In order to attract the life that you want the first step is to get one-hundred percent clear on exactly what that life entails. That can sometimes be difficult though, because our intuition and rational mind often battle with each other, leaving us confused and full of self-doubt. We may, for example, think that we want a very lucrative career when what we really want is to have the freedom that comes with the paycheque it gets us. We might go on to pursue that career only to find that we have no time and thus no freedom. As a result, we are unhappy in a situation that we thought we wanted.
So, what happened? Our rational mind had us so focused on achieving that career because it learned over time that others with high salaries appeared to have freedom (perhaps platforms like Instagram are to blame for this kind of deception). But deep down, maybe our true self is an artist and the freedom that we seek can only be found through self-expression. Sadly, we never would have realized this if we spent our entire life in that lucrative but unfulfilling career. This is just one example of the many ways that what we think we want might not be accurate to what we actually want – and how that can end up making us miserable.
This train of thought can be the result of what is referred to as a mental mould or “schema” in psychology. A schema is essentially a group of phenomena that the brain considers similar enough to fit into the same category. We regard engineers, lawyers, doctors, and individuals in similar professions as people who generally have a decent income. Conversely, we regard artists as people who generally do not have a decent income. Grouping things in this way serves two main functions: it decreases cognitive load (therefore decreasing stress and increasing the efficiency of the brain), and it provides a level of predictability and control over otherwise chaotic situations in life.
The problem with schemas however, is that they can sometimes prevent us from recognizing alternative, more fulfilling, and more authentic ways to live the life that we want (and some artists make a real killing at what they do!).
Naturally, society also gets in the way. We are made to feel like we must achieve more and more thanks to capitalism and the radical leftist praise for individuality. Right now our egos are bigger than ever. Life has become so much about what we identify with and what makes us unique – and our career is no exception. We want prestige because it functions as a survival mechanism in this society, where approval rests mainly on our accomplishments (and few seem to care or even notice whether or not we’re actually good people). And so far we’ve only used our career as an example here—society and ego also get in the way of discovering what we truly want in love, our environment, and life in general. For simplicity, I’ll continue using our career as an example here.
Now, in order to figure out what we want in life, we need to escape the traps that schemas can put us in. We can do this by becoming aware of the ego and harnessing our intuition.
Before I finally discovered that I wanted to be a writer, I tried almost everything. As someone who is fascinated by so many things, the struggle to choose “my thing” was real. So many times I applied the traditional advice and asked myself: “What truly makes me happy? What would I do if nothing was holding me back?” I took different courses, worked at very different jobs, and yet, nothing I tried seemed one-hundred percent suited to me. I thought that the things I tried were incredibly interesting, but shortly after pursuing them, I realized that I didn’t enjoy the actual work I was doing. I eventually came to find out that I had been idealizing those ways of contributing to society based on beliefs about what I thought I wanted to do and not considering what I, as person actually want and need. The difference between the two is the ego.
Interestingly enough, this is sometimes the result of being a very “open-minded” person. Who would have thought that our good qualities could sometimes hinder us so much? More on that later.
So, the ultimate question is: How can we make decisions that will always lead to our happiness? Well, first we are tasked with identifying what makes us happy! In this article, I will outline a plan for you to follow which will help you become aware of exactly what you want in life. After you figure that out, the process of manifesting it can truly begin.
Here is the basic overview:
- Become aware of your ego
- Learn how to harness the power of your intuition
- Make a list of things that make you feel bad/are bad for you
- Make a list of things that make you genuinely happy
- Design your wheel of life
- Decide to NEVER settle for anything other than what is on your “happy” list
Now, let’s go into detail!
Step 1: Become aware of your ego
☐ Our first step is perhaps best explained by spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. In an article on Oprah.com called “Free Yourself from Your Ego Armor,” Tolle gives us practical instructions on how to both recognize and free ourselves from our ego. He encourages us to first observe our minds (in other words, notice your thoughts). In observing our minds, we can learn what exactly our thoughts contain and in turn become aware of what’s really going on within us.
