How to Get Your Life Together: 17 Tips to Help You Take Control of Your Life
When doctors finally pulled out the Hickman line from my chest—a catheter that accompanied me for the better part of 3 years as I battled two bouts of Leukemia—and at last, declared me a woman free of cancer, I cried tears of joy. But when the tears dried eventually, I was left with a mixed bag of emotions and a nagging question at the back of my mind: “Now what?”
I’d been wrapped up in a single determined mission to survive for so long. When you strip away all the hospital appointments and endless rounds of tests, treatments, and waiting, my life was unrecognizable—almost as if it didn’t belong to me.
Now I had the task of making it completely mine again, and I wasn’t sure where to start.
The first obstacle, and a very big one at that, was that I had to isolate myself for at least a year before my immune system returned to normal. That meant no going back to university, no taking a part-time job where I’d be exposed to a lot of people, and absolutely no hanging out in crowded places.
Does that sound like something we’re all familiar with by now?
So it was within these confines that I had to get my life together at the age of 21. Even though I’m 32 now and I’ve come a long way since those days, once in a while, I like to reflect on that period of my life and savour on the nuggets of wisdom I learned from that difficult time. And today, I want to share these nuggets with you in the hopes that they will encourage you in your journey to getting your life together.
But first, what does getting your life together actually mean?
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What Does It Mean to Get Your Life Together
Life tells us, in loud and disruptive ways, when we’re in chaos.
Sleep becomes elusive, our energy drains faster than water out of a punctured balloon, there’s noticeable tension in our relationships and we feel a suffocating pressure from the weight of daily struggles. And the most frustrating part of it all is that we may not even know what, exactly, is wrong.
Imagine listening to a symphony where a few players have fallen behind in their performance—for the untrained ear like you and I, we can tell there’s disharmony, but we just can’t quite pinpoint where it’s coming from.
Sometimes, this chaos is transient. We all have those occasional bouts of overwhelm that knock our days, weeks, or even months out of whack. I wouldn’t fret over these “bumpy rides” as I like to call them. Eventually, things will calm down and our lives will go back to a peaceful baseline. But other times, that chaos becomes the “norm”, and that’s when we really need to slow down and take notice of the voice inside us that says: “Help. Something’s wrong.”
It’s a sign that it is time to get our life together.
But what “end state” are we striving towards? Where is our goalpost?
If you’re looking for the “perfect life”, stop right now.
he truth is, there’s no such thing, although many people on Instagram seem doggedly determined to make us think it is out there. But there is a framework for what a “good life” looks like, as this long-standing Harvard Study of Adult Development shows.
So how do you know if you’re moving towards a “good life”? The following are some of the signposts that’ll point you in the right direction:
- You feel a sense of purpose in your life
- You feel energetic on most days, regardless of your health condition
- In general, you don’t feel overwhelmed by anxiety or stress
- You feel fulfilled in your relationships and a sense of belonging and connectedness with those around you
- You feel motivated in your work, whatever it is that you do
- You know what’s important to you and you’re able to prioritize your time accordingly.
- You’re comfortable with who you are
- You feel a strong sense of self-agency
Now the question becomes: “What do we need to do to get our life together?”
How to Get Your Life Together 101
If you’re just starting out in the journey of getting your life together, I suggest you focus on only a few key areas of your life. Concentrate on the things that will make the biggest impact in both the short and long run, and simple enough for you to take immediate actions on.
I believe some of the best ways to get your life together revolve around the following elements:
- Being the guardian of your own health
- Taking control of your physical and mental space
- Making a conscious choice of who (and what type of energy) you surround ourselves with
- Taking reins of your finances
- Becoming the advocate for your own learning and growth
And with this in mind, let’s explore some specific strategies (17 of them to be exact!) on how to get your life together.
17 Real And Practical Ways To Get Your Life Together
1. Breathe…the Right Way
One of the simplest and most effective things you can do right now to get your life together is to breathe. Inhale and exhale slowly and mindfully, allowing your belly (not just your chest) to rise and fall with each breath. It’ll help you gain some clarity and calm no matter what storm you’re weathering in your life right now.
