The First Thing You Need to Do If You Want to Change Your Life

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” ~Eckhart Tolle

There are two ways to live life.

One is a more reactive approach, where you fight back when you encounter challenges in your personal or professional life. The other is a more proactive one where you are mindful of the trends within you and around you and ready with your surfboard whenever a big wave hits!

The only difference between the two is awareness.

Awareness empowers you to make conscious choices based on an understanding of yourself and the situation, to notice what your choice created, and to then choose again. This is why awareness is powerful. By becoming aware, you are snatching control back.

Merely observing your thoughts and behavior can spur positive action.

Big words. How am I so sure?

Just by tracking my sleep, I was able to gain insights into what aids my sleep and what disrupts it.

When I started tracking my food, I realized calories don’t matter but macros do. I then changed how I consumed food.

Journaling allowed me to observe my mental chatter and learn from it. It made me aware that most of my anger and frustration stems from lack of sleep, food, or water.

Tracking my finances made it easier to make tough calls with my spending.

I didn’t make these changes overnight. They took days and months of being aware before the changes actually happened.

Awareness is knowledge. Knowledge gives you power. Power makes it easier to change.

In the absence of awareness, you react mindlessly to your surroundings because all you have is the movement of thought. Your reaction will then depend on your past experiences and conditioning.

If in the past, you dealt with stress by eating, you are going to reach for your favorite snack. If your past experience taught you to raise your voice to get heard, you will easily shout when you are being ignored.

You start to believe what you are experiencing is reality when actually you are experiencing the narrative your mind created as a reaction to what is going on around you. Without awareness, you confuse what is happening in your mind with reality. You are at the mercy of the conditioned mind.

“Awareness is all about restoring your freedom to choose what you want instead of what your past imposes on you.” ~Deepak Chopra

Most of us are clueless about why we do what we do, how we present ourselves, and how others perceive us. And we get stuck in negative patterns as a result.

Here are some ways you can improve your awareness so you can improve your life.

Practice self-reflection.

This allows you to take a step back and ask probing questions of yourself. As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Ask yourself: Why did I react this way? Why is this making me sad? Why am I so against this viewpoint? Where did this belief come from? 

Doing this will allow you to make stronger connections. It will make your convictions stronger and give you the fuel to argue your viewpoint in a civil manner. It will also make you aware of your bad habits and thought patterns.

For instance, self-reflection has taught me that I have a tendency to eat unhealthy food when I haven’t gotten enough sleep. I also have a tendency to shut myself off from people when I am angry instead of talking to them calmly. Knowing this about myself, I am able to catch these unhealthy habits and choose healthier responses.

Journal.

Journaling is a great tool for self-reflection, since it helps you understand and challenge your thoughts and beliefs, and it’s also an stress reliever. It acts as a brain dump. Think of this as a parking lot for your thoughts. Just like your back feels lighter when you take off your heavy backpack, your mind will feel lighter and less stressful once you dump your thoughts on a piece of paper.

You can do this once a week, once a day, or even once every fortnight. All you need is a diary and a pen to get going. Trust me, nobody is so busy that they cannot take five minutes in a day to journal.

Take personality and psychometric tests.

Whereas a personality test can give you insight into why you do the things you do, a psychometric test can help you asses your skills, knowledge, abilities, and characteristics. I am not a big fan of these, but there are scores of free tests available online. You might find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with the results, but they will give you some food for thought.

Since they’re all based on some sort of questionnaire that you answer, I would recommend taking more than one to get a broader understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and behavior patterns.

Ask for feedback.

There is a catch to this one. You need to be willing to take the feedback someone gives you without being offended or getting into an argument. If you can ask probing questions from them to dig deeper, even better!

If you are uncomfortable with people pointing out your mistakes and shortcomings to your face, you can ask through email. This way you have time to digest what people write before responding and will be less likely to react defensively.

Step out of your comfort zone.

Once you become aware of your limitations, the next step is to push them and face your fears.

I used to hate talking to large crowds or presenting in front of people. Nothing made me sweat faster!

Since I was aware, I decided to tackle this by joining a student organization in college where my role was to go to different classes and present about the organization in efforts to recruit more students. It wasn’t easy, but within a year, I wasn’t sweating anymore!

For you, this might mean setting a boundary with someone after recognizing your habit of letting people take advantage of you or applying for a job you’ve been interested in after recognizing that you usually hold yourself back with fears of not being good enough.

This is how awareness changes your life: when you not only recognize what you’re doing and why but consciously choose to do something different.

