My Guide To Living Well
In a recent blog post where I started to talk about my beliefs I mentioned that living a ‘good life’ is about balancing ‘living well’ and ‘living right’, this post explores what I mean by ‘living well’. It’s not prescriptive, there are many different approaches to living well that work for different people, this just happens to be the prescription that I’m using at the moment, and the tools that I’m employing to help me stay on track. I’m constantly tuning how I define living well, but one of the keys to my approach is that I measure my progress and regularly reassess whether it’s working for me. Several times during my life I’ve sleep walked into a situation where I was ‘filling my time’ or ‘making money’, rather than living well, there’s a big difference, but one that’s not easy to figure out without tracking and reflection.
It’s worth re-emphasising that this is not a prescriptive guide, living well will mean different things to different people at different times of their life. I’m retired, just about living within my means, mildly autistic, challenging a chronic illness, shy and introverted and have a large family; all these things have moulded my approach to living well.
It’s also worth getting some of my definitions on the table first. In one sentence this is the approach I take to life:
I believe in the universal right for individuals to seek out their own path to living well, and our collective responsibility to live right, and to constantly improve our understanding of the universe and what it means to live well and right. A good life is one that balances living well and living right.
I believe that living well is very difficult without being healthy, there are many ways to define health, this is mine:
The physical and mental attributes required to enjoy the whole of life, make a positive difference in the world and to be at peace with yourself
I believe that it’s important to measure what’s important to you, so you can be self aware and effectively ‘manage’ yourself, the background to the approach that I follow can be found in the blog post How To Measure Your Life.
Enough of the preamble, this is how I try and live well. First I spent a month in reflection, trying to envision a rough sketch of how I’d like to spend my days, weeks, months, seasons and years. I was intentionally vague about the seasons and years, as these needed to evolve based on feedback from real experience. I did however know that I wanted to move generally in the direction of being closer to nature and living simply. I was much more specific about the weeks. This is what I did:
- I spent a month capturing the things that made me happy in a long list, I still add to and prune this list and I regularly re-read it several years on
- I made a list of the activities that underpinned my happy list, I used a broad definition of happy, i.e. fulfilling, rewarding etc.
- I made a list of the ‘investments’ of money, time and energy that over the long term, supported these activities
- I made a list of the things that constrained my happy list, my unhappy list!
- I studied the science of motivation, mindfulness and stress management which underpin everything I do
- I did a quick skim through the different philosophies that supported ‘living well’ and chose Stoicism as the best fit for me, “expect the best, prepare for the worst, make the best of reality”
- I tried to develop a strategy for living well that was resilient to uncertainties that I faced in my life, for example there’s no point in building a life totally reliant on perfect physical health, which can be very elusive as one ages
- I was disciplined about the way I allocated my time, to make sure I had balance
After all of this reflection, I updated my previous 10 year plan, I decided on my approach for the next few years, I would invest my time and energy in:
- Securing my retirement my finances and adjusting to living on a fixed income
- Living simply and well within my means
- Improving my health
- Helping the kids with their transition to university and independence
- Helping Debbie with her transition to the world of work
- Spending quality time with friends and family
- Spending more time outdoors and moving, and getting natural exercise most of the day
- Creating a clean, tidy, healthy, well maintained and inviting home and garden
- Continuing to learn
- Being more creative
- Revisit these investments in 3 years time when I reach 55, to see if we want to make any big changes, for example would we move house and/or move further in the direction of smallholding
With this basic direction clear in my mind I then listed the specific daily activities that would move me in this direction, and how frequently I would need to do each of them to get some balance to my weeks. I also listed all of the ‘chores’ that needed doing on a regular basis, things that I had to squeeze into my schedule. But I also wanted the flexibility to live according to the weather and my health on any particular day, to change everything and head to the hills on a good day, or curl up on the sofa and watch TV on a bad day.
The chore’s went into the app Todoist, I’ve setup a whole host of repeating tasks which provide a background rhythm to my days and weeks, wash the car, vacuum the house, clean the windows … critically these are set so that they don’t get done on a specific day they just carry over to the next, when they do get finished they automatically get setup again, n days later. For example I vacuum the house every week, if this is scheduled for Friday and I don’t get around to it until Monday, it schedules the next vacuum for a week on Monday.
