to like what other people like. Likewise, it's okay to be into stuff that other people think is weird. Life is short; don't waste it following trends you don't care about.
#10 Hate and resentment are never, ever useful.
This probably isn't the most earth-shattering lesson, but it's one that too many people forget. When you hate, resent, or hold grudges against others, you only hurt yourself. I love T.Swift, but bad blood is just bad news.
#11 Society's rules don't have to be yours.
You don't have to follow society's rules just because they're there. I don't want to get married or have kids or work a typical 9-to-5 job even though those are things you're "supposed" to do. It's your life; don't let your society dictate how you live it.
#12 You can change any time you want to.
Just because you were a certain way before doesn't mean you always have to be. You can change -- the way you feel, the people you're with, the job you have, the place you live -- any time you want to. It won't always be easy, but change is always possible.
#13 Pay attention to how people make you feel.
How does it feel after you've spent time with someone? Pay attention to that. If you feel drained, that person is no good for you. If you feel uplifted, pull that person closer. Choose to surround yourself with people who make you feel good.
#14 You define what the word "success" means.
Success is whatever the hell you want it to me. My new favorite quote (by Sarah Jones) is: What if joy was my only metric for success? Determine what you want your metric for success to be and measure you life by that. (Tip: It doesn't have to be money, a fancy title, or a perfect family.)
#15 Treat others how they want to be treated.
The golden rule -- "treat others how you'd want to be treated" -- isn't so golden in my book. You've got to treat people not how you want to be treated, but how they want to be treated. Don't know what they want? Ask!
#16 Never, ever stop being thankful.
Gratitude is E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. It's taken me a long time to learn this (mostly because I thought it was just a cheesy cliche), but gratitude really is life-changing. The more you practice it, the better your life gets. Seriously. Dooooo it.
#17 Self-love is the foundation for all love.
Perhaps the most important lesson I've learned is that, if you want to love and be loved, you have to love yourself first. Loving who you are vital to creating good relationships, discovering an ideal career path, and just generally loving life.
#18 Worrying serves no practical purpose.
This one is tough. I've learned the lesson countless times (how many times I've worried about something that never happened!), but I still struggle with anxiety and worrying. I'm working on it though!
#19 Bad times pass. So do good times.
When you're going through a tough time, it seems like it'll never pass, but guess what? It always does. And so do the good times. When things are bad, know they will pass and hang in there. When they're good, know they will pass and appreciate every joyful moment.
#20 When it's time to let go, do it.
Another lesson I've been taught over and over again by life, but still struggle to master. Letting go is hard for me, and I tend to cling waaay longer than I should to people and situations. I'm working on channeling my inner Elsa and learning to let that shit go.
#21 You can be scared and still be brave.
It's taken me awhile, but I've finally realized that bravery isn't an absence of fear. Being brave is about being scared and facing a situation anyway. We're all scared of something; instead of running from the fear, face it. You'll be glad you did.
Notice what’s going right.
This goes hand-in-hand with gratitude. So often we’re focused on what’s going wrong in our lives – which is normal, don’t worry – that we forget to recognize what’s going right!
#23 Don't romanticize the past or future.
The past and future aren't real, and, likewise, memories and visions are only ideas, not reality. Rather than wishing I was elsewhere, I've learned to focus on making the most of the present. If you're gonna glamorize something, let it be the now.
#24 You cannot control other people.
No matter what you do, say, or think, you do not have control over other people. Yes, there are times when you can probably manipulate someone, but that doesn't usually end well. When you realize you have no control over others, you'll find a profound sense of freedom within yourself.
#25 Go into it with absolutely no expectations.
Expectations only lead to disappointment. You can have standards, but don't have expectations. You'll only be let down by situations and people. And going into things with no expectations can lead to amazing experiences.
#26 Take note of what excites your heart.
What makes your heart start beating fast? What do you want to talk about for hours? What excites you? Pay attention to those things -- no matter how small -- that get you feeling inspired and enlivened. They will tell you things about yourself you never knew.
