The pleasant life… is wrapped up in the successful pursuit of the positive feelings, supplemented by the skills of amplifying these emotions. The good life … is a life wrapped up in successfully using your signature strengths to obtain abundant and authentic gratification. The meaningful life has one additional feature: using your signature strengths in the service of something larger than you are. To live all three lives is to lead a full life.
This short, task-oriented chapter focuses on how to be centered and purposeful, focused every day on what’s most important, and able to consistently fulfill your responsibilities well the first time.We start the process with prioritization, then organization and focus on quality before we wrap it up with persistent responsibility.
Prioritize Based on Your Center and Key Roles
One of the key aspects of being effective in accomplishing your purpose is clarifying your focus in order to prioritize what you want to accomplish in the long term (major goals over many years) and the short-term (goals accomplished over a few months, or even what you have to accomplish in the next month, week, or day). Here I step back into a chapter of my life to share how I learned that I could accomplish what seemed impossible when I prioritized and focused on my goal.
My Story: In February 1985, at the tender age of twenty, I was watching a movie with my father in which Penny Marshall (who played Laverne in the TV show Laverne & Shirley) trained and completed the Ironman Triathlon, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and then a marathon (26.2-mile) run; the events are completed one after another in one day. Inspired by her accomplishment, I casually leaned over and confidently said, “If Laverne can do it, I can do it.”
My dad said, “Prove it!”
I had never swum more than a mile, biked more than twenty-five miles, or even seen a triathlon. I had a three-hundred-dollar bike that I was still learning to ride, a pair of swim goggles, and running shoes. From the movie, I had a very clear vision of how “Laverne” trained for the race. Despite being a full-time student and working about twelve hours a week, I had a fairly flexible schedule and good weather. I started with a book on how to do triathlons, trained hard, got up after a lot of falls on my bike, and joined a group of like-minded individuals as training partners. Dad offered to pay my entrance fee for all the races and all travel costs related to Ironman—if I qualified. So that spring I completed a series of races to build my confidence and qualify for Ironman: a sprint triathlon in April, a half Ironman in May (where I qualified), an Olympic-length triathlon in July, and another half Ironman in August. On October 24, 1985, I completed the Kona Ironman World Championships in a respectable thirteen hours and ten minutes. We celebrated, and unlike many triathletes, I never had the urge to do it again.
By age twenty-one I had proven to myself that I could do almost anything I set my mind to by careful planning and focus. What a gift! This experience gave me tremendous self-confidence that I hadn’t possessed before, and it fundamentally shaped the person I am today. If you haven’t accomplished something really big that is out of your reach, I strongly encourage you to go for it! Put in the time and sacrifice to accomplish it. Like me, you may find what you learn through the process to be far more valuable than the actual accomplishment. For instance, I met my husband (who is also a triathlete) during this time period and we have worked out together ever since.
Begin with the end in mind
How did I successfully compete at the Ironman World Championships with only nine months of training? I had a vision, believed I could, got the support I needed, progressively trained at greater distances, and just did it. Except for school, work, and some voluntary work, I did almost nothing else, and I almost flunked a key biochemistry lab assignment the week before the race! During my journey to complete an Ironman event, I learned how to prioritize and make things happen. Conceptually, Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People captures everything I did well and everything I screwed up on (e.g., not resting enough). As a Covey believer, I take the liberty of summarizing his work throughout this chapter, and I highly recommend his books to you.
Why prioritize bases on your center and key roles
Covey notes that big-picture or long-term life organization requires you to first have a proactive mind-set and to not just let life happen to you but rather courageously change as needed. He notes that your vision and goals should be within your circle of influence—the things that you can truly change. Within your circle is your center—the core of your existence, your primary reason for being, and the primary basis upon which you make decisions Your center provides you with four life-support factors: security, guidance, wisdom, and power. It’s important that you choose your center well. Covey believes that “by centering our lives on correct principles, we create a solid foundation for developing your life supporting factors that ultimately lead you to greatest success.” The Wellness Compass was designed to align with being principled. From time to time, particularly in emergency family health situations, or when you have a key deadline, you need to have a different center.
Roles are the key parts, functions, and responsibilities we have in our lives. Key roles—those that you want to do very well—are those roles that are required for the accomplishment of your mission. For instance, my key roles are wife, mother, daughter, Christian, neighbor, asset manager, athlete, and health and wellness coach. Ideally, as eluded to in the quote above, your daily and weekly responsibilities will focus on accomplishing goals for each of your key roles. This means that instead of just adding stuff to your to-do list without considering the importance of each item, you first schedule your priorities and then add the important other tasks that you also need to accomplish, and you consider not adding tasks that don’t align with your priorities (particularly if you struggle with time management).
Three activities help you prioritize, organize and be persistently responsible.
- Activity 16.1. My Priorities: My Center and Key Roles
- Activity 16.2. Getting Organized
- Activity 16.3 Responsibility: Consistently Getting It Done Right the First Time
Related Blog Posts
Covey, S. The Seven Habits of Highly Effectively People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York, NY: Free Press, 1990.p. 122