New Year, New You? Not necessarily…

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At this time of year so many of us make New Year’s Resolutions that are meant to change to way we look, feel and behave.  However, it’s also pretty common for them to fail.  So what can you do?

I’ve written before about SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-limited).  SMART goals are a brilliant way to decide what you want to achieve and plan how to do it.  It’s also a useful way of breaking down bigger projects into smaller steps.

But if you’ve written out your SMART goals and still aren’t getting anywhere, what then?

First of all… why are you doing this?  Where have your goals and resolutions come from?  If a goal is based on the wishes of someone else, it can be more difficult to achieve.  Especially if you don’t really want to! You might decide the goal isn’t actually right for you at all, which might have consequences (good or bad) for your relationship with the person.  Or you might have to work a bit harder to appreciate how achieving the goal could end up being a good thing for everyone.

What will be the final outcome, and how will it help you?  So many people, for example, resolve to lose weight.  How will that help you, long-term?  What part of your life have you put on hold until you are ‘thin’ – and what stops you from doing it now?  Are other goals actually holding you back this way?

Do you really want this, or are you doing something you believe you “should”?  Perhaps you have an image in your head of the kind of person you ‘should’ be, but is it who you really are?  I am a big believer in the idea that self-acceptance is the first step towards happiness.  Two of my favourite quotes come from Carl Rogers, in his book On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy.

“We cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.”

and

“It becomes easier for me to accept myself as a decidedly imperfect person, who by no means functions at all times in the way in which I would like to function. This must seem to some like a very strange direction in which to move. It seems to me to have value because the curious paradox is that when I accept myself as I am, then I change.”

That is why I have said “Not necessarily” in the title of this post.  The quotations above mean that you are far more likely to make lasting changes that benefit you if you can start by accepting yourself as you are.  That can be difficult and scary, as it may mean looking honestly at parts of yourself you would rather not.  You might have flaws you have been trying to hide.  You might even be hiding good things about yourself, because it can be just as scary to think about what showing those things off might mean!

So what do you want to do?

The Tyranny of ‘To Do’s

to do
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In January last year I blogged about Goals and “To Do” lists.  I have decided to revisit this to address why To Do lists can go wrong, and how to tackle that.

Most of us carry a rolling To Do list in our heads, giving mental energy over to them not so much through need to remember but due to fear of forgetting something.  Unfortunately, the constant reminders to ourselves, the running internal commentary of “mustn’t forget, mustn’t forget” can potentially cause more stress than the task itself – and feeling stressed is linked to poor memory.  Ironically, making such an effort to avoid forgetting or missing something can bring about the very thing you fear.

My previous blog post suggested ways to manage this, such as using streamlined and prioritised written lists or phone apps.  This can be helpful for many people, but doesn’t tell the whole story.

I recently read this book (language warning!), which asks us to re-examine the things we care about and whether those are the things which we really want or need to care about.  We all have limited energy and time to devote to things, but often get bogged down by the routine tasks which “must” be done.

It is worth asking ourselves what we think the outcome might be if some of these ‘To Do’s did not get done.  Are we looking at a worst-case scenario?  What might a realistic view be?  Are these tasks things which really matter to you, or are they things which were drummed into you as “musts” when you were growing up?  For whose benefit are these tasks being done?  Are we taking on a share of work which rightly belongs to someone else?  Do you have anyone else who can take on some of these tasks?  Why aren’t they doing so?  Does the thought of letting them do something their own way, possibly doing it badly, cause you anguish?  What will the effect on you be if they do the task badly?

In many households, one person feels they are carrying the weight of the routine ‘To Do’s that keep everything running.  That can not only be draining and frustrating, but also very isolating.  Drawing a boundary by saying, “I cannot do any more” and insisting others take responsibility can be very hard.  Many of us were raised to be “helpful” and “hardworking”.  The thought of saying “No, that is your responsibility” can be frightening because it means letting go of those expectations from self and others.  It can just feel easier to accept the draining daily grind than to risk rocking the boat.

If you want to start a conversation about this with those around you, it is helpful to use ‘”I” statements’ to keep communication lines open.  Saying “You always…” or “You never…” might well be true, but it also encourages defensiveness and closing of communication by the other person.  For example, how might you react to “You never complete this task and I am fed up with it!” versus “I feel utterly exhausted by completing this task every day.  I feel upset that I am not receiving help from you”?  This can also be managed by considering the roles you might be playing in a Drama Triangle, and how that causes things to go round and round rather than resolving.

What is on your ‘To Do’ list today?  How much of it is really yours?  What would you like to let go of, and can you give yourself permission for that?

If you would like help with some of the issues raised by this blog post, please contact me to make an appointment.

