Friday, July 1, 2011

Create the life you want by making some simple changes

When we added children to our family, I dubbed the time between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. the “witching hours.” During this window of time, our children often become restless and whiny. They’re more prone to fighting, and we’ve had several incidents in which one of them decides to ride the dog or invent new uses for their art supplies.

There may be variations in this “witching hour” scenario—someone starts an empty washer by randomly pushing buttons or systematically drops a bunch of Goldfish Crackers down the heat register—but the end result is the same. Those pre-dinner hours are almost always stressful and frustrating.

As I scramble to decide what we’re going to eat and to start the meal preparation, the house threatens to erupt into anarchy. In the midst of this, I wonder why I don’t give more attention to meal planning. In fact, creating a comprehensive meal plan tops my list of things I could do to make my life better.

Sometimes, when we’re so busy with our daily lives, we might believe that sweeping change is necessary to make our lives better. We might think, for example, that moving to a bigger house would make life easier, but the simpler (and perhaps better) change might be to downsize the amount of items we own. It’s often the smaller, more immediate changes we make that have the most power to improve the quality of our lives.

For me, devoting an hour each week to meal planning would help to restore some of my sanity and to diffuse the evening chaos. When I asked other people what they could do right now to make their lives better, they responded with equally simple changes they would like to make.

In a few cases, people reported that a single event would make their lives better, such as organizing their living space or creating a realistic plan for paying off debt. More often, those I talked to said that consistent changes over time would benefit them the most.

Several people told me that they believed carving out more time for reading would improve their lives. Some said committing to regular exercise would make them happier, and one person told me having more focused time with his children would make him feel more satisfied when he is at home. Eating a more balanced diet topped the list for several people, and a few mentioned getting more sleep. And some, like me, said better meal planning would make them happier.

Significantly, none of the people I talked to mentioned any material possessions that would make their lives better. In fact, most of the changes people wanted to make had nothing to do with money or possessions. The more I talked to people, the clearer it became that we don’t necessarily need bigger paychecks, expensive belongings, or major life overhauls to lead more satisfying lives. What we need instead is to take smaller, more deliberate steps to create the lives we desire.

Being reminded of this inspires me to take the small step of planning meals. My meal plans may not spell out specific menus, but they could list items we have in the house that we could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Whether meal preparation that day falls to my husband or to me, a general plan will ease the decisions about what to eat. By planning ahead, my grocery shopping could become more streamlined, as well.

What small, deliberate step could you make? Start today, and you’ll be on your way to the satisfying life you truly want.