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Want to know the quickest way to improve your life?
It’s probably not something you want to hear.
I know it’s not something I like hearing.
But it’s necessary.
The quickest way to improve your life is to improve yourself.
It’s not as harsh as it sounds, though.
What it comes down to is doing the inner work.
But what does that inner work look like?
It depends on the person.
Let me explain what I mean.
Inner Work: You are the Person You Need
Let’s start with an example.
When you’re younger, making friends comes naturally. You can walk up to another child, smile, and start playing. The experience is seamless because a child lives in the moment. A child does what comes naturally.
But something happens as we get older. We lose touch with the immediacy of our experience. We begin to doubt that we have something of value to offer. It starts to fall apart. Our experience starts to form cracks, which lead to open seams, which lead to gaping holes.
And isn’t it the gaping holes in our lives that hurt the most? We call a friend, and she doesn’t return our call. We offer a kind word to someone, and that kindness isn’t appreciated. It really hurts.
But does it have to?
Here’s what I think is going on.
When you risk connecting with someone else, you make yourself vulnerable. Except, it’s different from what you experienced as a child. The child’s experience is a full one. Every emotion is taken in and fully integrated. If something didn’t work, the child just accepts it as a lesson and moves on. There isn’t endless worrying. There aren’t stories that permeate the brain for days on end. It just is.
But, as adults, we handle it differently.
We think and we judge and we feel our separateness from other people.
We think that our experiences our final but we’re not actually even living our experiences — at least not fully.
To restore mental and emotional balance, you need to come back to yourself. You need to do the inner work.
The Inner Work is the Most Important Kind
I didn’t start to feel better in my own life until I made a commitment to work on my own life. I stopped making excuses. I realized that I had wronged a lot of people in my life. I knew that I hadn’t always been the person I wanted to be.
I think personal growth starts with this, a tacit acknowledgment that there is work to be done. It’s not a cause for embarrassment; it’s just how it is and always will be. Deciding to do the inner work is the start of it all.
What does that mean for you?
It means you start asking questions that you’ve been avoiding. It means you open yourself up, like a child, to the possibility that you could get badly hurt. No one wants this, but this is the game we play. If you want to be fully present in life, you need to accept the good with the bad. There’s no other way.
Start Where You Are
Wherever you are, however you’re feeling, start there. Your mental health requires it. You require it.
If you don’t start where and how you are, how can you expect others to respond to you in kind? Your personal experience is all that you have. Sure, there are memories. There is your body’s response to where you’ve been, internalized patterns of behavior that shape your life. But, at the center of it all, it’s just you. The person in the middle of the screen.
Don’t feel like a protagonist? Too bad. It’s who you are. You have a role to play in life and it’s best to start relearning what you already knew as a child.
Take some to think about what you were doing on this day when you were a little kid. Were you happy? Were you sad? Why or why not?
I think much of life is a remembering of what you once knew so well, before the separateness of life started to take hold, before you started to judge your experience instead of simply living it.
You are the person you need. You always have been.
As the year comes to an end, it might be a good time to start thinking about this role that you are playing. Is it your own, or is it somebody else’s?
Only you can know that. Only you can ask the questions that need to be asked.
And only you can find the right answers.