What to do when you don’t know what to do with your life (the complete guide)

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This is the complete guide to help you figure out what you want to do with your life.

So if you feel like you don’t know what to do with your life, and you have no idea where to start to actually figure it out, you’ll love the strategies and tips in this guide.

It’s not as complex as you might think. You just need to understand yourself.

We’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get started.

1) Five honest questions you need to answer 

If you want to figure out what will make you happy and what you want to be in five, ten years, then the most important first step is to simply talk to yourself.

Oftentimes we assume too much about what we think we know about ourselves, but the truth is that we are changing all the time without even realizing it.

Take the time to talk to yourself, ask yourself the big questions, and really understand what will make you happy.

A technique that I found helpful in figuring out what I want to do with my life was journaling.

By writing down what I was thinking and feeling, I felt like I had clarity on what I actually want to do with my life.

Writing helps your mind slow down so you can structure the information in your head. It’s also a great way to release and understand your emotions.

In the Harvard Health Blog, Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH says that when people write about what’s in their hearts and minds, they better make sense of the world and themselves:

“Writing provides a rewarding means of exploring and expressing feelings. It allows you to make sense of yourself and the world you are experiencing. Having a deeper understanding of how you think and feel — that self-knowledge — provides you with a stronger connection to yourself.”

The great thing is that writing helps you express yourself in a safe environment. No one is going to read what you’re about to write.

To begin writing, here some questions I have used to ask myself that have helped me figure out what my priorities are and what direction I want my life to head in:

1) What do I really want?

It can be difficult to figure out what to do with your life, but you must have an idea of what you truly want.

We’ve all got needs, wants and desires. Now is the time to figure out yours.

If you think that you’ve already figured out what you want, but you’ve never been able to get there, then either what you think you want isn’t what you truly want or it wasn’t a powerful enough need.

Because when you truly want or need something, you figure out a way.

And no, we’re not talking about “things” or “possessions”. I’m talking about your purpose and motivation in life that goes beyond superficial needs and desires.

Is it freedom? Security? Family? Health? Love? Let it all out and get to know your desires from the inside out.

2) What am I no longer willing to accept?

What are you sick of? What about life just irks you to your core?

Think about it, let it out and let’s figure out how you can be done with it for good.

The truth is, most of us become complacent. Even when things annoy us, we learn to accept it and never take action.

If you don’t have any clue about what to do with your life, then you need to consider what you’re no longer able to accept.

If you don’t, then you won’t be able to move forward. Don’t hold back. Express yourself fully and work out what’s really making you angry and unfulfilled in life.

3) What makes me happy?

Do you hate working? Find it’s a chore? It’s time to figure out what you’re truly passionate about.

Because when you’re passionate, nothing feels like work. Everything is fun.

Even if you start to do what you love as a hobby. It will be time well spent and you’ll be well on your way to being truly happy when you’re engaged in what you love.

4) Are my current habits enabling me to live the life I want?

The quality of our lives is directly related to our foundational habits that we routinely run on a daily basis.

Significant change doesn’t happen in an instant. It takes lots of little gains every single day.

So once you’ve figured out what you truly want in life and what you’re no longer willing to accept, it’s time to figure if you have the right habits to achieve those goals.

Is what you’re doing helping you achieve your goals? It’s time to answer that question seriously.

5) How can I add value to this world?

When you’re feeling lost and directionless, this is an extremely important question to ask yourself.

If you’re not thinking about how you can add value to the world around you, then you’re not thinking about the big picture.

The truth is, most people don’t work hard. They want to get, get, get with the most minimal amount of giving.

Why? Because most people don’t care about a long-term vision and they only care about their own short-term vision.

But people who live a truly fulfilling and successful life don’t think like that. They realize that nothing in life comes easy and it takes time to build anything truly amazing.

They also understand that the world doesn’t revolve around them. You have to think about other people and help them live a great life, too.

This Gandhi quote summarizes why you need to focus on others when you’re feeling lost:

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Once you have answered these questions, you’ll have a better idea of what you want to do with your life.

After all, it’s only you that can answer that.

2) Make an action plan and set your goals 

Now that you have a better idea of what you want to do with your life, it’s time to set an action plan.