#27 It's good that not every wish is granted.
For the past few years, I've been making the same wish on every star I could see. It hasn't come true and I'm starting now to see why. There's something better in the works. If your wish isn't coming true, it's for a reason. Trust.
#28 You'll make time for what you really want.
You all the things you don't have time for? It's because you don't want to do them. We all have the same amount of time in every day. What you want to do is what you'll do. I always have time for the things that really matter to me -- and you do too.
#29 The less you need, the more you'll have.
It's taken me a long time to learn this one, but I finally realize that the rush that comes from material things doesn't last very long. Yes, I still love stuff, but I realize now that it's extra, not essential. (Hint: what's essential isn't something you can purchase at a store.)
#30 Not all thoughts are worth believing.
Not everything you think is a fact, and it took me awhile to realize this, but once I did, it was life-changing. Always take a closer look at what you're thinking and ask yourself if it's absolutely, definitely true. Your mind is a wild place and so much of it is imagination.
#31 Notice mistakes you make repetitively.
I'm really great at making the same mistakes over and over again. What can I say, it's a skill. ;) But, seriously, I've learned to pay attention to mistakes I make repetitively and look closely at them. They teach me things.
#32 Learn something new every day.
Knowledge is power. The more you know, the bigger your world gets. And, if you're reading this, you're fortunate enough to access to the internet, holder of so much knowledge. Use it to up your power. Soak up that info like a dry sponge; learn as much as you can!
#33 Always choose love over fear.
The greatest lesson I've learned is that almost everything you do, say, think, feel can be traced back to love or fear. Those two things govern so many of our choices and beliefs. Pay attention to which one is guiding you and strive to give love the lead. You'll never, ever go wrong by letting love guide you.
So, here I am, nearly 33, and those are some of the most important things I've learned so far. Not bad for only 33 years! I hope you've either recognized these as some of your own learned lessons or you've found some inspiration in them. Life is one great big classroom and the more you learn, the more progress you'll make and the better your life will be. I'd love to hear the lessons you've learned so far in life! Share them with me in the comments!
Want to really live your life to the fullest? Then it's high time you spent some time thinking about death.
I've recently become obsessed with The School of Life's YouTube channel, and a recent video -- Reasons to Remember Death -- really caught my attention. Death is something a lot of people don't like to think about, and rightly so. The unknown is scary, and death is the biggest (and most inevitable) unknown we face. As scary as it is, it's useful to think about it and, as The School of Life suggests, use that fear to our advantage. The video kicks off with this powerful statement:
Many things we're meant to tackle are left aside because we're scared.
We're scared to fail. We're scared to be alone with our own feelings, scared to eject certain people from our lives, scared to tell our partners who we really are, scared to take our dreams seriously.
From fear, we delay the lives we know we should be leading.
So many of us are afraid of what others might think of us, what risks we might have to take, or what we might lose if we show the world who we truly are and go after what we truly want. The thing is: there's not a lot of time. We're only given so many days, so many moments, and we don't know how many of those we have left. Rather than letting the brevity of life terrify us to the point of immobility, The School of Life suggests:
We should use the thought of death not to make us despair of life, but to shake us into committedly pursuing the life we know we need to lead. We will act when the fear of death is finally allowed to trump the fear of failure or humiliation, compromise or shame.
Deliberately scare yourself about the only thing you need to fear, and thereby be liberated to get on with everything else that so badly needs doing.
I urge you to scare yourself a little bit this week. Think about what it will be like to be lying on your deathbed, reflecting back on your life. What will you want your life to have looked like? Are you doing what you need to make sure it looks what way? If not, why? What are you waiting for? When do you think the time will be right? (Hint: it's never the perfect time to do anything that's hard.)
When you consider consider death -- scary as it is -- you'll realize that so much of what you spend your time worrying about isn't all that important. You'll feel freer and braver. You'll want to go after the things you really, truly want (even if those things seem a bit crazy).
