We all wish we had a little more inner peace in our lives.
After all, it’s hard enough to cope with the stress of workplace politics or family drama when your mind is clear and still. But when you’re trying to do it with a mind that’s buzzing with worries and insecurities, regrets and ruminations, frustrations and irritations, well… it can be overwhelming, if not completely debilitating.
But here’s the thing about true peace of mind:
Peace of mind is not something you do or find immediately. It’s something that’s cultivated slowly and intentionally.
In other words, peace of mind comes from good habits formed deliberately over time.
If you want to cultivate a calmer, gentler, and more peaceful mind, these four habits are a good place to start.
1. Talk About How You Feel
Because painful emotions feel bad, our natural instinct is to avoid them… Naturally!
The only trouble is…
When you constantly run away from your emotions, you teach your brain that emotions are bad.
But painful emotions are bad, right?
Think about it:
When you touch a hot pan on the stove, is the pain bad? Nope, not at all. Even though pain feels bad, it’s actually good! Pain is a messenger telling you to move your hand so you avoid the real danger — tissue damage resulting from third-degree burns.
Well, emotions work the same way.
Emotions themselves are not bad or dangerous. They’re just messengers trying to communicate something to you.
Just because your emotions feel bad doesn’t mean they are bad.
But if you treat your painful emotions like enemies by running away from them or trying to eliminate them, you train your brain to see them that way in the future — and this only makes you more reactive to them and keeps your mind constantly stressed out and worried.
Luckily, you can counteract this effect by doing the opposite:
By welcoming and expressing your emotions, instead of running away from them, you teach your brain to be calmer in the face of difficult feelings.
“Feelings are something you have; not something you are.
― Shannon L. Alder
2. Practice Feeling Bad on Purpose
We all feel bad sometimes:
- We get a surge of anxiety or fear.
- We go from on top of the world to grumpy and irritable in just a few minutes.
- We feel sad and just can’t seem to shake it.
Painful emotions are unavoidable. But here’s the thing…
Life goes on whether you feel good or not.
Time passes, opportunities come and go, and our lives march forward whether we’re feeling good or feeling miserable:
- If you wait to work on that novel you’ve been wanting to write until you feel “truly inspired,” it’s never going to happen (and you’re gonna feel bad about yourself in the meantime).
- If you wait to start that new business you’ve dreamed of until you’re feeling confident enough, it’s never going to happen (and you’re gonna feel bad about yourself in the meantime).
- If you wait to tell your kids you love them until it feels more natural, it’s never gonna happen (and you’re gonna feel bad about yourself in the meantime).
Many people can’t find inner peace because their minds are flooded with regrets about all the things they didn’t do.
The antidote, painful as it may sound, is to learn how to do what matters regardless of how you feel. This is the only way to stop the constant stream of regrets and disappointments.
Easier said than done of course. Obviously, it’s easier to go to the gym if you’re feeling energized, just like it’s easier to ask out that cute guy when you’re feeling confident.
And while hard things will always be hard, you can make them a lot less hard with practice. Specifically, you can practice doing things despite not wanting to.
Like an athlete building up endurance and strength, the more you practice feeling bad emotionally, the more tolerance to it you will build.
To free your mind from the constant stress of regret, practice doing important things no matter how you feel.
The next time you want to work toward a goal but don’t feel like it, ask yourself this question:
Should I look at feeling bad as an obstacle or as an opportunity to train?
“The only whole heart is the broken one because it lets the light in.”
— David Wolpe
3. Update Your Expectations
I think most of us know that overly-high expectations of people aren’t a great idea:
- Expecting that your spouse will always be in a good mood is a set-up for excessive irritability and resentment.
- Expecting that your employees will always act in the company’s best interest is a set up for excessive frustration and disappointment.
- Expecting that your plans will always go well is a set up for excessive anxiety and stress.
Because here’s the thing about expectations….
The world and most of the people in it are surprisingly indifferent to your expectations.
This means that much of the time your expectations are going to be violated. And when that happens, you’re going to be chronically surprised — and not in a good way!
The issue is that surprise is like an emotional amplifier:
- Seeing your spouse in a bad mood may be mildly disappointing. But seeing your spouse in a bad mood when you expected them to be in a good one is majorly disappointing.
- Having your plans not work out is frustrating. But having them not work out after convincing yourself that they would is going to be majorly frustrating.
If you want more peace of mind, you must let go of unrealistic expectations for people.
Of course, you can’t just eradicate your expectations entirely. They have their uses now and then. The trick is to get in the habit of examining your expectations regularly and, if needed, updating them.
Life and other people will always disappoint you. But you’ll be a lot less disappointed if you stop expecting the world of them.
Make time to update your expectations regularly and you’ll be far more calm and peaceful for it.
“We have to be willing to confront the world as it is, not as we want it to be if we’re going to be successful.”
— Barry McCarthy
4. Enforce Healthy Boundaries
When I first drafted this article, the title of this section as “Set and Enforce Healthy Boundaries”
But let’s be honest, setting healthy boundaries isn’t really the problem…
- It’s not that hard to ask your boss to stop emailing you on the weekends.
- It’s not that hard to tell your adult child to get a job and move out.
- It’s not that hard to tell yourself to go to the gym after work.
Sure, setting healthy boundaries can be a little uncomfortable. But the real issue here is enforcing the healthy boundaries you do set.
Because here’s the deal…
Setting a boundary and not enforcing it is worse than not setting it in the first place.
Think about it:
- What are you teaching your boss if you tell her you don’t want to be emailed on the weekends but then go ahead and respond to her weekend emails anyway? You’re teaching her to not take your requests seriously.
- What are you teaching your adult child if you tell them they need to get a job and move out but keep letting them live for free in your house and subsidizing their video game addiction? You’re teaching him that your requests aren’t actually all that important.
- What are you teaching your own brain if you keep committing to starting a new workout regimen but then never following through on it? You’re teaching yourself that your goals don’t really matter to you and that you’re not a very reliable person.
Setting boundaries without enforcing them is just another form of self-sabotage.
The next time you think about making a serious request of someone or setting a new boundary, think carefully about what it will really take to enforce that boundary.
Because if you don’t, you’re training the people in your life not to respect you. And worse, you’re destroying your own self-respect. Both of which will lead to a lot of unnecessary emotional pain and mental stress.
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.”
— Greg McKeown