In my last post, I shared the unique approach we’ve developed at The Argenal Institute to help working parents defeat burnout so they can finally start enjoying these precious years of their lives called the Whole SELF Lifestyle™.
The Whole SELF Lifestyle™ is an approach to life as a working parent. It’s not a solution in and of itself. It’s sort of a higher-level guide to help you understand not only the surface-level symptoms you’re feeling, but also the true source of your struggles within the context of a larger system. Once you have that deeper understanding, you can make more effective choices based on what you need in each moment.
The Whole SELF Lifestyle™ is broken down into three parts that specifically address the unique experience of busy working parents in the 21st century. We go into a lot more detail about this on The Argenal Institute website, but here’s the essence of each part and how they work together.
WHOLE | Integrating all of the different areas of your life into one functioning whole.
SELF | Honoring the different parts of who you are so you can approach every situation you encounter with a solid sense of SELF, and the peace of mind that the choices you make are what’s right for you.
LIFESTYLE | Replacing the constant searching for answers outside of yourself with a reliable and repeatable framework that will support you in discovering the right answers, for you, in this season of your life.
I wholeheartedly believe each person needs to chart their own, individual path toward a fulfilling life. This approach is about creating a lifestyle that works for you, and gives you the freedom to acknowledge, accept, and work with your unique strengths, needs, desires, circumstances and goals.
This is about understanding yourself on deeper and deeper levels over time, and then living from that solid center of self-knowingness. It’s not about any particular answer or quick fix. It’s about going deeper and learning to experience your life on a range of different levels – not just on the surface level.
And since you’re a busy working parent, it’s important to do this in a way that isn’t overwhelming or intimidating. You need a flexible framework that can work within the various constraints of your life.
So let’s talk about how you can actually integrate this philosophy into your busy life in a way that’s sustainable.
We use the acronym S.E.L.F. to break down this philosophy into practice, what I call the Whole SELF Lifestyle™ Method. This framework outlines four specific stages of self-discovery.
STEP 1 | SYSTEM INVENTORY
One thing that has really become a huge component of the Whole SELF Lifestyle™ is this concept of SYSTEMS THEORY, so let me explain that a little bit. A “system” is a cohesive group of interrelated and interdependent parts. A system can be more than the sum of its parts, and changing one part of the system usually affects the other parts as well as the whole system. It’s dynamic and complex, and each part of the system influences the others.
As a working parent, you’re constantly juggling two distinct systems simultaneously: an External System and an Internal System. Doing a System Inventory helps you get a sense of all of the different parts of these systems that are operating for you, right now, in this phase of your life.
Here are just a few examples:
EXTERNAL SYSTEM | Those things that put pressure on your time and energy from external sources.
- Work responsibilities
- Household management, such as chores, errands, and paying bills
- Invisible Labor (those things that take time, but we rarely account for, like making doctor’s appointments, researching vacations or coordinating play-dates)
- Romantic relationships
- Parent-child relationships
INTERNAL SYSTEM | The internal thoughts, feelings, and experiences that also consume your time and energy.
- Core values
- Fears and triggers
All of these different systems exist in our lives simultaneously. But for most working parents, many, if not all, of these systems are running on auto-pilot. We’re managing very few of these parts of our lives deliberately. We often are so busy that we just react to the most urgent emergency, without understanding how our reaction is impacting the larger system as a whole.
Here’s the obvious truth we all know: blending all of these systems in any sort of fulfilling way is not something that’s going to happen on accident. We need to become intentional about each of these different areas of our life, and we also need to have a larger perspective about how it’s all working together as a whole. But that can’t happen at all until we understand what’s actually happening in each of these areas.
We do this whole inventory process without judgment and without trying to fix anything yet. In this first step, we’re just getting the lay of the land. This step is all about detached observation. Often doing this step alone is helpful for people, because you get clarity about what’s really going on under the surface. You can shift your perspective from one where it’s all about what’s right in your face in each moment, and allows you to get a broader perspective on your life. You get a better and more accurate view of what’s causing the most stress in your life. Even just having that awareness can help you make better choices.
STEP 2 | EVALUATE
Once you have identified the internal and external systems that are currently active in your life, then you can evaluate all of the individual parts to see what’s working for you, and what isn’t. I go through a wide range of different questions with my clients when I work with them, but even asking yourself some simple and straightforward questions can help you gain a better understanding of your actions, beliefs, and motives. You can start by asking yourself questions like:
- What is not working in this area of my life? What do I want to stop doing?
- What is working well in this area of my life? What do I want to continue doing?
- What would I like to change or improve about this area of my life? What do I want to start doing?
- How will changes in this area impact the other areas of my life?
- What do I still need to learn or understand about this area of my life?
You don’t need to know how you’ll actually improve any of these areas of your life yet – that comes in the next step. In this step, you’re just identifying the things that you would like to change. You’ve moved out of detached observation mode, and now you’re actively analyzing your life. You’re just creating your own personal roadmap so you can make some informed choices about what to do next.
Once you have all of the different areas of your life laid out in front of you, on paper, which is what we do in the first step, it’s a lot easier to make some educated decisions about where to drill down to focus your efforts.
STEP 3 | LIST OF SOLUTIONS
The first two steps of the Whole SELF Lifestyle™ framework provide clarity and a roadmap for change. Now we get to dig a little deeper and brainstorm the action steps that will carry out our ideas for improvement. This is when it’s helpful to do research, listen to podcasts, read books, get advice, seek therapy if needed, etc. to get new ideas or to fill in any gap in knowledge you might have in a particular area.
