How to Live a Meaningful Life on Your Own Terms

Rule #0: Don’t Trust Bloggers

How can some random blogger like me presume to be able to tell you how to live a meaningful life?

A) There must be better answers than whatever led me down the unglamorous path of becoming a blogger. And, B) I have no idea what “meaningful” means to you.

Both objections are fair.

While I actually (and some might say deludedly) love my job and think my life’s meaningful, I don’t have answers for you. You have to find those for yourself.

But maybe I can help you with your search. I’ve done a lot of research into how to live a meaningful life and realized that much of what scientists and philosophers say can be summarized into seven rules.

Believe it or not, sticking to these rules is working for me. Who knows? Maybe it’ll work for you, too.

Rule #1: Make It Coherent

Your life can’t be meaningful if nobody understands it, so make it coherent by picking a direction.

I’m the director (and CEO) of my life, so I need a sense of where I want to take it. This lights a fire under my ass, guides my decision making, inspires others to help me, and keeps me away from the temptation of meaningless distraction.1Bonus: According to the paper, Life story coherence and its relation to psychological well-being, not only are coherent life stories more meaningful, but they lead to a greater sense of well-being, too.

For me, that direction is my personal mission statement:

I inspire people to think for themselves and try new things so they escape the suck of the status quo, find more rewarding paths, and make the most of life. The more who do so, the less powerful the status quo becomes. Eventually, we can make this an extraordinary world where the unconventional is conventional.

But what if I realize I need to change direction?

That’s the next rule for how to live a meaningful life.

Rule #2: Rewrite As Needed

Your script isn’t set until you die, so don’t let your past get in your way and rewrite your life story on the fly.

“Your life is your story. Write well. Edit often.”

Susan Statham

In her book, Insight, Tasha Eurich explains this by comparing life’s key scenes to stars in the sky. We can’t change them once they’re there, but we can choose which ones to focus on. And it’s up to us to decide how to connect them into a constellation that tells the stories we desire.

Best of all, I don’t have to wait for the universe to give me starry scenes to work with. As we’ll see now in Rule #3, I can, and should, make them on my own.

Celebrating success with high five
Celebrate and elevate scenes in life to create memorable scenes for your life’s story.

Rule #3: Create Memorable Scenes

Actively look to create and magnify memorable and meaningful scenes in life.

Here are some ways I try to do so:

  • Enhance major milestones. Tune your radar to crucial moments of transition in life, like firsts, lasts, graduations, weddings, and funerals. Elevate them by celebrating fully and being completely present in the moment.
  • Invent new milestones. In their book that inspired this rule, The Power of Moments, Chip and Dan Heath share the example of one widow’s idea for a “reverse wedding.” She went to church with her loved ones to celebrate her marriage that passed, remove her ring, and move on.
  • Go on micro-adventures. Try something new like traveling (or moving) to countries that make you uncomfortable and taking on challenges like fasting or a day of wearing a blindfold. It will change your self-perception (see Rule #8), give you the guts to take on more adventures, and teach you meaningful life lessons you can apply to your bigger story.

Often, though, events happen that I can’t plan, predict, or control. Rule #4 tells me how to react when it happens.

Rule #4: Deal With It

When shit happens, deal with it. If not, life will stink.

Whining, complaining, blaming, or making excuses when life lays a steaming fat turd in front of me solves nothing and gets me nowhere. It just makes me a crazy person yelling at turds on sidewalks.

Often, the best way to deal with crap is to walk around the mess and learn to avoid going that way in the future. For example, I learned a lot of these lessons from my pretirement‘s failed “ad-ventures.”

Other times, I have to stop and clean it up. And if it keeps popping up (or pooping down), I’ve got to find the source and put a stop to it. The daily gratefuls Kim and I have used to fix our relationship are a perfect example of this.

And sometimes I have to turn that crap into manure and make something good out of it. This is related to the next rule for how to live a meaningful life.

Chris improvising when Kim has different plans
“Yes, and…” instead of “No, but…” to roll with the punches and keep a smile on everyone’s face.

Rule #5: Improvise

Stick your “No, but…” where the sun don’t shine. “Yes, and..” everything.

This is the cardinal rule of improv comedy and nearly as important for living a meaningful life.

Example 1:

  • Scenario: Kim says, “Chris, since we’re getting kicked out of our apartment in Vancouver maybe we should move somewhere warmer and cheaper, like Colombia, for the winter?”
  • Instead of: “No, but we’d just gotten settled into the city, already have all sorts of plans for the winter, and you’ve got your granola business.”
  • Try: “Yes, and then we could keep improving our Spanish and experiment with remote businesses like blogging. I bet lots of friends and family would visit, too.”

Example 2:

  • Scenario: “Hey, some friends and I are going to do a 3-day fast together. You wanna join then celebrate breakfast together after?”
  • Instead of: “No, but fasting’s just a fad. Plus I’m in the middle of a new carnivore diet, I get super hangry, and I need to be on my A-game for my super important meetings at work.”
  • Try: “Yes, and even if it goes to hell and I don’t make it even a full 24 hours, I bet that first bite of food after will be amazing.”

“Yes, and..” is rolling with the punches and seeing where it takes you. At the very least, the result will be more humorous or unexpected than saying “No, but..” and holding tight to the status quo.

It also encourages open-mindedness. When I say “Yes, and…” instead of, “No, but…” it forces me to better see and understand others’ perspectives. It also fosters collaboration in the place of competition, which is part of the next rule for how to live a meaningful life.

Smiling while sweating
Find struggles that put a smile on your face.

Rule #6: Be Results Disoriented

Do things you want to do, not what you want the results of.

You’ve probably been told before that fame, wealth, or any accomplishment won’t help you find meaning in life. “The journey is the reward,” as a million corny self-help posters say.

Easier said than done.

Two things have helped me be results disoriented. The first is my mission. (See Rule #1.) The second is accepting that life’s not a competition.

Life’s hard enough as it is. Rather than try to beat others at it, I’m better off collaborating, playing my own game, and only worrying about what my future self will think, not the spectators. There’s no award for living the most meaningful life, anyway.

But there is a punishment for not trying.

Looking down at your feet going nowhere
Nobody gets anywhere looking at their feet.

Rule #7: Act First, Ask Questions Later

Read fewer blog posts like this on how to live a meaningful life, go do things, and use those experiences to figure it out.

Introspection doesn’t work. As Tasha Eurich reports in Insight, people who excessively self-reflect:

  • Are more stressed, depressed, and anxious.
  • Are less satisfied with their jobs and relationships.
  • Feel less in control of their lives.
  • Have less self-knowledge than people who spend less time introspecting.

Eurich says we need to be outrospective instead. As per Rule #1 for living a meaningful life, rather than ask, “Why is this the case?” I need to ask, “What can I do about it.”

Then I need to do it.

People see my actions, not my thoughts. That’s all my future self will remember, too2If you think you have a better memory of your past self’s thoughts, you’re mistaken. Read Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), one of my top “sledgehammer” books, for more on this.. So if I act a certain way enough, I become it.

How you act is who you are.

And whoever you are, you can live a meaningful life. You just have to get moving.

What are you waiting for?

Kim and Chris running and inviting you to join on their quest to live a meaningful life.
Join the ride.

Want Some More Ideas?

Thanks to Dave for his input on this post!

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Kim and Chris are fighting the status quo to win at life, then sharing their best tactics on The Unconventional Route. If you want to join, subscribe to Consider This for a fresh dose of ideas every 10 days.

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