Creating the Life You Want
The Caring Generation® – Episode 165 April 19, 2023. If you are a caregiver, creating the life you want can mean building inner strength. Become clear about what you want in life to disentangle yourself from energy-draining situations and the expectations others have for your life.
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If you are a caregiver, creating the life you want can mean building inner strength. Learn options to disentangle caregiving relationships and move on with your life.
The inner strength you need depends on what’s happening in your caregiving life. For example, you may need to fight thoughts about how others see you that affect your self-esteem.
Maybe you need to navigate conflict in relationships instead of feeling attacked or vulnerable. Managing caregiver stress and pressure is something anyone can learn. Or perhaps you have been living on autopilot by helping others and making no plans for your life.
How to Live the Life You Want
Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel
When you are clear about the experiences you want, you can fearlessly move away from situations that drain you. Draining problems that become a time suck result from accepting increasing responsibilities as a caregiver because you don’t feel you have a choice. You always have the choice to set boundaries.
Who Are Caregivers?
Caregivers ask me, when does a person transition from helping a loved one to being a caregiver?
A simple answer is when another person depends on you to complete activities. They cannot perform due to health reasons, time constraints, or other factors. Or when you contribute in different ways that support a person’s daily life or well-being.
So, when you think about the word caregiver, you may be surprised to learn that there are many caregiving situations. For example, a married couple where one person works and the other stays home to raise children.
In this case, the home spouse or partner relies on the spouse for income, housing, food, and so on. The wage-earning spouse can be a caregiver for the family. At the same time, the parent raising children is a caregiver for the children and makes it easier for the working spouse to work because dealing with the household and a lot of other details.
This question arises, how do I know I am a caregiver because the general population does not frequently use the word caregiver. Health and medical providers use the term caregiver—and many other words I call medical speak that people not working in the healthcare industry don’t understand.
Caregivers Hold Families Together
Caregivers are the glue that holds families together. They help sick loved ones continue to live at home as long as possible, raise children, and take care of working spouses. But what if you don’t want to be a caregiver? Or the things you are being asked to do are beyond actions you are comfortable doing?
What does this look like? You may be the only child of a parent with whom you don’t have a good relationship. Maybe your siblings refuse to help.
Maybe mom or dad’s behavior drove your brothers or sisters away, or even worse, mom’s behavior drove dad away or vice versa. This happens.
If you are a young caregiver, you may have no idea how to navigate the expectations of a parent who wants you to take responsibility for their care and well-being. Some caregivers feel they must take responsibility for a parent who has abandonment issues from their childhood or disruptive behaviors. Unless you contributed to the problem, the burden for a solution is not yours.
If you are middle-aged or retired, you may be an older person caring for an older person (link to this podcast). If so, listen to The Caring Generation Episode 65 Elderly Taking Care of Elderly for tips and support
If retired, you may have been living the life you want that has suddenly taken a detour and gone off track. So, regardless of the situation, who you care for, or your age, creating the life you want has fallen into uncharted territory. You’re not sure what to do. Maybe your self-esteem has taken a nose dive. You may be second-guessing every decision.
Dealing with Caregiver Guilt
Family members may place a guilt trip on you because they do not want to be involved in any caregiving activities. When you question the source of guilt or the reason you feel guilty, is the answer that others have regrets they want to extend to you.
Do others want you to feel guilty so that they have control over your feelings and your life? Feelings of guilt are something to think about so that you don’t take on other people’s emotional baggage. There are so many reasons caregivers feel lost in these types of situations.
Aging parents often make adult children promise to care for them. These promises become difficult because it’s impossible to anticipate the needs of caregiving situations that grow in time and other commitments.
Listen to The Caring Generation Episode 132 Breaking Caregiver Promises for more on the topic of making promises to be a caregiver.
1 Take 100% Responsibility for Your Life
During this program, I’ll share eight ideas to consider about creating the life you want. Let’s begin with number one, taking 100% responsibility for your life. Taking responsibility for where life is today can be challenging.
There may be a tendency to make excuses about why choosing to do something is possible. Moving ahead can be difficult when there seem to be external forces wreaking havoc on your life. If you look at the world today, there are a lot of variables.
High-interest rates, high inflation, bank failures, political differences, rising crime, problems within the education system, countries at war, or economic turmoil. So, if you focus on things not in your control, there can be a million reasons why taking responsibility to create the life you want seems impossible.
