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Published on April 30, 2020

13 Keys to Living Your Best Life

13 Keys to Living Your Best Life

Twenty years ago, my husband and I had an experience I will never forget. While on our way to Nairobi, Kenya, a mentally-ill passenger broke into the cockpit and tried to crash the plane.

For five harrowing minutes, the plane did acrobatics in the air.

In those moments of life hanging on a thread, what living the best life really means for me suddenly became crystal clear.

But I’ll get to that in a minute. Because this article isn’t about me. It’s about you and your life.

Do you have a strong sense of what you want out of life, but find it challenging to achieve that in the face of your day-to-day responsibilities and stresses?

If so, you are not alone.

Recent research has revealed 13 keys that can help us strike this balance between the big picture of what we want out of life and navigating everyday distractions.

But first, it’s important to figure out what living the best life means to you.

What Brings You a Sense of Meaning?

When you think of living the best life, what do you think of?

Perhaps achieving happiness, reaching your potential, or making the world a better place?

What are the inner standards by which you judge your life?

The following three questions might help.

3 Questions to Ask About Living the Best Life

For me, in the moments we faced death during that harrowing experience on the plane, I became intensely aware of these three questions by which I was judging how my life had been up to that point.

How Am I Experiencing Love?

The love I felt in that moment for my husband, our loved ones who were on the ground, and all others in the world was truly profound. I became aware that love—both my ability to receive it and share it—matters more than anything else.

How Authentically Am I Sharing My Unique Gift?

We each have a unique gift—the unique energy and essence that is who we really are. Each person has a unique gift to offer that no one else can or ever will again.

Living our best life means finding creative ways to share our best selves, whether in our work, our creative hobbies, or simply how we live.

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What Am I Grateful For?

It’s easy to focus on our worries and anxieties or the distractions of everyday life. However, when we remember our own mortality, we realize that each moment is a gift.

What matters most in the big picture perspective of our lives is very personal. However, figuring it out is how we uncover our formula for living our best lives.

What’s Distracting You from Living the Best Life?

Fast forward to 20 Years Later.

Today, my morning starts before the sun came up. Emails, texts, and appointments called for my attention, including requests from my family, friends, coworkers, as well as news alerts about the latest global crisis. To say nothing of our puppy, who was asking to be taken out for her morning walk.

A dilemma most of us struggle with is time. How do we manage our time so that our lives reflect what matters most?

These 13 keys can help us focus, live with greater purpose, boost our happiness and well-being, and authentically connect with the unique gift we each have to share, even in the face of day-to-day distractions.

13 Keys to Living the Best Life

1. Identify What Matters Most to You

It doesn’t take a near-death experience to reconnect with what matters most. Sometimes, just a few moments of asking tough questions can help us to do the same thing.

What matters most to you? What is most important to you—really? If you learned you only had a limited time left, what would you want to do with your time?

Have you had a difficult experience that helped you clarify what really matters? What did you learn? What are your answers to the above three questions?

What matters most to you?

2. Practice Being Present

Research has revealed that a simple way to be happier and live our best life comes from developing the ability to fully experience each moment. Mindfulness is the ability to observe the present moment without judging it.

Mindfulness has many impressive benefits. Diabetic patients who were taught mindfulness skills experienced lower blood sugar and increased happiness.[1]

Mindfulness on the job has been proven to reduce exhaustion and increase job satisfaction.[2]

Mindfulness is not difficult to learn and is something we can do in a moment.

Right now, take a deep breath. Notice how the breath feels as it is going into your lungs.

How does your body feel? Are your muscles stiff or relaxed? Do you feel warm or cold? What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear?

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Focus on the noises closest to you, then further away. Now try to hear even beyond that. This is all it takes to be fully present.

3. Savor the Moment

An incredibly powerful technique that I’ve been coaching my clients to do and have been doing in my own life for several decades is something I call Creating a Miraculous Moment. This is very effective when it comes to living our best lives.

Here’s how you can create a Miraculous Moment, right now.

First, become present by looking around and noticing what is happening (ask yourself the questions above in Key #2).

Then find something very specific that you are grateful for—perhaps the way the sun feels on your face, feeling safe, hearing beautiful music playing in the background, etc.

Combining mindfulness with savoring the moment is powerful, and the benefits are backed by research. Doing these things together can improve your psychological health and life satisfaction.[3]

4. Listen and Have Empathy

Living the best life has a lot to do with the level of trust, empathy, and intimacy we have in our relationships with those we love.[4]

In his book, Nonviolent Communication, Marshall B. Rosenburg, Ph.D., explains that learning to listen to others with empathy and presence can dramatically transform our relationships.

Being a good listener helps people feel as if we really care about them. It also helps us to understand what they need and want, so we can be of service and come up with positive solutions. His methods are rooted in the idea that “observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence.”

