Practicing mindfulness can can be described as being conscious and aware of something. If one were to associate this with attainment of self actualization; one would have reached the epitome of their true potential. This post was therefore created with the intent of clearly outlining the steps and actions that one can take to intentionally live a purposeful life.
Attaining Self Actualization Means Overcoming Your Subconscious Routine
Many may be guilty of living life on autopilot. I mean Living the same day on repeat like the classic movie “Groundhog Day.” These people may not realize it, but they are actually falling prey to what can be called their subconscious routine. You see the brain is complicated; sometimes it does things to help you but like any sophisticated machine, if used incorrectly can result in more harm than good. We spend countless hours learning how to drive or learning a new language; Why then do we hardly dedicate time and effort to understanding the inner workings of the brain; one of the greatest gifts given to us.
The way you start and end your day is often predetermined by the habits you form which in turn shapes how you intuitively respond to situations. This is perfectly fine if you are having the outcome you have always wanted; but what if you keep making the same mistakes over and over again? mistakes in relationships, mistakes in your career or just generally mistakes with regards to how to be happy in life. By living life habitually, you are in essence letting your past influence your present. Remember the same old habits will always lead to the same old results.
If you want to change the outcome, then you need to change your habits. This is when brain reprogramming is vital. it is essentially when you teach your brain to rid itself of the poor habits you practiced in the past. It means breaking free from intuitive action and letting slow(conscious) thinking take over. The terms fast thinking and slow thinking were coined by the Author Daniel Kahneman in his book: Thinking fast and Slow. The process is difficult and your brain will often give of the emotions that will tell you to resume your old state of doing something. This is when you need to fight and take a hold of your life. You need to stop letting your thoughts and subconscious mind take control and start living in the present moment.
The Subconscious Script
But how is your subconscious routine determined in the first place? Think of your brain as a massive storage device. Every new experience you expose it to creates a new neural pathway. So learning new intellectual hobbies for examples, essentially creates new synaptic pathways through the process referred to as neuroplasticity. By repetition, theses connections are then maintained and sustained. If you repeat what you are learning enough times, it can even become hardwired such that your body can intuitively perform the action better than your brain can.
This is exactly the case with the subconscious routine we all create. This ranges from the things we do in the morning to the way we interact and feel when we speak to certain people. If you follow this subconscious routine, the result is that you walk through life half asleep (with no plan). It means that you are most likely going to be running intuitively on a program that was developed years ago by your mind and which probably isn’t working to materialize the future you desire.
Essentially the habits that make up your autopilot(subconscious system) all boil down to your thoughts. The choices you make, will affect your behavior which in turn affects your experiences. These experiences then influence your emotion which makes a full circle to dictate your thoughts once again. If you haven’t noticed this essentially defines your personality and the personal reality you create for yourself. Therefore in order to change your personal reality and to align it with self actualization (i.e. reaching your full potential); you need to consciously start by changing your thoughts which will funnel down to behavior, experiences and emotion.
To sum it up, you begin each day in one of two ways:
- You have a solid vision of your future and you are inspired to take conscious action to make it a reality i.e. you live the future you want as if it is happening in the present
- You have no vision, and instead live your life on autopilot. This means you are often firing and hardwiring your current synaptic connections. Reliving the same habits dictated by the same choices, behaviors, emotions and thoughts of your past. The result is that you end up doing the exact same things that result in the exact same outcomes; which is highly unfortunate if it is not the outcome you desire.
Okay so now we realize that if you are not waking up happy, your mind needs reprogramming. But how do you reprogram your mind?Well that’s what this article aims to pragmatically illustrate to you. However to sum it up, you need to go against your subconscious (fast thinking) mindset and actively change your thoughts, choices, behaviours, experiences and emotions. Below are some fundamental steps which will be broken up in more detail during the course of this article.
- Step 1: Identify your values
- Step 2: Find your true purpose
- Step 3: Visualize the future you want
- Step 4:Relieve yourself of negative thoughts anxiety and maintain a healthy mindset.
- Step 5: Develop your mission statement
- Step 6: consciously move towards achieving your vision and have the confidence that you will achieve it
- Step 7: Develop the right habits to set you on track
Step 1: Finding Your Values (What Do You Stand for?)
Values can be defined as the governing powers by which you live your life. Think of it has the building blocks of your life. You see values are important because they direct every other area of your life i.e. your actions, goals and eventually where you end up in life. If you choose your personal values well, you will be in a position to reach true self actualization. If you choose them incorrectly however, you may find yourself in a situation where you live a meaningless existence. Not knowing how and why you are in a particular place in your life is rather scary and having values help to navigate you through the tough terrain we call life.
