Four Strategies to Find Your Way Back To YOU
by Heather Branham
A few weeks ago I talked to you about ways to notice that you’re spreading yourself too thin or over-committing. I came out to you as a recovering over-committer and shared some of the ways I recognize my tendency to try to be all things to all people. Most of these red flags involve paying attention to thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, or noticing how stress is affecting your body. Many of you told me that you saw yourselves reflected in that post and see many of these red flags in your own lives. So what do you do about it? How do you put on the brakes when you’ve jumped on the train to burnout and think you might want to hop off?
Here are some ideas to help you slow your pace and reorient toward the things that nurture you the most.
- Give up the idea that you can do everything you want to do. So let’s just start with the hardest one. This one sucks. You have to make choices about how you spend your time. You can't do everything that you or the people around you want you to do. This idea was first introduced to me by a great book called The Introvert Advantage, which I read on the advice of a mentor to help me understand the differences between introverted and extroverted temperaments. (Here’s the upshot: Introverts get their energy from solitude. Extroverts get their energy from interaction.) In the book, the author explains that introverts will have to come to terms with the reality that they may actually do fewer things than extroverts because they will simply expend more energy in the process of doing. I remember thinking, How sad for those introverts. Too bad they can’t be extroverted like me and get all the things done. Ha! The joke’s on me. I can’t do everything I want or think I need to do either. Because just as I finish one thing, I remind myself of two more things I thought of while I was doing the first thing that I really should do. It’s endless.
- Grieve the loss of that illusion that you can do everything. I am continually having to relearn the aforementioned lesson because there’s a huge part of me that really wants to be able to take care of everyone and everything and still have energy for myself. The reality is that a deep sense of sadness often shows up when I begin to accept the limits of my body and mind. That sadness also has something to do with the limits of the time I’m given on the planet. My inner hustler (remember, the one who tells us that we’re only as good as all of our doings) gets really scared when she thinks she there might be a limit on what she can get done because, in her mind, that means there’s a limit to the love she can “earn.” In order to move into a new way of being in the world that’s centered on nurturing that which nurtures you, it’s important to feel the loss of that old belief system and way of getting your needs met.
Let’s move on to something a little happier and less heavy, huh? Something the inner hustler can work on instead of having a tantrum. How about a worksheet?
- Clarify your values. Once you realize that you’ve spread yourself so thin that you’re mostly showing up for other people’s goals and priorities, you might start to wonder, how do I even know what’s important to me anymore? A great place to start is by reexamining your values. What’s really important to you? What do you want your life to be about? What kind of person do you want to be? Take some time to sit with these questions and then ask yourself how well you’re living these values. This worksheet will get you started thinking about these questions.
- Allow your values to guide your priorities. So let’s say you do the exercise above and find that you really value your relationship with your family. Ask yourself if that value is reflected in the time commitment you make to nurturing these relationships. If you’re not spending the time you would like cultivating this aspect of your life, what’s getting in the way? Take a mental inventory of the last week or two and notice where you spent the most physical and mental time. If you notice that you’re focusing on things that aren’t aligned with your most treasured values, make a plan to step back from those things. For many of us, it’s work that eats away our precious time. You may not be able to spend less time at work (But you might. Don’t immediately discount that as an option if it’s available to you.), but you could choose to spend less mental energy thinking about work when you’re not there. Or you could have a talk with someone who you’ve been avoiding sharing your feelings with and free up some emotional space. Getting clear about our values and using them to set priorities often requires us to set boundaries in the areas of our lives that have run amok.
I would love to hear what you think of these ideas and others you have for managing the impulse to spread yourself too thin. If you need support in clarifying values, choosing priorities, or setting boundaries, I’m happy to help.
Heather Branham, LCSW is a family therapist based in Asheville, NC specializing in non-traditional families. Contact her to discuss counseling or consulting services focused on the LGBTQ community.