It is March, so if you are like me, all of your New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned. Because I’m trying to figure out how to get back on track, I thought that you, too, might appreciate some “life improvement tips” that are relatively quick and painless. Here are my top 10 tips for living a better life.
1. Pay attention. One year, instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I just spent 12 months living with the theme: pay attention. It was an eye opener to realize how much I had missed in life on a regular basis just through my own self-absorption. Stay in the moment. Pay attention to those around you — engage with them. Your life will be greatly enriched.
2. Never give up. Nothing brings home this lesson better than a weekend of March Madness on television. Watch the teams that never give up. Win or lose — those players experience success because of their sheer effort and determination. No matter how daunting the task, give it your all, and even if you don’t succeed in the traditional sense, I guarantee that you will learn something, and knowledge is, in itself, a victory.
3. Be flexible. Go with the flow. Does this mean you don’t need goals? Not at all. But you don’t have to adhere rigidly to one plan for meeting those goals. Circumstances change. Your original plan may not turn out to be the best plan. If you let go of your initial agenda, you can take advantage of new opportunities that could help you to reach your goal more easily than Plan A would have allowed.
4. You are who you are; You are not what you do. You don’t just have a job, you have a profession — and that carries with it a sense of “calling” and responsibility. Such a calling can give your life meaning — but don’t lose sight of the person you were prior to attending law school. Stay grounded by checking in with yourself by pursuing interests that you had before your life was consumed by “things legal.”
5. Know when to let go. As an attorney, you are often called upon to control or guide situations. You have knowledge that can lead people through complex problems. It’s prudent to remember that the “take charge” tendencies that serve you well professionally, may not always lead to positive outcomes in your personal life. If you have control issues, try to analyze why. Choose one thing you could let unfold without any control on your part. Examine how the lack of control makes you feel. Sometimes we try to control situations because we ourselves feel out of control. Even though we want what is best for those in our lives, sometimes we have to let them lead their own lives and make their own mistakes. It helps them to learn and frees us up to spend time on ourselves.
6. Find balance. I am a workaholic. When I’m not in the office, I’m on the phone or email for work. I don’t have a life. I have been this way forever. My mom used to tell me (in a paraphrase of the old saying), “All work and no play makes Jonna a dull girl.” Not only that, it can make you sick. Take a vacation. Go to a movie. Play golf. Go camping. Do something that takes you completely out of the realm of work. You will thank yourself later.
7. Write your life story. If you feel you need a new direction in life, but have no idea what that direction should be, take an hour and write your life story. That is, write what you want to have accomplished in life. How do you want to be remembered? If your reality doesn’t match what you have written, now is the time to make changes. To quote John Mellencamp, “Your life is now.” Live it the way you want.
8. Don’t hold yourself hostage. So often, we hold ourselves back from being our best or living our happiest, most meaningful lives. We carry beliefs from childhood that limit us and keep us from exploring options that could make our lives more fulfilling. If you feel imprisoned by your own life, keep in mind that most likely you hold the key to your own cell. You can liberate yourself from limiting beliefs. Engage the services of a counselor, spiritual advisor or life coach and start living the life you deserve.
9. Annual assessment. What do you want your life to be like one year from now? What do you want to accomplish? A year is going to pass either way. You can either spend another year the same way, or you can rewrite your life script for a new and fulfilling adventure. The choice is yours.
10. Appreciate what you have. Sometimes the key to happiness is merely recognizing the great things that are already happening in your life. Stop wishing that you were younger, older, richer or more attractive. You are great just the way you are. An attitude of appreciation can add positive momentum to your life journey.•
Jonna Kane MacDougall, an Indianapolis attorney, is assistant dean for external affairs and alumni relations at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law and a former law school career services director. A professional career/life coach, MacDougall can be contacted at 317-370-4361 or via email at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s.