Ep #10: Getting Clear on Your Priorities

Strong as a Working Mom with Carrie Holland | Getting Clear on Your Priorities
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Do you constantly feel busy? Do you have too many things on your plate? Do you feel overstretched? Do you find yourself saying yes to things you don’t really want to do? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this week’s episode is for you.

Too many of us have too many priorities, so it can be difficult to know which is actually the most important in our lives. When we’re not clear on what matters to us, we run into burnout, over-commitment, and overwhelm, so getting clear on your priorities can help eliminate all of this.

Saying something is a priority and actually living into it are two entirely different things. So this week, I’m sharing some tips and tools you can implement in your life to get clear on your priorities and start living into them. I’m showing you why prioritizing yourself is not selfish, how to make the necessary changes in your life to start prioritizing yourself and your wellbeing, and stop discounting what truly matters to you for the sake of other people. 


To celebrate the launch of the show, I’m giving away a wellness journal to five lucky listeners who follow, rate and review the show. I want your honest opinion and feedback so I can create an awesome show, and make it a useful, fun resource for you.

Click here to learn more about the contest and how to enter!


What You Will Discover:

  • The problem with sacrificing your own needs at the expense of everybody else’s.
  • Why saying no is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • My top priorities and how I decided on them.
  • How to start living in alignment with the things that matter most to you.
  • A mantra to keep in mind to help you prioritize yourself and your needs.
  • What “the swirl” is and why it’s a problem in so many women’s lives.
  • Why making yourself a top priority is not selfish.

Listen to the Full Episode:

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Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast, Episode #10. If you are too busy, let me help you get clear on what matters most to you.

Welcome to the Strong as a Working Mom podcast. If you’re balancing career, family, wellness, and some days sanity, you are in the right place. This is where high achieving, busy working moms get the tools they need to eat, move, and think. I’m your host, physician, personal trainer and Certified Life Coach Carrie Holland. Let’s do this.

Hey, how are you? What’s new? What’s good? It’s back to school time, over here. And, it is exciting, but a little crazy. All at once we’re getting ready. Although truthfully, our summer was just as busy. We were looking back on it, and between the sports camps and swim meets, tutoring, day camp, we were on the go quite a bit.

And with the start of the school year, and last week’s episode on managing at all, I thought this would be a good time to devote a podcast to priorities. Because to be honest, I haven’t found much that really resonated with me about priorities. So, I’m taking some of the things I’ve learned, some of the things I’ve read, and some of my own tools and concepts that I’ve created, and I’m smashing them all together into this episode, that I hope will get you some clarity and some direction on setting priorities.

Before I do that, I want to share a really quick bit from a review that someone left for this podcast. This is from Cazsavioz. I wanted to share just a little snippet here, and I’m editing. She said, “As a physician, I feel like I should already know how to be super fit and have it all figured out but I don’t. Yes, I want to be toned and not be skinny fat anymore, but I’m realizing how much my mind needs strengthening too. Profound to know how much my mind is responsible for so much of this.”

I’m going to stop right there. I just want to say I really appreciate this reviewer’s comments, because it underlines something that I commonly see. And, I would bet this applies to you too. You know what you need to do in order to lose weight, or eat better, or start moving your body. None of what we have talked about so far, in this podcast, is complicated. Nor, will it ever be because I just can’t do that.

What is complicated, and what I hope I can help you with, is managing your mind. When I say managing your mind, I simply mean getting into your thoughts to figure out why you’re not doing the things that you set out to do. Or, feeling your feelings and recognizing that you’re capable of handling any emotion that comes your way, and come out okay on the other side. Or, recognizing your limiting beliefs and then deciding to believe something different.

And I can go on, but those are the things that are going to help you feel better. So, the salad, eating your protein, getting in your morning run, your HIIT workout, whatever, all those things, those are all secondary. Because you know this, if you’ve listened to this podcast, it starts with your mind first; always, always. Yeah, if I can help you strengthen your mind, then I am doing what I set out to do. And, that’s awesome.

