Today I celebrate my 31st birthday.
A few weeks ago, I was thinking about the life lessons and strategies I’ve learned up until this point that have transformed the way I live my life and the way in which I view myself, others, and the world around me. They have made such a big impact on me that I was inspired to write this blog post with the hope that at least one of these life lessons or strategies would transform you as well.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it :)
1. Instead of complaining, do something about it.
Hate your job? Find a way to make your current job better or look for another one. Tired all the time? Stop surfing the internet til 3am and get some sleep. Too cold? Turn up the heat or wear more clothes. Complaining can feel good, especially when others reward us with attention and sympathy (which reinforces this behavior even more). Don't get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with venting every once in a while, but if complaints are the only words coming out of your mouth, it’s time to do something about it. You have the ability to change your situation or to change the way you view your situation.
2. You are responsible for your feelings and your life situation.
I experienced a sense of freedom when I realized that there is no one to blame for where I am in my life at any given moment. If I am unhappy with something, it’s up to me to change it. When we hold others responsible, we are powerless. When we can let go of blaming other people or outside circumstances and instead assume responsibility for our situation, we are empowered. Take responsibility for your actions, reactions, and your role in whatever situation you’re not happy with.
3. Decide what kind of experience you want to have.
I used to dread my visits to New York. I would focus on the stress of getting there (I am not a fan of airports or flying) and the stress of running around seeing as many family and friends as possible in a short period of time. Essentially, I had already decided that I was going to have a miserable experience before I had even gotten there! Fortunately, I don’t feel this way anymore and I actually enjoy these visits now. I am grateful that I get to see so many people while I’m there, I love that I get to stay in the same house I grew up in, and I now have a better relationship with my family so being in their company is not stressful. Now I decide ahead of time that I’m going to have an amazing experience and by going into the trip with that mindset, I know that's what I'm going to get.
4. Don’t be afraid to say no.
People Pleasers, this one is for you! Saying yes to others usually means that we're saying no to ourselves. When we neglect our own needs so that we can please others, we are doing ourselves a disservice. Over time this can lead to resentment, a toxic emotion that is damaging not just to our mental health, but our physical health as well. Saying no doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. If you want to give to others, you must take care of yourself first. Maybe you're afraid to say no because you are assuming how the other person is going to respond if you do. If that's the case, stop taking responsibility for how the other person is going to feel. Let them make that decision (their response might surprise you!) Respect yourself enough to draw some boundaries so you can give to others without sacrificing your own health and well-being.
5. Surround yourself with people who inspire you.
Open your eyes to what’s possible. I’m inspired by people in their 40s who are more fit than they were in their 20s. I’ve read stories about people in their 90s who are still committed to a daily yoga practice. I have friends who waited until they’re “older” to get married (by society’s standard) because they didn’t want to settle and are now in beautiful relationships with their ideal partner. Because I surround myself with people and stories that inspire me, I don’t fear aging, I don’t give up on my dreams, I don’t give up on love, and I don’t settle for less because I know that anything is possible and it’s up to me to create the life I wish to have for myself.
Shifting your Mindset
6. Maintain perspective.
Don’t let minor inconveniences cloud the bigger picture of what’s really going on in reality. Sitting in traffic can be an inconvenience, getting angry is not going to make the cars move any faster. When my parents lost power for 10 days during Hurricane Sandy, they weren’t upset. They were grateful that none of the trees on the property fell on their house. They were grateful that they still had hot water. They made the best of their situation because they viewed it as an inconvenience and nothing more. Stop viewing your reality through a filter where everything is exaggerated. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Be grateful for what you have (or grateful that it’s not worse) and from there you can respond realistically and move forward in a productive way. Stress is a contributing factor of many of the chronic health issues that people struggle with nowadays and one of the ways to reduce it is by maintaining perspective, being realistic, and not sweating the small stuff.
