If I had to wager a guess, I’d say that Snow White is probably the most depressed of all the princesses.
Sure, she’s got her looks. And she hangs out with seven incredibly adorable senior citizens….one of which is named Happy.
But here’s the thing. She’s banking on “someday.” Big time.
“Someday my prince will come. Someday I’ll find my love. And how thrilling that moment will be. When the prince of my dreams comes to me.”
Not only does she place all her happiness eggs in the basket of tomorrow….she actually thinks that she can just sit back and let it come to her.
To me, happiness is a state of mind. It’s not something you reach at the end of a long road.
It’s not something you will experience as a result of making more money.
Or meeting that special someone. Even if his last name is Charming.
All too often we think about happiness as a destination. But really, when it comes down to it, happiness is a way of being. A perspective. And an outlook on life.
The way I see it, there are three key steps to happiness:
Start setting goals
I am happiest when I feel like my life has purpose and meaning. Taking daily steps towards my biggest dreams, is hugely satisfying. Especially when I feel like I’m making on impact on others.
But in order to get that “jump out of bed” feeling, we need to know where it is we’re going. Create a vision for your life. Set a goal or two (and get specific here). Then find joy in building your castle, brick by brick.
This is something I am continually trying to teach my kiddos. It’s the way they will rush to get to the end of a book. Or agonize over a Rubik’s cube.
Guys. It’s not about “getting there.” It’s about enjoying the ride.
Stop caring about what other people think
Oooooweee, it is tempting to give weight to other peoples’ opinions of us. In fact, our ego demands it. But let me tell you. When you start to live your life according to what other people want, you rob yourself of true happiness.
I get it. It feels so good to be liked. And I think all of us are probably experiencing some form of PTSD from our junior high years. Jesus. I know I am.
But our souls thirst for things. And when you can get still and quiet enough to tap into that thirst, you can start quenching it.
It can be terrifying to go against the grain. Disapproval is one of our greatest fears as human beings.
But guys, playing it safe will only ever leave you feeling unsatisfied. Dare to let your passion steer the ship. Even if other people call you crazy.
Put gratitude at the forefront
I think all of us, at one time or another, have said to ourselves……I just need to get through “X.” Then I’ll be happy.
But if those thoughts become a way of life? You’re totally screwed.
For me, motherhood has been the biggest test of my will to stay happy, here and now.
There have been so many times over the past few years when I have been tempted to give into the idea that I will be so much happier when my kids are less dependent on me, and I can have a little more freedom. And sleep.
Little kids are fucking exhausting.
But guys, the number one game changer for me in terms of my level of happiness? A daily gratitude practice.
Every single day, I write down a handful of things that I am grateful for. Teeny tiny things like my wool socks. Or the way Liam celebrates a goal he just scored on the ice.
As soon as you start “keeping track” of things you are grateful for, your brain automatically starts scanning your day for things to add to the list.
Our lives are abundant with good shit. But like one of those magic-eye puzzles…..sometimes you just need to look at things a little differently. Or….squint and go cross-eyed and refuse to blink for a solid minute. All at the same time.
You and you alone are responsible for how happy you are. And sometimes you really need to give yourself a little vision test in order to bring happiness into focus.
I mean, you’re welcome to sit there and pine away for someday. Or you can realize that you have it made, because the squirrels do your dusting, the raccoons do your laundry, and the birds wash your dishes.
All of a sudden, the only thing I could hear was the pounding of my own heart.
“I’m sorry. Could you say that again?,” I said.
The dentist looked at me, and smiled. Empathy? Amusement? Malevolence?
“Your son. He needs a root canal.”
You’ve got to be kidding me.
My 7-year old son. The one who once screamed at the top of his lungs when it was time to get his hair cut. The one who once put up the fight of his life when it was time to trim his nails.
“He’ll be just fine. Focus on the first step….and the first step only…..and then we’ll just explain what’s happening as we go.”
