One Breath Away

A mindful life with kindness and perspective


After reflecting on last year (My personal review of 2023), I didn’t want to do the obvious and set myself new resolutions and write about them. It didn’t feel right to me.

I didn’t want to add, but become lighter and aware of things I already carry around that don’t really belong to me. And here I am with a new post and another invitation to an exercise.

This is for you, when you want to regain a little more clarity about what belongs to you and what belongs to others.

I hope you enjoy it, and that you find as much value, insight and emotional relief in it as I did.

Note: This is a two part story and you’re about to read the first part. Click on this link (PART 2 coming soon) for the second one, in which we focus on the positive things in us that we do want to carry around and bring to the world.

Is this familiar to you?

Do you sometimes say things about yourself that you don’t actually believe in, that are not true? Don’t represent what you actually stand for? How you would like to walk through life? 

Do you know that feeling? Why do we operate on terms that are not ours? Where do they come from? Why are they so present and, most importantly, how can we get rid of them? Especially when they don’t serve but hinder us?

And how do we implement a healthy and sustainable self-image that helps us thrive?

Read on and find out. You’ll be surprised and relieved.

A personal background story to this exercise

I had a conversation with an important person in my life a few weeks ago. That friend told me about what was going on in her life at that moment in time and concluded with: “Oh boy, that will be pretty emotional.” To which I simply replied: “Oh really?” without knowing what significance would come out of my random and totally unintended intonation.

“Oh really?” my friend replied and was stunned. It threw her completely off track.

Her usual stream of thoughts, the expectations of what was to come and the discussion of possible preparation, confrontation, defence and recovery strategies had come to an abrupt halt.

It might have looked like this – pure speculation on my part (but definitely derived from my own patterns):

  • Oh boy, this will be pretty emotional.
  • I have to prepare myself for this upcoming situation.
  • It’s hard for me to explain myself.
  • I have to be rested and calm so I can stand my ground.
  • All eyes will be on me.
  • It’s hard for me to do these things under pressure.
  • I’d like to avoid …

Feels exhausting just reading about it, if you ask me. Fortunately we don’t need to address all these points but the first one.

Oh boy, this will be pretty emotional.

Does that really belong to me?

I get it, we all had our fair share of experiences and we do have our gut feeling that senses things we sometimes can’t fully comprehend. As often as that happens though, we tend to fall back to statements or beliefs that we have once picked up or adopted from others without reflection.

And so here they are, in our heads. And they shape our perception of life immensely. Not always for the better, but for the worse. These patterns can be rather destructive and have a claustrophobic grip on our throats.

In the case of my friend, my “Oh really?” opened up new possibilities:

  • Perhaps it won’t even be a topic.
  • If I’m lucky, everyone else will eventually move on.
  • Wait, perhaps I can address the matter with a prepared statement.
  • And shut down further conversations or questions with a kind and polite but determined smile.?

See what happened there? A short but impressive journey from “passiveness and hoping it will be fine” towards “proactive strategies and finding clarity in what I actually want, need and will do”.

And it was impressive to me how my friend handled the situation – before it happened, during the whole thing and in proudly talking about it after everything was over.

It’s basically a 2 column exercise with four steps.

Step 1

Let’s start by collecting beliefs or statements that are present in our (daily) life about ourselves and life in general.

old beliefs or typical statements from the present
  1. Turn off the phone, get rid of distractions and face yourself, the pen and the paper.
  2. Yes, you can do this!
  3. Just write down whatever comes up.
  4. There’s no eraser, no writing over things or any sort of self-censorship. We don’t do this here.
  5. Don’t judge, second-guess, or be too critical. This is an exercise that invites flow and momentarily emergence, not blocking yourself or holding back.

How it usually starts is that we come up with random or cliche beliefs and statements, then more precise ones and maybe (perhaps after a few rounds of doing it) very personal and potentially emotionally hard hitting ones about how we truly see ourselves and life in general.

May I give you an example? For me, the following statement came up. I also added a few lines and half sentences in case you need inspiration. Have fun!

old beliefs or typical statements from the present
It’s bad and dangerous to open up and be vulnerable in front of others.
I’m really good at ..
It’s hard for me to ..
I’m … and find it hard to .. 
It’s impossible for me to ..

That was already a lot of work, so there’s no need to rush. Let all these things be there, you don’t even have to actively read them again right now, or continue with the next step. Take a break and continue when you feel like it.

Step 2

If you’d like to resume, see what the statements on the left do with you. Here are a few questions and impulses. Read them and go through your list again.

  • How does that feel?
  • Does it feel kind and loving, or cynical and harsh?
  • Again, don’t judge the statements, yourself or how you react.
  • Does that really belong to me?
  • Or can I see a certain person saying that out loud? Have I inherited that from my upbringing, family environment, old role models or other people who, for whatever reason, had an impact on me? 

I asked myself: “Do I really believe that?” My answer was pretty clear: No, I don’t. But it was a very old statement that I truly bought into for a very long time.

