'Why?' is one of my favorite questions. It helps get to the root of things. You can go deeper and deeper into something by continuing to ask, 'why?'. This is helpful because often the things that are keeping us stuck aren't on the surface. They are usually buried under many layers and take a bit of prodding to figure out why we are doing, saying or thinking certain things. When I first started asking myself and then my clients, 'Why?,' I was shocked by how often the answers were along these lines:
Because that's the way my mom (dad, grandparent, sibling, partner) does it.
Because that's the way I've always done it.
Because if I don't, it will hurt their feelings.
Because if I don't, they will be mad at me.
Because that's what they expect of me.
Because they won't understand.
Because they need me.
Because if I don't, it will all fall apart.
Because that's the way it's supposed to be.
Because that's the way everyone else does it.
Because they will laugh at me.
Often when clients get to this point, they laugh when they realize how incongruent these answers are in relation to their own alignment. However, just as often, people hold onto to these answers with dear life. The thought of disappointing someone close to them causes a visceral, panicky reaction. I get it. I've been there. If that's you, make sure you get some support around any changes you want to make.
No matter where you are, however, I think it's time we all start thinking more about focusing on our own alignment and less on pleasing others. How would our lives be different if we could
stop living out of obligation to others and start designing our lives the way we want them?
This is not selfish. This is sacred work.
Obligation is a bitch. Seriously. No one really likes to feel obligated to do anything; yet the motivational power it has is extraordinary. How many things do we all do on a daily basis out of obligation?
I know what you might be thinking here. "Of course I have obligations. I have a family. I have a job. I'm part of a community. I get involved. I have hobbies." Yes, yes, yes. We all HAVE obligations, but how aligned are those with you and the way you'd ultimately love to live your life? Many obligations we have are a joy and an honor. I'm talking about the obligations that don't feel good, that drain our energy, that don't add any joy to our lives. Those are the obligations that I'm giving you permission to change. How? Here are 5 things we can do to shift the obligations in our lives.
1. Stop doing it.
Pretty simple. Just stop doing it. Say you started bringing coffee to your coworkers as an afternoon treat every now and then and somehow it has become a daily expectation that you don't want to do anymore. Stop doing it. You can be honest and let them know why (money, time, health) or simply say it doesn't suit you anymore. Almost always, when you are explaining yourself to someone, LESS IS BETTER. Make a list of anything in your life that feels like an draining obligation that you can simply stop doing.
2. Do it differently.
If there's a responsibility you have but you're doing it in a way or with certain people just out of obligation, do it differently. Say you've been using the same accountant forever, yet you've never really enjoyed being around them. SWITCH! It does not matter how many years you've been there or how many other members of your family use them. Stop and find someone who 'gets' you and that you enjoy. You are not doing anyone any favors by working with them begrudgingly. We think we may hurt their feelings or take away needed business if we change, but in reality we are making space for people who are much more aligned with their service. That goes for personal obligations as well. If you aren't getting anything out of your Saturday morning coffee group that's been meeting for 8 years, stop going and find a group that is more aligned or with whom you have more fun.
So many of us are responsibility junkies. "I got it. I'll do it. I'm fine. I don't need help. It'll take too long to teach someone how to do it and/or no one will do it as well as me." I'm lovingly calling bullshit on this. Recruit some help already. Your kids can help more, as can your partner. Think about trading chores if the work is already fairly distributed. If you'd rather cut the grass than do laundry, then trade. This goes for work as well. I bet there is more support you can tap into than you are actually using right now. Yes, it may take a little time and effort in handing off whatever it is, but wouldn't it be worth it?
4. Outsource or trade for it.
Pay or trade with someone to do the stuff you hate. I don't care if your mother would be horrified. It's not her life. It's yours. I don't condone going into debt to do this, but get creative with your finances and what you have to offer for a trade. We can outsource or trade for just about anything these days - shopping, laundry, cleaning, yard work, care-giving, decorating, whatever you want to do less of in your life. The same goes for your business. If you hate writing or doing the books - pay or trade with someone to do it. You don't have to do it all!
