What does a successful life mean to you?

In my most recent post, I shared an image which stated that ‘Happiness and success aren’t about how your life is perceived by others. They’re about how life feels to you.’ I wrote about how easy it is to forget this, especially with modern life placing such great importance on keeping up with the Joneses, sharing every detail of our lives with others (or at least the positive elements…) and waiting for the subsequent likes, comments and validation from others. It seems to be what many of us live for right now but in doing so, have we completely lost the ability to identify and subsequently do the things that bring true happiness to us?

All of which leads me to question what a successful life truly means to me? Surely that’s the main goal any of us can aspire to – to live a successful life? This will clearly mean different things to different people but surely our best chance of finding contentment and true happiness is to strive for that?

The first step in achieving this is to understand what a successful life means to each of us. It could be owning material things which are important to us, such as a nice house, an expensive car, designer clothes / handbags / shoes, or anything else which fits this category. It could be a wide range of non-materialistic goals, such as spending more time with our immediate families, working toward a promotion at work, getting fitter and healthier, or devoting time to those hobbies and interests which are important to us. It could be a combination of material and non-materialistic goals. When considering all this though, we need to be realistic and consider focusing on areas which are in our direct control. For instance, someone working toward creating a more happy, warm and loving family home will stand more chance of being successful than someone whose primary aim is to win the National Lottery. It’s a nice ‘pie in the sky’ dream to have but how realistic is it as a definitive goal which can be worked on day by day, week by week?

So, how best to work toward living what we consider to be a successful life? To do this, we should have an idea of what a successful life would look like to us. Hopefully, getting there is achievable – if it isn’t, we’re potentially in for a lifetime of disappointment and resentment. If you do have that picture in your head though, the first thing to do is to break it down into manageable steps. This may be easier to do for certain goals than others, but the principle remains true – breaking any task down into smaller steps is usually the best way of completing it. Here are 3 different examples:

Objective 1 – getting healthier / losing weight.

One of the easier objectives to achieve as the ability to do this lies solely with each of us. A potential ‘smaller steps’ plan for this could include:

  • Begin with the end goal and work backward. This could be a desire to lose 3 stone in weight, or to run a 5km race, or a combination of the 2. Whichever it is, have that end point in mind.
  • Start realistically. Rome wasn’t built in a day. If the aim is to lose weight, identify the elements of your diet which need to be reduced / eliminated and gradually phase them out. If the aim is to exercise, create an exercise regime which begins with relatively easy steps, such as starting with brisk walks before moving onto really short runs to begin with.
  • With each passing week, gradually remove the unhealthy food and drink items, or gradually increase the exercise regime.
  • Map this out over a defined period and track progress on a frequent basis.
  • Perhaps most importantly, cut yourself some slack. Unless you’re ridiculously disciplined, there will be weeks when you don’t lost weight, or days when you don’t exercise to the degree you originally planned. Acknowledge this at the very start and don’t beat yourself up when it happens. When it does, recognise it, try to understand why it has happened, dust yourself down and get back on track the next day. We are humans, not robots – don’t allow this to completely derail you when it occurs.

Objective 2 – wanting that brand new dream car.

Potentially a longer-term goal, especially if the money isn’t already sitting in your bank account, but one that could be achievable with a plan and some discipline:

  • Determine what it is you want and what the likely cost is.
  • Determine how you want to fund it, i.e. all cash or a deposit followed by monthly payments (I’m discounting leasing as an option here as there is usually a relatively quick fix to enabling that).
  • Map out how to get the amount you need to make that payment. It could involve making sacrifices and cutting spending elsewhere (and being disciplined enough to maintain that over a period of time), or perhaps finding a second job or a ‘side hustle’ to make some additional money.
  • Work on it consistently. Track your spending and track your saving. Set up a dedicated bank account and hopefully watch that grow.

Objective 3 – reducing a lengthy work week and spending more time with your immediate family.

This may sound like the easiest goal of the 3 listed here but it may be the most difficult to achieve. Quite often, working what are deemed to be excessive hours is essential, whether it’s needed to generate some extra cash via overtime or bonuses, or if it is necessary to maintain a salary, and therefore a lifestyle, which you and your family have become used to. If that is the case, changing it to any degree can seem nigh-on possible. However, there may still be solutions which you can map out and try to work toward.

  • If you’re working in a single yet demanding job, consider if there is scope to reduce the hours worked each week. If you have a good working relationship with them, have a chat with your boss and explain your situation. They may be able to help. Does your company offer flexible working arrangements (i.e. starting early and finishing early) or options such as reduced / condensed hours? Appreciate that this may not be feasible as most of us are used to the salary we earn and are unable to ‘take a hit’ in that regard, though you may never know what is possible if you don’t ask that initial question.
  • If reducing your hours worked isn’t feasible, consider what you’re doing with your personal time. Are you working long hours then hitting the gym, or heading out for drinks with friends, or following your football team home and away? If family time is most important to you, do you need to make sacrifices elsewhere?
  • Is it possible to set up dedicated times each week for family time? Is it possible to schedule a date night once a month, or have a certain evening each week to watch a family film together, or devote a set time each week to do a hobby or pastime which you know will get all the family together?

I’m not pretending that any of this is easy – it usually isn’t. But it all boils down to how badly we want something. Some goals are easy to achieve, some are difficult. Some require sacrifices to be made. Some need us to take a difficult first step just to get that momentum in place. It may take us weeks or months to start some, just because they seem so daunting. If we want them badly enough though, we can help ourselves. Identify the goals. Map out the smaller steps required to achieve them. Make a start. Be disciplined. Make sacrifices where necessary. Don’t beat yourself up if there are small slippages along the way. Frequently remind yourself of just how brilliant you’re doing – you are your best cheerleader, no-one else. If you can do all these things, you stand a much greater chance of living a successful life, whatever that means to you.

As always, thanks for reading, stay safe and be kind to yourself and others. But especially yourself.

Best wishes.

Mick

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