Don't delay the life you should be living. If you're not already living that life (and I hope you are!), find a way to take action now -- today, if possible! -- to move toward with living a life you'll look back on with gratitude and joy. Of course, life will never be perfect (and it would be boring if it was!), but life shouldn't be governed by the fear of failure, the sharp nudge of shame, or the cunning guise of compromise. Life should be ruled by pursuing the things that truly make you feel alive, fulfilled, and consumed with appreciation.
There's a Latin term, momento mori, that means "remember that you have to die." It originated as a reminder to victorious generals not to get to caught up in praise after winning a battle, but instead to be humbled by the notion that they, too, would someday die. While the root of the concept was about humility and virtuous living, for me momento mori is about living a positive, fulfilled life not only because it's wonderful for you to make the most of your life, but because I truly believe that if you are doing things that bring you joy, gratitude, and fulfillment, you will ultimately make the world a better place. You living a good life is good for the lives of those around you and those who will continue to live long after you're gone.
Life is like a giant ocean and everything we do has a ripple effect. The ripples we create -- both good and bad -- spread out and out and out. They reach so many more people than we realize. What you do with your life matters, and the more you fear death, not life, the more you'll make the most of every moment you're given. The better your moments, the more good ripples you send out into this great big ocean of humanity.
I know death is scary (I won't pretend I've come close to accepting it yet, though I hope one day I'll find peace with the inevitable...), but it's important to use it to your advantage, rather than avoid it. We're all afraid, but it's so much more useful to fear death than it is to fear life. Try not to think of the space between right now and your last day as a negative (a limited amount of time) but as a positive (an exciting challenge to make the most of these remaining moments). Regardless of how many days you have left, I believe you deserve to live them to the fullest, and, more importantly, I believe you have the strength and knowhow to go after the life you deserve right now.
[Note: this is a long one! I know I promised shorter articles, but I got so into this topic and couldn't stop writing, haha. If you want a TL; DR version, check out the video below or click here.]
Last week I did something I should feel guilty about. But I don’t.
Why is that? And is it wrong not to feel guilty?
As a fairly rebellious person, a regular rule-breaker, it’s not unusual for me to have experiences after which I “should” feel guilty. But I don’t often experience guilt the way many others seem to. And I think I just figured out why when I read these words by Anthony de Mello:
“When you are guilty, it is not your sins you hate but yourself.”
These words answer both of the questions I posed above: I don’t feel guilty because I hate my actions, not myself. And, if that's the case, then it's absolutely okay not to feel guilty; in fact, it's an act of self-love. When I do something I shouldn't have, I might feel weighed down for a bit, but then I remind myself that, because I cannot undo it, there’s no point in dwelling on the past. I discourage guilty emotions in myself, and I’ve tried to steer others from them as well. I can recall many occasions where I’ve declared to a guilt-ridden friend, “Guilt is a waste of time.”
And, honestly, I believe that. When you get down to it: guilt is an emotion. It serves as a warning, a guide, sometimes, but it doesn’t change what’s happened or what will happen in the future. Like all emotions, it will transform and shift. Sometimes it will be stronger; other times, almost nonexistent. Like all emotions, it’s internal, abstract, and unreliable. Most importantly, it’s not useful.
If you’ve done something wrong, feeling guilty about it doesn’t do any of the following: take another person’s pain away, undo what’s been done, make you feel better about what you did, or (necessarily) change your future behavior.
Guilt is not necessary for being a good person, and, in fact, it can be detrimental to living a positive, present life. Before diving into how to cope with guilt (and why I believe you should minimize it in the first place), let’s take a look at exactly what guilt is.
WHAT IS GUILT?
According to good ol' Wikipedia, "Guilt is a cognitive or an emotional experience that occurs when a person believes or realizes — accurately or not — that he or she has compromised his or her own standards of conduct or has violated a moral standard and bears significant responsibility for that violation." Basically, guilt is feeling bad about yourself for having done something wrong; it’s not about feeling bad about what you've done wrong. (If you've even done anything wrong — so much of our guilt is misdirected or driven by societal pressure.)