☐ Tolle then asks us to try and distinguish between our ego and the actual situation at hand. He notes that when we think that we are irritated by a situation, we are actually irritated by our own inner dialogue about the situation. As he puts it, it is our interpretation of “the now” rather than the acceptance of it, that causes us pain and confusion.
☐ He then asks us to let go of “limiting stories.” These are essentially our interpretations, or in other words, the idealized stories that we made up about the situation. He explains that, when we create “willful optimism” about a situation by looking at how we think it could or should be, we are often trying to resist negativity. But looking on the bright (or more convenient) side like this prevents us from seeing reality as it is and it encourages us to make decisions based on how we think things are, rather than as they actually are. Tolle clarifies that creating a falsely positive story is entirely unnecessary and counterproductive; we should instead try to look at the situation at hand without judgment.
“When you see the difference between your voice and the reality of the situation, that’s the beginning of awakening.” —Eckhart Tolle
He adds that this process of awakening/gaining awareness takes time. Indeed, recognizing and distinguishing your thoughts from reality does require ongoing practice. If you are diligent in doing this though, eventually it will become second nature.
☐ Lastly, Tolle asks us to lay down our “weapons.” He emphasizes that we need not battle with our ego. Rather, he says that by simply bringing awareness to our minds, we can create space for new thoughts. So, instead of thinking of our ego as a collection of “bad” things that we need to get rid of, we can simply use the process of noticing to help us transform egoistic thoughts to more accurate and productive ones.
Notice your thoughts, question their truth, and then gently replace them with more accurate reality-based thoughts.
This process is what will mentally get you from “I want to be a lawyer (or insert other fancy thing that you think you want here)” to “I want to have financial freedom. Becoming a lawyer seems appealing and it might get me there,” for example. By distinguishing an idealization-based assertion from reality like this, you have removed the first (and biggest) block to discovering what it is that you truly want.
These instructions from Tolle are invaluable when it comes to gaining awareness of the ego. As he mentions though, this process is not a quick one—in order to achieve a state of being where self awareness is second-nature, we must make a habit of noticing our thoughts. This is also known as practicing mindfulness. And by continually being mindful of our thoughts we can become more in touch with reality, including the reality of what we want. This simple act alone can radically change your life.
Step 2: Learn how to harness the power of your intuition
Have you ever heard a saying similar to “the heart knows what we truly want and need”? For practical purposes, I interpret this as saying that we are truly happy and fulfilled when we simply feel good. It follows from this that the things which we truly want and need are the things that make us feel good.
And one may argue that doing something which feels bad now could eventually lead to something that feels good later. There are several problems with this however: First of all, emotions change. You cannot predict the future so you do not know what will make you feel good later. Even if you are aware of your patterns, they can always change. Second, dopamine and thus happiness doesn’t work like that (see note below). And finally, if you are truly passionate about something (if it is truly what you want), it won’t feel like hard work! So if there are several possible routes to your success and fulfilment (and these days there certainly are), why not discover and take the most authentic one? The one that “feels right” the entire time?
Teal Swan does an unparalleled job of explaining what the intuition is and how to use it in her video “How To Use Your Intuition (The Inner Voice).” In this video, she shares helpful advice on connecting with our intuition.
☐ The first step is to take our attention off of the external world and to place it entirely on the internal word. Swan shares a meditative exercise to help us do this: She invites us to imagine our own skin as being symbolic of the separation between two worlds. Then, she asks us to focus in on and observe the sensations happening in the internal world. This requires us to let go of all judgement and expectation and to be extremely open minded to whatever may come.
☐ Once we’re focused on our internal world, we can then extract meaning from it by translating our observations into something more tangible. In order to do this, we can visualize the experiences that the sensations represent. We can ask ourselves: What colour would this experience be? What texture would it be? Is it moving, or is it still? If we were to see the experience as an image, what would that image look like?
