When life is manageable, I can hold it together and avoid exhaustion, be upbeat and positive. I feel motivated and driven and relish in successful accomplishments. I feel like I have it all together until the big pendulum of life starts the downward swing switching from “I got everything under control” to “my world is falling apart”. The scary thing is that I almost do better with major events that are actually stressful and difficult than I do the little things. When you evaluate your priorities, it’s easy to see what’s working and what’s not. You can figure out the areas that need to be minimized to avoid exhaustion.
Some of the small things that can really stress me out include: too many dirty dishes in the sink, not being able to get through all the work on my desk by the end of the day, getting frustrated with my husband for coming home and immediately turning on the TV. It’s easy to live my life wishing for the future. That tomorrow will be better or next week will be different. I will finally be able to get my act together and get things accomplished that will make me feel complete. The problem is that I’ve been living like this for years. How do I learn to adapt to the ever ending unpredictability of life so that my life is not constantly swinging from one extreme to another?
A Personal Evaluation and Setting Goals
I think the answer is two-fold. And here is where I’m going to have to make a confession. As much as I love being organized, I am horrible with organizing my time and managing my life priorities. It is super important to start with accurate priorities and then create a system that works for you. When we do a personal evaluation, and set goals for ourselves that align with our personal situation, we give ourselves the freedom to make choices that will make us feel good about life and be content with our decisions.
Self-awareness gives us permission to say no to activities that do not align with our goals. Evaluate your priorities and the choices you face through the filter of your goals. Weed out the activities that don’t meet the requirements set forth in the guidelines that we set for ourselves. This frees us from guilt or disappointing others. It is important to ask questions in multiple facets of our lives. Consequently, this leads us to the first part in our self-awareness journey towards our life purpose.
Step One: Evaluate your Priorities and current circumstances.
It’s really easy to think that if we just try harder, be more efficient, and stick to a schedule that our life will run smoothly. While this could work, one of the problems is that most of us are in some phase of burnout. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve had successful weeks, even months. There have been times when I’ve let go of enough perfectionism and overachieving that my goals have become manageable in almost ideal life situations. But this is not the reality that we live in. So, I have had to find another way other than brute force. This led me to finding the Exhaustion Funnel, by Professor Marie Asberg, from the Karolinska Institute of Stockholm. In her unpublished work, she diagrams the different phases of exhaustion.
The Exhaustion Funnel
I don’t think these categories necessarily funnel down from each other, but that exhaustion happens when multiple factors are in play and affects build up over time. Each level leads to draining the motivation you have and the capacity to reach your goals. You start falling behind. Sleep problems are not pleasant because you wake up feeling unrefreshed. The lack of energy keeps you from accomplighing the things you need to get done.
The body can start feeling the strain of running on fumes, and you can develop health issues or experience symptoms caused by stress. There is also the emotional aspect of exhaustion. Feeling guilty because you’re falling behind. Then joylessness and depression. And just typing this is making me feel defeated, but I think this stresses the importance of evaluating your priorities and the importance of self-care so that you avoid falling into this trap. So there is hope!!
After looking at the battery below, do any of the phases describe you? What categories are the most draining? Are you able to identify the cause?
Creating Work/Life Balance
The next thing to consider is balancing all aspects of our lives so that we stay healthy. Everything we spend time on in life falls into four categoires: work, tasks, self-care, and play. These four quadrants aren’t divided equally in the amount of time we spend on each category, but in the overall importance each has in relation to our well-being. As we start minimizing restorative activities and increasing activities that are stressful and depleting, we start spiraling down the funnel towards exhaustion.
A very interesting point that Asberg makes is that those who are the most conscientious workers continue down this spiral as their self-confidence is closely tied to their work performance. The take away point from this is that we put added pressure on ourselves to meet goals, causing our priorities to become unbalanced. We put too much importance on what other people think we need to be doing or achieving causing us to eliminate rejuvenating activities, putting self-care on the backburner. And this only leads to the furthering of our condition, causing us to become more down on ourselves, only to try harder and make more of an effort.
Take Some Time to Evaluate Each Category
- Determine the cause of your exhaustion. How much time and energy are you putting towards each of the following categories: Work, Tasks, Self-Care, Play.
- Start by jotting down your current priorities based on what you spend your time doing. Think about where the majority of your time goes. If all or most of it goes towards the top half of the quadrant, adjustments should be made.
- Out of the four quadrants, which one is dominating and which one is lacking? Are there any changes you can make to bring these four quadrants back into balance? They might never be equal, but little tweaks can go a long way. Making sure to take breaks while working can make a big difference.
This will also help you determine if the activity is important or unimportant so that you can start to determine what activities you could eliminate. It will also help to show which activities create more of a deficit and what activities help nourish you.
Step Two: Determining your priorities.
As you go through these different categories, the following considerations are really important. We want to make sure that who we are is in alignment with what we want to accomplish. Asking the right questions to determine what is holding you back and keeping your from doing the things most important to you, getting to the root of what truly matters.
What underlying presumptions am I still holding onto. Am I able to identify any feelings that are causing me from meeting my goals? The big one I am struggling with is putting too much pressure on myself, feeling like everything needs to be perfect.
- Do I think I don’t deserve to be happy? Is there some type of underlying guilt that I feel?
- Am I trying to meet someone else’s expectations and fear of letting them down?
- Are any goals in contradiction with each other? What are you giving up reaching one goal, stealing precious resources from another goal?
- Am I putting too much weight on any of my goals? Is its importance a sign that I’ve made it an idol or is it causing an imbalance?
- Are you truly being honest with yourself about the importance and/or order of priorities as you journal through your goals?
Start with a Clean Slate
Now we are going to set new goals and priorities. With these questions in mind, go through the following categories to help you come up with a list of priorities. These are big picture goals that help us reach our full potential and live out our purpose; things we need to live a balanced life. It is important to weigh the significance of each category and make sure that we do not cut out areas that are most important to us for activities of lesser value. But most of all our priorities need to be in alignment with what is most important to us and our value system.
- Lifestyle- home, career, extracurricular activities/hobbies.
- Relational- friends, family, acquaintances, difficult relationships
- Responsibilities- finances, unavoidable life situations or current situations
- Service/Spirituality/Self-Care- volunteering, religion, self-nurturing, health
Step Three: Compare
Finally, determine the top five activities you spend the most time as you evaluate your priorities. Then number the top five more important activities you would like to be spending your time on. If you numbered your two lists, the first one being your current evaluation and the second your list of priorities, how closely do they line up? On a scale of 1 to 10, how far off are you? I’m definitely not in alignment! The next step is determining how to bring reality into closer alignment with the things that are most important to you.
Hi, I’m Shara
I have a passion for organizing. This stems from being naturally drawn to simplicity and structure in my home. Combined with my desire to help women achieve their goals, Simply Renewed Living was born.