Life Makeovers (Introduction)

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52 Practical & Inspiring Ways To Improve Your Life One Week at a Time

Life Makeovers by Cheryl RichardsonHow often do you daydream about living a better life — a life that reflects more of you, your values and deepest desires? How many times have you come to the end of a busy week and toyed with the fantasy of packing a bag and leaving it all behind? I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that in today’s world most people live with a nagging sense that something’s missing or that life is passing them by. So many of us long for time to discover who we are and what we really want before it’s too late.

For the last nine years, I’ve worked as a personal coach helping clients to reevaluate their lives and connect more deeply with what really matters most. The goal was to improve the quality of their lives. The improvements varied, depending on the client. For some, new jobs that honored their values and their need for a life outside of work helped make a difference. For others, getting the right support or putting smart systems in place allowed them to eliminate the stress of success. And, it was not uncommon for clients to scale back or simplify their lives dramatically in order to reclaim the peace and serenity they desired. Each client’s story was unique, and yet they all had one common goal — to live a more authentic life, one that reflected their values and most treasured priorities. Let’s see if any of these stories sound familiar…

As Olivia stands by the window in her office looking out over the city, she wonders where her life is headed. Working as a manager for a high-tech company, she feels like she’s been on a wild ride. Stock prices are up, sales are strong, and she’s been a major contributor to the success of her division. Her work used to be rewarding, but now Olivia feels miserable. Although she found the life she thought she wanted, she feels as if she’s lost herself.

Olivia gets up early every day, hits the gym by 6, gets to her desk by 8, and on most nights leaves the office after 7:30. She daydreams about how life used to be when she spent more time with her friends, dated on a regular basis, and had more time to herself. At this point Olivia says that her life feels like one long routine day after another. She’s tired, lonely, and ready for a change.

Olivia’s situation is a good example of what happens when we dedicate so much of our life to work — we end up missing our life. We forge ahead, get many of our needs — such as the need for community, recognition, or accomplishment — met at work, and suddenly discover that we no longer have a personal life to go home to. This realization can be a hard pill to swallow.

Sometimes, however, the problem is a little different. For example, in David’s situation, his success has given him much more than he bargained for. Sitting at his desk at the end of a busy day David wonders if all his hard work is really paying off. His consulting business is more successful than ever. He’s made more money this year than in the last two years combined, and he can barely remember the days when he worried about making payroll. Yet David walks around with a nagging feeling that something is missing. Although he’s reached the level of success he always hoped for, it doesn’t feel the way he expected it to feel. He has more responsibility than ever — a loving wife, three small kids, a large house in the country, and twenty-five employees to manage. Instead of feeling happy about the role he’s created for himself, David says he feels like an employee working for everyone else. He often fantasizes about selling the business, downsizing his family’s lifestyle, and trying something new. David’s not sure he’s willing to continue paying such a high price for success.

Or there’s Margaret, whose unhappiness has more to do with an inner challenge than with her external circumstances. After dropping the kids off at school, Margaret drives to work feeling conflicted. The mother of two boys and the owner of a wholesale gift company, Margaret feels like she’s being pulled in two different directions. On the one hand she thrives on the excitement and sense of accomplishment that she gets from growing a successful company; on the other, she longs to be with her boys while they’re growing up. The stress of this conflict is starting to wear her down. It’s hard enough juggling what feels like two full-time jobs (her business and her family), but the added pressure of this inner turmoil makes it unbearable. Margaret knows that something’s got to give.

Although the details of your life may be different, the feelings of frustration, exhaustion, and loneliness may be all too familiar. For many of us who live in a fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled society, questions about meaning, purpose, and true happiness are faithful companions in the day-to-day creation of our lives. We long for something more. Years of searching for happiness and fulfillment in the external world of work have taken their toll. We’ve lost ourselves in the daily madness of our busy lives.

As a personal coach I became a partner with my clients, and during our weekly meetings I’d help them to reevaluate their priorities, redefine success based on a more holistic perspective of life, and take the necessary actions to bring about the positive changes they desired. Each week clients would leave with an action plan, and I quickly noticed that the small weekly homework assignments started to make a big difference. One client, who had lived in a chaotic, cluttered environment for years, started creating order out of chaos and regained a whole new perspective on his life. Another client, who had suffered from the heavy burden of debt created by years of financial irresponsibility, began to make small weekly changes that improved her financial health, and her savings started to grow.

During my time working with clients I learned a lot about what prevents us from living authentic, meaningful lives. And as I shifted my attention from working with individuals to working with groups, I received a lot of feedback on what was holding them back as well. In December 1998 I published Take Time for Your Life in order to share this knowledge with a larger audience. In this book I took readers through the same coaching process that I used with clients in my private practice. The steps in the book were designed to help readers take a realistic look at their lives and to help them evaluate what needed to change in order for them to feel happier and to live a higher-quality life.

