There are endless suggestions these days about how to improve your life. So many suggestions, in fact, that I personally get overwhelmed and either shut down completely or get sucked into the trap of feeling like I’m not doing enough.;
Instead of focusing on specific things to add to your how-to-live-my-best-life to-do list, I’ve worked with Talkspace therapist Joanna Filidor, LMFT, to compile six simple shifts you can make in less than a week to prioritize your mental health. Choose the ones that resonate with you and ditch the rest. The goal is not to go through the motions as a means of overachieving but to dial into whichever practices best suit you and your needs.
1. Slow Down
We live in a culture of constant busyness, where more is often seen as better. When it comes to taking care of your mental health, however, sometimes the best thing to do is slow down and simplify your life. I’ve noticed both personally and among the people with whom I work, there’s often this fixation on improving your life when, in reality, it is the strain of striving for over-achievement that is at the core of your suffering. Filidor recommends slowing down so you can learn to enjoy the present moment instead of rushing to accomplish the next goal.
Ask Yourself: What does it mean for you to be still and what challenges do you face in the process of staying still?
2. Create Your Own Definition of Success
It’s common to maintain whatever definition of success you internalized as a child from your parents, teachers, and mass media. For example, I learned that hard work, good grades, and a high-paying job all contributed to a successful life. The problem is, we often craft our lives around trying to achieve a version of success that we might not even agree with once we get there. Filidor suggests taking some time to explore what messages you received growing up about the definition of success and how to achieve it so you can begin to create a version of success that works for you.
Ask Yourself: What does success mean to you and how have you been told to achieve it?
3. Practice Patience
When I first started therapy years ago, I was antsy to see benefits right away. I wanted the quick fix and was sorely disappointed to learn that change takes time. Sometimes a lot of time. Filidor finds it helpful to set expectations with clients right off the bat and reminds them it’s unreasonable to expect an instant change when a particular behavior took root over many years.
Ask Yourself: What do you expect to happen in therapy? How quickly do you believe you will begin to see change? What kind of change are you expecting?
4. Get Clear on Your Values
Knowing where to start can feel overwhelming when beginning with a new therapist, especially if the whole process is new for you. What do you bring up first? Your negative self-talk? Your relationship with others? Your current job situation? Your insomnia? According to Filidor, getting clear on your values is one of the first steps in prioritizing which areas of your life are most critical to work on first. She finds it’s helpful to have clients write a list of everything they wish to improve, prioritizing from most important to least important, to get a sense of where their own values lie.
Ask Yourself: What do you believe is the most important area of your life to improve and how consistent is that with your values?
5. Do More of What Lights You Up
There are a ton of different exercises and tools you can add to your self-care toolbox such as: meditation, relaxation practices, somatic exercises, energy healing, and relationship-building activities. However, the simple answer is — do more of what lights you up. What might be relaxing and recharging for one person might not be for someone else. For example, I tend to go out in nature when I feel ungrounded whereas others would prefer to take a bath instead.
Ask Yourself: Which activities light you up and give you a renewed sense of energy?
6. Lean Into Support
It’s hard to make meaningful change in your life all on your own, which is why learning to accept that you may need support from time to time and that support is important to everyone’s personal growth journey.
In addition to therapy, Filidor has a few go-to recommendations for people who are on the hunt for ways to improve their life in less than a week:
- Book: The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown PhD, LMSW
- Book: Ten Percent Happier by Dan Harris
- Podcast: On Being with Krista Tippett
Despite reading an impressive amount of self-help books, attending numerous personal development workshops, becoming a yoga teacher, and going to graduate school to study clinical psychology, I can say with certainty that therapy has been far and away the most helpful and consistent way I’ve been able to improve my life. I used to be embarrassed that I saw a therapist — like it was some sort of weakness — but it’s now my most treasured hour of the week. I think if everyone had a therapist, like they do a primary care doctor, the world would be a happier and more peaceful place.