☐ Then, once we’ve visualized this image, we must mentally engage with it as if it were a separate being/entity. Swan tells us to then ask the image questions, like: What are you? What do you want me to know? The answers may not always be what we expect, but Swan encourages us to listen to them wholeheartedly. Our resistance to these answers is the very reason we are disconnected from our true desires in the first place!
☐ The last part of this process is to respond to the image with a conversation; however, this is not a typical conversation—Swan tells us to have a conversation with ourselves. In this part of the process, we are asking ourselves what the image means about us, and in this case, our desires. She encourages us to let this inner dialogue unfold naturally by remaining open-minded about where it takes us. By naturally having this conversation with ourselves, we are acting intuitively.
Do you see anything in common between Eckhart Tolle’s advice and Teal Swan’s? Both teachers emphasize the importance of connecting with our internal processes. Both teachers ask us to listen intently to our inner experiences and to reflect on them. These important processes lay the foundation for the rest of the work outlined in this article.
A note on dopamine
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is associated with feelings of happiness and pleasure. It gets released in your brain when you are rewarded. Many of us spend a great deal of time doing things that are not rewarding. Low dopamine is linked to depression. Think about that. The concept of achieving fulfilment by using your intuition and living a life full of the things that make you feel good is not spiritual “mumbo jumbo.” It’s actually supported by science.
Step 3: Make a list of things that make you feel bad/are bad for you
Now that we’ve brought awareness to our ego and learned how to harness the power of our intuition, we can move on to things that are more concrete. We will now be reflecting on our lives and asking some tough questions.
Unfortunately it is often easier for us to become aware of what we don’t want, than it is to become aware of what we do want. Many of us are already acutely aware of what we don’t want. For this reason, it is better to single out those things first so that we can then mentally “detox” ourselves from them, giving ourselves more space for the good stuff. For this step, we will ask ourselves: What makes me feel bad? Which of my behaviours are unhealthy/bad for me? Then, we will write a list of these things.
Here is an excerpt from my own list, as an example:
- Drinking more than 1 caffeinated drink per day
- Spending big blocks of time around people who talk a lot
- Long, repetitive exercises
- People who invalidate me
- Vacations longer than two weeks
- Sleeping in because I stayed up too late
- Junk food
- When I have more than 2 alcoholic drinks in a day
- When I have to rush because I am committed to too many things
Just by noticing what makes us feel bad and by reflecting on it, we’re getting clearer on what we want in life because we’re ruling out what we don’t want in life. It’s crucial for us to check in with ourselves and evaluate our own patterns like this. Once you have identified these things and written them down, it becomes easier to make the decision to stay away from them and it gives you more mental space to focus on what makes you feel good.
When you’re writing your own list, make sure that you’re writing what feels real to you. If your list seems very different from mine, that’s okay! There is no right or wrong way to do this; you just need to check in with yourself and write what intuitively comes to you. Try not to write what you think other people want to hear. This list needs to be meaningful to nobody but you.
Step 4: Make a list of things that make you genuinely happy
Now that we’ve gotten extra clear on what we don’t want in life, it will be a bit easier for us to figure out what we do want. We can now ask ourselves: What makes me feel good? Which things, people, and environments bring me true joy? Which behaviours are healthy for me? Which behaviours make my life better?
For example, here is an excerpt from my list:
- Drinking tea
- Fresh healthy foods
- Hosting dinner parties
- Moving slowly, planning space in between my commitments
- Making my bed in the morning
- Writing out my thoughts and ideas, solving problems
- Short, spontaneous exercises
- Being outside daily in a yard and garden that is my own
- People who are supportive and who accept me as I am
- Being with pets
- Hiking, forests
Notice how none of these things are extravagant; they are what we often consider to be the ‘simple’ things in life. Most of them don’t take much time or much money to experience. Something as simple as hanging out with our pets or having a cup of tea can bring us genuine happiness.
