Yes, it’s that time of year when we are in holiday mode or contemplating returning to work and considering how to set about making changes in our lives to make the new year count. For those who missed my last blog on New Year’s Resolutions or want a refresh, I discussed the difficulties associated with setting traditional New Year’s resolutions and hinted at an alternative approach to whet your appetite and engage your curiosity, so here it is… writing your own eulogy! Before you stop reading, have you been able to think about what you would like to stand for and called on the loss of others you had admired as inspiration? These are big questions but important ones as they speak to our core values and how we want to be remembered by our loved ones and colleagues. In this blog I set you this unusual challenge and give you an understanding as to how imagining your own funeral and the eulogies that may be delivered about you may assist you. You have the opportunity to learn about your deepest values and make changes right now to habits and behaviours that are not aligned to what you truly want.
So are you ready to make this year count? Timing is everything.
Here is my challenge…and this challenge is an alternative approach to changing behaviours or habits that is not aligned to the traditional New Years resolutions and is relevant at any time of the year, not just in the New Year. If now is a good time then seize the opportunity now, but this exercise for defining values can be used anytime.
Writing your eulogy – what do you want your life to have been about?
If you knew you only had one more year to live and you wanted some of your loved ones to deliver the eulogy at your funeral:
- What would you want them to say about you?
- How would you want to be remembered?
- How would this translate into action now – What would you want the rest of your life to stand for?
You are probably thinking right now – I thought this was meant to be a time to relax and put my issues aside for a while? Why would I ever want to consider my own eulogy? Isn’t that morbid and unnecessary?
That’s ok… of course you can still enjoy your holiday, just as much as you can choose to push the questions aside but I am posing a challenge that could be quite profound in its impact. It might seem a bit strange in this timing, but the reality is that it cuts to the chase of understanding why you experience discomfort as well as joy and contentment so it might be worth the effort.
Think about the eulogies you have heard at funerals– how many of them speak about the qualities of the person, use stories to illustrate how the person treated others?
Do we really remember someone’s life as a CV? Do we really care if someone we loved had a perfect body, had the best house or car in the street ?
Do we respect and love people for deeper things including their vulnerabilities and weaknesses that remind us of our own?
So bring this exercise to life. Imagine you’re able to watch your own funeral. Different friends and family members are eulogizing you, talking about the path you chose, your work, your relationships, your qualities, your choices.
The Eulogy you want others to read
Imagine what these people would be saying if you had lived your life true to your innermost values, spending your life doing what really matters rather than taking the safe or easy route.
Take a moment to write out a few of the things that you would want them to hear considering all that is meaningful and important to you.
For example for me after some thinking, this is what I came up with … there are many more aspects but these were some preliminary thoughts and certainly sharpened the articulation of some of my own values .
“ Alexandra was a compassionate, intelligent, creative, loving and generous woman who placed great value on and invested greatly in all of the people in her life – her loved ones, colleagues, clients and fellow musicians and chose psychology as a profession as she truly wanted to make a difference and to make an impact that was meaningful. She was a true team player who never wanted to practice as a psychologist on her own even though that would have been a much easier path.
She grew into a strong leader and mentor as she progressed through her career, and experienced great joy in bringing her compassion and skills to establish and maintain great bonds between colleagues and to establish a practice that would be remembered as collaborative and attuned to the needs of many, servicing a diverse community.
She channelled her passion for psychology, people, health, music, singing, dance and the arts in general into her daily life, performances, leisure time and work, seeking to find any opportunity that allowed her to bring her authentic self to the different worlds that she inhabited and relationships she cherished.
Alex was known for her determination, courage, incredible patience, and resilience and proved that she was willing to take risks to strive for the things that were important to her, being willing to accept incredible discomfort and anxiety in order to stay on a path that she was committed to and she believed would benefit many others.
She truly believed in others capacity for change and transformation and took the greatest pleasure from seeing those she cared about and assisted professionally overcome barriers to develop and change in the face of challenges and in despite of discomfort”
This is just an example to get the mind working. It doesn’t have to be as tightly written as this – brainstorm whatever comes to mind – it could be simple statements, or qualities or stories that illustrate who you are and what you want to stand for. Notice the emotions that come up as you write – is there pride? Joy? Contentment? Something else?
