We live in a culture that rewards the #grind, the long hours, and dedication to the pursuit of a material life. We have been enslaved by advertisers, social constructs and corporate greed and, depending on our family dynamics, we also have generational curses to unwind. We create stories in our heads about our worth, our relationships and compare ourselves, wondering, “what will they think?”
Good Lord, the pressure, y’all.
But, what if…
What if happiness and success isn’t really all that hard? What if it is easy and we, in our need to compare and prove ourselves based on constructed external forces, have made it hard?
This isn’t a trick question and I won’t drone on and on about the Law of Attraction or how you can manifest your millions and the perfect relationship. No, I’m simply asking:
Could we have this whole happiness thing wrong?
Therapists and neuroscientists say yes, and many of them are penning books to tell you all about it.
We now know that we can rewire our brains and recondition ourselves. We know habits lead us to goals. We know that we have so much power, but do we harness it constructively? Or is that also, “too hard?”
I argue that a new and intentional relationship with self, ie our brain, as well as the meanings we place on… well, anything, is not only totally within our control, but infuses more ease into all of the decisions, goals and troubles that create anxiety and dis-ease.
The first line of defense is to understand your triggers.
I recently recovered from COVID. While I was very fortunate (and grateful) to have mild symptoms, COVID arrived with its own fear and anxiety that seemed to be wound in the spikes we read about online. Whether it was the fever or the isolation, I spent quite a bit of time reminiscing. Ironically, my own fear of death, leaving my child motherless, and feeling as though I’d failed as a parent had absolutely been triggered by my positive diagnosis. But, that wasn’t all. This purview into the stance of a very triggered woman and mother created a bit of a deja vu that I wasn’t expecting. So many decisions I have made have been from the stance of a triggered person; deeply ashamed, fearful or anxious. I decided, during my isolation and reflection, that I didn’t want to live as a triggered person anymore. I did not want to visit that space again. I chose not to involve myself in any future decisions or interactions while I wondered if I was lovable or if I’d end up in life alone, whether I was successful or a fraud, if I was a good person or if the person across from me was just like my mother.
Do you know yourself well enough to recognize when you are responding from your triggers? Are you able to see when someone says something and the righteous anger you feel has more to do with an old belief, boyfriend or colleague than it truly has to do with them? When a choice to take a job or move has more to do with how you want to be seen than it does your life happiness?
Get to know who you are when you are acting from this space so you can suspend it when it arrives. Learn to observe the who and why of your stories instead. I guarantee you the choices you make when triggered are marred by old stories and are not always in your best interest.
Become the observer and learn to quiet the inner monologue by asking questions.
When you begin to ask yourself questions from the stance of observer, you move out of the fight/flight response into your logic center; your pre-frontal cortex. You begin to shift your brain chemistry out of survival mode. These questions may sound like, “What is this telling me? Is there a decision to be made? What emotions am I feeling right now?”
With this said, understand there is a difference between observation and rumination. Rumination will put you right back where you started if you begin to think of all the ways you’ve been wronged and regret or blame begins to surface. When you begin to identify with the emotions instead of observing them you move back into triggers instead of teaching yourself to understand them. One of the most effective ways to stay in this mode of observation and signal the feel good hormones (serotonin and oxytocin) is to start utilizing gratitude sentences. Gratitude is the cheapest and most effective pharmaceutical available.
Play the long game.
Get out of your way and stop tripping over your feet in the now. Instead learn to play the long game. Imagine your future self on a mountain top with a vision board. Conceptually you know you want to get to that person and fully realize the images of travel and dream homes cut out from magazines and lined in glitter and all they represent, but what habits has that version of yourself implemented each and every day to get to that space? It’s not truly about the material item on that board. It is about who you are becoming. Back into your habits by conceptualizing who that person is on the mountain top and what she does every day to bridge the gap between your vantage point and where her feet are firmly rooted. I promise you she changes out of her yoga pants and has cut down on the wine with dinner.
Pare down your choices and make them bite sized.
I have a very long list of things I would like to accomplish in 2021. If I stare at the list I become overwhelmed and that leads to paralysis. In order to make my goals feasible, I have to dedicate time and attention to them each week, but I have to keep them attainable so that I can trigger my reward center with a little dopamine when I cross them off.
To do this I have created pillars. These are items of focus that are the building blocks of my company. They hold the roof up. For me these pillars are content creation, strategy and monetization. My business cannot run without them. I know that I must spend time each week dedicated to these pillars. Each of the pillars have three primary activities I have to focus on each quarter. At the end of the quarter I review what’s been accomplished, throw myself some kind of little dopamine celebration and assign new goals for the next quarter. I have set myself up to be rewarded and remain focused and action-oriented.
Create rewards and accountability.
The top neuroscientists in the world share that you have to provide some dopamine hits (rewards) and get your ego involved in order to rewire your brain. Otherwise we’re just creating a new kind of grind. A great question to continue reflecting on throughout this process is: Who am I becoming? When you attach your identity to the woman on the mountaintop, you are more likely to remain on track and focused on your goals. This is one of those moments where our ego is working for us as opposed to creating havoc on our programming.
Additionally, your circle is a huge part of your success and the souls who surround you should feel more like a board of advisors as opposed to General Admission. These individuals should lift you up, hold you accountable and want to see you win. Find someone to offer you feedback and finesse as you create goals and quarterly plans. This positive (and chosen) peer pressure is intentional and co-creative.
Wellness and intentional living is a lifestyle. It is not a line item on your calendar or a glass of wine in a salt bath. It is in every relationship, interaction, and the way you organize your life. While it may seem overwhelming at first, it becomes second nature over time, through repetition and habit. All of the intentions and habits you put into place design your future self, clear the old and outdated neurons and build new synapses so that when you are on that mountaintop… the view is glorious.