What matters to you? There are a lot of ways to answer that question.
There are people who matter a lot to me: colleagues, clients, and class members at the Y; friends; family; the animals I know and love; strangers I meet.
There are things that matter: bank account, car; running shoes, computer, favorite books.
Activities I do matter to me: keeping in touch with people; going to work; exercising; acting; prayer and meditation.
We all have a lot of responsibilities: pay the bills; keep the car in good repair; wash the dishes; pay the taxes. All are important, some are even urgent, but keeping our primary goals always at the top of the list helps us to make daily choices that increase the fulfillment and richness of our lives.
Then there are the principles that I value. What are my principles? They are the answers to this question:
What kind of person do I want to be?
Steven Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People asks it this way: If you could go to your own funeral, what would you want to hear them say about you? I've mentioned my core values before, but as long as I'm imagining my own eulogy, please, indulge my repeating them one more time:
Courage: The will to take action that makes life full, rich, and meaningfulStrength: The ability to actCompassion: Authentic connections to othersJoy: A spirit of celebration, gratitude, and delight
That's my list. Your values will almost certainly be different. You might say creativity, honor, love, security or duty. There is a whole universe of choices. The idea is to drill down to your foundations and to choose the primary cornerstones upon which you want to build your life.
Once you have a clear, simple list of the things that matter most to you, take a look at what you do each day. What are the roles you play? Some of mine are:
You might have roles that I don't:
You can probably just look at your calender or think about your activities from the past week and come up with a dozen roles that you play.
Now for the hard part. Prioritize them. Which roles engage you the most? Which are you passionate about? What are the three or four roles in which you could best embody your values?
Next comes what may be the hardest question of all:
What ONE THING you could do to make the most positive impact in this role?
That ONE THING is your goal, and finding it can take a lot of thought. It might be something that's never occurred to you before, but I find that my own goals are often things I've considered and dismissed in the past because they were too hard, too time consuming, or too likely to fail. Some will pop right into your head. Some might require several days of contemplation. Here are the roles and goals that are in my windshield right now:
- Athlete: Raise $10,000 for LIVESTRONG at the YMCA by running a marathon in 2015.
- Artist: Earn $100 from my writing by the end of the year.
- Friend: Have meaningful (preferably face to face), contact with another human being every day.
- Cancer Warrior: Don't miss a single class or scheduled appointment because of depression.
STRATEGY FOR LIVING
I have smaller, more tactical short term goals that are milestones on the road toward my larger ones. I've actually been putting these into practice for the past few weeks:
- Get down to 245 pounds
- Read and write for an hour every day.
- Get out of the house every day.
- Make LIVESTRONG at the YMCA my number one work priority.
Shall I stop for ice cream? Or call in sick? Or take a nap? Or ask this woman out on a date? When faced with choices, I can use this simple question to guide me:
Will this action help me to embody my values, or will it lead me away from them?
In future posts, I'll talk more about how these principles are helping me to manage my mental health and increase the quality of my life. But I don't think this way of thinking is only for people with OCD, depression, anxiety, or other mental disorders. I think it is a strategy for living that can be helpful to anyone.