How to Face Reality (Even When You Don’t Really Want To)

How To Face RealitySometimes life is scary. And we don’t want to face reality.

Maybe it’s your finances, or your health, your relationships, your children, or your financial situation. Maybe it’s all of these things wrapped up into one great big ole overwhelming package.

So what do we tend to do?

Avoid and ignore it. We don’t go to the doctor or balance our check books. Allow ourselves to stay in relationships even when we know we shouldn’t. We won’t face our emotional issues even as we self-sabotage.

We just close our eyes like we’re on a scary ride at an amusement park.

Instead, we pour our precious life energy into–hours in front of the TV or Facebook, food, sex, gossiping, seeking out drama, temporary relationships, daydreaming without action– anything that will take our attention and time away from confronting and dealing with what is happening right in front of us. We let our power slip right through our fingers hoping to feel better momentarily. And we do feel better.  At least for awhile.

Meanwhile our problems  just keep getting bigger and scarier. Because when you ignore something it does not simply go away, it usually tends to get worse.

Eventually the problems get so big that a crisis happens and ignoring them is no longer an option. We are forced to deal with them all at once whether we want to or not. Except now we are in crisis mode,  only able to manage the emergency: An illness. A foreclosure, repossession, or  bankruptcy. A job loss. A family crisis.

But if we made a habit of facing reality regularly, we might have been able to mitigate the damage. We may have even been able to prevent the crisis in the first place. Or at the very least we could have had a better plan in place for when the shit finally hit the fan.

It is your duty to face reality. Love yourself enough to face reality square in the face.

Here are my tips on how to face reality (even when you don’t want to):

Take an honest assessment of your life

Have a day (or four) of reckoning. Brace yourself.  Play some relaxing music. Get some alone time. Take out a notebook and a pen and think about each of the main areas of life- health (emotional and physical), wealth, social, family, work.  In your notebook, create a separate page for each of these areas. Now write down the reality of your current situation in each of them. In each of these areas, reflect on what’s working for you and what’s not. Think about the things that are going really well. And think about why they are going well. What have you done consistently to grow these areas so well? Then think about what’s not going too well.

Ask yourself:

  1. What have you tried to do to help the situation?
  2. What more can you do?
  3. What areas seem most urgent?
  4. What have you been “meaning” to do, but never quite done?

And remember that this is not about perfection. No part of your life will ever be perfect. This is about being aware and doing what’s in your power to improve and/or make plans so that nothing catches by surprise later.  This is about being proactive about your life.

Identify your regular escape mechanisms

Now listen. I love escapism just like anybody else. It feels really good.  But unfortunately I also know what happens when I spend too much time in escape mode and finally wake up one day and have to figure out how to get out of the hole I created for myself while trying to escape. Escapism, like all things, is best in some form of moderation. Sure, have that cupcake. But you probably shouldn’t have 10, because you will have to face the consequences of that sooner or later. Sure, check in on social media. But you probably shouldn’t spend 20 hours a day, 7 days a week mindlessly hanging out there because that’s time that you could be investing in other things that can grow your  life.

And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy things. I’m simply saying excessively seeking out pleasure while not handling your duties and obligations is a form of escape which ends up backfiring in the end.

What are your escape mechanisms? What are you avoiding? Keep track of how many times during the day you seek to “escape.” This can be an eye-opening practice in and of itself. How many times, you know you “should” be doing something else, but just can’t bear to face it.

Sketch out a new reality (your new destination)

Part of the reason that we don’t want to face reality reality is because doing so makes us feel helpless and overwhelmed.

But that’s just the beginning. You don’t have to stay in that state of overwhelm.

The next step is figuring out what to do next.  Perhaps you need to change some of your behaviors, or use your time more effectively. Try to do those things. If you are not able to them on your own, don’t give up! Figure out out how you can make such changes more likely. Maybe it means hiring a coach or therapist to help you figure out your next steps. Or, maybe it means putting some things on autopilot. Perhaps it means finding an accountability partner.  . Love your life enough to at least try to make things different. No one else will. This is your job.

And you can’t get  there without knowing where you want to go.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. In the comments below please share something that you were trying to escape from in the past but finally faced. Or what your favorite forms of escapism are.