Awareness makes you stronger. With awareness, you are able to bounce back faster after adversity. You are conscious of your insecurities and shortcomings. You have gone through the cycle enough times to understand what triggers them and how you can recover from them.

For example, in my case, when I am feeling sad and depressed, I know I can recover if I take a nap or go workout. It helps me shake off the bad mojo.

Awareness allows you to empathize with people. You can relate to the other person because you know the signs, having experienced them yourself. It becomes very easy to step into the other person’s shoes instead of judging them. In fact, it will come naturally after a while.

Your agility increases because of your awareness. You can pluck yourself in and out of any situation when you want and are able to adapt and pivot as needed on much shorter notice. In other words, you are able to move, think, or act quickly.

The pursuit of self-awareness also leads you to your blind spots. It uncovers the unknown and makes it known, so at least you are aware of it, even if you are not able to act on it right away.

When I look back, I have been blessed to have experienced many moments of awareness discovering things either by myself or because someone in my trusted circle caught it. I am pretty sure when you look back, you will also be able to spot those moments where your transformation first began because of the awareness bringing it to light.

The wheels of change begin to move with the first sign of awareness.

6 ways to promote professional growth during the pandemic

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In times like these, it can be easy to feel as though you’ve run out of options for furthering your career. The economic fallout from COVID-19 has forced many young entrepreneurs to feel as though they need to slam the breaks on their journeys, but it doesn’t have to be this way.

Today, many business people are simply looking for ways to make ends meet, but those that have managed to gain their footing should be looking one step further. Developing the right professional skills now can help you fend off against potential downturns later on — an invaluable opportunity for many.

Kickstarting professional growth, however, is always easier said than done. If you’re looking for a way to take your career to the next level, try starting with these tips:

1. Find a mentor or a group

Even in the calmest of times, it takes a village to raise an executive — nowadays, you’ll want as much support as you can get. Your drive and skills play a major role in determining whether you succeed, but so does the support of the people around you. Cultivate relationships with mentors and join professional groups to find like-minded people who can help you get through the bad times and celebrate the good. Deliberately growing your network puts you in contact with a variety of smart people who can provide you with advice and recommendations at different stages of your career.

“Support from a network is one of the most critical aspects of professional success,” says Ritch Wood, CEO of Nu Skin. “You might make it on your own, but your chances of success increase dramatically with a network of support at your back.” People are more active online than ever, so simply reaching out on LinkedIn or shooting someone an email is a great place to start.

2. Read stories of successful people

“When I was in my early 20s, leadership development was not a blip on my radar,” says Marcel Schwantes, founder of Leadership from the Core. “It wasn’t until much later that I realized how much transformation could come from reading.”

People are always saying they’d read more if they had the time, and now more people have the time than ever. Get yourself in the right mindset by reading books written by people who have achieved the same goals you have set for yourself. Don’t be fooled into thinking business books only feature enterprise CEOs — you can find books written by and for all kinds of people, from retail frontline workers to executives and everyone in between. Set a reading goal for yourself, grab a few works by people who inspire you, and start with chapter one.

3. Talk to your boss about your vision

“Your boss may know you do a great job, but her plate is probably completely full with her own obligations,” says Job Success Lab founder Lea McLeod. “If you’re interested in a new promotion or assignment, ask!”

As many businesses find their very foundations in flux, consider this an opportunity to carve out a new opportunity for yourself. Take some time to prepare materials that back up your case for a promotion, then schedule a conversation with your boss to make it happen. If you haven’t quite earned a shot at the next level, have a talk with your boss about what you need to do in the upcoming months to make your case. Check-in regularly to ensure your progress does not go unnoticed.

4. Start an active hobby

Endless commuting from the couch may sound good on paper, but your brain needs more activity in order to function properly. Give it the fuel it requires by staying active, outdoors if possible. If you aren’t naturally inclined toward athletics, try something less competitive, such as hiking or yoga. Whether you want to join a digital fitness group or go at it solo, it’s the activity that matters. Remember, your goal is to become a more well-rounded person.

Brian Wong, CEO of Kiip, found scuba diving to be the perfect escape from his everyday grind. “Learning something entirely new, without the pressure of it being directly correlated to my career, refreshed my mind and helped me think of things differently,” says Wong.

5. Learn when to unplug

As the lines between home and office become more blurred than ever before, unplugging has become an absolute must. “Time spent away from work should be time to unwind and recharge,” says psychologist Kurt Smith. “But if you’re constantly checking work emails on your cell phone, you never let your brain turn off and you risk getting burned out.”

