Getting through the past couple of years has been tough for many people. You may have felt at the mercy of events, unable to control your life and work, let alone flourish. Maybe you were forced to abruptly halt so many of the things we all rely on to stay fit, healthy and motivated. 

Going forward – as we emerge hopefully into more promising times, quite naturally, we all want to feel better. But, rather than leaving it to chance, it’s time to actively participate in life in ways that will enable you to flourish. It’s not about just getting back to normal; take a few purposeful steps and you’ll give yourself a launchpad to a new you and much better times.

This post explains a set of proven habits that can help you to flourish. It’s not just the pandemic, any time you have been through a hard time, taking steps to put you back on track to flourish will be beneficial.

What does it mean to flourish?

Flourishing refers to a person’s overall sense of wellbeing. When you flourish, you don’t just exist, you thrive. It includes physical, mental and emotional health, for sure, but to flourish – in this context – has a wider meaning. 

Wellbeing is intimately linked to how we feel we are doing in life. It is subjective, related to belief and experience, rather than conforming to some objective, measurable criteria. So, for example, you can feel well even if you are suffering from an illness, or you can be satisfied with your life, even amid turmoil and challenging conditions (both of these have been confirmed by studies).

Flourishing is multi-faceted; as well as the obvious health-related aspects, it is also crucial to consider how well you are doing in the various areas that you count as important in your life. These might include, for example, how satisfied you are, personal development, whether you feel supported and appreciated, and any material benefits or achievements. 

A gentle approach

There’s a popular misconception that confuses flourishing with excelling. You don’t have to come top of the class or achieve outstanding success, to flourish. As long as you sense that you are doing well, that you have what you need to feel content, and that your reasonable expectations are being met, you’ll flourish.

In a world that seems to be obsessed with goals and outcomes, it can be refreshing to understand that flourishing doesn’t rely on competing and achieving. You can take a gentler approach. You don’t need to focus on distant horizons, you simply need to appreciate and nurture what you have, day by day.

The right attitude

So while you don’t have to scale impossible heights nor set yourself overly ambitious goals, you must be prepared to tidy up a few habits and adopt the principles described below. This is a deliberate and purposeful exercise in which you say to yourself “I don’t want to be just OK, I want to flourish and grow.”

Here are the steps to take

It starts with intent. Every gardener knows that you must attend to the soil and environment for your plants to thrive, so a little preparation is necessary to help a person to flourish:

1) Clear away toxic habits

Toxic habits can prevent you from thriving. They may seem to bring short term gain, but the real cost is long term pain. Habits like drinking and smoking, hanging out with the wrong people, too little exercise, a rubbish diet, unresolved conflict… These can act like dead weight in your life. They may not prevent you from succeeding, but they certainly make it harder. 

Deep down, you know if you have any toxic habits that need clearing away, so plan to prepare the ground, one step at a time, and be committed in your intent to flourish. 

2) Decide “I can”

You can do it! It may seem odd when upbringing and education tell us always to try harder, but flourishing begins with the quiet inner belief that you are capable of discovering the best in yourself and allowing yourself to grow. You don’t need to set any audacious goals. Simply be comfortable with the idea that, each day, you’ll do a little something to allow you to begin to flourish. Then, there are some specific activities you should consider:

Develop positive emotions

This means expanding your repertoire of good feelings. You may think that your feelings ‘just happen’. To a certain extent, this is true, but it doesn’t mean that you have no control over how you feel. Recording your positive emotions will help you build emotional assets. You will begin to consciously register feeling good more often. It also provides strength during tough times by making you more resilient. (add positive mood record activity here) 

Purposefully engage in life

Engage in whatever you are doing wholeheartedly. Work, play, socialising, preparing food, caring for your kids… To be fully engaged is to give your full attention to the task at hand. 

Forget multi-tasking. Allow yourself the luxury of focussing on what you are doing without distraction. Old habits die hard, so beware of any excuses you might make that prevent you from changing (“I need to check my phone because…”. No, you don’t, try turning it off. Or “I’ve got a lot on my mind so I don’t need to give this conversation my full attention”. Not so! Half-engagement is actually more stressful. If the conversation is important, give it your full attention. If it’s not, then why have the conversation at all?)

Learning to engage fully with the present is a skill that needs to be developed, but it gets better with practice. (Suggestion: If you find this difficult, start with a simple mindfulness exercise).

Value your relationships

Healthy relationships keep us vibrant and healthy, give meaning and direction to our lives, and complete our identity. Yet we often neglect them.

We can put more effort into casual or business relationships than we do helping those with our nearest and dearest to thrive.

Relationships need maintenance. We need to nurture them and care for them if they are to flourish and sustain us. The time to put the effort in is all the time, not wait until they are broken and we have to fix them.

Show you care, engage fully, aim for quality, not quantity, in your relationships.

Identify what’s important to you

You may think you know what’s important to you and what your values are.

Values are about ideals that define who we believe we are and what we hold to be important. We can’t always live up to them, but they tell us how we should be thinking and behaving.

One of the benchmarks of personal fulfilment is to live congruently. ‘Congruence’ means that our ‘actual self’ – how we act daily – is in line with our ‘ideal self’ (who we aspire to be). So respecting your values is more than a ‘nice to have’, it is essential if you truly want to flourish.  

Recognise your achievements

You have more achievements each day than you consciously register. For ‘achievement, read ‘success’. 

A ‘success’ can be anything, great or small, that worked for you or has benefitted others. Training your mind to look out for what you achieve each day can be uplifting, and it is one more step to help you flourish (add the Celebrate Your Successes activity here).

Your journey to flourishing

Flourishing is about moving towards your highest potential. Deciding to actively follow these steps will move you in that direction. It’s a commitment to shifting a few things so that your habits align to enable you to grow, thrive, and eventually, flourish. Enjoy the journey!