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What processes have you used to analyse your life?
June 19, 2010 9:12 AM   Subscribe

What processes have you used to analyse your life?

I have felt unhappy (overall) with my life for as long as I can remember. I appreciate that very few people are completely happy and that even if they are it probably doesn't last forever, however I am sure that I could have a happier life than I currently do.

I am not sure why but I feel the need to analyse of my life, kind of give it an audit from top-to-bottom and do some root cause analysis of what makes me unhappy (or happy) and then identify some adjustments or changes I can make.

The problem is I have no idea where or how to start this process. Has anyone done anything like this and if so what methodology did you use? Has anyone seen any books or websites of other people outlining how they have done it? Any other possible starting points?

It's not just a case of being unhappy that I don't earn enough to be able to afford to eat out once a week, or buy a new x or y whenever I want (or similar problems) and is more about how I fundamentally go about my life. How I treat other people, how I treat myself, the patterns I follow and the habits I have. Where I want to go in life and how I want to get there.

If anyone can give me some direction I'd be very grateful.
posted by logicalsequence to Human Relations (19 answers total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
I hate to say "therapy," but seriously, this is exactly what therapy is for.

Getting therapy and going on antidepressants have been a tremendous help in giving me the ability to assess my life and my feelings and figure out what I need to improve, both in changing my circumstances and in changing my attitudes.

It is a gradual process, not the instant diagnostic test you're looking for. But it is absolutely worth the time.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:41 AM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recently picked up Richard Wiseman's 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot off the library shelf out of curiosity. He uses research studies to uncover the best way to make a person happier. I haven't read the whole thing, yet, but after explaining why he chose his methods, he has you begin a journal.

Monday: Thanksgiving (List 3 things you are grateful for and expound on them.)
Tuesday: Terrific Times (Write down your thoughts about one of the greatest experiences of your life.)
Wednesday: Future Fantastic (Imagine your life in the future when all of your realistic drems have come true.)
Thursday: Dear...(Write a love letter to someone who is very important to you.)
Friday: Reviewing the Situation (Looking back over the past week, write 3 things that went well and why you think they went well.)

He goes into great detail about why each of these things are important to do and how they benefit you. That's just the beginning of the book, which revolves around writing therapy, carrying out small acts of kindness, and developing "gratitude attitude." These seem to be the three best ways you can become happy (or happier.)
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:46 AM on June 19, 2010 [10 favorites]


Look back over the duration of time you have chosen. If needed, use a whiteboard or a huge sheet of paper. Mark key 'eras' or 'events' or highs and lows. Then step back to see if you begin to see any patterns emerge. I used this technique with a close friend/colleague after we started facing severe interpersonal problems to help us see the patterns of behaviour over time that you don't normally see in the day to day. it also helped by abstracting it from a "you said/I said" thing and minimized the emotional impact of the exercise.

For me personally, talking it over with a friend as sounding board while I diagram the situation helps. I realize its an abstract way to deal with one's "self" but often taking a step back to look at the whole helps far more than getting all gooey about it :)

many of the methods of analysis and synthesis from design research can also be helpful imho such as the ever popular post its :)

- the first time i used these was in the anecdotal situation described above, for a minute my colleague and I were squeamish about using the concepts and tools from our professional work to look at a personal problem by hey, it worked and that's what's important ( maybe I'm feeling self conscious but my logic is that we use these tools everyday to understand people's behaviour and identify unmet needs ergo... )

some reference materials

Jon Kolko on the importance of synthesis in design research - quick easy explanations of the formal methods I've informally described above

Chris Bernard on this stuff - design methods process and toolkit starts on slide 14

There are probably more and better links available but if this approach is at all of interest then this could provide a start.
posted by infini at 9:57 AM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The simplest thing I do is ask myself if I am PROUD of the things I have done today/this week/in my life. I'm not proud of the times where fear has prevented me from doing what is right. Or when I cause harm to people through inattention or pride.
posted by Dmenet at 10:00 AM on June 19, 2010