To achieve your professional goals, you must be ready to give 100% when you’re on stage. That means you can’t maintain a slow burn of semi-work status when you’re off the clock. Be fully present when you’re on the job, but unplug completely when it’s time to punch out. Your performance will improve thanks to your more effective, more sustainable schedule.

6. Attend a digital conference

“Networking is only awkward and difficult when you approach it entirely cold without any shared context, values, or ways of entering a conversation,” says Zak Slayback, networking advisor and author. “Choose an event with a shared, value-driven context and you’ll find that networking and connecting with new people becomes considerably less awkward.”

As conferences the world over are canceled or postponed, some organizations are filling the gaps with exciting digital events. Those who take the time to attend these conferences will be those most dedicated to their paths in life, so they pose a great opportunity to connect with people who can help you along your journey.

Just because the world seems to have stopped turning doesn’t mean that your career has to as well. By honing in on the aspects of your life that could use the most attention, you’ll emerge from the pandemic a more well-rounded professional than ever before.

10 Signs You’re Being True to Yourself

“The most confused we ever get is when we try to convince our heads of something that we know in our hearts is a lie.” ~Karen Moning

It’s painful and stressful to feel like you’re living a lie. Like you’re hiding how you really feel, saying what you think other people want to hear, and doing things you don’t actually want to do—just because you think you’re supposed to.

But sometimes we don’t recognize we’re doing this. We just know we feel off, or something feels wrong, and we’re not sure how to change it.

It makes sense that a lot of us struggle with being true to ourselves.

From a young age, we’re taught to be good, fall in line, and avoid making any waves—to lower our voices, do as we’re told, and quit our crying (or they’ll give us something to cry about).

And most of us don’t get the opportunity to foster or follow our curiosity. Instead, we learn all the same things as our peers, at the exact same time; and we live a life consumed by the mastery of these things, our bodies restless from long hours of seated study and our minds overwhelmed with memorized facts that leave very little room for free thinking.

To make things even worse, we learn to compare our accomplishments and progress—often, at things we don’t even really care about—to those of everyone around us. So we learn it’s more important to appear successful in relation to others than to feel excited or fulfilled within ourselves.

This was my experience both growing up and in my twenties. A people-pleaser who was always looking to prove that I mattered, I was like a chameleon, and I constantly felt paralyzed about which choices to make because all I knew was that they needed to be impressive.

I never knew what I really thought or felt because I was too busy suffocating my mind with fears and numbing my emotions to develop even a modicum of self-awareness.

This meant I had no idea what I needed. I only knew I didn’t feel seen or heard. I felt like no one really knew me. But how could they when I didn’t even know myself?

I know I’ve made a lot of progress with this over the years, and I have a mile-long list of unconventional choices to back that up, as well as a number of authentic, fulfilling relationships. But I’ve recently recognized some areas where I’ve shape-shifted in an attempt to please others, and in some cases, without even realizing it.

I don’t want to be the kind of person who panders to popular opinion or lets other people dictate my choices. I don’t want to waste even one minute trying to be good enough for others instead of doing what feels good to me.

I want to make my own rules, live on my own terms, and be bold, wild, and free.

This means peeling away the layers of fear and conditioning and being true to what I believe is right. But it’s hard to do this, because sometimes those layers are pretty heavy, or so transparent we don’t even realize they’re there.

With this in mind, I decided to create this reminder of what it looks and feels like to be true to myself so I can refer back to it if ever I think I’ve lost my way.

If you also value authenticity and freedom over conformity and approval, perhaps this will be useful to you too.

You know you’re being true to yourself if….

1. You’re honest with yourself about what you think, feel, want, and need.

You understand that you have to be honest with yourself before you can be honest with anyone else. This means you make space in your life to connect with yourself, perhaps through meditation, journaling, or time in nature.

This also means you face the harsh realities you may be tempted to avoid. You’re self-aware when faced with hard choices—like whether or not to leave a relationship that doesn’t feel right—so you can get to the root of your fear.

You might not always do this right away, or easily, but you’re willing to ask yourself the tough questions most of us spend our lives avoiding: Why am I doing this? What am I getting from this? And what would serve me better?

2. You freely share your thoughts and feelings.

Even if you’re afraid of judgment or tempted to lie just to keep the peace, you push yourself to speak up when you have something that needs to be said.

And you refuse to stuff your feelings down just to make other people feel comfortable. You’re willing to risk feeling vulnerable and embarrassed because you know that your feelings are valid, and that sharing them is the key to healing what’s hurting or fixing what isn’t working.

