So, to figure out how to find personal growth and big-time happiness, we talked with two of the biggest change-makers out there: author of Spirit Junkieand May Cause Miracles and branding expert Gabrielle Bernstein (whose clients include Google and Yale University), and Dorie Clark, author ofReinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. Whether you want to shake up your career (a new field, anyone?) or redefine your love life (dump that chump!), these are the big ways to create change. Not ready for a radical shift just yet? We’ve got some baby steps, too. Read on to start your transformation.
Is work starting to feel a little too hamster-on-the-wheel? Make a clean getaway with these career-boosting and soul-saving strategies.
Little Change: Take A Vocation Vacation
At least, that’s what Dorie Clark calls it. She’s talking about taking time to apprentice with someone in a field other than your own. It’s extremely helpful for people who are feeling uninspired by their jobs and may be looking to transition into a new field. (Not to mention a hell of a lot safer than bailing on your job without a plan or inkling of what it’s really like to make chocolates for six hours straight.)
“It’s always a good idea to take a test drive before you launch a new career or business venture,” she says. “If there are opportunities for you to do volunteering, interning, or apprenticing under another business owner so that you can see what it’s really like, that is incredibly valuable. You can sign up for almost any occupation and shadow a professional — and find out whether it would be appealing to you in the concrete reality, rather than just the idea of it.”
Big Change: Get Yourself A Mentor
Now, getting a mentor might not seem like a massive change, but in her book, Clark notes that autogenerated workplace mentorship isn’t what it used to be. Since people don’t stay at the same company for decades anymore, the natural infrastructure of older generations helping younger ones in a work environment isn’t guaranteed.
In short, you have to seek out your own mentor. (“It’s very rare that a mentor will just fall in your lap these days,” Clark says.) First, redefine what a mentor looks like in your mind (older, successful, admires your spunk, and can’t wait to nurture you along). Clark says that mentors can be younger than us, or specialize in a different field altogether. Cast a wide net, and ask yourself: ‘Who do I admire, and what can I learn from this person?’
Further, Clark says to reconfigure your understanding of mentorship. “Instead of looking for one perfect person who can teach you, look to an array of people that you admire,” she says. “You might have a friend who is really smart about how she uses social media, or another friend who is terrific at networking, and another who is fantastic at business. You can think of those people as your personal board of directors. Take them out to coffee once a month or find a way to keep in touch with them.” And, she adds, be mindful that you can help and add value totheir lives as well.
When’s the last time you did something just for the fun of it? Between work, family, staying up on your laundry, and getting to the gym, it’s easy to think, “I just don’t have time for fun.” But, a recent North Carolina State University study showed that seniors who play video games have a better sense of well-being. Other research shows that play has a transformative effect on adults. So, go ahead — inject a little fun into your life. Because even way back in the day, Plato recognized the power of fun, writing, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.”
Big Change: Travel To Another Country
Traveling to a far-flung place can be almost as exciting as hopping into a time machine — it’s easy to break free from your cell phone, media stream, and the rigors of everyday life. Much as when you were a kid, this simpler lifestyle demands unscheduled playtime. And, according to Bernstein, that sense of play and exploration is greatly beneficial: “It’s important to always have a new, heightened awareness of the world that supports you as a well-rounded person.”
Little Change: Get In The Game
Of course, reclaiming a sense of play doesn’t require a passport and accrued vacation days. A game of pickup basketball or Parcheesi is a great way to laugh and feel free. If games don’t float your boat, find an activity that feels fun, then carve out a little bit of time to let loose.
Maybe you’ve fallen into a pattern of “I know I shouldn’t” behavior that’s led to slower stamina, a more sedentary lifestyle, or a bigger jeans size. It’s easy to blame age or exhaustion for sluggishness, or to feel that becoming fit is too big a hill to climb. But, the key to good health is all about connectivity: realizing that the power of our intentions and the components of our health are symbiotic.
