Annie Dillard is famous for writing, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” We can take her words as a reminder that the thoughts, conversations, people, activities, and environments that we choose to fill our daily lives with—become our lives. And this makes the case for choosing the substance of our lives wisely.
In my own journey uncovering what is personally meaningful, it has equally been a journey of learning to recreate environments that allow these values to flourish. Consistent daily actions are key to driving sustainable change, yet in addition to this, we must also design environments and habits that help us stay on the path of the meaningful life. Our actions can otherwise easily lose their original intention.
Here are my distilled findings on habits that support the continuous pursuit, and the sustainable practice of a meaningful and authentic integrated life. But please remember—this list is not enough, there are no shortcuts to sustainable change; there are no hacks to a meaningful life, so make sure to enjoy the journey as it ever-unfolds.
As you read this outline I invite you to listen to, and take time with, whatever thoughts and emotions surface as you read through this piece. Because your journey begins when you begin to listen.
1. Be quiet and make time to listen to the voice within, every single day.
Check in. Ask yourself why you are making a certain decision. Ask yourself the WHY behind your actions. Is that you dictating your actions or external shoulds? It takes considerable effort to separate your voice from others, but when you do this, you will begin to be make decisions that are clearly reflective of your personal mission and values. When you do this, that voice inside of you will literally sing. You will know EXACTLY when you have made a decision that honors that voice. It will feel like a loud, strong, and BOLDLY JOYOUS "YES!"
2. Make mental fitness your secret weapon.
When was the last time you noticed a negative thought enter your mind? Maybe it’s happening right now? Learn to identify those when they enter, label them, and choose to move your focus elsewhere. The strength of your mental capacity to focus your mind on what is important is what enables you to actualize your mission in life. If you are always drained and you don't know why—chances are your mind is a wild beast. Tame that thing!
3. Search for your moments of flow, investigate them, and then structure environments to foster tapping into flow throughout your day.
Do you feel in the zone working solo plugging away at what you love? Great, make space for that to occur and guard that time like your dreams depend on it—because they do
4. Do something daily that brings perspective to your individual experience.
Look at the ocean, pet a dog, touch a tree—take a few minutes each day to remind yourself that you are a part of a system MUCH larger than yourself. And remember that everything you do, is a little ripple in this larger ecosystem, that every day in your life is also just a ripple in your life. Remember that your actions are powerful—but not singular.
5. Cultivate mental space and clarity early in your day through a mindfulness meditation practice.
It is mind blowing how this will shift your day. Your breathing becomes a vehicle for cultivating clarity and ease throughout your day; in meetings, walking down the street, during high intensity conversations. Continue to remind yourself to come back to that calm through your focused breathing. This will change your productivity, and not because you are “hacking” anything, only because your mind is at peace, and therefore of greater power.
6. Revisit your core values EVERY SINGLE WEEK.
Ask yourself how you are honoring them through your actions on a personal, professional, and social level. Be authentic with the values and with yourself. If your day is out of alignment with your core values, chances are you are not pushing forward your true mission in life. Remember, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.