As children, we’re taught to feel guilty when we do something “wrong.” Rather than encouraging kids to investigate the feelings and the why behind the “bad” act, adults (and other kids) shame and criticize to prompt guilt and discourage the repetition of socially unacceptable behavior. It sounds like it would make sense: make someone feel guilty and they won't do it again. But we all know it's not that simple.
Guilt is a form of societal pressure. It’s the voice of the external world saying, Fit into the box. Do what everyone else is doing. Behave. Don’t color outside of the lines. Conform. Be good. In clear-cut cases — violent criminals who are a danger to society, for example — labeling someone “guilty” is very useful for the greater good. But what about situations where the lines are blurry, where the good and bad cannot be placed easily into neat little boxes?What benefit does guilt have then? What about situations in which what’s considered “normal” doesn't feel morally right to you?
Guilt might seem like a good concept in theory— you feel bad about something and, as a result, you’re unlikely to do it again. But it’s so much more complex than that. For one, it’s important to consider why you feel bad. Is it really your moral compass pushing you to feel that way? Or is it society’s pressure? Guilt isn't a sign of being a morally good person (even though we often use it to feel like one).
See, when you feel bad about yourself, your goal is to make yourself feel better (anything from insincere apology to self-destructive behavior might temporarily assuage your guilt), which is inherently selfish and rarely results in actually improving how you feel or rectifying a wrong. But when you feel bad about the action— not about yourself — you’re more likely to seek out ways to right a wrong, rather than ways to simply soothe your own ego.
WHY YOU SHOULDN’T FEEL GUILTY
Guilt does not make you a good person.
Guilt (both internal and external) is used to regulate our behavior and make us think we're "good" people, but it's not necessary for actually being a moral, ethically sound person. Contrary to popular belief, you can recognize what you did wrong and change your behavior without feeling guilty (aka, hating yourself) for what you've done.
Some people believe that experiencing guilt is a form of redemption. If you feel bad about yourself for doing it — even if you continue to do it — than you must be a good person, right? Nope! How you feel about yourself is actually irrelevant to how good you actually are as a person. And how "good" you are should be determined by what you believe is good. Goodness is very subjective.
How we feel about ourselves is incredibly important and impacts our lives in a variety of very important ways, but when it comes to actually rectifying mistakes and making choices that will positively influence those around us, your feelings about yourself don’t actually matter. What matters is not how you feel, but what you do.
Guilt doesn't necessarily change your behavior.
In theory, experiencing guilt should mean not making the same mistakes in the future. But, if you think back on your life (or contemplate others' choices), you’ll soon see that guilt isn't a sufficient motivator for change. As Audre Lorde wrote in Sister Outsider:
“Guilt… is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.”
I'm pretty sure Lorde was talking about guilt in a much broader sense here, but her words apply to personal guilt as well and serve as a reminder that guilt alone does not equal change. It might sound crazy, but there are many people who do bad things and continue to do them because they allow their guilt to serve as some sort of reparation for their acts, as if feeling bad about yourself for doing something wrong in some way cancels out the wrongdoing. (It doesn't.)
Also, if you continue to do whatever you did "wrong," you're not only risking the potential consequences of your actions, but if you feel guilty about it, you're also you're denying yourself self-love. A denial of self-love will not make easier on you (or those around you), regardless of whether or not you continue your behavior.
Guilt is a selfish response to the situation.
If you're feeling guilty, you're not in a positive, present mindset. You're not cultivating feelings of self-love and acceptance when you're hating yourself for something you've done. When you're not at peace with who you are — regardless of what you've done wrong — you're actually holding yourself back from recognizing and contributing goodness to the world. As Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray,
“There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.”