Imagining “what if this or what if that happens” can result in mental confusion. But there is a point where you may have to move forward regardless of external circumstances if you don’t want to be in the same position six months or a year or more from now.
2 Write Down Your Goals
In situations where so much is out of your control, consider number two which is writing down your goals. List experiences you want in your life on one side of the page. The experiences you don’t want on the other side of the page.
Only list those you can control related to being a caregiver, work, relationships, personal relationships, or other goals. For example, things I want in my life might include watching the sunrise every morning, daily exercise, time with my dog, friends, partner, or spouse, involvement with my church, graduating from college, and being healthy.
Things I don’t want may include: conflict in relationships, spending time with mom or dad who needs care but who yells at me all the time or is not appreciative of my efforts, delaying college to be a caregiver, delaying marriage to be a caregiver, working and spending money on mom or dad’s care instead of saving for my retirement.
As you can see, it’s pretty easy to make a list of wants and don’t wants. So the first two considerations for creating the life you want are taking responsibility for how you got to be where you are today. Then make a list of goals that include wants and don’t want.
3 Gain Skills to Get What You Want
As you make a list, consider number three, how to gain skills to take action to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t want.
Being a caregiver or an adult means gaining a wide range of skills is critical. Caregivers learn to do many unexpected things. Picking up medications, bathing a parent, changing adult diapers, attending medical appointments, and so on.
These are task-related. Then there are gaining soft skills that support relationships, communication, emotional health, and well-being.
Soft skills are much more challenging to master because—as you know if you are a caregiver—on any given day, your emotions can be happy or down in the dumps. So part of setting goals, actions, and intentions is gaining control over the emotional rollercoaster everyone experiences by gaining life skills.
Caregivers can fall into mental traps where there can be days or weeks of being in a negative behavior pattern. So how do you gain control of your emotions to set goals, be intentional and take action to get more of what you want in life? One idea is to keep a notebook where you write down your goals, wants, and don’t wants.
Manage emotional triggers
Each day, write down how you feel and what events or thoughts take your mood in one direction or another. These events or thoughts can be called triggers.
If you want to learn more about the psychological aspects of triggers, listen to The Caring Generation podcast Episode 29 My Mom Is Crazy People Are Crazy with Dr. Earlene Rosowsky.
The interview offers a perspective on managing emotions. By recognizing triggers and their effect on emotions, you can gain insights about what you can do to balance emotions with facts.
When you notice emotions going off track, ask some why questions:
- Why do I feel this way when X happens?
- Why does this person or situation make me angry?
- Why do I want to avoid this person or this subject?
- Why do I feel resentful or angry?
If you can trace your feelings to a prior event that happened in your life, then you might understand how you worked through this before or why you are still holding on to this past event that keeps repeating in your life because you have not resolved those feelings.
If this trigger is new, think about the root cause. Have an honest discussion with yourself about your contribution to the situation. Talk to a friend and gain their insights about your feelings.
4 Gain a New Perspective
Sometimes we need someone looking in from the outside to give us a different perspective. Which is number four on the list of creating the life that you want.
It is so easy to get stuck in a rut or a thinking pattern where we see life as a one-way street, without detours, no compromises, and no other options. There are many options if we are willing to gain a bigger perspective.
The problem is that caregivers become mentally and physically exhausted. The brain shuts out the clutter and noise so that day-to-day tasks continue. Stress, guilt, grief, and other emotions impact the brain’s ability to think and plan. It is as if a switch shuts off and autopilot takes over.
For example, how many of you do something and do not realize the steps you just took? You drove to work but cannot remember the route you took to get there. You fall into bed exhausted and cannot recall how you spent the last hour. You may be a caregiver caught up in a fast-paced spiral doing and doing and going and going.
Heaven forbid you stop to take a break or become sick. Everything falls apart. If this is your reality, you are well beyond what can or should be expected of any individual. When you feel you are the only one who can care for your mom or dad, you have crossed into a potential crisis zone.
Many of you are in situations where you wake up wondering what’s going to happen next. Caregivers tell me they wish not to wake up tomorrow because the responsibilities are more than they can bear. If you are a caregiver and all of this is still new, exciting, and happy for you, know that the situation can turn from good to bad overnight.
