5 Toxic Myths That Kill Happiness

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Woman sitting cross legged in nature reflecting

What does it mean to live a guilt-free life? If you Google it, you'll find plenty of opinions that vary greatly. Some people talk about figuring out how to be happy, living life on your terms, and getting comfortable with who you are. Others believe it's about living a life of luxury without feeling guilty. Yet, others claim that it's about learning how to forgive yourself for past faults. Although some of these suggestions are on the right track (you do need to get comfortable in your skin and learn to forgive yourself to let go of guilt), they're only partially correct. 

There's more to it than that. You have to learn how to stop feeling guilty for things you can't control. You deserve to enjoy a life of happiness, too. If you want to live guilt-free, then you must understand what gives you purpose. I'm talking about fulfillment and feeling as though your life has meaning — they're two different things. Purpose and meaning come from:

  • Honoring your core personal values (because those are what give you your identity and are the lens through which you view your life, the world, and your place in the world)
  • Using your inherent strengths, skills, and talents in a way that you enjoy
  • Having deep, meaningful relationships so that you feel connected to others and the world around you

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Here are 5 toxic myths that kill happiness:

1. You put yourself before everyone else, which is selfish

Do you believe that putting your needs first means doing so at the expense of someone or something? If you feel guilt about taking care of yourself or saying "no", then I'm betting that you do (even if you've been unaware of this belief). Let's get something straight: putting your needs first doesn't mean that you're doing so at the expense of other people. It's quite the opposite. When you are your best, then you'll be able to serve others more fully. And that's the point of getting your own needs met.

And when it comes to saying "no", understand that just because someone wants something of you doesn't mean you must always comply. You're not required to help others at the expense of caring for yourself. Saying "no" isn't about the other person, it's about you. You have a right to take care of yourself and to be respected, which is what saying "no" is all about.

2. It's all about you

Some people believe that living without guilt is about doing only what you want, with consequences out the window. But that's not true. Human beings are hard-wired to connect with other people, on a deep level. And part of how you connect with others is to serve and care for them. It's not enough to be cared for, you've got to reciprocate to have deep connections.  This means that there's a balancing act that goes on between your needs and desires and those of other people. This is where your values and inherent strengths come into play. 

Your values aren't just about you, but how you need to treat others to feel good about who you are and how you live your life. So, if you're honoring those values you're also honoring other people. Additionally, part of how you best connect with other people is through your inherent strengths and gifts. Everyone has unique gifts, talents, and strengths — and they're meant to be used. When you use your gifts, you're using them for your benefit and the benefit of others.



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3. Success is about hard work and long hours

Although success does require hard work, that's not necessarily the same thing as working long hours all or most of the time. Hard work is about challenging yourself and learning to push your internal guardrails so that you learn new things (despite any fears). It's more about your mentality and effort than the hours you put in.

Does success sometimes require long hours? Of course. But you won't be successful if you always work because that leads to burnout. Success requires rest and renewal just as much as it requires hard work. And just because you work hard doesn't mean that you'll always succeed. Life doesn't work that way. It's time to redefine success for yourself based on the effort you put in, as opposed to being solely results-oriented. Besides, success should be thought of throughout the entirety of your life. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

4. You can do anything through willpower

Although willpower can be a powerful way to take action, it's not something that works over the long haul. Research shows that willpower depletes with use. This is why you can use your willpower at the beginning of a new year to get up earlier and go to the gym yet... give up in week 4. Unfortunately, too much reliance on willpower eventually leads to failure, guilt, and negative thoughts such as:

  • "Why am I such a failure?"
  • "I could do this before, what's wrong with me that I can't push through and get it done now?"

Instead of relying on willpower, it's better to be clear about what you want and why you want it (to help motivate you) and create conditions within your environment and through rituals or routines that help create commitment and make it easier to succeed.

5. Productivity is about proper time management and pushing through

Is time management important? Sure. Yet it's not as important as you believe. And do you need to push through no matter what? Not. Your productivity levels are determined primarily by your choices and your ability to prioritize. Do you say "yes" to too much and are therefore stressed out and overwhelmed? That's going to have a BIG negative impact on your productivity.

Are you procrastinating doing something or trying to be a perfectionist? Again, you won't be very productive if you keep putting stuff off or trying to be perfect (because that will never happen). This leads to a life of emergencies, which is unsustainable.

Do you prioritize what's truly important or find yourself hopping from one "little" thing to another? If you find yourself feeling exhausted at the end of the day yet wondering why you got nothing done, then this is you. To be most productive, you need to:

  • prioritize rest and renewal (and get healthy breaks throughout the day);
  • understand what's truly important and then do the most important work (while putting everything else off, delegating it, or dropping it entirely); and
  • not get caught up in perfectionism or procrastination.

Now that you know what it means to live without guilt, how do you do that? How do you stop self-doubt and fear from getting in the way? Learning how to be happy and living without guilt takes 4 steps.

