by Camille Willemain for Elephant Journal
I can recall many times I made lists of resolutions in December only to forget them by February:
“Stop biting your fingernails.
Learn to relax.
Find a career that you love”
Despite my good intentions, it wasn’t until I made a huge transition—booking a one-way ticket to Costa Rica two Januaries ago—that my life really began to change. But it wasn’t living in the remote jungle that caused me to magically change.
Real change happens from the inside out, not the outside in.
In fact, what travel has taught me more than anything, is that wherever I go, there I am. When I’m in a world where the only constant is me, it becomes spectacularly obvious where—internally—I struggle or thrive.
So how did I transition from an anxious, workaholic, serial monogamist into a beach-bumming, solo female, world traveler?
Thousands of miles from the people and the patterns of my past, with more free time than I knew what to do with, I began to evaluate my daily habits and decided how I wanted to change them. In the process, I developed a set of daily practices. When I find myself slipping from myself, falling into past patterns of unhappiness, or feeling overcome with anxiety, I come back to these. Perhaps we can practice them together?
1. Ask Ourselves What We Want
This sounds simple, but many times we get so caught up in our routines, our responsibilities, and our relationships that we don’t stop to ask ourselves, “Uhhh…is this even what I want?!”
What do you want? If you struggle to answer this question, try asking yourself, “What would I do if I could not fail?” Be prepared for your answer to this question to change often. Know that that’s okay.
2. Believe That it is Possible
We are what holds us back from actualizing our dreams. We must believe that what we want is possible; that itcan happen and we can do it. I remember the first time I saw a yoga teacher push his legs up into crow position. For yoga novices, this is a posture where the yogi crouches down, rests his knees into his armpits, shifts his weight forward into his hands, then floats his feet off the ground.
If you’ve never done it before, it looks impossible. Yet today I am able to do crow with little effort. A posture I once laughed at my teacher for even suggesting. How did I get there? I first had to believe that I could do it to give myself the courage to try. I use this as a metaphor for my life—a reminder that I am capable of achieving things tomorrow; that today might appear impossible. First, I have to believe that I can.
3. Live Life on Purpose
We must decide what we want and then focus our actions to support it. By doing everything—eating, speaking, breathing, behaving—with purpose, our actions become sacred rituals that yield intentional results. Eating something because it’s what we actually want to eat to nourish and please our palates and our bodies. Saying something because it needs to be expressed and heard. Breathing in a way that supports our thoughts, feelings, and movements. Behaving in a way that makes us feel proud of who we are.
4. Set Intentions
It’s easy for us to drift from our purpose with distractions—not only within our own minds, but those from the world around us as well. We can stay focused on our purpose by beginning each morning with one clear intention: concentration, generosity, gratitude, peace, joy, energy, clarity, balance, or anything we want to harness in our lives. Throughout the day, we should remind ourselves of this intention and bring ourselves back to it often. The more we remember our intention, the more effortless living it becomes.
5. Think Positive
People say this all of the time, but how do we actually put it into practice? A little over a year ago I was sitting on my favorite beach, Punta Uva, in Costa Rica. I was reading “A Thousand Splendid Suns” and—wow—did that book ever remind me of what I have to be grateful for. I began to make a list of all of the positive things in my life. Yet a few minutes later, wandering down the shore, I noticed my mind wandering into negative thinking. I then began beating myself up for thinking negatively in the first place. I began listing all of the things that were wrong with me and my life.
But a voice inside me spoke up: “Ahem, excuse me, Mind. You do not control me.”
In that moment, I decided to play a game. Every time I noticed a negative thought creep into my head, I gave it a positive spin. “You’re not as skinny as you were a year ago. What are you doing wrong?” became, “You have become so dedicated to your yoga practice. Look at how much stronger you are today than you were one year ago!” This game became a daily exercise.
I noticed that the more I practiced, the more automatic positive thinking became. Try shifting your self talk to a positive, kind, supportive dialogue. Our thoughts become our actions and our actions become our lives.
6. Be Selfish
How often do we give others compliments and gestures of kindness? How often do we give that treatment to ourselves? We deserve to feel healthy and happy and no one has the power to offer us that except ourselves. Do at least one thing every single day that is completely, absorbedly, selfish. Take a long soothing bath. Sit in a chair and read a book. Wake up in the morning and do yoga, not to burn calories, but to feel good. Prepare a beautiful meal and enjoy it alone.
7. Become Aware of Our Breath
Our breath is our life. Without it we would cease to survive. It literally moves life energy throughout our body affecting every function of our being. By gaining awareness of our breath and learning to control it, we can control our physical and mental state. Check in with the movement and pattern of the breath. Allow its supportiveness. When life feels stressful and we feel out of control, we can calm our breath. Slow it down. Deepen it.
Remember: as long as we keep breathing, we keep living. And nothing is ever as serious as it seems.
8. Drink Water
Drink clean, pure, fluoride-free water. Drink a huge glass first thing in the morning. Drink it throughout the day. Carry a big bottle of water wherever you go as a constant reminder to drink, drink, drink!
9. Feel More, Numb Less
Sometimes feelings are intense. Pleasure, pain, sadness, joy, anger, anxiety, fear, hope…it can all be overwhelming. In our society we have created so many tools designed to make us feel less. We escape the intensity of sensations with food, alcohol, drugs, television, the internet, small talk, violence, sex.
Why are we so afraid to just feel?
When I feel an uncomfortable emotion creep in (especially loneliness or boredom), I notice that, suddenly, I have an urge to eat something or get online. However, the same way a throbbing headache is a signal that our bodies need something, boredom is a signal that our spirits need something. Our bodies are not telling us they need a pill the same way our spirits are not telling us they need distraction. We must stop quieting these signals and instead start listening.
10. Eat a Salad
This piece of wisdom comes from my dear friend and food blogger, Andie Mitchell. Eat a big, satisfying, crunchy, varied, balanced salad every single day and, trust me, you will feel amazing! My favorite salads include a crunchy lettuce (like romaine or cabbage) mixed with dark, nutrient-packed greens, something sweet (like fruit, corn, or tomatoes), quinoa or beans, a sprinkle of nuts or seeds, and a tangy dressing with lots of fresh herbs.
11. Move Our Bodies
Run. Jump. Dance. Move. Sweat. Our bodies are filled with energy channels; let them flow! Somehow we’ve adopted this mentality that movement is about calorie burning and weight loss. It has become a chore and a “should” rather than a “want.” Moving our bodies is detoxifying, liberating, energizing, relaxing, and it’s downright fun. We should do it because our bodies want it and because it feels damn good!
12. Start Setting Boundaries
When we feel taken advantage of, taken for granted, or generally out of control, the chances are we are not setting boundaries in our lives and in our relationships. It is each of our responsibilities to define what makes us feel respected and communicate that to others. If we don’t want to loan our favorite sweater to a friend, we should respectfully say it. If we are too busy to volunteer at an event, we should be honest. If something makes us feel uncomfortable, we shouldn’t do it. We can never expect others to behave in accordance with our wants or expectations. However, we can absolutely determine what we are willing to receive and kindly express what is and is not acceptable to us.
13. Don’t Take Things Personally
Did you know that nothing is ever personal? Really. Nothing. What someone says or does that strikes an emotional chord with us is always a reflection of our own insecurities, values, and perceptions. Therefore, the way that someone treats you is the mirror image of what they are personally feeling inside. Knowing that nothing is personal, release the burden of what other people think and how they behave. Know that really, it’s not us. It’s them. In turn, when we find ourselves judging or mistreating someone else, we need to look within and ask ourselves what our thoughts and our behavior say about us.
14. Put Things Into Perspective
A few years ago a co-worker was telling me about her divorce. I will spare the details, but it sounded like an emotionally devastating experience. At the time I was going through my own never-ending breakup in an on-again-off-again relationship. Seeking guidance, I asked her, “How did you get through it?”
“I went to the Holocaust Museum,” she said.
Sometimes, the best way to move on from our problems is to simply put them into perspective. Things are rarely life or death, everything will always be ok and nothing is ever good or bad unless we think so.
15. Spend Time Alone
With the internet at our fingertips, many of us are never alone. I find that my greatest moments of peace and clarity are those when I allow myself to fully separate from other people and outside distractions. My alone time fuels and energizes me when I return to the social world. Years ago, I hated being alone. Really, I hated it. It was uncomfortable, boring and lonely. Usually the thing that we want to do the least is the thing that we most need to do.
Take a long walk by yourself (without your iPod). Go out to dinner and sit at a table alone; don’t bring a book or your phone. Sit by yourself in nature and just stare at what surrounds you. Notice what you feel in your body. Notice where your thoughts go. Realize that you are not only capable of maneuvering the world with your own strength, you are cable of maneuvering your thoughts and your feelings. Find freedom when you realize how good it feels to be alone.
16. Lead With Your Heart
When we experience completeness within ourselves—alone—we may forget about the outside world. Lower the walls we’ve built to protect ourselves. Be honest with people about how we feel. Take a chance on love. Trust people knowing that we might get hurt. Leading with our hearts means being true to ourselves. When we are true to ourselves, we can live without regret.
17. Learn the Words Pura Vida
Why I love Costa Rica can be summed up in two words: pura vida. This simple phrase embodies the most beautiful philosophy I have ever known:
‘Everything is good, life is beautiful, go with the flow, surrender to what is, let things go, enjoy your life.’
We can say, “pura vida” on a sunny day as appropriately as we can in a storm. Pura vida is all about accepting the beauty in the world in every form. Learn these words and live them.
18. Seize the Day
The best time to take a step toward what we want is when the idea is fresh in our minds and the motivation is strong in our spirits. Live in the now. Tomorrow may never come, so do it today. Do it now.
19. Make it a Habit
My experience has shown me that to actually change, I must practice consistently. This is why drastic shifts, like moving or leaving a relationship, seem to affect us in the biggest ways: the aftermath of these actions have results that remain consistent day after day. For anything to really change we need to do it often enough that it starts becoming a habit or a pattern. Choose something that we really want and do it. Every. Single. Day. Practice discipline. Do it until we don’t have to remind ourselves to do it anymore. Then keep doing it. Again. And again. And again.
20. Let Everything Go
Perhaps the most transformative practice of all is the act of letting go. In order to change, we must first make space to allow growth to happen. Let go of our expectations. Let go of our past pain. Let go of who we were yesterday and who we think we might be tomorrow. Let go of everything that is not making us better individuals right now. Most importantly, let go of thinking that we need to be perfect by adhering to anything.
And that includes this list.