Stuck in a rut? Step back, take stock and work out where you are – and where you want to be!
Life coach Bev James is the author of Do It! Or Ditch It (Virgin Books)
Jackie Mendoza is a change coach, and author of Starting Again (Live It Publishing)
Could the middle of the year be the perfect time for a fresh start? From May to July, embrace the chance to take stock of the last six months, so you can prepare for the ones to come and make the improvements you want to see happen. This is about you really taking charge. Think of it as a full soul audit. A rare opportunity to pull back from the daily grind to consider what gives your life meaning, what you want more of, what you want less of and how you’re going to get it. “Like an artist stepping back from his easel, it’s a fundamental part of assessing how far you’ve come, and where you want to go,” says life coach Bev James. “We usually do this when something goes wrong – when a relationship breaks up or there’s a crisis at work – but a life audit is more positive and proactive.” Do this regularly and you’ll soon be living by design, rather than default.
1 Start with the post-it method
You’re likely to have heaps of ideas on how you could improve your life. Most of us have to-do lists, bucket lists and ‘must finish’ projects piling up on our desks and nagging away in the depths of our subconscious. This is your moment to take stock. Write it all down. All your goals, dreams and hopes. EVERYTHING. Everything from visiting the Great Wall of China to clearing out the cupboard under the sink. At this point, it’s good to use simple visual tools to help you. Put it all on Post-it notes – most people need 30 or 40, but there’s no limit. Don’t stop until it’s all out there where you can see it and examine the chaos. Think of this as a psychic brain dump. You’ll be surprised how cathartic it feels.
2 Categorise what’s important
Group your Post-its in clusters according to the different areas of your life. This could be health, fitness, family, relationships, emotions, finances, work, creativity – whatever is important to you. Put the Post-its under each heading vertically, in order of priority. “What makes this exercise great is that it not only highlights the areas of your life that need attention, but you can also remove the Post-its as and when they no longer apply – giving you a real visual representation of how much you’re achieving,” says Bev. Take note of which areas have the most Post-its and which have the least. Maybe a lack of goals is a red flag – is this an area that you’ve been ignoring?
3 Do a now-or-never audit
Once it’s all out there on the table – and really do clear a table (or wall) – stick the notes right where you can see them. Take a good look at each goal, big or small, and ask yourself these two questions. First, “Is this important?” Then, “Is it what I want?” (The ‘I’ bit is crucial here, these are your goals, not what your partner, colleagues or friends want for you.) Or would you feel quite happy if you never did it? If it’s a ‘never’, take a leaf out of Arianna Huffington’s book and bin the Post-it – and the project. As Arianna says, “I realised how liberating it is to complete a project by dropping it.” She discovered she could live without becoming a good skier, or learning German. You might decide that life is too short to take up golf or give up chocolate; instead, use the energy for something you really do care about.
4 Ask some big questions
Draw a circle – this is your ‘wheel of life’ – and divide it into eight, like a cake. Each section represents one part of your life – for instance, fitness or relationships. This is where you ask yourself searching questions: where are the glitches, where do you need to focus, which bits are stagnating, what do you want and why do you want it, what do you want your legacy to be and, most importantly, what gives your life meaning? “This is something we often forget, but it’s a fundamental human need,” says Jackie Mendoza. You don’t need to be up for the Nobel Peace Prize: “It could be through your kids or your work, but it’s still important to know where you are getting that from.” Give each section a satisfaction rating from nought to 10, with 10 being the highest. Be honest and jot your ratings in the circle so you can easily see which areas need attention. Focus on the areas that are most important to you. If you spread yourself too thin, you may feel overwhelmed and give up.
5 Close the gap
It’s time to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. What practical steps can you take to close the gap between where you are now and where you want to be? If you rated your personal relationships at five and you’d rather they were an eight, what can you do to improve them? Is this about making more time for those closest to you? But be honest with yourself. If your goal is to improve your fitness, but you have zero desire to go to the gym, strike that off and think of other solutions. Could you take a daily walk in your lunch hour instead?
6 Create a timeline
Decide what to do, and when to do it. You can do some things immediately (say, signing up for a charity run). Entering a marathon might take a bit longer. You don’t need to make massive changes; small steps in the right direction will get you there. If you want to retrain or get a degree, you might need to take a course first. Draw a line across a piece of paper and write the mini goals on your timeline. Breaking each goal down in this way increases your chances of finishing the journey. Ask yourself what success will look like. The goals you set should be measurable, with a time limit, for example, completing a 5km run by Christmas, then completing a half-marathon by next Easter.
7 Reset your mindset
“Beliefs can really hold you back. Usually, these boil down to the feeling of ‘I’m not good enough’,” says Jackie. As women, we often over-generalise, blaming ourselves when things go wrong, whereas men are more likely to blame circumstances. “One woman I worked with needed to get a new job, but felt she couldn’t perform in interviews,” says Jackie. “We went back through all the interviews she’d ever done and traced this belief to one that had gone badly at a period when she was going through a really hard time in her relationship, which was undermining her self-confidence.” Break out of a negative mindset by taking a dispassionate look at the evidence. Ask: Is this really true? And if it is true on some occasions, is it true always? Nine times out of 10, it isn’t.
8 Enlist support
It’s a great help if a friend or colleague offers some encouragement to keep you on track, but choose your allies carefully. Those closest to you aren’t always the best cheerleaders, as they’ll probably have their own agenda and that’s not likely to include any dramatic changes on your part. Try to enlist like-minded people, perhaps someone you’ve clicked with on a course who is on your wavelength, or a Facebook group, and who will question you and support you, but won’t get in the way of your progress.
Words: Sharon Walker