There’s no question that life is tough. Everybody experiences tribulations that are hard to overcome.
In fact, even Buddha said that “Pain is certain, suffering is optional.”
However, no matter what we’re going through, it doesn’t mean that we can’t take responsibility and get our life together.
It’s going to take work and a can-do attitude, but we can do it.
There are a few principles and habits to adopt to get our lives back on track and live with nobility.
Whether it’s starting a family, moving up in your career or simply being a kinder and better person, these 18 ways will seriously help you get your life together.
How to get your life back on track: 18 no-nonsense tips
1) Stop complaining about every little thing that happens to you
One of the first things you need to do on your journey to creating a better life and getting your sh*t together is to stop complaining. About everything. We mean it.
Even if you have to eat burnt toast in the morning because you forgot to set the timer, eat that toast and be grateful that it is in your life.
Even if you have to do lame-ass tasks at work, be grateful for the lame-ass work and get it done.
We have a terrible tendency to just complain about things instead of trying to find the good in them.
If you can start to be grateful, without trying to make things better, you’ll be on your way to getting your sh*t together.
A major difference between happy and unhappy people is the ability to appreciate what they have.
In fact, a white paper by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkely says that people who consciously count what they’re grateful may have better physical and mental health:
“Research suggests that gratitude may be associated with many benefits for individuals, including better physical and psychological health, increased happiness and life satisfaction, decreased materialism, and more.”
Furthermore, gratitude may also encourage pro-social behavior:
“This suggests that practicing gratitude changes the brain in a way that orients people to feel more rewarded when other people benefit, which could help explain why gratitude encourages prosocial behavior.”
(If you’re struggling to think of things you can be grateful for, check out our list of 16 things to be thankful for here).
2) Start being proactive in your approach to life
So many people are sitting around waiting for things to happen to them – good and bad.
Stop waiting and start doing. It’s not just a catchy sounding internet meme. It’s real life.
If you want things to be different, you are going to have to switch from energy-saving mode to energy-expelling mode and that usually means that you have to start doing things before they creep up on you and become a potential problem.
For instance, you know every year that taxes are due. Why do you wait until the government sends you a collection notice before doing your taxes?
Do you freaking taxes and get ahead of the problem.
Steven Covey identified in 1989 that proactivity is an important character trait of highly effective people:
“People who end up with the good jobs are the proactive ones who are solutions to problems, not problems themselves, who seize the initiative to do whatever is necessary, consistent with correct principles, to get the job done.” – Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
It’s all well and good to tell you to be more proactive, but how do you actually go about it?
Firstly, stop blaming other people or situations and look for ways your problems can be solved. Don’t focus on things that you cannot control.
Once you’ve worked out problems or solutions you do have some control over, it’s up to you to take the initiative and start acting.
This is where you need to figure out your steps in advance. If you’ve got a big problem, it won’t be solved in a day. You need to use your analytical skills to plan what steps you need to take.
Make sure you’re setting realistic steps as well. If you’re giving yourself an unrealistic set of tasks that you need to finish a day, it’ll just lead to disappointment.
But setting tasks you can actually get done will give you the motivation to continue and eventually achieve what you need to achieve.
And remember, consistency is crucial if you want to be proactive.
3) Set some goals for crying out loud
Don’t just sit on the couch and let life pass you by, get out there and set some goals for yourself.
Whether you start small or go for broke with your goal setting, you need to at least have some kind of idea of what you want your life to look like so you can start working towards it.
The longer you tell yourself that you don’t know what you want, the longer it will take you to get it.
Getting your life together means being in charge of your dreams and taking charge of how you want to do things.
Although a lot of it won’t turn out like you had hoped and planned, taking action will certainly change things for the better and anywhere you land is going to be light years ahead of where you are right now.
And the truth is, without goals you lack focus and direction.
Setting goals allows you to take control of where your life is heading.
Here are 4 golden rules for setting goals (you know, so you actually achieve them):
1) Set goals that actually motivate you:
This means setting goals that means something to you. If you’re not interested in what you’re doing, or you don’t really care about the outcome, then you’ll struggle to take action.
