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by E W

"Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things." Robert Brault

There's no shortage of wise advise out there - "live a life with no regrets" or "dance like no one is watching" - but how, in the middle of our whirlwind of days, work, career, family, children, running, running, running....  do we begin to figure out what is truly important - not to everyone else, but to us, as individuals? Only once armed with this information can we steer our lives toward fulfillment and hopefully a life of few regrets.

Some folks can just rattle off a list of priorities and adjust life accordingly. Most of us, however, know how we were raised and what the "world" tells us, but we might need a little extra direction in figuring out our own priorities. Here are some practical exercises that might help.

To get the most out of this article:

  1. Perform several of the exercises (pick at least three).
  2. Then compare your exercise results to the analysis questions.

After completing steps 1 & 2 you should have a better idea about what's most important in your life.

No Regrets! 5 Starter Exercises

1. Cell Phone Project - Selfies That Matter

For the next month or so, snap selfies (or just jot down a note or two) about anything that stands out in your day. 

  • These do not need to be out of the ordinary or super-thrilling things - anything that makes you smile or laugh, or makes one of your loved ones smile or laugh - anything that catches your attention. 
  • Even if you are not certain at the time why a certain event or idea causes you to pause, if it causes you to pause, make a note.
  • Also, anything that is routine in your day that you happily and routinely enjoy, make a note or snap a picture.  

2. Calendar Project

Look back over the last day, month, year, decade of your life.  What did you do every day? Once a week? Once a month? Special occasions? Who was involved? How did you feel? What things would you choose to repeat - daily, monthly, yearly?  What people were involved? What issues were involved? Make notes, circle dates, or anything that will help organize the information.

3. Searching for What Matters

What if you woke up tomorrow morning and everything and everyone in your life had disappeared. 

Start your list with the beginning of your day:

  • What would be missing? who would be missing? What would you do first? second? Who would you search for? What would you find joy in reclaiming? Go minute by minute, day by day, or a whole week/month/year.

4. Magic Wand

Imagine you found a magic wand and have five wishes.  You have five minutes to figure out exactly what to wish for or all the wishes disappear (can't wish for more wishes, etc.)

  • What would you choose to wish for?  Why? What if you had 10 wishes?  What if your wishes would only come true in the last 5 minutes of your life, whenever that might be?

5. The End - Filling Your Last 24 Hours

if you knew you only had 24 hours left to live, what would be the most important things for you to do in that 24 hour time span?

  • What would you choose? Who would you be with? How would you spend every minute? Make a time line (reality still applies - you can't do things faster, you don't have any more money to spend, etc.)  In hour number one, what would you do? Hour number two?...

Step 2 - Analyze Your Results

Next, using the information gathered during the exercises, answer the following questions - add more as you can think of them:

  • Can the items be sorted into groups or themes, such as: groups of people, groups of ideas, groups of ideals, things that represent family, or friends, career, home, work, the past, the future... What types of things keep coming up again and again? Are there any themes you didn't see before? Which ideas do not surprise you? If you had to prioritize these themes, which would be most important? 
  • What items really stand out as bringing everyday happiness? What stands out as bringing exceptional happiness? Do you see things that matter more than you had previously noted? Do you see differences or similarities in the small happiness and large happiness items/events? What trends do you see? Can you group these by values, or people, or places?  Which seem most relevant on a daily basis? Yearly basis? Lifelong basis? 
  • Are the same people involved? Are different people involved?  Always the same places? Always different places? What ways would your life be different if you removed any of those items?  Do these spark any ideas that you would have liked to see more often noted?  
  • Add any questions or thoughts that might help you find the priorities in life that matter most to you. People, places, events, "bucket list" items... anything with meaning to you.  

No one can dictate another's priorities, and yes, not always knowing what our priorities are is a normal, human condition.  Self-help books, meet-up groups, and professional counseling are some resources that can be used to help enrich our turns around the sun.  Our priorities may change as life goes on and that in the end, we can meet the end of our road with confidence that we lived well.  

Also read: How to Cultivate Gratitude, Dealing with Mid-Life and How to Find Work and Life Balance.


About the author E W:
From Victim Advocacy with survivors of abuse and violence, case management with senior citizens and their families, counseling with at-risk youth and their families, to therapy with adults fighting addiction - bereavement, depression, relationship issues, parenting issues, divorce, blended families, disability, career changes, life changes, my professional experience has encountered it all (so to speak). Fitness, health, coping with chronic illness, aging parents, raising children, job loss, job stress,.... and the list goes on!
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Page last updated Jul 21, 2014

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