Clearing Your Mind

Whether it relates to the goals you’ve set or the general busy-ness of life, it’s easy to get overwhelmed from time to time. Work, family, extracurricular activities, maintaining your home — it all takes up time, energy, and space in your brain! If you’re feeling stressed out, overwhelmed, or like your head might explode, I have a suggestion to get you back into a more comfortable place: a brain dump.

What?

A brain dump is basically taking everything that’s floating around in your mind and getting it out. It doesn’t matter how big or small — if it’s taking up space, get it out. Now obviously we can’t just pick up and carry it out, so there are two methods for doing this: writing it out and talking it out.

If you’re an introvert or simply like seeing things to process them, then writing it out is the way for you. Write down everything that comes to mind. Sort it into groups while you’re writing, if possible. Make lists. Write down questions or worries or things to do. Write down goals and steps to get there — or concerns about not reaching them. Write down tidbits of information you don’t want to forget (or great ideas that come to mind as you’re writing!). EVERYTHING that you think gets written down. Don’t worry about it getting too long or confusing or complicated. The goal is to get it out of your head and onto paper, so the more you write, the better.

If you’re an extrovert or simply think better while talking, then open up a voice memo file on your phone and talk away. Don’t have one? Send yourself a voicemail (you may need to send multiple if there are time limits). Or you can pick up an audio recorder device at a local store. Then get it all out. As mentioned above, talk about anything that comes to mind. Anything that’s taking up space should be discussed.

Now What?

Once it’s all out, breathe. Take a moment to decompress. Feel the weight release from your shoulders. If you don’t feel more relaxed, try thinking and writing or talking some more.

After your mental break (which can be as short or as long as you need), look at what you wrote or listen to what you dictated. If there are quick tasks that can be done, do them. Get them out of your mind permanently. If there are worries or concerns, schedule a time to think about them and reason them out or problem solve. If there are goals or plans or ideas to work out, determine when you’ll take care of them. In short, take all the items that were cluttering your brain and compartmentalize them. Take care of them or plan out when you will.

Rinse and Repeat

Once you’ve dealt with the items that were cluttering your mind, it’s likely new things (or the same things if they haven’t been completely dealt with yet) will start creeping in again. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed again, try the process again. The more regularly you clear your mind, the less likely you will get to a point where you completely shut down.

If you find yourself getting overwhelmed so often you’re getting very anxious, perhaps other steps are necessary. Try talking to a licensed therapist (or even a close friend if that helps). Try meditating. Or maybe you simply have too much going on, and you need to let some things go. Evaluate your lists and see if there are any items that you can delegate or simply say “no” to.

Here is what my recent brain dump looked like:

 

Are there other methods you’ve tried to clear your mind? What has worked for you?

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Know Thyself

Last time I posted about willpower, and pushing yourself to get started. But what happens when you’re motivated to take action, but lack the energy to do so?

As a single mom, I find the times that I have the most “free time” to tackle my personal projects are early in the morning (before the kids are awake) and in the evening (after the kids go to bed). As a morning person, I’m definitely more likely to want to be active before the kids are awake. But my son gets up at 6 — leaving me limited time, unless I want to wake up before the sun. In the evening I have more time, as my kids go to bed early, but I also lack the energy and motivation to accomplish anything that requires a lot of activity.

Evaluate your own life. When do you have time to get things done? When are your energy levels highest? Lowest? When are you most motivated to tackle projects and really take action? This could be different times of day, or different days of the week — whatever your schedule and body rhythms look like.

Now what can you do with this information?

 

Back to the Drawing Board

By this I don’t mean to scrap your plan. I mean to literally head back to wherever you wrote down your goals and plans. What is it you’re hoping to accomplish and what do you have to do to get there?

If you haven’t already, make a note of every step you need to take to reach your goals and mini-goals. Get specific. Treat this list as a checklist of what you need to do to get where you want to be.

Once you have your checklist, take a good, hard look at it. You may notice that some tasks seem “easy” — that is, they don’t require a lot of energy or effort, just a moment of time to do them. Other tasks seem monumental, requiring a lot of effort to accomplish. If it’s helpful, sort the tasks by difficulty.

 

Schedule Your Time

Now that you know when you have the most time and energy to devote to your projects, and you know what you have to do to reach your goals, put the two pieces of the puzzle together. Determine when you’re going to tackle each of the tasks on your checklist, based on your time and energy levels. Schedule high-energy tasks when you’re at your most alert and motivated. Schedule easier tasks when you lack the energy to do much else.

