Twelve months ago I embarked on a journey full of uncertainty. After 23 years in the workforce I decided to stop working and take time out.
There were plenty of naysayers; “You’ll be bored in six months”, “ You’ll miss work too much”. There was also lots of encouragement; “What a fantastic opportunity”, “I’ve always wanted to do what you’re doing”.
Early on I wrote down the goals for my sabbatical and developed a clear plan of what I wanted to achieve. This was partly because this is how I have always operated in the work environment and I wanted to ensure my time was well used. But, truth be told, it was partly because I felt guilty for taking the time off and I needed to be able to prove to myself and others that I was achieving what I set out to do and not just taking an extended holiday.
As I prepare myself for a return to the workforce (albeit part time) I have spent some time reviewing those goals and reflecting on the past year.
So, did I achieve my goals? Mostly yes. And some no’s.
Did I learn anything about myself? Absolutely.
After many years of working I discovered I had developed some unhelpful habits; emotional eating, intermittent exercise, dwelling on decisions made, spending Sunday evenings obsessively worrying about what might happen at work the coming week.
During the past 12 months I have consciously spent time on breaking these bad habits and creating new ones.
I now exercise four to five times a week (a mix of yoga, running and swimming and I have recently added kickboxing to try something new). I focus on making healthy eating choices four or five days a week and give myself permission to enjoy a few treats over the weekend while trying not to overindulge. (One or two pieces of chocolate NOT the whole block!) When I am eating socially I try to eat mindfully, stop part way through the meal, wait a few minutes and then ask myself am I eating out of hunger or because of my uncontrolled desire to just to eat everything in sight.
Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits and Marc & Angel’s Hack Life both gave me inspiration and easy to follow tips as I slowly tried to kick habits of a lifetime.
However, I know it could be very easy to go back to these habits once I return to work. For me regular exercise and making healthy choices when eating requires discipline. Which leads me to the next discovery…..
So many of my bad habits were due to not having the mental strength to make the right decision. After spending so much of my time obsessively worrying about past decisions and future scenarios I was too tired to focus on what I needed to do in the present.
Mindfulness is such a buzz word for today. However with the help of tips and meditation practices from Andy Puddicombe’s Headspace, I have come to recognise negative thoughts for exactly what they are “thoughts”. They are not reality unless I allow them to be. I don’t ignore these thoughts but I acknowledge them for what they are and move on to a more productive route.
Please don’t think I no longer have negative thoughts or concern myself about the past or future. They are still there. At this moment I am worried about how I am going to balance my new found life with work commitments. How am I going to fit in the yoga and running, preparing healthy but delicious meals for my family, writing and pursuing my creative side?
This is where Mark Manson’s book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck has really helped. Mark’s message is not about not caring about anything, his message is to care about those things you value. Saying yes to what matters to you and not wasting time with the rest.
Prioritising what I value most; my physical and emotional health, my family and community. And also finding something that challenges me and stops me becoming too comfortable or complacent in the world.
I have set myself new goals and developed a new plan for the next 12 months, focusing on what I am passionate about, what is meaningful to me. Will I achieve everything I set out to do? Definitely not. But I will ensure I continue to direct my time, energy and passion to what matters the most to me.