Your Most Important Thing

The first month of 2017 has ended, and many of the good intentions with which we began the new year have already faded. However, it is not time to give up yet! When you recognize that you want to alter something in your lifestyle, your family, or your feelings, you are already on the path to positive change.

The problem is where to begin. Movies, TV ads, and news articles in the media bombard us with concepts of how our lives "should" be. We should be healthy, slim, fit, energetic, and physically attractive. We should be powerful and effective at work. We should be nurturing parents and mentors, loyal friends, and passionate lovers.  We should feel successful, happy, and fulfilled. Add to those expectations the emotional demands placed on us by friends and family, and the physical demands of a busy daily schedule, and we quickly find ourselves overwhelmed.

The idea that anyone can be all of these things at once is a myth. However, a significant change in one aspect of your life can have a domino effect, bringing about unexpected changes in the people around you, altering your perspective, and redefining your priorities. The key is to identify the most important area of your life and concentrate on it. In their 2013 best-seller,The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results, Gary W. Keller and Jay Papasan pose the Focusing question:  "What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"

As you move through your day, reflect on each aspect of your life: health, faith, family, work, finances. Think about what is most important to you, not what other people think is important. Identify the one change that would make your life better, and concentrate your attention on making that change. Set aside the necessary time in your daily schedule. If you need professional help, make an appointment.

If your focus is to improve your health by losing 10 percent of your body weight, work with a nutritionist. If exercise is a priority, devote one hour per day to physical activity, even if it means cancelling appointments, shortening your lunch hour, or leaving dirty dishes in the sink until later. If your focus is improving your relationship with your children, set aside times to shut off your phone and devote all your attention to them. 

Your one important change might be as simple as drinking more water every day, or as demanding as going back to school for a year so that you can get a better job. It might involve a serious financial commitment, or a dedicated effort to change your attitude.

Results will not come overnight. A 2014 study found that people need an average of 66 days to establish a new habit. Curing yourself of a bad habit can take much longer, and often involves replacing it with an alternate behavior, such as chewing gum instead of smoking. Commit yourself to making effort until you see a positive change.

Write your priorities down and refresh your memory regularly. We have a tendency to give everything equal importance, and to devote more of our time to people who make noisy demands. Do not be distracted by a nagging boss or a whining child. Accommodate their demands around your priorities, and keep moving forward to accomplish your goal.

Further reading: 

How Long Does It Actually Take to Form a New Habit? (Backed by Science) James Cleary, Huffington Post

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