“Embrace this one solitary truth — you were born to become the-best-version-of-yourself .” -Matthew Kelly
All of us desire to become our best selves. Maybe you don’t say it like that. Terminology and semantics aside, we’re pointing to the same thing, living with greater passion and purpose, integrity, joy and peace, among others.
This desire is on full display every new year. Every year, as the calendar turns from December to January, roughly 40% of Americans decide to become a better version of themselves. By February, almost everyone returns to business as usual. Except for that way too serious friend who treats New Year’s Resolutions as a life or death matter. You know the one. If he makes a resolution to run three times a week, then by God it’s happening, rain, sun or apocalypse. Their stick-to-itiveness is disgusting.
Sorry, I’m bitter.
When it comes to our best self, it’s natural to set goals. But sometimes becoming a better you is about removing, not adding. Too often, we try to move forward without letting go, plunging on that quest to our best or true self without first assessing whether our first step forward should actually a step back. I’m speaking of those toxic habits and behaviors that prevent us from becoming who we were created to be.
These habits are both universal, and until you let them go, becoming your best self is little more than a pipe dream.
1. Let go of finding your identity in what you do.
The two most common questions people ask me are “What’s your name?” and “What do you do?” In America the line between who you are and what you do is blurry, at best, non-existent, at worst.
Our country elevates performers and achievers, which is fine, until you transpose these values onto God. I’m all for hard work and hustle, but God’s grace and love can’t be earned. There are no ladders in God’s economy.
2. Let go of blaming others for your problems.
This takes a host of different forms. Scapegoating. Projecting. Victimizing. Playing the victim.
Those who experience God and leave lasting legacies see through the false power that comes from blaming. You must take control of your life and choices if you want to experience true life on any level.
3. Let go of meeting everyone else’s needs while neglecting your own.
While I’m forever grateful for the American church, it hasn’t done us any favors here. I’ve listened to an embarrassingly high number of sermons, and I can count on one hand how many I’ve heard about taking care of your own needs. On the flip side, I would need all the fingers in Sacramento County to count the ones I’ve heard about serving and sacrificing your own needs.
The Bible, specifically Jesus, talks much about humility and serving, and we should have the same mind as Christ. But I can’t say this clearly enough. There’s nothing noble about serving other people at the expense of your own needs. Jesus never made healing the sick his purpose, and he often retreated from the crowds to be alone.
Sometimes, the most faithful thing you can do is say “No.”
Self-care is not self-absorption
Self-care is not self-absorption. You can’t meet the needs of every person. Learn the virtue of receiving from others and resting.
4. Let go of perfectionism.
Perfectionism hides under the guise of excellence and accomplishment. It’s the unrelenting belief that you will find love, acceptance, and meaning by either looking perfect or doing things perfectly.
Perfectionism is highly addictive, mostly because it offers an unattainable goal…perfection. It’s also highly destructive. When you experience shame or failure, perfectionism says you weren’t perfect enough and should try harder, essentially doubling down on the addiction and self-destruction.
5. Let go of wanting everyone to like you.
Everyone has a desire to be liked, but this desire is unrealistic and quite frankly not something worth pursuing. If being liked was a worthy goal, Jesus failed miserably (his own family called him crazy and his own people crucified him). For everyone to like you, you must remain silent against any injustice, live for everyone else, and choose reputation over integrity.
And, ironically, those people probably don’t like themselves very much.
6. Let go of allowing your emotions to control your actions.
Peter Scazzero says, “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” I think he’s right. You can memorize lots of Scripture, practice prayer and meditation daily and evangelize your entire neighborhood, but if you can’t control your emotions, love, joy and peace will seem more like an eternal game of Hide and Seek than infinitely available divine virtues.
Emotions are great teachers. They’re terrible leaders. Write that down.
Your emotions are not who you are, and without the practice of detachment (separating emotions and feelings from reality), you will mostly react to life’s circumstances and a ride constant roller coaster of mood swings. Don’t ignore or suppress your emotions. Please don’t hear me say that. Your emotions are trying to tell you something. Listen to them. But don’t allow them to determine your actions.
7. Let go of avoiding vulnerability.
Most of us take great strides to avoid vulnerability. It looks like weakness, a childish emotion you’re supposed to overcome with age. It’s also risky and uncertain. Vulnerability is saying no or telling your spouse how you really feel. It’s saying I don’t know or learning to trust people. It’s standing up for yourself, asking for forgiveness, losing your job or falling in love.
In essence, vulnerability is the thing you don’t want to do.
