…help you live on purpose:
1. Don’t be overwhelmed.
This is a huge list of ideas that you’re about to go through: if you try to implement them all at once, you’re going to burn out and never actually do any of them. Here’s my challenge: have the self-control to choose one of these tips, just one, to work on in your life. Once you’ve got that down, come back for another. This list isn’t going anywhere. Living intentionally requires taking small steps: Pick a direction, commit to it, and go. Good luck.
2. Set goals for the year.
I’m not just talking about New Year’s resolutions here (will talk more about that New Year’s Eve), I’m talking about concrete, measurable goals. Something that you can reach for and be working towards the whole year. Something to give your life and work direction. I’m not just talking about goals to lose weight, or to write a book, I’m talking about goals in every area of your life. Having goals for the year won’t lock you into a straightjacket, but will give you direction and focus. You’ll be amazed at how much you get done.
3. Set goals for the day.
… But yearly goals aren’t enough. Yearly goals are the overarching battle plan, daily goals are down in the mud, storming the beach, dodging bullets: without daily goals you’ll never win the war. Daily goals allow you to be your own tough boss. Set the goals the day before, or plan out your week by days, and then act like your life depends on the completing of those goals. “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” (Zig Zigler)
4. Accept that people might look at you weird.
Most people don’t live on purpose. Be prepared to be a little bit of an oddball. Once you start really knocking out some of your goals, once you start being intentional and working hard at work, and once you get the huge mental and emotional boost that comes from intentional living, there are going to be people who don’t understand. They’re going to look at you weird: it comes with the territory. Just remember, “If fat people are making fun of your diet, you’re doing something right.” (Dave Ramsey)
5. Make a budget.
Where is your money going? Do you know? If you make X number of dollars in a month, can you tell me exactly where every dollar is going? Most people are very unintentional about their money, and probably couldn’t account for half of it if they tried. If you’re going to live life on purpose, you have to spend your money on purpose. No more stupid impulse buys, no more spending that you don’t plan on. Let your logical budgeting brain decide where the money goes, not your impulsive, endorphin seeking shopping brain. “Buyer’s remorse” will be a thing of the past.
6. Create a calendar.
Use Google calendar to plan out your weeks and months. Set it up as your home screen on your Internet browser, so you see it every time you get on to check Facebook. It will suddenly become very difficult to “forget” your duties.
7. Make things happen, don’t let things happen.
This applies to almost every area of your life: if you’re going to live life on purpose, at some point you have to to learn to make things happen. Most people just let life events happen, and to react to them naturally. Unfortunately, natural responses to many situations are exactly opposite to what you want to do to live a successful life. You have to examine your responses, examine your decisions, and realize that you’re in control of you.
8. Be honest about what you want.
Many times, especially if you’re an inherent people pleaser, you will let people walk on you even if they don’t know they’re doing it. You’re at a restaurant, and you just ordered the veggie burger, and the waiter accidentally gives you a big chunk of rare steak. You’re slightly horrified, but in an attempt to be a “nice person”, you don’t speak up. It’s not evil to get what you want.You don’t have to be nasty, you just have to communicate clearly. Give the other person a chance to understand or you might resent them, and they would have no idea that they even did something wrong.
9. Don’t let fear stop you.
This is probably the toughest task you can undertake, but it’s also one of the most important. If you fight the fear, if you say no over and over again to the lies that it tells you, you will be able to live your life on your terms. You won’t be shackled by fear, and you will be able to do what you believe is right, regardless of how terrifying it is.
Fear wants you to fit in, to be mediocre, to do nothing that matters, to fly under the radar. It’s much easier to give in to fear. Take the hard and rewarding road.
10. Stay Consistent
Even when you’ve had a rough day. Even when you didn’t get much sleep last night. Everyone has tough days, why do some people suck it up and smile, while others feel it needs to broadcast their pain and despair on the world around them? This kind of inconsistency isn’t only harmful for the people who interact with the individual, it’s very harmful for the individual themselves. Inconsistency is destructive, and you will find it leads down many different roads that you don’t want to go down. It can lead to a feeling of victimhood, it can lead to broken relationships, and it can lead to a feeling of being out of control, tossed by the waves of chance and life, really not making your own decisions. But when you start choosing your behavior, when you start intentionally being consistent, you’ll find your outlook on life changing.
11. Change bad habits.
We’ve talked about this before, and it’s worth touching on again. Bad habits are the opposite of intentional living: they are a hallmark of living out of control. We all have things about ourselves that we want to change, but often we let these things linger for years, pushing them out of our minds, until something catastrophic happens and we are forced to change. Don’t wait for heart attack to think about your health. Don’t wait until everyone around you is leaving you to think about your attitude. Don’t wait until you’ve killed someone with your car to think about your little alcohol problem. Don’t wait until you lose your job to think about your work ethic. Examine yourself, and start doing what needs to be done to change. It’s hard work. It’s worth it.
