Cultivating authenticity, trust, and habits that will change everything.

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Photo by Priscilla Gyamfi on Unsplash

“There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” -Howard Thurman

In the midst of this pandemic, I think we often have a strong temptation to not actively participate in change because it’s too much work. The pandemic can be exhausting, let alone everything outside of it that just keeps seeming to get more complicated and destructive. And for some of us, it truly is too much work to do more than simply what puts food on the table.

At the same time, I also believe that a lot of us have a higher threshold and a greater capacity for making change than we give ourselves credit for. We’ve just developed habits that keep us from reaching our goals (whether it be in our careers, hobbies, creative outlets, relationships, or trauma-work/healing), and those habits can feel tricky to break.

But they can be broken.

To illustrate how, Chase Jarvis created the following pyramid:

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He explains that a desired outcome that is not supported by the right mindset and consistent habitual behaviors is “just a pipedream.” In other words, it doesn’t really matter what your goal is — how noble, or how important it is to you. If you don’t have the mindset and behaviors to back it up, it will essentially be forever just out of reach.

I may want to change the world, to publish a novel, or to lose 10lbs, but if I don’t envision it, believe it can happen (simply ask, what if?), and then set my life up with the people, places, and things that will encourage strong habits and behaviors to reach those goals… of course I’ll never get there.

The truth is we feed off of the energy of whoever and whatever we surround ourselves with.

If I surround myself with people whose primary occupation is gossiping, or who just watch Netflix all day, or who talk a big game about societal change, but don’t actually do the work necessary to help fix the issues we’re seeing today, I will unconsciously begin to do whatever it takes to fit in. I will start watching shows I didn’t used to care about, craving bits of information about other peoples’ lives that didn’t used to matter, or informing myself on issues just to harp on the people who disagree.

On the other hand, if I surround myself with people who take pleasure in self-actualization, who are actively involved in their community, and who have created the kind of lifestyles that set themselves up for success, I will automatically begin to do the same. Being around those people is simultaneously empowering and inspiring, because their behavior (and subsequently my own) is based off of growth-mindsets, rather thanfixed.

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As they say, iron sharpens iron. If I surround myself with those who see failure as challenges/opportunities for growth, rather than with those who associate failure with their identity, then I will begin to rise. I’ll learn to consistently overcome whatever it is that tries to hold me back, and trust my instinct over my fear.

What also helps me form good habits, or kick bad ones, is consistently checking in with my goals — the sound of genuine in myself — every time I feel the urge to give into a craving, impulse, or shallow desire. And when I say consistently, I mean sometimes, many, many times a day. When I’m craving a beer or potato chips, or when I want to “just watch one more episode,” or when I’m trying to save money, but I’ll go into a bookstore “just to look” (Yeah, right), I try to pay attention to those urges, and then ask myself “Will it bring me closer to my goals, or farther away?”

I then have to be really, really honest with myself when I answer.

I can’t simply give excuses like “I mean, regardless, what’s one more 30 minute episode in the grand scheme of the day?” or “It can’t hurt if I just have one serving,” or “What’s the harm in looking?” Even though I know deep down I don’t have the self-control to honor those kinds of limitations. But if I can constantly keep my goals in mind, and then remind myself the very real truth that if I talk a big game about change, but don’t actually apply myself, that doesn’t make me accepting, that makes me a hypocrite, then I can start to engage with myself and what I want authentically.

But change — for it to last — has to come from a place of actually desiring to do it for ourselves, and not just because we think we “should” or “have to.”

Nor because someone else has told us we ought to. When we genuinely want to do something for ourselves, that’s when we see change that lasts. Whether it’s writing a book, taking up yoga, getting a therapist, starting photography, protesting, or joining a nonprofit, if it’s something on your heart and coming from a place of authenticity, it’s worth pursuing.

Very few things will be more fulfilling, or more beneficial to your heart, health, and happiness, than something you want to do just for you.

As Howard Thurman says, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

The more you follow your own instinct towards what gives you purpose and meaning, the more you learn to trust yourself. And trust is one of the most valuable gifts you can give to both yourself and others.

Furthermore, the more you trust yourself — the more you willingly follow and listen to your gut, as well as what makes you feel curious, inspired, at peace, alive, and energized — the more you’ll spread that same energy to the whole world.

Trust comes from a place of authenticity, and trust also comes through practice.

