Thinking you can be happy by fixing one problem area of your life won’t work. You need to change the broader picture.
We all have some struggle we face in life. Some challenge we seek to overcome that seems insurmountable, or keeps coming back after we think we’ve beaten it (raise your hand if you’ve lost weight only to gain it back again).
This applies to challenges in all areas of our life–fitness (the weight-loss yo-yo), business (beat one competitor only to have another one rise up) , relationship issues (get past one fight with your significant other only to have another one later), and more.
Why is that? Why do challenges often seem insurmountable in the long-term even when we may over-come them in the short-term?
It’s because these challenges are all just symptoms of a bigger issue.
The reality is, we are complex and interrelated beings where how we feel about one thing in our life bleeds into other areas. We take work problems home with us. We bring home problems to work. We think getting through this one thing will make everything better.
And it never happens.
As a life coach, people come to me for all kinds of different reasons. Whatever brings them to me invariably becomes just one part of what we work on because you can’t make meaningful, lasting change in your life by compartmentalizing each problem as if it exists in a vacuum.
What I’ve learned is that the path to overcoming any challenge is overcoming all challenges. We have to transform our lives as a whole or we will repeat the cycle of having difficulties we struggle with.
Let me share an example from a great young woman I worked with on her fitness–we’ll call her Stacey. She came to me about getting in shape–something she had lost after college. She also found herself unsatisfied with her job, and seeing herself stuck there. She was also living at home, and, while she had a great relationship with her parents, she really wanted to be on her own.
The reality is that all of her issues actually started with how she felt about herself, and her overall sense of lacking a purpose to what she was doing. She had sort of fallen into several aspects of her life–her job, her physical condition–rather than consciously deciding on any of it. And now she was waking up to feeling directionless and pretty unhappy with herself.
We started with being more self-compassionate, by looking at what she’s accomplished and allowing for those things to matter. She was always quick to diminish anything she’d achieved, so we instead spent time talking about why they were real, meaningful achievements she can and should be proud of them. She was very uncomfortable saying things like, “I’m smart.” “I did really well at that.” Or, “I’m a good person.” But the more we talked about it, the more comfort she had with it, and the harder she found it poke holes in the idea that she really was a good person worthy of success.
With the foundation of possibility, I helped her to find her true motivation in life. That started with a series of questions I asked her to get her thinking about what really matters to her, and then a lot of challenging of her answers by asking, “Why?” Over and over again.
Through the process, she understood better what really mattered to her–saving people’s lives.
With a better sense of self-worth, and an understanding of what matters to her, Stacey was able to lay out things she genuinely wanted to achieve.
She stopped making excuses, and focused on some key things she could do right now to impact her story. She made real changes in her activity level and food choices. She enrolled in a graduate program in the medical field. She saved her money to be able to move out into her own place.
And most importantly, if you followed her on social media, you’d notice that her pictures all looked different. She was smiling.
This isn’t a movie, so it didn’t all go perfectly. She had plenty of tough moments and had to put in some serious hard work. But despite that, she moved forward into a new career that makes her central in life-saving emergency medicine work, has been in the best shape of her life for several years now, has an amazing apartment and is still smiling.
She’s such a great illustration of the need to look at transforming our lives holistically to overcome challenges we face in any one area.
This post is inspired by my best-selling book, “Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day” available in print, eBook and audio book formats. It originally appeared in my Inc.com column on October 6th, 2017.