We all experience dissatisfaction with our life from time to time. It’s what prompts us to seek change, outgrow our limitations, and make new connections. Sometimes, though, we feel something stronger pulling at us. An intense longing…an empty, aching spot buried deep within.
So often, we choose to cover it up or bury it with our addictions of choice. For me, I would snack a little too much, pour a glass of wine on too many nights, and binge-watch way too much Netflix. Avoiding this pain can also take other outlets—shopping, social media, gambling, alcoholism, drug use, or disconnecting from activities and people that once mattered.
However, if you are willing to stop hiding from what you lack, we can explore not only who you want to be, but who you’re meant to be. Within your Ideal Self—this person that you long to be—we can examine four concepts which will help you bring what’s missing into living color…
Healing the painful disconnect between how you see yourself now and the person you long to be starts by getting clear on what qualities you’d like to embrace… The ones that aren’t present in your current day-to-day experience, but which keep showing up as reminders of what’s missing.
Start by imagining your Ideal Self—not a material vision of your appearance or possessions, but the psychological intangibles of who you want to be. For example, how would your Ideal Self view the world? How would they interact with other people? How would they behave when no one is looking?
In other words, what are your values? I’ve carried around a list of my own for years, but looking back, there were more times than not when I wasn’t really living by them. This exercise isn’t meant to judge or shame yourself for not measuring up, but rather to create a clear picture of where (or who) you’d like to be. Being able to name these qualities gives you a direction to aim for in this challenging and ever-changing world.
Remember that the answer to this question is going to be unique to you! There are hundreds of possibilities, which you can begin to explore here. Choosing one over another doesn’t make it “better,” it just may be more important or relevant for your life.
When I started my recent journey to rediscover my passion and purpose, I ended up adding quite a few new values to my list. They included: being kind, compassionate, and connected to others; a focused dedication to my professional goals; and exploring my joyful, spontaneous, and adventurous side.
Take a moment to consider which values hold importance for you, at this stage in your life. Perhaps honesty seems essential, because you’ve been hurt by lies in your past. Or maybe determination matters most, as you have big dreams that require a lot of effort. List out as many as you deem appropriate, though focusing on 3-5 makes a good starting point.
As we imagine our Ideal Self, we often picture someone who appears incredibly put together and evolved—a person who doesn’t simply embody a sense of values, but who acts on them too! When you imagine the person you long to be, what type of actions are they taking?
Some of us might envision huge steps or changes in behavior, because we feel so far out of alignment with our values. Yet, these efforts don’t need to involve heroic or gut-wrenching decisions. Sometimes this looks more like quietly doing the right thing…taking an action that adds a bit more mortar to the wall of character you’re building with each choice. Like telling the truth right away when you make a mistake, or showing up to an exercise class when you’d rather be sleeping in. Remember that no initiative which springs from your values is too small or unworthy of your consideration.
If you find yourself struggling to decide what your Ideal Self would do, think about how your values might be expressed in micro-actions. Perhaps you’re not ready to be honest with your partner about your need for more quality time, or with your family about needing more help with household chores. But you might be able to be honest with yourself about how your late-night tv habit is contributing to your stress level.
For me, I recognized that a person who wanted connection with others would choose to reach out and start deep, meaningful conversations. Someone with focused, professional goals would be working diligently on her projects on a consistent basis. And my playful self would be making time to have adventures and be in the moment.
After realizing this, I started to schedule my writing as time-blocked commitments on my calendar, while also leaving a couple of days a month open, with the promise to see what adventures might surprise me. I began taking risks in my relationships by allowing my vulnerability to shine through. The results of these actions have moved me closer to who I want to be than I’d thought possible.
So commit to doing one small thing in-line with your values.
The real goal of bringing our lives in line with what we long for is to experience the emotions that come from living with passion. Right now, you might be existing in a state of pain-avoidance. But when imagining our Ideal Self, we tend to focus on our sought-after pleasures. So take a few moments to picture what it would feel like to have a life where you’re living according to your values and taking purposeful actions.
The feelings we explore through our imagination leave real traces within our physical bodies. Maybe you are more relaxed, your breathing is slower, deeper, or the tension in your shoulders has eased. Are the sensations evoked by your imagined future different or more desirable than what you are currently experiencing?
When I visualize my perfect life, and think about the actions I want to take, I experience a sense of connection, pride, joy, and excitement.
These emotions don’t have to stay in your imagination either. They can become incredible motivation to take tangible SMALL STEPS. And with each action, these desired feelings will continue to grow—supporting you even more along the way.
Before you start chasing your ideal life, however, there’s one more question…
Chances are that during these thought experiments you encountered a little pain or discomfort as a result of the gap between the glorious life you imagined and your current set of circumstances. It’s easy to end up swinging on a pendulum, floating between a desperate longing for what you want and a dreadful avoidance of where you’re at. I spent years oscillating between these two states, unable to free myself from the frustrating ride.
I finally realized I had to stop looking at the gap in terms of distance—bemoaning how much I’d need to change my life in order to eliminate my dissatisfaction. Instead, I discovered the true measure of the gap lay within its depths.
Between the life we want and the life we have, what lies between?
The answer was so obviously simple that I had missed it for years. What lurked in the depths was fear. I avoided deep connection because I feared rejection. I avoided making and pursuing strong professional goals because I feared failure. I avoided giving space to my spontaneous, fun-loving side because I was afraid of prioritizing my own time.
So I invite you to take a brave look at what lies in the depths of your own gap. What lurks in the deep abyss between who you are now and the person you long to be? This isn’t an easy thing to face, so be compassionate with yourself and get support if you need it. Remember though, the only way to construct a bridge to your desired life is to understand what it is you’re building over.
Before you consider taking an action that expresses your values, let’s start with an even smaller SMALL STEP.
Find a piece of paper, notecard, or a post-it note. Write out a short statement of what you discovered in this week’s exercise. Express the values, actions, and feelings you associate with your Ideal Self. Don’t forget to acknowledge what’s in the gap that is holding you back from living your best life.
Place this in a location where you will see it regularly. Every time you pass by, take a moment to read it and remember how your Ideal Self would BE, what they would DO, and which feelings they would HAVE in your longed-for life.
After you’ve practiced internalizing these qualities, it’s time to take your first micro-action on the journey to becoming your best self. It could be a step towards personal growth or a letting go of something that no longer serves you. Schedule a time to take action. Better yet, do it now.
We all carry hopes and dreams about the kind of person we’d like to be. Learning to cross the gap and move closer to that goal isn’t out of our reach. It just requires a willingness to ask ourselves deep questions and take a series of SMALL STEPS to where we want to be.
What is one of the values you want to be actively living in your longed-for life?