2021 is here, and even though celebration might be subdued this year, it is still a prompt for a new start.
All the disruption of 2020 has made a lot of people to re-evaluate what is important to them and focus more on quality of life, for themselves and others.
If you want to take care of yourself better, have you made a resolution? Do you want to get fitter? Maybe you recognise you need more relaxation and want to do a daily Active Rest , or take up yoga (or both!). Or you have a neglected hobby that you would love to take up again.
Whatever your resolution, it’s unlikely this is the first time you have thought about this, so presumably you have enough motivation to do it.
First check – Is your goal small and achievable enough? Are you prepared for it to be a bit difficult or dull? See here for realistic goal setting with a bit of healthy cynicism!
But if your resolution is a realistic one, then what has been stopping you?
The usual suspects: time? energy?
If so, how will this year be different?
If you are on furlough, well here is your opportunity! But for many of us, life has gone on just the same, just with some extra layers of stress, or, sadly, distress.
So, is now the time to add? Or would subtracting something be more useful?
Often, we punish ourselves for just not fitting in those things we want to do (or feel we should do). We think it’s just lack of willpower. But willpower, if such a thing exists, is a limited resource. And you will have less of it if you are tired or stressed, so asking more of yourself in that state is a bit unfair!
Of course, it takes a sustained effort to establish a new habit. It is never easy.
But there is often a missing step… what are you going to drop to carve out some time and energy?
A life audit is the first step.
Look at every area of your life: work, family, friends, life admin, housework, travel…
Then evaluate how much time and energy each aspect takes from you. Remember some things may give you energy too! More on this idea and the link with pain here
You may have a very clear idea of where you waste time, what drags you down or makes your pain worse. Or it may just feel like life in total is too much, but you can’t identify what you could change.
This is where you can learn a lesson from people with severe chronic fatigue or chronic pain: if just washing yourself or writing a text message is exhausting and pain- provoking then you really learn to prioritise how you spend your energy!
Hopefully you are no where near that level of restriction, but it’s a useful thought experiment: what if you really couldn’t do everything you do at the moment, so you are forced to drop some obligations to others, or your self- imposed standards? Imagine you had to ask others to help; what would you ask for?
You need to support yourself, you need to care for your children’s essential needs, you need to eat, but imagine if pretty much everything else had to go? What would be essential? What is actually not that important when you get down to it? Consider each activity or obligation: how would dropping or reducing time spent on it feel to you?
A relief? You would miss it? You would feel like you are letting someone down (have a good think about that one)? It would affect your self-worth?
You could do a diary for a week to see how you are actually spending your time, and how that is making you feel. You could even mark each activity with a positive or negative score from 1-10 to help you judge where your energy is going.
Consider how you are affected physically, but also mentally. What lifts to your mood, and what helps you, as well as the tiring and painful stuff.
Looking at your phone, is that for a few minutes here and there, enjoying being in touch? Or hunching over the phone for hours in total over the course of a day?
Does going for a short walk ease your back pain?
Do you check your work emails late at night, which then makes it hard to sleep?
Did phoning a friend give you a mental lift?
Do you clean the bathroom religiously twice a week, but cleaning the bath sets your pain off badly at the moment?
Does dealing with a particular person set your stress levels soaring?
You will probably come up with at least a few things in these categories:
‘it would be a relief to drop it’
‘that really sets off my pain’
‘that stresses me out’
‘nobody would die, or to be honest, nobody else would even care, if it wasn’t done’
It may be some of these things you really can’t drop, so you have to focus on the ones you can, or work out how you could do them differently, or ask for help with them.
Just a note on pain provoking activities. Living with chronic pain isn’t about avoiding pain altogether. If something sets off your pain – but you love doing it and it makes you feel better mentally, it’s probably worth doing anyway. If not – can it be avoided/reduced/done differently while you work on settling your pain? Or shared out to someone else for whom pain isn’t a problem?
If it feels hard to pick anything to drop, remember it can just be temporary: by caring for yourself better you may increase your capacity.
Treat it as an experiment in living differently. For instance, if you are houseproud, we won’t be having guests visiting for a while, so now’s the time to test out dropping your standards to free up some time for self- care!
Often, we are living life on the cliff edge of our capacity.
The slightest extra demand on us can then tip us over the edge. That might mean a pain flare up, or feeling overwhelmed, or anxious.
A life audit can be a tough thing to do, because you have to make a firm decision to say no to doing things that may seem important or desirable. But by leaving yourself some spare energy and time, you can take a couple of steps back from that cliff edge to the safe grassy path along side it. Then if something comes along to push your over, you just fall harmlessly on the soft grass and can pick yourself up and carry on.
Let me know how your audit goes – did you find something that you can drop?
Need help to work out how to do things differently? Contact me