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Self-work is making yourself a priority. People have different priorities in all areas of life, we learn how to set them. Making yourself a priority is important for your own mental health but knowing how to make yourself a priority is a learned skill.
Good for you, seeking out the tools to improve this skill.
Supporting your mental health is the foundation of happiness. When your mental health is a priority you’re able to:
- Realize your self-worth
- Set healthy boundaries
- Process and communicate feelings
- Identify values and priorities
- Set and reach goals
Humans all have the same foundational needs. Being happy comes from getting your needs met in ways that align with your values and priorities.
In life, we don’t have control over everything. Where we can identify control, we can influence direction. Balance takes finding what you can control, setting the path, and then creating space to watch the results unfold.
You will not be able to determine every step of your happiness journey but you will be able to influence certain factors. Learning to master the dance will be your greatest asset in maintaining fulfillment.
What does it Mean to be Happy?
Happy, as described by Thich Nhat Hanh in No Mud, No Lotus, is like walking through the desert thirsty, and finally drinking water. When you drink the water, the feelings of relief and calm embody what it means to be happy.
Happy is not only a temporary feeling but a state of being you can achieve through self-work.
Being happy with your life, your choices, relationships, and how you determine your priorities takes time and observance. With self-observance, you will notice your own energy patterns, needs, likes and dislikes. This will help you align the meeting of your needs with the people in your life.
A happy life is not one free from suffering, but is instead one focused on stabilizing the path known to be lined with chaos.
How Self-Work Makes You Happy
Self-work is the foundation of a happy life because this is where you will uncover your individual needs. In an attempt to be loved and accepted, people can deny their feelings and needs. You may find yourself on the wrong career path, in the wrong relationship, or maintaining friendships with people who don’t support your success.
Learning to listen to your inner voice takes practice. Mindfulness and meditation are great ways to help you hear your inner voice.
Self-work is how you prioritize your needs. Listening to yourself is how you discover which needs currently require attention.
What Self-Work Is and Isn’t
Our needs change all the time, being able to identify the change comes with mindful listening. Being happy comes with staying in tune with the changes and adjusting life where it’s needed.
Getting to know yourself is how you identify your wants and needs, it’s how you find out what values, priorities, and goals will help you feel purposeful and fulfilled in life.
Self-work is getting to know yourself, your patterns, what supports you through turmoil, and what accelerates your success when you’re grounded.
5 Steps to Meaningful Self-Work
Here are 5 things you can do to start making self-work a priority. Be compassionate, give yourself space and grace. Self-work takes practice.
1. Get Real About Your Feelings
Feelings are hard to identify when we feel obligated to certain tasks or relationships. You end up should and shouldn’t-ing yourself over what other people may or may not think.
Identifying your feelings takes time and patience. If you’ve experienced emotionally unhealthy relationships, you may hide your feelings from yourself. You might talk yourself out of things believing you only feel that way because there’s something wrong with you, a crossed wire or missed signal.
None of that is true. Your feelings are normal, valid, and human. Every single feeling that arises in you is worthy of being acknowledged and processed.
Processing feelings is not the same as acting them out. Knowing healthy ways to process your feelings will help you avoid suppressing them and then letting them boil over. Your feelings are flags that help point you in the direction of your happiness.
Uncover your feelings by:
- Asking yourself questions about how you feel and listen for the answer
- Look up emotion words and use a thesaurus to get precise
- Write out your thoughts and read them back so you can observe them
2. Find Out Where You Need Boundaries
Your boundaries will be determined by your priorities, which means it’s important for you to be specific about what you want to prioritize.
- Identify your ideal life, how do you want to spend your days?
- Determine what steps will get you there, set a plan to reach your goals.
- Establish boundaries to protect those steps.
Everyone has different areas of their life that need different boundaries. Be honest with yourself about your feelings. If you don’t like the way your friend shows up unannounced, or that you don’t have a set bedtime, a boundary is needed.
Getting real about what makes you feel anxious, disappointed, ashamed, guilty, or used, is a great place to start with identifying where you need boundaries.
3. Monitor Your Motivation
Finding your own happy life will be driven by your motivation. You won’t always be encouraged by others to protect your priorities and reach your goals. Making the decision to be consistent about what matters takes work.
Without the right boundaries, your energy will be spent in areas that don’t serve your ultimate goals. Knowing what energizes you and what takes energy from you is how you’ll protect your motivation to maintain habits that produce results, inspiring you to continue the behavior and continue achieving results.
You’re human with regular human cycles of motivation. Losing energy to follow your routine is inevitable. The point of monitoring motivation is not to avoid breaking routine. What you can do is prepare yourself for what happens when your motivation is gone.
This, like every, takes time and patience. Monitor yourself through cycles. Identify what feelings surface for you when you get off track. Plan responses to these feelings and phases.
4. Improve Assertive Communication
Good communication is not passive or agreeable. Good communication gets a point across and works in service of your goal to share an idea, connect, or set a boundary.
People-pleasing behaviors often show up in communication styles. People will commit to certain things in the moment to avoid a difficult conversation, or they agree to something they’d rather say no to. These are self-abandoning behaviors.
Showing up for yourself requires assertive communication that aligns with your values and priorities.
Here’s how to practice assertive communication:
- Learn to ground yourself through difficult emotions
- Improve your emotional vocabulary
- Practice taking an assertive position with yourself regarding your healthcare needs
- Prepare statements of separation, “I need time to think about it.” “I’ll have to get back to you.”
- Focus on how you’re feeling and what you want
5. Seek Out Self-Awareness
Self awareness is not only about getting to know yourself by yourself.
Healthy self-awareness has two components:
- Self-reflection or internal reflection
- Judgment or external reflection
You can only know yourself to an extent with self-reflection. It is an important aspect in understanding what you want and how you believe you operate, but to truly know and understand your patterns and behaviors, you need a mirror.
Judgment should only come from trusted sources. You cannot accept judgement about yourself from any and every person who offers. Healthy relationships, whether with a friend, family member, or therapist, are your greatest source for trusted feedback.
You Deserve to be Happy
A happy life is your right. Self-work is how you take control of your life’s trajectory. Working through acceptance provides an avenue for knowing where to find levers of control.
Seeing the barriers to a happy life will detract you from taking control. When you work on your health, well-being, and your goals, you will naturally find areas in which to put in meaningful work.
Download my self-care checklist to keep yourself on the top of your priority list.