I often wake up to a list of to-dos. From the moment I open my eyes, I am running around: quickly, shower, eat breakfast, get dressed, rush out of the door, don’t forget anything! All the things that need to get done today hang over my head like ominous red lights. Will I make it through today? Will I complete everything? Or will some unexpected obstacle come up and make my day explode into pieces? Once the evening comes around and (hopefully) I have time to relax, I am exhausted. I can’t enjoy my free time because my head is spinning with worries, and I can’t be warm and caring towards my loved ones because I’m drained. Even though I’ve done so much today, what difference does it make? This is hardly the life I want to live. This is not how I want to feel.
You might think that in order to change the way you feel and the way you live, you’d need to make a big change: quit your job, move to a different house or city, leave your current relationship, etc. It is appealing to escape our current life and all its troubles. It’s easy to think that the problem lies in our job, living situation, or other people, and it’s tempting to get rid of all our worries and troubles by getting rid of one specific thing. We imagine that we’ll be so much happier if only that one thing is gone from our lives.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. You are you, and your worries and troubles will come with you even if you try to escape. The uncomfortable truth is that the big problems are not outside of us but rather inside us. Escaping them is not possible. Instead, we need to find a way to deal with them.
One of the biggest issues is that we walk around feeling unhappy, expecting that the world around us has to make us happy, and when it inevitably fails to do so, we complain and blame. We don’t take the time to think about what we want and what would make us happy because that’s way more difficult than blaming our unhappiness on somebody or something else. And even if we do think about what would make us happy, we don’t do anything about it or we have unrealistic expectations.
But there’s another way. We can carefully reflect on what we want and observe what makes us happy. These things are often much simpler than we imagine. We don’t need the most exciting, amazing job ever or the most romantic, perfect relationship. Instead, we need to figure out what is good enough for us and learn to appreciate it. This is easier said than done, so a good way to approach it is through trial and error: try something and see if it makes you happy. Observe. The important thing is to stay inquisitive and intentional. After you try that thing, does it make you happy? Does it fulfill the purpose you had in mind? Does it give you the meaning you were looking for? Does it inspire you?
You’ve probably heard about priorities before. No, not this kind of priorities.
In this way, you can find out what your priorities are. Your priorities are the main things that matter to you in life, and they guide everything you do. Often we think of priorities as vague things: career, family, friends, health. But if you want your priorities to really guide your behavior on a daily basis, they need to be more specific. “Work” might become “Complete a PhD program” or “Become an independent researcher.” “Relationships” might become “Be close with the people I love.” These specific priorities may change over time, and that’s okay. In fact, they should change, so they reflect what’s important to you at different stages of your life. In this way, you feel connected to them, and they truly guide your actions. It’s best if you write down your list of priorities and review it often.
This is a list of priorities that is way too vague.
Make sure each priority is specific and inspires action.