Time: Is It Your Friend or Enemy?
December 15 2009 1:00 AM ET
Has the beginning of a new year got you thinking about how you spent the past one? A client I'll call Larry has been on disability for a few years, and he's finding the days passing all too slowly.
"I get up and read the paper, I make coffee, read the paper again, and I think about what to have for lunch. Each day fades into the next," he says.
Another client, who I'll call Janelle, complains about the opposite problem.
"I'm overcommitted," she complains, "and it's stressing me out. I can't make the day any longer, and so I'm not taking care of myself."
Now, I suspect that if Larry and Janelle were in the same room, each might look at the other with envy. Temporarily, at least. Then they'd both realize that overwork and boredom can be two sides of the same coin. Whether you're sprinting or crawling, being stuck on a treadmill is still being stuck. Here's how to get moving again:
Take a look at your "big five" life priorities. Thought about what's important in life lately? Think immediate and long-term. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Keep stress to a minimum. Create new relationships. Get a better job. Challenge your mind and creativity. Help people you care about. Serve your community. Enhance your spiritual growth.
Ask yourself, How am I building my "big five" into my daily life? If you haven't thought about this in a while, you might be on to the first clue as to why you aren't satisfied with how you're spending your time. One helpful -- and painful -- way to answer this question is to make a list of how you spend your time each day. Do this for a week. And then go back through and see how your "big five" are reflected in what you do with your time. Where are you letting yourself down?
Take a hard look at familiar patterns. Human beings have a tendency to hold on to patterns of overcommitment and chaos -- or lack of direction and boredom -- because, while these patterns are unsatisfactory, they are also familiar. Kind of like hitting your head against a wall over and over. Change means uncertainty and that can be uncomfortable. Take a deep breath and chant: "Something's gotta give."
New Year's resolution: Tiptoe outside your comfort zone. Take another look at your "big five" and start introducing some of what's missing in your life -- quiet time, new people, and activities you might actually enjoy. Don't be afraid to give yourself a push by scheduling what's new and challenging ahead of time. This will keep you from talking yourself out of it when those old habits start whining for attention.
Warning: A little self-discipline is required. Yes, I know you don't want to schedule anything else. But whether you are always running from one commitment to the next or feeling like each day is slower than the one before, try building in something a block of time each day that you can dedicate to your self-development.
Make 2010 the year to give yourself a push and step off the treadmill and into your life!
McClain is a licensed counselor in New York City with a specialty in coping with chronic and life-threatening health conditions. His books include The Complete Idiot's Guide to Breaking Bad Habits and Empowering Your Life With Joy, and he is a frequent contributor to health-related publications.