All of us get caught up in what we feel is expected of us. We build our lives based on what we see about the lives of others, and we make decisions that serve established social norms without enough regard to whether or not they meet our own ideals. Without defining what we value as people, we end up living other peoples’ lives rather than our own.
Exercise 1: Take out a piece of paper. Draw a vertical line down the middle. On the left hand side, write down the priorities in your life, in order. (Family, money, spiritual beliefs, personal growth, friends, education, social change, social status, having fun…) When you’re done, move to the right hand side of the paper, and write down the order in which you are currently dedicating yourself to each one. Then draw lines connecting each item in the left column to its place in the right one. Too many criss-crossing, diagonal lines means that your life is imbalanced. Begin to rearrange your life so that no lines cross.
Exercise 2: Write down specific personal goals that you want, in the order that you want them. You probably won’t be able to do everything in life. Do you want to change the world? Start a company? Raise a family of six? Travel to every continent? Earn two Masters degrees and a PhD? List everything you want, and then compare it to the first list. Are the specific goals in line with your life ideals?
Allocate Time – If your number one priority is “family” and your specific goal is to spend more time with your kids, don’t accept a job an hour and a half from where you live. Want two Masters degrees? Fill out the application rather than sleeping in on Saturday. Want to be healthier? Go to the gym rather than out for drinks. Our lives are built on the things that we allow, and we will live out the decisions we make. You will receive exactly what you establish, in terms of priorities and standards.
Evaluate – How effectively is each goal being met with the time that you have? Did you cancel dinner with your wife twice in a month to get that project in on time? Which is more important? How are the hours during your day really being spent?
Adapt – When you’re young, your goals predominately serve yourself. But as you age, your priorities and your goals may change. While your job and gym time was the most important thing to you at the age of 23, maybe your newborn has taken precedence now. That happens. Rewrite your lists to meet the evolution of your life, and re-evaluate how effectively your habits have changed to serve them.