Pause Before You Begin: How to Invest in Yourself

The new calendar year brings with it a sense of starting over. We are back to work with a clean slate and an opportunity to build new habits. We are feeling refreshed and ready to tackle our work. And yet, without intentionality around how we spend our time, we may find ourselves continuing on the same path we were on last year. Now is our chance to look at our former routines, set new habits, and decide how we want to invest our time and energy for the next 12 months, beginning with how we invest in ourselves. 

How did you invest in yourself last year? And how might you invest differently this year? If you haven’t thought about it yet, a helpful tool to begin with is the Six Dimensions of Wellness Model. Developed in 1976 by Dr. Bill Hettler, the model remains a helpful framework to holistically assess our lives and consider how we’re investing in each area.


How do you assess yourself in each of these areas? 

The Six Dimensions of Wellness Model isn’t prescriptive—it allows you to tailor a plan around your priorities. As noted by the National Wellness Institute, the model’s goal is to help you achieve your full potential, recognize your whole self, and build upon your strengths. 

The six dimensions of the model include: 

  1. Occupational: This is more than your job title, company, or what you do. The occupational realm encompasses your entire career path, including the field you have chosen, your level of fulfillment with work, your future goals and ambitions, and the responsibility you take for your performance and growth and choosing a path that aligns with your values. 
  2. Physical: How do you provide for your physical self? This domain encompasses your body and how you care for it through nutrition, physical activity, medical care, and other self-care activities that nourish your physical self. Going deeper, it represents an awareness of your body, what it needs, and the warning signs that alert you when you are physically depleted, which can arise when we are heading toward burnout or already there. 
  3. Social: More than social interactions in our personal relationships, this area brings attention to our interconnectedness and encourages us to realize our contributions beyond the micro. It certainly pertains to our relationships with family, friends, peers, and coworkers, but also our communities at large. It emphasizes balance, harmony, and communication. 
  4. Intellectual: This sphere includes creative activities, problem-solving, learning, growing, and expanding our minds. It also references our ability to play, imagine, discover, and be curious, which are vital to make space for at a time when we are more often than not focused solely on performance and outcomes.
  5. Spiritual: A sense of meaning and purpose is integral to well-being. This area represents the beliefs and values we hold, how we model our lives according to our beliefs and values, and whether we are in or out of alignment with them. It also challenges us to accept the spectrum of experiences and emotions we will experience over our lifetimes and promotes openness, understanding, and tolerance. 
  6. Emotional: The final dimension includes our ability to be aware of and accept our own feelings, how we navigate stress and challenging emotions, and how we cope with and express our feelings. It emphasizes the importance of understanding and valuing ourselves as individuals while receiving and offering emotional support. 

Putting It Into Practice: Ideas for Action 

Now it’s time to reflect on each area of your life. Make time on your calendar (at least 30 minutes) to go through the following exercises with pen and paper.

Build on your strengths

  • Reflect on each area of your life over the past year (occupational, physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, and emotional). What are you most proud of in each area?
  • Which areas are you naturally inclined to devote the most energy to? Pick your top three. 

Decide what to change

  • Which three areas did you devote the least amount of time to last year? How do you want to invest in those areas this year? 
  • Is there anything you wanted to do last year in an area that you didn’t do? Write down anything that comes to mind.   

Make a plan

  • Work through all of the dimensions, writing down one way you’d like to invest in each this year. 
  • Now go back and write down one to two actions you can take in each area. Make the actions as detailed as possible. For example, if you wrote down be more active in the physical dimension, you might decide on the action of taking a 30-min walk after dinner three times per week to start. Describing what you’ll do, when you’ll do it, and how often makes it more real—and means you can add the action to your calendar as a reminder. 

Meditate regularly on your plan

  • Keep your plan where you can read it regularly, like taped to your wall or on a note on your phone. 
  • Set a ritual during the week to look at your plan. For example, you could begin or end your week or day by looking at it as a reminder of how you want to invest in yourself. 

Pausing to Go Forward

Before you move forward this year, pause for a moment to consider how you want to move forward. I recently read Stitches by Anne Lamott and in it she notes our incessant need for forward motion, which she calls “forward thrust.” Lamott writes: 

“[Forward thrust] is the most central principle of American life, the necessity to improve your lot and status at any cost, and to stay one step ahead of the abyss that may open suddenly at your heels. Unfortunately, forward thrust turns out not to be helpful in the search for your true place on earth. But crashing and burning can help us a lot. So, too, can just running out of gas.”

The new year brings with it pressure to start quick out of the gate, jump into productivity, and get back to our regularly scheduled programming. But it can also be important to push against the forward motion, even if only briefly, to decide how you want to proceed. Take this opportunity to check in with yourself and realign your path with your priorities before you dive back into the new year.