It is that time of the year when all of us recap on what has been so that we may plan ahead. As we sit in January, ten months into the pandemic, it is going to sound very cliched when I say the last year has been an unusual one. I also realise that ‘unusual’ is probably a very vague term to describe everything that 2020 has been. So, I dug deeper in order to find the right phrase to tag the past year with. That’s when I realised that the overarching theme that most of us have had to deal with is about how to get our life together in the face of difficult times.
That got me thinking….
What exactly is getting your life together?
The dictionary meaning of that would be something as broad as “to begin to live in a good and sensible way”. While that makes sense, I feel that getting your life together entails a lot more than what that very broad phrase conveys. For example, I could be living sensibly, but still not be fully independent financially. That in turn would not give me the feeling of having got my life together. There are several other examples on similar lines that come to mind. So, I dug deeper and here’s what I concluded:
- Most things in life are on a continuum. So is the job of getting your life together.
- One is very unlikely to feel like they have got their life together by getting it right in one of the areas of their life.
- That being said it is not as if you have to get every single duck in a row in order to feel like you have a good handle on your life.
- There is nothing like a 100% score in this area. The 80-20 rule works beautifully here. If you manage to get your act together in 20% of the high impact areas, you are going to feel like you are 80% there in terms of getting your life together.
- So, the big question is, what are those high impact areas? That is fairly simple to answer. We can broadly categorise them under:
- Professional/ Career aspects of your life
- Personal aspects of your life like relationships & home
- Financial aspects like financial independence and wealth creation
That brings me to next question: How do we get our life together in 2021?
The year that has past has been one of huge upheavals and upsets for most of us. As we stand at the beginning of a new year, there is hope that things will change for the better soon. But like most things in life, God helps those who help themselves! So, I have put together an ultimate list of things to do that will of get your life together in the coming year:
1. Set Goals
First the obvious, set some goals for yourself on the things that you want to achieve. There is nothing like goal setting for providing some focus to your efforts. Goal setting prevents you from diluting your efforts across little bit of everything. We have already categorised the areas to set our goals under, which is: the personal, the professional & the financial areas of your life. It is vital that you have goals across all three areas. If you pick one at the cost of another, it is highly likely that over a period of time the imbalance will result in unhappiness and a sense of losing control over key areas of your life.
It is not necessary to have a long list of things you want to achieve under each head. In fact, I would strongly recommend that you keep the list limited to 2-3 most important items under each head. The best way to go about putting this list together is to first brainstorm everything that you want to achieve under each of these heads. Once you have a master list, prioritise them by what is most important to you, what is most realistic and what will have the maximum impact in changing the course of your life.
Write this down in your dairy/planner or put it up on a pinup board, keep an insert in your wallet/purse, print it and paste it on the inside of your wardrobe. The idea is that you see this every day at least once, if not more. Simple things like this serve as a form of reinforcement to keep you on your course.
2. Work on Your Goals Every Days
Desmond Tutu wisely said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” It is my strong belief that everything big in life is achieved in this method, by chipping away at it every single day. Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
The simplest way to do this is to break down each of your big goals into the smaller tasks or milestones that make up the big goal. Then make sure that your to do list for every day has one of these smaller tasks in them. Do this consistently and before you know it you will be achieving you goals
3. Get Moving
Often times, when we are busy chasing the big goals, we forget to do the things that enable us in reaching these goals. This point is about one such activity. I. cannot stress how important it is to have some form of movement that energises you in your daily routine. Yes, movement aka exercise does energise. Exercise reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. It also stimulates the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. So, any way you look at it exercise puts you at an advantage by ensuring you are at peak performance.
Movement/exercise does not have to be hitting the gym. Get creative! There are several things you can do which are enjoyable and are good forms of exercise. Mix it up so that you don’t get bored. When it comes to exercise variety is your best friend.
4. Eat Healthy
As I was growing up, I remember how particular my mother was about eating habits. She paid particular attention to what we ate and when we ate. As I got older, she insisted that I learned to cook, not because I was a girl but because she thought cooking was a life skill. I never really understood this obsession with all things related to eating. Whatever the reason, those habits stuck, and I have been a stickler for cooking and eating healthy ever since. Even during the most challenging periods of my life, cooking is something that I have never put on the back burner. It is only in hindsight that I have realised how much of a difference that has made. I have come to realise how eating well affects our mental health in a big way. A healthy, well-balanced diet can enable you to think clearly and be more alert. It can also improve concentration and attention span. So, apart from the sheer joy of good food, there are several huge benefits to be enjoyed by getting into the practice of eating healthy. Just remember that eating healthy does not have to mean several hours spent in the kitchen. At the heart of it, it is a mindset that can be achieved by planning simple, easy to make and yet healthy meals.