Ultimately the key to choosing values boils down to living a principle centered life i.e. having values that are not influenced by external factors out of your control. You should also choose values that are progressive and not finite for e.g. choosing to place value on money will result in you feeling aimless once you finally reached material wealth. If for e.g. you value helping the unfortunate on the other hand; this is progressive and you can work on it throughout your life. Financial gain, pleasure etc. often come as a bye product of doing really meaningful work and should not be placed as your ultimate value.
According to the book: The 7 Habits of Highly effective people, the following are value centers that people typically follow. These centers are often externally dependent and is not the way one should live their lives:
- Spouse – centered
- Family – centered
- Money – centered
- Work – centered
- Possession – centered
- Pleasure – centered
- Friend – centered
- Enemy – centered
- Church – centered
- Self – centered
If you really want to truly ingrain your values in your every action; you can do two things:
- Write down your values and what you stand for and read them everyday. Reading at night could be more effective since the subconscious mind works while you sleep. This will enable you to eventually intuitively live your value system. Which could also prevent issues like decision fatigue since you now have a value system which dictates your decision making.
- Keep a journal. In the beginning, your values may not be hardwired in your brain. Journalling can greatly assist with breaking old thought patterns that are defying your current value system. This can be explained most effectively through and example. Suppose you have a value which is too be calm and cool like a cucumber. Traditionally however you are used to being very aggressive with people. The result is that by habit, you respond to situations with a temper. It is only after the unconscious slip that you come to your senses and realize that you opposed an important value.
Journaling therefore helps since you can document your slip and state an alternative reality where you did things differently i.e. responded much more calmly. You could then go even one step further and visualize this new scenario. The great thing about this is that the mind can’t tell the real situation from the one you are concocting in your mind and essentially if you do this enough; new neural pathways begin to form in your mind. Do this enough and you will eventually start to intuitively respond to situations the way you want to – according to the values you defined. The first step is awareness and thereafter making the conscious effort to change.
On a final note, you need to be able to use your emotions to determine if your values need refining. Good feelings means you are on track however bad feelings means something needs changing. However try not to look at feelings in isolation. Sometimes pain comes before bliss e.g. a woman giving birth feels pain during labor but experiences bliss after having a child. Like the Author Mark Manson say’s : choose your fucks….everything thing you want comes with problems. You need to identify the problems you are happy dealing with.
In addition, you need to always refine and question your values. Always expand your perspective and look at whether your values need changing based on your broadened perspective. Remember that as you move through life- you change as a person. This means that your values will also change to accommodate your new personality. For e.g. if you value family loyalty but then realize that your family makes you feel worthless; then you may need to re-evaluate your values based on this new perspective. Remember that you see the world through a lens – it is not really how the world is. You should never be certain of the lens through which you choose to view life; as it may not necessarily be the correct one. FYI, if you want to really expand your view of life; read books and quotes to broaden your perspective.
Read more: Stephen Hawking Quotes On Life To Give You Perspective
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Step 2: Finding Your True Purpose
How are you to live a happier life if you don’t know what it looks like. Honestly so many people fail to do this important action because they don’t see the value in it; however it is this very compass that will lead you to happiness. Take the time to find this; what is the one thing that inspires you, motivates you and affects the people around you in a positive way. Finding your true purpose means you can reject the things that you don’t value and instead use your time more effectively. Too many choices means indecisiveness because of the fear of missing out and this effectively leads to you not being able to focus and achieve true success. Therefore find that one thing that gets you to wake up each morning filled with passion.
Step 3: Visualizing The Future You Want
Now that you have your purpose, here comes the fun part. Imagining it….. when you primary school teacher said “stop daydreaming” – she was wrong! Visualization is the key to teaching your brain about an alternative reality. As mentioned previously – we have two choices: 1) live the future with experiences from our past or 2) create a new vision of how your future will look based on defined values and a solid purpose. There are a variety of ways to assist with visualizations. A good start would be creating a vision board loaded with images that evoke strong emotion and feeling. You want your mind to think that you are really experiencing your future. This will create connections in your brain and alter your reality to fit the future you desire. Read more about how you can use creative visualisation to achieve your purpose.
If you are a student, Read: Vision board ideas for students to realize their dreams
Step 4: Maintaining A Healthy Mindset
The key to obtaining the goals you want is to have a healthy mind. Because here’s the thing – your brain is a factory ready to materialize your wildest dreams. The problem is that like any other factory, if you neglect the maintenance of this factory; it will likely have little or no quality throughput.
Apart from just taking care of your health through the foods you eat or mental exercises like meditation; of equal importance is the kind of thoughts you foster in your mind. Motivate your mind to have a winning attitude through motivation and positive self-talk and affirmations. Here are some articles to help put you in the right frame of mind and train your subconscious into a better frame of mind.
