One day you wake up, and it’s January, and your cute little face is all excited about the possibilities for the year ahead. This is the year you’re going to overcome all the things holding you back and master a well-lived life.
All of a sudden, you catch that first leaf falling off the tree. Autumn has arrived. Where did the year go? And what about those possibilities?
The truth is that change doesn’t come without action. If you aren’t living the life you want, don’t expect to get any closer to it without taking action.
Without action you’re just relying on luck, and that likely won’t get you far. The day you decide to take ownership of your own life is going to be your luckiest day.
Here are 5 steps design your life and live it well.
1. Be Honest With Yourself
The action of being honest with yourself sounds simple enough, but it’s usually not as straightforward as we would like it to be.
Take this basic example:
“Do you really want another slice of cake?”
I think R Kelly says it best when he sings:
My mind’s telling me no
But my body…my body’s telling me yes
Even when the question begs for a straightforward yes/no answer, most of the time you will struggle to give yourself one without a little battle taking place in your mind first.
Some battles will create confusion and pain, draining all your energy and dragging on for years. Some will be a source of entertainment for your nearest and dearest. Either way, expect to be conflicted.
Just which route is going to make your life better and help you design your life in the best possible way?
This year in particular, due to Covid, I’ve heard so many people go from saying “I’m not happy at work” to saying “At least I have a job.”
Fair enough, but neither of those statements sounds like having a well-lived life.
How will you know what you really want if you are not being honest with yourself?
It’s when you convince yourself that everything is fine, but then you wake up the following week with that same nagging feeling you had before.
Ask these questions: What in your life needs changing? What needs actioning?
Be honest with yourself when you answer. If you’re going to design your life correctly, it has to start with a base of honesty and openness.
Now, when you’re honest with yourself you might come up with lots of things that you want to take action on.
These might vary in size and effort:
- Buying a new mattress so you can improve the quality of your sleep
- Selling your house and moving to the countryside to be closer to nature
Whatever comes up, keep a list of all the things that will bring you closer to your well-lived life.
Keep in mind that it is extremely difficult to think clearly when you’re constantly distracted by social media alerts and everyday life, so try to find time when you can go to a quiet place and really think through your priorities.
If you do struggle to come up with a small list, then what you need is a little break. That can be as extravagant as a bit of solo travel or switching off your mobile phone for a couple of weekends here and there. Meditation can also do wonders when it comes to focusing and clearing your mind.
Whatever you do, find more time to be alone with your thoughts, without distractions.
Over time more clarity will come to you. You’ll notice the same things popping up over and over again. These are the ones that matter.
Nobody is expecting you to enter your action items into an Excel spreadsheet, become your own project manager, and oversee multiple workstreams simultaneously to make sure everything gets delivered before the end of the financial year.
Doing too much at once will be overwhelming.
You can’t go from your current life to, overnight, deciding that you’re going to sell your house and study for a degree in Physics and becoming a regular at the gym.
Figure out what is most important to you. What will make the biggest difference?
If you could action one thing on your list, what would it be? Why? Are there a couple of smaller and easier actions on your list that you can squeeze in?
3. Set a Deadline
Setting a deadline when you design your life is all about holding yourself accountable. You decided you want to move to Orlando, to be “at one” with Mickey Mouse. You decided that when you were 10 years old, and you’re now 45.
This is what happens when you don’t set yourself a deadline.
In the meantime, every time you think about how you haven’t taken action, you feel bad.
To avoid this, set yourself a deadline that is relative to the mental/emotional/physical effort of the action item.
For example, you’ve already decided that you want to reduce the number of amount of junk food you eat. This is something you can start immediately and work on for several weeks while it becomes a habit.
As another example, you’ve decided that you want to leave a rocky relationship. It may not be realistic to expect that this will happen next week as you need to plan where to live, who to rely on for support, etc. The deadline for this could be three or four months.
At the same time, if you set yourself a deadline and end up not meeting it, don’t beat yourself up. Simply give yourself a short extension and get back on track.
4. Don’t Pressure Yourself
When you decide to design your life and take action on something difficult, you should celebrate. If you fail, you should feel proud for trying.
The external world already puts a lot of pressure on us to be more, do more, and have more. Adding internal pressure to the external will do more harm than good. Instead, focus on being supportive of yourself and offering unconditional self-love.
Don’t be another battle you have to fight.
5. Embrace Life
It’s important to want to improve, but not at the expense of hating everything about your life now.
The philosopher Alan Watts came up with something called “the backwards law”((Anthony Tshering, LCPC: Alan Watt’s Backwards Law And 3 Ways It Can Help With Your Mental Health)). The idea is that the act of wanting to achieve more is, in itself, a negative thing because it reinforces that what you have now isn’t enough.
In other words, pursuing something only reinforces that you lack it in the first place, and that makes you feel unhappy.
However, there is a middle ground. Go after what you want, but not at the expense of feeling horrible about yourself now.
Your future should feel exciting rather than a way out of your current life.
Every now and then, embrace the life you have, and stay excited about what’s to come.
You’re more likely to act on something if you feel excited by it, rather than if you’re fearful of what will happen if you didn’t do it.
The Bottom Line
I’ve outlined 5 steps to help you design your life and get you closer to a well-lived life. Keep in mind that perfection will not come during this process; simply aim for the best possible life you can live.
Decide where your priorities lie and what will improve your life in the long run. This is a process, so take it slow, enjoy the now, and keep moving forward with every decision you make.