We strengthen your mind first, then we get to the eating and moving. So, Cazsavioz, thank you. You have totally reaffirmed to me that I am on the right track, and I hope that I can keep bringing you, and anyone listening, stuff that helps you strengthen your mind. So, thank you. Alright, let’s get to it, priorities. The reason for this is clear, too many of you have too many priorities. I’m gonna throw back to my friend here, Stephen R. Covey, and his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, to share his extremely wise words, to help you make sense of this. He said it very cleanly, he just said, “When you have too many top priorities, you effectively have no top priorities.”

I will boil it down further and simply say, when you’ve got too many priorities, you’ve got none. Okay? Why does this matter? Here’s what I’ll see: I will start working with someone and she will declare that she wants to get healthy. That she wants to start exercising and taking care of herself. She wants to stop eating all of her meals out and she needs to prioritize taking care of herself.

But then, we start getting into the weeds and into the specifics, and we find that between work and family, and all of the other things, there is no time left. There’s zero energy left to squeeze in a workout, let alone time to plan or prepare meals. The end result of that is, nothing changes.

Then it leads us to question, how wellness is actually panning out as a priority in her life. Then, we started talking about how to make changes to make that the case, to make wellness a priority.

Here’s the first point to know about priorities. Saying that something is a priority and actually living into it, are two entirely different things. I will get to that in just a second. But if you are someone who has a hard time saying no to activities, projects, volunteer opportunities, your kid’s bake sale, etc. this may especially apply to you.

If you’d like to start cleaning this up and live a more intentional, less stressed-out life, let’s get really clear on what matters to you, so you can act accordingly. Start by thinking about some of these questions, I’m just gonna ask flat out: What are your top five priorities? If you have a hard time with this, how about just three? What are your three top priorities? Then, how do you set a priority, and then, most importantly, act in a way that aligns with your priorities?

For some of you, these may be hard questions to answer, because maybe you haven’t either had the time or opportunity to get into your thoughts and get really clear on what your priorities are. If you are running around like a chicken with your head cut off wondering why you have no time for anything, I would argue that part of the reason you feel this way is that you’re not clear on your priorities.

When we’re not clear on what matters to us, when we have no idea what really matters, that is when we run into burnout, over commitment, and overwhelm; I call it the “swirl”. The swirl is the movement of your day, it’s usually hectic with little or no time to think, let alone eat or move with any intention. It is equal parts autopilot, frantic, and piecemeal. Often, you’re just going through the motions of all the activities, but you’re doing them without really thinking. Or, maybe there’s even a sense of apathy, because the things you’re doing don’t really matter to you. It’s most often the result of not being clear on your priorities.

This is true for so many of the women I work with. You are so busy grinding and doing all the things, that often you just don’t know which way is up. These things, that are taking up your valuable time, are not things that truly matter to you. And, it’s a vicious cycle; that’s you’re swirl.

Often, I will go through this exercise with a client and I’ll ask her; what are your priorities, what really matters to you? Truthfully, I’m often met with a funny look, and she’ll tell me that she hasn’t really thought about it. So then, we’ll take the time to go through the exercise. And, here’s where we will usually land; family career. Often, that is where the story ends. I’m not kidding. If this is you, that is totally okay; it means we’ve got some work to do.

So, I’m going to share my priorities with you. This is not at all to say that these need to be your priorities, but these are mine and this is what matters to me. At the height of my burnout, I made myself go through this exercise. And over time, I’ve refined my list. These are what my top priorities are, wellness, my partner, my kids, my career, and community.

Alright, so let me stop right there. Yes, I said it, I put my wellness first on the priority list. Now, I am totally free with it, and I have no bones about saying that. Here’s why, if you remember from the last episode, Episode 9, I shared this; when you take care of yourself, and you feel good, everyone around you wins.

If you need a quick reminder, when you make your wellness a priority, you feel better. When you feel good, and you’re strong mentally and physically, you can bring your best to your partner, to your kids, to your work, your friends, your community. Do you see where I’m going with this? It’s that whole ‘you can’t pour from an empty cup’ idea.

