Excerpt for Take Back Your Life: Three Steps To Designing The Life You Really Want by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Take Back Your Life!

3 Steps To The Designing The Life You Really Want

by Emily Josephine


Copyright 2018 by Emily Josephine. All rights reserved.


Distributed by Smashwords.


This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite online e-book retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.









Introduction

The snow fell relentlessly, and the bitter cold was seeping into the girl’s bones. She’d lost her shoes earlier that day, and now, as the daylight quickly turned to night, her threadbare clothes did nothing to protect her. She sat down between two houses, knowing that if she went home, her father would beat her for not having sold any matches that day.

The night wore on, her body grew colder, until the little girl froze to death.

If that sad story sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a summary of the Hans Christian Anderson classic, “The Little Match Girl.” But it may seem familiar in another way. You may feel that much of the time you are wandering around, trying to fight against storms and expending all of your energy just trying to survive. You may even have a subconscious fear that your dreams and hopes will never see fruition.

Sure, you have a nice home to live in, food to eat, a decent job and perhaps even a partner who loves you. Yet, something is missing from your life, and it’s frustrating. In fact, you may sometimes get frustrated to the point of depression, and wish you could just somehow be swallowed up by a black hole. At the very least, you look at people who are living the way you want to live, and often ask yourself why it’s happened for them and not for you.

I completely empathize. I know exactly how you feel, because I have been there. At times, I just resigned myself to the way life was; at others, I railed at God for my circumstances; and still other times, I decided God had stuck me where I was and I would be out of His will for trying to get out of the difficult place, so I would rationalize myself into a false sense of happiness.

And all the time, I was shriveling up and dying inside.

I had done what so many Westerners do: I had followed the path set up by society, the path of going to college and exchanging my dreams that made me feel really alive for a sensible career. The path led to work that, in my youth, I really thought I wanted, but that I would feel trapped by soon after beginning it.

And I began to feel guilty for wanting more. After all, I was doing better than either my parents and two of my siblings. And for a person of faith, being ungrateful is a sin. But I couldn’t help but want more. And it wasn’t about material things. I was one of the last people on earth to buy a CD player, and still don’t own an iPhone. I hardly ever shop for clothes, and the décor in my house rarely ever changes.

It wasn’t about wanting more stuff. It was about wanting more freedom.

What about you? Do you want more out of life? Have you been frustrated by the constraints on your life that keep you from doing what you really want to do, where you really want to live, going where you want to go, and – yes, this is okay, too – owning the stuff you’d really like to have?

Welcome to the world of modern civilization, where probably at least 95% of the population feels the exact same way.

You may have been taught that this is greedy, selfish or materialistic. Not necessarily. It’s normal to want freedom. It’s okay to enjoy things, especially when they exist in the context of a fulfilled life.

And right there is the problem: people have been trained to go after things to feel fulfilled, instead of going after their dreams. Just like the Little Match Girl, they wander around looking into the windows of rich people, wishing they could have more, but having no clue how to get it.

I am here to give you a clue. Three clues, actually. Somewhere around age thirty, I began to see that I had options, that my dissatisfaction was not evil, but a pull to a life where I could truly feel free. I learned that I didn’t have to stay where I was if I would only follow three basic steps: set my priorities in order, eliminate the obstacles that were keeping from focusing on those priorities, and to take action. My husband and I didn’t even do it all perfectly, but by following those steps we still eventually were able to leave the city and move to a beautiful mountainous area of the Southern United.

We were able to do that because we crafted our lives so that we would no longer have to depend on a job. Following those three steps brought us freedom.

As I describe each of these three steps, your mind will probably fight against my words. If you are like me, you have been conditioned to squelch your dreams and to believe that high levels of success and fulfillment only happen to other people. Your mind probably entertains negativity all day long, which is what has kept you from living the life you really want.

Are you ready to recondition your mind? Do you want to rein in those negative thoughts and free yourself to start seeing the glass as half full, no matter what? Are you ready to change your circumstances in a powerful, exciting way? Great! Let’s delve into Step One.



Step One: Prioritize

The realm of priorities is twofold: there are the current duties you are obliged to, and there are the goals and dreams you wish to accomplish in the future. If you are over the age of sixteen (which I hope you are; by law you are not supposed to make Internet purchases unless you are at least eighteen years of age), you are aware of your current duties and obligations. If you are a mother, one of them is taking care of your children. If you have a job, one of them is to do your best work there. If you are a parent, I hope that one of your priorities is to make sure the whole family spends some time together each week.

Beyond your current duties, you have a sense of what you want your life to look like in the future. People label this sense in any number of ways; “purpose”, “calling”, “dream.” These are nice words, but lately, I’ve realized they’re deceptive. They assume that people don’t change, that they’re destined to be doing the same work at age seventy that they did at age twenty-five.

For example, when I was twenty, I was sure that my purpose in life was to be an elementary teacher. By age thirty, was just as sure that I was supposed to be an author!

I wasn’t wrong when I was twenty. I was simply a very different person by the time I was thirty. So instead of saying, “You need to find your purpose,” I prefer to say, “You need to discover the creative work that fits the person you are right now.”

