Finding contentment in life starts with a mindset and ends with follow-through and consistency. Our minds are built to be constantly searching for more, and changing natural thought and behavior patterns takes time and effort. Here are a few of the ways that I refocus my mind on contentment when I start to feel like I need “more.”
Reasons to Love Being a Work in Progress
Why do we so rarely feel content with our lives, homes, jobs, finances, etc? The idea of being content, in many people’s minds, conflicts with the desire to grow, learn, and improve. Being intentional about our own contentment not only benefits our personal goals, but actually makes them more achievable.
Letting Go of the Need to Compete
Letting go of the need to compete with others or appear to live a certain way allows us to want “more” for ourselves in a healthy and intentional way. When we take other people’s opinions out of our motivations, we ditch a lot of the stress and disappointment that comes with striving for “more”.
Instead, we can accept that we are always going to be a work in progress, and refocus on moving towards improvement without visualizing a finish line.
Real life example: My husband and I have a lifelong goal of achieving financial stability. We’re working on paying off student loans, but we could move out of our tiny apartment and get a bigger, nicer place in order to appear to be worth “more.” When we took a step back and analyzed our goals and motivations, we decided to focus on being patient. Living a simpler, more intentional life has helped us to work together to pay off loans without the unnecessary stress.
Is it difficult to see friends and family living in a nicer place with more space? Yes.
However, practicing contentment doesn’t mean we will never have those things. We are choosing to be content with where we are. We’ve accepted that we are a work in progress.
7 Steps to Setting Healthy Life Goals
Whether you have big goals, or are working on figuring out what you want to do with life, these tips might help you to focus on contentment as a work in progress.
1. List Your Best Qualities
Most of us don’t do this very often. Spend some serious time considering your best qualities. Try to think of what others have said about you. If you aren’t sure, ask some friends or family members you trust to give you an honest answer. It’s important that you acknowledge your own gifts and talents when you are trying to train your brain not to rely on the approval of others for fulfillment.
Real life example: One of my husband’s best qualities is that he is an optimistic dreamer. When combined with my overly practical nature, it creates a great balance. He keeps us both inspired, and I keep us grounded.
2. Make a List of “Always in Progress” Goals
Now that you have your best qualities in mind, think of some of your biggest, broadest life goals. These goals aren’t very specific, but instead serve as overarching directions you can refer to when you are making decisions. They are your “always in progress” goals.
Real life example: Two of my overarching life goals include maintaining a healthy level of fitness and bringing positivity to my relationships with friends and family.
3. Define Small Steps/Goals
Now you know what you’re good at and have your bigger, overarching objectives defined. You can and should make some smaller, more concrete goals for yourself. These are the things that you want to work towards achieving in the more immediate future. They may even have a defined finish line.
Real life example: In my marriage, one overarching goal is to make responsible financial decisions. Our “small step goal” is to pay off our student loans before buying a home. While this is a goal with a finish line, it is still tied to one of our broader, “always in progress” goals.
4. Analyze What Motivates You
This tip is the key to making healthy goals. The goal isn’t to completely disassociate ourselves from the important and influential people in our lives. It helps us to consider what role they play in our decision-making. Say you want to work on maintaining your physical fitness and have a concrete goal of losing some excess weight. We have to ask ourselves if the goal is motivated by the people who make us want “more” in a negative way.
Being motivated by jealousy, for example, is very powerful. However, it’s not only unhealthy to be focused on what other people have, but it is also undermines appreciation for what you have already.
Real life example: A person who makes me want “more” in a positive way is my mother. My mom has always been such a great example of patience in life and in relationships. One of my “always in progress” goals is to bring positivity to my relationships with family and friends. A smaller, concrete goal I have tied to that is to practice patience in any of my interactions with friends and family. Her influence on my goal is a positive one.
5. Surround Yourself With Motivation
Once the challenge of removing negative influences from your “always in progress” goals and your smaller, more concrete goals is complete, it’s time to surround yourself with inspiration and positive motivation. For some of us, this means talking more with friends or family that help us.
For others, it might be writing out and consistently reading a mission statement to increase motivation. We have to find what works for us and use that tactic to keep us on track.
Some of my best motivation comes from the photos of my favorite people that I have hung up at home, and the picture of my husband that I keep on my desk at work. They are a visual reminder of who and what is important to me, and they also help to make my apartment and work space feel more homey. Homey, cozy feelings help me to feel content.
6. Speak Contentment – Not Complaints!
Surrounding ourselves with positive people, images, and words is part of keeping us on track, but the rest requires self-discipline. Follow-through is made much more difficult when we spend our time complaining about our lives.
No matter what our goals are, vocalizing negativity is not helpful. Social interactions, for some strange reason, often revolve around taking turns complaining about different things in our lives.
Whether it’s in-laws driving us crazy, or a leak in the basement, or a head cold in the middle of the summer, we all are usually prepared to jump in with something when the complaints about life start.
Instead of complaining, we should feel free to discuss the great things we and other people have going on. Then we can stop ourselves from joining in on negative conversations.
This is incredibly challenging for me some days because I begin to feel the creeping want for “more” when I am around people who have different priorities or situations than myself.
When I am with my coworkers or friends who drive a nicer car or live in a nicer place, I instinctively tell them how lucky they are to have what they have. Then I’ll jump right into explaining how unlucky I am. This not only undermines my hard work practicing being content with my life, but it gives other people a negative impression of me and the choices I am making to achieve my goals.
7. Cut Yourself Some Slack
At the end of the day, an “always in progress” mindset helps us feel more content when we’re doing well and also when things aren’t going smoothly. When we screw up or catch ourselves going the wrong direction, all we have to do is step back onto the path and move forward.
When we focus on being content with what we have and where we are, there’s less urgency and fewer stresses to drag us down. And when we’re less stressed out, we have more time for the things and people we care about most.
Real life example: I’ve learned this the hard way with my goal to remain in good physical shape. My short term goal always seemed to revolve around losing a specific amount of weight. I’ve struggled with realizing my motivations were unhealthy (tied to jealousy), vocalizing negativity about my body to people around me, and giving up when I fall of track. Only in the last few months have I started to cut myself some slack and to take away the finish line mentality.
My focus is still to maintain physical health, but my short-term goals are tied to consistency and self-discipline, rather than losing weight. It’s decreased my stress, allowed me to relax a bit, and has benefited my motivation levels (& boosted my results).
More Thoughts on Practicing Intentional Contentment
If you’re just starting to consider choosing contentment or if you’re like me, and have been working on changing your mindset for a while, check out my other blog post, “Choosing Contentment When You’re Waiting,” I talk a bit about why we always feel like we’re waiting for the next thing, and how we can combat feelings of needing “more” that come from our culture and society today.