Find your awesomeness! Let your inner light shine! Love yourself like you love your friends!
Statements that would have made me squirm not so long ago. My deeply rooted beliefs in science, objectivity and reason together with my analytical nature and Finnish pessimism have not been a fertile soil for self-love and positivity, and despite my multiple efforts of becoming happier, I didn’t seem to succeed. A year and a half ago I initiated a personal project where I implemented new positive changes into my life every week and at the time, things seemed to be moving forward and I thought I had figured out the key to my happiness-lock.
I hadn’t. Instead of actually being happy, I had created an abundance of rules to live by. I approached happiness as something I needed to execute.
Without going into details, I will say that the last year has been the toughest of my life. It has taken a lot of mental work, compassion from my friends and family and plain old time to get to the point where I am now. As cliche as it sounds, the darkest place allowed me to see the light. I have chosen the path of personal growth, maturity and most of all love and understanding to move on in life. And it is hard as hell! But, it is worth it.
This time has made a few things very clear. The most important – and most difficult – lesson has been self love. I’ve grown into thinking that I always need to strive for something better and that self improvement is an ultimate definition of being a good human being. I still believe in that but I have learned that it can be done only through positivity. I can’t guilt or punish myself to become better.
The second lesson is that I can’t let other people’s opinions and thoughts define my path. No matter what kind of choices I make in life, there will be people who disagree. I will continue to want the best even for the ones who dislike me because of my choices, but pleasing people who barely belong into my life is not a road to happiness.
The third difficult lesson has been to truly listen to others and to accept their truth. At first this seemed to contradict the previous point but I’ve found out that it really doesn’t. Being flexible and having the ability to adapt is a good quality but that does not mean changing one’s mind whenever different opinions are presented. I do not have to agree with everything, just to be respectful and considerate, to really listen and stop putting my own opinions on everyone else. Having real conversations, asking questions and challenging people’s thoughts is great but just lecturing people on how to think and hihglighting my own perspectives is not.
It is so easy to talk about positivity and the changes it takes but actually putting those things into practice is a bit more complicated than that. It takes so much strength to let go of complaining and blaming others and the environment for your own troubles. It takes even more maturity to respect people despite their mistakes and to respect oneself despite being imperfect and making mistakes. One must be strong to be able to make the choice of loving and respecting others even when you feel hurt. And most of all, focusing on self improvement and growth even when you have no guarantee that others will do the same, takes a great deal of will power and self compassion. Personally, one of the biggest challenges has been to stop hiding behind words and start living by the principles I talk about.
At the moment, I find myself being happier than in years for a very simple reason. I decided to be. I didn’t decide to try or to work on it, but to actually be.
It’s not easy. Life is full of misunderstandings, struggles, jealousy, hatred, violence… I mean, the whole planet is on the verge of war or already in war. Sometimes all the negative things just seem overwhelming and there are so many reasons not to be happy. Being happy might even seem inconsiderate. But I believe that any person willing to do good in the world needs to make the choice of being bigger than the difficulties in their own life.
Things that have helped me in this decision, have been both big and small. Partly I feel like for me it required the massive shaking of my life. Loosing something important opened my eyes to seeing how my own behavior and thoughts played a part in the process. This helped in making a conscious choice of changing my thoughts and feelings and taking concrete steps towards a new way of thinking all the time. So basically, the moment my own role in my unhappiness sank in, I had to change. If I made the choice but allowed myself to get there little by little or slowly, it would have been like an alcoholic getting sober little by little.
Now, back to where I started from. Find your awesomeness! As childish as this statement sounded at first, I find it quite handy now. I started finding my awesomeness through a game called Superbetter. I happened to notice a TED talk where the inventor of the game explained how she came up with the idea of a “happiness game”. The game gave me a joyful way of dealing with my hardships. It made becoming better fun and guilt-free. I highly recommend it to every one willing to enjoy life more. It doesn’t tell you to ignore your hardships like some overly positivity-focused people might do, but it tells you to look at your hardships as something you can fight against. It empowers you because the things you will be doing to get better, are small and easy. To learn more, go to http://www.superbetter.com.
