Preview the Book

Winner of 4 National Book Awards!
Available worldwide in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Preview the Introduction and Chapter 3!

INTRODUCTION

Living the Life You Love. It’s what we all want to be doing, isn’t it? But how do we get there? How do we find what ignites our passion and makes our hearts sing, and start living that life? How do we transform the life we have into one we just can’t wait to jump out of bed and enjoy living every day?

Well, that’s what this book is all about, giving you a way to find out what your dream life really looks and feels like, why you’re not already living it and how you can. It’s first and foremost about understanding you—the real you. It’s like a true best friend who’ll wrap an arm around your shoulders and tell it like it is. A friend who’ll tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to. Then, with a solid “you can do this” pat on the back, she’ll hand you a step-by-step guide to find your own answers—and solutions. It may sting a bit from time to time, but if you’ll stay strong and keep digging, the insights you discover will speed your progress faster toward joy than you ever imagined possible.

I offer you this tough-love approach because it worked for me in a way that all the commiserating, sympathy, positive spinning and “let it go” talk never could. I wanted my life to be different and daydreamed about how I wished things were, but nothing ever changed. No matter how happy I said I was—or how loudly I complained that I wasn’t—my problems remained.

My in-your-face moment came after I had regaled my longtime best friend with yet another rendition of “poor me.” When I finally took a breath, she said to me, “Isn’t it great that for the rest of your life, no matter who you tell that story to, they’ll say, ‘You poor thing.’ And you, my friend, can be a victim forever!”

Well, that stopped me in my tracks! But I couldn’t get mad about it, because I knew it was true. So, right then and there, I changed my way of thinking—about the situation and about myself. I vowed never to see myself as a victim or tell that story ever again.

It was a huge step, but there were more to be made, and I did not make such stellar progress in other areas of my life. As you will soon see, I kept myself trapped and in pain far longer than even I can believe. Looking back, I wish someone had sat me down, eyeball to eyeball, and said something like this:

“Look, I know you’re in pain, and I hate seeing you hurt. I’ve done everything I know to try to help you. I have listened and sympathized. I have offered suggestions and recommendations. I have sent you websites, books, CDs and movies to help get you through this. Nothing is working. So, because I care about you and I care about myself, I am going to tell you that you have to make a choice. You can choose to stay in pain if you want to. It’s your life. But if you do, I will assume that your situation and your pain are what you want, and I will honor your right to keep them. I will no longer make suggestions about things you can do to feel better, nor will I suggest that you change anything about your life. I will also no longer listen to you complain about your drama, because it serves no purpose. Either do what you need to do to change what you need to change, or admit that you don’t want to and shut up about it.”

Ouch. Yes, it would really hurt to have your best friend say that sort of thing. But it could also be exactly what you need to snap you out of denial and get you moving forward. I’ll never know if it would have made a difference for me back then. I hope it will make a difference for you now.

A lot of material is packed into these pages, but you won’t find any highbrow theories that sound great when you read them and not so great when you try to put them into practice. What you’ll find are simple concepts, including real-world examples, to help you evaluate your own situation, along with practical tools to put them to use. It’s a crash course in self-discovery—a way to map where you’ve been and where you want to go, and to uncover the roadblocks keeping you from getting there.

As you read this book, take what feels good to you and start doing it. Keep working with it as you move on to the next thing that feels appropriate, and continue to add more techniques to your toolbox as you go. What speaks to you one moment may be completely different in the next, so just go with it and trust that you’ll get what you need when you need it. Go back through the book as many times as you need to. You’ll probably get something different each time, depending on what’s going on in your life and what you need most at that point.Take responsibility

Each chapter offers opportunities to identify the chinks in your armor; however, you don’t have to go in any particular order to benefit from this book. You can start at the end and work your way backward. Or you can just randomly open the book and see if there’s something inspiring for you in that particular section at that particular time. Make it easy. Find what works for you and use it.

A word of warning here: This is called the No-Nonsense Guide for a reason. If you don’t find something in this book that triggers some important emotional reaction, then you don’t need to be reading it! If something you read gets your hackles up or strikes you as completely ludicrous, celebrate!

