4 Life Lessons My Twenties Smashed into Me

It’s official: today is my birthday. I’m no longer in my twenties, and I’ve never been happier.

I never used to be happy, though. I used to think I was broken. I used to wake up and wonder how I’d get through the day, or if today should finally be the day to kill myself.

That dude on the far right? Yeah, that was me.

But over the past seven years, I’ve worked hard on myself and my life, carving and shaping it into exactly what I want it to be.

I’ve come from the edge — fifteen years of chronic depression, growing up with an alcoholic mother, three years in an abusive relationship, several years of anorexia, followed by binge eating — to living a life I’m truly proud of, and excited to wake up every day for.

I’ve climbed up cliff faces in multiple continents, completely alone, without ropes. I’ve been a strength athlete for seven years. I’ve got a Ph.D. in Mathematics. I create cool art. I write, I coach incredible clients, and I have amazing friends.

And, yes, I still have the occasional bad day, but I have never been happier or prouder of myself, and that’s because of all the work I put in throughout my twenties.

Today I’m sharing some of the lessons I learnt over the last decade.

I hope you find something insightful that you can apply to your own life.

1. All your problems are internal

The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.” – John Milton

I’ve been in abusive relationships, but none more so than with myself.

I used to hate myself. I’d blame myself for everything. I’d ask myself questions like:

  • Why am I such an idiot?
  • Why am I always depressed?
  • Why am I never good enough?
  • How can it possibly be OK that I’m here, when other people don’t even have clean water to drink?

The fact is, these are shitty questions. If you ask, “Why can’t I do this?” then your brain will automatically say, “because you’re an idiot”.

But if you ask, What can I learn from this?, then your brain will focus on trying to find creative solutions to your problems.

If you want to change your happiness, your self-belief, your confidence and — by corollary — your life, you have to change your mindset.

You have to direct your focus towards things that are helpful.

You have to realise that your thoughts are not necessarily the truth (but more like opinions, old beliefs, and habitual responses).

You can work on this stuff, just like you can work on your body in the gym. You can interrupt the pattern of old, unhelpful thoughts, and you can create a new narrative for yourself.

The first step to any change is awareness.

Once you gain awareness of the automatic, habitual noise that’s in your head, you gain control. You begin to realise that your thoughts and feelings aren’t permanent. And then you get to choose what to believe, and how to act in any situation.

Here’s an example of how that might work for you:

Step 1: Become aware of the thoughts and stories you’re telling yourself. Write down whatever you’re thinking (either at a certain time of day every day, or when you feel in a rut).

Step 2: Become curious about the thought, or label it for what it is.

For example, “I’m a failure.” becomes “I’m having the thought that I’m a failure.

Doing this creates a little bit of distance from it, so it’s not all-encompassing, so you can look at it with more clarity.

Step 3: Ask yourself: Is this thought helpful? Is this thought going to get me through this situation?

Step 4: If it’s not helpful, then tell yourself, “I hear this thought, but right now I’m going to let it go. Every time it comes up, I’m going to let it go, and focus on something else that’s going to help me move forwards.

Do this enough, and you will have trained your mind to naturally ask better questions, to naturally become the supportive, encouraging environment that everyone should live in.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.

I believe this is true, not just of other people, but also of yourself.

2. Every setback will make you stronger (but only if you let it)

The most successful and resilient people in the world know that problems and failures are just opportunities for growth. That — no matter what you go through — there is always something to learn from the experience that will make you even better.

You may not be able to see how your problems are beneficial when you’re inside them. That’s OK. Just trust that they will make you better somehow.

Trust that you will figure it out at some point.

Binge eating and depression allow me to empathise with other people, in a way I just wouldn’t have been able to understand had I not gone through them. I also wouldn’t be the strong, confident, and emotionally stable person I’m proud to be today because I wouldn’t have taken the time to work on myself, had I not gone through those things.

Did I realise that would happen at the time? No.

