In 2012, I was invited to a retreat by the leader himself, a man I would consider a modern-day spiritual guru. What I liked about this man was that in one moment he would tell me about spending his thirties meditating eight hours a day in an Indian Ashram, and in another share a story of the cocaine and party days of the seventies.
He was an interesting person and I wanted to check out this whole spiritual thing, but the word no was out of my mouth before I could think. Yet after some convincing I decided to go, and a few weeks later I went home from the retreat after a mind-expanding three days.
The biggest benefit of the retreat came as a surprise for me. It wasn’t a breakthrough during a meditation or an epiphany on a nature walk.
The biggest benefit was what I discovered in the space away from my life when I got in touch with myself.
I got quiet, stilled my thoughts, and marinated deep in my mind. When I did that, I discovered a truth I was desperately, subconsciously suppressing; the feeling that I was living below my potential.
With this discovery I felt like a shaken bottle of coke. I’d unscrew the cap just a little to see if the feeling was still there, and just as it would overwhelm and spew out I’d contain it by twisting the cap tightly, like I did for many years.
Finally, many moons after the retreat, I did something different.
I acknowledged myself.
This simple act unlocked the power within me, and know it will for you too.
We are all born into greatness with unlimited potential. The only thing standing between your greatness and your potential fulfilled are the limitations you put on yourself. It truly is as simple as that.
The life you want and the person you want to be are already here, you just have to access them, and I am going to give you six steps to do it.
Step 1 Acknowledge
As humans, and especially in modern life, we often do things that don’t reinforce who we are.
Have a job you hate? You’re doing something every day that depletes you. In a relationship with someone you don’t love? That’s taking away from your happiness. Have an unhealthy habit? It’s keeping you from the life you want.
The moment you acknowledge there’s a gap between how you feel and how you want to feel, you have power.
Find some quiet time in a safe space every day to connect with yourself. You can sit and breathe, meditate, journal, or lay on the floor listening to music, or stare at the ceiling. Doing this on a daily basis, even for just 5 minutes, connects you to your center, your intuition, that place that is truly you. This is the real you, the divine you, the you that so badly wants to make an appearance.
You are not the clothes you wear, the house you live in, the car you drive, the team you play on, the thoughts you have, your family, or your job.
Who you are is a combination of your values, your experiences, and your unique body, mind, and soul. The more you understand these and how they shape your mindset, desires, and fears, the more equipped you will be to have the life you want.
Let me be clear. Your feelings matter.
While you are connecting with yourself, keep returning to your breath. Each time your mind wonders, bring it back to your breath. Notice if your breathing is shallow or deep, or short and sweet.
The practice of returning to the breath each time your mind wonders conditions you to find your center in real life, on demand. This is a super great tool when your boss calls you out in an all-company meeting. Or when someone really pisses you off. Or when you’re late. Or when someone cuts you off in traffic.
But what do you do when the worst happens? The same thing. You are not your circumstances. In fact, you are not responsible for what you see; you are only responsible for how you perceive what you see.
Acknowledging your feelings gives validation to your soul. It says, “Hey, I understand that didn’t sit well.” Or, “Dang, that was a lot of fun.” Each time you acknowledge your feelings about someone, a situation, or event, it gives you power to move forward in a way the feels best for you.
Step 2 Nurture Yourself
Yes, I am telling you to nurture yourself. No one else is going to take care of you the way you can. Only you know what is best for you.
When you’re out of gas physically, take a rest. When you need to get out of the house to be social, then do it. When your soul whispers for something, listen to it. It’s often faint, and listening takes practice, but over time you’ll get better at it.
I’m still learning how to listen to what I need and nurture that.
At the start of summer, I joined a boxing gym. This was an attempt to channel my anger by punching and kicking. As a bonus I’d get strong and lean too. On my second day at the gym, the trainer demonstrated the exercises at each station. When we got to lateral jumps she gave me two options to jump over the boxing bag on the floor: 1. No support or 2. Put my hands on the bag for support as I jumped.
Without giving myself time to think I decided to be a bad-ass and jump over the bag like the athlete I used to be. On my third jump, my right foot landed half on the bag and half on the ground. I heard it pop, felt the ligaments stretch, and went down. It was immediately bruised and swollen, and a trip to Urgent Care a few days later confirmed it sprained and fractured on the other side of my ankle.