Think of the one or two bad habits that plague you the most. How different would your life look if you got rid of them? Don’t spend years and years being a slave to the same weaknesses, focus on them one at a time, find information, get the help you need, and intentionally change. People don’t change unless something forces them to change, or they make a conscious, firm decision to do what it takes, to fight through the pain, and come out the other side a different person. You don’t just drift into changing for the better.
12. Take Responsibility.
… But take responsibility for what? Pretty much everything. You’re the problem, remember? It’s not your boss’s problem to make sure you’re doing what you should; it’s not your spouse’s problem: it’s always yours. Realize that you cannot control the people around you, you cannot control most of your circumstances, but you have complete control over yourself: a whole lot more control than you think. Don’t blame your boss, don’t blame the people around you, don’t blame your spouse, don’t blame the economy, don’t blame the president, you simply have to be wise enough to rise above all of those, or you’ll never get out of your victim mentality. All of those factors exist, and they can be challenging, but it’s not their job to change you. Once you learn to take responsibility instead of blaming everything and everyone else, you’ll be a lot more intentional, and life will be a lot better.
13. Be positive.
Taking responsibility will certainly help you be positive. It’s difficult to be upbeat when you believe that everyone’s taking advantage of you, and that your destiny is controlled by the environment, but once you decide that you have control of your emotions you can make the decision to be positive. Always. Try not to give yourself a pass because… (Insert rationalization). Maybe you didn’t get much sleep: take it upon yourself to be upbeat anyway. Maybe your finances have got you worried: brighten someone else’s day anyway. The funny thing about being positive is, even if you fake it, simply the act of taking the focus off of your problems and your momentary discomforts will ease them and you’ll end up feeling more hopeful.
14. Get up early.
Remember, not all time is equal. If you get into the habit of waking up early and going to bed reasonably early, you’ll feel like you have twice as much time then if you stay up late and sleep in. Sleeping in breeds lethargy even in people who are “night people”. Besides, if you’re a “night person” and you can force yourself to get up two hours earlier than you usually do, you’ll feel good about your accomplishment: the self-discipline involved will give you a huge boost of energy, and you’ll be ready to get to work (or you could just feel really, really sleepy. But don’t worry – you’ll get used to it).
15. Balance, not binging.
Anyone who has a slightly obsessive personality like myself tends to focus on one thing at a time: I default to a pattern of working on one thing really hard, losing interest, then moving on to focusing completely on the next thing. This this is really great for getting a specific job done, but if I’m aiming for consistency over time, it’s a terrible habit to get into. Plus, this binging on a certain project instead of being consistent causes other areas of my life to be neglected, so I’ve found that forcing myself to stop working when I’ve got a lot done, but could conceivably work more, makes my life more balanced and a little less insane. With a little more balance, I’m not a victim to my work tendencies and my moods at the time and I just follow a predetermined, balanced, healthy plan. This helps me from going back to my defaults.
16. Line up your priorities.
I’m a big fan of not wandering through life without a plan. As I said before, setting goals is a great way to start living life on purpose, but if your goals aren’t in line with your true priorities, you’re going to be lopsided – perhaps pursuing what seems most urgent while still ignoring what’s most important. You have to decide for yourself what the most important things are. Goals are great, but priorities trump goals. If I’m ambitious with my goals, and I’m working hard to achieve my goal of writing X amount of words a week, but my fanatical pursuit of my goal strains my marriage, I’ve failed. You have to understand what’s most important, so you know when to make exceptions. My art-making goals may certainly be above watching another movie at night on my list of priorities, but they’re certainly not as important as helping my elderly neighbor move into her new house. Priorities help you know when it’s okay, even healthy to put your plans on hold.
17. Connect with people.
Part of intentional living is intentionally connecting with people. Human connection is part of a balanced, healthy life, and it just makes life more fun. Yet sadly, for some of us it doesn’t come naturally. We interpreted, slightly less people oriented folks still need human interaction, or we’re not going to have much of a life! Make a point of connecting with people around you. Make an effort to remember people’s names, and facts about them. It may not be easy for you – I know it’s not for me. But it’s really important, and successes in this area will lead to more confidence, which will lead to more successes. It’ll get easier.
18. Make a to-do list that fits you.
Having a spreadsheet laying out tasks for every hour out of the year may not be a good fit for you: why are you using it? Sophisticated to-do software is useless if inputting the tasks is so frustrating that you haven’t used the software for months. Forget it! If the to-do list that works for you is handwritten on a scrap of paper, so be it! Getting things done is most importent.