5. Keep a Tidy House
Home, the place where most of us have spent better part of 2020. I have to admit that this year, even a homebody like me has had days when the house has felt more like a prison than a sanctuary. I suppose that’s normal when you are living through a pandemic and are told to stay at home to stay safe! Even before the pandemic started, I was one of those people who is house proud and kept a tidy house. And yet it is only now that I have come to realise how much of a big difference that has made to my life.
Keeping a tidy and comfortable house has acquired a whole new meaning during this period when I have spent extended amounts of time working from home. A house without clutter has meant that I have not felt overwhelmed and hemmed in. It has allowed me to keep a calm mind and be productive even on the days when I felt like I was in prison (thanks to lockdown).
6. Keep a Tidy Mind
Just like how decluttering your house enables you to get your life together, so does decluttering your mind. That feeling of your mind being in overdrive and your thoughts being a big jumble are the first indicators that you need to declutter your mind. There is no way that you will get anywhere close to a put together life with that jumbled up feeling in your head. So how do you declutter your mind? Here are a few things you could do:
- Write it down
- If you want to go deeper than just writing it down, keep a journal
- Reduce your gadget time/screen time
- Declutter your house
- Let go of things in the past
- Avoid multi-tasking if you can, at least for some part of the day
- Limit the amount of information coming in. Too much of news, social media can really bungle up your mind
- Spend at least 15 mins every day to unwind, like reading, yoga, walking etc.
- Connect with nature
WANT THE LITTLE JOURNAL OF HAPPINESS?
7. Have Friends Who Uplift You
Friends are a big part of the support mechanism that all of us have. Yes, friendship is reciprocal, and a good friend is always there for you when you need them. Likewise, you too should be there for them when they need your support. But this reciprocal mechanism has a fine balance at all times. It is vital that you are clear about the boundaries and maintain the balance at all times. Take care that you have a bunch of relationships in your life that enrich you and not deplete you. All of us have those one or two friends who take more than they give and speak to you only when they want to off load their emotional burdens but are never available to you when you need similar support. They are the people who moan and groan all the time and with whom you end up feeling depleted after a conversation.
This happens primarily because such people speak negatively all the time and before you know it everyone else is responding with a similar negative theme. We see this in conversations all the time. Remember how when one person talks about a gory accident they saw, everyone in the group is eventually recounting similar experiences. This is essentially a negative loop conversation. It is unhealthy and unproductive to be in these negative loops all the time, especially in difficult times like the current pandemic.
It is a fact that negativity breeds more negativity and likewise positivity breeds more positivity. We all know that maintaining a positive outlook is crucial to get anywhere in life. It is therefore very important that you pay close attention to the positive and negative loops in conversation that occur with your friends and other key people you interact with. While you cannot avoid a few negative conversations, take care that they do not outnumber the positive ones. If you find that there are some people around you who always get into these negative loops, I would strongly suggest that you reduce interactions with them or take measures to change the course of the conversations.
8. Sleep is Your Best Friend
Studies have found that poor sleep compromises memory, alertness, decision making and problem solving Mounting evidence suggests that a good night’s sleep boosts you productivity big time. Making sleep your priority can actually advance your career and enable you to crush your goals.
Sleep is often the first thing that people give up when things get busy. I am guilty of this too. When my son was little, and I was overwhelmed with being a new parent it seemed as if there were always a gazillion number of things to do. At the end of a long day, I knew I had to go to bed, but I still sat there on the couch and prioritised watching TV or catching up on email or finishing up just one more small chore or office job over going to bed. As days rolled into weeks and months, I was left feeling perpetually tiredness. Slowly I started making mistakes that I wouldn’t have made earlier, was on a short fuse more often than before and eventually started feeling like things were getting out of control. In hindsight, I realise that all most all of it was due to a lack of sleep. But back then it took me a while to realise this. Once I did realise, I slowly but surely got back to prioritising 8 hours of sleep over everything else. As a result, my energy levels returned to normal and as a result so did my productivity.
Research suggest that a vast majority of adults sleep substantially lesser than what they need. Don’t be one of those people. Prioritise 8 hrs of sleep over everything else as often as you possibly can.
9. Health is Wealth
As cliched as that sounds, that is also the absolute truth. You cannot pursue any big lofty goals if your body is unable to support your efforts. So, whether it is going for an annual health check-up, or taking your vitamins or reducing alcohol consumption or something else that you need to do to keep your body in good working condition, make sure you do it with diligence.
