I recently wrote an epically long article about a new starting point for personal development over at my main blog, SamSpurlin.com. The core idea behind the article is that the traditional approach to personal development, identifying values first and then building actions around those values, is flawed. A better system is to ground your decisions about how you act in the experience and knowledge of how those activities make you feel. We know how doing things that align with what we believe in (ostensibly, our values) make us feel. On the flip side, we know that it feels crappy to do things that take us away from our long term goals and closest held beliefs. I propose that simply creating a list of activities/routines/habits that take you closer to the life you want to live and an accompanying list of activities/routines/habits that push you away from the life you want to live is a better starting point. Once robust lists have been made, you can actively make changes in the structure of your day to incorporate more of the good and less of the bad.
For this to work, you must develop the mindfulness to realize how certain activities and decisions make you feel. It may seem awkward at first, but you quickly begin to realize that your feelings and emotions are intimately tied to what you do throughout the day. What follows is a partial list of my good and bad activities that i identified over the course of a couple days. Use these to potentially jog your own memory and flesh out your own lists.
The things that make me feel good:
- Working out
- Doing new things like hiking in a new location
- Tackling difficult projects that require me to stretch my mental abilities
- Doing “weird” things like minimalism to see what I’m capable of
- Eating a vegetarian lifestyle.
- Making sensible and healthy life choices.
- Making the people I care about realize how much I care about them.
- Helping people solve real problems.
- Leading a group of people successfully.
- Getting up early (6:30) and working on important projects.
- Not checking my email early in the morning.
- Not getting sucked into time sucks like Reddit and Facebook
Things I’ve learned don’t make me feel good:
- Being jealous about stupid things.
- Holding grudges.
- Being excessively lazy.
- Not having any control over a situation.
- Being in the middle of conflict I don’t understand.
- Feeling overwhelmed by information or circumstances.
- Feeling obliged to do something I don’t really want to do.
- Being late — for anything.
Based on this information, I have a couple examples of things I’ve done this week to add more of the first list to my life and less of the second. I’ve been playing around with a workout schedule that will work with all of my extracurricular commitments and classes and I think I’ve finally found one that is sustainable. I know that I’ll make it to the gym each day because I’ve figured out what time I can go and I’ve identified how good I feel afterward when I do go. Another example, I’ve been using the program SelfControl to block email and other online time sucks for large chunks of my day. In fact, as I write this right now at 7:30 a.m. I know that I can’t check email, Reddit, or Facebook until noon. I don’t have to use any willpower to get the action that I want and by default I’m being forced to do something (work on writing this article) that I know will make me feel good.
From the negative list, I identified being overwhelmed by information as something that makes me feel bad and pulls me away from the state of mind that I need to be in to be happy and productive. To that end, I’ve focused on building some systems to handle incoming information streams seamlessly. Now, I know that regardless of the piece of information that comes in, whether it’s an email with a request, an email with pertinent information, an article I want to read, a text message, or a thought about something I want to know more about, I have a system to take care of it until I’m ready to give it my full attention. I no longer feel like I’m drowning in a sea of information and that makes me feel much better about my current situation.
These are just examples of a couple days of being mindful about the activities that made me feel both good and bad. As I move forward with this technique, I need to make sure that I continue to add to and refine these lists with my current reality. I’ll discover new things that make me feel good as well as new things that make me feel crappy. It’s up to me to identify them and do what it takes to make them a larger or smaller part of my life.