Whether we’ve experienced a major life transition/loss or change, we cannot help but stop and reflect on our life, re-evaluate, examine what is and what isn’t important to us any longer but sometimes, this can be hard to do. We recognize that although we may care less about things we might have worried about before, or what others may think of us, and we let go of expectations of what we SHOULD be doing but being able to pinpoint exactly what IS now important to us to live a meaningful life can be elusive.
I have found that having to cope with so much loss has been significant in truly appreciating our finite lives – in the blink of an eye, we are suddenly older, wiser but nearing closer to our own death and whilst this isn’t a joyful thought, it has forced me to look at how I want to live my life and prioritize what I want to do in the time I have left.
But as I say, it’s not always easy to categorize this so here’s an exercise to help you with it ….
Take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle and write down these domains of your life on the left side of the page
Personal growth and development
Next to each domain write a number between 1 and 5 that corresponds with how important you find each area to be in your life, with 5 = extremely important and 1 = not at all important.
Remember, this is personal to you, nobody else needs to see your list (unless you want them to) and there are no right or wrong answers and no external way of being measured on your responses.
Define what a meaningful life looks like to you
Now pick the top two areas of your life that you have rated as most important. If you have most of them in the high numbers, go back to the list and decide which may be just a little bit more important so that you can clearly define your top two.
When you are sure about the two which you feel are most significant to you, on the right-hand side of the page, write a couple of sentences about how you would like to behave against it. Make sure you clarify the behaviours, not how you would like to think or feel as it is your actions that you want to focus on.
An example of the ‘physical health’ domain might be:
“I would like to be healthier, to lose weight and return to the fitness level I was at 10 years ago. I would like to introduce healthy eating habits back into my diet, stop the late-night snacking and excessive alcohol binges. I would like to go back to the gym three times a week after work instead of spending my evenings on the sofa. I would like to have the energy to play with my kids in the park so we can properly enjoy our family time. I want to show others that I have self-belief, self-control and to be a healthy role model to my children.
Putting it together
Now that you have written about your actions or behaviours in your two most important areas, this should give you a better understanding of what would give you meaning in your life.
Try not to feel disheartened when reading your statements as it may be that you’re not anywhere near to where you would like to be at this moment. That’s all ok, the fact that you have recognized it is key, it’s the starting point and this can be the hardest part of any change.
No need to rush …
If you’re struggling with this exercise, you may find it easier to put it down for a while and revisit it again when you’re ready. Sometimes, giving yourself more time for self-reflection can be helpful to gain a clearer picture of how you really feel.Or you may find it beneficial to talk it through with a relative, friend or therapist who might be able to support you with it – sometimes just talking things through, can help to gain clarity. And importantly, don’t compare yourself to anyone else, it only matters as to what it is important for YOU and that will be different for each of us.
Living your life with greater purpose and meaning
Once you’ve completed this exercise, use it to help steer you on the path to live a more meaningful life. Try to commit to the behaviours and actions you have identified – by being accountable to it, you are more likely to be committed to following through with your actions. Write it down somewhere where you can regularly refer to it and see the progress you are making.
You may find there are more than two domains you want to work on, but try not to tackle more than two at a time because if we try to take on too much in one go, we are less likely to do any of it … every so often you may want to redo the exercise as you keep working towards giving your life greater meaning.