As children, we have an innate curiosity. We look at the world around us with fresh eyes, always looking for the new and exciting. We ask “why” and “what” and “how”, ad nauseum. But somewhere along life’s journey, we dampen this desire to engage with the new.
How quickly this year is flying past, despite the days that seem to last forever and drag by slowly. Perhaps, like me, you’ve had a chance in these last eighteen months to consider deeply what it means to have a life that you love. More importantly, have you noticed the roles that freedom and health play in your life?
This year has reminded me of the importance of my physical health and wellbeing. My physical health impacts my mental health directly. Coeliac Disease goes hand-in-hand with anxiety and depression when inflammation sets in. It’s more than just the anxiety of not knowing how my body will respond and “play up”.
As long as I manage my inflammation and have a healthy gut flora, my mental health thrives. As my mental health thrives, so does my productivity and ability to build a life I love. Nonetheless, I have regularly ignored how this autoimmune disease affects me and limits my freedom over the past twenty years.
As we spent much of 2020 in lockdown, all the issues related to what I can control and what I cannot control came to the surface for me. There were months of deep introspection and noticing where I have healed and what I have left to heal. I noticed where I trusted the Divine to take care of me and where I sadly lacked trust!
So, I took stock of my life once again.
Defining values: freedom
One surprising effect of the crisis of 2020, ongoing into 2021, is how it impacted my values and what I consider important.
In my twenties, freedom would have been my primary value. And once again, I find it front and centre as the value which I hold most dear. While wisdom reappears, laughter made an appearance for the first time since my teens! Mastery made an appearance, replacing ideas of commitment and being in the flow. And empowerment made an appearance for the first time: empowering myself as well as empowering others.
For 2020, my values were bold, committed, resilient, inspired, aware, intuitive, and flow. I struggled most of the year with the flow and detaching from the outcome! I’m not sure what happened to bold – other than being outspoken in my memes on social media to the extent that I got a few Facebook bans for sarcasm that was “fact-checked”.
But for me, freedom is more than just political freedoms or religious freedom.
What does freedom mean to you?
I consider freedom to cover many aspects of my life:
There’s an emotional aspect – the healing from baggage that I have perhaps carried for many years;
Financial freedom – the power to live a life that I love, having choices open up before me because I have built the financial wherewithal to finance my choices;
Religious freedom – to believe and have faith as I choose;
Freedom of speech and opinion; and – most importantly
The freedom to be yourself.
I hope that you are loved, accepted and valued as you are, for who you are, by the people that you value and love.
The Health to Live a Life I Love
An essential element of my personal freedom is the health to live abundantly. This includes my emotional and mental health and a level of fitness that is high enough to do the activities that I love.
While my personal definition of great health is a body that does not rely on medicines or supplements to keep my organs and systems balanced and well, that is not currently my reality. I don’t have enough energy to do everything I want without supplements, and I don’t get to live pain-free. However, I don’t have to resort to medication for my health journey. That is a major step forward from where I used to be.
I exercise because I want to be strong enough to do activities that I love: paddle boarding, exploring the outdoors, travelling with active sightseeing. While my travel has been restricted these last eighteen months, I am focused on keeping a fitness level that affords me the confidence that I could leave at any time and be fit enough.
The goal, ultimately, is a life that I love.
How do I identify my ideal life?
If you’ve ever done a “Passion Test”, you will know this phrase well.
“My life is ideal when I am…”
What are you doing when you are living your ideal life?
Who are you with, ideally?
What do you feel when you are thriving?
Where are you?
You might write down ten or twelve phrases of “my life is ideal when I am…”
At the beginning of the year, I write down fifty things that I do when my life is ideal. What are the activities that I am actively involved in? Who do I make time to visit and spend time with? It might be as simple as “make time to have coffee with ____”.
The goal throughout the year is to do as many of these 50 items – no matter how big or small – that are aligned with my values and ideal life. These are fifty small stepping stones to an ideal life.
Designing my ideal life:
I am now exceedingly careful with who participates in the design of my life. Whoever calls the shots has the power. I insist on having the freedom to design my life and seek opinions from others with common interests.
What limits your ability to dream and desire? Of course, it depends on whether these limitations are real. Are these limitations beliefs that we have held in mind for years? How might I challenge these beliefs? Perhaps they are imaginary limitations. If you’ve handed over the power to others, can you now take it back?
Do you have the freedom to prioritise (in time, money and attention) what is important to you?
The freedom of values:
For me, in the design of my ideal life, my values take centre stage. They are not simply empty words and ideas. Rather, they reflect the ideals of what I want to embody in my choices.
Whose values are you living and embodying each day? Perhaps your life and the design of it reflect the values of another generation. They might reflect the values of your inner critic rather than your deep sense of self.