Again, make sure that you’re writing a list that feels meaningful to you alone. The examples given above are just that – examples. Everyone has different life experience so everyone’s list will look different. What’s important is that you’re really connecting with your inner world and answering the questions honestly.
Step 5: Design your wheel of life
Your wheel of life represents what you want in each distinct area of your life. Use your list from Step 4 of this exercise to create a goal within each area of this circle. Before you begin, think about how satisfied you are in each distinct area of your life and rate your level of satisfaction on a scale from 1-10. If any areas have a rating of 8-10, it may be a good idea to keep those as is and focus on the areas of your life that need more improvement. In order for us to feel truly fulfilled, this wheel should be balanced. That means that you should ideally have about the same (high) level of satisfaction in each area.
Step 6: Decide to NEVER settle for anything other than what is on your “happy” list
This is, perhaps, the most important step of all. Now that we’ve done all of this work, we need to reflect on it. Read over your lists from Steps 3 and 4. Ask yourself: What is the difference between these two lists?
Let’s look at the first items from each one of my lists, for example. On my list of things that make me feel bad and/or are bad for me, I’ve put “Drinking more than 1 caffeinated drink per day.” On my list of things that make me genuinely happy, I’ve put “Drinking tea.” Now, what is the difference between these two behaviours? What is the difference between coffee and tea? On a basic level, caffeine is used as a stimulant, while tea is often sipped as a way to relax (though some teas do have a decent amount of caffeine). It becomes clear then that the meaning which lies behind these two behaviours is very different for me, personally. Drinking multiple cups of coffee throughout the day can often be a great way to maintain my energy. It makes me feel great in the short term—I can focus more on projects and have more efficient conversations. Essentially, it helps me “get more shit done.” The aim here is to be awake and to be productive. On the other hand, drinking tea (especially herbal) can often be a way to unwind. The aim here is to calm down.
Similarly, hanging out with a bunch of superficial people who invalidate us may be a way to move forward in our career or “improve” our social status, but at what cost are we spending our time with these people? Are we losing more than gaining from our time shared with them? Does our social circle make us miserable more often than not? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just spent our time with people who really care about us and who would have our back if we needed it? Why are we not spending our energy on people like that instead?
As I mentioned earlier, our society overemphasizes achievement. We are subliminally taught that our self-worth is determined by our productivity. But our output does not always bring us genuine happiness. Drinking coffee all day is not truly good for me. It is good for the system and society in which I live. Recognize what your own behaviours mean to you. If you are on the path of self-improvement it’s fair to assume that the things on your “feel bad” list are mostly things that serve a superficial, egoistic, and self-destructive purpose. They are not self loving and they will not bring you what you truly want.
In terms of personal fulfillment, productivity is not always the best measure. What is often more important is learning to be gentle with ourselves. And how can we be gentler with ourselves? The term that gets thrown around a lot today is “self-care.” Mindfully drinking a hot cup of tea to unwind is a great example of self-care. Other common examples are: taking a bubble bath, listening to soothing music, meditating, doing yoga, watching a sitcom, etc. The important thing is that these actions come from a place of compassion for ourselves and that they are things which feel good, to us, in the moment—not in some idealized, hypothetical future.
Keep your lists from Steps 3 and 4 in mind to really take stock of your behaviours. Note the differences between the two lists so that you can move forward in an effort to bring yourself more genuine happiness. Make the decision to love yourself now.
And when it comes to choosing the career that is right for you, make sure the things you will actually be doing in that career are things that make you feel good at the time you are doing them. They should be things that you most naturally and intuitively do. Since I was a child I have been making scrapbooks and lists full of my insights on the “best” ways to live. I’m obsessed with solving problems and uncovering the truth, especially when it involves personal development, society, and relationships. It’s something that I couldn’t stop doing even if I tried. In this career, I will never “work” a day in my life.
