June 20, 2012

Living a Full Life


For some reason, yesterday afternoon I got to thinking about those people who are all in.  You know who I’m talking about.  Those people who don’t reserve themselves, who don’t have protective shells, who give everything to what they’re doing.  They’re like little kids in that way ~ they don’t filter, they don’t edit, they just do it.

And then last night I watched Man on Wire, the documentary of Philippe Petit who in 1974 walked a highwire between the Two Towers.  (Great documentary ~ see it if you get a chance.)  He was ~ and is ~ someone who is all in.  And he is someone who knew what he wanted from an early age.  He always liked to climb on things and be up high, and then in a doctor’s office when he was 17 he saw in a magazine the plans to build the Twin Towers.  That became his goal.

Don’t you envy people who just know what they want to do from an early age?  It’s few and far between.  My brother Jim is one of those people.  He was taking apart clocks and fixing them and putting them back together from a young age.  He always just knew he would be an engineer, and he’s a damn fine one.  (He is making waves with Innovari Energy and Endeavor Engineering.)

So this got me to thinking about the ways we are able to live a full life, to go all in.

We are our own worst enemies sometimes.  We put roadblocks in front of what we want or need to accomplish.  And then of course the world has so many demands on us, we’re pulled in so many directions we just get overwhelmed and do nothing and avoid.  Maybe I should speak for myself.

Anyway, I was thinking about things that I do to make myself more productive, tips for living fully. Here’s what I came up with.

Dream big.  If you don’t allow yourself to think about what you love, to daydream, to imagine what a full life would be for you, you’ll never have that full life.  Give yourself permission ~ and if you can’t, I do.  I give you permission.

Set priorities.  There are things we have to do.  We have to do our jobs and take care of our families.  Then there are things that we want to do, that we desire with all our hearts.  We have to balance this.  Yes, the kids need to be fed and, yes, you have to do your job, but ~ you know what? ~ if the laundry isn’t done to perfection every week, so what?  If sometimes you let things slide for the sake of doing those other things that are near and dear to your heart, you will thank yourself in the years to come.  As the cliché goes: do you want your tombstone to say, “She always had the laundry done”? Yes, you have to be a bit selfish ~ you don’t want to be too selfish ~ but you know what, you and your dreams are worth it.  They’re worth something.

Set boundaries.  Say no sometimes.  My husband makes me practice:  “No.  Okay, now you try.  Say it.  Say no.” Hehe.  Once you set those priorities, have the self-respect to weed out the things that are not important, the things that are getting in the way of your full life.

Make a list.  Very important.  The to do list keeps you focused on your tasks, so that when you finish one task you don’t turn to the internet and waste two hours. I like having a list of personal to-dos, a list of work to-dos, and then a daily list of the order of tasks I want to accomplish.  Yes, frequently this last one is blown out of the water, but having it keeps me focused.

Break things down into smaller pieces.  It’s so easy to get overwhelmed.  A great way to get past that is to not look at the big picture and focus on the steps that need to be taken to get there.  Sure, sometimes you need to think of the big picture, but most of the time, focus on the list of concrete tasks.

15 minutes is not too small.  When I was a kid, a teacher once told me, “See that Johnny Mangus?  One of the secrets of his success is that he takes every opportunity to do things.  When he has 15 minutes, he starts working on something.”  That made a huge impression on me, and it’s so true.  When we have upcoming appointments, we tend to put off starting things, but if you resist that and just throw yourself into it, you can get a lot done in 15 minutes.  And then you find yourself not resisting when you have an hour.

Use a timer or other desktop program.  When I’m overwhelmed and pulled in way too many directions, the single biggest tool I have is my free desktop timer.  I tell myself, okay, I’ll just work on this huge project for 1 hour, or 2 hours, and I set my timer, put on my headphones, and go.  You’d be surprised what you can do in an hour.  I don’t open the internet during that time.  I try not to answer the phone and I resist interruptions.  I go all in and focus.

Get some exercise and eat right.  If your body is healthy, you will not only get more done but you’ll feel so much better.  You’ll be able to appreciate life and feel like you’re living life fully.  We take it for granted when we’re well, but there’s nothing like being sick to remind you of your mortality.

Have some down time.  It may seem like a paradox, but you cannot go go go 24 hours a day.  I used to very much equate my worth with what I accomplished, and what ended up happening was that I would get totally overwhelmed and I would start to avoid everything, hence getting nothing done and feeling really shitty about myself and the whole endeavor.  But then I realized that I need down time.  It’s okay to read a book or veg in front of the TV for a while or to sleep in.  If I allow myself that, I’m much more productive during the other times.

Have a date with yourself.  This is from Julia Cameron's The Artist’s Way.  Sometimes, to regenerate you need to have a date with yourself.  It’s a time to just have fun.  There can’t be any commitments and you can’t have a date with yourself and someone else.  Just you.  It’s time just to unwind, to be you, to have fun.  It refills the well.

The list above sounds like just a be-more-productive list, not a live-a-fuller-life list. It’s both.  I know in my own life I have times when I feel like the energy is stopped up and I’m getting nothing done, and other times when I feel like a vessel through which energy flows and I’m creating and getting things done in my professional, creative, and personal lives.  It feels like a full life when I’m like the latter.

As my friend Toby says, “Go big or go home.”

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