Mental Health

Living A Life By Design

March 13, 2024

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I'm Michelle — health coach for women who want to escape diet culture and find the health they deserve.

Meet Michelle

Although I have the word “thrive” in my podcast title, I don’t think I’ve ever talked about what it truly means to thrive. What does it mean to flourish? And what does it mean to live a life by design rather than just by default? Well, to help me answer all of these questions and more, I am going to share some insights from an amazing conversation I had with Dr. Wendy O’Connor. 

Dr. Wendy is a Stanford trained positive psychologist and success coach for female entrepreneurs. She helps women design their most meaningful, intentional, and fulfilling lives. And utilizing her strengths, values, and evidence-based success method. Dr. Wendy has helped thousands of women worldwide live a life they’re obsessed with. Today, we’re looking at the questions we can ask to help us define the change we want,  how to give ourselves permission to imagine better experiences, and why we need to understand that internal growth is about internal work.

What is positive psychology?

Dr. Wendy describes positive psychology as “the science of happiness”. We now have research that shows us what it means to live a flourishing, happy life and in many ways, it’s exciting to realize that there is a science of happiness and that it’s not just a mystery that we have to try and figure out on our own. 

Often when I speak to my clients, friends, and colleagues, there seems to be a mentality of things happening *to* us, as if we lack control over them. But Dr. Wendy stresses that flourishing is absolutely a choice that you can make for yourself in your life as long as you design it appropriately. Happiness isn’t something we are lucky enough to have or unlucky enough to not have – there are steps we can take to increase the happiness in our lives. 

We all have what’s known as a “happiness set point”, which is where our baseline happiness typically resides. There are those of us that are more likely to be more optimistic and positive, and maybe those of us that are a little bit more towards the pessimist side of the spectrum. 

But wherever we may fall on that spectrum, doesn’t really matter. Because while you don’t have control over what happens to you, you do always have control over how you respond and how you influence your experience. And that’s a really powerful realization that I think a lot of people have not made yet. 

Getting Started With More Intentional Living

To begin living more intentionally, the easiest place to start is by reflecting on what changes you desire in your life. Instead of overthinking it, simply ask yourself: “What one thing would make a big difference in how I experience life and lead me towards thriving, happiness, and fulfillment?” Trust your initial response. And once you identify that thing, assess where you are currently compared to where you want to be. Then, consider the practical steps needed to move in the direction of your desired change.

While the path forward may seem daunting, it’s helpful to break it down into manageable steps. To start with, focus on understanding what improvement in that one area of your life would look and feel like. Envision how your days would unfold and how you would show up differently if that aspect of your life were even just 5% or 10% better.

Think of it as standing on one side of a riverbank, with your desired change on the other side. Consider what it would take to cross that river. Each person’s journey is unique, with different challenges and circumstances, but by taking the time to identify your desired change and envisioning its impact, you’re already setting yourself on a path towards intentional living and personal growth. 

Permission and Radical Responsibility

Living a life by design all starts with permission. Permission to imagine a better experience, permission to make different decisions, permission to change your mind, permission to delegate, permission to let go, and permission to pivot.

And what really needs to follow the permission piece is taking radical responsibility. Sometimes it’s easier to say, ‘Well, this is just the way my life is right now’ rather than to take responsibility and look at what’s not quite working or aligning with the way you want to feel. But when you do take responsibility, you’ll suddenly see all of the opportunities to make different decisions.

The trouble is, many of us are faced with negative self-talk or a loud inner critic when it comes to giving ourselves permission to make the changes we desire in life. So how do we bridge the gap from feeling stuck to embracing change?

For me, it was a realization that nothing was changing despite repeating the same patterns. The desire for change outweighed the excuses, pushing me towards taking responsibility for my situation. Coaching and exploring my thought patterns played a role, but ultimately, it was a tipping point where the pain of staying the same became greater than the fear of change.

Many people wait until they hit rock bottom to make a change, but it doesn’t have to be that way. We can grant ourselves permission to make changes even before things reach a breaking point. Radical responsibility may sound daunting, but the real fear lies in judgment and criticism, not in taking ownership. It’s about choosing to live better and happier without adding layers of shame. We can let go of the unnecessary burden of self-criticism and embrace the opportunity to create positive change in our lives.

Challenging Internalized Beliefs

One of the reasons I often find myself frequently signing up for new courses is because of a belief that I need more certifications or knowledge to be considered trustworthy by potential clients. It’s a belief that drives me to seek validation externally. However, when I give myself permission to drop these courses, I also have to confront the deeper belief that I’m not enough as I am to serve my clients adequately.

But this belief is totally unfounded. In reality, clients are more concerned with the value I provide and the integrity with which I work, rather than the letters behind my name. What truly matters is the experience and the ability to apply knowledge effectively.

And that’s the same for many of us – whether we’re entrepreneurs or mothers, we’re often caught in the trap of feeling like we constantly need to do more to measure up to unrealistic standards. But true happiness and success come from building inner strength and trust, rather than seeking external validation or constantly chasing the next achievement. 

Practical Ways to Increase Happiness

Dr. Wendy shared some powerful tools that can easily influence your perspective, your approach to the day, your mood, and your reactions over the course of a day. 

  1. Morning/Evening routines: Just picking two or three things in the morning or evening allows you to be more in control of how you want to start or end your day. Instead of snoozing through your alarm, rushing out the door, and feeling like everything is hurried, you can make time to feel more intentional and grounded. And you don’t have to set aside an hour a day to do it – it can be as simple as getting up and stretching your body or journaling. 
  1. Do more things you enjoy: One of the things that people really leave behind is fun. But one of the quickest ways we can boost our mood is to have something planned that you are looking forward to, whether it’s going to the movies tomorrow night or having coffee with a friend. It’s about creating a lifestyle that prioritizes feeling good, which has such a positive ripple effect to the not so great moments. 

Sadly, a lot of women may not even know what would make them happy. They don’t know what they would look forward to or enjoy anymore. Life has been so focused on the kids, or the marriage, or the business, or life, or the house and it’s just not been focused on nurturing that relationship with yourself. But there is a lot of opportunity in life to have accidental happiness just based on following something you think could boost your mood.

Dr. Wendy encourages us to look at this as a season for you to play and experiment, with no pressure to get it right. The whole point is to get closer to yourself, learn about yourself, and to honor your truth and who you are. And the more that you do that, the easier it’s going to be to do everything in life, from setting boundaries, building confidence and self-worth, and creating and achieving whatever your desires are. Everything can come after we start to play in the space of curiosity and permission to just experiment. 

Over time, I have built up a list of a hundred things that make me happy or bring me joy. And now it’s just automatic that something from that list is scheduled into every single day of my life. And it’s not always a big thing. Sometimes it’s simply feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin or listening to a record. 

A lot of the things that bring us “mini joys” don’t cost a thing or require special equipment. You don’t even have to leave your house if you don’t want to. It’s just these little moments that you suddenly start to choose to notice. And once you get in the habit of looking for these moments, you find that they’re all over the place. That’s how I got to a hundred. And now it’s just ingrained in me to constantly look for what will bring me joy.

Ultimately, living a thriving life is about embracing change, taking radical responsibility, and finding joy in the everyday moments. By integrating these principles into our lives, we can design our most meaningful, intentional, and fulfilling lives.

I’m excited to continue exploring these concepts and applying them to my own journey towards thriving, and I hope you feel inspired to do the same.

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