How to Give Direction to Your Life
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This leaves a lot of young people with no idea what they want to do in the long run. They have set themselves on a course, because that was the responsible thing to do, and more often than not, simply to have something to work towards. But then, their passion isn't really in it.
A lot of us actually do follow something we are passionate about, but get bogged down in the day to day details and the mundane aspects of that calling. As a result, we often find ourselves mired in a job we think we should love, but don't. We aren't making progress towards our dream, and we've actually lost sight of what our dream was in the first place. Instead of reassessing, we just keep going in the same direction, trusting that we made the right decision years ago or denying that we might have messed up.
But there is a saying, if you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else. So it's important to have direction in life. But how can we do that? I would argue that stagnation is the result of losing focus and being distracted, not a lack of self-knowledge. To that end, I would like to offer some advice on figuring out where exactly you want to go, some help on taking stock of your situation, finding your bearings again, and adjusting your course.
1. Accept Where you are Now
All journeys start at the beginning, so you have to accept where you are. This might seem obvious, but it is often forgotten. How many times have you said, "I'll start that project when I have more free time," or "I'll go the gym when I've lost a bit of weight" ? Basically, you're trying to start a project at somewhere other than the beginning. Yes it would be nice to get to the gym already looking buff, but that doesn't happen until you go there.
So, take a look at where you are, and accept that this is what you have to work with. And, no matter where you are, you are in a position to start moving towards your goals, even if that progress means undoing other things first that are in the way. After all, sometimes we must backtrack down the wrong path to get back to the right one.
2. Imagine where you want to be
Without holding back, I want you to write out exactly what your dream life looks like. To make it concrete, write about just one day (here's an example), from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. It doesn't have to be terribly realistic; you have license to dream whatever you want. Obviously, some things just border on fantasy, but you have to be able to imagine yourself doing something in order to actually do it. So go all out with this. It is, after all, your perfect day. You get to make it whatever you want.
Once you've written it out, pick a time frame for when it might occur. I picked ten years, because that gives me time to get the necessary education, find a partner, have kids, build a house, and save up some money for land, all integral parts of my perfect day. Yours might be five years, one year, six months, or maybe you have everything you need to make tomorrow your perfect day.
3. Pick One Goal to Work Towards
Take a look at what you wrote. What stands out? What seems merely incidental? In my case, meditation, writing, exercise, locally grown food, family and community were all huge, as was a close association with nature. The location was vague, as was the presence of technology. My wife's occupation was another thing that could change without ruining the day.
Once you know what is important and what's not, pick one thing that you can start to work on today. Depending on your goal, it will take more or less time, so for the first one, pick something that you can see progress on within a few months at most. I picked meditation.
4. Make a Plan
Now, you will set one thing you can do to get to where you want. In my perfect day, I meditate every morning as the sun comes up. So I need to be able to meditate for twenty minutes to an hour, regularly, before I start my day. That is my end goal.
Now, determine what you can influence. If you want to lose ten pounds in six months, you need to realize you can't control your weight, but you can control whether or not you exercise, and what you eat or how much. When meditating, I have little control on how focused I am, but I can sit and keep my eyes closed for a set amount of time.
5. Implement your Plan in Small, Imperceptible Steps
Pick the smallest possible step, and start today. This ensures that you don't fail right off the bat, providing positive reinforcement. In my case, I meditate for only five minutes a day in the morning. I will do that for a full week, even if I feel I can go longer. Then I'll add five minutes. If your goal is to wake up earlier, start by waking up 1 minute earlier every day, or 5 minutes for one week. If you don't know how to get started, make self-education the first step, and don't procrastinate. Set a time to study every day, and do it.
The idea is to make such a small change that you hardly notice it, and then take the time to make this a habit, then make another tiny change. In this way, you never feel really uncomfortable enough to break the habit, and you never require too much of yourself that you fail and lose motivation.
Every day, your changes will add up, and without even realizing it, you'll be well on your way to your perfect day. As your new habit settles in, go back and review your perfect day, and pick another thing to work on, and start just as small. Slowly, you'll find your perfect life beginning to materialize, but remember to be patient. Just as an example, a lot of people are frustrated at how long it takes them to learn a language, forgetting that even as children, with parents constantly pushing us and with complete immersion and no other way to communicate, it takes most babies a full four years to become fluent in their primary language. So you should expect at least that much time. Same goes for other habits. Progress is the important thing.
Every year or less, do the exercise again. There's nothing wrong with changing your perfect day and scrapping all your work. There is no point is stubbornly pursuing a path to completion if it doesn't make us happy, just because we started. Nowhere is it written that we cannot change.
I'd love to hear what people come up with for their perfect day, and any other tips on making life goals achievable. Post thoughts to the comments. Also, you can follow me on Twitter, where I will be posting progress I've made in my daily goals, and would love to help hold you accountable to yours :)
Image source: mikebaird on Flickr