Guilt isn't about doing good or helping the world in any way; it's about making yourself feel better. And experiencing it can sometimes give you a false sense of absolution, potentially to the point where you feel that, so long as you feel guilty, it's okay to continue doing whatever you're doing. Not only are you not doing anyone else any favors with this attitude, but you're making it really hard to love yourself. Without self-love, it's much more difficult to make positive choices.
WHAT YOU SHOULD DO INSTEAD
Okay, so you probably get that guilty isn’t the most productive emotion and can, in fact, be very harmful. But what should you do if you’ve done something wrong and feel bad about it (or think you "should" feel bad about it)? Don't worry — I've got you. Here is the five-step plan I've come up with for what to do when you experience guilt.
Step 1: Figure out what’s really going on.
If you’ve done something that feels wrong, the first thing you must do is investigate that wrongdoing and your emotional state with these questions:
How do you actually feel?
What’s “wrong” about what you did?
Why do you think you did it?
What can / will you do about it?
Did you learn anything from it?
What good might come out of it?
Would you like to do it again?
Looking closely at how you feel and what actually has happened will help you decide what your next step should be and if you should, in fact, be feeling bad about what you've done. Remember: it's okay to hate the action, but it's not okay to hate yourself. Also, it's okay to do something that others might consider "bad" and not think it is wrong. You are your own moral guide.
Pay close attention to your answer to #1 and #7. It's essential that you identify how you feel (and whether or not that feeling is more positive or negative), and it's just as important to know whether or not you would make the same choice in the future. This can help you assess whether what you've done is, in fact, wrong or if, according to your own beliefs, it may actually be something you think is worth experiencing again (despite possible risks).
Step 2: Focus on regret and forgiveness.
Once you've assessed the situation, it's time to focus two very important concepts: regret and forgiveness. Regret is similar to guilt, but while guilt focuses on you (“I’m a bad person for doing that thing”), regret focuses on the action (“That thing I did was bad”). Because regret is focused on hating the action and not on hating yourself, it’s a much better jumping off point for forgiveness. And you absolutely, without a doubt, must forgive yourself.
Even if you've done the most horrible thing imaginable, forgiveness is essential to moving forward with your life and making positive choices in the future. This will not always be easy (and it might, at times, seem selfish), but forgiving yourself should be a top priority. Without forgiveness, you cannot love and accept yourself. And without self-love, you're less likely to add positivity and goodness to the world. You cannot undo what you've done, but you can make positive choices in the future, and the more acceptance and forgiveness you embrace, the easier it will be to move forward with positive, productive decisions.
Step 3: Make amends — if possible and necessary.
Once you’ve determined that you’re experiencing regret (not guilt!) and you’re working toward forgiveness, it’s time to make amends if you feel you need to. The need (or possibility) for making amends will vary greatly on your particular situation, but you should determine whether or not you might need to make amends by considering who may have been hurt by your actions and, if appropriate, apologizing for what you’ve done. Then do what you can to repair any damage you've done.
If reparation and apologies are impossible or would do more harm than good, you can write a letter documenting what you would do or say if you could. Just getting it out on paper (even if you don't ever show it to anyone) will help you move forward. During this stage, it's also very important to work on accepting what cannot be changed. It may be tempting to ruminate on the what-ifs, but dwelling excessively on the past serves no purpose in the present.
Step 4: Look at the big picture of who you are.
You've probably heard the saying "without the night, there would be no stars." You can use the dark moments in your life to see out the bright spots of who you are. Even if you’ve done something you personally believe to be wrong, it’s important to remember that the reason you see this as a bad part of yourself because you have also seen the good.
How you think about yourself impacts to how you act. I’ve made plenty of mistakes (and I’m sure you have too!), but that doesn’t make me a bad person. I have many positive qualities (and you do too!), and it’s important to remember that your character is about so much more than a list of things you’ve done. It does much more good for the world as a whole to focus on what you do well — all the good you’ve contributed and can contribute in the future — than it does to focus on your wrongdoings.