Don’t just sit on the couch and let life pass you by, get out there and set some goals for yourself.

If you want to get to a point where you’re doing what you want to do, you need to work for it.

And the truth is, without goals, you lack direction and focus.

A study from the Dominican University of California showed people who wrote down their goals achieved more than those who didn’t.

Setting goals allows you to take control of where your life is heading.

Not long ago, I was feeling somewhat directionless in life and I knew I needed to set a fresh set of goals.

I’ve never been one to try and find meaning in religion or spirituality. When I feel directionless, I want practical solutions.

And one thing everyone seems to be raving about these days is life coaching.

Bill Gates, Anthony Robbins, Andre Agassi, Oprah and countless other celebrities go on and on about how much life coaches have helped them achieve great things.

Good on them, you may be thinking. They can certainly afford one!

Well I’ve recently discovered a way to receive all the benefits of professional life coaching without the expensive price tag.

Click here to learn more about my search for a life coach. I reveal the VERY surprising turn of events and how I was finally able to create my own action plan for life.

3) Live in the present moment and take action now 

There’s only one thing you have control over: the present moment.

Yet so many of us spend our days lost in the regrets of the past or worries about the future.

If you can relate to this, then no wonder you feel lost. You can’t create a life you love if you’re not focusing on your actions in the present moment.

It’s only by focusing on what you can do right now that you’ll be able to find yourself and work towards creating a life that’s meaningful and purposeful.

“Focus on opportunities not setbacks. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t. Focus on the present moment, not the past or the future. Empower yourself!” ― Akiroq Brost

This is where mindfulness can come in to help live in the present moment. In the book Mindfulness for Creativity, Danny Penman says that mindfulness practices can help you be more open to new ideas, can improve attention and nurtures courage and resilience in the face of setbacks.

Furthermore, living in the present moment empowers you to take action.

If you followed the above steps and you understand what you want to do with your life, then it’s important to take practical action to make that a reality.

Here are some tips to take meaningful action in the present moment:

1) Focus only on single tasks, no matter how small it is.

2) Do your tasks in a slow, relaxed pace. Take it in and enjoy it.

3) Minimize checking things like Facebook. They’re distractions that take you away from the task you’re doing.

4) Tell yourself: Now I am…As you do something, simply tell yourself what you’re doing. If you’re brushing your teeth, tell yourself that and only do that.

5) Start a meditation practice. This is a great way to learn to calm your mind and improve your focus. You’ll find that you’re more productive when your mind is clear and you know what you need to do.

(For in-depth information on how to practice meditation, check out our guide to meditation here.)

In the end, time is the most valuable resource you have, and every second you spend doing something unproductive, something that adds nothing to your value as a person, is another second you have thrown down the drain.

You are getting older every day, and one day you’re going to wake up and hate yourself for not starting the path to your ultimate goals 5, 10, 20 years ago.

Don’t make that mistake while you’re young, and if you’re already old, don’t keep making that mistake today.

Start taking action now.

Mindfulness is a great way to learn to engage in the present moment.

Health Beat at Harvard Health says that mindfulness is the “ability to pay attention to what you’re experiencing from moment to moment – without drifting into thoughts of the past or concerns about the future, or getting caught up in opinions and what is going on.”

Learning to practice mindfulness has had a profound effect on my own life.

In case you didn’t know, 6 years ago I was miserable, anxious and working every day in a warehouse.

The turning point for me was when I dived into Buddhism and eastern philosophy.

What I learned changed my life forever. I started to let go of the things that were weighing me down and live more fully in the moment.

Just to be clear: I’m not a Buddhist. I have no spiritual inclinations at all. I’m just a regular guy who turned to eastern philosophy because I was at rock bottom.

Read more about my journey here.

4) Accept that you don’t have full control of the future

We obsess too much over stability and security. The modern life has taught us that we should always know where we’re going, what we’re doing, and we should always have a Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D, and more.

As great as it is to be prepared, all this preparation has traumatized us against the possibility of the unknown. We are so afraid of choices with no clear results that we would rather not make any choices at all.

It’s time to accept. Accept that life is uncertain and the future is unsure. Once you have accepted that, you can focus on taking meaningful action to create a life you love.

