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Last Updated on December 17, 2019

12 Most Important Milestones in Life to Grow Through

12 Most Important Milestones in Life to Grow Through

Life truly is a journey. The experiences we have as we travel through our days are what give our lives richness, meaning and purpose.

We are all familiar with society’s conventional ‘markers’ of success and accomplishment – things like reaching the legal age to vote, getting your driver’s license and first car, graduating, getting married, becoming a parent, buying your first home, and retiring…

But society has changed; fewer people are choosing marriage, parenthood or a formal education. Many will never be able to afford to buy their own home, and retirement is no longer the guaranteed cushion it once was. How do we measure our success and progress without these once standard markers?

And what about all those moments that reveal our values, such as humility and acceptance, or that show us our greatness? They may be less spectacular or outwardly notable to others, but these markers often play a more significant role in defining our life values, our sense of self, and our place in the world.[1]

Let’s take a look at some of these important milestones in life, and the rich life lessons they have to teach us:

1. Opening Your First Paycheck

Opening your very first paycheck from your first real job is incredibly exciting. Even if the amount is paltry by anyone else’s standards, and even though it’s likely to be the smallest you’ll ever open, it’s yours.

You worked for it, earned it, and get to cash and spend it however you like. No other paycheck, no matter how large, will fill you with such pride and accomplishment.

Of course, once the initial excitement wears off, most of us are faced with the dawning realization of just how much everything costs.

But earning our own money can hopefully teach us responsibility, budgeting, and debt management. Earning and spending our own money can also show us a great deal about what we value in life.

2. Leaving Home

For most, leaving home is a bittersweet occasion. We feel excited to be free of the rules, restrictions and limitations of our parents’ ways, and to finally be striking out on our own. But we are likely also more than a little frightened and unsure of our ability to survive without the comfort and security that comes with being a child under those parental ‘wings’.

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When the reality of leaving home sets in, we have the opportunity to learn the valuable lessons of hard work (laundry, dishes, cooking), money management (I have to pay for heat?), and appreciation for our parents and family.

3. Falling in Love and Getting Your Heart Broken for the First Time

The many forms of love we are fortunate to experience throughout our lives will hopefully deepen and grow as we do, but there is nothing quite like the intense and absolute euphoria that first love brings.

We learn what it means to appreciate and focus on someone other than ourselves; and if we’re lucky, we get to experience how it feels to have someone appreciate and love us in return.

Of course, falling in love also opens us to the possibility of heartbreak, and the first time we experience it can be quite a painful and sobering shock.

But as with every life experience, there are gifts to be had in a broken heart – realizing you can and will overcome difficulties, and that time truly does heal all wounds.

4. Gaining Self-Awareness and Autonomy

This is a big one, though often it comes in incremental revelations rather than a lightning bolt of sudden understanding.

It comes in those moments when we realize we have dreams, interests and passions that are different from what is expected of us by our parents and society; or when we become aware of a value or belief that doesn’t match those of our peers, and that we didn’t know existed within us; or when we realize suddenly that we care less about what we look like or what clothes we are wearing, and more about who we are and how we feel.

If we’re lucky, we’ll come to this burgeoning self-awareness in our twenties. But for some, it comes later in life as a result of a painful event (divorce, losing a job, illness or injury), as a sudden realization that they are not living the life they want, or as an urge to reinvent themselves in some significant way (mid-life crisis).

Self-awareness is a never-ending unfolding of truth as it relates to our experience in life. We could all stand to increase it in key areas.[2]

5. Realizing Your Parents Are Real People

It’s quite a shock to realize that those people whose sole purpose you believed to be taking care of you, suddenly reveal themselves to be actual, whole individuals with hopes, dreams and fears of their own.

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For some, it can be quite disconcerting or even disappointing to see their parents in this new light; we have a tendency to put our parents on a pedestal, and view them as perfect or even godlike. When we become adults ourselves, and we see our parents making mistakes, failing or experiencing illness, it can shake our very foundation, and make us feel suddenly vulnerable and far too ‘grown up’.

