There’s an aspect of achieving goals that nobody likes to talk about, the sense of “Is that all there is?” that can set in once you’ve reached a major goal or accomplished a life achievement.
Achieving goals is satisfying, but there’s also a sense of, “What now?”
Back in 1980, Talking Heads released their studio album “Remain in Light,” which contained their hit “Once in a Lifetime.” It was a trippy existential query, where “you,” the subject of the song, find yourself having achieved those things you set out to, but wonder how you got there and what it all means. The chorus begins with the ominous lyrics, “Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down.” Do we really get to a point where we rest on our laurels and coast indefinitely? It sounds appealing in its way, but also deadly.
Aligning your values with your actions and doing your short-term planning with both in mind can keep you from settling into numb routine and propel you to keep achieving, to keep fine-tuning how you live your life.
There’s No Need to Give Up and Start Over
The good news is, you don’t have to throw everything out and start over. Assuming you achieved your standing through hard work, integrity, and ethical behavior, you can be confident that you’re doing things right in general.
In many cases, simply reminding yourself of why you do what you do – to improve some aspect of the world, or to provide a healthy and loving family life for your spouse and children, for example – can be sufficient to put you back on a track where you’re not only professing your values, but living them in everyday life.
Try Shifting Your Perspective
Writer Anne Lamott talks about forgiveness in her book Traveling Mercies, and puts the entire concept in a new light. Turning the other cheek, she says, quite literally forces you to look in a different direction. Shifting your perspective can inspire you to achieve tangible results that keep your actions and your values in line. We look at life based on our own experiences, culture, and values, and assign meaning based on these.
What happens when you look at things from a different perspective? How might a disinterested observer interpret what you’re doing? How do your actions appear to your young child? What might someone think of your actions if they were transported here from two centuries ago?
Simply broadening your perspective can help you notice things you take for granted, things that may be more important than you realize.
Planning with Physical, Mental, Social, and Spiritual Focus
When you plan, say, an ideal week, the task is not nearly as straightforward as you think when you do it from a perspective of aligning your values and your actions. You have to deliberately create space in your life for what means most and energizes you, so that your “best self” will be the one participating in life.
Making your actual schedule align with your ideal one requires practice.
Print out a calendar showing the upcoming week (there’s a handy one here you can print out), and start by penciling in those things you’re obligated to, like a dentist appointment or driving your child to sports practice. Now, consider everything you do and how it’s scheduled, including details like eating meals, exercising, driving to work, showering, cleaning the kitchen, and completing your work tasks. Which of your tasks address physical needs? What about mental, social, and spiritual needs, which we all have? Does your schedule engage all four of these?
What Does Your Plan Look Like on Paper?
How does the ideal week that you sketched out on your calendar align with the reality of your week? Unexpected events will undoubtedly pop up, but in general, are you spending your time in ways that are meaningful to you and your physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs? Many people are surprised with how different the way they actually spend time is compared to what they would need to do in order to live their most meaningful life.
With this in mind, adjust your “real” calendar so that it aligns more closely with your ideal calendar. This requires that you understand your priorities and obligations, but also that you be kind to yourself. Sure, there are many things you “have” to do, but it is also important to carve out time for the things you need and want to do to fill your spiritual and emotional needs and help you operate as the best possible “you” there is.
Carry It with You, Literally
Fold up your ideal and your modified “real” calendars for the week and carry them with you. Take them out and make notes:
What causes you to veer off-track, and what are you doing to align your actual week with your ideal week?
Aligning your actions with your values isn’t instant, and it isn’t perfect. After all, life will always throw things like traffic jams, illnesses, and other unexpected scenarios at you. But create your ideal calendar for several weeks running, make notes, and see how it aligns with what you actually do.
What Happens When You Live Your Ideal Week?
After a few weeks, you should be able to plug several of those “ideal week” items right into your ordinary calendar. Don’t assume you’ll remember or that you’ll somehow make time for them. Put them on your schedule. What you’re actually doing is using visionary work and plain practice to create a new reality for yourself, one where your values and actions line up, where you’re living an authentic, unique life. It’s how you take your accomplishments and bring them to a higher level.
My mission is to help you reconnect with your best self, so you can put your focus and energy toward living the fully engaged life.
In addition to planning out your ideal week, I encourage you to check out my book Adventure in Everything: How the Five Elements of Adventure Create a Life of Authenticity, Purpose, and Inspiration. There you’ll find a framework for making changes in your life that will help you align how you are in the world with how you want and need to be.