And even within that statement, there’s plenty of wiggle room as far as how that creative work can manifest. Another example from my life: before I’d gotten pregnant, I had planned to write for traditional publishers. But after our son was born, my eyes opened to the world of blogging and e-book publishing.

That brings us back to the need to prioritize. Besides taking care of my small family, my new priority began to be to achieve small goals that would lead me in the direction of online publishing, because that’s what I felt my creative work was to be at that time in my life (still feel that way, in case you haven’t noticed!).

Do you know what creative work fits you for this time of your life? If not, you are not alone. Don’t despair. Figuring this out is as easy as knowing yourself. And even if, by the time you finish going through the following steps you still aren’t positive as to what that work might be, you will have a good enough idea to be able to establish priorities.

Four steps to finding your current creative work

**1. Determine your temperament and personality.

You may already understand the four temperaments or have taken a personality assessment recently. If so, you can skip this step. If not, I ask you to work through it.

Why? When you understand yourself thoroughly, life becomes much more simple because you make choices that are in line with your natural bent. In step two, I will ask you to list some things you really want to accomplish. But if you do not understand your temperament, you may write down things that you think you should do, because you admire so-and-so for doing it, but if this goal does not line up with who you are at your core, you will experience a lot of stress trying to accomplish it – and most likely, give up early in the game.

Let me give you myself as an example. I am good with numbers. I enjoy sitting down and figuring out things like budgets, or figuring out if I eat these three foods every day, will they give me all the X nutrient I need.

But I would make a lousy accountant. I hate sitting around all day. I need to move often, and I also don’t like to be stuck with one kind of task all day. This is one reason that the teaching career didn’t drive me completely insane – there is never a dull moment, and no two moments are ever remotely alike.

There are several popular systems to figure out your personality. While they all have merit, there is one I like better than the others: The Seven Life Languages, created by Fred and Anna Kendall of the Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, area. I like it for two reasons. First, the system contains the greatest diversity of personality types, which are more descriptive than the other systems’ types. Second, the system assumes – rightly, I believe – that every person has at least a little bit of each type, but that two or three of the types are much more dominant in an individual than the other types.

Here are the Seven Life Languages, with a very brief description of each:

1. Shaper – Always planning; likes to be in charge; efficient and project-oriented rather than people-oriented.

2. Mover – Acts before thinking; efficient; goal-oriented.

3. Doer – Likes being in constant motion; feels lazy if not; very productive and good at multi-tasking.

4. Contemplator – Deep thinker; a person of few words but of great insight; skilled analyzer; often seen as lazy or a procrastinator by people more dominant in the first three Life Languages.

5. Influencer – The proverbial “life of the party”; very people-oriented; nurturing and compassionate.

6. Giver – Generous; seen by others as having a large heart.

7. Responder – Lives in the moment, needing to respond instantly to situations; therefore inefficient and tends to be late for appointments and events; leaves a lot of projects undone.

Another resource that will help you greatly in understanding other people is any book about The Four Temperaments (choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, melancholy). There are several out there; I encourage you to pick one up from your local library or favorite bookstore and read it.

Why is it so important to understand your personality? Because in order to have true success, you need to create a lifestyle that will not conflict with your core being. A contemplator would be miserable as a tour guide, and an influencer would hate a desk job.

**2. Write down your interests and talents.

Once you understand your personality, take a little time to write down your innate talents and your interests. Most people think of the arts or mental ability when they hear the word “gift” or “talent”, but talents go well beyond these two areas. Everyone is gifted in something. You may be a great encourager or have a wonderful sense of humor. Perhaps you can assemble a car engine from scratch, or have the patience of Job.

Are you good with animals? Do people often approach you for counsel? Can you sell a block of ice to an Eskimo without even trying?

Once you’ve figured out where your natural giftings lie, think about and jot down some of your interests. They may or may not be directly related to your talents, but are subjects that you could read, write or talk about at length without running out of words or without boring yourself. They may also have turned into hobbies or pastimes.

**3. Think about how you would like to positively influence the world.

Now that you’ve honed in on your personality, gifts and interests, you can begin to zero in on the heart of success: doing something that not only brings you fulfillment, but also helps the world in some way.

When I say, “the world”, I don’t necessarily mean somewhere on the other side of the ocean, or everyone on the planet. Success for you could be helping your immediate neighborhood, or touching just a handful of people in a positive way.

And the kind of “help” I’m talking about doesn’t require superpowers. It could be as simple as making others feel better in some way, or providing a product or service that makes life a little easier for someone. Whatever form this help comes in, it will somehow incorporate your personality, gifts and interests.

Here is a list to get you brainstorming;

• Record and sell music CDs with uplifting lyrics or melodies.

• Teach urbanites how to garden in small spaces.

• Do computer programming, web design, etc., for non-profit organizations.

• Perform one-person shows for civic theaters, or perform for children’s groups, such as school assemblies or summer library programs.

• Write how-to books about your particular interests and hobbies.

• Do small business consulting or coaching.

• Donate money toward, then help to build, orphanages in developing countries.

