You know that saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions?” It’s one thing to set a goal or declare a New Year’s resolution. It’s another thing to create a new habit or routine that actually sticks. We can spend so much of our life on “automatic pilot.” This is especially true if you are busy, living a stressful life, or have too much on your plate.
You vow to work out every day, but life gets busy and it doesn’t happen. You tell yourself that you will stop and eat a healthy lunch, but work picks up and pretty soon its midafternoon and you are ready to go on a sugar binge. You promised to manage your stress better or practice those stretching exercises so that you wouldn’t get those tension headaches from sitting at your computer…but it isn’t happening. Maybe you set a goal to only check email once or twice a day, but you are finding it’s hard to manage your time. Do you set your priorities in the morning and find yourself way off track by the end of the day?
Guess what? There may be some easy solutions. The way to stay in the driver’s seat of your life—so that YOU are the one setting the course and making the decisions about how you spend your valuable time and energy—is to stay present. When you are on “automatic pilot,” routinely going through the motions of your life, you tend to be operating “mindlessly.” Ever have the experience of munching through too much candy at your desk or losing hours sifting through email? These are common examples of operating mindlessly and not making deliberate choices of how you want to be focusing your time.
Here are some easy ways to keep your goals and your priorities in focus:
- Schedule, schedule, schedule. Yes, it’s obvious and yes, you already know this. But are you doing it? Is that new habit that you are trying to get comfortable with actually IN your calendar? Do you have the intention of working out regularly, or have you carved out the space and time to make it happen? Have you committed to the time it takes to buy the healthy groceries or to do the thing you are going to do instead of stress eating? Beware of holding this information exclusively in your head. For most busy women, if it’s not in your calendar, it probably isn’t going to exist.
- Create a system for checking in with yourself. A schedule or priority list only works if you remember that you have one. Implement a plan for checking in with yourself throughout the day. Here’s a great little tool for setting up an hourly reminder on your computer: http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/meditation-timers/ It’s actually designed to time a period of meditation (a great way to get grounded), but my clients and I have found it useful as a 60 minute reminder to check in with ourselves. You might use the bell as a reminder to hydrate, to stretch, to review your priorities, or to manage your hunger so it doesn’t end up managing you. Looking for other options? Just do an internet search for online alarms or stopwatches.
- Be open to plan failures. Here’s what happens too much of the time. Person sets a goal and embarks upon achieving it. Person fails or the plan fails, but in any event, the process breaks down. Person gets frustrated and blames herself. Person either picks herself back up and tries again—harder—or feels defeated and gives up, at least for the moment (and perhaps consumes a large bowl of ice cream in the process). Be open to failures. In fact, expect them. It’s very likely that your first (or fourth) attempt at trying to do something differently is not going to go perfectly. When you fail—when you overeat, forget to work out (or are too tired), lapse back into not getting enough sleep or not meditating or journaling or whatever you vowed to do—ask yourself what you can learn from your failure. What is the failure telling you about how you can make your plan better? Tweaking and adjusting are how permanent habits are creat ed.
- Leverage what you already know. Interestingly (or irritatingly) enough, when it comes to making personal changes, many smart, high-achievers start from scratch and fail to leverage the strengths and strategies they use to flourish in other areas of their life. Where do you feel most confident and competent? Consider what you do in that part of your life that keeps you on track, motivated, and focused on the goal. Now, how might you incorporate those skills and techniques to help you succeed with your current goals?
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR E-ZINE OR WEBSITE? Feel free to reprint on your own website, newsletter, blog or message boards as long as you include the following: Copyright © 2010 Melissa McCreery, PhD. Are you a smart, busy woman struggling with emotional eating, overeating, and balancing work and life? Claim your free audio series: “5 Simple Steps to Move Beyond Overwhelm with Food and Life" at http://TooMuchOnHerPlate.com Melissa McCreery, PhD, ACC, is a Psychologist, Emotional Eating and Life Balance Expert, and the founder of www.TooMuchOnHerPlate.com, a company dedicated to providing smart resources to busy women struggling with food, weight and overwhelm.