- Michael Thompson
At the age of 43, the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want — the kind of freedom many people are trying to sell today — doesn’t interest me very much.
I’ve had that kind of freedom. I’m much more motivated ensuring my days are anchored to people who matter and I’m attached to projects that fill me up. If you’re after this type of mindset, rather than designing your dream day, here’s a recipe for how to lead more fulfilling days.
1) First thing in the morning, think of others
During the Holocaust, Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, set the habit of asking himself each morning this one simple question: Who needs me?
He would later note this habit was one of the key drivers that provided him with the mental strength to endure four years of concentration camps along with having a daily project (for Frankl, it was keeping notes for what would later become a book), and finding meaning in the suffering.
As someone who’s woken up 15,840 times, I’m yet to come across a more effective morning routine recommendation than Frankl’s.
Just make sure after taking a few minutes to think about it, you do something about it. Like G.B Stern said — “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”
2) Do one thing that can potentially humiliate you
“I have prayed for years for one good humiliation a day, and then, I must watch my reaction to it. I have no other way of spotting both my denied shadow self and my idealized persona.”
I love this thought from Father Richard Rohr. As a communication strategist who grew up with a stutter, I didn’t begin to develop self-awareness by sitting in silence or filling the pages of a moleskin.
I gained self-awareness by putting myself out into the world and then sitting in silence and filling pages of a $2 notebook.
If you want to grow, find a way to push yourself up against a wall each and every day. You don’t have to jump out of a plane to get over your fear of heights. Grab one rung of a ladder you’re scared to climb and take a step.
Just don’t forget to take the time to reflect. Humiliating yourself just to humiliate yourself is a good way to always feel humiliated.
3) Do one thing that stretches you
Sure, I’m passionate about writing. But most days I’m absolutely not passionate about having to sit down and write. It seriously frustrates me. It takes work to quit down my loud ADHD brain.
But that’s why I love it.
There’s no way in hell I’d choose to do it every day if it were easy.
Fulfillment looks a lot like forward progress and more times than not, the greater the resistance, the better you sleep at night.
Pick one area of your life that frustrates you and attack it. Self-help author Oliver Burkeman is onto something when he writes, “When stumped by a life choice, choose ‘enlargement’ over happiness.”
4) Do something that gives you extreme comfort
I’m a big supporter of pushing your comfort zone; it’s amazing what people are capable of when they decide to dance on the edges.
But pushing your comfort zone loses serious points if you don’t also prioritize creating spaces in your life that give you extreme comfort to offset the nerves.
I push myself professionally. I get a weird satisfaction from doing things that don’t come naturally to me and moving heavy things an inch.
But like all good things, there needs to be a balance, and playing with my wife and kids each day provides that.
At home, I never have to pretend. It’s where I can be me. Knowing I have a place to be truly comfortable makes it so much easier to get uncomfortable as I know any pain I endure is temporary and my permanent place is waiting for me.
5) Carve out time for yourself
This could be a daily walk with nothing to accompany you except your thoughts. It could also look like either meditating or simply sitting or writing in silence.
It doesn’t have to be a long time. As someone with kids, I know getting 20 minutes of silence isn’t easy.
But life moves fast and it’s important each day to have some time to either not think or think about if you’re indeed moving in the right direction.
6) Do something physical that shocks your system
I’m not big on long to-do lists and prefer to stick to three tasks for work each day as I don’t operate very well when I have a dozen things on my plate.
But one list I do have is a long list of the things that don’t make me feel worse after doing them. And more times than not, this looks a lot like exercise (or interestingly enough, cleaning as I get in a serious zone).
Try to break a sweat every day. Get rid of the toxins. Make sure your heart is alive.
My go-to activity is my kids and me riding our push-scooters around town. It wakes me up. It clears my head. I take great pride in beating a seven and a three-year-old.
7) End the day by doing something that ties you to humanity
Without fail, before going to bed, my youngest screams “Tots! (“everyone” in Catalan)” and the four of us get together and hug the day out. We laugh. Any annoyances roll off our backs. Both our oldest and our youngest haven’t yet developed an off switch once the kisses start flowing.
If you live alone, lift someone up before going to bed. Research shows quick but meaningful points of contact every 15 days helps create friends till the end
A quick message of “I was just thinking about you,” will do. The same goes for checking up on any celebrations or grievances people have in their lives.
Thanksgiving week or not, it’s not a coincidence this article is book-ended with thinking about other people.
“People” is the one ingredient in this recipe you can’t leave out so you might as well start and end your day by doing good by them.
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