• Become a natural health veterinarian.

The two questions to keep in mind are:

1. What do you have to offer, and

2. Where would you like to offer it?

Whenever and wherever you put your talents to use, you not only feel successful and fulfilled, but also help make the world a better place.

**4. Put it all together.

Look at what you wrote down for personality or temperament, interests, and ways you would like to help make the world a better place. The answer to, “What creative work fits me right now, at this time in my life?” is hidden there somewhere. It will be more obvious to some people than to others, but it can be found if one is willing to spend some time rereading and thinking.

What if you get it wrong? No such thing! First of all, even if all you have is a vague sense of what you are to do in this life, even that is enough to start setting priorities and goals. Second, keep in mind that most people’s creative work will shift throughout their lives. So don’t worry about getting it wrong. If it feels right, if it gives you peace and joy thinking about it, go for it!

Once you have a sense of your creative work for this particular time of your life, you can set your priorities. That will be easier if you have gone through the above steps. Setting your priorities involves three additional steps.

How to set realistic priorities

**1. Make a list of twenty things you really want to accomplish.

For some of my readers, this task will be difficult, especially if you are a mother of multiple children and/or have had to be a caregiver for an ailing family member for several years. You are not used to thinking about what you want. Isn’t that selfish? Aren’t you supposed to always put other people above you?

In the Bible, Jesus admonishes us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” If you don’t love yourself, how can you love your neighbor? Loving yourself means taking care of yourself and seeing yourself as worthy. You are not on this earth to be a doormat or slave. Yes, there are times in all of our lives where we are called to sacrifice what we want to help someone in need. But for most of us, these times do not last forever. For most of us, if we believed they did we would eventually begin to harbor feelings of frustration and resentment.

If you want something for yourself, really want something for yourself, and you generally seek to be a kind person, there’s an excellent chance that God put that desire inside you. Who are you to tell God no? Especially when that “no” serves only to make you constantly miserable.

I give you permission not to be a martyr. Now, get a piece of paper and a pen, and start making your list.

Yes, paper and pen. The old-fashioned writing tools. The only people who are allowed to type are those with a disability that prohibits them from being able to write longhand. Why? There is more power in writing something with your own hand, especially when it is something important like a list of goals and dreams.

As you make your list, follow these two rules:

1. Write without censure, and

2. Take as long as you need, up to a week.

The first rule might be difficult to follow. If you’re like most people, as you write some things you are going to hear voices in the back of your head telling you that’s crazy, you’ll never have enough money to do that, you’re not good enough to have that, you’re being selfish.

Work hard to ignore those voices. Yes, some of the things you write down are going to be completely unrealistic. That’s fine. Writing it down will help you think of other things that are important to you, but which you might not have remembered if you hadn’t written down that crazy idea. That’s why I’ve asked you to write down twenty things. Fewer would be too restrictive and you might miss something important; more would be too overwhelming, especially when we get to the next step.

The second rule is to give you plenty of time to think, if you need it, but also to provide a deadline so that you don’t stay stuck on this step for the next year.

Once you have listed twenty things you really want to eventually accomplish, put the list away for a day or two so that your mind is fresh when you come back to it in the next step.

What might your list contain? Some of the items might be priorities that you want to follow for the rest of your life, such as, “I want never to buy anything new again, unless I absolutely cannot find a quality used one.”

Other priorities might be goals that you eventually achieve one time, such as, “We will be living in a smaller house eighteen months from now.”

Following are some questions you can ask yourself to give your brain a jumpstart:

• What do you want out of your relationships, whether they be friendships, marriage, parenting, or other?

• What kind of work do you envision yourself doing?

• How much income do you want to make?

• What is the maximum number of hours you want to work each week?

• How much money would you like to be able to donate to charities each month/year?

• Where do you most want to live?

• How much traveling would you like to do, and where?

• What significant challenge would you like to overcome?

**2. Whittle the list down.

Study your list carefully. As you do, give each item a number from 1 to 10, 1 meaning it’s something completely frivolous that popped into your head but really doesn’t mean that much to you, and 10 meaning it relates closely to the creative work that currently fits you.

On another piece of paper, write down everything that earned a “7” or higher. If you end up with more than ten items on this list, you will have to delete the least important ones until you are down to only ten items.

Now, study the list again. Which of these do you feel an inner urge to do within the next five years? In other words, which items seem to fit well with your determined creative work? Circle them. If you end up circling more than five, you are either overly ambitious or your goals are not big enough. In the first case, you need to be realistic with what you can do given your circumstances and time frame of five years. In the second, you need to rephrase what you want.

For example, if you wrote down things like, “I want to get rid of half of my wardrobe”, or, “I want to have all products with high-fructose corn syrup out of my pantry by next Friday,” you are thinking too small and too short-term.

“I want to get into the habit of only buying clothes I will actually wear,” and, “I will be eating a 90% whole-foods diet six months from now” are more encompassing and, long-term, more meaningful.