5. Learn to Flow

One of the most powerful ways to connect with our true selves and experience positive emotions is through flow.

Flow is sort of like mindfulness in action. Flow is when we are so engrossed in what we are doing that we get into a zone and stop thinking about anything else. We can experience this when playing an instrument, playing a sport, creating artwork, writing an essay, reading a book, etc.

Being in flow increases our happiness, helps us reach optimal performance, and boosts our creativity. According to researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, one of the best things about flow is it puts happiness in our control.[5] Rather than being happy because of outer events, we are in flow as a result of an inner experience we create for ourselves.

6. Hit the Reset Button (Often)

Sometimes life sends us curveballs we aren’t prepared for. It’s important to know how to get back to the center—to who we are and to reconnect with our goals and priorities. If you ever find yourself feeling off-course or negative, imagine hitting a pause button.

It only takes a minute to re-focus. Some great tips for resetting include stretching, taking a deep breath, jotting down a few goals or intentions, then beginning again.

Knowing how to reset our energy is important when it comes to navigating minor distractions and major life changes.

7. Be Self-Aware

There is a saying that awareness is the first step to healing. Sometimes we are so busy in life that we don’t take time out to hear our inner voice, which can have negative consequences.

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We can also become blind to destructive habits that we want to pretend aren’t happening but can have negative long-term effects on our well-being.

When we prioritize getting to know ourselves, we gain information that can be extremely helpful in changing our lives for the better. If self-awareness is something you want to improve, consider working with a therapist, coach, journaling, meditating, or regularly sharing from a deep place of honesty with a friend who wants the very best for you.

8. Comfort Yourself

Self-awareness is one thing. What we do with that awareness, however, is even more important.

Many of us have learned to be very hard on ourselves and self-critical in the face of challenges or aspects of self we would like to change. However, research shows self-criticism can have a very negative impact on our health, well-being, and the quality of our lives.[6]

The good news is, self-compassion and the ability to reassure ourselves can be learned and can lower our risk of depression, anxiety, shame, and stress. Next time you find yourself being overly self-critical, try reassuring yourself, visualizing comforting and calming images, or imagining being comforted by a deep understanding, accepting and empathetic friend.

9. Do What You Love

The benefits of hobbies and doing what we love have been widely accepted, including improving our well-being and reducing stress.[7] When we enjoy something, we are more apt to do it often.

The more often we practice something, the better we become, and that can also act to boost our sense of well-being, confidence, and success.

Activities we love are also those that can help us experience flow (Key #5), which improves our happiness and can provide a direct experience of who we really are, our unique gift, and our true self.

Shortly after our near-death experience on that flight to Africa, my husband and I took a three-month sabbatical and traveled around the United States, interviewing more than 100 people about their hopes and dreams, including what they’d always dreamed of doing. The joy on people’s faces as they shared their answers showed us that even the act of thinking about what we love to do can be a game-changer.

Take a minute now to ask yourself:

What are your passions? What do you love to do?

Your answers are the key to living your best life.

10. Develop Routines and Positive Habits

One of the reasons the small stuff gets in the way of our big picture goals and intentions is that we haven’t established routines and positive habits.

Routines can help us cut through the clutter, reduce distractions and more easily accomplish all the little things that we all must do to survive, such as pay our bills, make our meals, wash and put away our clothes and dishes and yes, empty our email inboxes.

Research shows that the better we are at creating routines to take care of our personal lives and healthcare, the better our health and well-being.[8]

One tip for creating a new habit, which Charles Duhigg discusses in his book The Power of Habit, is building habits on top of each other. In other words, if you already brush your teeth every night without fail, add a new habit to that already-established time and routine.

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11. Commit to Your Connections

The COVID-19 pandemic showed us firsthand how important our social connections are. Community is an important factor in how happy we are with our lives, and our long-term well-being and health.

If you feel disconnected or like you want to strengthen your sense of belonging, consider calling a different friend each day, joining a church, synagogue or spiritual group, online or in-person support group, book club, or exploring cultural or community events that might be attended by other people with shared interests.

To reconnect with favorite friends, try scheduling a weekly hike, coffee hour, zoom call, happy hour, or email/text check-in.

We get what we put out there. Show up when people you love ask for help or seek connection. Let go and create healthy boundaries with people who drain your energy.

12. Move Your Body

Exercise is an important key to staying healthy and happy. Research shows exercise can prevent depression, long-term illness, improve our moods, and increase our longevity.[9]

We now know that it’s not only exercise that matters, but also how we hold and move our bodies when we are going through the motion of our lives, including working at our desks. Recent research shows that simply sitting up straight can make us more likely to think positive thoughts about ourselves and what is possible for our lives.[10]

13. Spend Time in Nature

One of the best ways to live our best lives is to spend time in nature. From the benefits of vitamin D from sunlight, to simply getting outside of our own world and connecting with something greater, the benefits of nature are well-established.[11]

The more we learn, the more we realize how important it is to protect our natural spaces, parks, and trees, not just for our enjoyment, but also for our physical and mental well-being.

