One Easy Way to Achieve Greater Well-Being in 2018
Ready? Here it is! Focus first on what matters most. It is “as easy said, as done” if you just take a few quiet, uninterrupted moments to contemplate precisely what it is that does matter most to enhancing your well-being. It may not be the first thing that pops into your head or your first New Year’s resolution. When I talk about what matters most, I mean identifying the single most important factor that is contributing negatively to your quality of life.
Start by asking yourself “What is the one problem that I truly wish would magically go away right now?”. What is the underlying concern associated with that problem? And how is the way you are coping with your fears, negatively impacting your well-being? The goal here is to understand what critical unmet needs you might be ignoring. Let me walk you through a personal example.
In the summer of 2009, I took the kids to Canada to visit my parents. My father was battling oral cancer and it was important to me to spend time to support him and my family. As we boarded the plane home, I had to face the fact that the chances of my father regaining his health were slim to none. I wished then I could magically make his cancer go away. I did not want to see him suffer and I wanted my wonderful healthy father back. I was afraid I could not handle watching his mortality slip away or face his awareness of that process. I was also afraid of the impending loss and how lonely I would feel without him.
Although I had a husband, kids, friends and other family, I knew there would be a huge void in my life. I tried to think of a way to vaccinate myself from the painful emotional journey that was about to unfold. I could not control what was happening to my father but I could control my response to it. I wanted to be as supportive to him as I could while he was alive and then deal with my own pain once he was gone. To that end, I tried another approach to discovering where I needed to focus some time and attention. I would recommend you try it.
Think about how you invest your time on a regular basis. Make a list of the five things that take up most of your waking time in an average week. Now think about the returns you routinely make on your investment of time. For each of those 5 activities ask yourself whether or not they returned a net increase or a net decrease with respect to:
1. Your financial security
2. Your mental and physical energy level
3. The quality of your relationships
Well-being is the outcome of an ongoing, net increase in all three of these aspects of your life. It is an indicator that you are living in alignment—making time investment decisions that allow you to meet the three fundamental needs we all share:
1. Enough money to purchase the goods and services necessary to live
2. Enough mental and physical energy to take action towards achieving our personal and professional goals
3. The support of people who genuinely care about us and our well-being
Over-focusing on one aspect of your life, means that you will be under-focusing on another. And that leads to a lack of alignment and a lower quality of life. The key is to identify the specific unmet need that is disrupting alignment and to filter daily decisions through the lens of meeting that one deep need. If you focus on that fundamental need, you will examine your decisions differently and see the importance of ensuring that the three basic needs listed above are also met. Suddenly everything begins to align and quality of life improves.
I realized that my greatest fear about losing my father was loneliness. I worried about not having enough people in my life who genuinely care about me and my well-being. I also worried about my energy levels. I was still carrying around 25 pounds of “baby weight” from the birth of my son 10 years prior despite resolving every January to diet. The reality was that I had focused on my career and my family and ignored my own fitness so in September 2009, I joined a women’s running group that met Saturday mornings. I had not run since living in California in 1995 and I could not jog more than a couple of blocks.
By October I surprised myself and completed a local 5K race. I ran part of it, walked the rest of it and I got to know different members of my run group. Each of them had different goals and different reasons for running but we all enjoyed the support that comes with camaraderie. I found myself sleeping better and eating better without feeling deprived. I made conscious choices to drink and eat less the night before my Saturday runs but I indulged in pancake breakfasts at a diner afterwards. I prioritized my spending to sign up for more races. I was feeling better despite the sadness that was welling up inside with each week that my father’s life was fading away. I visited him one more time before he died in November 2009 and all of my sadness poured out.
We traveled to his funeral in December and faced the first Christmas without him. It was hard for all of us but I found solace in mutually supportive relationships. I shed tears with another woman while running that first week I came back after learning that her Dad had recently died of a heart attack. After that I made a pact with my sister to train and meet up for a race the following year. We both needed something positive to focus on and in November 2010, we flew to San Francisco to stay with our brother and run a half marathon. The three of us wanted to be together on the anniversary of our father’s death. It felt good to be in sunny California, reminiscing about our childhood and the good times we enjoyed with Dad since then.
Fast-forward to November 2017. I ran the 10-mile Rocky Run in Philadelphia with my run buddy of 8 years, a woman I met at the now defunct Saturday group. We have become very close friends. We both lost our mothers in the time since we met and helped each other cope with the grieving process. I also managed to lose the last couple of pounds I blamed on my now nineteen-year-old “baby”. I have continued to make decisions about my career, my finances, my friendships and my family that have led to incredible well-being. I have done so by focusing first on what matters most. When I do, everything else just seems to align and fall into place. Trust me. It works. I hope you will give it a try.