**3. Merge your “want” list with your “duty” list.

Get one more sheet of paper. List the one to five “want-to-accomplish” items you ended up with in the last step. Remember, these are goals you want to reach or habits you want to get into within the next five years, not for life. As time passes, life might throw an unexpected curveball that causes your priorities to change. Or, you might reach most of your goals in the next year, and thus need to set more goals sooner than you’d estimated.

After jotting down those handful of items, add to the list your current duties and obligations that are going to last longer than the next few months.

Voila! You have now set your priorities. These goals, habits, and obligations will be the focus of your life for the next few months to the next few years. At any time that you contemplate what is on the list and begin to feel overwhelmed, you are free to pare it down even further. Our purpose is to achieve simplicity, yes? And whenever you feel overburdened or burned out, life cannot be simple.

Now, onto the next step, where the rubber really meets the road.

Step Two: Eliminate Obstacles

Many people set goals. Have a dream. But most people do not ever achieve them. Why? Obstacles. Whether they be existing situations or unexpected events, obstacles are goal destroyers and dream killers. They cause you to get discouraged, and eventually give up. Flowing with the status quo is always easiest.

And here is what you will get by going with the status quo flow:

• Debt. Chronic debt – it never goes away.

• A job you dislike, maybe even hate.

• So much stuff that a portion of your take-home pay either goes toward renting a storage unit, or toward a mortgage on a house that is twice as big as what you really need – if you just didn’t have all that stuff.

• Discontentment your looks.

• Stress.

• Exhaustion.

• Little time to call your own.

• Ill health, and eventually death by a disease largely preventable by lifestyle.

I have to assume that because you downloaded this report, you have decided that the status quo is killing you. So I am going to assume that you are motivated to eliminate the obstacles in your life that are getting in the way of your priorities. In that case, may I be the first to congratulate you.

There are two kinds of obstacles, internal and external. Let’s look at the first group of possible obstacles first, the kind that lives mainly between your ears.

Internal obstacles

Following are some common attitudes and thinking errors that we all fall into at some point in our lives. That is normal, but if you are serious about simplifying your life down to its basic elements, you want to make sure that you work on getting these thought patterns out of your life.

I have categorized them into what I see as the two major root causes for all the other wrong thought patterns, fear and negativity.

Fear

I once heard that the biggest obstacle to success is fear. Historically, healthy fear kept us alive. If we didn’t go around that new mountain, we wouldn’t get eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. If we stayed within the physical boundaries of the area where our family or clan lived, we would be protected.

To be content with the status quo is deeply ingrained in the human race.

But even though no one reading this e-book will have those kinds of practical concerns, we continue on in our fear of the unknown. Some of this fear is based on personal experience which caused us pain.

Isolation/Withdrawal

When I was in seventh grade, a stray tomcat visited during the night and shredded the two-month old kittens (I think there were four or five) into pieces. I was horrified when I discovered the head of the gray kitten, with whom I had fallen in love and played with a lot, hanging from her body by a string.

I ignored the cats and kittens from then on, and also put up walls around myself to keep other people from getting too close. I had learned that getting emotionally attached to anything or anyone would result in agonizing pain, and I never wanted to experience it again.

One offshoot of fear is isolation.

Controlling/Perfectionism

Another big one is control and perfectionism, which always go hand in hand. I also became a control freak and a perfectionist. If I tried hard enough, I would be able to shape my environment and circumstances to please me. This, too, came out of my fear. Instead of releasing the fear and allowing myself to enjoy life, I chose to try to control it.

Control freaks are inflexible, and are easily upset when their plans go awry. But the truth is, while you can take actions to change certain circumstances and situations in your life, you are not in control. Can never be in control.

Why?

You are not the only person on Earth.

You cannot control other people. Therefore, you cannot control everything that happens to you. Sure, you can try to manipulate people. But all that will ultimately bring you is more heartache in the form of broken relationships. Nobody wants to be friends with a manipulator.

And let me tell you from personal experience: trying to control your world only serves to sap your energy, and frustrate the people around you. Control freaks cannot live simple lives, because trying to play God is a complicated mess for a human being.

Worrying

Chronic worrying is another offshoot of fear. We all worry at some time or another; it’s a natural response to uncertain and unsavory possibilities that present themselves to us.

But here’s the thing: they are only possibilities. We worry about things that have not yet happened, and guess what?

Most of the time the thing we are worrying about never even comes to pass.

I’ll always remember what my history professor said when I was a freshman in college: “When you worry about something, you start out with worry in one hand, and spit in the other. When the thing you were worried about is over and done with, all you have left is a handful of spit.”

Even a temporary bout of worry is draining; imagine what life must be like for a chronic worrier! Here’s what it’s like: not simple (plus she must be dragging around a wagonful of spit). Because whenever fear rules your life, in whatever form, your life is going to be more complicated.

Guilt

Fear also comes in the form of guilt. Guilt is fear of being judged for something you did wrong, or not exactly right. It is actually a close kin to perfectionism. People who feel guilty believe that they should have been able to control a certain outcome. They should have been able to make a better decision, to prevent a certain situation, to be a more loving person.

