This post was originally written by Leo Babauta for Zen Habits. Republished here with permission.
As much as possible, I try to live my life by bringing to my consciousness what is bubbling up from my unconsciousness. I try to clear the fog through which we often drift, to see where I’m going, to make conscious choices instead of automatic ones. Here is a guide to living your life consciously.
A Guide to Living Your Life Consciously
Do you ever have a feeling that you’re drifting through life, and not going where you want to go? Or that you don’t know how you got where you are today?
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Living consciously is about taking control of your life, about thinking about your decisions rather than making them without thought, about having a life that we want rather than settling for the one that befalls us.
If you’re drifting through life, or feel out of control, or don’t know how you got here … deciding to live consciously could be the single most important thing you do.
Are you living unconsciously now?
Ask yourself the following questions … if you find yourself saying yes to many of them, you might want to consider trying conscious living:
1. Are you in a job that you fell into rather than the job you want?
2. Are you doing things that are given to you rather than what you love to do?
3. Are you spending your time doing busy work rather than what you want to do with your days?
4. Do you wish you could spend more time with loved ones?
5. Do you find yourself overweight because you’ve been eating the food you’ve been eating for years and stuck in a rut of not exercising?
6. Do you find yourself living from paycheck to paycheck or in debt, not knowing where your money goes?
7. Do you find yourself wasting your time doing things that aren’t important rather than focusing on completing the things that are very important?
8. Do you go through your days not thinking about what you want out of life and how to get it?
If you answered “no” to all of these questions, you’re probably already living consciously, and you don’t need this article at all. For those who would like to live more consciously, read on.
How to Live Life Consciously
It’s not something you can change overnight. Living consciously is a lifestyle, a skill, an art. It’s not something you do just once, but a habit that you can form for the rest of your life.
But it is deceptively simple: Be conscious, and think about, everything you do. Make conscious choices rather than doing things without thinkings. That’s all.
It sounds simple, but it’s amazing how few people actually do this, and it’s amazing how easy it is to live life on autopilot, and just do what we always do because that’s what we’re used to doing. And it’s easier that way, even if our lives are difficult.
It’s not easy to changes our lives, to break out of our routines, to begin to live the lives we want.
It takes willful effort, energy and constant vigilance to think about our choices … all of them.
Here are some key tips that have worked for me:
1. Make reflecting on your life a regular routine. Whether you keep a journal, or make reflecting on your day part of your evening routine, or have a weekly session where you review your life or take some time away from the office to reflect on everything … it’s important that you give things some thought. Regularly.
2. At least once a year, set or review your life’s goals. What do you want to do in life? What is important to you? What do you want your life to be like? And how will you get there? Write it down, and keep it somewhere you will see it often, and take action.
3. Also review your relationships. The people we love are among the most important things in our lives, if not the only important things. You need to think about your relationships. Do you spend enough time with them? Do you show your appreciation for them? Is there a way you can improve your relationship? Do you need to forgive or apologize about anything? Are there barriers that can be removed? Communication that can be improved? Also review your relationships with others, such as co-workers.
4. Consider your impact on the world. How does what you do, what you consume, and how you live, impact the environment? How does it impact poor people in Third World countries? How does it impact the poor, the powerless, the voiceless? How does it impact your community? Your life has an impact, whether you think about it or not. Being conscious of how your decisions affect others is important.
5. Consider the real costs of each purchase. We often buy things without really thinking about what we’re doing or what they really cost. Sure, it’s just $30 … no problem, right? But that $30 might represent several hours of your life … hours that you’ll never get back. Do you really want to spend your life earning money for trivial purchases? Is that what you want to do with your life? Worth some thought, I think.
6. Consider the real costs of the things in your life. Our lives are filled with stuff … our houses, our offices … and beyond just the cost of buying the stuff, this stuff takes a toll on us. The stuff in our life must be arranged, cleaned, moved, taken with us when we move … it takes up the space in our life, it is visual stress. Later, we’ll have to get rid of it, sort through all of it, take time to throw it away or recycle it or donate it. If having the stuff is not worth all of that, then get rid of it.
7. Review how you spend your time. Until we do a time audit, and keep a log of our day, even if it’s just for one or two days, we don’t really know how we spend our time. And if we do audit our time, it can be very surprising. And if we know how we’re spending our time now, we can make conscious decisions to change how we spend our time in the future.
8. Explore yourself. Take some time to think about what kind of person you are. What your values are. Whether you live your life according to those values. How you treat people. How you treat yourself. Think about this: what do you want people to say about how you lived your life?
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