You might have made a mistake — maybe even a really big one! — but focusing on guilt, feeling bad about yourself as a person, keeps your attention on the negative. And what you focus on, you become. If you keep telling yourself, “I’m such a bad person” or “I’m so selfish,” you’re going to start to believe those things. And once you truly believe you’re “bad,” what’s stopping you from doing all of the bad things? It's much better for your own good mental health (and the good of the world) if you strive to find the light within your dark moments.
Step 5: Decide what you want the future to look like.
Now, just because you’ve made amends, forgiven yourself, and directed your attention to your positive qualities doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. In this next step, it's up to you to determine how you want the future to look. It’s up to you to decide if you’re going to make similar choices going forward. It might be useful to go back to the questions you answered in Step 1 and consider how you really feel about this situation and what you would like to do in the future.
If you get stuck and you don't know what to do, ask yourself this (and answer it as quickly as possible, without thinking too much): "If I were presented that situation again, right now, what would I do?" Answering that (quickly!) will help you connect with what you really want. (This isn't to say you should always do what you want, but in order to make a well-informed decision, it's helpful to acknowledge what you truly want without judgment.)
Remember: you write your own story. You can take advice from others, you can look around you and see what others are doing, but ultimately you have to decide what you believe is right and what you believe is wrong. In an ideal world, such decisions would be simple, but you're probably well aware that not every choice is easily labeled "good" and "bad."
You get to choose what you want to do, and if you do it with thoughtfulness, understanding, and self-love in mind, you'll make decisions that feel right for you, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Never forget that, though you cannot control the past or undo your mistakes, the future is unwritten and you are the one holding the pen.
Now that I've started making my own YouTube videos, I've been spending even more time than normal watching online videos, and last week I stumbled across Jenna Marbles' "Why Low Expectations Are Good." At first I thought it sounded a tad negative -- after all, shouldn't we set high expectations? But as I watched, I realized she made some pretty amazing and thought-provoking points about expectations.
"Having no or low expectations is one of the most powerful things you can do -- if you can use it to your advantage," Jenna says, and, as I watched the video and listened to her talk about goals, expectations, and relationships, I realized just how right she is. Having low expectations might sound like a bad thing, as if you're settling for less than you deserve or willing to put up with others' (or your own) bad behavior, but it's actually one of the very best ways to stay positively present.
LOW EXPECTATIONS + WORK
In the video, Jenna says, "There's a difference between goals, standards, and expectations. You can set any amount of goals you want, as high as you want, and you can work hard to achieve those goals. Your expectation of that outcome of that work and whatever you're working towards needs to be low or none whatsoever. Working hard toward your goals while having no expectation of what the outcome of that might be allows you to live your life completely without fear of failure."
When you set a goal or start a project, it's actually a good idea to have low expectations. This doesn't mean that you don't want it to work out or you won't work hard toward your goal. It simply means you won't be focusing excessively on the outcome. Not focusing so much on the future will give you the freedom to be completely in the present moment. When you're in the present, you're less fearful and you're willing to take the (calculated) risks that often lead to great success.
"As long as you're working hard and applying yourself the best you can," Jenna says, "you have no control over what happens in the end. The only thing you have control over is what you have control over." When it comes to work, you have to just do the best you can and let go of what you think the outcome should be, and the only way you can do it that is by releasing all expectations.
LOW EXPECTATIONS + RELATIONSHIPS
It might seem like low expectations are exactly what you don't want when it comes to relationships, but, as Jenna notes (and I've also personally found to be true and wrote about in this article), expectations often get in the way of our relationships. We should, of course, have standards. We should know what we'd like in a partner or friend, and we should never tolerate mistreatment or abuse. But standards -- the required levels of quality we want in our relationships -- are different from expectations -- the beliefs that something will (or should) happen in the future.
Again, this goes back to staying present. When we don't focus on expectations, we are in the moment. We can focus on what's happening now and determine if our current relationship is what we want. On the flip side, if we're spending tons of time expecting things from others (or feeling let down when they don't meet our expectations), we're not living in the moment. We're focused on the future or the past, and that can really hold us back from enjoying, and mindfully interacting with, others.
