“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” ~ Annie Dillard.
Do you want to spend your life stressed? Rushing and feeling like there’s never enough time? Feeling unhealthy? Feeling tired? Putting things off? Dissatisfied with life?
Most likely, your answer is NO!
But the reality is that, if you feel like any of the above on a regular or daily basis, then that is how you are living life. Before we know it, one day turns into another and another and we have formed habits which have a negative impact upon our living.
So what can we do if we want to form positive life-enhancing habits? I have often found that the first step is…
Noticing that you spend most mornings with your toast skidding down your esophagus as though it’s training for the Bobsleigh in the Winter Olympics; catching yourself as you helplessly berate your work-life balance yet again, collapsing on the sofa at the end of a hard day feeling guilty for the imminent Netflix binge whilst knowing that really your body needs to move; staying up late for the thousandth night in a row when, deep down, you inherently feel that actually your body and mind just need to rest because you are a person who needs regular, extended sleep.
So you have noticed your less-than-beneficial habits. Now what?
Here is where there is a fork in the road. And many of use continually choose the same turning. We think of reasons, excuses, heck even justifications why things are as they are.
Sometimes these are perfectly valid. Knowing when you just have too much on your proverbial plate to dash out into the evening for a run is more powerful (and sensible) than forcing yourself to overextend beyond the realms of healthiness.
However, you need to….
When does your mind speak reason and when is it just trying to give a reason? Only you can be honest enough with yourself to tell. But you are the one person who knows you the best. So have a word with yourself and tell the difference.
Sometimes we all just need to give ourselves a break and be kindest to the one person we so often put last. BUT if our mind is just making excuses or if those excuses are actually going to do more harm than good, then we need to face up to the truth.
Assuming we might just be in a habit rut….
Decode Your Obstacles
Often, the ostensibly obvious obstacle we set before ourselves isn’t necessarily the real hurdle.
For example, you spend your life stressed because you’re running around. If you choose not to accept this as simply a way of life (it’s how things have always been/ you ‘thrive’ on stress/ if you aren’t feeling stressed, rushing around and constantly busy, something must be wrong, you aren’t working hard enough or you won’t know what to do with yourself, there’s simply too much to do for you to not be stressed and things will never change…) then the next step is to decode why you might feel this way.
For instance, if you constantly feel stressed in work because there is so much to do, try to evaluate why that might be. That is, why the feelings of stress have emerged.
Feeling stressed usually originates from our perception of lack of control. That in itself is key.
But consider your circumstances in this work stress example:
- are the other people around you stressed and acting like it? (probably – it’s a totally normal human reaction but sadly not one that serves us in a positive way) Could you therefore be acting in a similar way because that is the organizational culture?
- have you always, as far as memory can recall, felt stressed when it comes to work?
- are you worried about something bad happening if you don’t complete every single thing that lands on your desk that day?
- are you even actually stressed about something to do with work or is something from your personal life causing you anxiety that is spilling over into your work?
- is there a person or are there people you work with who are upsetting you?
There could be a multitude of reasons depending upon you as an individual and the kind of work you do.
Try to come to terms with what is ‘getting in your own way’ of addressing the problem. You might seek the counsel of a friend or family member, your line manager, a colleague or a professional such as a counselor or GP in this circumstance.
Once you know your obstacle, if you feel you can, try to consider:
Can it be moved? Can I improve?
Put simply, can the stressor or situation be altered/ completely taken out of the equation OR can you alter how you are viewing the situation?
Other people acting stressed – what would happen if you changed desks, changed teams, worked less with those people, focused more on the behaviour of more positive colleagues? What would happen if just for a day, you chose to act less stressed yourself? It might BE acting at first. But visualise how you would go through your day if you had fewer pressures and then ACT that out whether the pressures are there or not.
You will probably feel strange: walking more slowly, eating your lunch away from your desk, taking deep breaths when the pressures mount, taking a pause moment, smiling, moving through your to-do pile or list calmly, taking one item at a time and focusing only on this without worrying about something you’ve just completed or the things ahead.
Will your day be any more efficient rushing through it than moving at a steady pace? You will probably make fewer mistakes, be more time-efficient and think more clearly.
Clearly, this is easier to do in some occupations than others. If you work in A and E, stress is a part of the job but even in the most pressured situations, we can make a choice about our mental attitude for the day, throughout the day.
Often the answer is no, the situation cannot be radically changed (though if it can, great – get the support you need to help make that happen). Then the only choice left to us is our inner control.
The first step is the hardest but you really CAN live the life you hope for if that means living the happiest, healthiest life you can.
You have to make a choice: do you WANT to form healthy habits?
If you do, IDENTIFY that you are not living the way you want to; KNOW YOURSELF – is this something you could reasonably change? DECODE YOUR OBSTACLES – what is standing in your way and is this a REAL reason?
Finally, it’s time to take ACTION. Decide WHY you want to change this aspect of your life (which, by the way, could ultimately completely change your whole life for the better) and don’t forget that reason.
Make it a very good reason, something that will sustain you in your weaker moments (which we all have!!) Keep coming back to that reason but….
Make A Plan
Make it clear. Make it measurable. Make it work for you.
For example, if you are fed up of feeling unhealthy but can’t help collapsing on the sofa every night instead of doing some yoga stretches, taking a relaxing swim or walking on the treadmill that your gym membership is funding, make a plan.
What small step can you take tomorrow that will help you to start exercising? Or to get back into it? Keep things sensible: if it’s lack of time standing in your way, an hour of yoga from nothing is unlikely. 5 minutes could happen. One pose could definitely happen, reconnecting you to why it feels so good for your body.
If you’re addicted to a series which takes your potential exercise time, set a timer (one episode only!!) Or better still, do your exercise first.
Unhealthy habits can take a life-time to form, so go easy on yourself if it takes a while to change those into new, positive ones.
But be consistent. Don’t give up. Keep getting back up. Again. And again. And again.
One day, your habit-forming will simply be your life. You will do those things which once were new but now seem so familiar and integral to your existence, because they make you feel good.
No one is perfect and I’m certainly working hard myself currently to re-shape my daily life! These things may seem obvious and yes, they are pretty much common sense logic which on some level, we all probably know.
Yet many of us keep repeating the same negative patterns. So I hope that this post serves as a reminder and a motivator to get back up there again if you’re feeling lost.