What gives a person’s life meaning is as unique to that person as their fingerprint. In order to live your own life, you must begin to identify and prioritize the things in your life that are the most meaningful to you. It is essential that you ask yourself if you are truly living the life you want to lead. Are you making your life choices based on your own wants, beliefs, and values? Or are you living your life based on the expectations of those around you and prescriptions you acquired in your past? In other words, whose life are you really living?
Finding your own unique path can take time and involve a lot of trial and error. The process of becoming your true self lasts throughout a lifetime. Our personalities, interests and abilities are not set in stone. Humans are adaptable creatures, and we are always capable of change. However, in order to change our lives or ourselves, we have to better understand ourselves first.
Five Steps to Live Your Own Life
1. Think About What You Really Want in Life
For many of us, just knowing what we want in life can be a challenge. However, it is not possible to live your own life on your own terms, unless you define what your terms are. Being in touch with what you want and what matters to you helps you prioritize, develop goals and ultimately get where you want to go. As Dr. Lisa Firestone says, “When you don’t know what you want, you’re like a ship without a rudder.” Once you know what you want, you have a destination, and you can set course in that direction.
Discover what you truly want by asking yourself the following questions: What really lights me up? What matters most to me? Allow yourself to think freely, as you answer these questions instead of getting caught up in what you think you should be doing or what others would like for you to do.
We often make the mistake of thinking that we are selfish if we spend time contemplating what we want, however this is a fundamental aspect of getting to know ourselves. Asking yourself what your principles are doesn’t mean that you will ignore everyone else’s. On the contrary, deciding what matters to you includes recognizing the people who matter to you and acknowledging that they are a priority in your life and that caring for them is big part of what makes you happy and gives your life meaning. Plus, according to Dr. Lisa Firestone, “You have the most value in the world around you when you find and invest in the gifts that you uniquely have to offer.”
Advice such as “follow your passion” may sound cliché, however research has actually proven that people are not only happier when they follow their passions, they are also more likely to excel in their chosen careers and activities. A recent study on the effects of motivation found that the stronger the internal motivation for doing something, rather than the external rewards, the more likely people were to succeed. So, think about what is meaningful to you!
2. Differentiate Yourself
We are all born genetically unique individuals. However, much of our identity is created by our early environment; we internalize characteristics of our caretakers and often take on their personalities rather than developing our own. In this sense, we often spend more time reliving the lives of others rather than living our own lives. In his book The Self-Under Siege: A Therapeutic Model for Differentiation, Dr. Robert Firestone writes, “In order for people to live their own lives and fulfill their destinies, they must differentiate from destructive environmental influences.”
Watch this Whiteboard Video on Differentiation
According to Dr. Robert Firestone a person’s true identity is affected throughout their lives by interpersonal experiences that either damage or support the development of his or her personality. Throughout our development, we adapt ourselves to cope with pain and fears, as they arise. We adapt so that we can deal with our early environment and get our needs met. One way we do this is by incorporating negative aspects of our parents’ or caretakers’ personalities or developing psychological defenses in reaction to their negative traits. In order for us to live our own lives and fulfill our own destinies, we must differentiate ourselves from destructive family and societal influences.
Most people either take on the value systems and beliefs of the family and culture they grew up in, or they rebel and form defiant attitudes in direct opposition to their family or culture. However, in order to live your own life, it is important to develop your own personal values and beliefs, rather than simply accepting or rejecting the values and beliefs of your early influencers. You should then make an effort to live according to your own principles, which will infuse your life with more meaning.
Read About Psychological Differentiation
Differentiating from the negative influences and identities from our past allows us to become who we truly are. To the extent that we are able to differentiate, develop our own unique identities and follow our own unique desires, we will be able to live the most fulfilling lives. We must strive to live our own lives rather than the lives prescribed by our parents, our families or our society.
3. Set Goals
Once you are in touch with what you want and what your core values are, it is important to set some goals for yourself. What do you need to accomplish to live your own life? It is helpful to write down your goals. Start with just a few, rather than overwhelming yourself with a large list of things that you would like to change. Think about specific actions you can take to achieve your goals. Start small and set waypoints that you can accomplish along the way. These waypoints will make it easier for you to keep yourself accountable and track your progress. For example, if your goal is to write and publish a novel, your first waypoint could be to finish one chapter in the next two weeks.
