I woke up this morning, looked at the beautiful man beside me, and thought, it doesn’t get much happier than this.
I’ve been doing the gratitude thing this year and there’s NO DOUBT it’s making me happier, kinder, less sweating the small stuff.
That’s absolutely one big reason I’m feeling so happy.
But a really big reason I’m feeling so happy is that I have a good life. A life I worked damn hard to build myself.
A life I had to be fucking brave to get, over and over again.
I had to be brave enough to leave my first husband when he said he didn’t love me, and brave enough to keep living when he drowned soon after.
I had to be brave enough to leave my second husband and commit to being a single mother for all those years.
I had to be brave enough to be alone.
I had to be brave enough to build a house at home on our island so my children and wider whānau have a place to come home to. And so that while I work so hard on my business all year, I get a summer in paradise recharging, reconnecting, and reprioritising.
I had to be brave enough to walk away from my religion. The only worldview and culture I knew, so I could truly be me. And so I could be loved. And so I could feel the sun on my skin.
I had to be brave enough to admit what I wanted.
I had to be brave enough to resist when carver boy wanted to break things off. Brave enough to persist in our relationship. Brave enough (and patient enough) to wait four years for him to move in. Brave enough to risk another broken heart.
I had to be brave enough to say no to things that were tempting, but not right or good for me.
I had to be brave enough to set boundaries around my time and my contributions to others.
I had to be brave enough to charge what I’m worth.
I had to be brave enough to love and back myself.
It took a while, but I turned 45 this year, and I’m proud to say I’m brave enough to be happy.
I once had a friend staying with me, and she was worried about a small decision my daughter made. She later told me how stressful the visit was, because of that one thing.
Let me explain a bit more (while still respecting the privacy of both my friend and my daughter).
The one thing.
My daughter’s behaviour didn’t harm anyone.
It didn’t inconvenience anyone.
It was not made or carried out in anyone’s presence.
It didn’t impact on my friend’s ability to do anything.
It didn’t create any consequences my friend had to live with.
I was 100% unconcerned with the decision my daughter had made. It didn’t inconvenience or worry me. It was completely fine by me.
So when my friend later told me how stressful it was for her, and how it impacted on her ability to enjoy staying with us, I was blown away!
It wasn’t hers.
She didn’t own it. She CHOSE to be concerned. She CHOSE to be worried about the decision my daughter made. I was incredibly surprised that my friend didn’t have the self-awareness to realise she was feeling stressed about something that she simply didn’t own.
How do I deal?
One of my go-to responses to stress is to write a list – itemise the things on my mind (which is where stress lives, of course).
And then I categorise:
- what’s mine?
- what’s not mine?
I look at the what’s not mine category and often that’s all I need to do – acknowledge I’m carrying stress about things that aren’t mine and that I can’t influence.
That simple awareness (and the fact I’ve written it down and acknowledged it) is usually all it takes for me to let something go.
I basically roll my eyes at myself and go, well duh, that’s not mine. I cross it off the list and it’s gone.
I know. Sometimes it’s not that easy!
If it’s not that easy to do, then I think about what meaning I’m attributing to that thing that’s not mine, and see what I can shift there.
Sometimes it’s just a shift I need to make in my thinking. Other times I might need to act so that I can cope with the things that are not mine, but that are impacting on me nevertheless.
Then I look at the what’s mine category and plan out what I can do about it and when, and what I need so I can action that.
Stress management 101 (according to Shelly).
OK, I hate that title. But it’s all about SEO – did you know if you title your blogs with questions people type into google, your content is more likely to be found? True story.
And this post IS about living your best life. I just hate those words because I can hear idiots saying them and using them as a bullshit excuse for why they can’t won’t do stuff. “I’m living my best life.” (Read that in a high pitched, whiny voice.)
What I wanted to title this post is: What’s over your cognitive horizon?
Pretty much my favourite TED talk of all time is by Shawn Achor. It’s about happiness. And in it, Shawn says that most of us live with happiness over the cognitive horizon, because we tell ourselves once we achieve X, we’ll be happy.
When I get that promotion/pay rise/ideal job, I’ll be happy. When I lose weight, I’ll be happy. When I find the right man/woman, I’ll be happy.
