Know What You Don't Want!
As we reach the end of a long month, the good news is that you have bypassed Blue Monday! The not so good news is that you may be struggling with your New Year’s resolutions, if you even made any. We all have good intentions as we embark on a new challenge such as Dry January or a fitness programme (at any time of year!), but often we find that we had unrealistic expectations, tried to take on too much or simply just changed our minds. Recently, I was amused by the idea of New Year’s Irresolutions [sic] championed on the ‘Magic Breakfast’ radio show, where listeners divulged what they would not be doing this year, one resolving to ‘set the bar low and be an achiever’. It got me thinking that knowing what you don’t want in life can be transformative.
Often coaching clients struggle to articulate what they want or where they want to be in six months’ time, but they do know what is making them unhappy in the present: ‘I don’t want to be where I am now’ is a powerful argument for change. However, there is a distinction to be made between not doing something you like, which may lead to a lifestyle change, and disengaging from something which is toxic for your mental or physical health. Both pursuits are valuable in their own way. Self-denial and ‘not doing’ can make you feel good about yourself, if the habit was already mildly unhealthy (e.g. giving up chocolate for Lent). In a recent article on ‘not to do’ lists, Simon Mills vows to cull his ‘out-of-control streaming service portfolio’ as it is taking over his life. If you are aware of your foibles, it is good to test yourself in such small ways, which can quickly add up to significant change, without too much stress or exertion.
Addressing the toxic areas of your life is much more challenging. It might be relationships, friendships, workplace environments or your own behaviour which need looking at. In many ways, it is harder to break a bad habit than to take up and sustain something new, but making the effort is crucial to wellbeing. The first step is recognising the patterns of your own behaviour and reflecting upon why you are still engaging with something or someone that is negative or harmful. Are you blocking yourself from making progress? Are you anxious about the consequences? There may be reasons why you react badly to conflict or resist change, you may have an unhealthy fear of failure or suffer from imposter syndrome. Identifying what is holding you back will help you to break the toxic cycle. If you manage to declutter your life emotionally, you will make space for more positive endeavours to fill the gap.
By creating red lines which you are no longer prepared to cross, the way forward may become clear. Think about how easily and confidently we can dismiss purchases from outfits to houses with the instant knowledge that ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘I couldn’t live here’. Sometimes we need to trust our instincts more, and learn to extricate ourselves quickly from situations when they start to go awry. We often hold on to possessions, jobs or people way beyond their ‘sell-by-date’ through not wanting to rock the boat or cause offence. A positive example of such self-awareness is Steven Bartlett the youngest ever BBC ‘Dragon’ who left his university course after one lecture when he realised ‘it wasn’t going to take me where I wanted to go’. He is a firm believer in ‘quitting’ when he recognises what doesn’t serve him well. This doesn’t have to be a seismic knee-jerk reaction, rather a planned exit strategy towards a more positive future which will become clear as time goes on. Take the first step by knowing what you don’t want and see what happens!