Taking Control of Your Life
By Larry Deavers
All of us go through periods of our lives where we feel overwhelmed by all of our responsibilities, question our purpose and meaning, and second guess our own life choices. When in the midst of this kind of struggle, we often feel like our lives are out of control and that we are trapped by whatever circumstances seem to be thrown our way. However, you can begin to make decisions one-moment-at-a-time that will begin to evolve the way you see yourself and your circumstances so that you feel more empowered regarding the way you allocate your limited mental, emotional and physical energy.
Set Healthy Boundaries. Sometimes we have a tendency to feel guilty when we deny someone else’s requests, but it is important that you develop the ability to say “No” when you are being imposed upon in a way that stretches you beyond your abilities and resources.
We all have people in our lives who seem to think we are fair game as a solution for all of their problems; however, in order for you to be at your best and do your best towards your own responsibilities (e.g., job, children, spouse, etc.), you have to recognize when others are pushing their own obligations onto you. Those are the ones you must recognize as harmful to your ability to take care of yourself and your own obligations. Don’t accept responsibility for what belongs to someone else. Being a help to those in need is an important part of adding meaning to your life; just be mindful of your limited time and energy and choose those that are important to you.
Prioritize activities that are important. All activities are NOT equal. Often, we get caught up in so many activities that we do not enjoy what we are doing and the stress of it all does not justify what it costs us (e.g., exhaustion, frustration, short-temper, etc.). You do not have to be overwhelmed by activities in order to feel you are doing something meaningful with your time.
Identify those that are most important to you and your family, then consider the others only if your time and energy permit. Don’t be a slave to the urgent (those things that demand to be attended to right now!), but focus on what is important to you. Looking back twenty years from now, what will you remember and what will you be happy you invested your time in?
Set aside time for self-care. When we are pressured for time, nearly all of us sacrifice the one thing that will help us manage those demands – taking care of ourselves. We often do this because we think we can sacrifice our own needs and still take care of those around us.
Having the focus, energy and creativity to manage our own obligations and being available to those around us requires that we nurture our own emotional, mental and physical selves. Therefore, for us to be the kind of person who is reliable, strong and capable for others, we must make self-care a priority. Self-care may include time for personal reflection, meditation or prayer, physical activity, reading, time with friends, or anything that allows us to relax and unwind without having to be “ON” all the time.
Challenge your irrational (wishful) thinking. Positive aspects of your life typically don’t “just happen”. I’ve heard it said that we are the sum of the choices we make. You have to make choices that reflect what you want to accomplish, whether it is healthier relationships, a better job or improved physical, mental or spiritual health – you have to make daily decisions that support your goals. Hoping things will get better without effort on your part is simply wishful thinking.
Challenge old habits. Old habits can be like an anchor holding us back. These can be habits in our eating, the way we think or speak, in relationships, or simply our daily routines. They become the “path of least resistance” because it is what we are used to and we can follow them without any significant effort or thought. When we are not intentional about making change, our old habits will always dominate. If you are unhappy with an area of your life, you have to take control one small decision at a time until those small decisions become your new habits.
You have the ability to take back control of your life, set limits on the demands you accept from others, and prioritize taking care of yourself so that you are at your best. It all comes down to the very next decision you make, then the one after that. When you string together enough positive choices, you will create a new path that leads you to becoming the kind of person, and living the kind of life, that you want.
Larry Deavers is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker & Executive Director of Family Counseling Service of West Alabama. Learn more at www.CounselingService.org.