For a long time, my life was full of shiny things.
When I got divorced in my 40s, I began a quest to take in as much knowledge as I possibly could. My world had felt so limited with building a business and raising a family. Finally, I had the power to break free and follow my own new passions — and I did! I climbed to the top of a pole in Fiji and walked across coals to test my faith in myself, crisscrossed the United States and Canada to attend lectures and seminars, immersed myself in courses, and earned certification after certification.
But I didn’t stop there. I started investing in new businesses. I coached and mentored people. I rose to the top of an international organization. This continued for years, and all the while I had a check list on my desk that hounded me. It was full of habits I wanted to be consistent with daily or weekly … not just when time permitted.
It simply never occurred to me that I couldn’t build consistent habits while traveling and giving speeches and maintaining my rich, full life. I would beat myself up when I failed to live up to the standards I set for myself.
Over the past few years, however, life shifted. The pandemic hit, and suddenly I had more time to work on my habits. I eventually left my leadership position, which opened up more time.
Now, I’m near my desired goal weight. I have a daily yoga practice that I do without fail … even while travelling. I lift weights Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and do core exercises Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I learn a new word a day, challenge myself with daily brain exercises, and spend 20 minutes daily on a new language. Meditation has become an essential part of my daily life.
My practices have become standards, or parts of me that do not change — they are part of who I am as a person. My life finally seems to be sustaining an ever-present flow I’ve sought for years. The more I shifted from accomplishment to wellness the more energy I had. The more I dispensed of excess possessions that had been lying around the house, the calmer I felt. The more I protected my time, the more joy I experienced.
It got me thinking: Did all of those wonderful, shiny things hold me back in some way?
I certainly learned a lot and had experiences I would have never otherwise had. I pushed myself into new directions. Along the way, I did take care of myself, and I did adhere to the standards health authorities prescribed — but it wasn’t enough for me, my body and the way I wished to live.
If you feel torn between wanting to expand your knowledge and wanting to improve yourself, I can offer these words of advice:
Take inventory of time clutter. We find it harder to move around our home when we have too many possessions. The same is true of our time when we fill our schedules. What can you strike from your calendar so you can focus on building the habits or standards that will uniquely serve you and become who you are?
Think about what brings you the most joy. Let’s say you’d like to develop an exercise habit. If you purchased an expensive rowing machine but hate your sessions on it, will you ever really use it? Maybe walking out in nature is more suitable -- for you. Instead of succumbing to marketing or what has worked for other people, focus on a method that makes you feel connected to your body and joyful. If an activity doesn’t bring you joy, you’re setting yourself up for a constant internal fight — and procrastination.
Start small. As you free your schedule and find activities that light you up, you might discover you have energy to tackle multiple self-improvement projects.
It’s tempting, but instead channel your energy into one or two habits at a time over the course of a year. Really strengthen those habits before you add another — not only will it be easier to adapt, but you’ll be more likely to find long-term success.
These strategies have done wonders for me. Now I have a nighttime routine, an exercise routine, a water drinking habit, and even a brain enriching habit! I even incorporate my habits into vacation because I enjoy them and it’s who I have become.
Life is full in a different way now, one that is meaningful and better suited for my personal needs. I’m able to show up in a deeper way for my family, friends, and the organizations I choose to work with. Now, when I find myself distracted by shiny things, I’m better able to assess whether they’ll take me away from my wellness and fitness plans or be a great fit. Sometimes, you need to pare down your life to build it back up again.