3. You honor your needs and say no to requests that conflict with them.

You know what you need to feel physically, mentally, and emotionally balanced, and you prioritize those things, even if this means saying no to other people.

Sure, you might sometimes make sacrifices, but you understand it’s not selfish to honor your needs and make them a priority.

You also know your needs don’t have to look like anyone else’s. It’s irrelevant to you if someone else can function on four hours of sleep, work around the clock, or pack their schedule with social engagements. You do what’s right for you and take care good care of yourself because you recognize you’re the only one who can.

4. Some people like you, some people don’t, and you’re okay with that.

Though you may wish, at times, you could please everyone—because it feels a lot safer to receive validation than disapproval—you understand that being disliked by some is a natural byproduct of being genuine.

This doesn’t mean you justify being rude and disrespectful because hey, you’re just being yourself! It just means you know you’re not for everyone; you’d rather be disliked for who you are than liked for who you’re not; and you understand the only way to find “your tribe” is to weed out the ones who belong in someone else’s.

5. You surround yourself with people who respect and support you just as you are.

You understand that the people around you affect you, so you surround yourself with people who respect and support you, which motivates you to continue being true to yourself.

You may have people in your life who don’t do these things, but if you do, you understand their issues with you are just that—their issues. And you set boundaries with them so that they don’t get in your head and convince you there’s something wrong with you or your choices.

6. You focus more on your own values than what society deems acceptable.

You’ve read the script for a socially acceptable life—climb the corporate ladder, have a lavish wedding, buy a big house, and make some babies—but you’ve seriously questioned whether this is right for you. Maybe it is, but if you go this route, it’s because this plan aligns with your own values, not because it’s what you’re supposed to do.

You know your values are your compass in life, and that they change over time. So you check in with yourself regularly to be sure you’re living a life that doesn’t just look good on paper but also feels good in your heart.

7. You listen to your intuition and trust that you know what’s best for yourself.

You not only hear the voice inside that says, “Nope, not right for you,” you trust it. Because you’ve spent a lot of time learning to distinguish between the voice of truth and fear, you recognize the difference between holding yourself back and waiting for what feels right.

You might not always make this distinction immediately, and you might sometimes be swayed by well-meaning people who want to protect you from the risks of thinking outside the box. But eventually, you tune out the noise and hone in on the only voice that truly knows what’s best for you.

8. You do what feels right for you, even if that means risking approval from the people around you.

Not only do you trust that you know what’s best for you, you do it. Even if it’s not a popular choice. Even if people question your judgment, vision, or sanity. You recognize that no one else is living your life, and no one else has to live with the consequences of your choices, so you make them for you and let the chips fall where they may when it comes to public perception.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have everything you want in life. It just means you hear the beat of your own drum, even if it’s silent like a dog whistle to everyone else, and you march to it—maybe slowly or awkwardly, but with your freak flag raised nice and high.

9. You allow yourself to change your mind if you recognize you made a choice that wasn’t right for you.

You may feel embarrassed to admit you’re changing directions, but you do it anyway because you’d rather risk being judged than accept a reality that just plain feels wrong for you.

Whether it’s a move that you realize you made for the wrong reasons, a job that isn’t what you expected, or a commitment you know you can’t honor in good conscience, you find the courage to say, “This isn’t right, so I’m going to make another change.”

10. You allow yourself to evolve and let go of what you’ve outgrown.

This is probably the hardest one of all because it’s not just about being true to yourself; it’s also about letting go. It’s about recognizing when something has run its course and being brave enough to end the chapter, even if you don’t know yet what’s coming next. Even if the void feels dark and scary.

But you, you recognize that the void can also feel light and thrilling. That empty space isn’t always a bad thing because it’s the breeding ground for new possibilities—for fulfillment, excitement, passion, and joy. And you’re more interested in seeing who else you can be and what else you can do than languishing forever in a comfortable life that now feels like someone else’s.

As with all things in life, we each exist on a spectrum. Every last one of us lives in the grey area, so odds are you do some of these things, some of the time, and probably never perfectly. And you may go through periods when you do few or none of these things, without even realizing you’ve slipped.

That’s how it’s been for me. I’ve gone through phases when I’ve felt completely in alignment and other times when I’ve gotten lost. I’ve had times when I’ve felt so overwhelmed by conflicting wants, needs, and beliefs—my own and other people’s—that I’ve shut down and lost touch with myself.

It happens to all of us. And that’s okay. The important thing is that we keep coming home to ourselves and we eventually ask ourselves the hard questions that decide the kind of lives we lead: What am I hiding? What am I lying about? And what truth would set me free?