Living a life that is in line with your personal values, a life that allows you to be true to yourself is vital for achieving a sense of fulfilment, as well as good mental and physical well being.
Now, let me start by saying that I’m extremely sorry to have to tell you this, but there is no quick remedy for creating a life that you love (and that loves you back!). It’s going to take some deep introspection, time and effort.
But don’t let that put you off. Because I can tell you from personal experience that every single moment of discomfort, every extra burst of energy that you have to put in, every bead of sweat and every tear you shed along the way is worth the outcome. It is worth it for the knowledge and sense of freedom that you can discover within yourself.
To get into the nitty-gritty of our ‘self’, our ‘soul’, our ‘psyche’… or whatever you want to call it… I think that it’s important to have a bit of background behavioural psych. knowledge.
Psychologist Carl Rogers believed that humans have one basic motive- to ‘self-actualise’. Or in other words, to fulfil our potential and achieve the best we can. And I for one can’t argue with this theory.
He described how our concept of ‘self’ is made up of three aspects, which are all unique to each individual.
Self-Worth: Also referred to as self-esteem. This is how we think about ourselves and what we think about ourselves. Self worth often develops in early childhood and is usually formed from our interactions with our parents.
Self-Image: This is how we see ourselves, both internally and externally. For example, our personality (internal) and our body image (external). Our body image could be ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’, and we may look upon our personality as either generally ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Ideal-Self: This is who we want to be. We form this from our goals and ambitions. It is an evolving aspect of our ‘self’; our ideal self when we were a child is likely to be very different to what we believe our ideal self to be now. (*Note I say ‘believe’ – we’ll come back to this later!)
According to Rogers, we’re more likely to ‘self-actualise’ and reach our full potential when these aspects are in agreement, in harmony and compatible with each other, or in ‘congruence’ as he called it.
When we are incongruent, or in more simple terms, when our view of our current-self, and our ideal-self don’t match up, we are less likely to be able to reach our full, unfiltered potential.
We are more likely to feel dissatisfied, unhappy, like something is missing, like there has to be more to life than this, stuck, bored, irritable, angry, imprisoned, exhausted, burnt-out, stressed, depressed, anxious, fearful, lacking in some way, not good enough, dispassionate, distracted…
Ringing any bells? Thought so! So, let me ask you this:
When was the last time that you sat back and considered who you really are, who you really want to be and whether you’re living the life that you really want?
The first step is recognising, and deciding that you want to do something about these feelings that you’re experiencing. Commit to YOU. Commit to becoming inquisitive about your Self. Endeavour to find your Self, one fraction at a time.
First thing’s first, it’s time to carve out some ‘You Time’! Find a moment and space when you can really focus; when you can be alone and undisturbed for a good period to get you on your way.
Grab a pen and paper and start writing out anything that comes to mind about the three aspects of your Self, as described above. It’s really important that you don’t sensor yourself, this a private time for you to be truly open and honest (hence why I suggest you do this with time and space to spare!) Just be aware that it might be quite uncomfortable at stages, but that’s okay, bear with it.
As humans, we prefer to see ourselves as… well, just as we are, actually! Often, we don’t want to admit (to ourselves, let alone anyone else) that there are parts of us buried deep, we might think of those parts as undesirable or unrealistic. And so, to keep ourselves ‘safe’ (or, as I like to call it, ‘small’), we might deny or repress those different parts of us. However, now is the time to start getting curious, what do you have inside of you? What are your dreams? Your hopes? Your fears?
You might like to revisit and add to this list over time. Keep a curious, open mind and begin paying attention to your feelings and reactions as you go about your days. What makes your heart sing? What makes you uncomfortable? And here’s the big one to start looking out for…
What are you saying…
Who are you being…
How are you behaving…
What are you feeling…
What are you doing…
… just because you feel you SHOULD? Or you OUGHT TO? Or because you’re SUPPOSED TO?
Now, here’s where it gets super interesting! Remember what I said earlier about ‘What you *believe* about your Ideal-Self‘? Well, ‘believe’ is exactly the right word. Because, I can almost guarantee that half of what you are doing right now, and half of what you think your Ideal Self is, is just nonsense that means absolutely nothing to you deep down. They are things have have been imposed and impressed upon you from the people around you and from society. They are things that you believe you SHOULD, OUGHT or are SUPPOSED to do.
‘Should is how other people want us to live our lives.
It’s all of the expectations that others layer upon us. Sometimes, Should are small, seemingly innocuous, and easily accommodated. “You should listen to that song,” for example. At other times, Shoulds are highly influential systems of thought that pressure and, at their most destructive, coerce us to live our lives differently.