Considering what might happen is why setting boundaries about what you can realistically do is critical. This thinking is part of gaining a broader perspective.
A view of life is usually based on personal experiences and knowledge. Know that it is impossible to know everything and knowledge or experience gaps result in making mistakes.
Learning by trial and error and daily experiences can increase compassion levels for the challenges experienced by other people going through similar experiences. All caregivers may be in a similar position one day, needing help from others.
Life is far from perfect. It’s messy and complicated.
5 Stand Up—Fight for Yourself
Standing up and fighting for yourself is number five for creating the life you want. This also means learning to fight your own battles.
Because most caregivers want to be helpful, they place their needs at the bottom of the list over other people. If you have a parent with negative or abusive behaviors, you may feel guilty for wanting to have your own life or make your own choices. Think about the source of the guilt and decide how to manage your response and emotions.
Caregivers share with me that they feel criticized, unappreciated, and have low self-esteem. Others, who move parents into their homes, see the red flags and potential problems beforehand and still make this decision because they feel guilty.
As a caregiver, it is okay to prioritize your life and help in the ways you can. Unfortunately, many caregiving situations become imbalanced because the caregiver starts being overly helpful. As a result, aging parents, spouses, and others become more dependent on the caregiver.
So in a sense, the caregiver trains aging parents or a spouse to expect to be taken care of. And then, when this goes too far—and the caregiver experiences burnout—the people they care for object.
Stop training others to become dependent on you
So rather than training others to become dependent on you, which may initially feel good because you feel needed. Train others to be as independent as long as possible so that you remain independent and go on with your life as planned. Reduce the number of items on your to-do list.
Creating the life you want by fighting for your needs will help minimize feelings of regret or resentment. If others try to tell you what to do, ask them to get involved and take their own advice.
Giving them projects is one way to stop their interference. Invite them to be the caregiver for the week so they can see how their suggestions work or not. If they don’t want to help, they don’t get to give advice.
Don’t allow others to tell you what to do unless they agree to become involved in the solution. But then—decide on a plan.
Caregivers complain about not having help, but then when others step in to help, the caregiver becomes critical because the helper isn’t doing things their way. So caregivers can become overcontrolling in thinking there is only one right way to do something.
Ask for help. Receive help, be flexible, and be appreciative.
6 Become Disciplined and Move Closer to Creating the Life You Want
Number six for creating the life you want is doing one or more things every day to move you closer to your ideal life. For example, a daily activity could be spending 20 minutes investigating options or creating the life you want to plan.
If you are not disciplined, holding yourself accountable for a daily action is a new habit to learn.
As you realize what is possible, be realistic about changes you may have to make, things you must know, or adjusting your routine to get what you want.
Don’t expect others to change. Instead, be the change in your life.
The path to creating the life you want may not be smooth, especially if you are working out of a situation where a parent or spouse has become very dependent. Or if you are the responsible person who takes care of everything and makes life easy for other people.
The behavior pattern of an overly helpful or high-performing person eventually catches up with you if you don’t manage expectations. If you are a caregiver, you may take over because things are easier and quicker for you to do than watching a parent struggle to go to the grocery store or run errands.
Don’t take away opportunities from other people to manage their own lives, even if this takes them more time or effort than you. If you do, you’re only piling more work and stress on yourself. Step back and let aging parents and spouses do what they can still do.
So, in that notebook, you started that lists “wants and don’t wants,” and triggers that affect your moods, start creating a list of something you can do every day to move you toward creating the life you want and document that you completed that “thing” every day.
Making progress one step at a time will lift your mood and motivate you to start doing more for yourself. You may feel your mood lighten. You may become more hopeful, happy, and motivated. All of this is good for you. It’s okay to make time for you and make your life a priority.
7 Manage Your Thoughts
Through all of this, it’s important to continue to manage your thoughts. You become what you think about.
If you worry, you become more worrisome. If you feel angry or have negative thoughts about others, you become an angry person.
There is no way to change your life unless you change your thinking and take control of your thoughts. Stress or exhaustion can result in the brain becoming stuck on thoughts.
Think of a time when you were upset and ruminated on an event. Or your mind kept repeating the story over and over again. It can take effort to stop the mind from watching this repeating loop of events that upset you.
