It’s one of those easier-said-than-done things, right? Everybody’s cooing “Priorities …” in one ear, and yelling “GOALS” in the other. Get the balance right and you’re “assured” a healthy, happy, and meaningful life because the world will be your “oyster.”
Sometimes, folks try to make the process simpler by offering up such open-ended inspiration as this:
It’s a good story, the concluding remark of all the rest being “just pebbles and sand” is a solid ending, the kind of bang you want on the end of every public speech you give. Where they lose me a little is when they list human relationships and physical health as the number one priority, but then list work and school and chores as pebbles and sand. They specifically position these “lesser” areas of life as without meaning because only those things which have meaning in-and-of themselves are stones.
Questioning the Obvious Priorities
Time and again, the heroes and fools of fairy tales prove themselves worthy of happy endings (if only to the audience and not the author of the story) by creating meaning in every aspect of their lives. Now, in the stories those aspects are limited, and yet – in researching the power of goal-setting for Puttin’ the Puss in Boots – it occurred to me that the limited aspects of a character’s life may not increase in number in our own lives, but each aspect does itself become limitless in its reach throughout our daily living. This is especially true when you consider the productivity studies out there suggesting 5 as a kind of magic number for how many goals a single person can hold in the mind as “top priority.”
We have to prioritize our loved ones because we care about them and want them to stay around; our health so that we are strong enough to do all the things we want to do that up our quality of living; and, our jobs so that we can take care of ourselves and maybe even give back as productive members of society. That looks like I’ve just added work to the list of core priorities, but the truth is I think we all have five interconnected priority-philosophies. I got my first dose of these priority-philosophies during some personal research when I came across this:
Before seeing this video, I knew about the Greco-Roman tradition of the Vein of Love running between the ring finger and the heart. Yet the idea that all of our nearest and dearest could be represented by each of the fingers of our hand stuck with me. After spending a lot of time considering how each of these five relationships make themselves present in our daily lives – even when we don’t necessarily talk to one or more of these people for whatever reason – the idea of the priority-philosophy started to take shape.
Defining the Priority-Philosophies
When we are first born, there is someone to protect us or at the very least ensure our survival until we can do so for ourselves. Survival usually means shelter and sustenance. In a capitalist social structure, our survival requires an income (usually from a job).
As we grow up, people and circumstances surrounding us shape our view of work and our responsibility to support ourselves when we come of age. We are, in essence, honoring those who once cared for us by learning to care for ourselves. In my own priority-philosophy this translates as trying to: Be grateful in your self-sustaining.
I am grateful for the roof over my head, the food on my table, and the light I have to read by. Sounds nice, because I’ve used my skills as a poet to craft a sentence that mentions my most basic bills (rent, groceries, utilities) in non-financial terms. Plus, starting from a place of gratitude, anything I do to support myself can be better endured in those times it is made difficult by outside circumstances.
Whether you call yourself a child of God or a child of the universe, we can agree that we are all in a sense brothers and sisters. Between the evolutionary concept of apes being our cousins and the medicinal wonder of friggin’ blood donations, our being brothers and sisters is just one of many logical conclusions. My favorite bit of evidence is found in the word mankind.
The word man has been used to refer to all of us – regardless of sex – because it comes from the Latin manus meaning hand. We are what we do, and it is the way of our kind (our familiars) to want to be seen as kind (neighborly) so that as mankind we promise to do well by one another. I beg your leave as I try to leave it at that and get down to my priority-philosophy to: Be joyous with your generosity.
I am happy to share whatever my good fortune, be it time or company or food. This one is hard for folks, especially those with issues of protecting their boundaries (including me). Yet that is exactly why I specify being happy or joyous, so long as there is any hesitation on my part to do something for someone else, then I know my help or participation will not be the stuff of my best efforts and that is not fair to me or the person requesting anything of me.
The center of the hand, the center of a life, we are what we do. This brings us right back to the word mankind, but also to that first priority of survival. As a result, there are of course the religious vocations, wherein individuals are themselves supported by their devotion to the service of others; and, the noble vocations – such as teaching and nursing and the arts – wherein people are grossly underpaid for providing invaluable service to mankind because it is assumed they do it purely for the love of something/someone outside themselves.
This is the crux, you are the crux. You are the place where values are made philosophies and priorities are given meaning, the emotional logic of why. This is the fulcrum point upon which everything balances, that you: Be committed to your calling.
I am ever working to do my best. Not to do the right thing every second of every day, but to do as I am able in any given moment, to make every action one that is guided by rules which I write and am ever open to adjusting as I learn more about myself and the world which I inhabit. The part I play in my life is not a passive one, however uncontrollable situations may be I still hold the first and last powers over my self.
A special kind of balance is struck when we decide to share our lives with another by taking a load off their shoulders in order to lessen our own. We take time to speak to and listen to this other who becomes an extension of our own self. We double the hands and all the work is made less.
