1. Treating your very limited time each day with care.
As time passes, you naturally have more of it behind you and less of it in front of you. The distant future, then, gradually has less value to you personally. But that doesn’t really matter, because the good life always begins right now, when you stop waiting for a better one. Some people wait all day for 5pm, all week for Friday, all year for the holidays, all their lives for happiness. But you don’t have to be one of them. Don’t wait until your life is almost over to realize how good it has been. A life uncluttered by most of the meaningless drama, distraction, and busyness people fill their lives with, leaving us with space for what’s truly meaningful. A life that isn’t constant rushing, worrying and stress, but instead contemplation, creation, and connection with the people and projects that matter most to us.
By redefining our priorities, and building healthy rituals to back them up, we’ve literally been able to change our lives. And this is now a healthy practice we coach our course students though every single day as well. If you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and stressed out a lot lately, I highly recommend you rethink how you’re spending your time, and replace the meaningless with the meaningful. Start by being honest about the drama, distraction, and busyness in your life.
Identify what’s most important to you, and eliminate as much as you possibly can of everything else. In other words, be ruthless about putting first things first. Say “no” to unnecessary commitments that do not support your priorities. When you start an important activity, turn to it with your full attention and set a conscious intention to be fully present with the act—to do nothing but this one activity for a set time. You might think, “Just write” or “Just run” or “Just be here with this amazing child of mine.” Treat each moment with reverence, as if you are one with what’s happening. The bottom line here is that too often our minds are set on getting somewhere else. Too often another beautiful day comes to an end with hundreds of unnoticed moments behind us—we didn’t notice them because they were insignificant to us. And over time our entire lives become a massive pile of unnoticed and insignificant moments on our way to more important things. Then the important things get rushed through too… to get to the next one, and the next, until our time is up and we’re left questioning where it all went.
2. Genuine relationships.
It’s nice to have acquaintances. It’s important to be friendly. But don’t get carried away and spread yourself too thin. Leave plenty of time for those who matter most to you. Your time is extremely limited, and sooner or later you just want to be around the few people who make you smile for all the right reasons.
Truly, we all long for genuine relationships, but these relationships can be hard to find and nurture, even in our overly connected lives. We meet people in person and socialize online, but these connections often lack a necessary dose of intimacy. We work alongside others in crowded office buildings, but our communication with them is usually work-oriented and not relationship-oriented. We may be lucky enough to have close friends and family in our lives, but when we are distracted by social media and busy with work, those relationships take a major hit. The healthiest and most genuine relationships are comprised of two people who are intimately familiar with each other’s evolving stories. These people make plenty of emotional room for their relationship, which means they sincerely listen to each other, they remember the major events each other have been through, and they keep up-to-date as the facts and feelings of each other’s reality evolves and changes.
The key thing to remember is that nothing you can give is more appreciated than your sincere, focused attention—your full presence. Truly being with someone, and listening without a clock and without anticipation of the next event, is the ultimate compliment. It is indeed the most valued gesture you can make to them, and it arms you with the information you need to truly know them and support them in the long run. It’s also important to note that if two people care about each other and want to maintain a healthy relationship, they absolutely need to be “allowed” to openly communicate ALL of their feelings to each other—their true feelings—not just the agreeable and positive ones. If this is not “allowed” or supported by one or both people involved in the relationship—if one or both people fear punishment for their honesty—lies and deceit will gradually replace love and trust, which ultimately leads to a complete emotional disconnection.
3. Engaging passionately in whatever you choose to do.
Passion is powerful! It rests deep within you and passively drives your feelings, choices, and courses of actions. It can’t be ignored, and it shouldn’t be ignored. Your passion will likely become the sole source of your greatest achievements and your finest moments. The fevering excitement of love. The joy of work that moves you. The clarity of your purpose. The ecstasy of letting go and being one with the present moment. In a nutshell, this is what passion gradually does for you. Without it there is little peace of mind in the end—just a hollow existence of unfulfilled dreams—a lifetime left mostly unlived.
If your life is going to mean anything to you 40 years down the road (or even 10 years down the road), you have to actively and passionately live it every day until then. You have to deeply engage yourself in activities that move you. But the key thing to realize is that almost any activity can move you if you let it. You don’t need some massive, life-engulfing passion to suddenly appear in your life. Because real passion comes from within, and the source of passion in your life may be as simple as having a job to do—a job that feeds your family, for example—and feeling good about doing it right.
Many of us are still hopelessly trying to “find our passion”—something we believe will ultimately lead us closer to happiness, success, or the life situation we ultimately want. And I say “hopelessly” primarily because passion can’t really be found. When we say we’re trying to find our passion, it implies that our passion is somehow hiding behind a tree or under a rock somewhere. But that’s far from the truth. The truth is, our passion comes from doing things right. If you’re waiting to somehow “find your passion” somewhere outside yourself, so you finally have a reason to put your whole heart and soul into your life and the things you’re working on, you’ll likely be waiting around for an eternity.
I’m absolutely certain you have plenty in your life right now that’s worth your time, energy, and passionate focus. You have people and circumstances in your life that need you as much as you need them. You have a massive reservoir of passionate potential within you, just waiting. So stop waiting! There is no next time. Put your heart and soul into what you’ve got right in front of you!
4. A mindset that brings you peace.
Life is a series of continuous changes. Don’t resist them; doing so only creates unnecessary stress. Let the reality of these changes take place. Let them flow. Or as Henry Wadsworth once said, “For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is to let it rain.” As we age, we gradually learn the power of this kind of acceptance.
Acceptance is letting go and allowing things to be the way they truly are. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about improving the reality of your life; it’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself and your thoughts about everything else. This simple understanding is the foundation of acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be peace of mind and growth. It’s important to realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally accepting and at peace. Because inner peace does not depend on external conditions; it’s what remains when you’ve surrendered your ego and worries. Peace can be found within you at any place and at any time. It’s always there, patiently waiting for you to turn your attention toward it. Peace of mind arrives the moment you come to peace with what’s on your mind. It happens when you let go of the need to be anywhere but where you are, physically and emotionally.
You are more than whatever is troubling you. A very real part of you exists beyond your worries, beyond your doubts, independent from the troubles and frustrations of the present moment. Step back and observe yourself as you experience each moment. Be present. Watch yourself as you think, as you take action, as you experience emotions. Your body may experience pain, and yet that pain is not you. Your mind may encounter troubles, and yet you are not those troubles.
Think of the most difficult challenge you face right now. Imagine that it’s not you, but a close friend who is facing this challenge. What advice would you give her? If you could step back and, instead of being the subject, look at your situation as an objective observer, would you look at it any differently? Think of the advice you would give your friend if she were in your shoes. Are you following your own best advice right now? Don’t allow your current troubles to cloud your thinking. Take a few steps back and give yourself the benefit of this distance, and then give yourself some great advice.