The activities went into Coach Me, which tracks daily progress against weekly targets and provides great visualisations of long term trends. To understand why I think tracking is so important, read my post on the topic. This list is constantly evolving, but it currently contains, in no particular order:
- Spend Quality Time With Family ( twice a week) I see my family most days of course, I try to get them together for an evening meal as often as possible
- Spend Quality Time With Friends ( twice a week) Ideally for a walk, cycle, lunch or breakfast meet-up, but every few months a short break
- Sleep Well ( every day)
- Improve The House & Garden ( twice a week )
- Don’t Buy Anything For Myself ( every day ) I intentionally try to avoid buying anything new for myself, attempting to live simply and creatively use what I already have, which is a lot
- Be Kind To Others; Do Good Deeds ( every day ) and to be more compassionate, it’s sometimes tricky to find ways to do this every day, but I can always pickup litter
- Go To New Places, Learn New Things ( twice a week ) to try and avoid getting into a rut
- Read Fiction Book ( five days a week ) because reading is such a joy, but I sometimes forget that
- Read A Factual Book ( five days a week ) because reading is such a joy, but I sometimes forget that
- Write Blog Post ( twice a week ) because it’s fun and a good way to give something back to the world
- Write my diary ( every day ) useful for reflection and the kids like to read it
- Take an afternoon Nap ( everyday ) when it’s convenient, napping is a surprising joy of retirement
- Drink Mostly Water ( everyday ) because I wanted to give up fizzy diet drinks
- Eat Mostly Whole Foods ( six days a week ) because I believe in moderation in all things, including moderation and follow the 80/20 rule
- Do Something Creative ( twice a week ) to avoid getting in a rut, currently I’m mostly learning to draw
- Do Housework ( every day ) because I believe in little and often, when it comes to keeping house
- Stretch ( three days a week ) because I’m getting old, move a lot, I need to take care of my body, I only do a couple of stretches a day for a few minutes
- Strength Training ( twice a week ) ideally done outside of the gym, in a natural environment
- Cardio ( six days a week ) because I believe in daily movement and occasional rest
- Skipping ( three days a week ) because it’s fun and hard
- Go Swimming ( three days a week ) because it’s fun, relaxing and the best way to look after my joints and tendons that I know of
- Go For Hike ( twice a week ) because hiking needs lots of recovery time and it’s expensive to drive to good locations
- Go Cycling ( three days a week ) because it’s fun and hard and my body can only cope with three days a week
- Press-Ups ( three days a week ) because they are so easy to do anywhere, ideally on a bench while walking but it’s hard and my body can only cope with three days a week
- Pull Ups ( three days a week ) ideally on a tree while walking but it’s hard and my body can only cope with three days a week
- Plank ( three days a week ) ideally on waking, because I hate it, but it’s good for me
- Squats ( three days a week ) ideally on waking, because I hate it, but it’s good for me
- Dips ( three days a week ) because they are so easy to do anywhere, ideally on a bench while walking
- Calf Raises ( three days a week ) this simple exercise fixed years to Achilles Tendon pain
- Do Meditation, Yoga Nidra Or Listen To Music ( four days a week ) because any form of relaxation is good
- Watch A TED Talk ( three days a week ) a great way to get exposed to new ideas
- Gardening ( twice a week ) because it’s winter, this will be increasing to six days a week soon, because little and often is best
- Balance Board ( three days a week ) because I’m getting old, although I try to practice balance every day, walking on walls etc.
- Learn To Speak A Foreign Language ( every day ) because Duolingo nags me into doing it
- Don’t Bite My Fingers ( every day ) a lifelong habit that I’ve finally broken, definitely linked to stress
Tracking all this takes a couple of minutes a day (swipe to track on the iPhone) while I watch TV. I also track some negative stuff, like my pain levels, my pain killer use, migraines, whether I’m depressed … because it’s very useful to see the trends.
Naturally I don’t always reach my weekly targets, which is no big deal, it’s the trends that matter to me, I’m not training for the Olympics.
In addition to these daily/weekly activities I also try to get away on holiday for a few days a month, four days being my ideal duration. Holidays provide a great time for reflection, breaking out of ruts and a way to renew my appreciation of home.
All this is all very well, but unless I remind myself every day to move my life in the right direction I make less progress, to help with this I have a poster on the wall of my office, right next to my desk and pinned up next to it my resolutions for the year.
For more (yes more) on living well you can browse this list of posts.
Today’s photo is from one of my regular short afternoon bike rides along the prom at sunset, combining many of my greatest pleasures, cycling, movement, the beach and sunsets.