3 Practices to Improve the Quality of Your Life
Realistic resolutions to make the coming year better and more manageable.
Posted Feb 17, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
Key Points: Being more compassionate toward yourself is a vital key to your goals and your well-being. These three practices will help you get there: Prioritize your productivity, accept that good enough is better than perfection, and pace yourself.
Accomplish the great task by a series of small acts. —Tao Te Ching, Verse 63
Many of us are worn-down and worn-out from a disorienting, isolating, and loss-soaked 2020. As a result, it’s understandable to want to dismiss 2020 as “the worst year ever.” It’s natural to be glad to be rid of the last year, along with its extraordinary and even surreal slate of challenges.
It’s also important to appreciate that 2021 (like all other years) will be far from a panacea. That notion was blown away in early January in the form of the riotous insurrection at the US Capitol. Like all new years, this one will invariably come with its own struggles. If we appreciate that 2021 will inevitably yield both positive and negative outcomes, this can provide the psychological flexibility that allows for the year to hold space for some good while increasing resiliency for whatever bad may come; this will also help us manage our expectations.
Each new year invites opportunities to reflect on where we’ve been recently, where we are currently, and where we’d like to go. These are occasions to consider the kinds of life adjustments that will best serve our growth, health, and healing—the sort of course-correction that helps us move into greater alignment with our values and make progress toward becoming the person we wish to be.
Most of us start out with the best of intentions, knowing what we want, and understanding what we need to do. Taking action that shifts our behavior and engaging in those actions consistently is the challenge.
You can improve and even maximize your chances of success by focusing on things that you can actually influence or change. Often these may feel small or seem insignificant, but a critical mass of small changes can create a tipping point that makes a big difference. Such small but powerful changes include the following practices.
1. Prioritize more consciously. We all have limited time and energy available to us – we only have so much of both. In fact, time may be the only thing that is truly irreplaceable. Therefore, it’s critical to be mindful about what (and who) we spend it on. Identify the activities that are most important to you and strive to make more space for them during the course of your day or week.
Allow yourself to let go of less meaningful activities, including those that have been a regular part of your life. Letting go of things we’ve been accustomed to—even when we know that they no longer serve us well—is a loss that requires mourning and adjustment. Consciously acknowledging this loss creates the space to grow beyond it and frees up precious time and energy that can then be allocated for higher priority activities.
2. Accept that “done” is better than “perfect.” Often, we struggle with a combination of procrastination and perfectionism. There is frequent overlap between the two. Do you find yourself putting things off until you have the time and availability to make them just right, perfect even? It isn’t the wish for high quality that is problematic, but rather the delay in starting and finishing tasks because we have a self-created idealized expectation of the final product. This creates (or more commonly exacerbates) feelings of inadequacy and self-criticism—not because we haven’t done whatever it is well enough, but because we just haven’t done it.
Develop the skill of learning, and practice not allowing the perfect to be the avowed enemy of the perfectly good enough. The sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and relief that results from completing even relatively small things in a timely matter are not to be underestimated—in terms of how it feels, as well as the mental-emotional effects on well-being.
3. Pay attention to how you pace yourself. It’s valuable to remind yourself that everyone goes at their own pace. Trying to do more than what may be realistically possible for you or simply too much is a primary contributor to mental-emotional-physical fatigue. The experience of fatigue is maintained by patterns of activity in which people are highly active when they feel good but often overdo it, leading to higher levels of exhaustion, distress, or pain. This is especially true for people challenged with chronic pain or illness but is relevant for everyone.
Pacing refers to spacing out activities during the course of a day (or other time periods) and staying within the limits of what you're realistically capable of doing without overdoing it and leaving yourself depleted. Another way to think of it: pacing is an approach to utilizing your limited and precious energy strategically and mindfully, based on what is manageable for you given your current capacity. Everyone’s current capacity is different, and a moving target; it’s essential to learn how to tune in to your own energy levels as they shift with time and activity.
Pacing involves alternating activity—be it physical or mental—with even brief periods of rest to give yourself the opportunity to recharge. Do what you can when you can and give yourself a break, bringing self-compassion and self-forgiveness to bear if you fall short of your self-created expectations for production. Many people consistently overschedule themselves based on internal and external pressure to get things done. The reality is that very rarely will any real problems result if you can only finish three of the five tasks you set for yourself on any given day.
Applying and integrating these three practices into your life on a day-to-day, hour-to-hour, and moment-to-moment basis can become a vital part of an ongoing strategy of being kinder, more forgiving, more compassionate, and ultimately, more caring to yourself. And the quality of your life will be much better for it.
Copyright 2020 Dan Mager, MSW