This can be especially important when it comes to meeting new people. I really love Jenna's magpie analogy for new relationships:
Meeting new people and starting new relationships is a lot like being a magpie, the bird that likes shiny things. You're flying around, looking for some shiny things. Ooh, shiny thing! So you go down there. Oh. It's a bottle cap. Okay, that's cool. I'm gonna just keep flying around, looking for shiny things. Oh! What did I find? Kim Kardashian's engagement ring. It's beautiful. It's a diamond. I really like it. Sometimes I find I find crap... but does that mean I can't find a diamond? No! I'm a magpie! I'm gonna look for more shiny things.
The people that you meet in your life are shiny things. Treat them all like shiny things. Then use your little bird claws and bird beak and bird brain to figure out if they're a diamond or a bottle cap. Then you can decide which ones you want to take into your nest.
You don't need to be disappointed by people if you have no expectations of them. When you meet someone, you don't even know them. They could be a bottle cap. They could be the foil that wrapped up a hotdog. Or, they could be a really cool diamond. You don't know until you use your little bird mouth and figure out what it is.
Of course it's difficult not to have expectations of people when you first meet them. You've got a lifetime of experiences with other people tucked in your mind and, as humans, we try to figure people out quickly using whatever knowledge we have so we can assess whether they're friend or foe. But going into every new relationship you have with no expectations is one of the best ways to create new, positive relationships -- and to not be disappointed by the ones that don't work out.
LOW EXPECTATIONS + BIG EVENTS
When when it comes to big events -- weddings, birthdays, holidays, etc. -- expectations often take the wheel and drive us directly to Disappointmentville. Have you ever reflected back on a special day (your birthday or a holiday, maybe) and felt let down when the day was over, even if it was a perfectly great day? There's a difference between feeling sad that the big day is over and feeling disappointed because, even if all went according to plan, it didn't quite live up to your expectations.
Guess what? No day, no matter how wonderful, will ever live up to the picture-perfect moments in your mind. Reality is never as wonderful as imagination. (Yes, that sounds negative, but it's true!). When you experience disappointment after a perfect-on-paper day, those feelings are a side effect of expectations literally stealing your joy.
When you go into something with super high expectations, it will never live up to what you imagined, no matter how great it is. That's why it's a great idea to take this advice from Jenna:
Every birthday that you have, assume that you're going to lay on your couch and watch Netflix. Everything that you do that's better than that is really exciting and great. And you're grateful and you're happy and everything's wonderful.
If you want to have an amazing experience, set your expectation level to zero. That way, whatever happens will be absolutely amazing and wonderful. And anything that doesn't go perfectly according to plan will be no big deal because you had no expectation that it would go any other way than the way it's going. Low expectations = absolute acceptance = more opportunities for joy.
LOW EXPECTATIONS + SELF LOVE
Having low expectations for yourself is actually an important act of self-love. It opens you up to new experiences, new ways of thinking, and the opportunity to truly and honestly love who you are -- no matter what. Jenna explains the limits of expectations perfectly when she says,
When you have certain expectations for yourself, you limit your choices. And you limit what you can do in your life by what you've already set as what you want. People get stuck in their thinking and they refuse to see all of the options beside them because they're stuck in their expectations of their life. If I do X, I'll get Y, when, in reality, if you do X, you could get any other letter in the alphabet -- including X again!
Life is crazy. It's filled with ups and downs, and tons of surprises. When it comes to how you think about yourself and the expectations you have, you need to have high standards, aim for positive goals, but let the expectations go. Expectations are limitations. When you're open to being someone other than what you think you're supposed to be (either because you believe it or because someone else / society told you to believe it), your the possibilities for your life -- and who you are -- become endless. As Jenna says, "Be open and don't have this concrete path in your life because you'll miss all the opportunities to be a different, better you."
If you want to watch the full video, you'll find it below. Or you can click here to watch it on YouTube.