Focus on setting goals that are a high priority in your life. Otherwise, you’ll end up with too many goals and you won’t take action. To find out what’s important to you, write down why your goal is valuable.
2) Set SMART goals.
You’ve probably heard of this acronym before. It’s popular because it works. Here’s what it means:
Specific: Your goals must be clear and well-defined.
Measurable: Label precise amounts and dates. For example, if you want to reduce expenses, what amount do you want to reduce them to?
Attainable: Your goals have to be achievable. If they’re too difficult, you’ll lose motivation.
Relevant: Your goals should be aligned with where you want to get to and what you want to do.
Time-bound: Set yourself a deadline for your goals. Deadlines force you to get things done, and not procrastinate.
3) Set your goals in writing
Don’t just rely on your brain to remember your goals. Physically write down each goal, no matter how small it is. Putting a line through your goal will give you the motivation to keep going.
4) Make an action plan.
You’re not going to achieve your big goals in a day. You need to write out individual steps to get there. Cross them off as you complete them to give you more motivation.
[If you’re looking for an easy-to-follow framework to help you find your purpose in life and achieve your goals, check our eBook on how to be your own life coach here].
4) Get your stuff organized
I mean all your stuff, from your sock drawer to your car. Organize your stuff and get your life together as a result.
You don’t need to make drastic changes in your life to see dramatically different results.
You just need to change many small things that will accumulate into bigger, more awesome things.
Getting your stuff organized is a one-way ticket to getting your sh*t together and living a better life, pronto.
Here are 5 small tips to get your life organized:
1. Write things down: Attempting to remember things will not help you stay organized. Write down everything. Shopping lists, important dates, tasks, names.
2. Make schedules and deadlines: Don’t waste time. Keep schedules of what you need to do and set goals.
3. Don’t procrastinate: The longer you wait to do something, the harder it’s going to be to get it done.
4. Giving everything a home: If you want to be organized, it means you need to know where things you own are. Give your keys and wallet a designated spot in your home. Store things properly with labels.
5. Declutter: Dedicate time each week to organize and get rid of things you don’t need.
“For every minute spent in organizing, an hour is earned.” – Benjamin Franklin
5) Hang out with people who add to your life
Stop spending time with people who bring you down. It doesn’t add anything to your life.
You’ll live a much more successful and fulfilling life if you choose to hang out with people who are positive and uplifting.
So, how do you work out who you should actually spend time with?
It’s quite simple. Ask yourself these 2 questions:
Do they make you feel better after you spend time with them?
Do you feel more optimistic and positive about life?
If you can answer yes to those questions, then make a conscious effort to spend more time with them. The positivity will rub off on you.
If you keep hanging out with toxic people who put you down and want to get something out of you, you’re not going to benefit at all. In fact, you’ll lose out and won’t realize your potential.
Also, according to a 75-year Harvard study, our closest relationships may have the largest impact on our overall happiness in life.
So if you want to make your life better, keep a watchful eye on who you spend most of your time with and make the necessary changes.
“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
6) Get a pet and take care of it
You probably didn’t expect this one but there are several reasons you should get a cat, dog, rabbit or whatever animal you want.
The most important reason is that it’ll teach you responsibility. After all, you have to look after another living animal and make sure it survives, thrives and lives a happy life.
Not only will it teach you to be more responsible, but it’ll also show you there’s more to life than what’s going on inside your head. Your actions actually do have an impact on others.
And besides, owning a pet is actually healthy for you as well. According to research, having a dog around can lead to lower levels of stress for both adults and kids.
7) Stop chasing happiness with outside attachments
This is a tough one to realize and I don’t blame anyone for thinking that happiness exists outside themselves.
After all, aren’t we happier when we make more money or buy that shiny new iPhone?
While these experiences may give us a temporary boost in happiness, it might not last long.
And once that temporary joy is gone, we’ll be back in a cycle of wanting that high again so we can be happy.
