Full Life Reflections

Striving for happiness, peace, and fulfillment in a chaotic world

It feels like a long time since I last posted an essay to this site – and it has been a full month. The last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind for me with my move and starting an intensive educational program (I wrote about both of those changes here). Also thrown into the mix was a trip to visit family and attend my brother’s wedding, which was a nice break but stressful both leading up to it and afterwards. We’re now doing some remodeling to our house and while we’re excited for the end result, there is a lot of upheaval involved in the process.

In the midst of all of this, I haven’t forgotten about this blog and I have a lot of ideas for things I want to write about. I’m still working on the productivity “hacks” I wrote about last time that will enable me to better accomplish what’s important to me while minimizing stress and overwhelm. I will write more about that soon, but I have something else in mind for today. I’m going to apply a principle from a children’s story to life balance and looking at the various aspects of our lives.

Too Much, Too Little, Just Right

Do you remember the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears? It’s a popular children’s tale in which a young girl wanders into a cottage and finds three bowls of porridge, three chairs, and three beds. Upon testing out these items, she finds that two of each are “too” something or another (hot, cold, big, small, hard, soft) while the third one is “just right.” There are various philosophical implications of this simple story, but I want to focus on the “too something or another” aspect of it.

not enough, too much

Do you have areas of your life that are either not enough or too much?

When we look at the different facets of our lives and examine them, we often find that there are some things that feel “off.” Perhaps we’re doing too much of some things and not enough of others. One key toward living a fulfilling life is to “tweak” our time, energy, and focus such that they are appropriately allocated toward the activities and pursuits that are most important to us.  Of course, things are never going to be perfectly balanced all the time, but it can be helpful to pause periodically to examine the current state of affairs and make adjustments as needed.

Three Simple Exercises to Increase Awareness

Below I share three simple exercises you can do to better understand what’s too much, what’s too little, and what’s just right in your life. Doing these exercises can help increase your awareness and better empower you to make any necessary changes. Each exercise will take you less than an hour to do. You don’t need to do all three, but if you have the time and the inclination to do so, I think you’ll reap rich benefits from the process. As I outline the exercises, I will share some examples and insights that I have gained from this type of self-exploration and the shifts I’ve made – or plan to make – as a result.

If you do one or more of these exercises and end up feeling like you’ve veered wildly off course and need to make drastic changes, that may not necessarily be the case. It often doesn’t take a big shift to increase one’s sense of control, peace, and satisfaction – a little can go a long way!  Sometimes just scaling back on a few draining tasks and adding some joyful activities can make the difference between feeling overwhelmed and being re-energized.

The Plate Exercise

Years ago when I had a phone session with a life coach I was working with, she recommended a simple exercise that I found very helpful. She suggested that I make a list of everything I had on the “plate” of my life – relationships, activities, commitments, projects, etc. After I had the full list in place, my next step was to ask myself what I would willingly add to a clean plate that day if I had a choice in the matter. I found that some of what I had taken on was no longer bringing me joy and perhaps never had.

At the time, I belonged to several networking organizations and was on the board of directors of one. I was also involved in a service organization in a leadership role. As I pondered what I would add choose for my life if I had a clean slate, I decided that these responsibilities felt like “shoulds” to me rather than commitments I was passionate about. I had said yes to certain roles because I was either afraid to say no or didn’t give myself the time and space to truly consider my options.

After doing the plate exercise, I decided to scale way back on my participation in various organizations. I didn’t leave them high and dry, but I did set the wheels in motion for stepping back as soon as possible. Of course, I realize that not all commitments can be as easily broken. If you hate your job or are overwhelmed with a particular relationship, walking away may not be an option, at least not in the short term. But simply realizing what isn’t bringing you joy can push you to take steps in the right direction.

You can start looking for a new job, for example, or take some classes to explore other career possibilities. If a relationship is bringing you down, you may be able to negotiate changes through communication or therapy or you may wish to spend less time engaging with that person. But sometimes we do need to walk away from relationships that bring us more grief than joy. I have done this with a number of friendships and it wasn’t easy. It can be very painful to let go, but on the other side of that pain is peace and an open space for bringing new and more positive relationships into your life.

The Plus, Minus, Equals Exercise

This exercise is similar to the one above but is a bit more nuanced. It starts out similarly in that you begin by listing all of the roles, responsibilities, and commitments in your life. Then, next to each item on your list, you will place a plus sign, a minus sign, or an equal sign. Place a plus sign next to anything for which you’d like to increase the time, energy, and focus you’re dedicating to it. If you want to scale back on your involvement with something you’ve listed, note that by the presence of a minus sign. If you’re happy with your level of engagement with an item in question, place an equal sign next to it.