In my personal example, I find it best to tackle active tasks — such as cleaning and organizing — in the morning, when I have the most energy, or on days when my kids are with someone else and I have more time. I save most computer-related tasks, such as responding to e-mails, updating websites, or posting on social media, for the evening, when I’m more inclined to want to lounge.

While it doesn’t always work out, fitting tasks in according to your moods could actually move you farther faster, and you may find yourself less likely to get lazy and unmotivated, as you’re not expecting yourself to take care of high-energy tasks at your low-energy times. And that can keep you on track and excited — and much more likely to reach your goals.

What do your moods look like? When are you most inclined to get things done?

 

Willpower

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been on this journey for a while, you’ve likely noticed that, no matter how much you want to achieve your goals, sometimes you just don’t feel like doing anything. What do you do then?

It’s easy to tell yourself “I deserve a break” (and then another, and then another…). It’s easy to say “I’ll take care of that tomorrow.” It’s easy to distract yourself with mundane tasks and say “This is more pressing. I need to take care of this first.” But be honest with yourself: you just don’t feel like “taking charge.” You feel like floating along, doing nothing. So what should you do?

If you’ve been working hard, making progress for a while before you reached this point, it’s okay to take a little break. Give yourself a night off, for example. But if you find that night turning into two, then three….or you haven’t been working hard, but rather you just need a push to start, I have some suggestions for you.

Plan a Little

Sometimes I find that the reason I’m not motivated to move forward is because I’m not sure what to do. Or I’ve lost sight of my path. It’s not that I don’t want to take action. It’s that I’m not sure what action to take.

In these instances, I find it best to break out my planner and a pad of paper and do some thinking. Sometimes I’ll go into it with the thought that while I don’t feel like doing anything right now, I can plan a bit and write in when I’m going to take action. Being specific helps. What am I going to do when? What needs to be done first, before I can take the next step? Making a list can be helpful.

Often, as I start writing things out, I start getting excited again. I start wanting to take action again. I start seeing the potential again, and wanting to make progress again. I’ll tell myself, as I’m writing things out: “Oh, I can do that right now. Let me just get that done.” And that can have a snowball effect.

Start Doing

Tiny steps forward are still steps forward. No matter how slowly you’re going, if you keep making progress, you’ll get there eventually. So when you get in “do nothing” mode, try doing something, no matter how small. Tackling a big cleaning project? Put away one or two things. Looking for a new career? Apply to one job or update your resume. Trying to get healthier? Have a healthy snack or do a few crunches.

As you’re doing that small thing, encourage yourself: “That wasn’t so tough. Keep going.” Often the hardest part is starting, and you’ve already done that. Build momentum and keep moving, keep doing.

Even if you’re still not interested in continuing, at least you’ve done something, and you can pat yourself on the back for not succumbing to laziness. Tomorrow perhaps it will be easier.

Motivate Yourself

To keep these moments at a minimum, put steps in place to keep yourself motivated and excited to take action:

  • Post pictures of your goals in prominent places.
  • Post a goal thermometer (you can find one at www.ALifeYouWant.com) with mini goals that you can strive for, and color in as you reach them.
  • Make a specific to do list, and make big check marks for each item as you accomplish it. Post it where you’ll see it often.
  • Keep a calendar, with marks for each day you’ve made progress on your goal. Make the marks prominent, so you can keep track of how many days in a row you’ve made progress. Go for the longest streak you can.
  • Since you’re keeping track, set a goal for the number of days you’re aiming for. Once you reach it, reward yourself. Write the reward on the calendar, too. Then keep going.
  • Set deadlines for yourself, for having certain tasks completed or reaching certain mini goals. Reward yourself once you’ve reached each deadline.

We all feel unmotivated sometimes. But if your goal(s) are important to you, don’t lose sight of that. Don’t let moments of uncertainty or laziness keep you from accomplishing them. Keep your eye on the prize.

Do you have any suggestions for motivating yourself? How do you keep yourself going?

*Pause and Reset*

I first started A Life You Want back in 2012. At that time it was a way to reach out and help others take charge of their lives. I had been struggling in my own life, and I had learned a lot through my efforts to turn things around. I wanted to help others do the same.