I’m so happy to have finally allowed myself to enjoy life and to love myself. It makes dealing with the tough stuff so much easier and it makes me a better person. I’m more fun to be around, I’m more productive and most importantly, I feel better about myself and thus I am finally able to love and care about people the way they are without the need to judge everyone.
I’m a TED fan. Openly, totally out there, I watch talks almost every day and share so many of them that sometimes I wonder if I’m annoying the hell out of everyone. But I much rather have a news feed full of educational and intellectual posts than celebrity news or something alike.
This speech I like for a number of reasons. Watch it first, then we can talk.
I admire Schulz’s ability to talk about a topic that could make the listeners quite defensive in a way that doesn’t insult, attack or despise anyone. She is in the same boat with all of us and by telling her funny Chinese character example, she is letting us know that being wrong really isn’t that terrible but actually it is very normal and sometimes funny. And now that I think about it, some of the best laughs I’ve had, have been due to similar wrongs.
I co-sign her classification of “a series of unfortunate assumptions”. We explain differing opinions by the assumptions of 1) ignorance, 2) idiocy and 3) evil. We often have a really hard time in accepting differing opinions although we may be perfectly cababale of understanding them. We believe, that by thinking critically, everyone naturally arrives at the same conclusions like there are clear solutions to all questions in the world. What we don’t remember is that critical thinking is always colored byt our values and life experiences and because those are different, our conclusions are different too.
There is nothing more frightening than the moment we expose our ideas to the world.
Brené Brown is one of my favorite researchers at the moment. Her insights into being vulnerable have been life changing in such a wonderful way for me that I almost can’t imagine a life without learning from her.
This video clip is her presentation in the 99 conference to people working in creative industries. Shortly, she is saying that without vulnerability we cannot create.
When we present an idea of something that we care about, we are afraid of rejection. In dance, we present ourselves, our ideas of the music and movement and rejection hurts because we care so much. In the video, Brené introduces a few very good thought patterns to get ourselves ready for the criticism that we know we have to face for sure.
All world’s a stage.
Especially in the field of art and in the time of social media – all our actions are part of the branding process. I have many Facebook friends who use social media purely for advertising purposes: they post dance videos, pictures, dance events and write statuses about dancing, they befriend dancers and dance fans who they don’t know personally. But, I also have friends who post pictures of all kinds of life events from birthday parties to weddings and even funerals, status updates about their family and friends and they befriend people only if they actually know them.
Neither way is “right” or “wrong”. They’re just different ways of using a tool for different purposes. I perfectly understand the reasons for both and personally, I use both. I use friend lists a lot. If I want to share something more personal, I make it visible only to a few selected people. Dance stuff that I wish to share with a vast audience, I make visible to all friends or even public.
I think the way our lives are both public and private, is interesting. It is also a bit controversial in a number of ways. Because we are all “public”, other people easily start thinking they know us based on what they see of our lives and make evaluations about us as people based on those things. It isn’t an easy task to differentiate what we know about the person or the personality, and what we know about what that person does. Looking at the public image someone displays of themselves doesn’t really tell us anything about their motives. We might think we have the capacity to deduce “oh he only wants attention” or “she thinks she knows everything” whereas the reality might be different – especially when someone makes the decision of not sharing anything too personal. Yes, there are still people like that, and as for some it might seem old school, to me it is an attractive alternative and a way of keeping important things to people you trust and who are truly close to you.
Because social media gives us a tool to mold the perception that others have of us, it allows for impression management. Giving a positive image of youself is somewhat natural to humans, I think, and can help in thinking more positively about yourself too. But taken too far, it might turn upside down and start creating too high expectations for reality: I should feel as awesome as let everyone understand, I should be as active, interesting or successful as my profile looks like, so am I failing if I don’t?
And whether we want it or not, people will always have opinions and those opinions will be affected by what people see and hear. Limiting our public lives into only positive things might make some people think that we are extremely happy people or that we have a great life. It might also make someone think that we are terrible show offs. Maybe some will think that we only want to share positive things. And the truth is, this applies to real life situations too and not just what we do in social media. Some of us are really good at behaving in a certain way no matter what’s going on in their private life. And for some of us this is a reason to believe that everything is well or that the person just doesn’t give a crap. Both possibly false interpretations.
