The simple mental shift that changed my health and my life
My story is not unique. It reads like the prologue of any chick lit book. For years, I spent the majority of my time almost exclusively motivated by work and professional achievement. I walked into Cosmopolitan as a work experience student in October 2003 and fell in love with publishing on the spot. I fetched lunch and made tea and dreamt that one day, I would sit in a corner office. And so I set about doing just that, devoting myself to learning everything I could about every aspect of the publishing industry. Dabbling in different departments and taking on different rounds, until eventually I did find myself at the helm of a glossy magazine.
But when I finally looked up and took a breath last year, I had the same bombshell moment that has inspired a thousand podcasts, self-help books and Reese Witherspoon movies: on paper I was “living the dream” but in reality I was physically and emotionally tapped out. I’d been struggling with hormonal problems, anxiety, insomnia and exhaustion for almost two years. I lived in a permanent state of panic, I rarely had a period, I was glued to my phone 24/7, I felt trapped by a huge Sydney-sized mortgage and life was well, just not that much fun. While I was in it, I thought this was what adulting was all about. I had my dream job, a big house with a backyard and a crushing sense of dread I couldn’t shake, what more could a girl want? When I finally stepped out of it I realised just how depleted I was.
It’s a scenario psychologist and author Gemma Cribb, founder of the Equilibrium Collective knows all too well. “We live in a world where our heroes are often people who have achieved fame and fortune. We tend to measure our own worth by similar markers of status and financial success. Most of us spend a large part of our lives in the pursuit of money,” Gemma says. Don’t get me wrong, I was definitely NOT rich in a financial sense – nor was I motivated by cash (you don’t become a journalist to get rich quick… or ever!), but from a broader, professional perspective, I was kicking goals. And I was miserable.
This dissatisfaction with professional success has given rise to a new cultural trend, a fresh perspective of prosperity: mental wealth. “We have all heard the saying money can’t buy you happiness. And it’s true, divorce, addictions, mental health issues and suicide are on the rise. It is only natural that many people are looking for an alternative ideology,” says Gemma. “The rise in popularity of Marie Kondo is an example of the cultural swing away from consuming and focusing instead on things that ‘give you joy’. And, just as decluttering your physical space can bring you joy, decluttering your mental space creates a type of wealth that is far more valuable than any financial wealth you could achieve.”
When I finally stepped off the corporate treadmill, my biggest light bulb moment was the realisation that I had devalued my own time so much, it literally didn’t even rank on my list of priorities. If I didn’t value my own time, how could I expect anyone else to value it? I was so willing to give every waking minute to work that there was no space for anything else, and if there was time, I was too tired to actually do anything.
But time is literally everything. It’s is the one thing you can’t buy more of. You can’t outsource it, you can’t grow it in a lab and you can’t magic more by eating well or being more organised. It’s finite, and once it’s gone it’s gone. If you have enough time, there’s space to do the things that bring you joy. That’s where time comes into creating more mental wealth. “Mental wealth is created through investing in your self-development on a mental, emotional and behavioural level,” says Gemma. “Spending the time to understand your values, find clarity of mind, break your bad habits, nourish yourself with relationships and learn how to just be, rather than be ‘busy’.” And that’s the clincher: becoming a victim of busy-ness was what tipped the scales, leaving me feeling burnt out, strung out and too fried to do the things I wanted to do. Even the basic things like cooking a meal from scratch, having people over on the weekends, taking day trips or even start a family.
Once I had this watershed moment, I decided to try a new approach, one where time was the most valuable commodity in the world. Now I am more time rich than I have been in over a decade. I sleep better, I’m happier and my physical health has improved dramatically (to the point I was able to fall pregnant naturally). Aside from treating your time like the treasure that it is, there are some other pathways to mental wealth. Here Gemma shares her top five…
Know your values
Rather than adopt what those around you view as success, take time to work out what is truly important and valuable to you. Knowing and fulfilling your values truly makes your life worth something – not financial wealth. Your values are like your compass points for life. When we direct our actions towards our values we generally feel fulfilled and satisfied with ourselves. Values are different to goals in that we can never “tick them off” from a list. For example, we can “tick off” a goal of running a marathon but the value of physical fitness can never be achieved and requires continual action. However, knowing your values and setting continual realistic goals in line with them gives your life a sense of meaning and purpose.
2. Declutter your mind
Ever wondered how some people can have such bad things happen to them but still thrive? Most of our distress comes not from what happens to us on the outside, but the meaning we give to these events in our own minds. Mastering your mind by being aware of (and clearing out) the thoughts and beliefs that keep you stuck in negativity or low self worth is a crucial step in beginning to experience life from a place of wealth and abundance. You will feel “rich” and empowered - no matter what challenges arise in your day-to-day life.
3. Break bad habits
We all have habits that don’t serve us well and we all waste time and energy on activities and things that don’t allow us to thrive. Whether you struggle to exercise, get stuck in addiction, procrastinate, or spend time numbing out on TV, becoming aware of the “expense” of these behaviours and choosing to invest your time and energy more wisely will always lead to a richer life.
“On paper I was living the dream, in reality I was physically and emotionally tapped out.”
4. Enjoy nourishing relationships
Life is too short to waste time on people who don’t enrich you. Just as a diet of fast food will never get you in optimal physical shape, superficial and one-way friendships will never leave you in optimal emotional shape. With the right people you are not spending time, you are investing it. So, notice who you let into your life and think about how you feel when you share time with them. Continuing to deposit into the most nourishing of connections is a valuable investment strategy.
5. Take time out
In our work and productivity focused culture, being “busy” is almost seen as a status symbol. Too often when we ask someone how they are, they reply “busy” as if it’s not only how they are in this moment but who they define themselves to be. However, constant busy-ness not only creates stress but is a primary contributor to how people lose their way. Taking the time out to just “be”, to be still, to tune in to yourself, to assess where you are spending your time and energy and if those investments are paying dividends is as useful as reading the Ts & Cs before signing a contract. It’s essential.
Sure, it’s not as Instagram-worthy, and perhaps it will be harder to boast about in your school reunion, but focusing your energy on building your mental wealth will leave you far more fulfilled – and give your life far more meaning – than all the insta-fame and reunion wins ever could. See if you can make your first deposit today!