For example, I encouraged readers to begin making self-care a top priority, so they could make proactive life choices instead of reactive ones. I led them through a process of getting their priorities straight, identifying and eliminating those things that were draining their energy, and investing in their financial health, so they would feel more fully in charge of their lives. I introduced readers to the challenges of living in an adrenaline-crazed society, and I showed them how to slow down and begin exchanging unhealthy forms of fuel, like caffeine, sugar, and anxiety, for healthier forms, like a supportive community and a personalized spiritual practice.

I also went out on the road speaking about these topics to larger audiences who felt disillusioned with their lives. As I spoke to audience members and read through the letters and e-mails I received from readers of my first book, it was clear that these strategies were working and that my readers wanted more. They wanted to continue to hear about others who were making changes in their lives, and they wanted bite-sized homework that they could implement on a weekly basis to support them in making the changes I had outlined in the book. That’s when I decided to use technology to my advantage.

In January of 1999 I launched an online newsletter called Life Makeover for the Year 2000. I designed the newsletter to support readers by providing simple, practical strategies that they could use to improve their personal and professional lives on a weekly basis. Based on my experience while coaching clients, I decided to use the “one week at a time” process not only to help make change easier for more people, but to make the process fun and effective as well. Each week I chose a random topic that addressed a certain area of personal or professional growth, and I added a specific action that readers could take during the week to help improve this area. As readers began taking action, their lives started to change. And all of the small changes they were making started to add up.

The Life Makeover community began to grow as readers started forwarding the weekly newsletters to friends, family members, coworkers, and colleagues around the world. For example, one woman, the dean of a well-known university, distributed the newsletter to everyone at her school. Another reader, the president of a manufacturing company, decided to send the weekly newsletter to every employee at the company. What started out as a community of a few hundred quickly grew to several thousand within one year.

The foundation of this weekly process was rooted in my basic coaching philosophy of extreme self-care. This concept, introduced to me by my colleague, Thomas Leonard, challenged readers to take such good care of themselves that at times the program even felt a bit self-indulgent. There was an important reason for this. In my experience as a coach I learned that when clients took extremely good care of themselves by doing things like taking time off on a regular basis, saying no more often to people or projects or situations that drained them, and listening to and acting on their inner wisdom, their stress levels went down and their life satisfaction increased. They also began to care for others in a much healthier way. This realization became my guiding vision — to help people care more deeply for themselves so they were better able to care for others and the world around them.

………

The “Life Makeover” program is a powerful year-long program for change. It is designed to support you in changing your life one week at a time. Each chapter (week) consists of a topic of the week and contains a Take Action Challenge and a Resources section to support you in taking action quickly and easily. (Many of these resources were provided by our online community).

The process is meant to be simple and fun. Although I have kept the original theme of starting at the beginning of the year (January) and working through until the end (December), I invite you to use this book in your own unique way. Whether you decide to start from the beginning and work from Week #1 through Week #52, dip into the book at random, or find a chapter that covers a topic you’d like to work on, what matters most of all is that you do something with the material you read. After all, taking action is the only way to create positive, long-lasting change in your life. As you begin to engage in the weekly Take Action Challenge homework, you’ll see how one week builds upon another, and before you know it, you’ll start to experience important positive changes in your life too!

As you begin this weekly program, the most powerful motivating force that will help you to take the actions outlined in this book is a partner or group of like-minded friends who are interested in changing their lives for the better too. I can’t stress this point enough. Community is an extremely important ingredient for your success. Partnering with a coworker, family member, or friend is like providing yourself with a life-insurance policy that will pay far greater dividends. You might even create your own book club, work-study group, or family team. Once you have your partner or team in place, follow these four simple guidelines:

  • Make a plan for how you’ll support each other. For example, will you meet in person or over the phone? How often will you meet and when?
  • Review the topic of the week and discuss how the topic relates to you and your life.
  • Make a commitment to a specific action related to the “Take Action Challenge” and let your partner or team know what you’ll be working on during the week.
  • Plan a time to reconnect so you can share your progress and celebrate your success together.

Don’t be afraid to ask for support during the week. In the beginning you might need a helping hand more often. These simple stories of inspiration and action can make a world of difference in your life and the lives of those you care about. It only takes one small consistent action to make a big change in your life, so don’t let fear, procrastination, or doubt get in your way.

As you start to make changes on a weekly basis, be prepared for your life to unfold in wonderful ways. As you clean up the clutter, reconnect with your inner wisdom, strengthen your character, and take on the challenges of high-quality living, you’ll find that the lost parts of yourself start to come together to form a pretty amazing life. Good luck!

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