I understand guilt, because that is a relatively new issue in my life. I never carried guilt until I had a child. Perhaps a lot of other mothers would relate. I feel guilty that certain of my nutritional deficiencies of which I was unaware (and I did take supplements while I was pregnant) until after my son was born have caused him irreparable physical and mental problems.

Oh, it’s nothing most people would notice. Most people, in fact, tell me I have a pretty normal kid.

But I know better. If I had known then what I know now…but I didn’t, and so I feel guilty.

The most helpful thought I have when the guilt becomes the heaviest is: God isn’t mad at me about it, so who am I to be mad at me about it?

Excuse-making

Making excuses is another manifestation of fear. People who make excuses are incredibly afraid of change. No one likes change, but excuse-makers particularly dread it. So they make excuses not to change.

“I tried getting off sugar, but the one day I did I almost fainted.”

“I tried direct sales, but nobody came to the first party I threw, so I quit.”

“I tried to write a book, but it took me too long just to write one page.”

“I tried to set up an emergency fund, but I keep having unexpected expenses come up.”

Making excuses will keep you in the land of mediocrity. The land of mainstream. And, in case you missed the message in Part One, living the mainstream way is contrary to the goal of a simple life.

Lying

Chronic liars are fearful people. Obviously, they are afraid that telling the truth will somehow get them into trouble. And they are probably right. Of all the kinds of people discussed in this section, people who lie probably have the most salient reasons to be fearful. One must live as Samuel Clemens (AKA Mark Twain) once said: “Always tell the truth. Then you never have to remember anything.”

Of course, the ultimate answer is to be a kind person. Then you will never have anything to cover up.

Greed

Greed is a fear which is easily defined: fear of lack. The way out of this is to realize that the world is a huge place, with plenty of wealth to share. You wouldn’t know it by all the videos and pictures we are exposed to of starving people around the world, but that results from an inequity of wealth distribution, not from its non-existence.

People-pleasing

Are you a people-pleaser? You are living in fear. On the outside, trying to make everyone else happy sounds like a noble attitude. But this behavior is unhealthy, because it stems from an unhealthy belief that no one will like you unless you act like a doormat.

If that is you, let me talk to you for a minute. You are a person of worth. You deserve to have other people do for you once in a while. You deserve to desire, seek, and find that which makes you happy.

If all you ever are is a doormat, you will not experience fulfillment. And since a focused, purposeful life is the simplest of all, simplicity will evade you – no matter how much you declutter, no matter how natural your diet is.

Two closing words about fear

When you let fear rule your life – any kind of fear – you are in bondage. You are not free. And when you give your freedom away to a condition which will only ever serve to cause you stress and misery, you will spend your life in survival mode, rather than thrive mode. And you will never have the energy it takes to focus on your priorities.

Before I get into the next set of wrong thinking patterns, I want to address medically-recognized disorders such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, anxiety/panic attacks, and schizophrenia. While there might be some past event that triggered the problems, they go beyond emotion. In many, perhaps most, cases, the sufferer’s brain chemistry has gone awry. This can often be remedied by adapting a simple diet, and making sure one has plenty of the B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, and omega-3/DHA fatty acids in one’s system. These nutrients are known to lift depression and anxiety, eradicate mood swings, and to help a person feel much more mentally balanced than she would if she were deficient in even one of them.

Now, onto the next kind of self-sabotaging thinking pattern…

Negativity

A negative person could be a fearful person, no doubt about it. However, since negativity does not always stem from fear, I chose to give it its own category.

If I ask you to think of a negative person you know, you will probably think of more than one. For whatever reason, the human mind seems bent more toward negative thoughts than positive ones. Maybe that came from our ancestors, as well, having had to temper adventurous and risk-taking thoughts with ones that constantly warned of potential danger.

While many people do a fairly good job of speaking and acting positively despite the constant barrage of negativity flying through their brains, some people do not. Some people seem to voice every single negative thought that comes into their heads.

And they are not fun to be around. Ever notice how, when someone like that comes near you, you can feel negative energy coming from them? I read in a natural health book a long time ago that the “life field” of a person can emanate out thirty feet! No wonder the ugly vibes are almost tangible.

If you decide to talk to that person, or listen to that person, and he is the last person you talk to, you feel a lot more negative when you leave than when that person showed up. The good news (especially if you happen to be that negative person) is that what you think about is completely under your control.

Okay, ladies, it’s hard when you have P.M.S., but even then I’ve found that if I work hard enough, I can at least keep my mind from down-spiraling into mental hell.

I will explain how to teach yourself to think more positively in a minute. First, let’s talk about a few of the ways negativity manifests in people’s lives – other than fear.

Holding grudges

First, there are the grudge-holders, or the people who find it hard to forgive. I used to be one of the best grudge-holders on Earth! I am a lot better now, but every once in a while someone manages to say just the right offensive thing, and I will struggle sometimes for weeks to forgive and let it go. I know I have to, if I am going to move forward with my life.

Holding a grudge, or withholding forgiveness, only hurts one person: the grudge-holder. It hurts him physically because it increases stress, which increases acidity in the body which causes mineral depletion and reduced immune function. It hurts him mentally because he cannot focus as sharply, thanks to the hurtful event that lingers in the back of his mind.