10. Pursue a Hobby
Work and managing the rest of your life cannot be the be all and end all of what your life is about. Some form of relaxation is vital for your mind and body to be able to keep up the routine without fatigue. Relaxation can be something as simple as reading a book or pursuing a hobby for a few minutes every day.
I have found that the best form of relaxation for me is to connect with nature. In fact, during periods of high stress I have found that connecting with nature is very therapeutic. There is a vast body of research that documents the positive impact of nature on our social, psychological and emotional life. Being in Nature, living close to nature or even seeing awe inspiring imagery of nature is shown to trigger positive emotions like joy, gratitude etc in a big way. This in turn helps us cultivate greater creativity, openness, resilience and whole lot of other positive characteristics. So, if you have the opportunity to spend some time in nature, please grab it with both hands. It isn’t necessary that connecting with nature means hiking or some such strenuous activity. A simple 15 minutes on a bench enjoying the blue sky (or grey sky in the UK) and some fresh air will also do the job.
11. Power of Morning Routines
This would seem like a surprising thing to have on your list of things to do to get your life together. But believe me the unexpected power of morning routines can work miracles in helping you along the course of getting your life together. Scientific research has shown that a morning routine has the ability to increase happiness, reduce procrastination, boost confidence, and improve overall performance.
The way you start your mornings can set the tone for your entire day. It can define whether your day was a productive one or an unproductive one. The way you start has a ripple effect on your mood, your focus and ultimately how happy you are. So, it’s quite evident that there is no meaning in leaving this to chance and that it is a good idea to set a morning routine for yourself that enables you to feel calm, powerful and in control.
There are several things that one can do to have this kind of a morning routine. The first step in that direction is the most obvious, which is to wake early. Other things that I would highly recommend is to incorporate some form of exercise to energise your body for the day. Just as your body needs to be energised, so does your brain. Some form of meditation or yoga will also prove very useful. At this point you must be wondering how you are going to find the time for this in the crazy juggle that is the morning for most working women. This is where waking just 30 minutes earlier makes a big difference. Also remember that you don’t need a lengthy exercise/mediation/yoga session. Even 20-25 minutes will be more than enough to start with.
The next high impact thing to do is something that we have all heard time and again, which is to have a healthy breakfast. It truly is the most important meal of the day. Again, you don’t need to go elaborate on this. Something like overnight porridge that you can prep the previous night topped with fruits and nuts is good. The important thing is to get the nutrition your body needs and not skip this most important meal.
12. Forgive Yourself
There is nothing worse than the burden of the baggage of guilt. And as is the case with all heavy baggage it slows you down big time. The various scripts that get embedded in your mind as a result of guilt can get in the way of your decision making and become a big drag force.
Conscience is a good thing to have and I am not for a minute suggesting that you should not have one. To the contrary it should be the guiding light of everything you do. It is however crucial to remember that in spite of our best intentions there will be some occasions in life where we will end up making mistakes, may be even big ones. When this happens, most of us carry the burden of that wrongdoing for a very long time. This is neither healthy nor productive. It is therefore a crucial life skill to learn how to make amends as best as you can, learn your lesson so that you don’t repeat the same mistake in future and then forgive yourself. Unburdening yourself in this manner is very very critical to ensuring that you get where you want to very fast.
13. Cultivate Moral Fibre
This is a tricky one to articulate and deeply linked to the point above. It is a great thing to learn to forgive yourself but what is even better is to minimise the situations where you do something so awful that it needs forgiving. I am of the firm belief that all of us have a fairly robust moral compass which is built into us. The trick is to pay heed to it and not allow it to get over-shadowed by society, friends and a trillion other distractions.
14. Helping Others
There is an ancient Chinese proverb that says “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else”. That proverb that has a lot of relevance in today’s time and context. Modern research published in the World Happiness Report shows that a society cannot be happy unless there is a high degree of altruism among its members.
You may be wondering how that translates at a more personal level and what difference that can make to the entire process of getting your life together? The end result of putting your life together is to be happy and that too on an enduring basis. So far, we have discussed about several things that can be done to get to this stage of being satisfied. The question that remains is how to make it endure? The answer is very simple. In our regular lives the simple act of helping is proven to give a ‘helpers high’. Taking that a step further volunteering on a regular basis is proven to give you a sense of larger purpose and enduring happiness. So, it is a great idea to find ways to volunteer to help others. Whether it is one off or something you do every week, the best thing to do is to find opportunities to volunteer that align with your personal goals and interests. For example, if it’s one of your goals to improve your public speaking skills find a volunteering role as a teacher and share your expertise.
So, we have come to the end of a very long list of things that you can do to put your life together. I realise that together it may all seem very overwhelming. The trick is to get started and then go one step at a time. And before you know it you will be doing a substantial number of things in this list.
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