What am I doing with my life? This is a big question, and most people will probably ask it at some point in their lives.
We’re all human, and we all go through tough times. But sometimes it can be difficult to see the bigger picture about how your life is shaping up.
We asked a group of selected experts to deliver their best advice when it comes to turning things around to get the most out of life when things are tough. Here’s what they said.
How Do You Want To Start Living Your Life?
Sherrie Dunlevy, Author and Founder of Graduating Grief
I can speak from the life experience of stepping back into life after the loss of my son – and now I help other women do the same with my Graduating Grief group.
For someone who has suffered a traumatic experience such as a death, the first thing you need to do after the initial shock wears off is “decide” if you want to heal.
There is a choice to be made right away. Do you choose to seek out ways to feel better or do you decide to remain in your pain? Making no choice is a choice and it can lead to self destruction.
After that decision, you can seek out support from friends and family, professionals or even support groups. If you can’t find anyone local, there are plenty online.
After you’ve done the hard work at dealing with the pain of loss, then you can decide if you want to start thinking about “how” you want to start living your life.
We think about our career path and our marital path, but rarely do we think about or plan how we want to show up in the world. What kind of impact we want to make. What kind of legacy we want to build.
Taking a look at those questions and finding the answers should help you determine what track you want to take and then you can get the ball rolling from there.
Will it mean more education? Will you need to switch careers? Move to another state?
Taking one step and then another, even when you can’t see the destination and even if you are scared, is how you build your courage and confidence.
Start By Focusing On Your Skills
Randi Levin, Transitional Life Strategist
Make a list of all of the things you are good at, from the mundane to the extraordinary!
See if you can list 100 things. Then look back at your list. Circle the entries that speak to you the most. What do they have in common, and what sets them apart?
Getting really familiar with your skillsets is a great way to kick start what is next. String together your findings to paint a picture of where you may be able to apply your list in new ways both personally and professionally.
2020 is the kick off to a new decade. Although a challenging year for most, it begs to ask you… “What needs to be different. What can I change?”
Fast forward in your mind to 2030. Imagine that you are looking back on 2020. What do you want to be able to say that you did? Using your answer to the above, plan two to three next steps you can take to fuel your vision.
Create a success journal. Go back over the course of the past year. Document what worked and what did not. Based on your past successes, what is possible next?
Get in the habit of writing weekly in your success journal and staying current on the positive.
This reinforces what is possible, elevates energy, and allows you to have more clarity on the wins, so you can create more of them.
Change is difficult because it happens in the unknown – and that is where fear lives. Rather than picturing yourself as a derailed train, try to envision yourself as switching tracks.
Imagine that all the variables in your life aligned right now. Most people feel as if they are failures when things do not go as planned.
Instead of quitting on yourself and getting tangled in that ‘train off the track’ mentality, drive change by allowing yourself to pivot, from one track to the next by choice.
Designing a series of bold choices that you make by the end of the year will support you in turning things from failure to brand new success.
Identify And Clarify Your Values
Kelsi Clayson, Licensed Psychologist
One of the first things I ask my clients to do is to identify and clarify their values.
Unlike a goal, a value is not something you can accomplish or complete. It serves as more of a compass to help guide our choices and actions.
Identifying your values involves asking yourself a few important questions: what makes your life meaningful? What brings you joy? What brings you purpose?
For some, the answer may be being a supportive spouse. For others, it may be being a productive working professional.
Regardless, it’s important to prioritize competing values and consider how closely your current actions align with your values. When people’s actions don’t align with their values, life can feel understandably unfulfilling, dull, and empty.
If the major barrier to getting back on track is feeling unsure about what you want out of life, turning things around can be relatively easy.
A surprising number of people have never stopped to ask themselves what brings their life meaning. Once you begin to answer this question, identifying goals and actions that align with that answer becomes much easier.
If the major barrier to getting back on track is more situational (for example, finances, major life changes) then identifying small, attainable goals that are still moving you in the direction of what you value can be helpful.
The biggest pitfalls I typically see are: 1) allowing others’ (such as parents, friends or spouses) to impose their values on you and direct your goals and choices and 2) buying into thinking patterns that lead you to give up or slide back.
There are many people who chose to pursue a career because their parents wanted them to or who date a certain person based on societal expectations.
Although these choices often prevent external conflict and judgment, they breed internal conflict and self-judgment.
