Sometimes it’s difficult to get a clear view of exactly what our priorities are.
A couple of years ago, I had found myself in a place where I’d let the small stuff completely take over my life. Instead of following ambitions, or doing the things I enjoyed, I found myself wearily slogging through every day, my head in such a cloud of worry that I couldn’t see that I didn’t actually want the life I’d made for myself.
It wasn’t until I was randomly bursting into tears as I went about my day that I realised how much of a rut I’d found myself in.
I’d sleepwalked into this situation. I moved into a flat I couldn’t afford at a time in my life when my career hadn’t even begun. I had barely left university, and instead of giving myself the breathing space I needed in order to have a fair chance at finding out what I really wanted to do, I rushed headlong into the “grown up” life I thought I should be leading.
With this came the pressure of bills, a job it would be a disaster to lose even though I had little interest in it, and a seemingly never ending list of every day chores. I was so bogged down in the clutter of my mind that it didn’t occur to me that I didn’t have to do any of these things. The idea that I could simply clear it all out and start again seemed unthinkable, and it took a long time to realise that I was buried under a pile of small worries that could easily be changed.
Often, as we deal with various demands on our energy and time, true life goals fall by the wayside and smaller concerns take up all of our attention. Modern life is so fast paced and demanding that we can find ourselves getting bogged down in the inconsequential—things that if only we were to take a step back, we would realise aren’t that important to us.
Sometimes it’s important to step back, clear out, and take a life audit. This way you can chuck out the junk, recognise what’s important to you and identify what you want to improve.
1. Find a Habit that Clears your Mind
Whether it’s going out for a jog, taking up yoga, or sitting in quiet meditation, finding a way to clear your mind will let you think seriously about your life. When we rush from one task to the next, our brains are so busy that we are focused entirely on immediate demands and future worries, making it difficult to think about things critically.
This can be surprisingly hard. When I realised I needed to change my life, minimising distractions became key, so I deleted the social media apps off my phone, forced myself to go on long walks alone and began meditating. By taking up a habits that quieted my constant inner monologue, I was in the best position to remove myself from the anxieties of everyday living and think about my life as a whole.
2. Work Out Where You Are…
With a bit of space and time dedicated to yourself, you can take a good look at where you are. Write down what you feel like you’ve achieved, how much quality time you spend with family and friends, what you enjoy doing and how often you do it, how you feel about your job—essentially assessing everything that fills your day-to-day.
3. …And Whether This is Where You Want to Be
When you are evaluating your life in this way, it’s important to be objective about it. I found that self-judgement and negative thinking was something that really held me back. Instead of realising that I had rushed into a situation that, given a bit of time and space, I would have realised I wasn’t happy with, I told myself that my unhappiness was a personal failing. I thought wanting to change my life was due to a lack of maturity—not wanting to accept adult responsibilities.
The most pertinent question here is, how happy are you? Do you pour huge amounts of time and mental energy into tasks and burdens from which you gain little satisfaction? Maybe you’ve let a key life goal fall by the wayside, or perhaps you would like to spend more time with a certain friend. The conclusions don’t have to be drastic, it could simply be that there’s some things you would like to phase out from your life and small pleasures that you would like make more time for.
Whatever it is, this is the perfect time re-examine your priorities. It’s just important to make sure you do this without falling into harshly self-critical thinking. This is a chance to change things, not beat yourself up.
4. What’s Sapping Your Energy?
Take a moment to become aware of all the things you spend your time and energy on. Is there time every day you feel could be better spent? Perhaps those moments scrolling through social media or news sites adds up to an hour that you’d rather be doing something else, or maybe curating your social profiles is important to you and you consider that this is time spent wisely.
It doesn’t matter what the conclusions are, this is about you and what you want from your life. By being honest with yourself and looking clearly, you can stop yourself from making false goals. Plenty of us worry about doing what we feel like we should be doing, from losing weight to reading classic novels, but if this isn’t truly something that interests you and is unlikely to improve your happiness, you should focus on the things that will.
If there are things in life that cause more worry than they are worth, or that take up disproportionate amounts of time and energy, this is a great opportunity to let them go and redirect that energy elsewhere.
5. Visualise the Future You Want
If you find that things aren’t exactly where you want them to be, and that you would like to make changes, visualise a future where you have all your priorities in order. I found it really useful to imagining my life as I would have liked it to be in a years’ time, because I could start making the changes I needed to find myself there. Before long, I had removed the things from my life that were nothing but a drain on my time, and focused with renewed enthusiasm on all the things that are truly important.
This may lead you to take what appear to be some steps backwards. We are so used to the idea that life follows a certain path that it can be hard to deviate from it. For me, taking a life audit meant moving back home with my parents, slowly phasing out my job by cutting my hours, and focusing entirely on my ambition to be a writer and illustrator.
The changes you make needn’t be so dramatic, but even the smallest change could hugely improve your happiness.
Author: Holly Ashby
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Ales Motyl/Flickr