Stuck… swimming upstream… expending more energy than I’m receiving… elusive joy. This is how I felt for years. What I finally discovered after years (decades) of trial and error is that joy and “being in the flow” are outcomes of three life-clarity skills:
- Ability to know and act on your YES. If you’ve felt it, you know what I’m talking about. It’s not a rational answer or decision; it’s the way your entire body expands and lights up when presented with something in full alignment with your authentic self. The more clarity you have on your YESSES and the more frequently you embrace them, the happier and more joy-filled your life becomes.
- Ability to hear and act on your NO. NO feels the opposite of YES: tight and constricting, contracting like a turtle into a shell. But how often do we accept NOs in our lives out of obligations, expectations, or worrying about what others might think? All these NOs are using space that could be occupied by a YES, and it’s time to clear it out. Clutter can include stuff, being in the wrong job, surrounding ourselves with people who don’t light us up, or living in a place that isn’t aligned with who we are. Like an elimination diet, we first need to release the NOs in order to really hear and embrace our YES.
- Using our core needs as a guide. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs from your school days? Well, these needs (plus several others that have surfaced in my research like Control) are the ‘programming’ that motivates our decisions… and the primary ones are all unique to every individual. Personally, I need Freedom, Purpose and Aesthetics to have a joy-filled life, whereas you might be driven by Security and Belonging or something else. Our core needs can serve as a Life Compass to help us consistently make better decisions for ourselves. We know when we’re on the right track based on how often we feel like these needs are met. Which means decision-making that places as much weight (or more) on emotions than on rational pros and cons.
So how do we get clear on our YES, NO, and Needs? The answer is to stop searching out there, and simply remember who you’ve always been since childhood. Popular self-help books want you to believe that your choices are infinite, and that we can be and do anything. But that belief creates an overwhelming amount of choice, and it’s misleading. Each of us was born with a unique set of wiring: we have innate interests, talents and preferences that have always brought us joy.
You may really want to be a lion… but you’d be a lot happier as a swan if you’re covered in feathers and love the water.
This doesn’t negate the opportunity to develop specific skills, but it certainly helps eliminate overwhelm by taking options off the table. The more we can say NO, the faster we can get aligned with YES. The breadcrumbs along the path: remembering what lit us up as kids. These are the clues for where to begin the excavation and find ourselves under the rubble of shoulds, expectations, conformity or self-abandonment.
A couple more principles to keep in mind…
- Love and trust the process. Daily journaling and meditation are transformative practices that take time but pay off big (I know you’ve heard this before, but it’s really true)
- Experiment, experiment, experiment. How do you know your YESSES and NOs unless you get out of your comfort zone and try some new things?