It’s the start of a new year – and a new decade.
A time when many of us feel an inner nudge to make changes.
It’s certainly a good time to reflect and consider the direction our lives are taking.
I believe one of the most important questions to ask ourselves is this: Whose life am I actually living? My own or the one other people want for me?
Are you living the life you want, or are you still caught up in trying to meet other people’s expectations?
As a therapist, I see great misery in people who have not been permitted, or have not permitted themselves, to follow their own interests, passions, talents and desires. I witness anger, resentment, frustration, disappointment, sadness and fear, which eventually manifest as ill health, depression and anxiety.
One of the most profound and healthiest shifts a person can make is from living their life based on someone else’s opinion of how things should be (an external frame of reference) to a life governed by their own view of how things should be (an internal frame of reference).
This does not mean they abandon their responsibilities towards the significant others in their lives.
It means they take steps to honour themselves at the same time as fulfilling their day-to-day responsibilities – at least some of the time.
For some, this may turn into a full-blown career change; for others, it can simply mean making time for a hobby or pastime that fulfils them in some way.
If you feel it’s time to reclaim your life and make space for what you want, these 7 steps will get you started.
1. Shift your perception
A lifetime of trying to please others may have led you to believe it’s your job to always keep everyone else happy. Not only is this untrue, but it’s also impossible.
Begin by recognising that you are not obligated to meet other people’s expectations, just as they are not obligated to meet yours. Accept at the core of your being that you have the right to make choices that honour who you are, regardless of what others think.
2. Know what you want
For many of us, simply knowing what we want in life can be a challenge. Spend time alone and give yourself the space to listen to your innermost thoughts and feelings.
Think about what you enjoy, what lights you up, what makes you want to get up in the morning, what truly matters to you. Journaling can help you become aware of your own needs and desires.
3. Differentiate yourself from others
You are a genetically unique individual; there is no one else in the world quite like you. Recognise the special talents and abilities you have that set you apart from others.
If this is difficult, consider what people compliment you on or what you excelled in at school. Or for an in-depth insight into the talents you are here to express in this lifetime, book a soul contract reading.
4. Stifle your inner critic
This is the voice in your head that says you can’t go for what you want, because you’re not good enough, it’ll never work out, you’ll be rejected and abandoned if you do so, and so on. We all have one.
Some of us have learnt to simply ignore its fearful predictions of doom and gloom – or outright catastrophe.
It takes practice, but you can learn to question and challenge your inner critic and then make a conscious decision to disregard it. There’s guidance on how to do this in my blog How to Tame Your Inner Critic.
5. Deal with the guilt
Pure guilt is the voice of your soul alerting you to the fact that you have done something that is not in alignment with your highest ideals.
However, most of the time, the guilt I see in my practice is the sort that manipulates people into doing what others want them to do. We are trained to conform, and guilt is a form of control used in many families.
Learn to recognise the difference.
Guilt that arises from an attempt to control usually has a ‘should’ behind it: “I should do this” or “I shouldn’t do this.” Acknowledge it, and then give yourself permission to let it go.
You can read more on this in my blog Living in the Land of Should.
6. Set boundaries
If you want to stop living someone else’s life, boundaries are key. To make space for yourself, you may have to say ‘no’ to others.
This may be challenging because it will likely disrupt the status quo and challenge the dynamics in your closest relationships.
However, ultimately, the people who respect and care for your well-being will want to support you in taking care of your needs and living a more authentic life.
My blog How to Establish and Maintain Healthy Boundaries has more guidance on this topic.
7. Set goals and harness your personal power
Finally, resolve to no longer drift through life. Become intentional. Take back the power you have given away and make decisions that are self-directed.
Once you have identified what you want for yourself, set goals. Then commit to taking action. Even the smallest steps, taken consistently, will move you slowly but surely in the right direction.
Know that you have the capacity to develop the inner confidence, skills and strength you need to accomplish your goals.
Our lives are precious and our time limited. So many people reach the end of their lives with regrets. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” is the number one regret according to Bonnie Ware in The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
Many people die knowing their dreams have gone unfulfilled because of the choices they have made – or not made.
Don’t be one of them.
Start living the life you want – you’ll feel happier, healthier, more fulfilled, enjoy better relationships, and perhaps even live longer.