5 Steps That Could Change Your Life
Unexpected ways to find joy and serenity
By Salley Shannon
Inner peace. A tranquil mind. Serenity. How do you find the way to
your inner quiet retreat when days are full of to-do lists, searches
for misplaced sneakers, exasperating coworkers and nothing much to
start supper with in the fridge? Consider the following.
Step 1: Pay attention to your physical health. We all go through
periods when an illness, a bout of being overscheduled or even
having a new baby in the house means operating for weeks with little
sleep and spotty nutrition. But if you’re eating meals standing
and getting by with too little rest, any quest for inner peace is
David L. Felten, M.D., Ph.D., the prize-winning scientist whose work
first demonstrated the mind-body connection, says seeking serenity
while neglecting the basics of good physical health is like
beginning an exercise program “and then having a junk-food feast
every day.” While embracing yoga, guided imagery or spirituality
might do you some good, he says it won’t entirely reverse the
done by failing to take care of yourself.
If you’re wondering whether or not your health habits are sound,
this question: If my best friend had these habits, what would I tell
her? Then follow your own advice. We usually know what we ought to
do to be healthy; the trick is doing it.
Step 2: Envision the person you’d like to be on the inside. Then
begin living “as if.” Are you who you always hoped to become?
not talking about your weight or the fact that you wanted to go to
nursing school, but whether you like the woman you hold
conversations with in your head.
We all need a mental photo of the person we’d like to be. If you
don’t have one, ask yourself which person you most admired as a
child. Perhaps you were inspired by an aunt who had a kind word for
everyone, and you wanted to grow up to be genuine and caring like
her. Maybe you’ve always admired people with faith, like your
grandmother, because it helped them weather life’s problems.
For many people, the path to serenity begins with a daily prayer
asking for guidance. But inner peace isn’t just for those with
defined religious beliefs, says Robert C. Solo-mon, Ph.D., a
philosophy professor at the University of Texas at Austin and author
of Spirituality for the Skeptic. Dr. Solomon says peace of mind can
be found by deliberately choosing to be virtuous in all of our
dealings: by telling the truth, being just and fair and striving to
be kind. “Caring about the right things becomes a kind of
spirituality in itself,” he says.
Once you have an inner model, start living today as though you were
already that person.
Step 3: Get rid of anger and blame. We all carry around bundles of
hurts and grievances, many of them caused by things other people
have done, believes Fred Luskin, Ph.D., author of the bestseller
Forgive for Good and director and co-founder of the Stanford
University Forgiveness Project, a research program that shows
clients how letting go of grievances makes them happier and
“By carrying around these hurts, you are letting the person who
harmed you continue to inflict new bruises. You are renting space to
him in your head,” he says. Aside from wrecking your inner peace,
just thinking about these grudges gives your nervous system a jolt.
Your blood pressure, heart rate and arterial pressure actually rise.
If these responses continue day after day, they can literally
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean condoning bad behavior or
reconciling with the person who hurt you, says Dr. Luskin. What it
really means is not letting the memory upset or control you.
One way to get rid of inner anger is to mentally “change the
channel” by turning your mind to something else. If you find
yourself replaying the mental video of an argument with your mother,
stop. Replay a happy moment instead. Likewise, don’t keep talking
about old grievances. If you hear yourself begin telling a new
coworker about how you were unfairly deprived of a promotion five
years ago, stop. Talk instead about something that makes you feel
Step 4: Create a life you enjoy. Many of our regrets center on
things we haven’t done, especially as we grow older. Barbara
the guru of midlife changes and author of It’s Only Too Late if
Don’t Start Now, advises, “Find what you love and find a way
If you always wanted to sing, you probably can’t quit your job
join the opera, but you can start taking singing lessons. If
you need practical inspiration to help you pursue what you want,
visit Sher’s online bulletin board, www.barbarasher.com.
inspired by stories of women who have taken up everything from
raising gorillas to hairstyling.
Among Sher’s best suggestions: Gather a group of friends who are
supportive and will help each other pursue their dreams, then
brainstorm with them to find practical suggestions for making money
or finding time. As for the critics who tell you that what you love
is irrelevant or crazy, ignore them. “One of the best things
growing up is that your inner satisfaction becomes more important
than status or praise,” says Sher.
Step 5: Let go of trying to be perfect. Trying to do everything
right is impossible. Even when a task is finished, there is always
something you could have done a little better, so your mind stays
stirred up and peace eludes you.
Perfectionism “is a pretend way to make you believe you have the
power to control things no one can control,” Sher says. Trying to
perfect becomes the way to prove you are worthy, get approval or
force your critics to admit you’re good. Since perfectionism is a
habit often developed in childhood, you may be trying to please a
person who isn’t even in your life anymore. Also, keep in mind
that “critics want to criticize,” says Sher. “They have
reasons for doing it that have nothing to do with you.”