You might check out Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the book Feeling Good by David Burns. One technique presented in this book is to add two extra columns to your daily to-do list, for predicted happiness (self-rated, 0-99, fill in before doing the activity) and actual happiness (fill in after doing the activity). This can help you test your assumptions about what activities make you happy. There are other ideas for identifying and correcting warped/irrational thoughts as well.
posted by sninctown at 10:24 AM on June 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll throw two things into the mix of what people are offering. First is my absolute favorite quote on what we require for existential fulfillment:
"Every individual, I would argue, needs to feel a connection to community, to a history, and to a human project larger than his or her own life. Without this connection, we are bereft of a concern for the future or an investment in the fate of our community. Nihilism is the result; and we see abundant signs of it all around, from the unchecked frenzy of consumption that ignores its likely long-term effects to the anarcho-libertarianism that is rife in the corporate United States at all levels..."
Too often, we define happiness as an individual matter. I can buy or do anything I individually want: therefore, I am fulfilled. Feeling unhappy, as an overall feeling as opposed to a short term "mood," is a complicated and difficult question, but you have to begin by envisioning where you want to go as you chart your course. Maybe the destination changes, but the trajectory requires thinking of it and thinking of it in more than an individualistic way.

Second, and ymmv, a decade ago, I took mushrooms. I've only done it a few times since then and after one bad trip, basically swore them off. But my first trip was an intellectual experience that was incredibly unique. I basically sat down on my couch and for a few hours rethought every element of my ego, psychology, and relationships to people past and present. I took lucid notes, but upon coming down, it turned out I didn't really need them: I recalled all of it with crystal clarity and over the next six months or so, started changing my behavior and how I interacted with people. The metaphor I used afterwords was that it was like my mind as a filing cabinet with all of my memories and experiences in their individual manila folders, but that I had rented a large field for the day and arranged the files in rows on the grass (similar to how the the NTSB will reconstruct a plane wreckage) and that I was walking through perceptions and relationships that I could always recall (when they were filed in the way in the filing cabinet), but that arranged out in the open, I could draw connections and see patterns that I had, until then, been oblivious to. It was amazing.

This may sound like hippy hoo-haa and none of my subsequent attempts proved to be anything nearly as intense or life changing (more like the "whoa, colors on a wall" silliness), but I mention it because the path to what you're looking for may require some strange trips.
Anway, good luck.

p.s. I am not recommending recreational mushroom use. A bad trip is a really bad thing.
posted by history is a weapon at 10:52 AM on June 19, 2010 [7 favorites]


I have felt unhappy (overall) with my life for as long as I can remember.

OK, this suggests clinical depression. Not as a final diagnosis; depression can accompany many other things, but as perhaps a baseline, somewhere to start from.

I appreciate that very few people are completely happy and that even if they are it probably doesn't last forever, however I am sure that I could have a happier life than I currently do.

You are 100% correct.

I am not sure why but I feel the need to analyse of my life, kind of give it an audit from top-to-bottom and do some root cause analysis of what makes me unhappy (or happy) and then identify some adjustments or changes I can make.

Typically this is a result of thoughts like "I am a faulty human being." You feel a responsibility to explain what a terribly broken person you are, as a way of trying to put things (that you feel are your fault) right.

I would suggest that this will heighten your anxiety for a bit, and you will undoubtedly feel more depressed than usual as a result. But it can be good if you ride this wave into a situation (be it medical, therapeutic, etc.) that can help you.

The problem is I have no idea where or how to start this process. Has anyone done anything like this and if so what methodology did you use? Has anyone seen any books or websites of other people outlining how they have done it? Any other possible starting points?

From everything that you've described so far, you probably should not trust your own evaluation, even if aided by books. I'm guessing you have some "mental filters" in operation that will heavily bias your thoughts and lead to the same old results again and again.

If you feel most comfortable starting with a book though, I would suggest this workbook. Sign the contract-with-yourself at the front and start working through the exercises. Please ignore the corny title, too.