Researchers have found that breath-control techniques such as slow breathing is linked to improved emotional control and psychological wellbeing. When we make a conscious effort to breathe, we experience increased feelings of relaxation, better mental focus and alertness, and reduced feelings of anxiety, depression, and anger.
But the key is to do it right. Too many of us (including my former self) don’t realize we’re not breathing properly. We engage in bad breathing habits such as breathing only with our chest, stop breathing for prolonged periods of time, and taking shallow and quick breaths that barely keep us alive.
So before you go any further in this journey to getting your life together, work on the one thing that you do day in and day out—your breath. Get it right and you’ll be well-equipped for the road ahead.
2. Determine Your Values
Let’s play a game.
Grab a pen and a piece of paper.
You have 1 minute to list out 5 of your personal core values.
Struggling with this exercise? Perhaps it’s time to revisit your personal core values, or if you’ve never really thought about it before—take the time to reflect on what truly matters to you.
Because our values act as a compass—they guide us in our decisions big and small—from what career path we choose and where we live, down to what we do during our free time and how we respond to an insult. So if you’re serious about getting your life together, start with getting a clear, unwavering set of values.
For inspiration, check out this personal values exercise.
3. Declutter and Organize
If you had asked me 10 years ago about my thoughts on decluttering, I would have scoffed and said: “Who has the time?”
But today, decluttering is an essential part of my life. Not only do I enjoy the look of a clean space with minimal distractions, I also love how the process of decluttering makes me feel—calm, rejuvenated, and focused. I would even go as far as to say it makes me feel empowered.
Sounds a little too “new agey”? Hey, I used to share the same skepticism. But the research on how decluttering can improve our lives is hard to ignore—like this study from St. Lawrence University that found that hoarders tend to have worse sleep than those who like to keep their surroundings clutter-free, or this study from the University of Navarra that suggests people are more likely to make errors in a messy environment.
So if you’re feeling lost in life, start decluttering. New to decluttering? Don’t worry. Here are some good tips to help you begin.
4. Make a Budget and Start Saving
A big part of getting your life together is about getting your finances on track.
And what, exactly, does that entail? At the very least, you need to have enough savings to cover 3-6 months’ worth of essential expenses.
Why is this important?
Because although money can’t buy you happiness, not being in control of your finances will definitely make you unhappy. If you’re chronically stressed and feeling the weight of the world on you, it’s time to examine if your financial situation is the culprit. And if it is, know that you’re not alone.
Money is a major source of stress for a lot of people. For example, in Canada—the country I reside in—almost 50% of people report that they’ve lost sleep over their finances. And according to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey from July 2020, 58% of Americans reported feeling stressed over money.
Hey, I get it. Sometimes one’s financial situation can’t be helped, especially in this strange time we’re in right now. But for most of us, we’re fortunate enough to have sufficient income to meet our basic needs, such as food and shelter, plus a little more—so that means we have the power to be proactive about managing our finances.
If you don’t already have the habit of making a monthly and yearly budget, don’t hold it off any longer. The sooner you start saving, the sooner you can get back in control of your finances—and your life.
5. Commit to Better Health Habits
Do you get sick more often than others? Do you feel tired all the time? Or have you noticed a palpable decline in your physical function?
These are all signs that tell you it’s time to take better care of your health, and it behooves you not to ignore them. As someone who struggled with one health battle after another for years, I can tell you that when your body fails to function as it should, everything in your life can quickly fall out of orbit.
So if you want to get your life together and keep it together, you have to give your health the priority status it deserves. It’s time to commit to making better health habits and ditching the bad ones.
Hey, I get it, habits are not easy to change. To help you with this endeavour, I highly recommend the following two books. They provide excellent insights on how to form lasting good habits and break free from habits that damage our health:
2. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
And if you’re not sure where to begin in your quest to build better health habits, check out this article where I share some of the best health habits you can start immediately.