Final Thoughts

Living the best life requires knowing matters most to us and reflecting this in what we prioritize in our day-to-day. The good news is, with intention and focus, small changes can make a big difference.

Look at the list of 13 keys above one more time. Which of the 13 keys for living your best life resonates most with you? Which do you think has the greatest potential to change your life for the better?

Lately, I have found #6: Hit The Reset Button to be particularly helpful.

When we feel distracted or off-course, all we have to do is remember that each moment is a gift.

No matter how far the anxieties or distractions of our lives have taken us from where we want to be, it only takes a moment to reset, shift from distraction to gratitude, remember what matters most and begin again.

More on Living the Best Life

Featured photo credit: Court Cook via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Laurie Smith

Inspirational Writer. Coach. Healer.

13 Keys to Living Your Best Life

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Last Updated on June 2, 2020

10 Ways to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough

10 Ways to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough

Whenever you hit a rough patch in life, it can seem like the problems you’re confronting are unique to you and that the whole world is closing in. It might be that you are struggling to find a way out and just can’t see the light of hope anywhere when the going gets tough.

Thankfully, although you might not see it, there is always hope. Nothing lasts forever—not even bad times—and doing things like remembering why you started in the first place and practicing using your courage muscle are just a couple of things that can shorten the difficult times.

If you could find a way to not only survive but thrive when the going gets tough, how would your life change for the better?

Here are ten ways you can do to make that happen today.

1. Realize How Far You Have Come

Whenever you get discouraged on the path to wherever you want to go, it is usually because you are only looking forward, not around you or behind you. Your journey through life will last until your final day, so it is no wonder that you still see a long and sometimes daunting path ahead.

To keep going despite this, it’s important to take a moment or two to look around. Look at where you are standing now compared to when you first started. Look at how far you have come since you first began. Look at how many obstacles and challenges are behind you that you managed to overcome successfully.

The benefits of reflective practice are also extensive, and it is little wonder why.[1]

Looking back at how far you have come is usually the fire you need to keep on burning brightly into the future.

2. Remember Why You Started

When the going gets tough, you need something to cling to in order to keep your grit and remind yourself why you started doing something in the first place. Without this all-important “why, you will be quick to wander from your path.

Whenever things are at their worst, your number one reason for doing the thing is going to be what pulls you through.

As ex-Navy Seal and motivation master David Goggins puts it:

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“‘Why am I here?’ If you know that moment is coming and have your answer ready, you will be equipped to make the split-second decision to ignore your weakened mind and keep moving. Know why you’re in the fight to stay in the fight!”

Sometimes, life can be a bit of a fight, especially within yourself. So, having your reasons for continuing will always help pull you out when times are tough. Try writing these down and posting them in places you look at every day to help them have even more impact.

3. Make It a Habit to Move Forward

Habits are some of the strongest behavioral predictors that we have. Most of our habits happen in our subconscious and are triggered by external or internal cues.

The great thing about habits is that they can be formed through conscious, repeated behaviors, and when practiced enough, they can eventually take their place in the subconscious and guide your life.

Of course, you want good habits to be guiding your life in the background, not bad ones. That’s why it’s a good idea to make it a habit to always move forward.

Contrary to what most people say, moving forward doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to be better every single day for the rest of your life. There are going to be slip-ups, bad days, and circumstances that blow you off course.

Moving forward is all about getting back on track as fast as possible. If you can make that a habit, you can always get closer to where you want to go.

4. Use ‘If-Then’ Planning

When the going gets tough in your life, one of the most effective frameworks that you can put into place is called the ‘if-then’ planning.

This is the simplified version of something called Implementation Intention, a concept created by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer in the mid-’90s.[2] It helps you to make sense of confusing situations and to be able to take action when you are really struggling.

The simplified process is as follows:

“If x happens, I will do y.”

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For example:

“If I start to have negative thoughts, I will take ten seconds to just breathe.”

“If I feel extremely stressed for three days in a row, I will take the fourth day off to recover and reset.”

If-then planning puts a strategy in place for when times are tough. It takes away the element of thinking, planning, and worrying as you already know exactly what you need to do in each situation.

The beauty of using if-then is that you can change the if and then for different situations based on whatever works best for you at any given moment.

5. Find Some Mentors

With the internet becoming more expansive and accessible as it has ever been, there are so many ways to get a peek into the world’s top minds and see what they do in their own lives when the going gets tough.

Most successful people have had to overcome some serious struggles to get to where they are. Do a simple search online, and you will no doubt find out about all of the challenges that your favorite people have had to overcome.