While it’s fine to bask in temporary joy when it comes around, we shouldn’t rely on it for lasting happiness.
An extreme example highlighting the problems with this is a drug addict. They’re happy when they’re taking drugs, but miserable and angry when they’re not. It’s a cycle that no one wants to be lost in.
True happiness can only come from within.
“HAPPINESS comes from within. To be happy is to know oneself. It’s not in the material things that we own, it’s the love we have and show to the world.” ― Angie karan
Happiness is our inner feeling, along with how we interpret the events of life, which leads us to the next point…
(Non-attachment is a key Buddhist teachings. I have written a highly practical, no-nonsense guide to Buddhism and have dedicated an entire chapter to this concept. Check out the eBook here).
8) Be yourself
Having a concrete sense of self is an important part of your existence. Without it, you’ll find that goals are harder to define and your needs harder to understand.
Answering these 4 questions will give you a more stable sense of self and what you aspire to be:
What personality traits make you-you?
What are you passionate about?
What are your values?
What are your strengths?
Understanding what your strengths are and what you’re passionate about gives you confidence and empowerment to reach your potential.
So if you’re searching for how to make your life better, then get to know yourself and what makes you tick.
“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.” – Frank Zappa
(To learn how to believe in yourself when the world is telling you differently, check out our ultimate guide on how to love yourself here).
9) Start saving your money
No matter what stage of life you’re in, it’s always a good idea to focus on building your savings.
In the future, you want to have financial independence and savings to depend on.
Calling your own shots, financially speaking, gives you the freedom to make choices in your life separate from your weekly paycheck.
Having this sort of freedom means you can change careers when you want to, go on vacation when you feel like it and help family members who are short of money.
It also means that if you have a family, or you’re planning on having a family, you can take care of them and help them achieve whatever they want to achieve.
This doesn’t mean you have to become rich. Achieving financial independence is possible by putting a little bit of money away each month and letting it accumulate.
So, what’s the best strategy to do that?
A popular piece of advice in financial circles is the 50/30/20 rule. It means that at least 20% of your income should go towards savings. Meanwhile, another 50% should go towards necessities, while 30% goes towards discretionary items.
10) What gets your juices flowing?
One of the surefire ways to get your life together is to find what lights you up and follow it.
We’re not saying quit your job and start a charity, but if charity is what makes you feel good about yourself, do more of it.
Stop wasting time binge-watching shows on the internet. Don’t listen to others who want to offer suggestions for endless sitcom episodes.
Avoid the noise. Find your passion, be willing to explore other passions, and do more of what makes you feel alive.
You’ll start to see the positive results of all of these wonderful steps when you put them into action, and not a second sooner. So close your web browser and get to work!
We’re all unique and we all have special talents.
You have a better chance of becoming successful and making a difference in the world if you do what you’re passionate about.
And if you’re not happy at work, then it’s more difficult to be happy in other areas of your life.
Doing what you love is a core ingredient to getting the most of yourself. It will help you grow and become all that you can be.
Being motivated and having a sense of meaning and purpose is crucial to living a fulfilling life.
So, how can you figure out what you’re truly passionate about?
According to Ideapod, asking yourself these 8 weird questions will help you find out what you really want to do in life:
1) What were you passionate about as a child?
2) If you didn’t have a job, how would you choose to fill your hours?
3) What makes you forget about the world around you?
4) What issues do you hold close to your heart?
5) Who do you spend time with and what do you talk about?
6) What is on your bucket list?
7) If you had a dream, could you make it happen?
8) What are the feelings you desire right now?
11) Accept yourself and all your emotions
According to Psychology Today, one of the main causes of many psychological problems could be the habit of emotional avoidance.
However, there’s no denying that we all do it. After all, nobody wants to experience negative emotions.
And in the short-term, it may be beneficial, but over the long-term, it becomes a bigger problem than what was being avoided in the first place.
The problem with avoidance is that every single one of us is going to experience negative emotions. We’re all going to experience suffering.
These emotions are just a part of being a living human being.
