Several times in my life I’ve decided that I was doing everything wrong and tried to overhaul my entire life in order to ‘get my life together’. I would create an exhaustive list of what the ‘Ideal Christina’ looks like and from that list, I would make a list of all of the changes that I would be making in my life – starting NOW. What ended up happening was that I was completely overwhelmed within days and by the end of the month I’d have given up completely.
And I’d feel horrible about myself.
I mentioned near the beginning of the year that I don’t typically like to save self-improvement for new year’s resolutions, so it was not at all uncommon for me to go through this cycle multiple times each year. I think that I completely gave up on improving myself at all last year because I just felt completely spent.
As I reflected on the upcoming season of Lent (a time of penance observed prior to Easter in which to reflect and work on the things that prevent you from reaching your true potential) food came to mind. My diet is a huge stumbling block for me. The thing that seemed the most problematic was that I eat late at night and that I eat at my desk (both ultimately mean that I’m eating in secret). So I made a promise that I would stop eating after dinner – unless everyone was eating (like for family movie night) and that I would not eat at my desk. As I write this, it just occurred to me that I have a jar of almonds that I was snacking on the other day (aak!) but other than that I’ve stuck to my promise pretty well. I’m beginning to feel a wonderful sense of self mastery – AND I’ve also lost about 3 pounds in the last two weeks which is awesome (but was not necessarily the purpose of this exercise).
In a couple of weeks, when I feel confident that I’ve created a new, positive habit I will add another thing from my incredibly long list of areas that I need to address and I’ll work on that until I feel ready for the next step.
I can do this.
So, what do you think? Do you prefer a complete overhaul or do you like to take it one step at a time?
After reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People several years ago (I highly recommend it) I really attempt to consider his four quadrants for time management as I attempt to organize my life. Covey proposes that all activities fall into one of four categories – Urgent and Important, Not Urgent but Important, Urgent but Not Important, or Not Urgent and Not Important – and that how much time we spend in each quadrant impacts our effectiveness.
Of course we tend to focus on things that are urgent (because they’re urgent)– and often those things, the ‘fires’ really ARE important. But they also keep us running around frenzied and disorganized. Covey recommends taking the time to focus on important things before they become urgent and completing activities that help you do things in a way that’s faster and easier. That covers the first two quadrants.
It’s probably quite normal and understandable that many people have a tendency to spend more time than they should in the last two quadrants, but it’s not effective. The third quadrant (Urgent but Not Important) can feel so important sometimes – things like long phone calls, answering emails, and doing things for other people – it’s difficult to pass those things up and if you do you risk feeling guilty.
Then there’s the fourth quadrant, things that are almost unquestionably time wasters. They’re usually anything that you do without conscious thought – eating, watching TV, surfing the internet. In my experience I spend more time in the fourth quadrant when I spend less time in the second. I have significantly less energy when I don’t take care of my health and spirit properly and end up wasting time with things that drain me at a soul level.
It may even be possible that the ‘fires’ in Quadrant One are simply an indication that you are spending too much time in Quadrants Three and Four and that the best way to prevent them is by spending a lot more time in Quadrant number Two.
PS: I keep a copy of the quadrants in my office to help me remember where I should spend my time.
Make Your Minutes Matter!
If you read yesterday’s post you know that gratitude can make you happier and healthier. But what if you aren’t naturally a very grateful person?
Well you’re in luck because studies show that you can deliberately cultivate gratitude – increasing your well-being and happiness in the process. It just requires a little mindfulness on your part but I promise it will be worth it.
Here are a few ideas to get you started…
Decide to be grateful – The first step to changing is make up your mind. Start looking for new situations and circumstances in which to feel grateful, bring gratitude into your experiences, instead of waiting for something to feel grateful for.
Control your thoughts especially your self talk – Grateful people use language that evokes images of gifts, blessings, fortune, and abundance instead of deservingness, regrets, scarcity, and loss. One simple technique is to stop saying that that you have to do something and start using words like get to or will (trust me, this works). Consider reframing difficult circumstances (like changing your focus from how cold the weather is to the beauty of the snow on the ground). And if you’re facing something that doesn’t seem to have a silver lining try putting it in perspective – ask yourself ‘What good might come from this?’, ‘What will I be grateful for in the future?’, or ‘What can I learn here?’. The key to leading a thankful life is embracing setbacks as part of your overall journey without letting them take over your life.
Learn to live in the moment and look for things to be grateful for – Gratitude is a way of viewing the circumstances of your life, so don’t focus on what you don’t have – look for the good in what you DO have. Learn to find joy in the small things instead of holding out for the biggies like a promotion, getting married, or having a certain amount of money. Watch the sunrise over the lake, or savor how wonderful those fuzzy socks feel at the end of the day – whatever it takes to slow down and immerse yourself in the beauty that is all around you. If that’s a little challenging try watching this amazing TEDxSF video ‘A Good Day’ – I think I might just start watching this every morning!
Steep yourself in inspirational thoughts and motivational quotes. – It’s difficult to be unappreciative when are surrounded by reminders of your blessings. You could sign up for daily motivational emails, get familiar with a holy text, or create and display a Gratitude Board filled with the people and experiences that you are most grateful for.
Put it in your schedule – Pick a TIME to focus on your blessings every day, it could be while you brush your teeth, during your commute, when you do a Minute Movement or (my favorite) while you fold laundry. Or you could use the old standby and keep a gratitude journal. I have a friend who keeps a family gratitude journal on the dining room table making gratitude an integral part of the evening meal. Whatever you do, setting aside time on a daily basis to remember how fortunate you are helps you retrain your brain to notice the positive.
Help other people and touch their lives in a meaningful way – GIVE to others. Give genuine compliments. Give your entire focus while you talk. Give your time and your money and yourself. Become involved in a cause that it worthy to you. Especially try to serve others in some way beyond just writing a check – when you interact with someone who is less fortunate than yourself, it helps you see your life in a different light. At the very least invite someone to share in the experience of gratitude and wonder that you’re developing – grab someone you love, pull them aside, and ask ‘isn’t the sunset beautiful tonight?’
Invest in the people you love – Practice telling the people in your life something you appreciate about them every day, write a letter to someone who has had a positive influence on your life, have coffee with a friend and relish the feeling of belonging.
Tomorrow is the perfect day to start developing the habit of gratitude. Enjoy time with your people, count your blessings, say a prayer for someone who’s struggling.
Make Your Minutes Matter
The Day My Son Gave Up on Me is a fantastic (and kind of heart wrenching) example of why we say ‘Make Your Minutes Matter’ by blogger Lauren Cormier who shares her heart with us as she recounts the night that her son said ‘Mommy was always grumpy when I’d call her to come back up to cuddle, so I stopped asking.’ I am so impressed that little Eli was willing and able to express his feelings and that the author immediately realized their true impact. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that she was willing to share her story (reality check).
‘Cuddle Time’ used to be a pretty big deal around my house too and I’ve let myself get too distracted and busy to take that special time with my children in the past couple of years. And I think it really has been YEARS since it was a nightly event – which is probably a bigger deal for my daughter, who’s younger and still interested in that time with me.
I really believe that the little things – especially the little kindnesses – make such a huge difference. I don’t ever want the people in my life to think that laundry or Facebook – or really anything in the entire world – is more important to me than they are. I have to constantly be reminded to live mindfully – in what I eat, in how I care for my body, and in how I treat my loved ones.
I don’t ever want anyone to give up on me, not even myself.
Make Your Minutes Matter