Big Change: Conquer The Eating/Sleeping/Exercising Trifecta Once And For All
The latest research from the National Sleep Foundation shows that exercise instigates better sleep. Research also shows that the better we sleep, the more healthfully we eat the next day. Sleeping well, eating nutritionally, and exercising regularly comprise a cycle of good health that benefits our bodies and brains. So, rather than looking at a trip to the gym, preparing a meal and getting some shut-eye as three independent things, consider how one feeds into the other, and take small steps to rev the cycle. Schedule a “walking meeting” where you confab with a coworker while hoofing it around the block. Take stairs. Get off the train a stop or two before your destination. This will all add up to 20 minutes of exercise to your day, which will lead to sleeping better, which will lead to your brain naturally making healthy food choices the day after. Win, win, win.
Little Change: Take A Minute To Meditate
Studies have shown that meditation is good for your heart, respiratory function, interpersonal harmony, and stress reduction. What’s more, those are just a few of the benefits shown in studies published in the past year alone.
“I think meditation and breathing are the greatest ways to improve health,” Bernstein says. Don’t think you have the time? Bernstein says that even a one-minute meditation practice can change your life. She recommends breathing in for five seconds, holding your breath for five seconds, exhaling for five seconds, then holding the exhale for five seconds. Repeat this three times and BAM: You’re on your way to clearer thinking, better multitasking, and a calmer being. Not bad for just a minute of practice a day.
What’s a great way to get into the flow? Fine-tune your environment. Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, a Claremont Graduate University psychology and management professor who has studied highly effective creative types for more than 30 years, says that a sense of control helps trigger focus. And, in an increasingly chaotic world, our homes and offices provide environments we can control.
Big Change: Redecorate Your Place
It’s difficult to enjoy your home or work space if you can’t stand its water-stained ceiling, unforgiving lighting, or clinical wall color. Beautifying your surroundings and making the space work for you (like lowering a table that’s too tall to be comfortable) won’t just improve aesthetics; it will boost other aspects of your life as well. “Having a healthy home and work space is crucial to creating new deals, creating opportunities, and having energy flow around your work space so you can be energized throughout the day,” Bernstein says.
Little Change: Straighten Up
Mess and chaos can block more than your physical walkway from your door to your desk. “If you have a messy wallet, you’re blocking abundance. If you have a messy desk, you’re blocking new opportunities,” Bernstein says. “Clearing out desk drawers can really help you bring in new business. And, if you have a wildly messy closet, then you’re not actually dressing well, because you’re not finding what it is that you like.”
We are evolving creatures, but sometimes, our friends don’t evolve right alongside us. If you find yourself feeling a little “meh” about your friends, or you feel that you’re outgrowing your peer group, try to make a few changes that keep you social, not alienated.
Big Change: Expand Your Buddy Base
We’re not just talking about acquiring more Facebook friends. Find three things you enjoy that you don’t get to do with your current posse. Volunteer, take a class, or otherwise explore some of your current interests that you’re not already engaging in. Branching out will likely lead you to new friends who are interested in the same things.
Little Change: Breathe New Life Into Old Friendships
“It’s extremely valuable to make a conscious commitment to doing fun and inventive things with your friends,” Bernstein says. For example, if you regularly see the same people for drinks on Thursday night, and are growing bored of the same conversations and situations that inevitably come with it, break the routine and ask your crew to do something different. For instance, suggest going on a hike or taking a bowling trip. A change of scenery and activity will likely reveal new things about the friends you’ve got.
“When you try new activities, you’re creating new memories,” Bernstein explains. “Having a new experience is the gift that keeps on giving, because you can call on that experience at any time. Those memories create a deeper connection between you and the friend.” While some people won’t want to stray from the norm, those that do will expose new talents, interests, and sides of themselves that will make you fall in love with them all over again.
Maybe things aren’t what they once were with your partner of six years. Perhaps the hottie that you’re knockin’ boots with leaves you feeling all, “Psh, whatever,” when you aren’t in the sack. Either way, your relationship needs an attention infusion.
Big Change: Recognize Whether It’s Worth Keeping
So, you’ve got yourself a girl or a guy. Whether you have yet to have labeled it a “relationship,” or you think that the person you’re dating may be “the one” (or one of the ones, anyway), it’s important to take inventory and determine whether it’s a healthy relationship. The answer, says Bernstein, is surprisingly straightforward: “If it’s making you feel energized or happy, then it’s healthy.” And, if your relationship isn’t satisfying those two vital criteria? Work on the relationship. If you’d rather call it quits, Bernstein advises asking yourself, “What did I learn from this experience?”
