Are you feeling fresh and energetic from your well-deserved break, or didn’t you get one of any significance? Are you feeling guilty about last year’s unfinished business?
I have to confess to a bit of both, as the last month ended for me with a bout of ill-health that stuck to me like an unwelcome barnacle, especially after a prolonged period of recovery from a previous illness.
I usually enjoy good health, so something outside my control was annoying, to say the least. What the experience impressed on me was how important it is to look after yourself; to eat well, sleep, exercise and nourish yourself emotionally, because it could have been worse.
As a gardener of no particular repute, I know that new growth thrives on compost. All the trimmings and garden waste rot down to a fertile brew to nourish new plantings and strengthen established ones. Unpruned shrubs also eventually fail to flower as profusely as they might.
Here’s my 5-step plan to nurture the garden of my life and give me fulfilment as well as peace. It might help you too.
1. Take a sheet of paper, or a page in your journal and make two columns, with a narrow margin on the left …
… about 2.5cm wide (or on the right if you prefer). Make a list of everything that went well over the last six months. Indulge yourself here. It’s rarely all bad even though we tend to become velcroed to our perceived failings.
Choose at least three, but I’m sure there will be more. Do a brain dump and write everything, even if it seems insignificant. If your mind goes blank on this, ask family, friends and colleagues who respect you. They can often see the positives even if you can’t. In the right column make a note of what you did to make those things successful.
On another page list the things that didn’t go so well. Don’t beat yourself up about them, though; they are valuable opportunities for growth. What did you learn? What would you do differently? Which bits were ok, or even good? Rarely is everything all bad.
2. Choose three to five areas to focus on over the next six months.
Highlight them or mark them in the margin. Don’t pick more than that or your attention will become too scattered.
What would you choose? Fit back into your skinny jeans? Advance your career? Spend more time marketing your business? Renew a lapsed friendship? Be nicer to the family? Get better organised? If, like me, you have come up with too many targets then prioritise.
Can’t decide? Toss a coin. I find that once the coin is in the air, I suddenly know how I want it to land.
3. Take the first item on your list and break it into a series of small steps.
My priority is to restore my fitness levels.
I have chosen to wear a pedometer and follow the 10000 steps program because it is backed by research.
Try it for yourself by going here. In a nutshell, I determine my starting activity level by averaging out four days, including a weekend, then I increase it incrementally, week by week until I finally manage 10000 steps per day.
Of course, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor before you start, especially if you have any limiting health concerns.
4. Now take the next item on your list and repeat the process.
The harder the goal, the more important it is to define small steps.
Diarise each step and give yourself credit for each incremental gain. Here are three approaches:
- Many adults swear by the star charts that parents and teachers often use to record the new habits they are teaching children. Don’t laugh.
- A table in your journal with check marks is one adult version.
- Kanban is another grown-up work tool that some of my clients find useful. It involves writing tasks on sticky notes and placing them on a whiteboard marked into three columns labelled (1) to do, (2) doing and (3) done.
All the to-dos go into the first column, then you move them into the doing column when you are ready to start a new task, then finally stick them in the done column when you have finished.
You can make it as simple or as complex as you like.
It was originally developed by Toyota to highlight warnings in the process line.
There is even a sticky app from Post-it Plus for your smartphone that allows you to photograph your whiteboard, take it with you, and edit it.
5. Think of a way to celebrate successes that doesn’t necessarily involve chocolate in large quantities, and don’t give up if you fail a few times.
Dust yourself down and begin again.
Life is full of twists and turns. Even the best plans need modifications from time to time, so allow for some flexibility.
Small rewards like punching the air, dancing a little jig, or high-fiving your partner work just as well as big indulgences.
Although celebrating with a supportive other over dinner can be great when you have scored a major achievement.