Updated: Aug 24, 2021
‘I want to succeed… succeed at losing weight, succeed at getting fitter, succeed at saving money, at improving my love life, at being better, being more, more, more something than I am now…’
These are familiar feelings in many of my clients- the anxiety provoking need to achieve change and improve their life in some way. And who are we to say there is anything wrong with the notion of self-improvement? Perhaps, however, it is worthy of first considering what underlies those needs/wants. We clearly have some outstanding ‘pillars’ (/ˈpɪlə/ noun= support, column, prop) which are central to our lives including: 1. intimate relationships (if we are lucky) 2. jobs/careers (see brackets for pillar 1) 3. leisure time (hopefully) and 4. a spiritual/mental/physical health (e.g., prayer, meditation, diet, exercise) pillar. Consider these on a scale from 1-10 and ask yourself: ‘how close am I to having these in the kind of shape I want them in?’ with 1 being a long way away (for example completely the wrong job/career for me) and 10 being bullseye (e.g., a great relationship with my significant other(s). A big underlying issue for many people’s struggles with mental health, relates to living at odds with these central pillars, if one is out of whack, then ok that needs some attention, but maybe this is not such a bigee if the other 3 are fine, 2 not on track- again manageable but more work to do, but when 3 out of the 4 are offline… it becomes a problem, unhappy job, poor relationship and health unattended to and we have some significant problems to cope with.
A good first step might be to target where you are in relation to these ‘pillars’ and if several are way off where you want them to be; start with one and start today, what one small thing could you do today to make a small impact on the pillar which concerns you most? A tip here, you can’t go from unfit and struggling to tie your shoelaces to running a 5k today… but maybe you can build in a brisk walk you would otherwise not have done; doing this of course equals a type of immediate success. Success right now, if we define that success as not just achieving the overall goal but rather achieving a step. The overall goal equals: run 5k without stopping and if you are a long way off from that (and uncertain you will even get there at all) the best place to start is to give yourself some success right now. Do this by achieving the 5mins, 10 mins, 20 mins brisk walk, but not by constantly thinking about the (potentially overwhelming) final goal.
Now I’d like you to Imagine an archery target with the bullseye representing 10 and the very outer edge representing 1 and now take some time to consider the following four pillars:
1. Work/education: includes your job and/or developing skills work, study.
2. Leisure: how you spend your time relaxing, enjoy yourself, treats, fun creativity.
3. Personal growth/health includes health nutrition, exercise, spirituality, yoga meditation.
4. Relationships: includes partner, children relatives and friends
Draw the target on a piece of scrap paper, or in your diary, and score yourself, after careful consideration for each pillar. Where are you right now? Which of your values are being unmet now? And which are In good shape.
Hopefully one or more of these pillars is more towards the centre of the target, but if not get to work today on what needs to happen first to tackle just one pillar a little bit (not all 4 at the same time!). If, for example, I am way off where I want to be with my relationships, there will probably be a large over-arching goal to achieve (e.g. something a little vague sounding like: ‘have better relationships with my family’) but I can obviously break this down into a smaller/clearer unit: ‘have more regular contact in general with family’ and then further still ‘make regular weekly/monthly calls’ and further still ‘I’ll call my sister today’. It works like the 5k running example- I can’t achieve the whole thing today (and sometimes the whole thing is off-putting because it’s too big and overwhelming to take in all at once) but I could probably make that one call today.