What will it take for you to change?
Despite our best intentions, often it takes some sort of trigger like a job loss, relationship breakdown, or other setback to make us reconnect with what is really important. Just like with my recent health scare...but it doesn't have to be that way.
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On Sunday, September 11th 2022, just after 10am, I was sitting at my computer, in the cool darkness of my home office. Just as I am now as I type these words. Black fabric draped across the windows to block the glare of the Texas morning sun. I started to feel strange. My head felt heavy, and the room began to sway from side to side. I hauled myself into an armchair as waves of nausea started to wash over me. I weakly called to my young kids to “go get Mommy right now.”
The emergency staff moved in and out of the fluorescent-lit hospital room, sometimes closing the door, sometimes not. The machine that I was hooked up to occasionally made an alarm-like sound. Was it an alarm? Clearly given my surroundings, something was wrong. But was something really wrong? Nobody had visited me for what felt like a long time. My blood pressure was high. I know because various personnel had told me so with the same pained expression. I waited and distracted my mind with miscellaneous thoughts about mundane chores and detached observations about the room and its utilitarian beige easily-wipeable surfaces, all driven by the hope that everything would be ok.
Put yourself in my position at that moment. What thoughts would be going through your mind? What regrets would you have if you believed it might all end right now?
Darcy, my wife, and I sat in yet another doctor’s office waiting for more tests in the days that followed the incident.
I found myself confessing to a cardiologist I’d just met, the irony (to me at least) that five years earlier I’d written a book about work-life balance and living a good life. I say “confessed” since I knew that I hadn’t been living the textbook healthy lifestyle, but “who does?” I’d rationalized to myself.
As the results of the tests came back over the next weeks, they suggested not much more than that I was overweight and needed to eat and sleep better, move more, and continue to monitor my vitals on a more frequent basis.
It would have been easy to try to ignore this health scare and then continue on as I had been. Instead, I decided to use it as a trigger to reexamine how I’d been living and working, and to take a deep dive into my diet and physical/mental health.
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Get a regular health check. Monitor your blood pressure (particularly if heart issues run in your family). Maintain your weight in the healthy range! Now that these public service announcements are out of the way let's talk about triggers and monitoring.
It seems obvious, but just because you might be chasing your dreams (as I have been since quitting my corporate job) it doesn't mean that you're immune from the need for self-care, stress management and so on. In fact, it's the opposite. When you're so engrossed in your work it becomes all the harder to maintain balance and perspective.
I'd been meaning to update The Good Life Book (2017) for some time. This minor health scare was a prompt to go back to the book and see what I'd gotten right, and what I'd missed.
The basic ideas of the book remained sound. Take the time to dig deeper beyond the more superficial aspects of your life to really listen and know yourself and what you want (not just the track you've been on since school). Design a life that lets you be yourself, live authentically and hopefully chase down your dreams. Don't wait for a trigger or crisis, do this proactively, but at minimum use the trigger to make the changes you need to make.
What I'd missed was creating a habit around building and sustaining a system that let me not only stay on track for the journey, but also prompt corrective action when I was veering off course in other parts of life.
What gets measured gets done, and there are times when you'll need to do that more often than annually or when a project finishes (my last project took 18 months) or when there's a crisis. To that end I created a status report template for The Wheel (formerly known as the Five Pillars in the first edition of the book). The template is available for free at: https://www.thegoodlifebook.com/blog/resources and you can find out more about The Wheel at: https://medium.com/@brettcowell/your-complete-potential-8ccd764b7e36
It's not an either-or. I've reminded myself in this past couple of months how much more effective and creatively productive I am when I eat well, exercise and meditate, for example. My energy is just much better not only in terms of quantity, but quality. I get my work finished sooner, and I'm a nicer person to be around for my partner and kids, without the need for elaborate winding-down rituals and beverages.