If you are not clear about your priorities, it is likely that each wind of change will take you a little further from your goals, until you end up losing sight of them. Or even worse, for other people to decide for you, to determine what things, tasks and goals you should prioritize in your life. And so you’ll end up chasing goals that don’t belong to you, running after others’ dreams.
From direct pressure to emotional manipulation: Different types of control
In the world there will always be people willing to tell us what we should do and how we should do it, improvised teachers of everything but who know anything that wants to impose their views and way of seeing the world.
They are usually arrogant people, moved by a Procustes Syndrome and with little empathy, who do not conceive anything beyond their way of understanding things. Often these people resort to criticism, disapproval or even contempt to impose themselves. And if we are not strong enough, if we have not built a bulletproof self-esteem, it is easy to fall into their networks.
However, we tend to suffer different pressure mechanisms. Some people act in a more surreptitious way by resorting to manipulation and guilt, interpreting the role of victims in order to get us to assume their priorities and forget ours.
This type of control is much more difficult to detect and, therefore, more dangerous, since it usually comes from close people with whom we maintain a closer emotional bond. These people will not attempt to impose their priorities by “force”, but they will end up doing so by touching sensitive strings as our sense of responsibility.
The parable about priorities in life
They say that one day, a philosophy professor stood in front of his class and, without saying a word, took a large empty jar and filled it with rocks approximately five centimeters in diameter. Then he asked the students if the jar was full.
Everyone said yes.
Then the teacher took a box of much smaller pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar slightly and the pebbles rolled until they occupied the empty areas between the rocks. The teacher asked the students again if the jar was full.
Everyone agreed again that it was full.
However, the professor took a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled the remaining spaces. “Now”, said the professor, “The jar is full. This jar is like your life. Rocks are truly important things, those that give meaning to our existence. Pebbles are also important, but not so much. And the sand represents all the inconsequential things.
If we put the sand in the jar first, there will be no room for rocks or pebbles. The same happens in our life. If we waste all our time and energy on small and inconsequential things, we will never have room for the things that really matter.”
Why is it so important to have priorities in life?
“No wind is favorable for those who do not know which port are going to”, said Seneca. If we are not sure what we want to achieve, we are likely to lose valuable opportunities and end up wasting much of our potential. Having clear priorities in life, on the contrary:
• Helps us reach our goals. Being clear about what we want and where we want to go is key to focus on it and achieve our goals. This way we can take advantage of the opportunities as soon as they arise and get closer to the goal we have set ourselves.
• Allows us to be more effective. Having our priorities clear will prevent us from wasting precious time and energy on tasks that do not give us much. Keeping track of our goals helps us find the most direct path, without wasting energy unnecessarily on things that not only do not bring us anything but even take us away from our goals.
• It will return us the control. Although we are aware that there are factors that we cannot control, having clear priorities in life empowers and allows us to regain the reins of our lives, developing a locus of control internal that will make us more proactive people.
5 steps to determine priorities in life
In life there are priorities, and it is important to have them clear or we run the risk of reaching the end of the road without having done what we wanted, dragging the heavy burden of regret. Unfortunately, it is not usually easy to realize that we are moving away from our dreams because it is a gradual process in which habits, customs, urgencies and unforeseen events are imposed by filling our lives, not leaving us even time to think. The good news is that we can stop that vicious circle:
1. Dissect your day to day
Think about what you do every day. Dissect the hours. Conscientiously. What is taking you more time during the day? What tasks do you spend more time on during the week? And during the month? And at the end of the year?
A good exercise is to take an ordinary week of your life and write what you do each day, as well as the approximate time you dedicate to each activity. The results are likely to amaze you.
You may discover that you dedicate an enormous amount of time to tasks that are either inconsequential or contribute nothing to the long-term objectives you have set. It is normal. We often get carried away by the routine, the unexpected consumes our time and the urgencies of others are imposed. The first step is to be aware that we have fallen into that loop.
2. Ask yourself what is important to you right now
Take paper and pencil and write the 7 or 10 things that are most important to you right now. Analyze them and ask yourself: How important will they be in 5 or 10 years? Do these priorities help me reach my goals in life or are they an obstacle? Are they really my priorities or are they the priorities that someone has imposed me?
Keep in mind that that priorities also change over time. Maybe what a decade ago was important to you, it isn’t anymore. Try to assume the necessary psychological distance when analyzing your current priorities.
3. What do you want to do with your life?
Ask yourself what is really important to you. Not for the others, unless your priority in life is to please the others. That does not mean adopting a selfish attitude but only prioritizing your happiness. It is not a good or bad thing, it is only what you consider important.
Remember that one of the main obstacles to setting our priorities is the fear of criticism, rejection or anger of the others, which can push us to choose what is socially acceptable, but not what is most important to us.
4. Identify your excuses
During this entire introspection process, doubts and excuses usually appear. It is difficult for the mind to deal with cognitive dissonance, so it prefers to hold on to the excuses for not changing and maintaining the status quo. It is a process that we often do unconsciously but that is important to bring to light.
Therefore, once you have identified the gap between your dreams and your current priorities, the time has come to investigate these limiting excuses. Perhaps it is not just about social pressure but that social pressure has given you the perfect excuse not to risk, stay within the limits of your comfort zone and not create conflicts.
5. Change your priorities and your routine, if necessary
If you find a big gap between your desires, dreams and goals and your day to day, it is likely that you have organized your routine by letting yourself be carried away by others or simply by what you are supposed to do. At this point you should ask yourself if you need – and want – to turn your life around and rethink your daily priorities.
There are moments in life when we need to postpone some of our dreams and we need to change our priorities, but we must make sure that it is a transitory situation, not a full-fledged desertion. We may not be able to radically change our lifestyle, but at least we can incorporate more things that add meaning and value.
A technique for managing day-to-day priorities
On a day-to-day basis, it is easy to get carried away by unforeseen events, supposed urgencies and other people’s priorities. Operating on autopilot, letting ourselves be carried away by the flow of events makes us occupy our entire day with tasks that really do not give much.
One technique to better manage our day-to-day priorities is peer comparison. Basically, it is about comparing the different options we have, two by two, choosing the most important between them.
In this way you can deactivate that autopilot and begin to consciously decide how to occupy your day with things that really bring you well-being or contribute in some way to your goals in life. After all, if you don’t feel alive its not life.