Fed up of feeling like you have to do more? Sometimes the way to a better life is actually to GIVE UP! Our experts, clinical psychologist Dr Cecilia D'Felice and womens' coach and mentor Jessica Chivers, tell us what to drop
It’s fine not to be “driven” all the time – but if you feel no meaning beyond the transactions and activities that make up your daily life, if you’re so caught up in getting through your to-do list that you’ve lost sight of the bigger picture, your soul will be paying the price. You know you’re living purposefully when you want to get up each morning and look forward to the day ahead. We often let that slip as we develop tunnel vision, maybe telling ourselves, “If I can just get tomorrow’s presentation over with, I’ll be okay”. Or, “It’s going to be a bad week, so I’ll just keep my head down.”
…Listen to your internal guide, follow your instincts to move towards people, places, activites and experiences that excite you. We usually know instinctively what inspires us but it’s easy to forget in the day-to-day. Finding what you love often happens outside the context of a job or family. Revisit hobbies and activities that reconnect you to your enthusiasm about life. Remember, it’s the depth of the connection that will satisfy you, so don’t try too much at once or spread yourself too thin.
Watching “rubbish TV” or taking an unscheduled break in a favourite cafe to read and think – we feel so guilty about the small pleasures that we often deny ourselves. “I just can’t justify it…” or spoil their positive effects with regret: “I really shouldn’t have.”
INSTEAD…Realise you’re not wasting time, you’re cherishing it. Spending time doing something that won’t achieve anything “important” may seem frivolous, but actually it’s essential. Whether it’s a slice of cake or a trashy film in the afternoon, small pleasures relax, strengthen and nourish you. They’re part of your “wellbeing bank” – filling you up and giving you the resources to go on.
Sure you can get fitter, be healthier, build muscle – but the body and face you’re born with will be with you for life. No miracle will actually wipe away the features you don’t like when you look in the mirror. That habit of glancing critically at your thighs/nose/feet and imaging life with different features could add up to hours, days, weeks over a lifetime, all of them a drain on your most vital asset – self-esteem. Self-acceptance is the essential starting point on the road to happiness. It brings the relaxation response, which releases tension, and frees us to make better, more productive use of our energy.
INSTEAD…Think about everything your body had done for you – the years of health and mobility, the children it may have carried and see it through the eyes of those who love you. When you next start wishing it away, try saying this instead. “I appreciate my body and all that it has done for me.”
Ever think how much better life will be once you’ve steered your disinterested son safely on to the career ladder, or when you’ve matched your hard-done-by friend with the perfect partner? Trying to fix everything is a doomed struggle for control. When it comes to the lives of others, it’s far better to practise what psychologists call “unconditional positive regard” – that’s complete support along with acceptance. Let other people get on with their lives. If they need you, they know where you are!
INSTEAD…Realise the more we let go of our need to control, the more things that appear to be issues and conflicts simply dissolve and disappear. When it comes to righting past wrongs, what has happened can’t be changed – only your view of it can be. Replaying your mum’s hurtful behaviour last Christmas again and again in your mind, and waiting for her to see the error of her ways, is a waste of emotion. Forgiving and letting go lets you move on afresh.
Does the time spent acting the dutiful daughter to your ageing parents mean you can’t always be cook, chauffeur and PA to your teenage children, as well as a listening ear to your just-divorced friend? Never mind that you’re always the one who’s first to pick up extra duties at work. The struggle to please everyone is self-defeating – there will never be enough of you to go round.
INSTEAD…Imagine that there’s no one else out there to please. What would you do for yourself? Now make time to do whatever it was that you thought of – even if it means others will have to cope without you. Think of yourself as a bank where every time you do something good for you, you are making a deposit, and every time you do something good for someone else, you’re making a withdrawal. If it’s all withdrawals you’ll feel the strain quickly. Remember the safety advice on the plane – put on your own oxygen mask first before being any help to anyone else.