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If you think you’ll be happy when you find the right job/retire/have enough money— you’ll not only miss a lot of fun along the way, you’ll sink into apathy if and when you reach your goal. Either that, or you’ll keep looking for new things to strive for until you collapse for good.
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with long-term goals: few people would get and stay sober without them. But life was never meant to be a matter of “achieve this and then you can relax until your time on earth is up.” The most successful (and happy) people are those who make ongoing progress throughout their lives, enjoying every day and each new achievement, but equally delighted at always having more room to grow.
To become one of those people, here are ten principles to practice regularly.
1. DON’T WORRY ABOUT “SOMETHING COMING ALONG AND SPOILING IT”
If you neglect this, you may be defeated before you start. No matter how uncertain the world’s future looks between terrorism, rumors of war and large-scale environmental issues, “tomorrow may never come” thinking has led thousands to waste countless todays and tomorrows just puttering around. Accept that neither civilization nor your individual life comes with a full calendar, and concentrate on being effective right now.
2. CULTIVATE YOUR SPIRITUAL LIFE
It’s easier to live in an uncertain world when you believe there’s a Higher Power in charge of the big picture, and that your life has eternal significance. Practice regular prayer and meditation, and read spiritual literature. If at all possible, get involved with a religious congregation or a small group centered on spiritual principles.
3. GET IDEAS FROM YOUR FRIENDS
Friends are helpful not only in encouraging your spiritual growth, but in threshing out more down-to-earth goals and concerns. Ask them what they see as your best attributes. Let them recommend opportunities they think would be perfect for you.
4. READ A LOT
This is among the best (and least expensive) ways to keep up with new ideas and explore new realms. Don’t limit yourself to news sources and paperback novels: classics, scientific/educational periodicals and nonfiction bestsellers are most effective in expanding the mind. (And yes, it’s fine if you prefer audiobooks and podcasts to literal “reading.”)
5. NURTURE HEALTHY SELF-ESTEEM
Cultivate an attitude toward yourself that says: “You’re a great person even now, but it would be a shame to waste your potential by not aiming higher.” See yourself as someone who has great things to give the world and is fully capable of delivering.
6. KNOW YOUR LIFE PURPOSE
The most effective people go beyond affirming their inherent value, and work daily to make the most of their unique calling. If you don’t already have a life dream, consider what others compliment you for, what activities make you feel most fulfilled, which of the world’s needs call to your heart. You will never run out of things to do in your key area of life.
7. STAY FOCUSED
While many people thrive on a variety of interests, it’s a bad idea to fill your schedule up with things that have little relevance to your central purpose and that bring you moderate pleasure at best. Try not to say “yes” to anything that doesn’t automatically generate an “I’d love that!” reaction— your “obligation” to accommodate others rarely stretches as far as you think.
8. ADD NEW GOALS AS YOU REACH OLD ONES
One problem with achieving a “magnum opus” goal is that once the thrill of success wears off, you may find yourself with two more decades of life expectancy and no idea what to do with them. Prepare yourself early to avoid this trap, by determining to always have a few goals in the works and a few “next step” ideas in your mind. Then, within a month of achieving each goal, choose the next one and start working toward it.
9. TAKE TIME TO CELEBRATE
Don’t, however, feel you must always start the next goal the next day. In fact, your first next step should be savoring your triumph: pat yourself on the back, post a “brag” on your blog, invite friends to a celebratory dinner. Climbing a life mountain of ongoing progress doesn’t mean never stopping to admire the view from your current position.
10. TAKE TIME TO REST
None of the above is to say you should be in constant motion 24/7. Just as a car needs its oil changes and a smartphone its recharges, every human being needs a full sleep every night and regular breaks every day, to “give the soul a chance to catch up.” Spend adequate time in “pause and refresh” mode, and don’t feel guilty about it. Ask any marathon runner: a big part of ongoing progress is adequately pacing yourse