Here are 4 steps to being happier:

1. Transform your inner chaos into calm 

Your first step involves overcoming overwhelm, zapping stress, and creating a calm mind so that you can stop the unceasing chatter going on in your head that's cluttering up your thinking. To do this, you must learn to prioritize simple self-care. Get started by utilizing mindfulness techniques that retrain your brain to think more positively and create space for you to think. This is the best way to jump off the hamster wheel you've been on (and stay off). Here are a few mindfulness exercises to get you started:

  • Practice gratitude every day by writing down at least 3 things that you're grateful for (no repeats!). This will change your thinking over time because you'll be actively looking for things to be grateful for.
  • Use affirmations to help change your thoughts and overcome your fears. For these to best work, be sure that you're specific and realistic.
  • Meditate for 10-12 minutes at least 5 times per week.

The best part about this step is how simple it is. Self-care and mindfulness can be easily integrated into your daily routine without taking up a lot of time. Yet, they will start to transform your high-stress, soul-sucking lifestyle into one that's calm and relaxed.



RELATED: What True Happiness Tangibly Looks Like, According To Experts

2. Clarify what you want and why you want it 

Now that your mind isn't so chaotic and you've got space to think, you'll be amazed at how much easier it is to get clarity around what you want and how you want to get there. Much of your problem revolves around the fact that you're not giving your mind enough space to think through problems and issues. When you're overwhelmed and stressed, so is your mind (and it's not able to function properly). This involves 3 parts:

  • Clarify your core personal values

Your core personal values are your guide to making decisions for yourself, your career, and even your family that you'll feel good about. Honoring your values in how you live your life (through your choices and behavior) is the foundation of trusting yourself, building self-confidence, and no longer second-guessing your decisions. This is why you must identify your core personal values and define exactly what they mean to you. But it's not enough to define them. You must live them. That means using them as a compass for how you make decisions for your life, setting values-based goals, and living your life in a way that honors your values and doesn't conflict with them.

  • Identify your strengths and how you enjoy utilizing them

Once you've discovered your core values, take time to define your inherent strengths and identify how they give you joy. Please note that I'm not talking about skills here but about the unique gifts and strengths that make you who you are. For example, are you a natural leader (like my son, Noah)? Do you readily see patterns no one else does or devise simple solutions out of what seems complex to everyone else (as I do)? What are your inherent strengths and how do you like to use them?

For clues, look at what others say about you. What internal strengths are you naturally good at that people come to you for? Trust me, you have them. Be sure to keep in mind how you enjoy using your strengths and gifts. You want to use them in a way that has you jumping out of bed in the morning ready to go, instead of hitting snooze 5 times before dragging yourself out of bed.

  • Create your vision

Once you know your values and your strengths, create your vision for your life and how you want to live. This is your road map forward for where you want to go, what you want to achieve, and how you want to live your life. And it's what helps you to determine what success means to you, from the inside-out.

When creating your vision, think about how you can leverage your values and your strengths to make a bigger impact on the work you do and in people's lives. Also, consider what will help you feel passionate about and energized by your life. Finally, think about what you want people to remember you for. What legacy do you want to leave and how would you like to achieve that in how you live your life, even in the small and simple things?

3. Develop a success mindset

A success mindset is willing to fail, prioritizes learning and growth, and is rooted in mental resilience and self-confidence. This is what allows you to start living your life according to your vision. It gives you the courage to move forward despite your fears. That doesn't make you fearless — that's not truly possible. But, it is possible to develop enough faith and self-confidence in yourself so that you're willing to take calculated risks and move forward despite being afraid. The question becomes, how do you do this? You do it by:

  • Implementing mindfulness techniques aimed at boosting self-confidence (which you've already started to do in the first above).
  • Honoring your core values in your decision-making (this gives you more self-confidence and courage).
  • Accepting that you're not always going to feel comfortable and that failure is okay so that you can adopt a growth-oriented mindset. You can utilize self-affirmations that are oriented toward this to help you.
  • Uncovering and challenging hidden beliefs and assumptions that fuel your fears and create self-doubt. This takes time, and a willingness to be vulnerable, and often is best done with a partner such as a coach (and sometimes even a therapist).

Cultivating the right mindset will help you to powerfully stand up for yourself, say “no” without guilt, and achieve your full potential by embracing your strengths, your values, and your voice.

4. Make a long-term commitment to yourself

This step is about utilizing effective strategies to maintain focus, be as productive as possible, and power up your mental presence so that your mind doesn't wander. This is where you choose to take your first (and then next) step. And it's where you choose to go even deeper into utilizing mindfulness for stronger communication, relationship, and leadership skills.

Finally, it's where you decide what productivity strategies truly work for you (not all will) and how you want to incorporate them into your life now that you've simplified it greatly. This step is about making a commitment to yourself for the long term by doing what's necessary to continue along the path you've chosen. It's what will give you control over your life. It's time that you started living a guilt-free life yourself, don't you think? Take these steps and I promise that you will.

RELATED: 20 Things Happy People Do Way Differently

Heather Moulder is a career and life coach and founder of Course Correction Coaching. She specializes in helping professional women have both a successful career and happy home life with real work-life balance.

This article was originally published at Course Correction Coaching. Reprinted with permission from the author.