Rather than say “no” to the unhealthy habits, the things which harm us, or what you know keep you from reaching your goals, try instead saying “yes” to the practices that you know will lead you closer to what you want. It’s about opening up; not shutting down.

Three years ago, when I finally decided I wanted to stop eating meat, but wasn’t confident I’d be able to stick with it, I took ultimatums — as well as shame — off the table. Instead of saying “I’m never allowing myself to eat meat again,” I said, “Ok. I can totally still have meat whenever I want, but every time I can have meat, I’ll see if there’s something else I can say ‘yes’ to instead.”

After that, avoiding meat was literally one of the easiest things I’ve ever had to do in my life. Not because I put up walls and boundaries or because I shamed myself into following through with my goal, but because I actively chose to pursue something in a positive way, rather than cutting off my choice through something negative.

This is because, as Jarvis says, “We flourish by leaning into our strengths more than ‘fixing’ our weaknesses.”

And we can take this principle into almost any area of life in which we need to make change. Sometimes, it’s easy to give up things that aren’t good for us once we learn what harm they cause. Other times, we’re either addicted (to our phones, social media, drugs, alcohol, sex, videogames, golf — any form of escapism, really), or we’ve been so conditioned by society to think we need whatever’s harming us, that we don’t even know the habit is there.

As kids, we say “Mom, I need this toy, I need this bear,” and hopefully our parents teach us the difference between want and need. As adults, however, we continue to do the very same thing, except we learn instead to justify our wants as needs, and so the cycle spins on.

We can begin to break the cycle of justification every time we ask ourselves the following questions:

Are the choices I’m making bringing me closer to or farther away from my goals?

Am I being honest with myself as to why I’m making these choices?

Am I setting myself up for success by fostering environments that help me create healthy habits to reach my goals, or am I surrounding myself with those who will fuel and validate my excuses, rather than hold me accountable to myself?

These days, I’m learning to ask these sorts of questions on a daily basis, and then follow through with the genuine in me, rather than my excuses. The more I practice this sort of mindfulness, the more I honor myself and have been able to achieve a lasting sense of fulfillment.

That doesn’t mean I always make the right choices. Far from it. But it means that I more consistently hold myself accountable to my dreams and desires, and more easily separate my impulsive urges from my genuine needs. The strong sense of agency, the encouragement, and the empowerment that’s provided me from doing so is literally indescribable.

And I know I’m not the only one experiencing this.

The massive thing I really want to thank this pandemic for is that I consistently see it making our priorities clearer every day. I see us taking control of our own lives; leaving the jobs that burn us out, the relationships that exhaust us, and the friendships that keep us in toxicity. I see us demanding recognition for our high worth as humans, leaning into things that scare us in order to follow our higher purpose, and releasing ourselves of expectations as we realize so much of what we do is based in social constructs rather than reality.

It’s my hope that as we continue to move through this pandemic, that it will empower us even further to make the change in our lives we want to see. I hope it opens up the freedom to relentlessly and courageously be who we are, to pursue our desires with fervor and confidence, and to release ourselves of the burden of shame in order to find love and belonging. I hope we can shrug off expectations and societal norms while simultaneously holding ourselves accountable to our goals and our values. I hope we can kick bad habits and engage authentically with our desires, that we can love ourselves more deeply, spread compassion more easily, ask for help when we need it, and be quick to serve others as well.

Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

I know we all want to see the world become a better place, and I know we all want to participate actively in that becoming as best we can. Sometimes, it’s enough to just focus on healing yourself and making yourself whole, but we should never forget that true, holistic healing comes from active involvement in the pursuit of a better place for lives other than our own.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” -Albert Schweitzer

This means knowing yourself deeply, showering yourself with grace and compassion, pursuing that which sets your soul on fire, and then seeking in your community how you can spread that hope and change relentlessly.

You can’t be fully whole without community — without recognizing, honoring, and giving back to the millions of parts and people of this world that helped make you who you are today.

Gratitude is a huge game-changer, but gratitude isn’t merely a feeling or a verbal expression — it’s thankfulness put to action.

If we remember to stay connected to our bodies, we can always feel when we’re living the lives that we want, when we’re embodying who we genuinely want to be. Usually it’s when we’re consistently taking care of our bodies, minds, and spirits, and then using everything we’ve learned to positively impact the world around us.

That’s how we make change.

My name’s Julia. I’m a writer, and these are my COVID-19 weekly letters of encouragement.

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