Use Design Thinking as a Tool to Prioritize Your Values
Pre-kids, self-care and personal growth fit into our ‘spare time.’ That extra space between activities. Perhaps after work and life’s other obligations. Post-kids, there is no extra space anymore, we have to make it. To make it, we must set boundaries.
Intellectually we understand this but working it into real life is different. After sharing results from the Personal Boundaries survey April Seifert, Entrepreneur, Psychologist and Supermom, took a group of us through a ‘Design Your Life For Values Based Boundaries’ webinar that blends the best of design thinking with psychology. Moms are hungry for more space. Why is making it so difficult? Just like assembling sippy cups, Pokémon® rules and the afterschool calendar, we must learn.
Does Your Calendar Reflect Your Values?
Moms generally power through the lists of ‘shoulds’ like machines. We ensure our families are well cared for and cut corners for ourselves. Relaxation is a foreign land we never visit. Protecting some time to take care of ourselves, when there isn’t any extra, means setting healthy boundaries.
Nearly 200 surveyed Moms, opened up about when boundary setting is hardest:
- When Feeling Overwhelmed, Tired, Scared Anxious, Depressed or Guilty (37%)
- When it Affects Family Members or Relationships (Children, Spouse, Family of Origin or In-Laws) (28%)
- In Specific Situations or Contexts (35%)
- Work obligations or opportunities, when under time pressure, when a values conflict is at stake, when negotiating intimacy/sex with partner, keeping to a diet, budgeting or navigating an unfamiliar environment.
If we know our people-pleasing triggers and challenge areas, what’s holding us back?
Why Change is SO Hard
- Mom’s lack predictable discretionary time. We’re at the center of family logistics and housework in most homes. It’s usually invisible, unpredictable work that’s never really done. Even the best boundaries need to be flexible.
- Women are socialized to please and serve others and society has unrealistic expectations of Mothers. Setting healthy boundaries, is about pleasing others less and protecting our health and best interests more.
- The mental load from managing home and work logistics (even with help) leaves little mental energy for creative problem solving. When our brains are consumed with unending to-do’s, strategic planning becomes difficult.
We can, however, change the stories we tell ourselves about what we owe ourselves.
April walked us through a proven problem-solving framework to help us make time for more of what we value.
How About Now? Now is Perfect
Moms in the US are either, thrilled summer’s childcare experiments are over or grieving the relaxed pace. Fall is about new routines. Why not set some for ourselves?
April said, “The field of design thinking is an iterative approach to creating custom solutions. Some of the world’s most beloved products, like the smartphone and Instant Pot, were created using design thinking.” Wait, do these principles work with the variability of Mom-life?
Find Creative Solutions with Life Design Principles
April, Mom to a toddler and infant, has used this in her own life. She explained, “The field of Psychology adds gas to this fire to make it even more impactful. We all have our own sense of identity, our own blocks and limiting beliefs, and our own ideas about how life works. Principles from the fields of Cognitive and Positive Psychology can help you move forward to make changes in your life by identifying and overcoming some of these psychological barriers.” I’m in! Where to start?
Problems = Design Challenges
Moms and families are living with epic stress levels. We’re always-on and often giving fractured attention to what we care about. It’s draining and the fragile systems we build often break. April wisely suggests we reframe those problems, “Life design asks you to look at life’s friction points not as problems, but rather as design challenges. These friction points are now areas we’re going to actively work to change and bring into alignment with how we want them to feel.” Excellent. How do we manage the love/hate relationship with control when so much is uncontrollable?
Take Radical Responsibility
April said, “This means you need to do something, that most people are not willing to do, take radical responsibility for your own life. It means taking 100% responsibility for 100% of the situations you find yourself in. This does not mean you are at fault or to blame for the situation you’re in.” She added, “Many times, that’s not the case. If your spouse cheats and divorces you, you’re not at fault. However, radical responsibility does mean that you and only you can take responsibility for your happiness going forward. If you can come to terms with this one principal, you’ll experience a sense of power and control over your life like you’ve never experienced before.” Self-reflection is difficult but necessary for growth. How can we put better guardrails around our time?
