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If You Say ‘No’ To Steve Jobs’s Question, You Should Follow These Steps To Live Your Ideal Life

If You Say ‘No’ To Steve Jobs’s Question, You Should Follow These Steps To Live Your Ideal Life

Steve Jobs once asked the hypothetical question: “If today were the last day of your life, would you want to be doing what you’re doing?” I’d be willing to bet that most people reading this would answer this with a resounding “No”.

If we knew we were going to die tomorrow, we wouldn’t be wasting our time on the Internet or typing away at a cubicle. We’d be on a plane to Italy, or swimming with the dolphins in the Caribbean. Of course, we can’t just up and leave our families and jobs in order to pursue the things in the world we simply want to do. But we do have power over our own destiny.

We can get where we truly want to be if we put in the effort required to experience the amazing things this world has to offer.

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1. Choose your own path

So many of us drift through life without really ever making a major decision for ourselves. We do what we think is expected of us by our parents and society in general.

We jump into careers at 21 without being completely sure if it’s what we want to do with the rest of our lives. We get married and have kids because society tells us we should. We sacrifice our hobbies, interests, and time in order to chase money and success. I doubt very many people would want to be at work today if they knew they were going to die tomorrow.

It’s important to blaze your own path, and create your own version of success. Don’t let society or naysayers tell you how to live your life, or that you can’t do something you set out to do. Whatever path you choose, make sure you put your all into it every day of your life, so that when you do reach that final day, you’ll be happy with how you spent it.

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2. Picture your ideal life

Now that you understand the importance of living for yourself, you should figure out what it is you really want out of life. You might choose to focus on your career, or you may look forward to having a loving, tight-knit family of your own. Or you might want both.

Do you want the freedom to be able to hop in a plane on Friday and spend the weekend on the beach? Or would you be happier taking your 8-year-old daughter mini-golfing, or watching a movie with your wife?

Don’t settle for anything less than what you would consider perfection. And, again, don’t let anyone else cloud your vision of perfection. What makes you happy makes you happy, regardless of what anyone else thinks.

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3. Realize and face your fears

Everyone has their own set of fears that have haunted them throughout their lives. As you get older, your fears start to become more realistic.

A lot of adult fears stem from a person’s relatively small comfort zone. The only way to alleviate these fears is to pinpoint the exact problem, own up to them, and face them with everything you’ve got.

If a fear of public speaking is holding you back from your dream job, seek out classes you could take to practice speaking in a public forum. If you feel out of shape, force yourself to hit the gym. You’ll realize that after you dive into that which had previously held you back, your comfort zone will immediately begin to expand.

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4. Start taking steps immediately

Don’t ever think you’re too young or too old to get moving on your dreams. So many people waste their college-age days (myself included) thinking they have all the time in the world to do everything they’ll ever want to do. On the other hand, those who have been stuck in the same dead-end job for years often believe it’s too late to get started on their dream life.

On both ends of the spectrum, these thoughts are a waste of valuable time that could have been spent making the changes needed to live that dream life. Don’t put off til tomorrow what you can do today. After all, one day there won’t be a tomorrow, and you’ll have spent the last day of your life looking ahead to a future that will never come.

Featured photo credit: Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011 RIP / Zip250 via farm7.staticflickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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