One morning a few years ago, I was in a yoga class that the instructor dedicated to "the pursuit of potential." As she guided us through the practice, she talked about the notion of inviting your best self forward, to live in the possibilities of your own potential. By the time we reached Savasana, I had reached an epiphany.
It occurred to me that my entire life, I had been working to "fix" myself, to correct all that I believed was wrong with me: Every step I took in my quest to be healthier and happier—whether it was running half-marathons, investing in a life coach, or religiously drinking green juice—was motivated by a deep-seated fear that I wasn't good enough as is. I wasn't pursuing my potential; I was trying desperately to feel worthy.
This thought struck me like a lightning bolt: How happy and healthy will I ever be if I don't love myself?
My epiphany led me to challenge myself to become my own best friend, after years of struggling with eating disorders, drug addiction, and depression. Rather than focusing on the parts of myself I didn't like, I committed to nurturing the parts I did. And this radical concept changed everything for me. (I wrote about the experience in my new book, The Self-Love Experiment.)
Over the next three years, I had many epiphanies like that first one. These moments of instant clarity were what inspired me to adjust the aspects of my life that were less than fulfilling. Some of my realizations were very personal, but others felt more universal—and a few were so powerful, I wish them for every woman. Below are eight such life-altering lessons:
You aren’t what people say you are
I used to spend so much time worrying about what people thought of me, without ever really asking myself how I felt about them. As a result, I wasted precious time and energy trying to please people who didn’t actually care about me.
I realized all that time and energy could be spent in more valuable ways—like taking care of myself, my family, and my true friends.
The shift for me came when I recognized that what matters most isn't how others view you, but how you view yourself.
And you aren't the number on the scale
At the end of your life, the weight struggles, the endless food wars you wage in your mind, and the shame and guilt you harbor about your body and habits will have absolutely no relevance. The only thing that will matter is what is in your heart. How you feel is essential to your self-worth; but how you look is not.
Plan B is often better than Plan A
The most freeing moment of your life will be when you let go of the plan you have for yourself, and accept the plan that is unfolding for you.
I spent years hating my body; I thought I needed to change my shape in order to like myself, or be liked. I would occasionally lose the weight, but my inner critic was never satisfied. I eventually realized that my weight wasn’t the issue—my attention on the weight was the problem. That's what was keeping my stuck.
So I changed my plan. Instead of needing to lose weight to be happy, I learned how to be happy no matter what size my body is.
RELATED: 9 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic
The journey is more important than the goal
Yes, reaching goals is important. But the process of pursuing what you want is just as important. When I stopped obsessing about getting to the elusive “there,” I was able to relax into my present life, and enjoy who I was becoming, every single moment.
Being alone doesn’t mean you are lonely
When you learn to love yourself, you'll see you actually enjoy your own company. And being by yourself doesn't have to feel lonely.
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It will never be all done … ever
The list of things you "need" to do is endless. You will never check off everything. It's called life.
Instead of always focusing on the end results, recognize that your life is always unfolding, so new lessons and opportunities are always occurring. The challenge is to stay present enough to see them, and appreciate them.
Emotional pain shows up to help us know what we need to change
Instead of running from the pain in my life, I decided to try something radically new. I dove headfirst into it, and embraced it. What I took away from the experience is that our emotions are always guiding us, if we let them. When you pay attention to your feelings (especially the scary ones), you learn what needs to be healed.
Look at your own life and be honest: What is not working for you? Then repeat the mantra, “I am willing to live my life in new ways.”
You don’t have to find purpose; it will find you
I used to struggle so much with trying to identify my purpose in life. And in my relentless search, I felt even more stuck. Instead of trying to find the meaning in your life, invest your energy in living it. Follow your curiosity, and honor the pull from your heart. When I first left my corporate job in advertising, I had no idea what I wanted to do next. But I was drawn to writing and traveling, so I followed that instinct, and soon it became my fulfilling career.
Adapted from The Self-Love Experiment: Fifteen Principles for Becoming More Kind, Compassionate, and Accepting of Yourself by Shannon Kaiser, an international life coach and speaker.