Change thought and behavior patterns
If you want a different life or result, you must change your thinking and behavior patterns. Gaining a different perspective or changing habits can take effort if you have been in a rut of one-way thinking or behavior for a long time.
You may need to press the pause button to become present and thoughtful. Being present means thinking before speaking.
Be intentional about the result you want from every interaction by considering the long-term goal you want to achieve. Ask yourself how this conversation or activity contributes to a goal before responding. It’s better not to say something than to take those words back.
The same applies to actions. It’s better not to do something instead of acting and beating yourself up later for doing something you knew was not good for you.
It’s like buying something you don’t need at the store but want and then regretting spending the money later when you receive that credit card bill. So, learn to fight emotions and impulses that can destroy relationships and goals.
Do things that scare you
Fighting for yourself and your needs also means doing this on your own. Not relying on others to fight your battles.
While having someone you trust to bounce ideas off is good, others can’t act for you. So you have to make a choice and do that thing that may scare you to death.
But once you do it, if you have a solid plan, you may realize it wasn’t as bad or complicated as you imagined. Managing thoughts is critical to fighting battles and standing up for yourself.
The mind can be a trickster. For example, faulty thinking can make you believe you can’t do or accomplish a task. Or that doing X or Y will be tough.
Suppose you’ve never done something before. All kinds of crazy thoughts can go off in your mind, especially if you lack confidence.
Let me share my experience of doing things I’ve never done before. I find that if I prepare myself, do some research, consider opposite perspectives, and create plans A, B, and C to respond to the unexpected, the thing I want to do works out. Of course, there may be a little wrinkle here and there or a slight change in approaching the situation.
So, if you have a similar experience to work through, I recommend planning and preparing as much as possible and then go for it. Each time you continue to do things you’ve never done before and succeed, your experience and confidence level will grow.
Doing that next scary thing becomes less scary. Think confidence, think success and think your goals into reality. Life experiences mirror what you spend your time thinking about. So, think good things.
8 Work Your Step-By-Step Plan Every Day
The last suggestion for creating the life you want is a practical suggestion. Whatever you want to do if you want to get there, begin with the list that you created, make a step-by-step plan, and work on the plan every day.
Create a written timeline, which can also be called a roadmap, with an end date to accomplish your goal. Work backward to the present date and list out every activity that must be completed.
A week-by-week timeline serves several purposes:
- You can remain committed and accountable. There may be some weeks where something unexpected happens, and you get off track, and others where you may accomplish more than was on your list.
- Monitor your progress. If you find yourself behind schedule, did you overestimate the work you planned to accomplish?
- Learn from the unexpected. Planning helps you move forward. However, there can be unexpected events that impact the plan and require additional steps that were not anticipated. Look at the experience as a learning experience.
- Be optimistic but realistic so that monitoring progress against the timeline does not become a negative thought-producing activity.
- Be mindful of repetitive behaviors or excuses you make about why you missed a goal. Creating the life you want means being 100% accountable for the results you produce.
While we would all like to achieve goals immediately, change takes time. Some timelines require a sequential process where you must complete A, B, and C.
With other projects, you may be able to work on several tasks simultaneously. Because caregivers juggle many aspects of life, be compassionate with yourself.
Weekly goals can be derailed by an aging parent or a spouse becoming sick or temporarily needing more assistance. Until you can unentangle your life from the caregiving role, interruptions and delays in your timeline might be ongoing.
If you have a timeframe of a year or more, create ongoing small celebrations to remain motivated. Any big project can have ups and downs, including having to do things you would rather not do—but have to do if you want to make progress.
When you add ongoing interactions with family members who question your decision to create a life for yourself, you may feel like achieving your goal will never happen. However, you will get there if you remain hopeful and focused.
How important is the goal?
Look at your roadmap checklist each day in the morning and in the evening. Visualize yourself accomplishing the items on the list. Be proud of each action item you cross off the list.
Working to a timeline can add stress to your life. So you have to ask yourself how important the goal is to you.
If it’s important, train yourself to be disciplined and look at various ways to get from A to Z. Time passes quickly.
Where do you want to be in 30, 60, or 90 days? Or one year, two years, or three years from now?
You can get there with a plan and considering many of the topics discussed in this podcast. Don’t blame others if you’re not happy with your life.
Instead, create the life you want one day at a time. Make your life and goals a priority. You are the only one who can make it happen.
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