Are You Feeling Lost in Life? Chances Are You’ve Failed To Do This One Crucial Task
Clarifying your personal philosophy is making conscious the philosophy that already exists within. It can change everything.
“God is dead,” Friedrich Nietzsche exclaimed, “and we have killed him.” The German philosopher’s bold statement lamented how the direction of modern life had made no space for God. Since the so-called Age of Enlightenment and the rise in prominence of material science, religion’s power and influence have weakened. Nietzsche’s lucid foresight highlighted a problem: without the traditional structure of religion, where would we look for guidance?
As we move from one crisis to another in our highly polarized world, the biggest void of modern society is the lack of guidance on living a meaningful or spiritual life. Religious fundamentalism causes all sorts of issues, halting progress.
Cultural norms are a melting pot of individualism, the pursuit of material goods, sensory pleasure, addiction, and distraction. Most of us are adrift from ourselves, struggling to find meaning amidst the chaos.
Without the structures once taken for granted, more people are taking it upon themselves to find meaning. A personal philosophy — an approach to life designed to serve you — is a solution. Whether you’d like to clarify your values or build from scratch, this article will walk through the development of your personal philosophy, one that will guide you through life’s ups and downs.
Why Build a Personal Philosophy?
Rather than blindly follow the doctrines of a particular religion, a personal philosophy is a set of guidelines that you willfully choose. It’s a model of your mindset, beliefs, morals, values, and approach to life. It’s an empowered approach that gives you the final say in what to accept as part of your philosophy, as well as space for trial and error. The majority of people follow someone else’s philosophy, or simply comply with the way things are because it’s the path of least resistance. Yet all successful people carefully consider how they wish to live.
Motivational speaker Jim Rohn went as far as to say “your personal philosophy is the greatest determining factor in how your life works out.” When taking the effort to develop a philosophy, it becomes a blueprint to consult in your decision-making, your goal setting, and a standard to hold yourself accountable to when reflecting on your behavior. Knowing you have a meaningful philosophy to fall back on is a great source of comfort and motivation.
A personal philosophy has additional benefits, too. Because it considers your unique values and priorities, it allows you to consciously design your life in a way that will add more purpose, meaning, direction, and inspiration. It adds structure to a process that often seems vague, and from that clarity, comes conviction. A personal philosophy also informs major life areas, including:
- Where you live.
- What relationships you nourish.
- What you do for work.
- How you spend your time.
- What you say ‘yes’ to and ‘no’ to.
- What you tolerate — in yourself and others.
- How you handle setbacks and suffering.
Your Values Are the Building Blocks
When was the last time you reflected on what’s meaningful to you? Clarified your values, and understood how those values are enacted in a practical way? If you don’t choose your values consciously, they will be chosen for you, by your parents, your peers, your religious upbringing, society-at-large, or the organization or institution you work for.
That’s not a bad thing if you agree with those values. But if you comply with values and philosophies that don’t match your heart, then you will end up feeling lost. As Socrates said, “an unexamined life is not worth living.” Your personal philosophy is the result of examination. Place your current beliefs and values under scrutiny — do they serve you? Are they from a place of compassion and tolerance, or restrictive and fear-based?
Values are the building blocks, and their collaboration is what makes your philosophy uniquely yours. If you don’t have clarity around your values, start there. Consider what guides you through life: do you value curiosity, growth, learning, compassion? When do you feel most aligned, most authentic, most joyful? What values promote the most meaningful and life-transforming thoughts and behaviors? What inspires you to become your fullest potential?
Always consider the motivation behind values. It’s common for ego-driven desires to surface, for example, the value of success might come from insecurity or low self-worth. I remind myself that values guide behavior, decisions, and priorities. They’re designed to elevate me to live as good a life as possible. But values aren’t things to accomplish for self-validation. They are a process, not a goal. A value can never be achieved or obtained, it can only be lived in a moment.
Cherry-Picking From the Tried-And-Tested
When I started meditation, I studied Buddhism extensively to add a relevant context to the practice. I never saw myself as a Buddhist and never had the desire to. But studying this eastern philosophy opened my mind to a new way of looking at reality, and the subjective experience. Because I didn’t identify as a Buddhist, I picked parts that resonated from a place of freedom. To this day, a large chunk of my personal philosophy has its foundation in Buddhism.
All of the world’s major religions and philosophies have similar core values. Although it can be tempting to dismiss this, especially if you are averse to religion (as I was in the past), it’s worth exploring these ‘spiritual values’ and considering how to integrate them into your own philosophy.
For example, practices such as compassion, forgiveness, patience, humility, non-judgment, are ready-made to align you to heart-centered living.
Find what resonates with you. Test the information intellectually, and feel how your heart responds. It could be that a pre-existing system works for you — many people are drawn to Stoicism and Buddhism in modern times and join groups with like-minded people. Or you may want to go alone, choosing on your own terms. Whatever your path, question any philosophical concept and don’t accept it in blind faith.
Although developing a personal philosophy can seem audacious, or eccentric, its practical value means everyone would benefit from doing so. For the spiritually aligned, I recommend exploring the teachings of major religions to find common values or practices. I’ve mentioned some above, and there are many more. The same applies to ethics, too. Keep in mind the golden and silver rules: do to others as you’d like done to you, and don’t do to others what you wouldn’t like done to you.
Most philosophies promote qualities like compassion and kindness, and I’d highly recommend these as essential to any personal philosophy. Trying to do good in the world is a noble aim, and making this goal part of your philosophy, in a sustainable way, will make it fulfilling in the long term. You might even find it boosts your happiness and wellbeing, too. Other pearls of wisdom to consider adding to your philosophy include:
- Your response to events, not events themselves. Understand how your mind contributes to your reality.
- Adopt a growth mindset, where there’s no such thing as failure, and everything is an opportunity to learn.
- Life is about balance. When reasonable, try to find the middle way between extremes.
- Be respectful to everyone you meet, but know how and when to set boundaries.
- Prioritize delayed gratification over instant fixes, but don’t judge yourself if you slip up.
- Accept we all make mistakes, but it’s how you respond that counts.
- Be true to yourself, and take time to develop self-knowledge.
Your philosophy isn’t dogmatic or rigid. Keep your philosophy flexible and regularly assess how it is serving you. For example, you might have ‘success’ as a key value, and as a result, work excessively to pursue your goals and dreams. If you go through a spell of burnout, your philosophy may naturally change. That’s all part of the process; your philosophy will evolve and grow alongside you.
Begin with reflecting on your values, and you’re halfway there: a big part of developing your personal philosophy is making conscious the philosophy that already exists within, a blueprint you were born with, a compass for life’s journey. You’ll know when you connect to the values within. They’ll evoke something in you; a feeling of inspiration, passion, excitement, or remembering.
Hold onto those feelings. When you create a philosophy that honors them, and do all you can to live in accordance with it, life will take on a deeper sense of purpose and meaning, the true definition of living on your own terms.