By: Nadyne Lee, A.R.N.P.
Life priorities are the values that drive our lives and define our spiritual essence. We all talk about our priorities in life. We can list them without a second thought. But sometimes our list of priorities falls into the same wastepaper basket as our New Year’s resolutions. We talk about them, but that’s as far as it gets. Out task is to put our life priorities into action.
This is a very tough assignment. To begin this challenging task, list your top six priorities. Your list may include your own physical, emotional and spiritual health, your marriage, your children, time with friends, your education, work, household chores, or leisure, travel and fun. Now list your daily activities and how much time you spend on each activity. Compare the two lists. Do they resemble one another? The way we spend our time, tells a lot about our real priorities. If your list of priorities doesn’t resemble your list of daily activities, decide if you really want to live out your chosen priorities or if you just want to keep telling yourself that these priorities are important to you. Talk is cheap. It certainly won’t buy your priorities. They are purchased at a very high price. . . your time.
The way we live our lives tells the truth about our priorities. If we proclaim that our health is one of our top priorities and tonight we spend zero minutes exercising and an hour and a half eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, gravy and chocolate cheese cake then crash in front of the TV with a bag of potato chips, we’re really just giving “lip service” to our statement that caring for ourselves is a priority.
If we justify the fact that we are working parents by saying that what counts is the “quality of time not the quantity of time spent with our child” and then at the end of the day we have no energy to spend ANY time at all with our children, how can we really believe that our children are one of our top priorities?
If we declare that our marriage is a priority but we can’t find the time to have a romantic outing, an intimate conversation or time alone, how do we convince ourselves that our marriage is of prime importance?
Who are we kidding? Probably, just ourselves! If we spend our time talking on the phone, watching TV or cleaning the house instead of caring for ourselves, being with our spouse and playing with our children, what is our real priority? We defend our behavior with an endless list of excuses, but the reality of the situation remains the same. We recognize the priorities in life by how we spend our time. If we really want the TV., after deep soul searching, we may decide that a clean house is not as important as time spent with the family.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I know that all women wage a war on dirt. Some make this war a consuming life passion. But none of us want our spouse or children standing at the foot of our grave saying to each other “well, at least she keep the house clean.” After all, at that point we’ll be buried under six feet of dirt and dirt will have won the war!! No matter how spotless our house is, dirt always wins in the end. So we may want to give up the battle, delegate responsibility, hire it done, or live with a little mess so that we can spend our precious time with the ones we love.
Changing behavior is not easy, even if we are highly motivated. Lifestyle changes happen slowly. Don’t decide that you will attack all areas of your life this week. Just concentrate on one priority at a time. Practice until you really have made a lasting change in your life in that one area, then move on to your second priority. Give yourself two months to change in one area of your life. Gradual change is lasting change. To make real lasting changes in all of your top six priorities, should take about a year. Be patient with yourself. In the age of instant oatmeal and minute rice, we all expect immediate results. It just isn’t going to happen that way!
The following is a strategy for practicing your real life priorities.
Step#1. Identify the Top Priority
Return to your priority list and decide which is your number one priority (if it isn’t yourself, it should be). Now write down all the ways you can attend to your number one priority. For example, if self care is #1, your list may include exercising, eating a healthy diet, scheduling a check up, learning to meditate, taking a bath, getting a manicure, taking a nap, praying, making a dentist appointment, getting a mammogram, reading a good book, reading THE Good Book, listening to good music, accomplishing a life dream, changing jobs, or taking a day off. If your priority is your spouse, your list may include making his favorite meal, taking a walk together, taking her on a mini-vacation, kissing and making up, giving him time and space when he comes home from work, ,praising her cooking, telling him that you’re proud to be his wife, taking her to dinner and a movie, sending each other love letters, or having a romantic evening. If your children are a top priority, your list may be filled with baking cookies, watching soccer games, coaching little league, taping pictures to the fridge, reading bedtime stories, catching them being good and telling them how much you love them. Remember, just concentrate on one priority at a time.
Step#2. Make a Commitment
Write down your priority on index cards and post them around your home or office. Daily reminders help us to focus on our intentions. Place your “Priority Cards” on your bathroom mirror, on your fridge, on the back door and on your desk. When you read your reminder cards, remember to recommit.
Tell your family and friends about your plans for change in the priority area of your life. It’s hard to back out if others know your intentions. If you inform your family, they will better understand and support you. Plus, if you believe that self-care is an important priority, your spouse may have his feeling hurt if he doesn’t get all the attention he is used to getting while you put your plan into action. It may be essential to enlist his help in care of the home and children.
Get a partner. It is easier to commit if someone else is doing it too.
Step#3 Find Time
This strategy isn’t going to work unless we find time for our priorities. The trouble is that we only have 24 hours in a day. We can do things faster, and get more things done, but we still have an definite number of minutes in our day. The powers that be are not going to vote to have an extra 4 hours added to each 24-hour period. The only way we can find time for our priorities is to eliminate unimportant tasks.
Make a list of everything you do during the day. Your list may include sleeping, grooming, errands, cooking, work, laundry, feeding the dog, school, commuting, going to church, reading, playing with the kids, exercise, eating. . . and so on.
Draw a line through all those tasks that are unnecessary. Eliminate these tasks from your life. Does it really matter if canned goods are in alphabetical order on our shelves or that we can see our reflection in the kitchen floor? Eliminate time consuming, unnecessary tasks.
Put a star by those tasks that only you can do. Nobody else can sleep, exercise, or eat for you. You’d be pretty upset if anyone else spent romantic time with your spouse. And your employer wouldn’t be too happy if you sent a substitute in to do your job. Other jobs, such as laundry, mowing the grass and taking out the trash CAN be done by someone else (I know you can do it better than anyone else can, but the point is that someone else can do it)!
Everything that can be done by someone else should be done by someone else. If you can afford it, hire it done. Someone else can now your lawn, put your checks on quicken, wrap gifts, cater an event, clean your house, paint your walls or wash your car.
You can order take-out from a restaurant, have the dry cleaner press your ironing and hire a neighborhood kid to weed your garden. Ask your spouse to pitch in and share household responsibilities. Enlist the help of your children or parents. If your family agrees that you deserve to have a happy life, they will come to your aide (although it may be reluctantly). Trade jobs with friends. Your neighbor may pick up groceries for you if you watch her children.
To find lost time, group tasks. Pay all your bills at one time. Buy things in bulk. Cook large quantities and freeze for the future. Shop by mail, order on-line or let your fingers do the walking through the yellow pages.
CUT BACK ON WASTED TIME
We waste so much of our time by watching mind-numbing programs on TV or talking on the phone to unwanted callers. Minimize TV time. Watch only the show that you really enjoy. Use caller I.D. Monitor calls with an answering machine and return calls at a time convenient for you. To avoid lengthy conversations, use e-mail rather than the phone.
Step#4 Make a “To Do List”
Right before you go to bed at night, make a “To Do List” for the next day. Put your first priority at the top and then list activities that must be done and can only be done by you.
Your list may look something like this:
Lunch with a friend (priority)
Get a mammogram (priority)
Cook dinner (must be done, can only be done by me?)
Pay bills (must be done, can only be done by me?)
If at the end of the day you have accomplished everything on the “To Do List”, then give yourself a reward. Permission to read from your new best seller, a taste of your favorite chocolate, or the luxury of a long bath may be a good day end rewards.
This strategy for change takes about two months. If at the end of two months, you notice a real change in the way you are living out your first priority, then give yourself a big reward. The outfit you’ve been wanting, a weekend vacation or a delicious dinner at a great restaurant may top your list of great rewards. Now you can go on to your second priority. Remember to keep practicing your first priority. Your “Do List” will be a little longer, but you will have more energy because your priorities are in order and your needs are being met.
If at the end of two months, you can tell no difference in your life, then give a week’s paycheck to charity and try again. If you do this, I guarantee you that next month will be a huge success. If you continue this plan for a year, you will be a different person. You will be living out what you proclaim yourself to be.