What actually happens when you get that emotional hit is that something you’ve just read has triggered a limiting belief and you’ve reacted to it. That’s great! Don’t fight it. Don’t ignore that little cringe of discomfort or twinge of anger. Write down everything that comes to mind, such as “There is no way that’s right because…” or “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard; everyone knows…” Embrace every thought, because what comes out in these precious moments can give you more insight into yourself than you ever dreamed possible. You’ll also find that the insights will start to snowball on you. You’ll like discovering why you do what you do and realizing that you can change it if you want to.

Choosing the no-nonsense, tough-love approach takes courage. It’s hard to take that first look in the mirror and not blink, but it’s absolutely essential. It’s also critical to remember that while this is about facing hard truths, it’s not about beating yourself up over where you are in this moment. We all have made plenty of mistakes, and if we had time machines we’d probably go back for some do-overs. But we can’t, and keeping our shame and guilt fresh serves no one.

So, take the loving approach for yourself, as well as for those you wish you’d done better by. Do the tough work and move on. Acknowledge the past, accept responsibility for your part in it, then forgive yourself and focus on making better choices now.

This book gives you the tools to do all that and more. They work, and it’s my hope that by using them you will find your way much better and faster than I did. I do want to make it perfectly clear that I don’t profess to have mastered everything in this book—or that I don’t have plenty more to learn. I still get angry. I still behave in reactive ways. And, I still use the techniques in this book to deal with my challenges. Today, however, it doesn’t hurt like it did at first. It’s fun… most of the time.

At the end of each chapter, you’ll find a “Transformation Insight” section where you’ll apply the concepts in the chapter to your own situation. Some are short and some are fairly long. All have a purpose, and I encourage you to be tough and make yourself really work with them. Even if you think the answers seem obvious or the questions silly, do it anyway. By taking the time and letting your thoughts—any thoughts—come to the forefront, you can find out what’s really calling the shots in your life.

Be sure you have something to record your insights on. You can use the space provided in this book or you can use a separate journal, digital document or whatever works for you. Restaurant napkins, scraps of paper and envelope backs are less desirable, but do whatever it takes. The process of writing it down is important—do it!

Okay, it’s time to get to work. Let’s go! The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be living the life you truly love!

 

CHAPTER 3

Just Love Yourself?

Any time I started feeling confused, anxious or in turmoil over something, I grabbed respect by the throat and demanded answers.

I gave a talk recently on how to put your transformation on fast forward, and during the question-and-answer period, a man from the audience commented on how much he liked my presentation, but said that none of my suggestions were necessary if you just loved yourself. I understood what he meant, but I’m not sure he did. The more he talked, the clearer it became that he liked the idea of loving yourself, but didn’t really know what to do with the concept in his own life. As with all of us, saying the words was one thing—living them was quite another.

Twisted Thinking

My mother used the “love yourself” phrase on me when I was growing up, presumably whenever what I’d done had seriously undershot the mark. But no matter how many times she said it, I never understood how loving myself would have fixed things. Besides, it seemed like pointless advice anyway. Didn’t we all love ourselves by default?

A good friend gave me the best explanation I’ve ever heard. He said it was treating yourself the way you would treat the person you cared about most in the whole world. I like that. In practice, however, the transference thing proved cumbersome for me. Having to stop and decide if what I was about to do would be appropriate for someone else before I did it for myself was beyond my abilities—or at least my patience. Besides, if I did that, wouldn’t it make me selfish, self-absorbed, narcissistic, egotistical, vain or greedy?

The answer was no, and I understood why, but I still couldn’t make the concept work. That one little four-letter word—love—kept tripping me up. It has so many different meanings and nuances, varying with the situation and the person interpreting it, that make it tough to pin down. “I love this pie” has a different level of emotion and meaning than “I love my husband,” or so one would presume. But maybe not. And dare we even mention adding the word “unconditional” into the mix?

