The New Year seems like the perfect time to make a fresh start, but it’s rarely as easy as it might seem. Add a chronic illness like ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia or Lyme disease and making a fresh start can be full of challenges and disappointments. I had every intention of ending the year with a review of all the good that had happened last year, focusing on all the things that worked for me, learning from all the things that didn’t, showing gratitude for all the wonderful moments I experienced and all my achievements, no matter how small. Unfortunately, I was particularly unwell. I could hardly string two thoughts together and although I managed a small part of the process, I never got to where it was all leading to: New Year intention setting. But there is something so appealing about making a fresh start, I’ve decided not to be put off by the timing!
I’ve had lots of experience with fresh starts over my years with chronic illness. It’s hard to keep all my self-help going all the time, but I do know that consistency equates with feeling better, so every time it slips, I make a fresh start. Usually my slips are forced by a crash, where I have to let everything go because I’m just not well enough to do anything. In these cases, I wait until my energy starts to build again and then I start again. At other times It’s being really well that causes a slip in my routines. I feel so good that I forget what it takes to feel like that and give in to my cravings for a more normal life.
One thing I’ve learned though is that it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to suddenly get up one day an do all the things that you know will help you, just through sheer power of will. For me, that only ever lasts a day or two at most. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about making a fresh start more successful.
1. Imagine the outcome (without attachment)
It really does help you have a clear idea of the outcome you’re hoping for from your fresh start. I know how well I feel and how much more I can achieve when I’m consistently doing all my self-help, so I imagine what that looks like and feels like, to bolster my motivation. But I’m careful not to get attached to arriving there, as I know that just leads to striving and disappointment.
2. Where are you now?
Be accepting and realistic about where you are now. At the moment, my energy is very low and I only have about an hour a day when I can actually think straight. I know I haven’t got the resources to be able to do half of what I know can help build me back up, not all at once anyway. I need to accept where I am now in order to create a plan that will actually work.
3. What’s in the gap?
I make a list of all the things that could help me move from where I am now towards the outcome I’m looking for. I have lots of experience of being well, and what it takes to get there for me, so I find this stage quite easy. But the thing is, we don’t have to know all the steps. It’s enough to know what can get you started moving through the gap. The next steps will always present themselves once you’re moving.
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4. What’s the first step?
Being realistic about where you are right now, what one small thing can you do that will lead to you being able to do something else? Make sure it’s something easily achievable. I know that doing my gentle yoga makes a huge difference. I also know though that my energy has been running out too early in the day for me to feel as though I can manage it. So instead, I’m focusing on the things that will get me to a place where I can do my yoga. My Donna Eden energy exercises take about five minutes as opposed to the 15-30 minutes of my yoga. I know they help and that they are achievable, so that’s my first step.
5. Take one step at a time
Often with fresh starts, we want to be doing everything that we know is good for us all at once, but that is so hard to keep up. Start with one thing, get it established and then add something else. Trust that by really focusing on one thing at a time you are giving yourself the best chance of creating a consistent lifestyle change.
6. What’s the benefit of each step?
It helps me to remind myself of why I’m doing each thing, as I start to do it. When I remind myself of the benefits of my actions, the actions are less likely to become just a boring chore. When I feel good about what I’m doing, paying attention to the precise way I’m contributing to my well-being, I keep doing it!
7. Accountability and rewards
Keep track of what you’re doing, tell somebody about it, hold yourself accountable in some way and you’re much more likely to keep it going. I hold myself accountable in the weekly support group I run. I also use a tick box chart. If you’re trying to establish a new habit, it takes about 60 repetitions to get it more stable. I offer myself a weekly reward and an extra reward for getting to 60 ticks.
Good luck with your next fresh start….. whenever you may choose to take it!
Julie Holliday, ProHealth’s Inspirational Editor, is a holistic life coach and writer committed to helping people take back control from energy-limiting chronic illness to live a more relaxed, balanced and fulfilling life. Julie loves spending time in nature, growing her own vegetables and spends as much of her day as possible in a comfortable pair of yoga pants. Writing as the ME/CFS Self-Help Guru, Julie shares tips on her weekly blog. You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ or join her Facebook group focusing on finding purpose despite chronic illness.