As I started writing this, I realized that my title is inaccurate: “5 Ways to Live Life Well” would be more appropriate. As an adult, I still need these reminders to help me live my own life better. And, as with all things parenting-related, our kids do not learn from what we tell them or rules we enforce; they learn by seeing what we actually do with our own lives. Our kids will most likely live lives a lot like ours. The best way we can teach them to live life well is to do it ourselves.
Unplug for awhile, every day.
We all know that most people spend too much time on screens. But just because others are answering emails at 11 p.m. or checking social media in the middle of the night doesn’t mean it’s good for us. In fact, we all know these practices are the opposite of good. I recently heard the uber-successful Ariana Huffington (Huffington Post) talk about how she barely slept and was constantly connected to the news via her devices until the day she passed out at her desk, splitting open her cheek, and waking up in a pool of her own blood. Hopefully, we don’t all need such a violent reminder to give ourselves some unplugged time to connect with real people in our own homes. Our kids will not do this on their own and will not adopt good screen and sleep habits as adults unless they start practicing now and see us keeping our devices in check.
Focus on people
Our kids are naturally drawn to connecting with their friends, which is great. Let’s help them nurture face-to-face relationships with the people who are most important to them. Help them figure out who they enjoy and feel good about spending time with. Similarly, show them how you prioritize your own friendships. Let them know when you’re setting up a coffee or walk date, and give them the same kind of opportunity by letting them invite friends over. This will show them the importance of real-life connections with the people who matter most.
Take care of your body
We should all (kids and adults) get some form of exercise every day to maintain and improve our physical and mental health, even if interest in a sport or the desire to be on an organized team has waned. With no goal necessary, figure out if you like to play tennis, hike, walk through your neighborhood, or dance. Just do something that gets your blood pumping and your body moving. Not only will it improve your health, it will release the much-needed endorphins required to overcome obstacles that are a constant in this life. Discover how you like to move and do it, daily.
Learn to manage your time & priorities
Isn’t this something we still deal with as adults? I’m constantly seeing how I can use my time better and testing different systems (lists, calendars, etc.). No matter how much we complain about “not having enough time,” the reality is that we do have enough time if we use it wisely and prioritize well. Time is our most valuable asset and learning to use it well makes for a flourishing life rather than one in which we always feel busy, anxious, and overwhelmed. Start the conversation with your kids about time-enhancers and time-wasters. Time-wasters are things you spend time doing (not work-related), which leave you feeling lethargic, anxious, or just plain bad. Limit or eliminate those (this probably relates back to strategic unplugging). What are things that invigorate you and make you feel great? Do more of those. Each person in your family may have different things. Let’s discover together how to spend our time better. I also like the idea of planning about priorities and helping our kids learn to do the same. What are one or two things that need to get done today? If there’s one that’s especially dreaded or has been procrastinated, do it first and reward yourself with a fun activity after you’re done. I’ve experimented with using a timer for the less desirable chores, and it works well. Carve out 45 minutes or an hour and work on the project until the timer goes off. Then, take a 15-20 minute break to do something fun before getting back to work. Keep cycling through work and rest until the dreaded task is finished.
Figure out what you like
I recently heard the term “passion bully” from Liz Gilbert (Big Magic) and I realized that I have been one, pushing everyone in my family to think about what they’re “passionate about.” No more. Not everyone has a “passion,” and there are many people who have had flourishing, impactful lives without ever finding one area of passion. But each of us has a curiosity or interest in something or in several different things. In our current set-up, our kids rarely have time to explore what they really like. They take classes prescribed by the counselor to make them look like they have a “rigorous” curriculum for their college applications. They do a sport because they’re good at it. It’s time to let our kids take a step back – perhaps even a season off from the sport they’re good at but uses up every minute of their limited free time. Let them try some new hobbies that look interesting to them. Take a Saturday class at REI or learn to play a new instrument or do a new type of craft. Let’s take some time to figure out what things we enjoy doing. What makes us feel energized, happy, excited? If our kids see us try something new or engage in hobbies we enjoy, maybe they’ll do it themselves.
As I get older, I see more clearly that this life is really, really short. Shouldn’t we prioritize living it as well as we can? Being stuck in a rut of over-working now in hopes of a distant flourishing future seems to be a gamble not worth taking. How many of us know people whose lives have been cut exceedingly short by a disease or accident? Isn’t it important to live our lives well now, in this moment? Even our kids, who have been put on a treadmill of achievement in hopes of some future gains, need to learn how to thrive today, in this season of their lives. Because if they don’t learn now, it’s unlikely they’ll change later into thriving, vibrant, happy people. To live life well is to start doing things today that help us flourish in the moment, and in every day thereafter.
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