Read more: 25 Ways For How Not To Fail At Life
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Step 5: Develop Your Personal Mission Statement
Your Mission Statement can be a two liner that describes what you stand for or a more detailed document highlighting your values and principles. When you are lost and need a quick reminder of what you stand for – your mission statement is essentially your go to guide. Having a mission statement is important because it gives you a title to your life story. Essentially your mission statement helps convert your purpose into a workable long term goal. For e.g. if your purpose is helping people, then your mission statement could be along the lines of: “I want to help people through the non-profit organization I have established.” The next step would be to live this statement within the confines of your values. Like your values, this document should be revised on a regular basis to cater for the internal changes you experience at different stages of your life.
Read more: Why You Should Have A Mission Statement About Yourself
Mission Statement Vs Vision How Are They Related?
Mission Statement Vs Purpose – How Are They Related?
Why You Should Perform A Mission Statement Exercise
Step 6: Taking Action And Creating Better Habits
Now that you have defined your values and purpose and ingrained it onto your mission statement; what do you do and by when to achieve your purpose. How do you use the finite time and energy you have to productively move you towards achieving your purpose. The key is to set clear goals and timelines. What you also need to do is eliminate to many things. This will just intimidate you and result in you not taking any action.
Unfortunately, in life, things are not as easy as it seems. With taking actions comes a whole lot of mental barriers which often stop people dead in their tracks at this stage. For all intensive purposes, you can refer to them as the deadly barrier to self actualization. They are: intuition, Fear, rejection and procrastination.
Overcoming The Deadly Barriers To Self Actualization
Intuition (Self-doubt and fear) – the product of the subconscious mind
Intuition can be your friend or your enemy. If it is used in the absence of conscious thinking, you will have a case where fear and self-doubt will consume you. The reason is that people are rational creatures instead of instinctive ones. E.g. if you are intuitively afraid of approaching girls because of the few experiences you have had in the past of being rejected; it stops you from approaching other girls. The reality is that:
- you could learn from your mistakes and then approach girls differently. In this case, your past experiences wouldn’t carry any real value
- Approaching girls is a numbers game; you are probably going to need to get rejected a hefty amount of times before you find the one. Desensitization of what scares you is key to overcoming the innate fear.
- If you are in the present moment, you will not be dictated by thoughts from the past of worries of the future. This is how you should be living life.
However, instinctively our brain will tell us to run in fear to save embarrassment after what happened in the past. It is up to you to realize the long term harm not doing what scares you will cause.
We make sense of the present by drawing conclusion from the past which can hurt us especially if the past is a poor representation of true reality. Therefore one way of effectively strengthening one’s intuition is through enhancing your perspective. You need to be open to learning and questioning that which you know. Another pivotal component you need to be able to strengthen is your willpower. If your willpower is not enough, this can lead to you not being able to sustain or develop healthy habits.
Read more on perspective: Perspective taking exercises to make you more successful>>
We procrastinate for a variety of reasons:
- Intuitively our brain doesn’t like doing things that are difficult, scary or boring
- Doppamine overloads causes us to not fancy doing things less stimulating than say binging on tv series
- Deep down inside, we really don’t want to do what we are procrastinating or are too scared to start because of overthinking. In this case procrastination can be good because it indicates what we shouldn’t be doing with our lives.
Therefore there are several ways you can tackle this. Beat procrastination through the 5 second rule, have a dopamine detox or re-evaluate why we are really procrastinating. According to Mel Robbin’s Book: The 5 second rule, research shows that there is a 5 second gap before our intuition kicks in. Therefore if you are able to intervene and take action before this transition into your subconscious reflex; you will be able to overcome procrastination. Another method you could possibly use to overcome procrastination is through a Doppamine detox.
Doppamine is released in your body when your brain is expecting something rewarding e.g. eating a piece of chocolate cake. What happens when you over indulge in Doppamine inducing activies, the body overflows and eventually you lose motivation to do activities that are considered boring or lower Doppamine inducing. To regulate your levels, you can therefore do a Doppamine fast. This essentially means staying away from activities that are flooding your body with Doppamine.
The last method to overcome procrastination would be to evaluate why you are procrastinating in the first place. At times you may just find that you need to move on…. and not start that business you have been putting off. Perhaps your goals aren’t really aligned to you values. Other times you may find that all you need is just a push. Don’t consider the end result…. take baby steps. Even if it means dedicating 5 minutes each day until you gain some traction. Often a start motivates you to do more and what starts of as 5 minutes will explode into hours of constructive work. Sometimes it is just having the willpower to get through the boring stuff before the real passion emerges.
Habits can be good or bad. Good habits allow your to improve and achieve your purpose and values. Bad habits, take your further away from your goals and chews at your time like a rabbit on a carrot. Developing good habits takes willpower and eventually reprograms your brain.
The key however is to persist no- matter how difficult things get.
There you have it. A counter-intuitive approach to self – Actualization. Remember the only way to change is by doing the work. Don’t just read this article; live it as well. There is no better learning that actually doing. Go forth and realize your full potential. There is not time better spent like the time spent working on yourself.