There will be times when life becomes too overwhelming. There will be times in our lives where we have no idea how to go on. There will be times where doubt, fear, confusion, and uncertainty will set in and cloud our minds.

In this age of information where we are constantly bombarded by the tales of what we should want in life. “You have to get a degree from this university or college in order to be happy.” “You need to have a job to look good in front of your friends.” “You need to have x amount of money to be secured.” “You have to have that big house to be accepted as ‘successful’.” “You need to get married by this and that age.” On and on and on we are fed by stories of what “happiness” is supposed to be. But more than ever, these so-called “happiness” oftentimes left us with a sense of inadequacy to life.

So what should one do when one is lost in life? Here are four simple steps to getting your life back on track.

5 Steps to Getting Your Life Back

1. Stop and Take A Step Back

One evening I return to my hermitage from a walk in the hills, and I found that all the doors and windows of the hermitage had been blown open. When I left the house, I hadn’t secured them, and a cold wind blew through the house, opened the windows, and scattered the papers from the desk all over the room. Immediately I closed the doors and the windows, lit a lamp, picked up the papers, and arranged them neatly on my desk. Then I started a fire in the fireplace, and soon the crackling logs brought warmth back to the room.

-Thich Nhat Hanh

Above is exactly what we do with our lives when we are lost. Thich Nhat Hanh equates our senses as the doors and windows of our life. It is difficult to pick ourselves up in the middle of the storm. Sometimes it is wise to just stop and take a step back from it all. This could be anything from spending more time with yourself, going on a digital detox, a solo vacation, meditate, to participating in a meditation retreat.

2. Understand That It’s Ok To Be Lost

It’s ok to not be ok.

Life never goes according to what one wants. This is the fact of life. So it’s inevitable for everyone to, at some point, not be ok.

What is the worst and best thing that one can do at this point?

The worst thing anyone could do when facing such a situation is to hate the situation one is in. Imagine you are lost in a desert with a person who kept brooding, crying out loud, throwing tantrum, sending depressive comments, and complaining about the whole situation. How would that person help to make the situation any better if not worse?

Well, our own negative thoughts are like that person. Sometimes we can be the worst person to tag along with. Sometimes the person who is making a bad situation worse than what it is is no one other than ourselves. To hate the situation we are in is, therefore, to be a bad companion to ourselves. It is literally digging our own grave. It only makes everything worse.

In its worse form, it creates an infinite down spiral. When one dislikes the situation one is in, one tends to become dishearten and give up the whole thing which makes the situation even worse. And when the situation is worse, it makes one wants to give up even more.

The best thing that one could do when lost is simply to focus on the problem in front of us in order to put our lives back again. Don’t victimize yourself. Instead, find ways to encourage yourself. Don’t complain. Don’t blame. Instead, learning to be open to the problems of life and see it as an opportunity for you to learn to overcome. Keep going forward. Keep exploring options. And most importantly, be kind and understanding to yourself.

3. Regaining Your Sense Of Direction

Once you have given yourself the time and opportunity to take a good look at life from an objective point of view and your inner self is calm and collected enough to face the challenges of life then it is time to find your sense of direction in life.

Finding one’s sense of direction required a lot of inner and outer exploration. The purpose of the inner exploration is to be clear to oneself what one actually wants or what truly matters most to one’s life. The questions which one could try answering are:

“If I die today, what is the one thing I want to do?”

“What matters to me most?”

“What am I good at?”

“What makes me feel alive?”

“If nothing else matters, what would I be doing right now?”

“What do you imagine your ‘perfect’ or ideal life to be like?”

There is a line in a famous Japanese anime where the main character said,

If you’ve got time to give yourself a beautiful end, then you might as well live beautifully to the end.

Well, if you are reading this then surely you still are capable of not only imagining but pursuing a beautiful life!

Of course, it’s ok to not be able to answer these questions right away. Many spent their lives never wanting to answer these questions at all. Some never found their true sense of direction until later in life. Everything has its own time, so no need to rush yourself for the answers. However, to help you find your sense of direction. Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t Overthink. Just Explore. The benefit of being lost is that it forces you to explore. So take this opportunity to learn more about yourself and find what it is that you truly believe in. Learn something new. Meet new and inspiring people. Learn from them how they succeed and get to where they are. Make drastic changes in life. Live life differently from what you used to. Just like when you are lost in a middle of a jungle. You probably need to try different routes before gaining some idea of which direction might be lead you to your destination. So get exploring both inside and outside. Give yourself time and do it out of joy. 
  • Simplify. The reason why we are confused about life might because we have too many wants–some not what we actually want, some contradicts with another. Having too much wants make our lives become too difficult and complicated to manage. And when happen when we have too much to think about? we freeze. As a rule of thumb, a simple life is a happy life. So find whatever that matters to you most and let go of others which are not. In this way, you have a clearer sense of the direction which you want to head toward.
  • Revisit Your Inner Drive. If you are feeling lost then you must have known what it was like to not be lost. Revisit your past when you feel sure of life or when you felt you have a sense of purpose. This could be helpful in getting you back on track.

