In our New Year’s post, we mentioned the process of developing an authentic lifestyle which is true to our values. This process is slow, challenging, and incremental. A lifestyle is an ecosystem; so, we cannot change our ecosystem without changing ourselves to some degree; and when we change ourselves, we inevitably change some qualities of our ecosystem. This means that changing our lifestyle may not be as simple as we might consider at first pass.
As we work on ourselves and our lives, one question which may be useful to consider is: ‘is my lifestyle truly serving me?’ This is a question I personally have been considering lately, and it largely springs from the realization that two separate things occur in life: first, there are instances in life where we say ‘I would really like to do X but I do not find the time’ – and second, there are instances where we have time and space, the opportunity to truly make something happen, and we squander it in the throes of distraction, compulsion, boredom, or indecision.
The exploration and elaboration of this idea will be individual from person to person. Each one of us has a unique set of habits, wishes, schedules, and resources. These are some questions we can ask ourselves as we begin to unpack this idea personally:
- What are the things I would like to be doing more of?
- What do I do when free time arises?
- What things block me from starting activities I want to do?
- What things stop me when I am doing something I want to do?
- In the past, what has prevented me from doing or achieving what mattered most to me?
So, what holds us back from living a more functional, authentic, productive life? In honesty, this is a question and a process I have worked with for many years (as have many of you, I suspect). Here are some of the most useful findings I have gained in learning how to live a more authentic life. Note that these reflect my unique experiences in life; your mileage, as they say, may vary.
Sometimes our expectations do not account for our humanness. When we plan out our days or weeks, we may imagine ourselves context-switching from eating to working to exercising without skipping a beat. We may think about our time as if it is a blank canvas upon which we can drop planned activities and simply follow through. In reality, life is fuzzier and more complicated. We have fluctuations of mood; of energy; of motivation. Sometimes when we actually do the things we planned, it doesn’t work as well as we expected, and we are faced with several new challenges, or we find that our planning may have been off. The specifics can be very diverse, but one fact is central: the organic and variable qualities of ourselves (and of life) complicate our best-laid plans.
Maintaining a decent state of functioning is no small feat. During certain moments of our day, we may feel clear, calm, and capable of executing on what we need. We may imagine ourselves being this way all the time – but if we look closer, it is often not the case. Our state of mind and consciousness fluctuates through time. We may find that during large chunks of our day, we are distracted or in autopilot. We may also find that throughout our lives we routinely become mentally, emotionally, and energetically intoxicated, inhibiting our ability to function well. Wrestling back our focus and mental clarity from these conditions can be quite a challenge. We can begin to make improvements by taking time throughout the day to breathe and regain consciousness of ourselves, do some light meditation, perform yoga or exercise, or circulate our vital energies. For the latter (which has been very developmental in my experience), we can use techniques from practices such as Chi Gung or the energy exercises taught at Mosaic.
Stronger self-knowledge means stronger motivation. It is common to start a personal project and then abandon it one or two weeks later. In most cases, it is not that we truly have no time to continue the project: it is that we do not have a consistent motivation to keep working on it. If, on the other hand, we continue to derive some kind of value from the project – or a resonance with our deeper values – we will naturally want to continue working on it. So, in many cases, our projects are left incomplete because they are not grounded in a more meaningful set of personal values understood through self-knowledge. However, this does not mean that these projects are failures per se – sometimes it takes many, many attempts before we begin to succeed in our personal endeavors. In fact, we can learn a lot by analyzing our past projects and their lifespans: what worked? What didn’t? Why did we stop working on them? Did we enjoy them? In this way, past projects may become a sort of ‘mulch’ in which we can grow self-knowledge which will strengthen future projects.
Do not underestimate the power of incrementation, adaptation, and dedication. For many years, I tried to ‘mastermind’ a better life for myself, by planning out new patterns and then executing on them. This planning-oriented method was frustratingly prone to failure. What I found over time was that life was less like a business model (which can be planned rather quickly) and more like an organism (which must be grown slowly over time). For this reason, I found it essential to be: dedicated to my life and its contents, committing my effort and energy into it, which was like a raw energy for the organism to grow; adaptive, accepting the changes in my ecosystem and adjusting, so that the organism could strengthen amid changing conditions; and incremental, making many small changes over time, since the organism is too vast and complex to be changed or developed all at once.
These are some of the lessons which I have found useful in living a more authentic life. However, these lessons will be different for each person, relative to their unique conditions and experiences in life.
What have been your experiences living a more authentic life? Feel free to post your comments below.