Planning without wasting time and energy
Full disclosure here, I am definitely someone who likes to feel in control of her life. When that perceived level of control is threatened, my stress level increases. Drop that personality into the life of a military spouse and you can imagine how much work I need to do to manage my expectations.
For those of you unfamiliar with "the life", military families often move every few years, without knowing exactly when or to where until shortly before moving. We also live similarly to other families who have one or both spouses who work unpredictable hours and sometimes work away from home for prolonged periods of time.
I was lucky last fall to know, in advance, that my partner would be leaving for 6-9 months. Like many people in this situation, I spent plenty of time agonizing over how to prepare for everything from snow removal to emergency childcare to loneliness. When I considered how much my two-parent household relied on the availability of both parents, I found myself overwhelmed by the list of challenges I needed to prepare myself for. Add to that any challenges around work, isolation from extended family and other mental and emotional stressors and you can imagine how much noise goes on between one's ears.
I created a blog series last fall about my preparation strategies and exercises, which you can revisit here. Now that the deployment is over, I can attest to how essential these preparations were for me and my well-being. Let me be clear: by "preparation strategies", I am not meaning hiring snow removal, rejigging finances and other logistics, I am talking about the deeper, personal preparations discussed in past blogs. One thing that I have learned, both as a coach and by going through this experience, is that the best place to start the planning process is to focus within. Despite how much I think I know myself, there are always surprises to be found when I take the time to look.
One of my first exercises was to list my core values and needs with my coach (yes I have one!), which I found immensely helpful. Because these qualities change with time (not all of them do, but some certainly will), it is important to make sure that you check in periodically. You may find that what you used to think was crucially important has lost its appeal and that new life experiences have brought other things to the forefront. Deeper work then helped me to clarify which initiatives were worth my valuable time and energy, and helped me set goals and intentions that were in line with my priorities.
One of the reasons why it is so important to start with values and needs is that it leads you to think critically about how you measure success. Oftentimes, our perception of success is influenced heavily by factors outside of ourselves (think social norms, culture, family, friends, etc.). When we target achievements that are out of sync with our personal culture we are more likely to fail and less likely to feel satisfied, even if we are successful.
For example, if you ever want to go head-to-head with your ego, try asking it for proof that making $200k per year or staying 125lbs for the rest of your life are going to equal health and happiness. The "proof" is likely to be emotional (guilt, desire, panic), with the only reason-based commentary being along the lines of: "I know this doesn't make any sense, why would I let myself feel stressed over this?" Chances are the sacrifices that need to be made to realize these goals would be unacceptable to many of us. This simple example demonstrates how setting inappropriate goals can set us up for failure, using energy that could be better put towards more constructive goals.
In my next blog I will discuss "success", our obsession with it, and how to get personal with your own measures of success. Wellness, after all, is the ideal end-state to which our "successes" should be directing us. If you aren't heading toward wellness, where is it that you're going?