6. Let Go of Regret
Regret is one of those emotions that if you let yourself marinate in for too long, it becomes all-consuming.
There was a period of time when I literally could not think of much else besides “if only I didn’t get cancer”. Boy, it was like taking a punch to the gut every time I had a thought like that. And the most frustrating part was that I could not do anything about the fact that I got cancer. It was like a fiery itch I could not scratch no matter how hard I tried. And as a result, everything in life tasted a little bitter. Even during moments when I felt genuinely happy, as soon as the “if only” thoughts crossed my mind, my smile disappeared.
That’s why I call regret the “ultimate party-pooper”. But that’s not the worst part of regret.
You see, regret is paralyzing. The fear of history repeating itself or making another mistake keeps you circling in the same place. For a long time, I obsessed over the most minuscule symptoms in my body, afraid of missing the early warning signs of cancer that I felt I had missed once before.
But eventually, I learned to let go of regret. And I realized, more and more as time went on, that it was one of the best things I did to help get my life back together. If you struggle with recurring thoughts that started with “if only”, “I should have”, or “I could have”, it’s time to shed the past and let go of that gnawing regret.
7. Ditch the Negative “3 C’s”
What are the negative “3 C’s”? They’re toxic habits that start with the letter “C”. If left unchecked, they can dampen our happiness, strain our relationships, and make our lives feel miserable. What are they?
Comparing. Complaining. Catastrophizing.
First, let’s talk about “Comparing”.
Research shows that comparing yourself to others, even when you’re “comparing down”—that is, feeling that you’re better off than those you’re comparing yourself to—can lead to depressive symptoms.
Comparing your life to the lives of others can also make you lose sight of your own personal values, your own strengths and vulnerabilities, and your own goals and dreams. Would you rather chase after someone else’s identity and live a carbon copy of their life, or shape your own destiny? If you chose the latter, then what’s the point of comparing?
Complaining is another toxic habit that you must leave behind if you’re serious about getting your life together. Complaining once in a while can get you sympathy, but if you do it often enough, it will drive people away like a skunk at a garden party. Nobody likes a complainer.
And don’t forget, complaining doesn’t actually solve any problems or change what has happened. You might feel a cathartic release in that moment when you “vent” about everything that’s gone wrong, but at the end of the day, you still have a problem on your hand and you still can’t change the past.
Instead of wasting your time and energy on fruitless complaining, why not focus your attention on solving the problem? And if it’s something you really can’t do anything about, then it’s time to let it go. There are tons of other things more worthwhile for you to do other than dwelling and complaining about things you can’t change.
And last but not least, stop catastrophizing—letting your mind run wild with “worst-case scenarios”. It is well-known that about 85% of the things we worry about never happen.
So why give yourself the extra doses of fear and anxiety?
8. Make Time for Reading
We’ve all heard that yoga can put us in a zen mood, but did you know that reading is just as effective at reducing stress?
Yep, reading for just 30 minutes a day has been shown to lower blood pressure and heart rate, as well as diminishing feelings of stress in the same way a yoga session would.
Not to mention, reading opens our minds and expands our horizons. You can discover new things about the world—and about yourself—all through the pages of a book (or a newspaper, or an online blog like this one). You can also travel in time, sift through the past for valuable lessons or explore the future for its boundless possibilities—no other activity can give so many rewards for so little investment.
If you don’t have a consistent habit of reading already, I suggest you start with a goal of just 15 minutes a day, and gradually build from there. Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of my favourite books to add to your reading list.
9. Learn Something New
Feeling stuck in your life? It’s time to learn something new.
Learning something new not only sparks our curiosity, but it also inspires new ideas and helps us develop new perspectives. And most importantly, as we grow in our knowledge and skills, we become more and more confident in ourselves.
And self-confidence can improve almost every aspect of our lives from our motivation and resilience level to the quality of our relationship with others and with ourselves.
Want to learn something new NOW? Check out Udemy—the world’s largest collection of online courses, many of which cost less than $20!
10. Invest More, Spend Less
What’s the difference between “investing” versus “spending”?
