Lifestyle design is extremely important when you’re bothered by stress, depression, and long-term pain. When any of them bothers you, you don’t have the luxury of suffering from poor lifestyle choices in addition to the already present burden. Or, perhaps, you’re in your mess because of poor decisions to begin with. Regardless of which is the chicken or the egg – it’s worth paying attention to.
This is the foundation of having a decent life. Unless you can become close enough to…
- A minimalist and need nothing.
- A Stoic sage to care about nothing but what’s in your control.
- A spiritual figure who cares about nothing but meditation.
- Or something similar…
But even then, you’ve designed your life – and controlled your mind – to achieve what you want.
This goes hand-in-hand with the concept of behavioral activation that I explain in my book, which is one of my primary tools to combat overwhelming meaninglessness.
But this isn’t just about what you do. It’s instead about the big picture. It’s about the question, “What do you want life to look like?” and then acting upon that to get what you want. It’s about all those social factors that put you in some context. It’s about how and where you spend your days. It’s about personal possessions and the people around you.
Which, in turn, will affect how you feel. It’ll highly affect your thoughts and emotions – just as the behavioral activation does – but it’ll enable you to set down goals more extensive than just actions and things to do – something to chase while hoping to get it someday. Having something to aim, fight and strive for might give you some meaning – which is why this very well could be what makes the difference between having a life that feels worth living and meaninglessness.
What do you think of when you hear lifestyle design?
When people talk about lifestyle design, I think they often imagine palaces, beaches, fancy drinks, and fancy clothes – extreme wealth or at least the level of wealth where you never have to work again.
That’s not necessarily what I see. Dreaming too big could make things unachievable. That could be demoralizing rather than envigorating. That’s not the point. The point is to become happier by getting what you want. In some cases, that consists of doing small things you like rather than comparing your life to some perfection you don’t want anyway.
I like writing.
I like my worthless little superpower of finding four-or-more-leaf clovers.
I like what I do with people when I work.
I like philosophy, reading, reasoning, mindless physical labor, and hanging around people I like as well.
… But notice how I left out the castles and the fancy clothes. They’re not necessary for most of us.
Plenty of people do these things better, but I like them regardless. That goes for all of those. A big bunch of people around the world cook, create, write and cut things down with their chainsaws better than I. I’m guessing there are psychologists around the world who could do a few things I do a lot better than I do, and the same goes for other professionals and stuff I do.
But that’s not particularly important. I like a lot of the things I do. So, the “lifestyle design” I’ve focused on might very well have worked. That’s the important thing. That’s what lifestyle design is all about – messing around with life enough to get to do things you like – to create a life you like.
Ambition is crucial. Even more so to some. How important it is might depend on personality traits, like conscientiousness.
Conscientiousness, by wikipedia explained as, “the personality trait of being careful, or diligent. Conscientiousness implies a desire to do a task well, and to take obligations to others seriously. Conscientious people tend to be efficient and organized as opposed to easy-going and disorderly. They exhibit a tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; they display planned rather than spontaneous behavior; and they are generally dependable. It is manifested in characteristic behaviors such as being neat, and systematic; also including such elements as carefulness, thoroughness, and deliberation (the tendency to think carefully before acting).”
The fact that goals matter is shown by the client I spent most of my day with yesterday. We spent most of that time on these things because she barely knows what her dreams are – and she’s not achieving any of them. The ambition was to sort some of these things out thoroughly, but the big question she asked was something close to “what am I supposed to do with life?”
Quite intangible, if you put it like that.
Being high in that personality trait can make people work like crazy, which ought to be a great thing to help you with your lifestyle design. If it’s combined with a big portion of agreeableness, you might be doing all of that work for everyone but you, though. That’s a dangerous combination.
Agreeableness, is explained by thomas.co as, “Agreeableness is a personality trait that describes a person’s ability to put others needs before their own. Those who are more agreeable are more likely to be empathetic and find pleasure in helping others and working with people who need more help. Commonly used to describe the level of friendliness, kindness and even politeness a person displays…”
This client is exceptionally agreeable and highly conscientious. If you are, too – make sure you put in some of that good work for your own sake. You can’t possibly live for others and others alone.
In this case, it’s done to the degree where she’s lying to herself and saying she’s got a “tiiiiny headache”, rather than admit to the list of symptoms from the stress she endures, even though the list is quite long. One part of it would be to break down in tears before the work day even starts, at eight o’clock in the morning. When you’re there, and continue to work the life out of you for someone else, you ought to think about where you are and what the heck you’re doing.
So that’s what we did.
Some of the questions we went through were related to said work. That’s a big part of what’s causing stress, but we’ve all got to earn a living if there’s rent to be paid and we want to eat. In her case, some of the questions were:
“What do I want to work with?”
She’s highly educated – but “do I want to stay in the same industry?”
“Where do I want to work?”
The agreeable part doesn’t go well with having very authoritarian bosses – “is it better to start something of your own rather than trying to get employed?”
Family, although single today.
Do I want to move back to my biological family?
What do I want (most)?
Why do I want that?
Where do I want that?
How am I supposed to get that?
When should I start trying to get what I want? As a woman, the clock’s ticking…
Do I have the resources to get a child?
Do I want to do so alone or with someone?
We solved a few small but annoying things in the apartment and then made a to-do list of what to do and when to be more content with the area where she spends most of her time.
We made sure her calendar gets filled with WHAT I WANT TO DO before it gets overwhelmed by WHAT I’VE GOT TO DO.
We defined what gives anxiety and found some tools to help cope with, avoid or practice getting less anxiety from the most anxiety-provoking tasks or situations at work.
To do these things well, you’ve got to know your values. One particular exercise helped tremendously and helped with at least a couple of epiphanies. One was regarding taking responsibility for caring for her health, rather than just trying to buy good health.
Values are a big part of “the why” in what to do and where to do it. They tell you what’s important, what matters and what’s worth doing. Those things are a matter of prioritization.
Values = “What do you want to reach for?”
Lifestyle design = “How do you reach what’s important?”
Here’s the exercise that helped her:
You’ve got three resources in life.
To some extent, you can change one for the other. For example:
You can trade time and money for health by getting a gym membership, going there, and working out.
You can trade time for money by working.
You can trade money for time by having someone work for you.
You can trade time and health for money by working enough to get unwell.
Prioritize the three. What do you value the most?
Look at your calendar to see how you’re using your time.
Check your bank to see how you’re using your money.
What resources do you use when, where, and what are you getting out of it?
Is that how you want things to be?
Are you pleased like that?
Are you doing the right things – or should you change?
How should you change to do what’s valuable to you?
How can you prioritize what’s essential?
Lifestyle design is to dream and do what you can to achieve that dream.
It’s about emotions – and getting the most pleasant ones by choice and hard work.
What do you honestly dislike?
Get rid of it. In some way. In any way!
What is your biggest problem?
Try and try again to apply problem-solving. When that doesn’t help, you get help.
Are things boring and monotonous?
Do exciting things. Get some risk and aim for something you don’t think you can achieve. Life can’t be just… stability and boredom.
… Unless that’s exactly what you prefer. Because stability isn’t necessarily boredom. If you want the same thing day in and day out – that’s what you should go for. Some prefer stability and safety to adventure and high-risk/high-reward.
Dreams and ambitions vary incredibly. But to get what you want, you’ll likely have to work for it. It doesn’t necessarily work the first time. When that’s the case – try again. Dream and work to get those dreams, but don’t forget to enjoy the goals you’ve already achieved.