“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.” -Henry David Thoreau
When Thoreau embarked on his famous journey to Walden Pond, notebook in hand, leaving the world behind, he did so because of a wish not to waste his life.
Thoreau's teachings demonstrate an acute knowledge of life's fleeting nature, of our brief "hour upon the stage" (to quote another famous fella). They spoke of a man desperate to find meaning in each breath and, in lieu of that, they spoke of a desire to create meaning.
That is what deliberate living is all about; the quest to obtain an acute sense of one's own consciousness. And like any transformative personal growth, deliberate living takes focus and energy.
Most importantly, though, it takes time.
The following is a simple guide to beginning this journey and achieving a life well-lived.
Cleanse Your Body to Cleanse Your Mind
Put another way, before you can begin the journey to deliberate living, you must first prepare your body for the voyage.
We do this by taking care of our body through diet and exercise.
Our psychological and physiological well-being is so intertwined that it creates an interesting phenomenon of a cycle. Let's examine this first negatively, and then let's reshape our thinking so that it is deliberately positive.
Often when we feel down, we reach for what we call "comfort food". This is usually snack food that is high in fats, salts, and sugars. There's no denying that at first, this can be comforting indeed.
This feeling does not last. Eating a healthy diet leads to a healthy mind. Pair that with exercise and enough sleep, and you're off.
A good rule of thumb: The next time you feel down, or fatigued, or cranky reflect on what food you've eaten the past few days.
This is not only a good way to hold yourself accountable, it's also a step toward the mindset necessary for deliberate living.
Deliberate Living Requires Preparation
There are several pieces of "homework" you may want to consider which will help you as you venture down this new path.
If the word homework sounds frightening, think of it more as further preparations for your mind in the same way the previous section discussed preparing your body.
Before adding this exciting new path to your life, it is important to make room. This means letting go of some things that your life just does not require any longer.
Perhaps you've been holding on to relationships that are consistently draining. The why of it is less important (though the why can usually be traced to fear of change).
Let go of people who will interfere with your ability to live in the present. Trust that if these people were an important part of your journey, they wouldn't be holding you back from living deliberately.
Now that you've made some room, it's time to set some goals. Ask yourself "What do I want out of this experience called life?" Ask yourself "Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?".
An important note about goal-setting: Write everything down! This will help you organize everything into short and long term goals.
Keep in mind that the practice of goal setting is not the same as building out a roadmap for the rest of your life. That is actually counterproductive to the act of deliberate living because it puts the focus on tomorrow instead of this moment.
The purpose is to gain clarity. Only then can you move forward, focused and unafraid.
Find a Balance Between Routine and Spontaneity
So far none of this should sound life-shattering. Though the results of effective deliberate living can be profound and indeed life-changing, the process does not require you to completely upend your entire existence.
Like all things, balance and moderation are important to remember while on this journey.
Let's take a quick look at the previous sections as a way to illustrate this point. Letting go of relationships specifically refers to toxic ones. Changing your diet means trying not to succumb to the vicious cycle of unhealthy thoughts leading to coping by eating poorly which leads to unhealthy thoughts. It does not mean in order to live deliberately one must never eat another cookie.
If anything, deliberate living simply means if you are going to eat a cookie, be present with this treat. Savor it. Share it with someone special. Seriously, try this.
Setting goals mentioned this notion - set achievable goals for the immediate future, don't set unreasonable expectations or map out the rest of your time on this planet.
These notions lead to the concept of finding the balance between a routine and spontaneity.
A routine can provide comfort and stability. The knowledge of what to expect from tomorrow when you go to sleep is often incredibly comforting for people.
And then on the other side of this coin is living spontaneously, in an effort not to fall into a routine. This provides adventure. This provides excitement.
Using the concepts we've discussed so far, it's easy to see how a mix of the two is the best way to live. Too much routine puts the mind on auto-pilot, preventing us from living in the now.
Too much spontaneity can plunge the mind into chaos, which can breed further chaos, which also prevents us from living in the now. Living with purpose requires balance.
Finally, Live by the Compass of Compassion
As you set out on this adventure, as you find your own personal Walden and learn to "live deep and suck the marrow out of life", let compassion be your guidebook. Always.
A great first step is to try this exercise. How did you do? It's trickier in practice than it is on paper, isn't it? The point is that it's doable and it probably felt pretty good, didn't it?
While doing that exercise you were acutely aware of your surroundings. You were aware of your emotions seen through the lens of this stranger. This is where compassion meets deliberate living.
You allowed yourself to feel what someone else was feeling and, in doing so, you found yourself tuning into the details and intricacies of your own life. This is living deliberately.
If you had trouble with this exercise, or if you couldn't get enough of it, feel free to reach out for more. Trust that there is much more where that came from.
Deliberate living: It's simpler than you thought, isn't it?