List everything you have to do in the next week or so for both work and life. It's probably a long list, indeed perhaps an overwhelming list. It may seem daunting, or fearsome, or depressing.
But Cathy Holloway Hill, an Indiana life coach and author of the new book Lies, Love & Life, says you should view the list more positively. Consider how fortunate you are – indeed, how extremely fortunate you are – to have so much going on in your life.
We see a lengthy to-do list as a concrete example of the pressures we are facing coping with work and our life outside work. But if you feel overwhelmed, she stresses that's just a belief. You can change your negative thoughts to positive convictions. "If someone feels overwhelmed, instead they can look at each individual piece on the list as wonderful and positive – they are lucky to have each one. There is just a lot of positive pieces," she says in an interview.
Ms. Hill believes too many of us are stuck because we lie to ourselves, and because of those self-deceptions get stuck in a rut. The rut may seem comfortable, and so we stay rooted rather than seeking the liberation that change would offer.
Most of the lies were planted in our subconscious when we were young, by trusting, loving individuals and remain with us today. Common lies are: "I need to be perfect;" "It's not my fault;" "I need everyone's approval;" "It's easier to avoid problems than to face them;" "I'm not happy unless I get my way;" and "My marriage should be perfect."
She likes to test her clients – you can join in – on what she calls "the happy meter:" How happy are you with your life, from one to 10 (with 10 being high). Most of her clients respond in the four to five range. Occasionally she will get a seven or eight. She says she never gets a 10.
Her next question is: Why isn't your score higher? What is preventing you from being happier? Often the answer is, "I dunno." But when she probes, she gets a host of reasons that amount to beliefs – flimsy, if entrenched, beliefs that are based on the lies we tell ourselves. We assume aspects of our life are unchangeable that are changeable. Or we are viewing positives – such as the many things we are fortunate to have on our to-do list – as negatives, burdens rather than gifts.
We're stuck, or think we're stuck. "A lot of misery and unhappiness comes from people not feeling they had options. They don't believe there is any way to feel better," she says, pointing out that studies show people commit suicide because they want the pain to stop. "They want to feel better. But the way to feel better starts in the mind by saying, 'I will feel better.' "
She has been in that situation herself, stuck for 20 years in a job she couldn't stand and an abusive relationship for 18 years, but feeling there was nothing she could do to change her situation. She was plagued by self-lies, in some measure she feels were supported or supplied by her ex-spouse. "It took me that long to realize I had the power to take control of my own life and thoughts rather than letting everyone else control my life. Positive thinking is so magnetic. If you focus your mind on what's right with your life rather than what's wrong, you can move out of a negative situation," she says.
Often we frame the changes we would like to see around New Year's resolutions. But she warns usually that involves getting caught in societal hype, feeling we need to make resolutions since that's what everyone else is doing. And generally, most of those "everyone elses" fail, along with us, because it's external motivation prodding us along, and we don't persist. "They don't change the mindset – the thoughts in our heads. The mind controls everything," she says.
So return to that to-do list. Reframe your attitude, so you see it as a blessing. Yes, there's still a lot on it, but she notes you can prioritize. In some cases, you may need help. Banish those self-lies that say you can't ask others for help because it would be a failing or they won't help you. Get assistance. As you banish the negative thoughts, you'll find more options arise, since your mind is more open to possibilities instead of locked into the horrors you face. Some activities or relationships may be toxic, so develop strategies to abandon them. You'll feel better – and get more done – if you start with your mind.
Special to The Globe and Mail