4. Walking the Talk

Humans are odd creatures. I, for one, definitely fall within that category. Despite having clearly listed all the things that I ought to be doing with myself–things that I know if I do would make me happy–I still don’t do them. It is as if I have drawn the perfect map and marked all the routines I need to take in order to get there. Yet when it is time, I never actually set out. I feel many of us do experience this. It is, therefore, one thing to know what would make us happy and another to live in a way that would make us happy. Knowledge is useless if it is not put it to work. And to bridge that gap and integrate our sense of direction into our lives, it is necessary that we have a game plan to execute and turn our aspiration into reality. Over the years of struggling to follow through with my own commitment, here are two key components that I would like to share that have turned my sense of direction into action.

1. Planning.

Having a sense of direction is good but to be able to effectively walk toward it what is essential is a plan of action. Without a plan, we would quickly find ourselves falling back into our old habits or the point of lowest resistance which of course equal to no change. Why do I know this? I know this because I have been there before. I have struggled for years to follow through with my commitment because I did not have a good plan.

A good plan is one that ensures we are happy doing it. Again, it might not be the plan that we like but it is a plan that we know if we persevere and follow through we will be happy by the end of it all. I mean if I only do the plan that I like then I would probably just be playing video games all day. 

If we do things according to our likes and dislike we will never finish anything. 

When we are first starting to make changes, there will definitely be resistance and setbacks. But that is part of making change. It can’t be that life-changing if it was easy right? What you would want to be the end result of this struggle is when your plan becomes your habits. By that point, you would have bygone all the need to argue with yourself if it is something you would like to do now or not. You would stop depending less and less on what you want or feel like and you start depending more and more on the structure that you have created for yourself.

“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

–Warren Buffett 

2. Focus

I’ve learned recently a very interesting story of how focus made a whole world of difference in how we can turn our aspiration into reality. It is a story of the England rowing team who for more than 40 years have never once won an Olympic gold medal. Yet something odd happened and they won. And what made the difference was the simple question of “Would this make the boat go faster?” This question is what everyone in the England rowing team carries with them wherever they go in whatever they do. Before deciding to order that hamburger, they ask themselves would that make the boat go faster? Before choosing to get lazy on a couch or not wake up for that 4am practice they would ask themselves, would that make the boat go faster? Over the years these micro-decisions of choosing to do whatever to make the boat go faster have eventually made them the fastest team that year in Olympic. Having a sense of direction is like knowing where to light the candle within our hearts but to keep that light and fire burning what you need is focus. I do wish my level of focus is up there with the England rowing team. But as for me, what I’ve helped to maintain that focus for me are:

  • Daily self-reflection

  • Constantly review my progress

  • Journaling

  • Reminding myself everyday of my purpose.

  • Imagine what it would feel like if you have already achived whatever you set out.

  • Having friends who listen, support, and hold you accountable.

  • Creating a working structure for yourself which is what we have just talked about to turn our plans into habits.

These are some ways that I have found to ensure that I’m focused and not lose sight of what is most important to me.

5. Taking Massive Action

When we are lost it is difficult to know what to do first, how to prioritize life or what we should or should not do. And sometimes even if we know what to do we don’t do them. However, there is one thing we know for sure: if we give up and stay exactly where we are or do the exact same thing as we have always been doing then there is no hope.

What we need when we are lost is to take action to change. Again, these changes do not need to be perfect but they just have to be something–something that proves to ourselves that we’ve done something to try to improve our life.

To help us scope down to what we could work on, the Buddha suggested 6 areas toward growth:

  1. Keeping good health
  2. Discipline yourself
  3. Having good role model(s)
  4. Learn to truly understand the nature of the thing in which you are engaging
  5. Do only that which is right and good
  6. Be diligent on all tasks

These 6 areas are only some aspiration and generalization which will not apply to everyone and only aim to point us toward areas in which we feel we could work on. Out of these, I feel feeling a good role model is most relevant in this case because finding a good role model could bring us hope as well as give us a route toward where we want to be in life. By learning how someone got to where you want to be, you automatically feel hopeful of knowing a path or direction in which you too can walk. And if you could learn from them then you just got yourself a shortcut toward your desired life. If you don’t have a role model yet then perhaps it is time to find one. Better yet, contact them! They might even help you out!

Once, you know which area(s) you need to change, come up with a plan as we have talked about, keep that focus, and just take massive actions. Remember, without action there is no hope of finding that light at the end of the tunnel. So get moving!

Keep Going, Keep Experimenting, Keeping Exploring. Do Not Give Up.

“Players with fight never lose a game, they just run out of time” – John Wooden

You are never lost until you give up. So never give up. Keep going. Eventually, you will find your way. Perhaps it is not the path you were expecting. But you will find it. It’s only a matter of time, patience, perseverance, and one’s willingness to change. You have my full support!

If you would like to share your story for others to help and support you or become an inspiration to others. You can do so at True Happiness’s Forum.

A Little Mental Candy for You ❤

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