It is a very natural human tendency to be interested in other people’s lives, thoughts, feelings and how they are as people. And unfortunately it is also very human to use schemes and heuristics in interpreting situations and behaviors. Our own experiences create expectations of situations – we “know” how things are supposed to go and why. Having schemes (scripts) is very useful because we don’t have to re-evaluate every situation but we know how to behave properly almost automatically. But, using simple schemes to evaluate complex situations can be misleading and harmful. Or at least our understanding of the situation can be only partial, which is ok until we start acting on that understanding. Some might say that it is the person’s own responsibility to give such an impression that people can safely act based on that, and some could argue that it is our responsibility to find out the true nature of things before acting. I support both views; I do think that finding out as much of the truth is always a good idea, but I also think that we as humans need to pay attention to the way we interact with others.
Another aspect to this topic is the respect we ought to have for each other’s boundaries. No one can demand someone else to show or tell more about themselves than they want to. Then we just need to figure out what level of publicity are we ok with.
Why am I writing about this topic right now? I’ve experienced in my own life how big controversies can different expectations of privacy create. So, paying attention to it before things get weird is highly recommendable, if you ask me. And in general, we forget so easily nowadays that once we post something into Facebook or some other social media, it will stay there. So think carefully of what you share because those things might turn against you in ways that you can’t anticipate.
For 14 weeks I keep adding new ways of behaving and thinking to my life weekly and see how they affect my well being. The goal is of course to make only positive changes that help me become the best version of myself that I can be.
I always have very high expectations of myself no matter what I do. Succeeding and coming up with solid products has in a way become a definition of who I am over the years, and not just something that I do repeatedly. This is the way I want things to be but, I have also noticed that sometimes I go over the top. Too high demands can block creativity and actually make the end product worse than it could be under a more relaxed condition.
Many of my friends have told me repeatedly that I over-achieve and lately, I’ve had so many things to do that I simply cannot pay an excess amount of attention to all of them, and therefore, week 10 is about “loosening it up”. In other words: putting things in order (first things first), deciding which things to carefully plan and execute and which just to get over with. The week is also about acceptance and leniency: I, as a human being and not a robot, must accept that I make mistakes and that I need help (I hate asking for help) and that I shouldn’t punish myself for these things. So, I’m having quite a mental week ahead of me.
The day had an early start as I went to a meeting at 7 am. After that I had a few lectures and then after studying for some hours I substituted three dance classes in the evening. Many of my days are like this but still I try to obey my own advice and hold on to the new habits that I’m trying to form in this project.
Today, I came to the conclusion that I must allow myself some leeway with respect to my steps of change. Holding on slavishly to all the new activities is, to be honest, a bit stressful in itself. Change is always stressful. But since the goal is to be happy – not perfect – part of the process is to determine how much change do I want and how fast. 10 new ways of life is a lot and there’s still 4 to come.
Today started well – I got an email from the student bureau, saying that my bachelor’s thesis has been accepted with the highest possible grade. I’m really happy! But, this also made me think about what makes me happy. Shouldn’t there be more to be happy about than just a high grade?
I have always liked getting good grades and I’ve always been proud of it. But, at the same time, being “the best” student has interfered with other very human things and that has made me sad at times. So, in a way I have traded sociability to academic success and maybe lost some of my happiness in the trade. That’s why instead of focusing on the achievement, I try to focus on the process: I am now involved in dance therapy research and that allows me to combine two of the things I’m passionate about. I get to work with great, intelligent people and create something that might help dancers and dance teachers speak for their art and its importance.
I was quite torn between things today. The first half of the day I spent on my computer doing statistics homework (deadline tomorrow) and then I had to choose whether to go to a small dance event or not and after that we had a family dinner. The over-achiever in me kept saying that I should skip the jam and just keep doing the homework, then quickly go to my parents’ house and continue to work after. But after listening more carefully to what I really wanted to do, I went to the jam, had a great time dancing and sweating, then went to my parents’ house, ate great food and stayed for a few extra hours just to talk with them.
