Changing one simple word in one simple question made all the difference for me. I was always kind and generous. I was always there for my wife and kids. Yet my life had gone from full and happy to crappy and chaotic. My wife of 18 years and I separated, with our kids splitting time between two homes.

“Why is this happening FOR me?”

Sam Sandu

The question I kept asking myself was, “Why was this happening to me?” And I’ve learned to ask it another way, “Why is this happening FOR me?” This question has helped me realize it’s never too late to change your life and become a better dad, person, and friend.

Owning my life

Using the word “for” instead of “to” has changed how I see my situation. Something happening “to” me made me feel defective or like a victim. Something happening “for” me, on the other hand, allows me to learn from both positive and negative experiences, take responsibility for them—to “own” them—and become a better person as a result.

Before, I was always people-pleasing and trying to be the perfect South Asian man. There was so much emphasis on being a certain way as part of the Punjabi population in Canada. My parents were worried about what others would think about our family if I made a mistake. This caused insecurities that made me hide any mistakes and go to great lengths to keep them hidden.

Now, I can deal with my insecurities and the reasons I have them. I can work through my fear and send it packing. I have gone from a weak, depressed man to a strong, confident man who is honest and full of integrity. I see how I have become a better father to my children. I don’t worry about what others think. I’m in control of my own happiness and look at life in a positive and forward-thinking manner.

How did I make that shift? By taking these small, easy steps to change my life and live life on my own terms:

Talk it out

By spending time in counselling, I’ve found some handy tools that have helped change how I look at life. One of them involved defining who I am as a man. My own terms define me as respectful and considerate of others, and cannot be broken no matter who is trying to make me abandon them.

My upbringing as a Punjabi in Canada tended to define men as macho and egotistical. I have learned that a man who knows who he is doesn’t have to show others how macho he is. It’s not about how tough you are or refusing to allow others to control you. It’s about being the kind of person you want to be, and when you achieve that goal, you will be surrounded by people who respect and appreciate that.

Another important tool I use is talking with other men who have learned to handle their emotions. I grew up hiding my feelings because I thought they were a sign of weakness. I’ve learned that being vulnerable makes you a better person. Now, I see it as a sign of strength, not a weakness. When you understand and own your feelings, you discover who you truly are.

Write it out

Journaling is another key tool for changing your life. I use two journals: one for the good things I did throughout the day and another for the things that made me feel gloomy. I reread the “wins” journal every day, but I never reread the negative journal that I use for releasing negative energy and thoughts and then letting them go. I also make a list of things I want to accomplish each day. I complete an item on that list whenever my confidence is low.

Stay positive

Whenever I get sad or down, I look for the positive. Positive thinking can change your life. Negative thinking can grind you down, so try flipping things around. Focus on the positives in your life—family, friends, movies, music, sports, activities you enjoy; the list goes on—to get yourself going and boost your energy, improve your sleep, and clear your head. In the end, a positive perspective leads to positive action.

Maintaining a positive outlook despite, say, a parking ticket on your windshield or a hard day at work can help provide the emotional “even keel” that prevents stress from flaring up. Researchers suspect that more positive people can lower their risk of heart attack and disease.

Get active outdoors

Getting some fresh air by biking or walking near my home in the Okanagan helps me feel revitalized and energized by reducing tension, frustration, and the feeling of being overwhelmed. Often, I try to go for a walk with my kids and connect with them. This helps me to be a better and more connected dad. Give it a try—it can work for you, too!

Eat healthier

Another piece of the confidence-building puzzle is my diet. Munching on veggies like carrots and celery sticks and drinking water all day helps change how my body looks, increases my energy, and helps me think more clearly. The benefits of healthy eating are vital to owning my happiness.

Sleep better

Sleeping 7 to 9 hours a night has been essential to my journey. My mind and body need rest to be at their best. A morning routine of journaling, exercise, and healthy eating gets my days off to a good start. My nighttime routine helps, as well. Ending the day by turning off my phone, leaving my thoughts in my journals, and focusing on what I’m grateful for helps me clear my mind and get a great night’s sleep.

Know your limits

Finally, I’ve started focusing on what I can control and dropping what I can’t control. The key is to know your limits and learn the power of saying “NO.” Do you want to do someone else’s job for them? “NO!” Do you want to watch Manje Bistre when Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi is on? You get the idea!

In the end, I realized that the negative experiences I faced helped me see what I needed to change to be a better version of myself.

What are two extraordinary traits that define YOU as a person? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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