What would you do with a clean slate?

clean slate

Since signing up for an online business course a couple of years ago and my official induction into the world of business I’ve learned some really interesting things, and one of the recurring questions is “What do you actually want?” (from life, for your life). I’ve had small mentoring groups and I’ve had D&Ms with friends, some who have done the same course and some who haven’t and the struggle people find when they are first faced with this question and the absolute relevance it has to health isn’t lost on me. In fact when people say that starting a business (and having kids) is one of the most extreme self development courses you can take – they’re not joking. The questions, decisions and situations you’re faced with force you to look at who you are in a way that nothing I did before did.

So you wouldn’t expect one of the most provocative questions in these courses to be: What do you want?

You wouldn’t expect the reactions when people try to answer these questions too. The self doubt, applying limitations that aren’t there or the challenge to self confidence and self belief.

It’s funny that in our everyday life so often the problem is we don’t draw boundaries, yet when asked a question with potentially no limits or wrong answers we create all these rules and defining barriers to the imagination and the possibilities.

Is the problem having too much choice in this situation or doubting our ability to follow through? Or perhaps both?

If you had a clean slate and you could create anything from scratch what would you create?

One of my favourite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson and it is:

“Do not follow where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Building a house, planning a wedding, starting a business, starting a course of study, changing jobs, planning a big holiday, producing a TV show, writing a book, and having kids are all situations where you can’t just go with the flow but actually have to actively choose and make decisions about where your path is going to go. How your outcome is going to look.

Making decisions can be exhausting and it’s not surprising that in many of these instances you can find yourself procrastinating and the resistance rising because it is really hard to choose some things! What do you want from your life and what is important to you (eg. your big rocks) are pretty big questions.

When asked what they want, most people say something along the lines of “to be happy and relaxed.”

Not many say “ooh, to be constantly stressed out and busy”

Yet when you take the time to listen to people talk about how they feel and how their life is, they’ll often tell you they are stressed out and busy.

Why are we setting our days up so that we are stressed out and busy rather than happy and relaxed?

Is it because we don’t know what happiness and relaxed really looks and feels like? Or is it because we don’t know how to make decisions?

Is it a combination of both?

And there is that ever present theme of being stressed and busy.

I was chatting with a friend who has an elderly, unwell parent recently and I couldn’t help but recall going through a similar thing with my mother in law a few years ago. Nothing I’d done, read or seen about health prepared me for really thinking about what I wanted for my future as much as seeing some of the other residents at my mother in law’s nursing home and equating the importance of health now to my health in the elder years. Yet, after a while it’s easy to “get busy” and while you don’t totally forget, you comfortably live in denial as though you have an eternity to make decisions about how you are going to spend your time.

But you really don’t.

Keeping busy doesn’t delay the inevitable.

It just reduces the amount of time you have to take any meaningful action.

It’s so easy sometimes to feel like you have no choices and that the path is set – so why bother? Growing up in the Italian culture (especially with older parents) I’m certainly no stranger to that feeling because there were certain cultural and societal expectations.

But I ended up doing things quite differently. One day I realised it wasn’t set. I didn’t have to finish the PhD. I could study naturopathy. I could create a cooking show (I drastically underestimated how much work it would be, the true costs and all that I would learn in doing that mind you but it was possible and I did do it. I realised I could do a romance writing course. I could work part time in clinic. I could go mostly plant based if I wanted to.

Sure there are some things it is unlikely I will ever do – like being a world class figure skater. There are going to always be some things you’ll have less control over (eg. sleeping through the night if your kids don’t or perhaps working part time isn’t a financial option at the moment) but there are still some things you can do. Like, look for another job if you hate your current one.

Years ago I was watching Home and Away and one of the characters was telling another character who was having trouble getting over his anger, a story about someone being dragged by a rope and how holding on to the rope was causing pain and they could have let go of the rope at any time.

Making changes is hard. Sometimes it’s easier to wait for change to happen to us rather than to actively create it.

It’s easier to wait for the other person to break up with you. It’s easier to get another job in the field with a boss you can’t stand rather than retraining and leaving that field which would take a lot of time, commitment and determination. It’s easier to wait to be made redundant than quit.

It’s easier to keep being too busy than to try to figure out what it is you love and risk getting it wrong.

Is that the crux of it all? We’re afraid of making the wrong decision so we make no decision and then ultimately leave ourselves no time to make a decision?

So this week I’ve been asking myself how I want to be spending my time. A few weeks ago things “got busy” again and I stopped my exercise routine (yet again) to try to catch up with the backlog of work – anticipating this time in the future where I won’t have >40 hours worth of work to do in the 15 hours a week I have to do it in. It means learning to say “no” more.

So this week I had a meeting with myself and I wrote out my goals for the year and then broke it up into my goals for each quarter and then I wrote out all the tasks to achieve, to complete those goals.

Next I tallied up how long each task would take and then I looked at my week and I looked at the hours I have been working and how many I had to work and I found there was a massive disparity. I hadn’t realised I’d been spending over 40 hours a week on what I thought was my “part time endeavour” and I hadn’t realised I was spending much less time on other things which were important to me, like cooking, hanging out with the kids, exercise and sleep and so I began to schedule some of the tasks in to my time table.

I’m keeping a picture of that time table as a reminder of how much time I actually have per day and practically how to fit in the things I want to do with my life in that time.

Have you done an exercise like this?

Have you thought about what you’re doing with your time?

Where does your path go?

Maybe thinking about the future is too big a step? What do you want to do for the next week? What do you want to do today? This weekend?

One of the big things I’ve wanted to do this year is clear out the clutter because clutter feels like a massive time waster and so I’ve began to make time to de-clutter my life but, more about that next time (If you’re not on the newsletter list, just enter your name and email address below:-)