It's not just a case of being unhappy that I don't earn enough to be able to afford to eat out once a week, or buy a new x or y whenever I want (or similar problems) and is more about how I fundamentally go about my life. How I treat other people, how I treat myself, the patterns I follow and the habits I have. Where I want to go in life and how I want to get there.

These are beautiful things. You are a worthwhile person right now, though. You are getting there already.

Your journey may seem like an odd one to you, but later on you'll see the bigger picture. There's nothing about your life you need to be ashamed of. Please don't blame yourself.

If anyone can give me some direction I'd be very grateful.

You are already on a wonderful trajectory. You'll figure it out and I'll bet you start feeling better very soon.
posted by circular at 12:34 PM on June 19, 2010


So sorry not to provide an easier answer, but having been where you are I'd have to nth "therapy"... Unfortunately there are no short cuts out of the kind of headspace you've described, that of walking through life with a pair of shoes that don't feel right but not knowing why. Many people will just suck it up and keep walking forward but it doesn't sound like that's been working for you. In fact, given the depth your post displays, I think you will one day be very grateful you took the time to get the root of your unease; I know I am. Bon courage and best of luck.
posted by braemar at 12:36 PM on June 19, 2010


Therapy sounds like a great idea for you, specifically if you can not remember being happy with your life. I also know a number of people who have come become much more satisfied with their lives through Buddhism.

But my solution is different, and I found it very effective: Journal. In fact three journals. One for every day. And write something in it absolutely every day. What you weren't happy about, and why. What went right and why. What you'd like to try different.

Then keep a separate journal that you only write in once a week. Look back through the week's entries in your daily journal and maybe back a few entries in your weekly journal, and write a summary of the same things: What went wrong and why, what went right and why. What could you do better, and what you want to try next time.

Then do the same with a monthly journal. Condensing the weekly journal entries into a theme for the month. What went wrong, right, how you feel about it and what you think you might want to change.

Having all three journals is important. Keeping a daily journal it's very difficult to go back and quickly see if you're making any progress. Filtering it down weekly one lets you discard the stuff that's less important, and a monthly journal lets you really see the progress and changes of your life quickly.

In just about a month you'll see the themes of your life, and you'll also have formed plans of attack. As time goes on you'll see how those plans of attack are working and what you can do to make them more effective.
posted by Ookseer at 12:53 PM on June 19, 2010 [8 favorites]


Nthing journaling. I've found it useful to list three things I'm thankful for every day.
posted by emilyd22222 at 12:57 PM on June 19, 2010


One suggestion would be to sit down, think for a while, and set some goals. Where would you like to be in a year? What hobbies do you wish you made more time for? What bad habits would you like to stop? Write it down (this is important), and every week do a review. Where did you do things well, where did you fall short, and how can you get better next week? Feel free to edit your list as time goes by and you find your goals changing.

You might also consider doing some time-tracking. Get a free software package (there are many) and spend a week accounting for your time in 15-minute chunks. At the end of the week, sit down and identify things that you wasted too much time on (internet, tv, etc), and make a conscious effort to reduce those next week. (thus giving you more time to meet your goals)
posted by chrisamiller at 1:02 PM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The most effective way of analysing my life thus far was the experience of re-reading some old journals I'd kept (after a significant period of time). This drove home the realization that what I falsely believed were new problems resulting from people or situations around me, were rather well ingrained patterns of perception on my part. That "the phone call" was indeed "coming from inside the house" and I was definitely depressed.

In the immediate, I would still recommend keeping a journal - if only to track what's really going on week to week. It always astounds me the patterns that are revealed. Be they hormonal, related to a lack of sleep or the effect the weather, not enough time outdoors, etc. - pointing out what needs to be adjusted, what works, what doesnt, etc.
posted by marimeko at 1:08 PM on June 19, 2010


how I fundamentally go about my life. How I treat other people, how I treat myself, the patterns I follow and the habits I have.