This is also true when single. When we commit to ourselves/our calling, we expand our view of ourselves which proportionately lessens our view of those things which weigh us down and distract us from the everyday magic surrounding us. When we can unburden ourselves in this way, the things that don’t really matter become so apparent it’s suddenly the easiest thing in the world to: Be present for the sweet things.
I am working to make the most of my time. This phrasing is purposeful in its turning on its head the idea that “making the most of one’s time” equals “productivity.” Jamming as many things into the day as possible is how you end up with the To-Do-List equivalent of “The Book of Sand,” and – as suggested by the video above – we’re trying to minimize the amount of proverbial sand in our lives.
Gone are the days of “Do as I say, not as I do.” Here we lead our children – or whoever else happens to be paying attention – to doing their best, by doing our best. Here we watch out for all aspects of our health with exercise and food choices and reading choices and getting enough sleep for optimum brain function and choosing to spend time with people who we feel make us better people and actively trying to think things through and talking out loud about feelings and decision-making.
It’s pretty clear by now that all of these things are so interconnected that the affecting of one affects them all. The mind affects the body, and the body the mind. It’s such that there really is no other way to put it than: Be sound of mind and body.
I am as healthy as I keep myself. Every statement is made in the present tense because now is all we have. Now is the time we have to start, take a break, or keep going.
Living With Priority-Philosophies
I start every daily entry of my bullet journal with the Five Finger Method for Getting a Grip:
- Be grateful in your self-sustaining.
- Be joyous in your generosity.
- Be committed to your calling.
- Be present for the sweet things.
- Be sound of mind and body.
Whenever a daily entry starts a new spread in my bullet journaling I rewrite them, now marking off the bullets on the previous page as I re-affirm in my mind what they mean to me:
- I am grateful for the roof over my head, the food on my table, and the light I have to read by.
- I am happy to share whatever my good fortune, be it time or company or food.
- I am ever working to do my best.
- I am working to make the most of my time.
- I am as healthy as I keep myself.
Having a bullet journal is more like an ongoing Ta-Da! list than a To-Do list. For any task “worthy” of a bullet point, I ask myself if it in any way conflicts with my priority-philosophies. If not, I do it; but, if so, I examine the conflict to determine whether a shift in perspective is required or if the given task should go undone.
Studies have shown that too many goals dramatically decreases the likelihood of our following through on any of them. The studies say 5-7, to keep things as clear as possible I’m going with 5, one for each of the priority-philosophies. I’ll even write them down for you, since another study has shown that those who write down their goals are 42% more likely to follow through:
- To get a job, within walking distance of – or a very short bus-ride from – my apartment with fixed part-time hours that does not require me to compromise my integrity, by the end of August.
- To have 1000 e-mail subscribers by the end of August.
- To have self-published on Kindle Puttin’ the Puss in Boots by the end June.
- To KonMari the crap out of my apartment by the end of July.
- To work up the courage to ride my bike on the streets of Providence during the day by the end of June.
You might have noticed a bit of a format to my goals, they’re what’s known as SMART goals. The acronym has various meanings based on your source, this is how I like to break it down:
- Specific : envision the final product/result in exacting detail
- Measurable : this aids in knowing whether you’re final goal is in fact specific, while also providing the means by which to track your progress/maintain momentum
- Actionable : being able to envision steps you are willing to take and are necessary to reach your aim both in the categories of that which is expected and that which shows signs of getting creative
- Relevant : the goal must be in line with all of your priority-philosophies so that there is no argument in your mind against doing it
- Timely : the goal must have an actual deadline and make sense for your current schedule
Now, this is all well and good until a person turns on their computer and low and behold there is social media and job sites and so much click-bait. I said before that only “worthy” tasks get written down in the bullet journal. This translates to using the internet.
Going on Facebook or another social site? Write it down along with the time you clicked onto the site/app and the time you clicked off. This is because as “unworthy” as it may seem for the bullet journal, it’s something that’s so automatic we need the bullet journal to help us learn to be mindful of our use of social media.
When we click the title of any article, we need to write down the title and the author and the name of the site. If after reading the article we decide it held solid value, we mark the task as complete. If not, draw a straight line through it so that we can still kind of see what was written as a visual note to ourselves to be more aware of why we click on certain titles.
Back to Reality
Over the course of the day I write many little notes/quotes to myself in the midst of whatever else a given day calls for. Every morning, after I review my Five Finger Method for Getting a Grip, I migrate all the really good notes/quotes from the previous day to notecards to be used in writing projects like the post you’re reading now.
I’m planning on having my bike legs back and a little book self-published by the end of June. That way I can turn my attention to making my live-work space what I need it to be by the end of July. It will help me to be less frazzled as I position myself in August to better take care of myself while sharing everything I love about fairy tales with as many people as I can.
A human’s hand most usually has five fingers, each one well aware of whether you’ve tied a remembrance bow on the one next to it. We each have in our hands our own priority-philosophies. In acknowledging them, we have a chance to make them work for us, to build with our own hands the life we want to live.