Thinking patterns that get in the way of our happiness and success tend to be rigid, extreme, and ignore important information. For example, all-or-nothing thinking, catastrophizing, etc.
Sit In Honest Contemplation
Karina Krepp, Certified Holistic Lifestyle Coach
If you’re waking up and wanting more out of life, congratulations! You’ve opened the most important question for your future happiness.
What is your dream? What is the long game? Where do you want to find yourself in 10 years?
Time passes anyway. But if you can hold a specific destination in your mind and heart, all the work it takes to create that dream will be steps on a path to your happiness.
Once we identify our dream, our behavior conforms. The Olympic hopeful doesn’t complain about the pre-dawn workouts – she sees herself as an Olympian on her path. The work to achieve the dream becomes a pleasure.
Even those of us who are working to pay the bills can see this as a stepping stone to our next level of dream achievement.
Ensure you take a small action each day to move yourself toward your dream. If you’d like to be a veterinarian, listen to a podcast on you way to your current job about veterinary life. See yourself living in that world.
Turning things around is as easy as seeing where our beliefs aren’t serving us. When we have identified the pattern that brought us to this reassessment, we can turn it around in an instant.
The work is to sit in honest contemplation and courageously own our part in bringing ourselves here. It is not society, that teacher, your parents nor your location that is responsible. It is you. It’s about radical responsibility and complete ownership. Then you can change your beliefs and own your success.
The valleys are deep and long. The easiest pitfall to spot is the blame game. If you find yourself saying or thinking ‘If he didn’t’ or ‘If she wouldn’t’ you have fallen into the blame game.
Many live their whole existence in this valley. As you woke up to yourself and have realized you want more; see this blame pitfall for what it is: a security blanket.
Radical ownership is scary but empowering. All the mistakes are all yours. But the mountain peaks are all yours too. Get climbing. I believe in you, the world needs you living in your purpose.
Aim To Make Small Positive Changes Over Time
Dave Wolovsky, Relational Skills Expert and Founder of EffortWise
The truth about turning your life around is that it can only happen slowly. Destruction can happen quickly, but (good) growth only happens slowly.
Here’s how it happens. This may come across as an engineering answer and might be confusing and academic sounding.
Each person is a complex system, a web of sub-personalities that are connected to each other. Sometimes you show up as your hungry self, sometimes your angry self, and sometimes your hangry self.
Other times you show up as your most intelligent and adult self. This is your most complex self.
To turn your life around, you can only do it from the place of the intelligent and adult self, so being able to access this part of you is key. It can only happen when you’re not in a state of threat mode, meaning negative emotions.
Positive emotions are the key because they motivate us to broaden and build, according to one of the most prominent theories on the purpose of emotions.
Conversely, any activity that broadens and builds your various connections to life is going to inspire positive emotions.
This is why making new friends, joining new groups, practicing new skills, traveling to new places all inspire us to be better.
The problem, of course, is that each sub-personality has well established patterns already, and those are what we fall into automatically.
Thus, turning life around is a game of push and pull, going out into the unknown and being pulled back into the automatic.
Knowing this, that it’s normal and necessary, might make the path easier. You will make a positive change, learn or do something new, and it will feel amazing, like you’re becoming a new person. But then the other parts of you will pull you back to the norm.
That’s how a complex system works. One part changes, and all parts change slightly, but then all parts exert a force to return to baseline.
To make a real change, you have to make tiny changes on all the parts, one at a time, until they all exert tiny positive pulls on all the others.
Take The Time To Rest And Reflect
Erin Tannehill, Founder of The Tannehill Homestead
The hardest and most beneficial thing to do to get someone’s life back on track is taking a step back to rest and reflect.
Society drills in us that we have to achieve all of these things or we aren’t successful, but that often leads to burnout and giving up on your dreams.
It can be scary to take a step back to gain perspective on your life, but when you do, you have the opportunity to see a clearer picture of your life.
Earlier this year, I took a three-month break because I was so burned out trying to work towards my goals. At first, I thought a new career was the answer, but after trying a few things, I realized I just need time to rest and reflect.
Towards the end of the break, I realized that I didn’t need to change my career, I just needed a plan that worked with me, not against.
I took a week to set up my new goals and systems because I knew this would be the key to getting back on track after taking such a long break, and it was.
Again, it isn’t easy to step back from your life, but sometimes it is necessary to gain perspective and figure out what needs fixing.