Investing is about putting your money (and time and energy) into things that rise in value, or produce more returns down the road. Things like education, self-improvement, your health, or even well-researched investment opportunities in real estate or stocks.
Spending, on the other hand, gets you little in return other than temporary gratification. Things like fine dining, luxury cars, travelling in style, trendy technology, the latest and greatest in fashion—you get my drift. Not saying these things are bad—in moderation they can add spice to our lives and enrich our experience—but the problem is these things may cost a lot and yet don’t hold their value very well. And unlike the things you invest in, they have less impact on your life satisfaction in the long-run.
If the majority of your money, time, and energy are focused on “spending”, it’s time to redirect your resources into “investing”. Start sowing the seeds now and you will receive an abundance of goodness for years to come.
11. Develop Consistent Routines
When I was a teenager, I hated the thought of living a life filled with routines that you’d repeat day after day. The sheer thought of such a life made me roll my eyes. In my mind, it was the hallmark of mediocrity.
But now, I’m convinced that habits and routines are the building blocks of a happy and healthy life. I’ve also come to the realization that any kind of lasting success—in everything from our work to our relationships—comes from having good habits and routines.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying “we are what we eat”, well I believe that we are our habits and routines.
For example, one of the first things I did to get my life on track following my cancer treatments was I started a daily walking routine. I started with what I could manage at the time—just 10-15 minutes a day—and progressed from there to an hour or even 2 hours a day. No matter what the weather was like, I pushed myself to get out there and walk.
Then I developed other routines, like daily Qigong meditation practices and breathing exercises. These routines helped me establish a much-needed sense of control in my life and gave me a feeling of accomplishment. Even though I wasn’t having exactly the best time at that point in my life, I felt powerful. All of this came from just having consistent routines that I stood by day after day.
So believe in the power of consistent routines. It’ll help you get your life on track, I promise.
12. Practice Visualization
World-famous swimmer. The most decorated Olympian OF ALL TIME. He broke so many records I can’t even begin to count. I’m talking, of course, about Michael Phelps.
Sure his body is built perfectly for the sport. And he trained. HARD. But did you know that there’s another key ingredient to his success?
According to his coach Bowman, nobody does visualization better than Phelps. He would mentally rehearse for hours a day, picturing himself winning a race, encountering setbacks, and overcoming obstacles. Phelps would play out all kinds of scenarios in his mind so that he would be ready for each unexpected turn of events during an actual race.
And he’s not the only one who has tapped into this powerful technique. Oprah and Jim Carrey are just two of the many people who have successfully used visualization to achieve their goals and dreams.
Visualization is also a highly effective destresser. Researchers have found that visualization is linked to a decrease in stress levels among healthcare professionals who, understandably, are under immense pressure to perform. If visualization can help them destress, I’m sure it can work for just about anybody.
Now try this simple visualization exercise that will help you in your journey to getting your life together:
Picture yourself being in your ideal state of being. In this state, you’re in control of your life, you’re comfortable being who you are, and you’re filled with an enduring sense of peace and satisfaction. What do you see in your mind? What do you hear around you? And how do you feel?
13. Rethink Multitasking
Do you like to do many things at once? And are you proud of the fact that you can juggle them all without—excuse the pun—dropping the ball?
Sorry to break it to you, but you may not be as productive as you think, AND you could be hurting your brain at the same time. Research shows that multitasking not only reduces efficiency and performance, but it can also lower our IQ and affect regions in our brain responsible for empathy, cognition, and emotional control.
And the kicker is, according to an experiment carried out by researchers at Stanford University, those who multitask often and perceive themselves to be good at multitasking—known as “high multitaskers”, did worse than the “low multitaskers”—those who preferred to focus on one thing at a time—in tasks that required participants to use their multitasking abilities.
So what can we learn from these studies? What I took away from these findings is that instead of spreading my energy across many people, many goals, and many hobbies, I need to focus on the few people, goals, and interests that really matter to me.
What about you? Where in your life can you reduce the “noise” and focus a little more?
