By Jeremy Godwin.
Welcome back to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, a podcast and blog about mental health and wellbeing! This week I’m talking about priorities – how to become crystal clear on what’s important to you so that you can focus every day on what actually matters to you, and why it’s an important part of good mental health and wellbeing. Let’s talk!
What are your priorities? What’s really important to you? What kind of person do you want to be? These are probably three of the most important questions you can ask yourself, because the answers can help to guide your entire way of being – if you allow them to.
Now, let me ask you this: How often do you take the time to ask yourself these questions? If it’s less than every month or at least every couple of months, then it just might be time to sit down and get in touch with what really matters to you right now in your life. This week, I’m going to be talking about how to do just that, and why getting your priorities in order is an essential part of good mental health and wellbeing.
Your priorities are the things that you give the greatest importance to. It’s the stuff that matters to you more than anything else in the world – often, for most of us it’s aligned to the people, places and bigger-picture concepts or spiritual notions that are of the greatest value to us.
I see the notion of priorities as being closely linked to self-awareness and personal growth – in other words, it’s about really understanding who you are, by being brutally honest with yourself, and then challenging yourself to be the very best version of yourself that you can be at all times. Being crystal clear about who you are, who you want to be and what your priorities are, and then consciously choosing to think/act/be in line with your priorities every day, is part of self-awareness and personal growth. You may not get it right 100% of the time, but by being self-aware and patient with yourself you will find it becomes second-nature – which is when growth happens.
The reason why I make a point to talk about priorities is that unless you are clear about who you are and what’s genuinely important to you, you will likely find yourself just going with the flow of life. I’m all for glowing with the flow, but when you do that you have no control over where you end up. Now you can never completely control fate (good luck trying!), but you can certainly steer the ship in line with your priorities – i.e. Don’t let life just happen to you, but create your life around your priorities.
Working through your priorities isn’t about creating some sort of ranking system for the things and people in your life – it’s not a competition, and there are no winners or losers. Nor is being clear about your priorities an excuse for not trying new things or just being rigidly focused on one goal – because if you do that then you will miss out on all of the surprising twists and turns that life has to offer. Very often things will happen that might not seem in your best interests at the time, but later on it might turn out to be just the thing that you needed to take you to the next step in your journey, so I’m a firm believer in remaining aligned to your priorities whilst also keeping an open mind and heart.
The other thing I want to mention when I explain the notion of priorities is that your priorities do not have to be set in stone for all of eternity. People change, and priorities change. In fact, they’re up to you – if you want to change your life, change your priorities. If something is important enough to you, you’ll find a way.
Priorities and mental health
In our society we have this slightly deluded perspective that happiness should be the end-goal for everything we do, as though it’s some permanent state of bliss that can be achieved if we just do this one more thing or buy this one product. And I think we all know deep down inside that’s bullshit.
The reality is that happiness is fleeting. It’s not some grand state to be achieved permanently but instead it’s something to be found in all of the little moments that make up our day-to-day lives. Even if you were to instantly have all of your current problems disappear overnight, I guarantee that you would find new ones before the month is out. Instead of constantly chasing happiness, we should be devoting our energy to becoming self-aware and being the sort of person who we want to be – and you do that by understanding what’s important to you, then setting your priorities accordingly, which is what we’re going to talk through this week.
Priorities and the art of reflection
OK, so how do you become crystal clear on what’s important to you? This is where my favourite ‘r’ word comes in: reflection. I’ve mentioned in other podcasts/posts that reflection is when you take the time to give something serious thought and consideration, and it is an amazing tool for increasing your self-awareness.
Before I dive further into today’s piece about priorities, let me just take a moment to say that I truly encourage reflection on a regular basis – at least once a week is great, but even better is to take five or ten minutes at the end of each day and reflect on what worked well for you, and what you could have done differently for a different outcome (notice how I didn’t focus on the negative there, just what the learning opportunity is?). Reflection is your chance to have an honest conversation with yourself – you might like to write down your thoughts in a journal or just use the Notes app on your phone – and do it without any judgement; if you did or said something that you’re not happy with, look for the lesson and use it as a chance to grow, rather than beating yourself up over something that you can’t change (oh, and if you did make a mistake, check out last week’s podcast and blog about mistakes for some advice on how to tackle it!). Anyway, back to the topic at hand: priorities.
Defining your priorities involves being honest with yourself and making a list of what matters most to you. For many of us, our priorities are connected to the people we love the most – which is great, however I want to ensure that we’re all clear that your priorities cannot be at your own expense; you need to be your highest priority because if you don’t look after you, who will? It’s a cliché but it’s like when they tell you on the plane to put your own oxygen mask on before you help others – you’re not going to be able to help anyone if you’re passed out because you didn’t think to look out for yourself, and nobody needs to be a martyr.
When you’re thinking about what your priorities are, consider your home life, your closest loved ones, your family, your friendships, your community, as well as things like your work, your hobbies and passions, your spiritual beliefs, your general satisfaction with life. It can be whatever holds most value to you. Hopefully you know my guideline by now: if it doesn’t hurt anyone, go for it!