They send us home with a mini gas mask. He’s supposed to practice wearing it. Taking deep breaths. “Like Darth Vadar!” he says, with excitement.
I feel horribly guilty, knowing what I know. I struggle over the idea of not telling him every single detail of what’s gonna go down. Because hell, I’d want someone to tell ME.
But no. I’ve gotta believe that the dentist….a guy who lives his entire life as one of THE most feared human beings on the planet…..must know a thing or two about managing anxiety.
I think about my own life, and the obsession I have over planning every single move. Anticipating the next thing. Bracing for what’s coming. And breaking down my life into a series of steps.
Not only does it create overwhelm, on days when the steps seem impossible to cram in…..it also creates a habitat in which presence is starved of all nourishment.
Monday morning. Step #29. Get the kids dressed in their snow suits. Rush rush rush. Check. Let’s move on. We’ve got to get to step #30: Getting locked and loaded into the car.
Don’t even get me started on those moments when forward progress is halted….when a wrench gets thrown in the mix.
You have to pee? You have to PEE? NOW? Just pee in the snowsuit. I’ll buy you a new one.
So maybe the dentist has a point.
Too much planning can actually cause us MORE distress, because when things don’t go the way we expect them to go…..we get upset.
And so there’s a tricky balance between setting big goals, reverse engineering our success, plotting the road to our biggest dreams……and letting life unfold, simply by trusting the process.
So where is the sweet spot? And how do we get there?
For me, I like to have a clear picture of where I’m headed. A vision board. A daily journalling practice that includes making a list of “Things I Will Make Happen.”
#1 NY Times bestselling author.
Vacation home in Maui.
Trip on an airplane with the kiddos.
Spartan race champion.
But rather than obsess over the million-and-one steps that it may take to get there, I try to focus on the step I am currently taking. Today. And doing it well.
Which is haaaaarrrrrrd.
Because, damn, I love a good blueprint. And I hate being blindsided. As do most human beings. Except when we’re watching Survivor. THEN we’re on the edge of our seats, fist deep in popcorn, relishing in the drama of someone who doesn’t see it coming. Because, well, it ain’t happening to us.
But guys, trusting the process is not simply an excuse to sit back, be lazy, and let Jesus Take the Wheel (thank you, Carrie Underwood).
For me, trusting the process looks like this:
Trust = Action + Surrender
It’s about walking forward. But detaching yourself from the outcome.
It’s about creating movement. But succumbing to the path that you may end up on.
It’s about hustle. And flow. Although I’ve never seen the movie. But it sounds right.
Excellence is a matter of steps. Excel at this one. Then the next one. Then the next.
And truthfully, a huge part of excellence, is simply staying the course. Being consistent with your drive. Knowing where it is you want to go, but letting the detours happen.
Because the more we fight for control, the more resistance we create. And the more resistance we create, the more friction there is…..which slows us down.
You want to be fit and healthy?
Do the work. Day in and day out. Put your Nike’s on. And move.
Yes you’ll catch a cold. Yes there will be a wicked snow storm. Yes your son will decide he’s Picasso, and paint the living room wall. Or the cat.
But those are the moments when you need to trust the process. Take action. And surrender.
Put on your cutest workout clothes. Then crank the music, and have a dance party as you scrub the living daylights out of that wall. Then go for a quick 10 minute jog.
Flexibility is key. And it is the only way you’re ever going to get where you want to go.
One step at a time. This step. Here and now. With everything you have.
I try to put this idea into action. It is -30. It is snowing and blowing. And I am driving through downtown Winnipeg with my two children in the backseat. Traffic is moving along at a snail’s pace. But rather than fixate on how far away Grandma’s house is, we turn it all into a game.
“Green, green, green, green!” We chant as we approach an intersection.
We make it through. And we all cheer! “Wooooohoooooo!"
