Struggling with your New Year's resolutions? Try asking bigger questions...
For most of us, the start of a new year is the time when we set goals and think about what we want to achieve in the months ahead. I've always found this an extremely positive activity - setting new year's resolutions never fails to fire my ambition and fill me with optimism. But I often end up feeling dejected and crushed weeks later. And muddle through the year achieveing things in fits and starts when I'm not feeling like I'm bumping along the bottom - both physically and emotionally.
This year I've had a revelation and it's inspired me to take a different approach. It's as though, until now, I've been lacking the tools to give shape to my aspirations.
Traditonally, my new year's resolutions have always focussed on what I want to achieve - ie the end result. But this time, I tried to look at the bigger picture and - that's how I found the means to achieve long term success with my goals. By looking at the bigger picture, I mean that I turned my resolutions upside down, making them into questions. Rather than saying 'I want more time for myself this year' I tried asking:
How can I meet everyone's needs and still have something left for myself?
It sounds obvious, but it really helped my 'task addled' mum-brain to open things out and look at my life more objectively. Rather than thinking only of what I wanted to achieve and trying to stuff as much into my schedule as possible, I was thinking about the reality of my life - three children and a husband and all. I was considering my life as a whole. Pretty quickly, I came up with the following four 'How' questions, (including the one above):
How can I fulfill my potential and be the best version of myself in all areas of my life?
How do I combine the practical (mothering) and thininking/creative (work) aspects of my life without one overshadowing the other?
How do I remain flexible and keep anxiety at bay while sticking to my work schedule and fulfilling all of my many roles and responsibilities?'
As you might expect, all of the questions seem to be about finding a sense of balance. As something that most of us struggle with at certain points in our life, it's very useful to identify the daily practices that help you maintain calm and balance - even when you're having to keep numerous balls in the air.
I came up with three. And they work. They are the answers to all of my 'why' questions. It's as though these three principles provide the tools that enable me to be balanced and happy. And from this wellspring, all sorts of good things come.
My three principles are:
Daily (or as close to daily as possible) exercise. And for me, that means getting up early, before the children and the to-do list kicks in. Whether it's yoga, circuit training, dancing, running or pilates, exercising helps keep ailments and low moods at bay - two things that often prevent me from being productive.
Time planning Using Covey's Important and Urgent Time Management Grid. A friend sent me the link at the start of the year and it's proving to be very helpful. FEELING OVERWHELMED by the things on my 'to do list' is a non-productive state that I've often found myself in. And this is partly because I'm not very good at prioritising (meaning, I get easily distracted by the small stuff). I've always written lists, but this approach is different. It forces you to write down everything that you think you have to do and then sort each task into one of four boxes with differing levels of importance and priority. I then allocate roughly how long I'd like to spend on each task. Distinguishing between important and urgent (and the little things that I NEED to put off until later) has really helped me. It just might help you too.
Accepting and loving all of myself, my wobbly bits and my long, lean bits, my tendency to be selfish and lose patience under pressure as well as generous and flexibile when I'm grounded. Accepting my whole self, dark thoughts, happy thoughts and all. And just being okay with it. Because, at this stage in my life, with ten years of motherhood and marriage under my belt, I know that however hard it may be to cope with a challenging phase that one of the children is going through, or difficult emotions in the house, or a negative thought pattern I'm stuck in, it means nothing, it will pass, and then, things will be okay.
So these principles are a bit like good habits. And as with all good habits, maintenance is key. Yes, there will be times when I may let one or all three slide. But at least I know what they are. And I know how to get quickly back on track when I'm finding life hard. Hopefully bumping along the bottom has been relegated to the first half of the twenty-tens. Yes, hopefullly it's truly become a thing of the past.