By accepting your emotional life, you are affirming your full humanity.
By accepting who you are and what you’re experiencing, you don’t have to waste energy avoiding anything.
You can accept the emotion, clear your mind and then move on with your actions.
Negative emotions won’t kill you – they’re annoying but not dangerous – and accepting them is much less of a drag than the ongoing attempt to avoid them.
How can you learn to accept your emotions?
Here’s an exercise adapted from a workbook developed by Dr. Steven Hayes at the University of Nevada. This workbook is an excellent introduction to a type of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
Step one: Identify the emotion
If you are having more than one emotion, just pick one. If you don’t know what the emotion is, sit for a moment and pay attention to your physical sensations and thoughts. Give it a name and write it down on a piece of paper.
Step two: Give it some space
Close your eyes and imagine putting that emotion five feet in front of you. You’re going to put it outside of yourself and observe it.
Step three: Now that the emotion is outside of you, close your eyes and answer the following questions:
If your emotion had a size, what size would it be? If your emotion had a shape, what shape would it be? If your emotion had a color, what color would it be?
Once you’ve answered these questions, imagine putting the emotion out in front of you with the size, shape, and color. Just observe it and acknowledge it for what it is. When you’re ready, you can let the emotion return to its original place inside you.
Step four: Reflection
Once you’ve completed the exercise, you can take a moment to reflect on what you’ve noticed. Did you notice a change in your emotion when you got a little distance from it? Did the emotion feel different in some way once the exercise was finished?
This exercise may seem weird, but it has helped many people understand their emotions and learn to be more accepting of them.
Acceptance and understanding your emotions will help you make your life better.
(One of the myths of the self-improvement industry is that you need to repress your anger to truly accept your emotions. Not true! Find out why in Ideapod’s free video training: The “hidden trap” of improving yourself, and what to do instead.)
12) Do what you’ll say you’ll do
Doing what you say you will do is a matter of integrity. How do you feel when someone says they’ll do something, and then they don’t? In my eyes, they lose credibility.
Every time you do what you say you will do, you build credibility. Part of getting your life back on track involves being trustworthy and living your life with integrity.
And the fact of the matter is this: it’s hard to get your life together if you won’t do what you’ll say you’ll do.
So, how can you make sure you’ll do what you’ll say you’ll do?
Follow these 4 principles:
1) Never agree to or promise anything unless you are 100% sure you can do it. Treat “yes” as a contract.
2) Have a schedule: Every time you say “yes” to someone, or even yourself, put it in a calendar.
3) Don’t make excuses: Sometimes things happen that are beyond our control. If you’re forced to break a commitment, don’t make excuses. Own it, and try to make things right in the future.
4) Be honest: The truth isn’t always easy to say, but if you’re not rude about it, it will help everyone out in the long run. Be impeccable with your word means you’re honest with yourself and with others. You’ll become that guy or girl that people can rely on.
13) Experience all that life has to offer
Don’t be afraid of new experiences. The more experiences you have, the more mature and wise you’ll become.
We only get life once – so bask in life in all possible ways – the good, the bad, the bitter-sweet, the love, the heartbreak – everything!
We only get one shot at it – so we may as well make the most of it.
Here’s a great quote from a Spiritual Master Osho:
“Experience life in all possible ways — good-bad, bitter-sweet, dark-light, summer-winter. Experience all the dualities. Don’t be afraid of experience, because the more experience you have, the more mature you become.”
14) Look after your body
If you want to change your life, you are going to have to change a lot more than just the clothes you wear and the words you allow yourself to think.
Taking better care of yourself will have a dramatic result on your life.
Not just from a health perspective, but also from an energy perspective.
When your body is properly nourished and you are at your peak performance, you’ll feel like you can take on the world.
When you shove donuts down your throat every time you feel badly about yourself, well, you can imagine where that leads, and the answer is not a better life.
And in the end, there’s a huge relationship between the body and mind and the physical and spiritual.
By listening to your body’s needs, we can become more aware of our emotions and our desires.