When we talk about work, it’s important to make the distinction between doing work that pays the bills versus how your work makes you feel. We all have bills to pay, and some of us – myself included – have priorities that aren’t tied up in our career status or the day-to-day of our jobs. Don’t feel you need to define yourself by your work; if it is just a means to an end, then as long as you give it 100% that’s absolutely fine. I believe we should work to live, rather than living to work – life is too short. This is something I talk about in a bit more detail in this week’s podcast – to cut a long story short, the idea of what truly matters to you will be up to you to decide on; whatever might be on your list, focus on those things with all of your heart and soul because doing so will enable you to live a life that feels aligned with your priorities which will drive better mental health and wellbeing.
Identifying your priorities
So how do you become crystal-clear about what your priorities are? Let’s go through some steps you can follow:
- Reflect – think about what’s important to you and brainstorm a list, making it as long or as short as feels right to you.
- Reflect again – read through your list and ask yourself what you might have missed?
- Review – review each item individually and ask yourself, “Is this really important to me? And if so, why is it important to me?” If you’re not sure, reflect. And reflect again. This is the time to dig deep. Don’t just put something on your list for the sake of it. Really ask yourself why each item is on your list and whether it remains relevant today. I did my list recently and realised I was including things that were more relevant when I lived in the city than where I live now – and it’s been over four and a half years since I left the city. Times change, people change, priorities change. Focus on now.
- Rank – now look at each item on your list and ask yourself: if you didn’t have this in your life anymore, how would your life be? If you couldn’t imagine finding a way through life without it, then it goes towards the top of your list. If you could find a way to function, but you wouldn’t want to let it go, then it goes towards the bottom of your list. You don’t have to rank them in order – this isn’t a competition. Just ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’ tends to be more than enough to get a sense of importance.
- Refine – you might decide to do this step (especially if your list is long) or you might decide to skip it all together, it’s your choice; the step is to refine. Ask yourself: if you had to choose between something at the top of your list and something towards the bottom, could you? Would you? This is a chance to think through what is really, really, really important to you rather than just identifying what is important. The shorter your list, the better – life is complicated enough without having to juggle 15 different priorities.
- Review – look at your list and reflect for a moment. What does your list say about who you are as a person? What does it say about the person that you want to be?
- Reconsider – is there anything on your list that is out of alignment with who you want to be? If there is, then what do you need to do to change it? What do you need to make a priority in order to be the person you want to be? What do you need to do more of, or less of? Reconsider your list in line with who you want to be. And when it comes to material items – be ruthless. If your house were on fire you could probably only grab one or two things so don’t have a list as long as your arm. It’s just stuff.
- Refine further – If your list is still extensive (which I would generously define as double digits) then refine, refine, refine. If you can, get it down to no more than five things. Why? Because it’s easier to do the next bit with a small list than it is trying to juggle 18 things!
So now what?
You’ve identified your priorities. So what comes next? Well, the next bit is the hard part but the most rewarding: focus all of your energy on those things! That may mean that you need to reset your life or even completely redesign it – for hints on resetting, check out my podcast/blog on resetting. Look at every aspect of your life and determine if it aligns with your priorities. If it does – great! Do more of that! If not – change it.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about: If your job is to sell shoddy products to people who don’t need them, or if it involves taking advantage of vulnerable people to get a sale, and if your priority is to be a good person and do no harm to others, then there’s a clear disconnect between your reality and your priorities, so you need to make a choice to make a change, then actually make the change. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary – if you work in a role that requires you to do shitty things, don’t be surprised if a bit of that shittiness rubs off on you. Make choices aligned with your priorities. If your job is draining the life out of you but you’ve made a decision to prioritise your home and family life, change.
Put a priority on what and who you’re grateful for, and act accordingly. Let every action you take be aligned with what truly matters to you, rather than just what is going on around you, and let everything else be water off a duck’s back.
Three quick tips for identifying your priorities and making them your focus
To wrap up, here are my three main tips for priorities:
- Only you can determine what truly matters to you – so never let anyone else tell you what your priorities should be; if it doesn’t harm anyone, go for it!
- Material things won’t ever deliver true happiness – because they can’t; they’re just things. Those $1200 Balenciaga sneakers don’t make you a better person, they just make you someone willing to spend too much on shoes to show others that you can. Prioritise what really matters, because you can’t take stuff with you when you depart this world.
- Design your life around your priorities – if spending time with your partner is your top priority, then accepting that overseas job is probably going to throw a spanner in the works. Put your priorities first. You choose where your focus goes, so choose in line with what really matters to you.
Here’s a quote about priorities that I think is very relevant and which I’d like to encourage you to reflect on:
“Action expresses priorities.”Gandhi
So, that’s it for this week! Thanks for joining me again. New podcast episodes and blog posts are released every Monday morning (Australian time), and each Friday morning you can read the weekly Mental Health Talk newsletter which is full of general stuff about health and wellbeing (along with some fun stuff) so please subscribe via the website. For more content, go to:
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Next week I’ll be talking about Over-thinking – I hope you’ll join me again. Until then, look after yourself and make a conscious choice to put some positive energy out into the world!
Let’s Talk About Mental Health.
Because the more we talk about it, the easier it gets.
Let’s Talk About Mental Health. © 2019 Jeremy Godwin.