Joan’s Situation: “When I get home, I just shut down,” Joan told me. “I live alone, I’m single – it’s just me and my pets in a quiet house. There’s nothing that motivates me to be responsible. I sit in front of a computer all day. Looking for jobs is the last thing I want to do when I get home.”
As we talked, it became apparent that Joan disliked a lot about her life, not just her job. She was also frustrated with her seeming inability to exercise regularly, plan healthy meals, or keep her apartment organized. She wanted a romantic partner, but wasn’t impressed with the options in her current city. In fact, she told me that she wanted to move closer to her family.
Joan’s Question: Where do I start when so much in my life needs fixing?
Julia’s Answer: When you’re not happy, it’s normal to look at all the things that are wrong with your life and want to change everything at once. This was how Joan felt. She wanted so badly to “have it all together,” and she was trying her best to make a game plan that would overhaul every part of her life.
However, as Joan tried to fix everything at once, she wound up setting sky-high expectations for herself across multiple life areas. Then she’d beat herself up for not being able to meet them. This led to her feeling even more discouraged and less motivated to take action.
There are three steps to dealing with this kind of desire to whip everything into shape, along with the corresponding overwhelm that comes from trying to do too many things at once: identifying priorities, managing expectations, and setting yourself up for success. Let’s talk about each one.
Objectively, you only have so much time and energy in the day. Everything you do comes out of the same bucket. Simultaneously rebooting your health, relationships, home organization, and job means that you’re constantly juggling priorities. Your good intentions may turn out to be so daunting that you wind up binging on Netflix rather than actually getting started.
Identifying your number-one priority makes getting started easier. What’s more, making progress in one area of your life often causes others to shift on their own.
For instance, if Joan focused solely on her career for a period of time and landed a better-fitting job, then she might have more energy at the end of the day for exercise or tidying. She might feel more positive and optimistic, which could increase her attractiveness to potential partners.
Or, she could choose another area to tackle first. If she put her full attention to getting into a great exercise routine, she’d then have more confidence on the job search front. Starting somewhere is far better than continuing to live in overwhelm.
The key here is to clearly identify the area that will be your main focus. This will get the majority of your efforts for now. You’ll also want to temporarily set aside your stretch goals in other areas, knowing that they’ll get their time in the sun soon enough.
Once you’ve identified your primary priority, you want to define what success is going to look like in a particular way. If you say to yourself, “I’ll feel successful once I have a job I love,” there will be an awful lot of days when you feel like a failure.
How can you define success based on factors you control? For the career example, success might be applying to one job a day or spending 30 minutes a day building your skills or network. See if you can shift your focus from the end result to the process and take satisfaction in actively taking steps to improve your life.
For the non-priority areas, see if you can define what I think of as your minimum requirements for success. What is the absolute least you can do and still feel okay? Since Joan also wanted to improve her eating, fitness level, and organization, she might consider the following:
1. Eating: one meal with vegetables every day.
2. Exercise: a walk around the block or 30 minutes gardening.
3. Organization: 10 minutes tidying before bed.
Your areas of improvement may look different, but I’m sure you can see how this applies to your own situation.
Setting Yourself Up for Success
Finally, you want to stack the odds in your favor so that you have a good chance of actually achieving your goals. Make it as easy as possible to reach your priority goal and meet your minimum requirements for success. Figure out what needs to happen, and if any of the steps feel hard, see if there’s a way to make it easier or smaller.
Eyes glazing over at reviewing your resume? Ask a friend to provide their feedback to help you get started. Too tired to apply for a job at day’s end? Try shooting out an application before you go to work. Having trouble getting your daily veggie because food prep takes too much effort? Switch to frozen veggies or even one of those meal delivery services temporarily. It’s not cheating, I promise.
If you’re still having trouble meeting your goal, maybe you need to make it smaller. I literally changed my daily fitness goal from “do something physical” to “do one push-up” because the larger goal wasn’t happening. I only need to do one, but chances are I’ll do more than that once I’m on the floor.
Bonus Step: Avoid Decision Fatigue
Making conscious change in your life takes a lot more energy than coasting on autopilot. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, I strongly recommend limiting the amount of decisions you have to make in a given day.
Some suggestions: eating the same thing for breakfast every day, wearing the same basic outfit, or setting up automatic bill pay so you don’t have to remember when things are due. Every decision you take off your plate frees up more mental space to concentrate on what matters. I use a robust system of reminders, checklists, and automated systems so I have to keep as little as possible in my brain.
One Step at a Time
Transforming an entire life takes time and persistence. Take these recommendations as a way to get started, and try to be kind and patient with yourself as you go along. If you notice that you’re getting overwhelmed, the scope of your goals has probably expanded beyond your energetic capacity. Return to the frameworks of identifying a priority, managing expectations, and setting yourself up for success to regain focus and plan your next steps. And remember that change always happens one step at a time.
Do you have lots of life changes you want to accomplish? What is going to be your top-priority area, and what will be your minimum requirements for success in other areas of your life? Share your ideas in the comments below. We’d love to know how it goes, and check out our career coaching programs if you’d like some additional support and accountability!
Client Feedback on Working with Julia in a Cardy Career Coaching program:
“I was really down on myself – lacking the confidence needed to be successful in my job search. Julia truly helped me get over my last work situation and being laid off. She helped me understand that I’m competent, intelligent and would be an asset to another organization! I’m now in a better mental state and ready to take on my next challenge.” –B.K., Marketing