And if you need some help in facing our reality, please be sure to check out my Jumpstart Your Life 6 Week Coaching Program. 

Why I Became a Therapist Part 2: Rebuilding Myself

 

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In Part 1, I shared  how I was far away from home and felt really alone during my first semester at college. There were thousands of young people around me yet I felt isolated and ignored.  I was very confused and my whole world was turned upside down.

After many many days of feeling really really bad,  I decided that I just could not go on that way. Something had to change.

So I took all the courage I could  muster and went to see a student health counselor.

A therapist.

Now perhaps you, like me, grew up in a community in which people did not see therapists. And if they did, they certainly didn’t talk about it.  Seeing a counselor or therapist was essentially an admission that you were crazy or even worse weak.

That’s why I didn’t make the decision to go see a counselor lightly.

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SU counseling center

But unfortunately the experience did not make me feel any better. In fact it made me feel worse. The therapist that was assigned to me was not very empathetic and I never really felt like she cared. Perhaps it was unfair to compare her to the adults who nurtured me and made me feel like things would be OK.  I never warmed up to her. There was always something missing and we were never able to build a working rapport. We just couldn’t relate to each other and I felt even more alone.

I went to two sessions and never went back.

Introspection and Self Work

Since therapy didn’t work for me at the time, I knew I had to figure it out myself. The first thing I did was buy a journal. And I wrote in it every single day. Because I didn’t have much of a social life, I had a lot of time to reflect. My first task was to think of things that made me laugh or put me in a good mood. I wrote a master list for myself so that when I was having a really bad day I would flip to that page and try several things until I was in a better mood. This was the beginning of my coping tool kit. I learned how to self-soothe as an adult. Next, I wrote out all my frustrations, hurts, and hopes for the future. Since I didn’t have anyone to talk to, I expressed myself to my journal and that helped a great deal.  It was very therapeutic. And I began to look forward to it.

Connection

Once I realized that I needed to find a new center of focus, I sought out people to connect to. I knew I couldn’t get through the next four years without any friends. I thought to myself that in a place of thousands of people, surely I could find one person to be my friend. And I did.  I found more than a handful of like-minded folks. People who had similar interests. Some were a little older than me who were able to show me around and invite me to events, and others were right in my dorm. I began volunteering at a few youth centers off campus. It was nice to have people look forward to see me coming. And I joined a student organization and met even more people. It still wasn’t like home but it was so much better than feeling like crap in my dorm room.

Permission

Sooner or later it hit me that I was out on my own in the world. After I grieved for the loss of my old reality, I began to see all the amazing opportunities in front of me. And I gave myself the permission to take advantage of it by doing things I . I cut off all of my permed hair and went natural, something I had been wanting to do for a long time but wasn’t allowed to do when I lived at home. And this was like 15 years ago before it was as common as it is today. In fact, I remember one of my new found friends crying as I did it because she thought I was crazy. I majored in African-American Studies, even though my dad wanted me to be an accountant.  I formed relationships with some very wonderful professors  in the department who helped me so much more than the student counseling office. They invited me into their offices and homes.  And because of their influence I studied abroad in Zimbabwe.

 

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Me in Africa with my baby locs

I lived in Africa for a year and it was really life changing. And not in a gross “Oh look at the poor black people, I’m so fortunate” kind of way. But it was life changing because of 4 main reasons

  1. It really drove the point home to me that people live differently. And the things that matter to me don’t necessarily mean anything to anybody else. And that’s OK. They have their own issues to worry about. And that means that everything ain’t about me. Nobody cares (in a good way). Though I saw that when I first went away to college, I had taken it personally and experienced it as rejection. When I got to live in another country with a completely different culture, I realized that the world was a big place. Bigger than I had ever imagined and it was silly of me to expect to be treated the same way in all environments.
  2. But people are essentially the same all over. For example, people argue in Shona language about the same things that people argue about in English.
  3. Being flexible is so important. Electric power rationing was a way of life. Whole areas would be without power, sometimes advance notice would be given and other times not. People just dealt with it.  I remember one night I was sitting in a popular cafe where there was a live band playing. All of a sudden all the power went out. Everybody started laughing and clapping. The band went on playing and the waitresses came around and placed lit candles on each table. It was a  very sweet moment. And I think about it often as a reminder to be flexible and not to get stuck on Plan A if it doesn’t work out. Sometimes Plan B is kinda fun even when it wasn’t really expected.
  4. I saw that I could survive far away from home on the other side of the planet. It was confirmation that I could do anything that I wanted to do.