Equally valuably, we may abruptly realize that our parents were not simply put on this earth to care for and cater to us, and that they have their own very complex and private lives that don’t involve us at all. This can teach us appreciation for all that they have done for us, and remind us to do for them in return.

6. Surviving Disappointment

Everyone’s got to go through this one for the first time. And it can be extremely unpleasant for those raised to believe they are only destined for happiness and success.

When we experience the sting of disappointment as adults, the experience often comes with a degree of lost innocence or naivety. We may have been led to believe that life would be easy, or that by simply being good people we would only experience good things.

And life is mostly easy and good. But not everything is going to turn out how we hoped or planned, and sometimes bad things happen to very good people.

When we first learn this through some significant disappointment – not getting that job we wanted, or not making the team, or not catching the eye of the person we adore – it can feel as though the whole world is suddenly against us, and that nothing can be counted on.

Experiencing disappointment is life’s way of teaching us to go with the flow and roll with the punches instead of expecting perfection or trying to control everything and everyone around us. It also teaches us that we are are more than the sum of our accomplishments.

7. Experiencing a Different Culture

Our first experience with an entirely different culture from our own often comes as a result of traveling outside our home country.

But it can also come about as a result of moving to a big city from a small town (or vice versa), or spending time with a family of a different ethnic or religious background from ours, or even going to a different part of our own city that perhaps we never knew existed.

However we first experience a way of life that is significantly different from our own, we are forever changed by it if we remain open to it. We gain perspective and appreciation for our own culture and environment, develop understanding, tolerance and compassion for those different from ourselves, and become inspired by new possibilities for how to live our lives.

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8. Doing Something That Terrifies Us

When we face a lifelong fear – skydiving, traveling alone, singing on stage, or speaking in public for example – we gain invaluable personal power and strength of character in the form of courage, will, confidence, and self-respect.

People who have overcome significant trauma or illness, and who have been able to turn it into a positive life lesson, also report these same gains.

And it needn’t be something huge to reap these rewards; even doing one small thing each day that pushes us outside of our comfort zone will net huge benefits in the short and long-term.

9. Dealing with the Death of a Loved One

This is something we must all face at one time or another in our lives, and the first time is always particularly challenging and life-altering.

Whether it’s the loss of a beloved goldfish in early childhood, or the deeper grief of losing a spouse, parent, child or family pet in our adult years, our first brush with death on this level can be extremely traumatic as we grapple with larger questions of our own mortality, the impermanence of life, and accepting the unknown.

10. Failing

Experiencing a critical or momentous failure is a life-changer for almost everyone.

Getting fired from a job we loved, the unwanted ending of a marriage or long-term relationship, not getting into that prestigious university program, or failing to make the cut in our chosen field of the arts, sports or entertainment can be devastating.

When we are forced to accept an outcome we did not want or choose in spite of our best efforts, it can feel as though we ourselves are not good enough.

But if we are courageous enough to accept and embrace our imperfections, and if we are willing to change course and adapt, we will be graced with resilience, strength and humility.

Perhaps the biggest key to learning from failure is the critical distinction that failure is a matter of personal interpretation. Once you learn to frame your failures properly, you know how to overcome them.[3]

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11. Hitting Rock Bottom

This is going to be different for everyone, but it’s potential impact on our lives is the same for all who face this heavy milestone.

Our personal low point could be as seemingly benign as dealing with any of the failures mentioned above, or it could be as low as anyone could possibly go, including signs of misanthropy or general hatred of humanity.[4]

It could be brought on through struggles with addiction, money troubles, loneliness and isolation, mental health issues, or illness and injury. It doesn’t discriminate: anyone from the loftiest, most beloved and popular to the lowliest and marginalized can experience being in this place of despair and hopelessness.