The posts that you’ve seen up to this point are from the first year of that original blog. It is these posts that were revised and compiled into books. Following that first year I ventured into a more personal approach, though I ultimately decided to separate that from A Life You Want, and I created A Life I Want, which tracks my own life and changes. A Life You Want then faded away, lost amidst the busy-ness of my personal life.

Following these changes, the original blog was lost, but the desire to help others remained. I knew I had insight I could share with others who were struggling as I had. And, while I am still working on getting my own life where I want it to be, I knew I had something to say, and tools and resources to offer. And so A Life You Want was reborn.

I felt it important to share the original posts, as they had useful information that could get readers started on their journeys. And, as I’ve typed up these posts again to share, I’ve found they’ve helped me, too! Looking back at words I had written, reminding myself of advice and suggestions and resources I had shared, has awakened a new motivation to succeed. I have a long way to go in my own journey, even as I offer guidance to others.

But a year’s worth of posts is just a beginning. I am now creating a website beyond the blog, with tools and resources and additional information and support. This website will be found at www.ALifeYouWant.com, and it launches May 1, 2018.

I hope you will join me on this journey. It has been a fulfilling, amazing ride thus far, and I know the future is even brighter. So read through the original posts. Then visit http://www.ALifeYouWant.com on May 1, and we can take on the future together. It’s time to take charge of our lives!

Inspiration From Fred Kofman

“Every result you get in your life is the combination of the challenge you receive from the reality around you and your capacity to respond to that challenge.” ~Fred Kofman

We discussed previously how success is determined not by the opportunities you are presented with, but how you respond to those opportunities. This quote goes hand in hand with that.

This quote, I believe, takes it one step further, though. It’s easy to say you’ll think positively and take advantage of every situation. But if you’re not properly equipped to take advantage of that opportunity — if you don’t have the “capacity to respond” — you may still fail. That is why you must equip yourself — with not only a positive attitude, but also the tools, skills, and ability to succeed. Learn all you can about the changes you want to make and where you want to end up. Get the experiences you need, the support system to help you, and the resources available at a moment’s notice.

Life is full of challenges, but if you’re able to respond with skill and ambition, you can turn those challenges into opportunities. Having the tools in place to take advantage of what life throws at you can ensure that when that challenge — that opportunity — appears, you’re ready to tackle it.

Making a Difference: The Holidays

When the holidays arrive, whether or not you celebrate a religious holiday, the truth of the matter is a lot of organizations kick into high gear when it comes to donations, volunteering, and gathering recognition for their causes. As a result, it’s a great time of year to really participate and make a difference.

From your local boy scout troops to national organizations, it seems everyone has a food drive. It isn’t difficult to find a way to donate nonperishable food items to those in need. But you can also try contacting some of the organizations taking donations and seeing if they need help in sorting and distributing donations. The more successful a drive, the more help they’ll need — and they’ll be grateful for volunteers.

Along the same lines are gift drives — from boxes accepting unwrapped toys to giving trees to working with your local social services department to “adopt” a family for the holidays. Depending on how involved you want to be, you can donate to your heart’s content, or, again, contact the organizations sponsoring the donations and help with sorting and distributing.

If you’re great at selling, you can turn your talents toward something like being a bell ringer for Salvation Army to solicit donations. Or you can help an organization selling poinsettias, wreaths, or other holiday goods to bring in funds.

If you have children in school, you can try contacting the Parent-Teacher organization to help with bake sales, gift fairs, and other events this time of year. Or you can contact the leaders of any organizations your child may belong to and help with fundraisers or events to raise money.

As the weather gets colder, many places — such as shelters and soup kitchens — see an influx of people seeking assistance. You can try volunteering or donating to such organizations to help with this increase. You can also turn to your neighbors to see if anyone needs help with last-minute raking, snow shoveling, or errands.

Keep your eyes open for places looking for donations or volunteers — or any other kind of help. The opportunities are endless!

Your Health: Holiday Binging

When the holidays approach, the focus starts shifting to two things: gifts and food. And when it comes to food, well, let’s just say we won’t exactly be lacking. In addition to the feasts on the holidays themselves, we’re bombarded with treats leading up to them: pies and cookies and all sorts of sweet and succulent temptations. It’s far too easy to go overboard. How do we stay on track with our health goals?

