Are you fully present for your life? This may appear to be a trick question because most of us never take the time to examine how we are living. Many of us are existing on autopilot, caught up in our day-to-day activities. We are increasingly living without intention, living without joy, and living without the energy or will to move beyond this seemingly endless cycle.
One of my clients, let's call her Lisa*, is a successful sales executive and a single mother of three young girls. Lisa was caught up in autopilot living, as she found little time for herself because of her commitment to being a “present” parent, as she put it, and an outstanding employee. Lisa had put the secret dream she held to go back to college to complete her undergraduate degree low on her list of priorities. She found myriad reasons not to follow through. I would, but I have to make sure my girls are okay first. I would, but my job is too demanding. Lisa was living in the “but.”
Here are some steps on how to live for YOU...
1. Recognizing Our Wounded Self
Lisa related to me that she did not have the time or money to fulfill her dreams. When we explored possibilities, Lisa told me that all three of her children were in an expensive private elementary school, which kept her finances tight. She also disclosed that she relied solely on the limited availability of her mother for childcare. When we explored other options, Lisa resisted and finally said: “I don't ever want my children to feel the way I did growing up. I was never supported.” It didn't occur to Lisa that she was continuing the pattern she learned from her parents by failing to support herself.
A small part of Lisa did not feel she deserved to be supported, while another part of her knew she would thrive in her chosen career once she obtained an undergraduate degree. Our wounded self is the part that is tethered to behavioral patterns that keep us stuck in a self-loathing loop. A higher sense of ourselves is also present and is the part that knows we are capable, strong, all-knowing, loveable, courageous, intelligent, deserving. It is simply a choice whether we are self-directed by the most injured part of our being, our wounded self, or the most powerful part of our being. Recognizing our wounded self can help us to make that choice by caring for the wounded part in deliberate and healthy ways to heal and move forward.
2. Establishing a Practice
In order to heal our wounded self and move forward with intention, it is vital to develop positive practices. A meditation practice, quiet time, journaling or a walk in nature can train the brain to quiet the rambling, negative, monkey mind thoughts that keep us stuck by giving those thoughts a positive outlet. By becoming the observer of our negative thoughts, we are no longer compelled to play out those thoughts with poor decisions and unproductive behaviors. Lisa was plagued with a loop of guilty thoughts when she felt she did not give her children the childhood that in reality, she desired for herself. I suggested to Lisa that she could give herself that wonderful, supportive childhood now by finding the time and a way to finance her dream of earning her degree.
The practice of journal writing offered a space for Lisa to document both her guilty and joyful thoughts. She became more present for herself and with her children. Lisa connected to the joy in ordinary moments in her home with her children, and she had the wonderful discovery that her children were indeed happy, felt loved, felt supported and did not need the added luxury of a private, elementary school education. Lisa’s energy returned as she savored both her alone time by cultivating her journaling practice, and by engaging in simple activities with her children like riding bikes in the park, baking cookies, and watching movies together. Lisa’s commitment to establish a practice that allowed her to care for herself did the opposite of what she had held. Her guilt about not being a good enough single mother began to dissolve.
3. Stop Living in the “But!”
Most of us have our eyes trained on the past. We are programmed to accentuate our failures and wounds. I really want love, but my last lover betrayed me, or I really want that job, but I don't have the right credentials. A psychologist friend of mine told me she hones in on what comes after the "but" when her clients speak to her because that's where they are living.
Are you living in the “but?” Do you wish for the future of your dreams but remain tethered to a past that delivered disappointments? Lisa discovered that she was living in the "but" and wanted out. She is now enrolled in college, placed her children in public school, and used the money she saved to hire a part-time nanny. She also, with the help of her employer, is able to fully finance her education. All Lisa had to do was ask, and her company recognized her committed and agreed to help her both with her workload and to supplement the cost of her education. Lisa is happy, even eager, to invest her money, time, and best efforts in her most precious asset — herself.
*No client information is ever compromised. The story of Lisa is a composite of several clients.