In this step, you create a list of concrete, tangible things you could actually implement in your life in order to make the wish list you created in the last step happen. Note that we’re still not actually taking action. We’re just coming up with ideas of things we could do. This third step is all about curiosity and exploration. This step allows you to move out of theory and ideas and concepts, and starts getting you into the mindset of taking action.
Let’s take an example I know most working parents struggle with: not having enough time.
If you haven’t gone through the first two steps of the Whole SELF Lifestyle™ Method, you may just be working harder and faster to fit more things into your day. This is the default solution most working parents lean on to try to get more time. And as we all know, it’s not all that effective. It really just increases that frantic pace of our lives and drains us in the process.
When you dig a little deeper, you’ll probably find a whole list of different action steps you can take that will actually help you reclaim your time (and more importantly, your energy).
Here are some other things you could do to carve out some extra time for yourself, while also eliminating the actual problem from the systems of your life.
- You can identify all of the areas where you feel energized and depleted throughout your day, and use that as a guide when you’re making choices about what you engage in every day.
- You can go through your to-do list or calendar and remove any commitments that aren’t totally essential.
- You can set some new boundaries around your time with clients, co-workers, or friends.
- You can replace Netflix and social media with activities that fill you up, rather than just numb you out.
- You can have a frank conversation with your partner about how household responsibilities are divided between you.
- You can identify the things that trigger you to take on too much (guilt, ego, fear of disappointing others, etc.).
There are probably a whole lot of different combinations of issues that need to be addressed if you don’t have enough time. And since you don’t have enough time, you never step back long enough to really look at all of the different things that are happening, so those problems persist (and often get worse).
When you go through the Whole SELF Lifestyle™ Method, you get to go deeper. You get to take into account the BIG PICTURE of your life. Instead of blindly throwing quick-fixes at surface-level SYMPTOMS, this step allows you to identify the deeper PROBLEM and try to improve the SYSTEM as a whole. You can compound the impact you have on your own life because you’re making more intentional choices within the larger context of your whole life.
STEP 4 | FAMILIARIZE
By now you’ve gone through and identified all of these different systems in your life. You have a clear understanding of the larger picture of your life. You’ve analyzed where you want to make some changes or improvements, and how those changes might impact the other parts of your life. And you’ve come up with a list of different action steps you can take to follow through on those changes.
The Familiarize step is all about taking action and self-discovery.
In the Familiarize step, you get to experiment. You try out the different ideas you brainstormed in the last step.
Not every option you’ve brainstormed is going to be feasible or even preferable. So you go through and pick and choose the options that seem like the best options for you, and your family, and your career, and your life, right now.
You stop researching and consuming ideas. Instead, you start implementing actions into your own life.
As you take action, you’ll realize that some options work better for you than others. You discard what doesn’t work, and you repeat what does work so it becomes a new habit in your life. You try another solution to see how that goes. You refine and evolve based on what you learn about yourself.
Over time, you’ll familiarize yourself with new ways of being in the world. You’ll familiarize yourself with new habits and new routines. You’ll learn how you, as a unique individual, personally reacts to certain behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. You’ll discover your limits and preferences. You’ll figure out what gives you energy and what depletes your energy. You’ll familiarize yourself with what works for you, in this moment, under these circumstances.
Through this process, you’ll start to see different aspects of your life shift and improve. And as you reinforce your self-knowledge, you’ll know how to respond to those changes. You’ll start to engage in and experience your life, rather than just power through your life.
Eventually… you’ll realize that you’re truly living a Whole SELF Lifestyle™.
Remember, this is a lifestyle, not an outcome to achieve.
Once you’ve gone through the Whole SELF Lifestyle™ Method once, you can use this framework as a tool over and over again in your life. You can repeat these steps whenever you’re feeling burned out, or when a big life shift happens, or if you’re just feeling unhappy and craving an upgrade of the quality of your life. This methodology can be applied to any situation you’re dealing with. It can be applied to whatever you’re going through either internally or externally. And it can be applied either on a super-broad basis, checking out every area of your life. Or you can zoom in on trouble areas to get more immediate and specific relief.
The Whole SELF Lifestyle™ is the key to getting the life you want.
All of the deeper traits people are searching for in their lives, such as confidence, that feeling of lightness and ease, solid sense of self, healthy relationships… all of that happens, and can only happen, if you integrate a practice that includes all four of these steps.
Most people in our information age spend all of their time in Step 3. They get caught up in endless research, asking for advice from friends and family, and relying on outside experts while dismissing their own instincts. Most working parents who struggle with burnout and guilt and information overload ignore Steps 1, 2, and 4, and are stuck in Step 3.
Focusing on what everyone else thinks really means nothing until you put it into action in your own life. When you’re focusing exclusively on research, all of that consuming really is just entertainment. And taking in all of that information and advice without seeing what actually works for you just contributes to those feelings of overwhelm, failure, and guilt, since you’re just bombarding yourself with ideals and expectations without ever trying it out for yourself.
The fact is that most advice out there won’t fit for you, in this moment in your life. And the sooner you can try it out, and either discard it or integrate it into your life, the less time you’ll waste worrying about what everyone else thinks.
Want to learn more?
So that’s a general overview of the Whole SELF Lifestyle™ Method, the process people can go through to actually live a Whole SELF Lifestyle™. If this sounds like something you’d like to do with me privately, or if you would like me to walk your team or group through this process, let’s get on a free 30-minute consultation to chat about how I can adapt this program for your needs. Just click this link to schedule your free consultation.
Or if you’d like to try a little taste of the Whole SELF Lifestyle™ Method right now, you can grab the System Inventory now. That’ll take you through an abbreviated version of the process, so you can get an idea of what it’s like.