The problem is, he says, once we achieve that thing, it’s in our natures to immediately set the next milestone. You find the right partner, and then it’s suddenly, when I have kids, I’ll be happy. You get the promotion, and then you set your sights to the next one, or to starting your own business.
It never ends. We never reach the happy place – so it’s over our cognitive horizon. Happiness is always in the distance, just out of reach or out of sight, and we never get there.
What the research shows, instead, is that if we can be happy here and now, those other achievements are more likely to follow. Find happiness every day, and you become more successful. You’re more likely to attract the right partner, achieve the promotion or the pay rise, find success in what you do. But the happiness has to come first.
So it’s not step 1: be successful, step 2: be happy. It’s the exact reverse.
I’ve known this for years now.
I AM happy on a daily basis. I know I need to find joy in each day (in amongst all my mess, cos I truly believe life is messy, full stop. I used to wait for the mess to be tidy so I could be happy. Then I discovered Shawn Achor).
So I understood that.
But late 2018, I woke up one day and a whole bunch of things fell into place. No, I wasn’t keeping happiness over my cognitive horizon, but you know what I was keeping there? Wellness.
I’ve had, for quite some time now, a clear vision of the life I want to live (my best life – uggh).
It involves some balance – between work and downtime, between taking care of my needs and the needs of others – it involves time outside and eating in a way that makes me feel well.
AND I WAS KEEPING THAT LIFE OVER THE COGNITIVE HORIZON.
WTF! That realisation pisses me off! It makes me feel like such a slow learner!
And what’s worse is that the horizon wasn’t even clear. It was just, I can’t have those things YET. I have to keep working my ass off for a while yet, before I can change my lifestyle. I have to work more, do the next stage of business development, make more money yet, before I can start prioritising myself and my own needs.
So on that morning, I woke up. The sun rose over the cognitive horizon and the light fell on the simple, simple truth. I have to LIVE my ideal life if I ever want to HAVE my ideal life. I have to just get up each day and LIVE IT.
Want quiet time in the fresh air each morning, Shelly? Fucking get up and do it. Because the emails can wait. That piece of writing for a client can wait. Those questions your staff are waiting for answers to, can wait. Go for a fucking walk and breathe and drink a bottle of water while you’re at it.
And strangely enough? No one died. And I came back from my walk refreshed and clear-headed and energised and sat down at my computer and got shit done.
As I write this, my inner mean girl is saying, People are going to think you’re SO DUMB, Shelly. But I’m not. *insert tongue poking out here* Yes, some of you will be giving up reading about now cos #ThankYouCaptainObvious. But at least SOME of you are going, holy shit! That’s what I’ve been doing! OMG, I can’t believe I never thought about it like this!
And then others of you might be saying, well that’s just lovely but I’ve got a 6-month-old or 3 kids under 5, or 3 jobs, so fuck you and your best life, Shelly.
And you’re not wrong – being a mother of babies and toddlers was a nightmarish time in my life. It was the exact opposite of my best life.
So I hear you, sister – AND I have 2 questions for you:
- What’s your best life WITHIN that reality?
- Is your reality TRUTH, or are you lying to yourself about what things are in and out of your control?
Because here are some of the lies I was telling myself about my reality:
- If I don’t start work the second my eyes open, when my brain is clear and I’m motivated, I’ll have lost my chance to be productive that day. So I can’t risk it.
- I have too many people who need too many things from me and something’s gotta give, and the only thing I can see that CAN give, is me looking after me.
- To let someone down or say no to potential work is to fail.
- Living the life I want to live is simply a luxury that I don’t yet have time for. I haven’t earned it yet.
I was at a conference in Montreal last year and I was talking to a friend about how I’d know when I’d achieved balance because I’d be taking better care of myself. I honestly believed that – that balance and self-care would be the result. It would be the evidence I’d arrived at that destination over the horizon.
And she called me out on it! So thank you, Cheryl Stephens, for being wise and simply saying, you just have to start NOW. You told me to book myself a regular massage. And I thought to myself, no, you’re missing the point.
But I sat with it for a good couple of months. And then came that morning when I woke up and knew what I needed to do. Those words landed right where they needed to: in that place inside of us that knows truth.
OK, I need to take you on a little bit of a journey to explain what I mean here, so bear with me.
