I Want You to LIVE!
Are you living and celebrating Life ?
Or are you merely… existing?
Whenever I give a speech or a consult, I like throwing this question out to get people to think about what they’re actually doing with their Lives.
I can help someone who’s had a heart attack get fit enough to return to his previous life again, but what is that? I can help someone lose weight and fit into that dress again, but then?
While I can help someone return to a previous life, job or size, and restore someone’s health and mobility through exercise, it really should just be a means, not an end. It should be a first step, a foundation from which one can set about the business of truly living Life fully, and not returning to status quo.
What is a Full Life?
So, what is a full Life? Is it just having a calendar full of activity? Is it having many different roles such as parent, child, employee, entrepreneur, and doing them all well? Is it having a regular adrenaline rush? Or for some, a simple Life without worries, just living day to day without thinking about the next?
While personal definitions differ, I think we can agree that the following script is NOT what we consider a full Life.
Alarm sounds. Hit snooze button. Alarm sounds. Drag self of bed. Brush teeth. Grab breakfast. Walk to MRT/ bus/ car. Get on. Get to work. Hunker down. Work. Work. Grab lunch. Back to work. Work. Get home. Eat dinner. Watch TV. Sleep. Perhaps hit the club/ bars Friday nights, sleep late, wake up late on weekends. Rinse and repeat.
I hope that’s not how we envision living out the next 20-30 years.
Ideas for a Full(er) Life
I wanted to share some elements I consider very important in my personal commitment to living a Full Life, along with associated questions that might help you divine your own path.
Life holds infinite possibilities, and with these possibilities challenges and surprises. I want a Life where I have access to at least some of those possibilities. Possibility to learn interesting things, meet interesting people, go interesting places. The possibility to have dreams and create the realistic possibilities to achieve them.
I don’t want my Life to be focused on one narrow path with no scope to explore side roads. Once Life is cut off from possibility, it becomes routine. You stop living as a human being, you’re just a human doing. Some people live their Lives trapped in an inexorable pattern of repetition occasionally interrupted by crisis management, and then back to status quo. I don’t want that to be you.
- Is my Life still full of possibilities, or has it become routine?
- Is there still anything happening on a day-to-day basis that intrigues me?
- Do I have anything to look forward to each day besides the end of work?
- What was the last momentous choice I had to make?
Adventure and New Experiences
Many people have one main focus around which their daily activities seem to revolve. For some it is their jobs. For others it’s the TV or the gaming console. For still others it’s clubbing and drinking.
Adventure and new experiences are important because they prevent ennui.
While some people consider work adventure enough. I believe earning an honest living is a noble pursuit, but I would like for the high points in my daily Life to be more than a fierce budget meeting, negotiations for a cheaper exercise machine, or the annual performance appraisal.
Adventure and excitement can be of different forms and intensities. Big adventures can be trying MMA, skydiving, a rock climbing course and abseiling down a 50ft cliff. But there can be little ones too, like going for a sculpting class, seeing a new client with a challenging problem, meeting a group of friends for a skate, going to see the new Pangdemonium play.
- Is the high point of my day the 5 (or 6) o’clock buzzer?
- Am I considered a boring person? If so, chances are, I have a boring Life.
- Do I have something to look forward to each day besides the latest episode of Lost or CSI?
- Am I doing or learning anything new today?
- Was today pretty much the same as yesterday, and will tomorrow be pretty much the same too?
Many people stop learning when they leave school. Once they start working, any learning is geared towards improving prospects at work. Someone goes for a training seminar he detests because it will look good on his record. Another is compelled to do an MBA because she hopes it will give her an edge over her colleagues. The joy of learning is lost.
Joy and satisfaction come from learning something you want to learn, not something you have to. Learning keeps you curious, so your mind never stagnates and you never fall into a rut. You retain a childlike wonder of the possibilities and inspiration for what you could accomplish. You just need to CHOOSE something. As you learn more, you derive greater fascination and excitement in a feedforward fashion.
You could learn in order to gain knowledge about a subject that interests you. Geography, ecology, recycling, genetics, arts and music, literature, a new language.
You could learn to rekindle an old interest. Flying kites, fishing, making sandcastles, keeping insects, calligraphy, solving the Rubik’s cube.
You could learn to do something. Dancing, cycling, swimming, sculpting, drawing, playing the piano, juggling, self defence.
