Taking inventory (inputs and outputs)

If you feel like your life is out of control, try this:

Step 1: Take inventory

To understand what is actually happening in your life – which is a step you need to take in order to take control of what is happening in your life – take inventory. Do this first, before you make any changes. Until you take inventory, you don’t know what you need to change.

(There are exceptions, of course; they exist because you’ve been taking inventory, mentally, maybe unconsciously, and you’re ready for Step 2. Good for you. Keep moving on.)

Here’s a simple inventory list you could compile:

  • Inputs
  • Outputs

What’s coming in? What’s going out? And how (method, timing, amount) is all that happening?

Step 2: Sort the inputs

This is pretty simple, but it’s also very personal. So it’s good to do a little thinking first. Some inputs which seem positive (in general) may not be positive (for you).

Here’s one method you could use.

Ask yourself this question:
Which direction do I currently want to go?

The answer to that question could be a lot of things:
– I want to go to being more free.
– I want to go to having a higher salary.
– I want to go to being in a committed relationship.
– I want to go to feeling calm.
– I want to go to having financial stability.
– I want to go to being part of a strong community.
– I want to go to feeling connected to my family.
– I want to go to having a support system.
– I want to go to speaking a foreign language.
– I want to go to saying what I think.
– I want to go to having more solitude.
– I want to go to writing every day.
– I want to go to having more creativity.
– I want to go to feeling self-acceptance.
– I want to go to London.

It’s helpful if you can phrase your “want to go” statement with a verb like being, having, doing, saying, or some other action you take for yourself (writing, traveling).

Once you have your want-to-go statement, ask this question about every input on your list:
Does this input help me move in the direction I want to go right now?

Listen: some inputs that were great for you a year or a month ago may not be helpful for you anymore. They’re not bad or good. It’s not about morality. It’s about the effect each input has on you, right now. Does it help you move in your desired direction?

Go with your gut. Don’t take too much time. Ask the question, take a deep breath, and then tick off a Yes or No. You can always adjust your list later, anytime. All of this is in your control.

Here’s another method you could use.

Think about the real You versus the junk pile/ego.

Then go down your list of inputs, and ask:
“Does this input feed the real Me, or does it add more junk?”

A really scientific, objective way to answer the question for each input is to think about how each input makes you feel.

“When I experience X, do I feel better or do I feel worse?

 Better might feel like :lighter, whole, worthy, alive, energized, accepted, seen, powerful, refreshed, significant, equal, hopeful.

Worse might feel like judged, ashamed, guilty, obligated, confused, isolated, misunderstood, small, powerless, broken, less-than, burdened.

Again, go with your gut. Ask the question, take a breath, and then tick off a mark: real Me / Junk.

Step 3: Sort the outputs

The third step is to sort the outputs.

You can use either one of the methods you used with inputs.

Or you could use the idea of foundational desires.
For each output, you’re asking, “Do I really want to be doing this?”
You’re trying to get to the foundational desire producing this top-level desire to do X output.

For example, most of us will have a work-related output. Or maybe a lot of them.

“Do I really want to be serving food to people in a fancy restaurant?”

The answer to that question might be,
A: Yes, I love working with food, and I love interacting with people. I want to have flexibility in my schedule and make enough money to pay my bills, and this job gives me both. I also want to learn more about food and cooking and I get that with this job.

Or it might be,
A: No. I don’t love interacting with people this way, and I enjoy eating food but I don’t enjoy serving it. I find it stressful and exhausting. I do want to make money to pay my bills, and I do want to have a flexible schedule, but I’d really prefer to get those with a different job.

Or it might be,
A: Yes, kind of. I love working in the food industry, and I love interacting with people. This job helps me have flexibility and helps me make enough money to pay my bills. However, what I would really like is to do more on the food preparation side of things. I would rather be making the food, in some capacity, than serving it.

There are a lot of different ways you can go with those last two answers.

The goal of taking and sorting inventory isn’t to come up with a ten-point plan on how to make your life better. It’s to give you a starting point. You need to see what is happening, and, out of that, what you would like to change about what is happening.

You don’t need to change everything. Really. It’s exhausting, really impossible, and bound to be more work than needed. There are probably many things in your life that are working for you, helping you move in your chosen direction.

There are others that are kind of neutral.

Taking inventory of your inputs and outputs will help you relax about those helpful or neutral items. It takes some of the pressure off. With the pressure off, you have less anxiety. You can think more clearly. You can see your options.

You can focus on making a few changes that will have a much greater effect on your life.

Taking inventory before making change is less work with better results.