The Overhaul: How I Made 2018 My Best Year Yet
“If you want things in your life to change, then you have to be the thing that changes.” – Chad Varga
In January, I posted about my list of big goals for the year and my desire to really “overhaul” my life. That list of goals included wanting to: love and accept myself so that I could fully love and accept others, change the things that I wasn’t happy with, say “no” to things that didn’t enhance my quality of life, have meaningful connection with others, live in the present, feel that it’s okay to put myself first at times, and be able to forgive myself. For someone who has lived with anxiety and perfectionism their entire adult life, admitting so many of my imperfections publicly and being that vulnerable was a huge leap. (I was literally sweating once I made the post public to my followers, and felt extremely lightheaded a few weeks later when it was published to thousands of people I’d never even met.)
I have serious anxiety any time I decide to share something very personal, and this time that was significantly magnified by a huge fear of failure. What if I shared this list of lofty goals with everyone, allowing my insecurities and flaws to be scrutinized publicly, and then failed? What if I wasn’t strong enough to change the behaviors and the person that I’ve always been? As crippling as the thought of really putting myself out there and possibly failing was, the thought of never overcoming those issues and being stuck in the state I was in was even worse. So, with sweaty hands and a sense of nausea, I shared the post.
I should note that there was no major life-changing event that led me to seek this profound change. It wasn’t like the movies where one catastrophic event really causes you to take a long, hard look at your life. My desire for this complete lifestyle change was basically a summation of the fact that I had recently entered the last year of my twenties dragging through each day and trudging through my growing list of commitments, had created some unhealthy lifestyle habits, had a few previous years of some pretty intense rollercoaster life experiences, had a history of experiences that led to some behavioral patterns which caused overwhelming anxiety and perfectionism, had an almost two-year-old daughter who I didn’t want to see repeat the cycle in her own life someday, and had a husband that deserved more from me than what I was able to give. Oh, and that one important factor that I neglected to really see at the time: I deserved more for myself.
Below is a summary of some of the major things that I’ve been able to accomplish so far on this journey.
I’ve changed the things that I wasn’t happy with. This could really be a list inside of a list. On January 1, 2018, I vowed to start living a healthier lifestyle – mentally and physically – and not as a “New Year’s Resolution,” but as a permanent goal. I had just recently and reluctantly started seeing a therapist, which meant I had to let go of the connotation in my mind of a therapist being a “shrink” or only being necessary for people who have major life problems. (Before my first appointment even started, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever go back again. I can’t tell you how many times I have now recommended cognitive therapy to many people struggling with the same anxiety/perfectionism issues and wanting any type of change in their life.) I worked with my therapist to develop goals and our appointments have served as accountability checkpoints on my path to reaching and maintaining those goals. If you struggle with some of the same things that I struggle with but feel like therapy isn’t for you, or you just aren’t set on the idea of seeing a therapist, I can’t recommend Brene Brown’s books and her TED Talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame enough. Seriously – life changing stuff. I started treating my body the way it deserved to be treated. I began a “whole food” lifestyle (not a fad diet, just a much healthier way of eating), which was scary at first, because I’ve never been able to stick to any type of “diet” long-term. I was strict about very “clean eating” for the first month, and then was able to find what works for me so that I wouldn’t feel too restricted and could still maintain a social life. Through a lot of trial and error, I found exercises that I loved to do five days a week. (I refuse to do any exercise that is not enjoyable to me. I’m not kidding that I will literally stop in the middle of – or minutes into – any type of exercise that I don’t find enjoyable and go find something else that I do enjoy.) I love dance fitness and found kickboxing/MMA cardio workouts and running to be very therapeutic, and I found a method to track my workouts to keep me accountable each week. My physical and mental health improved simultaneously.
I’ve learned to say “no” to things that don’t enhance my quality of life. To quote myself from my January post, “I do not like saying ‘no’ to people. I am a people-pleaser by nature, and I am frequently overcommitting myself to doing things that have no positive impact on my life, and often take away from my overall happiness.” This year, I learned that by overcommitting myself to so many things for a majority of my life, my ability to focus and do my best at the most important things in my life has been extremely limited. It is also impossible to live up to my unrealistic perfectionist standards while struggling to keep my head above water. I’ve spent the last year really thinking about what I want my life to look like and I’ve had to make the excruciatingly difficult decision to say “no” to some of the things on my long list of commitments, which at times meant letting other people down. My major take-away from this experience is that (1) saying “no” right now does not have to mean “no” permanently, and (2) prioritizing your commitments and having to say “no” at any point does not make you a quitter or a failure, especially when it comes to your health and overall happiness. I am finally on track to being more focused and grounded than ever.
I’ve gained real, meaningful connections with others. I have lived my entire life in a state of “black and white,” leaving no middle ground for the “gray area.” This unknowingly made it nearly impossible for me to truly understand or get to know people who think differently than I do. In the past year, I’ve learned to see gray area, to understand different circumstances and view points, and to respectfully disagree and move on without having to compromise my morals or values. I have become a better listener and a more empathetic person by understanding that not everyone has to live their life according to how I live mine. I have allowed myself to become vulnerable and really open up to people, rather than shutting down or building walls around certain parts of my life that I’d rather not share because they may be less-than-perfect and open for scrutiny. By truly and honestly being vulnerable with the people in my life, I’ve started to understand myself better, gained deeper and more meaningful relationships with some of my closest friends, regained old friendships, and reached an entirely new level of connection with my husband that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
I mostly live in the present. This one is a little challenging for me and will always be a work-in-progress. I am still and will always be an organizer and a planner. I love schedules and I love knowing what to expect. It’s all about balance. I have learned to let go of the fear of regret and to push myself into unknown territory even when I’m terrified and can’t predict what might happen next. I am constantly reminding myself that (1) I am not in control of everything that happens in my life, (2) every decision is not the end of the world, and (3) to take a breath and be grateful for all of the little moments each day. Sometimes I feel anxiety creeping in, and I just stop and look at my daughter and observe whatever she’s doing at that moment. God willing that she isn’t throwing a toddler tantrum or some major sass, I can almost always come back to the present and be grateful for her and how much she’s growing and changing each day. When anxiety hits like a storm and I start full-blown panicking, I have a list of songs that I listen to that calm me down every time and I do my best to stop and think of all of the things that I am thankful for right in that moment.
I feel know that it’s okay necessary to put myself first at times. I learned this year that it isn’t possible to take care of everyone else’s needs while ignoring my own. For the first year and a half of my daughter’s life, I was afraid to spend any “unnecessary” amount of time away from her because I wanted her to be my top priority all of the time. I rushed home as quickly as possible any time I had to be away from her and I struggled to make any plans for myself that might take time away from being with her. I have since learned to focus on the quality of time over the quantity of time and to quit making excuses for why I couldn’t make myself a priority. I made time for therapy, workouts (which – bonus! – my daughter now loves to “workout” with me at home), hair appointments, nail appointments, time with friends, and anything else that I made excuses about not doing in the past; because ultimately, when I’m in a better place mentally and emotionally, so is my family.
I am able to forgive myself. As a perfectionist, I have always had a tendency to completely beat myself up over any and all mistakes, regardless of the magnitude. Whether it be something small that I said or something huge that I did, I lose sleep and degrade myself over it. In my post about my first tattoo, I wrote about how hastily I made the decision to get that tattoo and some of the aftermath I experienced from that decision. I wrote limitedly about the embarrassment I felt from that tattoo, but I didn’t go into detail about the real shame and failure I felt and relived constantly for over a decade from making such a “permanent” decision that was visibly painted on my body. So, this year I decided it was time to stop beating myself up, stop living in the past, and move forward. I worked on a concept for a new tattoo that would represent positive memories and I had the old tattoo covered up. The fear of the physical pain of getting the tattoo was terrifying for me, but the fear of making the same mistake a second time was almost paralyzing. I battled through a lot of anxiety around the issue and ultimately moved forward with the decision over the summer. I’ll always have the memories and lessons from the old tattoo, and I realistically wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for that decision… but I won’t live with the shame from it every day for the rest of my life. Instead, the new tattoo is there symbolizing new memories and a step forward. I have stopped letting past failures dictate my present or my future by living in the moment and doing the best that I can right now. If I make a mistake or start feeling like I’m getting off track from where I want my life to be, I forgive myself by resetting and starting over immediately. Some days you get all your veggies, eat zero refined sugars, spend an hour and a half working out, and enjoy the simplicity and beauty of every moment with your family; some days you eat a donut, half a large pizza, and a brownie blizzard while having a Netflix marathon by yourself after yelling at your kid in Target. Don’t waste time beating yourself up over a bad day or even a bad moment. Recognize it, get up, reset, and move on.
I love and accept myself so that I can fully love and accept others. I am finally becoming the person that I want to be. I am enough. I will struggle occasionally with this concept and the “old me” will creep in and tell me what I’m failing at, when I’m not good enough, and a list of all of my flaws. The difference now is that I will not give in or believe the lies. I will fight to keep healthy practices in place and know when to reset so that I don’t fall off track permanently. Almost one year down, and a lifetime to go.
If you are someone who has anxiety or even just any desire to change behaviors to improve your quality of life, I realize that it may seem intimidating or overwhelming to think about changing everything all at once. I can say from experience that one little change at a time can make a huge difference, and if you’re committed to it, it will cause a ripple effect in other areas. Next week, I’m reluctantly yet gratefully heading into a new decade of my life. As intimidating as that concept is for me, I’m starting to think that the best years may be yet to come.