Exert no effort and life is boring. Push too much and you can overwhelm yourself. In the in-between space — the gray zone — you will feel engaged, challenged, and alive!
Here’s how it works:
Identify what makes you feel happy or fulfilled. There may be many roles, endeavors, and pursuits that appeal to you. You might enjoy being a mother, an architect, or playing basketball. Pick one to focus on. (You can pick more later, but start with one at a time.)
Set a goal. Ask yourself what you would like to achieve in the focus that you chose. This is a big picture question. You might want to be a good role model as a mother, an owner of an architecture firm, or one of the better players on your basketball team.
Make a reasonable, but challenging plan. People achieve their goals by meeting smaller objectives. To become the mother you want to be, you might work on managing your anger better and finding a healthy work-home balance. As an architect, you might take advanced classes in architecture and business management. Or, to improve your basketball skills, you might spend more time practicing.
Focus on the process. As you may have read or discovered, it’s enjoying life’s path — not attaining your goal — that creates a satisfying life. Allow yourself to enjoy your successes and focus on what you learn from mistakes and failures.
Offer self-compassion. You will make mistakes and experience difficulties along the way. That’s a given. If you have difficulty accepting this, then practice thinking about the ways in which this might happen. Then take time to consider how you respond to loved ones when they struggle. Finally, practice responding to yourself similarly.
These steps offer a way to walk in the gray zone of life. Don’t just settle for being on a particular path. You need to put in effort and challenge yourself. But don’t try to rush to your goal — you will burn yourself out. This is your life; it is a marathon. You will find the greatest happiness and fulfillment by remaining between the two extremes of taking it too easy and pushing too hard; by staying in the gray zone.
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships and Coping Community.
Dr. Becker-Phelps is also the author of Insecure in Love.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate self-awareness