Taking that time and setting yourself up for true success is the best thing you can do to turn things around in your life to get back on track with where you want to be.
Design Your Future Life In Your Mind
Sharon Grossman, Psychologist and Success Coach
There are different reasons why you might find yourself in a ditch.
It could be because of the circumstances you faced (maybe you were laid off) or as a result of self-sabotage (perhaps you’re holding yourself back). Either way, you need to find ways to climb back out.
What makes this process challenging is that you might lack self-awareness about any self-defeating behaviors that result from unconscious limiting beliefs.
It might also be that you experienced challenging situations and became so defeated as a result that you are having trouble managing your mind or finding the motivation to change.
The best place to start to turn things around is to take a step back.
Close your eyes. Visualize your ideal life in five years time. What would that look like? Be specific and see an entire day in the life of yourself. What would you be doing? Who would you be surrounded by? How would you feel?
Do the same exercise for how life would look in three years and then for one year from now. Once you have that mind movie in place, ask yourself, What do I need to do to get from where I am to where I want to be?
Write down all your ideas and create some specific and measurable goals around those.
Then structure your days around the steps you need to take to move toward your goals, always keeping in mind your ‘why’.
Don’t Fight Against The Present Moment
Paul Harrison, Meditation Teacher and Founder of The Daily Meditation
When it comes to turning things around, in my experience, the first step is acceptance.
When I was down and flat broke living in a country thousands of miles from my family and friends with literally zero money and no home, I thought I had hit rock bottom. Every day I would fight against my reality, refusing to accept things the way they are.
Unfortunately, the more energy you spend fighting reality, the less energy you have to change things.
That’s why the first step in changing course is to accept where you are right now.
The best way to do this, in my experience, is with meditation, and particularly mindfulness.
Mindfulness is all about accepting reality the way it is. You can start practising mindfulness by focusing on the present moment, such as by mindfully breathing or simply going for a mindful walk. Mindfulness trains us to accept reality as it is.
Once we have come to the point of acceptance, we will be mentally prepared for what comes next: change.
Clearly Define What You Want Out Of Life
Felicia Broccolo, Certified Life Coach at The Life Coach School
I always like to help people remember that their thoughts create their feelings, their feelings drive their actions, and their actions create the results they see in their life.
So if they feel like their life is off track, they first need to figure out the thoughts that brought them to where they are now.
When they thoroughly understand and have processed the thoughts and emotions that have brought them to where they are now, then they are in a place to make a change if they want to.
To get things back on track, start by clearly defining the result you want to see in your life.
Then figure out the actions you need to take to get there. Then figure out how you would need to feel in order to best follow through on those actions. Then determine what you would need to think and believe in order to have that feeling.
Find thoughts that are believable to you and then start practicing those thoughts.
Theoretically, it’s as easy as changing your thoughts, but changing one’s mindset can be difficult, especially when that mindset has been ingrained and practiced for many years.
Commitment and effort are definitely required, but any person can change themselves if they really want to.
One of the common pitfalls to avoid is automatically believing that your thoughts are true. Thoughts are just thoughts. They don’t mean anything about you and you can choose to believe them or not.
Realize that you can just choose to believe anything you want about yourself. You can choose to believe you are talented and capable and no one can tell you you’re wrong.
Maybe you weren’t yesterday or 10 minutes ago, but you are now and you can determine your own future.
Practice Three Different Forms Of Minimalism
Jun Fuchs, Holistic Happiness Coach
Getting your life back together and turning things around can take months or years. It truly depends on all of the preconditions and experiences you’ve had in the past. Here are my top tips:
• Material Minimalism – Minimize your material surroundings to a point where all the things that don’t serve you in your life are removed.
Take a look around your house or apartment and make a list of the things that don’t really add any value to your life. Now step by step, either sell them or give them away to people.
• Mental Minimalism – With material minimalism, your brain gets more space automatically.
All of the things that needed maintenance or cleaning are gone, and your brain has more space to invest in mental health practices such as meditation, reading, journaling, writing and speaking affirmations, intentions and to-do lists.
• Social Minimalism – Many of us spend hours each week hanging out with people that don’t really inspire or support us on our journeys.
Creating distance from these people opens doors for new people to enter our life. When we are doing some mental minimalism practices daily, we can gain more clarity about who we want to be surrounded with and it can actually create some space for us to hang out with these new connections.
You may have heard this before, but we tend to become a person who aligns with the five people we spend most of our time with.