it’s that time when many of us start the self-defeating habit of taking stock of what we didn’t do last year, in the hopes of redeeming ourselves this year. With a critical eye, we evaluate our eating habits, our spending (or overspending) habits, or the ways in which we feel stuck in a rut at work. We make another promise to get things right this year; but within a few short weeks, we’re back to the same old habits–and the same old feelings of hopelessness.
For the last nine years, I’ve worked as a life coach helping a variety of people make positive changes in their lives. Now I’d like to help you start off the New Year in a whole new way.
In order to begin what I’m calling your New Year Revolution, you need to make self-care a top priority–that is, you need to start taking good care of yourself. When you’re exhausted or overworked, or feeling resentful or fed up, you’re no good to anyone–not to yourself and not to your loved ones.
If you have always put the needs of others before your own, the idea of putting yourself first may seem shocking–or, at the very least, self-indulgent. But remember this: A commitment to others starts with a commitment to yourself. When you take good care of your emotional, physical, and spiritual health, you can be there for others in a much healthier way. And when you start to feel guilty, try to see it as a sign that you’re on the right path. The guilt that comes from disappointing others will either lessen, or disappear over time.
If you really want to succeed in changing your life for the better, it’s a good idea to find a partner to support your efforts. The partner could be a friend or family member who is committed to making changes in her own life. Rather than choosing someone you’d like to change, look for a supportive partner who is committed to her own development.
Once you’ve found a partner, make plans to talk in person or by phone at least once a week. Now you’re ready to take action. Let’s get started….
Step 1 Build on success. Instead of beating yourself up for the ten pounds you didn’t lose last year or the money you still haven’t saved, acknowledge the things that you have accomplished and the ways you have changed. What are you most proud of? Are there personal qualities that you’ve strengthened, developed, or learned to express in new ways? Maybe you’ve become more patient, more generous, or less critical.
Set aside some time to quietly review your successes. Make a list of at least 20 (yes, 20!) things that you feel good about. When you’ve completed the list, share it with your partner and make a plan to celebrate your success. Buy yourself a little gift, or schedule a pamper break (an hour of reading time alone, or maybe a manicure or massage). This step may seem like just a “feel good” exercise, but it’s more important than that. Focusing attention on what you’ve done well helps prevent you from falling into the trap of negative thinking–a recipe for disaster. Don’t skip over this step!
Step 2 Get your priorities straight. Unlike goals or dreams, priorities are what need your time and attention now in order to give you more control over your life. When you consider your priorities, think about things that repeatedly make you worry and keep you up at night. Or, consider what prevents you from making the changes you’re yearning to make. For example, do you need to cut expenses or save extra money so you can leave a job that drains your energy? Do you need to seek counseling in order to regain joy and intimacy in your marriage? Maybe you’re feeling exhausted and need some support to help deal with an aging parent (getting help can be an important priority too!).
Once you’ve identified your priorities, choose the top five and list them (in order of importance) on an index card. Label the card your Absolute Yes List. Then make copies of the card and post them in places where you’ll see them every day. When you have your Absolute Yes List in sight, you’ll be consistently reminded of what’s important. Which makes it easier to define what isn’t.
Step 3 Start letting go. Now that you have your top priorities set, you’re ready to start identifying and eliminating things that prevent you from honoring them. This step takes courage and persistence. Ask yourself the following question: What do I need to let go of in order to devote more time and energy to my new priorities? Don’t censor your answers. Just note what comes to mind and write it down.
After you complete your list, choose five items that you’ll remove from your life in the next two weeks. As you make your choices, it’s important to take into consideration your level of comfort when it comes to change. Some people prefer taking small steps to improve their lives, whereas others prefer a more radical approach. If smaller steps feel more comfortable, then start with something simple such as eliminating a volunteer activity or letting go of the notion that your house needs to be kept clean and orderly all the time. If you prefer a more dramatic change, then you might consider cutting down on social engagements–or even putting some friendships on hold–so you can invest your time and energy on a priority that needs your attention now. A busy social calendar doesn’t necessarily mean a satisfying one.
Where do you need help? Look for tasks that you can delegate. For example, ask your older children to take over the laundry or a high school student in the neighborhood to spend a couple of hours per week watching the kids so you can have some time to yourself. The more overwhelmed you feel or the more difficult your circumstances, the more you’ll need help. Challenge yourself to let go of control and receive a little support. Remember that you’re freeing up time (and energy) to honor your top priorities.
Step 4 Restore your energy. When you’ve cleared your calendar and delegated some of your responsibilities, it’s time to do those things that only you can do. Everything that’s undone or incomplete in your life drains your energy. Whether it’s the doctor’s appointment you keep putting off or the debt-elimination plan that’s still on your to-do list, anything you procrastinate about will take up valuable mental energy, making it difficult to focus attention on your Absolute Yes List.
Make a list of specific tasks that you need to get done, and schedule them on your calendar during the next 30 days. Because you’ve already begun to create more time for yourself in step three, there should be more space available for you to handle those tasks.
Focus on doing things quickly and easily. For example, rather than go through the piles of magazines you’ve collected in the last year, just throw them all out and free up some space in your head (and in your home). Organize your work area, and enjoy the peace and calm that come from creating order and removing distractions.
Make sure your tasks are broken down into small, doable jobs so you don’t feel overwhelmed. For example, instead of listing “Clean my cluttered home,” write down something such as “Clean out the bedroom closet” or “Throw out boxes in the basement.”
Learning how to say no, setting boundaries, dealing with disappointing others, and overcoming guilt are key skills that will protect your well-being and keep you focused on your priorities. But there’s another important life skill you’ll need to learn: how to sit with wanting something even when you can’t have it. As you focus on your Absolute Yes List, plenty of opportunities and desires will compete for your attention. You’ll need to be able to say no to those distractions and live with the discomfort in order to make lasting changes in your life. Whether you put off starting your own business until your finances are in better shape or turn down a new position at work to spend more time with your family, learning to be patient will allow you stay focused on what really matters now.