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I always take great comfort in being reminded that I am not the only hardworking, well-informed, self-respecting person who occasionally falls into totally counterproductive and self-sabotaging patterns of behavior. It’s also nice to know that I am not the only one who gleans important lessons from these bouts with inconsistency.

This January, as I was working on my vision board and taking stock of what I wanted to do differently in the coming year, I kept circling on a few key themes: make more space for self-care; get more help and support when I need it; take more time to just enjoy and celebrate my life.

Hmmm. These concepts sounded familiar. Oh, right — that’s probably because I research, think and write about them all day, every day, 10 issues a year. And I don’t just write about them, either. Most of the time, I walk my talk — eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep, balancing work and play, enjoying the people around me.

But sometimes, when I get “too busy,” I don’t. And when I don’t, I feel the same repercussions as everyone else, plus a boatload of disappointment in myself for not doing the things I know darn well I ought to do, because I study and teach them for a living. I have all the data, the know-how, the resources. What’s my excuse?

About the time I was sinking into this stew of self-recrimination, two illuminating perspectives landed on my desk within days of each other. One was the January issue of O, The Oprah Magazine. The other was Cheryl Richardson’s new book, The Art of Extreme Self-Care: Transform Your Life One Month at a Time (Hay House, 2009).

In O, Oprah wrote candidly about her disappointment with herself in regaining so much lost weight, and shared her realization that her challenge wasn’t so much about weight, but about awareness and self-care. “It’s about my life being out of balance, with too much work and not enough play, not enough time to calm down. I let the well run dry.”

Now, I ask you: If Oprah Winfrey, who has arguably more resources and support at her disposal than virtually any other woman on Earth — who literally runs her own empire, who is surrounded daily by life-improvement experts of all kinds — if Oprah has trouble carving out a self-sustaining life balance, then is it really any surprise that, from time to time, the rest of us do, too?

Clearly, no one is immune. And clearly, no one else can fix the problem for us.

As Oprah wisely puts it: “If you look at your overscheduled routine and realize, like I did, that you’re just going and going and that your work and obligations have become a substitute for life, then you have no one else to blame. Only you can take the reins back.”

Life coach, author and Oprah regular Cheryl Richardson agrees, and in her new book she reveals a marvelous month-by-month process for not just reclaiming those reins, but using them to steer skillfully, confidently and consciously through even the most challenging circumstances.

And how does someone as well adjusted as Richardson know about challenging circumstances? Because she has been learning the hard way, too — the same way Oprah has been, the same way the rest of us are — that no matter how smart you are about this stuff, it still requires daily, conscious practice. It requires acknowledging when you’ve fallen off the wagon, figuring out why, and then getting back on, time and time again.

And perhaps it also requires an occasional dose of humble pie, a reminder that no matter how steeped in wisdom we may be, we just don’t have it all figured out quite yet — and that, most likely, no one does.

Meanwhile, we can borrow a page from Oprah and Cheryl — both of whom generously and genuinely cop to making just about every mistake in the book, both of whom admit they are still learning — how to say no, how to let go of the need to control, how to put themselves back at the top of their very big lists of things to care about.

I hope this issue of Experience Life will help you (and me) to do the same.

Thoughts to share?

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