Now, stay tuned for the third and final installment of journey to be a therapist.

Do You Suffer From “Happiness Destination Syndrome”?

Happiness Destination Syndrome

OK. So before we begin, as a licensed therapist I must tell you that there is technically no such thing as “Happiness Destination Syndrome” or HDS.  It is not listed in any diagnostic manual. I made it up to describe a pattern of behaviors and thought patterns that is pretty common among many many people.

And as a person recovering from HDS, I can tell you that it is very real and its symptoms are profound. Here are some examples of statements that usually come from people plagued by HDS:

  • “After I find a new job, then I can make more money and be happy.”
  • “When I find someone to truly love me and start a relationship with, then I can be happy.”
  • “Once I have kids, then I’ll be happy.”
  • When I retire and my kids are grown, then I can finally have time to myself then I can be happy.”

See where this is going?

HDS is constantly thinking that happiness is always somewhere “out there” over the next hill. HDS is feeling like the current moment or set of circumstances is never enough to feel “happy.” People who live with HDS feel like there is always the need for “more,” or “better.” It is simply a never-ending treadmill.

Now let me say here that there is nothing wrong with wanting to improve the quality of your life. There is nothing wrong with setting and achieving goals. And sometimes the feeling of dissatisfaction can actually be a powerful motivator to change things that you dislike. But thinking that  you are not enough and can absolutely never be happy until the next great thing happens will only result in you feeling empty and dissatisfied even after you have achieved the goal.

Because the underlying thought behind HDS is that you need to DO more and ACHIEVE more in order to BE more. And that simply isn’t true.

I can attest to spending the first chunk of my young adulthood with HDS. Thinking that the next relationship, or job, or degree was going to make my life magically better. I thought that I just needed to attain the next and best shiny thing in order to feel better about myself and my life. But what I would routinely discover is that once I would reach that next destination, I would feel good for a short while, but then eventually go back to thinking something was missing. I was looking for something to fill the void.

But happiness is not a specific destination. Happiness just is. And it exists everywhere. It is all around us and within us.

So here are my 3 tips to cure any Happiness Destination Syndrome outbreaks:

Stop Magical Thinking

Nothing is a magical cure all. There is nothing  and nobody that will make all your problems go away. Stop thinking that. No job, relationship, education, or amount of money will make all your problems go away. No matter where you are and what you have, there will always be both joys to experience and challenges to overcome. Without exception. Moving into different circumstances simply means that there will be new joys as well as new challenges. And sometimes moving into new circumstances exacerbate your current challenges. I think lottery winners are a good example of this. You can read some of these sad stories here or here. These examples show that money wasn’t a magic cure-all. Even after winning millions of dollars, these people still struggled with addiction, unsupportive relationships with people who did not mean them well, and unfortunate judgment. The new set of circumstances merely exaggerated what was already there. That’s why jumping into new external circumstances as an escape never has the effect we think it will.

Flip the Script

Sometimes we don’t even realize the complicated  conditional statements we impose on our happiness. When you make your happiness conditional, you have created specific paradigms and bought into certain belief systems that simply are not true. A paradigm is an operating belief system. Let’s take the common thought “I won’t be really happy unless I’m in a romantic relationship. ”  Another way to say that statement is “The only way for me to be happy is if I’m in a romantic relationship.” When you express the statement this way, it sounds truer to the point and more in line with your operating paradigms. And I urge you to think more about why you think that is true for you.  Who told you that this is true? Why do you think you are only worthy of happiness in a romantic relationship? All real change comes through internal paradigm shifts.

But in the meantime, one way to disrupt your unhelpful operating paradigms is to ask yourself: How can I experience more joy today in my current set of circumstances? Ask yourself this every single day until you have some answers and then actually start to enact it.
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This plaque hangs over my sink as my daily reminder.