Little Change: Swap Negligence For Negligees
On Tuesdays, your partner makes tacos for two, and on Wednesdays, you do laundry. That’s nice and all, but that predictability is not the least bit exciting. What’s worse, not only do you expect these things from one another, but you rarely say “thank you.”
“I think it’s naive to say that we don’t have to ‘water the plant,’” Bernstein says. “You always have to be mindful of how your relationship is moving forward, and you always have to be mindful of the energy that you bring to it. If you stop watering the plant, then it will not grow.”
To make sure you’re not letting your most intimate relationship die on the vine, challenge yourself to do little things on a weekly or daily basis to surprise your love interest. Leave a funny drawing in the medicine cabinet, or text a picture that triggers a great memory of the two of you. Your partner will likely want to reciprocate (though if that doesn’t happen, don’t suppress your disappointment — vocalize your needs instead).
Developing your inner self is the most dangerous aspect of life to forgo. It’s also the easiest. While making your spirit feel whole is vitally important to how you carry yourself in all other aspects of life, it’s also something that requires confronting core bad habits—which is not only difficult, but something that others likely won’t call you out on (until it severely cracks the façade) — plus, it can’t be farmed out to someone else. Only you can make it a priority and do the work.
Little Change: Talk To Yourself (And Be Nice )
“Everything you say is an affirmation,” Bernstein says. “Either you’re affirming positivity into your life, or you’re affirming more chaos.” By being mindful of what our inner voice says (as well as what we voice verbally), you are directing both the way in which you interpret the world and your sense of personal well-being.
“There’s energy in the words. If you are saying something like, ‘I can’t get a job,’ redirect that to ‘I am open to creative opportunities in my career path,’” Bernstein says. Just don’t lie to yourself or set yourself up for failure. “The most important thing is this: Make sure you believe in whatever you’re affirming. If you redirect ‘I can’t get a job,’ to say ‘I’m a millionaire,’ your mind is going to say ‘I don’t believe that.’ You want to reach for a positive thought that you actually believe in,” Bernstein says.
Big Change: Tackle A Recurring Problem
Maybe your relationship with your dad is messed up. (Still.) Or, maybe you can’t seem to shake that passive-aggressive behavior. Whatever the case, if an issue has bugged you for longer than you can remember, it might be time to work though the problem once and for all. Team up with a professional — be it a therapist, life coach, or some other trained expert — and make a dedicated effort to address the issue. Why? We want to be defined by our greatness, not the things that weigh us down. Making the effort, time, and financial commitment to get the monkey (or daddy issues) off your back is a bold, whole-hearted move that means business, and ultimately, a better self.
More money, more problems? Maybe for celebrities, whose unstructured work lives and pressure to be popular can create easy entry into an addictive, compulsive, and money-sucking lifestyle. For most of us, more money means a greater peace of mind and the ability to make choices based on what our heart tells us, not which bills are due next week.
Little Change: Curb Dangerous Spending
Most of us know the shame that comes from having spent when we shouldn’t have. And, in most people’s minds, that spending looks like shopping sprees, bottle service at the club, or taking a vacation that we couldn’t afford. But, Clark reminds us that dangerous spending can also be done under the guise of investment in one’s future — such as starting a business.
Even when making a so-called responsible expenditure, Clark suggests we ask, “Do I have enough savings?” If you don’t have enough cash coming through the door immediately, for instance, a business might derail. Clark recommends saving up a cushion of three to six months before making a big, smart spend.
Big Change: Achieve Financial Freedom
Being financially comfortable isn’t about having more money; it’s about gaining the psychological freedom that enables us to make better professional and personal choices, according to Clark. And, guess what? The ability to make burden-free choices often results in accruing more money. How can you get into that cycle of abundance? Clark says it’s a matter of thinking about the future at times that often call for popping a bottle of champagne.
“A great time to save is when you’ve come into some new money — perhaps through a raise,” she says. “If you continue living at the standard you’re used to, rather than immediately getting a fancier car or nicer apartment, you’re not depriving yourself of anything — and you have the opportunity to begin socking away real savings.”
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