Do you really want the things you think you want?

Goals: from big to small, we all have them and probably spend a lot of time and energy in working towards them – the end result is sure to be worth all our troubles, right? But how often are we running on auto-pilot, not really pausing to evaluate our goals and never asking ourselves if they’re really what we want? And how much stress are we willing to endure in the process, and what do we have to sacrifice to get there?
For Ric Elias (check out his wonderful TED Talk here), the moment he thought he was about to die in a plane crash was when he began to evaluate his entire life. His realisation? Up until that moment he had been wasting a lot of time on things that didn’t truly matter to him, and he promptly decided to change that. Thankfully for the rest of us, a near death experience is not necessary to start aligning with what feels right for us, but it does begin with some reflection…
1. The importance of setting the right goals
With so much external pressure to succeed and prove ourselves in life, it’s easy to live our lives striving to meet other people’s expectations. But how fulfilling can a life like that be? Alan Watts – British philosopher and author – spoke repeatedly about the importance of asking ourselves what we truly desire lest we end up spending our entire lives doing things we don’t really want to do. ‘What would you like to do if money were no object?’ is a question he’d often ask of his students. And while forgetting about money completely is not realistic for most, Watts has a point when it comes to making sure that we make space for the things we love. Would you rather spend all your time making money now so that one day in the future you can finally devote time to the people and pursuits you love… or would you rather invest more time in what matters the most today so that one day in the future you can look back at a life you’ve loved? Listen to the man himself speak here.
2. Our deepest desires – an exercise
Most of us would list very similar things when asked what we want in life, such as a great career, financial success, love and happiness… But we need to dig deeper than that to find out what desires are really driving our goal-related behaviour – and whether we need to change our strategy when it comes to fulfilling them.
Try this exercise by Phillip C. McGraw, and ask yourself these four questions:
-What do I want?
-What must I do to have it?
-How would I feel when I have it?
So what I really want is to feel ________(fill in the blank and start again at question 2).
In the process of answering these questions we may find that the reason we want, say a successful career, is not about the success itself but the feeling of being appreciated and accepted… Discovering these underlying desires – and going back to answer question 2 again – helps us adjust our goals so that we have the best chance of getting what we truly want in life. Perhaps feeling accepted is best achieved by learning to accept ourselves first rather than trying hard to prove our worthiness to others. And we may well find that accepting and loving ourselves first is also what ends up propelling us to greater career success…
3. Your real-life action plan
Knowing what we truly want is half the battle, but we still need to put that knowledge into action. Some things will be simple to incorporate into our lives, but what if your true desire is so out of sync with your current reality that pretty much everything needs to change? Few of us can suddenly quit our job so that we can dedicate our time to pursuing a passion. But most of us can adjust things enough to move closer towards a life that’s more in tune to what matters to us. Maybe we can make more space in our schedule for artistic exploration by cutting down on other commitments, even if we end up disappointing people. Maybe we can prioritise our spiritual practice over a perfectly clean home. Maybe we can strike a deal with our boss and work less some weeks to spend more time with our kids while they’re still little.
From baby steps to giant leaps of faith, there’s a whole range of approaches to moving towards a more authentic life. If a goal feels so big that even the thought of going for it paralyses you with fear and stops you from doing anything – maybe you want to change careers and become an artist – break it down into smaller goals, such as committing to ten minutes of sketching every day – you might just find that’s enough!
4. Live in the present moment
While we discover our true desires and adjust our goals accordingly, there’s one final piece of the puzzle that will bring it all together… How often are we so focused on tomorrow that we miss out on today? Our old friend Eckhart Tolle teaches us that future – including everything we’re working for and looking forward to – will only ever come to us in the present moment. To live fully, we need to remember to tune back in to what is here, right now, as often as we can.

Embrace the beauty of aging

Yes, yes we know – Western culture has a major problem with aging. But knowing it and not letting it get to us are two different things. Everywhere we look – the big screen, TV adverts and magazines – we’re bombarded with messages that growing old is bad news, especially for women. From cosmetics and hair dye to botox and plastic surgery —we’re becoming time-terrified and programmed to keep aging at bay for as long as possible…

And while obsession with youth is not the norm around the world (elders are highly respected in Korea and India, for example), in the Western world we face a very real challenge of accepting ourselves in an environment that would have us believe that we’re ‘not enough’ once wrinkles appear and our hair begins to turn grey. We cannot stop the clock, and by fuelling our obsession with youth we just feed fear rather than embrace the new… so here’s how to reclaim your beauty and self-confidence, beginning with our own attitudes to aging.

  1. Focus on wellbeing

Cameron Diaz is best known for her glamourous acting career, but she’s also a bit of a science buff and our latest pro-age guru…Take a leaf out of her new book The Longevity Book: The Science of Aging, the Biology of Strength, and the Privilege of Time‘ (or better yet, read it!) for her uplifting and empowering view on aging.