The day after my boxing gym accident I ran into a friend at my favorite farm to table restaurant in Boulder. He invited me to join him and his colleagues and I said yes. After introductions, one of his colleagues asked if I’d like to try the kale dip. I said, “No, thank you. I have to be very careful when I eat at places like this because I have nut allergies.” One of the girls responded, “Oh there is just kale, some spices, and yogurt in it.”
So I picked up a snow pea, dipped it in the kale, and swallowed. Within seconds I knew I’d eaten a cashew, the nut I am most allergic to.
A flood of emotions hit me: embarrassment, shame, annoyance. I limped on my good foot to my car, grabbed some Benadryl, and excused myself from the restaurant.
In the end I was fine, but the reason for the shame? Two times in one week my soul had whispered to me and I didn’t listen.
“Maybe you should do box jumps the easier way.”
“Don’t eat that. It could have nuts in it.”
What makes the second ignored whisper from my soul worse, is I went as far to say something out loud and I STILL ignored my intuition. I let a stranger’s suggestion overpower my own knowing of what is good for me.
How often do you ignore your own knowing? Listen to your intuition and give yourself what you need. Your life, at least the quality of it, depends on it.
Step 3 Define Your Values
Living a values-based life has had the most impact on me being the person who has the life I want.
Think of your values as a compass. When you know your true north you’ll never get lost.
Once of the things I did early in this work was make a list of all the things in life I value: home, integrity, career, love, humility, community, responsibility, compassion, unity, abundance, authenticity, nature, freedom, friendship, family, transparency, to name a few.
You’ll want to do the same for this step.
Next, choose three that are the most meaningful to you and write a Personal Life Vision for yourself. The spiritual guru who invited me to the retreat wrote a great book on this process. You can find it here or email Al himself (firstname.lastname@example.org) and he’ll send you a signed copy.
My Personal Life Vision (PLV) is a place where personal independence results in a life of design, and each day we create our future, where love of self and others guides our every thought, intention, and action, and where the divinity within is recognized and authentic relationships are commonly experienced.
When I get stuck, I come back to my PLV and ask where it would have me go. When your life is defined by your highest values you can rest assured that your actions are coming from a trusted source.
I remember the day my husband and I decided to separate. That was 4 years after the retreat. I knew in that moment that I was about to endure one of the hardest things I’d go through as an adult.
I promised myself I would act only from my highest values: love, freedom, and authenticity. On that night, we shook hands, looked each other in the eyes, and promised to be respectful to each other through the process and only say nice things about each other to our friends and family. I can say with confidence I did that, and while I can’t take responsibility for his actions, I would like to think he did too.
When you know what you value most, you naturally align your thoughts, intentions, and actions with them, and that alignment feels good.
Step 4 Get Comfortable with Discomfort
Being uncomfortable is pretty much the number 1 reason people stop moving forward in life. Think about the first time you did something you love. Was it easy? Probably not.
I learned to water ski when I was five years old. That meant I had to jump in the water (I am not a water person), listen to my parents explain how to get up, grab the rope, get set, and call out “Hit it!”
I loved the exhilaration right before I’d say those two words. I didn’t care that it wasn’t easy or that I was sucking water each time I fell, or that my arms got really tired if I managed to stay up.
That’s because I was five and everything was uncomfortable. When you’re a kid, everything you do, you are doing everything for the first time.
How many times did I fall trying to get up? A ton of course. I was five, ok? Eventually I learned to water ski for so long I could hang on until dusk, then I would drop the rope and slowly melt into the glassy water.
When was the last time you were uncomfortable? Learning a new skill, trying a new hobby, cooking a new recipe, learning a new exercise, starting or stopping a new habit, having a much-needed conversation, helping someone in need, or being honest with yourself are all examples of how being uncomfortable in your daily routine can lead to more delicious meals, deeper and more meaningful relationships, more self-love and self-acceptance, a healthier body, and more abundance in your life.
Try doing any one of these minus the self-judgement. The first step to being great at something is sucking at it. So give yourself the space and grace to try something new, not be good at something new, because on the other side of your discomfort is that thing you want.