You have to take care of yourself before you’re really able to take care of other people. Put your wellness as a top priority. If you are shaking your head or thinking to yourself, there is no way I can put wellness as a top priority. Ask yourself my favorite question; why? I will fully admit my bias towards wellness, but here is the thing I can most definitely speak from experience; when you ignore your own needs, and when you constantly sacrifice your needs to manage the needs of everyone else around you, eventually, you’re going to run on empty. And then, you are no good to anyone.

If this sounds selfish to you, I would encourage you to take a really close look at that. Do the dive, ask yourself; what are you making it mean, when you think to yourself that it’s selfish to put your wellness first? If you do not feel that your own wellness; eating, moving, and thinking, that trifecta, if you do not feel that that is a priority to you, why?

I’d argue that part of it is the mixed messages we get. As working moms, we are often in a caretaking role, both at work and at home. We’re being told by media, by the news, maybe sometimes by the people we work with, we need to take care of ourselves. But there are also these pressures of meeting quotas at work, being a top performer, making brownies from scratch, being in the front row of every athletic event. And, that is just not possible.

That is super human. It means we have to let go of some of the double standard that society has put on working moms. I will be the first to admit, this is not easy. What I’m asking you to do, is simply give yourself permission to make your wellness a top priority. This is not to say that you should ignore the needs of your family, your work, your friends. I’m not talking about being selfish.

Instead, I’m talking about keeping your actions, your energy, and your intentions aligned with what matters to you. I’m talking about making some time, regularly, to take care of yourself. And I do not mean the occasional vacation, because that, to me, is not wellness. Vacations are great, but they do not address the problem of exhaustion and overwhelm that is waiting for you the second you get home from vacation. Wellness is something that you practice regularly.

So, let’s go back to your list. Can you come up with what matters most to you? What are your top priorities? Challenge yourself to come up with your top three to five priorities. Now, here’s the thing, once you make that list, take a look at it. Are there a bunch of one-word answers on it? If yes, you are not done yet.

Let’s take… I’m gonna go back to my example. I’m going to take wellness as my example here. What exactly does that mean? Challenge yourself to come up with a statement or a qualifier to really drill down and describe each of those one-word priorities.

Again, for wellness, for me, my priority is to eat, move, and think in a way that results in feeling strong mentally and physically. For me, specifically, it means that I exercise, I eat whole foods, and I manage my mind. I feel my feelings, I take responsibility for myself, so that I feel balanced. That, for me, is wellness.

My priorities related to my kids; I will raise well-rounded, respectable humans by showing and teaching them love, kindness, and respect. I will expose them to as many experiences as I can, to help them decide who they want to become.

So, do you see what I’ve done here? I’ve taken my one-word priorities, and drilled down exactly what those priorities mean to me. And, here it is, it means getting specific. Again, I love words, I love nitty-gritty, and I love getting down to the micro level. This is what I help my clients do.

If you’ve never done this before, I cannot state enough how useful this can be to you. Especially, if you are someone who is constantly saying, “I don’t have enough time.” If you don’t have enough time, it’s often because you have said yes to too many things. And, many of those things are not in direct alignment with your priorities.

Yeah, this is not an easy exercise, but it is absolutely worth the work upfront. Often, the women I work with are vague and ambiguous about what they really want. When you’re not clear on what really matters to you, it is so easy to get confused and feel lost.

And then, when you’re asked to do all kinds of things, or take on one more project, or one more volunteer role, or one more afternoon teaching a class, you may find that you are out of time and so busy. But you’re spending that time on things that are not important to you.

So, once you have drilled down your priorities, the next thing you want to do is consider this. So, I’m taking part of this from Triffany Dufu’s amazing book, Drop the Ball. If you’ve not read this book, please do yourself a favor, download it, borrow it, read it as soon as you can. For any working mom out there, who wonders how in the world you do it all without losing your mind, please listen to this book; it is 100% worth your time.

One of the concepts I liked that I wanted to share with you, is the idea of leveraging your highest and best use. What this means, is focusing your energy and efforts on the things you love to do, are good at, and that only you can do.