Most of the time, I didn’t know what I was going to learn. When I had a chronic leg injury for two years, I even kept on saying (while shaking my fist at the sky) “OK, I’ve learnt my lesson now… you can stop!”

But that fact is there is always room for more growth and less suffering.

The fact is that, no matter what you’re currently feeling, it will pass.

The fact is, whatever you’re going through will make you stronger, and better, but you have to be ready to open your heart, and let it change you.

3. Happiness is the process of becoming your ideal self

I’ll be happy when I get top grades and go to a good university.
I’ll be happy when I get a first at university, and then do a Ph.D.
I’ll be happy when I can deadlift 100kg, when I can clean and jerk my bodyweight.

Actually, it turns out you can be happy right now.

While it’s important to have goals, I realised that achieving those goals didn’t actually make me that happy. That’s because I never celebrated my achievements. I just immediately looked for the next thing to achieve.

There is always more to do, more to strive for, more to be, and more to give.

So, if you put all your happiness into achievement, you will never feel like you are achieving enough.

You will never feel like you are enough.

Happiness lies in the middle ground. It’s about figuring out what’s important in your life, and who you ideally want to be. It’s about working towards the goals that will get you there. It’s about celebrating every single one of those achievements (however small), while recognising that you simply will never be your “ideal self” (because there is always more you can do, be, and give).

It’s about appreciating the journey of ups and downs, courageous acts, and setbacks. It’s about being satisfied with yourself — yet remaining hungry for more — simply because you decided this is who you want to be, this is the life you want to lead, and this is how you’re stepping in to it.

Happiness is growth itself.

Sometimes you have to just fucking believe

When you’ve nothing else, construct ceremonies out of the air and breathe upon them.” – Cormac McCarthy

Sometimes you just have to believe you’ll get through the day, even though you have no idea how.

Believe you’ll find the answers, even when your grief burns like a match in your throat.

When your eyes feel like they’ve been rubbed with sandpaper from all the tears you can no longer cry: believe.

Hold onto certainty as the world crumbles beneath your blistered feet.

Know that you’ll find a way out, because you will never give up.

Trust that you are stronger than all of it.

Maria Marklove helps ambitious high-performers achieve big dreams. As a strength athlete, writer, and holding a Ph.D. in Mathematics, her unique style is the ideal blend of science, creativity, and grit. Her best-selling course, Thinking Into Results, has been described as “life-changing”, and is perfect if you’re not achieving the results you want, but you know — deep down — that you are capable of so much more.

Image courtesy of Marion Michele.

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The Scary Truth: Why So Many of Us Refuse to Get Healthy

I write about all sorts of things that come up in my coaching – love, relationships, time management, character traits… but today I want to address a subject that is possibly THE most important concern (or should be) for me, my family, and my community:

The state of your body during your time on the planet (and how your bad habits might be holding you back).

My dear friend and colleague, Dr. Mark Hyman would, no doubt, agree. A nine-time #1 New York Times bestselling author and an internationally recognized leader in the field of Functional Medicine, it has been Mark’s mission to educate people on the state of health in this country and advocate for better practices both personal and societal. His message carries gravitas: that we are currently suffering at the hands of a food system that does not serve us, and every aspect of our lives is affected when we neglect our bodies and harm our health.

That’s a scary truth, and one that many people have yet to come to grips with. Day in and day out, we make bad food choices, avoid exercise, get coffee’d up in the morning, have a drink to relax at night, stress out about minor things and run our bodies into the ground, until we get sick and wonder why.

Why? It’s because your health is THE thing that changes everything else.

It always amazes me to learn how clueless even the smartest can be about this basic human need. I have clients – high-level business men who manage millions of dollars every day – who literally don’t know what to eat for breakfast, and their business suffers as a result of their fatigue. Other clients come to me because they’ve given up on finding love, they’re self conscious about the extra 15 pounds, afraid of rejection – what I really see is someone who has listened to their inner dialogue instead of the voice of their highest ideals. Essentially, they chose the cookie because they were afraid to go for what they really wanted.

