When I sit down each Tuesday morning, I can see all my recent posts in a row on my screen. I’ve certainly had a theme lately, of problem-solving and thinking and over-thinking. This definitely mirrors what I’ve been turning over in my head off the page, as well. I’ve been feeling a space left in the absence of a big deadline and tons of stress, and I’ve been trying to fill it with new goals and new ideas and new activities, all the while mulling over my job and making sure I’m still doing what I want to be doing.
I’m a goal setter, always have been, so my natural instinct is to want to attach very tangible outcomes on things. This is what allowed me to tackle a big project and almost thrive in the busyness—everything came with a deadline, a task, an action. It’s the same mindset that allows me to focus on the long slog of training for a marathon—every day a run gets checked off, all for a singular goal at the end.
As life settles back down, even all these months later, and I still find myself struggling with “what it’s all about,” I start to wonder about my approach. It doesn’t seem to be working. All these posts about over-thinking and ruminating and resisting point to that fact, that there’s something I feel I’m trying to get to the bottom of, learn about, and it doesn’t come with an easily identified goal attached. Something for me to go after.
And even if it did, I feel too exhausted to go after it, to be honest. For example, the thought of training for a marathon, to put all my energy towards one single outcome, to pivot my life around one thing, does not seem appealing at all to me right now. Nor does locking myself in a bunker to crank out a novel and write nothing else. I want to be able to explore, but there’s been something holding me back, or at least making me uneasy, due to a complete lack of a plan.
So, on one hand, I want to unfetter my life and explore corners of it. On the other, I want to point my life towards goals and what kind of person I want to be. Without the feeling of floating aimlessly, and without the “shoulds” and the guilt of pressure.
I realized this is possible if I zoom out.
Zoom out past the daily word count goals or mileage goals. Zoom out past the to-do lists and tasks and chores.
What is really important to me?
I started scribbling down whatever came to me. And a sort of guidepost, a talisman, emerged: four areas that capture how I want to balance my life.
For me, these areas are: Body, Mind, People, World
Because I’m a nerd, I put them into overlapping circles and started filling them in, dumping in words and ideas, jotting down more specific “hows” on the outside. The key here was to just brain dump and not edit, and I’m still thinking of words to add as I stare at the image taped to my wall.
Body (physical health): run, strong, move, stretch, eat, drink, sleep, rest, breathe, nature, play, water (how: move every day, in = out, love and respect what my body can do)
Mind (mental health): meditate, journal, write, piano, meaningful work, goals, travel, nature, play (how: write every day, go outside every day, meditate every day, stop and think about how I feel)
People (relationships): commitment, ask questions, be honest, devote time and energy, compassion, empathy (how: listen more than talk, connect with friends and family every day, share a scary thing, share how I feel)
World (make the world better than how I found it): meaningful work, knowledge, travel, be informed, protest/advocate, volunteer, compassion, empathy, amplify (how: put my voice into the world, mindful learning, give back, donate)
Even the hows are zoomed out—it’s not “run 50 miles a week,” it’s “move every day.” Sometimes, that will mean focusing on running because a race is what I need for my mind and my body and to feel like I’m putting something into the world. Sometimes, that will mean figuring out how far I want to run in the first few steps. And sometimes, that will mean walking slowly on the beach. The point is that I allow myself flexibility and adaptability—if something in my life isn’t serving one of these principles, it’s easy to see why I’d be anxious about it. I can explore the ways in which I address each principle, which may change over time, without freaking out that I’m not meeting a goal. I have a clear picture of what’s important without chaining myself to how it has to look.
I found myself able to do this exercise at work, too. I have a hunch I could break down most areas of my life into four guiding principles. For me, the key is to have them balance—it’s fine for one to get a bit bloated now and then, but if I go too long with one of them missing or not filled up enough, I don’t feel whole.
Oh, and importantly: what’s in the center of my overlapping circles? These words emerged during this process, I didn’t have them in mind when I started.
Be Present, Curious, Grateful.
Not bad words to live by.