“A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us.” – Pema Chödrön
What thoughts or images come to mind when you consider what a healthy lifestyle is all about? For many people, the concept of a healthy lifestyle conjures up ideas about physical well-being and how to best maintain it. I wholeheartedly agree that the physical fitness of our bodies is linked to both building and increasing optimal functioning over time. When the body is healthy and in a balanced state of relative homeostasis, it is not uncommon for the mental, emotional, and interpersonal realms of life to feel similarly balanced and at peace. However, the necessary building blocks of the optimal you encompass more dynamic and intangible aspects of wellness than you are likely to find in a gym.
You are much more than a physical body. No matter how many miles you run, weights you lift, or diets you follow, physical health and fitness alone are not generally sufficient to cultivate your optimal self. By this, I refer to the mental image housed in your mind of the best version of yourself… your ideal self. I hesitate to use the word potential, as that word is sometimes associated with abilities or achievements that can be measured by various sorts of external yardsticks. Rather than thinking about your ideal self in terms of reaching your potential – however one may define the term – consider the optimal version of yourself as an integrated, coherent manifestation of your personal traits, values, and aspirations into reality. This unique vision of your ideal self is for you – and you alone – to imagine, shape, and mold into reality. In that sense, you are filled with practically limitless potential.
Core Components of the “Optimal You”
The core building blocks involved in developing the ‘optimal you’ include a diverse set of skills, attitudes, and lifestyle choices. Try reading through the following essential components of personal development (adapted from Hodges, 2010). Pause to notice what aspects of personal development stand out to you as areas of strength, along with what areas may benefit from additional growth or attention. Remember that not all components of personal development will be of importance to each person, and that an important step towards constructing your ideal self is about getting in touch with your authentic values. For instance, perhaps spirituality / religion is of little personal importance to you… or maybe it is the most important value your ideal self holds. Both responses, and anywhere in between, are perfectly okay.
- Spirituality / Religion
- Personal Vision
- Self Worth
- Setting Goals
- Thinking Rationally
- Emotional Intelligence
- Fitness / Recreation
- Healthy Diet
- Mindful Living
- Stress Management
- Sense of Self
- Family / Cultural Connection
- Career Development
- Social Life
When connecting with your true values, take time to pause, reflect, and become mindfully attuned to what is truly most important to you. If it matters to you a great deal, then it is likely something you highly value… if it feels rather unimportant to you personally, this may not be something you highly value. There is no judgment when it comes to your personal values clarification process. When your values and behaviors are out of alignment, you may experience an internal sense of discomfort, or cognitive dissonance. Fortunately, this inner sense of discomfort is an opportunity to listen to your intuition, tap into wise mind, and pay attention to how you can begin to shift your thoughts and behaviors to more accurately reflect your core values.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell if you are striving to build your ideal self as a result of societal pressures, expectations from others, or from your own inner wisdom. It’s natural to internalize ideas about who you are, who you are supposed to be, or who you are not supposed to be based on messages from your earliest relationships… the ones with primary caregivers, or attachment figures. You may have received inaccurate mirroring, emotional invalidation, or inconsistent attunement within the context of these early relationships, which can make it more difficult to get a solid grasp on your core sense of self as an adult. Although it may be difficult, it is attainable… and an incredibly worthwhile journey of self-discovery.
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- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): Handouts and Worksheets by Russ Harris
- Mind Tools: What Are Your Values? Deciding What’s Most Important in Life
- Carnegie Mellon University: Values Exercise
Hodges, S. (2010). Counseling practicum and internship manual: A resource for graduate counseling students. New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.
Featured image: 9032013 by Amanda T Photos 🙂