14. Focus on Process, Not Outcome
We live in an outcome-driven world. It seems like everywhere you turn, everybody’s talking about goals and dreams, targets and quotas. If you find this daunting, you’re not alone. But the good news is there’s a better way to achieve the outcome you desire.
If you haven’t read my article “How to Achieve Your Goals and Dreams With Ease”, I encourage you to give it a read.
In it, I talk about this amazing method that many top athletes and entrepreneurs from around the world use to reach their biggest goals. It’s so simple and yet, so effective. All you need to do is break down a goal—any goal big or small—into tiny pieces of achievable tasks that you can do on a daily basis.
Once you become familiar with the tasks and can consistently do them well, you push yourself a little harder to take on bigger, more challenging tasks that get you closer to the ultimate goal. These tasks form a process that helps you get to where you want to go.
This is especially helpful if you’re in a rut.
One of my favourite musicians, an EDM artist from China named CORSAK, once said that for a couple of years when he was at a low point in his life, he did two things every day: he went to the gym and he worked on his music in his bedroom. He said these two things helped him get out of that rut and propelled him to where he is today—a rising star on the China music scene.
If you’re in a rut, the last thing you want to do is constantly think about the outcome—getting out of the rut. Focus on a process instead—it could be one or two things that you can do on a daily basis that would help you improve and eventually get to that outcome. You’ll want to “lose yourself” in the process. Embrace it, enjoy it, and try to have fun. And before you know it, you’ll be out of that rut and on your way to better days.
15. Talk Back to Your Negative Self-Talk
I can’t do it.
I’m not pretty/thin/tall enough.
I’m going to fail, AGAIN.
It’s that annoying voice in your head that keeps saying mean things to you with so much conviction that you feel it must be telling you the truth. The voice makes you believe everybody else must feel the same way about you.
It’s called “negative self-talk” and it can cause more harm than just hurt feelings. This type of inner dialogue not only lowers motivation, it also increases helplessness. It can also take a toll on your relationships and contributes to greater feelings of depression.
But how do you quiet that voice? Trying to silence it completely won’t work, in my opinion. In my experience, the more you try to avoid something, the more it keeps coming back to you haunt you. Instead of running away from the negative self-talk, I encourage you to “talk back”.
If the voice says you’re a failure, tell yourself about a time when you did something well. If the voice says you shouldn’t try, remind yourself of the reasons why you should. See where I’m going with this?
Now give it a try.
16. Forgive Others…and Yourself
It’s not enough to just get your life on track—you must also learn to savour it. But you can’t really enjoy life to the fullest if you’re stewing in negative emotions such as anger, disappointment, and resentment.
But how do you let go of these emotions when others seem bent on hurting you? First of all, you need to recognize that you—and nobody else but you—are responsible for your emotions. Other people may act in ways that are mean, unjust, hurtful, or downright “evil”, but you alone are in charge of how you react and feel.
And although pain may be an unavoidable part of your response, you still have the power to decide how long you hold on to that pain—whether you keep touching and inflaming the wound or let it heal and fade is entirely up to you.
Accept this responsibility and you’ll no longer be a puppet that moves to someone else’s words and actions.
If you’ve decided to accept this responsibility and start enjoying your life without the burden of old grudges and hurt feelings, head over to this article on how to forgive those who have hurt you.
17. Distance Yourself From Drama and Negativity
If your life feels heavy and you feel emotionally drained, look around you and ask yourself: “What’s really sucking up all of my energy?”
Oftentimes, it’s other people’s problems and complaints. This is especially true if you’re the type who likes to take care of other people and help “fix things”. While you’re busy taking care of everyone else’s dilemma, your own life frays at the edges.
If you really want to get your life together, you must, first and foremost, take care of yourself. And a critical part of that self-care involves establishing healthy emotional boundaries between yourself and others—especially those who tear you down rather than lift you up.
Distance yourself from their drama and negativity, because life is too short for that stuff. Once you move away from that toxic energy, your life will naturally become lighter and brighter.