Endings and beginnings

Endings and beginnings
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People have marked endings and beginnings for thousands of years, perhaps most formally since the first calendars (lunar, astronomical, seasonal…).

I was interested by the image of the Roman god Janus, for beginnings, endings, doorways, gates and times of change.  He had two faces – one looking to the past, the other to the future.

What really interested me was theis ‘double-sidedness’.  A beginning – such as a new year, a job, a home, a new life choice – often means an ending of something else.  That change can raise questions of identity, as we shed something we used to have and define ourselves by the new thing or new relationships.

At New Year so much focus is on new goals or beginnings, but very little is on endings so I would like to look at them here.  Which things are you going to say goodbye to at this time?  What would you like to say goodbye to?  Is something holding you back?  Are there any things you are saying goodbye to with joy?

Perhaps you are facing an ending you do not want to happen.  How will you mange that?  Will you be marking the ending in some way – a ceremony, a specific act?  Sometimes these formal ‘rituals’ can help to bring “closure” and aid healing after an ending.  Do you have a support network to help you make the change that this ending brings, and they they be part of the ceremony?

When you have faced your ending, whatever feelings it brings up, what parts of your identity have changed?  How do you define yourself?  By your relationships?  Your job?  Where you live?  Family?  What has changed, what has ended, what now takes its place?

What might seem a series of simple questions can uncover far deeper meanings, and that uncovering can take time (as self-discovery so often does!).  That is why marking endings and beginnings is found throughout human culture, and why it can be so useful to take time to look at them now.

I sincerely wish you a happy, prosperous and fulfilling 2017.

 

Goals and “To Do” lists

Last week’s blog post (New Year’s Resolutions and SMART goals) proved quite popular, so this post is a slight extension of that.  Goals and To Do lists are closely linked, and can be a source of satisfaction or strife!

Goals and to do lists
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Someone suggested that adding a goal to your list that you know you will definitely complete can be a great motivational tool.  I agree!  No matter how small the item, putting a tick beside it can be very satisfying – and if it is something you enjoyed doing, double win!  She suggested adding “drink a can of coke” to hers, as that is something she enjoys and knows she will do that week.  What might yours be?

As I have said before, self care is important – just as important as other must-do tasks.

However, To Do lists can cause problems.

  • Are there too many items on your list, so you feel overwhelmed?  Try adding a note of how long each task will take you – you may find you have 23 tasks, but they only add up to about 2 hours’ work?
  • Are you taking on too many tasks?  If so, it might be worth looking at why – do you find it difficult to delegate?
  • Do you have trouble getting started when confronted with a list?  Perhaps you know you don’t have time to do everything.  You might like to try arranging them differently – for example, in order of priority.

There are a number of apps and systems available online to help organise tasks, and plenty of discussion about how to make things better.  A pen and pad by the side of the bed might give you a chance to relax if you know something is written down, so you don’t have to hold it in your mind while trying to get to sleep.  A pretty set of stationery or a convenient app (especially for recurring tasks) might make things easier – choose what works for you!

Good luck!

 

If you feel overwhelmed, anxious or just don’t know where to start to make things better, I am here to help.  Please contact me.

New Year’s resolutions and SMART goals

At this time of year, there is a lot of discussion around New Year’s Resolutions – not just making them but how difficult it can be to keep them.  A way of setting goals that might maximise your chances of success is to make them “SMART”.

SMART goals
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SMART stands for*

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Relevant

Time-limited

 

What do all these mean?

Specific

This means that your goal needs to be specific in terms of what you will do, as opposed to generalised outcomes.

For example: “I will be less rushed” is general, but “I will get up earlier in the mornings” is specific.  A way of choosing your specific goal is to ask yourself “how?” when considering what you plan to do.

Measurable

This helps you to work out what your measure for success is, and how to know when you have achieved it.

For example: “I will get up early” is general and difficult to measure, but “I will get up by 7:30am every weekday” is measurable.

Achievable

To maximise your chances of success, be realistic about what you can do.

For example: “I will go to the gym for two hours every day” isn’t going to be achievable or sustainable in the long term.  You might like to aim at something smaller, such as, “I will exercise for 30 minutes three times a week.”

Relevant

This is where you must consider if the goal you have set is something that is going to be helpful for you right now.  Is it something that really applies to your life and will make it better?

Time-limited

This commits you to a set time to achieve your goals.  You might like to choose a date to achieve something by, or decide to keep up the habit for a set time (for example, a month).

You might find these tips useful for keeping you on track if you would like to keep going at a new habit for a period of time.

 

The important thing about SMART goals is that they are entirely individual to you.  You decide what you want to do and you decide what success will look like for you.  Good luck!

 

*there are some variations on what the letters stand for, but most come down to the same thing.  Choose what works for you.