I’m a great believer in turning the page when you’re feeling stuck in your life, and what better moment than the beginning of Spring? We’ve all had the quiet of Winter to mull over where we find ourselves but now’s the moment to jumpstart our progress. Research shows that we can best motivate ourselves not by repeating affirmations but by asking questions of ourselves; beginning the day with a question such as “Will I take active steps toward managing my emotions?” or “Will I stop blaming myself for every misstep?” gets the mind thinking about how you can actually get these things done. So, before you begin any one of these exercises, spend some time thinking about what you want to achieve between now and the beginning of Summer, and start asking yourself, “Will I?”
4 exercises to get yourself in gear
These exercises are drawn from The Daughter Detox Companion Workbook; you don’t necessarily need to do these in order either so feel free to personalize them as you wish. The key thing is to get yourself unstuck if that’s what you’re feeling and to push you forward.
- Real world declutter
Studies show that if you’re surrounded by unfinished business—dishes in the sink, bills and papers that need sorting, shoes and boots by the door—you will remain distracted and not totally focused. This isn’t a call to go into Marie Kondo mode or to become a neat freak; instead, it’s a way of really focusing on your surroundings and seeing whether the space is working to inspire you or dragging you down. Don’t try to do everything at once; choose a specific area of your home or office and start there and then do a bit more the following week. It’s rewarding to make a list of the tasks you want to accomplish and then check them off, one by one.
- Inner garden exercise
Grab a journal or some paper for this and do it when you actually have some time and aren’t distracted; yes, do turn off your phone. These questions are variations of those contained in my workbook; spend some time thinking before you answer. As any gardener knows, clean-up is key to a garden’s success and flowering; think of yourself as the gardener of your inner self.
- What are the biggest obstacles in the way of my growth? Name at least three.
- Which is the biggest obstacle and why?
- What strategies will I adopt to move past this blockage?
- Name the habit of mind that keeps you stuck and describe it.
- Come up with three ways you can unlearn this behavior.
- Emotional intelligence tune-up
Emotional intelligence is broadly defined as the ability to use your emotions to inform your thoughts and vice versa; many of us have deficits in this area, in part because of difficult or downright toxic childhoods. Luckily, emotional intelligence is a skill set, one which can be improved through effort. Among the chief difficulties some people face is the ability to identify what they’re feeling in the moment; a key aspect of emotional intelligence is being able to name your emotions with some precision and to figure out why you were feeling them in the moment.
You’ll need a little notebook for this one, which happens to be drawn from my book Daughter Detox:Recovering from an Unloving Mother and Reclaiming Your Life. During the course of the day, when you perceive a shift in your emotions or moods, jot down your observations in the notebook. They don’t have to be full sentences but just notes such as “Got irritated when boss made a big deal of colleague’s presentation,” “Day off to a bad start when kids snapped at each other at breakfast,” “Got anxious when my emails weren’t answered,” and the like. The point here is to become aware of your emotions and to bring them into conscious awareness.
At the end of the day, go back to your observations and work on understanding what triggered you in the moment and then think about how you might have managed the moment better emotionally. Let’s use the the first example of the person annoyed by the praise lavished on a colleague and let’s pretend it happened to you. What were you feeling in the moment: Were you jealous? Slighted? Angry? Frustrated? Why would you be bothered anyway? Are you always looking over your shoulder, paying attention to what everyone else is doing and, if so, why? Writing down your analysis using hindsight will help you become more attuned in the moment too.
If you do this often enough, it will become second nature.
- Set Summer goals
Research shows that writing down goals as well as the steps you plan to take to achieve them actually works! Writing enables different connections in the brain than simply thinking about something does. Now is the right time to think ahead to what you want to make happen by June 21st! You may find it useful to set both short-term and long-term goals for yourself as well. Set no more than three goals for coming months.
Some tips on trouble-shooting your goals:
- Make sure that your goals are realistic
By realistic, I mean make sure that you have the skill set necessary to achieve the goal to begin with. Yes, I know that Internet memes hawk the notion that you have to fail a few times in order to succeed but that’s actually not true, unless you have the requisite skills to begin with; if you have the skills, it’s called a set-back, people, not a failure.
- Be flexible in your approach
Many people fail to achieve their goals because they neither anticipate setbacks nor do they have an alternative Plan B in mind. Figure out the best way to reach your goal but also have other possible strategies in mind if the first one doesn’t work.
- List your goals in separate categories
Goal mapping is most effective when you focus on each type of goal separately. Life goals or personal strivings –such as becoming less impulsive and focused, working on being more responsive, reading more or spending less—should be treated differently than career or work goals, relationship goals, or learning or achievement goals. It’s very important that you pay attention to whether or not these goals in different areas of life are in sync with each other; for example, you can’t both set the relationship goal of spending time with close others and also set a career goal of going back to school to switch careers. That sounds obvious but, in fact, it’s not.
Write your goals down with as much detail as possible, checking for possible conflict and congruence, and outline your plans. You now have a road map to consult over the coming months!
Spring cleaning allows us to take stock of the dead wood in our lives and to become proactive about the changes we’d like to make to our lives in the coming months. It’s a good thing.
Photography copyright the author