Hitting rock bottom can and does often prove to be a pivotal turning point in a person’s life, as they learn what is really important in life, and what they are truly capable of.

Humility, compassion for ourselves and others, perspective, strength, resilience, and a strong sense of purpose are just some of the many gifts they may choose to receive on their way back up.

12. Doing Something Selfless

When we are younger, by design we are focused on ourselves – on our own happiness, gains and security.

But as we mature, we begin to see the world through others’ eyes. We develop compassion. We fall in love. We feel joy and excitement for our loved ones’ accomplishments and happiness.

When we realize that we are doing something entirely for the benefit of another, we are be truly selfless and loving.

Volunteering, giving the gift of our time, attention or energy to another, helping make someone else’s dreams come true, or saving someone’s life are all examples of how we may express this more advanced type of love and compassion. In acting selflessly, we reap the immediate rewards of good feelings, and an increase in our own happiness.

The overarching and profound life lesson for this important life milestone is a realization that we are all connected to one another, and that we are not alone after all.

More About Personal Growth

Featured photo credit: Søren Astrup Jørgensen via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Mike Bundrant

Co-Founder @inlpcenter, which offers NLP training and life coach certification to students in over 70 countries.

10 Reasons Personal Growth Is Important No Matter Your Age 9 Ways to Prepare for Change and Live Your Dream Life 12 Most Important Milestones in Life to Grow Through How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs That Hold You Back from Success 10 Leadership Goals That Strong Leaders Set for Themselves

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Last Updated on January 13, 2020

How to Use the 5 Minute Journal to Invest in Your Happiness

How to Use the 5 Minute Journal to Invest in Your Happiness

I was 10 and it was a white Lisa Frank journal with a red bubble gum dispenser on the front. It also came with a heart-shaped lock and key which was a must considering I had an older brother living under the same roof who was always looking for new and inventive ways to humiliate me.

That one little journal (okay…I called it a diary back then) unlocked a world of potential to me which quite literally became my saving grace, my happy place, for the rest of my life.

Over the years, the aesthetics of my journal evolved, as did my writing subjects and style thankfully. But the one thing that’s been constant is that, no matter how sad I am or how bad things have seemed before I started writing, somehow the world and my place in it always becomes clearer and less noisy after just 5 minutes of “writing it out.”

In this article, we will take a look at how investing a few minutes a day in the 5 minute journal can lead you to happiness.

The Benefits of the 5 Minute Journal

For most of my life, I never really knew or cared why writing for even 5 minutes made me happier, I just knew it worked.

If I was feeling lost or unhappy, I’d eventually realize I hadn’t written in a while (duh!). So I’d meet myself back at the blank page and word by word, start feeling more like me again.

To be completely honest, I did (and still do) this forgetting-to-journal dance way more often than I’d like to admit. For the life of me, I don’t know why I don’t keep doing the thing I know makes me happy every day instead of waiting until I’m unhappy to do the thing. Can you relate?

I’m pretty certain it’s not just a me thing: it’s a human thing. We know we’ll be happier if we eat better, exercise, disconnect from technology, get more sleep, etc. but often times, it takes us feeling unhappy in order to put in the effort to be more happy.

A couple of months ago, I found myself in that place:

I’d hit a wall of resistance around my business and a downturn in my health that caused me to doubt what I was capable of accomplishing. I was completely confused and indecisive about the direction of my business and where I should be focusing my limited energy, so I hired a coach to help me sort through my noisy brain.

As I laid out all of my decisions and endless to-do lists in front of her, she asked me an important question:

What’s one thing you can start doing everyday that will have a positive impact on all of these things?

In other words: What if instead of having to worry about ALL THE THINGS to be happier, you could just do ONE thing and everything else would get better too?

I could start every day with a few minutes in my journal.

It’s both hilarious and embarrassing that as a coach and a writer (and a coach who works with writers), that I hadn’t thought of this myself. Alas, as the saying goes, doctors are the worst patients.

