by Monika Walankiewicz
Springtime is right around the corner, and with it comes a renewed sense of enthusiasm and hope for the future. Along with layers of thick clothing and puffy coats, we are ready to shed anything that has been holding us back or dragging us down, and start anew. We feel the need for spring cleaning—a cleansing, if you will. Before creating anything fresh, a slate cleaning is a crucial first step.
Think of your life as a spring garden. Each part of this garden represents an area of your life, such as family, health, career, or relationships. Each of those areas needs energy, water, and nutrients for sustenance and growth. Tending to each one of them requires time, effort, and attention. If you were to nourish every plant in your garden, what would it take? Are there plants in your garden that suck away valuable resources but don’t add beauty to your life?
Are those plants just weeds? If they are, you need to prune them and be on guard against introducing any new plants into your garden in the form of new commitments, goals, or obligations. (Women tend to be particularly vulnerable to taking on more than we can manage, and we end up blaming ourselves for not performing up to our impossible standards.)
Maybe you’re devoting your time and energy to a friendship that is past its expiration date but you feel too guilty to limit the contact? Or maybe you’re involved in an extracurricular project that doesn’t feed your soul anymore but feels more like an obligation and something you “should” do. If you say a compassionate no to people and activities that are draining you, you open space for something new to grow and flourish.
I invite you to look at your current goals, commitments, and even your three-month-old New Year’s resolutions through a new lens. Evaluate them to determine if they are viable plants that you want to cultivate and devote your time and energy to, or weeds that are distracting you from your real desires, and need to be removed from your garden of life so it can flourish.
Here’s a simple exercise you can do to perform that evaluation. Pick one life area, be it health or career or relationships, and ask yourself three important questions:
1. Does your current goal really matter to you? Does it pass the “so what” test? “So what if I get this promotion?” “So what if I lose 10 pounds?” “So what if I go to grad school?” “So what if I add this accomplishment to my life?” If the answer includes “should”—for example, “I should really be further along in my career by now”—you are most likely working on a goal that is extrinsic, meaning it matters to other people but not so much to you. In contrast, an intrinsic goal is something that emerges from your expression of values and purpose. Goals that are dictated by others, even on an unconscious level, are significantly harder to achieve, and require much more willpower and effort to bring them to fruition. So ask yourself, is it worth it? Maybe this particular pursuit falls into the category of weeds in your garden.
2. Are you engaged in this goal because you want to avoid something negative? For example, do you feel that you need to keep your house pristine and clean to avoid being criticized, or because you’re inspired to do something that makes you feel good, and proud of your home? In psychology, these are called avoidance goals vs. approach goals. Goals have to be magnetic; they have to pull you forward and challenge you. They have to make you want to approach something that is important and valuable, otherwise it’s going to be a difficult to attain them. Fear-based goal can be reframed into positive ones. This rule applies to any objective, whether it’s personal or professional. Negatively focused goals are rarely achieved, because it takes a herculean effort to accomplish them.
3. Is your goal aligned with your values? If a goal is in concordance with your deeply held values, it will be much easier to attain, and it will contribute to the growth of your garden in a way that will enrich your life. If you haven’t done so yet, take the VIA Character Strengths Survey and find out what your real values are. See if your values are congruent with your current pursuits, so you can focus your time and attention on more worthy goals.
To celebrate the arrival of spring, I encourage you to pull one item—or a goal that is at odds with your values—out of your garden, so there’s room for more of the plants you love.
Monika Walankiewicz is a CiPP graduate, UX designer, coach, speaker, and facilitator. She holds Art Therapy Certification from Northwestern University, and helps her clients to overcome adversity and release repetitive psychological patterns that are preventing them from taking action in their lives. Monika is leading organizational change at Allstate Corporation by spreading tools of positive psychology within the company to increase levels of well-being and satisfaction. She takes a unique approach that blends intuitive and creative inner work with evidence-based methods based on behavioral science and positive psychology, and shares her expertise in personal growth via workshops, corporate speaking and one-on-one coaching. Learn more about her work and schedule a free initial consultation at monikaw.com.