“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.” – Henry David Thoreau
Define: Deliberate—to do consciously and intentionally.
Life is perpetual motion. It’s an endless continuum that never ceases. Always going, forever draining, and eventually winding down all aspects of humanity to death.
I’m not trying to be morbid, but instead, encourage awareness—deliberation. I generally live in a state of restless oblivion. I go throughout my day focused on a task or engulfed in whatever thought happens to be plaguing my mind. I tend to be productive and efficient when I apply myself (which should happen far more frequently than it does), however, my “let’s get down and do this” mentality causes me to miss vital life moments—conversations, connections, and creativity. Often, I will sit down to a meal and participate in a discussion with the individuals around me, yet when I leave, have a hard time recalling to whom I was speaking. It’s extraordinarily embarrassing. Is my mind so consumed in “other matters” that I remain unaware of what’s happening all around?
This article was inspired by my quest to live deliberately—both for my own edification and life satisfaction, as well as for my desire to remain fully physically and mentally present when interacting with others.
I have a very difficult time slowing down enough to enjoy simple moments of life. Especially a few years ago, my existence seemed to be a constant rotation of study, food, and sleep. I had the hardest time justifying a light-hearted conversation. In the back of my head, I always wondered if I could be doing something more productive.
I do not recall the defining moment when I realized that simple life pleasures and interpersonal interactions were of far greater value than my science homework. I looked around at the vast cornucopia of individuals I interacted with on a daily basis and wondered if I had a legitimate connection with any of them. Sure, I was friendly, but I wasn’t deep. I didn’t exude a genuine concern for the physical and emotional well-being of others. Consequently, this lack of deliberate living was taking its toll on me. I was depressed and frustrated. I felt I was incapable of relating to others (for the longest time, I blamed my impersonality on homeschooling. After all, homeschoolers are just weird! No one gets them!). I was disconnected from my environment. And the problem was, I didn’t care—or, I didn’t know I should care. I thought this was life.
As I’ve consciously begun considering how to be conscious, I’ve realized how unconscious I truly am. To remedy this, I’ve created a consciousness continuum with three aspects: 1) words, 2) actions, and 3) thoughts.
Allow me to elaborate.
Words play a critical role in my daily interactions (mainly because I have a difficult time shutting up and controlling the overflow of brilliant quotes spewing forth from my mind). Words have unbelievable influence on others. The Harvard Business Review published an article, The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations, which discussed the chemistry behind simple dialogue. When a discussion sparks feelings of marginalization, criticism, rejection, or fear, our bodies automatically produce higher levels of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for activating “protection behaviors” and “conflict aversion.” We perceive a greater degree of judgement and negativity while simultaneously becoming more sensitive and reactive. These affects can last for 26 hours or more. No wonder we seem to recall conflict and criticisms so much easier than kind words and compliments. “Positive comments and conversations produce a chemical reaction too. They spur the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex. But oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, so its effects are less dramatic and long-lasting” (The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations). The Harvard Business Review dubbed the “ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically with others” as C-IQ or Conversational Intelligence. As a part of my quest to live deliberately, I am determined to raise my C-IQ by speaking words that will generate oxytocin rather than produce cortisol. As I contemplated my personal speech, I created a list of negative dialogue characteristics I use far too frequently.
- Criticism and complaint
- Degrading, witty jests
- Excessive and foolish sarcasm
Unfortunately, my language isn’t something that can be “fixed” in a day. For me, learning to speak without the use of foolish sarcasm or degrading jesting is like attempting to learn Russian. But as hard as it may be, I speak far too carelessly. This not only lowers my own self-esteem, but also tends to degrade others. It’s a difficult change that needs to occur.
Actions are obviously the most visual representation of thoughts and feelings. When living deliberately, my actions should be purposeful. It’s extremely easy for me to fall into habits similar to those of a robot. I go about my day, preprogrammed to respond to a variety of circumstances. I smile, frown, and gesture subconsciously. Yet with such a means of influence at my disposal, I have the duty to at least consider how my actions may impact those around me. When I remember to live deliberately, I tend to smile more and generally act with greater enthusiasm. Smiling is one of the most significant and simple influences. I once read an article about a man in his thirties who committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. When an investigator examined the man’s apartment, he found a note which read: “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump.” The lifeless body pulled from the bay later that day meant that not a single person had taken the fraction of a second to offer a simple smile to a stranger. I have never looked at smiling the same way since.
