August 5, 2017

31 Little Instructions for Living Bravely.

I left my hometown of Boulder, Colorado for the San Francisco Bay Area four and a half years ago.

This cliff-dive into the unknown—alone, afraid, and unsure of myself—has been one of the most transformational events of my life.

It hasn’t always been easy, but it has changed me for the better in many ways.

Somewhere along the way, I started writing down some of the wisdom I’ve gained along the way.

I recently turned 31, and taking the time to look back and reflect on the lessons I have learned (often the hard way), helps me to see how far I’ve come and how I got here.

Now, some of this seems obvious, but I don’t think we should keep any wisdom, however unimpressive, to ourselves.

May someone, somewhere find these words thought-provoking, useful, humorous, or even jaw-droppingly life-changing:

1. Treat yourself with kindness.

The world is not always a friendly place—people can be downright mean. We’ll get beat up in life enough without adding to it by mistreating ourselves. Taking loving care of ourselves is the opposite of being selfish. In fact, it’s responsible. When we learn to recognize our feelings and needs and address them in the present moment, we tap into an authentic and sustainable wellspring of love, which we can then share with others. Make friends with yourself. Be there for yourself.

2. Be grateful every day.

The more we express our gratitude, the more reasons we find to be grateful. Without running away from discomfort, frequently turning our attention to the many things we have to be grateful for will multiply our reasons for expressing gratitude. Making gratitude a habit is one of the best tools we can learn to bring about joy in our lives.

3. Trust your intuition.

Not listening to our intuition or our “gut feeling” is nearly always a mistake. If something is telling us something might not be a good idea, trust that. Check in with yourself. Listen. Trust. I’ve made the mistake of ignoring my intuition, and it never works out well for me. We know when something isn’t right—maybe not consciously, but we know.

4. Practice humility.

A true champion of humility, Mother Teresa said,

“These are the few ways we can practice humility: To speak as little as possible of oneself. To mind one’s own business. Not to want to manage other people’s affairs. To avoid curiosity. To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully. To pass over the mistakes of others. To accept insults and injuries. To accept being slighted, forgotten, and disliked. To be kind and gentle even under provocation. Never to stand on one’s dignity. To choose always the hardest.”

Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is to expect nothing. To be at rest regardless of the actions of others. To find that deep sea of calmness within us even when all around us is stormy and turbulent.

5. Laugh more—like, a lot more.

When we laugh, we change physiologically. We stretch muscles in our faces and bodies, our pulse and blood pressure both go up, and we breathe faster, sending more oxygen to our tissues. It’s like a mild workout. One pioneer in laughter research, William Fry, claimed it took 10 minutes on a rowing machine for his heart rate to reach the same level as just one minute of hearty laughter. It’s good for you, it looks good on you, and feels great. Stop taking things so seriously!

6. Live and let live.

People’s points of view and opinions will undoubtedly clash with our own. Learn to accept that everyone has the right to believe whatever they choose and remember that they arrived at that belief in their own authentic way. Their experience is no more or less valid or important than our own. Let it go, respect it, and move on.

7. Keep family close.

Family is precious. Although we cannot choose our families, they are the people we can usually relate to the most. They are usually the ones always cheering us on and wanting the best for us. Unconditional love is not easy to come by, and life is short.

8. Think less.

Stop thinking and worrying so much. Take life one day at a time, one step at a time, one breath at a time. Worry less about how you look, what people think, how badly you imagine things will turn out, and that thing you did that one time. When we get lost in future-tripping or going over and over things that happened in the past, we miss out on great things that are happening or could be happening right now.

9. Live lightly.

Learn how to laugh at yourself, admit when you’re wrong, and let go quickly. Life is too short to stay angry, and when we can laugh at our own mistakes and flaws, they become quirky parts of ourselves we can embrace and maybe improve upon, rather than reasons to beat ourselves up. Laughing at ourselves makes it nearly impossible for anyone to be hard on us, too. Ask any drag queen.

