1. Reclaim Your Identity By Spending Time Alone
This might seem like a counterintuitive proposition, but when we regularly allot some of our time to ourselves, it’s easier and quicker to come to a better understanding of what our actual needs are. It’s more difficult to reflect on our true needs, desires, and values when we are around other people since the presence of people often triggers our personality’s autopilot mode.
During her interview with Ian Cron (Typology Podcast, Episode 26), Jo Saxton described personality as a set of survival strategies people create in response to life experiences and encouraged listeners to find their natural “wiring” that lies beneath our added layers of personality. She proposed a valuable question that can help us as we get to know ourselves: “Who am I before life told me who to be?” Try spending some time by yourself reflecting on questions like these this year.
2. Remember to Book Stillness and Silence
You’ve probably heard more than one person say, “Adulting is hard.” The reason so many of us feel that way could be rooted in how often adult responsibilities seem to claim every block of our time and leave us no space for peace and quiet. Protecting empty calendar space can be challenging for anyone, but this will likely be one of the most difficult goals for all the hardworking achievers and parents out there.
As difficult as it will always be, it’s wise to keep a boundary around some time to stop and be still. When we pull off the road to fill our car with gas, we invest in our travel for the next stretch of miles. Some of us may wait until our car is running on fumes (guilty as charged), but when we stop to fill up before running empty, the result is much more favorable than continuing until burnout on the highway.
It’s important to note that experiencing truly restorative peace and quiet doesn’t happen automatically during our free time. It’s tempting to disengage with social media or TV, browse recipes for dinner, catch up on texts, or plan out the rest of the week. The key is learning how to turn our empty calendar space into truly purposeful recovery time.
3. Reevaluate Your Relationships Often
Back in 2015, I enrolled in an online course called Creating Your Life Plan by Donald Miller (author, speaker, and CEO of StoryBrand). One of the most memorable modules for me included an interview with author Shauna Niequist in which she described a process of occasionally recategorizing her relationships.
Niequist recounted a time in her life when she realized she’d been expecting a group of friends she traveled with occasionally to meet the same standards she expected of her closest friends, her inner circle. Once she drew out a map of relationship categories and repositioned those friends under a different category, she let go of her previous standards for them and was able to have even more fun with them on their future adventures together.
We can protect ourselves from unnecessary relationship-related stress when we stop to create realistic expectations for our relationships, keep our inner circle filled with people whose presence in our lives help us become better individuals, and reconsider the relationships that only pull us away from growth and healing.
4. Regain Respect by Being Kind to Yourself
As you prepare for 2019, I encourage you to spend time learning what it looks like to be kind to yourself. The term self-care is trending in pop psychology. As we’ve already discussed, setting aside purposeful time for ourselves is invaluable to our self-development since it can help us revisit our identity with better clarity. Self-care usually refers to activities that keep us feeling recharged and protect us from burnout.
While I certainly don’t want to minimize the importance of self-care, I do want to encourage us to consider going a step further in taking care of ourselves and begin to show ourselves some compassion.
Sometimes we can say more hurtful things to ourselves in a day than we ever would to others over the course of several years. Why do we treat ourselves this way? Let’s strive to respect and love ourselves well this year. Dr. Kristin Neff offers a variety of helpful resources related to self-compassion that are available on her website, including a free test to see how compassionate you are to yourself.
5. Reframe Your Narrative… It’s Your Story
Every day, we experience situations that add to a life narrative unique to each of us. We can interpret what’s happened in our lives in a variety of ways, and we can gain valuable insight when we take time to reflect on the way we make sense of our own narrative. Whether or not we’re aware, this life narrative often drives our feelings, thoughts, and behavior.
We will inevitably go through situations that are out of our control on our journey through life, and these experiences will undoubtedly contribute to our life stories. We can’t always choose what happens, but we can choose what to focus on and how to respond as we move forward.
It’s easy for many of us to define ourselves by our “problems,” or the parts of our life stories we’d rather erase. Some of us end up spending more time with feelings like anger, shame, and fear than with feelings like joy and peace. We can end up feeling stuck during these stretches of our journeys.
However, if we look back on our past with clarity in the present, we often find that our past experiences have left us with gifts such as courage, wisdom, and resilience. It’s common for people who learn how to view their life through this type of narrative lens to realize they have more agency over their stories than they’d previously realized.
6. Respond with Gratitude Instead of Comparisons
If you enjoy a good challenge, try to stop yourself each time you start to compare your life (your body, family, career, wallet, reputation, image, etc.) to someone else’s this year and express genuine gratitude instead.
Imagine you and your partner have been struggling to keep the house clean because it seems to take both of your energy combined to keep the children alive and happy each day. Meanwhile, your friends have been posting photos to social media that seem to depict the kind of home life you’ve only experienced in daydreams.
Notice any feelings of envy, disappointment, or shame you may be feeling and stop to breathe and think. Find what you are grateful for and focus on what is true and good about your own situations. You might say something like, “I’m grateful for my own children, my own home, and my own life. The fact that I am prone to compare my life to others is evidence that I care enough about my own life to give it my best.”
It isn’t helpful when we look at others’ lives to create standards for our own happiness, because we essentially hand over the control of our own life narrative to someone else in doing so. This is often a dangerous slope to becoming a passive observer of our story instead of an active author. Gratitude can help us gain unique vantage points during situations we can’t control and help us maintain a sense of equanimity along our difficult journeys.
If you’d like an exercise to help you begin to develop a mindset of gratitude instead of comparison, make a list of things for which you are grateful and remind yourself of this list when you find yourself comparing again. You can also practice gratitude by expressing genuine joy for others when they share their own victories with you without feeling bitter or envious.
7. Review What’s Working… and What Isn’t
Consult with your overall experience of 2018 and consider writing down what you liked and disliked about the previous year, what goals you created, what actually happened, and what you’d like to do differently this next time. In addition to your career-related goals, include your relationship and personal goals also. The point of this exercise is to not only reflect on what has worked for you previously so you can continue to do what works but also to identify what needs to be different in 2019.
We don’t have to resign to a life lived on autopilot. We can start crushing 2019 now by taking back the steering wheels of our lives this year and reflecting on the ways we’ve been giving away the authorship of our life narratives.
If you’d like someone to walk you through beginning the process of taking back ownership over your life narrative, we’d love to help.
Quest Life Counseling exists to help our clients learn effective strategies for navigating their mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational journeys. Visit our website’s Client Info & Resources tab for information about setting up your first meeting with a counselor. You can also browse our Contact page to get started on your quest toward health and well-being today.
Written by Corey S. Springer, MMFT