A few months back, I decided it was time to fully walk the talk. I was taking my thyroid medication and managing my health consequences of burnout, but there were two remaining demons inside my head making a lot of noise and not letting me thrive. One of them was my PhD. The other one was the feeling that I was failing at leading my own life. The two were, of course, related to each other, and I knew that, if I really wanted to recover both my health and wellbeing, I had to do something about them.
Hence, on a Summer night, I sat on a park bench close to where I was living, holding one of my big notebooks, a pen and an old, but still operational, tablet on my hands. It was about time to take intention setting more seriously and come up with actionable steps that would allow me to achieve my dreams. So the first thing I decided that night was that I needed to prioritise and focus on specific areas of my life. This decision was facilitated by the first exercise of the Start Living Today Workbook, which asks us to define what are the most important life dimensions to us. At that time, I identified five: Body, Mind, Friendships, Family, and Work.
The second step was to assess how satisfied I was within each dimension, using a scale ranging from 1 (not at all satisfied) to 10 (very much satisfied). I always roll my eyes out when I read or hear this kind of questions but the truth is that once we start answering them on paper we do get precious information about how we feel and perceive our own life. Once I began to evaluate each dimension, I realised that I was actually doing better than I thought in some areas and not so good in others. For instances, I wrote down an eight in Family and one in Friends, which was quite surprising to me.
After doing this self-assessment, I kept following the workbook’s instructions. The next exercise asked me to think about each dimension more deeply and consider four different questions. These questions challenged me to think about what kind of false beliefs I had regarding these life dimensions, what were my goals within each one of them, why I wanted to achieve such goals, and how could I transform them into a reality. I answered the same set of questions for every dimension I had identified as important in my life in the very first exercise of the workbook.
For instances, in the ‘Body’ dimension, I wrote down the following false beliefs: I think it’s difficult to get results and I think every time I try to be active, I get some sort of injury that prevents me from continuing. Writing down our false beliefs can really be an eye-opening experience. While I was writing my own, I started to see how they didn’t make much sense and how they served me no good. Many of them were not even rational or logic, but they surely occupied my subconscious mind and they were the fuel to my self-sabotage.
Next, I wrote down my goals and I also explained why each goal was important to me. In the ‘Body’ dimension, I wrote that I would like to lose 4 stone and that I wanted to achieve it because I would have a greater quality of life on a daily basis. Then I listed a good couple of action-steps I thought I needed to take in order to accomplish my body-related goals. One of these action-steps was to start with low impact exercises, like walking and adapted strength exercises.
From all the dimensions I identified as important in my life, I think Work was the one that really needed urgent attention and action. Once I assessed this dimension, and realised that my professional situation wasn’t making me any happier by the day, I made the decision to interrupt my doctorate for six months and focus on reconnecting with my Life Purpose. This process was ignited by the last exercise of Start Living Today, which invites us to describe our future, successful self. Personally, this was the ‘click’ I needed to understand how my different goals fitted together in a bigger picture and how my false beliefs kept holding me back all the time.
Four months and many daily micro-management decisions later, I’m in a very different place today. I took the first few steps to fulfill my desire of being able to provide for myself without feeling miserable in a job I don’t really feel good in, and today I have a part-time as a school teacher. I have become more patient about getting results and I tap myself on the back more often. I have been focused on building myself from scratch based on self-love and I’m now half-way through a bodybuilding 12-Week challenge that I set up for myself. I fall asleep with ease, I eat in a balanced manner most of the time, and I get up everyday with motivation to go on about my day.
All I needed to make this happen was structure and discipline. The workbook I had built gave me the structure, while the desire of being truly happy with myself gave me the motivation I needed to be disciplined. It’s an everyday job, I can’t lie, and it was hard work to sit down and face my own demons. It still is whenever I have to overcome an old or new false belief. I’m thankful, however, for the fact that I changed my mindset on the moment I decided to start living instead of simply letting the days go by. That decision is what allowed me to feel how I feel today about my life and the future.