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Be the Heroine, my year-long group coaching program for (amazing) women who want to be the leading ladies of their lives, is currently reading Martha Beck’s latest book, The Way of Integrity.

Integrity means one, whole, undivided. When a person is “whole” and “undivided,” she is her true self, and her life will work beautifully, and she will have everything she wants.

Who doesn’t want that? But what if, while you know you’re not living your best life, you don’t actually feel “out of integrity”? You’re fine. Everything is fine. It’s just. . . meh.

If this is the case for you, what you need is distance. The present can be confusing. It is crowded with stuff, people, life! The past and the future, on the other hand, are simpler to behold. To perceive what is wrong with the present, look at periods in the past when you were really happy and at an ideal future, and then compare them with the present.

I call this tool “Past, Future, Present.”

I. Past

Recall a time when life was really good. What was great about it?

  • Where were you?
  • What were you doing?
  • Who and what were in your life?
  • What physical sensations are you feeling in body?
  • What emotions are you experiencing?

And the money question:

  • What are you thinking and believing?

I call it the “money question” because our thoughts shape our reality. Answering this question prompts you to notice the habits of mind that contributed to – even created – your great life.

Do that again for the next good time that comes to mind.

And once more, for three times total.

What are your takeaways from the past? What surprised you or stood out?

Here’s an example from me.

  • Fort Meade, Maryland, with baby Elliot. Allowed myself to focus on her – observing her and being outside at least once per day. I napped and read while she napped. In my body, I felt quiet, still. My emotions: peace, presence, fascination. My thoughts: Why not? Enjoy it. Be good to yourself so you can be good to her.
  • My job at the high school (when I took a break from my coaching business). I started and finished my work early, then I read for a few hours. I coached 1-2 people after work – for the joy of it, not because I believed I was building a business. In my body, I felt thin, calm. My emotions: relieved, unhurried, interested. My thoughts: Give up. Stop trying. Do what’s fun.
  • In Hawaii. Fitness! Outdoors for hours every day. A few calls, mostly writing. My body felt strong, energetic. The emotion I felt was determination. My thoughts: Why not?

My takeaways:

  • “Why not?” is a powerful question for me. It challenges my habit of tamping down my desire in favor of “being good” – productive, hardworking.
  • I felt free and energetic when I was thin and fit. I like those feelings.
  • I love reading during the day!

II. Future

Imagine life five years from now, and it’s everything you yearn for. What’s there? Allow your imagination free reign! The more richly detailed and specific, the better. Where are you? What are you doing? What is in your life? Who is in your life? What emotions are you experiencing? And the money question: what are you thinking and believing?

What are your takeaways?

Here’s my example: My husband is at home. He is in charge of the house – errands, gardening, bills – but we share and do things together. We are both thin and fit; we exercise vigorously most days. My hair is grey and very short. We live here but travel monthly to visit family and friends and to do fun things as a couple. The house feels spacious – tidy, clean, uncluttered, light. The garden is lush; we have created a garden that we both enjoy maintaining. I get up early, have coffee, and journal/meditate, and then I jump into coaching. I coach 1-2 clients and then have a 4-hour break to work out, shower, eat, read, and then I return to work – coaching or business. I work four days a week; one of those days (or two half days) is dedicated to writing. I have an assistant who helps me run the business. She is young and energetic and tells me what to do, when. In my body, I feel thin, fit, and energetic. In my emotions, I feel cared for, peaceful, fascinated, grateful. I think, “Why not? Yes, this! No, thank you.”

My takeaways: I want to feel cared for – want others to anticipate my needs, think for me, and organize things for me so that I can follow my fascination, as I have done for others.

III. Present

How does your present compare to the good past and ideal future? In what ways is the present ideal and not ideal?

My example:

Ideal: I love coaching. I love my clients. I especially love my group – there is something magical about the dynamics. I love writing and reading when I do it.

Not ideal: Not enough reading, exercise, nature. Too much clutter – in my home, on my to do list, in my business, on my body. In my body, I feel breathless. In my emotions, I feel busy, burdened, behind. My thoughts: “I need to. I should.”

My takeaways: Question “need to,” and embrace, “Why not?” Look for an assistant. Plan Guy’s retirement glide path. Get lean. Find a gym and start going. Change my work schedule so there is room for reading.

Try It! The next time you feel a vague unease about your life, try this exercise. Let it be a bridge from a fine life to an ideal one.

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