How To Embrace What Truly Matters: A Guide to a Fulfilling Life

17 November 2023
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“It’s not enough to keep yourself occupied,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. “The true question is: what are we so occupied with these days?”

Yes, there are certain tasks that hold more importance than others. However, the majority of the activities we engage in, especially teenagers and young adults, are not important.

If you were honest with yourself, you’d see that many of your activities are not essential and are even harmful.

The non-essential, distracting, and numbing behaviors have a negative impact on both your mental and physical well-being – now and in the future!

As a rule of thumb, it’s not an exaggeration to say that 20% of your actions are responsible for 80% of your results and successes, and that the rest is 80% of them.

So, the vast majority of your actions – constitute a pretty much wasted effort.

The Undisciplined Pursuit of More

In his book “How the Mighty Fall,” Jim Collins, a researcher from Stanford and bestselling author, eloquently explains the downfall of many successful companies. He summarizes this phenomenon with the phrase “the undisciplined pursuit of more.”

This concept has resonated with me, and I have further developed it in my own understanding to extend to the downfall of human beings.

Many of us struggle with the undisciplined pursuit of more and fail to distinguish between hyperactivity and productivity, more on that in a minute.

The Exponential Increase in Choices

Over the past decade, there has been an exponential increase in choices. The numerous options and alternatives presented to us at every swipe or scroll have overwhelmed our ability to effectively manage our choices.

This has led to a pandemic of decision fatigue and analysis paralysis.

Opinion Overload

Technology has made it easier for us to share our opinions on everything. This not only leads to information overload but also to opinion overload.

Constantly bombarded with messages about what is important and where to direct our attention, we often find ourselves fixated on reading others’ opinions on social media. In doing so, we inadvertently neglect to form our own opinions and other crucial aspects of life.

The Unrealistic Belief of “You Can Have It All”

The most damaging trend I see in most of my students every day is the unrealistic belief that “you can have it all”. Instead of defining what they want to do, they believe they can do anything, which is a delusion.

Yes, you can have it all, but only one thing at a time.

The really good things in life take time, dedication, and skills, which most young adults lack patience for.

The Importance of Prioritizing

We cannot have everything, nor should we. Each time we decline something, we are prioritizing something more valuable.

This is the only way to create space for self-improvement and a more fulfilling and enjoyable life.

When we choose to let go of certain things, we create the opportunity to fully appreciate other aspects of life.

Understand Your Priorities

The practice of “Priority” involves considering the very first or prior thing.

Making tough trade-offs between many good things and a few truly great things.

The truth is that if we have more than one priority at a time, we have no priority.

When there is too much to do, the only way to conserve energy is to delegate or procrastinate, and for most of us, procrastination is the way we live our lives.

Learning how to do less but better is the best option.

This approach allows us to achieve the highest possible return on every precious moment of our lives.

It saddens me to see how many young people have become victims of their own “undisciplined pursuit of more.”

As a society, we have become so accustomed to chasing quick fixes that we often fail to recognize the truth: skills and results, getting to places where few people go, is a complex and challenging process.

To get ahead in life, the relationship we have with ourselves requires thoughtful and deliberate practice.

It is not enough to wake up every morning and see how things turn out.
Not if we want to have a calm mind, healthy body, and loving relationships.

To address this unfortunate trend of events, we need to find ways to teach teenagers and young adults how to prioritize wisely and create a more fulfilling and enjoyable life by focusing on what truly matters.

Let’s start there!

Identify what truly matters to you in life

Take a moment to deeply reflect on your personal values and priorities.

Consider the things that bring you joy and a profound sense of purpose.

You may find that these meaningful aspects of life extend far beyond the distractions of platforms like TikTok, Instagram, or Netflix.

If you take the time to delve deeper and explore what resonates with your soul and ignites your passion, you will discover what brings you inner peace, contentment, and a sense of fulfillment.

Have a Clear Vision for Your Future

Without a clear vision for your future, you don’t know where you are going.

A clear vision is a roadmap that provides direction and purpose in life.

It empowers you with the confidence to prioritize and make decisions.

One of the key aspects of having a clear vision is the ability to say “no” to nonessential things that may distract or hinder progress toward your goals.

Developing the skill of comfortably saying no and setting boundaries is essential in eliminating all nonessential activities from your life.

A lack of boundaries is one of the biggest destroyers of goals and aspirations.

A clear vision in combination with firm boundaries creates more time and energy to focus on what aligns with your vision for the future.

Question for reflection: What do you need to do in order to identify what matters to you in life?

How to distinguish between hyperactivity and productivity

Hyperactivity refers to being constantly busy and engaged in various activities without a clear sense of purpose or direction.

It involves being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks and distractions, often leading to a lack of focus and productivity.

When we are hyperactive we spread ourselves too thin in an attempt to do too many things at once without achieving any meaningful results.

Constructive productivity, on the other hand, is a focused and intentional approach not just to tasks and activities, but to our lives as a whole.

It is our ability to identify and prioritize the most important and impactful tasks that align with our goals and values.

Constructive productivity emphasizes quality over quantity and the completion of high-value tasks that contribute to desired outcomes.

While hyperactivity may give us the comforting illusion of being busy and productive, constructive productivity focuses is the real thing.

