God created us as unique individuals, everyone different from the other. Yet we live in a world that pressures us to be the same. How freeing would it be to actually be true to who you are? To admit that you are great at some things, and allow yourself the freedom to shine? To also admit that you are not good at other things, and allow yourself to shore up those areas by delegating those tasks to others who do shine? How great would it be to be you?
So here’s the challenge:
For one week do nothing different, just record every little thing you do. Include everything, from shaving, to putting on make-up, to doing the dishes and walking the dog. Everything.
During this week also be formulating a list of things you believe to be important. They may include one-on-one time with your children, romance with your spouse, working on your manuscript etc. At the end of the week rank these things in their order of importance.
And buy some multi-colored highlighters. (Or crayons, your kids probably have some.)
When the week is done create categories. They may be ‘work,’ ‘exercise,’ ‘eating,’ ‘chores,’ ‘sleep,’ whatever you want to call them. Highlight each category in a different color. Notice what takes up most of your time.
Next, go through the list and mark the activities you enjoy with one symbol, and the activities you do not enjoy with another. If your days are full of activities you do not enjoy spend some time figuring out how to decrease the time you spend on them. (This may involve you doing something you enjoy that makes the money you use to hire someone else to do the thing you do not enjoy. One writer I know became a writer merely to continue to afford her cleaning lady.) So you may hire someone to do things, cut them out completely or find other ways to minimize the time you spend on them. If you must do them, find ways to make them fun. Combine them with your favorite music, a TV show you like in the background, do them with friends, whatever works. Or find a fun alternative. You may find exercise boring, but necessary, so put on your thinking cap, something like going dancing may burn just as many calories and score you a date night with your spouse. A family sports activity may also be just the thing.
Now look at the list of things that are important to you. Notice how much time you actually spend on them. If it is not as much time as you would like, re-arrange your life to make sure the things you value actually get done.
Then re-look at your record. Next to every single activity note the reason you do what you do. Also note whether, or not the amount of time you spend doing it seems reasonable. For instance, next to ‘brush teeth’ you may write, ‘So my teeth don’t fall out and my breath does not offend.’ Since the two minutes you spend on this seems reasonable, move on. What you may find is that some activities take up way too much of your time, time that could be spent doing other things. Streamline these activities. Other activities make no sense. You do them because you are in the habit of doing them, and their return on investment is minimal. Cut these things out of your life. Just remember, ‘Because I enjoy it’ is a valid reason. These activities, when they do not affect your productivity, contribute to your mental health. Don’t cut too many of these out, and make sure some occur every day.
Now look at your appearance. What does it say about you? Does it fit your lifestyle? Does it incorporate things you like? Is it functional? Some of us like to dress up. If you do then spending hours on your appearance is part of you feeling good about yourself. Others of us value our sleep. Easy to manage haircuts and morning routines make more sense. Make a list of little things that make you smile. It may be Star Trek memorabilia or a certain style of jewelry. Begin to incorporate the things you like into your life. It doesn’t have to be tacky. A nice pair of Star Trek cufflinks, a geode as a necklace, these are little things that make you smile yet don’t distract others who may not have the same tastes.
Finally, take a look at how you communicate. Many of us are so afraid of offending others we rarely express our opinions, or ask for our needs to be met. This is caustic to your mental health. While you always want to be tactful, and aware of other’s feelings, no one can adequately know you or meet your needs unless you express them. Keeping everything bottled up inside and hoping someone will notice you need help only leads to explosive situations and poor self esteem. Will everyone like what you have to say? No, that’s not the way the world works. But those who are mature will understand and respect your opinion if you express it with the love and respect you would expect in return.
It is also okay to set boundaries. There are those who, in inappropriate ways, take too much of your time and emotional energy. Feel free to set boundaries; it is a healthy things to do. Will they like it? Probably not, and you may have to have a very frank conversation with them, but if they are truly inappropriate, this may help them to deal more positively with others in the future and benefit them as well. (They probably have more important things they should be doing too.)
With your new ‘free-time’ (This exercise should free up some time.) allow yourself some time to explore new things. Many of us have not tried anything outside our cultural norm. Stop in a store you would not normally shop in but were always curious about. Check out entertainment, like the opera, country line dancing, martial arts lessons, pottery classes etc you have never tried before and discover for yourself whether, or not, it is for you. Start to fill your day with the things that are important and incorporate the things you truly enjoy into your schedule.
Being yourself saves you time and emotional energy. It allows you to prioritize the things that are important, and delegate the things that are not. No human being will be good at everything. Unless it is something you alone must do, stop trying to master the things you hate, and are not good at, and begin to invest in and excel at the things you love.
Photo by Matija Barrett