One key to making this exercise as useful as possible is to make the list expansive. You can even include your consumption of certain types of foods and beverages, as well as the types of things you read, watch, and listen to. It can be beneficial to take a full day and jot down anything you give your attention to from the time you wake up until you go to bed. This will help you to capture more items to evaluate and potentially improve. As I just thought of this idea while writing this post, I’m going to do my full list tomorrow, but I already have a good sense of the things I’d like to either increase or decrease.

Here are some of the things I’d like to increase:

  1. Sleep
  2. Reading books
  3. Going for walks, especially when it’s light outside (I often go for walks at night)
  4. Watching movies
  5. Keeping in touch with friends and family
  6. Eating vegetables
  7. Trying new recipes
  8. Taking photos and sharing them with others
  9. Blogging (I want to get back to posting as often as I did earlier this year)
  10. Meditation

The things I’d like to decrease include:

  1. Staying up late
  2. Being on screens (tablet, smart phone) at night
  3. Listening to podcasts (I would like to be more deliberate about this)
  4. Self-criticism
  5. Internet surfing on my phone
  6. Buying and returning things

If you end up with fairly lengthy plus and minus lists like mine, I recommend that you select just one or two things to work on to get started and that you make relatively small changes. For example, I could commit to contacting two friends or family members and trying out one new recipe each week. Setting too many goals can set us up for feeling defeated because it takes time to create and maintain new habits. Once you have firmly made a shift or two, you can then opt to tackle something else you’d like to either increase or decrease. Small, gradual changes have a much better chance of becoming permanent and they build up over time.

The Wheel of Life

The final exercise I’m recommending is a tool many coaches use called The Wheel of Life. There are various iterations of this tool, but they usually look something like this:

the wheel of life

As you can see, the wheel is divided into eight different sections, each one of which represents a specific area of our lives. To do the exercise, consider your level of satisfaction with each life area on a scale of one to ten, with one being extremely dissatisfied and ten connoting a very high level of contentment. Draw a line at the appropriate level inside each wedge of the life “pie.” After you’re done, you’ll have a quick and easy graphical representation of how balanced your life is. Your end result may look something like this:

wheel of life example

The next step is usually to select one or two areas of your life to work on over the next month or so. Like with the last tool I mentioned above, commit to making a few small but significant changes. Let’s say the person who completed the example above decided to focus on their significant other relationship and their finances. They may opt to have a weekly date night with their spouse and start budgeting and tracking their income and expenditures using a tool like Quicken or YNAB.

It can be helpful to do the Wheel of Life assessment on a quarterly basis (here’s a free online tool) to maintain awareness of your satisfaction with the various areas of your life. My husband and I did this for number of years, but stopped a while back for unknown reasons. Suggesting this tool in today’s post is encouraging me to revisit this quarterly practice, as it helped us to set and track meaningful life goals. We have been focusing a big chunk of our energy on the physical environment portion of our lives with our recent move and remodeling projects, so perhaps we need to allocate more energy to fun and recreation and friends and family in the coming months. We’ll see what we come up with when we revisit The Wheel of Life soon!

Your Thoughts?

I hope you found this post interesting and helpful, especially if you’re feeling like something needs to change in your life. If you opt to do one or all of the exercises I suggested, I would love for you to share how it went for you and what changes you’ve decided to make as a result of what you learned. I have also been thinking about applying the “goldilocks principle” to our wardrobes, so I will be back soon with my thoughts on that topic. Although I have written a lot about closet downsizing in the past, there is still more to explore and share, so stay tuned. Thanks for reading and I look forward to your feedback.

12 thoughts on “Applying the “Goldilocks Principle” to Your Life

  1. Claudette C. says:

    Wow, Debbie, as usual, so much food for thought here…loving it…..Claudette

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed this post, Claudette! I’m happy to provide food for thought for you and others 🙂

  2. Terra Trevor says:

    Another thoughtful and beautifully written post Debbie. I enjoy reading your updates.

    As for me, I’ve embarked on Julia Cameron’s Vein of Gold, journey, with the daily morning pages, daily long walks and artist dates (from her book the Artist’s Way, which are all things I’ve been doing for many years) and now I’m taking it deeper and doing the entire process in Vein of Gold, writing the timelines, cups, clusters, everything. I’m going at my own pace and expect it will be a long journey.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you for your comment, Terra, and it didn’t go to spam this time. Fingers crossed that whatever was causing that won’t be a problem anymore! I’m not familiar with Julia Campbell’s Vein of Gold, but I do know about The Artist’s Way and the practices recommended there. I did the morning pages for a while and it was a helpful practice. I think that’s something I’d like to revisit, as well as take on the “artist dates,” too. As you know, I love long walks. I miss living right near the water, but I often drive there to walk. It’s not THAT far away… Best of luck to you with the Vein of Gold process. It sounds wonderful and I’m sure it will serve you well!

  3. jennette says:

    Wow. This came at a perfect time.