When you are able to distinguish between hyperactivity and constructive productivity, you start optimizing your energy, focus, and time, which will lead you to succeed in life.

Question for Reflection: What does the process of differentiating between hyperactivity and productivity entail?

Set clear goals

Clearly define your short-term and long-term goals.

Where are you now and where would you like to be a week from now, a year from now?

This will give you a clear direction and help you prioritize your actions accordingly.

Question for Reflection: How can you set better, clearer, and more specific goals?

Focus on high-value tasks

Identify the tasks that have the most significant impact on your goals and prioritize them.

These are the tasks that contribute directly to your desired outcomes.

Identifying high-value tasks is an ongoing process that never ends, it requires constant evaluation and adjustment.

The positive aspect is that by being mindful of the value each task brings, you can quickly start making more informed decisions and optimize your productivity.

Questions for Reflection: How do you identify and focus on your high-value tasks?

What strategies do you use to help determine which tasks are most valuable?

Create a distraction-free environment

To start, minimize distractions by turning off notifications on your phone, closing all unnecessary tabs on your computer, and finding a quiet space to work.

Write down the things that might distract you during your distraction-free work or play session.

This will help you maintain focus and avoid the temptation to multitask.

Note that most distractions are internal and functional behaviors.

Get to the bottom of why you keep doing these behaviors, before moving on.

Getting to know yourself and your needs is one of the best antidotes against distractions.

Questions for Reflection: What do you need to create a distraction-free environment?

How To Divorce multitasking to improve your focus

If you believe that you are one of the chosen few who can multitask, know this: there’s no such thing as multitasking.

Multiple studies have over and over agin confirmed that multitasking – doing more than one task at the same time, is a myth.

People who think they can split their attention between multiple tasks at once are just jumping from task to task. They aren’t getting more done than those who focus on one thing at a time.

Attempting to multitask is not only futile, but it is also plain destructive.

Multitasking creates cognitive overload and ultimately leads to burnout in the long run.

Questions for Reflection: If you had unlimited time, how would you approach your tasks?

For a life you look forward to waking up to, let’s take a look at a better option than what most high achievers in various fields use.

Prioritize Tasks

High achievers identify the most important tasks that align with their values and goals.

They don’t get sidetracked by all the noise or other people’s demands.

They focus on one task at a time and give it their full attention before moving on to the next one.

Pro tip: Literally write down the what, how, why, who, and when of every important task.

Create a not-to-do list if that works for you.

Use time-blocking

High achievers allocate specific blocks of time for everything, different tasks or activities by default.

During each block, they focus solely on that thing without switching to other tasks.

This structured approach helps you stay organized and focused.

If you are everywhere, you are nowhere.

Note to self: It’s easier to track what I have done right when I time block and don’t keep switching between tasks.

Practice mindfulness

It’s not possible to achieve more than average if you don’t train your mind to stay present and fully engaged in the current task.

If you notice your thoughts wandering or feeling the urge to switch tasks, gently bring your attention back to the task you’re working on.

Note to self: If your thoughts are wandering really badly, quickly jot down a reminder to yourself for later and return your attention to the present moment.

Practice mindful decision-making

If you want a better life, be mindful of your thoughts and choices, as they shape your habits.

Your habits influence the decisions you make today, which ultimately define the person you will become tomorrow.

Evaluate the choices you make on a daily basis.

Are they aligned with the person you want to be in the near future?

Are you prioritizing the important few or getting caught up in the trivial many?

Before engaging in any activity, ask yourself if it aligns with your long-term goals and priorities. In a year, you won’t remember the urgencies or the time spent scrolling on social media – those are distractions.

The skills you acquire are what will stay with you and make you feel confident and competent to succeed in life.

Therefore, consider the potential impact and value of a task before committing your time and energy to it.

Take breaks and recharge

Recognize the importance of rest and rejuvenation.

You’re not missing out on anything. Breaks and rest are a privilege. Embrace the fact that you were blessed with this privilege.

Schedule regular breaks and prioritize self-care activities in your calendar to maintain productivity and prevent burnout.

Being productive does not mean being constantly busy. On the contrary, the most productive people I know, myself included, are also the ones who have the most time to spend on whatever they want.

The key to being productive is to focus your time and energy on activities that align with your goals and bring you closer to what truly matters.

In life, we often forget about the non-essential and unimportant things. What remains with us are the meaningful and significant moments.

These moments define our experiences of what we call life.

You can create lasting memories and build a purposeful and fulfilling life, but that will only happen if you are honest.

Closing thoughts

In a world filled with increasing competition for our time and attention, along with numerous distractions and overwhelming choices, taking the time to pause and reflect on what truly matters to us is essential for maintaining our sanity.

We often find ourselves consumed by the undisciplined pursuit of more, constantly busy but not genuinely productive, or relaxing.

Scattered focus and a stressed mind, have made it impossible for most teenagers and young adults to create a meaningful life.

Without a sense of purpose, they often feel lost, unfulfilled, and disconnected from their true potential.

This doesn’t have to be that way, by consciously making choices, eliminating distractions, and staying present in the moment, we can cultivate a more focused and purpose-driven mindset.

Purpose gives our lives meaning and provides us with a sense of direction. It gives us a reason to wake up every morning and make a positive impact on the world.

It is the driving force that fuels our passions, motivates us to overcome challenges, and embraces what truly matters.

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