The North Pole — that mystical place becomes the focal point for many of us this time of year. Imagine you decided to take a trek to the North Pole by foot and brought your fanciest compass as your guide. You step outside and the needle shakily makes it way to the top of the circle pointing you in the northern direction. However, you are trek savvy and know that this is not, in fact, true north but magnetic north. Magnetic north is simply the magnetic regions in the arctic regions that can continually shift based on earth not necessarily guiding you to your desired destination. On the other hand, “true north” will guide you from south to north, and back again, by following a map’s geographical lines. In this manner, you will arrive exactly where you want to go.
If we look at our life and our most meaningful relationships, we are often pulled by forces not in line with our “true north,” or our internal map that consists of our values and authentic self. We can become reactionary, a pleaser, or an appeaser. Following our magnetic north causes us to operate for others, react instead of act, avoid perceived conflict and generally behave in a way that soothes the emotions of the moment — pain, anxiety, loss of control and so on.
Understanding the difference between magnetic north and true north allows us to truly chart the course we want to take. However, sometimes the difficulty lies not in the destination, but in the route. The key to taking the path right for you comes from a concept we often overlook — knowing.
Knowing your values
You may have the pat answer list like a well-versed boy scout, but what do you truly value? Time? Relationships? Money? Security? Really getting honest with yourself about what you value can give you your foundational platform on which to stand and protect. If you know you value your relationship, yet social events continually get in the way of spending time with your spouse, acting in line with your values regarding your relationship puts you in your “true north” state.
Knowing your preferences
If values are your foundation, preferences are the metaphorical interior design of you. Preferences are not necessarily character defining traits, simply things you like and dislike. Do you prefer catsup or BBQ sauce on your burger? Do you like flip flops or sandals in the summer? While these questions may seem simple, many people are so removed from their true north that they don’t know what they prefer anymore because they are so busy accommodating others’ preferences. If you find yourself saying “I don’t know” more often than not to questions about yourself and preferences, start finding answers to those questions by taking risks and experimenting. There are subtle variations in the path to our true north, and you’ll be more productive if you know what you want.
Knowing your boundaries
Any map — even the metaphorical map to your true north — has boundaries. When we find we are frustrated, resentful, angry, or depressed, that can be an indication that our boundaries are not intact, and our emotional well-being pays the price. When we know our boundaries, we start saying “yes” when we mean yes, saying “no” and being OK and operating from our center — our true north.
Knowing you will disappoint
Lastly, if you have been living a magnetic north, others have gotten used to your approach to life and relationships. If your preferences have always defaulted to your partner’s and if you’ve only acted on things you don’t value, when you start giving yourself permission to have healthy boundaries, inevitably the people around you will feel that adjustment, as well. Understanding that people may react poorly as you start living more in line with yourself will free you up from taking it personally and taking it upon yourself to fix it, so they feel better.