19. Make a “dream board”.
It’s difficult to plan your life if you don’t know where you’re going. Goals are practical, specific steps. Dreams are different than goals, and they’re important too. Try getting the bulletin board, and putting up some pictures. Do you want to travel? Put up some pictures of Vienna, Prague, Paris: wherever you want to go first. Do you want to live near beach? Put up pictures of the beach. Whatever you want to be or do, represent it on the board: it’ll give you some extra motivation when you don’t feel like working towards your goals, and will give your mind something to shoot towards. The amazing thing is, once you start making plans instead of living life without any, you tend to make some things happen. This is the beauty of the marriage between goals and dreams. You can’t just have one or the other, or you’re incomplete.
20. Answer this: if you had unlimited time and unlimited money, what would you do?
This is a great exercise for organizing your priorities. The first time I wrapped my head around this question, and was at a loss! I knew a couple things I would do – travel more, give more, buy an iPad – but when it came down to normal, day-to-day stuff, I had no idea what I would do if I had all the time and money in the world. I think there are a lot of people out there who long for more time or for more money, but have no idea what they would do with these valuable resources if they had them. You nail this down, and you’ll have a better reason to work hard: you’ll have more direction, and people with more direction get more done. You might also realize there are some things in your life that just aren’t that important, and you can start cutting them out to make room for top priorities.
21. Answer this: If you could do any job in the world, what would it be?
Your career is only part of your life (I hope), but it’s an important one. If you hate the job you’re in, it’s going to sap your energy. It’s going to diminish your passion for other areas of your life, and leave you worn out. If you’re in a job you hate, don’t stay there! I know you may feel trapped, but no one is truly ensnared by anything but their minds. You may have to stay at a job you hate for a period of time, as a part of being responsible and taking care of your family, but don’t tell me that you were trapped in a job for years without any other opportunities. You make your own opportunities, whether the economy is doing well or not. And having a clear direction is the first step. It probably won’t happen overnight, in fact it may take years, but if you have a direction you’ll find a way to get there. It’s those with no direction who sit in a job they hate for 30 years. Start making plans: you can get where you want to go.
22. Read constantly.
An important part of living intentionally is self-improvement. Continuous learning, continuous growing: and there’s no better way to change yourself than reading. There are so many hundreds of good books out there, many of them giving you great opportunities to learn from other people’s mistakes I’m amazed at how many people say they simply don’t have time to read. If that’s you, realize that you probably don’t have lack of time, you are just prioritizing other activities. Turn off the television a couple nights a week; listen to audio books on your commute; be creative, and you’ll figure out a way to read more good books. You might have to make some tough decisions about what you’d do with your time, but reading books is one of the best ways to change your life. Don’t neglect it.
23. Look around, and be thankful.
Being thankful just requires you to open your eyes a little more than you usually do. It has nothing to do with how much you have: in fact those who are waiting for better circumstances, better relationships, more money, etc. to be thankful are guaranteeing that they never will be. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are, you can always find a way to be dissatisfied. Of course, you can always find a way to be thankful too. Start forcing yourself to look around and see how good you’ve got it – even if you’re facing some tough situations in your life, there are always people who’ve got it worse than you. Being dissatisfied will sap any energy you have to change. The ironic thing about thankfulness is, those who realize how much they have usually find their way into having better relationships, better jobs, even more money: those who are thankful get more to be thankful of. But to those who are dissatisfied will only find more to be dissatisfied with.
24. Choose your emotional responses.
Stress is your choice. You choose to stress yourself out. It’s not the other person’s fault, it’s not the situation you’re in, own up and take control of what’s going on in your head. You’re choosing to stress. You’re choosing to be angry. The situation may seem out of your hands, or it may seem like someone else’s fault, but realize that it’s always your decision how you react. Decide how you’re going to react in given situations beforehand, pause and think before you speak, firmly embed the idea in your mind that you are responsible. Always. It’s not easy, but it’s tremendously freeing.
25. Say yes to contentment, say no to complacency.
Contentment and complacency are to similar words with completely different meanings. Being complacent is essentially allowing yourself to become numb. You let life happen on autopilot, and you don’t care for much any more. Why do you allow yourself to become numb? Usually because of an extreme dissatisfaction with life. You hate your job, and the pain is too much so you enter a walking coma. You feel that your life isn’t what you want it to be, that you aren’t the person you want to be, and instead of doing the hard work to change, you turn off your mind and drift. The definition of complacency in regards to this book is essentially a numbness brought on by dissatisfaction. Being content is the absolute opposite. If being complacent is extreme dissatisfaction with life, being content is extreme thankfulness for life. The poorest, most destitute people can be content. The richest people who have everything they desire can be extremely complacent.
If you’re content, you still have the power and the energy to change your life. Complacency will always make sure that you don’t. Intentional living demands that you are content with where you are, without being numb to where you could be. Contentment is strength; complacency is weakness. Choose to be content. When you find dissatisfaction creeping up on you, choose contentment again. And again. Repeat as needed.