And so yes. The wise dentist is right. We need only focus on this moment. Putting on the mask. And breathing. Because the next moment will come soon enough. And when it does, we simply need to surrender to what is. Even if it’s kicking that same dentist in the face as he jams a needle in my son’s mouth. Come what may.
What does it mean to be strong?
The answer to this question isn’t as obvious as you might think.
In fact, the answer you might give in this very moment, will likely differ from the answer you give a year from now…..a month from now…..a week from now.
Your answer will surely differ from the person sitting next to you on the bus. Just as surely as it will differ from the person sleeping next to you at night.
Strength is a quality that can be measured in weight, in speed, in heart, in sweat, in tears, in honesty, in action, in the trodden path you’ve left behind.
Strength is relative. And as often as the evidence of its presence appears in physical form…..it is all mental.
Just this morning, I made chocolate cupcakes with my kiddos (which….trust me, requires Wonder-Woman-level strength in the form of patience), and as we were waiting for the cupcakes to bake, I asked them…..
“What does it mean to be strong?”
I love asking my kids questions like this, because their answers are always so honest, so simple, and yet so profound.
Clara said, “It means to be good. It means you can lift a big car.”
Liam said, “It means you can move heavy things. It’s showing your muscles.”
I agreed. And then, I dug a little deeper.
“Have you ever had to be strong in a different way? Like when you were scared? Or sad?”
“Yes,” said Liam. “Sometimes my tears are like…..little raindrops of strength. They mean that I’m doing something tough. Like my first day of school.”
I take a deep breath, and sigh. My god. So much beauty from this little boy’s mind.
All too often, tears are associated with weakness. And yet, could they not equally be associated with strength?
How many times have I bawled my eyes out, in moments of all-out emotion? Were those moments not moments when I needed to dig deep and find the will within myself to carry on? Were those moments not moments of great transformation and strength?
To others, strength is something that reflects the ability to endure:
“Strong means you can meet any challenges. Strength to overcome.”
“It means don’t quit, don’t give up.”
“Strong is finishing a class with you, especially today’s class. Yikes.”
Still others feel that strength is a reflection of hard work. Effort. Energy. And commitment.
“Strength is carrying the groceries in one trip!”
“Having or marked by great physical power……or did you mean the acronym for STRONG….South Texas Research Organizational Network Guiding. Not sure which one you were looking for.”
Cute. Very cute.
But truly, strength is somewhat of a shape shifter. A chameleon. A malleable piece of metal that bends in reaction to what kind of blow is being given to it.
Just when you think you can say, “I am strong!” Life throws you a curveball, and puts your strength to the test in an entirely new way.
“These days, for me strong means taking a hard look at your life, asking yourself the tough question and having the uncomfortable conversations.”
Strength is vulnerability. And truth. And the ability to look at things head on, with acceptance.
To me? Well, to me, strength is the ability to endure. To say “yes”.....when saying “no” would be so much easier.
It is the willingness to see with honest eyes. And an open heart. To be willing to cry. To laugh. To be yourself.
To be strong is to face your fears. To witness your thoughts....”I don’t know if I can”.....and to keep walking forward anyways.
True strength is empowering yourself with action and positivity in the face of indecision, self-pity, and darkness.
STRONG is a verb. An action. A mindset.
What does STRONG mean to you?
When I was little, one of my all-time favourite board games was KGB.
Now, KGB is a bazaar game. It came out during the height of the Cold War. And so there was a sliiiiiiight bias against the USSR.
The ultimate goal of the game was to expose the evil Russian double-agent, amongst a sea of badass CIA agents. Sneaking in and out of rooms on the board. Trying to track down the one person who was turning off the power switches.
I can remember being super pumped when I got to be the double-agent. All of a sudden my eyes would narrow. My voice would deepen. And I’d speak with a slight Gorbachev-y accent.
My cover was blown every single time.
But daaaamn I loved slipping into the identity of a sinister spy.
From a young age, we are all told who we are by the outside world. And even before we have any sense of self-perception, others are putting us into very particular boxes.
