Whose life is this, anyway?

May 22, 2015

Stuck moment: I don’t get it. I’ve done everything they say I’m supposed to do. Work hard, take breaks, build relationships, and so on — check, check, check. Everybody says I’m winning at life, but I’m just not really happy. Or satisfied. Or something. I don’t know what my problem is.

*   *   *

There’s living life, and then there’s living your life.

Everyone has something to say about it, don’t they? Whether it’s our mother insisting on Friday night dinners, our friends begging us to go to Vegas, advertising tempting us to buy now and save, or society pushing us to climb higher, there’s a constant buzz that can get so loud we can’t hear ourselves anymore.

That’s when we lose our way. So many demands and choices clog our brain that our internal compass goes haywire and we get disoriented in our own lives. We try to tell ourselves we’re living a good life, but deep down we’re not so sure.

Here’s what getting lost in our own life often looks like:

Chasing things we don’t care about. We work hard to meet our obligations, but it never feels like it’s enough. We have trouble saying no. We wonder what people will think. We’re achieving, but by someone else’s standards.

Settling for less than what we really want. Yes, we harbor aspirations, but life’s not so bad as is, so we put them on hold. We’d rather be comfortable with what we have than aim high and risk falling short.

Living out of focus. We aren’t separating what’s interesting from what’s important. We give some attention to all of it — and all our attention to none of it. We amble along, hoping something will grab us.

If any of these strikes a chord, it’s a great time to dig deeper. First, let’s characterize how we’re feeling about life in general. Then we’ll bring to the surface what’s important to us and where we’re out of sync. By leaning into how we’re getting stuck, we’ll gain the clarity and motivation to make a shift — even a slight one will make a difference.  

Quickly write down your answers to these two questions, spending no more than 10 seconds on each.

1. What is your first thought or feeling when you wake up in the morning? Your last thought or feeling before you go to bed at night?
2. What is your most recent memory of being happy? It could be big or small, a moment of joy, or love, or a really good laugh.

If your day begins and ends on a low note, the in-between part likely isn’t much better. And when you think of happy moments, do you feel there are enough?

Now let’s take a look at what you’re doing.

On a weekly basis, what do you spend your time doing?
1. List the 10 activities you spend the most time on, from most to least. Or draw a pie chart, sizing the slices appropriately.  
2. For each activity, ask yourself: Does this give me a sense of fulfillment? Write down “yes” or “no” for each. Tip: We feel fulfillment when we spend our time on the things that matter to us (not someone else).
3. What does your list or chart reveal? Does what matters to you align with what you’re doing at least half of the time?

Who are the people you spend most of your time with?
1. Create a list or pie chart of the 10 people you see most, ordering from most to least.
2. Going through the list or chart, ask yourself: How much do I benefit from this time? Rate each one from 1 (not at all) to 10 (tremendously).
3. Your list or chart will show if you’re keeping the kind of company that’s going to bring out the best in you.

Whether your days are wildly out of sync with what matters or need only minor adjustments, let’s keep digging into where you can make a meaningful difference in how you spend your time by answering this question:

If money and time were no object, what would I start or stop doing in my everyday life?

When you have your answer, come up with one small way you can start to make that come true. (If you want to dig even deeper, practice defining your purpose here.) And before you think of excuses for why you can’t, employ one or more of the tactics below.

Stop worrying what others think
Here’s a set of beliefs against caring too much what others think. Think of them as mini-mantras. Pick one or two that resonate most and commit them to memory. Put them on a Post-It. Maybe meditate on them.

• People spend far less time thinking about you than you do thinking about them.
• What’s right for them is not always right for you.
• People respect you for being your own person, for having a point of view and sticking to it.
• Other people’s approval means nothing if you don’t approve of yourself first.
• When you follow what others say, you’re valuing their beliefs over your own.
• You can’t control what other people think. Why try?

Don’t let fear stand in the way of passion
To focus on what excites you rather than what scares you, try this:
You know that thing you’ve wanted to learn more about, the one lingering in the back of your mind? Commandeer an hour either to daydream or to research more about it. Now that you’re stoked, how will you feel if you never pursue it?

Be the boss of you
If you put everyone in front of you, try some extreme prioritization to get yourself on the agenda. All it takes is acting like that 8-year-old kid who keeps asking, “Says who?” If the to-do isn’t based on your say-so, move it to the bottom of the list or cross it off. If it is your say-so, go for it.

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