I have a background as an educator. I trained as a high school English teacher. I started teaching at universities at 21 years old. I worked in indigenous tertiary education for 7 years.
I now train adults for a living.
Trainer. Teacher. Educator. Facilitator.
In the education sector we have strong feelings about all these words.
In the school of education, we frown on the word ‘train’ because there’s a history of seeing teaching as a vocation rather than a profession.
In indigenous education we prefer the word ‘facilitate’ because it rejects the ‘empty vessel’ pedagogy that has such close links with colonisation.
When teaching adults, we are less likely to use the word ‘teach’ for similar reasons – working with adults requires a more co-constructive, facilitative approach than a teacher-student model.
I make good money as a corporate trainer because that is what companies are looking for. When adult participants come into a room with me they want me to teach them things. They are looking to me to have the expertise I can pass on to them.
But here’s the curveball: in a lot of ways, what I’m delivering to people when I train, teach, educate, or facilitate, is CONNECTION.
I teach people how to connect with other humans, because that is the foundation for all the other things we want to achieve.
Want to write better documents (Business Writing)? Connect with your readers.
Want to teach people better in the workplace (Train the Trainer)? Connect with your trainee.
Want to work better with other cultures (Cultural Competency)? Build a connection with those people.
You won’t hear me distil it like that in a training room.
So what does this have to do with marketing? And writing?
When we name a product or service, it’s natural to come at it from our own position:
- What do I call this thing?
- What is it, from my professional perspective, that I’m providing?
- What words are acceptable in my industry?
- What words will my peers see value and credibility in?
But that’s a mistake.
We also name our products and services based on the outcomes we know they’ll provide to people.
That’s also a mistake.
Because, ask any trainer or consultant and they’ll tell you:
What these people need is X, but they think they need Y.
If I try to sell them X, they’re not interested.
But if I sell them Y, they’ll buy it, and that gets me in the door so that I can give them X.
If I only deliver Y they won’t be anywhere near as satisfied as if I give them X.
In a nutshell?
Ask yourself what your market is looking for.
What do they think they need?
And then label your product or service as that.
What are you putting energy into resisting?
What might happen if you just roll with it?
I’m what you might call ‘highly strung’ (uggh). Me earlier in life was a basket-case. Control-freak, stressed out, ready to blow up over stupid shit on a regular basis.
I really struggled to get through each day and eventually had some real challenges with depression.
Then my husband died.
If you ever need something to help you reconsider what’s important in life, death will do it.
Of course, the grief and growth since his death has been a long and winding 20-year journey. But ultimately what has happened is this: I’ve learned to roll with things.
I’ve learned that if I want to cope with life, I have to release my death-grip on the reigns.
I have to roll with shit.
I have the most beautiful partner today. While my carver boy gets a good deal of credit for that, cos he’s a good, good man, I also give myself credit for a bunch of things, and learning to roll with stuff is one of those things. It means I don’t try to manage him or control how our life together works. It means I’m accepting of the twists and turns. It means I got more patient (and faaaaark, has that been a ride!).
Most people today consider me fairly chilled (although high-energy). They’re surprised when I say how much of a stressed-out control freak I used to be.
So here’s the thing. Or the things.
There are some things we shouldn’t let go of – some things we do want to manage and influence. Like the fact that my family needs to eat. I’m not going to just roll with them going hungry. Or the fact that we need to be safe while we drive. I’m not going to just roll with breaking the law or risking our lives.
But the timing of that trip in the car? I can roll with when that happens. Who comes in the car and what they wear or what they bring with them? I can roll with that.
What we eat and when? I can roll with that. We can’t all sit down to a meal of meat and 3 veg at 6pm? I can roll with that. Someone wants to eat weetbix instead? Go for your life.
Trying to manage and control things is EXHAUSTING.
And it means that you’re setting yourself up for stress, disappointment, upset, and maybe anger and rage, if things don’t go the way you tried to make them go. The odds of things not going to plan are HUGE.
So I wonder what you’re resisting right now? What’s taking up your energy? What are you giving power to because you’re laser-focused on it happening a certain way?
Choose one small thing.
Now what might it look like if you just rolled with it? What’s the worst that could happen? What might you gain? How much happier might you become? How much lighter might you feel?
Roll with it.
Let those swells bring you safely and gently onto a shore where the sun is shining and you can get some rest.