For me, nothing is more inspiring than witnessing a new client take on their health and change their whole life through it. When I see a person – especially someone who has never really learned how to take care of their health – really confront the underlying issues of their health and really make big lifestyle changes to address them, it’s almost as if they’re not that same person anymore. They’ve evolved, changed states, their perspective is different, they have different goals and dreams. They have a new life.

What’s getting in the way?

There’s an air of cynicism a lot of people give off when they talk about their relationship with their bodies or their health. With a collective sigh, I hear people shrug off simple advice by claiming that “it sounds unrealistic, I could never, do you even know how busy I am” as though the clock running out is the reason they are having scones for breakfast. I know people who go from doctor to doctor with chronic problems without ever once considering what would happen if they stopped having five coffees a day, skipping lunch and working late on weekends. The narrative I hear so often about a person’s health is riddled with long historical explanations of things both within and beyond their control – but the overall vision of their health is something that “just is”. As in, “there’s nothing I can do.”

People walk around like they don’t have power over their body. Granted, there are instances you don’t – hereditary illnesses, accidents, circumstances (and in these cases it’s crucial that you act in accordance with your needs!) but for a large part, when it comes to your personal health, there are instances you DO have power. Your food, your exercise, your sleep, your daily rituals. And maximizing those areas in your life will ignite other areas to follow suit – believe it and watch it happen.

It’s never too late. It’s never NOT shocking. And, it’s never NOT inspirational.

We all know people who are walking success stories of a major health change. And although they’ll tell you it was the best decision they ever made for themselves, they’ll all agree that it was also the biggest challenge they faced. Why?

There’s an inner brat running your diet. There’s a “weather reporter” telling you that “healthy” is too expensive and complicated. There’s an inner “chicken” who’s afraid to fail again, afraid to go to the gym, afraid to face the facts: that it’s all on you, baby!

Breaking habits – especially ones as socially, emotionally, and physiologically ingrained in us as food and diet are – often takes a fair amount kicking and screaming to get the point across. When I talk clients through this process, I swear they sound like a tantrumming kid. “I don’t wanna!” “It’s too hard!” “It sounds scary!”. But I don’t give into that temper tantrum, and I don’t give up, so neither do they. It’s “too hard” up until the moment you step onto the scale and see real results, or you wake up one day without chronic pain. Or an illness that was impacting the quality of your life suddenly disappears, and you’re free!

That’s what keeping a health promise brings you.

Is it time for you to make a promise to yourself? Can you relate to the examples of negative inner-dialogues I mentioned? As a test, pay close attention to your inner-dialogue next time you find yourself going for the fourth glass of wine at dinner, or ordering cake for dessert, or skipping lunch at work, or whatever it is that you secretly, subconsciously know you’re guilty of when it comes to caring for your health. What you hear yourself saying to yourself might give you a big wake-up call.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on your health. Enlighten yourself to the power you have over your body and food choices. I swear pride tastes better. @LaurenZander (Click to Tweet!)

Love,
Lauren

P.S. If you’re ready to get honest about your life, download my free Art of Being Honest tool! It’s time to brave up, speak up, and open up.

Lauren Handel Zander is the Co-Founder and Chairwoman of Handel Group®, an international corporate consulting and life coaching company. Her coaching methodology, The Handel Method®, is taught in over 35 universities and institutes of learning around the world, including MIT, Stanford Graduate School of Business, NYU, and the New York City Public School System. Lauren is also the author of Maybe It’s You: Cut the Crap, Face Your Fears, Love Your Life (Published by Hachette Book Group, April 2017), a no-nonsense, practical manual that helps readers figure out not just what they want out of life, but how to actually get there. She has spent over 20 years coaching thousands of private and corporate clients, including executives at Vogue, BASF, and AOL. Lauren has been a featured expert in The New York Times, BBC, Forbes, Women’s Health, Dr. Oz, and Marie Claire and she is a regular contributor to Businessweek and the Huffington Post. Click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation with Handel Group.

Image courtesy of Filip Mroz.

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