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Are You Running Your Life Or Is Your Life Running You?

June 29, 2019DMT.NEWS


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You’ve undoubtedly met people like this: They complain about how hectic their lives are. Between jobs and kids, or jobs…and jobs, they have no time for_________ (sleep, sex, couple time, hobbies, quiet time, thinking…). And maybe this is you.

Routines and habits are essential to our lives: they help keep us from needing to reinvent the wheel everyday; they provide a stability that helps reduce our anxiety. But for many of us these habits, routines, patterns of everyday life take over — what David Foster Wallace called living life as Day In / Day Out. Our lives are running us instead of us running our lives.

Obviously for some of us our lives of routine are not a matter of choice but survival — you need to work those 2 jobs whether you like it or not; your struggling child or your elderly parent demands a good amount of your time and attention. You're doing the best you can. The result is just what is.

But for many more of us we are fortunate to have options, to set our own priorities, and here our everyday lives reflect the sum of small choices that we've made and make. But... they no longer feel like choices. Instead we do what we do because we do it; we run on autopilot. Life is...okay, or if it is not okay right now it will get better when: when the kids get older, when I get that promotion, finish that degree, get out of debt, get divorced. Then I can start, then I can break out. 

This absolutely may be true, but it also may be wishful thinking.

Often the real underlying problem isn't the quality of latest box of a life that we find ourselves living in, but the fact that we so readily settle into that box. We lose sight of our ability to choose; we accept being passengers in the life that drives us, rather than being the drivers ourselves. Over time this can take its toll, this running-on-autopilot life becomes fodder for the 7-year-itch, the 30-year or midlife crises. Suddenly we realize that our lives aren't working, that too much of ourselves is left out of our lives, that the routines have become boring, stifling and claustrophobic, and we feel depressed or angry. And so, you break out — quit jobs, relationships, have affairs, do all the things you did when you were 16, or never did when you were 16.

The keys to avoiding this treading-water lifestyle, these periodic crises are two: We need to step back and take stock of our lives, and then need to stop being the passengers and instead the drivers — shift from being reactive to proactive.

How to get started:

Stepping back

The autopilot, reactive life is usually one filled with tunnel-vision and overwhelming details — time to pick up kids, what to get at the grocery store, plodding along filling the day with the minutia of job and out-of-job life. Time to step back and survey the larger landscape of your life. Some questions to  get you started:

1: How is your life going?

On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being massively depressed and 10 being ecstatically happy, how is your everyday life going? If it is a 1 or 2 it’s time to get professional help and / or support. You're emotionally underwater, you may have a real depressive disorder or are struggling with real issues that require some support to manage. But for many of us we may land between 4 & 6.

Is this 4-6 okay, really?

2: What is missing most from your life?

What would it take to bump it up not to 10 (no winning the lottery fantasies) but up to a 7 or 8? What do you need that you’re not getting to improve the quality of your everyday? Time for yourself, more time as a couple? Think both in terms of your individual needs and relationship needs. Think back to the time when life was better — last year, 3 years ago. What made it better? What do you need to do to bring some of that earlier goodness back into your life?

3. What’s stopping you from making these changes?

Here there may be real underlying problems — that you do have to work the 2 jobs, that you are clinically depressed and need to actively address it. But often it’s about anxiety or passivity, some irrational fear, often linked to old childhood wounds, about doing what you want or speaking up — that you don’t deserve more, that you are afraid of what others will think or how they will react, that change won't really create change, that you feel guilty and you don't know why.

4: What are you goals for the next year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years?

This is about having a vision for your life even if on bad days envisioning the future is difficult. But envision it anyway. Having dreams gives us motivation, a sense of purpose, and by taking baby-steps forward, propels us forward. And it’s okay to think in terms of the ideal — again not being passive and waiting to win the lottery, but being active: Imagining who you ideally want to be and do. Even if not fully attainable right now, your answers can help you see more clearly what it is you need and what has been missing from your life.

Go proactive

The next step is putting all this vital information into practice. 

Come up with a plan

No, don’t quit your job, don't go file for divorce. Instead try taking the baby-steps towards redrafting your everyday life. Maybe you can talk to your boss about coming in a bit earlier and having a longer lunch to help you reboot. Maybe it is about getting the kids to bed earlier so you and your partner have more active couple-time at night rather than just crashing in front of the TV. Maybe you realize you need to stop being over-responsible, and need to quit that volunteer assignment for the church group, or stop schlepping the kids to soccer 4 nights a week. Maybe you go to bed earlier so you can get up earlier and have some quiet time for yourself in the morning.

Mentally deconstruct your day, your week; question your choices and challenge those auto-pilot routines that are running your life.

Talk to your partner

Take those same questions, that plan and have a conversation with your partner about you, the status of your life, but also ask about the status of his and quality of your relationship. See if your visions and values match. Take stock and see how your priorities have changed in the last years. Talk about what you both want to accomplish, what you both want to change in your overall lifestyle. Wait, you, say, we have no time to talk? Start there, make the time.

Get support

And if this all seems too overwhelming, if you don’t know where to start, go talk to someone — a therapist, a friend, a life coach, a minister. You want to have someone who can ask the hard questions, challenge you to think differently about you and your life, who can help hold you accountable for changes you feel you want to make.

Do it. Step back and take stock. Upgrade the software that is running your life.

Start running your life rather than your life running you.

It's all too easy to go on autopilot. Maybe it's time to stop.
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Fixing Families
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It's all too easy for the routines of our lives take over, to feel that our lives are running us rather than we running our lives. How to break out and upgrade our everyday lives.
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btaibbi, Khareem Sudlow

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