7. Embrace being single.
Is it me or is there a stigma attached to being single...especially for women over thirty? I love being in a relationship when I'm in one, but I take advantage of being single when I’m not. It gives me time and space to strengthen the relationship I have with myself (which will be beneficial for both me and my partner in my next relationship) by allowing me to focus inward, work on myself, and get more clear on what my needs are without the distraction or influence of someone else. If you're currently bummed out about being single because it seems like everyone around you is in a couple, remember that just because people are in relationships, it doesn’t mean that they’re happy and that what you see on the outside isn’t always an accurate reflection of how things really are behind closed doors. Would you rather be single or in a miserable relationship? Would you rather settle for a mediocre relationship today or wait a few more years to be in a relationship better than your wildest dreams? If you’re single, embrace it. Believe it or not, there are people currently in relationships who wish they could be in your shoes right now. (Refer to Lesson #6)
8. Interpret other people’s judgment as curiosity.
“Why are you still single?” “You quit your job without another one lined up?” “You listen to country music?” These are nothing but questions, but what I used to hear was entirely different. I created silly meanings that stemmed from my own insecurities combined with the exaggerated inflections I heard in the other person’s tone of voice. The next time you think someone is judging you, maybe it’s just that they don’t understand and they want to learn more. Instead of getting defensive, respond graciously and fulfill their curiosity.
9. Don’t take things personally.
This lesson was reinforced with every customer service job I’d ever worked. I had to train myself not to get upset or feel badly about myself when others were taking their frustration out on me. Think about it- When you’re in a great mood, you speak to people very differently than when you’re irritable and tired, right? This has nothing to do with the other person and all to do with your own state. No one can make you feel a certain way. Others might behave badly, but it’s ultimately up to you how you choose to react. If someone is speaking to you inappropriately, it’s not you, it’s them. Respond with kindness and compassion.
10. Everything my parents say and do is because they love me.
My parents used to say and do things that would really annoy me, like call too many times or ask too many questions. It took me a good 30 years to realize that I was looking at it all wrong. I now view these “annoying” behaviors as an expression of their love. It’s their way of saying they care. They make the time to see how I’m doing. They want to make sure I’m okay. When I filter their actions through this new lens, all I see is love and everything that used to annoy me falls away. It has truly transformed the relationship I have with them.
11. Life can change in an instant.
I had always known this on some level, but this lesson didn’t hit home for me until I got a heartbreaking phone call at 6:00am from one of my best friends telling me that her 31 year old brother had gotten into a terrible motorcycle accident the night before and was in a coma with a traumatic brain injury. Many people’s lives changed that day. That moment reinforced just how precious life is and that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for me or for the people I love the most in this world. If you love someone, make sure you tell them, don’t just assume they know. Embrace the present moment and embrace what you currently have. (At the time this post was written, my friend’s brother is out of his coma and several hospitals later, he is at a rehab facility and is making incredible progress every day both mentally and physically. I now believe in miracles, more than ever before!)
12. Let go of the things you can’t control.
I used to get depressed every time the sky was overcast or it rained...that is, until someone called me out on it. He pointed out how ridiculous it was that I let something I couldn’t control dictate my emotions. I wasn’t satisfied with his response at the time, but realize now that he was absolutely right and I was being silly. Now whenever it’s overcast or raining, I see the positive. On those days, I’m more productive with my work because I’m not tempted to go outside. I love the fact that when it rains, I’m getting a free car wash. These days help me appreciate sunny days so much more. Perspective changes how we view life and the beauty is that we get to have control over what perspective we choose to take each day. Let go of trying to control what you can’t and stop letting what you can’t control dictate how you feel. You’ll find that you’ll be able to relax into life a lot easier when you do this.
13. Allow faith to get you through challenging times.
No matter how much I feel like I’m struggling or am being challenged by my current situation, I always tell myself the following three things and it helps me accept and make peace with it:
- I have faith that this is happening for a reason. What can I learn from this?
- I have faith that I won’t be in this place forever. It’s only temporary and I fully believe that better things are on their way.
- I have faith that I will never be dealt anything I can’t handle. I already possess the strength I need to get through this.
Improving Your Relationship with Yourself
14. Stop comparing yourself to others.
I came across this great quote a few months ago and it really stuck with me: "One reason we struggle with insecurity: We're comparing our behind-the-scenes to everyone else's highlight reel." If you insist on comparing yourself to someone, compare yourself to the you of the past. If you’ve come a long way from there, celebrate your progress and use your accomplishments to motivate you to do even more. If things have gone downhill and you are happier with the you of the past compared to the you of today, let your past self be your motivator. Let go of any judgment and learn from yourself. What did you do back then that you don’t do today? What habits are you doing today that have put you in your current situation? Judging oneself breeds insecurity, low self-esteem, and self-doubt, all of which will keep you stuck or send you backward. Learning, growing, and taking action will help move you forward.
