Underlying most goals is an assumption that working towards a goal will improve quality of life, for ourselves and/or others we care about. With each of our long term goals comes many choices and decisions, including what to try and how much effort to put in. By assessing your current quality of life, you can focus on the gaps and opportunities you have to make some improvements.
1. Understand the aspects of your life and experiences that most closely connect with the quality of life desired. Which of your behaviors impact your quality of life? A few decades of research on what correlates most with quality of life gives us categories like the ones listed below with a useful mnemonic of 'PERMA':
- Positive emotions: The moments and extended periods we have of different positive moods, including feelings of happiness, gratitude, closeness, confidence, peacefulness and awe-inspired.
- Engagement: Periods of time when we are so engaged with the activity we're working on that we have a clarity of focus, time seems less relevant, and we are challenged at a level to which we're attracted. This is frequently associated with 'Eustress', which is the positive opposite to distress.
- Relationships: The quality of our relationships with others is very highly correlated with our overall quality of life. The strength of our social support structure or 'Personal Safety Net' is fundamental to our coping skills and resiliency when facing challenges in our lives. Our relationships are also a primary source of many of the other aspects of quality of life, especially positive emotions.
- Meaning: How well our work and other endeavors connect with a "greater purpose" contributes enormously to our self esteem and confidence to continue our efforts. The opposite is a feeling that we are wasting our time on trivial tasks that do not contribute to a greater cause. A sense of meaning is often easier to come by if what we do connects with addressing the needs of a community we care about.
- Accomplishment: A sense of accomplishment is closely tied to how well we feel we are able to complete our "to do" lists. But it can also include the simple positive emotion that comes from completing an already-solved problem like a Sudoku puzzle, or level of a video game.
- Health: Not referenced in the original list, but worth including here, is the quality of our physical well-being, including how much pain we're in, how much mobility we have, and how much we can do physically. According to Gallup's research on global well being, the quality of our sleep plays a critical role in overall quality of life - if we aren't getting enough good rest, we are far more likely to be emotionally overwhelmed or otherwise less productive.
2. Explore how your mind makes choices. We make many choices every day that affect our quality of life, but most of our routines (how we start our day, what we choose to eat) and standard reactions (eating when we're anxious, cursing at other drivers if they frustrate us) are made on autopilot. Analytical thinking and planning is required to measurably change any of our autopilot habits (how we choose our food) or response patterns (how we respond to frustration while driving). Triggering cognitive thinking in time to make better choices is a fundamental skill. For example, if you can feel your emotions starting to take over, you have a limited time window in which you can ask yourself strategic questions and make better choices about what you say or do next.
3. Describe your ideal quality of life with those aspects as categories. What habits do you wish you had? How do you wish you could respond in challenging situations? What would a perfect day include and what would it exclude? Take five minutes now to write up short wish lists with what you'd want in each category.
- Start a gratitude journal or a 'satisfaction index' in your diary as a useful way to keep track of your goals. Make a short list of what you are grateful for in your life within these categories. Regularly quantify your current status within each of the categories/aspects by asking yourself where the smallest and biggest gaps are.
- Research to help you on your journey. There is a wide range of online sources as well as formal coaching and educational courses. Ask yourself - what have you done in the past to help reduce those gaps? What have others done?
- Brainstorm your list of specific goals that, if successfully completed, would help you close those quality of life gaps.
4. Collaborate with others in your experiments. If you want to change a frequent daily habit, like eating healthier or exercising, partnering with people around you makes it easier to succeed. This becomes critical if their behaviors affect yours and vice versa - work together to design experiments you can try together.
- For example, one of the easiest ways to eat healthier at home is to reduce the availability of unhealthy food in the home. The choice comes earlier - when food is being purchased - if you're at a grocery store, you can reduce the temptations of unhealthy food by sticking to the perimeter aisles unless there's something you need down one of the center aisles.
5. Evaluate the results of your experiments. Consider using a daily journal to capture your intentions for the day in the first part of the morning, then reviewing and reflecting on the results at the end of the day, and capturing those ideas which can be used to improve results the 'next time around'. If you're collaborating with a partner, make time to review results together. As you fall asleep and drift into an alpha state of consciousness, you may find your mind more capable of epiphanies on how to approach your goals in more productive ways.
6. Plan for productive failure. Experimenting with change doesn't mean you have to stick with everything you do. Figuring out what doesn't work is a huge part of figuring out what does work!