If you want a happier life, you can’t stand by and wait for it to happen to you. You have to create it. You have to be proactive and deliberate, designing the life you want for yourself and taking steps to make your vision a reality. This can feel a little overwhelming, which is why it’s important to break it down into manageable pieces: design your habits, design your goals, and so on. And today, I want to talk about a particularly important part of designing your life: designing your ideology.
The importance of your ideology
When we talk about ideology, we’re talking about a set of beliefs—beliefs that have an enormous impact on how you see the world, and how you participate in it. These beliefs, or ideals, can be about anything, from morality and religion to politics and parenting.
Knowing what you believe is important. Only when you know what you believe can you deliberately apply those beliefs to different situations throughout your life. When you know what you believe, you can apply those ideals to difficult problems, use them to make choices you feel good about, and allow them to guide you in your career, relationships and personal growth.
Unfortunately, not many of us are that aware of our ideologies. Instead, we have a vague sense of the things that we believe and value. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does set up some potentially frustrating situations: You make decisions on a case by case basis; you rely on external forces to help you solve problems; you may even let someone else’s ideology take over, piggybacking on their beliefs.
When you know what you believe, you can live what you believe.
Designing your ideology
“Knowing what you believe” isn’t as simple as sitting back and letting your beliefs come to you (although introspection is important). Again, being deliberate makes all the difference. Taking time to proactively design your ideology, rather than hoping everything falls into place, is a powerful and meaningful exercise.
When you design your ideology, you can:
- Use the power you have over your thoughts to align your beliefs with your aspirational self
- Be careful with your word choices so that your ideology reflects how you actually feel
- More easily share your ideology with others
- Tap into your best, most creative self (your inner dragon) to focus on the things that really matter to you.
Gretchen Rubin, a writer who focuses on happiness and human nature, designed her ideology when she created her 12 Commandments of Gretchen. This explicitly stated list of ideals (which includes things like “Act the way I want to feel,” “Do it now,” and “Lighten up”) acts as a set of “best practices” for her life.
I love the idea of designing your ideology in such a simple, straightforward, and profound way. No matter how many ideals end up on your list, being able to express them plainly will help you access them when you need them most, which will allow you to live by your ideology more completely.
And when your actions align with your ideology, you’re going to feel happier, more at peace, and more fulfilled.
Tips for designing your ideology
Even if we think we know what we believe or what matters to us, it’s not always easy to explicitly define or describe the ideals and beliefs you hold most dear. If the idea of designing your ideology appeals to you, here are some tips that might help you pull them out of your heart and manifest them on a more regular basis.
Break free of what you’ve “always” thought.
A young girl was helping her mother prepare a pot roast for dinner. She noticed that her mother cut the ends off of the meat, and asked why.
“Well, that’s the way your grandmother always did it,” her mother replied. “Why don’t you ask her?”
The girl called her grandmother and asked.
“Your great-grandma always cut the ends off, so I did too,” her grandmother replied. “Ask her!”
So the girl called her great-grandmother and asked.
The great-grandmother responded, “Our oven wasn’t big enough to fit an entire pot roast, so I always had to cut the ends off!”
This simple story illustrates a profound truth: sometimes, the reason we’ve “always” done something a certain way isn’t much of a “reason” at all.
Are you holding on to some thoughts or beliefs because that’s what you were taught to believe? Do you have certain things you’ve “always” thought that no longer serve you? Have you ever questioned those beliefs?
It can be a little scary to question something you’ve always believed, but as you’re designing your ideology, it’s important to break down each of your beliefs and make sure they’re all serving a positive, meaningful purpose in your life. If they aren’t, it’s probably time to let them go.
Go back to basics
What do you know, without a shadow of a doubt? What ideals would you risk everything for? The things that come to mind right away are probably the foundation of your ideology. Of course, even these things are worth questioning, if you feel like they aren’t helping you become the person you want to become. But chances are, they’re at least a good starting point. As you think about other things you believe, make sure they are in line with these foundational beliefs.
Find good sources
An ideology isn’t just about metaphorical concepts; it’s also about how you view the world. If you’re trying to decide how you feel about a specific topic or issue, make sure the sources you reference are reliable. Validate information. Turn to people you trust. Listen to a lot of different opinions. Get the whole picture of a problem before you put yourself firmly in one camp or the other. You’ll be better able to confidently defend your position if you do. Plus, you can feel assured that you’ve done your homework and come to a conclusion that you actually agree with.
Trust your intuition
Sometimes, figuring out what you believe is as simple as going with what feels right. There is, after all, such a thing as “overthinking.” Your intuition is powerful, and there are times when the best answer is just to step back, breathe, and notice what your gut is telling you.
Look back on your life. Think about the times when you’ve felt at peace, or in turmoil. Consider the moments that stand out to you as significant. What makes them important? How did they shape who you are today? And most importantly: what beliefs do they demonstrate?
The thing is, your ideology tends to play out in your life, whether you’re aware of it or not. Think about how what you believe has impacted you in the past, and use that data to help you be more deliberate about designing your ideology.
Analyze behavior—at your worst and at your best
How do you behave when you’re at your best… and when you’re at your worst? How do you treat other people? What thoughts do you have? What actions do you take? Are you more creative, more extroverted, more peaceful? Are you curious, adventurous, or energetic? How do you respond to a crisis? Be honest as you think about who you are in good and bad times, and use that to help you paint a clearer picture of what ideals guide your life.
Listen to the stories you tell yourself
The stories we tell ourselves can be extremely powerful. If we tell ourselves those stories often enough, they can start to feel like truths. But many of the stories we tell ourselves—especially when it comes to things like self-worth or capability—are actually harmful. What story are you telling yourself about the kind of person you are, and what you’re capable of? What excuses or justifications do you make that reinforce that story and draw you further away from the truth within? Pay attention to the stories you tell yourself. They might reflect deep-set beliefs that need to be fostered or changed as you work on designing your ideology.
Designing your ideology is important work. When you can hone in on what you really believe, you’ll be able to live a more deliberate and happy life. You’ll be able to apply those beliefs to your actions, and ultimately, you’ll be able to design a life you truly love.
Design your ideology with Design.org.
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