Your Life will CHANGE.
You will be reminded that there is a LOT to this world to learn and to love. You will develop new modes of thinking and doing you never expected. And you will meet new people, widen your social circle, and appreciate the fresh perspectives on a great many things these people will bring into your consciousness.
- What have I learnt recently? It could be something to do, a way to think.
- Is there something I always wished I could do or know, but just never got round to it?
- Am I lacking knowledge in something I wish I knew more about?
- If I didn’t have to go to work for one week, what would I be learning?
I believe one key element to living a full Life is to realize it’s not all about you, and that you are but a microcosm in a universal macrocosm. There are few better ways to drive that point home than a periodic return to Nature, even for a couple of hours.
Today, we are so caught up in our urban jungles that we have insulated ourselves from Nature and the consequences of our choices. We have forgotten about the importance of a give-and-take ecosystem because it’s all about me me me. With that lifestyle comes stress and premature ageing.
Connecting with the green once again can have a calming effect. Breathing clean, fresh air changes your very physical state. You are put at ease, and you feel a lot more positive. You naturally breathe more deeply. You exercise without even knowing it, exploring beautiful paths, crawling to observe tiny creatures, climbing trees to recall an innocent past. As you observe Nature’s creatures, you are reminded of the idea of interdependence and community, things you may have forgotten in your pursuit of financial independence, self sufficiency, and individual success.
You don’t have to pay for an expensive overseas trip. Malaysia is a stone’s throw away from us. Cameron Highlands and Taman Negara are not expensive to visit. Even in Singapore you can take a walk through the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, or Sentosa’s Underwater World for a more artificial though no less inspiring experience. You could have some plants at home, an aquarium, or even a water fountain. At the very least, you can watch a documentary on DVD. I recommend these for a start. You won’t look at the world the same way again.
- What do I know about my responsibility to the environment?
- Is there some place I could go to take a break from the concrete jungle?
- Would a water fountain or some plants give me a layer of calm in the office or home?
- Is there anything I can do for the environment, even if it’s something small like recycling?
One way to live a fuller Life is by adding to the Lives of others. It’s easy to become isolated in the pursuit of happiness, especially if you believe it’s a zero sum game. That promotes an inward looking mentality that limits your actions and activities. But when you help others, you grow and gain too.
It doesn’t have to be something major in terms of money or energy. Many things are easy to do, and don’t require much special effort. For example, if you really enjoy something, you could find a part time position teaching at college or even the community centre. If you have some special experience, be it in your profession, relationships, or even the school of hard knocks, you could mentor a your person and guide him or her using your hard won Life lessons.
It does not just refer to helping strangers. Start with your loved ones. Many people believe they love their family. But they might be surprised how little quality time they actually spend with their kids or their wives or their girlfriends.
It could also be really examining what the word “friendship” means, and what being a friend entails. I’m not talking about the 5000 friends you have on Facebook. I’m talking about the friendship that entails sacrifice, time, effort, nurturing, and true love because you genuinely want that person to be happy. Do you have those? And if so, have your actions been consistent with doing the best you can for them?
- When was the last time I actually spent quality time with my children?
- Of the people I consider my friends, do I know what major event is going on right now in their Lives, and what I could do to help or facilitate?
- Am I available to my friends and loved ones or have I been aloof and unreachable?
- Am I doing anything for anyone other than for myself or my work?
The Right Attitude to Living Fully
Needless to say, the first steps to trying to change what might be routine is difficult and frightening, to say the least. They will require not just actions, but a certain ATTITUDE as well. I’d like to leave you with a few snippets that can help in this direction.
Carpe diem – seize the day. Live with some urgency. Time is trickling by. One day wasted is one day of opportunity lost forever.
Remember the essence of the serenity prayer – accept the things you cannot change, have the courage to change the things you can, and develop the wisdom to know the difference.
Engage in Life, don’t just exist. Think quality of life, not just quantity.
Go where you haven’t gone before – Do something new. Get out of your comfort zone from time to time. Be curious and interested as a new born babe.
Value and Treasure your support system of loved ones.
Remember Solon’s advice: Nothing in excess – there are consequences from excessive hedonism, but also breakdown from extreme restriction.
This will probably take some time to figure out though, and you don’t want to reach a stage of paralysis by analysis.
The important start is to BREAK THE ROUTINE.
DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT WITH YOUR LIFE TODAY.