The Eulogy you never want others to read
Now as a contrast, take a moment to write out a few of the things you’re afraid might be said about you if during your life you had really backed off from what you wanted to stand for as a result of the fear of getting hurt, being rejected, failing or simply experiencing too much discomfort. This time you might want to imagine that this funeral was a result of a sudden death and you did not have the benefit of a year’s warning that allowed you to make changes.
Try this now taking the same approach as before but with an emphasis on the eulogies you never want to hear. Notice the feelings this brings up as you write – how do they differ from the previous exercise? Is there sadness, anxiety, guilt, shame, regret? Notice how much discomfort comes up at the thought of not living your life true to your own values consistently.
- What would you NOT want them to be saying about you?
- How would you NOT want to be remembered?
- How similar is this to the way you are living your life now – Are you making choices that are more aligned to being the person you don’t want to be or the person you do want to be? Are you buying into external pressures or societal expectation and not living your life in the way you truly wish to live it?
This exercise is designed to make clear what you want to be about and how you want to live your life. Thinking about the way you want to be remembered is one of the quickest way of identifying the values that guide your choices in life and behaviour, giving you a clear idea of what you want to be doing right now.
Are you making choices that are helping you be the person described in the first or second eulogy?
Regardless of which eulogy is more similar to your current way of living, I am hopeful that you now may have a clearer idea of some of the obstacles to you living the life you want and what actions you might need to take to live this life.
What is different to this approach to the traditional New Years resolutions is that as psychologists we work from your own values first and then determine small, simple actions you could take right away that are achievable quickly. We also consider the potential barriers that may get in your way so we can maximize the chances of success and ensure that we tackle these things in the right timing.
Timing is everything – Take small steps when you can
What happens if I get stuck and I can’t seem to move forward no matter how hard I try?
In my experience as a psychologist who deals with people’s requests for change everyday, I have learned the importance of timing to facilitate change. You can be completely clear on what you want to change and have been contemplating it for a long time but you may not be ready. Your capacity for change at any given time is dependent on a range of critical factors including:
- Timing – Are you ready to take action on things that you want to change, to face the effort and discomfort involved that change brings or is it not the right time for significant change?
- Cost/benefit analysis: The ability to identify the cost of continuing a certain pattern of behaviour and the greater benefits that change would bring is an important predictor of motivation. When you see more cost than benefit you start to consider action as viable but if there are not enough tangible positives you can see from changing, you probably won’t do it until the balance shifts…. and at some point it is most likely to shift.
- Motivation for change – Is this a change you want or is it something someone else wants? The change needs to come from you – it has to be something you truly value. There is no use setting a goal to lose 20 kilos as it is meant to be healthy if you don’t value health, you will need to find an alternative value that allows for this change or change the goal altogether.
- Support network: Do you have professional support or friends/family who are behind you and provide some accountability? Do you trust the support people around you to hold you steady when feeling vulnerable and keep encouraging you when it seems too hard? Is there a loved one who is invested in you staying the same and not changing?
- Stuck on thoughts? Do you need more help with identifying unhelpful thoughts that you are stuck on and are getting in your way? A psychologist may help you learn to catch these thoughts and let them go so that you are able to move into action.
Taking action – Take small steps in line with your values
To conclude and make this exercise really useful immediately, identify one step you could take in the service of your values right now that will move you closer to achieving your goal of living your life by your values. It might be as simple as one of these examples – nothing huge, always specific, measurable and achievable, but most importantly directed by your values.
- “ I will start by getting up 45 minutes earlier to do a walk before work twice a week”.
- “ I will honour my creative self by spending 1 hour per week on something creative just for me”
- “I will treat myself to a massage to relax and show my body the respect it deserves every 2 weeks”
Have a fabulous 2017 – see if you can make it about living your life the way you want to be remembered, accepting that this is a path that will involve both comfort and discomfort but ultimately a path of authenticity and greater contentment. Our psychologists are here to help you refine your goals and achieve them.
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