In times of Corona, we talk about saving lives. That’s however not what we’re doing, we rather prolong life, since all of us will ultimately die. That may seem like a dark view on things, but it’s really not, it’s just reality. So the question is not if we’re going to die. We are. The question is how we lived.
Some people start to think about whether they live meaningful lives as they face existential crises like Corona. I would argue that it’s always important to live a meaningful life, whether you face a crisis or not. If you feel the need to change what you invest your time in just because you face the possibility of dying soon, the question is whether you’re living the life you want to live?
I believe that a deliberate life with deliberate decisions has a higher likelihood of being a rich and meaningful life that contributes to a better society than an unconscious life that you live day-by-day. The way I believe we can go about making the most of the days we live is by doing three things:
1) Choose to choose – Chose to live a deliberate life where you make clear decisions
2) Identify your values – They set out the direction for the life you want to live
3) Learn and innovate – Make the journey through life in the direction of your values all about learning and innovating, testing new things
Choose to choose
This is not a small thing. Many people don’t consciously choose their lives, but rather compose their lives based on a lot of coincidences. I’ve found that one of the most powerful tools to start choosing your life is to change the language you use.
The language of someone not choosing their life is: That’s just the way I am, I must, there’s nothing I can do, she makes me so mad, I don’t have a talent for that, I can’t.
The language of someone choosing their life on the other hand is: Let’s look at our alternatives, I can choose a different approach, I control my own feelings, I can learn how to do it, I choose, I prefer.
One very frequent example of this is the expression I don’t have time. Saying I don’t have time is always a lie. Always. The truth is I don’t prioritize that. Time, if anything, is something that we all get distributed very democratically, one second at a time. So time is for sure something we have until the moment we’re dead.
Moving from a language of not choosing to a language of choosing will open up your mind and world to start crafting the life you want to live, because you’re forced to think about the decisions you’re making.
If this is something you want to do, step one is starting to build a habit. Looking at habit research evidence suggests that starting very small and scaling up from there has the highest probability of success. Therefore, the nanohabit (very small habit) you can introduce is for example that every time you catch yourself saying “I don’t have time”, you say “Sorry, what I meant was that I don’t choose to prioritize that right now”. This is just one example of a nanohabit you can use, but pick a nanohabit that fits you.
Identify your values
After you’ve chosen to live a deliberate life you need to decide which values should guide the direction of your life. This serves as your compass through life. A value is a statement of something you believe in. The difference between a value and a goal is that a goal is something you can complete, but you will never complete a value.
Some examples of values are:
- Be a loving husband, father and friend
- Live an environmentally sustainable life
- Take care of my body
- Always learn new things at work
- Contribute to a better society
- Hero the unsung heroes
Getting to know your values is to get to know yourself. It’s not something you do in a 30 minute exercise, but something you work with over a long period of time. That said, you need to start somewhere, so start by setting aside some time to think about which values you most identify with. There are many potential starting points for this exercise. One place to start is thinking about who you look up to, and which values the people you look up to represent.
The nanohabit you can apply is to keep a note in your phone where you write down an hypothesis of which values you represent, and that you look at it 5 minutes every week to check if they still make sense. Over time you will make changes and get closer to your true values as you get to know yourself.
Learn and innovate
As you’ve outlined your values, your life will be about trying to live in-line with these values every day.
You can set up goals linked to your values. The benefit of having values as a foundation of your goals instead of just having goals is that if you just have goals without values you may miss your goals, which can be very dissatisfying. If you have values as the foundation of your goals, then every day when you live in-line with your values is a big win whether you reach your goals or not. Values create a richer and more meaningful life every single day.
To be more true to your values you can think about what you want to learn that would better enable you to live in-line with your values. What experience, capabilities or knowledge would help you? For example, if you have a value to live environmentally sustainably, then starting by learning about how different choices you make impacts the environment is probably not a bad idea. You can also do some environmental volunteer work to gain rich learning experiences to build further on. There are many different ways to learn, for example:
- Shadow someone knowledgeable about the topic
- Have lunch with different people knowledgeable about the topic
- Take online courses
- Read about it
- Work extra with something just to learn about it
For each of your values, outline what you want to learn and how you want to learn it.
Learning is important, and putting the learning into practice is equally important. That is why you need to test new things / innovate, by applying your learnings. Innovating is literally just trying new things. It could be about trying a new work process, it could be about taking time for retreats with your child to spend more time together, it could be about not using your mobile phone between 5pm and 9pm, it could be about starting a nonprofit organization for a cause you care deeply about, it could be about starting to run home from work two days per week to build in exercise in your daily life. There are so many things you can test, just waiting for you to test them.
The nanohabit you can apply is to invest 10 minutes every week to learn about something that would help you better live in-line with your values and test something new every month. It doesn’t have to be big.
Choose to choose your life. Identify your values. Always learn and try new things. With these three simple actions you will live a more deliberate life and start to see things differently.
A test you can do to check if you live the life you want to live is to pretend that you will die within a month from now and ask yourself if you would change anything in how you invest your time. If yes, then change it. Because reality is that we won’t be able to save anyone from dying, including you. We are all going to die, the question is how we lived.
I hope that you are where you want to be and do what you want to do. If not, change it.
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