There’s no point focusing n the past and what you can’t change. According to psychotherapist Mary Darling Montero in Huffington Post, “Running in circles obsessing over past mistakes only leaves us dizzy and swimming in regret.”

Your future is determined by all the little actions you do every day. If we chase our dreams, do what we want to do, and don’t stray off the paths we choose, then there’s no reason why you won’t reach the destination you’re looking for.

While you will never be able to predict the future, you can do your best to get the future you want.

5) Start saving

This tip may be more practical than the others on the list, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

Money is an undeniable part of society, and having the money to pursue your dreams is absolutely necessary.

“Saving gives you the freedom to live life on your own terms,” says Matt Becker, a certified financial planner and the founder of Mom and Dad Money.

“When I lost my job three years ago, my wife and I used that as an opportunity to start the businesses we’d been dreaming about, rather than scrambling to find another paycheck as quickly as possible…We could only make that decision because of the years we’d spent building our savings.”

Whether it’s to go to school, study abroad, work somewhere else, start a business, or spend a year or two traveling, you will need money to do these things.

Make sure you don’t get stuck living paycheck to paycheck, or else you will never have the time or resources to pursue what you want.

Whether you have a high income or a low income, there are 2 simple principles to save money:

1) Tackle high-interest debt first: In order to start saving more, you have to tackle your debt head-on, especially high-interest debt that forces you to pay outrageous fees and interests charges.

2) Cut down expenses: Pretty simple. Have a look at all your expenses and figure out what you can realistically cut down. $5 a day ends up being $140 a month. Keep your budget lean and spend in moderation.

Another popular piece of advice from financial gurus 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.

6) Take responsibility

No one likes to feel directionless in life.

But the simple truth is that you’re ultimately responsible for figuring out your goals and taking action every day to achieve them.

Because the reality is that YOU are ultimately responsible for everything in your life, including for your happiness and unhappiness, successes and failures, and for how you respond to your challenges.

I want to briefly share with you how taking responsibility has transformed my own life.

As I mentioned above, 6 years ago I was anxious, miserable and working every day in a warehouse.

I was stuck in a hopeless cycle and had no idea how to get out of it.

My solution was to stamp out my victim mentality and take personal responsibility for everything in my life. I wrote about my journey here.

Fast forward to today and my website Hack Spirit is helping millions of people make radical shifts in their own lives. We’ve become one of the world’s biggest websites on mindfulness and practical psychology.

This isn’t about bragging, but to show how powerful taking responsibility can be…

… Because you too can transform your own life by taking complete ownership of it.

To help you do this, I’ve collaborated with my brother Justin Brown to create an online personal responsibility workshop. Check it out here. We give you a unique framework for finding your best self and achieving powerful things.

It’s quickly become Ideapod’s most popular workshop..

If you want to seize control of your life, like I did 6 years ago, then this is the online resource you need.

Here’s a link to our best-selling workshop again.

7) Accept discomfort 

We spend so much time trying to be comfortable. We need the perfect room temperature, the perfect drink, the perfect pajamas, the perfect chair.

But comfort means you’re not pushing yourself; comfort means that your body is in a state of relaxation.

If you want something, you need to do whatever you can to get it, even if it means lowering your quality of life for a while.

Most of us hate experiencing emotions like anxiety and stress, but if we actively avoid these emotions, it means we’re not living a full life.

According to Noam Shpancer Ph.D. in Psychology Today, avoiding a negative emotion buys you short term gain at the price of long term pain.

Here’s why:

“When you avoid the short term discomfort of a negative emotion, you resemble the person who under stress decides to drink. It “works,” and the next day, when bad feelings come, he drinks again. So far so good, in the short term. In the long run, however, that person will develop a bigger problem (addiction), in addition to the unresolved issues he had avoided by drinking.”

Noam Schpancer says that emotional acceptance is a better strategy than avoidance for four reasons:

1) By accepting your emotions, you are “accepting the truth of your situation. This means you don’t have to spend your energy pushing the emotion away.
2) Learning to accept an emotion gives you an opportunity to learn about it, become familiar with it and get better skilled at its management.
3) Experiencing negative emotions is annoying, but not dangerous – and eventually much less of a drag than continually avoiding them.
4) Accepting a negative emotion causes it to lose its destructive power. Accepting an emotion allows it to run its course while you run yours.

