Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Shifting towards what matters

I love the quote by James Clear: “You do not rise to the level of your goals.  You fall to the level of your systems.”  I love it because we can have the best intentions, the most challenging goals, but if we don’t create systems to support us achieving those goals, we are going nowhere.  It’s like each year when hundreds of thousands of people set new years resolutions to do one thing or another, sprint out of the starting blocks on 1 January and by 1 February that resolution is forgotten.  This process of goal setting does not allow follow through, it does not set us up for success.  I learnt the hard way, as many of you have too.  I believe in goal setting and I believe in having something to work towards, but I believe more in the small incremental steps that move us in the right direction.  It is not about our speed, but the direction in which we are moving.  And if we are not moving forward, we’re not standing still, but actually moving backwards.

But how do we actually do this practically?  How do we set up our lives in a way that we can get to all the things that matter and give our best to the ones that matter, not just our colleagues or clients?  We’ve got to start with what matters to us most.  We cannot be everything to everyone and even though we might go through periods of our lives when we strive for this, it is not a sustainable way of living, not even for unicorns.  So we’ve got to filter through everything we do and commit to and decide what really matters to us most in this season.

What matters

We all have balls in the air, some are glass and some are not.  When glass balls fall, they crack, sometimes shatter, and take time to rebuild.  Rubber balls bounce back at you.  They recover position quite quickly, without much damage.  We’ve each got to determine our glass balls.  The ones that we really need to avoid dropping.  Let’s start there.

We spoke about values a couple of chapters ago.  These are the things we judge to be important in the way we live and work.  They are the reasons we act the way we do and a motivation for our decisions. They guide our behaviours. We need to live our lives in a way that is aligned to our values, otherwise we find ourselves discontent and unhappy. The things that matter most to us are often aligned to our values.   Family, wellbeing, financial stability, personal growth.  All these things matter to me and I can see solid or dotted lines from these things to my values.  But how did I figure these out?  How do you figure out what really matters to you?  Well, you’ve got to think about who and what makes you happy and fulfilled.  Who and what do you want to be surrounded by in 20, 30, 40 years from now.  What do you want your life to be like 20, 30, 40 years from now?  What do you want to be remembered for one day when you are no longer here?  All these questions point towards things that will stand out to be of importance to you.

The thing is, these things can change in different seasons of our lives.  And that’s ok.  Our priorities shift, our mindset shifts, our circumstances change.  All these influence what matters to us most.  What we often forget to do though, is actually stop to re-evaluate what matters and when we don’t know, we find ourselves spreading ourselves so thin and giving too much to the wrong things, things that don’t fill our cups.  That again leads to a place where we feel misaligned, discontent, sometimes even depressed.  I can’t emphasis enough how discovering what really matters to you is so crucial for living a life that is intentional and on purpose.  I don’t know about you, that that’s the kind of life I want.

Time and energy

Another thing that we sometimes forget and mostly only realise when we are at the end of ourselves is that our time and our energy are limited resources.  They are not in endless supply.  We get a certain amount each day and at the end of the day we can’t roll over hours or bank our energy for the next day.  What’s done is done, there’s no getting it back.  So from the mindset that these two things are limited, surely we want to maximise our time and energy on the things that matter most to us rather than squeezing every last drop out of ourselves for all the things that don’t and won’t matter in five minutes from now, five months from now or even five years from now?

In the time building up to my Shift Moment described in Chapter 1, I was totally overcommitted and become totally overwhelmed.  I said yes when I meant no, even when I knew I shouldn’t be agreeing to things.  I pushed myself beyond my limits, too hard and for too long that eventually there was no more energy to give anyone or anything.  The sad thing is that this happens to us and others that we know more than we’re willing to let on.  We don’t share our struggles with overcommitment because we find ourselves wanting to please others, meeting their expectations without consideration of our own or those of the ones who we love most.

So when we are able to define firstly, what matters most to us in this season, and secondly, how we allocate our time and our energy, we slowly start investing in the places that give us the highest return.  The places that fill our hearts and our minds.  From this place we can slowly start living into what’s meant for us according to our story, not the story of someone else.

The work-life balance myth

It would be amiss of me to not mention how work falls into all of this.  For many of us, our work is an important part of our lives.  We spend a lot of time doing the work we choose to do and it should factor into our structures and the systems we create.  The thing is though, that this thing we hear about all the time – work-life balance – it is a myth.  It does not exist.  Balance implies equal parts.  That means that when we talk about work-life balance, what we really mean is that work and life are in equal parts.  This is not the case and probably never will be.  Life doesn’t work like that.  We burn ourselves out striving for a life of “balance” that can never exist.  Rather, what we should be aiming for is a life of harmony.  One where you get to decide the things that matter most and you can then lean into those things when you need to.  Yes, there are times when work commitments need to take priority.  Fine, lean in.  Yes, there will be times that your family needs to take priority.  Then, lean in.  This way, we create a rhythm for our lives that allows us to move through each day without frantically trying to achieve a “balance” that can never exist.

I remember when my big kids were smaller, I still believed in balance.  I hustled hard to give everything at work and everything to my kids.  I became so disappointed and despondent because it just wasn’t working out.  But it never could.  Only later did I learn about creating a harmony to lean into areas of our lives when we need to.  This way, we can set ourselves up to thrive rather than beat ourselves up for not spending five hours with our family because we’ve spent five hours doing work.

The other thing about harmony is that we get to create it for ourselves.  Each of us has a different tune.  We get to write the notes.  Lean in here today, there tomorrow.  All the while, feeling fulfilled because we are spending time and energy on the things that matter most to us.


Sometimes, we find our calendars filled to the rim.  Our days are overflowing with commitments.  Our weeks are filled with appointments and deadlines.  There is just no space for anything more.  This is not the harmony we should be after.  The rhythm we should be creating has space.  Margin.  Margin is the opposite of overload.  Margin means we allow space to think, breathe, rest, be grateful.  Margin means we intentionally insert buffers of time into our harmony so when we do need to lean in somewhere unexpectedly, there is space to do so.  It means that we create sufficient space for work related tasks, that when there is an emergency to collect our child from school early, we’re not thrown totally off course because we need to step out for an hour.  It means that we create sufficient space to go for a run, take a walk, read a book with our child under the tree in our garden.  It means we say no to two of the three party invitations so we can spend an afternoon at home next to the pool rather than another sugar overload that no-one really wants (or needs!).   Margin means we create a space between our load and our limit.  Creating margin means we live away from the edge rather than on it.


Routines root us.  If you think that routines aren’t for you, let’s chat.  I believe all of us thrive on routines that create structure and boundaries for how we live out our lives.  We learn from a very early age, as babies even, how routines set up our days.  In fact, our brains actually strive to turn everything we do regularly into routines, because thinking is hard work!  My routine is spread over five areas of my day – early morning, morning, afternoon, evening, night. Key practices that help me set up and wind down my days are done in the early morning and night-time routines.  These are things like quiet time or meditation, exercise, setting intentions, drinking a glass full of water, practicing gratitude and putting away my phone!  Effective routines are systems that we set up to help us fit in the things that are important to us.  Effective routines reduce stress, improve mental and emotional wellbeing, and help us manage our precious energy and time.

If you are a person who has more energy and focus in the mornings, then your routines should allow you to get to high focus tasks in the earlier parts of the day.  I’m this type of person.  I do work that requires more of my focus and concentration earlier in the day and then low energy tasks later.  It takes a lot for me to focus properly on high concentration tasks later in the day and will most definitely take me longer to complete if its after 4pm.  Some of you are probably thinking that you only start functioning after 10am and four cups of coffee.  That’s fine, go with that then.  Structure your routines so you do low energy, low concentration tasks early in the day and high concentration, high focus tasks later.  You’ve got to be self-aware, understand what works for you and then build your routines and rhythms around that.  It’s the only way that you’ll get the most out of your most productive times.


Sometimes we can’t break routines to build new, better ones, because we’re struggling with some bad habits.  When the alarm goes off in the morning to get up for a quiet time and a workout, you find yourself pressing snooze five times and then missing an hour of time that you wished you had.  When you’re onto the third episode of your favourite show and then start snacking on whatever you can find in the fridge, when you’ve already had a wholesome dinner.  When you get into bed early and then spend an hour scrolling mindlessly through social media.  These are all bad habits we are familiar with.

Habits are the things we repeatedly do, mostly without thinking about them.  One of the things with habits is to break a habit that no longer serves you by attaching a better habit to it or in place of it.  So, when you get into bed early, read a good book that actually gets your full attention before you even pick up your phone to scroll.  Instead of pressing snooze endlessly, get up as soon as the alarm goes off, get your head in the game for your day and do the workout.  You’ll start feeling and seeing the benefits as you start doing this consistently.  Again, it takes some self-awareness to know where you are falling short and what needs to change and then some discipline to make the shift.  But knowing what matters to you, where you’re wanting to head to and creating the systems to help you get there all help with shifting your habits in the right direction.

The other thing about habits, is that we should think about habits in the way of the type of person we want to be.  If we want to be someone who is well and healthy, then what habits does a well and healthy person build into their life?  If we want to be someone who has a morning routine, then what habits does that person need?  This makes it easier to build in the new habits we need to become the people we want to be and build the lives we want to live.  When we shift our daily habits, we can literally shift our lives.  That sounds worth it to me.


With all these things I’ve spoken about here, we need consistency to actually affect lasting change.  We can’t do one or two things differently every now and again and expect to see shifts.  That won’t ever work.  We need to consistently show up to shift towards what matters to us by intentionally choosing to build the systems and routines, create the new habits, invest our time and energy wisely and write the harmony we are after.  John Maxwell famously says “consistency compounds” and it is so true.  When we keep coming back to the building blocks and do them again, the benefit compounds over time.  When we’re consistent rather than extreme, we actively and sustainably start moving in the direction we want to go.

Perfection over progress

We spoke in the previous chapter about perfectionism and how it can break down how we feel about ourselves and others.  Perfect is something that doesn’t and shouldn’t form part of our lives if what we’re aiming for is fulfilment and joy.  These quotes from Brene Brown sum it up so well:

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving for your best.” and “Perfectionism is the 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight.”

Rather than aiming for perfect, how about we aim for progress?  Small, incremental steps that shift us towards what matters to us.  Small shifts in the direction that takes us in the direction of the life we’re trying to build.

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