“The hardest part of changing your life…

… is getting started.”  So says Jenni Avins (Quartz, December 2015), and it’s hard to argue with that statement.

How does one get started?  Yesterday another author at Quartz offered a bold suggestion: start by forgetting about work and relationships.

Well, to be precise, Sarah Todd recommends de-prioritizing those two unavoidable aspects of our lives, and reconnecting with what you want and need to feel your best.

Is Ms. Todd urging us all to become narcissists, or to double-down on self-centeredness?  Not at all.  Actually, for most of us, the simple exercise she illustrates in her excellent piece likely will show how much we already give to others in our daily lives—and how much we sacrifice of ourselves in the process.

What Ms. Todd urges, in the end, is merely this: balance.

A Four-Corner Exercise: Your Top Life Priorities

Borrowing and adapting a concept from Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Ms. Todd suggests taking a blank piece of paper and dividing it into four quadrants, then writing one of your top four priorities in each quadrant.  For best results, write the words that immediately pop into your mind; don’t overthink it.

Now take a look at what you wrote.  How many of the quadrants relate in some way to your “day job” or the people to whom you are most connected?  Your answers aren’t “wrong” or “bad”; if anything, they confirm that you are human, that you want to meet your responsibilities, and that you care about the people in your life.

Here’s the thing: you’re not going to change the fact you have these responsibilities and these people in your life.  What you can change, though, is the way you approach your life—and what else is out there in life and in the world, besides your work and your relationships.

The Four-Corner Exercise, Redux

Now take a second piece of paper and let’s re-run the exercise.  This time, when writing what your priorities are in life (or, stated differently, what you want to get out of life), you aren’t allowed to put down words that directly relate to your “day job” and your interpersonal relationships.  With that restriction in mind, write the first things that come to mind, without overthinking things.

Take a look at the four quadrants now.  Wow, huh?  How much of what you’ve written there are you NOT doing, seeking, or pursuing right now, because you are out of balance with work and out of balance in your relationships with others?

Ask yourself: do you have commitments (or are you being asked to make commitments) that prevent you from reaching your desired destination in life?  Are there toxic people or situations you could extract yourself from—or minimize contact with—to lessen stress and focus on your own needs and desires?

And even for those you love, cherish, admire, or enjoy spending time with, could regulating your access to these people—setting boundaries—bring you more peace of mind?  (For you strong extroverts out there, I know doing so might feel like cutting yourselves off from the world, and can be especially challenging.)

On the flip side, if in a moment of self-awareness you sense a self-centeredness that animates your being, ask this question: does who you are make your relationships with others lopsided, such that you seemingly have everything, or at least most things, on your terms?  If so, no matter how good that state of affairs makes you feel, how does it make others feel?  Are you respecting their boundaries or their need to create their own boundaries, even when it comes to you?

Concluding Thoughts

As I indicated at the outset, changing your life is actually not all about you.  Neither is it all about the other people in your life and the daily responsibilities you face.

Changing your life is about knowing the priorities that bring you fulfillment, then seeking and finding balance to get there.  Work and relationships are always going to be around to help or hinder that balance.  And that’s OK, because as someone once said, “All things in moderation … including moderation.”  A life without challenge and risk is a boring one.  At the same time, there is no need to make things harder than they need to be (or already are).