This is a noble quest. Seconding ookseer's comment above, I have found that Buddhism has some very practical, logical, and helpful things to say on all of these topics. A book like Awakening the Buddha Within might be a good place to start.
posted by scody at 1:28 PM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


I try and regularly analyze my life using the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule: 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes). I make lists of sentences like:

"80% of my most satisfying recreation comes from dinner-parties with friends, roleplaying games, and travel."

"80% of my income comes from consulting for Company X."


I also try and make a proactive, actionable list of sentences like:

"I could be 80% better looking by improving how I dress."

"I could procrastinate 80% less by having a clear daily goal I need to meet each day."


The overall idea is to find the little things that could make a big difference in each aspect of my life, or give me a better understanding of what really matters in my life as I'm living it.
posted by ElfWord at 2:32 PM on June 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not knocking the idea of sitting down analyzing your life: sometimes it's healthy to reflect and grow. But I am just wondering if, ever in your life, you've been a regular exerciser. As someone who spent the entire first half of my twenties analyzing my life for ways to make it better/me happier, I have to say that vigorous exercise 6 days a week, for 45-60 minutes per session, has been the best remedy.
posted by corn_bread at 2:49 PM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ok, Buddhism AND regular exercise. And journaling.
posted by sneebler at 4:56 PM on June 19, 2010


You mention habits. Not sure exactly what that's referring to, but the way I started was by eliminating the really unhealthy things from my life, like drinking, smoking cigarettes, eating junk food and too much sugar, and started exercising, eating better and taking care of myself. By the time I went to see a therapist I knew pretty much what was going on with me and just needed some help dealing with it, but it took several years to get there.

Also, at one very low point in my life an LSD trip tore my head off (figuratively speaking) and forced me to look at everything. It was not a "good trip," as they say, but very instructive. From that point things started to change, but that's not how it works out for everyone. Subsequent trips have been mixed, some not so great and not very helpful. At this point the therapy and work on myself has been more productive, but that one trip did help me get here, FWIW, YMMV, etc.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:10 PM on June 19, 2010


Write letters to someone who cares about you.
posted by pracowity at 1:46 PM on June 20, 2010


I highly recommend Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron. Written for people in your situation. Meditation will help you with so many things, most notably the kind of gentleness and detachment that will make a life analysis a fruitful effort.

Also, you might as well just go ahead and get more exercise doing something you enjoy and get enough sleep. Those will probably be the base of just about any improvement regime that might result from your analysis anyway.

Don't know that you need to jump into therapy, but you do need a friend who could be an objective sounding board. There are mentors, spiritual directors, and even applied philosophers who could help you in this process. Find a Very Thoughtful Person, maybe someone older that you respect, that could help you with this.

There are two types of analyses you can go with. I recommend a balance of both:
1. Establishing a personal vision and a set of goals and then examining your life against what is helping or hindering your progress toward those goals.
2. Comparing your life against an established belief system or philosophy you embrace. As much as you are your own person, you are a social person who lives in community and the standards of your community should be given due consideration. Feeling part of something bigger than yourself is often a key component of happiness.

There are many methods for doing both of the above. These can be done systematically and can yield some very practically useful results. I have some experience doing some of these in professional and non-professional settings and will be happy to share via MeMail if you wish.

It's good to do both. What I find is that there are common elements that arise from doing both 1 and 2 above. And then those are usually the highest priority things to address.

Ultimately, though, try not to overreach. You are probably not going to totally revamp your life in the next year, but you can set your mind on one or two key improvements that you really need. Your analysis can help you make sure you get the most leverage out of your efforts and that you can see how your efforts are part of a bigger coherent plan.

Also realize that this kind of analysis needs to be a regular thing. Plans and visions go stale with time. Set yourself a date next year to update this and do it again. Keep the big picture fresh and keep it in mind.

And give thanks for whatever kick in the pants life is giving you to make you want to embrace your big picture. It is a gift! Not so sure I agree totally with Socrates, but the examined life is sure a whole lot better!
posted by cross_impact at 6:47 AM on June 21, 2010


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