Wherever I go around the world, I see the same hunger to live our lives with more meaning and purpose and less unnecessary stress and burnout. This is the goal of a new online course being offered by the University of Santa Monica, which I'm delighted we have arranged to offer free for HuffPost readers. Entitled "33 Days of Awakening Through Loyalty to Your Soul," the class is designed to teach us how to nurture a sense of well-being, joy, purpose and fulfillment. Of course, there are going to be challenges along the way, but as the course's founders, Drs. Ron and Mary Hulnick, show, there are ways in which many of these challenging moments can in fact strengthen and reaffirm our sense of purpose and well-being instead of taking us off-course.
Each day brings a new lesson with a different theme, along with a new skill or habit. One of my favorites is "Perception Checking" -- a way of managing to slow down a conversation so we can truly and meaningfully engage with another person rather than staying on the surface, half-distracted (or at least ready to be) by anything that moves, or beeps, or tweets. Another is practicing responsibility in choosing our commitments. This is one that really resonates with me, since I often have problems with how much I add to my to-do list. My habit of saying yes to too many things led me, when I turned 40, to do something of a "life audit," during which I realized how many projects I had half-committed to in my head -- such as learning German and becoming a good skier and learning to cook. (It's true: I can't cook. I sadly missed that gene from my Greek mother.) Most remained unfinished, and many were not even started. Yet these countless incomplete projects drained my energy and diffused my attention. It was very liberating to realize that I could "complete" a project by simply dropping it -- by just eliminating it from my to-do list.
On the flipside, I also learned how satisfying it is -- magical, even -- when we set our intentions on the goal of implementing a new habit for a certain period of time. We all aspire to have a richer experience in our day-to-day lives, but all too often we save what we really want for a later day -- a day that, too often, never comes. So the tools offered in the course that can help us commit to what we really want right now can be transforming.
The University of Santa Monica course also has its own version of what I describe as the need to evict the obnoxious roommate in our heads, that critical voice most of us know so well that puts us down and amplifies our insecurities and doubts. Even our worst enemies don't talk about us the way we talk to ourselves. "Negative thoughts," the course teaches, "are a way of leaking your precious life energy." And by teaching us to deal with such thoughts, the course helps us evict that obnoxious roommate.
Nothing is more powerful in making this happen than creating a daily practice and reinforcing new habits. And what I love about "33 Days of Awakening" is that it's specifically designed to help us cultivate these habits so that we can view ourselves and the world with more awareness and more gratitude.
Each day's email has a theme: clarifying our intentions, accepting what we cannot change, putting our thoughts in writing to help us forgive ourselves and others, writing out a gratitude list, dropping grudges and -- my favorite -- realizing that the way we deal with the issue is the issue. Each day of the course guides us to set an intention based on that day's lesson, supported with meditations, videos, podcasts and other resources that help us go deeper on the day's theme. Ron and Mary, who have been dear friends of mine for many years, usher us through the course with their distinctive humor, fleshing out principles with stories from their own lives and from the lives of past students. Their message goes straight to the core of our collective hunger for meaning and purpose. Simple practices can be profound. When we incorporate these daily practices and techniques into our lives, it becomes possible to reconnect with ourselves, our loved ones and our communities. Information about the course, which begins Sept. 8, is here.