Of course, the answer was writing in my journal! Isn’t the answer almost always the most obvious thing?

But sometimes, the answer is so obvious, so simple, so free and convenient that we convince ourselves that it can’t possibly do that much to improve our situation. Somehow in the busy-ness of life, I’d convinced myself I just couldn’t spare that time to do something so…(cringe) arbitrary.

Yet, as I thought about my coach’s question and the ONE THING that could positively affect all the things, I realized that journaling for me has always been so much more than a random outlet for exploring my feelings.

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Sure, nothing actually happened but me sitting on my bed in my pajamas writing. Over the years, from breakups to big moves, my most life-changing moments–like my decision to pursue writing as a career, to uproot my entire life and move cross country, and my finally feeling ready to become a mother–happened in the quiet moments between me and the pages of my journals.

How to Be Happy with the 5 Minute Journal

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine about writing this article. I asked her how often she journals and if she thought it made her happier.

In general, she said, yes, journaling does seem to help her get things off her chest but she doesn’t always feel better afterward. And, in fact, sometimes if she’s already in a negative place, she can spiral even worse while journaling and go to an even darker place.

She told me that usually with time and perspective, she can see that just the act of writing and getting out of her head is therapeutic but, suggested that for people like her, prompts to help her not spiral into the negative abyss would be super helpful.

And so, in order to make sure you get the most out of your 5 minute journal, I’ve broken up each writing prompt based on how you’re feeling so you can let your emotions guide the best prompt for you that day to increase your happiness meter.

1. When you’re burnt out, talk to your inner hero (a.k.a the “real” you).

What’s the one thing everyone tells you about maintaining happy, healthy relationships?

You’ve gotta have great communication!

But what about your relationship with yourself? How do you connect with you? How do you continue being the hero in your story?

The same way that you have to make the time to connect with the people in your life who mean the most to you, you also have to make the time for you to hear your voice:

To remember what YOU sound like amidst all of the noise in the world. To listen to your inner hero.

For me, the only way I know how to do this, the only way I’ve ever known how to do this, is through journaling.

Our brains can go down negative spirals, especially when we’re tired and stressed.

In my last Lifehack article about finding motivation, I walk you through some questions you can ask yourself about whether you’re playing the role of victim or hero of your story. Definitely check it out if you’re really on the brink, or in the midst, of some serious burn out.

Essentially, if you’re burnt out, you’ve somehow let your circumstances take control of your life. In other words, you’ve started to act like the victim instead of the hero.

Luckily, just 5 minutes in your journal can help you find your inner hero (your true voice) and reclaim your right to live your happiest life.

Write down these questions in your journal and answer them one at a time–permission to be 100% honest granted:

  • What do I believe is the #1 reason I’m feeling burnt out?
  • Who or what did I blame in my last answer?
  • Taking 100% responsibility for my own life and decisions, and casting blame on no one (including myself), how can I improve this situation?
  • What decisions am I currently making to stay in these circumstances (how am I choosing them)?
  • What new decisions can I start making to get closer to where I want to be?
  • What do I need to let go of in order to get my energy back? What do I need to say “no” to?

When you start to own your role of hero, you start to realize how your current choices and limiting beliefs may be holding you back from living the happiest version of your life.

The great news is once you realize your past choices have brought you to your current circumstances, you also realize that you can make different choices to bring you to a happier place.

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2. When you’re doubting yourself, write off the gremlins.

Whenever I’m feeling down on myself, it usually has less to do with what’s happening on the outside, and more to do of what’s happening between my ears. In other words, how “I’m” talking to myself.

We all have little shame gremlins (I call mine “Mean Girls”) who live inside of our heads and tell us we’re dumb and ugly and worthless. The only way to combat those noisy buggers is to expose them for the liars they are.

Writing down these lies makes them powerless. Once they’re out of your head and on paper, you realize how ridiculous they truly are (even though they were completely owning you just moments before).

