Buckle Your Seatbelts
Living a meaningful life story is a wild ride. It’s harnessing your potential and taking it for a fulfilling ride that leaves a positive legacy.
As is the case for all rides, we have to abide by some rules. They keep us from flying off the rails. And while they can seem uncomfortable and restrictive at first, we get accustomed to them and realize they exist for good reason. They free us up to focus on what matters.
Figuring out what those rules are is the challenge. Here are some simple rules for living a meaningful life story that scientists and philosophers (and a certain blogger) tend to agree on.
How To Live a Meaningful Life Story: 8 Rules
Rule #1: Deal With It
When shit happens, we’re responsible for dealing with it. It doesn’t matter whose turd it is. If it’s in our way, it’s our duty to deal with the doodie.
Often, the best way to deal with crap is to move past it. Simply walk around the mess, wipe it from our minds, and avoid going that way in the future. Other times, we have to stop and clean it up. And if it keeps popping up (or pooping down), we’ve got to find the source and put a stop to it.
Never is the solution to whine, complain, or blame. That gets us nowhere and solves nothing. We just become a crazy person yelling at turds on sidewalks. Someone else will eventually pick us up and take us on a ride somewhere they want us to go, not where we want to go to do anything meaningful.
In short: When shit happens, deal with it, or life will continue stinking.
Rule #2: Act First, Ask Questions Later
“Action leads to insight more often than insight leads to action.”Chip and Dan Heath, The Power of Moments
Quit thinking so hard about what would make life meaningful. Introspection doesn’t work. As psychologist Tasha Eurich reports in her book, Insight, people who excessively self-reflect are more stressed, depressed, and anxious, less satisfied with their jobs and relationships, and felt less in control of their lives. And the more time people waste introspecting, the less self-knowledge they have.
Be outrospective instead. As per Rule #1, ask, “What can I do about it” rather than, “Why is this the case?” Then do it, analyze your results like a scientist, and repeat.
How we act is who we are. People see our actions, not our thoughts. That’s all our future selves will remember, too*. So if we act a certain way enough, we become it.
Rule #3: Improvise
Stick your “No, but…” where the sun don’t shine. “Yes, and..” everything. It’s the cardinal rule of improv comedy and nearly as important of a rule for living a meaningful life.
- Scenario: “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.”
- 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, it’s likely to be more humorous or unexpected than saying no and holding tight to the status quo.
It also encourages open-mindedness. When we say it instead of, “No, but…” it forces us to better see and understand others’ perspectives. This fosters collaboration in the place of competition, which brings us to the next rule for living a meaningful life.
Rule #4: Be Unbeatable
There’s no award for living the most meaningful life, so stop competing over it. Be unbeatable and win at life with a can’t-lose mentality.
Differentiate to play your own game and make it something you want to do, not what you want the results of (see Rule 8). Cooperate with would-be competitors and forget about the spectators. The only person you need to impress is your future self. Play the long game, aiming for coherent values (see Rule 7), and let the score take of itself.
See our full post on The Can’t-Lose Strategies to Win at Life for more detail on this rule for living a meaningful life.
Rule #6: Edit as You Go
“Your life is your story. Write well. Edit often.”Susan Statham
We can find a direction in life by looking at our stories into four components:
- Character (Us)
- Desire (What we’re after)
- Conflict (What is in our way)
- Resolution (Transformation)
Unless you choose to believe in destiny—good luck with that…—your script isn’t set. A meaningful life story evolves with us over time. And we hold the pencils and erasers to edit them as needed.
Within reason, of course. If you get caught robbing a bank, telling the judge you erased that part from your story won’t get you off the hook. It will only get you an extra padded cell at best. Your editing options will be more strictly constrained than those of someone who sticks to conventional bank withdrawals. But it’s still up to you to choose whether your robbery becomes a scene of a crime thriller, tale of redemption, love story, or something else.
Tasha Eurich uses a helpful analogy in her book. Look at life’s key scenes as stars in the sky. We can’t change them once they’re there, but we can choose which ones to focus on and how to connect them into a constellation that tells the story we desire.
Rule #7: Create Memorable Scenes
Actively look to create and magnify memorable scenes in life:
- Enhance major milestones. Tune your radar to crucial moments of transition in life, like firsts, lasts, graduations, weddings, 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 blindness. It will change your self-perception (see Rule #2), give you the guts to take on more adventures, and teach you meaningful life lessons you can apply to your bigger story.
Whether or not these scenes make it in the final cut of our life stories doesn’t matter. Creating and amplifying them makes life more meaningful on their own.
Rule #5: Make Your Story Make Sense
A life can’t be meaningful if nobody understands it. So ensure whatever life story you concoct by connecting the dots of your life’s events is coherent.
Choose a self-actualizing, transcending value as your story’s common thread. Here are some suggested values from a master of meaningful living, Abraham Maslow (with examples from the convicted bank robber story from Rule 6 to illustrate):
- Wholeness. Participate in a prison reform organization.
- Justice. Help a wrongfully-convicted fellow inmate fight for freedom.
- Richness. Try to befriend and learn from a new inmate every month.
- Simplicity. Train to become a mindfulness master.
- Beauty. Become a renowned prison tattoo artist.
- Truth. Write a book of your fellow inmates’ stories.
- Playfulness. Train to become the prison magician.
Not only are coherent stories more meaningful, but we enjoy our rides more, too.
Rule #8: Be Results Disoriented
Forget the results. Focus on the action. Do things you want to do, not what you want the results of.
That doesn’t mean doing easy things. Easy isn’t enjoyable. To live a meaningful life is to find what we’re willing to struggle for. Something that ignites the fire under our ass so we struggle for the sake of struggling and obsess over habits and processes that help us struggle better.
By becoming increasingly better strugglers, we continuously transform into the best people we can be. That transformation makes for a meaningful ride. That’s enjoyable.
Strap In and Enjoy the Ride of a Lifetime
We’ll probably never understand the meaning of life, but that doesn’t stop us from living meaningful stories. Abiding by these rules for how to live a meaningful life gives us the best shot of doing so. So strap in, stick to the rules, and enjoy one hell of a ride!
Thanks to Dave for his input on this post!
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