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A unicorn’s guide to being the best version of yourself this year

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I have three daughters under the age of five; naturally, unicorns are a big part of my life. They also serve as a reminder that true brilliance is rare (outside of Equestria) and that striving to be a unicorn, when the human need to belong and assimilate is deeply ingrained, takes mental presence and physical intent.

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Unicorn versus chameleon

The first step in self-actualization (achieving a fundamental life balance that leads you to strive for growth and change) is to differentiate between perceived external expectations and the changes, growth, and milestones that are genuinely meaningful to you. It’s like distinguishing between a chameleon and a unicorn—one blends in, while the other stands out proudly.

Think about the desires and goals you’ve set for yourself. Are they genuinely aligned with your values and dreams, or are they a product of societal pressures and expectations? For those struggling to find balance, Thais Aratangy, of the Canadian Mental Health Association, suggests “spending more time with yourself.”

“The more you know you, the more you come to understand your true likes and values, which will help determine what is important to you,” says Aratangy. “This then empowers you to set and maintain boundaries regarding the priorities in your life.”

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It’s you, only better

Who is your best self? What does that look like? Three pillars set the foundation for everything else in your life: sleep, movement, and food.

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Sleep

Sleep is the magic potion that revitalizes our bodies and minds. Studies have determined that anything less than seven hours per night is considered “deprivation,” and you’re mentally and physically worse for wear if you come up shy. Create a bedtime routine that helps you gradually wind down so you get a quality sleep.

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Movement

Unicorns are known for their graceful and spirited gallops. While you don’t have to break into a gallop (unless you want to—no judgment here), regular physical activity is vital. Find a form of movement that brings you joy, whether it’s dancing like nobody’s watching or yoga with other sweaty unicorns (again, no judgment).

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Food

Nourish yourself with wholesome foods that make you feel vibrant and alive. Remember, your inner unicorn thrives on colourful and nutritious meals (save beige for your cargo pants collection).

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Supplements

Sometimes, even unicorns need a little extra sparkle. Consult a health care professional to determine if supplements can help you meet your specific needs. But remember, they’re like the glitter on a unicorn’s horn—they enhance, not replace, your foundation.

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The magic of mindset and self-belief

A positive mindset and diamond-solid self-belief turn obstacles into opportunities. They don’t make you blind to the fact that the world isn’t rainbows. They do give you the ability to see beyond the problem at hand, not only to find creative solutions but also to understand that things can always be much worse (file this under gratitude).

Start by affirming your worthiness on a daily basis. This will help you believe in yourself like you’re the last unicorn on earth. Self-doubt may sneak in from time to time, but you can counter it with positive affirmations, meditation, or seeking support from a mental health professional.

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Behaviour patterns: Notice and name

As you continue your quest to become the best versions of yourself, be mindful of habits and behaviours that hinder your progress. Identify the triggers that lead you down a path of procrastination or self-sabotage.

Do you watch TV while eating a meal (mindless eating) or scroll through your phone instead of starting your day with purpose? When you spot patterns, write them down and replace them with habits that align with your goals.

Rather than focusing on “cutting out” negatives (such as eating less fast food), add positives (eating a fruit or vegetable with every meal). Eventually, positive behaviours start to crowd out less desirable ones, and they naturally and less painfully fall by the wayside. Small positive changes, made on a regular basis, can have a significant positive cumulative effect.

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Let it go

We’ve all had moments when we’ve felt like we stumbled and fallen on our quest for self-improvement. What differentiates a unicorn from the rest of the herd is the ability to get up and push forward. It’s time to let go of past “failures” or perceived shortcomings.

Registered psychologist Dr. Bea Mackay says, “To let regrets go, you need to perceive things in a new way. How you do this is by creating new neural pathways.”

This is the essence of cognitive behavioural therapy: training your mind and body to react in different ways than they traditionally have to an event or memory.

Instead of dwelling on the past, use it as a stepping stone toward a brighter future. Each experience, no matter how challenging, has shaped you into the person you are today. Embrace your imperfections and let them be an important part of your journey.

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The power of friendship

The most important takeaway from every My Little Pony movie ever made: good friends are important. The importance of a strong support network can’t be overstated. In fact, it’s one of the most important factors, if not the most important, in achieving your goals and maintaining positive change.

Mackay strongly believes that “friends and families who have healthy ways to dissipate the natural tension that builds from friendships and living together, such as playing sports, games, singing, and being creative, do better in life than those who don’t.”

Surround yourself with those who make you a better person. “Accepting that you can’t do everything on your own,” adds Aratangy, “will allow you to stride further.”

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The significance of daily reflection

Daily reflection is fundamental to learning and self-regulation. An important tool in our ability to self-assess, it allows for the downloading and blending of new and existing knowledge, and it supports us in fully reconciling all elements of an experience.

There isn’t just one way to reflect; the “how” is up to you. Any activity that allows you to focus on a thought and consider its different elements counts as reflection. It may be something as formal as journalling or list writing; something techy, such as feeling-tracking apps; something physical, such as meditating; or something as simple and informal as tea with a friend.

The point is for you to take a dedicated moment to consider, assess, note, and name your experiences that day and reconcile how they fit (or not) into your current goals, desires, and life plans.

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“Whether you think you can or cannot, you’re right”

Henry Ford, whether he knew it or not, was not only referencing mindset but also making a commentary on self-esteem.

There are many definitions of self-esteem, but perhaps the most succinct is by American sociologist Morris Rosenberg: “Self-esteem is an indicator of self-acceptance, self-respect, and satisfaction with oneself.”

Everything in your life begins and ends with your self-esteem, including the likelihood that you’ll try new things, your perceptions of your own shortcomings and achievements, and your future outlook.

Your self-esteem can change on any given day and in any given environment. And research proves that various cognitive behavioural therapies can have a significant positive impact on your self-esteem.

So, if you need a mind-shift now, or think you may need extra support to make lasting changes this year, get in touch with a mental health professional and discuss possibilities. You’ll be glad you did!

This article was originally published in the January 2024 issue of alive magazine.

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