Now, I realize the title of this book is Living the Life You Love, and what I’m saying may seem contradictory, but it really isn’t. It’s easy for me to grasp loving my life, particularly because I know what it means and how it feels when I’m not loving it—that, I get. Granted, I’ve had plenty of moments when I hated myself, but that still didn’t make the “love yourself” concept work in my head. Then again, how could it, given my programming and beliefs? In my world, “love” was something you could only get from someone else and could only give by giving up your sense of self. Try to plug those meanings into the phrase love yourself and make it work. Exactly, you can’t.

love and respectA Respectable Option

Given the programming I had to work with, “love yourself” was not a motivating factor for me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything that made any better sense. Then one day I started noticing the words I used when I talked about my marriage and the rebound relationship that came after it. I heard myself saying things like “If I’d had a shred of self-respect I never would have done what I did.”

That’s when the lightbulb came on. Respect! I could wrap my mind around that. Love might have myriad meanings, but respect was clear-cut in my mind. There was no worry about slipping into selfishness or egotistical behavior either, because respect didn’t have those kinds of connections. It worked for me—and had been working for a while. I just hadn’t understood what I’d been doing until I finally heard myself say it enough times.

With my new awareness, I realized I could start using respect on purpose. The first thing I did was take a brutal inventory of how I hadn’t respected myself in my life. It was neither brief nor pleasant. In fact, it was horrible to admit what I’d done and allowed. But it was necessary. Once I realized how I’d stripped myself of self-respect, I knew what I had to do—and not do—to get it back.

To keep myself straight on that, I made respect my mantra. I ran it in my head like a ticker tape, whispered it like a prayer and shouted it as a vow. And, yes, I also spelled it out in song and dared the world to find out what it meant to me. Any time I started feeling confused, anxious or in turmoil over something, I grabbed respect by the throat and demanded answers.

Riddle Me This

I started looking myself in the mirror and asking: Would a person with high self-esteem and self-respect do what I’m doing? Consider what I’m considering? Think what I’m thinking? Tolerate what I’m tolerating?

And then, I asked myself an even more important question—why? Why would someone who respected herself do that? Why wouldn’t she?

Knowing why what you’re doing is respectful to yourself—or why it isn’t—is critical. By having the courage to answer that one little question, you’ll get amazing insights into what’s really going on in the situation—and in your subconscious programming. If you’ll let yourself dig down to the bottom layer of truth, you’ll know what serves you and what doesn’t—and what you need to do about it.

There’s one more question that will also help keep you pointed toward happiness. It’s simple too, and pretty obvious, but it’s important to consider and it opens the door for even more insights: Does this get me closer to what I really want? Again, after you have your yes or no answer, dig in to the why of it.

As you work with these questions, you’ll begin to see things you haven’t been able to before. New thoughts and insights will come up—let them. Even if they make you cringe or feel like you’ve been punched in the gut, honor—and write down—every thought and feeling. The ones you don’t want to face are the very ones you must. Your job is to get clear on the way things are, not the way you pretend they are.see ourselves

Remember, just because you recognize reality and admit the truth about a situation doesn’t mean you have to turn your life upside down this very minute because of it. The only thing you have to do right now is gather information.

 

Transformation Insight #3

Think about a situation where you felt in turmoil, where you felt stuck or tied up in knots and didn’t know what to do. Use the top section of the form below and describe what was going on. Then, below that, list the choices you had. For each of those choices, answer the following questions:

1. Would a person with high self-esteem and self-respect do this? Why or why not?

2. Does this get me closer to my goal? Does it get me closer to what I really want? Why or why not?

For instance, if you were facing a challenge at work, you might describe a situation where you were being asked to do something you didn’t feel good about for one reason or another. List all the choices you have for dealing with the situation. For each, decide if it’s something a person with self-respect would do and then explain why. And then you have to decide if it gets you closer to your goal. Now, as we know, this is a tricky question and you have to be clear on what you really want. If you are determined to keep your job at any cost, your answer may be different than it would be if you had the goal to work in an environment where you were happy and fulfilled.

Start with a situation you’ve already experienced and know the outcomes your choice created so you get a feel for how it works. Then, try it on a situation you’re facing right now.

Describe situation

Choice considered

Self-respect?

Why or why not?

Closer to goal?

Why or why not?

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Yes/No

Use these questions and this template as a filter—a litmus test of sorts—any time you feel unsure about making a particular decision, catch yourself in a mental loop of faulty thinking or find yourself in a situation that’s causing you pain. Try it on anything!

book cover awards on side“All the benefits of serious therapy in one book!” -Amy Wood, PsyD, Life Your Way