The big spring stock-take

A DIY coaching tool for taking stock of your life and getting your house in order

The benefit of regular clear-outs is a fact universally acknowledged. Or at least it is in my house. My husband was stunned by the joy I felt when they installed massive clothing donation bins at the entrance to the metro nearest our flat; and I challenge anyone not to feel freer, lighter and more in control after taking a bag load of I’ll-never-read-these-again books to Oxfam.

But what about moving the stock-take from the back of your closet into your mind and soul? When it comes to having a good sort-out, there are many areas of our lives that would benefit from a little light dusting and polishing, not just the kitchen cupboards. Coaching offers a wealth of great tools to do just that – take stock of your life and see where your figurative house needs to be put in order. While it is always more helpful to do such exercises with a qualified coach, it is also possible to use them on your own and glean some helpful insights.

The Wheel of Life is a simple way to identify the various major “bits” of your life, assess your satisfaction with them, and start coming up with a plan to raise that satisfaction level.

The Wheel of Life aka Not so Trivial Pursuits

Draw a circle on a piece of paper and divide it into wedges like the pies in a game of Trivial Pursuits (number of wedges is your choice – starting with six is pretty manageable). Assign a theme to each wedge. Themes are areas of your life that you wish to take a look at – or indeed, they can just be areas that spring to mind. In this exercise, your subconscious is a good guide. A few examples: one wedge might be “family”, which for some might mean “me, my partner and our kids” but for other people might mean “parents, grandparents, siblings” – and those people might choose to put “partner/love” and “children” into separate wedges on their own. What you mean by each of your themes is your business, as long as you are clear about how you load the word you choose. Other wedges might be “money”, “leisure”, “health”, “career”, “spirit”… it’s a very personal choice.

On your marks…

Once you have your themes, take some time to consider each one and to rate your satisfaction with this part of your life from 1 to 10 – draw lines in each wedge so that 1 is a line near the interior of the circle, and 10 is the further edge. Like so:

Wheel of lifeYou’ll probably end up with a very bumpy wheel!

Get set…

The next step within a coaching session would be to discuss each area and the mark attributed to it, and to choose one or two on which to work. On your own, you can take your time to look at each one and think about what makes your health an 8 but your love life a 4 – talking to a friend can also help. Then, taking each one in turn, think about what it would take to turn that 4 into 5. Think specifics: spending more time with your partner? eating dinner at the table rather than in front of the TV? a monthly date night? a daily lunchtime phone call? more cuddling? What would it take to bump it up to a 6? And then a 7…

The idea isn’t to go from a 2 to a 10 in two weeks flat, but to identify areas for change and improvement that will eventually harmonise the levels of satisfaction across all your wedges. A wheel with lumps and bumps cannot roll. But the challenge of trying to turn a career “3” into a 10 can simply be paralysing. Concentrate on the areas that naturally attract your attention and list small, actionable changes.

Go!

Once you have some action ideas, consider which you can actually put in place, and, crucially, which you want to put in place. It’s no good choosing “go for a weekly run” if you have absolutely no desire to go running. Yes, it might bump your “body image” score up to a 7, but your “time for fun” score might take a hit. I advise kicking off just one action per week and taking a moment at the end of each week to see what’s working for you.

Take your time. Your Wheel of Life is ever-changing. Even if you managed to take all your wedges up to a perfect 10, at some point you’ll decide to buy a house or have a baby, and new wedges will appear for you to work on. The idea isn’t to strive for a perfect circle, but to use the exercise to see where your pain points are, and what you can do about them.

One last thing…

Don’t forget to take a moment to celebrate in the wedges that are looking pretty damn good. If your “friendship” wedge is a healthy 9, why not make a list of all you’re grateful for in your relationships? If your “work” wedge is flying high, why not acknowledge that by taking in some Friday afternoon pastries for your charming colleagues? Work on the low numbers, revel in the high ones.

Advertisements

The lesson of the leaves

As the trees let go of what they no longer need this autumn, carpeting the ground in their golden foliage, take a look at what you’d be better off without…

I love the autumn. I always have. It’s a time when I’ve always felt hopeful, optimistic and energetic. I have always enjoyed that “back to school” feeling – the promise of new friends, new activities, new subjects to learn. Even now as an adult, for me it’s a time for clearing out the house (actually, for me, any time is a good time for a clear-out), sharpening pencils, cleaning shoes, making a list of things I want to do before the Christmas period. It’s a time to sign up for new classes, kick-start an exercise programme, embark on a new adventure, begin a new project or hobby.

A time for everything… a time to keep and a time to throw away

Funnily enough, the symbolism and natural cycle represented by the autumn is exactly the opposite of all these things. As summer fades and the conkers begin to fall, nature withdraws into herself and slows down, preparing to hibernate. The trees are doing their own little clear-out, taking a last look at their foliage and then throwing off their leaves and hunkering down to wait out the winter months.

This year, I’m planning to (excuse the pun) take a leaf out of the old oak’s book. I don’t intend to abandon my natural instinct to sort out my wardrobe, enrol in a class and set some pre-Yule goals. That would just be going against my character, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that way madness lies! No, I am going to add a new, slightly different, goal to my habitual autumnal industriousness. Just as the trees cast off the leaves they no longer need, I’m trying to rid my life of anything that I no longer need.

Now, on one level, this means physically sorting through my stuff and ridding my home of things that are unused, unwanted and unnecessary to me. This alone always does me the power of good. On a deeper level, however, it also means getting rid of things in my life –habits, behaviours, people – that no longer suit me or serve me. It means taking a good look at the way I am, what I do, and how I live, examining each aspect and asking, “Does this truly nourish me?”

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

The most literal example of this is in my diet. I don’t really have any of the major vices but I do have a potent addiction to strong black tea with milk. Not very rock and roll, I know. I know that after the first two teas of the day, any cup beyond that isn’t really enjoyable. I know that too much of the stuff makes me agitated (you can only imagine my nerves when I have coffee), and I am aware that it’s not great for my teeth or kidneys. It simply doesn’t nourish me or do me any good. So, this autumn, I’m limiting myself to a maximum of two cups a day – one when possible. I’m not crazy enough to give it up altogether as I value my friends and family too much to unleash a pre-tea me on them too often, but I am making a concerted effort to stick to green after my first morning cup of “real” tea.

When autumn leaves start to fall

Once started, this non-physical clear-out can go in any direction. What about looking at unhelpful thought processes? Or knee-jerk emotional reactions that could be checked and kept under control with a little practice? A habit of contradicting other people or interrupting? How about choosing to listen a little harder to your inner voice for a few weeks and making sure that it’s singing only positive songs about you and your abilities? What about letting go of a negative emotion or belief?

I’m taking my cue from nature this autumn. As each leaf is shed from the trees outside my window, I’m going to try to let go of something that’s holding me back or making me less than I could be. Every time I see a tree ablaze with orange, gold and yellow or I spot a shiny chestnut on the ground, I’ll remind myself of own bag of emotional dead leaves and rotten conkers and toss a few on the bonfire.

Wake up and smell the coffee – and make sure the coffee’s your choice

While I’m an inherently non-violent person, I have to admit to a penchant for a good spot of culling. I particularly like culling clothes, but almost any stock of items will do it for me. Twice a year (in a fit of spring fever and in autumn as part of the ‘back to school’ madness that makes me want to buy notebooks and fountain pens), I go through the house like a whirling dervish, culling anything for which I no longer have a use. Clothes that no longer fit, are old, out-dated, or that I never wear because, frankly, I should never have bought it in the first place (if you haven’t worn something for two years running, surely there’s a good reason). Books that I’ll never read again, medication that’s past its use-by date, random boxes that I kept because they “might come in handy”, instruction booklets for electrical items that have since gone to meet their maker. My beloved actually takes care to remain very active during my culling periods for fear that, if he stays still too long, he’ll find himself wrapped in black plastic hurtling head-first down the rubbish shoot.

The crucial questions: Keep? Donate? Chuck?

Now, while I’m clearly an extreme case, there really is something to be said for regularly and ruthlessly re-evaluating one’s possessions to ensure that everything that surrounds us and which, to some extent, defines our lifestyle, lives up to William Morris’ tenet: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. Getting rid of things that no longer have a function in our lives can be incredibly cathartic; it can be a way of saying goodbye to a past that we’d rather not re-visit or that we need to shed in order to move forward. A friend of mine reported feelings of elation when she finally chucked the size 8 jeans she’d bought to – yes, I know – “slim into”. It had taken her a long time to accept that she was a natural, healthy and beautiful size 12, and throwing away the useless garment was not a defeat but a victory over the self-critical voice inside her head that told her that she was in some way unacceptable as she was.

With TV shows like ‘The Life Laundry’ and ‘How Clean is Your House?’ turning what is for me just a biannual outburst into mid-week entertainment, the benefits of the physical cull are becoming more and more well known. However, the psychological cull has yet to go prime-time. If getting rid of old clothes leaves me feeling lighter and more streamlined – like a three-day detox – the psychological cull (to be performed less often!) is the equivalent of a full week at a spa drinking smoothies, doing downward-facing dogs, and being wrapped in seaweed.

360° spring cleaning

The psychological cull is remarkably simple. It’s the act of taking a long, hard look at one’s life, maybe even of making a list (yes, someone who enjoys culling will clearly be an inveterate list-maker too), and considering the place that each element has in one’s life. A perfect example would be in friendships. Most of us go through life collecting friends from university, summer placements, jobs, sports clubs, friends of friends… We do our best to keep in contact with everyone as we go along, making time to have drinks, phoning and emailing as often as possible. We rarely stop to think, however, about the quality of each relationship, asking ourselves the vital question: in what way does this nourish me?

Now, I’m not suggesting burning bridges with people you’ve known for years, or blocking names from your facebook page just yet. I’m merely suggesting that it’s a good idea to stop every now and then to check that the people we surround ourselves with are people we are actively choosing, not just passively accepting. If, physically, we are what we eat, I believe that, psychologically, we develop through the relationships we choose to maintain. The same can be said of activities we decide to participate in (the gym you’ve been going to for ages but which no longer offers the kickboxing class that made you join in the first place), the establishments we frequent (that Italian restaurant that has become more of a reflex than a choice, especially since the recent discovery of your wheat intolerance), even the things we say (self-deprecating humour was de rigueur at university, but you’ve been doing it so long now it’s just a habit, and one that subtly gnaws at your self-esteem)

Making a choice

In essence, spring cleaning your life – whether its shoes, the medicine cabinet and your computer files, or the way you spend your time – is simply a ritual that helps ensure that the life you live is a product of choice and not of laziness, habit or apathy. Of course, sometimes an evening in front of the television is exactly what we need – undemanding relaxation to recharge the batteries, but when that sort of activity becomes a matter of reflex and not of active choice, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee (that same old coffee you’ve been drinking for ages despite your new-found preference for green tea). The time we get to use as we wish is too limited to spend it on activities or people that don’t nourish us in some way, and life is too short to go through it living only half-awake. Today, make the choice to make a choice.