Written by : Joan I. Rosenberg, Ph.D.

How to Live a Life by Design

Mastering the difficult feelings can build the emotional strength you need to reach your goals.

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Mastering the difficult feelings can build the emotional strength you need to reach your goals.

More. Did you ever want to be more or have more in your life? Even if you’ve accomplished all you’ve dreamed of or desired, perhaps you’ve noticed that there’s a part of you that keeps nudging you toward whatever is next. As I’ve made my way through life, I, too, have always desired more. I didn’t want to have more things in a physical sense; instead, my aim was to become a better person: more knowledgeable, more thoughtful, more generous, and more loving. Despite my professional successes, I never fully understood why I continued to desire more until I met Mary Morrissey, a premier personal development expert, cherished mentor, and dear friend. Mary was the first to introduce me to the idea that, as human beings, we are always seeking a freer, fuller, more expanded version of ourselves and that life is always seeking its fuller expression through us.

Take some time here and really think about how this might manifest itself in your life. Consider the following questions: How do you want to live your life? If you were living a life you truly loved, what would it look like? How would it be different than it is now? What would your health look like? What would your relationships be like — romantic, familial and otherwise?

With whom would you be hanging out? Would you travel or pursue hobbies you love? What would you be doing with your time? Since I know it’s tempting to breeze by these questions, I’d like to encourage you to grab a journal or notebook so that you can jot down some initial ideas.

Journal 1: How Do You Want to Live Your Life? Take time to write out answers to the questions above.

When I ask clients these questions, I get responses that range from impassioned, detailed descriptions about a great imagined future to quizzical looks that convey countless doubts about the ability to achieve any of their dreams. Yet most people share a few important responses:

  1. They desire to be fully engaged in something that feels meaningful and purposeful.
  2. They want to experience their impact on the people and situations in their lives.
  3. They consistently want to feel more confident and empowered, and less affected by life’s daily challenges.

No matter how many times people have been advised to be more confident or have higher self-esteem, rarely are they told how to achieve these goals. Rest assured, it can be done. In fact, you can definitely learn how to be confident and resilient.

The challenge is that most people believe that life is doing something to them, so they live by constantly reacting to life’s dilemmas. If you perceive life as a set of difficult problems, criticizing and complaining can become coping strategies you use to deal with what you perceive as the harshness of such a life.

People often don’t realize that they have a hand in creating the life they want. Once you start setting clear intentions and taking inspired action to meet specific goals, then you begin to develop a sense that you have a say in how life unfolds for you. In fact, many people find their purpose in life by actively pursuing their goals or dreams. When you experience purpose and meaning in what you are doing, it often feels like you are the conduit through which life is fulfilling itself instead of a mere victim of life’s hardships. Personal development trainers often describe these two very different approaches—reactionary versus creative—as, respectively, living “life by default” and “life by design.”

This book was written to help you live life by your design. You have a hand in creating a life you love—one that enables you to be confident, emotionally strong, enthusiastic, purpose-driven, and resilient. The process involves embracing all of life: all of the good, fun, enjoyable, happy experiences, and all of the crummy, messy, unexpected, and unpleasant ones, too.

The Gift of Unpleasant Feelings

Most of us want to avoid unpleasant thoughts and feelings either because they are so darn uncomfortable or because they elicit some measure of pain. This avoidance, what some psychologists call “experiential avoidance,” occurs through distracting yourself. By moving away from difficult feelings, you actually cut yourself off from emotional information that could help protect or enhance your life. Consistently distracting from or avoiding what is unpleasant and uncomfortable is, unfortunately, often the start of a slow trek to increased anxiety, bodily pain, vulnerability, and disempowerment. If you continue to distract or stay disconnected from the truth of your own life experiences over long periods of time, you may experience feelings of emptiness, numbness, and soulful depression™—a result of being disconnected from yourself. Eventually, this can transform into something worse: intense feelings of isolation, alienation, or hopelessness.

But it doesn’t need to move in that direction at all. Just as there’s a path to soulful depression, there’s a path to confidence, emotional strength, and resilience—three qualities that have a direct impact on your ability to lead a meaningful life.

How, then, do you develop into an emotionally stronger and more capable person? As paradoxical as it seems, the answer is tied to your capacity to tolerate pain—or your capacity to handle unpleasant feelings. 

The more you are able to face the pain you experience, the more capable you become. you are able to face the pain you experience, the more capable you become. The essential keys to developing confidence, feeling emotionally strong, and being resilient involve an openness to change, a positive attitude toward pain, a willingness to learn from any experience, and a capacity to experience and express unpleasant feelings.

When you’re able to effectively handle unpleasant emotions, you’re likely to feel more centered, confident, capable, and calm in the moment. Your consistent ability to deal with difficult feelings translates into relief from anxiety, harsh self-criticism, and negative self-talk. As you continue the practice of experiencing these unpleasant feelings, you increase your capacity to engage in courageous conversations, which often results in mending and deepening relationships. If you stay well connected to your moment-to-moment experience, not only will you move your life more fully into who you want to be and do more of what you love, you’ll start to develop a greater sense of purpose and meaning in your life.

Why wouldn’t you want to embrace your unpleasant feelings if it results in living the life you’ve always wanted?
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Excerpted from90 Seconds to a Life You Love. Copyright © 2019 by Joan I Rosenberg, PhD. Used with permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York. All rights reserved.
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