Align Your Calendar With Your Values
April shared homework in advance of the session with dozens of values written on small cards. She then asked us to:
- Divide the values cards into 2 piles: me & not me
- Then,Group the ‘me’ pile into themes, For example “Kindness, Compassion, Stewardship” or “Creativity, Playfulness and Passion”
- Select our top 5 values. For example, you might value Productivity, Self-Reliance, Serenity, Courage and Endurance.
April said, “Rate your top 5 values on a scale of 1 through 5 for how well they’re reflected in your allocation of time today. For example, if ‘Creativity’ is among your top 5, but you’ve not made any space for creative thinking or doing on your schedule, give it 1 or 2. If your top value is ‘Achievement’ and you’re diligent about time to advance your career or build your business, give it a 4 or 5. If ‘Solitude’ is key to recharging your batteries, yet you can’t remember the last time you were alone, give it a 1 or 2.” Great! Okay, knowing what requires improvement is an important step, however, where is all that time going?
Figure Out What’s Really On Your Plate
April asked, “How well do you think you’re living into each of those top values today? I want you to rate the degree to which you think you’re aligned if you think back on your calendar for the past few weeks.” She paused and then shared, “I learned this technique from one of the most amazing Life Coaches.” April went onto explain, “…The objective is to find the mental model and framework to go after when making yes or no choices throughout the day.”
She explained, “It should get easier to select your top 5. ‘Freedom’ might sum it up better than flexibility. Pick one from that theme that resonates and really hits you hard.” As we paused to reflect on how we’re spending time, she gave a personal example. “…One of my top values was around learning and knowledge. A lot of work I do for the podcast requires reading but my kids are very young. It’s difficult for me to sit and hold a physical book with a pen in my hand which is desperately what my soul needs! But for me, making time for that ‘learning and knowledge’ value, was a big fat 1 then. It was painful. It was going abysmally bad.” If your time is not in sync with your values is that really a big problem?
Why You’re So Uncomfortable
April shared, “Cognitive dissonance is a real thing! If you hold a value or belief, but your actions or what’s coming out of your mouth isn’t in alignment, psychologically we don’t like it. If you’re living in a way that is not in alignment with who you are it’s very damaging. There’s a psychological reason that it feels better and that you can move through your day more easily when you’re living your values.” We then took a peek at how April’s schedule has been working.
Honor Your Values With Your Time
At this point, April encouraged us to set at least 5 boundaries that we will keep 51% of the time. For example, if you value ‘Strength’ and ‘Vitality,’ put that workout on the agenda. If you’re hungry for ‘Tranquility,’ 10-minutes of morning meditation onto your calendar with a reminder. If you value ‘Service,’ commit to that volunteer assignment. April, with 2 businesses and 2 young kids, lives firmly in the real-world with the rest of us. She shared some of her top tips for getting things done. “I schedule everything (I mean, everything) and plan ahead with the all-so-critical buffer time between activities.” April advocated using technology whenever possible to automate certain repeated tasks and give visual and audible reminders when you need them.
Remember, It’s All About the Boundaries
Although we’d like to imagine a world where our kids, employers and partners proactively inquire about our health and offer to take things off of our to-do lists, that’s just not reality.
Protect the time you need as often as possible. Start with what seems realistic in your head and then increase it. By a lot. Indeed, it will mean saying no more than yes and, it will mean updating the rules with some people in your life. Not every Mom has the same choices but everything that’s important requires effort. YOU ARE WORTH the effort! Go on, set you boundaries, live your values and enjoy Motherhood’s many gifts that much more by keeping commitments to yourself, not just your family.
Many thanks to the talented April Seifert for the amazing webinar and actionable tools we can use to create structure for honoring our values and setting boundaries.
April launched the Peak Mind Center for Psychological Strength, that’s like a ‘gym membership for your mind.’ For a limited time, new members can join for $1 for the first month.
Dr. April Seifert is a Cognitive Psychologist, runs a data science consultancy and is the Co-Founder of Peak Mind, the Center for Psychological Strength. She also hosts the weekly Peak Mind podcast with stories focused on building the psychological skills that promote resiliency and well-being. Follow April’s latest adventures on Instagram or sign up for regular updates from AprilSeifert.com.
Interested in more sage advice from April? She was an early Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs guest, enjoy the interview along with added detail about her smart use of technology to reduce mental load overwhelm .