For example, working to the level of my license means I diagnose and treat patients’ medical conditions; I interview and examine them. Then, I use my medical knowledge to order labs and studies, investigate their problems, and prescribe and manage treatment. That is working at the top of my license. Sure, I can administer vaccines, and I can start IVs, but that is not working at the top of my license.

Apply this idea to your life; what is your highest and best use, in relation to your priorities? For my kids, if I’m asked to sell cookies for a bake sale, or go to my kids’ sports team fundraiser, I’ve got a decision to make. But because I have done my work and I know what my priorities are, in relation to my kids, it makes the decision a little easier.

My priority for my kids, is that I raise them to be respectable humans by showing them love and kindness, and exposing them to experiences. I have to decide if selling cookies or going to a golf outing fundraiser, when I do not play golf at all, by the way, aligns with my priority and leverages my highest and best use for my kids. The answer would be no.

Something like going to a museum or playing Yahtzee, which is one of my favorite games, or just reading a book together, that to me, is showing them love and kindness, and that is my highest and best use. So, I have my answer.

Here’s the thing, if you are cringing because this seems hard, or that I seem heartless because I don’t want to sell cookies for my kids’ school, I get it. I totally get it. I am not saying that you don’t ever do any of these things.

But let me offer you this perspective. Answer these questions: Are you busy? Do you have too many things on your plate? Do you feel overstretched? Do you find yourself saying yes to things that you don’t really want to do? Are you doing too many things in your life that don’t add value or meaning to you, or to others?

If you answered yes to any, or maybe even all of these things, it is definitely worth your time and energy to first, determine what matters to you, then second, determine your highest and best use in the important areas of your life. Because this allows you to simplify. And if you know me at all, by now, you know that I love simple.

Here’s how this all comes together. This is the beautiful thing that happens when you determine your priorities and your highest and best use. Once you do this, you can approach the things being asked of you, with clarity and direction instead of hemming and hawing, and ultimately committing to something that uses up your very limited time, but is not meaningful to you.

You can use your priorities, and your highest and best use, as guiding principles. As sort of a litmus test against whatever it is that’s being asked of you. The cool thing that happens when you do this, and you are being your true and authentic self, it feels really good. It feels so freeing, because you’re living in alignment with your priorities. Being extremely clear on your priorities makes decision making so much easier.

And yes, if you’re wondering what this lends itself to is saying, no. There, I said it. You are going to have to learn how to say no. Yuck, I know, but let’s talk about it. So, here’s what I want to offer you. I may totally catch some heat on this, but I’m okay with it.

Saying no, like feeling your feelings and deadlifts, is a sign of strength. It is not a sign of weakness. Saying no, was hard, and it is ingrained into our culture that we are bred to say, yes. When you stick your neck out, and you speak your truth and say no, that takes some serious courage. And that courage, and the ability to say no, builds your strength. When you do the hard thing and you see it through, that’s how you get stronger.

I learned this statement a couple of years ago, when I was a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I have written it down, I have put it on pieces of paper, and I want to share it here because I think it applies so nicely: “By saying no to you, I’m saying yes to me.”

For anyone who feels that’s a selfish way of looking at things I want to assure you, it’s not. Because again, let me remind you, when you take care of yourself everyone around you wins. In order to take care of yourself and work towards wellness, you are going to have to say no to some of the requests made of you.

No one else is gonna say, “Hey, gee Carrie, I think you’re doing too much at work, or too much volunteering, or too much with your family. Let me take that load off for you.” No, it does not work that way.

Let me also say, that saying no is not about being on the defensive, like people are constantly sucking you dry. No, think about it, you have wants from other people, too. You have things that you need from other people. We all want and need things from people, because that is how relationships work. Relationships are an exchange. But part of the responsibility you have in any relationship, whether it’s with your family, your work, your friends, whatever, it’s establishing boundaries; including saying no when you need to.

Saying no is not being mean, it is not being selfish, it is not being aggressive, it is simply taking care of yourself. Because as adults, it is part of our responsibility to meet our own needs. No one can take care of your wellness for you. That is your responsibility.

