In my 20’s I was in a domestic battering relationship. And depressed. And wracked with anxiety.
In my 30’s I was wrapped up in the throes of addiction, probably as a result of the turmoil of my 20’s.
In my 40’s I probably hit bottom and just about lost everything I cared most about: my marriage, my home, my son and my career. I was a mess, and I knew it. The question was, how was I going to go from train wreck to triumph and get my life back?
As I reflect back on those decades, it seems like it was happening to a different person. I was lost, asleep, and wracked with the pains and tensions of being a human being.
Today I sit writing this article enjoying looking out over the St. Lawrence River at my summer home where I spend the summer every year. My spouse and some friends will arrive later tonight. I have worked all day with my fantastic team on projects that I care deeply about. I am happy, content, and most of all, peaceful.
What was this process that took me from the depths of difficulty in my human condition to the happiness and peace of mind I now live? I would say I had an awakening of sorts. Not one of those mind-bending, spur of the moment and you are forever changed experiences. No, mine was more of a slow burn awakening. One that came with hours in a therapist’s office, in a hardback chair in some church basement doing 12-step recovery work, in the sanctuary of a spiritual center and in my own living room and deck, writing, purging, assessing, rethinking and most of all changing how I viewed life itself.
Here are a few fundamental ways to bring the experience greater peace of mind:
1. Develop the willingness to accept that the source of your discontent is YOU, not anything outside of you. I have worked as a therapist and professional performance coach for 30 years and what I see over and over again (and what I did myself for many years) was that people locate the source of their discomfort “out there.” The particulars of the “out there” may change, but the tendency to externalize the cause of one’s pain is part of the human condition, and it is what must alter to awaken to greater peace. Your discomfort is coming from within.
Not from your kids, but form how you are reacting to your kids.
Not from your life, but from what you believe about yourself and about life.
Not from your job or your commute but from what you say to yourself about your career and your commute and then how what you say to yourself impacts what actions you engage.
Just today I was talking with a coaching client whose marriage is falling apart. She spent 40 minutes talking about her frustration because he is not going to therapy, he is not focusing on improving the marriage, he, he, he, he. And then she said, with tacit resignation, “I know I can’t change him.”
I asked her if she realized that the source of her problem was not her husband, it was her own inability to manage her frustration. Her job was to communicate to her husband what she wants and needs in their relationship and offer any support to him that she might be able to provide as he seeks to create change.
2. Realizing that how what I believed about life needed to change.
Having recovered from decades of chronic depression leaves me with occasional forays into depressive moments. For no apparent reason, my mind and body will sometimes feel heavy, my mood will sink, and I’ll feel a fleeting sense of despair. When this occurs, it is so helpful for me to realize that emotions are just part of the human experience and that I can feel them but not be owned by them.
What I do in these moments is reground myself in the deep conviction that life, God, the Universe or whatever is kind, benevolent and conspiring for my good. When I believed that I was the victim to the whims of an angry God or the dumb luck of life itself, I had no power to change my way. When I realized that my fundamental beliefs about life were working against me, I knew I could move forward and alter them. Because after all, I also realized that…
3. My beliefs and thoughts are not the truth and can be changed to give me a better, more peaceful and fulfilling experience of life.
This may, in fact, be the most important realization of your life. What you think is not the truth, it is just what you think. Your beliefs are not the truth; it is just what you have, probably unconsciously, come to believe. The most powerful way to alter your experience of life is to spend time cataloging what you genuinely think, feel and believe about yourself and life – is it benevolent? Is it working for you? Are you worthy of achieving? Are you good enough? Strong enough? Do you believe you can set and accomplish goals? What you believe determines how you behave. And how you behave, the decisions you make, determine the course of your very life.
This may, in fact, be the most important realization of your life. What you think is not the truth, it is just what you think. Your beliefs are not the truth; it is just what you have, probably unconsciously, come to believe.
The most powerful way to alter your experience of life is to spend time cataloging what you genuinely think, feel and believe about yourself and life – is it benevolent?
Is it working for you?
Are you worthy of achieving?
Are you good enough? Strong enough?
Do you believe you can set and accomplish goals?
What you believe determines how you behave. And how you behave, the decisions you make, determine the course of your very life.