We love her two main messages…

Adopt a positive attitude

Aging is inevitable, but how we feel about it is ultimately for us to decide – and Cameron encourages us to embrace the process as natural and normal instead of trying to resist it. Adopting a positive attitude towards our changing bodies is a key to looking and feeling our most radiant at any age – being happy in our own skin beats botox every time…

Healthy, happy, beautiful

For Cameron, aging goes beautifully hand–in-hand with living well and taking great care of ourselves, and she’s all for shifting the focus from measuring ourselves against some unrealistic beauty standards to prioritising our health and wellbeing. Healthy habits don’t only prolong and improve quality of life, they also have a huge impact on how we age and feel in the process. Her top wellbeing tips? Eat a nutritious diet, minimise stress, keep fit and try to get those vital seven hours of sleep every night. And finally, enjoy life because that’s what we’re here for…

  1. What’s beautiful to you?

We may not be able to convince the mass media to rethink beauty (not overnight, anyway), but we don’t need to personally subscribe to the narrow definition we see. There are so many different ways to be beautiful regardless of age, shape or size, and we can be advocates of diverse beauty by actively looking for and appreciating it in others as well as ourselves. And beauty is not all about physical features either – qualities like courage, wisdom, and kindness can be very attractive.

  1. Turn to positive role models

Paradoxically, while we’re supposed to be at our prettiest in our early 20s, this is also often when we feel our most insecure. Some women find that it’s not until they’re much older that they blossom and find the confidence to be proudly who they are. And all these women who never got the memo that we’re supposed to stop being attractive as we get older make for fab role models for the rest of us still learning to love our changing looks. Take for example the vivacious models featured in the work of the photographer Ari Seth Cohen whose project Advanced Style celebrates the beauty and style of people over 60. These people are living proof that there’s no expiry date for expressing yourself and being gorgeous.

We leave you with the words of Joyce, 79, featured on Ari’s blog:

“I don’t want to look younger, I want to look as great as I can at any age.”

  1. Meditate, be present

Feel as great as you can with a bit of omming… a growing body of evidence suggests we can slow down the ageing process at a cellular level with regular meditation, by extending our telemores (part of human cells that affect how we age).

  1. Look after what you’ve got

While there’s no need to strive look and feel younger than you are, it’s absolutely great to look and feel as good as you can at every age! So skip the chemical-laden anti-aging creams, skin-stressing peels and botulism face-freeze and nourish and cherish what you have by harnessing active gentle products for your skin.

Make criticism work for you

Ever wondered how a single negative remark can so easily overshadow multiple positive comments? Or why having someone criticise us can cause such a strong emotional reaction? It may all come down to the primitive parts of our brain and our drive to belong: receiving criticism could have been a real threat to our place in our tribe. Fast forward to the 21st century, and being criticised may not be a danger to our survival, but let’s face it – it’s still pretty hard to take…

Thankfully, dealing with negative feedback is a skill we can practise. And there are ways to lessen its impact – and even better: make it work for us not against us.

1. Know you’ll attract criticism whatever you do

Criticism is as inevitable as bad weather. Whatever we do, there’ll be grey days when it rains sideways. Likewise, whatever we do, there’ll always be someone who thinks we’re doing it wrong, whether it’s our work, our creative pursuits, or our style of parenting… But we can practice dealing with criticism so that it won’t ruin our day any more than a downpour does.

And knowing that criticism is a given can help us take it less personally. Count each incident as part of your personal ‘criticism quota’ if you like… And keep doing what you love. There’ll always be storms and there’ll always be those who dislike what you do. Your gifts are not for them anyway.

2. Separate the wheat from the chaff

A lot of the negative feedback we encounter in our lives has very little to do with us, and a lot to do with what is going on with the other person. From jealousy to misunderstandings, many things can distort people’s opinions. Also, when negative feedback doesn’t offer any value – how we could improve, for example – shrug it off, and move on.

At the same time, stay open to receiving honest feedback. When criticism is appropriate and fair, and given with good intentions and comes from a genuine will to help, it’s a gift that can propel us further forward than praise.

3. Make criticism work for you

Robin Sharma (author and leadership advisor) wrote:

“Negative feedback can make us bitter or better.”

Go for better. When you receive thoughtful criticism from someone, mine it for the gold: look at the feedback like an instruction manual with the most relevant bits highlighted just for you – and use them to your benefit.

Then let it go and move on. Remind yourself that everyone is constantly learning and improving and give yourself praise for your ability to grow.

4. Use mindfulness to deal with criticism

So, we’re all set to use criticism to our advantage, but there’s still the matter of that fight-or-flight response triggering every time we’re told we’ve fallen short of expectations… We want to do this right, but stress hormones are circulating, and the primitive parts of our brain are sending out urgent signals to shut down, to put up our defences or even to lash out in retaliation. Needless to say, we’re not at our most receptive to taking feedback on board…

If possible, put some space between yourself and the source of criticism. Walk away from your computer or [Read more…]