Unfortunately, emotions like this are part of being human, and the more we’re able to experience them, the more we’ll get out of life.

Trying new things enables us to figure out what we really want to do with our life.

We only get life once – so bask in life in all possible ways – the good, the bad, the bitter-sweet, the heartbreak – everything!

Here’s a great quote from 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.”

To learn more eastern philosophy wisdom on how to accept your emotions and focus on the present moment, check out Hack Spirit’s most popular eBook: The No-Nonsense Guide to Using Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy for a Better Life

8) Find someone who has done what want to do

If you’re struggling to figure out what steps to take to get to where you want to do, find someone who has already been there.

The great thing about the world today is that anything you might want to do has already been done by someone else.

According to the co-authored book, “Get Momentum“, mentors help you build resilience.

“Sometimes we think we have it especially tough, and we forget to recognize that other people have had challenges as well”.

Knowing that your mentors have been through what you’re going through helps you commit to the work that you need to do as you know that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

“By reading about other people you’ll see that they also had to deal with difficulty and challenges…Knowing how hard someone worked to achieve their goals or dreams gives you an extra boost of confidence and resolve to stick with it a little bit longer.”

If you want to be a writer, an actor, an artist, a great businessman, all the information is available to you online.

And if you want some personal experience, then go out and do it—volunteer at an organization or ask a professional if you can shadow them for a day or a week. Who knows: you might find that one thing that you can be passionate about.

9) Be confident in yourself

So many of us don’t go chasing what we truly want in life because we feel that we’re not good enough. Self-doubt creeps in and it stops us from taking action.

But as hard as it is, you’ve got to rise above it and be better. Know your value. Change your negative thoughts to positive thoughts.

And I know, this is easier said than done when you’re lost in a constant loop of negativity, but good things take time. It takes time and effort to rewire your brain to be more optimistic and confident.

And to learn to be confident, sometimes you have to fake it till you make it.

Research published in Health Psychology found that participants in a mock interview who sat up straight reported “feeling more enthusiastic, excited and strong while the slumped participants reported feeling more fearful, hostile, nervous, quiet, still passive, dull, sleepy, and sluggish”.

Remember, the only thing you have control over is your actions. When your mind is telling you that you can’t do something, prove it wrong! It’s your servant, not your master.

You only get life once, so you may as well believe in yourself and make the most of it.

(To learn how to believe in yourself, check out our guide on how to love yourself here)

10) Always say yes

Opportunities are always out there—you just have to say yes. Even if the opportunity seems completely unrelated to what you want to do with your life, it never hurts to say yes.

Because experiences stack up and learning never stops—everything you do and interact with becomes a part of you.

When deciding what to do with your life, the first thing you need to learn is how to make the choice.

At the end of the day, you want to look back on your life knowing that you made choices, rather than sat at home fearing them.

Now go, get your life on track.

Sum Up

To figure out what you want to do with your life, follow these steps:

1) Be honest and ask yourself these questions: What do I really want? What am I no longer willing to accept? What makes me happy? Are my current habits enabling me to live the life I want?

2) Make an action plan and set your goals: Set SMART goals and put them in writing. Small steps lead to the achievement of a big goal.

3) Live in the present moment and take action now: If you followed the above steps and you understand what you want to do with your life, then it’s important to take practical action to make that a reality.

4) Accept that you don’t have full control of the future: Accept that life is uncertain and the future is unsure. Once you have accepted that, you can focus on taking meaningful action to create a life you love.

5) Start saving: Money is an undeniable part of society, and having the money to pursue your dreams is absolutely necessary.

6) Taking responsibility: Your are ultimately responsibility for everything in your life, including for setting goals and working every day to achieve them.

7) Accept discomfort: If you want something, you need to do whatever you can to get it, even if it means lowering your quality of life for a while.

8) Find someone who has done what want to do: If you’re struggling to figure out what steps to take to get to where you want to do, find someone who has already been there.

9) Be confident in yourself: Remember, the only thing you have control over is your actions. When your mind is telling you that you can’t do something, prove it wrong! It’s your servant, not your master.

10) Say yes: At the end of the day, you want to look back on your life knowing that you made choices, rather than sat at home fearing them.

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.

Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.


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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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