If you feel like you've lost your identity and sense of self, one thing you can do is to change your routine and set some very firm boundaries with your loved ones. Do you feel like the majority of your free time is spent doing things for others? This could include your spouse, your children, your mother, sister, even your best friend, or even an elderly neighbor or relative.
We all want to be nice to others, right? We want to nurture, to be helpful, we want to please others, and make life easier for them. There's nothing wrong with that at all. But if you relegate yourself and your needs to dead last every time, it can cause serious problems long-term, not only for you but for the loved ones you try so hard to help!
Ask yourself these questions:
- When you finally collapse into bed at night, is it normally well after midnight?
- Are you still up at night doing housework or prepping for the morning routine, well after everyone else is in bed?
- When the house is empty, do you wish you could just sit down and do nothing instead of the myriad of tasks and errands on your "should do" list?
- Was the last time you FINISHED reading an entire book, just for pleasure, more than six months ago?
- Do you feel you are increasingly cranky, irritable, or short-tempered with your spouse, children, or other loved ones?
- Do you cringe when your phone rings because it most likely means someone wants to add to your "to do" list?
- When someone asks you what you do for fun or what you're passionate about, do all your answers center around your work, kids, spouse, or someone other than you?
If you answer more than one of these questions with a resounding "YES", then it's time for you to take some steps to get off the merry-go-round and regain your individual identity. This doesn't mean that you will stop caring for your spouse, your children, or any of your other loved ones. It just means you are going to make a conscious effort to step back and let them do more for themselves instead of handling everything for them.
This technique is actually quite simple but may take a lot of practice for you to perfect it at first. If you are diligent, the payoff will be worth it in the end. Are you ready?
Schedule an Errand Day
Think about your weekly schedule and pick out at least one day to run errands outside of the house. You can pick two if it makes sense for your schedule. The idea is to have set in your head that "Thursday afternoons" are my errand day. Try not to schedule appointments or other things on that day.
Once your errand day or days are firm in your head, start doing all errands only on your scheduled errand day. Things like picking up/dropping off dry cleaning, getting supplies for your daughter's project, mailing packages, buying stamps, taking the dog to the groomer, etc. If it's not a life altering errand, then any task that takes you outside of the house goes on the errand list.
It's sometimes a good idea to do this yourself for a week or two, until you are in the habit of the set errand day. Once you master it, formally announce your new routine to your loved ones. Get them together and say something like "From now on, Thursday afternoons are my errand day. If there is anything you need me to do or buy from outside the house, let me know before Thursday so I can get it on my list."
The hard part is once you announce it, you will need to stick to it. If your husband comes to you on Friday and needs his best suit cleaned, it either waits till Thursday or he drops it off and picks it up himself. The same for the kids or an elderly neighbor. If this seems just too hard line for you, then you can make up some "urgent request" vouchers. Give each person one "urgent request" voucher a month. Only do this for the first couple of months until everyone, including you, is used to the new system.
After a few weeks, you'll realize that you suddenly have some free time during the week. All those precious moments running to/from the store multiple times per week, standing in line to check out, etc. It's all condensed into one day. The rest of your days will be less fractured, and your productivity and focus should naturally increase. You get more done in less time without the distraction of errands.
Use it as "me time". Learn something you've always wanted to learn, read one of those books you bought but never finished, take an online course, start a blog, practice yoga, or use the time to set goals for yourself. The only requirement for the activity you add to fill in the newly freed time is that it must be something for you, just for pleasure, fun, or self-development.
If you have trouble sticking to this technique or you need additional help setting boundaries and regaining your sense of self, consider enlisting the help of a life coach that specializes in this area.