She’s musical. He’s sporty. She’s shy. He’s outgoing.
Even my 4-year old daughter is quick to label a Fisher Price character as “the naughty boy,” because he has a furrowed brow and a frowny face.
We all make judgements. And there’s something innate about our desire to quickly categorize people.
As we get older, we start to form our own beliefs about who we are. And our identity becomes a slowly simmered co-creation between us and the people around us.
But every label that is assigned to us may or may not ACTUALLY be true.
I have a sweet tooth. I’m bad at math. I’m a shitty baker. Maybe…..maybe not.
Ok, that last one is hard to contest. I once baked cookies, and accidentally doubled the sugar. In case you’re wondering? Yes. I did give those cookies to 3 year old children. But don’t worry. They weren’t MY children.
Identity is a funny thing. Because really, it’s all in our heads. And although some of us are “naturally gifted” in one way or another…..we often seek out evidence to support who it is we think we are.
Perception becomes reality. Reality becomes perception.
And before you know it, you're half-way through the movie Inception, completely lost, because you ran out of the room for 3 minutes to pop another bag of popcorn.
During this time of year, when the calendar turns, many of us are filled with an electric sense of emotional energy. Ready to make the year ahead “our year.”
But for anyone looking to achieve some big goals in 2020, I think the best place to start, is with your identity.
True behaviour change is identity change.
And guys, once you start to see yourself as a different type of person, you won’t have to force yourself to do things.
The goal is not to run a marathon…..it is to become a runner.
The goal is not to write a book……it is to become a writer.
It is easier to stick to a habit once it is part of your identity. And once you decide that you’re the type of person who….say……consistently hits the gym (and other people reiterate that idea)…..any choice you make that goes AGAINST that identity, brings a little discomfort into your life.
I’ve always considered myself an athlete, and so the months after I had my first child, I felt absolutely LOST. I wasn’t able to workout like I used to, and there was a huge gap between who I thought I was…..and who I actually was.
Throw in the new role of “mother” that is thrust upon us owners of brand new babies…..and you’ve got a full-blown identity crisis.
I sunk into depression. And it wasn’t until I was working out on a consistent basis again, that I felt like “me” again.
Annnnnd then…..just when I thought I was safe, BOOM. An epic break-up.
Now, I’m not someone who believes that I need someone else to “complete me.” But my god, a big part of my identity was: lover, partner, confidant, creator of romantic surprises, and giver of epic orgasms.
Living the “single” life robs me of that part of my identity. And no amount of mom-ing, friend-ing, or self-love-ing will change that.
But just as it took time to build my identity as “mom” I am now flexing my patience muscles, with regards to love. I am reminded that “lust rushes, and love waits.”
And that’s truly the key with any kind of identity change. Particularly when it comes to health.
You want to own the “healthy and fit” label? It’s gonna take time.
Change almost never happens in the “overnight success” kind of way…..even though from the outside, it may seem that way.
Even Justin Bieber….the YouTuber…..put in tons of behind-the-scenes work before he made it big.
The results of success tend to be highly visible. But the process of success is often hidden from view.
Take the Stonecutter’s Credo:
“When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before.”
The greatest returns are delayed. And working out is probably the most striking example of how the accumulation of small improvements equals a big payoff.
Be more concerned about your current trajectory, rather than your current position. And know that 1% improvements do add up. If you’re patient.
Sundays, for instance, are fucking hard for me. They are ripe with memories of what used to be. I keep wondering when I'll stop looking at the clock at 8:45 am, and not think about what he's doing. But when one of my best friend's asked me how I was doing today, I said....1% better than last Sunday. And she agreed. It is progress.
So take a peak at WHO it is you want to be. And start living as if you ARE that person. Even if it feels like you're a double-agent for a while. Be consistent. Chip away. And over time, the effort of living that identity will come naturally…..like putting on a seat-belt, brushing your teeth…..or blowing up the CIA headquarters.