In our previous post—“I’m recovering from my life”—we talked about the problem. Now let’s talk about the solution. How do you live a life that doesn’t leave you feeling all worn out?
I wish I could say it was easy to answer this question. Without bullshit, that is. But there’s so much about how you and I are that’s hard to change, and so much about our circumstances that’s really hard to change. That makes solving this problem hard.
Take me, for instance. I am, cursedly, very conscientious. We talked about that in the last post. Conscientiousness is a personality trait—hard to change—that can seem admirable from the outside but that burns you up from the inside. How do you tell a conscientious person to stop being conscientious? You couldn’t have told me that.
And yet!! I strongly believe that no one totally has to end up being totally worn out by their life. There are things we can do that make a big difference.
Let’s start with self-care. Now the key to this, to making it do-able, is making it not optional. To the degree that you are conscientious and/or driven by other people’s needs, you will leave your own needs to the last minute and then ignore them. So the trick here is appointments. Ways to schedule self-care so it becomes unavoidable, or at least hard to avoid.
The super-best way is to make a regular appointment to do something with another person. Your not wanting to cancel on them at the last minute will help you keep to doing this activity that you’re really wanting to do.
Another good tool is to put the things you need to do to take care of yourself in your calendar, written or electronic, and also set a reminder for you to do them. If it’s there like an actual appointment, it’ll be much harder to skip. You can tell people, “Sorry, folks, that time doesn’t work for me. I have a thing scheduled for then.” It’s your thing!
Something else that’s do-able and very productive is what I call editing out. All this takes is a gut check. Here all you do is stop doing stuff you’ve been doing out of habit or obligation. You always take Patti’s calls, but it always turns into listening to her complain for an hour. There’s never any room for you in your relationship with Patti. But you’ve kept on taking her calls because you feel badly for her. Well, you have to make a decision. Is Patti’s welfare all that important to you? More than your own emotional well-being?
I can’t answer that question for you. But I do know for sure that all of us have junked up our lives with low payback, no payback, negative payback activities—and they’re killing us.
The more of them you dump, the better off you’ll be and the less likely you’ll be to end up feeling you need to recover from your life.
The next thing is big—well, very big—but still do-able. It’s the major move. It’s obviously not an everyday thing. But the payoff can be ginormous. Here’s what I’m talking about. There you are, working at a super-stressful job, say, on Wall Street, or in hospital administration, or in sales. You know, and everyone who knows you knows, that you take a pounding. And no matter what you say, no matter what you pretend you are, you’re not like the watch in the commercial: you can’t keep taking a licking and keep on ticking.
So here the major move is cutting loose from something, maybe a bunch of things, you’d been assuming were vital to you. Say, prestige and wealth. A go-go lifestyle. Habit and comfort zone. I know: that’s what makes this hard to do!
But the reason I say it’s do-able by normal, everyday people is that normal, everyday people do it every day. It just takes
an understanding that “this” isn’t working and isn’t going to work
an acceptance of a better life that will be different with a different set of rewards
a search for the right alternatives
pulling the trigger on the whole thing
I knew a guy who was the commanding officer of an aircraft carrier. He was in charge of over 5,000 men and women, as well as being responsible for one of the most powerful warfighting platforms on the planet. In a sense, he was never off duty. But at some point he quit and eventually took a job as head of a small arts organization. Now he’s happy.
The reason I say this huge step is so do-able is that, really, you just have to take a big swallow and decide to do it. Just ask the people who’ve done it.
And finally—still trying to stay in the realm of the do-able—you could, even though it cuts across your grain, try to take a so-what pill. This is basically coming to an understanding with life that not everything is of equal super-importance. Let me tell you some of the things that I, who am bad at this!, have done on this score that have helped me a lot:
In grad school at one point I realized that I was going for a terminal degree. No one would ever see my grades. No one would care. So I said so what to top grades and focused on what I called maximizing my outcome to effort ratio. In other words, it wasn’t any longer about how great a paper I could write. It was about writing the best paper for the least effort. And you know what? No one ever knew the difference.
I at some point realized I could have a career and peace of mind or a clean house and peace of mind, but not both. So I said so what to the idea of a clean, neat house. Screw it, I said. After I’m dead, who’s gonna judge me for how good a housekeeper I was?
Parenting. Sigh. A lot of parents convince themselves that with a lot of huffing and puffing and pulling and pushing they can make their kids turn out to be much better than they would have been otherwise. Well, these parents don’t have research on their side. I realized—as best as I could, anyway!—that my kids were going to be the people they were going to be and that my relationship with them was going to be a lot better if I accepted them as they were. Great kids!, by the way. So I said so what and good-bye to over-parenting and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.
So there you have it:
1. Take better care of yourself.
2. Edit out all the draining crap from your life.
3. Figure out what major move you could make that would dramatically change things.
4. And practice—just practice, be bad at it until you’re good at it—saying so what to stuff that doesn’t really matter.
And for some help with your journey toward a life that leaves you wanting more life, here are three of our books that can help a lot:
Check them out to see what they have to offer you...