Why was this the right decision for me? It made me happy. Will I score perfectly on the homework? Most likely not. Does it matter? Not really. Spending time with your loved ones isn’t comparable with spending time on your computer with SPSS.
I had to compensate for yesterday’s decision of not finishing my homework. That meant that I skipped one hour of practice and worked while others were dancing. I must say it was quite a good incentive to just get it done to hear good music and people cheering.
Overall, knowing myself, it is very important to know what am I going after. What do I want from this project? I do it for myself – not for anyone else. Sharing it here, shouldn’t be a reason to do this but just a small incentive to stay consistent. Still, choosing not to do something every day is OK as long as I’m happy with that decision.
It is interesting how the train of thought can lead to a somewhere where you weren’t planning to go to. Starting from the thought that I’m allowed to skip some of the steps of change that I have defined myself, I ended up thinking a lot about why I do things and what do I want. And this lead to thinking that doing things just because I want to do them, is completely natural. Some things can be driven by deeper reasons, but I tend to let myself only do those things as if just wanting something isn’t good enough.
Lots of thinking. This was some bits while most of it got onto the pages of my diary (week 6!). These thoughts will definitely keep maturing but one thing is for sure. It feels good to breathe. It feels good to get things done but also to be able to do something fun in the between. Life shouldn’t be all about duties.
The American Psychological Association posted this article to their Facebook page a while ago. I have always loved writing and keeping a diary has been an important part of my life and a way of dealing with the good and the bad. As the article states:
…we all have a personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. But sometimes our inner voice doesn’t get it completely right. Some researchers believe that by writing and then editing our own stories, we can change our perceptions of ourselves and identify obstacles that stand in the way of better health.
To me, writing is especially effective because seeing what you think makes it more concrete. You can get back to your thoughts later if you need time to let out emotion. Written words can function as a same kind of a mirror as another person – from the other person you would hear back what you say, from written words you see it. Sometimes, having more time on each thought and being able to go back to them allows me to express way more than just talking things through. Because as I talk, I forget what I was about to say and the train of thought might start going into a whole new direction – which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when I write, even if the direction changes, I can always go back “in time” to my earlier thoughts and continue from there. This might also make me see new connections between my thoughts as I can see what lead where.
I had a ridiculous week. Finding time for writing was nearly impossible and I ended up writing only two proper entries. I did write down some thoughts every now and then to go back to them later. In general, I’m having a hard time maintaining all the steps of change that I’ve taken so far. Not having a lot of time and being somewhat stressed all the time makes me want to walk into the nearest shop and buy a bag of candy and in the mornings I definitely don’t feel like waking up 15 minutes earlier to stretch. I’ve stayed strong though and I’m happy for that. Writing down my cravings has helped in coping with them.
One thing that I have noticed about writing is that it makes me feel optimistic. Many times just writing what has happened is enough to either diminish negative feelings or at least to get the process of changing the way I think about the incident going. And writing about positive things makes them feel even better, as if they were more real.
I am sometimes prone to giving credit of my own work to other people and I don’t realize my own accomplishments very well. To empower myself I have tried to write down things that I am good at, things that I have done well and the things that I like in myself. It is so important to know the good things as well as the bad ones to be balanced. Having a positive self conception can lead to success in things where a negative self conception would make you fail. To know and to make very clear to myself what I am capable of makes me put in more effort instead of giving up. And then writing what I actually did after trying harder, gives me a great feeling of achievement.
I’m also writing lyrics whenever I have enormous feelings – good or bad. Lyrics let me vent even more than diary entries because I like to be very analytic when actually writing but lyrics come about more freely. It’s very therapeutic to dress up personal life events as stories or poems and to manipulate the events the way I want to and to say “out loud” even quite harsh opinions and feelings. Then thinking that maybe one day I will write music to the words makes it even more meaningful.
In general, I find writing very important and useful. Whether it’s poems, lyrics, free flow or a deep searing analysis, it helps to understand your emotions and thoughts and especially their connections to each other and that is extremely important to understand your reactions to life events. This understanding leads to the ability to control your reactions which, in turn, lets you function better in social situations and, for me, it is quite important to have healthy social relationships. The understanding also leads to a deeper relationship with your inner voice that I mentioned in the beginning of this text.