When we choose Should, we’re choosing to live our life for someone or something other than ourselves. The journey to Should can be smooth, the rewards can seem clear, and the options are often plentiful.
Must is different.
Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self.’
– Taken from the book ‘The Crossroads of Should and Must’ by Elle Luna
I can give you a personal example of living life according to ‘Should’. At eighteen, I went off to university to study Psychology. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was a choice borne out of SHOULD. It was the done thing. All my peers were doing it. That’s what you were SUPPOSED to do if you wanted a good career and prosperous life, right?
Let me tell you how it worked out for me. I soon got over the excitement of the new adventure and new found independence. I became miserable, I struggled with the masses of new people around me and found I had to literally force myself to do any of the studying. In fact, I do more reading now, ten years down the line, than I did for any of my classes, essays or exams. I couldn’t put my finger on why I was finding it all so hard. I was sociable and intelligent, I shouldn’t have found any of it so challenging. But the fact is, I did.
It’s only been since I’ve started this journey of self-discovery that I’ve got to the bottom of it all. It wasn’t really my choice. I continued this pattern of living live according to Should, Ought and Supposed To for a long, long time, becoming more and more stuck, disconnected and frustrated along the way.
Then, one day Kick-Ass Mentor presented me with a world altering task: To get to know my values.
I’d never paid them any real consideration before, I kind of just assumed that I knew what I valued and that I knew what I wanted out of life. Oh how naive of me!
It turned out that I had been pursuing ‘stuff’ that I had no real emotional connection to. That I’d been chasing after dreams, working on becoming someone, carrying out so many tasks because I thought I should, because I thought I was supposed to. So much of what I saw on the list in front of me wasn’t mine after all. No wonder I had become so exhausted and overwhelmed, no wonder my mental health and wellbeing had taken a battering. But in that moment, I felt freer than I had done for a long time. I could finally let go of what I didn’t need, and start living a life that was more aligned to my core values and beliefs.
Are you ready to decide who you are, what you believe and what you want out of life?
It’s pen and paper time again!
Start by writing the heading ‘I should…’ at the top of your page. Then, simply finish off the sentence in as many different ways as you can. Just like before, don’t sensor yourself. Once you’re done, go through each one, taking time to have a conversation with yourself whilst considering the following questions:
Why should you…? Where/who does this belief come from? Is it REALLY true? Does this belief help you? Is it going to help you move forward? Do you really need to hold on to this belief any more?
Decide which things on your list can be crossed off. Feel the weight of them leaving you. Sense the freedom getting closer. You no longer need to hold on to those old beliefs. You get to decide for yourself.
Next, start listing out anything that you value. This might include anything from physical things that you value in your life, to characteristics that you value – they don’t have to be characteristics of yourself- just anything that you admire and value in people on a whole.
I’ll give you a small example from my own list to get you started:
Being a good person, time alone, fresh air, helping others, feeling relaxed, achieving things, learning new skills, acquiring new knowledge, honesty, laughter, meditation…
Do not stop writing, keep going back to it. As new ideas pop in to your mind, add them to the list. I ended up with pages full. So don’t worry that you’re over doing it! Get right into it, search your soul.
Once you feel like you’ve got it all out there, go back to each item on the list. Do you connect with it on a deep level? Does it actually mean anything to you? In fact, what does it mean to you? Does the thought of it light you up from the inside?
If the answer is no, then it’s got to go!
If you don’t feel it in your gut, then it’s not yours to keep. Cross it off. Narrow it down as much as you can, I was aiming for my top 10, but this is about your choice, remember? So you choose how many you want to go for.
You might find that several of your items are repeated, that’s fine- it most likely means that you genuinely connect to it- so add it to your ‘Top Values’ list. Another thing that I found when I completed this exercise, was that many of the items were closely connected and had an underlying value. For example, having choices, having financial security, having a car, having physical space; I knew these were all connected to the underlying value of having freedom. So freedom was immediately added to my Top 10.
When you find your values, its easy to assess whether your life is attuned to them. If you find that it’s not, What are you going to do about it?
Well, my lovely reader, that is entirely up to you- you get to choose!
But I would suggest beginning to make some changes. No matter how small they might seem, they will be a step in the right direction. Make a plan. Keep being inquisitive about your Self.
Stop living your life for everyone else and become who you want to be.
Leave a comment, contact via email or message me directly with any thoughts, feedback or questions about this post. I’d love to hear how you get on with discovering your true Self.
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