Remember Your Life is Happening NOW

This is your life and it is happening right now. This is the core message in all the work that I do.  Every single moment of your life is an absolute gift. Do not wish your current life away. That is wasteful. And you deserve so much better. The past is gone and the future is not promised. The current moment is the most important. You will never have the chance to re-live anything.  And your life does not stop while you are in pursuit of your goals.  This means that it is up to you to decide to find happy experiences in every single day.

Life is not solely a picnic. Serious and grave things happen. But life is not all a drag either. Beautiful and wondrous things happen too,  all the time in fact. And because the serious and grave things happen, the joyous things are even more meaningful and precious. Your job is to savor these daily moments of joy. They exist. You just have to make the effort to train yourself to identify them and appreciate them. Again ask yourself, “How can I experience more joy today in my current set of circumstances?”

Now I’d love to hear from you. In the comments below, please share something that you thought would bring you “happiness” but when you got it, it didn’t.

And if you liked this post, please be sure to sign up for our mailing list.

Why I Became a Therapist Part 1: My Personal Self-Love Journey

After I have worked with a client for awhile, I usually get asked one question sooner or later: Have you always had such a positive disposition?

The answer to that question is a resounding NO!

I developed coping skills to deal with life’s challenges as I became an adult. Coping mechanisms that I still use to this day.

In this series of posts, I will share the life experiences that forced me to develop these skills and how I went about building them for myself.

Here’s the first part of my story:

Around the way girl in Harlem

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I went to pre-school with a group of kids from my neighborhood. Most of whom later went to the same Catholic school which was 5 blocks away from my house. Or the public school which was only 2 blocks away. I went to the Catholic school from 1st through 8th grade. My friends usually had an older sibling or two who was friends with my older brother. Similarly, their younger siblings were friends with my younger sister. I also went to an all-girls Catholic high school in the Bronx with some of the same girls.

So if you’re paying attention there are some people with whom I was schoolmates from the time I was 2 years old through 18 years old. And our families knew each other. We all went to church together. Teachers knew me before I even got to their classrooms because they had worked with my brother and he was terribly smart, so they assumed I was smart too. And thankfully, I lived up to those expectations. On top of that, I joined the choir and was really fortunate to belong to community organizations in which I got even more friends and excelled. Even though I had ups and downs just like everyone does, my over all childhood and adolescence experience was overwhelmingly positive.

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I’m telling you all of this because I want you to get a  picture of all the support in my childhood and adolescence. I was a well adjusted kid who was smarter than average in my community. I succeeded without even trying. I had friends. I had boyfriends. Adults put me in charge of things. My peers respected me. It was kind of plush. And I had no reason to suspect that my life would not just keep getting better. By this time, my brother had already gone off to college and he was having the time of his life. To this day, we tease him about how great his time in school was.

So when it was my turn, I was super excited because I knew there was no where to go but up.

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So I went off to school…

College Bound

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But college was really really hard.

Hard emotionally. Hard academically. And hard socially. And I floundered in all those areas. Some more than others.

Like many young people who grew up in somewhat sheltered communities, I was largely unprepared for the world when I went out on my own. I know that sounds funny given the fact that I grew up in the South Bronx and Harlem in the 1980s. In some ways I had a lot of worldly experience. I learned important street smarts like  how to assess danger in people and situations really quickly and how to get myself out of a sticky situation.

But in some other important ways I was in entirely new territory. I was very similar to almost everyone whom I had ever known.

I went to a huge school (Go Orange!) And now instead of the close knit community that I came from, there were literally thousands upon thousands of other smart and talented young people. Young people who had their own belief systems and who came from all over the country.  It was a very isolating experience for me with many low points.

  • like that time my roommate just stopped talking to me out of nowhere and never spoke to me again
  • or that time a football jock, who later went on to play in the NFL, called me ugly when he didn’t think I overheard him while I was minding my business in class.
  • or when I got two D’s my very first semester even though I had never gotten anything but A’s in high school

And these were just some of the many occurrences during my very first semester. It shook my confidence. At that point I had formed an identity solely based on being successful and liked by others. But when the environment changed  and I didn’t get the feedback that I had always gotten all my life, I felt like shit. Who was I if I wasn’t  excelling and well-liked? What could I possibly have to offer?

And in hindsight, each of these experiences was clearly not the end of the world. By any means.