I like to write out all the nasties and put them in their place (which is on the page and out of my head, pronto). Then I can go back to living my happy truth.

Here are some powerful questions to ask your inner gremlins (perhaps better known as you being a real jerk to yourself). Write down each question and answer them in your journal.

Ask your gremlins:

  • What are you saying about me? (Don’t hold back. Really write down all of the terrible thoughts you’re having about yourself)

Then ask:

  • Is anything true about each of the things I just wrote?
  • Repeat this same exercise for each of the nasty things your gremlins are saying about you and expose them in their lies once and for all.

When you’re done, answer these powerful questions:

  • Knowing what I know now, what’s one thing I can do to improve each of these areas of my life?
  • Knowing that the voices of the gremlins are strong, what are 3 new beliefs or positive affirmations I can say daily about myself to drown out their negativity?

For example, let’s use a fictional character of a guy named Sam. Sam’s gremlins are telling him “you’re a lousy parent, a terrible spouse, and mediocre at work.”

If Sam asks himself, “Am I really a lousy parent?” Maybe his answer is “No, I love my kids and I’m doing the best I can. I just wish I could be more attentive when I’m with them instead of so distracted by work.”

So maybe Sam decides to not bring his work computer home with him anymore and really unplug once he leaves the office so he can give his kids his full attention.

Sam decides that his new daily affirmation is: “I’m a loving father and am fully present for my kids. I save the best of me for my family.”

Imagine how much better you’ll feel when you start to take back control over your self talk and program in the messages that empower you and get you closer to the person you strive to be.

3. When you’re indecisive or afraid, talk to your fear.

Those same shame gremlins or mean girls inside of our heads feed off of fear. It’s like a good piece of gossip they can’t help but spread and exaggerate.

Luckily, when we write out how we’re feeling and what negative thoughts are spiraling, we can generally recognize when it’s actually just our fears talking.

You’re probably wondering how to tell if it’s fear talking or your intuition, right? This is where exploring your feelings comes into play.

Are you feeling powerless? Are you feeling anxious or sad? Everyone’s response to fear is different but it’s never a positive feeling.

If you’re at peace and calm but feel nudged that something isn’t right, that’s most-likely your intuition talking. But if you’re in a glass cage of negative emotions, you can bet fear is the culprit.

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Don’t hate on fear too much though. Our fears are just trying to protect us from something–the rub is they also usually keep us from something even better in the process.

I like to use journaling as a way to have a little talk with my fear, understand where it’s coming from and then decide if it’s worth listening to.

Here’s your journaling prompt for hashing it out with your fear:

Again, write down these questions in your journal one at a time and answer each one:

Ask your fear:

  • What are you trying to protect me from?

Once you answer that, ask:

  • What are you preventing me from having if I listen to you?

If the thing you really want is on the other side of your fear, then you know what you have to do next (luckily journals are a great place to make to-do lists as well)!

My last and favorite questions to ask fear is:

  • What’s the absolute worst-case scenario?

For example, let’s say you’re terrified of breaking ties with a client who is making your professional life miserable. You may answer this question with something like “My client blacklists me and smears ugly rumors about me all around town and not only do I lose one client but my entire business goes down.”

Eeesh. That does sound scary. Now ask yourself:

  • What are some steps I can take to ensure the worst case scenario doesn’t happen?

And then:

  • How likely is it that the worst-case scenario will actually happen (especially if I use the plan above)?

Maybe, when you think about it, the client is actually preventing you from bringing in new business because they’re taking up so much of your time.

And maybe that client doesn’t even have the best reputation so the chances of them being able to bring you down are pretty small.

What if you spent one hour a week for the next 3 weeks working on bringing in new business to replace the the income you make from that client, and figure out a way to end the contract in a very respectful, classy way to hopefully make the odds of them making a stink minimal?

Now you have a plan! But there’s one more question to ask yourself:

  • If the worst case scenario happened, what would you do?

