Do you feel like your life has stalled? Are you not sure what goals you want to achieve? Does your life feel unfocused and unsatisfying?
Lacking a direction in life is frustrating and even frightening. It can occur to anyone, of any age and in any stage of life, even those who seemingly have it all. Fortunately, if you don’t know what to do with your life, solutions are available.
The following guide will help you determine what makes you happy and satisfied, and then show you how to build a life that fulfills you completely.
When You Don’t Know What to Do With Your Life: How to Prepare Yourself Mentally for Change
The first step towards a brighter future requires no physical activity at all. Instead, you want to journey inward. Before you take concrete actions towards a better life, you first want to understand the following ideas. They’ll help you develop solid guideposts as you move forward.
Living Life for Yourself
Everyone’s idea of a fulfilling life is different. Before you can create the life you want, you must first determine what makes you happy.
Note that the emphasis here is on what makes you happy. When building a life, it’s okay to be selfish. One of the biggest sources of personal unhappiness is living your life according to social pressure.
Social pressure is when we allow others to influence and determine our choices in life. Of course, we all conform to social pressure to some degree. For example, you wear clothes when you walk around in public. Social pressure isn’t necessarily bad overall.
However, it does present problems if you’re living your life according to the expectations of others. Common examples of this include:
- You choose a job because it will make your family happy
- You marry a spouse that is a great person, but not an ideal fit for you
- You dress and act to conform to those around you
Living according to the wishes of those around you, instead of living how you want to, is a leading source of life dissatisfaction. Although it may seem obvious, it bears repeating: Before you can live a life that makes you happy, you first must decide what it is that brings you happiness.
Realize You’re Not Alone
If you’re not happy with your current life, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. A Gallup World Poll found most Americans rate their life satisfaction as a six out of ten.
Even people with seemingly fantastic lives likely suffer from some dissatisfaction. It’s important to keep that in mind when you’re comparing your life to the lives of others, especially when browsing social media. Feeling dissatisfied with one’s life is far more common than you might realize.
Don’t Try to Plan Your Entire Future
Have you played the board game Life? The path from the start to the end isn’t a straight line. Instead, it’s filled with twists and turns.
Real life is the same way. It’s an unpredictable journey where sudden changes can appear right around the corner.
While you want to plan for the future, keep in mind that the future isn’t yours to control. Learning how to expect, and even embrace, uncertainty is a key aspect of improving your life.
Find Comfort in Discomfort
To move forward in life, you’ll likely have to leave your comfort zone. Improving your life might involve switching careers, moving, or undergoing other big changes.
While the idea of change is often uncomfortable, keep in mind that change is inevitable. Proper planning helps you prepare for and control changes in your environment. Otherwise, change can happen to you without your input – and that’s not always a good thing.
Also, learn to embrace temporary discomfort to move forward. For example, suppose you want to buy a house. To save money, you might have to stop eating out for a while. Focusing on your long-term goal helps make short-term sacrifices easier.
Don’t Expect Overnight Changes
You’ve clarified your goals and decided to make changes in your life. You’re ready to embark on a journey towards success! However, big changes often take time to achieve. It’s easy to feel frustrated when the life you’re striving for seems so far out of reach.
Prepare yourself for delays and frustrations along your journey. Forces outside of your control will likely interfere with your plans. Learning to roll with problems as they occur helps keep you stay on course towards your goals.
What is Your Life Purpose?
If you don’t know what to do with your life, you might feel like you’re missing your life’s purpose. The basic idea is that we’re all born with a special gift, and it’s our job to find a way to let that gift shine.
It’s impossible to know if that’s true or not. However, it’s generally not a helpful idea when searching for your life’s plan. You might miss out on lots of other opportunities.
Not to be morbid, but all of us have a limited time on Earth. We want to make a meaningful impression. Instead of searching for your life’s purpose, find a way to use your time here as wisely as possible. You should do what’s important to you.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to cure world hunger. What’s important to you might not seem all that important in the grand scheme of things. You might want to travel the world, raise a bunch of kids, or become a skateboarding champion. It’s whatever you feel is the best way to spend your time.
Four Strategies to Create a Plan
Now that you understand the emotional and mental processes behind committing to long-term life changes, you’re ready to develop an action plan.
The first step is creating a road map of where you want to go. Knowing that you’re unhappy with your current situation is not enough. You also must create a clear idea of what you want to achieve.
Here are four strategies you can use to help frame your new life:
“Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?”
It’s okay if this question makes you roll your eyes. After all, you’ve likely heard it asked in every job interview you’ve ever had.
It’s often a frustrating, annoying question to answer. Most people don’t have a clear idea of what they’re doing five days from now, much less in five years.
However, the question is common because it’s useful, especially when you ask it to yourself. Five years is far enough in the future that you can’t get too specific, but it’s also near enough that you can plan with a fair amount of accuracy.
So, how do you answer this question?
Forbes says the main reason employers ask this question is to see if your long-term interests match up with the qualities of the position they’re looking to fill. Even though you’re asking the question to yourself, there’s still a valuable lesson here.