Creating a life you love is more than ideation and design. It’s creating and then keeping to routines that support you. You take an idea, and you put it into action, allocating time and resources.
Do you have the freedom to create a life you love?
What limitations and obstacles are you facing?
Health and Energy to Take Action:
For me, these past twenty years, taking action has been tied closely to my health. While I might use mindset to push through part of the obstacles, I’ve found that building a stronger, healthier body is easier and more effective than focusing on using my energy to push through.
How does your mental health impact your freedom?
I’m in an industry where we talk openly about mental health and our challenges with anxiety or depression. I’m blessed with an awareness of what “okay” feels like and can notice when I’m not doing well. More importantly, I have a support network that helps me get back to fully balanced and in action.
Because when my health is great, I’m motivated and focused.
If you don’t have that support network: how can you build it? Having a life you love depends on this!
The joy of travel
With Coeliac Disease, one of my biggest constraints is where and what I eat. While that could limit my love of travelling, I refuse to allow that to be so! Airbnb has been one of my saving graces because it allows me to have a kitchen and make my own food. I typically pack one or two small pots (yes, I travel with my own pots) and then buy disposable cutlery and a ton of tinfoil when I arrive. The tin foil allows me to cover surfaces in the kitchen that might have gluten (like chopping boards).
Unfortunately, Coeliac Disease also constrains what I drink. It’s more than just avoiding beers and whiskey. Most powdered coffee and frappe mixes are either flavoured (malt) or contaminated with gluten. However, most leaf teas (unflavored) are safe choices. So, I often order a tea with a meal rather than risk hot cocoa (because I don’t know which powder mix they use) or a cold drink.
On a plane, I assume that the only food I’ll be offered is a fruit salad and peanuts (which don’t sit well with my stomach and I avoid). So, I always pack my own snacks for planes and travel.
I’m not going to let dietary restrictions impact the joy of travel!
Eating out, however, is another story! I’ll join friends for celebrations but often find myself ordering vanilla ice cream. While it would seem that a fruit salad or a salad of any kind would be a safe choice: unless they have a dedicated gluten-free surface and knives, I won’t risk it. I prefer to go hungry for one meal than ruin my holiday for the next ten to fifteen days.
Steps and pacing yourself
You have to start wherever it is that you are at right now. There’s no point in waiting longer – till things get better – to get started. It’s unrealistic to think that everything is always fine – there are challenges and obstacles.
If you’ve never done it before, get clear on your personal values, and then define for yourself what freedom means and the health you need to have the life you love.
Your personal definition of freedom will differ from mine. Perhaps it is merely political and religious freedom. Maybe it is something more.
What is your personal definition of wellbeing? Does it include health and fitness?
No matter what your definitions, identify small steps that you can take this week, this month and over the next six months that allow you to build a life you love. You might consider creating a plan for the next two years or even up to five years.
Review, revisit and revise your plans.
Plans are implemented over time: things change, and life doesn’t always go as expected.
I typically review my plans and progress in November and May of every year. Sometimes I find myself back at the drawing board, rebuilding the plans I had for my goals. Other times, I merely tweak and chunk down, delving deeper into the next steps forward.
It’s all about how I face the obstacles and challenges along the way.
Despite the challenges I’ve faced with health and well-being over these past twenty years, I still insist on being fit and healthy. This doesn’t mean that I give up on a goal or dream. Nonetheless, I regularly check what works and adjust my course.
You’re never starting from scratch when you revisit and revise your plans – you now have more experience and adjust for the current reality.
It’s tempting to throw away the goal and give up. But most times, the problem is not the dream or goal itself. Usually, it’s the plan we’re following or our half-assed efforts at implementation.
As much as I would like to say that I wing it and do everything going with the flow, I don’t. I use discipline and routines to keep the flow happening. They are my best friends in both planning and execution.
What do you value most in freedom, health and a life you love?
As you look back over the lessons you’ve learned in the last eighteen months, consider how your definitions of health and freedom have changed.
More importantly, what do you value most in creating a life you love?
It takes deep courage to live up to your potential from a place of authenticity. Most of us are afraid of how we might alienate others if we chase our dreams. We are simultaneously afraid of failure and success.
But in your commitment to moving forward and growth, I encourage you to use courage to drive your motivation. You will be rewarded by living in alignment with the best version of yourself you could be.
Courage to live the life of your dreams:
If you want to change the terms of your life, you will need to drum up courageous action and move forward. Living your best life requires moving forward despite the fear.
Don’t get me wrong – you don’t want to use dumb courage. Allow compassion to soften your courage: for yourself, not just for others. The invitation to courage is one lead by inner wisdom: courage that is both compassionate and creative.
Then you can look at moving into action. When you put your plans into motion, you will start to get results. You might find that some of the actions don’t have the expected results. At that moment, you will need the courage to review your plans and recalibrate. In some cases, you will need to create new plans without giving up on your heart’s desires or values.
Taking action on your plans and goals is a process that goes hand-in-hand with facing your fears. You will not need to wait to feel courageous. Instead, you drum up the courage “from your loins” by moving forward. As you do this, your courage will grow.
Taking Action on your Goals Consistently:
If you want to feel courageous, then take consistent action despite the obstacles or challenges you face. As you choose to take steps all the time, you will find yourself overcoming your fears more easily. It becomes less stressful to be outside your comfort zone and using your gut to move you forward.
You will need to plan out the necessary steps, even if the only step you know is the next right step forward. It’s not always possible to know the big picture, but you are more likely to take action if you have a clear path for your next step.
Courage builds up the motivation with us. While our desires might motivate us with a large flaming fire, it is the fire in your belly of courage that will truly move you forward.
Motivation Drives you Forward:
Think of motivation as paddling with the waves to get to a beach. Each time the wave hits you, it drives you forward. But if you fail to paddle between the waves, you can also get pulled backwards by the currents.
So, while you are waiting for the next wave of motivation to hit, keep paddling courageously! Allow yourself to be pulled towards your goals and passions by your consistent action.
Rather than allow fear to push you away from whatever pain you are trying to avoid, allow your desires and motivation to pull you in the direction of your authentic self.
Motivated to Create Opportunities:
When you live as your authentic self, you will find yourself motivated to create opportunities. These might be moments to spend quality time with those that you love. Perhaps it’s merely the opportunity to create treasured memories or moments of your own, where you feel complete freedom and joy.
Most importantly, the awareness you create when you face your fears with courage opens up the possibility of creativity and playful exploration. Rather than being driven by feelings of stress, fear and anxiety, you can become curious about possible outcomes in your decision-making process.
As you listen to your deep inner wisdom, you will understand the difference between legitimate self-preservation needs and procrastination. Look at the opportunities around you to take action, even small steps.
The crux of courage is that taking action builds confidence and trust in yourself. The more you keep your promises and your word (to yourself), the greater your trust in your own inner wisdom. This awareness of the connection between desires, expectations, and action will lead you into taking more small steps forward.
As you take action, you create more inner peace and a growing sense of self-worth. Taking action is what creates certainty within your heart and mind. You can truly be yourself when you are certain you will keep your word.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of taking action is that you begin to attract like-minded people into your life. Your fears of losing people may well be valid: you will leave some people behind as you move on. But you will also be rewarded with a new sense of belonging as your choices build new relationships and a network around you.
There is a special beauty in having deeper conversations about what truly matters to you: and as you learn to “know thyself”, you will build new connections and relationships. These richer relationships will allow you to feel fully supported: but be prepared for the fears that arise as you notice relationships dropping away.
Courage allows you to push through the fear:
If you are committed to making changes toward living authentically, allow your courage to grow. We talk about people being spineless or growing a backbone. Allow your backbone of courage to grow, and come forward.
As emotions go, fear is typically felt and sensed at the front of the gut. Courage, on the other hand, is something we experience at the back, close to the backbone. So when we talk about “pushing through the fear”, it’s a metaphor for what we are physiologically sensing within. Courage literally pushes through the fear to mobilise us.
If you are looking to thrive, move forward with more action and small steps.
I always feel like I walk a thin line between being “nice” and being truly kind. Old me is a burnt-out people pleaser. To be authentic in relationships with people that used to know me before I started this journey is an ongoing lesson! See, with new acquaintances, it’s easier: they have no expectations of what I will be like or how I will express myself. But in older relationships, I still have to catch myself.
Be authentic! Stop acting and pretending, stop fawning and being “nice and polite” in socially acceptable ways. Instead, remember to show up as the kinder version of you.
While it might seem obvious sometimes, there are many moments in life when we think we know how to tackle a situation, but there’s a sense within us holding us back. Perhaps we feel pressure to conform with the desires, but it doesn’t sit well within. Other times, we want something, but our gut kicks in to say “hold on” without clarifying clearly why we need to take a step back. Wisdom is more than just “thinking informing action” and “action informing thinking”.
Wise choices incorporate knowledge, experience, and understanding into thinking and action. There’s a sense of compassion and profound self-awareness, which is more than just academic learning or data and information.
Wisdom in action begins with wise planning:
It starts with creativity and planning, from a place of compassion & self-awareness. Wisdom knows that when you only consider the needs and desires of other people, life becomes empty and meaningless. You find rewards in showing yourself love and support so that you can better support others. Self-compassion is a source of strength, not a weakness.
When we plan what to do, there’s a moment for considering ourselves and other parties that will be impacted. In business, we might refer to these parties as stakeholders. But the reality is that even in our personal lives, any decision and choice we make (even professionally) may impact our relationships. Wisdom is being able to foresee the long-term impact choices might make on our relationships. Then take those factors into account when planning.
Hopes, dreams & values: prioritise your actions
Hopes and dreams are much loftier than goals. Often, they are much longer-term as well. But it’s these hopes and dreams that give us the feeling of “a life well lived”. When our plans overlook these deeply held desires, we begin to feel inauthentic. If we carry this way for too many years, life begins to feel like it has no purpose and meaning.
So, rather than just considering what you think is “a good idea”, inform your planning from your values and what is truly important to you. Make sure that these plans align with that vague picture you have in the mind of your ideal future self, the one that lives in alignment with your hopes, dreams and values.
Wise planning identifies personal issues of risk, safety & security
Fear stops us and shuts us down on so many levels. It inhibits our ability to think straight. And in some cases paralyses us from taking action. Mindset & willpower will only take us so far. But it can be exhausting to be continually at war within yourself while trying to push forward on a goal.
If you truly want to set goals that you will complete, consider the angle of personal boundaries and your feelings of safety & security in the planning stages. Perhaps the problem to be addressed is not the goal you are chasing but the route to get there. Does your plan allow you to feel safe?
When your plan addresses your personal issues of safety and security, you will find it easier to light a fire deep within you to move forward. Creating safety will allow you to direct your energy towards your protection or activities rather than expend energy on protection and boundaries.
Your inner wisdom expands your sense of self.
When you know what to do and are confident within, it’s because you have a sense of “this is who I am”. It fosters a greater sense of personal power, enhancing your ability to say “yes” to what you want to achieve. This also makes it so much easier to say “no” to all the busy activities and urgencies that arise along the way.
When you aren’t totally sold on the idea, it’s easy to get distracted and busy doing other things. You might know what the plan is, but are you focused on doing what needs to be done? Is all your energy flowing towards this purpose in wise action?
Wisdom is more than “a good idea.”
It’s easy to teach information, knowledge and processes. Unfortunately, wisdom is not taught in schools or at universities. It is so much more than thinking, analysis, processing, or even problem-solving. We can intellectualise without truly understanding.
Even if something is “a good idea”, does that make it a good idea for you? At this moment and stage of your life? How does this good idea impact those you love and care for?
Does it consider all the knowledge and data available to me about what I want, desire and my life goals? Does it incorporate good judgement of my resources, time constraints and limitations?
For our plans to succeed, they need to include compassion for ourselves and others. I like to think of compassion as a breath we take. We cannot exhale more compassion for others than we have inhaled compassion for ourselves. Likewise, if we’re busy only inhaling compassion for ourselves, we’re going to get light-headed at some stage.
Good planning and execution have both wisdom and compassion. There is such a thing as “dumb compassion” – acting on our feelings without thinking things through.
Wise compassion can see ahead, have insight, plan. Wisdom is not simply taking action without thinking of the short and long-term impact that this will have on ourselves and others. How many people do we see working themselves to the bone – with the wisdom to recognise the need for effective self-care? When illness or chronic disease takes hold, they say, “I should have thought it through better”.
Similarly, we might throw our energies into our careers or businesses, thinking we will make time later for our families. When the family fails to stick together, we recognise the role we played in our absence.
Wisdom sees the pitfalls in a plan, staying alert, and exercising compassion regularly to allocate our energy, time and priorities.
I sometimes wonder if the inventor of the guillotine regretted his creativity when it was used to behead him. Or consider Thomas Midgley, who fixed the problem of gasoline’s dependability – by adding lead. He then (without knowing the future consequences or danger) invented freon and CFCs, which we know have a role to play in the hole in the ozone layer.
On the other hand, you might remember the Chinese scientists and planners responsible for killing all the sparrows as a solution to food shortage, which resulted in the largest plague of locusts ever to devastate the grain production of China.
Just because we can do something, should we?
Wise creativity takes into account more than just our creative mind! Without compassion and heart, our mind is no better than the mind of a psychopath or sociopath. It is highly creative and ingenious. But we need the emotions, wants, desires and compassion of the heart to soften and guide the mind.
Wise creativity will incorporate your hopes, dreams, feelings, and values. It will consider the impact of your relationships and weigh up what is truly important to you. It takes into account authenticity, safety and security, and potential challenges in the future.
Wise creativity is both realistic and compassionate.
All of this leads us to a place of wise courage: taking action that is aligned with our plans and dreams. Action without wisdom is foolishness, the same way that action without compassion can be cruel.
Wisdom in action is using both our heart and our mind as guides. It is a deep-seated fire that burns within us, acknowledging our sense of self and creating safety, even while moving the boundaries of our comfort zones. This action-taking is not movement merely for the sake of moving forward, but rather it is directed consciously.
It is embodied wisdom: heart, gut instinct, and mind all working together as one.