When you think about living your best life what comes to mind? Do you imagine yourself jet-setting to fabulous locations around the world? Do you picture what you would be doing once you finally make the salary you deserve? Do you imagine yourself getting married and building a life with a doting partner? Often, when we think about living our best lives we focus on the external. For many of us, living our best life is about the way we look, where we are traveling, the parties we are going to, our relationships, the jobs we have, how much money we make, etc. While these external things can certainly help us to live our best lives, I’d like to propose that the most impactful way to approach living your best life is from the inside out.
Have you ever found that after the first few months of having a new car or kitchen appliance the excitement wears off? Have you gotten tired of the pattern of partying and recovering? Have you ever noticed that two weeks after returning from your vacation you were longing for the next one? I think if we’re honest with ourselves the positive effects of these external things that make it look like we are living our best lives wears off fairly quickly. We often overlook the fact that we need to live our best lives from the inside out in order to have the lasting joy that many of us are longing for. We may go on a vacation hoping for peace only to find that we’ve brought our harsh and critical mind along with us. We may find ourselves distracted and disengaged when we are doing things we enjoy. We may find that our obligations to other people keep us from living for ourselves. The following are my recommendations for ways to live your best life from the inside out. My hope is that these approaches to living your best life will help every day to feel better and also enhance your enjoyment of the fun, instagram-worthy activities that you engage in.
Practice being present
One thing that can keep us from living our best lives is not being present. There are so many distractions in the world today. Whether it is being on our phones, answering emails, messaging with people who are not with us, feeling badly about the past, or worrying about the future, many of us spend very little of our time in the present moment. Sometimes we use these distractions to escape the present moment because the present is uncomfortable or painful in some way. However, living our lives in the present allows us to experience all of the richness that life has to offer, which includes both joys and sorrows. It’s hard to enjoy spending time with your closest friends if you’re worrying about what you have to do the next day. It’s hard to really take in the beauty of the sunset if you spend the whole time trying to take the perfect picture of it.
Being present takes practice. One way to practice being present in your life is to meditate regularly. Mindfulness meditation is one a type of meditation, which involves the practice of resting your attention in the present moment and continuing to bring your attention back to the present whenever it wanders off. This is a challenge even for people who have been meditating for years! To start meditating I suggest setting aside some time (start with 5 minutes) each day or a few times a week to sit, be still, and pay attention to your breath or something else that your senses perceive in the moment. Using an app (e.g. Headspace or Calm) can help with this. Beyond meditating, I encourage you to practice becoming aware of the times when you are focused on something that is not happening in the present moment and try to bring your attention back to the present every time you notice that. For example, if while talking to a loved one you are criticizing yourself about something, see if you can bring your attention back to what your loved one is saying.
Cultivate joy in your life
As Black women, many of us have numerous demands on our time and energy. We are often asked to head up extra committees at work, take on parenting responsibilities, and step up to support our friends, family members, and partners. All of this leaves limited time for us to cultivate joy in our lives. It can be very easy to get into survival mode. Once we do have some time for joy in our lives we tend to rely too heavily on big experiences that cost a lot of time and money, which means we can’t do them very frequently (e.g. vacations, spa treatments). While vacations and fun nights out with friends can certainly bring joy, I encourage you to think about small things you can do on a daily or weekly basis that bring you joy. Maybe taking walks outside, or going to your favorite yoga class regularly will bring you joy. Maybe you find joy in cooking special meals or taking yourself on a great date every once in a while. Or maybe you experience joy when talking to a close friend or reading a great novel. I encourage you to spend some time identifying things that bring joy to your life and make an effort to engage in these things on a regular basis. Engaging in activities that bring you joy on a regular basis will help you to feel like you are living your best life day-to-day and not just when you’re doing something extravagant every few months.
Set boundaries so you can do what you love
One of the things that keeps many of us from living our best lives is the lack of boundaries in our lives. Setting boundaries involves saying no to other people so that we can say yes to ourselves. This can be difficult because when we set boundaries with people who are used to getting what they want from us they may get upset, which can make us feel guilty. Additionally, many of us as Black women have been socialized to put everyone in our lives before ourselves and challenging this norm by putting ourselves first can make us feel uncomfortable.
In order to do what we love we have to make time for it, which usually means prioritizing ourselves over what someone else may want from us. I encourage you to think about an area of your life where you need to set a boundary and determine what it would look like to put that boundary in place. If you give all of your extra money away to friends and family who you know won’t pay you back, consider making a budget and determining how much you can afford to give away and limiting your giving to that amount. If you you give away all of your free time, think about setting aside time each week that is just for you to do what ever will bring you joy. When you set a new boundary the people impacted may throw a tantrum and you will have to withstand their resistance and stand firm with your boundaries despite the feelings of guilt that may arise. Remember that boundaries make our lives and relationships better even if they are hard to stick to at first. Living our best lives involves regularly doing things we love. When we are doing the things we love we are usually better partners, friends, employees/employers, and parents.
What does living your best life look like for you and how can these strategies for living your best life from the inside out help you to live your best life?