A note on open-mindedness
Remaining open minded is generally seen as a good thing. However, it can sometimes be rooted in an unhealthy fear of missing out (FoMO). According to recent research, the majority of adult Millennials suffer from very high levels of FoMO. This is problematic, as FoMO is associated with depression, physical symptoms, and negative health outcomes (Baker et al., 2016).
It has been shown time and time again that the more options we have, the less happy we are. And now with the advent of the internet we have more options, information, and opportunities than ever. As a result, we have forgotten the importance of conscious decision-making. This is one of the lesser known reasons as to why we struggle so much with practicing gratitude.
What is conscious decision making? It is when we make a firm decision to keep something in our life, focus on that, and forget about alternatives. When we do this, we will be happier because we are no longer experiencing the mental torment that comes from wondering “what if?” and we will naturally recognize and appreciate the beauty in what we already have.
This article provides another excellent definition of conscious decision making: “[it is when] you are no longer making choices to avoid something, but instead are making choices to create something.” Making conscious decisions about what we want in our life and sticking to them, not only keeps us happy, but it also keeps us focused on creating our ideal life. It frees us from the overwhelm that other alternatives impose on us and shifts our focus to improving the quality of what we already have. And with most things in life, quality is much better than quantity.
The acronym “FoMO” says it all: This way of living is fear-based – and living in fear is not a healthy way to live. When you do not fully accept the good things that you have in your life, it is because you fear missing out on something more or something else. And constantly ruminating on how things could be better is a trap that will keep you always wanting more and more. Because no matter what you have, there can always be some way to improve it.
After everything we’ve gone through in this article, I want you to ask yourself why you chose to read it in the first place. Do you want to manifest something new in your life because you fear that the things you already have are not good enough? Or do you have a genuine desire to create something that you legitimately don’t already have?
One of the most empowering abilities you can develop as an individual is the ability to recognize what is “good enough” and decide to nurture that to be the best it can be. Deciding to keep what is “good enough” in your life is not “settling” (as some say, with a negative connotation). It is shifting from a place of fear, to a place of gratitude; from a place of resistance, to a place of acceptance; from an unhealthy need for control, to a healthy appreciation of what is.
Don’t try to abandon your beautiful, curious, open mind altogether – just learn to recognize when it is doing more harm than good. And, no, I am not saying that you should keep something in your life that you feel is causing you pain. What I am saying is that before removing it, you should first try to identify the source of that pain. Many times the source of that pain is your mind (your interpretation of the situation). If the situation itself can be fixed, fix it. If not, THEN move on. Don’t get caught in the trap of always wanting bigger and better – unless of course you enjoy being unhappy.
Being open minded will bring you new experiences and therefore personal growth. But engaging in a new experience is usually a very easy (and appealing) decision to make. Don’t you agree? Sometimes though, this is because an “open-minded” decision is really a mask for a decision to “take the easy way out” of a difficult situation. If you instead resist that temptation, decide to stick with something you already have, and nurture it to its full capacity, it will force you to grow as a person in ways you never thought possible. It may be less comfortable, but I promise it is so much more rewarding (this is why difficult experiences build character :))
Thinking of breaking up with your partner? Taking that job? Going on a new diet? Running away from society to live off the land? Just make sure your decisions are coming from a healthy, love-based mindset. Recognize the difference between unhealthy “settling” and a healthy, conscious decision.
One final note
If you want to get clear on what exactly it is that you want in a partner (so that you can attract the right one into your life), I recommend repeating the exercise outlined in this article for that purpose alone. I talk more in depth on how to do this in Part 3 of this series.
I sincerely hope that you’ve found this guide helpful. Stay tuned for future posts in the Manifestation series!
Click here to continue to Part 2
Baker, Zachary & Krieger, Heather & LeRoy, Angie. (2016). Fear of missing out: Relationships with depression, mindfulness, and physical symptoms. Translational Issues in Psychological Science. 2. 275-282. 10.1037/tps0000075.