Step 5 Be Intentional
Being intentional has created a massive shift in my reality, as this is the step where you get to dream up and define what it is that you want.
Being intentional means that you check in with yourself BEFORE you do something and ask what outcome you want.
This practice is like starting with a blank canvas and painting it with the life, colors, characters, places, and experiences you desire. The deeper and more detailed you can go into your visualization, the more the stage is set to attract that into your life.
Have you heard of a “quantum leap?” This is what this step is really about. You’re taking what is in your mind, or the ether, putting it on a canvas (the act of being intentional), and bringing into the material world.
You can be intentional with EVERYTHING.
I am intentional when I go on vacation, when I go to an event, with my work, when I have a conversation, and when I plan my day. You can be intentional with your time, your workout, your coffee-run, your commute, and your kid’s soccer game.
What kind of experience do you want to have at Starbucks? Do you want to be in a hurry and feel rushed? You don’t have to. You’re getting coffee either way so you might as well enjoy it. Smell the aroma of the coffee beans. Appreciate the students studying for exams. Hear the blender. See the smiles on the faces of friends sharing a cup a tea.
When I set intentions for my day I actually write down what I want to accomplish. You’d be surprised how fast this will move you forward.
Last year I created a vision board for the first time. I set many intentions for 2018, and by the time June came around I was already ready to create new one. Being intentional works. It’s because your brain doesn’t distinguish between what you see in front of you and what you see in your mind.
Setting intentions takes 5 minutes, tops, in the morning. Set aside time when you’re not doing anything else. If you’re in the shower, eating breakfast, or driving it won’t work. The point is to be present with yourself.
You could do this when you first wake up, when you’re still in bed. Or before or after you meditate, shower, or exercise.
Start by looking at your day, where you’ll go, who you’ll talk to, what tasks you have. Ask yourself what kind of day you want to have. How do you want to feel? Do you need to ask for protection from anyone or anything? This is also a time when you can get ahead of any situation you want to be emotionally or mentally prepared for.
I wish I had this tool the first time I saw my dogs after not seeing them for many months after the separation. I wasn’t prepared for how I’d feel pulling up to see my loves and of course seeing my ex after a long time.
The moment I pulled into the parking lot and saw them in the park I couldn’t breathe. My face flushed and I felt the needles of emotions I didn’t know I had.
The tears came and that made me feel even worse, and as I looked at my dogs and tried to catch my breath I judged myself for being a head-case.
But at that moment my intuition spoke up and reminded me I spent the last ten years with these beings, so it’s natural this moment would be emotional. I acknowledged my feelings, let go of the judgement, dried my tears, and had a great day with my dogs.
Had I checked in with myself that morning I might have known how I’d react. And trust me, I could have done without loathing the cry-baby in the car (me) and nurtured the soul going through a tough time and doing her best to keep it all together (also me; the real me).
Step 6 Express Gratitude
My sister and I were baking a cake the other day and I couldn’t help but think how lucky we are to be able to go to the grocery store and buy fresh eggs, sugar, flour, butter, and all the peripheral ingredients that go in a cake, all in one place, all at one time. Then we got to come home and bake it in an oven.
You know if you’ve been to any third world country that living in the developed world is a privilege. In most parts of the world you cannot just drive your car to the grocery store, buy fresh ingredients to bake a cake, then bake it in an oven in your own home. In fact, to have three different meals in a day, or even a week, is cause for celebration for many. How about running water, transportation, dental services, or medical care?
We cannot forget, even for a second, that many people in the world we live in right now, today, are suffering. I know they seem far away, and they are. But consider this, your own gratitude for your life and what you have in this moment, right now, will elevate your soul.
When you elevate yourself, you elevate those around you. Each time you step into your potential, you expand. The possibilities of who you can be and what you can create expand too, and those in your path rise with you, too.
What you have right now is more than most of the world’s population has. There is beauty in every moment, laughter in every conversation, joy in every activity, and love in every relationship, if you choose to see it. It is all there, already.
I hope you’ll honor the life you were given by giving thanks for what you have and living to your fullest potential. You’ve got this. You can do it, and I assure you it’s more fun 😉