15. Growth happens when you step outside of your comfort zone.
Two of the biggest life changing decisions I’ve made were (1) Leaving my family in New York to move across the country when I was 23 and (2) Leaving my stable job of 5 ½ years when I was 30 to pursue my own business full-time. People told me I had courage, but I never saw it that way. I saw it as not being happy in my current situation and feeling as if I had no other choice but to do something about it because I refused to settle for less. I chose change and happiness over comfort. When we’re in our comfort zone, we’re not growing. Without growth, we’re not experiencing our fullest potential. In order to create a bigger life for ourselves, we have to be willing to take risks and feel uncomfortable. We are all meant to live big, fulfilling lives. Don’t settle.
16. Stay true to yourself, your values, and your choices.
Question the people in your life who don’t respect your choices or persistently pressure you into doing things they know don’t align with your values. Their motives are often selfish and they don’t have your best interest in mind. The people I consider my true friends are those I don’t feel like I have to explain myself to or justify my actions around. They understand and love me anyway.
17. Be authentic.
I spent the majority of my childhood wanting to be like my brother who is 4 years older than me. I would copy him, listen to the same music as him, play with his toys, and wear his hand-me-downs. I even went so far as memorize the first 24 digits of Pi because he had done that! (We're a nerdy duo :)) I didn’t know how to embrace who I was because I was too busy either comparing myself to him (I thought he was perfect) or trying to be just like him. As I grew up, I realized two things: (1) He wasn’t perfect and (2) We were different people with different interests. Simple as it sounds, these were very liberating realizations! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve stepped into my uniqueness, embraced every part of me and realized that focusing on being yourself instead of being someone else is the best thing you can do. Have your own opinions, have your own style, and be proud of who you are. You’ll attract a lot more quality people into your life this way too.
18. Figure out what puts you in your happy place and access it whenever you need it.
For me there are 3 things that change my state almost immediately: Driving while listening to music (and singing along if I’m by myself), running along the ocean, and watching the sunset. Without fail, these strategies work for me when I’m feeling stressed or just in a funk. Make a list of what puts you in your happy place and refer to it whenever you need something to lift you up.
19. Perfection doesn’t exist.
I am not perfect, you are not perfect, and we will never be perfect. Phew! What a relief. Let’s take a moment and relax into that for a second. Embrace your imperfections and love & accept yourself anyways. Even when you make a mistake. Even when you deviate from your plan. Even when you say something you wish you didn’t. Being perfect will not make you happy, so stop trying so hard. Do the best you can each day and strive to be the best version of yourself you can be, but let go of being perfect because perfection doesn’t exist.
Improving Your Relationships with Others
20. Accept help from others.
I used to be one of those stubborn “Don’t help me, I can do it myself because I’m a strong, independent woman!” people until I learned that people genuinely want to help and by putting up a wall and refusing help every time it was offered, I was actually denying those people the opportunity to feel good and offer a service. I was rejecting them. While I still consider myself an independent person and have a tendency to prove that I can do things on my own, I’ve let go of that quite a bit and no longer feel badly, guilty, ashamed, or weak when I ask for or accept help from others. Knowing that others get to feel like they’re needed and able to contribute makes me feel good too. It’s a win-win.
21. People aren’t mind readers.
If you want something, say so. If you want to know what someone else is thinking, ask them. Making assumptions and being passive won’t get you very far and will often create misunderstandings or drama that could’ve been avoided.
22. Being honest and vulnerable will strengthen your relationships.
I’ve found this to be true with boyfriends, family members, and even clients. Nobody is perfect, and yet so many of us act as though perfection exists (Refer to Lesson #19). Sharing more of yourself will bridge the gap between you and the people you want to feel closer to. We put up walls to protect ourselves without realizing that, in doing so, we are also pushing people away.
23. Forgiveness will set you free.
I used to think that if I forgave someone, it meant that I was letting them off the hook and condoning bad behavior. I used to resist forgiveness because I wanted to “punish” the other person for the hurt that I was feeling. Guess what? That strategy does not work! Forgiveness is necessary in order to feel more empowered, get out of victim mentality, create the space in your life to receive something even better, and to move on.
Getting What You Want
24. Don’t give up.
Giving up used to be my default. Somewhere along the line, I had learned that when something was too challenging, it wasn’t worth doing or I wasn’t destined to do it. Now I understand that getting what you want doesn’t always come easy and if you want something badly enough, you must be willing to do whatever it takes to get it. Talk to any successful athlete, inventor, or entrepreneur and they’ll tell you how many times they failed or got rejected before they achieved their goal.
