Source: Web exclusive: April 2008
When it comes to making life changes it may seem counterintuitive or even overwhelming to tackle big-picture issues first, rather than easing into change with baby steps. While it may be tempting to look for solutions such as a diet, a budget or an organizing consultant, it’s the holistic approach that will really make these small changes stick.
Addressing big issues such as loving yourself, feeling comfortable in your own skin and not caring what other people think is essential when it comes to living the life you want, explains Toronto-based life coach Ellen Goldhar. ‘The details, such as weight, career and romance, are actually just a symptom of the bigger picture, which is your connection with the highest and greatest parts of you,’ she explains. ‘If this greater you is disconnected, then even if you lose weight or get a new job, the process will reflect your feelings of stress of unhappiness rather than the joy that we are all really seeking.’
If you enjoy the process of making changes in your life, the results are sure to flow much easier than if you remain obsessed with what it is you are trying to change, life coaches believe. So instead of focusing on what to do in order to live the life you want, begin by understanding who you are and what it takes to make you feel good.
Before you start making life changes, ask yourself the questions below. The answers may guide you to a more lasting change.
1. When you look in the mirror, do you love what you see?
‘When was the last time you stood naked in front of the mirror and really looked at yourself?’ asks Goldhar, host of The Truth Behind Yourself, which airs on Canadian Learning Television. In order to feel good about how you look, you need to begin by reframing your thoughts. Goldhar suggests looking in the mirror and repeating mantras such as: ‘I appreciate my body for all of its positive functions,’ and ‘I love myself just the way I am.’ Even if it feels impossible at first, the more you say these things the more you’ll begin to believe them.
Follow up by caring for your body the way you’d care for a child. ‘Be gentle with yourself,’ she advises. ‘Choose foods that are healthy and make you feel good and turn to exercise as a way or rebalancing.’ Finally, look to other women of all shapes and sizes who carry themselves with grace and style. ‘Try to feel their energy and remind yourself that if they can do it, so can you.’
2. Do you maintain confidence and independence in your relationship or marriage?
Have you ever noticed how often couples blame each other when they’re feeling hurt, angry or sad? Typically, they thank each other for their good moods or feelings of excitement far less often. According to Goldhar, a healthy partnership means both individuals take 100 percent responsibility for their own feelings and moods. Focusing on who you are as an individual may help you feel more connected as a couple.
‘Spending quality time with yourself is as important as spending quality time with your partner,’ Goldhar explains. ‘Take back your power: go for a walk, take yourself on a date, or spend quiet time getting to know what it is you like and dislike, without checking in with anyone else. Two individuals with unique interests and passions bring so much more richness and variety to the relationship‘which eventually makes you more enduring as a couple.’
3. Are you focused on personal growth?
Though we are all undergoing personal growth, whether we realize it or not, those who take a more conscious approach to their development inevitably achieve a more satisfying, exhilarating, adventurous and fulfilling life. ‘As a life coach I encourage people to use life rather than letting life use them,’ says Goldhar.
In order to kick-start your development, try keeping a regular journal where you can write freely about your passions, dreams and challenges. Free-flow journaling allows your mind to quiet and your subconscious to begin speaking to you through your writing. Begin with a goal of five minutes. Set an alarm and begin writing (freehand) anything that comes to mind. Don’t stop writing, don’t lift your pen from the page; it doesn’t matter what you write, just keep going until that alarm goes off. It’s not even necessary to re-read what you’ve written’the most important messages will be clear in your mind.
4. If anything were possible, what would your work look like?
Begin with a clear vision, says Deborah Mecklinger, a professional coach and founder of Walk The Talk Coaching. ‘If you don’t know where you want to go, how will you know when you get there?‘ Though many of us stay in jobs we are dissatisfied with because we believe it’s too difficult to make the change, Mecklinger says, ‘You would be surprised how many routes there are to get to a particular destination.’
Place judgement on the shelf and agree not to evaluate for the time being, she advises. Brainstorming with an open mind and granting yourself permission to think outside the box will reveal all sorts of possibilities. Only begin to narrow down your focus once you’ve dreamed up every possible job, career path or activity you can imagine yourself taking on.
5. Do you have a sense of work-life balance?
In order to achieve balance you must learn how to say no, explains Mecklinger. ‘For every two-year-old who can say no to everything there is a 32-year-old woman who can’t.’ It’s all about living intentionally.
‘Be strategic with your plans,’ says Mecklinger, who encourages clients to prioritize. The best way to begin, she advises, is to get out of your head. ‘Take your schedule off paper and put it into a computer or BlackBerry,’ she says. For most women this is a huge step in feeling organized and realizing how much free time they actually have in a day. Once your day is mapped out hour by hour, you’ll begin to see where you have time to fit in a trip to the gym or a yoga class and when you absolutely must say no to yet another commitment.
6. Have you established daily "feel-good" rituals?
According to life management coach Sherry Rampersaud, a set of daily goals and rituals is key to living a fulfilling life. Rampersaud calls them the Sherr U ‘easy’ goals: Explore, Attack, Sherr and YoU. ‘Every day I explore something new,’ she explains. ‘It can be a restaurant or a route to work, anything to help me grow as a person.’ Attack means starting and completing a task that you’ve been putting off’one per day helps clear your mind of clutter. ‘Sharing keeps you in the present moment and raises serotonin levels,’ Rampersaud says. ‘Send a card to a friend or give change to a person on the street.’ Finally, make time for self-care. ‘Do something to reward you.’ It can be as simple as enjoying a cup of tea or going to the spa’but it must be done with only you in mind.
7. Does your physical space reflect your emotional state?
To help you achieve a clear and peaceful mind-space, your home should be clean and free of clutter. Getting rid of old, unused stuff can be quite therapeutic. It will help you lessen your attachments to physical objects and create open spaces where thoughts can flow more freely. ‘Your home should be a safe haven where you feel at ease,’ recommends Rampersaud. ‘Create a space for quiet time and meditation.’ Use cushions, candles and incense to create a sense of comfort. Make sure your meditation space is away from the TV and other physical distractions.
8. Are you in control of your health and wellness?
According to Elfreda Pretorius, an Oakville, Ont.-based life coach and author of Stop Struggling and Start Living: Rules of the Game, the way you think directly affects your health and wellness. She recommends clients begin by asking themselves, "What kinds of things do I say to myself on an ongoing basis?" ‘Statements like ‘I get the flu every winter,’ and ‘My mother got cancer, so I will too,’ are waiting to manifest themselves depending on the energy you give them,’ she explains. Taking responsibility for your thoughts and shifting your energy to be more positive is the first step to a healthy life.
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