Again, you do not need my permission. But let me shout it out, loud and clear; it is okay to say no. And too often, we take the path of least resistance and say yes to things, because we don’t want to be seen as the bad guy. Or, we don’t want to disappoint anybody, or we don’t want somebody to think negatively about us.

But in the process, what happens is you disappoint yourself instead. When you discount your priorities, and you do things that you don’t want to do, you are not being true and genuine with yourself. I would argue, that if you’ve been doing this for a really long time, it becomes your habit. That is your default, even though saying yes and doing things you don’t want to do doesn’t feel good. It’s what you’re used to, and it’s what your brain expects from you.

When you start to move away from this and start practicing saying no, it will feel very new, and very different, and awkward. Your brain will play all kinds of games with you, because your brain does not like change. That is okay. Here’s why, in order to shift into a new identity, of someone who is very clear on her priorities, you have to adapt different behaviors.

That may mean, for the first time in a very long time, saying no to things that are not a priority for you. If your brain starts to wig out on you and try to fool you into doing what you’ve always done, you know better. You know that doing what you’ve always done, that saying yes to too many things and taking on too many things that are not in alignment with your priorities, does not feel good.

I would argue that it is absolutely worth the short-term discomfort of doing something new and different, in order to ultimately, be in the long-term comfort of being someone who lives in alignment with what matters most to her. Do you see the difference? It is huge.

Last, I will add this, because I commonly see people get tripped up here. Once you declare that something is a priority, you are not done. If you want to live in alignment with your priorities, you’ve got to act on them. As an example, if you decide that wellness is a priority, and then, in order to have wellness, you need to exercise regularly and eat more meals that you cook at home. You have to put your money where your mouth is and act in that way. There are words, and there are thoughts, and there are actions.

Here’s another really great way to check yourself. Say you decide this thought; exercising three days a week is a priority for me. That’s a thought, remember. So, how do you know that you truly believe that thought? Look at your feelings and the actions that result.

If, when you think this way, you feel empowered or motivated, and it leads you to do the thing, it leads you to exercise, then you’ve checked yourself. You know you believe that thought, because your actions prove it; there is your self-check.

Here it is again, this is another way that your thoughts ultimately create your results. If you choose to think, “Eating meals, that I cook at home, is a priority,” and you feel motivated, and you eat meals that you make at home, not only have you proved yourself correct, but you are living in alignment with your priorities.

So, here it is. This is another example your thoughts are key. They matter just as much as your priorities do. I hope that this has given you some things to think about. If you have not done this, come up with your list of three to five one-word priorities, and then, take it further.

Take the next step, and get really specific on what matters to you, within those priorities. And then, determine what your highest and best use is, related to those priorities. Remember, working to the top level of your license, and then you put it into practice. Look at how you spend your time, how you spend your energy, and your effort. Check to see if it all matches up.

If you’re not living in alignment with your priorities, you may need to start practicing saying no. I know this is hard. One of the most common places people get tripped up is the fear of what other people will think of you. This is great, because I have a ton of ideas to share with you. In fact, it is the topic of our next episode; what other people think of you.

I’m really excited to get into this one. You don’t want to miss this, because I’m going to offer you some alternative perspectives so you can start letting go of what other people think of you, and start worrying more about what you think of you. Because that is a total game changer.

All right, so please let me know what you think of this. If you have questions, please share them in the comments to the show. Let’s pick up next week and talk again, see you soon.

To celebrate the launch of the show, I’m going to be giving away a Wellness Journal to five listeners who follow, rate, and review the show. You do not have to give it five stars, although I certainly hope you love what you’ve heard so far. But more than anything, please give me your honest opinion and feedback so I can create an awesome show for you.

I would love it if you shared your questions and thoughts, so I can make the show a useful and fun resource for you. Visit CarrieHollandMD.com/podcastlaunch to learn more about the contest and how to enter. I’ll be announcing winners on the show in an upcoming episode. See you next week.

Thanks for listening to Strong as a Working Mom. If you want more information on how to eat, move, and think so you can live in the body you want with the mind match, visit me at CarrieHollandMD.com.

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