There should be more to life than waking up, going to work, paying bills, doing chores, and going to bed only to start over again the next day. Many people say they feel as if they are merely surviving rather than truly living a fulfilling life. If you feel you are struggling to exist day to day and seem to have no purpose other than getting through each day, you are not alone! The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
The key is GOAL SETTING and BALANCE. Setting specific goals in seven areas of your life and actively working towards fulfilling these goals will help you feel like life has more meaning and purpose. You will have more satisfaction with your life and be happier overall than when you are just drifting by and trying to survive day to day.
Take a piece of paper and make a list with the seven areas identified below. Write down your goal for each area, and if you don’t have a goal for a specific area, create one. This exercise will help you identify the areas of your life that you have been neglecting. Once you have identified the areas that you are not working on, begin to think of how you can develop some goals and start working on all of these areas. These simple steps will help you begin to live a life with more direction and purpose.
- FAMILY – maybe you need to focus more attention on your family. Maybe you need to work on better communication with them, or work on building your intimacy with your partner. No matter what stage of life you are in, there are goals you can set in this area! They will change as your family changes, but change doesn’t mean end. Respecting your elders, caring for children, setting reasonable goals for education, fun, and safety at all ages are important. Young people often find it easy to set goals such as getting married or having children, but as family dynamics change over time, some people have a difficult time changing their relationships with family members to meet the new goals. When children leave home and you find yourself with an empty nest, your goals may change to include in-laws and grandchildren.
- SOCIAL – Often, people neglect a social life when they start a family or are focusing on building a career. While it is hard to maintain a social life while fulfilling all your adult roles, it is still important. Your social life will change but does not need to be nonexistent. Make friends, do volunteer work, plan outings with coworkers – whatever you have to do to maintain a life outside of family and outside of work that is reasonable. Some people like to have weekly card games, or if weekly is too much, then every other week or maybe just once a month. Develop a hobby. Remember, the key is balance. You don’t need to completely neglect a social life when you are building a family and a career; likewise, you don’t need to neglect your family or career to try to keep the same social life you may have had when you were young and single.
- FINANCIAL – I know money isn’t everything, but it is a necessity. What are your financial goals? Are you planning for retirement? Are you already retired? Even someone on a fixed social security income can still have financial goals. Budgeting, planning, and careful management of money is important. Whether it is to save for a vacation or a luxury purchase, or making sure you have money set aside for sudden unexpected needs like roof repairs or new tires on your car, you need to have a clear plan for how you handle your money. If you live paycheck to paycheck, or have to check your bank balance to see if there’s any money in it when you need to buy something, or don’t know how much cash you currently have in your purse or wallet, or are often blindsided by unexpected expenses and have to scramble to borrow money to cover these expenses, this is a good indication that this area of your life needs more attention.
- EDUCATION/PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT – You should never stop learning no matter what age you are. Set yourself some goals when it comes to education. Learn a new word each day, read a book, stay up to date on new studies in your field if you have a job, do word puzzles or Sudoku or simply learn a new game, whatever you need to do to further your education or challenge yourself intellectually or mentally on a daily basis.
- CAREER – Set career goals. Trying to find a job? Trying to climb the ladder on your current job? Even if you are retired or disabled, you can find something that fulfills you that you can do. Do some volunteer work, pick up trash by the side of the road, bake cookies once a week for a different neighbor, or deliver Meals on Wheels. Sign up to teach Sunday School or offer to babysit once a month for a young couple to have a date night. Retirement shouldn’t mean that you don’t have any more work to do. Whether you are getting paid or are volunteering your time, find meaningful work to do no matter what age you are.
- SPIRITUAL – What are your spiritual goals? If you go to church, set goals such as reading your bible on a regular basis, or attending regular services. If church is not your thing, give to charity or find meaning in your life in some way. Meditation and prayer are good options to begin with. Get in touch with whatever your higher power is, even if it is simply taking the time to appreciate nature.
- PHYSICAL – Your physical health is important; yet, all too often we neglect it until we have medical trouble such as diabetes or hypertension. Set goals for healthy eating, exercise, and proper grooming. Don’t skip regular checkups with your doctor and dentist. Becoming out of shape or overweight may cause depression, and this throws your life out of balance. Having to deal with a chronic health issue can also cause depression and anxiety, and can affect other areas of your life in major ways. Many young and middle aged individuals neglect their health while they focus too much of their time on goals in other areas.
If you find yourself devoting too much time to one of these areas and not enough in another, you may need to re-prioritize and re-adjust your goals to achieve better balance. Don’t make excuses for neglecting certain areas. It may be easy to justify neglecting some areas to focus more fully on others at certain times in your life, but a life out of balance is usually more stressful and can cause more depression, anxiety, and unhappiness than a well-rounded and balanced life.
The balance of having goals in seven areas instead of just a few, helps an individual be more resilient and overcome obstacles better. For instance, if a sudden health issue, such as a stroke, results in a forced retirement from a job, a person who put all their focus and drive into building a career is going to be faced with more depression and have a harder time adjusting to this change than someone who had active goals in other areas. Similarly, a mother who has always put her children in the number one spot in her life and never focused on a career or hobbies of her own will have more trouble adjusting to them leaving home. She won’t have other things to fill the void. A balanced and goal-driven life will result in a feeling of more meaning and purpose to everyday existence. Having plans and goals in these areas of your life brings a sense of purpose.