Time moves quickly. Sometimes, when you stop for a minute to take it all in, you can find yourself wondering how you ended up where you are. This can be a result of not living consciously.
This is what happens when you live on autopilot. It can make you feel like you're on a road to nowhere.
Everyone wants to live a more satisfied and fulfilled life. Certainly, there is no shortcut to happiness. That said, learning how to start living consciously can help you turn off autopilot and create the life you really want.
What is living consciously?
It's all about taking control of your life. Some call it "living awakened" or living with your eyes wide open.
Basically, the idea is to actively think about the decisions you make instead of just going through the motions.
In the end, you'll be able to live a life that you truly created for yourself, instead of waking up one day and realizing your life is just the snowball effect of years of passive decisions.
Conscious living vs unconscious living
To understand conscious living, you first need to understand unconscious living or passive living.
Passive (or unconscious) living
Passive living is when most or all of your decisions are made at the subconscious level.
In other words, you may realize that you're not even sure why you're doing certain things. For example, you may not know why you live where you do or why you have the job you do.
Why most people don't live with intention
Sadly, most people live unconsciously without even realizing it. Here's why:
A lack of skills
For one, they may not have ever learned the skills to live consciously. For instance, during adolescence and young adulthood, your parents may have historically played a big part in the decision-making in your life.
If this is the case, you may never have learned how to make decisions all on your own.
It can be scary at first
On the other hand, some people don't live in a conscious way because it can be scary—at least at first.
Living with heightened awareness puts you more in touch with things that may give you anxiety, e.g., feelings of loneliness, the fear of mortality, the stress of uncertainty, etc.
Many people try to get rid of these fears altogether by turning on autopilot and avoiding thinking about their future.
Unfortunately, in reality, this does more harm than good, as it means people never learn how to overcome their fears. On the other hand, starting to live consciously can help you learn how to move beyond these fears to create your ideal life by living with intention.
Signs you aren't living consciously
Living unconsciously is a lot like being in a trap—you may not even know you're in there!
Start by learning how to recognize the signs. You may be living unconsciously if:
- You aren't spending time on things that you really love doing, such as hobbies, or you don't enjoy your work.
- You don't feel that you're making conscious choices about how you spend your time.
- You don't budget or plan financially for the future.
Why you should live consciously
Living consciously can help you have a more fulfilled, satisfied life. Moreover, the benefits of purposeful living will snowball with time to become better and better.
Ultimately, by learning how to take control of your life (this includes your speech, actions, habits, behaviors, etc.), you'll be able to make improvements in almost every area of your life.
Benefits of learning conscious living
When you live with purpose, you'll learn how to:
Improve your relationships:
- Self-regulate your emotions
- Better recognize how your behaviors affect others
- Take accountability for your actions and mistakes
Achieve your goals:
- Plan and use your time better
- Proactively take action to make regular improvements and progress
Find satisfaction in life:
- No longer find yourself doing things that you didn't choose
- Stop wondering why you're doing what you're doing
- Do things that make you feel happy and fulfilled every day
How to start living with purpose
Switching from unconscious living to conscious living doesn't happen overnight. Rather, it is a habit that you can learn to develop and then maintain for life.
It may sound obvious, but you can start to live more purposefully by...making conscious decisions.
What does that mean, exactly?
Think about everything you do, such as:
- Why do you live where you do?
- Why do you have the career you do?
- Why do you hang out with the people you do?
- Why do you spend weekends the way you do?
- Why do you buy the things you do?
13 steps to live consciously
At first, all this self-reflection can feel like a lot. Don't worry—Rome wasn't built in a day. Here are small steps you can take to get started to live with purpose:
1. Get into the habit of self-reflection
Above all, self-reflection is one of the most important parts of conscious living. After all, in order to make conscious decisions, you need to spend time thinking about what it is you actually want so you can work to achieve it.
To make this habit stick, find a method of self-reflection that works for you. For example, that could be keeping a journal, reflecting during the day, or having a weekly or monthly check-in session with yourself.
2. Determine your core values
Obviously, you can't make conscious decisions to get where you want if you don't even know what you want. So, take some time to get to know yourself!
Once you have a clear idea of who you are as a person, then it'll be easier to make conscious decisions. For example, instead of being swayed by others, you'll be able to make decisions that you know uphold your goals, ideals, and values.
3. Be more aware of who you are
Clinical psychologist, John Duffy, defined self-awareness for TODAY as "the recognition of one's own emotional state at any given point in time."
In other words, you have self-awareness if you can focus on yourself and how you feel at a certain moment. For example, you can ask yourself, "Are my actions aligning with my core values?"
Learning how to take stock of your emotions and actions—and whether or not they're uploading your values—is key in learning to make conscious decisions for a more fulfilled life.
4. Set goals that are realistic
Setting goals is like creating a map for your life. This includes both short-term and long-term goals, as well as both personal goals and professional goals.