    I recently went on a vacation with five other family members–all of them soaked up the sun, paddle-boarding, bicycling, kayaking…

    I’m fair-skinned, uncoordinated, and an introverted HSP. I’m also a writer (wanna-be-published-author), but writing a novel in a rental cottage without a desk and five sandy, sunburned loved ones traipsing in and out wasn’t conducive to deep concentration. So, knowing I had some things to work on, I spent the week researching various aspects of personal growth—collecting info to drill down and digest once I returned home.

    Two weeks later, in the midst of that digestion, came your latest blog.

    I love the plate exercise. It’s very visual. I tend to make commitments—even sometimes initiate them—that I’m less than passionate about. For the sake of brevity, I won’t go into detail, but from now on, I’m going to envision the clean plate before taking on anything new.

    I noted my roles, responsibilities, and commitments yesterday and have placed them in their appropriate categories: increase, decrease, maintain. There were some similarities to yours. One area in particular, that I need to spend less time on:

    Buying and returning—plus the trying on, internally debating, browsing online—such a time and energy suck—both physically and mentally. (Not surprisingly, what led me to you were your books on closet organization and ‘unshopping.’)

    The pie chart showed the areas of money and work/writing need my attention. I got out of my daily routine while on vacation, and it’s time to get back in.
    There were some other revelations and corroborations, but the information you shared was very helpful and timely. Thank you.

    I can’t wait to read how you apply the “Goldilocks principle” to our wardrobes.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you so much for your comment, Jennette, and welcome to Full Life Reflections! I’m so happy to read that this post came at a good time for you. Your description of yourself (fair-skinned, uncoordinated, and an introverted HSP) sounds a lot like me! It sounds like you used your time away wisely working with what you had. I love your idea of envisioning the clean plate before taking on anything new! I’m going to borrow that idea and do the same, so thank you.

      Yes, the buying and returning habit is hard to break but it’s also a huge energy suck. I didn’t realize how much it drained me for a very long time. Even though I have written on the topics of shopping and wardrobe management for over 5 years now, I still have changes I want to make. It can be a slow process, but it’s a worthwhile one. I have been thinking a lot about applying the Goldilocks principle to the area of wardrobe. It may not be my next post, but it will be coming soon. Stay tuned and best wishes with your writing and furthering the recent revelations you gained from this post and your other self-exploration!

  4. Tonya says:

    Great post Debbie! I think my life looks completely different than it was a few years ago. I’ve taken out many of the things that were making me unhappy and have added in quite a few things that are very fulfilling to me. There are a few tweaks I need to make. One is that my plate tends to have a large helping of one thing on it at any given time and the next week it will be a large helping of something else. I think I would be happier if I balanced things out a bit. Just because I like rice doesn’t mean I want to eat a whole plate of it. 🙂

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      It’s always great to hear from you, Tonya. I know you have made a lot of positive changes in your life in recent years and are much happier and fulfilled as a result. Interesting what you wrote about your plate being too full of one thing at a given time. I have noticed that for me as well. It can be helpful to have “theme days” or portions of days so we get varied activities and focus in our lives. Yeah, who wants to eat a whole plate of rice?! Great analogy 🙂

  5. Susan Loughnane says:

    Your ‘decrease’ list could be mine! Those are all things that I am trying to reduce but it seems like the last couple weeks have really been challenging. I have a lot on my plate right now with building my business and I think some of those activities are just a way to divert my attention from important stuff that I need to be doing. I am really trying to change the conversation in my head – I have a tendency to go down the ‘negative’ road and I am consciously trying to convert this into a more positive focus.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      I think a lot of us have similar things we’d like to decrease, Susan. Procrastination and negativity are both things I struggle with as well. Changing our negative self-talk isn’t easy, but it is possible. The first step is even noticing that we’re being negative, as so many thoughts are automatic and we don’t even realize we’re having them! I would imagine things would be stressful for you with building a business and it’s natural to engage in some diversionary activities from time to time. I don’t think we need to completely eliminate such things; it’s more a matter of balance and degree. I wish you the best of luck with your business and with your “decrease list.” Please comment again and let me know how you’re doing.

  6. RoseAG says:

    You list of want to do more/less is interesting. I find that i have trouble watching movies. I’ve watched tons of TV shows, I’m a binger on Netflix, but I shy away from anything that runs more than an hour an episode. All the same, it’s not unusual for me to watch several episodes in one evening.
    I also have trouble reading books, but I’ll spend more than an hour surfing the Internet — reading. What I see in your list, which reminds me of my own desires, is a wish for more things to be deliberately focused on, as opposed to popping from thing to thing.

    1. Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Rose. I’m sure we’re not alone in terms of watching more TV shows than movies and reading more online articles than books! I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment about deliberate focus. It’s very easy to just mindlessly surf the internet or the TV channels and this can be dangerous in terms of time-wasting and diverting our focus. But awareness of this tendency and a desire to change are important first steps. Wishing you – and all others – who wish to change these behaviors all the best!

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