Because of this, you should try to take inspiration from these people and find your own mentors. It’s worth recognizing that nobody trying to live their best life can ever get through it without their fair share of challenges to overcome. That’s just part of the hero’s journey.

6. Get out of Your Head

Sometimes, all of the reasoning, thinking, planning, and ruminating in the world doesn’t get you anywhere. In fact, for the serial thinkers and problem-solvers out there, it is oftentimes that too much time in your head results in even more struggle rather than a release of it.

Yes, some things can be solved by thinking. But when the going gets really tough, it is usually just pure heart, emotion, and grit that are going to carry you through. Your mind can become a tyrant, and it is worth being aware of this.

When you feel your own thoughts weighing you down and can’t stop the incessant thinking and worrying about the past, present, and/or future, it is time to step out of your mind for a little while and get into your body. Lift some weights, go for a run, or take a pleasant walk.

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The mind and body are much more connected than most people think—especially when it comes to emotions and fears and doing something beneficial for the body often benefits the unsettled mind as well.[3]

7. Ruthlessly Forgive Yourself

One of the worst things you can do when the going gets tough is to come down hard on yourself. Everyone has these external and internal struggles, and the harder you are on yourself for having them, the more difficult and traumatic the episodes will be when you inevitably slip up.

A lot of people are far harder on themselves than they are on other people, and to keep going in tough times, you need to be just as empathetic with yourself as you would be with your best friend.

Made a mistake? Forgive. Are you still giving yourself a hard time? Forgive. Are you still getting angry over small things “even though we talked about this”? Forgive.

The hard times are much easier to get through when you are at peace with yourself. You will be astonished by how much less pressure you feel when this happens.

8. Take Smaller Steps

It is common for people to stumble in life because they are simply taking on too much at once. Whether it be too much ambition, unrealistic expectations of themselves or others, or some extra curveballs, big steps can sometimes be too much to take.

The truth about big steps is that they are rare, disruptive, and difficult to keep up without crumbling. The big steps—the real life-changing goals and dreams that you have—can often be broken into much smaller steps that are more manageable and that will get you to the same place.

If the going is getting particularly tough, it might be the case that you are simply trying to do too much at once. Try taking smaller, more manageable steps, and see if obstacles and difficulties become easier to navigate.

9. Use Twenty Seconds of Insane Courage

Everyone will agree that the courage we have stored within ourselves is often finite and difficult to sustain for long periods. We tend to think that making a big change in our life and getting out of a rut requires courage for long periods that we simply cannot manage.

The good news is that this isn’t true. Most of the pivotal moments of change in your life—including pulling yourself out of a hole when the going gets tough—come from small, courageous decisions in short, precise moments.

Quite often, using twenty seconds of insane courage when it is needed is enough to completely change the trajectory of our lives. Whether it be asking for that promotion, deciding to go to the gym for the first time in months, or having the courage to break through your insecurities and ask someone out, most of these only require a few seconds of insane courage.

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Standing up and walking into your boss’s office, getting the gym kit on, picking up the phone or sending the text—you only have to be courageous in these few moments, and then you can relax and let life unfold.

Twenty seconds? You can do that, easily.

10. Accept That Your Motivation Will Wane

One of the main reasons that people get discouraged and struggle to keep going in hard times is that they never expected their motivation to dip.

When we start a project or enter a relationship or take something new and exciting on in our lives, our motivation is high, and we are in a mindset of excitement. We start thinking about all of the positives that could come from these things.

However, as time wears on, motivation levels inevitably drop, and you start to focus on the negatives of what’s happening or the added responsibility that you forgot to consider.

When this happens, you have two choices:

  1. You can put on your rose-colored glasses of the past and falsely remember how perfect everything was;
  2. Or you can put on your realistic glasses, face the difficulties, and keep moving forward into something better.

The true test of character comes when you hit a dip, motivation wanes, and you just don’t feel like doing stuff anymore. The secret is to realize that all of this is temporary and that you don’t need motivation to act.

It’s nice to have motivation, but the true test of character comes when motivation inevitably wanes. In those moments, will you keep going?

Final Thoughts

So there you have it. Each of these ten ideas for how to keep going when the going gets tough is versatile enough to be applied to almost any difficult situation that you find yourself in.

Life is going to present many difficulties. This isn’t something to fear but something to embrace. With these steps, you can navigate these stormy waters a little easier.

More Inspirations to Help You Stay Strong

Featured photo credit: Gaelle Marcel via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Psychology Today: What Is Self-Reflection and Why It Matters For Wellness
[2] American Psychologist: Implementation Intentions: Strong Effects of Simple Plans
[3] The International Journal of Psychoanalysis: Emotional Processing: The Mind-Body Connection

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