“Goodness is the only investment that never fails.” ~Henry David Thoreau
A few years ago I found myself on the floor of my apartment with a bottle of Jack Daniel's, feeling miserable.
In fact, I had felt that way for a while. My four-year relationship had collapsed, work was losing its meaning, and I felt deeply misunderstood, unloved, and lonely. Money was tight; I was overweight, lethargic, and confused; and my future seemed blurry.
But then, something changed.
I decided to shift my perspective and see what my life would be like if I stopped beating myself up over “not being good enough” and accepted who I was.
I made a decision that I am good and committed to testing this theory out. And it worked!
Since years of self-rejection didn't do much for me, I had nothing to lose. My decision to accept my own goodness transformed the way I saw and lived life. People were no longer threatening and challenges became opportunities.
For example, when I didn't get into the grad school of my choice, instead of thinking of myself as unworthy, I decided to view it as a sign that I was meant to do something slightly different. (Years later this proved to be true, and I am so glad that things did not pan out as expected.)
I also moved away from victimization to acceptance. I focused on taking care of myself. Instead of beating myself up over missed deadlines or unachieved goals, I intentionally paid attention to all that I did achieve every day.
I meditated and gave myself enough sleep, quality food, and exercise. I stopped watching a lot of TV and read more. I also expressed gratitude and shared company with people who enriched my life and reinforced my goodness.
Since then, my life has transformed and happiness has prevailed. As a result, I have become a better partner, friend, and leader, and a more thoughtful human being.
I also began wondering what the world would look like if we all had an opportunity to accept, embrace, and live out our own goodness. Can we all get there? The answer is a resounding yes! And here are some steps to do it.
1. Choose goodness.
Make a decision that you are fundamentally good, and commit to it. This sounds hard, especially if you spent most of your life feeing the opposite. Start by saying several times out loud “I am good.”
The voice inside your head may disagree, but remember: the voice you hear is not you; the being that hears the voice is you. So, quiet the voice by asking, “Why not?” Then, play a movie of your life and see if you can find a single example of your goodness.
Even if your emotions don't agree, use your intellect and then practice this exercise daily. Your emotions will catch up. Just like with building muscles, it takes time, but this exercise does work.
2. Understand goodness.
Being fundamentally good does not mean we won't make mistakes. I make plenty, all the time. Being good means that we deserve good things in life, and we deserve love. With self-love, anything is possible.
If you have a hard time with this, think of your younger, innocent self. Does that being deserve love? Or, think about yourself through the lens of someone who loves you. Why would they love you so if you weren’t worthy?
3. Practice, practice, practice.
Deciding that you are good is hard, but acting on that awareness is even harder. Commit to practice your goodness every single day. Catch yourself when you think negatively about yourself. Make a plan to get yourself out of unhealthy relationships or break bad habits. Treat yourself well, and demand that others do the same.
4. Develop rituals.
Take the time to journal, meditate, read inspirational books, pray, paint, volunteer, recite poetry, or regularly engage in any activity that will remind you and reinforce your goodness.
5. Set up reminders.
Soon after I made my decision, I changed my license plates to read “I AM GOOD.” I knew I would see it at least twice a day and be reminded of my newfound truth. Even on those extraordinarily busy days when you miss your rituals, these small reminders will keep you on track.
6. Talk to people.
Tell people about the concept of fundamental goodness. They will reaffirm its truth, or you will change their life too. In either case, the right people will support you in your quest for goodness.
7. Live boldly.
Give generously, love unconditionally, laugh loudly, and communicate openly. Whatever you do, give it your all. Living in such a way will reinforce your goodness.
The paradox is that you cannot really live fully unless you believe in your own goodness. If you don’t believe in your fundamental goodness, you will constantly question your decisions, your worthiness, the quality of your contribution, and other people too.
You are also likely to live with a lot of anxiety, which will consume you from time to time.
By actually doing more of giving, loving, laughing, communicating, and so on, you will be reinforcing your own goodness and growing your belief in it.
8. Dream big and dare greatly.
When we focus on our struggles, we lose sight of the truly important things in life. On the other hand, when we dream big and dare greatly, we have no choice but to trust our goodness as we find ways to achieve our dreams and take risks.
Now, keep in mind that taking risks and daring greatly does not mean we pursue things that might gain us approval of others; it means we seek out those things that matter the most to us.
A lot of traditionally successful people are miserable and full of self-loathing. On the other hand, a lot of obscure people are fully content and accomplished. Dreaming big means we dream our own dreams, not those imposed by the society, our family, or someone else.
9. Stop questioning and get busy.
I love asking a “why” question. But don't ask a “why” that is harmful; ask a “why” that is helpful. Don't ask, “Why would I be good?” Ask, “Why wouldn't I be?” And if you can't stop questioning, make a decision and move on. Stop revisiting it.
We've been conditioned to doubt ourselves. Doubt something else, but not your goodness.
10. Be mindful.
People often ask “How are you?” without waiting for a reply. Regardless, I love responding: “I am good!” It's not so much for their benefit as it is for my own. The more I repeat it, the more I believe in it.
Additionally, how I respond to this question is a good indicator of how I feel that day. My response gives me a chance to catch myself. If I say, “I'm okay” or “Not too bad,” that's a sign something isn't quite right and I need to evaluate what's really happening.
That said, being fundamentally good and accepting this goodness does not mean that we sometimes won’t feel bad, get annoyed or angry, or even lash out. Just today, I got into an argument with a good friend. We each said some hurtful things and I feel bad about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are both good.
Once upon a time, a Native American elder was telling his grandson a story of two wolves that live in each one of us and wage a daily struggle for dominance in our lives.
One wolf is filled with love, joy, hope, peace, gratitude, optimism, generosity, understanding, humility, kindness, truth, faith, and compassion. The other is a reflection of bitterness, envy, anger, sorrow, guilt, greed, arrogance, self-pity, inferiority, lies, ego, selfishness, and judgment.
Their struggle is constant, their determination to win unwavering.
“So, which wolf wins?” asked the grandson.
The grandfather responded, “The one you feed.”
We all have a choice to accept our own goodness and nurture it every day. We can all embrace the best within us and choose happiness over sadness. Which wolf will you feed today?
Joyous man image via Shutterstock