It hurts him emotionally because grudges and happiness cannot co-exist. And it hurts him spiritually, because, “If you do not forgive, neither will my Father in heaven forgive you,” Jesus said.

The first step in releasing a grudge is to make a choice to forgive the person who hurt you. Say it out loud: “I choose to love and forgive [name].” Say it often. Think it until you almost repeat that phrase instead of, “Hello” when you answer the phone.

You will not feel it at first. That is fine. That is normal. You have been hurt, and hurt takes time to heal. The point is to begin the process of forgiveness. If you want to be able to release the grudge even faster, start praying for good things for the person every day! Pray that the person be blessed with good health, that she be joyful and at peace. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s hard to stay really mad at somebody you’re praying for every day! Besides, the good you are praying for them will come back to you, enabling you, perhaps, to heal from the hurt more quickly than you would have otherwise.

The victim mentality

One offshoot of negative thinking I find particularly annoying is the victim mentality. “Woe is me! I had this bad thing happen to me ten/twenty/fifty years ago, and my life has sucked ever since!”

If this is you, there are two steps to take:

1. Build a bridge.

2. Get over it.

Listen, I understand what it is to feel like a victim. I did for most of my twenties. Any experience where you were horribly used is bound to leave a scar, and requires some time to heal.

However, people who see themselves as victims have not healed, and often take no steps to receive the healing they need. They wear the incident on their sleeves, daring anyone not to feel sorry for them. They become so focused on the painful event that they never come close to fulfilling their potential or achieving their dreams. Life is just one painful, exhausting step after the other.

They not only suck the life out of the people around them, but they also often act as leeches or develop an “entitlement” mentality: “You owe me thus-and-such because I can’t do for myself because of what happened to me.”

This kind of life will always by default be complicated because unhealed hurts always cause a chain reaction of problems.

Low self-esteem

People with low self-esteem are always negative about themselves, and often negative about other people. “I can’t, and I am envious that you can.” Not feeling valuable as a person usually comes out of some sort of mistreatment as a child or young adult. We have all heard of the woman who marries an abusive man because her father was abusive and constantly told her that no self-respecting, decent man would want her. So she believes him and marries a violent, drunken jerk.

The worst thing about low self-esteem is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When I was a little girl, I saw myself as not very good at sports. I was physically active and played a lot on the swingset and parallel bars at home, but when it came to playing on a team, I was a joke. Literally. I was always, always the last one picked for any team in gym class.

I believe now it had nothing to do with my physical ability, but my shyness in having to play with other kids. I also always had an irrational fear of being hit in the face with a ball, which didn’t help. But being in a large group of other kids intimidated me, and so I couldn’t put my best foot forward.

I very quickly saw what a ridiculous failure I was – a belief readily agreed to by my classmates – and the more I thought I couldn’t play a sport well, the worse I played.

The best way to eliminate a low self-esteem is to do the thing you have convinced yourself – and everybody else – you can’t do. Begin by forcing the negative self-talk out of your head and replacing it with positive talk in which you tell yourself that you are able, that you can do anything you put your mind to.

Hate

The final thinking error I want to bring up in this section is hate. Hate comes from one of two places: the culture you were brought up in, or a traumatic experience you had. History is rife with examples from the first kind of hate, from the Crusades to the Holocaust. If it occurs to you that both of those horrible events were religion-oriented, so have many of the global hate events been throughout history. This kind of hate happens within much smaller cultures, as well, from small towns all the way down families.

I was brought up a Catholic, and was constantly told that Catholicism was the only valid form of Christianity. If a Protestant made it to heaven, it was only by the skin of his teeth. While I never hated anyone who wasn’t Catholic, there was a distinct dichotomy between the Catholic schoolchildren (the minority) and the Protestant ones in the small town where I attended school. One boy called me a “cat licker”, and once we went up the road to the Lutheran church there because they were having a bazaar. Even though my parents and we children associated with a lot of the people who were there outside of Sunday mornings, the looks we got were cold enough to freeze over hell itself.

Everybody knew we were Catholics, and how dare we show up at a Lutheran bazaar! (The really odd thing about this is that I am now well-acquainted with a Lutheran couple, and the beliefs and liturgy in the Lutheran church are very much alike – save for that Lutherans don’t pray to Mary and the saints.)

This cultural hatred is rooted in ignorance. We don’t know what a certain group of people is really like, we only know what myths our ancestors have invented about them. Those myths are never flattering, and so instead of seeing a group of people as people who happen to have different skin colors or language or religious beliefs or traditions, we see them as beasts who can never be as good as we are. And if they try to assert their rights as if they were equal to us, we must put a stop to it at once!

The other kind of hate, born out of a traumatic experience with somebody, either keeps its focus on that individual who perpetrated the crime, or generalizes to everyone who belongs to the same religion, ethnicity, or skin color of that person.

For a long time, I hated Japanese women because one Japanese woman in particular stole my boyfriend from me. I thank God for it now, because to have remained involved with an unfaithful alcoholic would have ruined my young life. But at the time, my young heart was broken and my perspective on both men and Japanese women was skewed for several years (I got over Japanese women first, in case you’re wondering).