I am of the mindset that you shouldn’t deprive yourself. If you truly want something, forcing yourself not to have it often has the opposite effect of the desired: you want it even more, and eventually go on a binge, resulting in more consumed calories than if you had simply had a small portion of the item you desired in the first place. That bein said, going crazy and eating everything that looks or sounds good is not the right course of action, either. You need to evaluate what you want most, and focus on portion control: a single cookie instead of a plateful, a small slice of pie or cake, a lone pastry. Satisfy the craving, and move on.

Despite the plethora of treats, meals around the holidays often also have assorted not-as-bad-for-you options. Thanksgiving’s main attraction is turkey, and if you stick with white meat, it’s very low in fat. You can also opt to load up your plate with vegetables (whole, not candied or casseroled!) and perhaps a small portion of a whole grain or complex carbohydrate to round out the meal. Avoid filling up with breads and sweetened sides, which are filled with empty calories.

Another method I’ve heard is to eat before you go to holiday events. Fill up with a salad or other healthy option before you go to that party or meal, and you won’t be as tempted to grab everything you see — you’ll already be pretty full, so you’ll only have a small portion of whatever looks best.

The most important thing is to keep your eye on the prize. Remember why you’re trying to lose that weight or get healthy. Is having another cookie worth faltering in that goal? Take action to remind yourself every time you go to reach for something. Keep a note or picture in your pocket, so you can pull it out periodically as a reminder. Or if there’s someone with you who knows about that goals, have that person be your conscience — and tape the back of your hand every time you try to grab something you shouldn’t. Stay focused on your ultimate goal, and you can more than survive — you’ll succeed!

Your Relationships: Surviving the Holidays

The holidays are a wonderful time of year to spend time with your loved ones. But if your family life involves more fighting than laughing, your love life is nonexistent, and your friends are all busy with their own lives, you may find yourself with a lonely, awkward, or miserable holiday. How can you make it through?

Family
Hopefully, if you’ve been working on your relationships through the year, things may have gotten a little better. And the holidays can be the perfect time to make huge leaps forward as many people feel more generous and loving. When it comes to family, try talking to the people you have strained relationships with. Perhaps you can put the conflict aside for at least one day so everyone can enjoy themselves.

If that doesn’t work, you can also try simply making alternate plans. Just be careful not to slight the people you’re trying to reconcile with — that would set you back rather than move you forward. Have your alternate plans be an understandable choice: spending time with in-laws, volunteering to serve meals to the less fortunate, having a quiet day at home. If travel would have been involved, explain how you want to save money this year.

Love Life
Avoid sappy holiday movies! If you’re not in a relationship, they will likely only make you feel worse. Though if you’re in a strained relationship, they can perhaps remind you of the warm, fuzzy feelings you got in the beginning.

Either way, many associate this time of year with love, and if you’re not in a relationship, or in a strained relationship, that can be difficult to deal with. Try distracting yourself from your relationship status. Spend time with other family and friends, or volunteer to help the less fortunate. Focus on everything you do have, rather than how your life is lacking.

I would discourage you from setting up first dates for the holiday. In the event it goes badly, it will ruin your day. If you want to be with someone for the holiday, try having a couple of dates before the day hits first. See if you’re compatible before throwing them into the holiday mix.

Being Alone
If your primary concern is being alone — and lonely — for the holiday, the key is distraction. Look into local organizations who need volunteers for the holidays: soup kitchens, hospitals, etc. These places don’t close for the holiday, and may even be busier. Spread a little holiday cheer to those who need it even more than you, and you may just have a happy holiday yourself.

If volunteering isn’t your thing, line up things to do that you’ve been wanting to do but haven’t gotten a chance to. Not everywhere is closed for Christmas, but even if you decide to stay home, you have plenty of options: movies or TV shows to watch, video games to play, manicures and pedicures to give yourself, baking to do — the possibilities are endless. By planning out a day for yourself, you’ll have something to look forward to rather than dread. Enjoy the day off!

While in a picture perfect world the holidays would be spent surround by those we love, you can still have a happy holiday by yourself or with others. It’s all in the preparations and expectations.

 

Your Money: Holiday Budgets

I love the holidays. I love giving gifts. But when money is tight, I must admit that it’s not the best tie of year to be on a budget. So how do you make it through without feeling like a complete Scrooge?

Make the Cuts
The first step is to take a good hard look at your shopping list. Who do you usually buy for? It may sound heartless, but are there people you can cut out? Chances are you’re not the only one who could use a reprieve. Perhaps there are people you can talk to and arrange to not exchange gifts. Or for a group of friends, coworkers, or family members, try a Secret Santa exchange so each person only has to buy one gift, but everyone receives something. Another option — especially for families — is to only buy for the children, not all of the adults. Or plan a holiday gathering rather than gift exchange so you spend the holidays dwelling on the experiences and time together rather than the material possessions. Make it a potluck so everyone has the opportunity to contribute.

