A lot of us have a fixed idea of how our lives “should be.” Perhaps the relationship we hoped for has eluded us, our career is unfulfilling, or we don’t feel connected to the world in a meaningful way. Maybe we feel like a shadow version of the person we know we really are. If any of this sounds familiar to you, now is a good time to contemplate on what it is that you really want, to reassess your goals, and to remind yourself that you are in the driver’s seat of your life. wrong.
Getting real with yourself like this can be a thrilling, liberating, and energizing experience. If you desire change and you’re committed to take action, you will be unstoppable. Here are three steps that can help you make the switch from living your life by default to living your life by design!
1. Give yourself a break.
Too often we give all of our attention to what we feel is lacking in our lives. When we do this, we fail to acknowledge what is right in our lives. As you check in with yourself, you might realize some pretty awesome things that arrived in your life that were unexpected too. No great romantic love in your life? Well, how about all of the love from your friends? Not sure about your career? Think about who you’ve met because of it. Apartment too small? OK, but is it in a city you love? Is it still a marker of your financial independence?
What we choose to focus on expands. Starting with what is working is a critical foundation for you to attract more of what you want into your life. So be kind to yourself, acknowledge what is going your way, and recognize how far you have come. Trust me—if you pay attention, it’s much further than you think.
2. Tell a different story.
Everything shows up for us based on what we believe to be true about what we deserve. There is nothing more preventative from moving ahead than living in the past and continuing negative stories that we tell ourselves: “I am unlucky in love,” “I never have enough money,” “People take advantage of me.” Breaking free of harmful thought patterns takes a solid dose of self-awareness. Mentally tune in to an area of your life that is not satisfying. Ask yourself the thoughts you really think about this area, and be blatantly honest.
For example, I asked a friend who has never had a serious relationship to name the words that came to mind when I said “love, commitment, life-long partnership.” Her response? Words like “rejection,” “entrapment,” and “financial risk.” Well, of course she will never attract love with these thoughts! She needed to “divorce” her belief that men let you down. Think of the people you know who feel the same way about money or health. Get real with the stories you tell yourself—they create your reality. The beauty of it is, only you control your thoughts. And you can write a new story in any moment.
3. Get busy.
Life will never be 100 percent in your control. It can take us all by surprise. Someone once told me that when you consider all the factors (the traffic, the weather, the economy, who your parents are), you can actually control only 20 percent of your life. But you can give 100 percent to that 20 percent. Trusting life’s greater plan does not mean that we have permission to do nothing. We need to be active. We need to be accountable for the things that we have the power to direct.
You can control what you eat and drink. You can control whom you spend time with. You can control how much effort you put into your career. You can control whether or not you proactively date. You can decide which city to live in.
And something magical happens when we take action: Doors open and opportunities come our way. Ask yourself everyday: What can I do today, right now, that is in line with the vision I have for my life? Remember that the future is created in the present moment. What we do today matters.
From personal experience, I can say that many good things are borne out of bad experiences. I lost my father when I was 19, and I was divorced in my early 20s. I would never be the resilient, grateful, present person that I am at age 32 if it weren’t for those life-altering experiences. They allow me to feel much stronger whenever my life feels uncertain. And uncertainty in life is always guaranteed.
In unhappy times, remember the clouds will pass. And the sooner you welcome the sun, the sooner it appears. In my difficult times, I learned what supportive friends I have, how self-reliant I can be, and how limited our time on the planet truly is. I also understood that we are all connected—whatever struggles you experience, other people are going through the same thing. You can dwell on what isn’t going your way, or you can focus on what you have the power to control.
Think about what would happen if you allowed yourself to live in the moment and not judge your current circumstances. How might that feel? Remember that life is not meant to be a series of dreams coming true but a series of lessons to be learned. At some point you just need to let go of what you thought should happen and live in what is happening.
This article originally appeared in Greatist.