10. Always remain teachable.

Never stop learning and growing. We are born with an insatiable appetite for learning, yet, often, somewhere along the way, we stop yearning for new knowledge, especially if it goes against something we believe to be true. We have two assets that we can never get back once we’ve lost them: our bodies and our minds. If we continue to educate ourselves and evolve our thinking we will live longer, happier, and more successful lives.

11. Clean up after yourself.

If you have baggage and guilt with people in our past, make it right. Apologize, write a letter, call someone up and ask how you can make things right again. Clean up your past, and your future gets a clean slate. Making amends is never easy, but it is paramount to building a life full of joy, fulfillment, and compassion.

12. Drop the rage.

People will piss us off. That’s a given, but we can stop letting it ruin our days. We’re the only ones suffering if we do, and rage gets us nowhere. American journalist, author, and television host, Joan Lunden said: “Holding on to anger, resentment, and hurt only gives you tense muscles, a headache, and a sore jaw from clenching your teeth. Forgiveness gives you back the laughter and the lightness in your life.”

13. Have a little faith.

Someone once said to me, “Everything is exactly as it should be in God’s perfect universe.” This concept was new to me and shook my very core. Slowly, I started to believe that nothing happens that is not meant to happen. Dwelling on things that occurred in the past, or imagining scenarios that haven’t happened yet is fruitless and painful, so stop. Faith that things will be okay even when we can’t imagine that being true will eliminate a lot of needless suffering in our lives.

14. Let people go.

Wasting our time with people who mistreat us never gets us anywhere. The idea that negative or rude people help us to grow and become more tolerant does holds some truth, but, unless we set solid boundaries, this can be a damaging practice and, ultimately, lead to ignoring our own needs. So: let them go, let them go, let them go.

15. Welcome change.

We spend our lives trying to shape the world around us into a concrete place of “rightness,” where everything makes sense and works for us, but we’re wasting our time. The moment we have it all just “right,” everything will change. Nobody has any idea what they are doing, really, or can truly anticipate their own future. The Buddha tried to get us to shed delusion about our ability to stop or control anything about life so that, when change happens, as it inevitably will, we can welcome it like a new friend, get to know it, and see where it takes us.

16. Face your fears.

Walk through your fears. Face them head on, instead of avoiding them. The majority of our fears are based on things we have constructed inside of our minds. Once we walk through those fears, we see that most of them are silly and unfounded, anyway. Indeed, we start to enjoy the feeling of coming out the other side of fear—that rush, that confidence once we come through, rather than around, it is incredibly empowering. And, the more we do it, the easier it becomes.

17. Never stop reading.

Read more books. Just do it. Read more books.

18. It’s okay to cry more.

Crying is good for us. Many of us were raised to believe that crying is a sign of weakness. It’s not—it’s human, it’s brave, and it’s necessary. Life will make us sad. We will probably never stop missing some of the people we lose, even though time makes some pain easier to handle. Our hearts will break, we will get sad news, and we’ll be disappointed. These are all part of life, and a good, long cry does wonders for the soul. Let it come!

19. Your mind is not your ally.

“Don’t believe everything you think” is not just a cute saying. It is probably the best piece of advice you will ever receive, and I remind myself of this every morning when I wake up. We do a lot of thinking, and over thinking, and rethinking, and imagining, and it doesn’t do us much good. Eventually, we will find that when we can let ourselves settle into the “what is” and let go of all the junk that pops up into our minds, life seems to get steadily and increasingly easier to handle.

20. Learn how to say “no.”

Grow some cojones. This can be incredibly difficult to do, but it is an amazingly important skill and we should not underestimate for its ability to improve our lives on many levels. If we check in with ourselves and a “no” feels right, then we should use it. People will get over it. And they will have more respect for you. And if they don’t, it’s not the end of the world.

21. Just eat it.

Eat whatever you want. If you want to eat dessert first, then by all means—you’re an adult. Over-indulgence is something we all need to be careful not to get in the habit of, but hell, suffering while we watch people around us, eat, drink, and be merry is no way to live. Don’t eat a gallon of ice cream every night before bed, but do have some ice cream if you want some. Exercise, take a walk, take a hike, play with your dog, or your kids. Live a little. Eat what you want.

