As a mom of four school aged children and wife to an adventurous serial entrepreneur, trying to get work done while completing my graduate’s degree means there is simply never a dull moment.
To best manage my ever-changing and often chaotic schedule, I have read dozens of self-help books and amassed a treasure trove of tips and tools on how to live better and tap into my potential. I adopted high performance habits, witnessed the life-changing magic of tidying up, embraced my imperfections, joined the 5am club, tapped into the power of now and stopped apologizing.
To say I “put in the work” would be an understatement.
In the midst of the pandemic ups and downs, I was grateful for the survival tips and life hacks that helped keep me stay sane while navigating uncharted territory, and I shared some of my favorite tools and life hacks on my blog and adapted many useful tools to help my clients succeed.
What happened next came somewhat unexpectedly. I went from “self-help junkie” to “self-help skeptic”.
I discovered that what worked for me often didn’t work for others. In fact, some of the tips were detrimental and accomplished the opposite of the desired outcome. I had to understand the narrative beneath a particular individual’s desire for change before digging into the lifestyle hacks they were ready to adopt. This was the only sustainable path to living in alignment with their core values and building the life they truly wanted.
We stopped looking for answers and started digging for better questions. The tools were great. But are they great for you? Why do you want this change now ?
For example, we might read how facing our fears can be a good thing, but does the notion of facing your fears apply in all situations?
Here’s another example: The often quoted “If it’s not a hell yes, it’s a no” has resulted in people saying no because it simply didn’t “feel” good to say yes. Perhaps there are certified people pleasers out there who can benefit from this approach, but if we adopt this view without deeper questioning, we run the risk of becoming narcissists, looking out for our own interests at the expense of others.
I have no doubt that the many self-help books I read have had a profound impact on my life and helped change it for the better.
I feel a deep sense of gratitude to Brene, Eckhart, Dale, and all the self-help gurus who have made it their life’s mission to help us tap into our potential.
Despite having experienced tremendous growth from the self-help tools that I used ( I still wake up at 5 am and get loads of stuff done before the kids take over), and my graduate studies in psychology, my endless curiosity about the human condition helped me identify missing components of the puzzle that I previously wasn’t aware of.
The Spiritual Approach
In his best-selling and widely acclaimed book “Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times”, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief Rabbi of the UK and award winning author shares a profound truth that completely altered the way I understood self-help and self-care.
The willpower and desire for change comes from us, but for most of us, it is the quality of our relationships that give us meaning and fulfillment, and it is in our ability to love and care for another that we can go beyond our “self”.
Sacks proposes we shift from “I” to “We”, and become concerned with the welfare of others as though it were our own. Sacks argues that “The only people that will save us from ourselves is “We”- the People’”.
While this concept isn’t new, we have seen a lot of new research on the link between taking responsibility and doing for others and improved physical health, mental health, increased happiness levels, and so forth.
In a survey of people in 136 countries, people who had donated money to charity were happier than those who had not, and today we see the direct health benefits of helping others and volunteering.
The interdependent nature of our society is perhaps more evident today than ever, and in a post-Covid world, we will have a rare opportunity to re-examine the role of self-help and self-care and recognize the inescapable link between the “Self” and the “Other” which will hopefully lead us to a place of greater connection, fulfillment and increased joy.
I have always loved looking to research for guidance on best practices for more wholesome living, and so I share these tips with the hope that you will adopt what works best for you while remaining curious and having in mind that there is no one size fits all formula for success.
10 tips (in no particular order).
- Time is a precious UNRENEWABLE resource, so use it wisely. How are you spending your time? Take note of what you can change to move closer toward your intended goals.
- Shared activities: Find activities that both you and your kids/family enjoy. It’s important that YOU enjoy them because ultimately if you’re stressed out and overwhelmed you will pass the negative energy along to others and no one wins.
- Fit exercise into your schedule. You don’t need to go to the gym. Simply putting music on and moving your body is fine.
- If you’re a parent, try to wake up before your kids do. Using this time to do something that fuels YOU can really jumpstart your day.
- Each morning, get dressed as though your day is like any other.. even if you’re not going anywhere . Research shows that people who do this are more productive and feel better throughout the day…. And PLEASE!! don’t forget to eat !! Especially if you’re the hangry type !
- Small steps: We underestimate the power of the little things that make a big difference in getting us to where we want to be. For example, if you want to exercise more, put your workout clothes on in the morning, even if you don’t plan on working out. If you want to lose weight, replace the cookie jar with a bowl of fruit. These are the small action steps that people who have reached their goals all had in common. They did not underestimate the value of every action taken.
- If you have a lot on your plate, multi-task when you can!! The best way to describe this one is with some examples: When I know I have a phone call that will last 30 minutes or more, I go for a walk. When I need to cook or bake, I will (try to) turn it into an activity with my kids. When I am working at my desk, I’ll sit on my exercise ball or do squats.
- Charge your phone far away from my bed, and keep books on your nightstand. This doesn’t need much explanation.
- Keep a day or time log: This is amazing for accountability. When I write down the things I am doing, I can review it at the end of the day and see if there’s anything I could have done differently (i.e., less social media). In general, having an accountability journal is huge. I created one that has been very helpful for me, available on Amazon.
- Practice gratitude: Each day, write down three things you are grateful for. Do this for 21 days. This can change your brain. I’ve seen a ton of research on this and it works. There’s something about writing it down that makes it more effective.
Finally, don’t measure success on someone else’s barometer. As a recovering perfectionist, I can tell you that when success is defined by external forces (e.g. standards of others, validation, results), as opposed to internal ones (the inherent value of what we are doing or want to do), not only do we become more likely to “cheat” the system (like using that oh-so-tempting Instagram filter that makes us look flawless), but we also begin to cheat our systems (the one inside ourselves that is left feeling continuously depleted, as though we are never enough).
These principle of defining success and taking action steps toward it are beautifully encapsulated in the old and often quoted verse from Hillel the Elder “If I am not for myself, who will be for me, If I am only for myself, what am I ? If not now, then when?”