They simply bruised my ego. And I didn’t have the coping skills to deal with them. These experiences made me doubt who I was. I had no frame of reference. I felt like a loser and I was deeply ashamed. I honestly felt like I had nothing to offer the world.

And even worse, I felt like I didn’t have anyone who I could talk to about it. The people back home were rooting for me. They were excited that I had a chance that many would never have and they were deeply vested in my success. Not only could I not let them down, I couldn’t even let them know I was struggling. Or at least that’s what I told myself.

My  mom was very supportive in her own way. But she didn’t really have a frame of reference either. And we didn’t have a language to communicate with each other about it. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable enough to share just how emotionally hard the experience was for me. And  my mom was real old school. She came from the “just suck it up” school. In other words, “You got problems? Well so what. So do I and everybody else. You got food, a place to live, and family. So whatever you’re going through can’t be that bad. Get over it.”

To be fair, my mom was trying to teach me resilience. A very valuable skill. A tool I also use to this day.

But in that moment I needed a little bit more. I could get it together enough to go through the motions, but I couldn’t stop feeling  like shit. I felt so bad about myself every single day. And it was painful.

So since I couldn’t talk to anyone, as a very last resort, I decided to go  to the student counseling center and the experience was absolutely awful.

Stay tuned for part 2 where I talk about why I didn’t go back to counseling for 15 years later and how I finally got through this tough time.

How to Move Past Fear and Get Busy Doing What You Want to Do

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A couple of days ago, I wrote a post about my thoughts on the new Shonda Rhimes book,  Year of Yes.

Her book inspired me to think about the way I could take action and improve various areas of my own life.

But what was really remarkable for me was her realization that she had slowly made herself miserable by denying herself some really awesome experiences because of fear.  Fear. Even though hard work had allowed her to reach amazing and historical professional highs, fear kept her from enjoying it.

And her story completely resonated with me. Because I know exactly what that feels like–being trapped by my very own thoughts telling me that I am not good enough. Telling me that it is not “realistic” to go after the things that I truly desire. That was my way of life for years. And I too was miserable.

Fear sucks. It has the power to paralyze. Fear has the potential to make each of us shrink. Fear has the power to imprison.

But we were born to be free.  And the worse part about the prison that fear creates is that it can make you  think that you are simply being”realistic” by not living.  “Realistic” is what you want it to be. Staying in place out of fear is not “being realistic.” It’s being trapped and miserable.

The essence of life is growth and movement and change. Don’t let fear stop you from living.

In order to truly live a life of abundance, we simply cannot be ruled solely by fear.

Here are some tactics to help keep fear in its place so you can be free to go after what you really want:

1. Feel the fear, and do it anyway

You might think that there are some among us who are braver than most. And this might very well be true. But when we look at the word brave, it doesn’t mean that absence of fear. The definition of bravery is more along the lines of feeling the fear and doing it anyway. I’ve heard some of my favorite actors/comedians say that they still s get the bubble guts right before a performance. They feel the fear and do it anyway. They push through it. They don’t let fear stop them in their tracks.

Sometimes we simply have to go through an obstacle in order to get to the other side.  Don’t stop. Go through it.

2. Assess the risk and make a plan

Whenever you are afraid of something, ask yourself what is the absolute worst that could happen.  90% of the time, the answer to the question is embarrassment.  Or judgment from other people. So essentially, what that means is that you value other people’s opinion more than your own. And you’re willing to be a slave to other people’s opinion.

Well, that really does not sound fair to you at all. Love and believe in yourself enough to know that you are worth more than living a life in a cage because you give other people’s opinion so much power.

And sometimes the worst that could happen is far worse than embarrassment. Sometimes there are really dire consequences that can happen if you try something new and things don’t work out the way you hope they will. And honestly, I can’t tell you whether it’s worth it or not. You’re the only one who can decide that. But I do want you to consider what is it costing you not to do it in your decision making process. What will happen if you don’t try it?

Either way, make a plan for the worst case scenario. If you can do that and you are OK with the consequences, move forward. Due your research. What happens to other people when they do it? Figure it all out.

By the way, the worst case scenario very rarely happens.

