Can I tell you my worst nightmare?
I’m 70 years old, lying on my bed.
I stare at the ceiling, wondering how the years slipped by right in front of my eyes.
All the missed opportunities… The coulda-shoulda-wouldas… the desire to make a difference, to contribute, to do the extraordinary.
The worst part? The next morning, the same story repeats.
Yet, despite my internal turmoil, life goes on the way it does. The sun comes up, people travel to work, birds chirp…
Scary, isn’t it?
It’s easy to go through the motions and miss the real opportunity to have lived a more meaningful life.
In 1976, psychologist Ellen Langer placed a newspaper ad calling for men over 70 who’d be game for a week-long experiment. They took the men to a retreat that looked like 1959 era. The men were asked to play sport, listen to music and watch movies from that time.
At the end of the experiment, psychologists found that these men stood straighter. From a psychological point of view, their hearing and mental activity had improved.
So what had changed during that week?
These people lived a more mindful life – they noticed their surroundings and environment more consciously rather than going through the motions on autopilot.
In other words, they were more self-aware as well as more aware of the world around them.
Here’s an interesting exercise.
How do you travel to work every day?
What route do you take?
Where do you get your coffee?
Chances are that you take the same train and travel the same route to work, and your coffee-maker probably knows you by name.
Settling for routine helps create the mental space for new ideas, but it can also be a seeding ground for worry and negative mental chatter.
When you fall into your comfort zone, it is hard to be mindful. You think about a million things a minute, jumping from one train of thought to another and don’t even realise it.
To give more meaning to the game of life, you have to wake up.
Have you ever done a task which was outcome-focused? Doing the laundry or perhaps grocery shopping? Or completing a project at work?
It’s very likely that you don’t remember much about how you arrived at the outcome. When we’re so focused on the outcome, we give up on the opportunity to relish and enjoy the process of how you arrived at the result.
Always reflect on the experience. Was it hard? Was it boring? Was it frustrating, elaborating, freeing? Here’s a quick exercise to get into the habit of being mindful: After the typical task-oriented activities, stop for two minutes and reflect on how you went.
Here’s a fact: when you try and do everything, you get nothing done. Instead, choose one objective and focus on it.
Take the pressure off your shoulders by elaborating on the first tiny step.
For example, instead of saying: “I should really exercise”…
Do the first meaningful action step that will trigger the next step, the one after, so on and so forth. Such as:
When you do step #1, you’ll automatically propel yourself in to doing the next steps.
Having a huge social circle will help you stay happy in the moment, but deeper one-on-one connections bring more meaning.
While happiness is linked to being a “receiver”, when you help someone out by “giving”, you add more meaning to your life.
Your sense of purpose is closely linked to your life’s message. When you define a purpose that shakes your heart and soul, you add meaning to your life.
According to research conducted at the University Of Rochester Medical Center, having a purpose in life is an indicator of healthy aging and reduces mortality risk.
Living a purposeful life buys you more time to live.
Don’t run away from stress – challenges and goals actually bring more meaning to your life. Think about working at a high-pressure job or raising your children.
These are life lessons that may lead to short-term stress but long-term results.
Strangely enough, research suggests that happiness and meaning are not interrelated. If your focus is on living a happy life, you may not find much meaning in it.
Happiness is predominantly found in the here and now. Meaning, on the other hand, is found by reflecting on the past, present and future as a series of events in your life.
By looking at your past and anticipating the future, you give meaning to the story of your life.
There will be times in your life when you are at crossroads. On the one hand, you’ll have the “tried and tested” option. On the other hand, you’ll see opportunity for something way more cooler and outrageous.
“Safe” options are about as exciting as watching your grandma do the laundry. Safe does not bring more meaning to your life – stretch your boundaries and you’ll notice the difference.
Now, I don’t say this just to get an adrenaline kick out of it. From personal experience, I quit a stable job in IT to pursue my own calling of becoming a writer. I studied coaching and NLP. I worked with a community of entrepreneurs passionate about a Lifestyle business – these are just a few examples of outrageous choices I’ve made in my past.
Of course, some people find that crazy, but here’s the thing: Unsafe choices give you an opportunity to learn and grow much faster.
As you look back at your decisions and choices, you’ll start to notice those daring choices were great lessons and bring a real sense of meaning to your life.
How do you go about your day? Are you chained to your desk, beavering away from 9 to 5, or do you take time to be mindful of what’s going on around you? What kind of choices are you making? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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