So what about your statements now? Ask yourself: “Does that thought, this statement, really belong to me?”

There’s not more to do here – don’t underestimate the amount of reflection and work you’re currently doing. Rest, if you’d like to.

Step 3

If you’d like to continue, take a look at all the blank space on the right side and title the column with “What I actually want to say, think or feel about it.”

  1. Read each statement and see if and what comes up right now.
  2. In case there is a new or more positive interpretation coming up that you’d like to replace it with? Then do so, cross the original statement out and write the new one.
  3. If no new interpretation comes up? See if you can live with the empty space. And see if you can be patient and allow a new answer, a feeling, a new direction to develop and emerge when the time is right.

Back to my previous, rather limiting belief of being open and vulnerable towards others? I asked myself:

  • Am I really convinced that outside my own four walls (metaphorically and literally) malicious people are waiting for my struggles, weaknesses and failures to become public, for example to make fun of me? No.
  • Am I scared that opening up to others makes me vulnerable? => Yes, I am scared, but in the same sense I see the positive benefits for myself and the quality of connections I can create, maintain, and deepen. It’s a jump into the unknown, and I feel that I’d like to live that. Not necessarily always, but, well, I hope you get the idea.
  • Or does that initial statement actually belong to others? Family, relatives, old communities and environments in which I used to spend time? Yes, that doesn’t belong to me, but to others.

What to do with neutral or positive statements?

Perhaps you agree with the initial statement, especially when it was a positive one! Cross it out anyway, repeat the statement or enrich it with details or qualities that feel supportive or give it a twist. Perhaps you can remove signs of self-pity, insecurity and simply make it shorter rather than longer.

And so I rewrote the first statement, and another one:

old beliefs or typical statements from the presentWhat I actually want to say, think or feel about it
It’s bad and dangerous to open up and be vulnerable in front of others.I can open up to people if I choose to do so. I can be vulnerable and show my true colours while remaining true to myself. I enjoy that as it invites depth and authenticity into my life, it allows me to express myself  and makes me feel alive.
I’m really good at writing lengthy articles about things that bother me although I don’t really know if I’m doing it right or if someone actually reads themI feel that compared to a few years ago, I am very good at expressing myself in long or short texts and I am proud of myself for doing so and publishing them.

And now it’s your turn to see if you can already come up with new statements for the right side!

Step 4 – The breakthrough

When you have completed all the previous steps, one last step awaits you, and it’s a quick one: cross out the words (actually want to) from the heading on the right. And let that sink in.

old beliefs or typical statements from the presentWhat I actually want to say, think or feel about it.

We are often further along than we think. This also applies to you. You have already come closer to your own guiding thoughts and feelings or have formulated them better or more appropriately for yourself in the previous steps.

And I think that this is the heartwarming part of the whole exercise. You’re already there. There is no need for “actually want to do this or that” or postpone it to the future.

The question is, what are you doing with your newly created statements now? Are you ready to stand by them, to feel them, to express them? To bring them to live?

What are you waiting for?

Important reminders for this exercise

  • This is not a one-and-done exercise. You can do it again, in shorter periods of time or every 6 months, for example. I have just finished that exercise for the third time in 2 ½ years. Some exercises take longer, require more patience and pay off. Trust the process. 🙂
  • Take your time. Specific statements and beliefs can wrestle with you, make you doubt yourself or question your sanity.
  • Don’t let statements make you feel worse about yourself because “you came up with them” or the “seemingly harsh reality” they describe. They have appeared, they describe something and that too has a place and value, no more or less. No reason to believe in it again.
  • Remember that we’re doing this exercise to dismantle the “absolute truth” of that reality. By expressing it, letting it be, and ultimately letting it go. So we can implement new ones. ♥️
  • Take the challenge, and see what remains. You will be surprised how many of these things on the left side you will eventually let go off.

Let me know how you feel after doing this exercise!

Take-Away: What I have learned from this particular exercise

Personal note: I love this segment, because too often I ask myself why I go through certain things and what it is trying to teach me. Here, I commit by concluding that to me - to realise that there was something to learn, and to deny the mind the chance to confuse and torment me the next time with the same rubbish (“it’s all for nothing, no learnings, no growth, blah blah blah ..”) So - I have learnt the following:

So many statements from the left side were harsh, limiting, and negative. Many originated from others and still I carried them for a very long time. But they really don’t belong to me, and they never did. Not judging myself for that, I have realised that I can let them go, and create new ones. 

All in all, I feel gentle, kind, humble and strangely calm and emotional. The harshness and emotions have disappeared over time, as have the anger, disappointment and sadness caused by certain beliefs. And still I’m aware of the following:

  • Although some of them have faded, they could come back, because there is still more in me.
  • In other cases, I feel that they have disappeared because my own convictions have replaced the void left by the old ones.
  • It takes time. I have seen how beliefs change, even the new ones, and there is value in reviewing them from time to time.

And I will probably revisit this exercise again in the future.