In 2016, I decided to take on the challenge of accountability. As a Clinical Psychologist, being accountable was all about evidence-based living — engaging as much as possible in thinking patterns and behaviours that have been shown to lead to a happier, more satisfying, higher quality of life.
The following were the five key areas that I highlighted in my ‘Do You Want to Be Deliberately Better?’ Article:
1. Tuning in rather than tuning out
2. Turning towards my values rather than away from my fears
3. Maintaining an ideal work/life balance
4. Writing things down rather than keeping things in
5. Developing a growth rather than a fixed mindset
I made this declaration public as I was aware that people’s desire to remain consistent meant that I would be more willing to follow through on these targets and achieve these goals. All of them were based on solid research and were expected to have a positive flow-on effect for my long-term psychological well-being in 2017 and beyond.
While I did make some progress in being more accountable to myself, especially with numbers 2, 4 and 5, I continued to struggle with numbers 1 and 3.
Part of the problem was that I’ve always wanted to be able to do everything, and I struggle at times to prioritise and separate what is essential to me from what is critical to others. The other part of the problem is that I was working too hard, not saying no to what I didn’t want to do enough, and not leaving adequate time for leisure and socialising or even personal growth, creativity and health.
I was often extraordinarily drained and fatigued by the end of the workweek. I would spend most of the weekend recovering and trying to catch up on chores and paperwork to avoid falling even further behind with administrative duties than I already was. I was also financially in debt even though I was working full-time, and I was stressed out.
Mainly, I didn’t have enough time or space to reflect on where I was or what I needed, and when I did, I still didn’t make the necessary changes to ensure that my life was consistent with how I wanted it to be.
It’s not just me
What seemed to help me a lot was reading the thought-provoking self-help book ‘Take time for your life’ by Cheryl Richardson. She highlights the seven common obstacles that people seem to face in living their best lives. These are:
They generally have difficulty putting themselves first
Their schedule does not reflect their priorities
They feel drained by certain people or things
They feel trapped for monetary reasons
They are living on adrenalin
They don’t have a supportive community in their life
Their spiritual well-being comes last
I don’t know about everyone else, but I could check yes to all of these items except for number 6. I wasn’t spending as much time as I wanted with friends, but I felt well supported by them all when I did. As for the rest, I wondered, “How does she know me so well?” but then I realised how many people there are out there that must be falling into similar traps.
My aim for 2017 was to take time for my life.
Here’s how I’ve gone towards creating my ideal lifestyle so far:
- I have moved into a fantastic apartment in the city where I am within easy access by bike, foot or public transport to all of my work, sport and leisure commitments.
- I have begun regularly using the swimming pool, spa, sauna, and gym part of this unique apartment complex. As the gym here is excellent, I have saved by cancelling my external gym membership.
- I have sold my car to avoid having to pay $70 a week for a car spot, not to mention the registration fees, car insurance, petrol, parking fees, fines, and depreciation in the car’s value. This also has the added benefits of never getting stuck in peak hour traffic and more walking and bike riding to get to places, which reduces the amount of time I need to set aside for these activities elsewhere.
- I have started listening to audiobooks more whenever I am walking around the city by myself. This has resulted in me getting outdoors more, reading less inside, and opened up more time for other personal growth, leisure and social activities.
- I have finished working at Mill Park and moved into the city for all of my workdays. This means that I can get up later in the morning on workdays and ride or walk or catch public transport to work no matter where I am.
- I have cut down the days I see clients from 5 to 4, with Mondays now dedicated to maintenance, administration, health, creativity, and well-being. Because of this reduced workload, I am less stressed and more energetic. I am currently up to date with all of my administrative duties, paperwork, and continued professional development for the first time in 3 years.
- This has also helped me enjoy my weekends more, as instead of playing catch-up on things, I can socialise and relax and plan various adventures that I may not have had the time or energy to do in the past.
- Even though I am working one day less per week, by buying less stuff and reducing my expenses, I am no longer in any financial debt and am saving towards buying a place of my own.
- I have now donated plasma and platelets through the Red Cross Blood Bank three times. This can be done every two weeks and takes about 45 minutes, and really can make a huge difference for those who have leukaemia and certain autoimmune diseases.
- I have found a new General Practitioner, Nutritionist and Dentist to ensure that my physical health is going well and made the necessary appointments to assess or fix up any of the issues that have become apparent.
- I have had a DEXA scan to assess my bone density, lean muscle mass and fat. I will be having another one of these in 3 months to monitor my progress and ensure that I remain in the healthy range for a male my age.
- I have resumed monthly sessions with my Psychologist to ensure that my mental health and clinical practice are as optimal as possible.
- I have signed up for a year membership with the meditation app Calm, which will help me to continue strengthening my meditation practice. I will aim to practice this for at least 10 minutes per day to make sure that I keep trying to tune in rather than tune out.
- I have also booked in for a 10-day Vissapana meditation retreat in April and a 12-day P&O cruise at the end of July. Both of these getaways involve switching off from all technology for the duration of my stay. They will provide me with plenty of time for rest, relaxation and reflection, essential elements for tuning in and developing greater insight.
Now that I’ve shared the changes that I’ve started to make towards my ideal lifestyle, I want to ask you this:
If you only have one life to live, and that life is yours, what changes do you need to make now to ensure you don’t accumulate any more regrets in the future?
In her viral blog post and subsequent book “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying”, palliative nurse Bronnie Ware listed the top five regrets that the dying people she cared for typically had. These were:
They wished they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.
They wish they hadn’t worked so hard.
They wish they’d had the courage to express their feelings.
They wish they’d made a bigger effort to stay in touch with their friends.
They wish they had let themselves be happier.
Remember, we tend to regret the things that we don’t do much more than those we do. So be brave, give it a go, and see what happens. If you’re not sure what you want or how to figure it out, booking in for a session with a Psychologist could definitely help!
Dr Damon Ashworth