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Henry David Thoreau wrote his famous book, “Walden,” about 150 years ago, going to live in the woods and deliberately living a simple life, removed from society.

He wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately …”

He wanted to understand what was really important, instead of just living life unconsciously, without contemplating his priorities and what makes life meaningful.

I think we all can use some deliberate living, even if we don’t move to the woods.

What is deliberate living, and why is it important? Let’s start with my definition:

Deliberate living is about taking a step back and examining how we live, what we’re filling our lives with, and why. It’s about figuring out what’s important, what our purpose is, and living with deliberate intention.

But why is this important? A handful of reasons:

  1. If we don’t live more deliberately, we are subject to impulse buying, unconscious spending, and debt. Deliberate living means thinking more carefully about whether these are necessary.
  2. Otherwise, we spend our days jumping from one distraction and busywork to the next, frittering away our precious life.
  3. We can get trapped doing what everyone else around us does, instead of living the life we want to live.
  4. Deliberate living means finding meaning in life, living with purpose, and that can be much more fulfilling.

How does that all sound to you? To me, it’s incredibly important, but it’s easier said than done. How does one live a deliberate life?

Before we get into that, let’s talk a bit about consumerism.

Consumerism: Taking the “Deliberate” Out of Life

If a deliberate life sounds good, then consumerism should sound quite a bit worse.

What is consumerism? It’s a way of life where we buy things to solve our problems: boredom, loneliness, wanting a higher status, wanting reward or happiness, needing stress relief, feeling unprepared, etc.

It’s buying things when we get the desire, from ads, seeing it on TV, seeing someone else wearing it, wanting to be cool.

It’s filling our lives with stuff, so that we have houses full of clutter, without really finding happiness from all of that stuff.

It’s what our society is based on. We work so we can have money to buy things so that we can be happy, but this cycle never ends.

Consumerism is undeliberate, it’s living on autopilot, it’s placing importance on possessions and buying rather than meaning and living.

Now let’s talk about living a more deliberate life!

How to Live a More Deliberate Life

If a deliberate life sounds good, but it’s easier said than done … how do we go about doing it?

First, take a step back. That means setting aside some disconnected time, and reflecting on your life. What is important to you? What is your purpose? Is the way you’re living in alignment with that, or have you gotten off track? You don’t need to have definite answers, but you should ask the questions and give it some deliberation.

This can be done as a weekend retreat from technology, work and your usual life, once a year, if you are able. Or perhaps you can’t get away from work and family responsibilities, so you reserve an hour every morning before you get to work. Perhaps you do it monthly for a couple hours, journaling and reflecting.

Second, make a list of what’s important. What are your priorities in life? For me, it’s 1) family and friends, 2) writing and helping others, 3) living a healthy life, 4) reading and learning, and 5) mindfulness.Those are broad areas, but I can use them to measure how I’m spending my life.

Third, measure your life. How are you spending your time? Is most of your time devoted to your priorities, or are you caught up doing other things? How are you spending your money? Does most of your income go to these areas, or have you been spending a lot on partying, on gadgets, on entertainment, on travel? Is your life in alignment with what’s meaningful to you?

Fourth, start taking action to align yourself. If you see areas where you’re spending your money or time that aren’t in alignment with your priorities … make an action list to start making changes. These actions should be doable in 5-10 minutes each. For example, you might list “cancel magazine subscriptions,” “make a weekly menu and shopping list to eat at home more,” “sell excess shoes on Craigslist,” and “don’t buy any shoes for one year.”

Now start putting them into action!

Fifth, build in pauses to deliberate on actions. Before you say yes to a new project or client or commitment, before you buy something on impulse … pause. Give it some deliberation. Ask whether this is necessary, whether it’s in line with your actions … or whether you can do without it or say no.

I also suggest that you create a 30-day list to help you be more deliberate with your spending. Every time you get the urge to buy something, instead of buying it … put it on your 30-day list, with the date you added it to the list. Have a rule where you can’t buy anything without it being on the list for 30 days. If you still want it after 30 days, buy it; otherwise delete it. This doesn’t apply to necessities like groceries and toiletries, but it does help you reduce impulse buying by introducing a pause.

Finally, you might consider a 6-month moratorium on buying new things. That means you new things to solve your problems, but instead do without, borrow them, rent them, or find them used if absolutely necessary.

Action Steps

To start living a more deliberate life:

  1. Schedule a time to disconnect and think about everything above.
  2. Create an action list of ways to align your life with your priorities.
  3. Consider a 30-day list or a 6-month moratorium on new things.