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Follow Your Own Inner Compass

Every day, we absorb literally hundreds of messages from advertising, marketing, social media and TV. (If you live in a big city, it could even be thousands!)

Without even realizing it, we take in so many opinions, beliefs, judgments and assumptions that don’t belong to us, and we internalize them.

These messages can apply to everything—from how we define success, to what we “should” be desiring for our lives, to what “beautiful” means and whether or not we fit that ideal.

Choose to follow your own compass.

It takes practice, but it’s possible to identify the messages we’ve absorbed that don’t belong to us, detach from them, and start deciding for ourselves how we really want to think and feel about ourselves and how we look.

What perspectives feel good? What feels pleasurable, affirming, and satisfying?

I’ve started asking myself those questions—and making the answers to those questions more important than the messages I’m receiving from outside.

But that process takes intention, choice, and practice, because our society doesn’t encourage us to follow our own compass.

Our society encourages us to listen to those advertisers’ messages instead, because most advertisers sell us stuff by making us feel like something is wrong with us. They have decided that strategy works for them, and it helps them sell their products.

But we have a choice about whether we go along with that mindset.

We can choose to either live our lives subject to all the negative messages we’re getting from outside—regardless of whether they make us feel good or not. Or, we can follow our own compass, choose core beliefs that feel pleasurable and supportive, and decide how we want to feel day to day.

Here are a few habits that I’ve found helpful on this journey…

Look at the belief behind the feeling.

When I’m feeling bad about myself, it’s easy to believe that all those feelings are just inevitable.

It’s easy to think I’m just reacting to some unchangeable truths: “I don’t like those lines on my forehead.” “I have to put up with this stress, there’s no choice.” “Ugh, my arms aren’t the shape I want.”

But those thoughts are actually reactions to beliefs, not truths.

If I don’t like the lines on my face, it’s because I’m carrying a belief that lines are unattractive.

If I feel like I have to put up with toxic stress, it’s because I’m carrying a belief that I can’t do anything to change my circumstances. Or possibly, I believe the only way I can find relief is by changing my life more radically than is feasible right now.

If I’m hating on my arms, it’s because I’ve absorbed some standard about what arms are supposed to look like.

So when I find myself dissatisfied with something about myself or my life, I’ll pull out my journal and do a little writing to figure out what belief is behind that feeling.

Often, as soon as I start examining the ideas behind it, I discover that belief doesn’t belong to me at all.

It’s just some idea I internalized along the way somewhere. As soon as I have that perspective, it’s a lot easier to let go of the belief that doesn’t really belong to me.

Cut down on negative messages where you can.

This one is tough in this day and age—we are literally bombarded, constantly, with information, interaction, and messaging.

Between our phones, our computers, our social media, and our TVs—not to mention the billboards we drive or walk by every day—we are subject to a constant flow of information.

It’s easy to default to staying plugged in to all those messages. But being plugged in means we’re subject to a steady stream of messages that aren’t coming from ourselves.

I’ll be honest: I am totally addicted to my phone.

It’s legitimately tough not to check my notifications first thing in the morning, or stay up later than I should surfing the news, today’s stories, and articles.

But I feel so much better when those first and last moments in the day belong to me, and I can tune into how I feel rather than listening to messages from outside.

I’ve been practicing keeping my phone in a different room in the morning and at night. Out of sight, out of mind—and I can quiet down the outside for a while and follow my inner compass.

Practice being inside your skin, not outside it.

As women, we are socialized to look at ourselves from the outside, all the time.

From a young age, we have such a relationship with the mirror. We look at ourselves, study how we measure up,and try to match our own reflections with what we’ve seen in magazine pages and commercials.

All of those habits put us outside ourselves, identifying with those messages, rather than tuning in to how we feel, and how we want to feel, inside.

Knowing how strongly I’ve been encouraged to stand outside and look at myself, I’ve been trying to practice intentionally doing the opposite: feeling how I feel inside my skin.

I’ve started paying attention to how my skin, my face, my body feel from inside. I now tune in to what makes me feel good. And then listening to those messages, and acting on what they tell me.

For instance, when I feel worn down, I no longer criticize the bags under my eyes. Instead, I feel the tiredness from the inside, and I find time to rest or take a nap.

When I feel energetic, radiant, and joyful, I don’t look in the mirror to track whether I look as beautiful as I feel. Instead I tune in to what’s going on inside, how I’m inhabiting my body and my skin, and how I can support that feeling so it shows up more often.

How have you learned to follow your own compass—especially as you’ve aged? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

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