12 lessons that will change your life

By Cara Waudby Tolley | April 19, 2022

Life coach and author Alexander Butler explains how these simple but life-changing lessons can help us build more fulfilling, peaceful and successful lives.

1. Live an intentional life

It is so easy to fall into a passive mindset where we feel like things are just happening to us. We lose the power of our own choices, relying on other people to make decisions for us, complaining that things aren’t going the way we want them to be.

Amazing things happen when we accept that life is entirely our own responsibility. My life, the way it is right now, is the result of my choices. I choose the direction my life goes in: I am the author of my own story. Focusing on returning power to your own conscious choice and beginning to identify all the little ways you let other people make your choices or steal your power, is a direct route to becoming more confident, more decisive and feeling more empowered.

2. Accept your nature and meeting your needs

Human beings come with certain in-built needs. Everything from the need for food and shelter to the needs for emotional safety, creative expression and belonging.

If you know, understand and accept your intrinsic needs, you will take the steps necessary to meet them. Unmet needs will always try to find ways to be met, and this can lead us to act erratically or do things that we don’t understand or didn’t expect. As we become more conscious of our needs, we gain more wisdom about our inner processes, and we gain a healthy control of our own choices.

A fulfilling life is one that meets all your needs, so understanding them is essential. Often, being aware of them also allows us to act more consistently, more effectively, and this lets us build that fulfilling lifestyle.

3. Grow into your authentic self

What is adulthood? What does it mean to be an adult? How does it differ from childhood? Can we ever really claim to be a fully mature, emotionally resolved adult?

Our culture doesn’t provide us with an initiation into adulthood, like most cultures do. As a result, we carry on with a lot of childhood behaviours and responses, and this is the cause of a lot of suffering and confusion in our lives.

There are things we can all do to step into our adult selves. Understand the nature of our inner child and learn to parent him or her, so they don’t throw us off balance with needs from decades ago. Let go of impulses and learnt responses that don’t serve us any more. It’s often a long and challenging journey, but stepping into true adulthood is one of the most transformational things we’ll ever experience.

4. Reconnect with nature

There is overwhelming evidence that a strong connection with nature is good for our mental health.

There are things that only time in the wild can teach us. Nature isn’t always gentle or comfortable, so we need to go out in rough weather, to travel through wild terrain, to leave our comfortable human worlds behind. As we grapple with the raw experience of mother nature we will find essential aspects of ourselves that we’ve lost.

Inner wildness is our freedom of spirit, our irrepressible desire to explore, to grow, to express our passion and to be truly alive in each moment. We can so easily become trapped by our domesticated lives; we plod through our days and forget the feeling that we are here, right now, living this one wild and precious life.

So this lesson is an exploration of what it means to be a wild, free, conscious animal.

5. Break free from cultural expectations

Our society has achieved amazing things: science, political freedom, art and culture. But it also has toxic lessons that we unconsciously accept.

Men and women are expected to act in certain ways, and these expectations force us into inauthentic personas. We can believe that happiness is something that we find through money, fame or other outward signs of success. We might have unhealthy ideas about relationships that we learned from books, movies or social media. We might believe that nothing we do really matters. We need to discover the lessons that our culture has imposed on us, and learn strategies that will push back and protect our true selves.

6. Work out your core values

Knowing what we value most and what we believe is essential in building a happy and satisfying life. It creates trust in our relationships. It gives us confidence in our decision making. It forms a strong foundation to our personality.

7. Throw yourself into challenge and growth

We grow when we encounter something hard and then overcome it. We adapt, learn new skills, stretch ourselves and discover new things about ourselves.

It is so easy to fall into a comfortable, cosy way of being – to shy away from things that are new, unfamiliar or different, and this tends to get worse as we get older. People get more and more trapped in their comfort zones and they mock people who take risks, make mistakes or act in strange ways.

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As a result, we experience less peace in our lives, because we grow increasingly afraid of change. It’s important to continue stretching ourselves throughout our lives, because as long as we continue doing scary, unfamiliar things, we maintain a strong foundation of confidence and adaptability – and this promotes a more peaceful, joyful life.

8. Face your fears

Fear is a huge governing force in our lives. Fear often shows up as avoidance, clever excuses not to do scary things, waiting for everything to be right, or aggression towards certain people or ideas.

Fear is a companion that will always be with us. It’s an essential part of our emotional landscape. To deny fear is to let it control us. If we want control and to take our lives in good directions, we need to manage our fears by accepting them, understanding the purpose of the emotion, and remaining conscious even as we do the frightening things.

Life is there to be lives and to be experienced with as much passion as we can muster. So this lesson is about not waiting, not merely planning and plotting for that big change, not accepting our own clever excuses, not needing everything to be perfect before taking action.

9. Support others, don’t rescue them

We tend to emotionally rescue people a lot. We soothe our upset friends or relatives when something difficult happens to them. We reassure them and say things that will take the pain away. We don’t want to see loved ones suffer.

But suffering has a purpose, and by smothering people and taking away their pain, we steal the lessons they might learn. At the same time, we want caring relationships in our lives; we don’t want to just abandon our closest friends while they’re suffering. So this lesson is about empathising with people as they are struggling, but not jumping to the role of the rescuer, not taking away their struggle. It’s about standing in solidarity, rather than stepping into a parent role. It’s often difficult because we’re taught that it is good to rescue people, but empathy and compassion help us support the growth of others, and build stronger adult relationships.

10. Develop independence and self-care

Sometimes, you are going to need to walk your journey alone, and sometimes it’s going to be hard. That’s the nature of life when we’re trying to live with purpose, direction and passion. So it’s essential that we have strong resilience skills.

Are you good at taking care of yourself, in ways that really help? If not, what gets in the way? Learning to love ourselves and care for ourselves in healthy, sustainable, effective ways is such an important skill. Self-love is a skill that has real-world, practical applications. This lesson is about understanding our own blocks to self-care and learning what self-care looks like for us, personally.

11. Commit to a lifelong journey of growing, learning and changing

We are at our best when we are open to growth, change and adventure. We never reach the end of this journey. That new job, or that new business venture, won’t let us finally sit back and relax, knowing that we’ve completed our lives.

This lesson is an invitation to see the whole of our lives as an unfolding adventure. As we enter new chapters or seasons of our lives, the nature of the adventure changes but there is always more to learn, more experiences to have and new ways to understand ourselves better. Committing to this lifelong journey means we’ll always be growing, open to change, robust and truly alive in each moment until the story of our life comes to an end.

12. Balance vulnerability and boundaries

Humans are hard-wired for connection. We need to connect deeply with others – but how do we keep things real, balanced, fair and healthy?

Vulnerability is the skill of being real, of letting our guard down in a healthy way, of making sure that people see the real person behind the mask. It can be scary – it means losing a lot of control, and it means risking rejection. Meanwhile, we need to be clear on our boundaries – what is OK and what’s not OK for us? We need to be able to state them in ways that won’t damage the relationship but will help it to flourish.

If we can balance these two skills, we’ll build really strong, nourishing, healthy relationships at work, with friends and with our partners.

About the author

Alexander Butler trained as a coach with the charity Embercombe and now lives and works as an inspirational coach in Brighton where he co-hosts a podcast called The Big Yearning. His book, Deep Joy: 12 words to unlock your potential and build an amazingly fulfilling life, is published by Clink Street.

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This article first appeared in issue 17 of Planet Mindful magazine. Read more life advice here.