One of the most empowering experiences we can undertake in our mental health journey is to reflect on the state of our lives. This can be an utterly daunting, overwhelming, confronting task, yet it is essential for moving ourselves forward. Reflection is a powerful tool for cultivating gratitude, identifying patterns, exploring our journeys, and analysing areas for improvement – and so, it is important that we dedicate focused time to the practise. See a broad approach below to add to your self-help repertoire or refresh a familiar practice, and find some prompts for assessing which areas of our lives may be causing us to feel out-of-whack or unbalanced.
Since it can surely be confusing and overwhelming to sit back and analyse our lives in their vast complex state, the place to start is to compartmentalise each major area of our lives through a personal inventory. The way in which the areas of our lives are segregated and organised varies – you may have heard of ‘pillars of life’, ‘the life inventory’, the ‘hierarchy of needs’ or ‘the seven domains’ – and there is no single way that is right for every person. Do your own research and shop around for ways to do an ‘inventory’ of your life, and consider how to use the knowledge moving forward.
- Identify: Get a pen and paper and list the different areas based on the format you’ve chosen. I’ve listed some examples and ideas in the next section.
- Analyse: Consider how you are going in these areas – some question prompts may be ‘What is going well?’, ‘What challenges am I facing?’, ‘What would I like to improve?’, ‘What could I do differently?’, ‘What help do I need to seek?’
- Investigate: Research advice and solutions, whether online, via a relevant personal development book, self-improvement podcast, or with a professional. Have your friends faced similar challenges? Who inspires you to make these changes?
- Plan: Prioritise, set goals, craft a plan, and start small. Most of us have heard of the power of habits, and there are myriad sources of information of how to build them; building these is a great place to start. Backward map from your goal – a goal which, by the way, should be connected to the feeling and energy attached to it, not an arbitrary figure that you measure and are bound to get frustrated with -, figure out some steps and milestones, then consider which habits will help you get to this.
- Act, Monitor, Repeat: This exercise and the whole self-improvement journey is futile without action! Track your progress, set a review date, and find different means of motivation and accountability, eg. a gym buddy, a habit tracker (there are loads of free habit trackers online!), or keep a journal. Worth mentioning is that we shouldn’t rush into anything we can’t commit to right away; start small and work your way up, for example by social media to 15 minutes a day when you usually average an hour instead of immediately quitting altogether (check out your phone’s digital wellbeing settings and apps!), walking around the block each day to build up to your 1km-run goal, setting an alarm to call your previously close friend once per week, or reading a page before bed each night to work up to finishing a book per fortnight, for example.
Life Inventory Prompts
Mind: Growth mindset, habits of thinking, emotional stability, therapies, overall sense of wellness, brain health
Physical: Exercise, energy, health, injuries, prevention, appearance, fitness, rest, stress management
Spiritual: Connection, life vision, conviction, freedom and habits of practices, quality of life, experiencing joy and contentment
Personal development: Growth goals and habits, education, skills and knowledge, intellectual life, reflective practices, creativity
Family: Relationships with partner / children / parents / siblings / extended family / chosen family, belonging, effort
Social: Friendships, sense of belonging, acts of kindness, community involvement, group activities, how others influence your life
Career: Ambitions, job progression, autonomy, responsibility, hopes, dreams, sense of belonging and fulfilment, positive impact
Financial: Income, savings, investments, freedom and security, money mindset, awareness of consuming habits
Home: Environment, security, general sense of belonging and contentment, hygiene, alignment with life vision, belongings
This can be an interesting and productive activity, but keep in mind to practice this with grace, understanding, self-compassion and forgiveness – we all go through different phases and seasons of our lives, and it is normal that we shift focus between different life domains. No one is perfect, no life is perfect (no matter what their socials project!), and all any of us can do is the best we can with what we have to find that holistic balance… To finish up – remember to celebrate what is going well in your life, big or small; you’ll miss all the good that is happening if you are always focused on what’s next or what’s wrong!