There's a story we tell ourselves when we try to improve our lives, our resilience, and our stress levels. It goes like this: I want to change. I want to be different. Everything's got to go. I'm starting over. Then, things will be better.
But this story isn't true. Say you want to change your eating habits, your attitude, your clutter habits, or your career: that doesn't by any stretch mean that your ENTIRE life needs to be scrapped. The fact is, you're doing a lot right.
The way to make real, positive change is to recognize what is working, and then consciously move in that direction. Here are three examples of improving your life by celebrating what you already do well -- and doing more of it.
The problem: PERFECTIONISM
Nothing is ever good enough, so nothing ever gets done.
The upside: YOU HAVE HIGH STANDARDS
No doubt, perfectionism is a weight to bear; the tendency to be unrelenting in self-judgment and meet exacting standards can be exhausting. But it also points to a real strength: You hold yourself to a high standard. Whatever you do, you want it to be worthwhile. That drive pushes you to work hard and deliver satisfying results.
The fix: Focus on the achievement
You don't want to lower your standards completely, but you do need to channel the power of your perfectionism. Rather than trying to make absolutely everything in your life perfect, choose a single goal to focus on and use your perfectionist drive to make that goal happen. Maybe you want a promotion, so you focus your energy on doing your daily tasks to your highest ability. Or maybe you want to have more stamina to play with your kids, so you push yourself to run hills or take an extra Zumba class.
The problem: TAKING THINGS TOO PERSONALLY
You blame yourself when things go wrong.
The upside: YOU HAVE POWERFUL EMPATHY
You are sensitive to your impact on your world and you see how your actions might contribute to a mess. You likely have a great deal of empathy -- the ability to understand the thoughts and feelings of others -- which is a critical skill for building relationships and resilience.
The fix: Don't automatically blame yourself for other people's problems
Instead, counter every self-blaming thought with two questions: Am I really to blame? Is there something else going on that could be contributing to this person's problem? Use your well-developed empathy to get a clear, accurate read on what's happening, and you'll be in a better position to solve the problem.
The problem: OVER-SCHEDULING
You say "yes" to every request. Your schedule is jam-packed and you're running on fumes.
The upside: YOU HAVE STRONG SOCIAL CONNECTIONS
Your instinct for helping others, pitching in, and putting your nose to the grindstone means that you likely enjoy many social connections. This network of connections is a huge buffer against the overwhelm of stressful events. What's more, you have a positive impact on the people in your life, which gives you a stress-fighting sense of meaning and purpose.
The fix: Let someone else take the reins
You run into trouble when you believe that you alone must serve on every committee or attend every planning meeting or manage every youth group outing. Examine your belief that "only I can do it" -- it may be an outdated. Next, learn to delegate. Use that remarkable energy for your community to encourage others to take on some of the leadership and hard work you do.