What type of activities do you feel will hold your interest for five years? Think generally. Do you want to live in a city or a rural area? Do you want a large family, small family, or would you rather live alone?
Resume.com recommends emphasizing the idea that you want to experience personal improvement. Although their advice is geared towards answering the question in a job interview, it applies to your personal plans, too.
What types of skills do you want to develop or improve during the next five years? For example, if you currently draw as a hobby, would you want to do it for a career? Would you want to learn additional artistic skills such as painting?
“Where do you want to be in five years?”
Answering the question is not about creating a detailed five-year plan. Instead, it’s a way to identify the type of activities you enjoy and the type of skills you want to develop.
Create a Personal Manifesto
A manifesto is a written statement expressing the views, principles, and goals of either an organization or an individual. Famous manifestos include The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, the Declaration of Independence by the Founding Fathers, and the “I Have a Dream” speech by Dr. King.
While writing a manifesto might seem a tad lofty, it’s a useful tool for creating a personal call to action. You’re not publishing your manifesto for the world to read. Instead, you’re writing a document to help you stay on course to reach your goals.
Here are the three steps to creating a manifesto to help with personal growth.
- Discuss Specific Topics
Stay away from general goals like, “I want to lose weight” or “I want a better job.” Instead, focus on specifics. For example, “I want to lose 30 pounds in the next four months” or “I want to earn at least $55,000 a year plus health benefits.”
- State Your Principles
Write down your core beliefs about the topics discussed above. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never written your beliefs down before, and it can feel a little weird at first. Just remember nobody else has to see this, so try to clarify what’s truly important to you. For example:
- “I want to demonstrate healthy eating habits for my children.”
- “It’s important that I earn enough money to establish security for my family.”
- Use Direct, Positive Language
State your intentions clearly and directly. For example, “I will buy a step-tracking device so I can track my daily movement and calorie intake” or “I will ask for a raise at my current job while also submitting five resumes a week for other jobs.”
Writing your manifesto helps you discover your interests, preferences, and goals. The act of writing helps clarify your ideas and values.
Shadow a Professional
Are you interested in a career but don’t know much about it? One of the best ways to learn about any job is to shadow a professional. Following someone through their day-to-day activities helps you develop an accurate sense of what the job entails – and whether or not you’d like doing it as a career.
Historically, internships and other types of job shadowing are associated with college students and recent grads. However, according to an article from Monster, more and more adult professionals turn to job sharing as a way to consider career changes.
Explore Side Projects
It’s a big world out there. Don’t be shy about exploring all of your options. Maintain a curious mindset about the world by checking out a variety of hobbies.
Take a local art class. Perform routine maintenance on your car. Make a home-cooked meal. If you enjoy an activity, try it again. Exploring many different hobbies doesn’t just broaden your horizons, but also helps you identify the types of activities you enjoy.
Take Action to Change Your Life
So far, you’ve learned how to adjust your mindset. Next, you’ve identified the changes you want to make. Now, it’s time to implement actionable steps so those dreams become a reality.
Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Get started right away. Successful people dive right into an activity with both feet while everyone else stands on the sidelines, waiting for the perfect moment to begin.
Experts estimate it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. While the specific number is debatable, there’s no doubt that practice is the key to success. The sooner you start a project, the sooner you’ll master the skills required.
The specifics of what you do aren’t as important as the act of starting. Any step forward is a step in the right direction. For example, if your goal is to begin a new career, you can start by going online and looking at sample resumes related to your designed job. If you want a romantic relationship, your first step could be to sign up for a dating website.
Don’t Fear Failure
You’ll likely make mistakes along the way, but that’s okay. Don’t think of mistakes as a setback. Instead, every mistake is a learning experience.
Fear of failure is often more of a setback than actual failure. When we think about failing something, we often picture embarrassment, loss of self-worth, disappointment, and more. However, while failure can have consequences, they’re often less severe than we imagine.
Learn to manage risk. For example, if you want to start a business, do thorough market research beforehand and spend no more than what you can afford to lose. Build your dreams in manageable stages to avoid major losses.
Picture yourself in six months, one year or later. You’ll look back and laugh at all the mistakes you made when you were first starting.
Once you’ve started, keep your momentum going. Don’t let procrastination slow you down. Real Simple magazine has a few helpful tips to avoid procrastination:
First, break down big jobs into small parts. A large job often feels insurmountable, but is far less intimidating to tackle when broken down into manageable components. Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, concentrate on what you can accomplish, even if it’s not much.
When you’re ready to work, eliminate distractions. Turn off your phone’s ringer and email notifications. Many people prefer to set a time limit. The idea is to work hard, but then take a short break. Research shows breaks help reduce stress and increase productivity.
Also, reassess your workload every day at 2 pm. Have you completed everything on the day’s to-do list? If not, you might want to tackle the most important item before the end of the day. Two o’clock is early enough in the afternoon to allow you to finish a fairly substantial project. If you want until five or six to evaluate your day, you might be left in a crunch.
Even if you have great work habits, miscellaneous tasks will still pile up. Around once a month, plan an anti-procrastination day. Shut yourself off from the world and tackle all the little assignments that have slipped through the cracks.
Surround Yourself with Successful People
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” When you’re attempting to make positive changes to your life, who you hang out can have a dramatic effect on your success.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to befriend a bunch of millionaires. A person’s bank balance doesn’t define their level of success. Instead, Entrepreneur Magazine recommends you hang out with people who have the following four traits:
- Hard workers – Active people have a positive influence on one another. If your friends are always completing tasks, you’ll feel motivated to do so, too.
- Curious minds – Your friends should always question your ideas. Questions allow you to look at a situation from a new perspective.
- Positive attitude – Surrounding yourself with a can-do attitude improves your mood and boosts your productivity. You’ll feel comfortable reaching for your goals when you feel supported by those around you.
- Dreamers – Finally, your friends should be the type of people who are also striving to improve their lives. They don’t need the same goals as you, but they should have goals of their own.
Even when money is tight, you want to focus on saving as much as you can. A healthy savings account acts as a comfortable buffer while you explore your options in life. Finance guru Dave Ramsey has a variety of ways to save:
Paying off debt is your priority. Use the debt snowball method. Pay off debt from smallest to largest. It not only frees up more of your income to save as you go but eliminating the number of different debts often motivates you to keep going.
Most bills, such as your internet bill or your power bill, are fairly predictable month after month. However, your grocery bill is often harder to keep track of. It’s easy to buy a few things here and there each week until you’ve spent a ton by the end of the month. Use a grocery list to plan your meals to help avoid spontaneous purchases.
Finally, make saving automatic. Most banks allow you to automatically deposit 10% of your paycheck into your savings account. While paying off debt is your main priority, try to save a small amount of your income, too.
The 30-Day Challenge
The idea of changing your entire life is daunting. Instead of focusing on the long-term, start by completing the 30-day Challenge. It helps you build confidence and a winning mindset for larger goals.
In the 30-day Challenge, you attempt to achieve three goals in one month. All the goals should improve your life in some way. Pick two goals that are relatively easy to achieve and a third that’s a little harder. For example:
- Lose five pounds
- Read two self-help books
- Change the oil in your car
Are these goals life-changing? Not really. However, the act of completing them can have a powerful snowball effect. You’ll develop the habit of setting and completing goals.
The next time you do the Challenge, you can increase the complexity of the goals. For example, you could go to the gym five days a week, read three books, and replace your tires.
Habits are a powerful tool in achieving success. Once you’ve spent 30 days focusing on an activity, it becomes automatic.
4 (Weird) Questions to Ask Yourself
If you’re having trouble identifying how you want to spend your life, try asking yourself these four questions. They’re a bit strange, but the answers can help you find the right path.
How Are You Disappointing Your 10-Year-Old Self?
Think back to when you were a growing child. You certainly had dreams and ideas about the future. While certainly most of them weren’t overly realistic, they inspired passion.
If your 10-year-old self could see you today, what would disappoint him or her? Perhaps you wanted to create comic books. How much writing or drawing do you do today? Or maybe you wanted to be a superhero yourself. What do you do today to help other people?
Look to your past to help determine your future. What types of activities and ideas did you like as a child? Could you recapture that joy in some way today?
What Makes You Forget to Eat?
Have you ever been so wrapped up in an activity that your growling stomach has to alert you to a missed meal? Pay attention to what keeps you so engaged that you forget to eat, as that’s something you’re truly passionate about.
However, don’t look at the activity in isolation. Instead, try to understand the cognitive principles behind the task. For example, if you forget to eat while mowing the lawn, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re destined for a career in landscaping. You might prefer physical, outdoor work compared to spending time in an office.
What’s Embarrassing to You?
Before you learn to become great at a task, you’ll first be terrible at it. Unfortunately, being terrible at any activity is embarrassing. Many people let this fear of embarrassment prevent them from learning new skills.
But not successful people. Generally, successful people aren’t as embarrassed by failure. Instead, they consider it part of the learning process.
Additionally, consider why you’re embarrassed. Do any of the following reasons sound familiar?
- My parents would disapprove if they found out I was interested in X
- My friends would make fun of me if they learned I like X
- I’d feel foolish if people found out I liked X
If the opinion of other people is the main reason preventing you from pursuing your interests, that’s a good sign you have a passion for that subject or activity – and you shouldn’t let others get in your way. Learning to accept embarrassment is a key element to finding success.
What Would You Do if You Were Superman?
What if you woke up one day to discover that you were Superman? What would you do? The answer can help you determine your passions in life.
Remember, Superman helps people. What actions would you take? If you’d fly around the world putting out forest fires, perhaps that means you have an interest in environmentalism and the outdoors. If you’d solve crimes, perhaps you’d like a job involving law enforcement or social services.
Pretending that you’re Superman allows you to identify the general avenues of life you’re interested in if obstacles pose no problem.
Not knowing what to do with your life is a frustrating feeling. Everybody wants their life to have meaning. Fortunately, even though the meaning of life varies from person to person, a fulfilling life is possible for everyone.
Use the guidelines above to identify your interests and passions. Then gear your mindset for success and develop a plan of action. From healthy relationships to a satisfying career and more, you can create a life you love starting today!