It’s not uncommon for me to hear people struggle with balancing their own needs and those of others. Some err on the side of being highly self-focused, while others veer more toward being a caretaker. But an extreme caretaking role can be a problem if you lose sight of the importance of taking care of yourself.
If you’ve ever flown in an airplane and listened to the safety instructions prior to take-off, you’ve probably heard something like this: “In the even of a loss of cabin air pressure, oxygen masks will drop down. Please secure your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you.” Essentially, this is stressing to us that we are less able, perhaps fully unable, to help others when we are gasping ourselves for air (e.g., feeling overwhelmed, overcommitted, stressed, physically or mentally compromised). So, it’s important to take care of yourself — not only for your own good, but so that you can be available to help others as well.
Do you remember learning how to ride a bicycle? If you were like me, you didn’t jump on a 2-wheel bike right away. Perhaps you had a Big Wheel or a tricycle, which offered stability while having fun. After a period of time and mastery of the 3-wheeler, perhaps you advanced to your first 2-wheel bicycle equipped with training wheels, which provided stability while allowing you to experience the feeling of balance. Maybe the next step was to flip up one or both training wheels before someone took them off completely. Each of these steps afforded you the opportunity to have gray fun while providing a gradual reduction in protection while you were learning how to balance, steer, accelerate and brake.
Many of life’s lessons are learned through a similar model of risk and protection. Sure, you could learn about how to ride a bike from reading a book, but until you get out there and try it for yourself, the full lesson is not likely to be realized.
Calculated risks are a pathway to growth and learning. We must challenge ourselves with new experiences, even when we may be feeling afraid, in order to grow and reach our fullest capacity.
Did you know that thinking quietly about happy moments may not only provide additional boost to your mood but also be a better way of feeling happiness than writing about or analyzing these joys? In an elegantly-designed study published in 2006 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dr. Lyubomirsky and colleagues asked participants to identify one of the happiest days they had ever experienced, and then instructed them in one of the following conditions: a) think about the positive life experience and replay it over and over; b) think about the positive life experience and analyze their thoughts; c) write about the positive life experience over and over as if rewinding and replaying a cassette tape; or d) write about the positive life experience and analyze the event. Each participant was asked to engage in their particular condition for 15 minutes for 3 days, and then participants were re-evaluated four weeks later. Can you guess what the researchers found? They found that long-term positive affect (continuing to feel happiness, joy, etc.) four weeks later was most profound for condition A, in which participants thought about the positive life experience, replaying it over and over without analyzing it.
What does this mean for you? Thinking and reminiscing about your positive life events, your joys, your triumphs, your “happy thoughts” on a regular basis can help sustain your good mood. Try to avoid analyzing the good event, just relish in it.
Goals are excellent aims for us to have. They can guide us toward our future, toward changes that we want to make, and toward accomplishments we seek to achieve. But setting goals can also set us up for defeat if they are too lofty. Ideally, goals should be “smart” goals. What is meant by that?
S = Specific
M = Measurable
A = Achievable
R = Reasonable
T = Time-limited
For example, someone could have a goal such as “I want to pay off my $2,000 worth of credit card debt.” But without a reasonable plan, that might seem daunting and frustrating on a daily basis to think about the $2,000 debt that you want to eliminate, especially if you think you need the entire $2,000 all at once and don’t avoid accruing more debt. However, a “smart” goal might be something like, “I will review my budget and identify where I can save $125 each month to put toward paying off my credit card debt, and I will cut up my credit cards so I can’t use them. If all goes well, I should be able to pay off the credit card debt within 2 years, even taking into account the interest.” This goal is very SMART, of identifying $125/month to shave from expenses and put toward the credit card debt each month for a maximum of 2 years.
When you set goals for yourself, use the acronym above to guide you toward setting goals that are SMART; and have fun reaping the rewards!