Content Living: A 5-Step Guide to Setting Priorities

by Rebecca A. Watson on June 9, 2015

in life, priorities, Values

Last week I was able to spend time with friends I hadn’t seen in a while AND attend my first German wedding! It was awesome, and some of the traditions are very odd.

Like the Polterabend, where we all smash porcelain and the couple cleans it up.

Like the Polterabend, where we all smash porcelain and the couple cleans it up.

Because I’ve been going for so long tho, I have spent the last few days in bed, sick as a dog. I really didn’t put too much emphasis on my physical health, stayed up too late and, with the help of digestive enzymes, ate far too much wheat and dairy, despite my food intolerances. I will say this: It was worth it.

But it would be good to experience things like this AND keep my health intact. I was thinking this when I saw my meditation for yesterday.

priorities meditation


So, after drinking far too much N/A beer, which I like to call gluten juice, and eating one too many creamy desserts (omnomnom), I’ve decided to revisit my priorities. Here’s how I do it:

1. List the Priorities of Your Ideal Life

In this exercise, we’re trying to move toward our idea of perfect. I’m not talking about perfect in the sense of what others think, but in our minds. This is the ideal: you have enough money, enough time, enough everything.

to do journal

So, for me it would look something like this:

  • Mental and physical health
  • Spiritual health
  • Family (hubby and puppy!)
  • Writing
  • Friends
  • Music
  • Change the world

And so on … Make this list as long as you want, but I recommend cutting it down to about 10 for the next part of the exercise, just for simplicity’s sake.

2. Create a Story

The next part of this requires a tiny bit of writing. Don’t panic — it’s a sentence for each priority. Essentially, you’re going to write something along the lines of I am fulfilled, happy and [insert priority here].

For example, some of my sentences would be:

  • I am happy, fulfilled and honoring my physical and mental health. 
  • I am peaceful, satisfied and walking my spiritual path.
  • I am joyful, content and spending quality time with my family.

Use words that resonate or mean something to you here. The idea is to create sentences in the present tense that indicate you’re happy and fulfilled. Then finish the sentence with an active way of practicing your priority.

3. Compare and Rank with Compassion

I hate to use the word rank here, because it makes it sound so cold, like a basketball tournament or those “Best of” college lists. Maybe I could write Create a Hierarchy, but again that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth.

I guess for lack of a better phrase, Rank with Compassion will have to do.

The best way to do this is with someone else, but not someone you are very close to. Does that make sense? You don’t want to do this with your spouse or a good friend who might get upset if you put something else above them.

Even if they wouldn’t get upset, it will affect your responses. Trust me. So maybe approach a trusted colleague or someone you know casually from an activity (say knitting group, zumba class, chess club) you’re in.

Here is the easiest way to do this:

  • Start with the first sentence and compare it to the second.
  • You can only have one. This is an either/or situation.
  • Pick one and move on to the next sentence, and so on.
  • Whatever one you end up with at the end is your No. 1 Priority.
  • Continue until you have your Top 5.

Here’s an example:

  1. I am happy, fulfilled and honoring my physical and mental health.
  2. I am peaceful, satisfied and walking my spiritual path.

For me, I am very unhappy when my physical and mental health aren’t with me, which leads me to lean toward that initially. However, I also know that there will be times in my life where I can’t count on those, but I can always count on my spirituality.

Basically, if I was very physically healthy but didn’t have a spiritual life, everything would seem empty. On the other hand, if I was bed-ridden but able to have faith and trust in something bigger, I think I’d be OK.

So, I choose option 2, walking my spiritual path. I would then compare that to, I am joyful, content and spending quality time with my family, and so on, until I have five sentences.

4. Post Your Priorities

Once you have your sentences, write them on post-its and place them strategically in your world, particularly in places you spend a lot of time. Some ideas:

  • Car dashboard
  • Bathroom mirror
  • Inside of closet door
  • Refrigerator
  • Computer screen

Just having those priorities around you will make you more aware of them, and awareness is key. It’s not actually asking you, Are you living your priorities? But it does offer a gentle reminder, like a quiet hum in the back of your mind.

5. Refer Back

There are a few ways you can use your priority list to live a more fulfilling and content life.

The first and most obvious is to look at how you’re living your current life and if that matches up with your priorities. If you want a life that matches Your Ideal, then the easiest place to start is by aligning your actions with your thoughts.

If spiritual fitness is at the top of my list and I haven’t made time to pray in a week, then it might be time to take a closer look at that. Maybe I need to make more time for it — skip the second episode of Lost I’ve been watching every night.

This isn’t about criticizing myself. It’s important to make that distinction. A fulfilled life is a life-long endeavor. Think of this as checking the GPS on occasion. Am I still on the right path? Or, has my path changed?

That question is valid as well, which is why it’s great to check in every six months or so with this. Are your priorities changing? That’s OK. In fact, it’s only natural. We don’t live in stasis. But if that’s the case, make a note of it so you can make your best choices.

And that’s the third way you can use this list — when you’re making choices. Big or small. What options honor your priorities?

If I only have 30 minutes in a day to exercise and walk my spiritual path, am I going to spend it at the gym or am I going to hike in the forest? Or do yoga? The answer seems obvious once you put it along side your list of priorities.

I hope this helps you live your most content and peaceful life. I know just writing it has given me more clarity, both for the upcoming busy summer months and for life in general.

Have anything to add? Let me know in the comments.

This is an ongoing series about values. You can read the archives here or check out my entire list of  those that are important to me.

Photo Credit: Amy Wolke, Kaboompics

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

dripdrydiva June 9, 2015 at 11:08 pm

I have been feeling a little off track lately and this really puts getting priorities straight in a great perspective. I plan to do this exercise. Thanks for the post.


Rebecca A. Watson June 10, 2015 at 7:45 am

Glad it could help you DDD 🙂 Enjoy it!


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