Specify a Price
Once your list has been pared down, it’s time to determine how much you’ll be spending on each person. Figure out how much you can spend overall for gifts, then break it down among the recipients. It doesn’t have to be an even split — those closest to you will likely receive the bulk of the budget. If you’re a bargain hunter, you can likely get away with spending a bit less while not looking cheap.

Stick to the Budget
The easiest way to make sure you adhere to your designated budget is to get it all in cash. When the cash is gone, you’re done. No ifs, ands, or buts. It helps you avoid the temptation of whipping out a credit card and going way over budget. To make it less messy, get an envelope for each person you’re buying for an insert their individual budget into the envelope. That way you can track how much you’re spending on each person and can make sure you’re not going over. (If you’re shopping online, it’s OK to use a card — just make sure you take the cash out of the appropriate envelopes and deposit it right into your bank account so you’re not tempted to spend more. Or, better yet, purchase a prepaid gift card or credit card with cash, and use that online.)

If you’re really not into cash, you can also use apps designed for gift giving. Browse the app store for your smartphone (or do an internet search for programs on your computer) and look for gift list tracking programs. Some will allow you to assign and track a budget for each person, or each group of people, so you can see how much you’re spending. Just don’t forget to insert all the items you purchase!

Go Shopping
Shop around before settling on a gift. Make sure you’re really thinking about what you would like to get each person. It’s easy to get into the “he would like this — but he would like this, too…and this, and this…” mentality when physically in a store. To avoid that, make a list of possible gift ideas before heading out and do some research to get a feel for how much they should cost you.

Some other tips:

  • If you’re buying online, don’t forget to take into consideration the cost of shipping, if applicable. It may not be the actual cost of the gift(s), but it’s still money you’re dishing out.
  • If money is really tight, avoid gift cards. They show exactly how much you spent and can make you look cheap if the amount isn’t “high enough.” Instead, look for less expensive gifts the recipient would enjoy.
  • Don’t forget gift wrap. Paper and bags cost money, too, and should be considered when calculating your budget.
  • When you’re out shopping, look for sales and deals to help you stay in budget. When you find a great deal, you have a couple of options: take the purchase price out of the budget for the recipient, or take the original price of the item out of the budget. If you take the original price out of the budget, you can use the difference to make up elsewhere where you may be lacking, or you can donate the difference to charity.
  • Consider making items rather than purchasing them. If you’re handy, you may be able to save money and give a more meaningful gift.

The Rest of It
The holidays are not all about the gifts. There are also the food, the decorations, the cards, the parties…and these all need budgets, too. As with the gifts, figure out exactly how much you can spend, then divide up the budget among the needs. It’s all about give and take. Can you settle for last year’s decorations so you can spend a little more on that special dessert for Uncle Fred? Can you cut down a little on baking so you can afford that gorgeous wreath for your front door? Determine your priorities and plan accordingly.

Plan Ahead
To make it hurt less next year, start planning ahead now. Set up a Christmas Club or other bank account and have money automatically transferred each week so you’ll have a lump sum available when the holidays hit. Shop sales after the holidays so you can stock up on cards and gift wrap when they’re cheap. And hey, while you’re at it, pick up any great deals you find throughout the year on actual gifts — you’ll be grateful you snagged them when it’s time to figure out next year’s budget!

Inspiration From Vauvenargues

“The greatest achievement of the human spirit is to live up to one’s opportunities, and make the most of one’s resources.” ~Vauvenargues

The advice in this quote is twofold: take advantage of opportunities, and make the most of your resources. Let’s look at each of them:

By realizing an opportunity when it presents itself, you’re acknowledging the potential to succeed. Take full advantage of that opportunity, and you’re bound to be successful. It isn’t just a question of seeing a possible opportunity; it’s about grabbing that opportunity by the horns and making it work for you.

How do you make it work for you? By using any resources you have at your disposal. Your skills and talents, your knowledge base, your network of friends, family, and colleagues: all will help you get where you want to go, and seeing these resources for what they are can help you make the most of opportunities as they become available.

Do that, and you just may reach your goals before you thought. Wouldn’t that be nice?