Make sure the body is getting enough vitamins, minerals and is operating in its best shape possible.
Having a healthy body and mind will undoubtedly help you get your life back on track.
If you’re looking for a quick guide on how to make exercise a habit, check out this article on Ideapod: 10 ways to make exercise an unbreakable habit.
15) Live in the present
I think you’ll agree with me when I say:
Life is the best when you’re effortlessly living in the moment. There are no regrets about the past, and no worries in the future. You’re simply focused on the task at hand.
Not only does this make you more productive and focused, but it could make you happier, too.
But the question is, how do we achieve this state more often when our overactive minds get in the way?
Well, according to spiritual master Osho, we need to practice taking a step back and observing the mind and realizing that we are not our thoughts.
Once we stop identifying with every single thought that we produce, they’ll become weaker and weaker and we’ll be more easily able to live in the present moment, rather than being distracted by future worries or past regrets:
“Your thoughts have to understand one thing: that you are not interested in them. The moment you have made this point you have attained a tremendous victory. Just watch. Don’t say anything to the thoughts. Don’t judge. Don’t condemn. Don’t tell them to move. Let them do whatsoever they are doing, any gymnastics let them do; you simply watch, enjoy. It is just a beautiful film. And you will be surprised: just watching, a moment comes when thoughts are not there, there is nothing to watch.”
16) Cut the fat
When it comes to getting your life together you need to be ruthless with cutting out the noise – or the fat.
Pick your analogy. This might come in the form of other people, your own thoughts, your lack of ambition, your mother’s unrelenting pressure to get married, or any other number of things that might pop up that prevent you from getting where you want to go.
In order to get your life together, you are going to have to become a cutting machine.
Do it with your best interest in mind and don’t make any apology for it. You might find that you actually inspire others to get their lives together in the process.
An example is your own negative thoughts. Cut it out because it only makes life more stressful.
According to Karen Lawson, MD, “negative attitudes and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can create chronic stress, which upsets the body’s hormone balance, depletes the brain chemicals required for happiness, and damages the immune system.”
So every time you complain, it’s time to give yourself a pinch and stop it.
Over time, you may stop being negative as you learn to adopt a more positive and optimistic attitude. You’ll also be more well-liked and tolerable.
(To learn 5 science-backed ways to be more positive, click here)
17) Spend time on your relationships
Human beings are social beings. Getting your relationships in order is a crucial part of getting your act together.
According to a 75-year Harvard study, your closest relationships could be the most crucial factor in a successful and happy life.
Like anything, it takes time to get them right. Make sure you’re investing enough time in your family and friends and you’ll undoubtedly thank yourself later on.
18) Focus on doing the work
We all have goals and ambitions, but without action, they won’t be achieved.
So if you want to take responsibility for your life and get your life back on track, then start taking action today.
Even it’s small steps, as long as you keep on improving with your actions you’ll eventually get to where you want to go.
How this one Buddhist teaching turned my life around
My lowest ebb was around 6 years ago.
I was a guy in my mid-20s who was lifting boxes all day in a warehouse. I had few satisfying relationships – with friends or women – and a monkey mind that wouldn’t shut itself off.
During that time, I lived with anxiety, insomnia and way too much useless thinking going on in my head.
My life seemed to be going nowhere. I was a ridiculously average guy and deeply unhappy to boot.
The turning point for me was when I discovered Buddhism.
By reading everything I could about Buddhism and other eastern philosophies, I finally learned how to let things go that were weighing me down, including my seemingly hopeless career prospects and disappointing personal relationships.
In many ways, Buddhism is all about letting things go. Letting go helps us break away from negative thoughts and behaviors that do not serve us, as well as loosening the grip on all our attachments.
Fast forward 6 years and I’m now the founder of Hack Spirit, one of the leading self improvement blogs on the internet.
Just to be clear: I’m not a Buddhist. I have no spiritual inclinations at all. I’m just a regular guy who turned his life around by adopting some amazing teachings from eastern philosophy.
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