3. Practice visualizing success

One thing that really successful people do is practice visualization. If you don’t do this already, cultivate a habit of imagining your success in your head. Here’s how to do it. Pick something you are very afraid of– public speaking, starting a business, accepting an invitation, etc. Now visualize yourself being successful in that endeavor– you deliver a speech with no problems and the audience is giving you a standing ovation; your bank account balance is overflowing from income made in your business; you are enjoying yourself with at the event. Within the visualization, concentrate on your mannerisms and your stance. Concentrate on your breathing. Do this daily as a habit. Set a deadline and do it. That’s it. You have to do it.

4. Build a Fear Response Team

A support team is on every single list that I give. Because I think it is that important. We are inherently social beings and we need other like-minded supportive to help us. Keep people in your circle who simply will not allow you to succumb to unreasonable fear. This may be really difficult to do because unfortunately, there are many people who will simply endorse the fear that keeps you small and trapped. But you can find like-minded folks who will encourage you to grow and expand while providing support.

5. Inch by Inch

You don’t have to face your deepest and darkest fear right away all at once (though many have used this tactic successfully) in order to conquer your fear. You could also tackle it inch by inch. Break down the fear into smaller pieces and set deadlines on when to accomplish them.

OK. So these are my tips for fighting fear.

Now I’d like to hear from you. What is a fear of yours that you would finally like to conquer and move on?

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How to Invite New Energy Into Your Life: A Review of Shonda Rhimes’ “A Year of Yes”

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Anybody know what it feels like to get stuck in a rut?

I certainly do. I remember a time in which I was stuck in a rut for a very long time. Years in fact. During this time, my days looked a little bit like this: Work. School. Sleep. Repeat. Work. School. Sleep. Repeat. And so on and so on.

After so many days like that my mind started to scream to break free.  I woke up one day and felt trapped and thought to myself, “How in the world did I get here?!” And I can tell you it does not feel good.

Well Ms. Shonda Rhimes had the same issue. Yes, that Shonda Rhimes. The same woman who is single-handedly responsible for Thursday night prime-time television.  The woman who created  Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and my personal favorite, How To Get Away with Murder, was a self-proclaimed introverted workaholic who suffered from severe panic attacks. The woman that brings unsterotypical powerful, charismatic black woman characters to life, was herself afraid of life and felt paralyzingly inadequate.

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Shonda Rhimes after her year of yes

During her working hours she rubbed elbows with Kerri Washington and Viola Davis, but after work she went home alone and compulsively ate in her bed. She had created a habit over the years of saying”no” to all the exciting invitations she received because she was frightened and felt inadequate.  She woke up one day and realized that she was “miserable and deeply unhappy.”

One Thanksgiving, she had an epiphany when her sister told her that she always says “No” to everything. She realized that in saying “no” to invitations, she was also saying “no” to life.

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After coming to this realization, Shonda decided that since saying “no” to everything had gotten her to a place of extreme social withdrawal and unhappiness, saying “yes” might help her get out of her rut.

So she committed to a year of “yes” in which she would say yes to all the things that scared her for an entire year.

  • She said yes to giving speeches in front of thousands of people.
  • She said yes to being healthier.
  • She said yes to standing up for herself.
  • She said yes to having difficult but necessary conversations.
  • She said yes to playing with her children every time they asked.

And what was the result of her “year of yes”?

  • She lost more than 130lbs.
  • She was able to get over her deepest life-long fears.
  • She lost some people that she thought were her friends.
  • She began to feel better about herself.
  • She respected her own feelings and life choices.

In short, her life was absolutely transformed.

How incredibly inspiring!?

And all she did differently was say “YES”.

Now you know how much I hate one size fits all formulas, so I am not at all suggesting that we all follow Shondra’s plan verbatim. But what I am suggesting is that there is something really transformative about inviting new energy into your life. Magic can happen when we stop doing the things the we’ve always done. Great things an happen when we decide to shake things up a bit. This is what it means to invite new energy into our lives. It keeps us from being stagnant and promotes our personal, emotional and spiritual growth.

“New” and “different” don’t have to be synonymous with “scary” and “bad.”  New routines bring new experiences and give us new things to think about.

How could all of our lives be changed if we invited new energy into our spaces? So my question to you is this:

What if you made a decision to do one thing different? What would it be? What might change for the better?

Leave a comment below about one thing you can do to invite new energy into your life.