5. Mentally reframe it.
This is important because it's an internal shift versus external. If there is an obligation that is draining you and you have chosen (because we always have a choice) not to make a change around it, try mentally reframing it. This means shifting how you are feeling about it. Say you are caregiving for an aging or dying parent. Instead of focusing on the heaviness of the obligation, focus on the honor you've been given to care for them. Focus on all the love that's been shared between you over the years. This is not a suggestion to suppress or ignore any difficult feelings that come up during an intense situation like this. By all mean, feel your feelings. However, if you can, focus on the joy, honor or gift of the responsibility versus it being an obligation. You will be serving them (and yourself) from a much more loving, open-hearted space.
Why is any of this important? Because:
Doing things out of obligation drains our power and keeps us stuck in a victim mentality.
We must take care of our needs first before attending to those of others. Making our needs a priority will lighten us up to more joyfully take care of others.
Doing things solely out of obligation is not kind to the other person or people involved. We think we are helping or saving someone somehow, but we are actually hurting them by not being honest, and ourselves by not being in alignment.
So, we now know why and how to get rid of the old way of doing (obliging), let's focus next on adding in the YOU (designing)!
We must first become aware that we are doing things out of alignment, before we can make any changes. Let's not be afraid to ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. Our mindfulness practices will help tremendously with this. Getting off auto-pilot and paying attention to how we are doing things helps bring awareness, so we can then examine if it's in alignment. As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living."
We must believe we have a choice in every situation. Choice brings empowerment. Even if there is only one choice you could live with, you have still made a choice.
We must believe we CAN do it differently if we want. There is always a solution. Opening our minds and hearts to believing we can and we are worth it is a huge part of creating a life we love. Let's surround ourselves by others who aren't afraid to do it differently as well.
We must be fastidious in choosing with whom we work and surround ourselves. Let's work with people with whom we would enjoy seeing casually. We don't have to, but why wouldn't we hire and work for people we like? We don't want our worlds to be completely homogenous, but let's find and surround ourselves with people who have similar value systems, people who lift us up and we enjoy uplifting in return; people who we respect, make us laugh and bring us joy.
We must be creative in designing our lives. Permission is granted. Our lives do not have to look like anyone else's. Let's do our responsibilities in a manner that brings us joy. If we feel like we HAVE to do the laundry all by ourselves, we can decide when and how it gets done. We can do it in the middle of the night in our underwear listening to Prince if that's what makes us happy.
Sometimes getting creative and making changes to feel more empowered takes time and effort, but it's so worth it. Imagine waking up and being excited about your whole day, even if that includes going to the dentist and cutting the grass in a addition to your regular day job. That can happen because you've negotiated to bring your dog to work, you've found a dentist you adore and get to listen to your favorite new audiobook while cutting grass - all before meeting up with your salsa dancing group, because these are all things you love.
I know some skeptics are thinking "This is just asking for too much." NOPE. It's not.
You are worth it.
I'm not saying every moment of every day is supposed to be perfect. We will naturally have ups and downs. Why not design our lives to support us just the way we are so the down times don't have to be any worse and we feel loved, supported and empowered no matter what's going on in our lives?
Warning: It can tempting when making changes and designing our lives to get caught in thinking, "I'll be happy WHEN all the changes are made and my life finally looks and feels exactly how I want it to". This will never happen. Life will never be perfect. We can choose to be happy right now and accept what is WHILE AT THE SAME TIME know we are working towards more alignment. Let's enjoy the now AND the process of transformation.
What changes do you plan to make to bring more YOU into your life? Please leave a comment below and let us know how we can help!
Jacque Saltsman is a Healer and Life Coach who is committed to the empowerment and healing of women locally and globally. Jacque has attended and staffed the Woman Within Training Weekend and sits in an amazing E-circle in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. She can be found at jacquesaltsman.com.