Life Triage
February 2, 2018 10:38 AM   Subscribe

When you're not happy with the way your life is going, what are the best steps towards change?

My life is objectively pretty good--I have a great job, great friends, loving family, for which I am grateful--but I'm not happy with the way I'm living my life. My apartment is constantly messy to the point where I wouldn't invite anyone over, I have really poor sleep habits (tend to fall asleep unplanned at night while relaxing and wake up dazed in the wee hours of the morning), I get into a lot of random funks (interested in going to therapy but haven't pursued it yet), I exercise only sporadically and eat out way too much, and I've definitely fallen into the bad habit of browsing the internet to avoid tasks I don't feel like doing (answering emails, working on art commissions). Essentially, I feel like I could be living BETTER, and my vision for my ideal life is not this. I don't feel like I have my shit together, lifestyle-wise, and I feel like it could also negatively affecting my potential/diligence at my job.

I know the tips to help work on this--sleep consistent hours each day, go get therapy, clean 30 min every day, gtd, etc But sometimes when there's a lot to attack the sheer amount of stuff I have to do is overwhelming. It's supposedly easier just to break things down into smaller tasks, so my question is: When faced with a lot of these small changes to implement, is there a hierarchy of tasks/habits? If you were dissatisfied with the above and wanted to make effective changes, what would you do first? Has there been a change you made that has had the most apparent improvement on your life, that made it easier to tackle other problems?

Ex: Is it most important to get the sleep schedule figured out, since sleep is so important? Or would you think mental health is probably affecting things the most, so get thee to a therapist first?

I know that it should be all of these things, but when faced with too much stuff "to do" it's easier to fail. Would really appreciate some advice on prioritizing baby steps.
posted by sprezzy to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 53 users marked this as a favorite
I would attempt to fix the sleep (go to bed and get out of bed at consistent times for 2 weeks or so, don't sleep way longer or less on days off, etc) while hunting down therapy. Therapy will likely take a few weeks to get into so the sleep is a good thing you can try now. You probably will have problems with it (I am exactly like you with that list) but that's good! That way when you go to the therapist you can tell them this stuff then say you've been working on sleep for the last few weeks and your specific struggles are [xyz].
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 10:42 AM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

My boss had a great saying : "The only wrong decision is indecision". It doesn't matter where you start, just that you start. I have found that using habit tracking apps or bullet journal layouts helps me a lot. I can see where I'm making progress, where I'm slacking off, and if overall I'm being effective moving in the direction I want to go in.

If you don't have a FitBit, I would recommend that for sleep tracking. It showed me how little sleep I'm getting, and honestly does get me to put down the phone and go to bed earlier than I would on my own.
posted by Fig at 10:48 AM on February 2, 2018 [11 favorites]

If this were me...

> A clean/serene bedroom can help with sleep, so I'd say "by the end of February, I'm going to get and keep my bedroom functional and start sleeping in it." But don't clean it in one day. Chunk it out over the month.
> A clean/functional kitchen will help with eating out, because for me I eat out because I am lazy and it's easier to get takeout than clean the equipment I need to cook. So I'd say, "by the end of March, I'm going to keep my bedroom functional AND have a functional/clean kitchen."
> In April, I'd say, "this month, I'm going to eat in 4 days a week, in my clean/functional kitchen."
> Hello May! You're eating better and sleeping better. Your apartment isn't as messy. How do you feel? Still need therapy or are you starting to feel like you have this on your own? If you need it, start doing research and by the end of May get a therapy appointment on the books.

That's a lot of change in a few months, but you're only starting to spin one plate at a time and (imo) that's what makes it doable.

Good luck! I'm pulling for you!
posted by kimberussell at 11:20 AM on February 2, 2018 [15 favorites]

Do you have any vaca time? I would take a week off from work to relax, think, reboot and tackle one thing, any of these things, and not have to worry about work.

For me, there really isn't an order to this, I just have to do Something, and that Something set other things in motion. E.g., when my kitchen is clean I'll cook more, when I eat better I naturally want to exercise more, but also the reverse: when I start cooking more I'll naturally want a ship-shape kitchen, when I start to exercise I want to eat better, etc.
posted by kapers at 11:24 AM on February 2, 2018

Sleep and mental health are both very important...but they are also inevitably long-term projects with a lot of struggle.

Cleaning up your place, bit by bit, each day, will have you in a nicer space in relatively short order. No one would ever accuse me of being neat, but I do feel the difference when I'm not actually battling shame over how the place looks. Also, with a little luck, you'll be cleaning on a timer one day and you'll feel the momentum and you'll keep going and that feels good, too.

Really, small wins early on to encourage you and make you feel it's all worthwhile: very important.
posted by praemunire at 11:25 AM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I'm trying to figure out what to tackle first, I tend to go to two questions: "What do I spend the most time doing/in and what would make that better?" and "What is bugging me the most?"

We spend a lot of time sleeping, and I have never regretted upgrades I've made to my bed, or to getting better sleep, because the payoff generally lasts a long time and has a big benefit in other areas of my life. But sometimes tackling the thing that's been driving me up a wall unblocks a lot of other stuff rapidly, and that feels great too.

I second the 'if you have vacation time, consider taking a week at home to tackle a couple of larger things' - that kind of concentrated time can make a big dent, especially in projects that have a larger setup and refinement process like rearranging a kitchen or space. (I spent my last two vacations cataloging and shelving my books so I can find things better. Much happier now.)

I also get huge mileage out of paying someone to come clean my apartment once a month and do a bunch of the deeper cleaning (floors, tub, etc.) that I really struggled with. I've found it's hugely easier to keep up with the rest of it and make headway with other projects when I don't have to do that. Even a one time clean so you start off with a fresh list of what to deal with can be a huge help.
posted by modernhypatia at 11:40 AM on February 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

Start a practice, something that features moving your body. The rest will follow.
posted by jbenben at 11:42 AM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of the easiest things to do, if you can afford it, is to clean your house *just the one time* and then get a cleaning service to come in monthly. You have to pick up for the cleaning service to clean your house, so you can't let things get past a certain point or else you're wasting your investment in the cleaning service. For me, this means that I spend the very least amount of time possible on something that I do not like -- cleaning -- but I have a reasonably clean environment at all times.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:18 PM on February 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

Getting more/enough/better sleep will make it easier to tackle everything else and it is a major project to establish good sleep hygiene. Like maybe an 8-week project. Research that, if you haven’t, start there, and then go find a therapist as soon as you can. Build in healthy rewards for meeting sleep-behavior (not hours of sleep) goals. Make the goals realistic and just start again if you slip up. Change for the better is a process. Be patient. You can do this. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 12:31 PM on February 2, 2018

Earlier this year I wrote out all the things I thought I should do or improve. It turned out to be dozens of things, many similar to what you're talking about.

Once I got all my "shoulds" out, I reflected on what I wanted, on a deep and emotional level, to get out of these changes. For me it was increasing the joy and fun in my life and decreasing anxiety. For you it might be being more social or having more focus - whatever it is it should be a small number of things you deeply actually want, not things you feel like you should want.

Next to each item on the "shoulds" list, I noted whether it would actually impact the things I want. This helped me realize that there were a number of things on my mental "I Should" list that would not help me get what I want.

Finally, I chose five items to focus on, and committed to ignoring the rest. Any time I start thinking that I should make some kind of improvement, I go back to my five items and refocus on those. I haven't done equally well on all of them, but that's ok. I'm not spinning my wheels about a hundred things that I feel like I need to change, and I have done really well on a few items.

This is loosely based on the 25/5 technique credited to Warren Buffet.
posted by jeoc at 12:37 PM on February 2, 2018 [17 favorites]

I think if "maybe I should get therapy" is on your list of things to do, that should probably be your first thing. But since it takes time for therapy to take effect, start tackling one other thing in the meantime.

If you want to develop a bunch of good habits but don't know where to start, the most important thing is to get into the habit of having habits. Start with extremely small, daily tasks - the kind of thing that only takes a little bit more effort than sitting on the couch. Setting an alarm for bedtime would be a good first step, since you have to go to bed anyway. Or going through your mail when you get it, if you have a tendency to let it pile up. If there's something you leave just wherever (keys, phone, jacket), designate a home for it and start putting it there as soon as you no longer need it. Eat breakfast if you don't already. Really small stuff like that. Once you've got one or two of those down, once they feel like something you just do, add something else. Mastering tiny habits will give you practice and confidence to conquer big ones.

Getting your place super clean can help get you energized, but you'll need a maintenance plan that you can handle. I can't tell you how many times I've cleaned the hell out of my apartment only to let things re-descend into chaos in a few weeks because I didn't bother with upkeep.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:06 PM on February 2, 2018

It sounds like you are regularly running out of spoons, and blaming yourself for not having more spoons, just because other people have spoons.

Get thee to therapy and learn to accept the number of spoons you have. My quick read between the lines is that you have so much guilt about all the good things in your life, you feel obligated to do a significant number of the bad things. If you can't enjoy the good things in your life, things aren't actually that good. And my experience is that I was really discounting the amount of energy it was taking to do the things, which would cause more guilt, and sap my energy more.

To put it in Metafilter terms, privilege is invisible. And we're taught to be more aware of it. But we're supposed to be aware of it to make other lives better, not make our lives worse. It's okay to go to the doctor and ask them to figure out what's making you unhealthy. It's okay to get a cleaning service to handle the domestic tasks you can't handle. The problem in society is that we place value on the doctor and consider his time worth respecting and compensating, while we find cleaning to be beneath us and treat the women we outsource that task as less than. The respective genders we default those careers to is part of the problem.

When going through your budget about what you can and can't afford, be mindful that you aren't outsourcing your frugality to someone less able to manage. But paying someone for spoons because you can't do it all on your own is fine. We are not meant to be independent people. The image of that is usually of a man, with his domestic and emotional needs met by a woman. That's not true independence.

(Sorry to get so political. But I hide a lot of my anxiety behind political rhetoric, so I also spend a lot of time unpacking political rhetoric to remind myself that it's in noone's interest to treat myself poorly.)
posted by politikitty at 1:33 PM on February 2, 2018 [10 favorites]

I find that the right kind of exercise causes me to eat better, clean, and not have funks.
posted by salvia at 4:57 PM on February 2, 2018

Gretchen Rubin started from pretty much the same point as you, and wrote a book 'The Happiness Project' about the order in which she decided to start addressing different areas of her life. (She doesn't, however, address any issues related to medical care / therapy.) It's all very concrete & non-fuzzy stuff: her first month was devoted to decluttering and gives very practical examples of how she approached it. Her website has a free chapter available for download if you want to check it out and see if it might be something you're interested in reading.
posted by archy at 2:14 AM on February 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

When I've been completely stumped, I've been known to sit with my eyes closed, and clear my mind. Take a deep breath and open my eyes, whatever I see, or whatever pops into my mind is the first thing I deal with. Then repeat until I'm on a roll.
posted by Enid Lareg at 1:24 PM on February 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of my favourite quotes is from the 15th Century Indian poet Kabir: "wherever you are is the entry point."

You've just got to start, and it doesn't matter where. I think of situations like yours as a wagon or bicycle wheel, the kind with multiple spokes. If you want to stop it from spinning, you only have to target one of the spokes to slow down the whole wheel. It's okay to start with the spoke that comes up in front of you.

And if you're having trouble deciding which one that is, The Happiness Project above offers a good programme. Or, you could just make a list, close your eyes and point to something on it, and set a timer for 45 minutes.
posted by rpfields at 10:00 AM on February 18, 2018

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