25. Be very clear about exactly what you want and have a plan to get there.
When I think about the times that I completed my first 5K, 10K, half marathon and sprint triathlon, it’s clear to me that I approached these achievements in a very specific way. I knew exactly what I wanted, I wanted them badly enough, I had reasons why I wanted them and I committed to following a training plan. I also had a deadline. Of the goals that I never achieved, I realize now that in all of those cases, at least one of those components was missing. I didn’t know what I wanted, I didn’t want it badly enough, I wasn’t clear as to why I wanted them and I wasn’t willing to do what it took to get there. I also didn’t have an end date. The formula to success as I see it today, is really quite simple and once we understand that, the possibilities are endless as to what we can achieve when we follow it.
Adopting New Habits
26. Watch less TV.
My TV watching these days consists of 1-2 hours of commercial-free comedies per week. I have distanced myself from the news, reality TV, and commercials for so long that now when they’re on, I feel myself getting stressed and anxious. News is usually depressing or elicits fear. Thirty minutes hearing about murders, robberies, and war does little for the spirit. Reality TV is all drama, typically consisting of a lot of yelling and fighting. It’s sad that when people want to check out of their own lives or feel better about themselves, this is what they’re watching. To make matters worse, the commercials on during these shows selling junk food, pharmaceutical drugs, cars, and cosmetics are overwhelming. They’re designed to make us feel like we’re inadequate without a certain product, that we’ll be happier with it, and that there’s a quick fix for everything. If you really want to feel happier and fulfilled, turn off the television.
27. Eat less sugar.
I learned this the hard way after having experienced one too many scary addict-like tendencies when I “needed” sugar (e.g. late night runs to the grocery store, borrowing money from other people so I could raid the vending machine, eating cookies out of the garbage after I had thrown them away, etc.) There were terrifying nights when I thought I was dying or having a heart attack because my body was reacting to the the toxic overload of sugar I had burdened it with. When I got the sugar out of my diet, my sugar cravings went away, my mood lifted (bye bye depression), I lost weight immediately, I had more energy, I no longer felt hopeless, and I was able to think more clearly. The answer wasn’t in taking medication, it was in ending my toxic relationship with sugar. These days the majority of my sugar intake comes from a small portion of sweet potatoes, apples, and berries. The results have been life changing.
28. Accept that your eating habits will change.
How you used to eat in the past might not work for you anymore and how you currently eat maybe wouldn’t have worked for you in the past. For instance, maybe you could tolerate dairy 10 years ago but today just a trace of it might make your skin breakout. Or maybe after being vegan for 20 years, you started getting sick and it wasn’t until you started adding animal products back into your diet that your body was able to heal. There is no one-size-fits-all diet for all people or for the duration of your entire life. Let go of being attached to a label and focus on eating what serves your body right now. The body is incredibly intelligent and committed to your survival, so it's up to you to stop for a moment and listen to what your body is asking you for. Your dietary needs are going to change depending on factors such as your hormones, your stress levels, whether or not you’re battling a health condition, or the integrity of your gut lining. When you truly listen to the wisdom of your body, you will naturally nourish yourself with exactly what you need.
29. Brush and floss your teeth twice per day.
In my entire life, I’ve never had a cavity or any other dental issue. This comes as a surprise to many people, but really this is nothing more than the results of consistent behavior. Brushing and flossing my teeth first thing in the morning and just before I get into bed is an automatic behavior for me and it’s rare that I don’t do it. This 2x/day routine takes no more than 5 minutes, so there’s no reason to skip it.
30. Frequent in-person human interaction is essential to living a fulfilling life.
When I turned 28, I moved into my own place for the first time ever after living with roommates. Shortly thereafter, I had a boyfriend who I spent almost every day with so I was rarely alone. When that relationship ended 9 months later, I found myself alone in my apartment at night and working an incredibly isolating job during the day where I didn’t have a team and did most of my communicating via email. In addition, most of my close friends had moved away. In order to avoid falling into depression, I had to force myself to be around people as often as I could and make an effort to make new friends. I’ve always had a strong network of friends and family who loved and supported me, but I didn’t realize how important it was to have frequent in-person interaction until I didn’t have it anymore.