by Regina Leeds

A new year opens its blank pages waiting for the next chapter in our lives to be written. With the best of intentions, gym memberships will skyrocket, health food store shelves will be cleaned and the battles to stop compulsive behaviors like smoking and drinking will escalate. One of the first things I teach in my class is that the whole of anything is indeed overwhelming. It is when we break down the whole into manageable increments that we gain control and assure ourselves of victory. Have a dirty house after weeks of holiday mania? Select one room as your starting point and narrow your focus tackling one task at a time. Let's say, for example, you start in the kitchen with the sink, move to the stove, clean the refrigerator and end with the floor. The house won't be pristine but one facet will be complete and you'll have developed a work rhythm.

In much the same way, I think we assure ourselves of victory in trying to better our lives when we take on one challenge at a time. The turn of the clock at midnight on December 31st is really one in a series of new beginnings we face every day of our lives. We needn't set ourselves up for failure by tackling every new year's resolution at the same moment in time. It is better to build on our success starting with the one activity that will be the logical foundation for all the changes we seek.

Looking at a list of the 'usual suspects' when it comes to resolutions, perhaps eating healthier foods will lay the foundation for feeling better, which in turn will help us succeed at a regular exercise program. Once these have become a part of our everyday pattern, we will have gained a sense of mastery over our lives so that stopping smoking will be somewhat easier for us. You get the idea?

It is important, I think, to make inner as well as outer changes if we are to live balanced lives. For most women, especially working mothers, their schedules present a daunting challenge because they are habitually so jam packed. One of the underlying reasons for all these activities can be a condition called co-dependency which reduced to its simplest definition is a chronic inability to say "no".

Those of us raised to be 'good girls' are particularly vulnerable because we were taught to be agreeable, to never rock the boat, to keep the peace, and in general say "yes" to every request that comes our way. Never mind that such a mindset creates a world without boundaries and a drive to be perfect which is doomed to failure. Never mind that others who share our work and home environments may take advantage of us. We are silently taught through the expectations of others that our energies and our self-esteem may legitimately get sacrificed for 'the greater good'.

Here are some questions to ask to create a saner schedule this year:

Let me share the story of a client. Anne is one of my personal favorites and our business relationship goes back well over ten years. I have enormous respect for her accomplishments as a highly successful entrepreneur and single mother of three. Like most mothers, she wants her children to enjoy their time in school and do well academically and socially. She is very involved in their schools and in the church they attend regularly.

When the time came for her to move into a bigger home, she called and asked for my assistance with the unpacking chores. I circled the date on my calendar and said I would confirm my arrival time at the new house the night before the move. As the day approached, I thought it odd that I had not heard from Anne.

Even under optimal conditions, moving is a stressful experience and my clients usually have lots of questions as the big day draws near. Imagine my shock and surprise when I phoned the movers the day before to confirm their participation, only to learn Anne has just postponed the move a week! When I called her, she was indeed apologetic. It seems one of the schools had asked for her assistance with a fundraiser. Anne's inability to honor personal boundaries and say no, had not only prevented her from enjoying the new home she had worked so hard to purchase, but had played havoc with my time and the movers as well.

Very often, as we see here, the desire to please in one area sabotages us in another. Fear of not being seen as the perfect mom in the eyes of her children's teachers caused ramifications in Anne's business and personal life. Perhaps an unconscious desire to hold onto the known, represented by the tiny house she had outgrown, was the underlying motivator in this drama? Whatever the cause, Anne had not yet learned a simple truth: not only does no one die when you say no, they usually respect you more! After all, if you respect your time, it's a clue to everyone else that they should as well.

Getting organized is about 30% mechanics and 70% a reflection of self-love and self-esteem. If you want a saner, more productive year, learn to take care of and nurture every aspect of your being. After all, if you lose the weight, tone your body, give up all bad habits and never have the time to relax and enjoy your accomplishments, your life will remain at heart a reflection of a deep-seated dysfunction. It can all turn around as you learn to just say no!

Regina Leeds is a professional organizer based in Southern California. She travels throughout the United States teaching, lecturing and working one on one with clients and can be reached by calling the Awareness office at (714) 894-5133.

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