And there we get to the heart of the matter: hatred emanates from a warped viewpoint or belief about somebody else. The best way to correct this thinking pattern is to become friends with someone who belongs to the group you hate. Get to know them well, and see that they are a human being with dreams and pain, hopes and fears, just like you are.

What if you hate an individual? I would venture to say it won’t last. Most of the time when we say, “I hate so-and-so,” what we really mean is that we’re angry with the person for hurting us. If the hurt wasn’t too intense or too prolonged, the feeling of hate diminishes after a few days.

But what if hate toward an individual goes on for years? This is common in the case of abuse, especially sexual abuse. The remedy for this is the same as the remedy for releasing grudges: to let go and forgive.

Yes, I understand that is difficult when you have been sexually abused. But if you ever want to be whole enough to move forward in life without any chains dragging against you, you must forgive. Hate is like holding grudges: the only person a hater is hurting is him or herself.

If you have seen yourself in any of the descriptions of any of the thinking errors named in this chapter, I invite you – no, urge you – to spend some time thinking about the actions you need to take in order to change your thought processes.

How to eliminate negative thinking

Earlier, I promised that I would explain how to become a more positive thinker, so you might begin here. There are three basic steps.

First, walk around for a week with a notepad and note down every time you become aware that you are thinking a negative thought. Don’t dismiss small ones, like, “Oh, shoot, it’s raining,” or, “My husband left his dirty underwear on the recliner…again?” These count, as well. As a matter of fact, often these seemingly harmless negative thoughts lead to more and increasingly bitter ones.

When you have done that for a week, you will likely be dismayed at the number of negative thoughts you wrote down. Now, study them carefully and see if you can find thoughts that are repeated often in your brain, as well as thoughts that are related in some way.

Make a list of each thought in one column on a sheet of paper. Then, in a column on the other side of the paper, for each negative thought write down a positive correlation. For example, if you often think, “I hate getting out of bed,” you might write, “I’m so blessed to have relatively good health and a roof over my head, with a loving family to support me.”

Finally, study this list every day, and begin to monitor your thought life carefully. As soon as a negative though comes into your head, replace it with the corresponding positive statement.

If you are like most people, this will be uphill work and will take some time to turn into a habit. But even if you only manage to remember to change a handful of thoughts every day, you will be well on your way to thinking more positively than probably anyone else you know.

Search for the good in everyone and everything. You won’t help being positive then, and life will become much simpler.

But what about the obstacles that are outside of yourself, that you seem to be able to have little control over? Let’s go through some of them, and see if I can change your mind about whether they can really keep you from your goals and dreams.

External Obstacles

Now that you have worked on the biggest obstacle of all – your thought life – you will likely see a lot fewer obstacles in the way of your journey toward a fulfilled, purposeful life than you did before. Still, there are probably some challenges that may be related to the previous way you thought, but are not emotional struggles. For example, you may find yourself living in a house which mortgage will never allow you to meet your priority of being debt-free in the next five years.

Other challenges will come up as you walk along. In a few months you might meet a person who at first seems to click with you, but eventually turns out to be a back-biter and manipulator. A toxic relationship is always a hindrance to living a simpler life, and you will have to deal with such cases as you go along.

It would be impossible for me to list every single potential obstacle that might be in your way now, or that might come up at a later point, that would hinder you from having the freedom to live out your priorities and working according to your creative bent. However, there are some that are common to many, if not most, people, so I would like to use those obstacles as examples of what you might have to come up against.

As I do so, I am going to create a fictional character with a certain priority so that you can have a context for why that issue might be an obstacle. Then I will show how that person solved their particular dilemma.

I already offered the example about having a large mortgage versus the priority to get out of debt. Since getting out of debt is an essential on any journey toward simplicity, I want to take a closer look at how one might overcome such a challenge.

The debt obstacle

One of Gary’s top priorities is to simplify his life to the point where he only needs to make half the income he is making now. That will enable him either to create a home business, or find a job that he enjoys that requires fewer working hours, or both. However, he has $96,000 in debt, including the $80,000 he owes on his house. He will not be able to cut back on his income until he pays back all his debt, including the mortgage.

He makes a three-year plan that will involve working a second job on the weekends and cutting back all unnecessary spending. By doing that, he estimates that he will be able to pay off almost half his debt by the end of year three (the $48,000 that will be left is mortgage only). He will be able to sell his house, and since he will by that time have $88,000 in equity, he will be able to buy a smaller home in a smaller town with the proceeds.

Lisa is not planning to be quite so radical. She and her husband, Lou, along with their two children, live in a modest suburban home. They still owe over $100,000 on the house, plus have $10,000 in student loans left to pay off from college and $8,000 left on a car payment. They are determined that their own kids will not have to take out any loans to attend college, and one of their priorities is to start building up a fund to that end. The catch-22 is that until their own debts are paid off, they won’t be able to put enough into a fund on a monthly basis to be of much help – and based on the past year or two of finances, the $18K wouldn’t be able to be completely paid off for at least five years.

