Let’s face it…feeling zen, happy, and at peace with ourselves is not something most of us feel on a daily basis.
Most people I know are struggling just to feel good as they navigate their way through life. They’re stressed, depressed, angry, frustrated, and filled with a boatload of anxiety.
I, too, used to fluctuate between feeling the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. But in the last 10 years, I’ve realized that so many of those lows had to do with my own perceptions about life, the stories I created around other people’s behavior, and the meaning I attached to everything that was happening to me.
This is stuff we can change so that we can feel more consistent waves of joy and inner peace without the constant mood swings.
So if you want to significantly reduce the amount of anxiety, depression, and feelings of discontent you may be experiencing, these are the top 10 things we all need to stop doing:
1. Believing life should be a certain way. I think we all come into the world having expectations about our lives. Whether it’s the belief that if we work hard, we’ll land a great job and have everything we want, or that, at a certain age, we’ll meet the person of our dreams, get married, and start a family—we all think life should go the way we envision it.
If we can accept that life will only go the way it is meant to—for us—we wouldn’t become so unraveled every time our lives hit a minor plot twist. I believe our souls all have a unique blueprint of what we’re each here to learn, which will never be identical to another person’s. So surrender to whatever meandering path your life takes because there is a reason you’re being led there.
2. Comparing yourself to other people. Social media makes it incredibly challenging to not look at other people’s lives and compare ourselves to what our friends are doing, who they’re spending time with, and the exciting portrait they’re painting of their lives.
The only person you should ever be comparing yourself to is you. That means you can measure yourself against an older version of who you used to be, in an effort to be the very best version of you, but never against someone else.
3. Being attached to material things. We all know money doesn’t buy happiness. Many of my clients, who are making great money in their current jobs, are unhappy because they’re not doing what they are truly passionate about. They feel trapped in their job in order to maintain the material lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to.
Once we release our attachment to needing a certain income to feel like we’re “enough,” to drive a certain type of car, to live in a bigger home, or own expensive things, we’ll find that those things never actually bring long-term happiness anyway.
Appreciating and enjoying what we already have, rather than falling into the trap that bigger and better things will make us feel better, is one of the easiest ways to release the anxiety and pressure we feel.
4. Having expectations of people and situations. This one is a biggie. We all have expectations, and we should—in some cases—like how we want and expect to be treated by other people, especially in our most intimate relationships.
But having expectations of how exactly a relationship is going to play out (our desire that it lead to a commitment or marriage), or what a new job venture we’re exploring is going to lead to, or how somebody is going to react to something important that we’re doing in our lives—this is something we need to let go of.
Every upset is created by an unfulfilled expectation. Letting go of our expectations is one the best ways to really be present and enjoy what’s happening in the moment, so we don’t get so rattled when things don’t turn out the way we planned.
5. Overthinking. When we’re in our heads all the time, whether we’re thinking too far into the future, analyzing every aspect of a situation or person, or coming up with 20 different scenarios of what “could” happen, we suck the joy and spontaneity out of everything we do or could be doing.
It’s one thing to exercise caution before making major decisions. But it’s a totally different ball game when we start obsessing, over-analyzing, or conjuring up unlikely scenarios that will probably never happen and instead stop us from living.
There’s something to be said about living in the moment and just going for it! Some of the best surprises and unexpected little packages of awesomeness happen when we don’t overthink something before doing it.
6. Forcing things to happen. Ever notice how, when you’re forcing something to be a certain way, it starts to veer off in the opposite direction?
Maybe you want to relocate somewhere else but something always gets in the way. Or you keep investing time and money into a new business and everything that could go wrong does, yet you keep forcing it to work.
And the number one thing that creates unhappiness in relationships? Forcing the relationship.
The more we force it, the further we push it away. If something isn’t happening organically and with ease, we need to let it go.
7. Sweating the small stuff. We all know what the small stuff is. Our car breaking down, an argument with a friend, worrying about what people think of us, whether the size six dress fits anymore. Whatever it is, if it isn’t going to matter five years from now, don’t worry about it.
8. Focusing on what’s wrong instead of what’s right. So many of us do this. We can have 10 things that are working perfectly in our lives and we’re fixated on that one thing that’s wrong. It’s like getting that review at work…our boss gushes about all the things we’re phenomenal at and instead of celebrating that, we obsess over the one or two pieces of developmental feedback we were given to do our jobs better.
We choose what we want to focus our energy on. It reminds me of the old Cherokee legend called Two Wolves that goes like this:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he says to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thinks about it for a minute, and then asks his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replies, “The one you feed.”
9. Filling the emptiness with sex, alcohol, drugs, spending money, social media, or (insert any other addiction). Many of us fill our holes (loneliness, low self-esteem, insecurity, fear) with things that numb us or makes us feel on top of the world one moment and like sh*t afterward.
If you find that you’re always pursuing the “high,” whether it’s getting the girl or guy into bed, drinking till you feel confident, smoking because you don’t want to feel the uncomfortable feelings, it may be time to ask yourself what you’re trying to push down and avoid. Because until you deal with the core issues you’re running away from, the cycle of abusing your mind, body, and spirit will start to create even bigger levels of anxiety and depression.
10. Making everything about you. Sometimes, people do crappy things that affect us. They treat us in ways that are hurtful or disrespectful. Maybe they completely disappear out of our lives and ghost us.
I always say, “Let people do the lame sh*t they do…it’s never about you.” Yet, we all tend to make everything about us: What did I do? What didn’t I do? Why was I not enough?
Stop. People do things and don’t do things based on their own stuff and what feels right for them. The less we can make everything about us, the better life becomes.
At the end of the day, the key to feeling grounded, centered, and at peace in our lives is to learn how to be happy in the midst of the storms and to do our own inner work along the way. Letting these things go is a practice that just takes time.
So consider tackling the one or two that are really affecting your life today and allow yourself to rock that inner-peace glow you deserve!
Author: Dina Strada
Image: lion heart vintage/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman