There’s a simple recipe you can use to make every day a good day: Spend your time in a way that aligns with your priorities.
Unfortunately, “simple” in this case doesn’t mean “easy” or “free from discomfort.” But building your best life is worth persisting through discomfort now and then. And you can rely on strategies that others have used to get past common hurdles.
Step one in living by your priorities to analyze how you spend your time and your priorities. The 20 Minute Life Checkup is a reliable exercise to do this.
After completing the exercise, two things become clear.
1. You need to be selective about new opportunities. Only say yes to things that are a priority. Otherwise, your schedule fills up with mediocre activities. You won’t have time for the great opportunities when they do arise.
2. You need to spend less time on activities/commitments that aren’t in line with your priorities. Cut out obligations that no longer serve you. This frees up time for the important stuff.
Resistance and uncertainty kick in when you have to make these types of decisions. Saying “no” to new things, and “breaking up” with existing commitments are uncomfortable tasks.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to keep things the way they are?”
It sure would be easier! I’m all too familiar with the difficulty of saying “no” and breaking up with commitments. Growing up in the midwestern United States, “be polite” was hammered into me from a young age.
Saying “no”, or leaving an existing commitment may feel impolite, but it doesn’t need to be. And to live by your priorities, you need to take action even when it’s uncomfortable.
Eliminating low-priority activities from your life will never be a comfortable experience. It still makes me nervous. But it does get easier with practice.
How to “Break Up” With Existing Commitments
Removing an obligation from your life isn’t a singular action. It’s a process that happens over time.
Here’s what the journey looks like:
- Phase 1: Pre-Decision
“What commitment(s) might I ‘break up’ with?”
- Phase 2: The Decision
“Should I remove this commitment from my life?”
- Phase 3: Anticipation
“When should I take action?”
- Phase 4: Taking action
“How should I communicate my decision to the other people involved?”
This journey is tricky because each part of the journey comes with it’s own flavor of resistance. Every step along the way is a “failure-point”. You need to navigate many barriers to follow through.
But with a thoughtful approach, the resistance melts away, freeing you to take action. On a personal level, this approach helped me quit a job without ruffling any feathers. It’s also helped some Mindful Ambition community members de-commit from taxing obligations.
Phase 1: Pre-decision
If you don’t already know of a commitment or behavior you need to “break-up” with, spend a bit of time with the 20 Minute Life Checkup. It helps you understand how you spend your time in relation to your priorities.
Priorities are a reliable filter for making decisions. If an obligation is taking up more time than it deserves based on it’s priority in your life, it’s time to cut it out!
Phase 2: Making the Decision
Committing to your decision to leave something is often the scariest part.
We’re raised to be polite and helpful and team-players. And those are good qualities! But they often delay the inevitable when it would be better to take action right away.
If you aren’t invested in a particular activity, it’s not worth it on either side.
For example, let’s say you hold a leadership position in a organization at your company. The organization wants someone committed who will try their hardest. When something isn’t a priority for you, chances are you aren’t doing your best work. There’s likely someone else who would be more invested in the role! It’s in the best interest of both parties for you to move on.
What to do about it
- Acknowledge that you feel fear.
Everybody feels fear. It’s how you act in the presence of fear that makes a difference.
- Think through why you feel fear, and write it down.
When you identify the source of the fear, it makes it easier to address.
- Write down the likely negative consequences of you leaving.
Usually the “worst-case scenario” isn’t actually that bad. In our example, leaving your position in the organization means the leadership team will need to find someone else to fill your role. That’s about it! Not so bad when you put it in those terms. 🙂
- Treat the decision as a commitment to yourself.
Once you make that commitment, you need to follow through!
Phase 3: Anticipation
Once you’ve made your decision, you need to decide when to communicate it to the other people involved.
When fear gets the best of you, there are endless excuses why you shouldn’t do something now.
- “I can’t do it now, because…”
- “Maybe after this next thing…”
- “I just don’t feel like it…”
But when you’ve made a decision, you need to stick to it! Kicking the can down the road doesn’t change the fact that you need to take action.
What to do about it
- Take opportunities if they exist.
Sometimes there are good reasons to do something at a certain time. For example, before a new project starts up. Or right after completing big event. If that’s the case, use the opportunity to make your move.
- Don’t hesitate.
If there isn’t a clear time, ask yourself this question: “Are there any legitimate reasons not to take action now?” If you know you’re going to do something, and there aren’t clear reasons to wait, take action as soon as possible! This helps you capitalize on the momentum created by making your decision and reduce the mental burden of dreading the inevitable.
For example, when I left my full-time job in 2016, I solidified my decision on a Tuesday night. On Wednesday morning, I set up a meeting to communicate that decision to the right people.
Phase 4: Taking action
These conversations usually feel scarier than they are in reality.
Feeling like someone won’t respect your decision. Worrying that they will be upset, or think less of you for doing this.
What to do about it
- Communicate clearly and honestly.
Everyone appreciates the truth. And when you’re acting with good intentions, there’s nothing to cover up.
- Express your gratitude.
Chances are you’ve learned things and built relationships while a part of this commitment. Sharing gratitude with others lets them know that they’re valued.
- Volunteer to be a resource.
Ease the transition process and show goodwill to the others involved. This reinforces that you’re acting with good intentions. It could mean helping find your replacement. Or letting them know that you’re willing to be a resource for any specific questions. Just don’t let this be a way for the organization to “hold on” to you as long as possible. Set your boundaries.
Building Your Best Life is a Journey
After taking action, life keeps moving! Enjoy your newly created time. And congratulate yourself on going through the challenging process of saying “no”.
Eliminating obligations that don’t serve you is a key part of living by your priorities. It’s a challenging process at first. But the more you do it, the easier it becomes! Following through equips you with the tools to do it again, and the experience to conquer the fear that comes with uncertainty.
Remember that breaking up with commitments isn’t a 1-step process. Stay aware of the different phases of the journey to work through the resistance as it shows up
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