“Sweet mother of Mary. Vulnerability sounds awful. Why would I want to embrace any of that stuff?” Because I said so. I’m joking. Because Brene Brown said so. In her book, Daring Greatly, which should be required reading for every human over the age of 15, she says this:
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity. If we want…more meaningful lives, vulnerability is the path.”
Let go of the shield. Take off the armor.
8. Let go of negative self-talk.
Most of my life, I’ve battled an inner critic. Both relentless and unapologetic, it shows up for every mistake. Every. Single. One. “I can’t believe you lost your temper again. You looked at porn again? You’re ridiculous. You missed an opportunity to tell that guy about Jesus. Terrible.”
Even in times of growth and success, it shows me where I can “improve,” which is an attempt to put a positive spin on the “you’re not good enough” storyline.
If you wrestle with an inner critic, understand this. Your inner critic exists to protect you, a not-so-real form of security. It beats you up before anyone else has an opportunity. It wants you to avoid shame or failure by playing it safe.
But it also cripples growth and potential.
It’s time to let go of your inner critic. Here’s how. Identify and separate from it (you are not your inner critic). Then you need to make peace with it, thanking it for all it has done. Next? Let your inner critic know you don’t need it anymore, that you’re taking control of your thoughts.
As you practice this, the voice will slowly and eventually lose its influence over your life.
Last thing. Please don’t fight against or resist your inner critic. What you resist, persists. And you begin to mirror anything you fight or focus on too long. The goal is to let go, not push back against.
9. Let go of refusing to change.
We’re hardwired to resist change. I wish I knew why because few things are more central to growth. Behind the status quo, fear-filled epidemic that is much of modern-day America lies a fierce opposition to anything new or unknown.
Everything that is alive changes. Everything. This is God’s way. If you’re not changing, you’re dead, regardless how much breathe is in your lungs.
Everything that is alive changes. If you’re not changing, you’re dead, regardless how much breathe is in your lungs.
You can’t avoid change. You just can’t. All you can do is deny it, which breeds fear, worry, cynicism, separation and ultimately hatred. Almost every war and injustice as well as all disconnection originates with protecting a set of beliefs, fixated on the past (the way things used to be) or an unwillingness to embrace uncertainty or accept different.
The changeable ones are always the most patient, loving, flexible and fearless. They carry an unshakeable “everything will be okay” mentality, an unchangeable optimism, and an increasing realization that we’re all connected to a Connector.
10. Let go of choosing the path of least resistance.
Last week, I text a good friend, a mentor of mine, thanking for him supporting Tiffani and I through our adoption (as I type this, we’re two weeks away from flying to India to meet our daughter). He text back with this: “Thanks for making a difference. It’s hard. Real hard.”
I’m not tooting my own horn. This adoption thing is 46-months-old, and at least once every week I consider throwing in the towel. Adoption drains you financially, emotionally, physically and even spiritually. It really is hard.
But it’s also life-giving, and from day 1 I’ve felt connected to a larger reality, as if this is what we’re all supposed to do. Not adopt, necessarily, but live for something larger than yourself and make a difference in the world.
So, why don’t we? Why do we so easily fall asleep to what’s important? Why do we spend so much of our time and energy doing meaningless stuff?
In a word, resistance.
Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, says resistance is the force standing between the life you live and the unlived life within you. Resistance is what you experience any time you try to make the world a better place, whether you’re adopting from India, breaking a destructive habit, or deleting One Direction songs from your Spotify workout playlist.
As a follower of Jesus, I call resistance Satan. Whatever you call it, resistance is evil. By whatever means necessary, Resistance wants to keep you from the life you were meant to live. And so by whatever means necessary, you should accept what it says as a lie.
Always and forever, making a difference is hard. Resistance is a sure sign you’re on the right track. Don’t allow it to derail you. God has a great purpose for your life, and you have what it takes to overcome any force threatening the path between here and there.
11. Let go of pretending pain and suffering don’t exist.
Comfort food. Retail therapy. Alcohol and drugs. The Prosperity Gospel.
Anything that masks or numbs the difficult parts of life, anything that pretends pain can be avoided or that (God help us) the Gospel is a message about obtaining more stuff, is unhealthy.
If you don’t accept (notice I didn’t say “make sense of”…suffering can’t be rationalized) the inevitable place of pain and suffering, your life will be a constant search for the next fix and immediate gratification will enslave you.
You can’t experience Easter without the cross, and you can’t find joy if you avoid pain.
Regardless of situation of circumstance, these behaviors or habits will keep you from becoming who you were created to be. It might take you days, weeks, years even, but you can let these things go. Courage, perseverance and grace are required. Maybe you should call up that disgusting friend who keeps every resolution ever. But it can be done. I’m rooting for you.
Grace and peace, friends.