Another aspect of acting deliberately deals with a personal hobby and pastime of mine: reading. I read excessively. Several years ago, I was a huge fan of science fiction novels. Today, I tend to focus more on self-improvement as well as historical and educational forms of literature. I used to pride myself on completing almost every volume I began, even if I really didn’t enjoy the book. This was not only a waste of my time, but also a waste of my mental energies. By choosing to act deliberately, I will focus on the books, stories, articles, music, etc., that I genuinely enjoy and/or benefit from. This also relates to certain activities that I do, just to do, not because I take pleasure in them. Life is short, and I want to live it to the fullest by being deliberate about how I spend my time.
Body language plays another role in deliberate actions. More than simply smiling, I can project an aura of openness and acceptance by simple, positive body language. Here are a few basic suggestions you can use to appear confident, open, and attentive:
- Don’t cross your arms and legs.
- Use eye contact. If you are speaking to several people, try to maintain an equal amount of eye contact with each individual. Warning: don’t stare. This can be extremely creepy!
- Relax your shoulders and stand up straight. This projects self-confidence.
- Nod to acknowledge others. When someone is speaking to you, a soft nod can signal you are paying attention.
- Use fluid hand gestures. Rather than fidgeting, use your hands to emphasize your words and as a sign of confidence.
- Hold your head high. Think puppet on a string. It will help with your overall posture and demeanor.
- Slow down. Moving slower when walking and making gestures will project you as calm, confident, and chill.
- Avoid touching your face. This can be distracting and make you appear nervous.
- Mirror the body language of the person you are interacting with.
- Lean (slightly) into your conversation. This exhibits interest.
It requires deliberate thought to utilize positive body language. I find it extremely hard to remain focused enough to actually think about how I’m acting. However, these simple suggestions on acting deliberately affect how I perceive myself, as well as how others perceive me.
Thoughts are probably the most influential aspect of living deliberately, as they influence both words and actions. Everyone has heard some form of the old adage:
Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
I find that if I allow myself to entertain thoughts of negativity (whether silently judging others, complaining to myself, or simply stressing about life), I act similarly—in a negative way. I’m not as friendly, helpful, or happy. In fact, when I’m focusing on selfish thoughts (which unfortunately, seems to be the majority of the time), my happiness is severely affected. I’m a grump. I complain, criticize, and am altogether harsh. When I choose to think deliberately, I can instead focus my mind on subjects that promote energy, happiness, and enthusiasm. Here are a few things I try to deliberately consider:
- A humorous and light-hearted memory. Thinking on fun and meaningful memories makes me both grateful and happy.
- My many blessings. When I maintain an attitude of gratitude, I tend to forget about the negative aspects of my day while generally staying more optimistic.
- An attitude of service. Consciously considering how to help someone else creates one of the biggest boosts in my overall mood.
- A happy song. This is especially helpful in the morning when I don’t feel like getting up. When I force myself to sing a cheerful, fun song, I immediately feel better.
- My environment. If I deliberately focus on my surroundings, I experience a deeper sense of connection to life. When I take time to notice my five senses, I can consciously appreciate my bite of salad, or the smell of freshly baked bread, or the fresh nipping air on my nose.
- Nature. I have rarely felt greater peace than when gazing up at a starlit sky, staring at a majestic mountain, admiring an expanse of prairie, or appreciating the natural beauty in a tiny, budding flower.
Summing it all up…
By deliberately focusing on my words, actions, and thoughts, I become more alert, sensitive, kind, and caring. After all, most people don’t mean to snap at a friend, think negative thoughts, complain about the food, or even act cold and uncaring. These things just kinda happen. By choosing to live deliberately, I hope to avoid drifting through life like a jellyfish—brainless and clueless. I refuse to wake up one day, old and decrepit, and realize I have never truly lived. It sounds cliché, perhaps, but it couldn’t be truer. So in a world that is constantly going, I choose to slow down and enjoy the ride. Honestly, the earth is such an unbelievably spectacular place. People are indescribable, individual works of art. Magnificence and majesty surround us daily. It’s a heart-breaking shame we appreciate it so little.
So go live deliberately! Carpe Diem! Seize the day! And remember: Today will be amazing!