A recent study showed that people were significantly more likely to accomplish their goals if they wrote them down, formulated actions to achieve them and sent weekly progress reports to a friend. To effectively tackle your goals, you may want to use that method. Do you have a friend who could help keep you accountable to your goals? Ask him or her for help.
Pursuing goals is an essential aspect of living your own life. Many of us have a tendency to fantasize about achieving our goals rather than taking the actions to achieve them. As Nolan Bushnell said, “Everyone who’s ever taken a shower has had an idea. It’s the person who gets out of the shower, dries off and does something about it who makes a difference.” The actions aren’t always easy, and they often force us outside of our comfort zone, but there is no shortcut to creating a meaningful life. If you want to live your own life, you must be proactive about creating it.
4. Stop Listening to Your Inner Critic
As you begin to take actions toward your goals, be aware of the roadblocks that will arise along the way. The first enemy you will encounter is your “critical inner voice.” The critical inner voice is like a nasty coach that lives inside our heads. It consists of negative thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that oppose our best interests and diminish our self-esteem. It is our own worst enemy.
This inner critic evaluates our every move, puts us down and undermines our desires with thoughts like: ”You don’t really want that, do you?”; “You’ll never succeed”; “There’s no point in even trying.” It warns us about going after the things we want. The inner critic attempts to keep you feeling “safe” by reinforcing the familiar old identity you grew up with and maintaining your defensive adaptations to life. This inner critic will come up with a long list of reasons why you cannot or should not live your own life. It is essential that you break free from your inner critic and stop listening to its bad advice.
It can be helpful to think of the critical inner voice as the language of the anti-self, the part of a person that is against his or her own self-interest. All people are divided. We are torn between our anti-self, which is self-hating and cynical toward others, suspicious and, at its ultimate end, self-destructive and abusive to others; and our real-self, which, in contrast, is compassionate toward ourselves and others. Our real-self is made up of our own unique wants and desires. It is life-affirming and goal-directed. When you attempt to separate yourself from the critical inner voices and live your own life based on the wants, desires, and goals of your real self, the “voices” may get even louder. This often causes people to feel more anxious when they start to work toward their goals. The inner critic often tries to undermine your efforts by filling your head with self-doubts or by seducing you into procrastination.
If you really want to change your life for the better, you must adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward your inner critic. As soon as you notice that you are starting to attack yourself, interrupt that negative thinking immediately. Don’t get caught up evaluating your inner critic’s bad advice, looking for the grain of truth in its vicious criticism. Instead remind yourself that these are just critical inner thoughts, and it is not appropriate or productive to indulge such nasty and taunting attitudes toward yourself. Pay attention to what triggers this negative thinking. Remember, your “voices” can be very subtle and pick up on things that have some truth to them. The inner critic will often narrow in on areas where you have weaknesses. Be wary of thoughts that sound friendly or seductive but are ultimately against your personal goals or your best interest, such as “don’t worry about exercising today. You deserve a break.” Don’t be fooled by your voices—they are never acting in your best interest!
5. Harness Your Personal Power
As you overcome your inner critic, you will develop more personal power. Harnessing your personal power is essential if you want to live your own life. “Personal power,” according to Dr. Robert Firestone, “is based on strength, confidence, and competence that individuals gradually acquire in the course of their development.” It is a healthy form of self-assertion that reflects a natural striving for love, success, satisfaction and meaning in one’s life. Personal power is an expression of the real-self, and it is characterized by movement toward self-realization and transcendent goals in life.
Dr. Firestone points out that personal power is “an attitude or state of mind.” As such, it is something that we can develop. By conquering our critical inner voices, getting in touch with our own unique desires and pursuing our goals, we cultivate our personal power.
There is no greater challenge and no greater reward than to live your own life. As Natalie Babbitt said, “Do not fear death, but rather the unlived life. You don’t have to live forever. You just have to live.”