12 Ways to Jumpstart Your Life


January 17, 2011   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Sometimes we get a little stuck in life — we set New Year’s resolutions and they peter out after a month, we want to exercise but can never get our butts in gear, we want to make positive changes but don’t have the time or energy.

If that describes you in any way, don’t worry: you’re not alone. Not even close.

In fact, I would say it describes most of us. We’re often too tired from a day of chaos or drudgery to do everything we want to do. We’re often overwhelmed by all the things on our to-do list or in our in-box. We’re swamped, and exhausted, and can’t seem to find traction.

That’s OK. You can get your life in gear, with a little jump start.

The four key things are to 1) not beat yourself up about any of your failures or frustrations, 2) begin thinking positive, and know that you can actually change your life, 3) begin to take action, however small, and 4) build on your small successes.Here are 12 things you can do today to jumpstart your life:

    1. Take a break.
      If your life is chaotic, take a day off. You need it. But don’t spend that day zoned out in front of the TV — instead, set that day off for rethinking your life, reviewing what you do every day, revisiting your goals, and revamping how you do things. Take a sick day or personal leave, and plan a mini-retreat. On your day off, shower, get dressed, and get out of the house. Go to a place where you can have some quiet — a park, a coffee shop, a library, a museum. Bring a notebook and pen. Don’t connect to the Internet, or you may end up doing nothing all day. Now, make a list of all the commitments in your life, all your relationships, all the things you do each week — this is your analyzing section. Make a list of goals you’d like to accomplish, etc. Begin the process of revising your life. You need to take a step back in order to see the way forward.
  • Create a personal mantra.
    I’m a fan of Guy Kawasaki’s approach — he advocates creating a mantra instead of a mission statement. Do that for your life: a simple statement of a couple words that you can repeat, post up on your wall, tattoo on your bicep, that will remind you what you are about and what you’re trying to do. This should encapsulate what you want to accomplish in life. If it’s more than 2-4 words, simplify and shorten. 
  • Set one goal for this year.
    This is a tough one, because we often have tons of goals we’d like to accomplish. I’m sure you could come up with 10 right now. But I can tell you from experience that 10 is too many, and if you try to do all of them, you will never get them done. The key to accomplishing a goal is to have laser-sharp focus, and you can’t do that with more than one goal at a time. In the end, you have no focus at all. The solution: choose just one longer-term goal to accomplish this year. Then, take a task that will move the goal forward that you can accomplish this week (or within the next couple of weeks). Make that one task your complete focus. When it’s done, choose a second short-term goal to focus on, and so on, until your yearly goal is accomplished. Repeat indefinitely. 
  • Identify the essentials.
    What things, commitments, people, activities are essential in your life? Make a list, and eliminate the things that are not incredibly essential. These should be the most important things in your life — the things you would want around if nothing else were there. The things you’d like to spend more time doing if you could. 
  • Eliminate the rest.
    Now identify everything else in your life that doesn’t make your short list. And begin to eliminate them as much as possible. Are you stuck doing something you don’t like doing? Get out of it, because it’s stopping you from spending time on what’s important. Some things may be very difficult to eliminate, but trust me — it’s possible. You control your life. You can change it. 
  • Start small.
    The mistake a lot of people make when trying to change their lives is being too ambitious. I know — I’ve been there many times. We think we can do more than we actually can. Instead, start with a really easy and small goal. Something you know you will accomplish. And then achieve it. For example, if you want to get into shape, instead of trying to work out an hour a day, try just 10-15 minutes for the first week. That might sound too easy, but it’s best to start small. Then, when you’re successful, you can build upon that feeling of success to get more successes. Take baby steps, and you’ll get there. 
  • Make a commitment.
    The problem often is that we only tell ourselves, or maybe one other person, that we’re going to do something. That’s no commitment at all, and we are not accountable to anyone but ourselves. Well, I’m here to tell you that being accountable to ourselves is very difficult — because we tend to get lax and let ourselves off the hook — and then feel guilty about it afterward. Instead, commit yourself big — tell the world about it. Join an online forum, or send an email to everyone you know, or put it on your blog. Announce your goal (and again, make sure it’s achievable or you might fail) and then report in regularly, so you are accountable. Be sure to tell people to ask you about it, so you can’t get away with not doing it. 
  • Find inspiration.
    One of the best ways to start positive life changes is to find someone else who’s doing it or has done it. You can find great inspiration in people on the Internet, on forums or blogs, in books, in your daily life. Read about them, talk to them if you can, and emulate them. Inspiration can take you a long way. 
  • Try exercise.
    Often getting ourselves active can be a great way to get us doing things in other parts of our lives. It makes us feel good, alive, active, productive. It releases stress and gives us time to think. We start to become more fit and confident and happier. To start exercise, again, start small. Try to do a little every day, even if it’s just for 10 minutes. If you can do it every day, you will have a habit, and it will lead to better and greater things. 
  • Think positive.
    This was perhaps the most important change I made, and it led to many other positive changes — exercise, eating healthy, organization, productivity, waking early, getting my finances in order. But it all started with learning to think positive. I squash negative thoughts like a bug, and replace them with positive thoughts. It’s trite, I know, but it really works. 
  • Do it now.
    We often tell ourselves that we’re going to do something — but not today. We’re going to start exercising, or getting organized — but not right now. Well, it’s now or never. Start changing your life today, even if it’s just something small. If you don’t start now, you’ll keep putting it off. And then get into the habit of telling yourself, “Do it now!” And then do it now — whether it’s something you’ve been putting off, or something you really need to do, just do it now. 
  • Make time for yourself.
    One of the most important things you can do to start changing your life is to make a regular time that you spend with yourself. An hour a day is ideal. This could be time when you exercise, or read, or meditate, or write, or just take a quiet walk through nature. Whatever you do, spend it on yourself. Use part of this time to think about your life, and your single goal for this year, and all the progress you’ve made so far. Celebrate your successes, and learn from your failures.


Written for Dumblittleman.com on 07/10/2007 by Leo Babauta and republished on 1/17/11. Leo offers advice on living life productively simple at his famous Zen Habits blog. Photo Credit: The Daily Ornellas

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