Progress towards progress
Some of you might know that I have the aim of ‘progress’ to help focus me in 2016. What do I mean by progress? Good question – and one I forget occasionally too, so I have written about it here.
In a nutshell, in a range of areas of life, I would like to see some improvements, which I think will make life a lot more meaningful, smoother and less angsty than it has been in recent years.
I have a habit of getting very excited about some new ‘thing’, start to use or do it, and then drop it shortly afterwards. That is starting to become very unsatisfying and is frankly a waste of time and energy. It is also showing in the declining enthusiasm of my family for my new approaches. Given I turn to them for support, and my chopping and changing does impact on them, it would be great to maintain a little more consistency. I don’t want to go through a similar cycle over and over again* (and it is part of the reason I haven’t shared any specifics about what I am aiming to achieve).
The other reason is that I haven’t actually nailed down the improvements I’d like to make – yet. I’ve been preparing, reading and thinking. And that’s good. But I am reaching a point that this preparation is actually becoming procrastination under another guise. It’s time to stop ruminating, and start acting.
I think I’ve worked out why I have found things hard / uncomfortable / unpleasant to identify, but equally why I need to make the effort to identify these goals and actions, to avoid the churning ‘fad of the week’ syndrome I’ve been experiencing for some time now.
Yes, I have a theory – well, actually, even better, a little matrix** (I do love a two by two matrix).
And that’s where you come in – I’d love your feedback on it.
One of the books I’ve been reading is Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives . In it, she lists categories which, in her view, captures most of the areas where people would like to make changes (note, she is not making a comment about whether these are the right areas to change, just categorising them).
I shared a summary of the list with some friends over the weekend:
1. Eat and drink more healthfully
2. Exercise regularly
3. Save, spend, and earn wisely
4. Rest, relax, and enjoy (including appreciation)
5. Accomplish more, stop procrastinating
6. Simplify, clear, clean, and organise
7. Engage more deeply in relationships – with other people, with God (or equivalent, depending on beliefs), and with the world
I then posed the question: ‘Does this capture everything?’
I asked because it felt to me as though something was missing.
The feedback I had was almost the contrary – rather than anything missing, this list covers a lot of areas to change (well, it was meant to be comprehensive). As a result, the following suggestions were made:
- Don’t forget to be grateful for the life you live
- Appreciate the simple things in life…the small achievements, beautiful sunsets
- Be kind to yourself and acknowledge when you might need help – and forgive yourself when you sometimes forget to do all of the above
- Be gentle with yourself
- Nourish your spirit. Nourish your soul. Celebrate life
- Make time to create
As I said earlier in this post, I haven’t actually worked out exactly all the changes I want to make, but it is true, I do want to make changes in a range of areas of life. But the comments reminded me not only that I can’t change everything at once, but also these changes should serve a purpose – to bring me closer to being the sort of person I would like to be, and am comfortable being.
And that’s where this matrix comes into play, I am hoping!
Goals and Outcomes
I think that worthwhile changes are ones that serve our needs (for instance, are consistent with what our values, and align with other goals). In thinking about these needs, it’s important not to forget we do not live in isolation to others. I need to consider how my goals might impact on others (partly because my value system includes an appreciation that other people also have needs and rights, but also from a practical perspective). As such, there needs to be an acceptance of doing MY best, rather than necessarily being THE best (although, maybe in some instances, both are possible).
The trouble comes when I confuse my goals with other peoples’ goals. A couple of examples:
- Yes, career advancement is a wonderful thing, and I miss more challenging work. I should find a more senior role, somewhere. But can I do it and still meet my other goals of family time, down time, and the like? Do I actually enjoy the other elements of being the one in charge, on call? Which values take priority?
- Yes, visiting existing places is wonderful, but do we need to do so as frequently as others – what is the cost involved- emotionally, financially, physically? And what would we miss out on back at home?
- Yes, I envy some of the relationships and socialising of other people. But when I am out too much, I feel drained. So do I need to join every group, attend every event, participate in every way?
Teasing out my goals from other people’s can be hard – but it is really important to avoid feeling as though I am going nowhere in life.
Ways of achieving goals
There is one thing to know your goals. It’s quite another to work out the best way to reach your goals. There are many ways to skin a cat (apparently – please note, I haven’t tried!)
Let’s take one of many possible examples of a worthwhile goal – providing for my family’s physical and emotional needs (yes, I picked an easy one to identify – not so easy to achieve!)
I imagine most parents have the same goal. In fact, so does my husband (isn’t that lucky?). But we butt heads over how to meet these needs from time to time.
Some people will address the financial aspect of this through the work they do. In terms of emotional needs, they might then carve out non work time by engaging outside help for home maintenance, cleaning and the like.
Some people, like my husband, do less hours of work (and have given up managerial responsibilities), so they can be around more, and do things for themselves. Anything that needs to be designed or made – most of the car repairs, home renovations, construction of furniture and furnishings, and so on – he is willing to try. For him, it is important that he works part time, and can be present at other times, to assist with broader family needs, to be with the kids, and also to make things, which he enjoys.
At the same time, this approach saves us money. My husband is fond of the saying: there are two ways of increasing your savings – earn more, or spend less. Guess where his preference tends to fall? In part, this is because he is aware that I can get stressed when I am overburdened (and therefore, he does the bulk of the meals – which is a good thing).
Some of us (for example, me), fall in between these two extremes. So I don’t have the same philosophy as my husband in all things, and sometimes this means the need for compromise. We now have a cleaner who comes every four weeks – not as frequently as I would prefer, not necessary as far as he was initially concerned – but it has worked out well. We have ongoing discussions about other expenditures. I do worry about whether we are saving enough (and then the job issue looms again). And then I have to come back to the questions – do I really need this item, to make a major or minor change to the house, to pay these school fees (a looming issue), to go on more holidays / courses/ do activities? Do I think I need to because it is best for us all, or because I have a fear that my kids will miss our (and then, in turn, is there any truth to that, and why is that an issue?) The money issue is an ongoing area I’d like to improve on.
Similarly, I can feel that, as I am NOT working every single day (I don’t work on Thursdays), I should be able to attend every event my kids are in.
- Is that to help them feel secure and loved (a goal),
- is it to make sure they see me (addressing a possible insecurity that I don’t do enough for them),
- is it to validate my working hours (which I really do grapple with)?
I’ve realised that, in most cases, it is one of these three reasons. I can show my love in other ways which are less stressful than dashing across town at lunchtimes (and then shouting at them in the evening, because I am so flustered from working back to make up missing hours). Depending on the approach I use, my kids also recognise and appreciate the time I spend with them. And so that is now what I do. Occasionally, as in tomorrow, when district swimming is held only two blocks from my work, I can then pop it. Otherwise, no, I don’t feel I need to be there.
But there are some activities that I particularly enjoy. I am selective with these, and I will do my best to make the time to get there. That’s the compromise I’ve struck.
Working out the best ways to achieve my goals – that works for me – is critical to avoid resentment.
Change won’t happen unless I start. And so I need to get some clear goals on paper, work out which to tackle first (what approach I will take, and therefore what habits I need to develop or break, and what rituals need to support them).
In doing this, I think the simplest approach is to test the goals and methods against the framework, be realistic and continue to build on the changes, and then just get started.
I could continue to analyse for the rest of the year, and I probably will, but I am going to try to be more disciplines in the amount of time I spend doing so. More time needs to be handed over to actually doing.
I also don’t want to write much more about it, unless I have a bit more progress to share. Lots of other people write on this, so well – there are many bloggers, opinion writers, psychologists and the like, who you can read up on.
There are also great books to read. In addition to Gretchen’s book listed above, and ones which have been around for a while, I’ll mention one book released in the past month, and one to be released later this month, which address these topics, from slightly different angles (note, both written by friends – and therefore which I have read and can tell you they are very good).
(Incidentally, they both have similar goals – to help people make practical, useful improvements in their lives, but have taken very different approaches to making the material available – Backing up my approach theory)
Chris Helder’s Useful Beliefs (now available at all good bookshops, airports, and on line)
Kelly Exeter’s Practical Perfection (available for pre-order, and launched 29 February 2016)
But now for the main questions:
What do you think of this framework?
Does it make sense to you, or would you make changes?
Do you think it is a useful way to consider making changes in your life?
Feedback greatly appreciated!
* I am, however, expecting to slip up from time to time. And I’ll try to get better at not being too self criticial. But I won’t be too critical of myself if I am critical. Because that would be silly.
** I have many theories on many diverse topics – some of which I don’t know much about. Usually, I save them for friends and colleagues, who will either discuss them or look at me strangely (depending how ‘out there’ the theories are), my parents who, unless the theory relates to me not being able to do something, tend to support them (they are good like that), or my husband, who generally stores them away in his collected set of ‘Helen’s book of unusual and occasionally logical book of theories’ – which he threatens, periodically to write down. So to share one more broadly is taking a big step!