Sometimes we can get obsessed with the ‘what’. We feel driven to stay focused on what we want to achieve next, in the pursuit of happiness and success. But when we achieve the thing we’ve been striving for, sometimes that joyful feeling fails to materialise.
If this sounds like you, you’re in the right place. Let’s explore how to break out of this pattern, with a simple reframing exercise. What if we stopped thinking about ‘what’ and instead focused on ‘how’. Could this change how we feel? In this blog post, I explain how to harness the power of ‘how’ to improve your life today.
The quality of our lives depends on ‘how’ not ‘what’
All those marketing people and social media influencers would have us believe that we'll be happy if we can only get the new iPhone/luxury lifestyle/a winning lottery ticket/[insert that thing you’ve been lusting after here].
But IT’S NOT TRUE!
They are trying to sell you that because that’s how make money. It’s not to make you happy, which — let’s be honest — is what we are chasing to feel good in our lives most of the time. Studies show that more money does not correlate with greater emotional wellbeing, after meeting our basic needs.
What does improve the quality of our lives, our sense of satisfaction, and our wellbeing is the power of ‘how’.
What is the power of how?
The power of how is when we switch our focus from thinking about what we want to do, to how we want to feel.
I’ve been using the power of how before I even realised it was a thing. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left the Royal Air Force in 2014.* I had a vague notion it might have something to do with international development but that was about it. Whilst making the decision to leave the RAF had taken a good 18 months, I hadn’t given much thought to what was next.
I had an image in my head though. About three years before I left, I was having dinner with a friend, who asked me where I saw myself in five years’ time.
“Well, I guess I’ll be a Squadron Leader, maybe even a Wing Commander” I replied.
She looked at me hard and pressed me. Where did I see myself, not where would the system take me? So, I closed my eyes and tried to picture the future, thinking “I have no idea where I’m going to be next month, let alone in five years, this is ridiculous”. And then this image appeared in my mind’s eye. I saw myself striding down a street in London. I looked smart and grown up. I had a purpose. I was confident and happy. And in that moment, I knew that in five years time I wasn’t going to be in the RAF anymore. I can’t tell you how I knew or what I was doing in that image; I just knew.
When I became a civvie [military slang for non-military people], I felt like I could have done anything. My choices felt limitless. But I had two things to guide me: first was this image I had seen three years earlier, the second was my 90-year old self. I wanted to be the old lady in a nursing home boring the other residents witless with my stories…”did I ever tell you about…?”. I wanted to collect stories with my life. I wanted to have adventures and do exciting things.
And five years on, it’s worked. I mean, I don’t dress particularly smart but I do live in a gorgeous flat in London. My life is full of purpose and meaning. I’ve had incredible adventures. I've lived in Bangladesh, Beirut and now Bali (apparently I now only live in places beginning with B). I've travelled all around the world for work and pleasure, learned new skills, and launched my own business.
There have been difficult choices along the way, not to mention heartbreak and loss. I couldn’t have imagined I would be doing the things I am. By following my how — following the feelings I wanted in my life — and not worrying about the what, it seems to be working out okay.
This doesn’t have to only apply to the big things in life. Paying attention to how you show up in life and in every single thing you do is how you create a life you love right now. As one of my teachers says,
Five ways to embrace the power of how
Here are five ways you can embrace the power of how.
1) Set feelings-based goals
When we focus on the feelings behind our goals, we let go of the outcome, which we can’t control anyway, and open up different possibilities of what that outcome looks like. We stop thinking that our happiness is something that is contingent on us achieving something or getting something in the future, and start bringing those feelings into our lives right now. You can get my free guide to setting feelings-based goals here. Or try Danielle La Porte’s Desire Mapping.
2) Set values-based intentions
Our values are those things that are most important to use and they serve as an internal compass for our lives. By creating actionable intentions based on your Values, you can bring them to life at home, at work, or in your relationships so you feel the power of those things most important to you every day. And of course, I have a little workbook to help you do that [this is one of my popular freebies].
One of my clients, Debbie, said “I have gained much more clarity on my priorities and I can now clearly articulate my values and have created actionable statements related to these. All this has given me much more peace of mind and is instilling a sense of purpose and confidence.”
3) Add adverbs to your to-do list
Our to-do lists are usually a (boring) collection of verbs: call so-and-so, write blog post, check accounts. Uninspiring stuff. But what if we focused on how we approached those tasks instead by adding adverbs to each item? Adverbs express manner, place, time, frequency, degree, level of certainty, etc., answering questions such as how?, in what way?, when?, where?, and to what extent?
Any good writer will tell you that adverbs are not your friend and generally I would agree — apart from in this case. You want to focus on your attention on the how not the what. So I might want to enjoy writing my blog post with ease (rather than feeling like it’s a slog and something I have to do). I might want to make that call with empathy and active listening (rather than planning what I’m having for lunch at the same time). I might want to check my accounts with gratitude for the money I do have...and speaking of gratitude...
4) Start a gratitude practice
Practicing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to start feeling better about your life right now. No matter what is going on for you, there are things you can be grateful for. If nothing else, you are reading this online so you have some kind of device and a source of electricity!
One of my favourite ways to do this is with a gratitude jar. Find a clear jar or vase and place it somewhere you will see it. Once a day, write down one thing you’re grateful for or appreciating that day. Whenever you feel the need to boost your mood, reach into the jar and pick out something you’ve appreciated in the past, which will bring a smile to your face as you remember. You also get a great visual reminder of how much there is in your life to be grateful for as your jar fills up.
5) Be present
Notice what’s going with your experience right now. Go on, do it right now as you’re reading this. What sensations can you feel in body? What emotions are present for you? Even if you are sitting with the most difficult emotions, being present to the moment and your experience brings its own sense of grounding and centeredness.
*read more about my journey from RAF Officer to yogi, entrepreneur and life coach