22. Let yourself rest.

If you’re tired, take a nap. We get caught up in this illusion that going until we collapse on our beds at night means we are doing something right. I guarantee whoever started that lie wasn’t healthier, happier, or more successful than someone who decided to let themselves rest. Naps are simply one of the best things in the world. Nuff said!

23. Shut up and listen.

Listening is a highly underdeveloped skill in the world today. Learn to sit and listen to someone, without talking, including to yourself in your head. Sincerely listening to others is an act of respect, compassion, and humility. People we know will take notice of this change in us, and they will appreciate our willingness to let them speak. It’s a gratifying practice once we get the hang of it.

24. Grow your family.

Family can be gained through blood, or love—there is no difference. My dearest relations and closest friends are equally family to me. Grow your family with the people in your life that you want to keep around. You will never regret it.

25. Hold on to the ones who matter.

Having a million friends is neither impressive nor will it make you any happier than someone with just a few. The real gift is to have a small group of friends with whom we are incredibly close. Having a few people in our lives, who we know we can count on is a wonderful and beautiful thing. Instead of superficially connecting with many people, connect deeply with a few.

26. Look people in the eyes.

Eye contact is a form of body language which is important during communication. How we present ourselves and communicate with others aside from just talking is through our body language. Our body language communicates far more than words can. Therefore, our eyes speaks volumes about us and how we communicate.

27. Love somebody. Love everybody. Thank them.

Take every opportunity to express love and gratitude to those around you. Tomorrow might be too late, so just do it now. Thank people, hug them, tell them you love them, and let go of old baggage that doesn’t matter anymore. We’ll never regret telling people that they matter and mean something to us, and, after all, life is just too damn short.

28. Stop blaming.

If you are unhappy or bothered by anything or anyone in your life, the problem usually lies with you, and, if it’s not, the solution definitely does. We spend countless hours trying to “fix” and “shape” the world around us so that we can finally be happy, but the truth is: our unhappiness comes directly from our inability to accept the world just as it is. Stop blaming and start working on yourself. Work to change your perception, rather than the world around you, and you’ll be better off.

29. Savor the moment.

Time is precious, and there is never enough of it. Treasure and relish each moment, because once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. We have busy lives. We like to get things done. But we’re all guilty of forgetting to “stop and smell the roses,” aren’t we? Sometimes, we need to rush, but snapping out of it can be a challenge. Give yourself the gift of slowing down enough to take life in and enjoy it. Things we never noticed before will begin to give us great joy.

30. Spend time alone.

Recently, I was paging through a magazine and read a blurb that said: “Solitude gives you a chance to relax your mind and unwind.” I had to laugh at the realization that cleaning the whole house, binge-watching a Netflix show, replying to all my emails, or masturbating for hours, doesn’t fall into that category. Being with ourselves, accepting ourselves, and caring for ourselves, without distraction is a learned skill, and an important one. It’s okay to get lonely. Meditation helps.

31. Get spiritual.

Make space for spirituality in your life. That doesn’t mean we must go to church every Sunday, find religion, or shave our heads and move to a monastery. Having faith of some kind is what matters. We find this by seeking out and surrendering to something inherently good. There’s something truly profound about surrender. Learning to have faith in something outside of ourselves brings an ease of mind and spirit that we cannot get in any other way.

“We found that as soon as we were able to lay aside prejudice and express even a willingness to believe in a Power greater than ourselves, we began to get results, even though it was impossible for any of us to fully define or comprehend that power. As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction. To us, the Realm of Spirit is broad, roomy, all inclusive; never exclusive or forbidding to those who earnestly seek. It is open, we believe, to all.” ~ The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous


Relephant read:

Life is gonna suck, but it needs to—5 hard but helpful truths.


Author: Justin Buchanan 
Image: Benjamin Voros/Unsplash
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy Editor: Danielle Beutell
Social Editor: Sara Kärpänen

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