Lisa and Lou spend an evening crunching numbers to figure out why that should be so. With Lou’s income, they should be able to pay off a the debt without too much sacrifice within a couple of years. They discover that their habit of taking the family out to eat twice a week, along with Lisa’s “need” for a new outfit every weekend, is costing them an extra $400 per month! They commit to eating only at home for the next year, unless invited out by someone else, and Lisa promises to reduce her new outfit purchases to one every two months. Their debts – aside from the mortgage – are paid off within eighteen months.

“Stuff” obstacle

Tammy really wants to start her own business within the next six months. But she has no place in the house to set up a home office, because both the spare bedroom and the garage are being used as storage spaces. She needs a private spot to concentrate, so she does not want to set aside part of the dining room table. Besides, that is usually nearly half-covered in school books, junk mail, and miscellaneous papers. (The family uses a smaller table off the kitchen for meals when they don’t have company.)

After reading a couple of books about decluttering and home organization, the spare bedroom is halfway cleared and tidied up, the garage can now fit both her and her husband’s car – it used to could only fit one or the other – and there is now a small bookshelf against the dining room wall to house the stuff that used to be dumped onto the table.

Relationship obstacles

Wendy wants nothing more than to adopt a child. Her original plan was to wait until she was married, but she is now thirty-seven and “Mr. Right” has yet to show up.

When she first told Linda, a friend of hers from the church organization they both attend, about her plan, she flatly told Wendy that a single woman adopting a child was against God’s will. Every other time she has talked to Linda in the past six months, Linda asks her if she is still planning the adoption, and rolls her eyes and sighs or makes a rude comment when Wendy replies in the affirmative.

Linda isn’t the only person who is doubtful about Wendy’s decision, but she is the only one who voices outright opposition to it. Every time Wendy talks to Linda, she goes home feeling discouraged and doubtful. Could her friend be right?

She finally talks to her best friend from high school about it on a phone call one evening. Heeding her advice, Wendy begins to attend other church services on the other end of town. A year later, she is the proud mother of the cutest three-year-old Croatian girl alive – and she is dating a nice man who is almost as cute, and who adores her new daughter.

Income obstacles

Brett is determined to set up a fund that will help Haitian orphans attend institutions of higher education. He hopes to have that accomplished within seven years.

There is only one problem: Brett is married with four children, his wife does not earn an income and he only brings home $45,000 a year. He will not ask his wife to go to work, as her dream is to homeschool her children at least through middle school. They already live as frugally as they can, and Brett does not want to sacrifice the small amount of money they have set aside for retirement.

Wanting to reduce, not increase, his stress, he rejects the idea of starting a side business or a part-time job. After a friend recommends a book called 48 Days To The Work You Love, Brett devours every page and immediately begins following the steps in the book to find a higher-paying job. Four months later, he is hired on at another company who is going to pay him $15,000 more a year for similar work and similar hours he was doing at his previous job.

Physical obstacles

Jenna dreams of taking her guitar and her voice on the circuit to perform music that she hopes will spread environmental awareness even further. Two weeks after she finally schedules her first three gigs, each a week apart and in two different states, she falls from a ladder and breaks her left humerus bone, requiring surgery. She is forced to postpone the gigs, rescheduling them for eight weeks later than originally planned, and in the meantime two other venues contact her and respond positively to her earlier inquiries about performing.

But she is dismayed when the doctor tells her it will be as long as four months before she will be able to hold a guitar up comfortably for any length of time. Jenna does not want to wait that long, having made financial goals that depend on the extra income her performances will bring. After spending some time in thought and talking to her boyfriend, she buys a harpsichord and a DVD that teaches how to play the instrument. She practices it at every spare moment, and in the end shows up at all the scheduled performances. Though her arm is still sore, she does not have to hold it up to play the new instrument and there is nothing wrong with her voice.

When her arm is well enough to hold a guitar, she decides to take both instruments with her and use the harpsichord for slower songs. Audiences and reviewers alike praise her for her choice to use two instruments.

Randy, on the other hand, has multiple disabilities that make it very difficult for him to get out of the house. However, there is nothing wrong with his mind, and he has often been complimented for his singing talent. He has always wanted to compose and sing inspirational songs, and is frustrated because he doesn’t know what to do with this strong desire – which he believes is his calling.

“Why don’t you start a YouTube channel?” asks his sister, who lives with him and helps him as needed.

With her help, he does. Within a year, he has over 2,000 people subscribed to his channel where he uploads videos of himself singing his songs a capella. Besides the many accolades his viewers give him for his talent, he is making enough money from his channel to pay for his share of the groceries. It is the first time in his life he feels fulfilled.

Tolerations

Emily had had enough. She was tired of the stinky city air, never being able to open windows on a pleasant day because the outside air smelled worse than the air inside the house (thanks to the air purifiers that ran 24/7). She was tired of having to take her son to the park for several hours every day because the backyard was not big enough for him to amuse himself in for very long. And she was disgusted with the high electricity bills she and her husband were paying for a house that was at least twice as big as their small family needed.


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