Maybe you realize that if you really needed to, you could always go back to your previous job; they loved you and beg you to all the time. Or you could get by for a couple of months until you were able to bring in some more clients, especially if you cut back on expenses.

Once you stare your fear in the face, it magically loses its power. Left inside of your head, it can destroy you; but taking a few minutes to look at it and use it as a friend who’s showing you where you may need to implement a plan in order to protect yourself, you can take back the reins of your happiness and realize that fear really isn’t all that scary at all.

At this point, it needs to be said that journaling isn’t only good for getting out the nasty feelings, it’s also super useful for recording the good stuff of life which leads me to the fourth writing prompt.

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4. When you’re in a funk, focus on gratitude.

Just about any happiness book or article you read will tell you that being in a state of gratitude dramatically increases your happiness. For me, having a place to get down to the truth of my life and what’s actually going really well and what I’m grateful for helps put everything into perspective, especially when I’ve got a case of the blues.

Here are some of my favorite gratitude prompts to help get me out of a funk and focusing on the sunnier side of life.

Write down these questions in your journal one at a time and answer each one:

  • What is something good that happened today?
  • What made me laugh or smile today?
  • Who am I grateful for today?
  • What am I grateful for today?
  • With my “gratitude glasses” on, how do my problems or the funk I’m in look in relation to all of the good things I have in my life?

Take a look at this article too to learn more about keeping a gratitude journal: How a Gratitude Journal and Positive Affirmations Can Change Your Life

Shifting out of a funk and into gratitude shifts your energy out of “woe is me” and into “yay for me” which means, based on the Law of Attraction, you’ll begin to attract more of the things you want and less of what you don’t. Seriously, yay for you!

5. When you’re uninspired or bored with the status quo, let it flow.

One of the best and easiest ways to tap into your inspiration and feel a little bit of creative magic in your life is through stream of consciousness writing.

I dare you to put your pen on a blank page for 5 minutes and do nothing but make sure the pen doesn’t stop moving.

No thinking. No judgements. The only thing you’re not allowed to do is overthink or judge your writing. It’s all good. Everything that comes out is good (even if it’s total crap).

When I was in grad school, I took this awesome class on creativity and in it read a book called From Where you Dream by Robert Olen Butler. The book is mostly about fiction writing but essentially, he says that the best time to tap into your subconscious (where your “flow” lives) is when you first wake up in the morning. Since you’re fresh from dreaming, your brain is still tuned to that frequency, so to speak, and not clouded by “reality” from your day-to-day life.

So my last and final 5-minute journal prompt for you, uninspired one, is to wake up and let yourself keep dreaming on paper.

Here are your instructions:

  1. Set the timer for 5 minutes.
  2. Open your journal.
  3. Pick up your pen.
  4. Keep your pen moving until your timer stops.

What I love about this is it requires releasing all expectations and giving yourself creative freedom to let whatever needs to come out come out.

Become Happier in 5 Minutes (or Even Less)

Giving yourself a safe space to not expect anything other than to just show up and be honest is incredibly liberating.

In a world where there are endless things we are supposed to be doing, and ways in which we’re supposed to be doing them, I love showing up to a blank page with no requirements other than to just let my hand move.

It’s free and requires nothing from me other than just showing up wherever I am–talk about an endless source of grace!

Plus it gets my myriad thoughts out of my head and allows me to release them from my body, which research at top universities has shown can dramatically reduce stress.[1]

You don’t need to change EVERYTHING in your life all at once (it doesn’t work anyway, trust me, I’ve tried).

Start with giving yourself the gift of reflection in your journal every day and see how your life starts to change. I guarantee you’ll feel more connected with yourself in the process and over time everything in your life will start to be a better reflection of you and what you value.

And that, my friends, is the key to lasting happiness.

More Journaling Ideas

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Health Publishing: Writing about emotions may ease stress and trauma

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