Learning how to set achievable goals goes hand in hand with getting clear on your core values (including your money values) and living consciously. If you know what you want to accomplish in life, then you can more easily make active, conscious decisions to get you there.
5. Track your progress toward your goals
With goals, it can be too easy to just set them and forget them. To keep tabs on your goals and make sure you're still working towards them as time passes, set a time to check in with yourself at least one time a year. Ask yourself:
- Are the goals you set for yourself still what you want?
- What progress have you made?
- What can you do or change to keep yourself on the right path?
Better yet, share your list of goals with a friend. Research from The Ohio State University shows that people are usually more committed to their goals when they share them with someone they respect.
6. Learn how to improve your focus
Your ability to focus and pay active attention plays a big part in learning to live consciously. In other words, acute focus raises your consciousness, while haphazard distraction lowers it.
Once you're able to improve your focus, you'll be better able to cut through the noise and only act on things that bring value to your life. Easier said than done, right?
Start small. Try to do only one thing at a time.
For example, stop putting the TV as background noise when you're at home. Put your phone in Do-Not-Disturb mode for an hour each day.
Being a multi-tasking hero doesn't prove anything. Instead, try to approach each moment with heightened levels of focus and attention.
7. Think about the hours in your day
Time is perhaps the most limited commodity of all. Are you spending yours consciously?
As an exercise, keep a log of how you spend all your time for a day, a week, or even a month. This way, you can see exactly what you're doing with your time (the results are usually very surprising!).
With a tangible record of how you spend your time, you can consciously make choices about where and how you can make changes to stop wasting time and start living the life you want.
8. Learn how to spend (and save) intentionally
For many of us, it's all too easy to spend $30 here and there on impulse purchases. In fact, CNBC reveals that Americans spend $314 a month on impulse purchases.
Impulsivity is a big part of unconscious living. Moreover, experts think the line between impulse purchases and credit card debt is an exceedingly thin one.
However, you can resist the allure of impulse shopping by learning how to consider each purchase before you make it.
What's more, conscious living isn't just about conscious spending—it's also about conscious saving.
Considering your finances consciously means actively organizing the money you earn and spend each month. For instance, this means learning how to set financial goals and saving up for them so you can live the life you want.
9. Get honest about your own materialism
We live in a materialistic world, and the pressure to own more and more things rarely lets up. So take a pause and give yourself a moment to breathe.
Walk around your home and ask yourself honestly: "What do I have that I don't need, don't use, or don't even want?"
At the end of the day, owning things means having things to clean, maintain, move, sort, and, ultimately, get rid of. It's a huge source of stress.
A conscious life means being a conscious owner of material items.
First, think about the value the material things in your life really give you. If they're not adding value to your life, then get rid of them.
In the end, being surrounded only by things that truly add value to your life will help you spend each day more consciously, happily, and stress-free.
10. Take stock of your relationships
Similarly, to live consciously, you should also set aside time to review your relationships. Ask yourself:
- Do you spend enough time with the people you love?
- Do they know how much you value your relationship with them?
- Do you need to forgive someone?
- Do you need to apologize to someone?
- Do you talk with your loved ones enough and truly listen?
Remember, relationships go beyond romance. Don't forget to consider your relationships with friends, family, neighbors, members of your community, and even your coworkers.
11. Reevaluate who and what you follow on social media
We all know that social media can take a serious toll on our mental health. According to the American Psychiatric Association, "a third of Americans say social media does more harm than good to their mental health." But most of us are still tuning in anyway!
Reevaluating who and what you follow on social media is a huge part of conscious living.
Do you ever find yourself scrolling through Facebook or Instagram and then asking yourself, "Why am I looking at this?"
So much of what we see online doesn't even make us feel good. Maybe it makes you angry or stresses you out or gives you FOMO or distracts you from your goals.
Ultimately, none of this is helping you live a more satisfied, fulfilled life. So start making conscious choices about who you follow—and unfollow.
Hit unfollow. Hit unsubscribe. Above all, slim down your feed so you only see content that adds real value to your life.
12. Weigh your impact on the world
Whether you're conscious of it or not, your actions have an impact on the world.
Conscious living isn't just about being more aware of your own life. Rather, it's about being aware of yourself and how you affect others.
Start by considering how your life impacts the people in your life, the environment, and even the people around the world. Your actions matter, so take actions that you'll be proud of.
13. Be willing to grow and learn
Finally, your mindset plays a big part in your life experiences and your overall quality of life.
With a fixed mindset, a person is unwilling and, thus, unable to develop new skills and change their behaviors over time.
Conversely, a growth mindset means you're ready to develop new habits. For this reason, adopting a growth mindset goes hand in hand with getting started with conscious living.
When you're ready to build new habits (like all the ones mentioned above), you can build a life that's founded on conscious decisions.
Start with small steps to begin living consciously!
Conscious living isn't a one-day change. But by learning to develop this approach to life, you can do a complete 180 with your life (if that's what you want!).
Above all, living consciously will help you stop wasting time on things you don't care about so you can start living every day with a feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment.